By Ross Engel –
Like so many of you, the Olympics have dominated evenings and conversations in my house for the past two weeks. My oldest daughter has decided that she doesn’t only want to “grow up to be a nurse and a mommy.” She is also going to be an “Olympics girl” and win gold medals in swimming, diving, gymnastics, and shooting “maybe.” Both my girls have been keeping track of the medal counts with their own homemade chart, specifically watching USA, Canada, and Germany (we thought we’d teach them a little something about the lands of their ancestors). And my eleven-month-old son has mostly just enjoyed laughing at his sisters as he watches them run around the house chanting, “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
It has been awesome!
In the midst of all this awesomeness, a commercial managed to catch my attention. It’s got a really catchy tune to it. Unfortunately, I find myself humming it often, which only adds to my annoyance. I’m not sure if it is a regional commercial or if you’re all “lucky” enough to hear it, so I’m including it here so you can hear it for yourself.
Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you’re watching a screen.
But is it really?
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it has been really awesome watching the Olympics with my family. I’ll readily admit that there are a few shows that I make sure I record on the DVR, and I do love a good movie. I’ll admit that my smartphone is never more than an arm’s reach away from me. Without a screen, we’d miss out on some really great things (The Jagged Word being one such thing!). And yet, I believe that I’ve become a slave to these screens and all the things they contain. If you asked my wife, she’d say that the only thing that isn’t awesome about me is my growing attachment to screens.
When I’m staring at a screen, I miss out on things. Time flies by so quickly. I can be distracted away from things that actually matter. In my study, the screen can quickly divide my attention away from the tasks at hand. At home, the voices of my wife and children get turned way down. When I’m reading something on my phone, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, watching something on my tablet, or even playing a video game on the TV, my attentiveness and attitude change significantly. I get annoyed when I am bothered, even if it’s my lovely wife calling me to dinner for the eighth time.
But worse than all that is that I think that these screens have bred a sense of fear in me. I find myself mindlessly checking Facebook, not just because I’m afraid I’m missing out on something good, but because I wonder if there is something there that needs my attention. I’ve tried to justify my screen time by the number of times the screen has delivered someone’s plea for help to me or something passive aggressive that needs my attention. At times, there have been emails that I “needed” to respond to “immediately” or ministry related issues that I was able to focus on before the moment passed. But the reality is, most of these things are not good uses of my time. I know this, yet for some reason, when I hear the beep of a notification, I can almost feel the panic starting to gnaw away at me the longer I wait to check.
With the ability to instantly connect with another person electronically, these screens have developed a sense of urgency that maybe isn’t really there or shouldn’t be there at all. I once knew someone who, if I didn’t respond within 10 minutes of their first messages, would send explicit instructions as to where I exactly they’d like me to go for all eternity.
It was far from awesome.
I could never advocate for the complete removal of all screens from life. There are too many good things that can come with a screen (like Skyping with far away relatives and the opportunities to grow, learn, and communicate with other people). I may, in a moment of clarity, say that I’m going to throw out our TV or chuck my phone into the ocean, but my wife knows that’s just me talking tough. But I do think that we need to keep these awesome screens in right relation to the rest of our lives.
Screens, no matter how amazing and awesome they might be, are simply tools. And tools can be used for good and for evil. Tools can divide, or they can unite. It is so easy to allow this particular tool to divide and separate people from each other. It saddens me when I see just how attached so many of us can be to these tools. For far too many, these tools have become gods and idols—the place where one’s identity is found. This should not be! Facebook likes, retweets, hashtags, and DVR’d shows are not the places to find out who we are. We cannot allow those things to own us! Our identities are not bound up in a screen, no matter how awesome it is!
Our identity is found in Christ. Our identity is given to us in the waters of our Baptism, where God claims us as His beloved children. Our identity is wrapped up in Baptism, where we are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and all our sins are washed away. New life and new identity is given to us there! And that identity doesn’t rely on a screen or the technologies of the world. If the power goes out or the screen gets cracked, who we are in Jesus is not effected in the least!
In Christ, we are set free from the bondage of sin, death, and the grave. Our identities are hidden in Christ, and the freedom we enjoy in Him is a most joyous one. It is a freedom that transcends all other things, even the carefree existence that comes from unplugging from the world for even a moment!
Some of my most stress-free times are when I’m somewhere that has no cell signal. The shackles of technology are loosed, and I bask in the world around me. The freedom is beautiful! But even this freedom pales in comparison to the freedom that is found in Christ Jesus—freedom that releases us from every encumbrance and the sins that so easily try to trip us up.
If there is anything in this world that is truly awesome, it isn’t what we get when we stare at a screen. What is truly awesome is the freedom that we have received in Baptism on account of Christ. That is something worth fixing our eyes upon!
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Hebrews 12:1-3