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Integration Points will now be posted at my website: http://www.randydavidnewman.com.

If you’ve subscribed to Integration Points, I need to ask you to re-subscribe. I’m sorry for the extra work. On the home page of http://www.randydavidnewman.com, there’s a spot to subscribe.

I’d love to hear any feedback you have about the new site.

Thanks.

William Powers book, Hamlet’s Blackberry, urges us to include age-old disciplines in our digitally-overfull lives. I want to apply these techniques in my pursuit of wisdom:

–       Stay completely disconnected from my computer and iPhone while having a quiet time. My Bible (the paper one), a notebook, and pen are sufficient.

–       Try to have an Internet Sabbath one day a week.

–       When engaging in conversation with others, I want to do so with as few distractions as possible – phone on silent, computer off, etc.

–       Value the discipline of handwriting in a journal. I agree with Powers that a physical artifact, a notebook, differs qualitatively from electronic symbols on a screen.

–       Replace mere negative disciplines (e.g. don’t watch TV, don’t stay connected to the internet all the time) with positive ones (e.g. meditate on scripture, memorize key verses, etc.).

But Powers’ entire worldview is completely devoid of God. All we need to attain wisdom, depth, character, etc. lies within. He strongly endorses the stoicism of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius and sees “inner self-sufficiency” as the highest good. He leaves no doubt of his position (and no room for help from above) when he concludes his book with these words:

“…in the end, building a good life isn’t about where you are. It’s about how you decide to think and live. Place your index finger on your temple and tap twice. It’s all in there” (240).

Well, I’m all in favor of the lost art of meditation. We certainly need to turn off the constant noise and be still. But if “it’s all in there,” I’m in trouble. And so are you. Contrary to Seneca, Thoreau, and most every prominent voice in our secular age, Jesus warned, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” He elaborated, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matt 15:11, 19). We don’t just need to look inward. We need to be transformed from the inside out.

Solomon warned that mere introspection, if we’re honest, is far less pretty than Thoreau ever dared to admit. “Under the sun” (i.e. apart from God), we’re only going to find vanity, emptiness, and despair.

Maybe that’s why our digital age is so obsessed with connectedness with the outside world. Apart from God, if we look inward, we’re only going to get depressed. If that’s what inward stillness leads to, who wouldn’t prefer the next app, another email, more friends on Facebook, and more frequent tweets!

Powers’ book may be a good starting point for meaningful conversations – with others and within our own minds. But we need a better framework, a Biblical one, for pursuit of real wisdom, godly character, and “a good life in the digital age.”

 

William Powers has written an attention grabbing book (#4443 on Amazon) and thoughtful Christians should take note. He chose an intriguing title – “Hamlet’s Blackberry” and adds a subtitle of “a practical philosophy for building a good life in the digital age.” Powers joins the growing chorus of social critics who observe that all this digital connectedness is making us hollow, shallow, and less human.

He notes that today, “the goal is no longer to be ‘in touch’ but to erase the possibility of ever being out of touch” (15), which he says leads to distractedness and “outwardness.” That modern problem – “outwardness” – reduces or totally eliminates the desire or energy to look inward, where, Powers strongly believes, are all the answers.

He’s certainly not alone in his call to disconnect. He quotes Eric Schmidt, the chairman and CEO of Google, who, in a commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania, shocked his tech savvy audience by saying, “Turn off your computer. You’re actually going to have to turn off your phone and discover all that is human around us. Nothing beats holding the hand of your grandchild as he walks his first steps” (76).

Up to this part of the book, nothing Powers writes is unique. In fact, I thought he could have gotten to his specific contribution sooner. What he offers in the bulk of his book are lessons he has gleaned from great philosophers in the past. Each one, he says, can show us how to find a healthy balance between staying connected when necessary (so he’s not calling for a completely non-tech lifestyle) and disconnecting regularly so we can find inner solace, wisdom, depth, and meaning.

At the risk of oversimplifying his worthwhile points, he suggests that:

–       Socrates teaches us to engage in conversation and to distance ourselves from the hustle of crowdedness by taking walks.

