But I deleted it

But I deleted it

I’ve been on a blogging hiatus lately as I’m been under a deadline to get a book manuscript polished up and sent back to the editor (Yes, Katya, I am working on it!).

But I took time last week to type up what I thought was a pithy response to a particular hot-button cultural issue that had been nagging me.

I wrote it; I rewrote it; and I even had some friends weigh in.

Then, after all that work, I deleted the whole thing. (Which was really hard because it had a corny joke about a “salvation” that is seen as coming sola Twittera–by social media alone.)

I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say I had an inkling of discernment (which is all I ever have…) that the last thing the world needed was one more pontification on something that I actually don’t know very much about.

On that note, I’ve found the following eight insights helpful for those times that I am tempted to think that I must always open my mouth/keyboard.

These come from the evangelical-Anglican and Baylor English professor, Alan Jacobs.

In his words:

Going off half-cocked is now widely perceived as a virtue, and the disinclination to do so as a vice.

What ‘s more:

that poorly informed and probably inflammatory statement of [My] Incontrovertibly Correct Position must be on the internet . . . or it doesn’t count towards your treasury of merit.

But must I always weigh in on every hot-button issue?

As Jacobs reminds himself:

  1. I don’t have to say something just because everyone around me is.
  2. I don’t have to speak about things I know little or nothing about.
  3. I don’t have to speak about issues that will be totally forgotten in a few weeks or months by the people who at this moment are most strenuously demanding a response.
  4. I don’t have to spend my time in environments that press me to speak without knowledge.
  5. If I can bring to an issue heat, but no light, it is probably best that I remain silent.
  6. Private communication can be more valuable than public.
  7. Delayed communication, made when people have had time to think and to calm their emotions, is almost always more valuable than immediate reaction.
  8. Some conversations are be more meaningful and effective in living rooms, or at dinner tables, than in the middle of Main Street.

None of this means, of course, that I will stop writing on issues that matter–even when they’re considered controversial.  I come, after all, from a theological tradition (Wesleyanism) that refused to shut up on things like slavery and women’s rights, even they had been dubbed “too radical” for respectable Christians to weigh-in on.

So once I’m not buried under a book manuscript (which should be sometime in the next decade) I plan to keep thinking in public with what I hope is a mix of grace and truth–or at the least “grammar.”

And I hope other thoughtful people do too.

Still, it is freeing to recall occasionally that the world’s salvation does not come sola Twittera.  Or in my more long-winded case: sola blogos. 


Check out my new book (Long Story Short: the Bible in Six Simple Movements), now available at Seedbed.com.

Signup here to receive bonus content through my email Newsletter (“Serpents and Doves”).

I will not clog your inbox, and I will not share your email address.

What Seven Thunders Spoke: Why some revelations ought to go unpublished

What Seven Thunders Spoke: Why some revelations ought to go unpublished

The most anxious moment for a blogger is the second just before one hits the button labeled “Publish.”

It is a point of no return.

And it can raise nervous questions:

Will someone try to get me fired for saying this?

Will it be misunderstood?

Could I have phrased this better?

Come to think of it: Is the very exercise of “blogging” only slightly less narcissistic than a suggestive teenage selfie, emblazoned with an out-of-context Bible verse?

(Shut up inner voice! I rebuke you in the name of #Jeremiah_29.11!)

ON PRIVACY SETTINGS

Of course, such questions are not entirely unique to bloggers.

We all wrestle with our “privacy settings.”

And we all hit “Publish” in one way or another.

Hast thou a mouth that thou canst speak?

Hast thou a camera on thy smartphone?

Despite the mild anxiety, the wrestling match can be helpful. Because strange as it may sound in our age of TMI, some “revelations” ought to go unpublished.

Here’s what I mean:

THE SEVEN THUNDERS

In the trippy tell-all book of Revelation, John of Patmos says this about the so-called Seven Thunders:

And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down” (Revelation 10.4).

The command seems somewhat odd, since John is elsewhere ordered to “Write” what he has seen, regardless of its strange or controversial content. Yet in this one instance, just as he is about to click the button labeled “Publish,” the voice of God chimes in–“Don’t do it!!!”

“Do not write this thing that is simultaneously TRUE and NOT FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION.”

Did John bristle at the prohibition?

After all, he is not even told the reason for the divine censorship.  He simply gets a very pressing prompt: “Do not write it down.”

Whatever could this have to do with us?

WHY THUNDERS SPEAK TODAY

As most people acknowledge, we badly need a better ethic when it comes to use of social media these days—whether in The White House or the hands of certain mal-adjusted Junior-Highers (*tries hard to ignore the irony in that sentence).

None of us do this perfectly, including me.

Yet as I’ve thought about the button labeled “Publish” in my own life, there are some obvious reasons why certain “Thunders” might deserve to go unpublished.

