Now Reading: How to Break Up With Your Phone

3d+Book+Cover+HTBUWYP+jpgYes, the book you’ve always wanted to read (and that I was starting to write!) is now available: How to Break Up With Your Phone, by Catherine Price.

Despite the book’s title, Price teaches us not how to break up with our phones per se, but how to renegotiate the relationship–which requires a break of sorts, at least at the outset.

I’ve just finished the first part, where she builds a compelling (and alarming) case for limiting screen use. Part Two is the “how-to,” which I’ll share more about later.

I learned about the book from a New York Times piece of hers. It’s relatable from the very beginning:

The moment I realized I needed to break up with my phone came just over two years ago. I had recently had a baby and was feeding her in a darkened room as she cuddled on my lap. It was an intimate, tender moment — except for one detail. She was gazing at me … and I was on eBay, scrolling through listings for Victorian-era doorknobs.

We all have our “Victorian-era doorknobs.” And, until users rightly started jumping ship this last week, Facebook.

Many of us will nod our way through the book’s description:

Is your phone the first thing you reach for in the morning and the last thing you touch before bed? Do you frequently pick it up “just to check,” only to look up forty-five minutes later wondering where the time has gone? Do you say you want to spend less time on your phone—but have no idea how to do so without giving it up completely? If so, this book is your solution.

Check out the book here. Ten Speed Press has been kind to send me a review copy, so I’ll write more about it when I’m done, but I already know this is the rare book I’ll re-read once a year.

Preaching at the Crossroads (of Postmodernism, Secularism, and Pluralism)

Preaching at CrossroadsDavid J. Lose, in his Preaching at the Crossroads (Fortress Press, 2013), helps preachers respond to three significant cultural trends: postmodernism, secularism, and pluralism. Postmodernism, according to Lose, asks an epistemological question: “How do we know for certain whether anything is true?” Competing metanarratives mean that the Christian story has become one among many.

A second related trend, secularism, is “marked first and foremost by a loss of transcendence.” Long says, “[I]f postmodernity challenges us to explore the possibility for claiming the Christian story is true, secularism demands to know how Christianity is relevant.” Faith is still important to people, to be sure, but it “no longer plays as meaningful a role as it did for our parents in helping us navigate our day-to-day lives in a secular world.”

Third, Lose addresses pluralism, noting that we are more than ever “faced with a plethora of religious and spiritual options,” many of which are just a click, tap, or scroll away from us. He notes one estimate that on a daily basis everyone is “subjected to more new information than a person in the Middle Ages was in his or her entire lifetime.” Even so-called digital natives “yearn for the sense of stability that tradition lends.” But when seeking wisdom or making decisions, “even those that are rife with ethical consequences, we are far more likely to consult our iPhone than the teaching of our denomination or even our pastor.”

 

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Postmodernism, secularism, and pluralism are not problems to be fixed, per se. Or if they are, Lose focuses more on how the preacher can envision them as opportunities to reimagine preaching, rather than as challenges for which preachers need to seek a new panacea. Sure, preachers could reach for better use of multimedia or development of new homiletical techniques. But the cultural shifts in front of us, Lose argues, require more than just tinkering from the pulpit. They call for a paradigm shift:

The choice is before us. We are at a crossroads—one where not only the outcome is unclear, but also the primary challenge and perhaps even the alternatives. We can either continue adapting and refining established techniques or be willing to call into question our fundamental practices by leaning into and listening carefully to the world in front of us.

Lose is as engaging a writer as I imagine he must be a preacher. He sweeps the reader up in a compelling childhood narrative at the book’s beginning. He speaks as one who knows and loves the culture around him, but who is not afraid of it. He writes as one who loves preachers and is faithful to the Gospel, but is not afraid to freshly envision creative contextualizations. I can’t remember the last thing I read that got me this excited about preaching in the 21st century—even while the cultural challenges Lose presents were not lost on me.

Much of Lose’s analysis was sobering to me as a pastor. It’s not that I haven’t observed postmodernism, secularism, and pluralism having an effect on the congregation (myself included). And I knew that the days of pastor-as-assumed-authority were gone. But to read (again) that the pastor is no longer the assumed spiritual authority was an important reminder (even if I find this cultural trend short-sighted). Mileage varies, of course–how congregants view the pastor differs according perhaps to generations and a number of other factors. And we preachers do speak to the authority that is really found in the Word of God (and not in ourselves). But preachers, if Lose is right, will have to be ready to work from the pulpit to gain a hearing with a congregation listening to a million other voices and Tweets in a given week.

