“Our school and our town existed in response to a moral imperative.” – B. Catton

waiting-train-catton-1987For our Thursday history post today we take you back to Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (Wayne State University Press, 1987), the multifaceted story of his life growing up in northern Michigan, specifically, Benzonia.

Chapter 9 is titled “Under the Lilacs,” and in this section Catton begins by talking about the changes that came to the town and its area when the lumber camps had devoured the forests and left a desert behind. Writing with a bit of cynicism, Catton describes how his town’s idealism rose above the dark times this “progress” had brought.

You will notice once again the biblical references in this spiritual commentary on his times and the challenges the villagers faced. But you will also detect in the last paragraph quoted below thoughts about our modern society that are strikingly insightful and even prophetic.

The light that had been lit on our hilltop could not be allowed to go out just because the surrounding darkness was gone. It would still be needed to light a path for the feet of men not yet taught to lift their eyes to the sky. We never bothered to formulate this faith. We just had it.

We had been brought up to believe in progress, and we did not think of progress in material terms. Material progress was of course being made, and it was welcome; in 1913, for instance, some utility company built a power dame in the Betsie River and our town got electricity, even including a few street lights, whose dim glow (if you happened to be abroad on some lawful errand after other folks had gone to bed) simply intensified the immensity of the night. Some day, we believed, there would be a public water supply, and it was even possible to suppose that eventually the main street might be paved, although that was obviously  a long way off. But these things were not especially important. Our school and our town existed in response to a moral imperative. It was up to us to produce better men, and nothing else mattered very much. We were extremely unsophisticated, and in a way we were aware of it, but it was natural enough because in the time that had brought us into being there was so much less to be sophisticated about.

Now the trouble with the outside world that controlled our fate was not that it had cut down all of its trees but that it was developing an entirely new attitude. It had created a desert and called it progress, and it was beginning to suspect that man’s salvation might be in his ability to adjust himself to the results of his own advanced technology. To produce better men was all very well, if you had time for it, but the road to blessedness would probably be found in the conquest of his own inner nature. What he could do rather than what he could be was the important thing. That this approach might finally lead to the production of a barbarian who happens to be a skilled technician meant little; improve his technology enough and perhaps he is no longer a barbarian. [pp.172-73]

Now, having read this, ask yourself this question: As man has pinned his hopes (salvation) on his own abilities and technological advances in our time (on “what he can do rather than what he can be”), has he produced a “better man” or a “barbarian”?

 

The Deficits of the iPhone Generation | Public Discourse

Members of iGen suffer from serious intellectual and moral deficits: they are ill-informed, uninterested in pursuing relevant information, passionate without being active, afraid of debate with those who disagree, and uninterested in learning or exploration.

Such is the summary of this revealing book review posted yesterday on The Witherspoon Institute’s website. The author introduces us to the book he reviews in the opening paragraph:

“iGen” is both the title of Jean M. Twenge’s most recent book (subtitle: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy, and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood), and the name she has coined for the generation succeeding the Millennials. Twenge, who has been studying generational differences for a quarter century, includes within iGen those born between 1995 and 2012, plus or minus a bit. What ties this generation together? It is their hitherto unknown relationship to social media and its technological platform: they are “the first generation to enter adolescence with smartphones already in their hands.”

Today’s parents and educators must pay attention to what Twenge and other social and cultural critics are now saying about this “iGen.” It is troubling, showing again the harsh reality of what Marshall McLuhan said years ago (1964!) when he wrote, ‘The medium is the message.”

Here is just a small part of the troubling fruits of what smartphone technology has done to our generation:

Mental Health and Meaninglessness

First, as Twenge argues extensively, there is a mental-health deficit, one clearly correlated with screen time: “teens who spend more time on screens are more likely to be depressed, and those who spend more time on nonscreen activities are less likely to be depressed.” This, in turn, leads to a higher risk of suicide. One reason for the connection between smartphone/internet use and depression is the predominance of cyberbullying. Another is the negative impact that excessive smartphone use has on sleep. And surely yet another is the simple disconnectedness from real things and real people that is experienced by those whose primary forms of personal interaction are mediated by a screen.

