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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sensational Lies


Sensationalism sells.  We all enjoy a little of it from time to time, for it can break up the mundane daily grind which we so often experience as we go through life.    Sensationalism often approaches us through curiosity.  It is the curiosity factor of headlines like “Woman Gives Birth to Three Headed Baby” which keeps the tabloids selling in the grocery store checkout lanes.  Our curiosity fuels the paparazzi’s drive to provide us with tidbits on the latest doings of the Hollywood stars and starlets.  The sensational headlines arrest our wandering attention.

Sensationalism also gives us news, particularly of catastrophic and other noteworthy events.  But too often, as in the case of the earliest reports of the Trayvon Martin case, they take great liberties with the truth.  I experienced this during my college years in the 1960s while attending a small college located in a rural community who’s Main Street, about four blocks long, dead-ended at one end of town and ran twenty miles out in the country at the other end. On the first warm evening of spring the power to both the college and the town was knocked out.  Students swarmed out of their dorms, eventually ending up at an intersection at the edge of town where a few minor skirmishes occurred.  The following day rumors were running rampant that the students were going to riot downtown that evening, smashing all the storefronts.  As a result county patrolmen from the surrounding sheriff’s departments were brought in to quell any disturbances.  That evening a crowd of people gathered in the downtown area.  Half of them were townspeople curious as to what might happen, the other half students, also curious as to what would happen.  And then there were a dozen drunken students standing at an intersection, where traffic was directed by a county sheriff, located one-half block downhill from where my friends and I were standing.  When the sheriff stopped traffic to let the cross traffic proceed, these students threw up their hands, yelled and crossed the street.  After a few times of doing this, one of them yelled “I dropped my glasses” and they all started milling around in the street.  The sheriff, with three squirts of mace, broke it up, and the “riot” was over.  As we talked with him afterwards (one of my friends was his nephew) he indicated the entire situation hadn’t amounted to much.  The headlines of the paper the following day read “1500 Students Test Riot Police”.  We gathered clippings from all the newspapers in a 150 mile radius, reading them out loud that night amidst gales of laughter.  The all carried sensational headlines.  From this I learned to avoid taking news accounts at face value.  They are written to sell papers more than providing truth.  When reading sensational headlines it is very easy to jump to false conclusions.

It is unfortunate that in the church we can find ourselves guilty of the same. It most often takes the form of gossip.  Gossip is exciting and we can’t wait to share it with someone else.  It also feeds on curiosity.  We hear something about another person and pass it on to others as gospel truth, without checking up on the facts.  In so doing, we can destroy relationships and even lives.  Once it is spread it can’t be controlled.  We can’t take it back.  Therefore it is important for us to avoid succumbing to the sensationalism bug.  If we have, we need to repent and ask forgiveness.  Have you ever been bitten by this bug?  Is it still biting you?