 

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Preaching at the Crossroads is short (124 pages) but inspiring. It has already given me action steps and sermon illustrations that I’ve started in on—and this was true even before I had finished the book! He quotes from a W.H. Auden Christmas poem, which, it turns out, provided the perfect perspective for me to preach about resurrection on the Second Sunday of Easter. He recommends asking congregants this difficult but brilliant question (which I plan to do): “What biblical stories provide you with comfort or courage when you are struggling with a problem at home or work?” And he reminds preachers of our rightful place, and how we can pray: “Our job is to testify; it is up to God to make that testimony potent.”

The whole book is great, but chapter 4 (“Preaching the Grandeur of God in the Everyday”) was a real highlight and gift to me. He calls for preachers to help congregants connect their Sunday church-going worlds to their Monday morning work-going worlds. He wants preachers to go to parishioners’ workplaces and ask them things like “where they see God in this place.” But, he wisely offers, “be prepared to help with an answer, as we have not trained our people to look for God anywhere outside of church.”

Lose is convicting throughout his book, but never without also encouraging the preacher and giving her or him practical ways forward. Especially good is Lose’s focus on how preachers can equip the congregation for the work of ministry, where ministry is much more than just what happens on Sunday morning. He paints an inspiring picture:

Over time… your congregation may grow from being a place where the word is preached more fully into a community of the word where all the members take some responsibility for sharing the news of God’s ongoing work to love, bless, and save the world.

In the end, Lose draws on the Internet’s shift to “Web 2.0” (more interactive, socially networked, and user-focused) as a metaphor to envision the sermon as the locus of not passive but “active identity construction.” His closing suggestion is:

If we can imagine making a leap similar to that made by users and programmers who left the static world of Web 1.0 to inhabit the more dynamic and interactive world of Web 2.0, we might be able to offer the sermon as, indeed, a “transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity [between God’s word and God’s people] happens.”

I don’t read many books twice, but I’ll be back for more of this one.

Find Preaching at the Crossroads on Amazon here, and check out the publisher’s product page here, which includes link to some .pdf samples.

 


 

Thanks to the book’s publicist for a review copy, sent to me so I could review it, but with no expectation as the the review’s content.

Work as “Partnership with God”: The Gospel-Centered Life at Work

Gospel Centered Life at Work PG

 

The Gospel-Centered Life at Work is “about the spiritual dynamics of work and life and how God uses our work in the lifelong process of making us more like Christ.” Robert W. Alexander says, “This study is a tool to help you build a bridge from your personal faith to your work. It will help you see how Jesus’s work for you applies to the work you do every day” (1). Through a combination of biblical study, good theology, practical application, and hands-on exercises, Alexander’s book is capable of helping any Christian living out faith at work.

What is work? Alexander says, “Work from a biblical point of view is whatever activity a believer pursues in the sight of God, for the glory of God, to the benefit of others” (3). The “vocation or calling of those who live by faith” is that “even the simplest tasks we perform by faith become acts of worship reflecting God’s character and ways” (8). Work is, ultimately, “a partnership with God” (10).

Having lain the foundation of work as partnership with God, Alexander addresses God’s work as Creator, Provider, and Redeemer. We, too, as participants in this work, create, provide, and redeem (10). Alexander is at his best in offering specific examples of each of these kinds of work. A biochemist, for example, is a provider because she or he says, “I help in harvesting and/or restoring of natural resources” (11). The book’s first exercise inspiringly calls for the reader to “jot down how your work reflects aspects of God’s work” (12).

If “vocation” is an imposing word or concept, Alexander helps demystify it. “Work” for Christians moves from being “a daily grind” to the locus of God’s work and presence, that space where we live out our faith (14). Vocation is discipleship, in other words, and the workplace is one of a few “chief laboratories of the gospel” (65).

Our jobs (whether inside the home or outside it) turn a mirror on our hearts, motivations, and idols (lesson 2). We are flawed and so either pretend or perform at work, if we’re not careful (lesson 3). But in our partnership with God (Creator, Provider, and Redeemer), the Gospel calls us to several roles: image-bearers (lesson 4), imitators (lesson 5), bond-servants (lesson 6), stewards (lesson 7), ambassadors (lesson 8), and messengers (lesson 9).

Alexander offers guidance and asks questions to help the reader think through each of these roles, which build on each other. For example, of image-bearing he asks, “How can Jesus’s work and presence in your life affect your own fears, expectations, desires, and goals?” (41) With this in mind the worker is more confident in his or her identity as image-bearer of God.