Twenge’s advice in response to this is admirably direct: “Put down the phone.” This is exactly right. But this will never happen unless parents are smarter about when to introduce smartphones in their children’s lives. I was interested recently to hear of a “Wait Until 8th” movement, attempting to convince parents not to allow their children to use smartphones until at least eighth grade. That is a start, but what eighth-grader really needs constant access to the internet? “Nein until 9th” or “When? 10th” would be even better.

And this:

Second, there is a deficit of meaning. This deficit shows up in several places in Twenge’s book. The smartphone and its virtual spaces seem to be the primary place where teens spend time together. Their capacity for and interest in serious personal relationships with others is deeply impaired. Another example: Twenge devotes a chapter to the declining religious participation of iGen. According to Twenge, by 2016, “one out of three 18-24 year olds said they did not believe in God.” Twenge attributes this in part to “American culture’s increasing focus on individualism,” and this seems plausible.

Are we still living with the illusion that all our technology has no effect on us and our children? Think again. Better yet, read on at the link below and learn the dangerous effects of the tools of our age. And then commit to using today’s technology in moderation, without having it control you and your life. And, finally, return to the “quiet” life of reading and reflection. That is much better for the soul – and for the body.

Source: The Deficits of the iPhone Generation | Public Discourse

How to Read More Books | The Art of Manliness

It has been some time since I posted something from “The Art of Manliness,” but this end-of-February post on AOM was saved for a day such as this.

So, on this Wednesday, you men and I are especially addressed with regard to increasing our reading. “And, how do I do that?”, you ask. Take more time to read! Wasn’t that easy?

One of the founders of AOM states this at the outset:

Last year I read over 120 books. When I posted a collage of my favorite of those 120 reads on Instagram, a lot of guys asked me what my secret was for digesting that many tomes in 12 months.

I’ve developed some tactics during my years of reading for both work and pleasure, and I share them below. If you’re looking to increase your physical and mental library and read more books this year, maybe they’ll work for you too.

If you are like me (and you know I am an avid reader), you respond to that by saying, “Wow! That’s impressive! And, there is no way I can read that much in a year.” And that is probably quite true. Reality is, we will not match that. More than likely, not even come close.

But what if we could start by reading 12 books a year – one a month? That’s doable. But HOW?, you say. Listen to Brett’s simple answer and secret:

When people ask me how I read so many books, they’re usually fishing for a speed reading technique that will allow their brains to swallow books whole.

Speed reading certainly plays a role in my reading technique (more on that later), but it’s not my killer secret.

Lean in. I’m going to whisper the secret to reading a lot of books.

Are you ready?

You need to spend more time reading.

But then, we may respond, “Easy to say; a lot harder to practice.” And that too is true. But here are a couple of practical points about finding more time to read:

Schedule time for reading. You can’t in fact find time for reading; you’ve got to make time for it. And the best way to make time for something is to put it on your daily schedule. You don’t need to set aside an hour straight for reading. If you’re just starting off with making reading a priority, you probably don’t yet have the attention span for it, and trying to read that long in one sitting will likely set you up for frustration. Instead, block off 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night for reading. …make those 20-minute blocks if a half hour still seems too long. Instead of doing your typical time-wasting smartphone scan at those times, you’ll read. You’ll be amazed how many books you can knock off in a month by reading an hour a day.

Use spare moments for reading. Even though your daily schedule may seem packed, there are invariably small pockets of time hidden in its interstices that you typically waste. A few minutes of downtime between activities or appointments may seem trivial, but they soon add up to hours, and to entire books read; there’s great possibilities in spare moments!

Standing in line at the post office? Read a book. Cooling your heels at the dentist? Read a book. Pooping? Read a book. Waiting to pick up your kid from school? Read.

Pardon the crassness there, but you get the point, I hope. There is time in every day for reading. More time than we realize. We just need to take advantage of it. And, yes, that means leaving the phone and tablet aside so that we are focused on reading. That is harder. That takes discipline. But you and I can do it.