–       Seneca teaches us to turn off distractions and pursue “inner self-sufficiency.”

–       Gutenberg “democratized reading” when he gave us books and we should read them.

–       Shakespeare carried around a little notebook and so should we. (He goes on for quite a while about how much he likes Moleskins). Handwriting with paper and pen, he argues, is an old technology that should not be replaced by the new ones.

–       Benjamin Franklin pursued inner change and inner convictions by crafting personal disciplines, which aid mental clarity. He also highly valued social networking, which Powers says must be pursued apart from Facebook, et. al.

–       Thoreau taught us to value home as sanctuary, to live life deliberately, and to transcend the mundane through listening to that inner voice we can only find in solitude.

–       Marshall McLuhan (yes, he includes McLuhan with the “great” philosophers) encourages us to resist the temptation of Narcissus and regulate the climate of our minds. We need to remember that “different devices affect us in different ways” (203).

To be sure, Powers has some very good things to say. His family’s example of turning off their modem every weekend for the past several years deserves emulation – in a variety of ways. His central thesis that we should disconnect regularly from the Internet and all it’s entanglements (email, IMing, Facebook, etc.) so that, when we do connect, we do so more purposefully and thoughtfully, is spot on. His assumption that we do not need to be as shallow as we have become is a word desperately needed for all people, especially those who want to love God with their minds.

But another core assumption of the book must be rejected by those of us who may want more of Solomon’s Blackberry instead of Hamlet’s. I’ll address that in the next blog. (I promise that I’ll post Part 2 in just a few days…unless I get distracted).

If you’re a student, you may cringe at the thought of more reading, now that the semester is coming to an end. But, before long, you should consider making a list of what you would like to read over the break.

If you’re not a student, this time of year might still afford you some extra reading time that should not be wasted.

At the top of my recommended reading list for thoughtful Christians is John Piper’s new book Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. I won’t offer a whole review here. If you know anything about John Piper, you can guess that he argues convincingly for the inseparability of intellect and emotions and the need for both in the life of a Christian.

Here’s just a taste from his introduction. I have reread these two sentences many times and enjoy them more and more each time:

“…I hope this book will help rescue the victims of evangelical pragmatism, Pentecostal shortcuts, pietistic anti-intellectualism, pluralistic convition aversion, academic gamesmanship, therapeutic Bible evasion, journalistic bite-sizing, musical mesmerizing, You Tube craving, and postmodern Jell-O juggling. In other words, I believe thinking is good for the church in every way.”

It’s not too long of a book (only 224 pages) and a rather easy read, compared to some others of Dr. Piper’s. There’s a good deal offered at Desiring God’s store where the book is bundled with three others for only $10. Sounds like a nice Christmas present, doesn’t it?

(see: http://www.desiringgod.org/Store/Sales/2010Christmas/)

 

Today, November 29th, is C.S. Lewis’ birthday. (He would have been 112 today). I hope to always celebrate this day by reacquainting myself with some of “Jack’s” great wisdom – perhaps by reading something I still haven’t read of his or re-reading something I hadn’t taken in for some time.

A word of caution is worth mentioning. While I love C.S. Lewis and would say he may have had more influence upon my thinking than anyone outside of the Bible, I am certain he wasn’t always correct. In fact, at some points, I would say he was downright heretical. I think his musings about people of other faiths, for example,  (found in “Nice People or New Men” toward the end of Mere Christianity) were outside the bounds of orthodoxy.

Nevertheless, I agree with John Piper that, despite the problems, Lewis helps me more than just about any other writer. Here’s what Piper said at a recent pastor’s conference about Lewis:

“What was it about the work of C. S. Lewis that has helped me so much? The answer lies in the way that the experience of Joy and the defense of Truth come together in Lewis’s life and writings. The way Lewis deals with these two things—Joy and Truth—is so radically different from Liberal theology and emergent postmodern slipperiness that he is simply in another world—a world where I am totally at home, and where I find both my heart and my mind awakened and made more alive and perceptive and responsive and earnest and hopeful and amazed and passionate for the glory of God every time I turn to C. S. Lewis. It’s this combination of experiencing the stab of God-shaped joy and defending objective, absolute Truth, because of the absolute Reality of God, that sets Lewis apart as unparalleled in the modern world. To my knowledge, there is simply no one else who puts these two things together the way Lewis does.”

