“When Marco Polo came at last to Cathay, seven hundred years ago, did he not feel — and did his heart not falter as he realized — that this great and splendid capital of an empire had had its being all the years of his life and far longer, and that he had been ignorant of it? That it was in need of nothing from him, from Venice, from Europe? That it was full of wonders beyond his understanding? That his arrival was a matter of no importance whatever? We know that he felt these things, and so has many a traveller in foreign parts who did not know what he was going to find. There is nothing that cuts you down to size like coming to some strange and marvellous place where no one even stops to notice that you stare about you.”

—Richard Adams, Watership Down, “The Great River”

“The birth of a new religion”

Adrienne LaFrance for The Atlantic:

QAnon is emblematic of modern America’s susceptibility to conspiracy theories, and its enthusiasm for them. But it is also already much more than a loose collection of conspiracy-minded chat-room inhabitants. It is a movement united in mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values. And we are likely closer to the beginning of its story than the end. The group harnesses paranoia to fervent hope and a deep sense of belonging. The way it breathes life into an ancient preoccupation with end-times is also radically new. To look at QAnon is to see not just a conspiracy theory but the birth of a new religion.

Tweet thread from @howertonjosh:

We often get sins and wounds confused. Sins are rebellious places in our heart that need repentance. Wounds are tender places in our heart that need healing. You can’t repent of wounds. And you can’t get therapy for sins.” –– Darrin Patrick

Christian fundamentalism pushes everything into the sin category. Modern secularism pushes everything into the wounds category. Both far too simplistic to address what’s going on. And this doesn’t even factor in the reality of spiritual warfare. You can’t “cast out” the flesh. You can’t disciple a demon. The Bible is the worldview that addresses the full complexity of human personhood.

PRESBYTERIANS: “You need discipleship” CHARISMATICS: “You need deliverance” THE BIBLE: “Yep”

Reminds me also of the importance of understanding both “broken” and “bent.”

“What elevates the constrained visions’ virtue, not to mention its viability in finding workable solutions while encouraging cooperation, is sober realism that people will make mistakes, combined with its willingness to move beyond such mistakes to foster cooperation”

bruceashford.net/2020/the-…

The open web is where we can make sites that don’t abuse data the way Facebook does

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Anil Dash for anildash.com:

The web is where we can make sites that don’t abuse data in the ways that Facebook properties do.… With billions of people using the major social platforms, and the people who remember a pre-social-media web increasing in age while decreasing as cultural force on the internet, we’re rapidly losing fluency in what the internet could look like.

The “arbitrary activity that was cooked up by 20-somethings in some incubator rec room in northern California” that passes as “social”

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Cal Newport on the Ezra Klein Show:

Digital interaction” actually doesn’t come close to giving the same rewards as… real world conversation. So this is why you can actually get more lonely as you spend more time doing digital interaction. It’s not because the digital interaction itself is causing this negative effect; it’s because it’s crowding out the real world conversation which is what our brain is evolved to actually crave. Our brain doesn’t understand that that number or that little comment under a picture on a small glowing rectangle in your hand is another human being who’s interacting with you and fulfilling your need for sociality. There is some part of your frontal cortex that thinks that counts, and so you do more and more of that and less and less of the real world, and it leaves you worse off…[Digital interaction] is not a substitute. It’s a sort of arbitrary activity that was cooked up by 20-somethings in some incubator rec room in Northern California.

Psychology tells us, “Your problem is a lack of self-esteem.” And biology tells us, “You’re just evolved amoebae”

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Tim Keller on Psalm 8:

We live in a culture in which in the psychology class it’ll tell you, Your problem is a lack of self-esteem.” And in the philosophy and biology class it’ll tell you, You’re nothing. You’re just evolved amoebae.” That’s the way it is. How do you keep those two things together? There’s no way.

We [Christians] no longer have that coursing through our veins. Instead, we say, How does all the world — the trees, the fields, the sun, the moon, the stars — sing to us about the glory and joy of God?” And that’s what we’re in for! You can live a life of meaning. You can live a life of hope. You can get that down deep in your own psychological makeup so it creates wellbeing.

“The soul that does not eat pepper is a dead soul”

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Yewande Komolafe for the NYT:

There is a saying in Yoruba, one of the languages spoken by the people of southwestern Nigeria, that translates as The soul that does not eat pepper is a dead soul.”