Will we commit to it? Find a book at home and start reading it. Of course, now. You won’t believe how relaxing it is. 🙂

Or you can finish reading this good, motivational article. Here’s the link to the rest of it.

Source: How to Read More Books | The Art of Manliness

Entertainment and Worship – July 2017 “Tabletalk”

The July 2017 issue of Tabletalk takes for its theme “Entertainment,” and though I am just getting started with the articles in it, I have profited from what I have read so far about this complex and difficult subject.

In his editorial “Discerning Entertainment” Burk Parsons touches on the proper place of entertainment as well the dangers of it for the Christian:

Entertainment of all sorts can be a wonderful way to rest and recuperate from the busyness, noise, and struggles of life. Entertainment allows our imaginations to travel the world and explore the universe, to go on adventures with hobbits and knights in shining armor, to go back in time and experience history, and to better understand people and our culture. But we must always guard our eyes and our hearts. For we cannot even begin to understand all the ways that Hollywood has affected us. Entertainment affects our minds, our homes, our culture, and our churches. Consequently, we must be vigilant as we use discernment in how we enjoy entertainment—looking to the light of God’s Word to guide us and inform our consciences.

In Joe Thorn’s article linked here for the rubric “Pastor’s Perspective,” he addresses the danger of bringing entertainment into our worship of God.

Below is part of what he has to say about the current trends found in the church today and what our focus ought to be when we enter the Lord’s presence:

The encroachment of entertainment into our worship is not a matter of style but of substance. Entertainment is a good thing, but its purpose is the refreshment of the mind and body, not the transformation of the mind or the edification of the spirit. The danger of entertainment in worship is not about which musical instruments are permitted or what era of hymns the church should sing. The danger is found in what the church is aiming at. Entertainment has a different aim than worship. Entertainment is something offered to people for their amusement. Yet worship has a different focus and produces a different result.

The focus of worship is God, not man, which immediately pits it against entertainment. We offer ourselves to the Lord individually and collectively on Sunday morning. The church ascribes honor to God in the reading, preaching, singing, and praying of His Word. True worship is inherently God-centered and God-directed. What is done when the church is gathered is to be done according to God’s will and for His pleasure. This stands in opposition to entertainment, which is a spiritually powerless work directed at the people.

To read the rest, visit the Ligonier link below.

Source: Entertainment and Worship by Joe Thorn

I might also add that the daily devotionals this month are on the Reformed-biblical view of the law, or as the issue has it in its introduction to the devotions, “The Right Use of God’s Law.”

The Internet Is Not a Library

As a librarian in an academic institution (PRC Seminary), I appreciated these brief but pointed thoughts of pastor Kevin DeYoung yesterday about the fact that the Internet is not to be viewed or treated as a library.

He takes his starting point in a new book by Tom Nichols, which is one I would like to pursue.

Below are a few paragraphs from his post. I encourage you to read the rest, especially the next paragraphs, because there he states rather bluntly how the Internet is to be viewed and used.

I’ll have more to say about Tom Nichols’s excellent new book The Death of Expertise in the days ahead, but for now I want to underline one important observation he makes.

Namely: “The Internet . . . is nothing like a library” (110).

In the recent conversation about who’s in charge of the Christian blogosphere, I saw in at least one place that the blogosphere was likened to a great big library—a place where diverse viewpoints are housed, a place where people come to seek truth, a place where ideas are not censored and readers need discernment. Without wanting to deny these general points as they relate to Christians in the blogosphere, I believe it is a necessary part of discernment that we realize the internet (of which the Christian blogosphere is a part) is nothing like a library.

Yes, a library has many different volumes. And yes, we can go there to search for answers and acquire knowledge. But a library is a highly curated collection of knowledge. We have a Michigan State University librarian in our church. She has a master’s degree in library science. She oversees a section of materials related to European history. She is constantly reading through journals and periodicals to find the most important new books to purchase. She also gets rid of old stuff that has proven to be relatively worthless. She is also a wealth of information when people have questions about where to find the best, most important stuff. She doesn’t have an ideological grid when it comes to what goes in the library, but she does have an expertise grid. Almost all the books that get into a library like MSU’s are by people with credentials, with academic positions, or with institutional legitimacy.

