Reflections to start the week
Monday, May 5, 2014
Last week, I attended a conference with about 20 rectors and a guest speaker, Bill Powers, author of N.Y. Times bestseller, Hamlet’s Blackberry, Building A Good Life in the Digital Age. The book is described by one reviewer as an “oasis of serenity and sanity.” The book resembles its author. Mr. Powers is a gifted journalist, a great guy. He’s not a churchgoer, but/and he had a lot to teach us clergy, some of whom have been ordained and serving in congregations for a while. He sees the challenge of the digital age this way: We need to move from quantity to quality, from speed to engagement, from breadth to depth. He believes that communities of the spirit, communities that help mediate meaning, can bring that kind of growth.
As an alumnus of an Ivy League school, he has been asked to interview prospective candidates for admission. In conversation with one young woman, he asked about how she used technology. She responded that she had developed a “personal digital strategy” and actually produced a copy of this written statement, a covenant of how she would use technology, specifically social media, how she would limit and focus that usage in order to make it work for her, how she would balance its cost and promise.
Mr. Powers then talked about his family’s practice, how he, his wife and son unplug for the weekend, how that can be both challenging and liberating. It sounded a lot to me like a Sabbath, an ancient divinely ordained spiritual practice that was mostly lost to our culture when blue laws disappeared (those antiquated laws that kept businesses closed on Sundays, active at a time before sports practices and games were scheduled on Sunday morning). I considered the practice of the Powers family against the backdrop of this past Lent, in which I heard of a number of people who gave up Facebook for the season.
I found myself wondering if there was a spiritual growth opportunity for me, because sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, say at 3 a.m., I check my email, as if someone was going to write me in that time period, or like there was something I really needed to act on in response. ‘Fess up. Anyone else ever do that?
The conversation among the rectors, connected on ipads, phones, laptops throughout the conference, turned to the question of how to manage the marvelous resources of technology when they threaten to manage us. We discussed a call to mindfulness, intentionality about how much time we spend in the digital world, how we relate to others through these amazing devices, how we do that well, and how, well, not so much. It was a stewardship conversation, an exploration of what we do with what we’re given. The thought of a personal digital strategy began to sound like a rule of life, another ancient spiritual practice of intentionality.
Here’s a bit of coaching. (Newsflash: the preacher is preaching to himself.) Unplug, even for just a few minutes each day. Carve out silence. Start with a minute one day. Two the next. Three the next. Get to twenty. Then do twenty in the morning and twenty in the evening. Put the smartphone away. Press mute. Step away from the screen. Take your watch off. Sit in silence.
That kind of silence can be a most faithful prayer, marked by audacious expectancy that we will actually hear the God of creation, the Holy Spirit, say something if we shut up, that God will speak in the silence if we reduce the chatter, the static, the interference, the noise that we create. Give it a try. Give yourself (and the digital world) a rest.
– Jay Sidebotham
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for all.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.