Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Technology and the world it is making.

Angela and I had a fascinating conversation with some friends the other night about the way that technology is changing our world. As you look at some of the fairly new tools that the internet offers (like MySpace and Facebook), it leads to some pretty interesting ideas. One of the main ones is that these websites are changing the way that a generation relates to each other. One of my friends commented that the effect of the relational network sites is much like that of alcohol. They remove the social inhibitors that control so much of our behavior. When you are face to face with another individual you are less likely to tell them everything that you think. Their presence causes you to choose your words more carefully. That's a good thing. Another aspect of this is the image that you present of yourself to the world. On Facebook or MySpace you select an image or persona that you want people to see you as. Often it is not the persona that you are or that you present in face to face conversations. The danger is that this is allowing people to develop inauthentic relationships by pretending to be someone or something that they are not.

Another element of technology is that it keeps us more connected. We can't get away from each other. Youth today are cemented in the lives of their peers. They "text" each other almost non-stop. They spend countless hours communicating online. These changes will have impact.

As I have been thinking about this I came across a couple of posts from Bob Hyatt at Pastor Hacks. He quotes the following from Ruth Hayley Barton's book, Sacred Rhythms.

"One of the new challenges for our generation is the impact of technology on our spirituality. This warrants serious consideration. If we are not careful, technology has a way of compromising our ability to be present to ourselves, to God and to each other- all of which are fundamental elements of the spiritual life. I don't know about you, but I am sad when I have set aside time to be with friends and, because a cell phone is left on, we are at the mercy of all manner of intrusion. We think nothing of taking phone calls in the middle of meetings, restaurants and family gatherings. I am disturbed by my own compulsion to check email late at night and first thing in the morning. When left unchecked, this lack of discipline imperceptibly robs me of rest in the evening and silent presence to God in the morning. I can become exhausted by the intrusion of the media and technology into every corner of my life, resulting in constant overstimulation of body, mind and emotions. All of this convenience wears me out!

Exhaustion sets in when we are accessible too much of the time. A soul-numbing sadness comes when we realize that a certain quality of life and quality of presence is slipping away as a result of too much "convenience." Breaks in the day that used to be small windows of replenishment for body and soul- like driving in a car, going for a walk, having lunch with a friend- are now filled with noise, interruption and multi-tasking. What feels like being available and accessible is really a boundaryless existence that offers no protection for those things that are most precious to us....No wonder we feel disconnected from God: we are rarely able to give Him our full attention in solitude and silence. Thoughtful reflection is constantly sabotaged by the intrusion of cell phones, pagers and e-mail messages. No wonder our human relationships are so unsatisfying as they get reduced to snippets of interrupted, disembodied phone conversation.

What feels like convenience is actually robbing us of those things we value most. We are left with bits and pieces of everything rather than experiencing the full substance of anything."

"It's not that I am averse to technology; I too have a cell phone, an office phone, a home phone and an email address, and they are much needed. However, I am aware of longings that run much deeper than what technology can address. I am noticing that the more I fill my life with the convenience of technology, the emptier I become in the places of my deepest longing. I long for the beauty and substance of being in the presence of those I love, even though it is less convenient. I long for spacious, thoughtful conversation even though it is less efficient. I long to be connected with my authentic self, even though it means being inaccessible to others at time. I long to be one who waits and listens deeply for the still, small voice of God, even if it means I must unplug from technology in order to become quiet enough to hear.

Constant noise, interruption and drivenness to be more productive cut us off from or at least interrupt the direct experience of God and other human beings, and this is more isolating than we realize. Because we are experiencing less meaningful and divine connection, we are emptier relationally, and we try harder and harder to fill that loneliness with even more noise and stimulation. In so doing we lose touch with the quieter and more subtler experiences of God within. This is a vicious cycle indeed." (Italic emphasis mine - JK)

All these thoughts have led to the realization that the technologies that we choose to embrace will shape who we become. The trouble with this is that the fruit of the particular technology often takes a generation to surface. As you're probably noticing, recently my reflections on these types of things have come in poetic form. So here's another one..."Ode to the Cellular Phone."

