Today’s post is a contribution by Joe Carter. No stranger to blogging, Joe is the online editor for the First Things magazine. He blogs at Evangelical Outpost, which earned him the 2005 Weblog Award for “Best Religious Blog” and a spot on the “Best Spiritual Blog” list by Beliefnet.com. Along with his contribution to two books (How to Argue Like Jesus, and The New Media Frontier, Carter serves as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. Today’s post is a powerful challenge for anyone who has heard the siren song of the “Info Tech god.”
I never find the time to be alone with God throughout the week, so I’ve decided to give this Sunday afternoon to prayer. However, before I do I should check my e-mail so I won’t be distracted. It won’t take long. . . Uh-oh, thirty-two new messages, including one from my boss? I really better reply right now. These could be important!
Looks like I’ve got some invitations from Facebook. Those are easy to clear so let me accept them and I’ll be done . . . hmm, I didn’t realize I had more notifications. Huh, it looks like Stacy finally launched her blog; I’ll just check it out real quick here. Some great stuff. I really should add her blog to my RSS reader; I don’t want to forget. What? More than 100+ items in my reader? I though I just check this yesterday. I should really whittle these down a bit before it gets worse.
Here I was about to focus on prayer and Bible study and my favorite theology-blogger has an excellent post on spiritual disciplines. I have to share that with my own blog readers. That’s a topic that’s really on my heart today, and it won’t take long.
Hmm, looks like some comments are hung up in our spam filter again. Better fix that, or people will be discouraged from commenting. Oh man, does this guy misrepresent what I wrote! I can’t let that go unchallenged. It would be harmful if my readers were led astray. This won’t take long.
OK, now I need to buckle down and pray. Let me just check the time on my iPhone—no way, it’s been four hours?—and who are these voicemails from?
I better check them in case my boss is calling to see why I didn’t answer that email, which would be really rude of him since this is Sunday, and I told everyone that I now devote Sunday to church and prayer and Bible Study and—no, not him, it’s my buddy asking if I got his e-mail. All right, that’s it. I really need to spend some quality time with the Lord.
But before I get started I should check my e-mail. It’s been four hours . . .
“One of the most basic biblical insights,” says theologian J.I. Packer, “is that whatever controls and shapes one’s life is in effect the god one worships.” We consider it peculiar that Muslims stop five times a day to offer prayers to Allah, yet we stop what we do five times an hour to pay homage to our e-mail. For many of us, the one true god to whom we give our devotion is the deity known as IT: information technology.
My work (my career is all involved with the web), my schedule (everything is laid out on my Google Calendar), my habits (checking my e-mail is something I do several times a day), are all defined by my relationship with the god of IT. Am I alone? Am I the only one who has sung a hymn about spending all eternity worshiping God, but secretly thinking that heaven is going to be a bore? (No e-mail? No YouTube? No blogs?)
When I consider how I spend my time it becomes obvious where my true devotion is. And like Jehovah, Technology is a jealous god.
But an ancient practice has helped me dethrone this idol: Sabbath-keeping. In Surviving Information Overload, Keith Miller recommends taking an “info-techno Sabbath,” a 24-hour period when we turn off the phone, leave the iPad in the drawer, and stay away from the computer. Here’s how he describes it…
“The Sabbath . . . had two purposes: rest and remembrance of God. An info-techno Sabbath, as I dub it, has the same goals: rest for our minds and over stimulated senses and remembrance that life is bigger than the news stories, stock quotes, and sports scores. It’s bigger than our selves. There is, in fact, a God. And we are not it.”
After putting Miller’s idea into practice for several months, I quickly came to two realizations: 1) Sabbath-keeping is very difficult, and 2) it pays dividends that I could never have imagined.
You must realize these dividends for yourself. I don’t have the words to describe how God filled this new quiet space in my life. Unexpectedly, this rest from information has also helped me understand and process all the information that I do receive through technology. Reflection and rest is the only way to sift through the huge stockpiles of data to find the kernels of wisdom.
As for the difficulty, though, I’ve learned certain lessons worth passing along to those willing to give this a try:
• Choose your own Sabbath. An info-techno Sabbath does not have to overlap with your customary weekly Sabbath observance. Choose a 24-hour period that works best for you. Following the example of Judaism, where the day runs from sunset to sunset, I’ve found that sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday works best for me. The break allows me the time to rest before preparing for the coming week.
• Begin and end the tech sabbath with prayer and Bible study. Take time to pray and dedicate the time to God. End it with a spiritual discipline of solitude, Bible study, and more prayer.
• Let people know you are unplugging. Friends and family know that they won’t be able to get a hold of me on my phone during my Sabbath, since it is dedicated to personal, face-to-face connections. Once people know that you are “off the info grid” they’ll be less likely to bother you with minor interruptions.
• Avoid legalism. A few weeks into the experiment I found myself lost on the way to a friend’s house. I had my cell phone (turned off) but didn’t want to “break my Sabbath” by using it to get direction. After stressing over what to do, I realized that I was developing legalistic rules that totally ruined the intent of the Sabbath. Jesus words are a helpful antidote to the crushing effect of legalism, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
Why not take an info-techno Sabbath this weekend? It won’t be pleasant, because your synapses will scream from the perceived dehydration. After drinking from the fire hose of information, just one day without tech will seem like a year-long drought. But by unplugging the God of Technology you might just find something new: a still small voice sharing the information that truly matters.
By Joe Carter