Reading the paper as a spiritual exercise…

So at #VicarSchool we’ve been set some tasks as part of our Christian Spirituality module which we have just started. We were given a list of things to do under various headings and we had to chose one from each heading. They look at different aspects of spirituality and how these impact our lives, as well as encouraging us to think outside our comfort zones. One of the sections is ‘cultural’. From the things on the list my understanding of this section is that partly it looks at things that people who are not active in a faith might find as spiritual practices, or which could be taken to be a substitute for them. So for example they are things that people can be passionate about, like supporting a cause or volunteering.

One of the choices is to read a daily newspaper if you don’t already, and if you do, then read one of an opposite political stripe. Well largely I get my daily news in 140 character posts via Twitter, that’s all I have time for, but occasionally I read the Sunday paper so I thought this might be a good one for me to do. I don’t like newspaper labels, well I don’t like things that label people persee, but one paper that drives me round the bend (as it does many) is the Daily Mail. So I have chosen to start with this. At this stage my plan is to read a few different papers that I would never touch and see how they affect me and how (and if) one can think about them spiritually or theologically.

So this is week 1 and I know you will be delighted that I am going to share my thoughts on the various newspapers I am going to read with you all… expect ranting and crossness but I hope also a little bit of theological reflection…

So the Daily Fail is where I start. My parents read the DM, my Grandparents used to read the Daily Mail. As a child on Sundays we would go to their house and everyone would share bits of the paper and me and my brother would argue over the ‘cartoons’ section – which sadly no longer exists but used to be a separate little paper full of cartoons and puzzles for kids. These days I pick it up occasionally at Mum and Dad’s and I barely get beyond the front page before I feel irate about something printed in it, or in fact, everything printed in it. The reason I dislike it so much is that it is always written in a way that someone is getting the blame for something. It incites people to hate. It encourages people to tear others down. But people do read it every day. People get their daily news via it, it informs thousands of people each day, it enables people to form opinions on matters of politics, news, entertainment and more (whatever those opinions may be…). In fact their own stats suggest that an average of 1,700,000 people read the paper each day.

So I started this, feeling quite excited actually, what would I learn? would it help me theologically or give me an understanding of a different demographic? 
and then I looked at the paper. 

First headline, queue of people pictured with ‘THE QUEUE THAT SHAMES BRITAIN’ emblazoned across it. A ‘story’ about people queueing at 7am just to see their GP. You see I read this and it just makes me feel cross, I haven’t even read the story and I feel angry. It make me wonder, does everyone feel like this when they read the DM? The story starts ‘shivering in the cold before dawn yesterday, more than 30 patients queue in the desperate hope of seeing a doctor. The scene, a bleak picture of a health service in crisis, is one repeated in many parts of the country…’  although no one in the picture is wearing hats or gloves, in fact some aren’t even wearing coats and none of them look ‘desperate’. 

The second day the front page was emblazoned with ‘END OF THE CASH MACHINE RIP-OFF’ and ‘Why weary looking Kate didn’t take George to church’, with a picture of her looking, to be honest pretty normal for someone with a toddler and a baby on the way. 
So negative… 
In fact another paper featured the same story of Prince George not going to church but with wonderful headlines full of how marvellous Kate and the royals are.

The further I head into the paper, I find more of the same: negative, doom and gloom, how people in power are letting you the reader down…

Here’s some other headlines…

The Danger Drones
Travelling by train – you’ll be lucky
Boxing Day Weather Bomb
legacy of 24-hour drinking, a nation awash with booze
Whitehall’s Crazy Eco Zealots
World’s Stupidest Selfie

and so on, and so on…..

So… what on earth can I draw from this doom and gloom? Well it occurs to me that many people do read this daily and I can’t help but wonder how it affects people who read it regularly. We talk about having a ‘positive mental attitude’ or how smiling and laughing can make you feel better, so surely if we fill ourselves full of the negative that must have the opposite effect? 

I was reminded of  2 Cor 10: 3-5 which tells us :

 Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Perhaps ‘weapons of warfare’ is a bit strong here, but surely, so many negatives can cause more harm that some physical injuries and indeed have the power to destroy people. As a Christian I do try and keep my thinking linked to my faith, of course that isn’t always possible, but what if you don’t have that attitude, or a similar one to guide you? Studies have shown that negative feelings, bitterness and unforgiveness can actually affect our physical health. So surely filling ourselves full of negative stuff can only encourage us to be more negative? 

