On “The Shallows”

Yesterday, I bought The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, in preparation for an upcoming project (TBA). It’s fascinating, and he’s saying things I’ve been thinking for some time, especially in regard to social media.

My initial review, after forty or so pages, is this: thoughtful, provoking, and well-written. I’m excited to keep going. I’ll be occasionally posting good quotes as I go, so enjoy this:

“We’re too busy being dazzled or disturbed by the programming to notice what’s going on inside our heads. In the end, we come to pretend that the technology itself doesn’t matter. It’s how we use it that matters, we tell ourselves. The implication, comforting in its hubris, is that we’re in control. The technology is just a tool, inert until we pick it up and inert again once we set it aside.”

–Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, 3

More on bin Laden’s Death

Last night, when the news broke, my trusty and faithful room mate said, “Sweet.” Then, “Well, I guess Proverbs tells me I can’t say that.”

I was annoyed, because I knew he was right, and the Holy Spirit was convicting me. So I read the verses he was talking about:

“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him. Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” –Proverbs 24:17-18

This morning, someone else put Romans 13:4 on their blog: “[The Governing Authority] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

Clearly, many of us are taking a number of perspectives on this moment. Christopher Morgan, over at the Gospel Coalition, has another thoughtful perspective to add to the mix:

“Though the comparison is by no means perfect, and though it is on a much smaller scale, I tend to think that we can rightly grieve that Osama bin Laden opposed the true and living God and will be punished accordingly. But we also can rightly rejoice in the defeat and judgment upon people who are evil–and he was clearly evil and deserving of every punishment earth can give. The dancing in the streets may not merely be American nationalism, but an appropriate response to the partial display of human justice as we await the final and perfect display of divine justice in the coming age.”

Read the whole thing here, and think along with the rest of us.

bin Laden is Dead, and my Friend Got Some Mushrooms

I just found out that Osama bin Laden is dead. On Facebook.

Facebook, of course, is not the most reliable news source. So I went to my Twitter account and looked at a national news service’s page to cross-reference the info. It told me the same.

It wasn’t until my third step that I logged on to that particular news service’s website to really get the information I was seeking, but I believed what I was reading. I really only went through the motions of checking “the real” webpage because I felt like it was the responsible and credible thing to do.

And because I didn’t want to ever admit that it happened, that I heard about a major news story through my Facebook. I didn’t want to discover, from a status update, that the enemy we’d all been looking for, the Kingpin, had fallen.

Why? Because statistics say that 48% of young Americans find out about news through Facebook, [1] and I really don’t want to be responsible for making it 49%. Or, God forbid, 50%.

I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I once wrote for my local newspaper, the Tribune Chronicle of Warren, Ohio, and I would hear my editor talk with other newspapermen from around the state, their brows furrowed, talking about the end of printed news. Or maybe it’s because I’m a little bothered that I just discovered one of the top ten news stories of this year in a status update, sandwiched between one guy talking about online gaming and another talking about mushroom hunting.

I just found out that America’s top priority, the number one man on our most wanted list is dead, on Facebook. The site where I also find out that a guy I went to high school with is now in a relationship just told me that bin Laden is dead.

This is the kind of stuff that used to be declared by town criers, and later, newsboys on the corners of American cities. I’m sure that some would say that the advent of social media is a return to such times, but their wrong. When a newsboy declared that someone was dead, even an enemy, there must have been some kind of acknowledgement that this was a grave moment. I’m sure that when Hitler’s death was yelled, people cheered, but it was also grave, because the world had changed. If I could hear a newsboy yelling from my window now, I’m sure I’d feel like that.

But now, surrounded by triviality, it’s just another piece of information to be overtaken by another status update ten minutes from now. Now, there are no cheers, only silent “Likes.” There is the occasional comment, each more trivial than that which proceeded it. An era has ended, a journey completed, and we can only offer a few of our spare characters in ode to the men who have died and the resources we’ve exhausted to come to this point.

48% of young Americans find out about news through Facebook. Make that 49%.

Silence is Golden

Why a blog on caring for the souls of the suffering? Why a conglomeration of everything that I can get my hands on regarding suffering?

Because those who suffer are the most likely to be harmed by the church and by those who care for souls.

There are, of course many objections to this claim. Many may point to a specific program–a divorce recovery group, an addictions recovery group, a small group for those grieving the loss of a loved one, a mentorship program for leading financially struggling families to stability. These are all good things–ministries and programs that should not be simply tossed away.

In terms of programming and budgeting, many churches and pastors would identify that they do indeed care for the suffering, thank you very much. However, what causes those who are suffering to be so often mistreated is not a programming problem in the organization, but a commitment to Gospel living in the lives of individuals.

The Gospel is built for those who are suffering (it’s built for everyone, but there are very specific applications to those who are suffering), and if we are Gospel people, we will be, too. But we are so often caught up in the victory of the Gospel, the shame and pain which purchased the Gospel, that we have no idea how to handle someone who grieves for a long time.

Those who suffer can be perceived to be lacking faith–living with pain, some say, surely is not trusting God. Those who are taking a long time to move on from a specific event from suffering–or, longer than some think they should–are often treated with skepticism instead of sincerity. Our methods of helping one another are often guilt-driven: “Well, there are millions of people who have it worse than you, so be thankful that God didn’t make you like one of them” is really not helpful to someone’s recovery. When called on by a friend in need, we often give them some kind of advice that can be summarized as “take two verses and call me in the morning.”

Perhaps, what really is our greatest crime, is that we have not clue how to be silent in the present of another’s suffering. So we multiply words and talk a lot, never really hearing what they other person is saying. In contrast, Proverbs declares that “whoever restrains his words has knowledge” (17:27) and “when words are many, transgression is not lacking” (10:19). Silence, when caring for the suffering, is to be treasured more than speech.

Yes, those who are suffering are the most likely to be harmed by the church, because we do not understand God’s purposes in suffering, and because we do not know how to perceive our own suffering in light of His providence. So, we offer blithe answers and saccharine sermons to those in pain, never actually seeking to help them.

Choose the narrow path when coming to care for the suffering: stay silent, and speak little. This is the first step toward helping.