Technology and the Season

The Common RuleYesterday I mentioned reading C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity as one of the “practices” that I’m putting in place for the Advent season.  Suggestions for times like these usually involve both adding and removing from the routine to help set times apart.  So this time around, inspired first by Crouch’s Tech-Wise Family but also by Justin Earley’s Common Rule, I’m trying something with tech.

In the Advent edition of the Common Rule, Earley challenges believers to practice “Scripture before phone.”  For many people, phones are both the first and last things we see on an average day.  They act as our alarm clocks.  They give us an odd sense of security.  But for the next three weeks, I’ve got an actual alarm clock set across the room. At night I put the phone away from the nightstand and get some sleep without even thinking about checking for updated feeds.  And maybe, just maybe, this can bleed over into the rest of the year, too.

One other aspect of Earley’s Common Rule for Advent that really gets at our need to rethink our practices is the encouragement to stay away from our phones while waiting in line.  Grocery store, bus stop, theater, you name it.  Not quite ready for that practice, I think.  But it definitely gets to the heart of our present condition.

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A few days ago, David Brooks posted an essay about technology in contemporary society (which is its own industry at this point).  The whole piece, which you can find here, is worth the read.  It starts off interestingly enough:

Not long ago, tech was the coolest industry. Everybody wanted to work at Google, Facebook and Apple. But over the past year the mood has shifted.

Some now believe tech is like the tobacco industry — corporations that make billions of dollars peddling a destructive addiction. Some believe it is like the N.F.L. — something millions of people love, but which everybody knows leaves a trail of human wreckage in its wake.

And then it ends smartly enough:

Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices. Its innovations can save us time on lower-level tasks so we can get offline and there experience the best things in life.

Imagine if tech pitched itself that way. That would be an amazing show of realism and, especially, humility, which these days is the ultimate and most disruptive technology.

Food for thought this Advent season, as we re-learn our ability to wait . . . and to hope.

(image from . . . if you’ve heard of it or are trying it, let me know)

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Running the Halls (or: revisiting Mere Christianity)

HallwayOne of the few practices I’m trying out over the Advent season is the (re)reading of a book.  Because the season last just over three weeks, I thought it was a decent amount of time to do a slow reread of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.  Sad to say, but Mere Christianity is probably my least-favorite Lewis book.  It was also one of the first I read, I believe.  I remember liking the last chunk but thinking that the first two-thirds was nothing special.  Yet it keeps coming up in conversations and discussions as one of the few books that younger Christians have read.  Beyond that, I often refer to excerpts in class (his section on “Rival Conceptions of God”) or the basics of the Moral Law.  And so: three weeks with Lewis.

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Like so many others, I really appreciate what Lewis attempted with the radio talks that became Mere Christianity.  The idea of spotlighting the key Christian beliefs and practices in a way that helps us see what we hold in common is something relevant even today.  And even though the tone of inter-denominational conversation has changed since Lewis put things together, wisdom can still be found there.  Consider this gem:

Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.

A wonderful idea, but one that can be easier said than done.  On a “forensic” level, one of the most interesting things about Christianity is its diversity of belief and practice within a kind of basic orthodoxy.  Beyond that, Lewis also asserts that

One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of our disagreements.

So a wonderful tension exists between affirming what we agree on while also trying to hash out our differences . . . and all too often for all the world to see.  Which is what makes Lewis’s visualization at the end of the preface of Mere Christianity such a good one.  When explaining his ‘mere’ Christianity approach:

It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms.  If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.  But is it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.  The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.

Lots of people are in the hall, seem content to live in the hall, really.  But Lewis hopes for the best: that people will ask and seek and knock until they find the right room.  Even still:

But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping.  You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house.

It’s a good image the house and the hallway and the many rooms.  It in an image, perhaps, that can be transferred to other areas of life, too.  But for Lewis, it starts with the Christian faith and its expressions.  Like Lewis, then, our task is to get people into the hall, point things out, serve the best that we’ve got, and present the truth as it has been revealed to us.

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So over this Advent season, between now and Christmas Day, I’ll be posting some reflections on my reading of the book.  From ethics to doctrine to wherever else the book goes, I’ll take some time to think through things, if nothing else, through the lens of a high school classroom.

