Training in Righteousness
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Life is not a highway, it's a cafeteria

Life often resembles a high school cafeteria. You've got your movers and shakers, your jocks, brains, and beauty queens. Alongside them, you have your outcasts, misfits, rabble rousers, and those with more integrity than the whole bunch, but who lack a loud enough voice to be heard among the noise.

Life on the internet can be like that, too. There are corners where people gossip, tear down, and snicker. There are corners where we congratulate ourselves on being masters of the universe. There are corners where really great conversation is being had by some people who others think are really weird.

When I was in my last year of high school, I was (yet again) the new kid. Rather than try to navigate these complicated channels, I decided to shun them all. Rather than spending time in the hallowed halls of the cafeteria, I chose to go to one of two places: the public library which was attached to the school, or the the nearby mall where I visited a lovely little cafe, drank coffe and ate tea biscuits by myself, and read. I think I was the better for that. High school ends, and no other social structure like it exists outside of, well, high school.  As my friend once said, "high school is something we survive."

There is a valuable lesson to learn in choosing where we spend or time onilne. My friend Melissa's excellent article from yesterday has had me thinking about this. 

I can choose to navigate the cafeteria or I can hole up in the library. When we choose to be online, we can participate in gossip, or curiosity-seeking about what he said or she said, what they said, and what we must do in response to what the nebulous "they" said. That, or we can partake of the library. 

It shouldn't be such a difficult lesson to learn, but humans, by being social creatures, often have a hard time extricating themselves from social interaction, even when that interaction becomes too dramatic for an adult to be involved in. I'm guilty of it myself.

I want to return to the library.

There are so many good things to learn from online. I want to be built up, not be torn down or tear others down. I want to be stronger in my faith. I want to add knowledge, not dissension. The cafeteria is noisy; the library is peaceful.


It's not just the internet; it's choice

We know what's happening to people's attention spans. They're getting shorter. It's not a new phenomenon. It's been happening since television came along. Just think of those brief little segments on Sesame Street. They were just the beginning of what the internet is like. Don't get me wrong; I think the internet can be used for good, but we need to develop a little self-control and self-discipline.

A young friend of our family, about four years ago, confided to me that it must have been easier for young people his age to pick a career in the days when there was little choice.

"Everyone just did what their father did. It was so simple."

I thought that was a wise insight from an 18 year old. Well, now he's graduated from college, but I think of his observation as he pondered his future career plans.

Choice is a luxury. It's not a right. Here in North America, we think it is. We're people of entitlement. When our internet slows down, or heaven forbid, stops working altogether, we feel like we have a right to its restoration immediately. When we decide we hate our internet provider, we can choose another. Well, some folks have more choice than others. Here in my little town, I have two choices. I'm just happy we have cable internet here.  I know people who have to pay for satellite service, and I guess they're happy about that, too.  My cousin is still on dial-up. She lives from day to day quite happily.

The thing that whittles away at our attention span is more than just the internet.  Here's a little scenario:

Suppose that blogs were not free to read. Suppose you had to pay a fee every time you read one. How many would you read? I finally trimmed my blog reading list to 20 blogs, and even that's a lot on some days. I know people who read hundreds. I just don't have time for that, nor the inclination, because actually, after a while they all run together in my head. Sometimes, they're all saying the same thing, anyway. It is an enterprising blogger who finds a varied content. I know a few like that, and I'm thankful I can follow them and get their suggestions rather than mining them for myself.

Okay, so blogs have to be paid for. We would read fewer. Maybe we would read them in their entirety, as well. This is a common scenario as well:

Okay, here I am reading this blog entry.... it's pretty good ... oh dear, it's getting kind of boring ... hmmm... I don't think I need to finish this .... next blog, please.

We don't have to sustain much attention at all, really, when we read blog posts that are usually no more than about 500 words. And if one is just droning on past that 500 word mark, we can go on to something else. We can do this with the newspaper, too, assuming we're old school enough to actually hold one in our hands (I am). I can skim the article and never finish it. There was a day when newspapers did not come out daily; sometimes, they only came out monthly. I bet they were read from cover to cover.

