Tag Archives: technology

What do YOU think? Is screen time damaging the kids?

I have been doing some thinking about technology again in prepration for the seminarians cohort meeting next Monday. We are inviting everyone to do some theology around the question: Should I buy the Playstation, Iphone, AI device for Christmas?

Image result for fortnite skins

Among the articles that stuck with me is one by Nellie Bowles in the NYTimes: A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley. I have grandchildren. She alarmed me, since they love their screens and I love to give them what they want.

Being avoidant is not enough

She says, “The people who are closest to a thing are often the most wary of it. Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them. A wariness that has been slowly brewing is turning into a region wide consensus: The benefits of screens as a learning tool are overblown, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high. The debate in Silicon Valley now is about how much exposure to phones is O.K.”

Christians have often been resistant when it comes to technological advances. Many of the people in our church, Circle of Hope, come from Mennonite stock and have relatives or acquaintances who are Amish. The Amish are still trying to keep progress stalled at the pre-industrial level! I admire their stubbornness. But the cool  Anabaptists I know are tired of legalistic ancestors and feel queasy about making too many rules that will stifle their own children like they were stifled. So the debate about information and communication technology gets them coming and going. They have an instinct for avoiding the temptations for the world, but they have no little revulsion for overdoing avoidance.

Sometimes I think they use their resistance to overdoing avoidance to avoid making decisions that might save their kids. They don’t want to be legalistic, so they don’t do anything to guide the family. So their poor, impressionable kids are rolled over by the tsunami of technology without much guidance, much less theology. So the wave consumes their imaginations and they adapt to the worldview stories that justify every new relationship with a machine that comes on the market.

Tech inventors are keeping their kids away from screens

The experts from Silicon valley are beginning to resist the technology onslaught for the sake of their children. Just listen to these quotes.

  • “Doing no screen time is almost easier than doing a little,” said Kristin Stecher, a former social computing researcher married to a Facebook engineer. “If my kids do get it at all, they just want it more.”
  • Some of the people who built video programs are now horrified by how many places a child can now watch a video. Asked about limiting screen time for children, Hunter Walk, a venture capitalist who for years directed product for YouTube at Google, sent a photo of a potty training toilet with an iPad attached and wrote: “Hashtag ‘products we didn’t buy.’”
  • Athena Chavarria, who worked as an executive assistant at Facebook and is now at Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic arm, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, said: “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”
  • Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now the chief executive of a robotics and drone company said about screens, “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine.” Technologists building these products and writers observing the tech revolution were naïve, he said. “We thought we could control it,” Mr. Anderson said. “And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.”
  • Those who have exposed their children to screens try to talk them out of addiction by explaining how the tech works. John Lilly, a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist with Greylock Partners and the former C.E.O. of Mozilla, said he tries to help his 13-year-old son understand that he is being manipulated by those who built the technology. “I try to tell him somebody wrote code to make you feel this way — I’m trying to help him understand how things are made, the values that are going into things and what people are doing to create that feeling,” Mr. Lilly said. “And he’s like, ‘I just want to spend my 20 bucks to get my Fortnite skins.'”

I think we all know by now that online platforms, especially the games, are designed to be addictive. That’s how the inventors profit, by keeping us engaged and selling us virtual products. In case you didn’t know that, it’s no secret

I did not write this post to solve the problems we are all confronting. But I do think we Jesus-followers have the perennial solutions:.

  • A view of who we are and who God is appropriately contradicts the narratives the world offers.
  • Dialogue, like this, and like our meeting to do theology, helps break the power of manipulative lies that hook us into a track we later regret.
  • Questioning the strategies of our spiritual ancestors and having the courage to resist and restore in our own ways allows us the space to make decisions that have some discernment.

We do not need to bend the knee to whatever powerful force comes beaming into family life demanding we organize around it. Like many tech experts, we’d better figure out just what we are going to do about the invasion very soon, since the powers are grooming our kids for future profiteering and shaping their brains and their loves as they do it.

See also, from 2013: Screen time saps resistance

I’m still reading email while Trump can’t stop tweeting

One of my New Years resolutions this year was to write a letter each week to a significant person in my life. I mean a poorly-scribbled, pen-to-paper letter. (And you may be saying, “So where’s my letter?!”) I also use Facebook messenger, texting, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, and all sorts of other innovations. But, like so many people, social media is losing its lustre in my eyes. The platform seems to dull connection rather than heighten them. So I am trying to get more basic.  I have my own farm-to-table approach to communication; I want those I love to know who grew their note in a palpable way — I sign my letters with my own hand.

More devices, less communication

The more communication devices we have, the more distance there seems to be in the world. Some days the disconnection we experience in the church is palpable. We are getting forced apart by choices to connect at minimal levels with quick, minimal devices [old Sherry Turkle Ted talk]. As a church, we keep talking about this surplus-opportunity- yet-dearth of communication all the time. Because we are fully adapted to the devices and the  social networks that dominate them, and we wonder if they will quench the Spirit, if they haven’t already. The newness contained in one cell phone (which is probably giving you cancer) is downright terrifying. Facing the overwhelming pressure of rapacious capitalism applied to communication is hard to combat. But Trump’s tweets are sending people for the doors — he’s so bad we can’t miss how the systems are set up to abuse us.

Image result for anza-borrego desert
Anza-Borrego State Park

Some people among Circle of Hope advocate severely restricting all use of machines to interact. They have a point. And I am not judging them when I note, “There are Amish in every age of the church.” Lord knows I often wish I were living off the grid in the Anza-Borrego desert somewhere collecting dew for my garden. And I am back to handwriting letters! So I relate to that application of “resist and restore.” Newness is usually suspicious and often frightening. The Amish said “enough” in about the 1880’s.  But I think we have to admit that the newest form of the same old evil is much scarier than the old evil to which we already conformed. For instance, the old school farming practices of the Amish pollute the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They might feel righteous for not adapting to new ways, but their old ways had some evil in them too.

I am usually more on the other side of the argument. I want the latest technology with which to communicate and to work. I can’t get it fast enough. I am even Google-ized now. I even downloaded (and used!) Venmo this week. I want to discern what evil the technology  carries and resist it. But I also want to seize the opportunity it gives me and use it. As a church, talking about technology is hard. We have been talking about coming up with a “theology of technology” for years. But we can’t quite get there. I suppose it is because we are like Asian carp — too busy adapting to our new environment to think about what it means to be an invasive species.

1) We’re too busy mastering the changing technology. We don’t have time to think about whether we have anything to say about it. That’s pretty scary since it means that the technology already runs us, we don’t run it. [Not over Smashing Pumpkins].
2) We are too small-minded to have a group project like coming up with our own thoughts about what new technology means to us. We are doing very individualized stuff and don’t see group thinking as possible. Our thoughts can be as small as our screens. If you wonder why we can’t connect and break up shortly after we do, don’t underestimate how technology has atomized us and how we have adapted to the illusion of togetherness the media perpetrates. We are sitting ducks for huge forces because we inept at getting together in real time.

Seven years ago, a 25-year old blogger from the East Village wrote down seven things a twentysomething can’t do. Now he’s 32, but I think things may have become even more pronounced. Six of his seven things had to do with building decent relationships, mostly about communicating. We’re all losing our capacity to connect. We want to do it. The many devices we are being sold to communicate could increase our ability to connect, and in some great ways, they have. For instance, I really like texting about where I am and when we are meeting, and about what laundry detergent to buy. But my experience is that people who fully commit to the phone screen for communicating are too small to really do it. They may be wired, but they are not always connected.

My “big” discipline: read email

The powers are determined to make us all rats in their cages. They dominate the devices and conform them to proper rat-usage. SO, I think we should sit down and read our email.

I admit, I don’t seem to know how to have this discussion yet. One time the Cell Leader Coordinators talked about it and they had what, for them, amounts to a spat. I said that I need to read my email on a big screen, which gives more honor to the writer and their art. I don’t think we should do major communicating as the body while we have ten seconds at a stoplight to scan an email or blog post.

I know, that mentality seems unrealistic, kind of Amish. Nevertheless, right now, part of my discipline of communicating is to read my properly filtered email, daily. As you know, I send quite a bit of it, as well. Circle of Hope feels like a major inbox loader for people who haven’t shut off notifications to their phone and feel like they are holding a pulsing, overstuffed screen in their hand. Some people unsubscribe from the Covenant List because they count it as clutter! Some of the cell leaders don’t even read the the info email from their pastor each week, or all the way through. Some of the Leadership Team don’t even take time to read emails they use to lead the church with some integrity and vision. It is a challenge to be that disciplined and committed, but it makes a difference as to whether we are knit together meaningfully.

These are four reasons I still read email and don’t  encourage people to use my cell phone for texting, even when I give them the number, unless it is a texting subject (like “tacos or pho?”).

1) I’m trying to communicate.

To me, communicating is about relating, not just data. I want to say something I actually thought about and receive a thoughtful reply. That seems more like love is growing in the world. I don’t want to merely pass out info and have data hogs sniff around to see if it is something they want to consume. Dialogue creates deeper community. When we can’t be face to face, heartfelt writing can be a decent replacement.

2) I want to hear more.

It is hard to keep up with my email. I would rather talk face to face or in a meeting or even over the phone (although I’m not always that great over the phone). But those ways of communicating are hard to keep up with too. Communicating is hard. But I still want to hear more and connect more with more people. To be the church, we need to listen to one another and listen to the Spirit in one another. That takes quite a bit of listening in quite a few ways.

[The opposite is also true, of course. If you are addicted to checking email because you think some life-altering message is in you inbox, that’s not so good. More is usually the enemy of something. Checking email more does not necessarily mean you are listening more. Here’s a link for the addicts.]

3) It is good to slow down and connect.

All this sounds kind of strange, I guess, coming from a person who was there when the original email was sent back in the 70’s. It was so amazingly fast then! Now, sitting down in front of a screen and composing something thoughtful and loving seems like it is kind of old fashioned. Maybe this is my nod to the “Amish” types. The new Amish-types are often people who still know how to write in a language other than textese.

Being alone, concentrating, and writing, are all good, meditative ways to be who we are in Christ and live a life of love. I am writing this with love, too. It takes time. Even as I write, I am facing the cost of acting this way — there seems to be so much to do! But the writing is helping me to be. The way you pause to read and respond is helping you to be, as well, I hope.

4) I am committed to good infrastructure that extends the kingdom.

At this point, email has been a great way to connect the disparate elements of Circle of Hope. Every year, as we grow larger and add more congregations, we have a big challenge to be one church. We are always pushed to be smaller units, if not just random individuals. Holding together by speaking the truth in love is a major counterattack on the powers that want to dominate us. Our cells and Sunday Meetings are the major ways we express our commitment to being an incarnation of Jesus. But by the time they are over they can instantly be run over my the next media avalanche. We need a daily means of togetherness. Our computers and email can help us if we think about what’s going on.

Hey, if you got this far in this blog post, I feel loved. Thanks. You honor me, like I have tried to honor you with my time and thinking. That is splendidly weird and Jesus-like, and it won’t go for nothing.

The A is for Available in F-A-T

A couple of my friends talk about their “bandwidth” whenever the screen of our relationship tells me it is “loading” rather than playing. That means I thought we were going to connect, but my friend was not available.

I haven’t really explored this, but I think people with a “bandwidth” metaphor might think they work like a TV: the stream coming in is only so much and the draws on the stream are many. So they run out; they dry up. There is a reason to pay attention to that reality, of course — we could thoughtlessly “burn out!” On the other hand Jesus followers know that the strength to love is pretty much unlimited; it is not really time or media-player bound. So we should not monitor or excuse our choices as a matter of limited natural resources.

That’s not to say that anyone who wants to love big better consider what’s coming in and what’s going out. God may not have limitations, but we humans do. We need to know what we are given to give, not just imagine fulfilling every need we hear about. I actually have to tell people: “No one told you you needed to come to every meeting!”

I think, over time with Jesus, our spiritual, intellectual and emotional “bandwidth” actually increases, so the amount of faithfulness, attention and teaching that can flow through us in a given amount of time increases too. It is like plumbing, the greater the diameter of the intake pipe to your house, the more water pressure can get to the shower, washing machine and lawn sprinkler, all running at the same time.

We use the old idea that leaders, especially, need to be FAT: faithful, available and teachable. One of the big problems these days is finding someone to lead who is “available.” That is, they have, or will free up, enough “bandwidth” to be available. The problem with being available has two main parts I want to point out: one part is feeling busy, the other part is being inattentive.

Feeling busy

The Economist  notes that busyness is less about how much time one has than how you perceive the time you have. Ever since a clock was first used to synchronize labor in the 1700s, time has been understood in relation to money. Once hours were financially quantified, people worried more about wasting time, saving time or using “their” time profitably.

Individualistic societies, which emphasize achievement over affiliation (like the U.S.), help cultivate this time-is-money mindset. We constantly hear an urgent demand to make every moment count. When people see their time in terms of money (counting or getting), they often grow stingy with time to maximize profit. Workers who are paid by the hour volunteer less of their time and tend to feel more antsy when they are not working. When people are paid more to work, they tend to work longer hours, because working becomes a more profitable use of time.

The rising value of work time puts pressure on all time. Leisure time starts to seem more stressful, as people feel compelled to use it wisely or not at all. Big increases in productivity on the job compel people to maximize the utility of their leisure time. The most direct way to do this is to consume more goods within a given unit of time. The explosion of available goods has only made time feel more crunched, as the struggle to choose what to buy or watch or eat or do raises the “opportunity cost” of leisure (i.e., choosing one thing comes at the expense of choosing another) and contributes to feeling stressed or “burned out.”

The endless opportunities made possible by a simple internet connection boggle the mind. When there are so many ways to fill one’s time, it is only natural to crave more of it. Since the pleasures are all delivered to us in restricted measures, we need to come back for more.  The ability to satisfy desires instantly but fleetingly breeds impatience, fueled by a nagging sense that one could be doing so much more. For instance, people visit websites less often if they are more than 250 milliseconds slower than a close competitor, according to research from Google.

Being inattentive

Mentioning Google brings me to the second problem with being available. People are unavailable because they are inattentive. In The Guardian, last month, an article noted that ” technology is contributing toward so-called ‘continuous partial attention,’ severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off.  ‘Everyone is distracted,’ Rosenstein (inventor of the “like” button) says. ‘All of the time.'”

It is revealing that many younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley schools where iPhones, iPads and even laptops are banned. They appear to be abiding by a Biggie Smalls lyric from their own youth about the perils of dealing crack cocaine: “never get high on your own supply.” The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions. It’s the impulse to check a message notification. It’s the pull to visit YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter for just a few minutes, only to find yourself still tapping and scrolling an hour later. None of this is an accident. It is all just as their designers intended. We are not available because we are already occupied, the thing is vibrating in our pockets, calling us to attend to it, and we do.

So is anyone available?

People who lead the church, then, or who just want to follow Jesus, have a somewhat daunting assignment. The church seems to expect an inordinate amount of time and a lot of attention, and we don’t feel like we have a lot of either. We feel pressed when we “must attend meetings” since they cost time. Somehow we miss that we are meeting with people we love or who need to be loved. We can’t attend to God because we take our phones to the prayer room and they lead us astray. Our bandwidth for time and attention is sucked dry by the demands of the endless outlets that wring whatever profit they can derive from us along our brief journey through life.

Is there any hope? Of course there is. I am going to offer just one of many solutions for each of the problems that steal our availability to do something transformative with Jesus.

Decide for yourself what your time is for and how it will be used. Take all the waking hours you expect to have in a week and allot them for the vision you are given, the needs you have, and the goals you want to meet. This will probably take a chart (I recommend one on paper, not on a screen). Use the chart to pray, not just plot. Let God lead you through time. Ask, “Who am I in Jesus and how do I make my time available to be my true self?”

Put limits on the technology, like the techies are doing for their children. Start with tracking how much screen time (with screens of every size) you are spending in a day. Decide how much you should spend and limit the time to that. If your job is in front of a computer, get up every half hour and walk away (pray as you are walking). Don’t put your phone by your bed (even for an alarm) or read a screen in bed. Don’t delude yourself into thinking watching TV together is the best way to relate. Get your cell (group, not phone) to talk about these things.

If we don’t do things that hold back the flood of attention-grabbing by the technologies of late capitalism we will never be available to God, to one another or to the mission of Jesus. Jesus will actually end up vying for our attention!  The people we love will need  to wait until our screens load and are finished with us. The mission might become too costly because there is just not enough time. We will not be FAT enough to do it.

For myself, when I run up against a loved one or leader with little bandwidth, I get discouraged. It is tempting to give up and join the stampede toward our individual tents where we fruitlessly try to commune with the ever-available internet, pretend face-time is a face, “likes” are love, and addiction is not what is happening. I need to turn back to hope and meditate on the quality of aliveness, right under my nose. Jesus changes wrongs into rights.

Subscribe to Development! Hit the “follow” button after you type in your email. Thanks for reading!

Who knows but that God made Circle of Hope for such a Trump time as this?

Maybe we have some Esther in us. When plots against the Jews were uncovered in the Persian capital, one of the king’s favorite wives, Esther, was well-placed to do something about it. But there were great risks to face! She was one of the Jews being slandered; she was just one of many wives; she was not sure whether she would not be killed if she appeared unbidden before the king. But her uncle laid out the situation to her again: Terrible things were about to happen and she was in danger, as well as her people. He said, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” So she told everyone to fast and pray and said, “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (see Esther 4).

I will go to Trump and if I perish I perish

Now we will need to “Go to the Trump.” Maybe that has always been inevitable. My twenties began with the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency and ended with the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s We sat on our porch and talked very seriously about how we needed to be ready for the police state to rule us. We told each other we needed to be an alternative community to sustain ourselves in the coming time of troubles, as well as to hold out the light of Christ. There was plenty of trouble, but not the collapse of civilization we expected. And ever since, I have witnessed inspired people fighting hard for the poor, for rights, and for goodness when the government was doing things wrong. There are still a lot of inspired people doing the same thing. But there is also the fruit of this stream of power-mad, self-interested, pure-capitalists that resulted in Donald Trump.

Continue reading Who knows but that God made Circle of Hope for such a Trump time as this?

“Yes, and” about technology in honor of one of the originals

1% discussing the fruit of their war technologyLast night I was in a rush to get home and enjoy my yearly viewing of Brother Sun, Sister Moon.  Still great. This year I was especially moved by how well it points out the sins of the one percent of the year 1200. Pietro di Bernadone (Francis’ father) looks suspiciously like Donald Trump, telling his son to pillage a particular relic when he attacks Perugia in order to save them a “fortune in indulgences” and picking up heirlooms “for almost nothing” in the postwar turmoil. Most years I miss that theme because I am so preoccupied with watching each of Francis’ circle of friends wake up to their longing for faith in a world gone wrong.

My technology delayed me

Ironically, I was in a rush to get home to watch a movie about my simplicity-adopting hero because my technology delayed me. First, my credit union mobile app would not process a particular check I wanted to deposit — the error message said it could not read the numbers, then it said I had already deposited the check and couldn’t do it again! I spent a while arguing with my phone. I called the bank and was sent to a number that did not answer. Then I went to an ATM only to realize I did not remember the right pin code (since I was retrained to use the mobile app). I finally got home and could not immediately figure out how to use the DVD player because I have been retrained for Roku.

When I sat down for my anticipated reverie, I was a bit exhausted — a bit tempted to give up and scroll through some screens while catching up on cable news, the next episode of the strange and prophetic Mr. Robot, or something numbing like that. Instead, I pressed on and enjoyed watching Francis throw his father’s belongings out the window. In the movie version of his life, Francis is propelled toward his conversion to radical Christianity by a visit to the sweatshop in the family basement he had hitherto ignored. His father almost beats him to death after he takes the workers into the sun for an afternoon in which “no one did a lick of work.” I noticed the parallels.

Our dialogue set me up

I was set up for frustration with my commitment/subjugation to various forms of technology by our discussion last Monday of our theology of technology. We bravely waded in to the huge subject and ended up with a rather large summary doc that we have stored in Google awaiting some time when we have enough energy to wade in again. I think we are getting to some good thinking. For instance, we took a few of Circle of Hope’s proverbs and pointed them at technology. Here’s a sample:

  • Our deliberate attempts to make disciples are “incarnational,” friend to friend, so we accept that what we do will almost never be instant.  — Being an organism, being incarnational may not be efficient; reducing processes down to efficiency is not automatically best.
  • People should be skeptical if our message does not originate from a community that demonstrates the love of Christ. — Depersonalizing data collection and screen usage could be antithetical to what we are going for.
  • Life in Christ is one whole cloth. As we participate in and love “the world,” we bring redemption from the Kingdom of God to our society. Jesus is Lord of all, so we have repented of separating “sacred” and “secular.” — Technology is not intrinsically wrong; it is a means to God’s ends in our hands.
  • We are “world Christians,” members of the transnational body of Christ; concerned with every person we can touch with truth and love. — Communication technology is amazing, we need to learn how to speak the language and touch the hearts of those embroiled in it.
  • The church is not a “thing” that does things; it is not a building. We are the church and we support one another as Jesus expresses himself through us. — In a digitized, mechanized, roboticized economy, it will be a struggle to be personal.
  • Those among us from “traditional” Christian backgrounds are dying to our precious memories of “church” in order to bring the gospel into the present with great flexibility. — Like it or not, the future is rapidly coming upon us. It is not OK to say nothing about what technology is making us.

Francis’ simple joy sets me straight

 Today, on Francis Day, I intend to keep it simple. But I do not see my example from the 1200’s as a simpleton. He imagined a worldwide mission of peace and community in Christ. He even went to Egypt and got an interview with the sultan who was warring against European crusaders in Palestine (again, a strangely familiar situation). I think we will end up with some good theology to offer a world beset by virtual bigots, techno terrorists and corporate home invaders because we have the perennial sensibilities of Francis and of anyone who simply wants to follow Jesus simply. As Richard Rohr describes him in one of last year’s best books Eager to Love in the chapter “An Alternative Orthodoxy:”

Francis’ starting place was human suffering instead of human sinfulness, and God’s identification with that suffering in Jesus…In general, Francis preferred ego poverty to private perfection, because Jesus “became poor for our sake, so that we might become rich out of his poverty” (2 Cor. 8:9)…

Francis’ was a radically Christi-centric worldview, but one that nonetheless recognized the Church as the primary arena in which this good news could be protected and disseminated. He was a non-dual thinker….[He saw] the living Body of Christ, first of all, everywhere, and then the organized Church was where the “hidden Mystery,” could most easily be recognized, talked about, developed, and praised. Most of us come at it from the other side, “My church is better than your church,” and never get to the real universal message. We substitute the container for the actual contents, and often substitute our church structure for the gospel or the kingdom of God. Francis was an extraordinary “yes, and” kind of man, which kept him from all negativity toward structures or other groups (p. 84).

I think I can nurture a “yes, and” kind of approach to technology (at least the part I don’t throw out of the window). Today, that means becoming poor in spirit and poor with others so we can be rich in Jesus, It means less stress about the containers and more attention to the contents. It means straining out the gnat of goodness and not swallowing every camel the sophisticating salespeople flash before my eyes. It means wading in and trusting Jesus to save me, again.

2014 #10 — Six reasons why we can't care about Palestine

For the next few weeks, Thursday is TOP TEN of 2014 day. This is the #10 most read post. In July, I tried to sympathize with people who are having a tough time with our radical ideas about attending to the sins of the world — like the oppression, violence and apartheid in Palestine.

Six reasons why we can't care about Palestine

Why can’t we care about much of anything beyond getting through this week?

I suppose a few of us feel some crushing guilt when we hear such a question. A few of us effectively screened out questions like “Why don’t you care?” a long time ago; we exempted ourselves, because we don’t want to feel guilt anymore. It crushes us.

Ideally, we think of ourselves as caring people. If we are Jesus followers there is quite a bit of pressure to care about others. I think most of us think we are doing OK at meeting the standards. We are probably more caring than other people — especially Israelis who are creating an apartheid system in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinians like Hamas who would sacrifice their whole people for their ideology.

college gilr

You probably are more caring than they are, and I like to think I am too. But let’s face it. When it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian tragedy the vast majority of us have just barely heard about what is going on — that’s true even though our own church people have been talking about it regularly for over two years.  We didn’t read a blog post, we didn’t go to the movie, we didn’t read a newspaper or listen to a broadcast. What’s more, we did not pray about it; we did not figure out how to give money to help suffering people; we did not support others who care more than we do; we did not protest to our elected officials who fund the whole thing; we did not demand an end to weapons production and distribution, etc. If we care at all, why don’t we do something?

Continue reading Six reasons why we can't care about Palestine

Why I Still Read Email

Some days the distance between us as the church is palpable. We are getting forced apart by choices to connect at minimal levels with quick, minimal devices. We keep talking about this, as a church, because we are fully adapted to the devices and the “social networks” that dominate them, and we are wondering if they will quench the Spirit, if they haven’t already.

Some people among Circle of Hope advocate severely restricting all use of machines to interact. I am not judging them when I note, “There are Amish in every age of the church.” Newness is always suspicious. The newest form of the same old evil can be more easily seen than the old evil to which we already conformed. For instance, the fact that the Amish use old school farming practices befouls the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They might feel righteous for not adapting to new ways, but their old ways had some evil in them too.

I am usually more on the other side of the argument. I want the latest technology with which to communicate and work. I can’t get it fast enough. I want to discern what evil it carries and resist it. But I also want to use the opportunity it gives me and use that. As a church, talking about technology is an overwhelming subject. We have been talking about coming up with our “theology of technology” for a couple of years, now; we’ve been totally unable to do it. I think there are two big reasons we can’t develop some lore:

1) We’re too busy mastering the changing technology to think we have anything to say about it. That’s pretty scary since it means that the technology already runs us, we don’t run it.
2) We are too small minded to have a group project like that. We are doing very individualized stuff and don’t see group thinking as possible. Our thoughts can be as small as our screens.

A 25-yearold blogger from the East Village seems to agree with me. He writes about seven things a twentysomething can’t do. Six of his seven things have to do with building decent relationships, mostly communicating. Twentysomethings, in particular, need good ways to connect. They want to do it. The many devices we are being sold to communicate could increase our ability to connect, and in some great ways, they have. For instance, I really like texting about where I am and when we are meeting, and about what laundry detergent to buy. But, my experience is that people who fully commit to the phone screen for communicating are too small to really do it.

The powers are determined to make us all rats in their cages. They dominate the devices and conform them to proper rat-usage. SO, I think we should sit down and read our email.

I admit, I don’t seem to know how to have this discussion yet. The last time the Coordinators talked about it, they had what, for them, amounts to a spat. I said that I need to read my email on a big screen, which gives more honor to the writer and their art. I don’t think we should do major communicating as the body while we have ten seconds at a stoplight to scan an email or blog post. (Maybe the devices would say, “You are so 29 seconds ago.”)

Being behind would not be surprising. Nevertheless, right now, part of my discipline of communicating is to read my properly filtered email, daily. As you know, I send quite a bit of it, as well. Circle of Hope is a major inbox loader. Some people unsubscribe from the Dialogue List because they count it as clutter. Some of the cell leaders don’t even read their weekly info email from their pastor each week, or all the way through. Some of the Leadership Team don’t even take time to read the working agenda email they are using to lead the church with some integrity and vision. It is a challenge to be that disciplined and committed, but it makes a difference as to whether we are knit together meaningfully.

These are four reasons I still read email and don’t  encourage people to use my cell phone for texting, even when I give them the number, unless it is a texting subject (like “tacos or pho?”).

1) I’m trying to communicate.

To me, communicating is about relating, not just data. I want to say something I actually thought about and receive a thoughtful reply. That seems like love is growing in the world. I don’t want to merely pass out info and have data hogs sniff around to see if it is something they want to consume. Dialogue creates deeper community. When we can’t be face to face, heartfelt writing can be a decent replacement.

2) I want to hear more.

It is hard to keep up with my email. I would rather talk face to face or in a meeting or even over the phone (although I’m not always that great over the phone). But those ways of communicating are hard to keep up with too. Communicating is hard. But I still want to hear more and connect more with more people. To be the church, we need to listen to one another and listen to Spirit in one another. That takes quite a bit of listening in quite a few ways.

[The opposite is also true, of course. If you are addicted to checking email because you think some life-altering message is in you inbox, that’s not good. More is usually the enemy of something. Checking email more does not necessarily mean you are listening more. Here’s a link for the addicts.]

3) It is good to slow down and connect.

It sounds kind of strange, I guess, coming from a person who was there for the original email to be sent back in the 70’s. It was so amazingly fast then! Now, sitting down in front of a screen and composing something thoughtful and loving seems like it is kind of old fashioned. Maybe this is my nod to the “Amish” types. The new Amish-types are often people who still know how to write in a language other than textese.

Being alone, concentrating, and writing, are all good, meditative ways to be who we are in Christ and live a life of love. I am writing this with love, too. It takes time. Even as I write, I am facing the cost of acting this way, there seems to be so much to do. But the writing is helping me to be. The way you pause to read and respond is helping you to be, as well, I hope.

4) I am committed to good infrastructure that extends the kingdom.

At this point, email has been a great way to connect the disparate elements of Circle of Hope. Every year, as we grow larger and add more congregations, we have a big challenge to be one church. We are always pushed to be smaller units, if not just random individuals. Holding together by speaking the truth in love is a major counterattack on the powers that want to dominate us. Our cells and PMs are the major ways we express our commitment to being an incarnation of Jesus. But by the time they are over they are “so 29 seconds ago.” We need a daily means of togetherness. Our computers and email help us.

Hey, if you got this far in this blog post, I feel loved. Thanks. You honor me, like I have tried to honor you with my time and thinking. That is splendidly weird and Jesus-like, and it won’t be done for nothing.

Us Cowboys and Alien Technology

To begin with, smart people expressing the zeitgeist:

“You’re playing God.”
“Somebody has to!”
Steve Martin, The Man with Two Brains.

And life itself confided this secret to me: “Behold,” it said, “I am that which must always overcome itself. Indeed, you call it a will to procreate or a drive to an end, to something higher, farther, more manifold” Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra II 12

I watched the best movie I never heard of in 2011 on pay-per-view in the Poconos Saturday. Did you know that Cowboys and Aliens cost $163 million dollars to make? As we watched it, the women in the room laughed out loud when one came to the realization that, “This movie is an extended study of Daniel Craig’s behind!” I had missed that feature, but they were essentially right.

What I was not missing was the thinking behind the comic book. We have an ongoing ambivalence about technology and an ongoing hope that “us cowboys” can save humanity from being taken over by it. In case you haven’t seen the movie, Daniel Craig is a cowboy. (He plays the part straight, but Harrison Ford is winking conspiratorially at us through most of the picture). Craig is abducted by aliens but escapes with one of their powerful devices on his left arm. He is a cowboy who learns quickly how to fight like an alien. I’d say it was a hoot to watch this, but that would not be enough. It elicited many hoots on many levels. Netflix it for sure — watch the cowboys save humanity.

Thank God some Jesus-followers are also considering what becoming posthuman might mean (not just Steven Spielberg and Steve Martin)! Circle of Hope leaders have been trying to come up with our own “theology of technology” for the past couple of years and we can’t do it. Nevertheless, we sort of have alien devices attached to us. We need to answer the ultimate questions attached to the attachments, “Why not renounce our human limits and accept transcendence? Why talk about God when we are as good as gods?”

The questionable activities that demand answers are proliferating. The Enlightenment and the humanist perspective convinced everyone that progress was inevitable, that life is a grand adventure, and that reason, science, and good will would free us from the confines of the past. People are taking that logic to its predictable extreme and saying that we can attain higher peaks by applying our intelligence, determination, and optimism to break out of the human chrysalis. They argue that evolution, despite our efforts, has channeled our behavior in particular directions built into our neurology. Our bodies and brains restrain our capacities. Supposedly, our creativity is struggling within the boundaries of human intelligence, imagination, and concentration. People think we can beat that.

It is easy to see that brilliant people are certainly trying hard to break out of the chrysalis. The technology they are creating is the dominant force shaping the emerging postmodern world. I know I am dependent on various information, communication, and transportation technologies. With advances in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and robotics, that dependence will increase. But my dependence (and the movie-maker’s dependence) is accompanied by a deep ambivalence. For many, technology symbolizes the faith of the postmodern world, but it is an ambivalent faith encapsulating both hopes for and fears of the future.

I don’t underestimate people who call themselves extropist or transhumanist. I appreciate that they are being philosophical rather than advancing the cause of chrysalis-breaking under the banner of improving technology. I had an argument last week about whether our church should adopt a technology merely because it was faster, when I thought the adoption had a lot of other ramifications that were unexplored. I met with a few blank stares. At least the philosophers are having an argument rather than just buying an ap.

The philosophers are justifying how we have already taken our first steps along the road to posthumanity. We have begun to directly alter our genetic structure to remedy “nature’s failures.” We use drugs to modify our psychology, enhance our concentration, and slow brain aging. Research into more specific and powerful neurochemical modifiers is going to speed up  how we apply new tools from molecular biology, computer-assisted molecular design, and brain imaging.

The merging of human and machine is advancing. Machines are becoming more organic, self-modifying, and intelligent. At the same time, we are beginning to incorporate our technology into our selves. We began with pacemakers, artificial joints, and contact lenses. We’re far beyond that, now. The government is developing artificial retinas. Microelectrodes can be electrochemically coupled to our brains. Computers and their interfaces rapidly evolve to fit us: from mainframes and text-based interfaces to PCs, hand-held devices and voice-recognition. Even I played Fruit Ninja on voice-recognition Kinect last Friday! (Big weekend, people!) Surely we’ll be called to implant a computer in the name of buying a new product, soon.

Things are advancing rapidly. People hold off on medical treatment because a new technology will save them better, next month. We will use engineered viruses to alter the genetic structure of any cell, even adult, differentiated cells. Molecular nanotechnology may give us control over the structure of matter, allowing us to build things atom-by-atom — we might be able to program the construction of physical objects (including our bodies) just as we now do with software. This has already played out in other movies, but people are honestly working on the ability to “upload” ourselves (our psychology, memories, emotional responses, values, feelings) from our biological brains into synthetic brains that run a million times faster and allow more extensive modification than allowed by our natural brains.

There are certainly no simple answers in response to all the questions that are being raised. I am excited when technology does such good things for my friends (like the robot that managed Dave’s surgery!).

But I can’t help thinking that wanting to break out of the chrysalis of humanity is a human-hating aspiration. I am working out what it all means. Today’s bullet points:

  • Transcendence is not a new desire, even if it has new technology to back it up. Revisit the apple again.
  • The desire to break out of humanity it surely fundamental to the reason God broke into humanity in Jesus. How we save ourselves never works right, Spielburg notwithstanding.
  • Being human is good. Being connected to God forever as our true selves in our own bodies is a gift that is even better. Thank you, Jesus.

Promises about Machines, Data, Precedent

I don’t get out of the city limits much, unless I am on a plane. So I enjoyed my stimulating car ride to Lancaster Co. the other day. I went to a morning-long meeting that came equipped with hugs, affirmation and encouragement from good-hearted people trying to do good things. The added benefit was that I had nine hours to meditate and cogitate. I want to share some results.

The results are promises. They are in reaction to what I experienced, but not in opposition. I’m not even going to mention what meeting I was at, because what I say might sound personally critical — I have no general aspersions to cast, so don’t go there. But the general impact of my day away was to be warned of three temptations we are facing. I am feeling the Ephesians 6 battle today. The meeting caused me to remember my first love. So I am constrained to do with God and you what I did when I first faced the need to practice fidelity to my wife: I made a promise. I think we have new promises to make to one another before the Lord these days.

If we are going to “do everything and stand,” I think these are among the things we need to say to the Lord, to ourselves, to each other and to the powers.

I will stay as human as humanly possible.

We will not bend the knee to what we have created to amplify our capacity.

The temptation: I have been to a few worship times, now, in which the worship leader is a small person made huge on a screen. The screen is the mediator of the worship in words and pictures. This past weekend I had the bizarre experience of a speaker playing a video of himself and turning to watch himself give a speech instead of just talking to the 3-400 people who were in the room! Christians need to rage against the machine, at least we should use them consciously and not just conform to the technology available just because it is available.  And leaders (like me) need to be careful not to create an atmosphere for people who give us charge of their souls in which those unsuspecting people are lured into further complicity with the godless technology powers.

If I want to know the truth about you, I will ask you.

We will not bend our knee to data.

The temptation: I was listening to a presentation about a group in which I am deeply involved. The speaker was talking about our financial health and presenting different charts and conclusions about our downward-trending patterns. I was tracking with the presentation until he got to the point where he said, ‘We don’t know why the contributions are less.” The data was inconclusive. I thought to myself, “Wait a minute!!” If all the staff picked up the phone and made about twelve phone calls a week, they could ask all the local leaders about the giving, personally, and have a conclusion about the downtrend in a month! Data makes our love lazy; as Facebook amply demonstrates, data can make our community illusional. I think the powers want Jesus himself to be seen as just another collection of data and want his people to mediate their relationships with sociological analysis.

I will make history with you.

We will not bend the knee to precedent.

The temptation: I am connected to two organizations which had interesting opportunities to be inclusive in their meetings last weekend and almost made it. But they were thwarted by their own history. Each has a strong, Central Pennsylvania sense of being “us.” When they talk about their somewhat new, multicultural, multiethnic nature, they talk about how “we” are becoming diverse. I usually feel like I am one of the people who has added the diversity to “us”, since I am an Auslander from Philadelphia (still the cradle of democracy) and I have all the elements of otherness: bits of Native American ancestry, sprinklings of radical politics, and, the main thing, no family history in Central PA. Of all the people in the world, we Christians, who have been born again into a new family in Jesus, should be very adaptable when it comes to being respectful of but unattached to our history. The people who made us who we are would be proud if we made who’s coming next who they are. I know Jesus is sending forth His Spirit to meet the unbelievers of the megalopolis pushing their way into Lititz. Our past may enrich how we love them, but our relationships are going to make a new memory in Christ.

As you think and pray with me, what comes to mind as the temptations the powers are throwing in your way? Are they some of the same things? Thinking bigger, what do the powers throw in our way, as a people? As we incarnate Jesus, speak the truth in love and keep our eyes on giving the best we have to offer to our era, we have great opportunity to live out of our true selves in Jesus and make a difference. I am encouraged all over again, just thinking about the possibilities that could be realized by keeping our promises.