Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

A radically disruptive result of keeping the sabbath is that it denies the dominant cultural belief that we must always be working and doing. Particularly in an American culture that still suffers under the bastardization of the Puritan work ethic (which conflates righteousness with industriousness) and a sense that we are always missing out on something important, choosing to cease for one day every week is a disruptive witness to our neighbors. And it’s an act of faith in God’s providence—an embodied argument that fullness is not found in the desperate struggle of busyness. And yet it is hard for Christians to take a sabbath rest because Christianity can easily become yet another thing that fills our constantly busy life—something really no different from following football. There’s always another event to do, another study to read, another program to attend, another way to catch up, get ahead, or try to get out of the hole. A sabbath rest is an act of spiritual defiance against the ideal of existential justification through production and consumption. It is a denial of the founding principle of the American Dream—that if you want to get ahead and reach the good life, you must always be working or self-improving.

A sabbath rest is a rest from our good works, even while it obligates us to works of service. The difference is that the rest is a rest in Christ’s finished work on the cross. Sunday is not a day to “clean up our act” or “get right with God.” It is a day to rest in our imputed righteousness by Christ and turn that joy outward (the double movement) into fellowship with our brothers and sisters, meeting together and sharing the table, ceasing from our labor, meditating on the Word and on God’s natural revelation, and doing acts of service for our neighbors. I believe that sabbath rest also involves play—but it should be redemptive play, not the kind that consumes us and leaves us more mentally and emotionally drained than before. We should be refreshed, even if we are tired.

My recommendation is to see this time as a special time to love our neighbors. We might convene a small group on Sunday evenings or have people over for lunch or dinner. We should work hard throughout the week so we don’t have to work on Sunday, but remember that there is grace for those moments when work must be done—the lost sheep must be found. It’s wise to avoid shopping or work as a reminder that the marketplace is not the center of our lives, but a tool of culture we can use or abuse, like any other tool. We might also choose to rest from screens, or just smartphones and computers, and so create space for contemplation, reflection, and conversation. Alternatively, we might restrict our screen time to activities that are intentionally communal: watching a movie together, playing a game together, sharing photos and memories, or video chatting with family.

Thought of this way, the sabbath is a foreshadowing of the rest we have in Christ, which is not contingent on our good works. We don’t need to work seven days a week to be valued and important, and we don’t need to achieve spiritual maturity to receive God’s grace. But it also foreshadows the end of this age, when we will rest from the curse of toil. And what a beautiful thing that will be! By resting and refusing to participate in the rat race, we act in faith that God will care for us and that this race is no path to salvation.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Read Full Post »

We are constantly distracted not just because there are so many things vying for our attention, but because we also cram in distractions between each of our activities. … I struggle to walk upstairs without opening my phone to see what the latest news is. Calvin Seerveld described this condition and its causes in 1980, in what probably seems like a quaint passage today:

As human time is geared to machine time to save time to give us “leisure,” the pace of human life becomes inhuman. There is less and less slack time because the machines go so fast—conveyor belt-elevator-telephone-taxi vacuum cleaner-printing press—they begin to set the over-all tempo and kind of lickety-split, clickety-click kind of time, machine-time, for our lives. And if there should perchance be an instant break somewhere, an enterprising fellow is certain to fill it with something for somebody to “consume”—coin operated candy machine, billboard, jukebox, transistor radio.

Oh, for the days when we only had to worry about enterprising fellows filling our time with candy machines and transistor radios! A practical, achievable step we can take toward reclaiming our attention and creating some space for reflection is to cut down on filler distractions. Make dinner without listening to a podcast. Use the bathroom without bringing your phone. Walk upstairs without checking Twitter, Alan. Stop seeing “unproductive” time as a problem to be solved and instead open yourself up to the possibility of undirected thought.

A habit like this can allow you to see God’s creation anew, to process experiences, to reflect on sins, to be grateful. Most important, such a habit is an embodied claim that “redeeming the time” for the days are evil means redeeming it for God, for his glory, not for profitability, productivity, efficiency, or plain busyness. How on earth can we redeem each moment for him if we are so absorbed by the next thing that we forget he exists at all?

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Read Full Post »

[M]y typical morning routine was that shortly after waking, I’d grab my smartphone. Like digital caffeine, it would prod my foggy brain into coherence and activity. Before getting out of bed, I’d check my email, scroll through the news, glance at Facebook or Twitter.

If humans rescue a baby animal in the wild, the animal is said to be “imprinted.” It accepts the human as its mother. From that point on, it will believe that all good things come from people. It is no longer wild and it cannot live on its own. The nature center in my town houses imprinted animals—baby mountain lions, raccoons, and porcupines who rely on humans for food, water, shelter, and protection.

My morning smartphone ritual was brief—no more than five or ten minutes. But I was imprinted. My day was imprinted by technology. And like a mountain lion cub attached to her humans, I’d look for all good things to come from glowing screens.

