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Beyond debate and dialogue

From the October 2012 issue of The Christian Science Journal

This piece was originally published on JSH-Online on July 4, 2012.

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When I reach for the “off” button on my media device, it’s sometimes because I’ve heard and seen enough. We’re in an election cycle, where the airwaves are heated with rancor and partisan bickering. We’re also witnessing a dynamic change in the way people are communicating, with the advent of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube enabling every individual to become his or her own public broadcaster. This has led to the start-up of social movements around the world and the ability to quickly influence public opinion at home and abroad. 

It’s easy to get caught up in this tidal flow of information, but unfortunately much of it is sensational and counterproductive. How can we navigate our way through it, and think clearly enough, so that our contribution to the dialogue promotes progress and healing? Personally, I don’t want to be a sponge, soaking up information simply because it’s there, or feel in turmoil every time I “tune in” to the news. 

Ignoring the media is not the answer, because I’d like to contribute to the resolution of the world’s pressing problems. But I’m finding that this demands lifting thought above the media spin and attention-grabbing headlines and being receptive to the spiritual facts about God’s creation. These facts are found in an inspired reading of the Bible, which reveals man as spiritual and good (see Genesis 1), and as naturally drawn to God, man’s source of light. First Thessalonians says, “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness” (5:5). As children of light we can be attracted only to the light—to goodness, to whatever uplifts and inspires thought.

Yet the world would tell us something much different: that the more sensational or controversial a story, the more appealing it is and the more likely it is to draw an audience. Challenging such assumptions can be the starting point in healing impositions like this which attempt to bring down the level of discourse and thought. In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures Mary Baker Eddy makes this arresting statement: “In a world of sin and sensuality hastening to a greater development of power, it is wise earnestly to consider whether it is the human mind or the divine Mind which is influencing one” (pp. 82–83). Rather than allow human opinion to influence thought, or media headlines to darken our outlook and become the story line to our day, I’ve found it helpful to affirm that God, divine Mind, is the only influence in our lives.

I was ready to move beyond the battlefield of political opinion.

Each day brings opportunities to prove this and to discern the spiritual innocence of every man, woman, and child. God-derived qualities, such as integrity, love, health, artistry, and intelligence, manifest themselves on the human scene day in and day out. We see them expressed through the unselfish acts of others, the tender gestures of a parent, the devotion and hard work of co-workers, the spontaneous joy of children. This is certainly worthy of our attention. 

There have been periods in my life when a growing understanding of contemporary issues made me more critical of people and events in the news. Also, I would chafe at the opinions and commentary of certain media personalities and their political ideologies (which can be found at both ends of the political spectrum). Sometimes my anger stemmed from the fear of their harmful influence on society. I would be drawn into arguments over various social and political issues, feeling justified in my remarks and ready to score a point. However, very seldom did I leave a conversation feeling satisfied or at peace. 

When I realized that contentious discourse, whether being an audience to it or engaging in it, did not contribute to the healing of individual or collective thought and its attendant problems, I decided to change course. I made an effort to use the day’s headlines more consistently as a springboard for affirming what is spiritually true about government and economy, the environment, and the health and safety of humanity. Of course, debate and dialogue can be useful in the exchange of ideas, when done with respect and a willingness to move conversation forward. However, finding solutions through civil and progressive discourse, rather than friction or incivility, meant spending more time in prayer, yielding to a deeper understanding of God and His creation. 

We, too, can contribute to the public weal by following Jesus’ example.

I was ready to move beyond the battlefield of political opinion and mentally engage not with the media pundits but with spiritual ideas—the word of God, the healing message of Christ, Truth. Exercising my God-given spiritual sense in seeing the world through God’s eyes, rather than making judgments about people and organizations or drawing conclusions that furthered a certain political ideology, enabled me to become a better transparency for God and His healing ideas. It was a way that I could lovingly and figuratively put my arms around my family, my friends, and the outside world. 

The example of Jesus has been very instructive. He conducted his healing ministry in the midst of political and religious struggle among the people, and allowed himself to be divinely influenced only. While others were ready to respond toward the adulteress, the tax collector, the government (sometimes represented by Roman centurions), the crippled and diseased with contempt and “according to the law,” Jesus had an elevated prayer-based response. He blessed and healed others with a fresh sense of God’s mercy. 

Jesus both acted and spoke in accord with the will of God. He said, “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things” (John 8:28). He had no human agenda and was unwilling to be swayed by the various factions of his time. His mission was to love others as God loved them, and to have them experience this love through his teaching and his healing works. We, too, can contribute to the public weal by following Jesus’ example. Whether the day’s headlines or heated political commentary comes to us through high definition or stereo, a Twitter, or a Web page, we have an opportunity—even more, a duty—to offer a prayer-based response that will carry us, and our community, forward. 

The Apostle Paul encouraged the early Christians to consider this higher level of engagement in his first letter to the Corinthians. He wrote, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (I Corinthians 13:11). Paul promoted a spiritual perspective to which we are all entitled, and that perspective is informed by God, influencing us with divine intelligence and grace.

Jeff Plum lives with his family in northwest Arkansas. 

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