How To Break Up With Your Phone

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This week was the first week of the 2018 – 2019 school year. I spent the week going over my values as a teacher, classroom procedures and rules. One rule that I am increasingly fighting an uphill battle to enforce is my no-cell phone policy. To explain my reasoning for being strict about their phone usage in class, I had my students take the online Smartphone Compulsion Test. If anyone scores 5 or more out of 15, they may need to seek professional help. Not surprisingly, my students got their highest test scores ever! Only 6 of my students scored under 5 in this self-assessment and these students all had parents who put great restraints on their technology use. In our subsequent conversation on the topic, I offered to purchase the above book for anyone interested in learning more about the subject. I figured I should read it too.

The book is separated into two sections, the first is intended to “scare you” into changing your cell phone habit, while the second is a practical thirty day program to help you make that change. Currently, I have just finished the first section and there are some eye opening ideas presented.

  1. The makers of smart phones and their apps don’t allow their children to use them. The book suggests that’s because they know the potentially addictive nature of what they’ve created.
  2. Facebook, in addition to having access to all of the data used on the site, also has access to every purchase we have made on any card offline. If you’ve ever had an ad pop up for something you purchased- that you never searched for online – it’s this this offline access that made that possible.
  3. The cumulative volume of time spent online is unfathomable. One stat the book quoted from the New York Times is that by 2014, Facebook users were dedicating a combined 39,757 years every day to the site.
  4. In trying to live in a healthier way than our society in general, unplugging is a must. Simply put, being online daily makes each of us susceptible to the influence of what’s making our culture insane.
  5. The chapter titles sum up the book perfectly. Here’s some of my favorites…
    1. Our Phones Are Designed to Addict Us
    2. Your Phone is Changing Your Brain
    3. Your Phone is Killing Your Attention Span
    4. Stress, Sleep and Satisfaction

Boys Should Play With Dolls

a_boy_playing_nursing_his_doll-1.jpgWhat does it mean to be a man? Seeking an answer to this question has been the source of numerous conversations, sleepless nights and a lot of shame in my life. It’s such an odd question because its opposite, “What does it mean to be a woman?” is almost never asked. Women, of course, have their own question posed to them, “How do they find the time, strength and energy to fulfill all that it means to be a woman?” Perhaps, the solutions to both of these questions is rooted in a fact of our culture: men have been separated from their babies.

It starts from the earliest days when boys are given their first toys. A boy rarely receive anything human like to play with – cars, animals, building blocks, sports equipment and guns are his main staples. He plays with fire trucks and police cars, but not the people who drive them. If he’s given anything human, it’s usually a man whose main function is to inflict harm on other humans – wrestlers, soldiers or superheroes. Otherwise, they are accessories to the main toy – vehicle drivers, construction workers or traffic controllers.

The cliche story of a man who would rather work on his car or watch sports than be with his family should not surprise us. Likewise, the general disregard for the feelings of others, especially women, from boys and men have their root in the way boys are taught to play. Many of the parenting skills needed today – changing diapers, bottle feedings, changing clothes etc. – are not natural; they are all learned. Most women have been practicing these skills for years, but for men, the first time we put a shirt on our baby is the first time we have done anything like that. From the get go, there is a gap in skill between men and women that gives the illusion that raising children in “women’s work;” that it’s natural for women. Men, on the other hand, have no access to anything natural except maybe fighting.

The sad part for many men is they spend their entire lives searching for a purpose and an identity in every place except in raising their children. To be clear not every man or woman’s purpose is to raise children, but there is a unique way men relate to their kids that brings fulfillment and joy found nowhere else. In a queer way, giving dolls to boys was taboo in many circles in the past, but even now when it’s cool to be gay, it is much more likely to see a girl with a doll than a boy. The point isn’t so much about making boys play with baby dolls, although why wouldn’t we want our boys to practice being fathers? The point is to bring toys with human likeness back into the center of their play time. The easiest way to do this is to give our sons dolls.

 

 

Ellul Conference

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the International Jacques Ellul Society Conference in Vancouver, Canada. It made sense to me to write a review of the conference and about some of the insights gained.

Vancouver is a beautiful city. Being from San Diego, I am always amazed to go to a place where trees grow wildly. Since it was summer, the weather was mild, still overcast but with little rain. The public transportation was world class and I was easily transported to the University of British Columbia. Aside from the bus and train rides, I didn’t stray too far from my hotel. The campus was beyond beautiful, the people were friendly and I’d love to return some day with my family.

It would have been difficult for the conference to underwhelm because I was very excited to attend. Jacques Ellul is someone I have been reading for the past couple of years, but I’ve been reading him alone and half the time I am not sure if I am understanding him, so I wanted to clarify some things from people who know more than I do. There were three main takeaways from the conference.

  1. Short term planning is a wise endeavor. In the face of the pressures of the planning of society, intentionality is a terrific option.
  2. Poetry is great. I don’t usually read poetry, but the conference introduced me to Ellul’s poetry and opened a door to reading some other authors.
  3. Jesus is good to me. Since I was alone for my trip, I had a lot of time for reflection and I spent some of that time remembering my beliefs and ways of thinking from the past. There have been some similar motivations as I’ve gotten older, but the way I see the world now is vastly different. This is a gift.

What is truth…an example

There are two people who read this blog each week (thank you!). When I say two, I don’t mean two who read it each week and some who read it from time to time. I mean, that for the past three weeks, the blog has literally two different viewers. I mention this not for pity but as a lead in to an example of truth I came across this week – truth is lived outside of the view of the public.

