Isolation Desired and Achieved









Last weekend I read a sentence from “Unsocial Media” an article written Tony Reinke for Desiring God  that hit me like a ton of bricks.  The quote is actually by Reinke from Stephen Marche and his article “Is Facebook making us Lonely” The interesting thing is the more I’ve meditated on that statement, the more it meant to me.

“The problem is that we invite loneliness, even though it makes us miserable. The history of our use of technology is a history of isolation desired and achieved.”

That idea of isolation being desired and achieved illustrates for me the relationship many people (myself included) have with their electronic devices.

Reinke does an excellent job of explaining how technology used to be a community based thing that the family gathered themselves around, now instead it has become something only enjoyed by individuals

Isolation was made possible by advances in video. The community cinema gave way to a large shared television in each family’s home, which gave way to portable televisions, and now personal LED TVs in every bedroom.

When it comes to music, this technological trajectory is even clearer. The live symphony on a Saturday evening was, for many people, replaced by the stationary phonograph (record player) in the family room, which was replaced by a large transistor radio, which was replaced by a portable transistor radio, which was replaced by a boombox with open speakers over the shoulder, which was replaced by a Walkman clipped to the waist, which was replaced by a tiny iPod clipped to the sleeve. Music went from a social community experience, to a shared family experience, and now to a personal headphones experience.

Going along with that isolation idea today media (especially on our phones) are used as an escape from reality .

In a way individuals can escape the world filled with stress, pain, and conflict in favor of one they have complete control over.  A world filled with Netflix queues of favorite programs, personalized music playlists,  facebook posts that make us look awesome, and Instagram feeds with perfectly timed photos.

There is something enjoyable about having a part of life that we can totally control.  However once the isolation we long for so much is achieved we will inevitably realize it won’t satisfy.

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There is No Safe Place









This morning Heidi Carlson wrote an article entitled “Where can we be safe?” that spoke to my heart.  In it she describes bringing her children to a new park only to find a group of kids videotaping little girls fighting

A group of about 20 school-aged children were laughing and goofing around on the grass. How refreshing, I thought, seeing children outside playing—a sure sign of strong community. While my daughters flew down the slide, the gaggle of children transitioned to the adjacent field and began cheering. Several of the older youth held up cell phones, recording some interaction taking place amid the group. I took a closer look and noticed two smaller children on the ground, gripping each other in the fetal position, grasping each other’s hair in their fists. They were fighting.

An older gentleman saw the interaction and called to me from the sidewalk. “What’s going on?” I explained what I’d seen, and he confided he’d recently seen a story on the news about children fighting, recording it, and posting it online. Some were seriously injured participating in this “game.” I hadn’t heard of the phenomenon, though I wasn’t shocked. “Did you hear the shooting around the corner?” he asked. “The police have it all roped off. A lady was shot an hour ago.” That was about 15 minutes before I’d arrived at the park. “It’s not safe,” he continued. Before he walked to his home around the corner, he urged me to head home while there was still light.

Carlson continues to explain how a place being unsafe should draw Christians TO IT with the Gospel instead of away from it.

God’s call to “go into all the world” isn’t just answered in the jungles of the Amazon or the polluted cities of China, but also in the poverty-stricken housing projects of the American inner city, the immigrant London neighborhood, the neighborhood in a “bad” school district one mile from home. Christ’s followers know such places need his witness, but we are reluctant to go because it’s not safe.

Crime statistics, school ratings, and online reviews all have their place, but they ought never overshadow the Spirit’s call to penetrate dark places to be a light for Christ’s kingdom. Yes, this perspective runs counter to the world’s modus operandi, which says, “If it isn’t safe, make every effort to get out.” But for the Christian summoned by the Spirit, the call is to go and be a tool in God’s hands for spiritual transformation. This doesn’t mean recklessness or foolishness, but it does mean the ideal of safety must never stand in the way of humble confidence in our true safety, Jesus Christ.

On a personal level this spoke to me because there are fewer and fewer people willing to enter the unsafe places of the world with the Gospel of Christ.  May God raise up a generation who will realize there is no place truly unsafe apart from His presence.