I tweeted about writing this post and Matt Clements (a fellow Tweeter) pointed out:

‘as the paper trying to be clever pointing the finger, surely the Mail is the pharisees’ paper of choice?!’

hmmm, good point, so I nicked it for my post 🙂  In fact I rather like that analogy, ‘the paper of judgement’, the one pointing the finger and missing the point entirely, very pharisaical. Where would they be in Jesus’ time? reporting from the sidelines on the latest from the ‘crazy prophet’ or printing pictures of him looking ‘harrowed’ or join in with the jeering at his trial, gleefully celebrating his comeuppance? (and printing a very tiny retraction on page 74 after his resurrection maybe?)

I did wonder if in actually reading the Daily Mail I would find it less awful than I thought *queue sniggers*. Well, sadly not, it really made me feel worse than I thought it would, and I only read it for two days! So, whilst I’m not sure I gained anything personally from reading this paper, it made me think about those that do. So often these days it feels like people are full of anger. When something goes wrong, we seek someone to blame, we want recompense, and society encourages us to do so too. How many phonecalls have you had telling you that you are entitled to PPI compensation? (whether you ever actually had it in the first place or not); how many times have you seen someone getting cross as a Customer Service till? or complaining on Facebook about their BFF, Sister or Gas repair man? rather than actually dealing with the situations calmly and with grace?

Of course this isn’t all the fault of the Daily Mail, much as I dislike it, I can’t put all that on them! But it is something that seems to be becoming the norm isn’t it and aside from the paper making me cross, it actually just makes me sad. Sad that people are encouraged to be angry and cross and full of blame, when a national paper, could actually have a real impact on people’s lives, on the way they feel, on the way they view life. I wonder, had the DM been around 2000 years ago, whether their incessant negativity would have impacted further how people felt about Jesus?

So enough of the doom and gloom, I’m on to the red tops next, thought I’d get a balance… 

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  • Reply
    December 29, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    I think that you're being quite brave reading the Daily Smell. This, like the Sun, The Star and the Daily Worker are things to avoid and only hold at the end of a barge pole in my view.

    The same can no doubt be said of other dailies, but these are the ones that i avoid like the plaque, because they are a sort of plague. One that drip, drips, insidious poison into our hearts and minds on a daily basis. You might as well be taking rat poison.

    I'm doing that spirituality stuff during our summer term, so will be interested to see what cultural objectives they set out. I see that being up to date with current events and getting reasonably informed commentary is important, we have the BBC and Radio 4 for that, or the Guardian or Independent perhaps.

    I suspect that if we want to help those who are not churched gain some spiritual nourishment, I'm not sure that a diet of the Sun or advice to shop in Tesco is the best we can do.

    Being aware of people's cultural and political sensitivities is quite important as the politician who tweeted a picture of a house with a white van outside and a union flag flying found to her cost.

    I recently met a heavily tatooed, biker, who drinks a bit and swears a bit. But on closer examination turns out to be bereaved, alone and vulnerable. Getting closer to him showed his taste in music wasn't really heavy metal, but Classical, fan of Classic FM. And his preferred game is Chess, not darts or soccer. Although he likes both of them as well.

    The point is that we make assumptions that those people we encounter need spiritual nourishment, when in fact, what they actually need and want is human contact, fellowship and sharing. And sharing their interests and not imposing our own, is surely a safer, pastoral course than alienating them due to their contrary belief systems or cultural mores.

    I'm not advocating becoming a rabid nationalist, but getting to know people involves risk and sharing, and gaining an understanding that what is under the cover, might be remarkably different to the cover presented.

    I'm waiting with interest to see how your cultural pursuits develop. And I'm writing this while sharing watching a blood & guts movie on TV for a change from reality TV.

  • Reply
    Natalie Bea
    December 30, 2014 at 6:10 am

    I used to read this newspaper thinking it informative, but my goodness it started making me feel really depressed and even anxious at times. The Lord has really shown me how discouraging it is, so I avoid as much as possible now.

    Great blog post Jules.


  • Reply
    January 4, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    Wise words Ernie, yes it is all about relationships – that's how we get to know people and what they 'need' or how we can impact others.

    Natalie, yes I know what you mean. We run community cafe and I always try to give the papers away at the end and everyone says no because they are too depressing! Maybe someone needs to write a paper full of positive news!

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