Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: September 2018

Saving our Imaginations from Fortnite

I am reading A Wrinkle in Time to my son, Oliver, who is 7 years old. One of my goals is to teach him to use and develop his imagination. I actually stop as we’re reading to encourage him to be still and actively imagine what he’s hearing. It’s hard for him to not fidget with something or even be drawn to other books and images in his room. I remind him, “We’re being still and practicing seeing the story in our minds. What does Calvin look like?” (I’m really glad he hasn’t seen the movie). On our family vacation this summer we listened to the Chronicles of Narnia in the car and he claimed to be able to read his book about dragons and listen to the story on the car speakers at the same time.

I think I’m a bit like Oliver sometimes. Paying attention is a difficult task. I spend a lot of time on my computer and always have way too many tabs open in Chrome. I am prone to popping between tasks and too often lack the stillness for the clarity of thought I desire. I want to listen to God and engage my own imagination in any number of creative tasks, but I am, as I think most people are, chronically distracted.

fortnite and coopted imaginationA big new distraction the gaming industry recently cooked up is Fortnite. It’s a shooting game where players skydive onto an island and gather resources to kill each other. Some kind of plasma storm forces them into a tighter and tighter circle and they can build platforms and ramps out of the resources they gather (that’s the “fort” part I think).

I found out about Fortnite through my nephews earlier this year but when I heard this incredible episode of On the Media about Twitch, the social media platform for gamers, I took a deep dive to find out why and how so many people are interested. If you are an elementary school kid like Oliver it is one of the top topics of conversation. Millions of people watch professional gamers play this game. There are tournaments with prizes in the millions. The most famous professional gamer in the United States is Ninja AKA Tyler Blevins. He reportedly earns a million dollars a month. He got really, really famous when, in April of this year, he played with Drake. Seven million people have watched the YouTube video of their game so far.

I want to save my son’s imagination from Fortnite. Imagining violence is the biggest reason. I don’t want him to be desensitized to violence by repeated cartoonish head shots and rocket explosions. I don’t want him to dream about how to kill anyone, even if only in a game, but it’s more than that–I fear the overwhelming swell of enthusiasm for this game will steal his imagination. Instead of imagining anything, he can see it all. It’s loud; it’s fast; and everybody loves it. He loves it and he has never even played it. It IS indeed creative, but too complete, I guess. There’s not much room for his brain to do anything because it has all been done for him. The artist who made Fortnite are not giving an invitation into anything. They are as 20th century writer George MacDonald said in his essay, “The Fantastic Imagination“, writing “THIS IS A HORSE” on their art (and on our minds).

Don’t mess with this dude, George MacDonald

“Suppose my child ask me what the fairytale means, what am I to say?”

If you do not know what it means, what is easier than to say so? If you do see a meaning in it, there it is for you to give him. A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. If my drawing, on the other hand, is so far from being a work of art that it needs THIS IS A HORSE written under it, what can it matter that neither you nor your child should know what it means? It is there not so much to convey a meaning as to wake a meaning. If it do not even wake an interest, throw it aside. A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much. At all events, the business of the painter is not to teach zoology.

As admirable as the creatives responsible for Fortnite are (I love their worldwide campaign with the llamas), the main force behind Fortnite is not art but business. Companies are going to great lengths to tap the veins of a generations’ desires as they have with Fortnite. But instead of awakening something in their imaginations, they feed us back their desire like a soon to be foie gras duck. If they find something we want, they slap a “THIS IS A HORSE” label on it and shove it down our throats in every conceivable medium. They took our dreams, made them very real, and then edged out the competition by dominating our imaginations for as long as possible.

Imagination is key to being a Christian. The cooperation of mind and heart with God takes contemplation, stillness and creativity. It is not always so clear what God might do next and we who are committed to following that next thing must have unclaimed space in our heads for the project. Other things crowd it too–worries, earning a living, etc.–but Fortnite is the most recent in a string of increasingly demanding and enticing competitors for our hopes and dreams. You might have a future in professional gaming, son! Maybe Fortnite is your ticket to the big time! Lord, save us.

