Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Have you seen the news today?

There was once a frail old man who lived with his son, his daughter in law and his 4 year old grandson. The son use to get very frustrated with the granddad at meal times because he would often spill his food onto the table and onto the floor. You see the grandfather’s hands shook. He made a right mess, just as his grandson once did. One day the son grew so frustrated that he decided that granddad could no longer eat with the rest of the family and would have to eat alone in another room. The family were then able to enjoy their meals together. The little boy though began to feel very sad. He noticed that there were often tears in his grandfather’s eyes and wanted to do something about it. He loved his granddad and he did not like to see him in pain.

The little boy loved Lego. One day he spent a long time carefully building several identical pieces with his blocks. His parents asked him “What are you building?” to which he replied “I’m making bowls for you and mummy for when I grow up and you get old and you have to sit in the other room at meal times.

His parents were shocked! But they immediately moved granddad back to the table. Interestingly granddad no longer spoiled meal times when his hands shook and he spilled his food. Granddad no longer cried either.

The little boy and sown some seeds of understanding into his parents lives. He brought them good news indeed and perhaps just as importantly they were able to hear what he had to say...they had ears that could listen.

It is easy to think that everything that we say, do and think has little or no meaning. That how we are has no real impact on the world in which we live.

Is this true? Is what we do insignificant?

While we as individuals are not masters of the universe, we are not the Prime Mover, what we do or do not do matters. We each and every one of us leaves an impact of some sort on this world of ours. It matters what we feel, think, say and do or for that matter do not do. A smile to someone passing you in the street may well set off a chain reaction of compassion throughout the world.

It really does matter

I was chatting with friends this morning over coffee. The conversation turned to the news and its impact upon us and how some people we know just will not watch it any longer, for fear of being dragged down into a pit of despair. “All we ever see is bad news”, they say. So the reaction is to turn away in indifference. I’ve done it myself from time to time, especially if I’m feeling a bit blue. You see they don’t seem to ever report the good news.

I have also noticed another response to bad news, people who seem obsessed almost addicted to it. Who put on the rolling news whenever a disaster or something unpleasant has happened in the world. This cannot be good for us and I am sure that it only feeds into the fear and dread we already have about life. It can prove to us that the world is an unsafe place and people are not to be trusted. It feeds those feelings of suspicion that we can all have as we go about our daily business. It leads to us looking at each other with fear in our eyes. When we feel like this we are highly unlikely to smile at the stranger. Quite the opposite I suspect and in fact if they did smile I am sure we would view them with suspicion. I know I have in the past.

A friend said to me, as we were walking back from the coffee shop this morning, that what is needed is some kind of chaos theory of love and compassion; that we need to spread this out into the world. I agree and strongly believe that one smile or act of love from a person in Altrincham can to lead to an avalanche or tidal wave of love in some other part of the world. These weren’t his exact words by the way, but it’s what I heard him say. Wonderful words I thought from someone who use to be the king of cynicism. By the way while he may have been the king, I was once the emperor. He told me that some small gesture I had done a while ago had led him to do something similar and that hopefully that would lead to the other person doing the same. The acts individually were nothing much in particular, but who knows what kind of chain reaction they may eventually lead to.

It seems that everything that we do and everything that we don’t do, does in fact matter. Who knows what chain reactions we are all setting off with every feeling, thought, word and action; by the way who knows what chain reactions we are setting off by our lack feeling, thought, word and action too. Everything we do or don’t do has an impact on the world we live in. No one is truly passive, even if they are doing nothing.

I love these words by Thich Nhat Hanh “The Good News”

They don't publish
the good news.
The good news is published
by us.
We have a special edition every moment,
and we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
and the linden tree is still there,
standing firm in the harsh Winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
and help protect them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen! You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow
and preoccupation
and get free.
The latest good news
is that you can do it.

If they won’t print the good news, it’s up to us to spread it.

Of course there are those who do try to spread the good news. I remember as a child that “The News at Ten” use to have an “And Finally” section at the end of its news bulletins. This would tell of a heart warming story. The comedian Russell Howard has a television series titled “Russell Howard’s Good News” this is a satirical look at the week’s events. Each episode ends with a section called “It’s not all doom and gloom”. This also shows a heart warming or courageous clip from the internet.

It’s not all doom and gloom and it’s great to see people like Russell making the effort instead of just descending into the lazy cynicism of so many of today’s comedians. There is sadness in this world, but there is also beauty, love, compassion, courage too. It’s just a shame that most of the modern media no longer believes that this sells. The News of the World may well have gone the way of the Dodo and the dinosaur but what it traded on is still going strong, stronger than ever it would seem.

Perhaps the real problem is that we have become unreceptive to the good news. Maybe we no longer have ears that hear.

