When Technology Replaces the Holy Spirit

Leaving pieces behind, in my opinion, is the most difficult aspect of sermon preparation. Yet for the sake of clarity and precision, some must be left on the cutting room floor. The following is one of those.

While preparing to preach on the incarnation, I wanted to show how God becoming flesh proves that our physical bodies are important and not innately evil. Two threads emerged from this general idea. One addressed the need to both enjoy the pleasures of our physical existence and to discipline ourselves against abusing those same enjoyments. The other targeted how, like the people of Babel, we use technology to try to transcend our bodies. Ultimately, the first felt more cohesive to the rest of the sermon, so the second one was scrapped. Yet the idea of technology replacing the role of the Spirit in our lives is worth sharing (and considering), so here it is.


To have a physical body means being limited. The people of Babel understood this all too well. After learning how to form strong and durable bricks, they began to use this new technology to build a tower. This proto-skyscraper was meant to ascend into the heavens; it was to be their stairway to the throne of God, a means of making a name for themselves. They not only wrongly believed that they could transcend their earthly limitations; they also believed that God was small enough to be reached by human effort. God, of course, displays their tininess by stooping down to disassemble their tower and scatter them across the earth.

Unfortunately, the spirit of Babel has never left us. Today, more than ever, we continue to use technology with the hope of breaking free from our fleshly limitations. We keep creating towers to the heavens, attempting to transcend any need of our Creator, while also trying to stay united together in the midst of a world broken by sin.

Consider a few examples.

Electric lights break us free from the tyranny of day and night. For millennia, our bodies were guided by the patterns of our Circadian Rhythm, but now we create our own schedules. We dictate the best time to sleep and stay awake.

Cars and planes liberate us from the confines of distance. Being able to drive across town at any moment or fly across country (and even oceans) within 24 hours has expanded our village of family and friends onto a much wider area. Unfortunately, the actual village lifestyle of the past is vanishing into a memory. Although we may be able to drive to one another’s home at any time, it’s quite a different practice than “just dropping by to say hi” while on a walk through the neighborhood.

Phones and social media guard us against solitude and seclusion. They ensure that we are never truly alone, yet they also ensure that a significant portion of our communications happen through a buffer. Face-to-face conversation was once called simply conversation, but we now speak to one another primarily without all the nonverbals of facial expressions and body posture, which thankfully were never very important for conversation anyway (side note: since you can’t see my face… yes, that is sarcasm).

Modern medicine protects us from the pain and discomfort of symptoms. Unfortunately, the prevalence of pain medication seems to ignore the reality that pain is warning signal for something that has gone wrong. We treat headaches and stomach pains without much consideration as to what our body is trying to tell us. We snuff out cold and flu symptoms without pondering why our immune system was weak enough to allow such pathogens to survive so long.

Grocery stores assure us that food is plentiful and easily accessible. This appearance is by design, since we are more likely to buy produce if the display is fully stocked. Of course, this leads to grocery stores forming 10% of the 133 billion pounds of food (or 1/3 of all that is produced) that we throw away. All of this is to say nothing about our consumption without all the mess of having to grow or kill whatever we eat.

The list could go on.

Our modern lifestyle gives us greater comfort and luxury than any ancient royalty could ever possess. We live in an unprecedented time of technological advancement in history. And none of these things are wrong or sinful in and of themselves. Having too much food is certainly a better problem than not having enough. Even two decades ago, medicine would not have been advanced enough to save my dad’s life after his accident. Electricity, transportation, and communications have made our vast network of civilization possible. But neither was the development of brickmaking the sin of Babel; their sin was attempting to be gods, trying to transcend free from their physical limitations. Similarly, whenever we use technology to sedate the hungers and needs of our flesh entirely, we end up rejecting God as our Provider and Creator. Our gadgets help us perpetuate the lie that we can save ourselves.

But God alone offers us both the sustenance and transcendence that we crave. In fact, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 plays out like an anti-Babel. The tower was an attempt to reach the heavens, but the indwelling Spirit truly carries our prayers to the very throne of God. The people of Babel were united by a common language, but the Spirit forms us into a new people from every nation, tribe, and language on earth. The people of Babel wanted to make a name for themselves, but the Spirit enables us to joyously glorify the Triune God. Also, by the Spirit, we are reminded that we will one day be given glorified bodies as we dwell with God and His new creation for all eternity.
Through the Spirit, we both transcend this present reality while simultaneously becoming more firmly embodied in it. In fact, we could simply say that by the ordaining of the Father, through the work of Christ, and by the empowering of the Spirit, we are entering back into reality itself, communion with God, which then empowers us to be united with one another. The Spirit connects us and gives deeper meaning to our lives than technology ever can.

