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Clocks and Crucifixes

Boers quotes Jim Forest:

It is a pity we have stripped so many walls of their crucifixes and put up so many clocks in their place. We are surely more punctual than our ancestors, but we are spiritually poorer. Contemplating a crucifix, many of our forebears had a different idea of how to make use of time. A crucifix may not tell the hour, but it offers crucial advice about what to do with the moment we are living in.

-Arthur Boers, Living Into Focus, p. 141

I am not a big fan of crucifixes, but the point is well taken. Perhaps one could see this as a take on the idea of Deuteronomy 6:8-9 about God’s Law:

You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The cross can shape your heart and life without being on your wall, but your mind must never stray very far from it – hence the necessity of regularly reading the Scriptures and attending to the means of grace in general. And remember, he’s not on the cross anymore: he’s wearing the crown.

Eccentric: Having a Different Center

Two quotes for this one. First,

Curtis Almquist oversees the Society of St. John the Evangelist. He once wrote that monks are sometimes seen as eccentric, not merely in the sense that some may seem quirky or odd. He wrote, ‘Rather, I mean eccentric in an etymological sense, as in the Latin eccentricus, meaning “having a different center.”‘

And second,

Ultimately, we cannot rein in technology use with rules, limits, or fences. As Albert Borgmann says, ‘Technology will be appropriated…not when it is enclosed in boundaries but when it is related to a center.’ Elsewhere he notes, ‘The answer is not to find a line, but to remember and invigorate those centers in our lives that encourage our place, our time, and the people around us.’

-Arthur Boers, Living Into Focus, p. 188, 200

That’s another keeper.

Technological Fundamentalism

Berry’s essay ‘Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer’ expresses his preference for a computer-free life without denouncing computers. Not only is such a machine expensive, he explains, but it also means losing the close working relationship that he and his wife cherish. When that essay was published in Harper’s, it attracted a firestorm of controversy and outrage. Berry was caught off guard by the intense reaction and concluded that it reflected ‘technological fundamentalism’; the readers of Harper’s, he observed, wouldn’t abide the questioning of technology use.

-Arthur Boers, Living Into Focus, p. 197

I think I’ll hang on to the phrase ‘technological fundamentalism.’

Critiquing from the Inside

Our culture’s most impressive achievements usually have to do with technology: the space shuttle, advances in digital communications, instant availability of information via the internet. Albert Borgmann speculates that one ‘reason for embracing technology might be the understandable desire to embrace what’s distinctive about our culture. It’s difficult to accept the notion that the things that are most characteristic of our lives should not be most central.’ In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novels, such as The First Circle, it is striking how many Soviet citizens were unable to critique the downsides of Stalinism – and not only because of the threat of punishment. Even people imprisoned on false and trumped-up political charges were likely to defend their own country’s political system. When Christian churches dominated medieval culture and their cathedrals commanded city skylines, it was hard to challenge abuses of faith. If technology is at the center of our lives, how frightening it must be to suggest that perhaps there is something wrong at the core of what our civilization regards as most worthwhile.

-Arthur Boers, Living Into Focus, pp. 182-183

Marshall McLuhan, in The Medium is the Massage, wrote,

The poet, the artist, the sleuth – whoever sharpens our perception tends to be antisocial; rarely ‘well-adjusted,’ he cannot go along with currents and trends. A strange bond often exists among antisocial types in their power to see environments as they really are. This need to interface, to confront environments with a certain antisocial power, is manifest in the famous story, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ ‘Well-adjusted’ courtiers, having vested interests, saw the Emperor as beautifully appointed. The ‘antisocial’ brat, unaccustomed to the old environment, clearly saw that the Emperor ‘ain’t got nothin’ on.’

Old Testament prophets were Israelites who had been summoned to the courts of Heaven (on earth, as the veil was drawn back before them) before the presence of innumerable angels in festal gathering, before the very presence of God. Isaiah saw the LORD, high and lifted up, with his train filling the heavenly temple. He saw the cherubim. He realized he, and his people, were unclean. He needed an outside-in perspective. He needed to see his own culture through the eyes that were not of his culture.

G.K. Chesterton writes this about prophets:

…If we see what is the real trend of humanity, we shall feel it most probable that he was stoned for saying that the grass was green and that the birds sang in spring; for the mission of all the prophets from the beginning has not been so much the pointing out of heavens or hells as primarily the pointing out of the earth.

Religion has had to provide that longest and strangest telescope – the telescope through which we could see the star upon which we dwelt…

This is the great fall, the fall by which the fish forgets the sea, the ox forgets the meadow, the clerk forgets the city, every man forgets his environment and, in the fullest and most literal sense, forgets himself…It is a strange thing that men…have actually spent some hours in speculating upon the precise location of the Garden of Eden. Most probably we are in Eden still. It is only our eyes that have changed (from the Introduction to The Defendant).