In “The Parable of the Sower” Luke 8: vv 4-8 Jesus tells the crowd that the sower threw seeds on the path that were trampled on and eaten by birds; while other seed fell on rocky ground where the roots were weak and therefore the plants withered and died; still others fell on thorn and the thorns grew up and choked the plants; finally some fell on good soil where they thrived and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing...a hundred fold.

The great sages such as Jesus and Buddha spoke in parables in attempts to help people get to the deeper meaning of their message. These stories told the good news. They wanted the ears that heard to wrestle with what was being said and therefore come to a deeper understanding.

I believe that in the “The Parable of the Sower” Jesus his telling his followers that in order to hear the good news you need to become receptive to it.

As I have said many times before I believe that every one of us has the potential for deep compassion as well as the potential for hatred and extreme selfishness. The key is to feed and develop that compassionate aspect of ourselves and then we can indeed impact positively on the world in which we live. I believe that the kingdom of heaven is within all of us, as is hell for that matter and that we can indeed build that kingdom here on earth; or we can build our own living hell here on earth. It really is down to how we all live our lives. “The Parable of the Sower”, programmes like Russell Howard’s, the word’s of Thich Nhat Hanh, little conversations in coffee shops, smiling at the person that you pass on the street, passing on a good turn given to you can indeed lead to some kind of chaos theory of love and compassion.

Start spreading the news, we can change our world today.

Actually forget all that and watch the following clip instead...


  1. There's also Positive News, which is a newspaper and website which shares good news stories, about social justice, environmental initiatives, new inventions and people being nice to each other.

    There's a great little programme on Radio 4 which shares personal news stories, which are also celebratory and positive.

  2. Oh I see that you are already a fan of Positive News on Facebook :)

  3. A friend recently sent me this in response to my original post

    By Art Buchwald

    I was in New York City the other day and rode with a friend in a taxi. When we got out my friend said to the driver, "Thank you for the ride. You did a superb job of driving."
    The taxi driver was stunned for a second. Then he said, "Are you a wise guy or something?"
    "No my dear man, and I'm not putting you on. I admire the way you keep cool in heavy traffic."
    "Yeh," the driver said and drove off.
    "What was that all about?" I asked.
    "I'm trying to put love back in New York City," my friend said. "I believe it's the only thing that can save the city."
    "How can one man save New York City?" I asked.
    "It's not one man. I believe I have made the taxi driver's day. Suppose he has 20 fares. He's going to be nice to those 20 fares because someone was nice to him. Those fares in turn will be kinder to their employees or shop-keepers or waiters or even their own families. Eventually the goodwill could spread to at least 1000 people. Now that isn't bad, is it?" he asked.
    "But you're depending on the taxi driver to pass your goodwill to others," I responded.
    "I'm not depending on it," he said. "I'm aware that the system isn't foolproof so I might deal with 10 different people today. If, out of 10, I can make 3 happy then eventually I can indirectly influence the attitudes of 3000 more."
    "It sounds good on paper," I admitted, "but I'm not sure it works in practice."
    "Nothing is lost if it doesn't," he stated. "It didn't take any of my time to tell the man he was doing a good job. He neither received a larger tip nor a smaller tip. It it fell on deaf ears, so what? Tomorrow there will be another taxi driver who I can try to make happy."
    "You're some kind of a nut," I said.
    "That shows how cynical you have become," he exclaimed. "I have made a study of this. The thing that seems to be lacking, besides money of course, for our postal employees is that no one tells people who work for the post office what a good job they're doing."
    "But they're not doing a good job," I responded.
    "They're not doing a good job," he replied, "because they feel no one cares if they do or not. Why shouldn't someone say a kind word to them?"
    We were walking past a structure in the process of being built and passed five workmen eating their lunch. My friend stopped, "That is a magnificent job you men have been doing. When will it be finished?"
    "June," a man grunted.
    "Ah. That really is impressive. You must be very proud," he stated. We walked away. I said to him, "I haven't seen anyone like you since 'The Man from La Mancha'."
    "When those men digest my words, they will feel better for it," he said. "Somehow the city will benefit from their happiness."
    "But you can't do this all alone!" I protested. "You're just one man."
    "The most important thing is not to get discouraged," he responded. "Making people in this city become kind again is not an easy job, but if I can enlist other people in my campaign..."
    "You just winked at a very plain looking woman," I said.
    "Yes, I know," he replied. "And if she's a school teacher, her class will be in for a fantastic day."

  4. I was recently given the following by a member of one the congregations I serve. It is in response to worship that I led on this subject...several folk have told me how this service is impacting on their lives even weeks later...

    "Smiling is infectious
    You can catch it just like flu
    When someone smiled at me today
    I started smiling too
    I went around a corner
    And someone saw me grin
    When he realised he smiled
    I'd past it on to him
    I thought about the smile
    And realised its worth
    A single smile like mine
    Could travel round the earth?
    So if you feel a smile begin
    Don't leave it undetected
    Let's start an epidemic quick
    And get the world infected