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Are we talking too fast?

(Originally published on the Huffington Post.)

 

As of late, I’ve become aware of a growing tragedy: the tragedy of fast-moving conversations.

Just think of the speed and shallowness of modern communication. Recent studies showed that the average attention span at present is just five minutes long — 10 years ago, it was 12 minutes. Additionally, Facebook now owns more than 25 precent of total time spent on mobile apps and each Facebook user spends on average 15 hours and 33 minutes a month on the site writing and interacting in sound bites.

Whether gun control, the problem of educating our youth or the nature of sexuality in America, most conversations running their way through the Internet and social media have, far too often, degenerated into a mire of pithy rhetoric and hollow opinion. Meaningful conversation has devolved to millions of people throwing around pictures, sound bytes and narrow conclusions on topics most are not afforded the time to study or reflect upon.

We’re forced by the nature of fast-moving conversations to accept or reject, without the time for the argument and analysis necessary to sufficiently and appropriately support our conclusions.

In such a global, fast-moving conversation, a person must almost detach completely to find the space to think. It is the difference between the monastery and social media: the first isolates you from outside thought while the other isolates you from your own thought.

I spent two years of my life journaling when I was in my 20s. It was a season of life-change and course correction.

What I learned while practicing the disciplines of solitude and writing was the amount of noise that exists. A lot passes for news in life, but a worthy headline is one that is still around after 30 days. I checked out of reading papers and endeavored to attune my ears only to conversations I knew would endure or were significant enough to compel my attention.

During this time, I read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden for the first time. At the end of my copy of the book was a short essay by Thoreau entitled, “Life Without Principle.” I returned to this piece many times.

Thoreau begins by writing, “Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives. This world is a place of business. What an infinite bustle! … It interrupts my dreams. There is no Sabbath.”

If Thoreau were alive today, he might have written that the poor fellow who spends the most time online has not heard from himself or herself in a long time. Conclusions a-plenty, deep thought maybe less so.

When we are inundated with noise and information, the opportunity to grow through the process of wrestling, praying, arguing, processing and conversing is lost. Fast-paced conversations are the death of reflection.

In the Old Testament there is a rich theology of “waiting on the Lord.” It seems many of the conclusions we are supposed to reach and much of what we’re supposed to know in life is found through the process of a long and slow meditative process.

When we lose this, I fear, we lose true education and learning. For faith and maturity, like stories, need the dialog as well as the conclusions.

The reality with social media is that the prevalence of words often leads to the cheapness of words. In deep conversation, tension results from exploration. But in shallow conversation, tension results merely from combat. The former is largely redemptive, the latter often contentious. This puts forth a significant challenge to education and the process whereby we learn and grow through the rough workings of ongoing, unhurried and deep dialog. As this goes, so too does our ability and opportunity to learn and grow as we relate and interact with other people’s ideas.

In addition to the loss of depth and the challenge to education in fast-paced conversations, I also fear the loss of something greater.

When all we do is speak with ready opinions, sound bites and conclusions, it dampens our ability to hear the truly prophetic voice — the voice that compels us toward justice and truth. Prophets, as they are called in the Old Testament and still can be today, are the God-given devices for bending society back when it veers from where it should be.

The prophetic voice speaks fast, hard and clear and is unyielding.

What happens, however, when everyone throws around conclusions and every voice sounds prophetic?

Put simply, when everybody speaks with a prophetic tone, it dilutes the value of the prophetic voice.

We need the ability to sustain dialog with others. And we need the ability to clearly spot God’s true prophets among the masses of us armed only with opinions, sharp words and a social media profile.

G.K. Chesterton in “Alarms and Discussions” (1910) wrote, “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” I take his argument to mean, beyond the humor of it, that deep things are the territory of the poets. It takes art and space to plumb the depths of a subject. Cursory matter, like cheese however, can be spoken of easily, quickly and doesn’t require the depth of poetic diction.

What we need these days is not an increase in provocative conclusions, but a growth in compelling explanations.

There is a fine texture to deep and original thinking. Deep reflection and sustained dialog lead to conclusions that are owned and understood.

I love the positive advantages of social media, the ease of spreading thoughts and ideas, the ease of connectivity with friends, family and engaged people from around the world and the speed and immediacy for having news and information.

Sometimes, however, there is a real drawback to fast-moving conversations. The death of slow conversation and reflection means the death of interaction and deep exploration. What we are left with when everyone is trading conclusions is simply to decipher which side of a line you or I stand on.