Choice can be a burden or it can be a boon. What we have to remember is that choice is not a right.  It's a luxury that many people don't have.  And there are even people here in North America who don't have the same choices open to them as others, whether it's socioeconomic reasons, health reasons, or geographical reasons.

Next time you click away from that boring article, be thankful for the choice you have to read another. Better yet, finish the whole thing.


True confessions

One thing being unplugged for a few days will do (and of course, this is not a news flash) is remind me of how things can be used well or can be used in a bad way.

While I missed my friends with whom I connect through Facebook, I didn't mess the the way Facebook gets misused. There is no need to provide details; we all know what they are. Facebook often makes me feel like I'm back in high school, navigating the cafeteria, wondering where are the safe places to sit.

While I was away, I had no access to Facebook.  I had email and Twitter, but I only really paid attention to those when we had long times for waiting.  On the way there, I read an entire book on my kindle, Growing Up Amish. Good book, by the way. On the way home, I read 2/3 of Jerry Bridges' True Community.

I had a bucket of cold water thrown my way when I got home and used Facebook. As I said, I missed my friends, but I don't miss the debate that happens there. Facebook is a terrible place for debate. There are very few really cogent arguments on Facebook. I wish there was a way to eliminate commenting ability on individual status lines. Some articles are good to share, but inevitably, others pile on and soon five people are having a debate on my Facebook timeline. Some people can't resist a dissenting comment.

I was pretty tired yesterday, and I had a hard time concentrating, but I did finally carve out some time to edit some photos (what a stress reliever!) and then do some study on Nehemiah. I was reminded as I studied that our lives are full of issues that need addressing from a biblical perspective, but good analysis of those things requires having a solid, biblical foundation. Worship issues, gender issues, modesty issues, marriage issues, parenting issues; they all require a biblical mindset, but more often than not the fleeting nature of social media makes us answer too quickly. "I need to answer now!" may be shouting into the back of my mind.  I realize that tomorrow, some other "issue" will take it's place in the line of importance, so I had better comment today. I think that needs to change for me.

On Monday, I was watching my luggage go through the security check, how the security agents pushed it through, looked at its contents and then pushed it along further within a minute. That's how social media "issues" can be. Move 'em along; there's one waiting in the queue.

I'm determined to strengthen my foundation. I need it. I realized yesterday that I don't have a thick enough skin to navigate Facebook anymore. I don't plan on getting rid of it, because I have sweet sisters with whom I love to keep in touch. But I'm changing my use of it.  How that will look, I don't know. Probably means I'll be using email more. Maybe when my foundation is a little stronger, my skin will thicken up. I thought up a good motto for Facebook yesterday: Facebook, the place where being yourself will attract criticism. Cynical, I know. It was a long, tiring day, brightened up considerably by the return of my luggage.

I'm rambling. These aren't serious thoughts, I suppose. But I, and some other blogging ladies are now deciding to blog by the rule, "it's my blog, and I'll post what I want to." This is not a link-worthy post, and I'm okay with that. At least it's not on Facebook, where I'm sure there would be people lining up to provide analysis.

Who need analysis when one can ponder the beauties of God, as I did on Monday:

Comments are closed for this post, in keeping with its theme.


Stress free social media

In my ongoing effort to use social media in a positive way, I am giving myself some advice. These are probably no-brainers, and most people probably already know these things, but I'm pretty dense at times:

I should set time limits.  No, this is not legalism. It's a boundary. Boundaries are not legalism. Setting a boundary helps to keep me from being excessive. 

Keep Twitter and Facebook off my phone. Currently, I have Twitter on my phone, but not Facebook. Do I need to be able to scan comments while I'm away from home? It's a time killer when I'm waiting for someone, but a book could do just as nicely. One thing about having those things on my phone is that if there is a controversy or debate, I'll be tempted to think about it all the time because responding is so easy.

