When my grandfather could manage to corral a few unencumbered minutes, he liked to sit in his rocking chair and either play his banjo or read the Bible out loud. I loved the sound of either. My favorite place as I child was on the floor beside his chair, where I’d sit cross-legged and listen. Grandpa liked reading the Old Testament prophets, and even though I had no idea what the words were really about, it was captivating to hear him read, and kind of funny to hear him struggle a bit with some of the weird sounding names. Occasionally, he’d acknowledge my presence by cocking his head over toward me after conquering a passage and say, “Now, what do you think about that?” My five-year-old ‘deer in the headlights’ look apparently amused him, and he’d chuckle to himself, enjoying the obvious vacancy of any coherent thought at all on the part of his young audience of one. Grandpa’s “What do you think?” question never got an answer from me, but it was a very Christ-like question as it turns out.
Jesus admonished people to think. He was prone to ask those around Him to do precisely that, and to respond with their conclusions. After telling the story about the wounded man and the Samaritan, Jesus asked, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” Luke 10:36 (NKJV). In the matter of paying taxes, He introduced His instruction about it by saying to Peter, “What do you think, Simon?” (Matt. 17:25). His prelude to the series of parables about lost things was the haunting question, “What do you think?” (Matt. 18:12).
The ideas and concepts that Jesus taught and demonstrated were not frothy and superficial. They addressed the deepest and most vital issues of life and human relationships. If you were going to be around Jesus, thinking was mandatory—even for those who opposed Him. Jesus’ actual conduct with people stands in stark contrast to the notion that faith is some kind of blind leap in the dark. He challenged people to think—to consider His words, His actions, and the multitude of prophesies that were in harmony with the facts about His life. He provided sufficient information for people to believe, but He did it in a way that called for more than just an emotional catharsis. He challenged them to soberly ponder their options. Faith is not acquired through reason alone, but it is reasonable. Our culture may have a problem with that.
Nicholas Carr wrote an essay for Atlantic Monthly wherein he lamented that he seems to be losing his ability to focus, to think things through with care and attention to detail. His question, “Is Google making us stupid?” is an intriguing one. His contention is that the tsunami of available information that engulfs us these days creates the potential in us for a state of continual distraction, even to the point that our brains are actually altered to accommodate the patterns we develop to deal with it. As a result, he postulates, we become so scattered that we eventually lose our capacity to think clearly and critically and to evaluate things logically and rationally.
We have become unwilling to yield more than a brief few seconds to any one of the parade of images that blows past our eyes each day. We sit with the remote in our hands and flip through the hundreds of options on television. We zip around through the thousands of songs available to, or already downloaded on, our iPads, iPods, iPhones, or Androids, often only listening to parts of the songs because we’re just too eager to hear another one. Life is a multi-tasking, audio-visual nightmare, and a continual state of sensory overload has come to characterize our new normal.
Determined not to be left out or appear outdated, our worship centers have not only jumped on board with the trend, but in some cases have even adopted a ‘more is better’. We have found more and more ways to cram more and more options into more and more programs designed to get more and more people involved in our smorgasbord of ‘ministries’. That may not be inherently bad, but perhaps Nicholas Carr’s concern is worth considering in this realm, as well, and if we look, we may detect the specter of unintended consequences hovering about. We may discover that our sublime mixture of multi-faceted, multi-social, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-interest, multi-language gospel with lots and lots of ‘channels’ is having less and less real impact on fewer and fewer people, and virtually none on the culture at large.
We’re all familiar with the incident when Jesus was teaching at the home of Martha and Mary. Martha was “distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40a) and complained to Jesus that Mary was wasting time and not helping. There was no multi-tasking for this girl—just hanging around at Jesus’ feet and listening to what He said—ignoring irrelevant distractions—maybe ‘thinking’ about what His words really meant. Distractions lead to superficiality, and our endless and cherished influx of new options, new demands, and new information can inflict irreparable harm to our capacity to think deeply. We’re pressured to skim books and articles instead of really reading them. Confronted with issues of important, even vital, significance, we prefer the 15-second sound bite from an interview with some ‘expert’ rather than sacrificing the time and energy required to ponder their deeper implications. These preferences are costly in the long run.
Jesus said to Mary’s distracted and complaining sister, “… one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part”. Maybe disconnecting from so many things that aren’t as “needed” would be a good place to start to find the one thing that is … What do you think?
© 2014 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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