You are what you let yourself see

Husband and I have been having conversations lately about what we watch, what we listen to, and what we see online.

Today’s movies, music, and reading material on- and offline are not the most enlightening, uplifting, or pure media around.

You might argue that dark, raw movies and shows are more “real” than Disneyesque ones. That the profanity and violence in them simply mirrors real life, and that’s what people relate to. Considering the reality of the latest mass shootings in Orlando, Dallas and Ft. Myers, and the fact that “House of Cards” is entertainingly, but also terrifyingly foreshadowing current American politics more each week, you could be right.

But should we debase ourselves with continually lower forms of human behavior in the name of being “real”? Do we really want to surround ourselves with music, words and images that encourage us to accept less than what this life could be?

Think about our current societal norms:

Swearing: Do we really like listening to people swear in real life? I don’t. A teenager sitting behind me on the metro last week apparently needed to prove how adult he was to his female companion by dropping F-bombs every other sentence. His lack of a substantial vocabulary was embarrassing.

Violence: Do we really want mass shootings to become part of our daily diet, enough so that we allow ourselves to be entertained by stories of people being slaughtered? When the movie “Flight 93” came out more than 10 years ago, I refused to see it. First, it was too soon. I remember the shock and fear of being an American alive on Sept. 11, 2001, and I did not want (still do not want) to pay $8 to relive that horror on a big screen. Second, what kind of person thinks it’s okay to profit from people’s obsession with that macabre chapter of our history? Do they do it so we won’t forget, and it won’t be repeated? Anyone who was alive that day knows all about it, and the types of people who might use airplanes as missiles again aren’t going to find the moral nugget in a memorial movie.

We focus on the “hero” rescuers in these types of stories, but they would not be heroes if someone didn’t die in a shocking and terrible way first. There are other places and situations in which we can find heroes. The idea of a first responder or police being a hero has largely been borne out of 9/11. They are indispensable, often selfless members of society, but probably every one of them would gladly give up the mantle of “hero” and go back to relative obscurity if 9/11 could be erased from history.

Acceptance and promotion of the grotesque: Do we really want to patronize media that glorifies villains, real and fictional, so that others watching will think, I’d like to be famous, too? So that the standard for what is “real,” what is “tough,” and what is “edgy” is continually more grotesque?

Here’s an example of grotesque: The Stanford rapist has been convicted in a court of law of raping an unconscious woman, but because Americans tend to blame rape victims for being raped, he thinks he should not be punished.

He has sexually violated someone, and he thinks that because he’s male, a good swimmer, and a student at a prestigious university, he has too much to lose and deserves a break.

I’m all for discussing his actions and the way American culture is reacting, but beyond an intellectual look at the facts, he doesn’t deserve any more of our attention.

Here’s another example of the grotesque: Follow a certain presumptive Republican presidential nominee on Twitter, or read about almost any comment that comes out of his mouth, and the hate, anger, racism, xenophobia, misogyny and general discarding of truth/facts he’s inspiring. Is that how we want to be represented? Not just as Americans, but as fellow human beings? The media covers him because he’s running for president, but the endless shock-and-awe coverage is wearing on me. Stop giving the guy a mic and column-inches, and he won’t have the chance to incite more hatred.

On a smaller stage, Husband will send me memes or videos he thinks are funny, but that I think are offensive. Or in poor taste.

Or he’ll say something like, “Woman! Make me a sandwich!” Then immediately, “Of course I’m joking, babe!” He IS joking, but it’s not funny. The memes aren’t enlightening. The videos are dumb. And he’ll tell me, “Well, this stuff just comes up through my app! I can’t control it!” Well, yes you can – you can choose not to open the iFunny app. You can choose not to watch that video. You can choose not to “joke” about my place in the kitchen. I am not a complete angel when it comes to the media I consume or the things I say, but I do try to not bother with pieces I know are going to be smutty.

Just like the people we surround ourselves with determine in large part who we become, the things we hear and see teach us how to talk and how to act.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have asked that the Lord is good. 1 Peter 2:1-3

I would like to take this verse and paste it everywhere in our house.

If you surround yourself with words, images and people who speak to the darker, stagnant parts of our existence, you will only be able to live out a dark and stagnant existence yourself.

I don’t watch shows like The Bachelor/Bachelorette, movies like “Trainwreck,” or listen to most any country song produced in the last four years because none of those things espouse the type of person I want to be or the relationship I’d like to have with my husband. Watch and listen to a sample of any of those. What would happen in real life if you related to your friends or partner the way these media encourage you?

We’re not called to put aside trashy things because we’re working toward salvation or heaven. We’re already chosen for those things. We’re called to discard smut because God already considers us above all that.

I would like to think my husband is above porn and stupid videos that make fun of people groups or individuals.

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6 (NIV)

We are often so concerned with leaving a legacy, or “winning,” that we don’t realize how self-destructive that can be. Look at any meme or headline online. They don’t just say, “This happened, or this was said, and I disagree. Here’s why.” They immediately throw a punch with phrases like, “Watch this reporter DESTROY this college student’s logic,” or “Neighbors thought this guy was CRAZY for doing THIS INSANE THING, but the guy PROVES THEM WRONG!!” There is no civility. There is no neutrality. There always has to be a winner and a loser.

For a more subtle example, look at the trails we leave on social media. It’s easy to criticize others when you do it from the safety of your keyboard, and lots of people take advantage of that. But your friends are watching, and what happens to the trust and credibility they’ve placed in you when they see you reposting inflammatory information and joining in the virtual riots around an issue or person who has made a very human mistake? Will they continue to trust and respect you if you throw your hands up and say, “Oh, that wasn’t for real, I was just passing along what I saw!”

Really, it wasn’t real? But… You thought it worth real time to perpetuate it…

What could life look like if we chose life and peace over death and divisiveness in what we let ourselves see? Could we carry ourselves with a little more dignity and confidence? Could we rise to the level of friend, sister, brother, parent, or spouse we want to be? Could we trust a little more that God is going to work for our good, even when our current situation doesn’t appear that way – even when yet another shooting is in the news? Even when your fellow city dweller can’t find more eloquent speech? Even when a would-be leader wants you to hate anyone who doesn’t look like him?

Could we step our from inside our head, and say, “It’s already decided – I’m on the winning side. Now I’m going to enjoy life a little more.”?

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