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The poem above was written by Gerard Manly Hopkins. He’s considered one of the greatest poets, yet none of his work was published during his life. He exemplifies the quality of truth we’re discussing. Truth is worth living for its own sake. None of his poems were famous when he wrote them, but the work of writing, rewriting, etc was still worth doing. Truth always demands a response in my daily life. It is the reward, the goal in and of itself. Far too often in today’s culture, the only thing worth doing well is what can bring money or an audience or what is done out of fear. The challenge of Hopkins’ life is to work without having an impact, without changing the world. Hopkins clearly found truth because he was willing to gamble his existence without ever seeing an outcome which would confirm his wager. We, too, should we seek truth should look for it in what we do in private, in secret. It is the hidden parts of our life where truth resides.

What is truth…part five

It worked out that I’ll be able to write today. I’m in Vancouver, Canada, for a conference about Jacques Ellul and the Bible. The hotel where I’m staying doesn’t have a business center, but I’m in the heart of the University of British Columbia and there’s one of those greater computer labs open late where I can get in a couple of paragraphs.

Truth takes on an added dimension when you travel because you pass hundreds or thousands of people busy about their lives, many of them locals, whose daily routine is where I’m vacationing. Take for instance the young lady I met on the plane ride over. She’s from Switzerland. She’s lived her entire life (until today) completely outside my sphere of knowledge. If we are speaking about truth that is real and not a notion created by humans, it must be accessible to her and the millions I flew over today.

This experience, seeing thousands of people with their own hopes and dreams and beliefs, always fills me with humility and second guessing. Yet, there is a defining characteristic of truth in the midst of all this human activity: truth must be lived out. This has been implied in the previous four posts, but not explicitly said. There is a risk involved in seeking truth, because if, as I think is clear, society is not living the truth, then to gamble your life to seek it is to orient your daily concerns in a unique way.

What becomes clear on a trip like this is people are very similar; we find ourselves in preestablished routines, ruts that suck away our time, our energy, our entire lives. In order to find truth we have to break free from the values of the world around us. To be clear, this choice to not conform won’t look different from a stranger’s perspective traveling on train through Vancouver, but to the people who come in contact with that person, there is a difference in how they live in the midst of the same environment.

What is truth…part four

Summer is in full swing and for school teachers truth always seems within grasp during this glorious recess between school years. Being the envy of my typically employed friends is a burden I will have to carry. The break, though, does provide a great opportunity for reflection and I hope a clearer presentation of this week’s topic: truth is not a human creation. I mean this in a couple of ways.

First, our quest for truth is a real. That is, across time and place, humans have been searching for the truth of our existence. This desire to situate our reality inside of a larger context is natural, primal. It not a human creation, though, it is a uniquely human endeavor. Other animals do not seek truth; they do not ask deeper questions about their lives. They act as if the world they interact with is all there is, but we know the lives of animals are situated inside a much more complex universe. Knowing this, we would be foolish to believe that the world we interact with is all there is. There is more than our daily interactions, there is truth.

Second, truth is not found in what humans have created. That is to say, humans have created a lot over the centuries – cities, countries, empires, legal systems, economic systems, political systems, church hierarchies, the world wide web, to name a few. These creations have their own internal logic, but they have no truth. If we are going to search for truth, we have to look outside of what humanity has made, while living in the midst of it. All around us, there are still natural aspects of our lives – our relationships, meaningful work, connection to Jesus, responsibility for our neighbors – but these are increasingly being pushed out and mediated by the artificial realities we are creating. The point is that if we are going to look for truth, we should not waste our time focusing on human constructions, but should turn our gaze elsewhere.

What is the Truth…part 3

Another week gone and even more examples of how our society is lacking any semblance of truth. More suicides in the news, the hope of humanity hanging in the balance as two of its champions negotiate a peace treaty and families are being torn apart over the necessities of a made up border. The good news is the Padres have won their 5th consecutive series for the first time since 2010 and the World Cup begins tomorrow, so we’ll have plenty to distract us. In this series of posts, I have been trying to articulate my understanding of our relationship to truth. Today’s post is about knowing that truth is rarely something easy to know, but requires a commitment to investigate.

My favorite Karl Marx quote goes like this “There is no royal road to science and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.” Somewhere between Marx’s words and today, science became synonymous for truth. Much of society’s aim over the last century has been to level out the steep paths to gaining this scientific truth, to democratize it through compulsory education, access to the technology especially the internet and through the utilization of the scientific method in all areas of life.  Even as a Science has pushed out many of the other avenues humans have used to seek truth, it has also shown us how hollow our senses are. What we immediately perceive rarely grasps the true reality of the object. When we see and hold a rock, for example, it appears solid but microscopes have shown us rocks are mostly empty space. Our initial reactions, assumptions and judgments about a situation seldom hold up upon deeper examination.

The point is not to degrade scientific inquiry. It is a tremendous tool when used in valid areas. The point is to know, if we have the courage to seek truth, it will require the best our time, energy, creativity and skill. It is an open ended adventure. Since we cannot fully depend on our own perception, conversation with those around us, especially with those close to us, is one of our best avenues to discovering truth. Yet, conversation is becoming an endangered species. Here are three ways to increase the amount of truth seeking conversation in our lives.

  1. Desire conversations. If we see that truth will elude us without knowing the thoughts, feelings and perceptions of those around us, we will be more likely to start up these life giving conversations.
  2. Schedule conversations. Constantly try to find ways to speak with people. Search for honest conversations like it was money. Ask people if they will read books with you, or meet for a beer or go to a ball game or exchange ideas over email or schedule family meetings. The more you try, the more chance you’ll have for those essential insights.
  3. Unplug and rest. Simply put, our capacity for meaningful conversations, for being able to concentrate for a long time, for being in a positive state to be disagreed with involves a reservoir of emotional energy that most of do not have because we live busy lives, full of distraction and purposeful amusement. We have to create capacity to have meaningful conversations.