Realize that comments boxes can be bad places.  Encouragement is good, but starting a debate in a comments box never ends well. Comments boxes heat up quickly, and people forget their manners. If I want to feel happy at the end of the day, avoiding controversial comments boxes may help. There is also wisdom in letting someone else have the last word and being willing to suffer an offense.

Utilize private messages. Whatever happened to email? Do we have to do everything in public?  Debates in blog comments can be really bad; on Twitter, they're incoherent.  If I really want to engage someone, I should email where I can be more explicit and hopefully avoid misunderstanding.

Measure my reaction.  The more quick and emotional my reaction, the more necessary it is for me to avoid saying something. Comments fired off in the heat of the moment may not be well-thought out. I can't remember where I read it, but someone suggested waiting even as long as a day to say anything.

Learn to ignore. There is a lot of good on social media, but there is a lot of poor thinking, ego, bad judgment and outright stupidity. I can ignore these things. Ignoring is very freeing. I can also remember that I likely perpetuate these things myself, and I must be gracious about the whole matter.

Read silently.  It is "social" media, so there is an element of interaction possible. But just like sitting in a room full of people doesn't mean I have to take every opportunity to speak, I can safely just read and not engage in dialogue. Sometimes, my silence is more valuable than my opinion.

Now, what I need to do is recite these things to myself when I am tempted to say more than I need to say, or to start squirming at the words of another.


Lessons in spiritual pride

When my children were younger, all under twelve,  I thought I had everything under control. For the most part, my children were very obedient. They were polite with adults at church, said their "please" and "thanks you's" and memorized their bible verses for the kids' club. Other than the typical infractions, there wasn't a lot of conflict.

I was unaware that children can, and will, avoid conflict by being outwardly compliant.  This is especially the habit of the introverted. Introverts don't like conflict, so they will often give in, even if they don't agree. This is something I've learned from personal experience, living with introverts, and also from a dear friend who is introverted. 

The relative freedom from conflict in our home made me spiritually proud because I thought I was its creator. Dangerous ground. I admit it freely; and I know I'm not the only one who has done this.

When I realized the truth, it hit me like a bulldozer levelling a rickety old house and burying it into the hole of its foundation. It was painful, but needed. I began to see just how little control I had over my children. We may control toddlers and younger children, but as long as our children have minds of their own, we will really never control them. And that is the way it ought to be.

During some pretty tough parenting years, my husband said over and over again, "We want them to obey God because they are convicted to do so, not because they're trying to please us." Since I have been able to see things in that way, there is freedom. That is not to say I agree with everything my kids do. But they are big people now, and I am confident that I taught my children the Scriptures, presented the gospel, and worked hard to give them the foundation they need. It's up to them now. Now, I can be on my knees more.

This is not to say that my lessons in spiritual pride are over. I have a lot of room for growth. I see it rear its ugly head when other parents question what my children are doing with their young adults lives. I see it rear its ugly head when it's apparent that others don't approve of my children. For a long time, I didn't want to put pictures of my son on Facebook because he has earrings, and I knew there would be a whole host of mothers out there thinking some bad thoughts. I did it anyway, recently, and I was surprised at how many of them told me what a beautiful family I had. See? Spiritual pride at work. And it was unfair to my children to fear the opinion of others. 

I think social media is one of the worst things for generating pride. We see everyone's victories and feel bad about our failures.  We see the failures of others and we feel self-satisfcation about ourselves. When my children were small, and I didn't have the internet, this kind of phenomenon didn't exist, and I wonder if I was more content back then.

I had cause to teach I Thessalonians 4:9-12 recently, and I was convicted:

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Yes, there is that wonderful verse about living a quiet life. The NIV renders it "mind your own business." Sometimes, putting too much emphasis on what others are doing is not minding my own business, and minding the business of others can lead to spiritual pride in my life. I don't think these verses mean I should never offer an opinion or venture a word of pondering. I do love to write, after all.  It means, though, that I don't have to have an opinion on everything. And if I do have an opinion, do I have to share it? It means resisting the urge to draw conclusions about anyone I don't know, resisting the urge to draw attention to myself by using sharp or cynical words. It means using words to build up.

Lord, may the words of my lips and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you.