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Last week I drove by the United Methodist Church in our town of Lebanon, Ohio and saw on their marquee this thought provoking quip, “If you’re going to believe in everything you read, then start with your Bible.”  I thought at the time how it has become almost impossible to believe anything one reads or hears.  The mainstream media distorts the truth to fit their agenda, and social media is filled with half-truths and opinions making it difficult to know what is reality.  And, I agreed that the safest place one can go to read the truth and preserve one’s intellect is the Bible.

I thought about this again when I read today’s Gospel passage, Mark 8:14-21, where Jesus tells his disciples, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” I know I’ve read this passage many times before but I was always like the disciples, not understanding Jesus’ intent.  Today, I think I grasped His meaning.

Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.

Mark 8:15

Leaven, or yeast, is added to flour and water to make bread rise.  Without it, you get flatbread.  But, flatbread is still bread, unadulterated bread.  The leaven is a change agent that adds air to the dough without adding any nutritional value, yet makes the bread look more attractive, and imparts a pleasing and desirable flavor.  

The Pharisees, who were the religious component of authority in Jesus’ time, added their “leaven” of man-made laws which camouflaged God’s commandments, making them secondary.  Herod, the Roman political component of authority, demanded that the Roman laws, his “leaven”, also supersede God’s laws so that he and his government would remain in power.  Although the Jews were oppressed by the Romans, they also depended on them for their security.

We have a similar set up in our culture today.    The modern day pharisees preach love of self over love of God (individualism), love of things before love of God (materialism), love of disordered pleasure over morality (hedonism), and that we can make up our own truth and disregard the truths of human nature given to us by God (relativism).  Our society seems to have accustomed itself to depending on our government, our own Herod, for all its needs, placing our political leaders on a pedestal higher than God, which is right where they want to be.  Together, the two are like the right and left hands of a marionette in a puppet show being orchestrated by Satan himself, the puppet master.

And, our mainstream media is narrating the entire production, telling us what to believe, who to believe, and how we should and should not act.  It’s not just the news sources but also television shows billed as family entertainment, movies whose producers are coerced to present non-Christian content in hopes of receiving industry recognition, music that promotes every sort of immoral decadency, literature that entices us to believe that fantasy is preferential over reality, and declares pornography to be an art form.

And we wonder why our world is a mess.  We have dug our hole deep and it’s caving in on us.  The only way to dig ourselves out is to turn back to God and live by His commandments instead of the perverted norms of our society.  We must adore God more than we do our political leaders and more than we do those who promote immorality.

How might you do this?  For starters, turn off your television.  Ask yourself if the information you glean from a news broadcast makes a positive difference in your life or does it simply cause anxiety, fear, and mistrust.  Decide if watching that sitcom you’re addicted to is making you a better person.  Do you really want to support Netflix or HBO or any of the other media sources by watching a not-so-bad movie yet knowing that their real appeal is in their “racier” offerings?  Consider whether watching a televised sporting event is going to make a difference in your life, or could you be spending that couple hours building relationships with your spouse or children.  The media knows we are weak.  They know we will gravitate to what feels good over what is good.  You can be stronger than they are.

Impossible you ask?  It’s not.  This month marks the thirty-fourth year my wife and I have not watched television.  We have a television but it is only used to watch a handful of movies in a year.  Spending time together in conversation, playing games, praying together, taking walks together and other mutual activities are much more rewarding.  Our children grew up without television.  Instead of parking them in front of the television as children we played with them, read books to them, helped them with homework, provided opportunities for creativity.  In other words, we were present in their lives.  It made a difference.  I’m not pridefully patting myself on the back, just hoping to be an inspiration to you by giving an example that it can be done.  Think about it.

The same goes for every other type of entertainment including books and music.  Ask yourself if that which you are reading or listening to feeds your intellect with the truth of reality.  Ask whether it is good or not.  By good I mean that it not only brings you satisfaction but makes you a better person, whether it fulfills the purpose for which you were designed by God.  We are only truly happy when both conditions are met.  You can find that happiness in the Bible.

As I write this it is Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, the eve of Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  If you’re looking for something to “give up” for Lent, or wondering how you might grow closer to Christ in this season, consider fasting from television and replace it with reading Scripture, building relationships with God through prayer and with your family, friends and neighbors.  I guarantee you will reap more rewards than by giving up chocolate.  

Since television is not an issue for me, my lenten resolution is to fast from FaceBook completely.  I venture there mostly to see pictures my daughters might have posted of my grandchildren.  But, while looking for those, I easily become distracted by all the other addicting content that steals my time, and which may or may not be believable.  I would much prefer reading the One Book that is believable because I know it is truth, letting it make me a better person, and then going out and practicing what I’ve learned.

I pray that each and every one of you grows closer to our Lord this Lenten season.

“Heavenly Father, You made us for more than we have become.  Help me and all Your faithful during this Lenten season love You more and grow closer to You through prayer, as well as building loving relationships with our family, friends and neighbors.  Amen.”

(If You’re Going to Believe Everything You Read, then Start with Your Bible was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)