Monday, February 20, 2017

Social Media, or ANTI-Social Media?

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, families gathered around campfires, wood stoves, or in gas-lighted parlors to talk, share stories, or recapture family memories. Or they congregated at a dinner table, not only to eat but also to converse. They’d ask mundane questions like, “How was your day?” – and actually wanted to hear the answer.

Then devices called radios were invented, becoming centers of attention as mother, father and children – and even extended family – would join in a living room or kitchen to listen to the news, comedies, dramas, and suspense shows. Sound effects incorporated into programming flung imaginations into many directions.

Next came the television, at first having a grand total of three stations for most users. Because program selections were limited each evening, parents and offspring again convened to laugh together, share shivers during mysteries and thrillers, and sing along to musical variety shows.

Are we in danger of becoming, as
Gary Turk suggests, "a generation
of idiots, smartphones and
dumb people"?
With the advent of cable TV, programming choices exploded in number, and in most homes TVs multiplied so each family member could view the show of their own choice. No need any longer to huddle together, to laugh or cry together. Uniting around entertainment became so old-fashioned, and now, so-20th century.

Today we don’t even need individual TVs. We have tablets and smartphones with live-streaming, along with a vast menu of movies, online-only programs, apps, and videos – myriad alternatives for grabbing and holding onto our attention. Even email has become outdated for some, replaced by texting and social media. Who needs to talk to one another, to gaze intently into someone else’s eyes – and listen? If we do feel the need to look, there’s always Skype or FaceTime.

Intentionally or not, we’re increasingly dispensing with the bother of real, physical human contact. Even in shopping malls, restaurants, or meeting rooms, noses are buried in technological gadgets that spare us the annoyance of having to take part in direct, personal, face-to-face interaction.

This point is well-presented in “Look Up,” a clever video produced by Gary Turk, a viral filmmaker and speaker from London, England, and posted on Viral Thread. In a slow-paced rhyme, he starts by declaring, “I have 422 friends, and yet I am lonely.” Then he adds, “this media we call social is anything but…. We’re at our most happy with an experience we share, but is it the same if no one is there?”

It seems, if anything, our “social media” has turned into anti-social media, encouraging isolation and diminishing our capacities to engage and reason with and care for one another. We’ve all seen car bumper stickers that read, “Co-Exist,” but how can we do that alone, in solitary settings?

This is why one of the underlying precepts of the Bible is the idea of genuine relationships – God’s desire to have a relationship with each of us, individually and collectively, and the value of our relationships with one another.

It’s been like that from the start. After creating the first human, God declared, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). The Lord then fashioned “a helper suitable for him,” woman. Nothing suggests God’s reasoning was, “Well, Adam needs someone he can text.”

After first sending out His 12 disciples, Jesus then “appointed 72 others and sent them out two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go” (Luke 10:1). He instructed them not to take even a purse or bag or sandals, and definitely didn’t command them to bring smartphones.

Writing to his young protégé, Timothy, the apostle Paul said, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). Addressing believers in the city of Philippi, Paul wrote, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9). In both cases, truth, principles and practices were taught in the context of close, highly interactive relationships.

The writer of the book of Hebrews also underscored the importance of “hanging out” together, communicating in meaningful ways. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I’m not advocating a boycott of social media, or refusing to utilize the advantages of email and texting. But when they transform into anti-social media, inhibiting us from appreciating and enjoying real time with real people – preferring tweets, icons and emojis over eye contact and real smiles – then maybe it’s time for social mediation.

Let’s not become, as Turk warns, “a generation of idiots, smartphones and dumb people.” After all, as he notes, “when you’re too busy looking down, you don’t see the chances you miss.”

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Someone’s Always Got Their Eye on You!

"Roz" from "Monsters, Inc." reminds
us that someone's always watching.
One of the fun characters in the Pixar animated film, “Monsters, Inc.,” is Roz, the slug-like, gravelly voiced administrator who warns her fellow monsters, “I’m watching you. All-ways watching.” In the TV series “Person of Interest,” which ran for five seasons, each episode opened with the haunting words, “You are being watched.” Many other TV shows feature characters undergoing close scrutiny.

Increasingly, it’s the same in everyday life. Security cameras are stationed everywhere, from gas station pumps to quick-stop shop aisles to department stores. Surveillance equipment has become standard in airports, railway stations, office buildings, hotels, city streets, sports arenas and stadiums, sometimes even churches. Like the petulant Roz, it seems someone’s watching us at all times.

Allen Funt’s TV show of years past, “Candid Camera,” has arrived at a town near you. “Big Brother” of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, who monitored everyone’s every move, has apparently become reality!

However, long before the invention of the camera and its peering eye, humankind was being watched. From the very beginning, God has kept a close eye on His creation. Sometimes we wish He wouldn’t.

