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Archive for February, 2011

(I want you to imagine, before you begin reading this post, that you are Steve Jobs – the creative genius behind Apple, Inc. And behind you, reading over your shoulder, are all the top Apple engineers and designers over the past few decades. And steam is coming out of their ears. OK, ready? Now read on…)

I just want to write this thank you note to The Universe for my iPhone 4. I LOVE THIS THING! What an exquisitely-designed communications and productivity tool! I love the interface, the incredible features, and the way that it just….works.

It amazes me greatly that The Universe has given me such a gift. How could an infinite array of impersonal nothingness know that an iPhone is just what I needed? It’s almost like you knew what I was like, Universe, and designed something special just for me. I know that sounds kinda crazy, since you don’t have a personality or brains or anything, but really – I owe you one.

When I think about all the code embedded in this device, I just marvel how it came about. All those millions of years of version 0.000001 iPhones, slowly emerging, calling one another, texting, learning how to build an app store from nothing, stumbling along sync’ing information in the swamps of long-ago eons, even devising an e-commerce model through natural selection. I wish I could go back in time and see how those early iTunes stores were free, and how that got selected out of the gene pool! You’re a genius, Universe. Well, OK, I didn’t really mean that. It just kinda seems that way sometimes. Because everyone knows that the iPhone simply evolved unplanned from the rotary phone, which was one random step of advancement above the Pony Express.

When I go to the iPhone museum, I see Radio Shack TRS-80s and Motorola Star-Tacs and old phonographs and daguerreotype photos and and I imagine all the transitional iPhone forms that came between them. I know we haven’t found any yet in the landfills, but we’ve got a few silicon chips and a couple of headphone jacks so I know that there were all kinds of iPhones that came before this one. I wish I could see them – imagine the iPhone that had the sextant in it before it evolved a GPS! I’m sure our digital archeologists will dig it up eventually, or at least Photoshop a facsimile.

Some late-coming usurper named Steve Jobs (along with his minions) is claiming to be the intelligence behind the iPhone, but the ultimate intelligence is the ability to come up with intelligence without having any intelligence. Why should we give an credit to a brilliant designer, when a combo of time + chance + the big U, explain it all so simply? I want to give credit where credit is due. You really nailed it, Universe. And the iPad and the MacBook Air ain’t so bad, either!

In conclusion, Mr (or Ms) U (why do I keep anthropomorphizing – sheesh!), I’d like to upload a carefully-edited creative video of thanks, but I don’t really know where to send it. I could send it to that Jobs fellow, but that might feed his delusion – imagine, someone claiming intelligent design for the iPhone 4! The next thing you know, they’ll be talking about DNA that way too!

Sincerely, A Progressive Admirer

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Networking Disciples, part 5

Wine. Food. Sex. Work. Rest. Leisure. Social Networks. What do they all have in common?

All are gifts from God. And all find their purpose for good when enjoyed with self-control. Think of the labels we have for these things when the self is not in control. Drunkenness. Gluttony. Sexual immorality. Workaholism. Laziness. Self-indulgence. And, the new kid on the block – Textication (OK, I just made that up…).

You’ll never find a Bible verse condemning Facebook. But you will find plenty of principles encouraging self-control in all things. That includes social networking. Just as gamblers have been known to leave their little ones in car seats as they feed their addiction inside the casino, so those who have trembling thumbs and minds if they’re not checking their messages every 30 seconds have a problem. Too much is too much.

A friend memorably once told me, before the proliferation of all these digital tools, that the phone was his servant, not his master. When it rang, he could choose to answer it, or not, if something more important was taking place. Yet, when the phone rings, don’t we feel this compulsion to answer? We tend to think that an incoming phone call or text message or request to connect is a compelling call to immediate action. It is not. We are to be in control of our time and attention, not a thousand others who might be pinging us.

Social networks can be like a subtle, incessant, digital prison, sucking our attention into its vortex. We should use them, but not surrender to them. Christ came to set us free. Even from good things.

