I'm getting fed up of doom and gloom.
It is probably down to watching too much Sky News - they have these weird promos for The Recession (heard of it?). Some have a Village People-like cross section of the working community filming an unexpectedly depressing video. They sit in the world's worst amusement arcade, shoving their last pennies into slot machines, to the sound of scary, abstract, claustrophic, dissonant droning - the music you would have in a film if someone fell down a mineshaft, and was still falling after 30 seconds. The other promos feature Jeff Randall, financial editor from the Telegraph, and Sky's answer to the BBC business sexer-upper Robert Peston. He warns us sternly that we're all living in la-la land if we think there is a quick way out of this mess, and we'd better take his advice and be good. And by the way, just to make us feel a bit worse, he could have told us this was going to happen in advance so WHY DIDN'T ANY OF US LISTEN TO HIM???!! Grrrr!!! Arrrgghhhh!!!!
The overall message is "You're all doomed, unless you watch Sky News." And it's oddly believable and compelling.
Here is the problem - the recession was/is/will be caused by a combination of economic realities and people's confidence/faith/commitments to spend, or save, or invest, or employ, or lend, or do any of the things which change that economic reality. There is a feedback loop. Just like putting a microphone in front of a connected speaker makes a noise which travels back into the microphone, and back through the speaker, and back into the microphone - etc - the things we do with money change the economy, which makes the news, which changes our attitude, which affects the things we do with money.
When the prevailing tone of the news is bad, this can bring us into a crunching nose dive - cue the scary music. No wonder there is a mass of business and political interest talking up "the green shoots of recovery" whenever they might be found. If the story changed to something more positive, if we had more confidence and faith, it is our own actions which rebuild the economy. The feedback loop works both ways round, to depress us when things are going badly, and to lift us up when things are going well.
Some years ago, Martin Lewis - a very famous newscaster of the time - had the boldness to suggest that news editors should offer a better balanced diet of good news in with the bad news. He was shot down in flames, and probably lost a good deal of credibility in the process. I've always thought that was unfair, but also intriguing. Why did his suggestion provoke such widespread derision and protest, from the public as well as from media? News organisations aggressively defended the values which produced their current agendas, stressing the need to be impartial, trusted, independent, not attempting to manipulate moods, but "telling it like it is." Readers and viewers agreed - nobody wanted faked up good news.
But was that really the point? I think there was another force at work - the need to grab attention from a mass audience. This is surprisingly hard to do with good news, because people have wildly different ideas about what is good, what they like, what makes them excited. But threats of doom and gloom are universally effective at grabbing attention and drawing an audience. Put it another way - if I wanted to get you out of your seat, I could offer you some good news - "there's free food over there!" - but what kind of food? Do you like it? Maybe not. Have you got time to check now or can it wait til later? etc etc. Or I could offer some threat - "get up now or I will shoot you." And up you get.
Mass media needs to grab attention, and if it is more efficient to do this with bad news that good news, does that help explain the balance of what we get? I think so - it's not just "we have to tell it like it is", but also "we have to have people who will listen to us." I don't think there is an answer to this in the fluffying up of the news agenda, or the imposition of "good news" quotas.
Why not? Bad news has a hold on us, for some reason. It sounds pretty miserable, and I don't want to accept that I react more readily to a threat than a promise, but I think it is the case - as the news channels and papers demonstrate. I think this has to do with things which are broken in me - not just the world around me. Fear can be faced down, sometimes painfully, or it can direct me. Why should that be difficult? It just is. Pain and death are realities we spend life trying to avoid. But I don't think we have to settle for that as the end of the story.
I think there is Good News which is universally important, relevant to us today, which can change us and the world around us. It has to do with Jesus, the death of death, and the promise of new life. It is a massive story, which some say has been in development since the beginning of humanity. Two thousand years before Sky News, it even had a recognisable logo, arguably the world's most famous - the cross, where death died.
Now I realise that your "religion detector alarm" is probably ringing by now. Church alert! Put this back in the box for Sundays - don't bring it into my actual life! How is this related to the normal news and the recession? In every way - for anyone prepared to follow Jesus and put an old life to death in exchange for a new and better one, this changes EVERYTHING. That includes work, money, relationships, the lot.
I have had my own cycle of bad news, with poor decisions leading to bad consequences, leading to lack of confidence, and more poor decisions to follow. I have looked to see if the answer might be in pure self-belief. But I don't think it's possible to massage our news agenda to get rid of the bad news. We have to face up to it, and its hold on us has to end. That means we have to change. Jesus put it like this - "repent and believe". Repent literally means "think again", but more than thinking, it means we have to act. Belief, we know, can change things for us. The reality I have found is that following Jesus to the cross, giving up the old life to death and receiving a gift of new life, this is what I needed before the person I really am became visible. Jesus, the cross and the new life are Very Good News.
So I'm thinking it's time for me to stop just being a consumer of bad news, and start sharing this Good News. Specifically, I want to share about the difference the cross makes in a recession, and in lots of other situations which just look like bad news. I'm thinking of starting a blog just about this, with posts that are a lot more "little and often" that the epics which tend to appear here occasionally (like this one). I'd like it to be a conversation, and I'd like to know your thoughts. Most of all, I want to promise you, and God, and myself, that it's going to be 100% real. Not a massage, or an advert, or a propaganda/recruitment blog for the church. None of that matters. The cross matters, Jesus used it to change everything, and I am certain that you matter to him.
Inspired by Sky News' treatment of the recession, and some other obvious popular culture, I have picked a working title - "The Cross Factor". Coming soon at www.thecrossfactor.net