Sunday, November 20, 2016


It has been nearly four years since I've done anything with this blog. In many regards, it feels like a vestige tail from a digital animal long gone. Yet, here it is. And it is particularly because it is something that feels out of place that I would like to start using this more.

Since I last did anything here, I've become more active via Facebook and Twitter. I've written academic articles and am working on a number of projects that get at the heart of the types of questions I want to explore professionally. I hope to outline some of that work here in the future. So this is a reintroduction of sorts. While I will continue to write, post, and engage through various media, it seems like a step back from the always immediate and ever-present cycle of news.

I realize that, in my own little way, I contribute to the constant process of refreshing of News Feeds and the like. It makes me think of one of my favorite lines from a writer that I should turn to more often than I have in recent years. This is the first of two points I want to make.

In an essay published in Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice, Thomas Merton has an amazingly timely and insightful remark that I often think of when I'm finding myself consumed by "news," particularly the immediate and round-the-clock process we now see through uncritical eyes. Here is Merton's quote:

What was on TV? I have watched TV twice in my life. I am frankly not terribly interested in TV anyway. Certainly I do not pretend that by simply refusing to keep up with the latest news I am therefore unaffected by what goes on, or free of it all. Certainly events happen and they affect me as they do other people. It is important for me to know about them too: but I refrain from trying to know them in their fresh condition as “news.” When they reach me they have become slightly stale. I eat the same tragedies as others, but in the form of tasteless crusts. The news reaches me in the long run through books and magazines, and no longer as a stimulant. Living without news is like living without cigarettes (another peculiarity of the monastic life). The need for this habitual indulgence quickly disappears. So, when you hear news without the “need” to hear it, it treats you differently. And you treat it differently too. 
This leads to my second point: not only might we be well-served to step back a bit, but we would also seemingly benefit from speaking and engaging with others unlike ourselves. As we know from the "blue" and "red" feeds that shape our lives, and this great SNL skit below, we largely live in our own bubbles and (mostly) like it that way.

John Oliver has also done a great job pointing out, in more detail, our bubbles.

I argue that we can and should engage with those around us, particularly those who don't share our political views. A recent story in the Manhattan Mercury about my work spells this out a bit more. I made a similar point in a USA Today interview: we can't scapegoat or honestly clump everyone who doesn't agree with me into some category, as easy or as comforting as that might be.

So what is to be done? Here are some interesting/thoughtful/provocative links to help us see beyond our bubbles.
I hope to, with some regularity, write here rather than always posting and sharing via Twitter and Facebook. You're welcome and encouraged to follow here. You can sign up for RSS, but I will also make these posts available through other media. But as Merton helpfully reminds me, there is a benefit to stepping back. I am easily consumed by information, but I'm not always sure it's helpful. I'm going to try to do my part make sense of our work, not only through the algorithm Facebook thinks I want but through a more critical perspective and one that is open to others.

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