Friday, July 19, 2024

Come Hungry

The churches I came of age in didn't have a snack bar. They didn't have coffee on brew. They didn't have breakfast spreads. In fact, the church I attend now didn't have these things until 10 or so years ago. 

You woke up on Sunday morning, ate breakfast in your own home, got in the car and went to church, not expecting to eat. If you found that you needed a little something, there was a bite of holiness coming somewhere in the middle of the service - Communion. 

And boy, was it good. 

Seriously, it was good. At just the moment when your mouth was getting parched from singing, when your body was starting to feel its emptiness in prayer, when you started to think about the essence of time and what exactly it meant to be all-in on God, they would pass the plates and that little cracker and that little sip of juice would hit just right. And it would mean something. 

These days, so many churches have coffee bars that it's hard to remember what that was like - when Jesus was the only thing to satisfy you in the service. 

That's not a complaint. Not necessarily. It's just an observation. When you come into church and head straight for a pot of coffee and a pastry, it takes away part of the body's craving for Communion. You aren't as hungry when the plate is passed. You aren't feeling an ache inside of yourself that longs for something to just take the edge off, to take the angst away. You're full already. 

That pastry is delicious. The little cracker? Not so much. 

That coffee hits just right. The juice? It's bitter. (Ironic, huh? But let's be honest - most of you don't drink real coffee; you drink caffeine with a ton of sugar in it. Real coffee, friends, is more bitter than grape juice.)

The New Testament tells us how foolish it is to show up to church hungry, to not have fed yourself in the comfort of your own home. How it creates a separation between groups of persons. How it establishes a foolishness in the gathering. 1 Corinthians says, "Don't you have your own homes in which to eat and drink?" 

When you come to church hungry because the church feeds your stomach, there's something about it that doesn't quite feed your soul any more. It's hard to explain, but if you pay attention, you'll know what I'm talking about. It makes church comfortable, with all the amenities of a social gathering and good friends and all of a sudden, that ache that draws you toward Christ, that thing that helps you engage because church is the only thing going on...it's gone. 

That's really what it is. When you taste the pastry on your tongue, you miss something of the holy moment. You do. Because you already have a sensory input that is delightful and strong; you aren't looking for anything else. Why would you? 

But if you're not distracting yourself with all the accoutrement, you can be really present. Fully present. Totally engaged. If God is all the church has to offer - God, Jesus, goodness, fellowship, and at just the right time, a little bite of bread and a little sip of juice - it just hits different. 

If you don't believe me, pass on the coffee bar one Sunday. Just one Sunday. And see how not being distracted changes the real Table you're sitting at.  

Thursday, July 18, 2024

The Harder Way

Please don't misunderstand me - the choices that I make about how I am connected (and not connected) in my life are not easy ones. They don't make my whole life easier. Most of the time, these things make my life harder. 

It's harder to stay connected to some persons when you don't answer their messages right away. Sometimes, they feel slighted when you don't "like" their post (because you didn't see it). Sometimes, there are friends or family or coworkers who will send me what the world would consider an "urgent" message on social media, and it can be hours or even days before I see it. 

It's harder to have to plug my phone into my computer, enable file transfer, browse through a folder, and upload a photo that I want to share. It's harder to screenshot my runs for my running group and have to do the same thing to share my progress. It's harder to have to turn on, wait for the boot up, and log into a physical computer to shop online, to refill a prescription, to manage a profile, whatever. 

It's harder to hear everyone talking about something they are all seeing on their phone - breaking news or local gossip or weather alerts or what have you - and have to wait until I get home to see something for myself. (But I love weather, and I'm a trained storm spotter for the NWS, so if you're talking about weather, I've got windows. I'll just go look out one.) It's harder to not be part of the conversation. 

And, by the way, I've never been on TikTok. If you're trying to talk to me about something you saw on TikTok, no. I haven't seen it. And I probably never will. That is mindlessness and distraction at its best, and it's not doing anyone any good. 

But it's harder. It's harder to live a selectively connected life when the whole world, it seems, is plugged in. In the book I referenced on Monday (which I still recommend you read - Reconnected by Carlos Whitaker), Carlos was surprised when he arrived at the monastery and discovered that even the monks had phones. Even monks were carrying the whole world around in their pockets. 

This is what we have come to. 

But we don't have to. 

And we're not better off for it.