Allow me to quote something Lewis said at a Question and Answer session, recorded in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (pp. 58-59). When asked, “Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness?” Lewis responded:

“Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best.

I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years, and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. From the moral point of view it is very difficult! I am not approaching the question from that angle. As you perhaps, know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. I am certain there must be a patent American article on the market which will suit you far better, but I can’t give any advice on it.”

Quite often, Lewis convicts me while also making me laugh. There aren’t too many other writers who do that as deeply and as enjoyably.

Happy Birthday, C.S. Lewis.

Not all that long ago the hot news story among fans of the dictionary (an admittedly small crowd) was that “unfriend” was the newest word to make its way into the English language. Thanks to Facebook, the word “friend” is now a verb and “unfriend” is part of many people’s vocabularies.

But is this a good advancement in language? Does it have unintended consequences?

At least one of my friends (the real kind, not the Facebook kind) wants to launch a verbal rebellion and refuses to use “friend” as a verb. When I remarked that he and I could become “friends” on Facebook, he informed me he refuses to adopt that terminology. He says he “connects” with people through Facebook and other social networking sites. But he wants to protect the word “friend” from extinction.

He told me, “I think it’s a bastardization of the word “friend” to use it to describe what people do on Facebook.” I’ve decided to join him in his verbal rebellion.

C.S. Lewis warned that words can die. The process begins when people use a word to mean something new, perhaps something that already has a word for it. In his essay, “The Death of Words” he illustrated his point with the word “gentleman.” The word once meant someone who owned land. Over time, however, it lost that meaning and simply meant anyone of the masculine gender. But we already had a word for that – “man.” Thus, “gentleman” totally lost its original meaning and now means hardly anything at all – certainly not anything distinct or more precise than “man.”

He then went on to talk of how the term “Christian” may be dying through a similar process.

Ultimately, he warned, “…when, however reverently, you have killed a word you have also, as far as in you lay, blotted from the human mind the thing that word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say.”

You may think I’m overreacting and that “friending” people on Facebook is a harmless act. My fear is that we may demean true friendship and fail to extend the effort needed to develop those valuable relationships. That takes far more than a few mouse clicks.

At George Mason University, where I serve, Campus Crusade is sponsoring an event we call “Love Week-Love Haiti.” We are partnering with as many student organizations as we can to pack meals for people in Haiti. We hope these newly formed friendships pave the way for gospel conversations.

I’ve written a piece we plan to give to everyone who comes to help us pack the meals. I’ve copied it below. I welcome your comments about it.

Why do we love Haiti?

The question probably sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t anyone love Haiti? Hasn’t that country suffered terribly? An earthquake destroyed homes, roads, hospitals and other buildings, killing thousands. A cholera epidemic now threatens to kill even more. And the weather report of heavy storms forebodes still more tragedy. How can our hearts not go out to these beleaguered people?

The outpouring of aid has been historic and encouraging. People from all over the world have offered financial and physical help. In the midst of such a crisis, it is worth examining our motives for helping Haiti and anyone else in desperate need. One lesson we can learn from the past is that, without substantive long-term motivation, aid to Haiti will dwindle before all the needs are met.

When there’s an emergency people pitch in and help for a variety of reasons. Most of those motivations are very good. Some do so from a concern for equity. It just isn’t fair, they reason, that some have so much while others starve. Some express compassion because of our common humanity. They think, “I’m just another human being on a different spot on the same planet.” Still others have a sense of “rightness.” “It’s the right thing to do,” they say. And most people sense that’s right! And some give time, money, or tangible goods as a rebellion against things that should not be.