Here are just a few:

  1. When the point is expressed in a way that is un-necessarily hurtful or sensational. 

In Romans 14, Paul delivers an interesting command with regard to a first-century squabble over food and drink. While agreeing with those (“the strong”) who saw nothing wrong with eating meat and drinking wine in moderation, he also gave this warning to those who were theologically correct:

20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but … 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

In essence, it’s possible to be “Right” in your view, and yet “Wrong” as you press them to the point of harm.

And while this is not a blanket condemnation of all sharp rhetoric (see Jesus, Paul, and pretty much any other biblical prophet), it is a caution against words that are intended merely to get a rise out of others.

  1. When the motive for the telling has been twisted.

Another danger of the Internet is our ability to track how much attention we receive for any given action.

It is the pathology of analytics, and it breeds “tricks for clicks.”

There is thus a constant pressure to say things that will maximize “exposure.” And in some cases, exposure is precisely the right word: as in a cause of death for mountain climbers, and a misdemeanor involving the “indecent.”

In truth, our motives are almost always mixed.

And our aims are often hidden from us.

Is there not a certain irony in this very blog post!? (Inner voice, I warned you!)

As a one of my old professors used to say: “We are a bundle of contradictions”—wanting simultaneously to be seen and to stay hidden. Thus we lock ourselves in the Panopticons of Instagram and Facebook, while grasping feverishly for fig leaves.

Come to think of it: How do I turn off notifications for the Seven Thunders…?

  1. When the “Publishing” may do more harm than good.

I joked in a prior post that the Hebrew word blogger translates roughly to “Not helping.”

And like all humor, it’s only funny if there is truth to it.

On that point, I often wonder if some Christian attempts (including my own…) to “speak prophetically” do not actually make the situation worse (See here for more along those lines).

In such moments, we end up as the theological equivalent of those trying to ban books. The result is always a bestseller, even when the book is lame.

On the other hand, this so-called “Hippocratic worry” can lead to dangers of its own. It may mean cowardly silence in the face of injustice or a dangerous equation of positions that are actually quite different (See here on how this happened with white pastors in the Civil Rights era).

The fear of offending may also lead to a weak-kneed, boring style of writing that lacks punch, humor, and engagement with issues that actually matter.

“I never discuss anything but politics and religion,” remarked Chesterton, “There is nothing else to discuss.”

While that’s not quite true, it is certainly true enough to discourage the politico-religious equivalent of spaying or neutering our public discourse.

Sometimes we should speak up (as the saying goes) even if our voice shakes.

CONCLUSION

Despite such qualifiers, the reminder of Revelation 10 is both simple and profound: Some points are not (yet) meant for public consumption, despite their honesty or truth-value.

And so we end as we began: in that moment just before the “Publish.”

Listening for revelation, and for the quiet voice that might say “Do not write it.”

A year of blogging

A year of blogging

My wife informed me last week that it’s been one year since I started this blog.

Given that, I wanted to take a moment to say thanks to all who’ve read these posts!

It’s been a lot of fun for me and though we’ve now surpassed the one year birthday, I’m still “young, scrappy, and hungry.”

I enjoy academic writing and have slowed my blogging just a bit in order to finish a book-length project, but this site has allowed me to speak to more than just fellow academics, and for that I’m grateful.

Here were the five most popular posts from the past twelve months:

5) The House of Mourning: A piece on grief

  • I wrote this to mark the one year anniversary of the passing of my brother-in-law, Daniel Berg. Yet despite that specific reason, I’ve been touched by how universal are these sentiments. As Nick Wolterstorff writes: “Grief is existential testimony to the worth of the one loved. That worth abides.”

4) How Genius Happens: The untold story of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”

  • On a daily basis, this post gets more reads than anything I’ve written (probably because it was picked up by a Leonard Cohen fan site). It’s about how good work happens over time, and it attempts to dispel some myths about how easy it is for truly gifted people to make good art.

3) The trouble with millennial bashing (a response to Simon Sinek)

  • This piece weighed in on a favorite punching bag of contemporary culture: the so-called millennials, and it attempted to challenge some (I think) silly assumptions about why we’re all so terrible. It’s about questioning statements that sound smart at first even while they lack solid evidence to back them up. Yes! and Boom!

2) When patriotism goes too far

  • Here I relived my childhood fixation with Lee Greenwood and considered some ways that Christians should and should not be “patriotic.” There was even a saxophone solo.

1) Evangelicals and Trumpism: 

  • My most popular post (by far…) had to do with the biggest item in the news–the 2016 election (surprise, surprise). While I wrote on evangelicals and the election more than once, this piece resonated most and was even picked up by a national news site. Many kind words and some hate mail followed–parts of which even contained punctuation. We all survived.

SOME OTHERS

While the above posts were most popular, I also enjoyed thinking about these issues as well:

  • A post a about Jesus and pagan god of revelry: “Saving Bacchus: How C.S. Lewis redeemed the pagan god of wine and wild parties” (here)
  • A triad of posts on race and policing: (here), (here), and (here).
  • A piece on body image: “The Naked God: The cross and body shame” (here)
  • And a piece on the middle ground between doubt and certainty (that I hope to expand into a book eventually): “Christian, learn to say Perhaps” (here).