Source: The Internet Is Not a Library | TGC

His comments reminded me of the coffee cup I keep on my library desk. I believe I showed you this once before, but this post gives me opportunity to do so again. 🙂

Reset: Relax by Reading

Reset-DMurray-2017Yes, Dr. David Murray does indeed recommend reading (daily!) as a way to relax in the next chapter of his book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

Taking us into “Repair Bay 5”, Murray points to the importance of taking time to relax in order to prevent burnout in the mad rush of life we experience in our modern culture. His call is to experience the reality of God’s Word in Psalm 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God.”

But how can we experience this stillness and silence of God’s presence with so much pressure on us from work, family, and church, so many activities screaming for our attention, and such great noise and distraction from our technological world?

Murray does indeed tell us to mute our phones and device notifications, to limit our use of social media, texting, and emails, and to shut things down in the evening and weekends. But he also points us to the benefits of reading in order to experience true relaxation. Here is part of what he says:

The last daily bump I want to recommend is reading, which may sound strange given that we are trying to rest and relax the mind. There is something about reading, however, especially reading real paper books, that can be especially health giving. In “How Changing Your Habits Can Transform Your Health,” Michael Grothaus says, ‘Reading doesn’t just improve your knowledge, it can help fight depression, make you more confident, empathetic, and a better decision maker.’

…But Grothaus’ further research revealed that such transformation through reading wasn’t weird, but was ‘the norm for people who read a lot – and one of the main benefits of reading that most people don’t know about’ (97-98).

And so Murray gives us his own reading regimen and experience:

I try to set aside thirty minutes each evening for reading non-work-related books – usually biographies, works on history or fitness, New York Times nonfiction bestsellers, and so on. It’s amazing how many fantastic books you can get through – maybe two or three a month – with just that short time every day. And for all my fellow type A’s, remember that the point is not to chalk up ‘books read’ or to use the time for sermon prep if you’re a pastor, but to relax and enjoy (p.98).

There is no question that as Christians we ought to read for a variety of reasons. But let’s not forget this one either – simply to slow down and relax. And if we are reading for the growth of our souls, for knowing and drawing near to God, then by all means let us keep our mind’s eye on Psalm 46:10.

Why You Should Absolutely Read A Whole Book This Year

Back on February 22, 2017 this informative article appeared at The Federalist website. Written by senior contributor Jennifer Doverspike, the article is a call to read entire books in addition to all the short reading we do on the Internet and elsewhere.

While it is easy to keep quoting statistics on the decline of reading and lamenting its demise, we have to keep encouraging ourselves and our children to read books. So take this article that way too. Find the positive inspiration from what this writer says to read an entire book this year. And while you are at it anyway, read more of the same!

Here are her opening points:

I encounter this meme a lot on social media: “Surprising Book Facts!” It begins with the disturbing statistic that 33 percent of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives and ends with saying reading one hour a day in your chosen field will make you an international expert in seven years.

Needless to say, there are some major difficulties with this graphic. You can even say the proliferation of this meme demonstrates why we should turn away from silly shares on Facebook and instead read a real book once in a while.

Misleading statistics aside, reading has indeed declined in the last few decades. The Pew Foundation reports that as of March 2015, 73 percent of Americans read a book at least partly in the previous 12 months, a figure lower than the 79 percent reported in 2011 but statistically in line with more recent years. This reading can be in any format—print, electronic, or audio.

Comparing to past decades, that number has dropped. Gallup polls from 1978 reported 88 percent of Americans had read a book at least partly in the past year. The numbers were 81 percent from a 1990 poll, and 85 percent from a 2001 poll.

But Doverspike also adds these thoughts to point us in the right direction:

In “Life Together,” World War II-era theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer lamented the common practice of reading daily devotional passages from the Bible without context and advocated a consecutive reading of biblical books, thereby allowing the reader to “become a part of what once took place for our salvation” and “forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, [passing] through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land.”

Immersive, slow, deep reading not only retrains your brain to read again, but assists in “empathy, transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence.” Many studies and articles on this subject focus on the benefits of print books versus e-readers, as opposed to Internet scrolling versus novel reading, but the common theme of limiting distractions remains the same.

