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Tango with the trendy

Books and magazines should reject being "slaves to the Next"

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The second half of June featured buckets of buzz about books: first Hillary Clinton's memoir, then Harry Potter.

Mrs. Clinton is not WORLD's favorite politician nor is Master Potter our favorite literary character (see p. 67)-but neither should be viewed as the devil or even a Screwtape. Neither is as big a deal as they might seem from reading newspapers or their 24/7 video and print brethren, cable news networks, and Internet blogs.

The Washington Post breathlessly listed the Potter series as a memorable work alongside the Bible and the Iliad, stating that "Harry Potter has changed the world." WORLD's response: Your world is too small. The same might be said about our new world of news technology: It's freeing but also enslaving, sometimes looking like a beckoning universe and sometimes like a jail cell. Promised liberation through knowledge, we end up with the tyranny of the urgent.

Walter Lippmann, America's most influential pundit from the 1930s through the early 1960s, titled his newspaper column "Today and Tomorrow," indicating that he was covering events but also providing perspective. David Brinkley's distinctive, sardonic television tone similarly conveyed a sense that today's news was not as earthshaking as it might seem. Many of today's cable reporters and bloggers, though, alternate between jumping on every bandwagon and, Chicken Little- like, reporting imaginary falling objects.

A weekly magazine has a little more time to offer perspective. WORLD's goal is to point out events and trends that are significant because this world is real, not just a matrix, and because what happens in it displays the nature of man and the nature of God. Our desired tone could be summarized by the headline of one cover story the year before Y2K, when some were making dire predictions: "Don't be alarmed." Attacks on God, the Bible, and biblical principles are significant; on other matters we try to turn the other cheek and ask readers to turn to the next page.

Sometimes WORLD falls into the tyranny of the urgent and fails. At those times we particularly need to remember the biblical patterns of here but not yet here, immanence and transcendence, seizing the time but not being seized by it. "We are slaves to the Next, ruled by videocracy," The Washington Post fretted even as it promoted the Potter craze. No we're not: We can be free if we want to be.

The Christian Booksellers Association begins its annual meeting next week, and its members also have to decide whether to be slaves to the Next or citizens of the eternal. One problem in book publishing now is that breathlessness has gripped the industry that should be furthest away from headline tyranny. Most nonfiction books by Christian as well as general publishers now tango only with what's trendy. It doesn't have to be that way. Let cable news and blogs give us our hourly bread; magazines and books can focus our attention on what each day reveals about the eternal.


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