These devices we have, this technology - it's good for some things. Don't get me wrong. But it doesn't make our lives richer. 

In fact, it takes us away from the things that truly fulfill our lives. With these devices, we don't have to wander...or wonder. We don't have to speak or listen. We don't have to engage or pay attention. If we miss something, we just rewind it and play it again, but this world is full of once-in-a-lifetime moments that we'll never get back, even if someone out there caught it on camera and posted it. 

Take the latest total solar eclipse. That was a moment! It was breathtaking. And there's not a single picture that does it justice. Not one. The only reason we like the photos is because it reminds us of being in that moment and takes us back to our own memory of seeing it...except that there were so many persons who were so busy photographing and posting the eclipse that they neglected to look up and actually see it with their own actual eye, not through a lens. And let me tell you - it was so much better without the lens. 

This world is so much better without filters. 

So no, it's not easy. It doesn't make my life easier. It makes my life harder to choose to live the way that I do, to choose the relationship with technology and connectedness that I've chosen. 

But it makes my life richer. Deeper. More vibrant. More wonderful. More amazing. More incredible. More full. 

Because I'm actually living it. 

And that's something our phones will just never be able to do for us.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Disconnected

If you don't know me personally, it probably came as a shock to you that I don't have social media on my phone. How can anyone, especially someone who blogs as faithfully as I do, not be constantly connected? (Yes, for the record, I write every single blog on my desktop, as well.) 

Well, let me tell you something else: on Sundays, I don't even turn my desktop on. 

It's one way that I recognize Sabbath rest. 

Follow that with me for a minute: I don't keep social media on my phone. I only use social media when I am on my desktop. I don't carry video games with me, either. And for one entire day every week, I don't even use my desktop computer. That's 24 full hours (actually more because I do not get up at midnight to turn my computer back on) in which I am completely disconnected from the world that exists on the Internet. 

And...it hasn't killed me. And...the internet is still there on Monday morning. And...I'm still not stressed about it because I don't have to catch up on all the things that happened while I was busy living. Again, I look at the things I want to look at, engage with the things I want to engage with, and walk away when I'm done...and I don't take it with me. It doesn't follow me around. 

A lot of folks think that a Sabbath is an antiquated practice in today's world. That maybe I think myself more highly religious than other folks because I observe one. But...a couple of things. 

First, God never said that He commanded a Sabbath until and unless we had something better to do on His holy day. The Sabbath was not created for men who had to work the field; it was created before sin. It is innate to our being, our created and "very good" being, to need a rhythm of rest. And...my life is better for it. 

Second, my Sabbath is not about you. It's not about setting myself apart from you. It's not about me feeling particularly holy or righteous or religious. Actually, if I'm being honest with you, my Sabbath practice brings into focus how harried and unrighteous I've become through the course of even just six days trying to live in this broken world, torn between all of the things the world says I have to do and be and say and like and tolerate and support and buy and whatever else...and the weariness in my soul that can't help but build because there's something in me that cannot seem to forget that I wasn't made for this. This isn't the kind of life I was created for.

So I log off. I disconnect. I spend one entire day each week purposely removed from all of the things that make the space of my soul smaller. 

I read. I take long walks with the dog. I run. I go to church and talk to folks face-to-face. I look up and notice things. I celebrate the goodness of God. I sleep in a little bit longer, make myself a real breakfast. I watch some sporting events on the TV, the actual TV, and talk about them with the other persons sharing the same physical space instead of throwing random comments out into the universe for whoever might be out there wanting to read them - probably someone who is in their own space watching the same thing. 

In fact, the day each week in which on the surface, I am most disconnected...I tell you, that's the day that I feel most connected.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Selectively Connected

Did you know that you don't have to have social media on your phone? 

That statement probably comes as a shock to many persons. In a world in which we are constantly connected, not having social media in our pockets seems sacrilegious. 

How are my friends supposed to know what I'm having for dinner? How am I supposed to share the really cool birds I just saw on my walk? Who will I tell how miserable I am that I have to do adult things like work my job or raise my kids? How will I post inspiring messages or laughable memes if my phone is not my constant companion? 

What if I miss the thing I have to repost for Jesus to love me and let me get into heaven?

Can I tell you something? I have never had social media on my phone. Never. I have social media. I have social media accounts. I am active on social media. And...I have never once posted to social media from my phone. 

And it hasn't killed me. 

