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Thursday
Apr282016

The value of face to face

Yesterday, I filled out the course evaluation for my hermeneutics class. I checked the "strongly agree" box for almost every question. Yes, it was that good. It sharpened me. My classmates encouraged me, and I learned a lot from them. I love attending classes weekly. There is great convenience in being able to complete a course mostly online; I did that in the fall semester. But I loved being in class weekly. In September, I'll be there twice weekly to take Hebrew. My other class, on Augustine, and taught by Michael Haykin, will meet for eight hours four times over the semester. Eight hours in a classroom may sound like a drudge to some, but the time passes very quickly, and I'm looking forward to it.

I don't know my hermeneutics prof as I know other people, but I know him more than I did when I began. Lord willing, I will be able to take another course with him. Next week, I start my course "The Old Testament in the New Testament," and we will meet every day, from 9:00 - 4:00 for the entire week. The prof is the one I had for Biblical Introduction, and I'm looking forward to hearing more from him, too. I'm looking forward to hearing other students share their insights. I'm sure there will be a couple of familiar faces.

Face to face is just better than online. Don't get me wrong; I love my internet friends. There are a handful with which I've been friends for ten years now. But the ones whom I have met face to face have a special place. To see their faces, to hear their voices, to hear the sound of their laughter, to embrace, or even to shake hands just adds something to the relationship. 

Being in school every week has reminded me that there is a limit to our online connections. Sure, we can text, skype, email, or do battle together on Twitter against a host of our detractors. But there is something far better about an hour over coffee, or sharing a meal. There are many times when I wish I could do exactly that with a few of the women I have met online. Over ten years ago, I met a fellow homeschooler online, and we only live an hour apart. Last summer, we met weekly. This summer, we are going to do it again. Blogs are great, but face to face is much sweeter.

I am thankful for things like Facebook to keep in touch with those I don't see regularly, but there is always the understanding that if we had our way, we would be face to face.

Tuesday
Mar102015

Pick your poison

Yesterday, at Out of the Ordinary, Melissa wrote some wise words about how Pinterest can be a stumbling block. As we take in the gorgeous pictures of decorating schemes, crafting, and food, we can end up comparing our lives to what is on Pinterest. Read the whole thing; it's good advice. I thought about it quite a bit yesterday.

Personally, I don't stumble over Pinterest. I love having a place where I can keep things to save for later. I like having other people to share things with. My Pinterest activity is very limited, mostly recipes and knitting projects, as well as a few pins for photography. I can go for days without checking Pinterest, I don't follow many people, and few follow me. What I love about Pinterest is that there is no drama.

However, that doesn't mean I don't stumble over something. Facebook is probably a bigger trip-up for me because it's the place where one of my biggest weaknesses can take flight: words; my own and those of others. I may get annoyed with what others say, and respond inappropriately, or say the wrong thing. I may get involved in useless debates. Facebook is also where my tendency to fear man's opinion can shine through, because if I do say something wrong, and I'm challenged, I feel uneasy. Thankfully, I'm learning to ignore; ignoring is very freeing. And it's necessary. It's bearing with others in love. If someone reads a bad book, do I really need to interject my thoughts? Is Facebook the place for that? Is the worst crime in the world reading a bad book?

Social media has great uses, but its worst feature is that it can be a distraction. And social media isn't the only distraction out there. We can all pick our poison when it comes to that which will drag our eyes away from our lives in Christ. Distractions are so subtle, so insidious; before we know it, we've wandered far down the road. We can all have our eyes taken from Christ in a myraid of ways. For some, it's the gorgeous pictures on Pinterest, or being a photographer on Instagram, or the drama on Facebook. But we all have our distractions. And those distractions like to pull us away from being the new creatures in Christ we're supposed to be.

Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be received with Him in glory. (Col. 3:1-3 NASB)

At root, the problem is not the social media. Actually, used properly, it can be a great thing. My father is thrilled to be on Facebook and click "like" when he sees things his grandkids are doing, or see what I'm doing. The problem is that we are so prone to being earthbound, focused on the temporal and not the heavenly. We struggle to look heavenward because we're creatures of flesh, and our thoughts are not always drawn in that direction.

I was inspired by a young lady in the young moms' bible study recently. She spoke about decluttering her home, and one of the comments she made was that she and her husband want to be aware that they are just passing through here on earth, and why do they need to acquire so much stuff they will ultimately not take with them? I thought that was quite wise for a woman who is only 30 years old. She doesn't want to be distracted  from her life in Christ with "stuff."