We see an example as early as the third chapter of the book of Genesis, after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate fruit from the one tree they were forbidden to touch. When they heard God “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8), they hid from Him, fully aware they had messed up. Then in the fourth chapter, after Cain had murdered his brother Abel in a fit of jealous anger, God – already knowing the answer – asked the perpetrator, “Where is your brother Abel?” to which Cain replied, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).

Quickly the first people discovered they wouldn’t be able to slip their wrongdoing past God’s watchful eyes. But the fact He’s always watching isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We see this after Sarai (later renamed Sarah), frustrated at being unable to have a child, persuaded her husband Abram (later renamed Abraham) to sleep with her maidservant Hagar to produce offspring via another means.

After Hagar became pregnant, however, serious conflict developed between her and Sarai, ultimately resulting in her flight from Abram’s household. The ever-watchful God was fully aware of this situation. He addressed Hagar, instructing her to return to her mistress and giving her the promise, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count” (Genesis 16:1-13).

In response, she called God “El Roi,” which in Hebrew means “the God who sees me,” and obediently returned, giving birth to a son named Ishmael. Even though the Lord had promised Abraham he would become “the father of many nations” through another son, Isaac, He graciously looked out for Hagar and her son.

Repeatedly the Scriptures speak of God watching over us, not to catch us doing something wrong, but rather, eager to find us doing right. “God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God” (Psalm 53:2).

Psalm 34:15 assures us, The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.” Similarly, Proverbs 15:3 declares, “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” And 2 Chronicles 16:9 states, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

Jesus also spoke of the benefits of serving and worshiping an ever-watchful God, even as we pray: And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

God isn’t peering down from the heavenly realm, celestial sledgehammer poised to slam anyone who strays. Rather, He acts like a loving, watchful parent, as the apostle Paul described: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Much of the watching that’s taking place around us is intended to observe and apprehend evildoers. Unlike security and surveillance devices, or ominous “Roz,” God is also watching – but for our good.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Contentment – What’s It Require?

Are you contented? Are you satisfied with where you are in life right now? Well, if you are, stop it!
(At least that’s the message we receive every day from society.)

We won't find the path to contentment in the Sunday
newspaper flyers. Their goal is to create discontent.
In our materialistic, consumer-oriented world, contentment is discouraged. We’re not to be satisfied with what we’ve got – we need more, we need new, we need better! What if Americans from coast to coast became content with what they had? Why, our entire retail structure would crumble. The whole idea is we need to buy new shirts, dresses, shoes, purses, coffeemakers, computers, smartphones, cars and houses. Quit spending, apparently, and it’s the end of life as we have known it.

Even annual economic reports carry the underlying message of discontent. It’s not enough for our nation’s businesses to duplicate what they did the year before; they must do better, hopefully by several percentage points. And they need to do the same the next year.

I could give more examples, but we all know what being discontented feels and looks like. Because we experience it – maybe even today. So, when I came across an online listing entitled, “10 Signs You Are Doing Well in Life,” it caught my attention because it presents a very different perspective on what contentment is – or should be. Here’s the list of “Signs”:
1.     You have a roof over your head
2.     You ate today
3.     You have a good heart
4.     You wish good for others
5.     You have clean water
6.     Someone cares for you
7.     You strive to be better
8.     You have clean clothes
9.     You have a dream
10.  You’re breathing

Sadly, for countless millions of people around the world – including many in the U.S.A. – if that’s what contentment requires, then they have every right to feel discontented. Four items listed – a roof (somewhere to live), food, water and clothing – are tangible needs that far too many people lack. For those of us who do have these things, we ought to have two responses: 1) be thankful, and 2) consider how we could help those who don’t.

The other six items on the list, however, aren’t tangible. They’re states of mind, perspectives. Too many people lack them as well. In our increasingly negative, hate-filled, intolerantly “tolerant” culture, finding someone with a good heart and who wishes good for others is a treasure.

Equally priceless is someone who cares for us, especially those who do so unconditionally, despite our many flaws and weaknesses. When so many men, women and children are forgotten, isn’t it a blessing to have someone who cares for us?

Striving to be better often ties into having a dream. I have friends who not only have cultivated those qualities for themselves, but also have dedicated their lives to helping others do the same. Lacking a dream – having no hope for a brighter future, or to be a better person in one way or another – can become a virtual death sentence.

The last item on the list, the fact that we’re breathing for another day, means we have a chance to strive for and attain the other nine. And perhaps, to assist others in their own striving.

Contentment, as we might expect, receives prominent attention in the Bible. Writing to his young protégé, Timothy, the apostle Paul admonished, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

Speaking to the throngs that followed Him, Jesus urged them to trust and find contentment in what God provides: Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin…if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith! And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying…your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you” (Luke 12:27-31).

Our society broadcasts the mantra, “Don’t be content. Don’t settle for where you are, or for what you have. You must do better!” To this the Scriptures respond, “give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8-9).

Following Paul’s advice, if we pursue godliness, finding satisfaction with whatever chooses to God provide – whether it be a lot or just enough to meet our needs – contentment won’t be far behind.