Tag Archives: social media

How Distracted I Was From God (What I Learned on Sabbatical, Part 2)

19 Apr

Image result for distracted by screens

On January 1st, I started a sabbatical daily log.  On that day I wrote three paragraphs about what was happening in the life of the Kime Family, and mixed in there were these five words:

“I deactivated my Facebook account.”

For those of you who use Facebook, deactivating your account might feel like a big deal.  Especially if you use it a lot, like I did.

For those of you who don’t have Facebook, or rarely use it, you might be thinking, “no big deal.”

I urge you all to stay with me here.  Because there is more to the story.  The next part of the story happened this week.

I was at the pet store this week.  Buying dog food.  Row after row of choices…for my dog.  When we got him, he had been at the Humane League because his previous owners couldn’t care for him.  He was sick from drinking pond water on their property.  So the Humane League put him on special dog food for “Sensitive Digestion”.  In other words, my dog is a vegetarian, and there is dog food for that.

No surprise, though.  That is just like nearly any store, for nearly any product; we live in a society with so many choices.

We have been trained up from birth to be consumers.  We have been told by our society that we should have a lot of choices, that we should get to pick between 50 kinds of chips, or cars, or anything.  And so we have grown up under the influence of Consumerism, what Webster’s defines as “the theory that a greater progressive consumption of goods is beneficial.”

This applies to all of us: we are consumers in a consumerist society. We want our choices, we want to buy things, and when we use them up, we want more and better things.  Our approach to media is no different: we consume media.

We live in a media-soaked world.  I’m not just talking about social media, but also television, radio (especially talk radio), podcasts, sports, movies, publishing, music, and advertising.  Think about how much media you are exposed to in one day’s time.  Seriously, count it up.  How many hours of media do you consume every day?

In my own family, there can be some sort of screen/media, whether it is social media, Xbox, TV shows, Netflix, podcast, playing nearly all waking hours. There are times when we are watching TV on one big screen, working on our laptops with smaller screens, and checking our phones at the same time!

So when I think about the fact that I deactivated my Facebook account on January 1st, it is curious to me that in my sabbatical journal, all I said was those five words, “I deactivated my Facebook account.”

Why is that curious?  Because at the time, it felt like a bigger deal.  I thought there would be sirens or explosions or something.  But there was nothing.  I worried it would negatively affect my life.  But as far as I can tell, not having Facebook in my life, has not affected me negatively at all.  That surprised me.

Why?  Well, I had spent a lot of time on Facebook over the years.  I started in 2008, I think.  Over ten years, all the hours and hours reading posts, liking, sharing, and commenting.  Being in the know.  Posting, wanting people to like my posts, to share my posts.  Checking.  Updating.  Checking again.

Simply put, Facebook was a big part of my life.

That’s why deactivating it felt emotional.  Like I was cutting off something.  I would no longer be in the know.  But I had a sense that I needed to do this for sabbatical, so I did it.

I have been off Facebook for three and a half months, and I don’t think I’m going back.  Yeah, I miss out on things.  But if there is something important, Michelle lets me know. Just last week she told me about friends expecting a baby! She found out on Facebook. But since I deactivated my account, there have been surprisingly few important things that I missed. Instead I feel free.  More on that later in this post.

I feel free from Facebook, but there is more consumerism in my life than just Facebook.

As I looked over my sabbatical daily log, I found another trend. Last week I told you how the first trend in my sabbatical was the month of January as filled with comments about stress and anxiety.  The second thing that filled that first month was commentary about distraction.

I realized that I was a consumer of distraction.  Social media was only one way I was distracted.  How about you?  Are you a consumer of distraction?  And distraction from what?

A few days after I deactivated my Facebook account, I wrote this:

“I think right now, at this early phase of the sabbatical, I am realizing, painfully, how much distraction I have had in my life.  My life has been drowning in distraction. So as I think about sabbatical, what I have found thus far, in the brief moments I have removed distraction, is that I am alone with myself. And I can’t say that I like it.”

In those early days and weeks of sabbatical, once I had cleared away some distraction in my life, guess what I found?  I found a person with anxiety, a bit too cranky, a person looking for a distraction when I really needed to just be present for my family, or be alone with myself and my God.  All that anxiety I talked about last week?  I would use social media, TV, and phone games to try to distract myself from the anxiety.

I was surprised to learn that social media might have made it worse!

One report in the journal Depression and Anxiety, was the first nationally representative study exploring the link between social media use and depression. It looked at close to 2,000 people.

Each participant took an established depression assessment tool and answered questionnaires on social media use. This included the 11 most used platforms at the time: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Google+, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Vine.

You know what the study found? The more time someone uses social media, the more likely that person is to be depressed.

Another study said that “all social media platforms use something called intermittent variable rewards.