I don't often go around quoting pop music lyrics to demonstrate wisdom, but there is a song by Switchfoot called "The War Inside" which says it well:

Yeah, it's where the fight begins
Yeah, underneath the skin
Beneath these hopes and where we've been
Every fight comes from the fight within

I am the war inside
I am the battle line
I am the rising tide
I am the war I fight

I don't know if that's true for you, but it is for me. I am the war I fight. Whether it's my big mouth opening when it ought not to, or when my pride is wounded, or I fear man, I, ultimately, am the war I fight. But praise God, through the Holy Spirit, we can have victory over ourselves. Praise God, through Christ, we can keep seeking the things above.

Monday
Mar022015

Spiritual pride in rejecting social media

Last Tuesday, I taught the young moms' bible study. We looked at how to handle stress by examining Psalm 143, and then discussing things that contribute to creating stress in the first place. The topic of Facebook and social media came up.

I brought up I Thessalonians 4:9-11, as a reminder that not being focused on our own vocations, and being too preoccupied with the vocations of others is a poor waste of time, and can, indeed, create stress that is not needed. I reminded them that there is stress which we can't avoid, but stress which we can. Facebook is one of those things that can interrupt living quietly. Note I said "one." It's not the only thing.

Some people may need to de-active their accounts, and if they feel it's a good thing, then I say do it. What I have found curious on occasion are the voices that announce with great fanfare that they're leaving Facebook and social media because it's evil. Suddenly, it becomes a moral issue. There can be a risk of pride in making that decision. A while ago, I wrote a post about the tyranny of the recovered which is related to this notion.

Often, this rejection of social media is accompanied by nostalgic references to the halcyon days when there was none. I lived in those days as a young mother when there was no Facebook or Twitter. But you know what? There was the telephone; the television, books, hobbies, jobs, and coffee gatherings. Those could generate just as much distraction as any social media account. We had our ways of wasting time or getting involved in drama that was not ours.

I had a friend who would call, and when she did, I knew it would be at least 35 minutes before I got off the phone with her. She was also a homeschool mom, so when she called at 10:30, I was always a little surprised. One morning, I made the mistake of answering it. My kids knew when I said who it was, that the fun was to begin. They ended up frittering their time, and leaving the school room because I couldn't seem to get this woman off the phone. My kids reminisce that they knew that when this friend called, school was done for the day.  How's that for a waste of time? How's that for not living a quiet life? Shame on me.

Distractions surround us. And maybe your distraction is social media. And maybe you feel a certain spiritual pride when you forego it, and say, "Oh, I haven't been online in days," as you quietly pat your back. If you are able to find victory, good for you. But let's remember that the problem with social media is not in the technology per se. The problems are with the users. Just because we forsake social media, or spend little time on it doesn't make us better than someone else. If we're going to spend less time on social media, fine, but don't make a public service announcement about it. Just do it, and let others make their own decisions about its use.

I'm always a little amused at some well-known writers who proudly share their lack of Twitter accounts or Facebook accounts, while at the same time speaking frequently in a number of public venues. They're human beings; they are sinners. And I've seen them say stupid things without having a social media account. They just say them in another venue. A lack of Twitter or Facebook doesn't eliminate the possibility of spiritual pride or just using speech badlly.

We're all prone to taking pride in the things we forsake. I don't have a lot of use for popular culture, and I pay little attention to it other than the scan of a headline. I don't care who won a Grammy or an Oscar. I don't look for ways to sanctify the latest country music lyric and put it into a blog post. But that's me.  When others do so, I should not wag my finger at them, challenge them, or criticize them.

And now, I'm off to check my Facebook page.

Tuesday
Dec232014

Turn down the volume

I like the music of Switchfoot. They have catchy tunes. One of the songs they sing, "Adding to the Noise," is appropriate for today's world where we're so plugged into technology.

"If we're adding to the noise
turn off this song." 

Another group I like, The Punch Brothers, recently released a new song called "I Blew If Off," which has a similar theme, and a chorus reflecting the loss of face to face contact:

"There's nothin' to say
That couldn't just as well be sent
I've got an American share
Of 21st century stress."

You can click here for the rest of the lyrics.

We all know how technology affects our lives daily. I'm sure I don't feel any different about it at 49 years old than a woman of a similar age felt when the telephone came along; or when the radio became popular; or the television.

I think a woman like myself in 1950, for example, probably felt the lack of silence as I often do.