Thanks for reading over the past twelve months and I look forward to writing more in the year to come.

~Josh

 

 

Is social media eroding our humanity?

Is social media eroding our humanity?

By all means, read this–and then contemplate a flip phone.

Since I’m on the road this week for a conference, I wanted a share some excerpts from an article by Andrew Sullivan (“I Used to Be a Human Being”).

While I differ with Sullivan on other issues, this piece is prophetic in detailing the perils of our addiction to technology and social media.

And after a week in which Facebook nearly drove some of us insane, it seems particularly timely.

Read the whole thing here.

Personally, while I continue to use social media (i.e., to share this post), I’ve recently instituted some boundaries after noticing some unhealthy tendencies.

Perhaps we all should.

Below are a few of my favorite quotes from Sullivan’s article in New York Magazine.

May they crush you in the best way possible:


 

mountain-selfie
Kim Dong-kyu, based on Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, Caspar David Friedrich

 

If the internet killed you, I used to joke, then I would be the first to find out. Years later, the joke was running thin.

I was … a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web. And as the years went by, I realized I was no longer alone. …[T]he rewards were many: an audience of up to 100,000 people a day … a constant stream of things to annoy, enlighten, or infuriate me … and a way to measure success — in big and beautiful data — that was a constant dopamine bath for the writerly ego. If you had to reinvent yourself as a writer in the internet age, I reassured myself, then I was ahead of the curve. The problem was that I hadn’t been able to reinvent myself as a human being.

CONTACTS INSTEAD OF FRIENDS:

By rapidly substituting virtual reality for reality, we are diminishing the scope of this interaction even as we multiply the number of people with whom we interact. We remove or drastically filter all the information we might get by being with another person. We reduce them to some outlines — a Facebook “friend,” an Instagram photo, a text message — in a controlled and sequestered world that exists largely free of the sudden eruptions or encumbrances of actual human interaction. We become each other’s “contacts,” efficient shadows of ourselves.

ON DOPAMINE AND LONELINESS:

Has our enslavement to dopamine — to the instant hits of validation that come with a well-crafted tweet or Snapchat streak — made us happier? I suspect it has simply made us less unhappy, or rather less aware of our unhappiness, and that our phones are merely new and powerful antidepressants of a non-pharmaceutical variety. In an essay on contemplation, the Christian writer Alan Jacobs recently commended the comedian Louis C.K. for withholding smartphones from his children. On the Conan O’Brien show, C.K. explained why: “You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away,” he said. “Underneath in your life there’s that thing … that forever empty … that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone … That’s why we text and drive … because we don’t want to be alone for a second.”

THE LINK TO SPIRITUALITY:

And so modernity slowly weakened spirituality, by design and accident, in favor of commerce; it downplayed silence and mere being in favor of noise and constant action. The reason we live in a culture increasingly without faith is not because science has somehow disproved the unprovable, but because the white noise of secularism has removed the very stillness in which it might endure or be reborn. …And yet our need for quiet has never fully gone away, because our practical achievements, however spectacular, never quite fulfill us. They are always giving way to new wants and needs, always requiring updating or repairing, always falling short. The mania of our online lives reveals this: We keep swiping and swiping because we are never fully satisfied.

That Judeo-Christian tradition recognized a critical distinction — and tension — between noise and silence, between getting through the day and getting a grip on one’s whole life. The Sabbath — the Jewish institution co-opted by Christianity — was a collective imposition of relative silence, a moment of calm to reflect on our lives under the light of eternity. It helped define much of Western public life once a week for centuries — only to dissipate, with scarcely a passing regret, into the commercial cacophony of the past couple of decades. It reflected a now-battered belief that a sustained spiritual life is simply unfeasible for most mortals without these refuges from noise and work to buffer us and remind us who we really are. But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.

If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation. Christian leaders seem to think that they need more distraction to counter the distraction. Their services have degenerated into emotional spasms, their spaces drowned with light and noise and locked shut throughout the day, when their darkness and silence might actually draw those whose minds and souls have grown web-weary.

Then there were the other snares: the allure of online porn, now blasting through the defenses of every teenager; the ease of replacing every conversation with a texting stream; the escape of living for a while in an online game where all the hazards of real human interaction are banished.

WHAT TECH-GURUS KNOW:

When you enter the temporary Temple at Burning Man, the annual Labor Day retreat for the tech elite in the Nevada desert, there is hardly any speaking. … They come here, these architects of our internet world, to escape the thing they unleashed on the rest of us. 

CONCLUSION:

I haven’t given up, even as, each day, at various moments, I find myself giving in. There are books to be read; landscapes to be walked; friends to be with; life to be fully lived. And I realize that this is, in some ways, just another tale in the vast book of human frailty. But this new epidemic of distraction is our civilization’s specific weakness. And its threat is not so much to our minds, even as they shape-shift under the pressure. The threat is to our souls. At this rate, if the noise does not relent, we might even forget we have any.