Behold the tiny cell phone
All the gifts it brings to you
Technological convenience
Talking, texting, surfing too

We talk more than we ever have
In freedom now to roam
Sending words over the airwaves
In a crowd or all alone

Saying more yet knowing less
Many contacts, fewer friends
Lives filled with surface conversations
When we can squeeze them in

Constant wireless communication
Merits quiet contemplation

Shallow words breed shallow minds
Which left unchecked yield shallow lives

We make things then they make us
All our tools will one day be
The hammers and the chisels
That give shape to you and me

The future’s born of our inventions
This despite our best intentions

So beware the innovation
For which the masses stand in line
Progress is a word
That takes a long time to define

Be careful how you define progress, for it will slowly and subtly define you.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Doing something foolish

I spend a lot of my time foolishly. Sometimes I wish I could stop, but it seems to come from deep within me. Most people don’t understand why I give so much energy to it. Sometimes it even causes me pain. I’d love to stop, but it’s a part of my DNA, maybe even my “calling”.

I am a preacher.

I’m not alone in my assessment of preaching. Those outside the church see it as a royal waste of time at best, and at worst, a way to manipulate by shoveling guilt on mindless listeners. Even those in the church make jokes about the sermon. “If all the people who feel asleep listening to sermons were laid end to end…they’d be a lot more comfortable!”

You’d think the one place I could find support would be among my own, but even many of my colleagues question the validity of what we do. Some are calling it a thing of the past. They see the sermon as a relic that is best put on the shelf. Keep it polished and dusted so that people can appreciate it, but it really has no practical use. They keep saying that there is no value in one person speaking to the multitudes. All spiritual journeys are different. How can one man speak with any authority in the spiritual lives of others? We need to journey together and that means that no one gets to talk more than anyone else, right? Anything else would be foolish.

The Apostle Paul used an interesting word for what we do – “foolishness”. (I Cor. 1:18). But he was quick to clarify, It’s foolish, but not to those who actually hear it. Not to those whose lives are transformed. And maybe that’s the heart of the problem. We see a lot of preaching in North America, but we’re not so overwhelmed by the transformation. If anything, preaching is more accessible than ever, thanks to the TV, internet, IPODs, etc. Moral character and Christ-likeness, however, seem to be in short supply. One of the reasons many have given up on preaching is that it seems to be so ineffective. We’ve all spent time listening to a great orator motivate us to be what we all really want to be, but something happens on Tuesday afternoon, when the words and emotions of Sunday seem so far away. If preaching is valuable, and I believe it is, then it needs to do more than just talk. It needs to transform. Lives need to change. And that’s a tall order. (I have some thoughts about how that transformation happens, but I save them for a later post.)

For now let's just say, contrary to much popular opinion, it's something that I still believe is worth giving my life to.

I found a good quote this week (thanks to Unashamed Workman) that was obviously written by a person who understands this weird thing that preachers do.

“The pulpit calls those who are appointed to it like the sea calls its sailor; and like the sea, it batters and bruises, and it does not rest….To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time, and to know that each time you do it, that you must do it again.” (Bruce Thielmann)

So I'll keep at it. And love it. Even when nobody understands why.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Incredible Incarnation

I've been reflecting on the hope of the Incarnation for several months now. The fact that God has chosen to redeem and renew in the particular way He has chosen to do it (God becoming man) is one of the key ideas that inspires hope for me on a day to day basis.

My thoughts and reflections culminated in what you read below. My prayer is that it would inspire in you even a glimmer of the hope we have in a God who works in ways that are radically different than what we might expect.

Hope Incarnate

The greatest mystery known to me,
(If mystery truly known can be),
Is that in human flesh and bone
God would come to make a home.

What novelist could make this up?
Power poured in paper cup,
Helpless babe in feed trough laid
Whose very word the earth had made

If God would stoop to this degree,
Then maybe there is hope for me.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Food for thought...

I've really been enjoying Willzhead lately. He pointed me to a list by Rod Dreher of The Crunchy Conservative. The list contains five things that Rod no longer believes as a result of the Iraq war. You can read the list for yourself here, but I personally want to highlight the first item. Rod writes,

1. Having been absolutely certain that the war was the right thing to have done, and that we would prevail easily, I am no longer confident that I can discern when emotion is affecting my judgment unduly.
If nothing else, can we all admit that we have a really tough time drawing completely objective conclusions, especially when we are afraid to listen to differing opinions. If Jesus is the truth, and if the truth will set us free, then why are we afraid to actively look for the truth everywhere. Why is it so hard to be teachable? Why the refusal to admit that often we choose based on what we want instead of what is really true? Why are we so quick to arrive at conclusions and then to dismiss the thoughts of those we don't agree with? Thanks Rod, for helping us remember that just because we think/feel like we are 100% right, a little humility is always wise.

And I can say without a doubt that I have reached this conclusion in a purely objective manner. If you disagree then you'd better smarten up! :)

Teenage Affluenza

Interesting video. Take some time to watch it and show it to those around you.

Thanks to Willzhead for the link...