The morning after I defended my thesis, I woke up to headlines of the US government banning the disbursement of citizen-owned information, protests ranging from abortion to immigration, the Russian Parliament decriminalizing vital aspects of domestic violence laws and journalists being labeled by members of the US president’s administration as “the opposition.”
The night I defended my thesis – 51 pages worth of not fake news about freedom of information and how it affects human rights around the globe – while I was waiting for my committee members and advisor to arrive, I sat talking with a Syrian refugee and a native African. What an amazing feeling that was – a Syrian, an African and an American all chatting it up in the heart center of Thailand.
The conversation started on a light academic note but quickly turned to recent events in America. How ashamed I felt. I WISH you all could know my Syrian friend and hear his stories and see his heart. His name? Osama. How would you feel if I wrote to you today, “Our Syrian activities director, Osama, is taking us on a field trip next week.” My heart aches when I see the humility in this man.
The African, I learned, moved when he was a young man from his home country to the United States. He gained his citizenship and joined the Army. He spent nine years defending my country, serving four tours in Afghanistan and a short stint in Iraq. He now owns a restaurant in a small community in Illinois and came to Thailand to finish his master’s degree so he can run his business better and expand his international menu. I’m telling you I got teary-eyed just standing in the presence of this humble soldier.
I then stood in front of two Thai women – both academic doctors – to talk about international freedom of information and how it pertains to protecting human rights … and how their country, and every country around them, is really bad at it. Worse yet, though, I had to stand in front of these two women and use MY country as an example of how fragile democracies can be. What hope could I give them?
I know if I were to travel to my home town in America today I wouldn’t find women being forced to sit in corners and knit. I know white men aren’t parading around town cracking bull whips. I know my hometown and the communities that surround it, along with the people I know and love there, remain the same great people they’ve always been (maybe a little jilted after 2016, but for the most part still hanging in there).
But other people don’t know that.
My Syrian friend, who DREAMS of going to America one day, said he would be too afraid to even try the journey right now. Both he and the African pointed out that all eyes are on the US.
In some ways, I feel fortunate to see all these events taking place from my worldview. In the five years I have lived here, never have I seen every news agency around the globe so focused on one agenda. But there are other days, I wish I were eating a ham salad sandwich at The Farmers’ Table and not feeling like a civil war is brewing. I read articles relaying the same event from five different sources and five opposing viewpoints, and I think, “No wonder everyone is so confused and angry with ‘the media’ all the time!”
It’s easy to blame all messes on “the media.” While I generally loathe the statement, “Blame ‘the media,’” I have been giving some consideration lately to blaming certain branches of the media. I find, as a human being, that I should probably segregate one aspect of media and really hate it out loud.
So, which “the media” do I officially blame?
Do I blame newspapers or television? (I’d probably vote to blame TV, just because … loyalty.) I could side with TV, though, and just blame individual commentators, bloggers and advertisers. Wait, there are still radio personalities, documentary filmmakers and Hollywood producers. Hey, aren’t there also directors, broadcasters, newspapers and bloggers outside the United States? Books! Let’s blame books! Or Facebook, that might be better, and way easier. Twitter is a troublemaker, for sure. It’s so hard to decide exactly where to place blame.
I guess, [shrugging my shoulders], I’ll just have to blame all of them.
I blame “the media” for enticing each of us relentlessly with click bait.
I blame “the media” for sharing biased and fake news.
I blame “the media” for altering photos and creating special effects.
I blame “the media” for posting propaganda.
I blame “the media” for editing video to suit agendas.
I blame “the media” for advertising products I don’t need.
I blame “the media” for making this information available to me, for free, 24 hours a day.
I blame “the media” for tempting me to share, post, like and talk about this information as often as I want, to whom I want and in any format I choose.
Whew. It feels good to place blame where blame belongs.
I do indeed blame “the media.”
Can you just give me a moment while I remove this huge plank from my eye? To be fair, I’ll give you a minute to remove yours, too. We’re all going to need to see clearly for this next part.
Every link we click, every post we share, every video we promote is a living, breathing, integral function of “the media.”
We are all to blame: we are all “the media.”
But blaming really isn’t fun, is it? It solves little and just makes everyone feel like yuck. So, today is the day I stop blaming and start doing. Are you with me?
Here are some ways you can help (because nobody likes to walk around feeling all blamed all the time):
- I need your investment. I would love to be able to work away full-time and never ask anything from you, but I need you. We need each other. I am here because you sent me here, and I want to do well with what I feel God has called me (and you) to do. I live on a continent where many of the rights you and I take for granted have never even been proposed. Thailand is the only nation in SE Asia with freedom of information, but the law is poorly understood and enforced. Citizens in Cambodia lose their farmlands to the government because adequate records are not kept. Citizens who have asked for public information have been murdered. I am in a position to educate some of these citizens, and I feel like civic education is vital during this time of upheaval and uncertainty. And I feel like I have “come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” Before we came to Thailand, I remember one of our supporters saying, “I’ll support you as long as I don’t have to go.” He has remained faithful to that promise for five years. (I’m holding out for a visit, though!) Can you pray about making a similar, faithful investment for media in missions?
- You will start seeing educational tidbits in your monthly newsletters. You can read them and share them. You’re “the media” now, remember? By sharing good stuff, you can make “the media” great again. (Sorry, I COULD NOT resist that. I’ll try to keep it non-partisan.) Topics will range from “communicating nicely,” international freedom of information and human rights and even how to dissect “the media.” (Send me suggestions if you have any! I’ve been storing up ideas for two years now, but I know my brain will turn into an empty cavern seemingly overnight!)
- You will start seeing changes to my Web site in the next few months to accommodate media education materials and online workshops. Know a young person? Give him the link. Know someone who wants to know how freedom of information in America effects human rights in Cambodia? Give her the link. You’re now a working part of “the media.”
- I will begin working on a journalism training school for missions workers. The school will highlight aspects of truth and justice, according to the Bible. I want to make this school specifically for missions workers, but at the same time, I want to use elements from it to communicate truth in journalism to the general public. The reputation of journalism is at an all-time low right now (and that’s bad), but I feel true journalism – the kind of journalism I was trained to share – will win out as always. I want to join the fight to make sure that happens. You can help by rooting me on, praying for me and my colleagues and trusting me when I say, good journalists work on your behalf every day. I want to train more like them.
- I am researching ways to create materials for and conduct successful workshops in a way that promotes unity. Please pray I find outlets for these workshops. I am specifically praying about creative writing retreats with emphasis on social justice (which could mean a number of awesome things), but I need real direction, mentoring and people willing to make investments in such opportunities.
If any of these areas kindles a fire in your heart, please consider helping to keep that fire burning and make it roar! You can find links and ways to contribute to the right (PC users) or below (mobile users).
I hope this letter finds you well, and if you have any questions, please feel free to message me anytime!
Let’s not blame each other for things we’ve created together.
Let’s create things together so that none of us can be blamed.