My kids are all home and that means there is a lot of talking, game playing, laughing, movie watching, and of course, music. My youngest has been playing Debussy on my neglected piano, and my other son has been up in his room with his guitar. The two of them, along with my daughter, are singing on Christmas Eve, and the boys are writing an original composition for the event. Last night, as I was trying to figure out an issue with getting some photos on a memory stick for development, I realized how poor I am at concentrating with a lot of sound around me. I've become rather used to the quiet.

Silence is good. I love music, the sounds of nature, laughter, listening to my children talk, or in the nursery at church hearing the toddlers talk to one another. But I love silence, too. I realized in the past week or so how much more of it I need. It's possible to have no audible sound, but a lot of noise. Too much social media and news can become noise, especially when the ones doing the reporting are saying nothing new, saying it badly, or revealing their ignorance. There's a lot of ignorance out there. Why do people with no real understanding think they have anything to contribute? It boggles my mind. And Christians are not immune. Just because we know the Lord, and know the bible and theology doesn't mean we know everything about a situation. More and more this past week I'm thinking that context is crucial. I live in my context, and there is a very limited ability for me to understand others outside of how they live. Truth is real, and principles of God's word are applicable to every situation, but that does not mean I understand someone else's life.

I'm becoming more and more concerned that here in Canada, Christians are checking out. Rather than understand how our life of faith relates to our culture, we look to other cultures and ignore our own. I live here. This means here is very important to me.

I realized recently that there are too many voices dragging my attention every which way. I re-visited my Facebook friend list and who I follow on Twitter and pared things down. I want to return to thinking longer about fewer things than imagining (erroneously) that I can somehow be fluent about every situation. No one can live everywhere in the world. I want to give myself 100% to fewer things rather than 10% to a myraid of things.

And yes, that may mean I am left out of the conversation. Well, I won't roll over and die if that happens, will I? The thing is to be in the conversations where God wants me, not in the conversations that will keep me with  the "in crowd." It may mean being in obscure conversations, or the conversations that are not making the rounds on social media. That's just fine.

If I'm adding to the noise, what's the point? I need less noise in my life so I can hear what I'm supposed to hear.

Saturday
Mar012014

Super Smash Brothers or Twitter?

I confess that my sons play video games. We allow them to do so in our house. 

I've heard a lot of commentary about young men not growing up and how it's related to video games. I will admit to not understanding the appeal of video games. I don't play them, and I don't have any plans to do so in the future. However, my sons have always liked games. Whether it was Yahtzee with me or chess with their dad, they liked games growing up, and they still do, especially ones that require a lot of thought and strategy. Axis and Allies and Risk are favourites here.

I have seen where boys who play video games are considered immature and silly. Instead, they should be out shooting squirrels or perhaps engaging in football. Since my boys don't like tight pants or own B.B. guns, that isn't happening any time soon.

I've heard that young girls aren't going to find video game playing an admirable quality in a search for a spouse. Does this mean my boys are never going to find wives?

My boys are 21 years old and 19 years old. They're growing up to be young men. They aren't as mature as a 40 year old man (unless that 40 year old plays video games?), and that's to be expected. While they still get a little crazy when they're home together, they're growing up. Playing video games may relegate them to the "future unappreciated men of the universe" category some day, but I can say this about them:

My boys don't get on Twitter and get into arguments with total strangers and then refuse to let someone else have the last word. Neither do they tour blogs and stir up debate in comments boxes. They don't feed the trolls.

My sons use social media, but they don't become consumed with the latest controversies. They recognize when they're not informed, and don't feel the need for everyone to hear their opinions. As far as social media goes in this house, the person who is most present on Twitter and Facebook is yours truly.

They are hard workers and well thought of by their teachers and employers. They are well-liked by their friends, and are respectful and kind toward their grandparents. 

There is any number of ways to waste time. Video games is one of them, and so is my sitting at my computer partaking of social media.

Yes, I believe there are certain dangers with a kid playing video games obsessively. And yes, I think that social media may be deterimental to how our kids communicate. Time will tell. But I also think it's problematic when a grown man (or woman) behaves badly and then chalks it up to "speaking truth." I am firmly in favour of speaking forth truth, but please do so without the hurling insults online at one another. Some of those exchanges remind me of the times when the cat from three doors down appears in my yard and my cat immediately rushes around marking his territory on the shrubs.

And of course, not all people behave this way. I'm thankful for men and women who conduct themselves well online. I learn from them, and I recommend them to others. I'm also thankful my husband is a model of discretion and self-control. Given a choice, I'd rather have my sons sitting in front of Super Smash Brothers than getting online and throwing insults at total strangers. If being mature means they have to become obnoxious, maybe I'd rather they stayed immature.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Prov. 10:19)