Seeing Peter Jennings in NYC; Or, What the Nightly News Can Teach the Church

When I was in college, I spent the summer with my sister and her family in New York City. It was an amazing experience, as we lived right across the street from Central Park, and just a couple of blocks from the American Museum of Natural History, where I worked. I loved being in the middle of the action; it was a cool summer, full of unique and memorable experiences.

One sticks out, though it wasn’t all that exciting. It was the day I was walking to work and I happened by Peter Jennings, who was also heading to work. Maybe I remember it because he was the only “celebrity” I saw that summer. Or maybe it was memorable because that was the day when the work Jennings did — being the nightly news anchor — made him a well-known personality. Today, if my kids walked by David Muir (Peter Jennings’ current successor), they wouldn’t have a clue who he is. I’m guessing most people under 30 wouldn’t.

This week, my dad had some surgery, so I went to see him and my mom. One evening, while we were with my dad in his hospital room, my mom turned on the TV to watch the evening news. We were in St Louis, so 5:30 is the time when the nightly news comes on. And so, the TV came on, because my mom likes the news. I’m pretty sure she knows who David Muir is.

In fact, my 84-year-old mother plans her evening around the evening news. My 21-year-old daughter, however, does not. In fact, she likely has not, and probably never will, watch the evening news. How my child gets news is very different than how my mother gets news. Even so, they both have a need to know what’s going on. So, as the major networks search for ways to continue to connect to people like my mom, they also must search for new ways to connect to people like my daughter. (Good luck with that.)

But let’s expand the idea out even further. ABC, CBS, and NBC aren’t the only outlets struggling to remain relevant in the news business. Every newspaper and news magazine in America is facing the challenge of digital media, which is completely free of having to broadcast at a certain time or having to actually print the news once a day.

So, why do I bring all of this up? Not because I care that much how people get their news — but because I care how people approach change. Because, for all the lessons the news-delivery business can teach us, it sure can teach us about change.

For many, change is difficult. This is especially true for my mom. There is no wifi at her apartment. She has no smart phone. She talks about how “they don’t make things like they used to.”

My daughter, meanwhile, can’t imagine life without the internet. She will never not have a smart phone. She has very little appreciation of how they used to make things.

Who is right? My mom? My daughter? Or neither one?

Maybe the question isn’t about who is right, but about learning the lessons of communication in a world that is changing — whether we like it, or not. Just as both my mom and daughter want to get the news, but access it different ways, so also we who follow Jesus have to recognize that we have the news — and not just any news, but the Good News; the freedom-giving, hope-filling, life-changing transformation of God in Jesus Christ. And what matters more than how we get it to people, is that we do.

For the Church to be serious about loving people like my mom, we have to value the ways that they are used to hearing the Good News. But if the Church is going to be serious about loving people like my daughter, then we also have to value the ways she is most likely to hear the Good News. In fact, I’ll go a step further: We must never stop valuing and honoring those who already know the Good News, but we must choose ways for those who don’t know it — or who are just learning it — to hear it. We have got to stop worrying less about how we share the Good News, and spend more time considering actually sharing it in ways that clearly and consistently point people to Jesus.

Because here’s the thing: eventually, the Evening News will cease to exist as we know it. Or, at the very least, it will only reach a handful of folks. (In fact, that is already true: less than 10% of Americans currently watch any of the 3 major networks’ nightly news programs.) At the same time, print publications are falling by the wayside. There is no one in the news business who has any doubt that the news-delivery business is changing, and will continue to change. What won’t change, of course, is that there is news to deliver.

The Church must pay attention this reality. We have the Good News. That does not change; never has, never will. But what does change — and is changing, whether we like it or not — is how that news is delivered, and received. We who care about Jesus, and his mission, cannot miss this lesson.

In my next post, I’ll say more about this. Stay tuned….

Finding New Paths

As we do every year, our family spent Thanksgiving in eastern Kentucky. It’s my wife’s old stomping grounds — her parents still live in the house where Kim did most of her growing up.

While we were there, we drove across town a couple of times. To get there, Kim drove us down some back roads that she has taken her entire life — roads she remembers her mom taking. So, essentially, she has gone on these winding roads her entire life.

But on one of our excursions around town, I pulled up Google on my phone and let it map out the best way to go. And, whaddyaknow, the path Kim had always taken was not the path recommended by “Cali” (the name I gave my version of Siri; don’t ask). Now, being the faithful and loyal husband that I am, I didn’t simply take Cali’s word for it. She was the new kid on the block, and she was looking to go against decades of tradition. And while both Cali & Kim are good about telling me when I am wrong, only one of these women in my life has an off switch. 🙂

But as I studied Cali’s recommended route, it did look better than the tried-and-true. And when we got home, my wife pulled up a map on the computer, and after looking at it, she too recognized: It was better. For more than four decades, my wife had been taking the same road over and over, but a new perspective helped her see: there is a better way to get where she’s going.

When I think about change, and life — and faith, and church — one thing does not change. Our goal. Our destination. Our direction. We are following Jesus, learning to be more like Jesus, on the journey to one day be with Jesus — completely and forever. This does not change.

But sometimes the path we take to become like Jesus can change. Should change. As we learn more, and learn more what matters, change is both important — and essential.

Someone has pointed out that there is an exhibit at the Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta that says: “We must adjust to change while holding to unchanging principles.” These words are vital for the Church. And they are vital for life — for every person on the journey of faith. For at the end of the day, what matters most is not that we do what we we’ve always done, but that we become what we are meant to become.

Ready for what’s next?

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In this week’s post, I have included two pictures. The first is of a snowman my kids built during one (of the many) winter storms we’ve had this year. He apparently fell over on his own, and if you look closely, you’ll see his gloved “arm” held up in the air — as if to say: Little help, here!

If a snowman is asking for help this winter, then how about those of us who aren’t snow-people? We, too, are asking: Little help, here! It’s February. Is a 40 degree day too much to ask?

So, to help you get ready for what’s coming, I have also included a picture below from last month; when my wife and I were at the beach in southern California last month. I include the picture for at least three reasons:

  1. We were in SoCal in January!
  2. You weren’t. And I’m sorry for you. I really am.
  3. Since this has been the craziest winter most of us can remember, maybe looking at this picture of me and Kim at the beach will make you feel warmer. Maybe. Or maybe just jealous.

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But really, there is nothing like a reminder that how things are now (ice, cold, power outages, frozen car doors) is not how they will always be. Change in the weather is coming. We can’t get the beach to Louisville, but eventually we will get the warmth. Hang in there. It’s coming. I promise.

But even more exciting than warmer weather is what is coming at Fern Creek Christian. On February 23, we will unveil our church’s clarified vision and values. They won’t be new as much as renewed — an opportunity for us to focus on where we are going, and why. So, I hope you will make sure to be with us Sunday, February 23, for what is coming next.

And who knows, maybe the weather will have changed by then — and temps will actually be higher than the speed limit in your subdivision.