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Wednesday
May032017

Unplugging is good for your mood

I returned late last night from a holiday away to see my family. My father turned 80 on Saturday, and I wanted to be there to celebrate with him. I finished my last term paper on the 23rd of April, scurried about trying to get my neglected house back into order, and then left early on the 27th. I had a window seat on the plane so I could watch the landscape transform from the rocks and water of northern Ontario to the flat, checkerboard fields of the prairies. I was home. I have lived more than half of my life here in Ontario, but I call Western Canada home. It is where I was born, and it is where my ancestors moved when they came to this country.

It was a very busy time away. On the day of my dad's birthday, we had breakfast with people we used to go to church with when we lived there, I had lunch with one of my oldest friends, and then along with my brother and his family, we had a dinner at my dad's golf club. My mother had arranged for a private room in the clubhouse, and I was able to spend time with my nephews, whom I had not seen for fourteen years. One of them is married now, and I got to know his wife a little. Although two of my brothers were not there, I know my dad enjoyed having everyone together. The next day, we headed into Manitoba to visit my dad's brother and sister-in-law. This couple is like a second set of parents, and I was eager to see them, since in the time between our last visit, my uncle had sustained a head injury and concussion in an accident. When our families begin to get older, we must take these chances to see them. 

On Sunday evening, after supper, I took my camera and went into the yard at the farm and puttered around, trying to catch the twilight. My uncle's dog followed along behind, protecting me. When I got to the fence to have a peek at the cows in the yard, he immediately inserted himself in between me and them and looked up at me as if to say, "It's okay; I'm here." I expressed my thanks with words of gratitute, assuring him that I appreciated his efforts. It was a clear evening, and there is always something so comforting about walking around the yard where I have spent so much time. There were little ghosts of me around every corner. The visit ended all too soon, and after being fed well, and catching up, we had to head home. I love to drive across the prairies. I know a lot of people find it boring, but I do not. There was a storm coming out of the southwest, and with my cellphone, I took pictures of the clouds rolling in. On the morning we left, I got up early for a breakfast date with another girlfriend, and then I had to face the always difficult task of saying goodbye.

I also read a fair bit while I was away. I read Keri Folmar's new book The God Portion and made some notes as I plan to write a review later today. I started reading Sinclair Ferguson's Devoted to God. And of course, there was time for games. That has always been a big part of my family. We played in teams, sometimes with my dad and I partnering up, and other times, the ladies against the men.

I did check in a few times with Facebook and Twitter, and I checked my email. But I spent very little time online, and I found my mood very light. Vacations and unplugging go together. Sometimes, we need a break. And being with old friends and family, remembering that we are social creatures and that nothing beats face to face communication, was exactly what I needed. I felt very grumbly before I left, and it was always after I had spent more time online that was useful. I was reading an article in the National Post yesterday about hockey, and the writer made a very apt comment. He said that Twitter is like the Roman Coliseum when it comes to sports. We love to watch the blood and gore. I think the Christian Twitterverse is a little like that as well. 

And now I am home. And after hearing about the antics my puppy perpetuated with my son, I think I have some work to do there. I have laundry, a pretty empty refrigerator, and a long list of spring cleaning chores. I am eagerly waiting for my Moral Theology grade to be finalized (got an A in systematic theology; yay!), and have reading plans and a knitted blanket to finish for my son before he is married in August. Will I continue to spend fewer hours on social media? I don't know, but I hope so. I do know one thing: taking breaks is a must. People are important. Online theology debate is not as important. And certainly observing those debates can be a mood killer. Visiting social media is not a problem; it's when we live in it and for it that makes it problematic.

Thursday
Apr062017

Cellphones, conferences, entertainment, and hockey

I got my first smart phone over six years ago. Prior to that, I had a regular cell phone, and used it very little. When I got a Blackberry, it opened up a whole new digital world, and it provided an instant distraction to most aspects of life.

Attending conferences like T4G and The Gospel Coalition drew my attention to how often our phones are out. I will be honest, I don't like live Tweeting conferences. If someone I know is doing it, I mute them until the conference is over, because it clutters up my feed. 

I have been in movie theatres and restaurants where the patrons are totally disengaged from the entertainment but are uploading pictures or taking selfies. Thankfully, movie theatres encourage you to turn cellphones off. But as soon as the light goes on, the phones are out. I've done it myself.