The saying refers not to just one single element, but to the variety of ingredients in Nigerian cuisine that add heat to a dish: the mild tingle and smoke of selim peppers, the sudden rush of alligator peppers, the sustained heat of a habanero. We don’t say a dish is spicy — we say it has pepper. Pepper is not meant to overburden your palate, but to stimulate it with an interplay of flavors, and to bring your mouth to life.

The seven A’s of saying “I’m sorry”

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David Bailey on Christianity Today’s Quick to Listen” podcast:

I mean, this is old school, but I love it man. I think Peacemaker’s has a really great way. It’s the Seven A’s of Apologies, and that’s: Address everyone involved, you know, all the who’s been affected by this. Avoid if, but, and maybe statements. So, you know, try not to excuse your wrongdoings. Admit specifically both an attitude and actions. Acknowledge the hurt. So that means express sorrow for hurting people that you actually hurt. Accept the consequences such as, you know, trying to make restitution or not expecting that people forgive you. Alter your behavior, so you actually like change your attitude and your actions. And Ask for forgiveness.

Italics mine.

“The problem with the dragon is not its stockpile stewardship, but its appetite”

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Maciej Ceglowski for Idle Words:

[T]he giant tech companies can make a credible claim to be the defenders of privacy, just like a dragon can truthfully boast that it is good at protecting its hoard of gold. Nobody spends more money securing user data, or does it more effectively, than Facebook and Google.

The question we need to ask is not whether our data is safe, but why there is suddenly so much of it that needs protecting. The problem with the dragon, after all, is not its stockpile stewardship, but its appetite.

“They are systematically killing the industry”

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Jack Nicas for The Times:

They all tell a similar story: They ran apps that helped people limit the time they and their children spent on iPhones. Then Apple created its own screen-time tracker. And then Apple made staying in business very, very difficult.

Over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps, according to an analysis by The New York Times and Sensor Tower, an app-data firm. Apple has also clamped down on a number of lesser-known apps…

Some app makers with thousands of paying customers have shut down. Most others say their futures are in jeopardy. They yanked us out of the blue with no warning,” said Amir Moussavian, chief executive of OurPact, the top parental-control iPhone app, with more than three million downloads. In February, Apple pulled the app, which accounted for 80 percent of OurPact’s revenue, from its App Store.

They are systematically killing the industry,” Mr. Moussavian said.

This is the Facebook-y-est, YouTube-y-est move from Apple so far.

“Why Americans hate the media”

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James Fallows writing for The Atlantic in 1996:

The limited curiosity that elite reporters display in their questions is also evident in the stories they write once they have received answers. They are interested mainly in pure politics and can be coerced into examining the substance of an issue only as a last resort. The subtle but sure result is a stream of daily messages that the real meaning of public life is the struggle of Bob Dole against Newt Gingrich against Bill Clinton, rather than our collective efforts to solve collective problems.

The natural instinct of newspapers and TV is to present every public issue as if its real” meaning were political in the meanest and narrowest sense of that term—the attempt by parties and candidates to gain an advantage over their rivals.

“The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper”

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Great Newsweek (remember that?) article from 1995 on all the ways the Internet is an overblown fad.

Unsurprisingly, the author got so much wrong:

Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.

Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.

Yet, other things he got so, so right:

What’s missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities. Computers and networks isolate us from one another. A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee. No interactive multimedia display comes close to the excitement of a live concert. And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing? While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where—in the holy names of Education and Progress—important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued.

h/t @logangreer

“You don’t go to Instagram because you’re looking for something, rather, you want to see what it has found for you”

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Nat Eliason on the destructive switch from search to social:”

You don’t go to Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, or Instagram because you’re looking for something, rather, you want to see what it has found for you.

On the Internet in 2006, you were focused on pulling out what you wanted. Unless you were reading the news, whatever you read was something you had sought out. But now, most of your information is pushed onto you. You no longer enter the Internet the way you would a public library, where you browse and pick out what you want to read in peace, it’s more like the Las Vegas strip, where you’re bombarded with demands for your attention and need not exert any effort to be entertained.

“When do you write your autobiography, and how do you finish it?”

When do you write your autobiography, and how do you finish it?”

–Liv, age 11

“The tenuous self, sensitive only to the needs of This Instant, always believes that the present is infinitely consequential.”

