Matt Jones has two twitter accounts. His most popular [email protected], the go-to account for BBN news and commentary. His less followed account (still 54K) is @MattJonesRadio, the go-to account for his own opinions. In the strange world of twitter, that delineation works well, and youcan have one without the other. But in the real world, where personhood is not so easily segregated, Matt has to make a choice. Will he choose to compartmentalize his public voice andonly talk UK, or will he branch out into his personal opinion on different subjects? As anyone familiar with KSR knows, he has unashamedly chosen the latter. And as anyone familiar with KSR also knows, that choice comes with a bit of criticism.
Of the many phrases coined by KSR culture, “stick to sports” is probably the most well-known. To be fair, for most it’s less acritique and more a cliché, but there still remains a very vocal and at times angry “stick to sports” contingent. Since becoming the religious commentator for KSR (talk about failure to stick to sports), I have personally experienced a taste of what Matt receives and believe me, it can get ugly.
But I’m thankful Matt has decided not to stick to sports. In fact, it’s probably what I respect most about him. Not because I agree with all his opinions (Matt leans left, I lean right), but because I think it’s a gutsy leadership decision that in many ways protests what we have become as a society.
What’s really behind the “stick to sports” complaint? It seems to me those who agree with Matt’s opinions are actually OK with him expressing them, but it’s the ones who disagree that tend to cry “stick to sports.” And I’m willing to bet if he changed his opinions, those two camps would flip.
If Matt woke up tomorrow a die-hard, right-wing, Trump-lovin’conservative (i.e. hell hath frozen over), I wonder if some of his critics would suddenly be OK with his opinions? Conversely, I wonder if a whole new “stick to sports” tribe would materialize?
The point I’m trying to make is it’s less about people not wanting to hear opinions, and more about people not wanting to hear differing opinions. And that trend is symptomatic of a far greater problem that goes way beyond KSR.
Everyone knows we live in times of disagreement, but that’s nothing new. For as long as people have had opinions, people have had disagreements. What’s new is the fortification of our disagreements. Our deeply held beliefs are now guarded with a tribalism so fierce that to engage, consider, or even listen to opposing beliefs is somehow viewed as a form of compromise.
In trying to explain this great divide, it seems the most common answer is President Trump and his twitter account. But that’s giving him way too much credit. Our politicians do not create culture as much as they emulate it. That is to say, our president is the fruit, not the root, of what we have become.
The reason for our divide lies much deeper.
It began with the politicization of media as an institution. Progressives held a near monopoly on traditional mainstream news sources, which then led to the reactive emergence of conservative talk radio and cable news. Before long, it was nearly impossible to find a headline reported without an editorial spin. But then came the advent of online news, and the initialdivide has become an all-out chasm.
The information we now consume is almost exclusively digital and shaped by algorithms. These algorithms are a precise artificial intelligence able to deliver content (both real and fake) based solely upon our own personal worldview. What is fed to you online believes what you believe, loves what you love, hates what you hate, fears what you fear, and never, ever, disagrees with you. Simply put, it is now possible, dare I say probable, to exist within confines of your own personal echo chamber.
Unless you’re a Kentucky fan, that is.
In Kentucky of all places, a strange opposition to our polarization has emerged. Leveraging the one thing our state can all agree upon—obsession with UK Athletics—Matt Jones has risen to become arguably our most influential media voice. He has created the state’s most popular website, radio show, and quickly growing in popularity tv show. And although sports remain the foundational content of each, none are exempt from his proclivity to veer from sports.
Whether it’s a crisis with our state’s pension system or water supply, a commentary on a Supreme Court decision, or a biting critique of Governor Bevin or President Trump, Matt’s never been afraid to go there. And I think our state is better for it. You may disagree with him (chances are you do considering he’s a“stinkin’ liberal” in a conservative state), but I believe the confrontation of thoughtful disagreement is good for us all. The echo chamber feels nice, but in the end, proves destructive.
As both a follower and scholar of Jesus, I am continually amazed by the disruptive nature of his ministry. (By the way, it should go without saying, but I’ll say it. I am NOT comparing Matt Jones to Jesus Christ. I know them both, and Matt, like all of us, ‘aint no Jesus). If you view Jesus as an anemic appeaser, then you are sorely mistaken. He had an amazing ability to confront everyone precisely how they needed to be confronted.Conservative or liberal, religious or irreligious, rich or poor, none were exempt from the disruptive witness of Jesus. He was an expert at taking a deeply ingrained worldview and turning it upside down. Sometimes people responded well, sometimes people didn’t, but always they left confronted.
Why did he do this? Because Jesus isn’t just disruptive, he is love. In fact, his disruption is his love. We don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t have all the answers. We don’t see our own blind spots. We cannot discern the errors of our own ways. And most devastatingly, we are blind to our own sins. Your echo chamber can’t show you that, but Jesus can. So he loves us enough to mess with us.
I think all good leadership requires this same kind of bold love. As a pastor, it would be very easy for me to simply tell my congregation what they want to hear, to reverberate back the echoes of their own tribalism. But I love them too much to do so. It makes my life exceedingly more difficult to challenge our church, but love is worth that inconvenience.
I personally know this is also how Matt views the platform he has been given. His life would be a lot easier if he would just stick to sports. But he cares too much to do so, and I’m thankful for it. He may make our state uncomfortable, but I think he makes our state better. That’s been my personal experience, at least. As a UK fan I enjoy @kysportsradio. But as a conservative I need @mattjonesradio.