Sadly, technology will continue to be used as a substitute for the Holy Spirit to break us free from the limitations of our bodies. But, as Christ’s followers, we must reject this and keep technology within its place. We must use it to cultivate and subdue both the earth and ourselves, but it cannot save us. It cannot bridge the hostility caused by our sin. It cannot take us beyond the limits of our flesh.

Use technology to serve you, not save you.

And embrace the limits of your body. They are displaying your need for the Creator.

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The Wonder of Reading

While reading through Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death again as I teach on media literacy, I was struck by his description of what is required of an individual in order to read a book. The entire book is worth reading, as it compares a print-based culture to a television-centered one, but the following selection, at least, should awaken within us a thanksgiving to God for the gift of simply being literate.

Although the general character of print-intelligence would be known to anyone who would be reading this book, you may arrive at a reasonably detailed definition of it by simply considering what is demanded of you as you read this book. You are required, first of all, to remain more or less immobile for a fairly long time. If you cannot do this (with this or any other book), our culture may label you as anything from hyperkinetic to undisciplined; in any case, as suffering from some sort of intellectual deficiency. The printing press makes rather stringent demands on our bodies as well as our minds. Controlling your body is, however, only a minimal requirement. You must also have learned to pay no attention to the shapes of the letters on the page. You must see through them, so to speak, so that you can go directly to the meanings of the words they form. If you are preoccupied with the shapes of the letters, you will be an intolerably inefficient reader, likely to be thought stupid. If you have learned how to get to meanings without aesthetic distraction, you are required to assume an attitude of detachment and objectivity. This includes your bringing to the task what Bertrand Russell called an “immunity to eloquence,” meaning that you are able to distinguish between the sensuous pleasure, or charm, or ingratiating tone (if such there be) of the words, and the logic of their argument. But at the same time, you must be able to tell from the tone of the language what is the author’s attitude toward the subject and toward the reader. You must, in other words, know the difference between a joke and an argument. And in judging the quality of an argument, you must be able to do several things at once, including delaying a verdict until the entire argument is finished, holding in mind questions until you have determined where, when or if the text answers them, and bringing to bear on the text all of your relevant experience as a counterargument to what is being proposed. You must also be able to withhold those parts of your knowledge and experience which, in fact, do not have a bearing on the argument. And in preparing yourself to do all of this, you must have divested yourself of the belief that words are magical and, above all, have learned to negotiate the world of abstractions, for there are very few phrases and sentences in this book that require you to call forth concrete images. (pages 25-26)

Given all that is required to read such forms of literature, it should come as no surprise that Postman goes on to say: “I believe the epistemology created by television not only is inferior to a print-based epistemology but is dangerous and absurdist” (27).

2 Tips for Reading More Books

Reading, like exercise, is something that many people do sporadically, a small population is obsessed with doing it, and almost everyone grudgingly admits to needing to do more often.

With search engines, online encyclopedias, and every kind of website imaginable, information is constantly at our fingertips. But with all of these tools, I still believe that books are one of the best forms for acquiring new knowledge.

But wait, you say, YouTube videos or internet articles can communicate the same knowledge in a more succinct fashion, right?

Well, yes and no.

You see, there is a cost-benefit ratio for using the internet, and one of the internet’s great benefits is also one of its great costs. The ease of accessibility enables us to gather information faster than ever before, but that same accessibility also allows us to shift to a new piece of information just as quick. The internet’s information can rapidly expand our knowledge, but it often does so to the detriment of our ability to focus.

And when it comes to concentration, the book has few rivals. It takes immense focus for a writer to coherently compose a comprehensible collection of words (you’re welcome for the alliteration, by the way). And likewise, it takes the reader a degree of focus to unravel the message that the author pieced together using words.

If you do not typically read books, you probably know the intimidation factor all too well, as even small books can sometimes feel like an impossible undertaking.

