Tag Archives: Media

Why Read the Old Testament?

Some people complain about the selections from the Old Testament we’re reading at weekday Mass these past few weeks. Too long, they say, they don’t tell us anything. They’d rather hear what Jesus is saying and doing.

Why do we read from the Old Testament? Reading from the Old Testament is a lot like reading from the New York Times or the Daily News, or following David Muir on ABC each evening. You’re not going to hear much about Jesus there either. The media gives us the news of the day as it happens and, especially these days, it’s not encouraging.

Not much encouraging news in our Old Testament reading today from the Book of Numbers either. (Numbers 13-14) Giants are out there blocking the way to the promised land. Israel’s scouts face giants as they reconnoiter the world ahead. There’s no way ahead.

Our media tells us the same: giants are blocking our way– North Korea, the Middle East, storms from climate change, political giants who seem to get in the way of a world of justice and peace. And we don’t have answers what to do.

But the Old Testament tells us more than the media. It’s salvation history. More than the story of the Jews, the Old Testament is the story of the human race and all creation on a journey, from the beginning of time to its end. Human sinfulness, tragedies and delays are there, but the story begins and ends in hope. God is there.

That makes the Old Testament stories so different from the stories the media serves up everyday. God is there from the beginning. That’s the way our selection today from the Book of Numbers begins: “The LORD said to Moses [in the desert of Paran,]‘Send men to reconnoiter the land of Canaan,
which I am giving the children of Israel.’” And God is there as his people experience the consequences of their foolishness and lack of faith.

The columnist David Brooks in the Times yesterday said he has to think less about Donald Trump or he’s going to go crazy. He needs to think more about the deeper shifts taking place in society, he says.

I wonder if thinking about the deeper shifts is enough to stop you from going crazy these days. We need hope from another source. That’s where the Old Testament and the rest of the scriptures comes in. Some prefer calling it the “First Testament.” It testifies that the first thing to keep in mind about time is that God is there, from beginning to the end. God is our Savior.

Passionist Media

I’ve been involved in the  “New Media” for a number of years now, and I’ve learned a  bit. But it’s a fast moving field and not easy to keep up with.

The New Media comes from the rapid rise of the computer and the growth of the internet in the 1980s. Until then, we used print, radio and television for public communication.

Today, the New Media is found not only in web-sites, blogs, communication tools like e-mail,  Facebook and Twitter, but it’s also transforming the “Old Media” through digital television and online publications.

The New Media is changing the way we communicate.  In the crisis in Iran a few months ago, the government shut down outside television coverage, but the world learned about it anyway,  largely through the New Media.  A shift is taking place in who controls mass communication today and the means to do it. I commented on this in a previous blog.

The New Media tends to be less expensive and less dependent on professionals than the older media. Anyone with a digital camera, a computer and a little know-how can put a video on YouTube or Vimeo. A maze of blogs and websites on the Internet offers a bewildering range of opinions and subjects.

For religious communities like mine, the New Media offers a real opportunity. We are a global community to begin with, and the New Media is global in its outreach. We have a solid spiritual and pastoral tradition and the bazaar of conflicting religious ideas needs some solid religious teachers.

We are branching out from some of our old media ventures to incorporate the new. We have a good province website. The Sunday Mass has a site on the internet.  Compassion Magazine has an online edition. Many of the print publications and videos from Passionist Press can be sampled or seen online.  There are some Passionist blogs around, from the UN and for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of  Creation. A quick look at Google Search, the standard for measuring new media success, says we are still proclaiming the Passion of Jesus.

I was encouraged last Tuesday to see some proposals for our chapter this May involving the new media and the media in general,

I hope we commit ourselves to it.

Religious Bias in the Media

In the November 8th issue of the New York Times, Clark Hoyt, the public editor of the paper, took one of their theater critics to task for his review of Terrance McNally’s play Corpus Christi, a play about the Last Supper. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/opinion/09pubed.html?_r=1)

“Set in Corpus Christi, Tex., where McNally grew up, it turns the story of Jesus and his disciples into a parable about the persecution of gays. Along the way, it pushes what have to be hot buttons for many Christians. Jesus is born in a shabby motel room; loud, abusive heterosexual sex takes place in the room next door; Joseph is a boorish, profane carpenter; Mary isn’t much of a mother; Jesus discovers he is gay and has sex (not on stage) with the young men who become his disciples; he performs miracles, officiates at a gay wedding, is ultimately betrayed by Judas and is crucified.”

Hoyt criticized the critic for making no mention that the play could offend the sensibilities of a large Christian public, Catholics among them. (He heard from a large number of Catholics prompted by the fiery Bill Donohue)  Hoyt said the review lacked objectivity. Indirectly, he also criticized the editor of the Times for standing behind  the review.

I wrote to Hoyt afterwards:

“Thanks for the way you dealt with the Corpus Christi review. Freedom of speech isn’t an absolute right to say anything you think or please. Speech is a gift for communicating, hard as it is.

Talking to ourselves and our own gang isn’t enough. That’s what your reviewer did, in my opinion.

Listening is a gift too. Thanks for hearing Donohue. He can be hard to take.”

I’m afraid this one-sided presentation rules the media nowadays, and I don’t see much effort to confront it. I saw a presentation by the National Geographic last night on the life of Jesus and I was ready to throw a shoe at the television. National Geographic, in its religious presentations, is especially offensive to mainline Christian belief, it seems. You also see the same thing at times on the History Channel.

For one thing, Catholics and others like the Eastern Orthodox and mainline Protestants  are hardly represented  at all, and if they are mentioned  they seem somewhat reactionary. The scholars, most of whom I don’t recognize, are predominantly from the opposite side.

The Catholic Church, in these presentations, is often seen as a tainted source.

It’s usually Catholics who are singled out for their regressive opinions. Sometimes they’re pictured as conspirators holding back the tide of truth. That was the way they were pictured the other night in a program on the Dead Sea Scrolls. A bunch of Dominican priests, “Vatican agents,” controlled the scrolls when they were discovered, so that the “truth” would not get out, according to one television source.

Anyone aware of the history of the Dominicans in the Holy Land would know they were hardly Vatican agents. Just the opposite. They were progressive scholars, often at odds with Rome at the time.

Unfortunately, most of our people get their information about the bible and religion from the media. They are reading books and magazines less and less. They often ask me about it and I do what I can, but we need help. As churchgoing becomes rarer, the media will become for many their sole source of religious knowledge.

We need media apologists. God help us.