Now…This

By Bob Hiller

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There are many great advantages and disadvantages to having the Friday slot on The Jagged Word. Among the positives is that I have a tremendous amount of material to contemplate throughout the week. Among the negatives is that the content is impacting my thinking so that much of my blogs feel derivative. Last week it was Graham’s piece that got me thinking.  his week, Caleb’s excellent piece on my eight second attention span really caught my attention (and not just because my blogs tend to be in the 1200 word range…) So here are some follow-up thoughts…

As I drove into work Wednesday morning, I was listening to the Jim Rome show. After laying out the day’s talking points (roughly ten of them for a three hour show), Rome began to sound very grave. He gave his condolences to the families of the Virginia newscasters who were murdered on the air that morning. Rome’s tone carried the gravity of the situation and he was, for a moment, noticeably shaken. I say for a moment because, after taking a breath, he moved right into a sales spot pushing some product his show endorsed. Emotion gone, story gone, product sold. It was truly bizarre.

Two human beings were murdered on live television! It is utterly horrifying! The murderer posted the video on Twitter for people to see just before committing suicide. Lives lost, families ruined, another cowardly crazed gunman has his fifteen minutes of fame. The utter horror of this whole scene should set us reeling. We should…

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Oh, wait, we need to go to break. Here’s some hair product on the smiling face of a gorgeous model. Whew, that was close!

To quote the sub-heading for our great blog: What the hell is going on here!

Thirty years ago, Neil Postman in his little book of prophecy called Amusing Ourselves to Death suggested that the two most frightening words in the English language had become “Now….This.” Says Postman, “The phrase, if that’s what it may be called, adds to our grammar a new part of speech, a conjunction that does not connect anything to anything but does the opposite: separates everything from everything.” He continues, “There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political blunder so costly—for that matter no ball score so tantalizing or weather report so threatening—that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, “Now…this.”

I often wonder what Postman would say about the age of Facebook and Twitter. I don’t imagine he’d offer a glowing endorsement. Social media offers us a world where we don’t even bother with the “Now…this” dimension. We simply have all stories of the world in one screen shot. On my feed I see a story about abortionists cutting open the skull of a living baby, Tom Brady deflating footballs, and a first-grader’s first day of school all in a matter of eight seconds, all receiving equal amounts of reaction (this, by the way, is no hyperbolic example, that is literally what has come up on my feed). Frankly, it is surreal and quite disturbing.

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Just think of the impact this has on how we process the world around us. I mean, I am not sure I know how to be outraged anymore. When my intellectual capital (if I can call it that) is distributed equally between deflated footballs and aborted babies, and both are supposed to draw my ire, something is terribly wrong. It is not just that our attention span is depleting, which is bad news in its own right, but our ability to process, analyze, and critique what we read (without taking a commercial break) is being severely crippled. We are losing the ability to expend our emotional energy in the right direction. Instant information produces reaction and response, not reasoned analysis and dialogue. For example, one cannot post a story about the President of the United States (a man we are duty bound to honor according to the Fourth Commandment) without visceral reactions from those who oppose his stances. Reasoned responses are trumped by reactive criticism (though “criticism” is a generous word).  We are losing are ability to reason.

A word for the church in all of this: she must exercise great caution with how she engages new technologies and media. Of course we don’t flee from them, they can be useful tools. (I know of one rather Jagged blog that can help exercise your thinking…) At the same time, the church must fight not to allow such media to reduce her Lord’s message to just another post on Facebook that can quickly be scrolled past (though, I will be posting this article later). She must use her time on social media, and with any media for that matter, not as an end in itself, but to point to the proclaimed, eternal Word. She must push people to leave behind their screens and their reactions and attend the flesh and blood service of the Word, where an eternal message kills reactive sinners, and produces responses of faith, prayer, and praise, where minds are not melted, but renewed by the Holy Spirit whose Word saturates ears and hearts. Perhaps the church would do well to not merely tweet her Lord’s message, but speak it out loud, face-to-face, from the pulpit, or over a beer with friends, or at a bedside with a dying saint, or in dialogue with a person who may be bold to shoot off a reaction on Facebook, but would be forced into actual intellectual engagement in a real life conversation. Speaking the truth in love is far better than tweeting it because the real world is better than a virtual one.

Enough of my rant.  Now…this…

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