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Thoughts on “my story” and it’s power in Social Media


















As someone who loves social-media and is concerned about its affects on our lives I was interested in an article by Samuel James this morning entitled “Breaking Free From My Story.”  In it he described how online accessibility of information have created what’s been called an “end of expertise.”

But this “flattening” of knowledge also comes at a cost. Nichols (Tom Nichols who wrote an article on this in the Federalist) notes what he calls the “end of expertise.” The ease and immediacy with which everyone can access the same information and share their interpretation of it has fomented notions of an intellectual hyper-egalitarianism, in which everyone’s opinion and perspective must be of perfectly equal importance.

The result is a generation who finds qualification not in education or skills, but their story

A person can be “informed” if he’s read the Wikipedia entry, or can “speak to an issue” through a free WordPress blog. The result is that what counts in this “intellectual marketplace” is not one’s skill, certification, or merit (things that can be fairly compared and measured) but one’s narrative, story, and voice (things that cannot be compared and measured).

Obviously I’m often forced to yield to the authority of others, but this is mostly because of the demands of reality, not the desires of my heart. When the room empties or the lecture ends, my natural inclination is to be convinced that my 25-year-old self is just as qualified, just as seasoned, and (therefore) just as entitled to authority and respect as anyone else.

This focus on a individuals story a their identity has led to what has been called “the coddling of the American mind

Recently The Atlantic featured a cover story on the “coddling of the American mind,” a movement within American higher education that seeks to cater to students’ emotional mores through academic (and sometimes legal) intervention. From demands for “trigger warnings” before lectures to well-intended but bizarre “safe spaces” where students will not be argued with, many cultural commentators are concerned American colleges are producing a generation of young adults who feel they have an inalienable right to not be provoked. These students are genuinely unable to process the stress and epistemological labor of learning and being in a context that isn’t immediately friendly to their stories. They cannot go forward until they’re reassured that who they are is who they are supposed to be, and that nothing and no one can ever legitimately challenge that.

James ends with the awesome truth that things aren’t really about our story at all…but the story of Christ

Where culture dictates that we must know ourselves, the gospel invites us to know God. Where culture insists that reality bend to fit “my story,” the gospel points us to Jesus Christ, the one who is the meaning and purpose of all history. Where culture invites us to retreat into our sense of individual autonomy, the gospel throws open the doors of the church, where we know and are known by people in whose lives we have a real stake.

May God give us more timely warnings like this encouraging a younger generation to find their identity in the gospel

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Redefining Courage

537416_4625798797934_759538850_nWhat is courage?

Samuel James asked that important question and gave some thought-provoking answers in a recent article Character and Courage.  James begins by pointing out the courage of main characters in Stephen Spielberg movies, including his most recent “Bridge of Spies” that gave an idea for the article.

Courageous people are obviously of evergreen interest to novelists and filmmakers, but one thing that sets Spielberg’s heroes apart is the courage of their self-mastery. Spielberg’s courageous characters are not merely brave in the culturally convenient senses of the word. They are not brave in their self-actualization; they are brave in their self-sacrifice. There is a tremendous difference.

This self-sacrificing courage is very different from what we call courage today as he explains.

my guess is that, in a culture of pure self-actualization and assertion of “my story,” all of us simply believe that we are courageous by default. A generation’s worth of agonized psychological health campaigns and “self-esteem” parenting literature have made all of us deeply suspicious that we are being very courageous and very brave merely by getting out of the bed in the morning.

This courage by default has created a new definition for being courageous which James illustrates using a popular Katy Perry song roar

Now I’m floating like a butterfly
Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes
I went from zero, to my own hero

The key phrase there is “my own hero.” Not YOUR hero. Not THEIR hero. MY own hero. Perry’s song is about freeing oneself from the life of what Ayn Rand called “second-handers,” people whose sense of identity consists in being approved and admired so much so that they forget to love anything else

In other words courage in our culture is “being yourself.”  While being an individual does take self-confidence Samuel James is right to wonder if that’s what courage is really all about.

