Thursday, June 23, 2016

Good News Event

I’m away visiting family for the next ten days, so rather than spending the time blogging, I’m going to share a second preview chapter of what I hope will be my next book, reflections on the mass readings for each of the 50 days of the Easter season. I hope you enjoy this meditation; it's based on the kind of experience I had several times this past few days while visiting Relatives.

“Then Jesus told them: ‘Go into the whole world
and proclaim the good news to all creation.’” (Mark 16:15)

The curbs alongside the Prudential Center arena are lined with chartered busses and several police vehicles with flashing red and blue lights. There are also a dozen media trucks with satellite dishes on top, sporting the logos of every major television network. The arena is the site of "media day" for the Superbowl, which will be played a few miles from here in Giants Stadium, .  

The street is deserted, except for the uniformed police officers,  and one clean-cut earnest-looking young man bustling past as if he’s on some urgent top-secret mission for his boss inside. The atmosphere on the wide, silent sidewalk is terribly serious, and as solemn as a state funeral.
As I stroll past the media vans with their familiar network logos, I feel more and more put off by this idea of “media event,” and I begin asking myself why. It’s not the Super Bowl itself, which I, along with over 111 million other Americans, enjoy watching every year.
The answer to my question comes to me immediately from the name “media event:” this afternoon’s spectacle isn’t news at all, but staged entertainment. The media people inside the arena aren’t here to observe and report on some actual event, (the game isn’t until Sunday), but to manufacture news stories for the 24-hour news outlets that demand new copy every few minutes.
As I walk past the last media van, its satellite dish deployed way overhead on a telescoped pole, as if it were sending actual news to the waiting world, I ask myself, what is “news,” anyway?
“Good news” is the central theme of the New Testament. In the original Greek, “good news” is one word, and its root has to do with the “announcement” of an event. But when Jesus sends his apostles out with that “news,” they were not simply to inform their hearers or pass on the news, rather they were to “proclaim” it, because this news was intended to transform people’s lives. And there was more: this news was “living and active,” and so had to be lived out and passed down by a living, dynamic community of believers. Although the good news was at first announced by preaching, and then by the written word, it was always spread most effectively by the disciple’s living example, just as it is today.
As I stand at the corner of McCarter Highway, waiting for the light to change, I read the advertisements on the billboards along the railroad embankment. When I finally start across the street, I wonder if my life is much of an advertisement for the good news. I ask myself if anyone ever learns anything about God's love for them by the way I speak to them or act toward them.
As a Christian, I reflect, I am called not just to speak the Good News but to actually be the Good News for others by my words and my actions -- often in simple and unforeseen ways.
Just a few weeks ago, at a family gathering, for example, I noticed a twelve-year old cousin named Diane sitting dejectedly by herself at a table in a corner, so I went over and asked if I might sit with her. When I asked her if something was bothering her, she confided right away that her friends were making fun of her in school because of her eyeglasses. After listening to her for a few minutes and sympathizing with her, I asked, “What about your best friend, Becky?” Diane answered, “Oh no! She would never do that!” I added a second question, “Do you have other friends that don’t make fun of you?” “Yes,” she answered.
“Great!” I responded. “So, you realize that real friends don’t make fun of their friends. And that means that anyone who who’s making fun of you is not really a friend.” I concluded with, “Listen, Diane, those kids don’t really care about you, right? So why should you care what they think? They’re not your friends.”
As she looked up at me she broke into a relieved smile, and said, “I never thought of it that way. That’s good advice. Thank you. I’ll just try to ignore them.” “There you go!” I enthused. As we stood up, she gave me a big hug and said “Thanks!” I was delighted that a five-minute conversation could be of so much help to someone.
Back on the street corner, the traffic light has turned green, and I start across, leaving the media event far behind me. As I walk past the billboards I think to myself that although those five minutes I spent being the Good News for Diane, our conversation was not as glamorous as a media event, and it didn’t attract any trucks with satellite dishes on top, but it was, I think, exactly what our Lord had in mind when he told his apostles, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news.”

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