lent 2010: media mayhem


“The survival of the secular news business depends upon its ability to convince us that life is unstable.” — Al Kresta, national Catholic radio talk-show host

A couple years ago, we switched from cable to digital TV. I couldn’t figure out the fancy new remote, so I gave up, just walked away from TV altogether. It seemed too complicated to bother.

That’s what I told myself anyway, but the true reason wasn’t quite so simple.

Early in my career, when I was working as a newspaper reporter, I interviewed the mother of a family who did not possess a television. Instead of watching the tube, her children did strange things in their off time, like…read books. Yet they seemed so well-adjusted and happy. That’s the kind of home environment I want to have someday, I thought.

As I was imagining my perfect someday-family, I hadn’t considered the fact that my husband’s modest-sized childhood home contains five televisions. Their noise is as much a part of the background as the hum of the refrigerator. I’ll admit, at times, having so many options for TV-viewing has been a blessing during visits when our children have threatened an eruption over who gets to watch what. But, it’s different than what I experienced growing up. Our family had one plain TV, no frills, just three channels, not even cable-ready.

These days, the TV claims my attention about once a week, when my husband and I curl up in his man cave and watch a movie or television show. Occasionally, when something spectacular comes on — like the opening night of the Olympics — I will pause to join the rest of the family in watching. But mostly, it’s not on my radar. I get news from other sources –- radio, newspaper and the Internet.

I’ve only realized slowly that the void I’d assumed might result never did present itself. And I’m starting to piece together why.

Back when the remote became too burdensome, something else was going on inside of me. I was beginning to feel unsatisfied with what I was seeing on 24-7 TV news. It was beginning to feel like a hallow pursuit. I was finding myself constantly filtering the messages coming at me; messages that were in stark contrast to what I believe and hope about the world, from commercials to talk shows to sitcoms.

We are what we eat, meaning, we become what we ingest. If all we’re taking into ourselves is what’s on television these days, we’re on a dangerous path of spiritual decay. It happens slowly, but rest assured, it happens – to us, and to our children.

At a recent fundraising event for our local Catholic radio station, national talk-show host Al Kresta talked about the difference between secular and Catholic media. Secular media, he asserted, thrives on a different set of sensibilities than Catholic media. With secular media, there is a constant need to “feed the beast,” to present the next drama, the next unresolved element of a story. “If the problem is solved, you’ve lost something and you have to come up with something else,” he said. In this way, it can never satisfy, no matter how much we keep hoping it will. Un-resolve keeps us glued to the set, but ultimately, it’s unfulfilling as well as inaccurate.
“The survival of the secular news business depends upon its ability to convince us that life is unstable,” Kresta said. “Secular media depends upon its ability to convince us that it knows what reality is.”

I’ll admit, I was a reluctant listener at first. Catholic radio seemed lacking in musical output, but over time, I saw clearly how its non-music content clearly and assuredly made up for this lack. Once I really started listening, I couldn’t stop. Now, I listen while I’m in the car, or when I’m cleaning the house. I’m telling you, it brings meaning to my mopping. Catholic radio is my daily companion as I move from one domestic task to the next, and when the programs are over, I feel like I’ve actually learned something meaningful and useful. I feel invigorated, and filled with hope.

Through Catholic radio, I’ve fed my ravenous soul. Yes, my soul is starving for good food, because out in the secular world the pickings are slim, the cupboards pretty bare. But if you dig into the pantry of Catholic media, you’ll find well-stocked shelves full of nourishing offerings.

If you haven’t tried it yet, I dare you to. But be forewarned: You might actually end up feeling truly edified and not emptier than when you first tuned in.

The next best thing to listening to Catholic radio, for me, has been to be a part of it through monthly radio hosting. On Monday, I’ll be interviewing Jennifer Fulwiler from Conversion Diary, as well as Lisa Hendey, author of The Handbook for Catholic Moms: Nurturing Your Heart, Body, Mind and Soul and founder of the catholicmom.com website. After that, we’ll offer our second “From the Catholic View” segment and discuss "Family size in the eyes of the Church." If you have a chance, tune in from 9 to 11 a.m. CST on Monday, March 1. You can catch us on the Internet as well on "Real Presence Live" by clicking here.

If you do happen to listen in, please drop by my email box to let me know what you think. And may your media intake satisfy your hunger pangs in the weeks ahead.