By their posts ye shall know them.

This is a guest post by my good friend Nathan Jones. Nathan is a husband and father of three. He teaches High School Bible and is a 1LT in the NCNG. His competing interests include”battling” his kids (swords, shields, masks, damsel etc.), drinking coffee with his beloved, reading, and DIY projects and chores. 

Your social media post is a road to nowhere. By broadcasting contextless queries, accusations, statements etc. you have only shouted blurbs that you intend to have meaning and impact. They do not. At least, not as you might intend. Fact is, we’re in an ever-polarizing environment plagued by identity politics. Therefore, when you say one thing, it is almost always seen as a piece to the puzzle that makes up a picture with which we’re already familiar.

What makes it worse, is that these social media “desk pops” ensure that the conversations become and remain between only two sides. Where there could be nuance, creativity, perspectives, there are only one-liners and contextless hard bargains (should, need, have-to). Social media desk pops ensure that there are only two sides. It is dodgeball.

Think for a moment, the type of influence your fast-flying-rubber-ball-to-the-face statements actually have. Your team winning or losing isn’t dependent on getting angrier and throwing harder. Like red-rover, you have to win people over.

Fortune cookie fortunes are meaningless, whoever decided those messages do not know me or my circumstances, nor is it likely we interpret reality the same way. Fortunately for fortune cookies, no one is expected to take them seriously. Unfortunately for your contextless soundbites, we are supposed to take them seriously.

 When I see posts, instinctually I have to provide the context to make sense of it, interpret it, and then form an opinion about it. That is not what you want! You must craft the context, not those whom you wish to influence.

Note. You may say the context is supplied, see the unrest/turmoil/division/goings on in society. That is not what I mean by context. I mean literally, the typographic content that lends specific meaning to one or a few sentences that comprise a typical post.

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

I’m convinced that the significance of context in interpretation has been promoted the past several years, but it appears a new front has opened up -production. As much as context has become important and normal in the interpretation and application of texts, it appears is lacks any of the same influence in our typographical productions. How can our production be any more liberated from context then our pursuit to understanding? Nevertheless, we can produce textual meaning without context, thank you, social media! But that isn’t so, there will always be context. It will simply be created by those reading it.

So what? Stop posting. Want to have voice? Talk to people -in person! Perhaps your posts make you feel better, maybe it is cathartic or giving you a sense of purposeful changing influence, or maybe you feel good about aligning yourself with identities or causes… OK, go on then. But your feelings that lead to posting or the feelings you get afterward have a flailing impact if any and they arguably hurt human relations more than foster them.

You may object. I’m angry (about injustice and immorality) and our shared world view and/or beliefs require this outrage be expressed and joined. That’s correct, I’m with that. Social Media posts (at least the messaging as of late) is a flawed means for that end. Hammer’s don’t screw, spray-paint doesn’t write essays; fortune cookies are meaningless.

Context is omnipresent. It is either already there (identity politics) or it is created by the writer (rarely) or reader (often). We must be cognizant of the context into-which we situate and convey our message if the intended meaning and its influence is to be communicated.

I promise, I have had good and excellent conversations with folks of opposing ideologies and interpretations of society. Fueling those conversations is faith, books and ideas, narratives and stats. Progress happens: hearts are endeared to people, suffering is seen, justice is promoted, and humility realized. The progress of humble in-person-conversations is the Wrights brothers, whereas a contextless posts is Dunder Mifflin’s Jumping-photo Christmas Card, “is it worth it? Don’t answer that!”[1]


[1]NBC “The Office” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eo0uu4oC3f0

Take Up and Read

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said…

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

~C.S. Lewis, Introduction to On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius

The Sampler (June 2020)

American culture rages like a sounding cataract, but the Sampler goes ever on.

Articles

Matthew Crawford, contrarian in residence, wrote “The Danger of Safetyism before the recent surge of protests around the country. One quote:

At the level of sentiment, there appears to be a feedback loop wherein the safer we become, the more intolerable any remaining risk appears. At the level of bureaucratic grasping, we can note that emergency powers are seldom relinquished once the emergency has passed. Together, these dynamics make up a kind of ratchet mechanism that moves in only one direction, tightening against the human spirit.

Crawford usually sounds like someone who chafes at being told what to do. I suppose that makes us kindred spirits. But I think he’s onto something. I was going to share an excerpt from his newest book on driving (and why self-driving cars may not be the greatest), but this is the Sampler, so we’re sampling, not feasting.

Cal Newport wrote recently on the Lost Satisfactions of Manuel Competence. People are discovering that making things and fixing your own stuff can make you quiet and easy.

To Watch

Alright, so here’s a sermon. It’s over twenty years old, and I’m aware that nothing good ever came out of the 90’s. Jim Cymbala has been the senior pastor at the Brooklyn Tabernacle since 1971. Several things on prayer clicked into place for me after listening to this. If your heart needs crackin’, I heartily recommend it.

Books!

I have some posts on a few new books in the queue, so I’ll just mention a short one, Ploductivity by Douglas Wilson. I’ve read seven or eight books on time management and productivity and this was the first that appears to have been written by a human. David Allen’s Getting Things Done is undoubtedly the best, but I’m confident that Allen is actually a robot. Wilson brings a much needed sense of humor to the subject.

It’s also great that Wilson is approaching his work as a Christian. The theology of Work and Theology of Wealth sections are worth the price of admission. Here’s a snippet:

So if technology is wealth, then we are all surrounded with astounding amounts of it. This is what I refer to as tangible grace. If you have a smartphone, you have more wealth in your pocket than Nebuchadnezzar accumulated over the course of his lifetime. We have a responsibility to turn a profit on these astounding resources—and that is what is meant by productivity. We have a responsibility to do this methodically, deliberately, and intentionally. This is what I mean by ploductivity. This is deliberate faithfulness: working in the same direction over an extended period of time. Our electronic servants may be super fast, but we should be as deliberate as ever.

Ploductivity: A Practical Theology of Work and Wealth, Location 129, Kindle Edition

Oh, and look who we picked up this weekend…

Meet Picket!

On Living in a Pandemic- Borrowed Thoughts from CS Lewis

This is a guest post by my good friend Adam King. Adam King is a husband, father, student at Liberty University Divinity School, Army officer, ordained by Grace Bible Church, and is directing his life toward pastoral ministry. He likes spending time with family, coffee, good discussion with friends, books, and cooking.

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.” In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways.

We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

~C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

C.S. Lewis is often called a prophet. It is clear just from this passage alone that what gives Lewis the quality of a prophet is his understanding that “there is nothing new under the sun.” He recommends that we all read old books so that we do not make the same mistakes that our ancestors have made, and that two heads are better than one because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. Here the clear sea breeze of the past sweeps through and gives us a strong reminder for today.

Our situation in the coronavirus pandemic is not new, and in fact we all have an appointment with death, and since we all have that appointment, we should all be doing “sensible human things.” However, there is something to be reminded of in moments like these. Let this pandemic be a reminder that we are on a sinking ship, and if our hope is only in this life then we of all species are to be pitied most. I mean, that if there is nothing eternal outside this life, and we, having accidently become aware of our situation, are tempted to assign meaning to our truly meaningless life, then “eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”

I am a believer in a more hopeful answer.