(image from

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Advent and the Clash of Calendars

Today marks the beginning of the Advent season which, in turn, marks the beginning of what is known as the church calendar.  That church calendar is not much of a Baptist thing, is something kept and nurtured by more liturgical churches.  But, over these last few years, that liturgical calendars has made slow inroads into non-liturgical church life.

I spoke on Advent in chapel this past week.  Prior to Thanksgiving, I spoke about the significance of rest in the biblical story.  I thought there was a nice segue into Advent, which takes the concept of sacred time and rhythm in a slightly different but still relatable direction.  I started, as I’ve mentioned here before, with the clash of calendars that can happen for individuals: we jostle between academic, civic, athletic, entertainment, and family calendars constantly.  This, I think, is part of the fatigue of our age.

From there I tried to point out the role that a time like Advent can play in connection with the Christmas season.  As I prepared for the talk, which always sounds much better in my head, I felt the need to focus on the part of Advent that really takes a backseat to our Advent-as-Christmas preparations: the idea that we are even now preparing for the second coming of Jesus.  It really is a necessary “bookend” for things, a key aspect of the telos of the biblical story.  It’s one of those things that feels most cult-like for us (which is one reason why we don’t talk about it much).  It also possesses an awkwardness because it forces us to deal with the time and timing of that second coming (and how we explain such a long passage of time).

At the end of my talk, I challenged the audience to do one thing in particular as they went about their prayer lives over the next week: pray with the Apostle John from Revelation: come, Lord Jesus.  Something necessary to our formation as Christians is lacking because we don’t handle the second end of Advent well.  It’s definitely something I need to reflect on more (particularly as it plays out in formation and a certain understanding of ethical faithfulness).

Over the next few days I hope to articulate some of the ways that I’m marking the season.  Not a lot of ways, mind you, but enough ways that I’m trying to change some of the rhythm of life for the next few weeks in the hope that the new rhythm will last long after the Christmas season ends.

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Sunday’s Best: Better than a Broken Yo-Yo

Today’s FoxTrot is a nice twist on a contemporary conundrum: the yo-yo act of social media.

FoxTrot Classic - ft171203comb_ts.tif(image from

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SHIELD: A Change in Time and Space

Turns out that the CW’s super-hero universe is winding down for the winter just as Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is warming up.  The show returned last night with the first two episodes of its new (and potentially final?) season.  One of the strengths the show has developed over time has been its ability to shift “genre.”  One minute its straight-up secret agent, the next it is supernatural, then it becomes a hi-tech simulation show.  Now, as the season starts, the agents find themselves in (not so deep) space and in the future.  And, it turns out, Daisy is somehow responsible for it all.

The premiere was full of sharp, funny moments with a few nice reveals.  It seems invested in the plotline, which still connects with at least two other plotlines from previous seasons.  Here’s the trailer for next Friday’s episode, which looks to move the story forward well, particularly in connection to Simmons’ side story.

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Week’s End

I have taken great comfort all week in the fact that this week would have been crazy even if I had stayed on-island over the holiday weekend.  The relief I felt as I moved through downtown gathering some stuff for the weekend was almost palpable, like a spring in the step after a kind of winter.

Came across this recent performance of “Deadlines and Commitments” by the Killers from their Battle Born album.  There songs are always just ambiguous enough to be a little elusive.  But the sense of the song is definitely appropriate after a long week of getting lots of things done.

This is the time of year, both school year and calendar year, where things get consistently crazy.  I’m hoping to avoid that some, making a point of finding a place of rest whenever I can.

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Against the Objective

I finally sat down to watch the documentary about the life and work of Wendell Berry, Look and See.  I’d been putting off for a month, but a five-hour plane ride can inspire you like that.

The movie begins with a Berry voice-over with some well-shot imagery.  Here’s the introductory piece, “The Objective.”

The movie is quote good, though Berry never actually appears in the movie in-person.  Lots of voiceovers, clips with his wife, and clips of other farmers.   The documentary ends with an extended clip from a debate Berry took part in decades ago . . . One that still feels relevant today.

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