Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

A Lesson on Decency from NPR

If you catch National Public Radio at certain times of the week, they do a little segment on what listeners are saying in response to some feature they’ve done. The one I caught today took on their coverage of the Israel/Hamas tragedy (war is always tragic).

Poor NPR can never get it right. One listener heard one story that spotlighted Israel’s struggles. Another heard a piece a day later (or the day before, I don’t remember) on the plight of the Palestinians. Neither heard both and both lambasted NPR for “biased reporting.” Hm.

I’ve heard NPR do this segment many times. They simply report the comments of the listeners, acknowledging (sometimes with a bit of whimsy and sometimes with a tinge of irony) the limitations with their reportage and always thanking listeners for the comments and always inviting more.

One can take the cynical route and conclude that NPR is simply using this tactic as a sophisticated form of marketing or something. Still, as a Christian who is quite willing to share his opinions on any number of topics – even ones about which I know practically nothing – I find this NPR action very instructive.

NPR knows the business they’re in. They accept without rancor what goes with the territory. They’re courteous to their listeners and they don’t get defensive with unfair characterizations of their reporting. And most importantly, they do a great job of resisting the temptation to have the last word.

In media such as radio and TV, where constant sarcasm has replaced humor, where people are exposed and defamed on an almost daily basis, where pundits second-guess everything and call it “analysis,” where verbal violence is accepted as a matter of course, NPR (whatever you think of their biases) is a steady, faithful witness to plain, common human decency.

Christians, let us learn the lesson. Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute or despitefully use us. When the high school valedictorian makes the news for suing the local school administration because they made her drop the God-talk from her valedictory; when we vociferously protect our rights while lambasting the ACLU for trying to uphold someone else’s; when we cut up somebody who doesn’t agree with us then cry foul when what goes around comes around, we do not honor the One whom we say we love.

Many good and useful outcomes might arise if Christians – opinionated ones like myself – would learn this lesson of decency and humility in our witness. We should engage the culture. We should state our opinions, using all the appropriate means available. We should even use sarcasm and satire, but always with the NPR lesson in mind: let us never cross the line of common human decency.

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January 7, 2009 - Posted by | Christian Spirituality

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