The Problem of distraction.
Email dings, Texts buzz, Phones ring. Twitter tweets, Facebook refreshes, and bloggers blog. This is the way of life in the 21st Century. It is common in this day and age to pause mid sentence in a conversation, pull out your cell phone and scan the text that just buzzed in your pocket while the real person standing in front of you waits for you to return. We are there, but not all there. We have become acclimated to distraction. I have found it incredibly difficult to write anything of substance because my brain is so distracted by the constant onslaught of dings and buzz’s coming from my pocket. This problem is not isolated to our cell phones it encompasses all of our technology and media. Technology has hijacked our brain. I feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs reaching for my pocket every thirty seconds. I really noticed this a few years ago on my Sermon Preparation days. I would spend some 30-45 minutes in a text and/or commentary, then like a trained animal, I would check Facebook, twitter, and my email. Why? I grew up blaming it on my ADHD but now I believe that I had become acclimated to distraction.
The cultural effects of distraction.
According to Todd Gitlin, Author of Media Unlimited, Media saturation and technology has caused us to become obsessed with the inconsequential. He writes,
“To put this another way: alongside specific effects, much of the time the everyday noise of media is the buzz of the inconsequential, the just there. This is neither the media’s downside nor their saving grace. The buzz of the inconsequential is the media’s essence. This pointlessness is precisely what we are, by and large, not free to choose.”
Distraction acclimates us to the inconsequential. We become obsessed with trivial and meaningless things at the expense of reflection and contemplation. During a battle with Cancer, when life seemed very fragile Dr. T. David Gordon wrote these words in a small book called “Why Johnny Can’t Preach,”
“What kinds of ministers does such a culture produce? Ministers who are not at home with what is significant; ministers whose attention span is less than that of a four-year-old in the 1940’s, who race around like the rest of us, constantly distracted by sounds and images of inconsequential trivialities, and out of touch with what is weighty. It is not surprising that their sermons, and the alleged worship that surrounds them, are often trifling, thoughtless, uninspiring, and mundane. It is not surprising that their sermons are mindlessly practical, in the “how-to” sense. It is also not surprising that their sermons tend to be moralistic, sentimentalistic, or slavishly drafted into the so-called culture wars. the great seriousness of the reality of being human, the dreadful seriousness of the coming judgment of God, the sheer insignificance of the present in light of eternity - reality that once were the subtext of virtually every sermon - have now disappeared, and have been replaced by one triviality after another.”
Why your tweet soaked brain needs to read John Calvins’ Institutes.
A few years ago, Pastor Bob Thune encouraged the men in our second year of the Porterbrook Institute to read through Calvins’ Institutes together. I think we were all under the age of 35 and pretty well acclimated to the inconsequential, myself more so than others. Reading Calvin was fresh water to my thirsting soul. It was like stepping off a busy subway train into a pristine forest with nothing but nature for miles around. My soul has had to change, shift, and adjust to a different climate. In my day to day life, I crave the short, 140 characters or less chatter. I used to scour Facebook statuses, tweets, and trivial blog posts but in Calvin I found that which is substantial and profound. I couldn't scour, I had to read slow and digest. My mind couldn't skim, I couldn't speed read and expect to get anything out of it. I was forced to slow down and engage my mind fully. In my day to day life, reading a tweet or Facebook headline gives me some kind of minute sense of accomplishment, some sense that I know what's going on int he world, but that immediate gratification is not found in Calvin. It takes months to read, I must stay disciplined if I am going to get the joy at the end of this book. Calvin’s writing follows a logical flow which is systematic and thorough not just brief, catchy, or clear. There's no click bait here. He gives over one thousand pages to His topic because it is that weighty and means that much to him. He outlines and expounds because His topic is highly nuanced and that cannot be communicated in a tweet.
Yesterday, Ray Ortlund said, "One of the easiest ways I get my distracted heart rejoicing in God again is to pick up a book of solid theology and just start reading." I would give a hearty Amen to that and say this is exactly why your social media soaked brain needs to read John Calvin or some other work of solid theology right now.