Source: Why You Should Absolutely Read A Whole Book This Year

The library: “an oasis of bookish tranquility”? – N.Carr

A particularly striking illustration of how the Net is reshaping our expectations about media can be seen in any library. Although we don’t tend to think of libraries as media technologies, they are. The public library is, in fact, one of the most important and influential informational media ever created – and one that proliferated only after the arrival of silent reading and movable-type printing.

A community’s attitudes and preferences toward information take concrete shape in its library’s design and services. Until recently, the public library was an oasis of bookish tranquility where people searched through shelves of neatly arranged volumes or sat in carrels and read quietly.

Today’s library is very different. Internet access is rapidly becoming its most popular service. According to recent surveys by the American Library Association, ninety-nine percent of U. S. public library branches provide Internet access, and the average branch has eleven public computers. More than three-quarters of branches also offer Wi-Fi networks for their patrons’ use. The predominant sound in the modern library is the tapping of keys, not the turning of pages.

shallowsbookcover-222x300Taken from Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010), chapter 5, “A Medium of the Most General Nature,” p.97 (slightly edited).

I am thankful to report that the dominant sound is our Seminary library is still the turning of pages and the dominant sight that of students reading in their carrels. In the classroom, however, the tapping of keys is prominent (the sound of the professor’s voice is still dominant – 🙂 ).

“They thought deeply as they read deeply.” N. Carr, The Shallows

shallowsbookcover-222x300On vacation this week, I have some extra time for reading, and one of the books I longed to get back to was Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010).

Chapter four of the book is titled “The Deepening Page,” really a history of how society changed from an oral community to a literate one by the advent of writing and the codex (book). With this “intellectual technology” change came a major transformation of how people thought.

Today I give you a brief section from Carr on how this worked out (there is much more to this fascinating history – and to the main point of the author, and you are greatly encouraged to get this book and read it!):

To read a book was to practice an unnatural process of thought, one that demanded sustained, unbroken attention to a single, static object [as opposed to the oral-tradition culture in which memory played the dominant role]. It required readers to place themselves at what T.S. Eliot… would call ‘the still point of the turning world.’

And then he further explains the development:

Many people had, of course, cultivated a capacity for sustained attention long before the book or even the alphabet came along. The hunter, the craftsman, the ascetic – all had to train their brains to control and concentrate their attention. What was so remarkable about book reading was that the deep concentration was combined with the highly active and efficient deciphering of text and interpretation of meaning. The reading of a sequence of printed pages was valuable not just for knowledge readers acquired from the author’s words but for the way those words set off intellectual vibrations within their own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the prolonged, undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply (pp.64-65).

But then, even on vacation those “quiet spaces” for “prolonged, undistracted” book reading can be easily interrupted by one’s surroundings. 🙂

reading-on-deck

Published in: on November 17, 2016 at 11:08 AM  Comments (2)  

“‘Take your time,’ the books whispered to me in their dusty voices. ‘We’re not going anywhere.'” ~ N.Carr

That was just a digital dalliance [That is, spending time in the computer room while a student at Dartmouth College]. For every hour I passed in Kiewit [the computer room], I must have spent two dozen next door in Baker [the main library at Dartmouth].  I crammed for exams in the library’s cavernous reading room, looked up facts in the weighty volumes on the reference shelves, and worked part-time checking books in and out at the circulation desk. Most of my library time, though, went to wandering the long, narrow corridors of the stacks. Despite being surrounded by tens of thousands of books, I don’t remember feeling the anxiety that’s symptomatic of what we today call “information overload.” There was something calming in the reticence of all those books, their willingness to wait years, decades even, for the right reader to come along and pull them from their appointed slots. Take your time, the books whispered to me in their dusty voices. We’re not going anywhere.

shallowsbookcover-222x300This wonderful, personal description of the powerful influence of libraries and books comes from Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010), p.12.

We will have more to say on the powerful message of this book later (one Prof. B. Gritters read and recommended this summer), but for now relish the serene and soothing experience of the world of books and the library. 🙂