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Alan Jacobs in The Guardian:

To increase your temporal bandwidth in the direction of the past is to make yourself less vulnerable to the cruelties of, for example, descending in wrath on a young woman whose clothing you disapprove of, or firing an employee because of a tweet you didn’t take time to understand. You realize that you need not obey the impulses of this moment — which, it seems safe to say, tend not to produce a tranquil mind.

The social media ecosystem is designed to generate constant, instantaneous responses to the provocations of Now.

Another benefit of reflecting on the past is awareness of the ways that actions in one moment reverberate into the future. You see that some decisions that seemed trivial when they were made proved immensely important, while others which seemed world-transforming quickly sank into insignificance. The tenuous” self, sensitive only to the needs of This Instant, always believes — often incorrectly — that the present is infinitely consequential.

One of the Best of 2018 (so far). Cogent, convicting, and deeply relevant. And I love that it was published in The Guardian newspaper.

Another nugget:

[A] potent question: What force shall represent the future in the present?” In other words, what laws and norms will embody our care for those who come after us, including those already here and those yet to be born? But this is a question that we cannot ask if our thoughts are imprisoned by the stimulation of what rolls across our Twitter and Facebook feeds.

“I realized that if I couldn’t get something done…”

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Tim Cook in an interview with David Rubenstein:

I realized that if couldn’t get something done, I could just go to the nearest mirror, and look at it, and that was the reason.

This might be my favorite Cook interview that I’ve yet seen or read.

The limitations and redemption of wokeness

The limitations and redemption of wokeness

David Brooks on wokeness:

This mental habit is closely related to what we now call wokeness.” In an older frame of mind, you try to perceive the size of a problem objectively, and then you propose a solution, which might either be radical or moderate, conservative or liberal. You were judged primarily by the nature of your proposal.

But wokeness jams together the perceiving and the proposing. In fact, wokeness puts more emphasis on how you perceive a situation — how woke you are to what is wrong — than what exactly you plan to do about it. To be woke is to understand the full injustice.

There is no measure or moderation to wokeness. It’s always good to be more woke. It’s always good to see injustice in maximalist terms. To point to any mitigating factors in the environment is to be naïve, childish, a co-opted part of the status quo.

If being woke” is little more than another term for outrage or indignation, then I think that Brooks is right about woke movement’s inability to produce progress. Also, I especially like how Brooks shows that wokeness isn’t limited to the political left; any group can have its own trigger words and safe spaces.

However, Eric Mason suggests an alternative: redeeming” wokeness from a mere urban colloquialism” to something deeply connected to God’s mission in the world:

Woke is an urban colloquialism used by black nationalists and those who are in the Black Consciousness movement, of being woke,” in the sense of the systemic sociological, economic, and comprehensive disenfranchisement of African Americans.

But I love the Bible when it says, Redeem the time for the day is evil.” I believe that there are so many things in our world that are redeemable, and one of those items… is this word woke.” The greatest woke passage in the Bible is Ephesians chapter 5, when Paul says, Awake sleeper and rise from the dead and Christ will shine upon you…”

I believe that the wokest” — if that’s a word — people on the planet should be believers, cross-ethnically around the globe. And this wokeness is not merely centered on sociology, on economics, on geography, on psychosis, and all of those different things — which are all important for the gospel to influence. But I believe that wokeness [has to do with God’s] goal based on Romans 8:29… to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ.” And in this disposition of conformity, wokeness should not only awaken to the issues in our context as it relates to race and injustice, but to anything that is exalting itself against the knowledge of Christ that needs to be torn down and decimated.

Italics mine.

“What are Christians to make of Jordan Peterson?”

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Christianity Today’s Quick to Listen” podcast has an episode on Jordan Peterson:

He’s a Canadian psychology professor. A YouTube star. A bestselling author. He’s Jordan Peterson. Here’s how New York Times columnist David Brooks describes him: In his videos, he analyzes classic and biblical texts, he eviscerates identity politics and political correctness and, most important, he delivers stern fatherly lectures to young men on how to be honorable, upright and self-disciplined — how to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives.” Despite his success, Peterson is an increasingly polarizing figure.

Like millions of others, I first came across Peterson from this interview earlier this year.