Last night, I went to a hockey game in Buffalo. We had excellent seats, two rows behind the penalty box. It is so much more fun to watch a hockey game at that level, because it's more apparent how fast they are skating, and you can see how hard everyone is working. I told my husband that I am spoiled now, because I don't think I'd want to go to a live game again if I have to sit in the nosebleed section. These tickets were part of our anniversary celebration, so my husband didn't spare expense. Knowing that these were not the cheap seats, I was taken aback (although, in retrospect, I shouldn't have been) at the couple in front of us.

Now, when I arrived in the Key Bank Center, I took a few pictures for friends and uploaded them. But after the game started, I didn't really look at my phone except to take note of how my son was faring babysitting the dogs. The game was too much fun. Throughout the majority of the first period, this couple took repeated selfies, videos of themselves, and were otherwise engaged on their phones. The woman, especially, went through numerous drafts of her and her companion before she finally was satisfied with the picture. While they slowed down with the pictures in the second period, I don't think the woman ever put her phone aside. She always had it out. All I could think of is, "These tickets aren't cheap. Why would you waste money to focus on your phone and not the game?"

This is not new. Of course, I'm aware that this is pretty typical conduct. I had just never seen it to such an extent. The entertainment is almost secondary. What is more crucial is that we tell everyone what we're doing; show everyone what we're doing. I don't know why I was surprised. Perhaps this couple (who were likely in their 30's) has lots of money and can afford to pay a lot of money for hockey tickets and then not even watch the game for most of it. We don't have that luxury. We don't do this often, and it meant getting home at 1:00 a.m. and then getting up for school early. I wanted to enjoy every minute of the game. And I did. Even if my team did lose.

If someone does something and does not put it on social media, it does happen. Really. I did attend that game last night, and even if I hadn't put up a picture on Instagram of Max Pacioretty, I still would have been there. Conferences will still go on, and speakers will still speak if we don't live Tweet their sessions. It really does generate in us a narcicissm. The world can't want to hear from me. My friends can't wait to hear from me. This is not true unless it's been put on some sorts of social media outlet.

It was a good reality check for me. How often do I do that? Probably more than I should. The next time I go to a movie, I'm going to leave my phone at home.

Saturday
Jan282017

Where can a gal find an objective book review?

I know that the reality of complete objectivity is a myth. We all bring presuppositions to matters. However, there are times when we bring more or less. I have thought about this as I've watched my social media feed over a number of months presenting book review of numerous new books that came out over the past few months. 

I was approached by a publishing company recently to review a book. I had reviewed for them before, so I was among their contact list. This idea of hand-picking people to review new books is definitely the result of social media. I'm sure this practice is a very effective way of getting the news out about a good book. But are the people being asked the ones publishing companies know will give a positive review? When one receives a review copy, how much pressure does she feel to avoid saying anything negative?

In the past when whenever I have reviewed a book I have been requested to put the review on Amazon as are all the other people who received a review copy. Amazon is frequently filled with book reviews which are 90% five star reviews. Perhaps this reveals my glass half empty view of the world, but I want to hear what some of the downsides are. I'm aware that many people who received review copies are already pre-disposed to like everything the writer does, so will that reviewer be willing to share something negative?

Quite a while ago, I saw repeated rave reviews of a book and I resisted buying it because I didn't really have time to read it, and I didn't want to buy another book which would sit on the shelf unread. As it happens my friend had it, so I borrowed it. Ultimately, I was disappointed, and frankly, I could not see what all the fuss was about. Yes, it was good. But it had some problems, too. I looked at some reviews to because I thought "Why am I not seeing what everyone else is seeing?" I thought there was something very crucial missing in the book, but every review spoke about it as if it was the most perfect book ever written. Perhaps the problem is in how we review books. 

I have participated in review initiatives when the majority of the participants are already supportive of the author in general. It is a good way to promote a book, but I do feel a concern about there being a hesitancy to give a negative review. We follow these authors on social media; we read their blogs; we feel like they are our friends. How willing are we to point out something negative?

It's something I continue to think about when pondering books. I am finding more and more that the best place to hear about good books is a good book itself. I love books with notes and recommended resources. I've been very fortunate in gettng great recommendations from seminary profs. My theology prof will even recommend we read dissenting views. I have benefitted from Amazon reviews, but it's not always a place to find the best ones. I have also been more convinced that I'd much rather buy the book myself, read it at my own pace without a deadline, and enjoy it.