Gospel Centered Life at Work LGBoth the Leader’s Guide (pictured and hyperlinked at left) and the Participant’s Guide (pictured and hyperlinked up top) have a “Big Idea” introducing the lesson. The Leader’s Guide adds a “Lesson Overview” for small groups (complete with times!) and “Bible Conversation,” a guided tour (with ready-made questions) through relevant biblical passages that ground the topic at hand. One would hardly need to do much more supplemental preparation to lead a group through the material.

A few minor points in the book gave me pause. Alexander speaks of “housewives” (in 2016!) without mentioning “househusbands,” or the “stay-at-home mom” without considering the stay-at-home dad. And he inadvertently uses the Greek word diakonos in describing stewards. (The intended Greek word is oikonomos, which has to do with managing the economy of a house.) There are also a few points that feel Christian jargon-heavy.

But the spiritual meatiness of the book, coupled with practical questions and exercises, far outweigh any drawbacks. To take just one more example, Alexander offers a two-columned assessment a Christian can make of his or her day, including both a “To-Do” list and a “Done-For” list, which focuses on “the ways God worked through others to serve you as his beloved child” (66). I found this reassuring and motivating.

The final lesson on Sabbath-keeping is the best one in the book, alone making it worth the price of purchase, or the time it takes to go get it at the library. While the book is well-suited for individual use, Alexander has done small groups and small group leaders a service in writing his articles, exercises, and study guide.

 


 

Thanks to the kind folks at New Growth Press for the review copies. Check out the book’s product pages here and here, or find them at Amazon here and here.

 

Breaking the iPhone Addiction I Didn’t Think I Had: Notification Weaning

Badge App Icons

 

“How do you discern an addiction?” Richard Foster asks. “Very simply, you watch for undisciplined compulsions.”

I’d add, watch also for things that enable those compulsions.

If checking a tiny screen is a compulsion, notifications enable the habit.

In my case, I chose to delete Facebook off my phone altogether, but still having an account led me either to (a) check it through a mobile Web browser or (b) re-download the app to my phone. And Facebook for me, was not worth working toward the discipline of even limited interaction. Why not just be done with it and spend my time on other things? So I am finding other ways to stay in touch with the friends and family members that constituted my final reason for remaining on that platform.

 

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But I still experience a desire to check my phone–for something. I could never not have an email account, and I use text messaging too often to go back to a ground line alone. And I am out and about enough that Google Maps and Safari are useful to me when on the go.

What about notifications?

I was in the working world way too long before I realized that (a) you could turn off new email notifications in Microsoft Outlook and (b) you could close Outlook and open it only when you wanted to check email. I know. Novel ideas.

They apply to the phone, too. You don’t need email notifications on your phone–you can turn off sounds, lock screen notifications, and badge app icons, so that you only know if a new email comes in when you are checking at a designated time. That way you don’t have to resist the urge to see what new email just came in while you’re changing lanes on the highway! The compulsion-enabler that is a notification won’t even be there.

Same thing with text messages–it’s rare that you’ll receive an urgent cry for help via text or email, so make sure your phone ringer is on, and put some or all text messages on Do Not Disturb. You can still keep your badge app icon on, so that if you have gone a whole two hours without texting and can’t stand it anymore, you can simply look at the icon on your screen and see if you’ve gotten anything new. But we don’t really need a noise or vibration every time one comes in.

So, too, with other apps–I’m glad to know, Ebay, that there are new items available for bidding that match my saved search, but can’t it wait? That notification–whether it’s a banner or a badge app icon I MUST PROCESS AND CLEAR OUT–is unnecessary.

 

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If I may be so bold as to advise you, reader: allow yourself to go through your apps. Which ones do you really need notifying you there is something new, and which ones merely enable a compulsion to check your phone? And, most of all, relax–you can always pick up the phone to check anything you need to at any time. But with notifications at bay, you will start to experience the constant device checking less and less as an undisciplined compulsion.

 

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Stay tuned for more related confessions and reflections:

  • On Facebook, Off Facebook, On Twitter, Off Twitter… On Instagram
  • Taking Email Off Your Phone (Mostly)
  • Why I’m Taking the 16 GB iPhone Upgrade over 64 GB
  • Pre-Dinner, Child-Induced Frenzy and My Escape Screen
  • Analog Again

Breaking the iPhone Addiction I Didn’t Think I Had: Facebook

Facebook Checking
Dado Ruvic | Reuters

 

It took my quitting Facebook to realize I have an iPhone addiction.

 

I’ve quit Facebook in the past, signing off with an epic status (soon to disappear, of course) that detailed why I was leaving. It’s not you; it’s me… but also you. I wasn’t intending to be pietistic. It’s just that it’s difficult for the “Why I’m Quitting Facebook” line-in-the-sand not to come across as a little holier-than-thou.