“The antidote is decency”

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David Frum for The Atlantic:

Here’s something to bear in mind: During Soviet times, the communist authorities expressed themselves in operatically vehement language. Non-communists were denigrated as hyenas, jackals, vultures, and other disgusting animals; as bandits, fascists, Nazis, and other enemies of humanity.

In response, Soviet dissenters developed their own language: factually precise, emotionally restrained.

The article unsurprisingly uses Trump as a case study, but the principle of decency as the antidote to vitriolic outburst applies to much more than contemporary national politics.

“Privilege is to victimhood as cowardice is to honor”

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Andrew Wilson posted an excerpt from sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning on Think Theology:

The combination of high sensitivity with dependence on others encourages people to emphasize or exaggerate the severity of offenses. There’s a corresponding tendency to emphasize one’s degree of victimization, one’s vulnerability to harm, and one’s need for assistance and protection. People who air grievances are likely to appeal to such concepts as disadvantage, marginality, or trauma, while casting the conflict as a matter of oppression.

The result is that this culture also emphasizes a particular source of moral worth: victimhood. Victim identities are deserving of special care and deference. Contrariwise, the privileged are morally suspect if not deserving of outright contempt. Privilege is to victimhood as cowardice is to honor.

There has been quite a bit about this phenomenon over the past few years, especially in American universities.1 Overall, I tend to agree with what Campbell and Manning are observing here, particularly on victimhood as a new kind of status.”

In some ways, this reminds me of the busy” phenomenon: people say that they don’t like to be busy, yet they are quick to cite how busy they are because there is a certain status to it. There is indeed something like this going on with victimhood, but I wouldn’t attribute the word culture” to it (yet) for two reasons: 1) unlike honor and dignity, victimhood is not the predominant paradigm by which the majority of westerners make their daily decisions, and 2) because calling it victimhood culture” only perpetuates, well, the victimhood phenomenon. To the very bloc that would most benefit from a less tribal worldview, it is a term that is argumentative rather than persuasive.


  1. For example, see here, here, here, and here.

“I promise you we will find a pathway from William Wordsworth to the wife of Kanye West — surely the very definition of a road to nowhere”

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Carl Trueman lecture on unacknowledged legislators: from William Wordsworth to Kim Kardashian:”

Christians tend to do one of two things when faced with a challenge to their faith: They either focus on the presenting symptom and fail to see that symptom is resting on deeper wider causes. Or they look to a general cause of such universality — typically sin — that it helps explain everything in general and nothing in particular.

….I’m going to argue that today’s sexual identity politics rests upon a number of assumptions about what it means to be human which are now deeply embedded in our culture, and these are: 1) that morality is a matter of emotional reactions or sentiments, 2) that those who can provoke these emotional reactions are those who determine our culture’s ethical norms, 3) that identity is now understood in psychological terms, 4) that sex is central to what it means to be free and fulfilled, 5) that oppression has come to be understood as a psychological category, and 6) that politics, technology, and the commercial entertainment industry all play key roles. That’s a tall order for a 45-minute presentation, but I’m going to attempt it. I promise you we will find a pathway from William Wordsworth to the wife of Kanye West — surely the very definition of a road to nowhere.

So good.

Contextualization is “using the gospel to answer the questions that people actually have”

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Church planter (and colleague of mine at Orchard Group) Jordan Rice on preaching that connects:

I would define contextualization as using the gospel to answer the questions that people actually have—to approach a text first seeking Biblical truth and a commitment to what God has revealed to us in scripture; then, answering the questions that people actually are asking in this present time.

Take, for example, a text about Jesus and the leper. It’s a great theological truth that Jesus became unclean so that we can become clean, or that Jesus would touch the untouchable. Those are great theological truths. But no one is asking questions about leprosy because it’s a foreign concept to us. Contextualizing that passage is answering the question, What makes you feel unclean? What would make you feel like you’re not touchable, like God doesn’t want to come near you?”

Great interview.

Choosing to be tech-wise with your kids

Choosing to be tech-wise with your kids

Before I got my driver’s license, my dad scratched out a hand-written contract (of sorts) that outlined what I committed to doing and not doing behind the wheel.

Writing and cutting/pasting ideas from several sources,1I put together the same kind of thing for my kids, but this time for navigating the wonder and gravity of the technology that they are confronted with all the time.

