Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Faith Works 8-22-15

Faith Works 8-22-15

Jeff Gill


Sex, violence, and good news

Perhaps this venue isn't the best place to say this, but there's very little good news in the news these days.

Now, in what era couldn't you say that? There will always be "wars and rumors of wars" in this world, and the problem newspapers and now websites have is that, while we say we want good news, in fact if you put a wreck with blood on the pavement and a hand out the window on the front page, that's going to sell (or click) a three times the rate, or more, than a cover photo of a sweet little girl with a basket of puppies. It's been tested over and over, and the fact is we say we want one thing, but we buy another.

And the news business responds, as all businesses must.

In our more liberated age, you have the added complication of sex. Yes, sex. By the way, if you put the word sex three times in a piece, it gets much more search engine attention. Advocate editors, you're welcome.

But it's true: if you can find a plausible way to put the word sex in a headline it's going to get more attention from readers, more clicks and follows and reposts, so you see a great deal more of it. Even when it's "Experts debate the sex of the next royal baby" or "Insects who change sex between seasons" the attention follows.

Violence, sex, and death . . . the obituaries still get lots of traffic, too. Even if that's just some of us checking each morning to see if our name is listed there, so we know whether to put our shoes on or not.

Is that all we care about? Is bad news, and salacious information, and titillation of the senses the only good we pursue?

Actually, I think there's a silver lining to be found, one that preachers and teachers of good news and the Good News might want to attend to. I thought about this because of some work my wife and I have done over the years with museums and exhibits and cultural & natural resource interpretation.

We all know, in visitor centers and site planning, that the average visitor, whether they went out of their way to see this special spot or just happened to pass by and wanted a way to kill an hour, is primarily interested in two things as they come in the door. One is: where's the bathroom? It's a basic human need, part of Maslow's famous hierarchy at the peak, and some things come first. So you locate and place signage and train staff to meet that need, whether you're a historical park or an archaeological museum or a nature center.

Second is: where's the gift shop? Professionals often sigh and moan over this reality, but the smart scholars and scientists know it's an opportunity. Not just an opportunity to pay the staff and keep the lights on through profits, but you can teach with a gift shop, just as you do with the rest of your displays. And these displays they can choose, by their own actions, to take home: why not use that impulse?

So you stock your shelves with materials that reinforce your message, and encourage the purchase of books and toys and games that keep your theme memorable all the way back to their home. It's an opportunity, not a problem.

Bad news may be on the front page of the paper, but there's news we're interested in, too, that's talking about hopes and dreams and aspirations. It's called the advertising. Do you, as a person of faith, read the ads for what they tell you about the good news your community is hungry for?

Those ads may occasionally make you roll your eyes ("do people really want to buy that?") but it's a very reliable indicator: if an ad isn't reaching people, it's going to disappear. Because someone is paying for it to be there. Read the ads, preachers and teachers and mentors and spiritual directors. There you find the currents that often folks can't quite articulate, but in which they are very conversant.

Oh, and those restrooms in museums and visitor centers? Smart sites teach in there, too; signage and wall space and even the fixtures themselves can reaffirm themes and messages. In our church bathrooms, is there a missed opportunity to share Good News, even in just a few words on the wall?

Because people are seeking good news, all the time. Everywhere.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him where you found good news at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

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