If you fall into this category, or perhaps you like reading books but want to read more, here are two quick thoughts to help you dive in.

1. TURN OFF THE TV

To be fair, television isn’t the only reading-killing culprit. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and other such websites and applications are now just as prevalent as TV.

Many Americans devote large amounts of their free time to these forms of entertainment, and while there is nothing innately wrong with them, they are far easier to consume than even the most simply written books. Like the internet, visual media requires less focus to comprehend than written media; therefore, our attention will almost always tend toward the former.

If you truly want to incorporate more books into your life, turn off the television first.

If you use the TV for white noise, play music instead or learn to embrace silence.

Video will almost always hold our attention more than written words, so when you pick a book up, make sure the screen is turned off.

And for the sake of brevity, I will refrain from discussing on social media… perhaps another post at another time. 

2. START SMALL

Runners obviously do not start out with the ability to run marathons. When many begin their training, they can only run in short sprints before stopping to catch their breath. But over time, their bodies learn to adapt, and they are able to run distances that they once thought impossible.

For many of us, reading books proves to be as difficult as running a marathon. Fortunately, the brain, like any other muscle, can be trained to focus on long form reading with enough time and discipline.

Practically, this means if you can’t remember the last book you finished, Augustine’s City of God is probably not the best place to start. Begin with something in a more modern style and with fewer pages. Then work your way up to more complex works.

This also applies to the amount of time being given to reading.

At first, you may find reading for an entire hour to be boring and undoable.

That’s fine.

Start by reading for fifteen minutes. Once you enjoy focusing on a book for that time, up it to thirty and keep going.


So there you have it.

If you want to read more books, cut the visual distractions and begin with doable goals.

Remember that you will almost never simply find the time to read; instead, you must make time to read.

But as with most difficult tasks, it is worth the effort.

 

Don’t Have the Sex Talk With Your Kids

My first child is yet to be born, and I’m already dreading THE talk.

Which is why my wife and I have decided not to have the sex talk with our children; instead, we want to have many talks with our kids, often including sex in the discussion.

Easier said than done!, you might say. I know that parenting is touchy subject, but allow me to describe a vision of a better way of having difficult conversations with children.

Through books, magazines, blogs, music, television, YouTube, films, and others, we consume more mass media today than any other people in history. As media, each of these is a form of communication, a medium for delivering a message.

And everything does have a message.

Each song we hear communicates a message. Everything on television is a delivery vehicle for an idea of some form. Even the intentional lack of a message is itself a message.

As Christians, it is crucial that we understand this truth.

Veggie Tales is not unique in teaching children a lesson.

Cinderella teaches a lesson.

Harry Potter teaches a lesson.

The Avengers teaches a lesson.

Taylor Swift songs teach lessons.

As we consume media, we should constantly be asking ourselves what is being taught. What message and worldview is each song, film, book, and television series conveying?

These are conversations that we should also have with our spouse and children, constantly analyzing messages and comparing them to the truth of Scripture. As families, we should develop one another into critical thinkers and wise media consumers.

It is truly lamentable that sexual messages are so prevalent within even “child-friendly” media, but we can also use these as launching pads for conversations about how the Bible’s teachings contrast with the world’s concept of truth.

Our children will be exposed to much more media than we desire; therefore, doesn’t it make sense to be proactive by teaching them how to engage it? We will never be able to fully shelter them, so let us WISELY teach them how to compare everything to the Word of God.

Whenever we watch Aladdin, Cinderella, or The Little Mermaid, we can use them to discuss what God expects a biblical romance to look like. Whenever we read of or watch a wedding, we can discuss why God values marriage so highly. Whenever we are presented with scantily-clad persons, we can discuss the harm of disconnecting nakedness from marriage.

All of this requires us to know the Scriptures well, to think critically about everything, to be constantly intentional with our children’s media consumption,  and to make thoughtful conversations a normal occurrence. It is a daunting task, but isn’t that the nature of parenting?

After all, the Bible commands us to have Scripture continuously on our lips, particularly with our children:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV)

Make a habit of dissecting media and turning yourself back to Scripture.

Make a habit of dissecting media and turning your spouse back to Scripture.

Make a habit of dissecting media and turning your children back to Scripture.

In this world, we are always consuming. Let us, therefore, teach our children how not to be consumed by the world.