But does being “my own hero” also mean, as the chorus sings, “I am a champion”? Is asserting oneself as an individual really the deepest and most genuine form of courage? If it is, then I’m afraid men like James Donovan (character in bridge of spies movie) and Abraham Lincoln were deeply self-deceived. Those men believed the way they could courageous was not by asserting their own personal championhood, or becoming “their own hero” to the frustrated designs of those around them. Rather, people like Lincoln and Donovan were willing to lay down their lives for the cause of something outside them, for something that had lasted and would last well beyond their lives and their fortunes

The point James makes very well in his article is this.  We have forgotten what courage is.

Courage isn’t demanding your rights

standing up for something that you think you deserve

Or being a unique individual

Again courage is involved in all of those things.  But true courage is about standing up and giving themselves over for defense of the marginalized, and the Gospel of Christ.

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God is not “Fun Size”

candy cornLast Saturday night I sat on my front-porch but didn’t meet any trick-or-treaters (they don’t do Halloween in St. Vincent) instead about an hour was spent reading articles that discussed how the holiday could be used for God’s Glory.

Like most of you I don’t agree at all with the original meaning of Halloween as a pagan holiday, however a day of the year when strangers come knocking on your door in America (a place where sadly we use our homes as impenetrable fortresses) can’t be passed up.

One of the more interesting ideas was that  Christians can use this as an opportunity to illustrate the generosity of God and the Gospel instead of fear as described by David Mathis in his article “Take Halloween Captive

Because of the authority of Jesus, and his power within us — and remembering that Satan is our enemy, not our neighbors — we lean into Halloween, not away. We turn the porch lights on to chase away the darkness. We have the best candy on the street and give with generosity, not the cheapest fair with a miser’s hand.

We open the door wide and linger in conversation. We plan ahead about how to make the most of this unique opportunity, when a society of people who increasingly keep to themselves in the neighborhood turn on lights and knock on doors.

This idea of generosity is illustrated by Jimmy and Kelly Needham who both wrote articles about their outreach of generosity on Halloween night.

Jimmy Needham explains why they choose this day of the year for generosity in his article “God Frankensteins and More: The opportunity for generosity on Halloween

Halloween is one opportunity (among many) to surprise our neighbors with the generosity of God.

I say generosity “of God” because our giving functions as a parable. In handing out the best candy or the most candy, in creating a welcoming home for trick-or-treaters, in surprising our neighbors with kindness, we are telling them about the character of God. He too is generous. He too is welcoming. He too is kind. Our simple, generous acts of love are yard signs pointing to our God.

His wife Kelly explains how they show generosity in her article “Redeeming Halloween

You can even participate in Halloween without actually celebrating the day itself. We are careful to not have any traditional Halloween decorations like ghosts, spiderwebs, monsters, etc. Instead, we try to brand ourselves as the “crazy-generous” house on our street, making a statement about the gracious nature of our God through sending his Son.

How are we doing that? We give out the good candy—king-sized candy bars! And when you’re giving out over 800 of those candy bars, people start asking, “Why?”—which leads to an open door for the gospel. “Because we serve a generous God who gave his Son to pay the penalty of our sin and give us new life. We didn’t deserve it, and we long to be a small expression of his generosity toward us.” I’ve already been able to share my testimony and the good news of Jesus several times just by buying the candy.

This theme of generosity linked to God is even seen in the sign in front of their house of Halloween night

Back at our house, as trick-or-treaters arrive at our front steps (we live on a hill top), they are met with a sign: “If you make the climb, there’s king-sized candy bars, cause there’s not a King as generous as ours.” The college students from our church greet people down front, getting prayer requests and texting them up to people inside who lead our prayer room. On the way back down, gigantic Snickers bars in hand, visitors see another sign in the yard: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23)

While it’s obviously not possible for all of us to go out and buy 800 king-size candy bars, the idea of God’s generosity is still something that must be displayed. Through these and other articles we are reminded that God gives to us sacrificially through the death and resurrection of Christ.

Whether or not a person celebrates Halloween we can all agree that we don’t serve a “fun size God” and therefore we must not allow ourselves to be known as “fun size Christians”

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