Editorial: The best escape from bad news

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I suppose I’m like you in at least one way: I get tired of bad news. After a day of it, I just want to get away.

One way I try to get away from bad news is through humor. Hoping for some brevity, I subscribed to Christianity Today’s “Church Humor” weekly email. Yesterday, after seeing a couple of particularly bad news items and finishing most of my weekly “to do” list, I opened the “Church Humor” email, clicked on “Stuff Presbyterian Seminarians Say,” and watched the video.

In this long-ish YouTube video, a Presbyterian seminarian rehearses tropes distinctive to his denomination. He delivers a string of one-liners about topics like Calvin, depravity, praise songs, the Montreat Conference Center—the Glorieta of the PCUSA—and unintelligible Presbyterian acronyms. (Don’t pretend like Baptists don’t have unintelligible acronyms—BGCT, CLC, NAMB, IMB, WMU, TBM and among many others, my personal favorite, CNBAM.)

Though lighthearted, the video didn’t help. Maybe because I’m not Presbyterian.

News you may want to tune out

Here are some news items from the last few days that may send us looking for an escape.

Beto O’Rourke pledged—if elected—to remove the tax-exempt status of religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage.

President Trump ordered American troops out of northeast Syria ahead of a planned military operation by Turkey targeting our Kurdish allies.

Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed in her mother’s home by former Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean.

• Former worship leader Jeff Berry was arrested on allegations of a child sex crime.

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Dallas Baptist University was evacuated and classes were canceled after “a bomb and coordinated armed threat” was made to the campus. This less than two weeks after Baylor had a lockdown due to a shooting in a nearby apartment complex and after schools in south Plano were under lockout twice in two weeks due to police activity in their neighborhood.

That Presbyterian video sounds really good right now, doesn’t it?

Responding to this kind of news

Predictable reactions followed the news listed above: outrage, speculation, blaming, threatening, worrying, handwringing, watching Presbyterian videos.

There seems to be only so much bad news we can take. Bad news—by engaging our emotions and endocrine system—literally wears us out. Bad news produces a stress response we want to avoid. We have enough stress without adding bad news to the mix.

When confronted with bad news, we react with fight, flight or freeze. We find these instinctual reactions very difficult to control. We need to acknowledge our tendencies to fight, flight or freeze and differentiate these reactions from responses.

Reacting accomplishes less good than acting. Even though stress wearies us, we must not grow weary in doing good. After our very human reactions to bad news, we need to move beyond outrage, speculation, blaming, threatening, worrying, handwringing and escapist humor. We need to respond.

Meeting bad news one response after another

When bad things happen, we must respond. As followers of Christ, when bad things happen, we must embody Jesus Christ in the midst of bad situations.

We need to practice religious liberty and freedom of conscience available to all persons, whether or not we agree with all persons’ religious convictions and expressions.

We need to demonstrate how it costs us less to defend our allies than it costs us to betray our character. We are not perfect people, which is why we have to work so hard to be noble and honorable.

We need to seek justice in response to injustice, knowing that justice-seeking can be a slow and fallible process. We are not God and don’t see all the facts clearly. Therefore, we need to extend grace and mercy as these have been extended to us, and we need to pursue justice even when the facts are not in our favor.

We need to defend the vulnerable. There doesn’t seem to be a better way to say that. We need to defend the vulnerable. Ah, but that requires us to acknowledge the vulnerable, that they exist and that they indeed are vulnerable—and that not all of us are.

We need to train up our children to respect and cherish the humanity of others. We must honor the humanity of other people and teach our children to do the same. Those who harm or threaten to harm other people do so after learning other people don’t matter so much.

How Jesus met the worst news

In response to our rejection of God—sin—and the death that followed, Jesus didn’t stew or escape in satire. Jesus—as an expression of God’s love and pain—became Immanuel, God with us. Jesus lived our mess and ultimately was killed by it, but not before teaching us with his very life how to respond to bad news with our lives.

The best escape from bad news isn’t sticking our heads in the sand or losing ourselves in entertainment.

The best escape from bad news isn’t lashing out to exact our own vengeance on wrongdoers.

The best escape from bad news is getting involved in turning bad news into good. That’s the redeeming and reconciling work of Jesus Christ.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at eric.black@baptiststandard.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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