“Imagine a slot machine. You pull the lever to win a prize, which is an intermittent action linked to a variable reward. Variable means you might win, or you might not. In the same way, you refresh your Facebook updates to see if you’ve won.

“What you are winning on social media?  A new follower, a comment, someone liking what you posted.  And what happens, the researchers found, is that you become more discouraged and depressed when people don’t give you the likes.  Just like slot machines, when it comes to getting rewards out of social media, you often lose more than you win.”

So, for me, what started out as a good way to connect with the kids in the youth group (that’s when I activated and started my FB account, when we were youth pastors here and interacting with the kids in youth group), became too much of a regular part of my day and world. I could scroll through the news feed endlessly. To justify that use of time, I would say that I was I was learning about how things are going with people.  But as I look back on it, I was mostly distracted.

I have no doubt that social media, screen time, talk radio, reading fiction books, or whatever is a distraction for you, is not all bad.  But it can become a major distraction.  What is a healthy balance to use of media?

That is a question each person needs to answer for themselves.  And it starts with simply admitting that you can be distracted.  For me, it was a battle in my mind.  I didn’t want to admit that I was so distracted by social media and phone games.

Ask yourself this: how distracted are you? If you are spending more time watching TV than you do with your family or with God, then perhaps that is a yellow flag for you.  Think about how much time you read books, listen to talk radio, watch movies and Netflix.  Are you giving loads of time to those things, but little to God?  That might be a yellow flag to investigate.

When we do a time study of our lives, will we find that we have been distracted from spending time with God and from spending time with the important people in our lives?

We are consumers who can very readily seek to satisfy the desires of our hearts, our longings, our need for satisfaction through distractions like social media, through sports, through television, through phone games, and we will find that those outlets do not satisfy.  There is one place to find the satisfaction we crave: in the presence of the Lord.

Do you ever feel that desire to be in the presence of the Lord, but it seems impossible or irrational? If we hear ourselves saying, or if we think to ourselves, that we feel distant from God, or that we don’t hear God speak, is it because we are so distracted?

During sabbatical, I read the book Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom, and here is a quote that hit me between the eyes, “God could complain about us a great deal more than we about him.  We complain that he does not make himself present to us for the few minutes we reserve for him, but what about the twenty-three and a half hours during which God may be knocking at our door, and we answer, “I am busy, I am sorry.” Or we do not answer at all because we do not hear the knock at the door of our heart, of our minds, of our conscience, of our life. So there is a situation in which we have no right to complain about the absence of God, because we are a great deal more absent than he ever is.”

When I thought about my life, I knew Bloom was describing me.  The way I treated God would have been a relationship-killer if it was a human.  Imagine that was how you treated your spouse, or your best friend.  Imagine you gave them only 5, 10, or 15 minutes each day, and during that short time, all you did was spout off a list of things you wanted them to do.  When you were done with your list, you said goodbye, and you didn’t talk with them again until you read a new list again the next day, and the next, and the next.  During any of these brief daily meetings you did not ask how they were doing, or listen to what they had to say.  How would that work out for your relationship?  It will kill that relationship.  And yet, Bloom says, that is how we can treat God, and have the gall to blame him for not talking to us.  I don’t know if that describes you. It sure did me.

But hear this amazing good news: Because of what Jesus did, through his death and resurrection, we can have access to God our father.  The God of the universe wants to be with us!  Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden walking and talking with God.  Think of the Prodigal Son returning home and his father wrapping his arms around his son in a huge welcoming hug.  These are pictures of what God wants.  And we can avail ourselves of that. We can spend time with him!

In Hebrews we read that Jesus is our great high priest who opened the door for us to have access to God.  That is good news!

In James we read “draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” That is good news!

What do you need to do about the distraction in your life?  What do you need to do to spend time in God’s presence?  I invite you to take action.  For me, Facebook had to go.  Games on my phone had to go.  More distraction still might need to go.  I had to learn about listening prayer, and I had to open up space in my life to make room for it.

Another article I found described a recent experiment where people voluntarily opened space in their lives. “The idea was simple. During the month of January, 2018, participants would take a break from “optional technologies” in their lives, including, notably, social media. At the end of the 31-day period, the participants would then rebuild their digital lives starting from a blank slate — only allowing back in technologies for which they could provide a compelling motivation.

Conclusion: when freed from standard digital distractions, participants often overhauled their free time in massively positive ways.”

The author then shared numerous examples of how people’s lives, freed from distraction, improved:

–> An engineer realized how much of the information he used to consume though social media during the day was “unimportant or useless.” With this drain on his attention removed from his routine, he returned to his old hobby of playing chess, and became an enthusiast of architectural Lego kits (“a wonderful outlet”).