Monday
Dec052016

Twitter and the loss of careful reading

I have noticed over the past few months that some people on Twitter, in an effort to get around the character limit will simply Tweet in a string of related tweets. I have done that when I want to share something funny. I have had friends share funny stories in that way. But in some cases, there are users that want to provide some pretty complex theological discussion in a string of tweets. If one of the people I follow does that a lot, I may mute them for a while, because I don't want those things cluttering my feed. Personally, I don't read well with successive bytes on my screen. I want to read in the context of paragraphs, where the content is focused and well-laid out. 

I think we all know that people don't read as well as they used to. My daughter has taught undergraduate English students for the past four years. I hear the stories of how badly first year students read. I know my own reading ability has deteriorated. I find myself impatient with blogs that go beyond 1,000 words, and that isn't good, because when it comes to attending seminary, dense reading material is part of the workload. That has been the single biggest challenge at school: giving up the feeling that once the author has gone beyond 1,000 words, I should tune out. I've been actively working at increasing my reading block times so that I can get more done. It's pretty sad that in my undergraduate years, I could focus for hours at a time, but now my mind wanders after about 45 minutes, and then after a bit of a break, it may be hard to re-connect.

I don't see the practice of trying to blog in tweet bytes helpful for promoting good reading skills. I realize that people have shorter attention spans, and maybe someone sharing those things on Twitter hope to appeal to those who would not normally read a longer article. The other possibilty is that those trying to teach deep theological truths on Twitter are actually using Twitter more as a means to point out where they think their opponents err. 

I'm no one famous. I'm not a writer of published books, nor am I a scholar. But I am someone who thinks being able to read well is important. I am a good reader. I have learned how to read carefully and in context. I want to see others read carefully and well. I find Twitter so helpful for news links, for links to posts I want to read, and when I want to know what the score of the hockey game is. But if it's doctrinal teaching, I like reading something a little longer. And if it's a paper book, even better.

Tuesday
Oct112016

Don't pick the scab

Did your mother ever warn you about picking at a scab? Mine did. And she was generally right about why I shouldn't: it will slow down the healing process; it will bleed again; it could leave a scar. But we did it as kids, anyway. Scabs itch sometimes, and it was irritating.

Something has been bothering me the past couple of weeks. And, no, it has nothing to do with American Politics (although that's downright scary) or Trinity debates. It's watching people online pick at things.

When I first began blogging and reading blogs, I got really annoyed with people who seemed to reject discernment and theological thinking (not realizing, of course, that I was ignorant myself, and had much to learn) and I would read their content. I would churn. I would rant about it to my husband, and more often than I ought to have, online. He would say to me, "Why do you read her/him?" I would decide that I wouldn't do that anymore, but I would find myself being drawn to the drama like the proverbial moth to the flame. Sometimes, there's a little rush when we get indignant and then let fly with criticism. 

Why do we follow online those we ultimately cannot abide? Is there not enough negative content that we can't control without making a point of following it somewhere else? Is there an energy that comes with taking our morning coffee and going in search of something with which we disagree so we can refute it? Yes, I'm probably exaggerating that description, but how close do we come to doing that? There is a big difference between engaging with someone's teaching and just looking for things to criticize. Yes, by all means, address the error, but making someone's questionable teaching the main staple of our reading diet just feeds our desire to complain. I've done it. Now, please don't understand me: I am not saying we should not address error. But surely while error is being pointed out, some building up could be going on.

I still struggle to fight the temptation to churn over things I've read online. I long to be an encouraging person, a gentle person, and a person who thinks before she speaks. For those writers who do spend time thinking before speaking, I am grateful. I admire that. I enjoy so much the good teaching of men and women whom I read. I am sharpened by it, and edified by it. But it's disheartening to see men and women throw unconstructive rhetoric at one another through cyberspace. Surely we are better than that.

The blogger I admire the most is a lot like my husband: little is said on a regular basis, but when it is said, it is sound, and worth listening to. There is patience, and thought before speaking up. I've longed to be like that blogger, and I long to be as restrained as my husband. Learning when to speak and not to speak is something I continue to strive toward.

Perhaps some would react to this post with disgust and lump me in with the capitulators and those who are apathetic about theology and orthodoxy. I can't stop people from thinking that about me, but those who know me well know that isn't true. I know how I react to someone who never seems to have anything but a combative word to say, and I don't want to be that person.