Since I can’t do a single thing about what is going on in the halls of power,
because the world has gone insane and I haven’t quite figured out how to be a Christian disciple in the middle of it yet,
I will tell you about something God is doing in me during this time. My hope is that if you see a bit of yourself in my story, you will seek God’s guidance as well.
About a year ago I started questioning my relationship with news and social media because of a random tide of books and writers that came to my attention. C.S. Lewis once said that if a man wants to stay an atheist, he should be very careful what books he reads. I’ve learned when books start popping up on my radar seemingly in a haphazard manner that I should pay attention because maybe God works with believers the same way he does with atheists.
The book tide started with Cal Newport’s Deep Work. I was finding difficulty concentrating on a big writing project. Reading Newport’s history of people deep diving into a project by cloistering themselves away for days or weeks when I couldn’t even stay off Facebook for an hour, made me feel that I had lost something vital to my life. Nick Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains only deepened my conviction.
I wondered any Christians were thinking about these sorts of things and brief plunge into the book tide netted me a writer: Alan Jacobs, a Lit Professor at Baylor. He’d washed up on my shore years ago when I wanted to read a biography of C.S. Lewis. Jacobs is the sort of thoughtful Christian who loves the Lord with all his mind, to borrow a phrase from J.P. Moreland. He was talking about our relationship with technology and I was gut checked when I read his manifesto about social media:
- I don’t have to say something just because everyone around me is.
- I don’t have to speak about things I know little or nothing about.
- I don’t have to speak about issues that will be totally forgotten in a few weeks or months by the people who at this moment are most strenuously demanding a response.
- I don’t have to spend my time in environments that press me to speak without knowledge.
- If I can bring to an issue heat, but no light, it is probably best that I remain silent.
- Private communication can be more valuable than public.
- Delayed communication, made when people have had time to think and to calm their emotions, is almost always more valuable than immediate reaction.
- Some conversations are be more meaningful and effective in living rooms, or at dinner tables, than in the middle of Main Street.
My desire to comment was often less about giving an answer for the hope within me and more about my need to self-validate. I believe then that the Holy Spirit started working on me. Other things started washing ashore along with Jacobs. Scripture verses. Old Christian wisdom from classic texts. I’m thick headed but I got the point. I cut Facebook down to once a day. I made a hard and fast rule to never argue with memes after reading studies about why we post them. Usually, to signal to our tribe that we are still loyal or to make ourselves feel better.
Soon after, my friend Brandon Warmke and his co-author Justin Tosi published Grandstanding: The Use and Abuse of Moral Talk. And I began to despair of much of what passes for social media discussion. (As an aside, Don Veinot tells me that he has success talking to JWs on social media and I think that speaks to Don’s gifts and his previous experience reasoning patiently with just about every stripe of heresy that he has success at social media discussion.)
I slowly turned off what Jacobs calls the “dire hose” which refers to the “information, misinformation, and agitation” that raises the heart rate and respiration. You know that feeling when you are so upset you can barely put thoughts together, but your fingers itch to share and vent and own someone’s stupid argument? Maybe the news fills you with so much fear you can’t sleep because you are wondering if you have enough peanut butter and beans when the world collapses? Did I buy enough gold? Should I buy a gun or a food dehydrator? That’s the dire hose.
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way” could be the cry of everyone gulping from the dire hose. Cars were supposed to be made in America by people who worked on the line all their lives. Pandemics are only supposed to happen in China and maybe Africa. Coal and Steel were supposed too always be American. Churches weren’t supposed to meet at the imperfect groping’s and whims of state bureaucracy. America was supposed to be great!
Putting down the dire hose for me, was realizing I was not promised a life of only middle-class American problems. Neither were our children. Why should I be spared inconvenience and marginalizing when so, so many Christians have drunk deep from the cup of suffering?
I almost kicked the habit, then on January 6, I fell off the wagon. Within hours, I was scrolling Fox News and CNN. I was hitting up sources I trust on Twitter. I was absolutely ravenous for what? Information and agitation. I picked up the dire hose and drank so deep, I sloshed when I walked, caught in the vicious cycle of News, Twitter, and Facebook. I read a study that said angry people are more susceptible to misinformation. The dire hose makes me angry, which might make me more likely to discard good evidence and accept evidence that confirms my biases which makes me more angry, making me more vulnerable.
Do you know what makes winter biathlons one of the hardest winter sports? It combines skiing with shooting. Weird combination, right? Alan Jacobs points out that skiing raises the heart rate and respiration which make accurate shooting almost impossible. Biathletes have to calm themselves in order to aim carefully. Let me put it terms Christians can recognize. We have some preliminary evidence that angry people don’t discern the times very well.
I think the Holy Spirit was knocking on the door of my heart saying, “Why do you need this? What it is it for?” and the answer was worry, fear, anger, were all substitutes for faith. Why do the nations rage and plot a vain thing? Psalm 2 says, God laughs because nothing is beyond him. “I have installed my king on Zion.” God’s got this. Furthermore, what can I do about what I see on the news at that moment? What does it profit me that I know about the fourth person that died at the Capital? After all, the Christian response is not to destroy property, take up arms against the kings of the world, is it?
No, let the nations rage. Let the specters of uncertainty trailing fear, despair, and disappointment wail on. I will not participate in the insane exercise of immersing myself in that which I cannot change. Instead, I will meditate on the word of God. I will take Paul’s council to the Thessalonians:
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thessalonians 4:9)
Yes, I will bear witness to what Christian organizations like MCOI have been predicting for years but I won’t despair. I won’t surrender to the same rage the nations do. I won’t drink from the dire hose if I can. I will instead keep watch like a good soldier who does not get entangled in civilian affairs but tries to please his commander (2 Timothy 2:4).Ω
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