It’s true that some people probably offer aid with selfish motives. Writing a check makes them feel good about themselves or helps them with a tax break or alleviates some sort of free floating guilt. One could easily see why such motivation is less than ideal but the overall net effect, globally speaking, outweighs any hypocrisy. Even if people give in order to gain, it still seems better than blatant selfishness or gluttonous consumption.

“Love Week/Love Haiti” at our campus is sponsored by a Christian organization, Campus Crusade for Christ. We affirm the good motivations mentioned above. We are grateful to partner with other student organizations and individuals with a diversity of motivations. And we delight that we can share in common human cause with people who believe differently about God, people, goodness, life, eternity, or other worldview-shaping topics.

Nevertheless we also cherish some specific motivations that Christians find helpful in addressing the seemingly never-ending needs of a broken world. We hope you’ll read on and hear some of our thoughts about why we love Haiti and hope to sponsor similar events year after year (until a day comes when packing food boxes, collecting money, sending medical help, and offering clothing just won’t be necessary).

We are whole people with physical bodies, emotional centers, spiritual cores, and social connections. As such, we relate to, find similarity with, and feel compassion for all people with the same multifaceted makeup. We resonate with people in need and care about them – body, soul, spirit, and community.

As people who see God’s hand of provision and care behind every good gift (perhaps that’s why we pray before we eat a meal), we are thankful for every morsel, every cup of water, each garment, and all pleasures. Out of gratitude to a generous giver, we want to share what we have been freely given.

As readers of a revealed text, the Bible, we affirm that the world isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. And it’s not the way it someday will be. The Bible’s beginning and ending (Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 20-22) both show us that the world was originally made good with no earthquakes or natural disasters that would ever destroy lives or harm the environment. It speaks of a world where the physical surroundings and human flourishing worked hand in hand to display a connection between Creator and creature. There was even harmony between animals and humans.

But people’s rebellion marred all that. Ever since, we see evidence and feel pain in a world that’s out of whack. We long for a day when harmony in every dimension of life will repair chaos. Some of our best songs and works of art plead for a time when sorrow, anguish, ugliness, and death will be no more. That longing unites us today and gives us foretastes of a world that will one day look like the world as it once was.

This corresponds to an inner longing many of us feel – a sense that not only the world around us is out of order but we ourselves are not the way we should be. One popular Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, put it this way in an essay titled The Weight of Glory: “Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”

Most of all, as Christians, we feel an eternal sense of gratitude that God has taken care of our greatest need, the need for forgiveness. We have each come to the realization that we need the divine pronouncement of pardon or we would be fairly judged and worthy of eternal separation from our Maker. God would not be unfair to allow us to have the logical consequence of eternal separation from his presence since we lived (and at times still live) as if we’d like God to leave us alone. “God leaving us alone” would be horrible, given how good he is. To be separated for all eternity from any of God’s goodness would make the current situation in Haiti look like a minor tip of an iceberg. In fact, in some ways, that’s an accurate way to look at all the natural disasters of the world – tips of icebergs of alienation from God’s goodness.

Since we’ve received a gracious solution to our greatest spiritual problem, we can give away earthly goods to help others with physical needs. Since we didn’t deserve God’s grace but benefit from someone dying in our place (that’s what we believe about Jesus’ death on the cross – it was more than a mere political martyrdom), we can reach out to people no matter who they are. Our right standing with God came not because we’re good enough but because Jesus’ good work on the cross purchased our pardon. We can give things away because we were given the greatest gift.

The blessings we sense in this life – a close connection with God, the freedom of forgiveness, an overflow of gratitude, and many other prompters of praise – point us towards a world that will one day be restored. Brief blessings in this life point us with hope towards the next one. They give us strength to work for justice, equity, relief, and expressions of love – even in the midst of tragedy, earthquakes, disease, and death. That’s why we love Haiti. That’s why we love life. That’s why we love God.

This article is written by Randy Newman, a staff member of Campus Crusade for Christ at George Mason University. You can express comments or write to him at randydavidnewman@gmail.com