–> A writer and mother of three homeschooled kids, completed a draft of a book, while also reading “many books” written by others.  “I’m recapturing my creative spirit,” she told me.

–>  A retired stockbroker began to spend more time with his wife, going for walks, and “really listening.” He expanded this habit of trying to “listen more and talk less” to his friends and family more generally.

–> A PhD candidate described the experience of stepping away from distracting technologies as “liberating.” Her mind began “working all the time,” but on things that were important to her, and not just news about “celebrities and their diets and workouts.” Among other things, she told me: “I was more there for my girls,” I could focus on “keeping my marriage alive,” and at night “I would read research papers [in the time I used to spend scrolling feeds].”

–> A government worker replaced his online news habit with a daily subscription to the print edition of a newspaper. “I still feel perfectly up to date with the news, without getting caught up in the minute-to-minute clickbait headlines and sensationalism that is so typical of online news,” he told me.

Look at the amazing thing that happened when people removed distraction, and opened space in their lives!  Imagine what could happen if we do the same for God?

Maybe you’re not a social media person, will consider a break from TV?  Author Tim Willard gives the following advice:

First, you must be devoted to getting off your couch and turning the TV off. That’s step one. Stop trolling social media for people talking about the next new great show, ranting about how much they hate basically everything they don’t agree with.

It’s all digital noise, literally. Then shut off your TV for a year. See how that grabs you. One thing I switched up, I watercolor paint with my daughters every single night.

“But Tim, I don’t paint.” Excellent! Neither do I! Been afraid to my whole life. So, I got some good paints, good brushes, good paper, and I’m learning. I’ve missed maybe four days since the first of the year. The girls love it. We play classical music, light some incense, and laugh and compare paintings.

It’s the best parenting move I’ve done yet, I think.

I don’t watch television as it is. But this year, I’m not watching any programming. I stopped watching news channels and ordered a paper. It’s tough, and I’ve had to sacrifice, but it’s been so worth it. Ask my daughters.

Get some ideas, get devoted, and start doing things with real people, with your real hands. Make, create, mess up. It’s quite liberating.

Second, Willard says, Get radical and don’t look at your phone as soon as you roll out of bed. Let your first thirty minutes be making tea or coffee and reading something, like, I don’t know, a real Bible, or devotional, or something inspiring. Perhaps usually something by King David or that murderous chap, Paul.

I guarantee that if you attempt this, it will begin to rewire your brain. It will change your rhythm. And you’ll fight it at first. You’ll think you need to check the weather, or just hold your phone like “my precious.” But you don’t. Just be alive. Walk outside. And breathe deep the real analog world.

Third, Take a walk at lunch, and listen. What do you hear? Probably that’s the sounds of God rolling into your ears.

Fourth, listen to music.  Something quiet. Something that ministers to your frazzled spirit. I listen to Bach while I’m grabbing something to read. But most mornings, it’s just me, my tea, my Moleskine and the quiet blue morning.

You should read Tim’s whole article. There’s much more great advice.

What is one way you can remove distraction in your life today?  Then, and this is the exciting part, how will you use your freedom?  Be creative! Include God!

A 1517-era “social media post” that lit the world on fire

2 Oct

Image result for a facebook post that changed the world

Imagine this: what if you could write a post on Facebook that would change the world?  Would you do it?  What if you knew ahead of time that your one little Facebook post would start wars, that people would get killed, and that you yourself would become a fugitive on the run, afraid for your life.  Now would you do it?

That’s what happened to Martin Luther.

It was October 1517, 500 years ago this month, when Luther, a German Catholic priest, got out a pen and paper, wrote down some thoughts he had been wrestling with for a long time, and then with a hammer and nails, tacked his 1517-era social media post (more commonly known as his 95 Theses) to the door of his church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Image result for martin luther's 95 thesesDoesn’t sound momentous, does it?  Who cares if a guy 500 years ago fixed an open letter to his church door?  We care because Luther changed the world.

How? Luther was protesting.  He believed his Roman Catholic Church had gotten some things wrong.  He wasn’t the only protester who felt that way.  But he was the one that led a movement to break away from the Roman Catholic Church.  Other protesters tried to change the church from within.  And some joined Luther in creating a new church.

And then more people started protesting and reforming, thus Luther’s little open letter, we say, led to the Protestant Reformation.  Luther and those who came after him in the Protestant Reformation broke away from the Catholic Church, in time starting thousands upon thousands of new churches and denominations along the way.  Tragically, war broke out over these factious protestants.  Actual military war with soldiers who gave their lives.  Luther was a fugitive for a time.

Of course, unlike my question at the beginning of my post, Luther didn’t know the future, that the consequences of his actions would be so dramatic.  So why did he do it?  What was he concerned about?  What was the content of that open letter he nailed to the door of his church?  Was it worth it?