Lord give us space, rest and real hope. Awaken us to what is already in us and where you already are. Stoke our imaginations and make something new. 

 

 

Camden County College Hates Me

I’m sorry, I don’t follow the rules. The Public Safety Office at Camden County College clearly told me that I was not welcome on campus unless I was a student or an authorized guest. I went anyway. Again, I’m sorry, but it’s a place to meet 10,000+ young people from all the local area high schools. I have to at least put up flyers on the first day to at least let them know that Circle of Hope exists. At most, I would love it if I could hang out there and make relationships. I can’t shake the need to broadcast to them that there is an alternative to the hypocritical, judgmental church they imagine from national media or know from personal experience. At most, I want them to have a transformative experience with the living God. I can’t shake the desire to share this joy.

I wasn’t trying to go unnoticed

Jesus wants to unlock people at Camden County College for selfless love which is freedom and joy in serving others. They need to know that Jesus wants to help them let go of the lies they are fed about carefully guarded personal satisfaction and its perennial shadow, an overwhelming sense of personal responsibility to make and maintain the world as they know it. Camden County College needs, at the very least, a couple hundred pink flyers posted on every possible bulletin board that there is a community nearby that is re-centering itself around something (and someone) who can actually do something to change the world.

But Camden County College wants me to know that I am not welcome there. A security officer called to let me know that I had broken the rules. It wasn’t hard for him to get a hold of me. I had put my number on all the flyers. But the rules are the rules and he was just doing his job. There is no solicitation at Camden County Colleges. Once again, I’m sorry. I had indeed seen the notice on the bulletin boards that said that any posted flyer not approved by the campus life office would be removed, but I just thought, “OK, remove it, maybe someone will see it before they do.” I also knew that flyers I posted last semester had gone un-removed for months, cuz I’m persistent like that. They asked me not to come back (again), but I’m probably going back. I’m wondering if my flyer shouldn’t say, “They told me not to post this.”

I admit, my ire is up. I could just rebel for rebellion sake because I really am a rebel at heart. But I’d like to make a bigger point about the rules. The rules are designed to protect young people from any influence. According to the rule makers, overt influence is violence. All of our opinions, motives and desires are spontaneously generated from our deepest personhood, or so they would have us believe. When in fact the opinions, motives and desires of a whole generation have been sacrificed to the gods of industry. Our hearts have been claimed by what we consume and those who sell it to us. It is best for the rule makers that everyone believe they are self made in every respect, so that the reality of our unprocessed opinions, motives and desires be otherwise un-engaged and thus more easily shaped and manipulated by the rule makers.

The incoming class of freshman have no personal recollection of the events of September 11, 2001. They were babies or not yet born. Instead they have grown up in the culture of fear that the rule makers have built ever since. They have grown up under surveillance. They have grown up on display, submitting to voluntary surveillance on social media. They have grown up knowing that only the government will keep them safe, and just barely. This ever present, vague sense of threat has shaped them. It has shaped all of us. This threat is excellent for the rule makers. It keeps us in line, in our own lane, and unaware.

Jesus undoes the rules, not necessarily the Public Safety rules of Camden County College, but those rules that keep us locked up in self protection and in fear of what might happen if we mess up. He makes us aware of that which we can’t see without him. He lights up the dark, un-examined opinions, motives and desires that make us who we are, and mostly make us unhappy. He invites us to lose that life so we can find a new one in him. He breaks most of the rules that make our lives such drudgery. He influences us. But that influence blasphemes the other gods who reign over us, and i refuse to pretend they don’t exist.

I’ll have to deal with the consequences of returning to Camden County College when I do, but my decision will not be based in fear of what the rule makers will do to me. I’m being specific about the real threats at Camden County College, and they are not my pink flyers. I’d like to convince a few more students to break the rules with me and influence people for good rather than leaving it to those who will only take from them.

Other gods only take. Jesus gives. I’m praying to help many people at Camden County College receive from him.