Technology began to fill every empty moment in the day. Just before breakfast, I’d quickly scroll through email, Facebook, Twitter, a blog. And then again an hour later. I’d ignore my kids’ persistent calls for milk and snacks with a distracted “hold on” as I vaguely skimmed an article. I’d sneak in five minutes online as they ate lunch. I’d return from an errand and sit in the driveway with the car running, scrolling through news on my phone, and then I’d check my screen again before bedtime. Throughout the day I fed on a near-constant stream of news, entertainment, stimulation, likes, and retweets. Without realizing it, I had slowly built a habit: a steady resistance to and dread of boredom.

We have everyday habits—formative practices—that constitute daily liturgies. By reaching for my smartphone every morning, I had developed a ritual that trained me toward a certain end: entertainment and stimulation via technology. Regardless of my professed worldview or particular Christian subculture, my unexamined daily habit was shaping me into a worshiper of glowing screens.

Examining my daily liturgy as a liturgy—as something that both revealed and shaped what I love and worship—allowed me to realize that my daily practices were malforming me, making me less alive, less human, less able to give and receive love throughout my day. Changing this ritual allowed me to form a new repetitive and contemplative habit that pointed me toward a different way of being-in-the-world.

— Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

Read Full Post »

The immanent frame comes in different forms. It is possible to feel that we live in a closed immanent frame, which means that there is no higher, transcendent reality. The material universe we live in is all there is and ever will be. But it is also possible to experience life within an open immanent frame. By this Taylor means that although our daily experience isn’t imbued with the supernatural, we believe that some transcendent being exists and that he can break into our world at certain times and places. What is notable here is that even when the immanent frame is open, it is still the immanent frame.

To get a sense of what this look likes, consider for a minute what it is like to attend church on Sunday. You are awakened by an alarm on your cell phone, an amazing piece of technology and testament to the power of human mastery over the natural world. You eat eggs for breakfast. They come, almost miraculously, clean, large, and white in a carton that has been inspected by some government agency to ensure it is safe. The carton lists the nutritional composition of the eggs along with a few words about their health benefits. Everything has been considered. You get dressed in clothes that you bought ready-made. You drive to church in a glistening, energy-efficient sedan with advanced safety features, and glance occasionally at the cars next to you, in which people are completely preoccupied and content with the technology around them. As you drive through the city, everything you see appears as a work of human achievement: stoplights, fire trucks, businesses, freeway overpasses, and skyscrapers. By chance you see a bluebird, and you immediately reflect back on a recent episode of an animal show you watched that featured the bluebird. “Bluebirds are part of the thrush family,” you say to no one in particular. At church, you sing songs praising God’s provision, his mercies, his creation, and his grace. But everything you experienced on the way to church, from the food you ate to the beauty you witnessed, testified to humanity’s ingenuity and mastery of the world. Your experience of the world was a testament to humanity, not God, because everything in your experience conditioned you to look to this world and its physical laws. It all makes sense as a self-sufficient immanent world, even though you know that Jesus is our Creator and Sustainer. And so, we experience life in the immanent frame even as we confess that it is open to an outside, transcendent force.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Read Full Post »

While the secular age does not necessarily lead to philosophical relativism, it does lead to thin belief. By “thin belief” I mean a set of foundational ideas about the world that lack robust explanatory power. Their sources may be obscured from us, consciously or not. They may come in direct conflict with other beliefs we hold (more on that later). In a sense, all of our beliefs are part of a continuum from thick beliefs (which involve a deep understanding of the internal logic, origins, and context; embodied practice; and robust application of the belief) to thin beliefs (which can be as superficial as signaling your support for a political cause simply because you like its hashtag). We hold a thin belief when we fail to grasp its assorted justifications and reasonings, and therefore are unable to articulate it fully. We then struggle to consistently live according to it. Thin beliefs are easy to adopt and then toss away, so they are useful for crafting our self-image. Not that the beliefs themselves necessarily lack depth, tradition, passion, or truth. In fact, this is part of the great shame of thin belief: it may affect otherwise good beliefs, mistreating and misrepresenting them.

We can adopt thin beliefs about almost anything. Perhaps you become deeply convicted about the plight of Syrian refugees after the US president callously calls for them to be banned. His words strike you as offensive, inhumane, and cruel. And while you may still harbor some unspoken suspicions about Middle Easterners after 9/11, this issue feels like the perfect opportunity to show your goodwill. The next time you see a meme showing refugee children with a superimposed verse about caring for the “least of these,” you decide not only to like it but to share it with your friends. This signals what your stance is on the issue and maybe something about your personal character, your open-mindedness and concern for foreigners. An argument breaks out on your post, with some of your distant relatives and old high school friends arguing over whether Islam is a religion of peace and whether “moderate Muslims” exist. You jump in to defend your position, citing lines of argument that you’ve picked up from other viral images or a John Oliver clip you watched on YouTube. You care about this issue passionately. There is a tremendous moral urgency to your writing, and you are even willing to anger and lose friends over your stance—a stance you adopted fifteen minutes prior, after seeing a compelling viral image on Facebook. Meanwhile, the foundation of your belief goes unquestioned.