To commemorate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Protest, this month we’re going to look not at what Luther did, but why he did it.  Scholars who study the “Why?” of the Reformation sum it up in the Five Solas.  The word sola means “Alone”.  What Luther believed the Catholic Church had gotten wrong can be addressed by these five.  They all have Latin names because Latin was the language of the church for so long:

Image result for 5 solasSola Gratia is Grace alone.

Sola Fide is Faith alone.

Sola Scriptura is Scripture alone.

Solus Christus is Christ alone.

Soli Deo Gloria is to the Glory of God alone.

Each week in the month of October we will look at the significance of one of these Solas.  The Solas can also be tied together in a single sentence like this:  We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as taught in Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone.

Tomorrow we start by looking at Sola Gratia.

 

How Shakespeare and Dumb & Dumber transformed my life

4 Nov

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Though I went to Bible college, I can say without hesitation that the Shakespeare class I took during my junior year is in my top 5 classes of my undergrad career.   A couple factors made the class so good.  First, it was the prof, Dr. Joan Tompkins, who presented Shakespeare to us in an infectious and intelligent way.  Second, she crafted a class that was filled with variety and practical interaction.  We read and discussed at least 5 of Shakespeare’s greatest works.  We watched film versions of others.  The Strand Theater in York was giving a performance of Othello, so our class went to see it.  Finally, Dr. Tompkins divided us into groups which were responsible for reading, researching and dramatizing another one of Shakespeare’s works.  My group did Henry the 5th, and had a blast.  It was such a great class.

What surprised me, though, was that something really interesting happened in my life during that class.  Little by little through the semester, things in my life started to relate to Shakespeare plays.  Whether it was in a conversation with a friend, an event on campus, or something going on in the world, I found myself thinking, “that was just like sneaky Iago in Othello” or I would say, “No way, in Macbeth, that was just like the witches…”.  Shakespeare even started infecting my friends.  One day as my roommate (who was not in the Shakespeare class) and I were walking to the academic building, we bumped into another friend.  My roommate, Dan, ever quick on the uptake, greeted our friend by saying, “How art thou?”

I will also admit to being impacted like this by the movie Dumb & Dumber featuring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, who play two bumbling friends that get into many ridiculous situations.  There was a period of about six months in the late 90s when I watched the movie over and over, thinking it was the most hilarious thing ever.  I rewatched Dumb & Dumber a couple years ago, and somehow it had grown…well…dumber.  But back then, just like Shakespeare class, so many things in life started relating to Dumb & Dumber.

What is going on in these kinds of media associations?  Has this ever happened to you?  Have you ever been so into a book or TV series, or some other media, that it seemed to pop up everywhere in your life?

We are surrounded by media in our culture.  Images, sounds, messages, and videos are pumped into our lives incessantly.  Right now as I type, I am listening to music on Pandora, and with a couple clicks on my internet browser, I can be reading the news, watching music videos, or I can turn on my Netflix app and continue the episode of Sherlock that I started the other day.  These excursions into media are by my own choice.  There are also plenty of times in our world where media comes to us whether we like it or not.  Billboards, advertisements that interrupt a game of Two Dots on our phones or tablets, and commercials on TV, are a few examples.  Media is all around us.  How is it affecting us?

I remember when I was a teenager exploring the wide world of contemporary music, and my mom would suggest that this music would affect me negatively.  I thought my mom’s concern was unnecessary; to me it was just great-sounding music.  Made me feel good listening to it. But influence me?  Nah.

Now as I consider my Shakespeare class and Dumb & Dumber, I realize my seminary professor Dave Dorsey was wise when he said, “I know less now than I did then.”  I thought I had this media thing all figured out when I was a teen.  I was confident that there was no way it was affecting me.  But now?  I’m not so sure.  I have personally experienced media shaping my life.

We hear a lot, actually, from people decrying the evils of media, about a conspiracy by the media to run our lives by sending electromagnetic waves into our brains.  The tinfoil hat people, we call them, using images of covering our heads with foil to block the incoming waves.

How influential is media, really?  And what should Christians do about it?  Avoid it?  Engage it?  Parents these days, and I am one of them, can tell you the frustrations they have with kids spending too much time on screens, on social media, or watching TV and listening to music.  It seems addictive, but is it?  What should parents do about media and their kids?  “Throw that iPad out the window”? (A phrase that may or may not have been uttered in my house.)

At Faith Church, for our sermons the last few months, we have been looking at Life in These United States, and we’re talking about what everyone is talking about.  This coming Sunday, our focus is on media.  What is media?  How influential is it?  And what is a distinctly Christian approach to media?

Join us at Faith Church this coming Sunday November 6th to find out!  Thanks to our friends at The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, we’re going to have a lot of fun!