Like the driving agreement, the real power of this is not because it’s a contract,” but because it helps to spark good conversation about being purposeful with work and play in a screen-saturated age.

Also, here is a downloadable .pdf version.


Our family chooses to be tech-wise

Prelude

I, __________, understand that devices like phones, iPads, and computers are privileges. And, along with my parents, I commit to establishing structured limits: in quantity, frequency, and moral character.

Content

Devices and the Internet are tools for learning and entertainment

  • If it’s not something that I would be comfortable reading or watching on TV together with my parents, then it’s not something that I’ll read or watch on my device.
  • When I have questions about a particular site, video, or app, I’ll ask my parents.
  • I won’t download apps, music, or video without first seeking my parents’ permission.
  • I understand that much of what is online is false or only partly true. With the guidance of my parents, I will seek information from trustworthy sources. And I will think critically about what I encounter.

Communication

Devices and the Internet are tools to communicate

  • When I’m tempted or curious about something, rather than using my device to ask about it, I’ll ask my parents or another trustworthy Christian adult. Google and Facebook (and all the rest) don’t care about me. My parents do!
  • If a person or company that I don’t know contacts me online (apps, phone, texts, emails, facebook, etc.) I’ll let my parents know, just like I would if any stranger tried to contact me.
  • If I receive anything online that is hurtful or makes me feel uncomfortable, I’ll tell my parents right away, just like I would if someone was hurtful or made me feel uncomfortable in person.
  • If I wouldn’t say it in person, I won’t say it online. My words, photos, and anything else that I send or post will be kind, and I will seek the best for others.
  • I will never share any personal information (like address, age, phone number, school, etc.) on my device without first asking my parents.
  • Before I send or post anything, I’ll ask myself, Would I want this on the front page of the Chicago Tribune tomorrow morning?” If not, I won’t send it.

Clock

Devices and the Internet are tools for work and play

  • I understand that the time I had planned to get work done can be suddenly wasted on Facebook, chatting, watching YouTube clips, or a zillion other things. I will use device time purposefully.
  • I won’t sleep with my devices in my room or use them after bedtime. And I won’t turn to them first thing in the morning. They’re great, but far less so than real life with my real friends and real family.
  • If my parents ask me to put a device away, I will do so without complaining.
  • I commit to going completely screen-free on a daily (at least one hour), weekly (one day), and annual (one week) basis.

Postlude

My parents — and God, who is my heavenly parent — love me so much that there’s nothing that I can do online or offline to make them love me more or to make them love me less. This is so incredible that sometimes it’s hard to understand or believe! But it’s true.

This kind of love means that our family looks out for and wants the best for one another.


  1. Rule of Life, The Tech-Wise Family, Ourpact and Covenant Eyes.

    I chose not to put things in quotation marks with footnotes because it made for a less distracting document to talk through with my kids. But I want to acknowledge that a few lines are copied almost directly from Rule of Life and Ourpact. Covenant Eyes gave me the idea for content, communication, and clock.” And The Tech-Wise Family provided the overall inspiration, although nothing is quoted directly from it (unless it was unintentional).

“How the Silicon Valley dream of building a networked utopia turned into a globalized strip-mall casino overrun by pop-up ads and cyberbullies and Vladimir Putin”

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New York Magazine interviews Internet company founders and leaders in its Apology for the Internet — From the Architects Who Built It:

There have always been outsiders who criticized the tech industry — even if their concerns have been drowned out by the oohs and aahs of consumers, investors, and journalists. But today, the most dire warnings are coming from the heart of Silicon Valley itself. The man who oversaw the creation of the original iPhone believes the device he helped build is too addictive. The inventor of the World Wide Web fears his creation is being weaponized.” Even Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president, has blasted social media as a dangerous form of psychological manipulation. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he lamented recently.

To understand what went wrong — how the Silicon Valley dream of building a networked utopia turned into a globalized strip-mall casino overrun by pop-up ads and cyberbullies and Vladimir Putin — we spoke to more than a dozen architects of our digital present. If the tech industry likes to assume the trappings of a religion, complete with a quasi-messianic story of progress, the Church of Tech is now giving rise to a new sect of apostates, feverishly confessing their own sins. And the internet’s original sin, as these programmers and investors and CEOs make clear, was its business model.

The full article contains many insightful quotes from industry insiders.