I went to a store this evening in my hometown. It’s a very small store, the kind where one clerk (the owner’s daughter) sits around watching television as she waits for a customer to show up. I live in a very small town.
So I walked in and was instantly hit with the sound of the TV. It was some kind of cop-reality show, where a questioner with a microphone followed an old, gray man down an institutional hallway accusing him of torturing people. And the owner’s daughter sat there greeting me heartily.
I returned her friendliness, but I instantly wanted to ask, “How can you stand to have this talk about torturing people in your environment?”
I didn’t say it out loud; I have no way to know whether she even heard what the idiot box was spewing out. But maybe she did hear it, and took it as something interesting. After all, she chose the channel.
I don’t want to be a crank; no one needs me walking into their lonely store bitching about the utter assault of television. I did my little customer thing, paid her money and got the hell out—but not before she did a genuinely humane thing, talking up a blues band appearing in town that night at one of the local bars. She said she went to school with one of the players, her parents knew the other guys and “they’re really good.”
She didn’t make any money off this, it was purely an act of friendship, both to the guys in the band and to me. She spoke as if I were a real human being, not just a wallet. I appreciated her enthusiasm.
However, there’s still the old man accused of torturing people, which she accidentally inflicted upon me because I happened to arrive at the wrong time. She chose the station and then I showed up.
I don’t watch television, any of it, ever. Haven’t for 20 years, and not because of some moral superiority; I had a sick lover and a business to run and I just ran out of time for television. Once you drop out of pop culture, you can never drop back in. In five years the stars all change, and the people who are famous now you never heard of, and may not be impressed with. They’re invariably less talented than the ones before; TV cheapens everything.
The tube’s more addictive than ever—more aggressive, more demanding—but if circumstance pulls you away for it, you may not miss it in the least. Your life becomes more peaceful, less violent, less materialistic. You stop being subjected to 500,000 commercials, which vastly improves your quality of life.
Thus walking into a store can be a harrowing experience. Torturing people was the last thing on my mind, and the last thing I wanted on my mind.
TV-watchers become desensitized. Non-TV-watchers become horribly aware of depravity and perversion, violence and inhumanity, that makes money for Mickey D’s.
Did the old man in the jumpsuit torture people? If he did, why would I want him in my house?
I spend a fair amount of time gazing at religious icons because of my website, dailyoffice.org. This makes it very hard to look at torturers. I no longer have a context in which to view violence.
Because of my prayer site, I get e-mails and blog comments from people asking religious questions and looking for spiritual advice. I’ve had to start asking God to bless and guide my replies, as I’ve become more aware that some people think I’m a priest (I’m not) or that I’m some kind of expert who speaks with authority. I don’t know what impact my answers will have, so I’m becoming more circumspect.
My single best advice is this: throw out your TV. Just trash it. Give it away.
My next best: give God five minutes every day. Read a psalm. Open yourself just a little, and God will slowly fill your life.
Sin, and people who torture others, and terrorists who blow up Mumbai, and our own inclination to regress and screw up and go nutty: these are facts of life. I’m not immune. I go stupid on a regular basis.
But God is love, and our own lives tell us so in our friends and family. So we need to be about the spreading of love and not torture.
Maybe this sounds simplistic to you, but I highly recommend you ditch the TV.
Fill your viewing with beauty instead. Look at this world we live in! Have you seen a blue heron lately, or a dandelion, or an infant’s fingernail?
We’re no longer what we eat, we’re what we view.
I don’t ever want torturers in my house. I want to fill it up with lovers.
But “our moral health” (what an ancient-sounding phrase) doesn’t just depend on what we look at, it depends on what we think about. Which is why, once the TV’s off, those five minutes a day of opening up to God are the best positive action we can take for our spiritual well-being.
If you’re especially devout you can pray the Daily Office according to the Book of Common Prayer; that’s what my websites are for. It’s a marvelous discipline. It’s speeded me light-years ahead of where I once was; I took on the responsibility of the websites to guarantee I would always open up for a few minutes, especially when I don’t feel like it. I have a responsibility to other people now, people who visit the websites to pray, and that’s how God keeps me in line to soak up more love.
As for my experience at the torture store, I need to harden myself a little. This sort of thing is going to happen, it’s everywhere in media society, and I need to remember that leaving my safe little haven always means taking on a little danger. Get out as fast as you can and go home.
Mourn for the dead in Mumbai and Nigeria and Wal-Mart, where a man was trampled to death for a flat-screen TV. Then give God five minutes every day, and see how your life is transformed.
That is to say, converted. I realize Gay guys aren’t supposed to be for Jesus, but I’m sold on him. Sweet and kind, angry and outspoken, longsuffering and gentle, this is the man I choose to pattern myself after. I’m often a miserable failure at it, but I know the God of love when I see him, and he’s the opposite of that torture guy at the sad little store.++