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Distracting ourselves to death

March 10, 2020 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

One of the greatest book titles ever was the 1985 Neil Postman book Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman’s groundbreaking book was an insightful look at the corrosive effect that television was having on our politics, journalism, education, and even religion. I’ve been thinking about that book title lately, as it feels like it’s time to write a similar book for 2020. I call it Distracting Ourselves to Death.

mobile-phone-zombies

I recently finished a series of posts interacting with David Zahl’s book Seculosity: How career, parenting, technology, food, politics, and romance became our new religion and what to do about it. One of the insights that has stuck with me is from his chapter on technology. Zahl discusses how our smartphones and other technological devices have served to keep us from silence, from reflection, and from dealing with our hurt, our pain, and our fears. Three weeks ago, God convicted me about how distracted I had allowed myself to become. I was increasingly filling every moment with noise and images – podcasts in the car, videos while folding laundry, checking email at red lights, going on Facebook in the bathroom. I had become addicted to distraction, and it was keeping me from being in tune with God (let alone the rest of humanity).

After receiving that conviction, I started to make a break from distraction. I deleted all podcasts that did not serve my growth as a man of God. I began spending more time in silence, thinking, praying, and listening. I started paying attention again to the world around me. I resolved to spend my Monday alone time in silence, thinking through the upcoming week and my responsibilities. I have found these past few weeks to be so much better than my previous distracted lifestyle. I am thinking about people more and praying for them. The low-grade anxiety that comes from being tethered to my phone has subsided, giving me more focus than before. And most importantly, I feel a deeper connection to God than ever before.

Our culture is distracting itself to death. Sometimes literally, of course, as drivers rear end each other while looking at their phones. But figuratively as well, we are distracting ourselves to death, as we tune out the voice of God and the presence of other people and retreat into our own silos. A friend of mine recently shared with me about her experience visiting a church populated by 20-somethings, and she described it as entering a foyer full of people who weren’t looking anyone in the eye. She said she didn’t even feel human, but felt invisible. I see it all the time every time I am around teenagers. The moment they have a free second, their phones are out and they are scrolling, swiping, clicking… and ignoring everyone else. And often the adults aren’t much better. To paraphrase Jesus, “what good is it if you can access all the information and entertainment in the world and yet forfeit your soul?”

In this distracted culture, the church has an opportunity to swim against the stream. We know that life to the fullest is not found on a screen, but in knowing Jesus. As God offers His healing and empowering presence to us, we can offer our presence – our undistracted presence – to others, loving them as Christ has loved us. Brothers and sisters, put down your phones, turn off the screens, and get in touch with Jesus again.

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