The Tyranny of the Petty

By Bob Hiller

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Everyone wants to distract Kevin Durant. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s superstar is less than a season away from free agency. Once his contract is up at the end of the year, Durant will be the most sought-after athlete on the market. Though we are over eight months away from any potential suitors making offers to Durant, rumors of potential moves have already begun swirling. Houston has expressed interest, perhaps he’ll go home to Washington DC, or maybe someone will hear my prayers and Durant will become a Denver Nugget. But, what about Durant’s thoughts? Where does he want to go? Does he want to stay in OKC or is he interested in a bigger payday? “I try not to think about it too much,” KD told ESPN. He says he is “worrying about the present” and is just excited to play. Pretty cliché. But, it may be true. Says Durant, “I think I’m really, really good at not being distracted.” He’s going to have to be really, really good at it, because the media is bound to bring up the “free-agency” conversation for the next eight months.

Yes, Durant’s response is cliché, but, this week it seems quite instructive for Christians who like to frequent social media. Would that we Christians were so committed to such clichés. See, if the whole “Starbucks-hates-Jesus” fiasco has taught me anything, it is that, unlike Durant, we are really, really good at being distracted. It’s not just that we are distracted by inane issues, it’s more than that. The problem seems to be that we are actually investing emotional and intellectual capital in junk that simply doesn’t matter at all.

It seems to me that social media has helped foster a culture of pettiness. We make petty comments about petty issues in this culture of pettiness. Petty habits cultivate petty hearts. We’ve created a sort of tyranny of the petty. To riff on Postman a bit, it is not Orwell’s 1984 type of tyranny which is imposed upon us, but one more akin to Huxley’s Brave New World in which we are willfully using social media to distract us from reality. In other words, we are allowing, and frankly inviting, soft news and fake controversy to set the tone of discourse in the culture. As Caleb so aptly pointed out this week, we are the problem here.

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Having invested mental energy in petty distractions and by inviting them to tyrannize our time, Christians are losing their ability to actually engage important issues in a thoughtful fashion. So that, there is a problem when on Facebook or Twitter we see significant theological issues receiving the same level of discourse as some loud mouth’s opinion on Starbuck’s cup designs. The church needs to realize that serious, healthy, theological discourse cannot actually take place in a virtual world tyrannized by pettiness. Giving a great theological work the same platform as a company’s Christmas policy reduces the former to something petty. When issues that demand significant amounts of prayer, study, reflection, and discussion are treated like distractions to be liked and shared, we have a problem. It’s almost depressing to watch otherwise brilliant theological minds dragged down into battles of snark and sarcasm in a comment feed. If you can hashtag your argument, you’ve probably already lost.

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I am not against social media. I’m kind of addicted to it. But, I think we are fooling ourselves if we think that it is a neutral media that doesn’t impact the nature of theological discourse and spiritual reflection. It is hard to focus on the game when you allow petty distractions to dominate your time. Perhaps it is time for us to stop allowing petty distractions from dominating our time. Perhaps our time would be better spent hearing God’s Word and meditating on His scripture. Instead of being outraged over the pagan red cups at Starbucks, we should be praying for our brothers, sisters, and even our “cultural enemies.” We should strive to learn from guys like Kevin Durant and become “really, really good at not being distracted.”

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