The high calling of God is to bring everything under His control, and to live out all spheres of life in a way that honors Him. If we cannot sit in front of a computer without wandering over to questionable sites and images, then we need to grow in self-control. If we cannot have a drink with friends without consistently sliding into a state of drunkenness, then we need to grow in self-control. And if we cannot appropriately shut off and on our social networks to attend to God-given responsibilities, then we need to grow in self-control. And, at times, self-control may involve periods and levels of complete self-denial.

We need to be the master of our clicks.

And while we’re discussing what our eyes take in on social networks, let’s talk about profile shopping. You know what I mean. Clicking on a link to some attractive face, then “innocently” rummaging around through on-line pictures, secretly indulging romantic or sexual fantasies. It’s just being friends, we tell ourselves. It’s building a diverse network, we say in self-justification. Get real – often, it’s nothing other than mental masturbation, and the real test of self-control is when you purposefully avoid occasions of temptation even when no-one else is looking. Because God is looking – right to the depths of the motives of the heart. He is to be first and foremost, not people or things or selfish desires.

It might be acceptable in geek circles to be joined at the hand with your smartphone, obsessively connected to others and their bits and bytes. But Jesus Christ calls us to a much higher standard. We are not to be obsessively connected to any lesser entity than Himself. Being conformed to this world involves going with the flow of whatever a bunch of people deem acceptable, even if it “owns” you. That’s the opposite of being His disciple.

You’ll learn to master your desires. Or, they’ll master you. Long before there were computers, the core issue has always been the same.

Social networks have their place, and it may be a bigger or smaller place for you and for me. If other people are hinting (or outright telling you) that you are losing control, then listen. They’re probably right, and they want you back!

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Part 1 was with words.

Part 2 is with pictures:

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Why be involved with social networking?

Only you can answer that question. But you do need to answer it. God holds us accountable for all of our decisions and actions. If you’re going to invest precious time and energy into networking with others (live or on-line), then you need a clear answer to the Why? question.

For some, it is a legitimate social outlet – the modern-day equivalent of the backyard fence. Keeping up socially has never been easier, and the ability to upload pictures and videos and make real-time comments is truly gratifying. Social networks are great for stitching together extended families that may be scattered across many states and countries (I was just talking this morning with a couple who got on Skype with parents half-way around the world – literally – on the day of their little daughter’s first steps). And as long it is not interfering with other responsibilities, and isn’t being used in an excessive or addictive fashion, or regularly leading into patterns of sin – there’s a lot to like about social networking.

For others, it can be a form of ministry outreach. Establishing relationships, communicating the gospel, building bridges with a variety of people – social networks are very useful to both individuals and church communities for touching others.

For others (myself included), digital networks are also a legitimate and highly useful business platform. Creating person-to-person networks can lead to tremendous influence and open up whole new realms of opportunity, collaboration, and business growth. People in these categories may be power users of on-line platforms, whose time and effort spent in social networks would be wholly inappropriate for others.

For Christians, it may be one or more of the above, simultaneously. It’s important to remember that the purposes we may have for social network involvement are really little different from purposes we’ve always had for whatever we do.

One danger for Christian believers is to take a good purpose (say, sharing Christ’s love and truth in the gospel) and abusing the social platform such that the exact opposite of the desired effect is achieved. For instance, it is easy to hide behind an anonymous identity on-line and shout out the truth with a condemning voice. But would that behavior be welcome if you were in a costume at a shopping center parking lot, screaming into peoples’ ears through a megaphone? Yes, social networks are an incredible means of mass communication – but you can easily communicate that you are an incredible mass of stupid, to a whole lot of people!

Another purpose that has to be carefully watched is the accumulation of on-line influence. Such influence can be a very good thing – if you provide valuable information, helpful encouragement, wise perspectives, and enjoyable banter, you will gain followers (and thus, some level of influence) on-line. There are some very influential and servant-hearted folks active on social networks. But some people are ego-handcuffed to their social media numbers, and, like a couple of notorious apostles, want for themselves positions of honor. None of us will ever be pure from mixed motives, but if you’re far more concerned with what your social audience thinks than what your Savior and Lord thinks…you need to repent more than you need to retweet.

Why be involved? Only you can answer that. Just like with everything else, make sure you have reasons that you can bring before God without shame.

(You may have noticed that there is a picture of a marmot in this post. It has no purpose whatsoever.)

See the earlier posts in this series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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