Making Sense of Information

I grew up in a small rural town culture where raccoons were hunted for sport. My dad and our next door neighbor, Jim, had highly trained dogs that were bred to detect the scent and movements of raccoons. The guys and their hounds would hunt their prey in the evening hours throughout river bottoms, fields and creeks, and heavily wooded areas around Vandalia. As an adolescent, I was fascinated by the whole matter and wanted to accompany the hunters each time I could. But what I loved even more was the gathering the next morning at the local eatery, affectionately known as “Road Kill.”

Photo Credit: Alan Alquist
unsplash.com

I relished hearing the morning recap of the night's events in that setting! The laughter was captivating along with the good-natured bantering. I leaned forward to take in every detail and description of the dogs competing to pick up the scent and follow the trail as their owners trudged over “hill and dale” to keep up with them!  

The incredible stories shared at those breakfast tables linking a dozen hunters together held me in suspense! This was cheap entertainment for a small town boy! The accounts of coon hunts going into the late night, the dogs pursuing their prey, the barking with front paws stretched out on the tree, and the beams of light darting throughout the branches in concerted efforts to locate elusive raccoons seeking shelter are all etched in my memory to this day! Occasionally, there were tales told of vicious, bloody fights as dogs were injured in the minutes before the coons were “harvested.” I realize that some of these specifics are likely to be too graphic for those of finer sensibilities! 😔

Yet, in these stories, I often heard hunting recollections that even to my young ears sounded more like fantasy than fact! Hype than truth! Because of pride in their dogs, you would never hear anything being said about the occasions when a deer or opossum was mistaken for the real game! I now know the truth that many accounts were not only intentionally exaggerated for crowd effect but in reality, represented out and out lies in substance! You would have had to be there during the actual hunt to know the difference! And I often was and came to discern the nuance with age!! I regularly annoyed and checked my dad with questions like, "Are you sure that dog wasn't chasing a deer last night?" I had heard and seen with my own eyes how well-bred coon dogs, much to the chagrin of their masters, would "lose their way" tracking the sweet smell of a deer running across the stubble of what had been a field picked of its corn crop!

Photo Credit: vetstreet.com

Coon hunting tales may be innocent and amazing to eager listeners, but when it comes to the weightier matters of life, there is no place for exaggeration, exploitation, and manipulated information! This a day and time when we are "drowning in a sea of words!" We are faced with the challenge of interpreting multiple issues in our lives from commercial, economic, political, health-medical or even spiritual perspectives. It is sad to acknowledge, but there are too many unethical people promoting scams, conspiracies, and misinformation for personal gain. How do we discern what is accurate, true or right for us or our family? 

In part, the answer is a willingness to "do our homework" in reading around various sources of information. I read recently about a school curriculum in our state that teaches young people how to process the news by considering multiple sources rather than being dependent upon just one. This approach was referred to as “lateral reading.” It seems to me that some skill-building in this area would surely be prudent and necessary. Too often our televisions, radios, and smart devices are tuned to the same channels, social media preferences or other news sources all day long. We would do well to change channels or surf other sources to confirm agreement or detect disagreement regarding ideas and real matters of concern. 

With the accessibility of excellent search engines at our disposal today and multiple media sources for accessing the news and commercials, there is little excuse for not doing our due diligence or “our homework” in order to validate real news or ferret out what is obviously misinformation, hype or fake news. There are numerous truisms that can guard and protect our natural curiosity or propensity toward fascinating and tempting rumors. One says, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!” That is to say, if a thing or idea is being sensationally over-hyped as true, beware! It most likely is not...true! Be discerning!

The need for discernment is a discussion given considerable space in the Bible. Some will say it is a spiritual gift. (1 Corinthians 12:10).  Peter warns early believers to beware of false prophets and teachers who "secretly introduce destructive heresies... bringing swift destruction on themselves." (2 Peter 2:1-3, NIV). Paul warned the Roman Christians, "I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them!" (Romans 16:17-20). The Apostle also instructed his young mentee, Timothy, "Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly." (1 Timothy 4:1-14). 

When it comes to building spiritual discernment, consider these brief suggestions: 1). Read and study the Bible. Even mature believers need a daily program of devotional reading and disciplined study in the Word. 2). Ask questions of the text you read. In an inductive approach, you seek answers from cross-referencing Scripture before turning to commentaries. Use a good study Bible and let Scripture interpret Scripture! 3). Pray for wisdom and ask the Holy Spirit to "guide you into all Truth." (John 16:13-14).

Enjoy a good story, but make sense of information and be discerning!

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
doting grandparent. 
Contact: drmjkeppler@gmail.com 


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