You could consider the procedural issue of risk analysis (how likely is it that one of these refugees turns out to be an ISIS member who commits a deadly terrorist attack?), but the moral source of your belief remains unspoken and unidentified. What ethical obligation do we have to our international neighbors? What does this mean for other global conflicts? What does this ethic mean for military interventions and global trade and climate agreements? What shape should a local community take, and how can and should it adapt to foreign newcomers? The web of complex ethical questions that shapes the debate over Syrian refugees matters a great deal, but it’s unlikely that you will explore these questions. Why? Aside from the technological pressure to move on to the “next thing,” there is also the feeling that there are just too many important issues for us to care about. The best we can do is stand for something. And once we commit to a cause, its momentum sweeps us along.

We’ve all felt this when arguing some controversial issue online. There is a moral urgency to defend our cause. And if we are honest, no small part of that urgency involves unarticulated fears about how losing this argument might reflect on our image. We need to defend refugees not only because they need defending but because we want to be the kind of people who are known for defending refugees. This becomes evident when we step back and realize that our online defense of refugees is highly unlikely to actually defend them in practice. But because this is a thin belief, this won’t bother us much. We’re already on to the next cause.

So, a political and moral cause is adopted uncritically. The adoption of the belief primarily takes the form of public expression (your concern for refugees is not likely to stay in the realm of quiet prayers). You are aware that this expression signals things about yourself to others. You defend this belief passionately, despite having little understanding of the deeper ethical motivations. And you know that ultimately your defense is for the benefit of you and your friends, a kind of image-crafting game we play. Meanwhile, refugees are still in crisis.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Read Full Post »

A natural consequence of being mentally engaged all the time is, first, that it is easy for us to live with internal conflicts and contradictions with little cognitive dissonance. When confronted with a deficiency in our ethical code, it takes no real effort to ignore it. Imagine, for example, someone who believes that people who rely on government assistance are freeloaders, but then this same person cheats on her taxes in little ways. Her hypocrisy should cause her a pang of guilt, but guilt requires attention in order to grow into reflection and repentance. And the structure of our day and our bodily habits are so oriented toward the next thing that she soon finds herself onto some other concern. We are certainly still capable of reflection and meditation, but our default response to cognitive dissonance is to simply do something else. The rhythms and practices of our modern world militate against reflection. There are so many immediate incentives for going with the flow; meanwhile, the recognition that we are not living up to the moral standards we identify with is costly. It certainly requires time, but it may also require changes to our lifestyle or to our moral standards. When we think of cognitive dissonance as the problem, rather than a symptom of an incoherent belief system, there are a number of effective and less costly ways of fixing things by moving on.

So, a belief in the essential goodness of humanity can live quite comfortably alongside a racist suspicion that certain people are inherently more prone to criminality. We are not interested in sorting through the validity of our convictions. We are about the next thing.

A superficial but constant engagement with media also invites us to unreflectively adopt ethical and political positions, creating a hodgepodge worldview. From a film on the treatment of animals in amusement parks we develop a fleeting concern for animal rights. A documentary on modern farming practices makes us see shopping local and organic as a moral issue. A hashtag campaign draws our attention to the evils of human trafficking, perhaps even while we look at porn on another browser tab. Causes are as easy to pick up as they are to put down. Or, more accurately, we don’t put causes down so much as we forget them. Putting them down would require some intentional meditation on the validity of the cause. Instead, we simply move on to something else. Humans are tremendously gifted at hypocrisy and inconsistency, but a ubiquitous, powerful stream of information and interaction driven by technology enables these gifts to flourish. And that is precisely the problem.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Read Full Post »

In his book Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It, de Zengotita argues that we experience our world with a hyperawareness of representation. So, for example, when we go for a walk in the woods alone, we are never merely going for a walk in the woods alone; our experience of nature is filtered through the Instagram pictures we take and our awareness of how our friends will experience those pictures, and how they will think about us in light of those pictures. Or we might mediate the walk through an outdoors hipster aesthetic that we’ve pieced together from indie folk band album covers. Or we might mediate the walk through an awareness of global warming and its effects on the environment. However we conceive of the walk, it is never simply a walk in the woods. Of course, to some extent, this has always been our human experience; we’ve always experienced life as an interconnected web. But with the tremendous growth of technology and the media, of life as public performance, our ability to resist mediation has declined. In our world, we have to fight harder to experience the present shorn of stultifying mediation.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »