Being physically present without being wholly present is worse than not being present at all.
Last year around this time I offered to you, with very broad strokes, why I think you (yes you) should (or should not) participate in Lent. Today I want to be more specific and direct with what I think many of us should fast from during this upcoming season.
Little known fact ― I’m not the Holy Spirit. However, as a cultural curator of sorts, would you consider, question, and wrestle with what I’m about to say? Ash Wednesday is on February 18th this year, so you have some time to think and plan out how far down this rabbit hole you might be able to go.
You know how Jesus used hyperbole (or was he being literal?) in Matthew 5, saying if your hand causes you to stumble you should cut it off? Well, it might feel like that to some of us.
I want you to turn off your cell phone.*
Positively said: I want you, I want myself, to be in one place at one time.
There are almost as many cell phone subscribers (6.8 Billion) as there are people in the world (7 Billion). That doesn’t mean that everybody on the planet has a cell phone, but it’s still a ton, and the number decreases more if we’re just focusing on smart phones, but it’s still a ton. If you don’t feel as though your cell phone is a big part of your daily life, more power to you, but for a lot of us it’s like an appendage… the first thing we look at in the morning, the last thing we look at before bed.
It’s not that cell phones or the internet are evil, per say, but our interaction with various forms of technology can make us “less human.” We shouldn’t be Technophobics, and there is a ton of gain with technology, but within the gain we also need to consider what we are losing. The discipline of restraint (with the Holy Spirit) helps us evaluate and feel out certain habits, bringing to the surface whether they are meaningful of just forms of medication.
“Am I relying too much on this good thing and not enough on the Giver of all good things?”
“Now that I’m not doing such-and-such as much, why do I feel like crap?”
“Now that I’m not texting/surfing/emailing/social-media-ing as much, this other thing has been so much better.”
“Is this a real life, or just some cheap imitation passed off on me by a sleight-of-hand culture? Is what I am doing and saying my own, or just borrowed from people who know less than I do about who I am and what I am for? Is God skillfully shaping and wisely guiding my life, or have I let my untutored whims and infantile sins reduce me to the lowest common denominator? Is this the way I want to spend the rest of my life?” ― Eugene Peterson
Practicality and Fear
As I think about the practicality of disabling (to some degree) one of my appendages, I think about how I’ll need to carry around a physical Bible… should I also get a watch and alarm clock? Is there anyway to make my phone dumb so I can just have it as a phone for a time? When will my set times be to check messages? What are the LAN line numbers at work?What if there is a family emergency and I can’t be reached right away? Is MultiTasking really a joke? How did I live my life 2 years ago without instant access to the internet? It frustrates me when I can’t get a hold of my wife right away, will others be pissed that they can’t reach me? How will I remember things? What will I do when I stand in line? I’m going to be so bored. How will I adjust my habits after the fast or will I just go back to status quo?
The tyranny of the urgent injects fear into my heart, because I feel like I’m going to miss out on something. I’m going to miss out on being more productive. I’m going to miss out on not knowing what the guys at work are talking about from TV last night. I’m going to miss out on being needed. I’m going to miss out on posting how great a time I’m having. I’m going to miss out on being seen.
One of the greatest dangers of our time, that is heightened by social media, is the sense that if I don’t do it in public, it doesn’t exist. ―Andy Crouch
How in the world did I become so needy of all this?
I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots. ― Albert Einstein
Regaining Ordinary Time
This year as I was going over our local church’s liturgical calendar, a specific point of beauty stuck out to me. It wasn’t how the resurrection and festival of first fruits coincide with each other or the parallels between the feast of weeks and the birth of the Church via the Holy Spirit. No, what I noticed instead was the nothings of the year, the spaces between festivals, solemn assemblies, and notable events. I noticed ordinary time.
Something we often miss in the reading of Scripture is ordinary time. This is understandable to a degree because in the story that is laid out via movement of text, you don’t record the details of the mundane. However, we must realize that the mundane is an essential detail of the story. We need to pause for a moment as we read that Moses was 80 years old when the whole burning bush thing happened, 40 years since the last “great moment.” Why? Because God was just as real and present in the mundane as he was about to be when he wreak havoc on the Egyptian slave drivers. Don’t get me wrong, I frickin’ love when God shows up in big ways… it’s part of who He is. Part of who God is is also found in the beauty of margins, of ordinary time. In a culture of always being on, we need to learn not to fear when something miraculous isn’t happening.
We can often use cell phones to try and make the “miraculous” happen and crowd out ordinary time. On a very base level, many of us no longer do we defecate in peace, but maximize that moment to check this and that and the other thing. I used to take those few down moments in the daily grind to close my eyes and pray. Now I usually use it to attain more theological knowledge, convincing myself that surely the latter is more important than the former.
We’ve bought into, what I would argue is frankly a lie, that information equals transformation. And it doesn’t. I know all kinds of people who have tons of good information, even true information, about God, but that don’t exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. So simply filling our heads, or our eyes, with more and more information, even good information, doesn’t mean that it will ultimately transform our lives. That requires prayer, reflection, solitude, simplicity, relationships, and a deep abiding communion with the Holy Spirit. That’s not possible without space. ―Skye Jethani
Our lives need margins… our brains need margins… our spirits need margins.
Here… I wrote out one on the most intriguing and beautiful shorts poems from the beginning of the 20th century. Take it all in. Drink deeply.
What Are We Beholding?
I’m a lot lonelier than I’d like to admit to anyone. And I’m not alone in that (pun intended). Part of this comes from these small, yet constant glances we give to our mobile screens, somehow convinced this is a good tool to connect. Is it a root that is causing our loneliness or a fruit of our already existing loneliness? Probably a little of both.
We worship the pin wheel, the refresh circle that might tell us how valuable we are or at least distract us enough to not deal with some core emotions and questions of identity. We give ourselves away little by little and eventually there isn’t enough space to spend time gazing at our Creator, our Redeemer, the Image of Him in the flesh of others around us.
Thank God for His grace.
Lent is a great time to ask ourselves, to ask the Spirit and The Bride, if we are receiving God’s grace in vain, a great time to strive to enter the rest Christ offers. You, my brother or sister, are called to not blindly follow the traditions of men; you are not called to idol slavery, but to appropriately wield, to take humble dominion over, the goodness of creation and culture with faith, hope and love.
There are two trees in the middle of the city we live in. One is the tree of life. The other is the tree of knowledge of good and evil which we can see is good for food, and is delightful to the eyes, and could make us wise.
May we choose life.
* any kind of screen/technology restraint could apply to most of these concepts, I’m choosing mobile devices because they are typically always with us.
Photo Credit: maryjolene// via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/davideragusa