If anyone is going to speak with a prophetic voice in our time and place we are going to have to get a perspective on our culture that doesn’t come from our culture. We are going to have to, as insiders, look at ourselves from the outside. How are we going to do this? My own focus is on two things: First, counter-cultural church. If the church tightly resembles our culture, we will never be able to critique it, or ourselves. Second, old books, especially the Scriptures.

In Alister McGrath’s biography of C.S. Lewis, he writes,

For Lewis, the reading of literature – above all, the reading of older literature – is an important challenge to some premature judgments based on ‘chronological snobbery.’ Owen Barfield had taught Lewis to be suspicious of those who declaimed the inevitable superiority of the present over the past.

…Lewis argues that a familiarity with the literature of the past provides readers with a standpoint which gives them critical distance from their own era. Thus, it allows them to see ‘the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective.’ The reading of old books enable us to avoid becoming passive captives of the Spirit of the Age by keeping ‘the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds’ (p. 187).

It’s not secret why Lewis and Chesterton were able to point ‘that longest and strangest telescope’ on the world in which they lived. It was because they very often had their feet in another world altogether. Most of that was due to old books. If the sky isn’t rolled back as a scroll for us, if we do not see the heavenly vision of the prophet in the flesh, the closest we will ever get is in old books. The Bible provides 66 of them. And the church, though imperfect, has provided many, many more.

On Stopping

Boers quotes Donald Nicholl:

The first thing one needs to know about a car, or any machine for that matter, is how to stop it. The same applies to the traffic of our daily lives.

-Arthur Boers, Living Into Focus, p. 139

I don’t have much to add to that quote. I remember a preacher I admire years ago talking about warning labels. He read an absurd warning label from a halloween costume and asked something like this: Why, when the world can, and legally must, warn the world about everything under the sun…Why, then has the church lost her message of warning? They are compelled to do so? Why are we not compelled? Where are the Ezekiels? Where are the watchmen? Why is it expected that the weatherman will warn us of the impending tornado while the church is expected to act as if everything is okay?

We’ve also lost our message of ‘stop.’

We think it’s too simplistic, too narrow minded, to naive. It’s not simplistic to tell a person they must be able to stop a car, or to show them how to do it. Perhaps we need to serve as models of the ability to stop when it comes to technology.

Stopping implies that we have started. We have not abstained totally, nor should we necessarily. But we can recognize when it’s time to turn something off for a time.

Resolution 1: Take a Hike (Living Into Focus)

I will continue to post on Living Into Focus, but I wanted to write this while it was still fresh in my memory.

I came away from the book convicted that I needed to make some changes. The two I’ve settled on so far involve both addition and subtraction. As for subtraction, next week I plan to spend at least one day off the internet. I hadn’t really thought about how engrained the internet is in my habits, but planning a day away put it out in the open. Here’s one example: I have two ‘go to’ biblical commentaries that I use virtually every week – Matthew Henry’s and John Calvin’s. I own hard copies of each, but very rarely use them these days. It’s much ‘easier’ to pull them up online. And I want to say, ‘I can’t study for my sermons without the internet.’ I can. I just don’t want to. The internet opens up amazing possibilities for research, so I’m not bashing it by any means. I am simply reminding myself that every addition means that time for something else is taken away.

That leads to the computer in general. I want to go a day without touching a computer, but that’s even harder. I work on a computer most of the day for my job. I do my biblical studies on a computer. These days I’m lost without Bible Works. I love Bible Works, but I hadn’t realized how dependent I was on it until I thought about trying to go through a few days without it. I actually busted out my Biblia Hebraica tonight just to remind myself what it actually feels like to read a ‘paper’ Hebrew Bible. I’m so used to reading it on Bible Works. Anyway, that hasn’t actually happened yet. That’s next week. On to the main point of the post.

My first resolution was to spend more time outside – really outside. My wife was game for this one, so Sunday evening we started what I hope will become a tradition. We went on a hike through a ‘nature’ trail. (I put ‘nature’ in parenthesis because I’m not really sure I like that word). Some of Boers points about the ‘gift’ nature of creation struck home big time.

At one point on our walk, we began to hear an owl hooting. (I haven’t seen an owl since I was a small child). My daughters starting hooting at the owl and the owl hooted back. It was fun. Then another owl started hooting and we were in the middle of an owl conversation. It was purely a gift; unexpected; unasked for; but wonderful.

Next, we saw an Elephant Tree, which looks like this:


It’s more impressive in person. I thought it looked more like a rhino.

Finally, on the way out, we found ourselves in the middle of a massive display by a big cluster of fireflies. I can’t tell you the last time I saw a firefly. It had been years. It was my children’s first opportunity to catch fireflies. And it will always be a wonderful memory. It was a gift: totally unexpected.

So there are my first two resolutions. One involves engaging in a focal practice. The other involves taking some time away from the internet. I’ll report on number 2 after I actually do it. As I was writing this post I started reading the comments on chapter 8. It looks like I made add the practice of handwriting letters to the list.