This issue or that issue.

Right or wrong.

With me or against me.

The death of deep conversation leaves us all victim to the tyranny of triviality.

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Why the Metric of Love is Sacrifice

Outreach Magazine just posted an excerpt from Pursuing Justice on the nature of love and sacrifice.

Click the screenshot below to check it out!

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Can We Really Change the World?

[This piece first appeared on ChurchLeaders.com]

In Pursuing Justice, I write about the motto of Kilns College: Learn to Change the World.

A friend recently admitted that he was skeptical of my claim. He wondered if, at the end of the day, it’s possible to actually change the world.  Doesn’t history show that injustice and sin are intractable and constant?

I’ve faced this question many times.  Many people believe that the talk we hear about changing the world is simply triumphal and idealistic cheerleading designed to make us feel more important than we really are.

The truth is, those who believe that we can’t change the world and those who believe we can are both pointing at deep truths in the nature of reality.  One sees the fact that no matter what our efforts, we can’t permanently and fundamentally fix the world and eradicate evil from the human heart, while the other sees the fact that we can and do change the world every day in both small, yet significant ways, and, sometimes, in large and weighty matters.  How are we to understand these two realities?

Back in grad school, studying philosophy, the whole exercise of clarifying an argument always hung on a distinction – separating out a conflated idea into two clear and distinct truths.

The distinction here is: although we cannot fix the world, we can certainly change it.

My friend Keith Wright, International President of Food for the Hungry, has spent his life helping to grow healthy families and communities in the developing world. Recently, he shared with me a study by the World Bank that found extreme poverty, for the first time, has declined in every region of the developing world. Though that doesn’t mean we can fix every economic need in the world (after all, Jesus himself said that we would always have the poor with us), it does mean, however, that one significant and large element of the world is slowly changing for the better.

Another friend of mine is a very busy Urgent Care doctor in town.  In spite of the demands of his career, Randy uses his own money and personal time to drive around a fully equipped medical van, ministering to homeless folks who have no other access to health services. Sometimes he treats frostbitten fingertips and sometimes he literally saves a life.  Randy isn’t trying to fix every health need in town.  He knows that even the folks he helps will have more medical needs in the future, but he serves knowing that, in that moment, what he does somehow fundamentally changes the world, if even in a small way.

Multiply these examples as more and more people heed the call to justice and love for fellow man and the amount of change that happens in the world can grow exponentially.  This is why God commands us to do justice and why in the Old Testament he punished his people for neglecting justice, because what we do does make a significant difference for good or for bad in the world.

We don’t have to remake the world.  Just because we can’t control nature, eradicate all evil or ensure that the hard-won gains of justice will last, does not mean that we cannot bring about worthwhile positive change in the world.  Change is fluid; cultures evolve and devolve.  Changing the world doesn’t guarantee that our victories will be permanent.  And that’s okay.

There are always those who will react to idealism and the ever-prevalent change-the-world language today by choosing to adopt a pessimistic outlook on the potential for deep and lasting change in the structures of the world.

We can be hopeful, without being triumphalistic, however, and we can be realistic, without being pessimistic.

Only God can fix the world; but as we fulfill our calling and carry God’s good news of salvation and healing and justice into the world we become a very real part of changing it.

My friend Dave, who spends his life rescuing young girls from the sex trade, recently had a telling conversation along these lines while at the gym.

Dave was on the treadmill and the guy beside him asked him what he did for a living.

“I save girls from the sex trade by ransoming them out of brothels and slavery.”

The man responded, “Isn’t that kind of futile? If you save one girl, won’t they just grab another one to replace her?”

Dave replied, “I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that.”

The man looked confused.

Dave continued, “I’m not qualified to say whether it really made a difference, you’d have to ask the girl I ransomed from the brothel if it made a difference to her.”

The world changes every day in both big and small ways. I want to watch where God is moving and join him there, recognizing that changing the world is less about being heroic and more about being faithful.

The distinction is necessary: just because we can’t fix the world, doesn’t mean we can’t – and don’t – change the world every day in significant ways.

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Justice and Immigration

Click on the image below to check out the excerpt from Pursuing Justice up on the Huffington Post.  Controversial subject… much in need of discussion, humility and compassion.

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Is Justice Just a Fad?

Click on the image below to see my op-ed in the Huffington Post on how to asses the pop-culture nature of justice.

Also, for a more in depth discussion on the same topic see the Redux video at bottom.

If social justice is a fad, will it fade away? from :redux on Vimeo.

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