So the last time I quit—and I trust it really is the last time—I didn’t comment on it. I don’t even remember if I had a “Here’s my email” post—I just sort of left.

I’d taken the Facebook app off my iPhone at least a dozen times—only to re-download it again within a few days each time. It’s so inefficient to look at a tiny, few-inch screen and just keep swiping through. I could see more of my News Feed (or whatever they call it now) way faster on a computer! But the phone was so handy, and the Facebook app—as poorly developed as it is—was just a-reach-into-the-pocket away.

 

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No, I didn’t go through Facebook withdrawal. That social media platform is actually pretty unremarkable, my wonderful friends and family members notwithstanding. It’s just that I was right back on my phone, now flicking through my Twitter feed.

If you read the tech pundits long enough, you’ll wonder: How is Twitter even in business anymore? But leaving Facebook made me latch on to that bizarre platform even more tightly.

It got even worse once I downloaded Tweetbot. (This is usually the point in my blog post where I give you an App Store affiliate link, on which I earn approximately 0.00000000000001% commission, but nobody needs to be on Twitter more, and the App Store is an enabler, so I eschew the hyperlink.)

Tweetbot allows you to set up adjacent columns, each of which can be a curated list of folks you follow on Twitter. How fun it (really) was to check out all my “Writing Implements” people on Twitter and see what they had to say about fountain pens. And my “App Developers” list? Those folks are hilarious—some of the best social commentary (especially about Twitter-the-company) that you’ll find anywhere.

But I had simply replaced Facebook with not-quite-but-still-kind-of-Facebook, and then started spending even more time on Twitter.

 

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The same process followed—delete Tweetbot off the phone, check it on the computer. Re-download it to my phone since I was accessing it on the computer anyway. Get frustrated with myself. Check Twitter to assuage the feelings of Twitter-induced guilt. Etc.

So I finally gave up browsing Twitter for Lent. Tweetbot is gone, and I only still have my Twitter handle because this blog automatically Tweets with a link to a new post. I’m otherwise not on it, for the most part.

“How do you discern an addiction?” Richard Foster asks. “Very simply, you watch for undisciplined compulsions.”

You know you’re addicted to your phone when you delete one social networking app and—within a day—your compulsion to just check something leads you to replace it with another.

 

*    *    *    *    *

 

Stay tuned for more related confessions and reflections:

  • On Facebook, Off Facebook, On Twitter, Off Twitter… On Instagram
  • Notification Weaning
  • Why I’m Taking the 16 GB iPhone Upgrade over 64 GB
  • Pre-Dinner, Child-Induced Frenzy and My Escape Screen
  • Analog Again

“The Human Heart is Always Drawn by Love” (Catherine of Siena at Sunday School)

With St. Francis of Assisi, another patron saint of Italy
With St. Francis of Assisi, another patron saint of Italy

“When my goodness saw that you could be drawn in no other way, I sent him to be lifted onto the wood of the cross. I made of that cross an anvil where this child of humankind could be hammered into an instrument to release humankind from death and restore it to the life of grace. In this way he drew everything to himself: for he proved his unspeakable love, and the human heart is always drawn by love.”

–Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

We are spending six weeks in our adult Sunday School with Foster and Smith’s Devotional Classics book. Here are the writers we’ve looked at each session:

Each week we do a short bio of the writer, some reading, some discussion, and some prayer.

Here are the teaching slides I used today on Catherine of Siena.

“Even when our heart is cold and our mind is dim, prayer is still possible to us.” (Evelyn Underhill at Sunday School)

Evelyn Underhill

“If the worth of our prayer life depended upon the maintenance of a constant high level of feeling or understanding, we would be in a dangerous place. Though these often seem to fail us, the reigning will remains. Even when our heart is cold and our mind is dim, prayer is still possible to us.”

–Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941)

For the first six weeks I am teaching/leading adult Sunday School at my church. We are spending those six weeks with Foster and Smith’s Devotional Classics book. Here are the writers for each session:

  • Week 1: St. Augustine
  • Week 2: François Fénelon
  • Week 3: Evelyn Underhill
  • Week 4: Apocryphal Literature
    (This is not in Devotional Classics. But we’ll look at Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Wisdom of Solomon, and the Prayer of Manasseh.)
  • Week 5: Catherine of Siena
  • Week 6: Kathleen Norris

Each week we do a short bio of the writer, some reading, some discussion, and some prayer.

Here are the slides I used today on Underhill, along with my teaching notes.