"The weather outside is frightful." So is the news. Coming in penetrating torrents. Breaking news. Always bad. Mostly disruptive. Mostly violent. Often ghastly. Most often making claims on our lives. Always claiming to be true.
For weeks upon weeks and months upon months, we've been inundated with continuously breaking bad news. The police killing unarmed civilians. Vengeful thugs killing honest police. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure. An unsafe "safety net." An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration. Attempting to draw this all together, the New York Times asked a frightening question, "Is it bad enough yet?"
That's the trouble with breaking news; it's always breaking bad; always distorting and always obscuring our view. Distorting, by always making its bad characters larger than life. Obscuring, because it always limits our view. The most recent examples: The New York Times devoted two full pages to the thug who killed
officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos; only weeks after devoting an equal amount of space to the cop who strangled Eric Gardner to death. Or the breaking news about Ebola or the irresistible muscularity of Vladimir Putin. Breaking news, always breaking bad, always distorting and always obscuring our view.
"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered." There's another example of breaking news; always breaking bad; always distorting and obscuring our view.
It's not that Augustus wasn't bad enough. But "all the world," and "the first registration" and "all [going] to their own towns?" The breaking news of this first registration treats mighty Caesar into nothing less than a god. Which is exactly how Caesar and his whole domination system expected to be viewed so that everyone, everywhere would be very afraid. Augustus even has a myth created to fuel his godlike status. A divine conception. A holy birth. Celestial choirs. A whole host of titles exalting him as "wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace" whose violent and dominating "authority shall grow continually" and whose coercive power would bring the world "endless peace." Just as it does today, the breaking news of Caesar's first registration was always bad, always distorting, always obscuring the view. It made Caesar larger than life; and he used that. It made his subjects seem completely alone, always vulnerable, always suspicious, always under siege, just as today's continuously breaking news makes us feel.
And just like today, those who wanted to use the example of Caesar's myth to create their own myth as invulnerable terrorists, ever present, unpredictable, unspeakably violent do the same, all with the goal of distorting our vision, obscuring our view and continually blinded, divided, paralyzed and afraid. "is it bad enough yet" for us to use the same tactics? "Is it bad enough yet" for us to look for a similar kind of savior and lord?'
Breaking news is always bad news, always distorting, always obscuring our view. Breaking news always leaves us saddened and afraid.
"Do not be afraid," says the angel. "For see â€” I am bringing you good news of great joy for all
the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."
For all of us today, this is old news, not breaking news. It contains no myth of invulnerability. If anything, it describes Jesus as smaller than, rather than larger than, life. By using both language and imagery ascribed to Augustus Caesar, it bursts the myth of an invulnerable savior who, in order to be effective, must be above and beyond all. Instead of exalting one above all, it confers dignity and value to all. In place of inducing fear in some, it encourages love for all. Because it is bad news for none, it is always Good News for all. Because it does not induce fear, it gives us a way, a pattern to follow as we live in a world of where breaking bad news is meant to control all.
It is the pattern of Jesus. It is the model of leading by serving, not by lording. It is the way of truth and not of cleverly devised myths. It is a way of refreshing and nourishing and renewing and not a way that turns others away. It celebrates and values life and does not rely on the power of death.
"Do not be afraid," says the angel. "For see â€” I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people." Remember those words the next time you hear more breaking bad news. It will change the way you hear it. It will change the way we live.
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York