April 2021 number 2
Dear sisters and brothers,
I was reading in the paper yesterday, Tuesday, the front-page article about the Prime Minister’s statement concerning the pathway. There seemed to be a concern about sticking to that pathway and not unlocking too soon. Let me use an extract. “Work by the London School of hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that, with pessimistic but realistic assumptions about the effectiveness of the vaccine a third wave could peak at the end of July or early August with as many patients in hospital as in January.” The following sentence then says, “most of the modelled scenarios show a smaller potential third wave peak.”
It is unfortunate, but not unusual, that the paper had chosen to lead on the most dramatic, sensational and perhaps worrying piece. This was the line taken up by a number of other news feeds. The many other studies were ignored.
This seems to be the way with our news and media today. The sensational, the dramatic, even the fear inducing is a much better headline than any semblance of reality sometimes.
Even the weather is not exempt as many newspapers take the weather reports from independent groups rather than the Met Office. This apparently is because these independent weather reporting groups give more dramatic weather reports that concentrate on the extreme possibilities rather than on the weather we may get and the papers say that grabs people’s attention and sells papers.
This feeds into the soap operas on TV now. The original storylines of ‘Coronation Street’ and ‘Emmerdale’ used to reflect the lives of those people, simple, every day and straightforward. Now all of them are similar in having storylines of deceit, violence, dishonesty, threat and murder. Those storylines are sensational and unrealistic and according to many therapists the frequency and trauma of these storylines would cause the inhabitants of these soap operas to suffer from many serious mental health issues including PTSD.
You can look down our television listings and you will find many programmes on about ancient aliens, visiting aliens, conspiracy theories and so many, many programmes about murders in different parts of the country, different types of murderers and serial killers. There is even a program called ‘Killer Clergy” and it is not about preaching long sermons. The controversial and even the downright macabre have become the staple diets of entertainment. For media companies it seems that the more they can induce shock or fear in the audience the more their ratings show success.
Stories of people who succeed stories of ingenuity, bravery, kindness and decency are squeezed into the schedules and into the edges of the newspapers almost apologetically to fill the tiny spaces left. It is not that these stories are fake news, it is that they are the wrong kind of news. It is news that is not there to enhance or to encourage but it seems to bring anxiety and concern.
Especially in this week after Easter we, as Christians, are well aware of the real news, the good news. The news of God’s love for everyone, the news that God’s people should be showing love, grace, forgiveness and understanding to everyone does not merit mention hardly at all. Therefore you and I have to be the newspaper, the TV, the radio. We have to be the means of communicating this good news in a world that seems a lot more interested in sensationalism. Though having said that I find it strange that Jesus being the Prince of peace, that Jesus challenging the power and the views and the ways of this world for the betterment of all is not seen as sensational.
We are the gospellers today, we are the bringers of good news, as we read in Isaiah 52:7 ‘How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”’
Those words point to us and I pray that we may have strength, encouragement, and faith to live and to speak of the truly sensational news of the love of the of the love of God shown through the risen Christ and available to all the world.
Rev. Mark Barrett
Superintendent Presbyteral Minister of the North Wiltshire Methodist Circuit.
Presbyteral Minister for Bath Road, St. Andrew’s and Rodbourne Methodist churches.