Actually, I only have social media on my desktop computer. (Yes, I still have a desktop computer.) See, the great thing about having a desktop computer is that it is then something I have to choose and be deliberate about. I have to decide that I want to sit in a particular spot, with particular things available to me and other things unavailable to me, and that I want to spend my time engaging in whatever I am engaging in on my desktop computer. 

If I want to post a picture to social media from my phone, I have to actually plug my phone into my computer via a USB cable, choose to enable file transfer, and browse through my folder to select the photo that I want to share. Again, this forces me into living a deliberate life. A life that I have to keep choosing. 

So often, our phones - and social media - and the internet in general - and video games (PS- I don't have any video games on my phone, either) are nothing more than distractions. They are meant to distract us. They distract us when we have to wait. They distract us when we are in an unpleasant situation. They distract us when we don't want to have to be active participants in our lives. 

While we choose to distract ourselves, everything after that is not really a deliberate choice. Our minds get sucked in and we're trapped in the vacuum that is, honestly, nothingness. 

Can I tell you something else? I actively use social media, but never on my phone, and it's not overwhelming to me when I come back to it on my desktop after awhile. Because I have not trained my brain that it has to see literally everything. I scroll through, slow down for the things that interest me, engage with some things and pass others by, and when I'm satisfied that this has been enough, I walk away and go do something else.  

And the internet doesn't follow me. And I don't take it with me. 

And...it's okay. 

(And for further record, my phone has its own email address; it's not hooked to my primary email address. So I don't even get email unless I'm at my desktop.) 

It doesn't break the internet. It doesn't break me. It doesn't diminish my relationships. In fact, it strengthens them because when I am engaged, I am truly engaged - by choice, not by mindlessness. And if I'm unavailable, I'm unavailable, but I'll come back at some point. 

We are the only generation in the history of the world that thinks we have to be constantly available to each other, all day every day, and...it's a lie. We don't have to be. We weren't created to be. 

You don't have to keep social media in your pocket. You don't have to take the internet with you everywhere you go. You don't have to live your life with one eye constantly to sharing it.

In fact, I think you're better off if you don't. 

Monday, July 15, 2024

Reconnected

I read quite a bit - usually an average of four books per month on top of my daily Bible reading. And it's not often that I use this space to review or to recommend a book, but this one is important. 

I want you to read this book. 

The book is Reconnected by Carlos Whitaker, who is fairly well-known in many Christian circles (and in social media circles). Carlos admits to being a man who spent way too much time on his phone every day, always having a reason why he had to be. But he worried about what it might be doing to his brain, let alone his life, so he set about figuring out how his being would change if he completely unplugged. 

For two weeks, he lived at a monastery. He lived his life by the sacred rhythms of prayer, silence, and solitude. He was guided by bells, by monks, by nature, and by wonder. He learned to notice things that he'd completely forgotten about because they were obstacles to the next dopamine hit from his phone. And he learned...that he didn't need that dopamine. 

Then, he spent two weeks living on an Amish farm and learning the rhythms of manual labor and connecting with the land. He broke some of the stereotypes that had built up in his mind about what other persons and other belief systems and other ways of living must be life, and he learned to really relate to folks again...as well as building up a few new callouses on his hands. 

Finally, he spent three weeks back at home with his family still not connected to the rest of the world. His phone was still far away, in someone else's possession. 

So...did it change his brain? Read the book and find out. 

But it changed his soul. And you probably could already figure that out. 

We live in a world that tells us that we have to be hyperconnected, but do you realize how new hyperconnection is as a human phenomenon? I remember back in the 90s (yes, the 1990s) when my family got our first mobile phone. It came in a bag the size of a lunch box, and it still had a big cord attached to it. Prior to that, we were on our own. And you can forget the internet altogether. 

And...our brains worked differently. Our hands worked differently. Our souls worked differently. There was something about having to actually engage the world around you that shaped the way that we lived, whereas today's human beings have all kinds of opportunities to disengage...and it seems they take every one of them. And even create a few more. 

I hear all the time from folks who say they couldn't imagine living without their phone, even in the same breath with which they curse it. They hate the way they're living, but they don't know how to do it any other way. It seems absolutely impossible to function in this world without being connected to it all the time. But...is it really that impossible? Is it really that unfathomable? 

Read the book. Seriously. It will give you hope. 

And if you need a closer example, come back for a few days and we'll talk some more about this idea.