“We know how powerful those things are”

The smartphone, with its endless apps, is designed to whisper to you that the thing you are doing is not the thing you ought to be doing. The phone isn’t encouraging your progress; it’s causing you stress. Want to know what hostile AI [artificial intelligence] looks like? You’re holding it.


That’s a quote from chapter six, Set Tech Limits, from Ben Sasse’s book Them. There’s a reason that this chapter is the longest in his book. He’s preaching, quite convincingly, that the quick advancement of technology is a major contributor to the cultural challenges in America. These challenges are apparent by the fact that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs creating these advancements don’t want their own kids to have iPads and smartphones. “We know how powerful those things are.”

There’s so much in this chapter that, unless you keep up with all the latest tech news, you have no idea about-the possibility of living to 200 because of advancements like our skin transmitting information to the internet or microscopic computers swimming around in our bloodstream repairing cancers before they are diagnosed, to name a couple. These sound like good things. Sasse shares also some bad things, particularly those that will impact the generations who don’t know a world without AI.

He doesn’t drop the fear and leave. Sasse provides doable suggestions for setting technology limits for yourself and your family. He shares his personal boundaries for how long he engages technology and at what time of day. For his family, they observe a “digital Sabbath” for a big chunk of Sundays. Other practical suggestions include turning off notifications, stop checking likes, read comments only at a predetermined time, and unfollow politics addicts.

This post is my final post referencing Sasse’s book. My recommendation is:

  • If you are American, read it
  • If you are a parent, read it
  • If you are culturally concerned, read it
  • If you are desiring healing encouraged by love in your family and your community, read it

The Wise’s Time

A couple of posts ago I mentioned Ben Sasse’s book Them. I’ll finish it before the sun goes down, but I’m taking a break to ask a question.

The question comes after reading chapter seven entitled “Buy a Cemetary Plot” (you should get your own copy to find out what that title’s about). That chapter contains thoughtful words from a 2017 commencement address by Josh Gibbs, a teacher and author in Richmond, Virginia. Address paraphrase: life is full of seasons in which we are tempted to look forward to the next season in order to find contentment. Sasse includes this quote by Gibbs:

Contentment is a condition of the soul, and it does not come with getting what you want, but in giving thanks to God for what you have been given.

Both writers lead their reader to the third chapter of Ecclesiastes where Solomon describes how everything has its time:

Birth, death; love, hate; gain, lose; weeping, laughing; breaking down, building up; silence, speaking; war, peace; gathering, discarding; mourning, dancing; planting, gleaning; embracing, distancing; tearing, sewing.

Then Sasse wrote this:

The wise man learns how to grow where he is planted. He chooses joy. He embraces the time and season.

And that’s what forms my question: What time is it?

  • What time is it in your season of life?
  • What time is it in your family?
  • What time is it in your community?
  • What time is it in your church?
  • What time is it in your country?

Solomon said every time has a purpose. To wring every ounce of purpose out of their time, the wise make these choices:

  • Choose to embrace this time and season
  • Choose joy
  • Choose to learn and grow
  • Choose to thank God for what He’s already given 

Polititainment & The Gospel

Huh?

Exactly. What is that and how do they go together? Let’s see if I can answer that question.

In Senator Ben Sasse’s book Them, he coined the term polititainment defining the work of journalism that combines coverage of politics while providing entertainment. He states the result is “we have a country of increasingly disconnected people sitting around watching news that riles them up…The pressure to belong, the desire to belong, makes people forget the Golden Rule.” 

Americans are addicted to it. And we are paying the price. I observed this just a few blocks from our church office this past Monday while driving by 2020 presidential campaigners on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. Yes, you read that right-2020 campaigners. Maybe I’m clueless, but surely I can’t be the only person thinking that’s worse than walking by Christmas items on Walmart shelves before Labor Day. 

Much like writing a rare political blog post, I left a “what in the world” voicemail with the affiliated party’s local office. To their credit, they called me back to explain those campaigners were rogues unlawfully using the party name. In so many words, the party V.P. agreed we’re all paying the price of polititainment. 

And sadly, even our churches are included in the gouging. And the roaring lion seeking to devour loves it. He loves the division between believers, the distraction from purpose, and the disengagement of the gospel. Some of the loudest “Amens!” and thunderest congregational applauds given over the last ten years have followed politically charged statements about abortion, marriage, or homosexuality. Inside I’ve cringed because it felt like I was temporarily transported away from a gospel gathering and dumped into a party rally. Some believers have gone so far as to leave their local congregation over disputes concerning the placement of flags in the worship center. The lion roars while the gospel leaves the building.

American Christians, let’s learn from our brothers and sisters in other countries who may be without A/C, lyrics on a screen, padded seats, cars in the parking lot, bulletins, or carpet. Yet they gather underground, under trees, or in very crowded spaces hungry to hear the gospel because they don’t have a personal copy of it, in some cases because it’s not available in print. They would be quite confused by our mixture of politics and the gospel.

If you are curious how mixed these two things are in your own life, here’s a suggested exercise:

  • Compare the amount of time and avenues in which polititainment and the gospel are infused into your day. Those avenues could include social media, TV, books, music, emails, texts, etc. Keep a track of this for a week. Talk with God along the way, and by the end of the week see what you glean from your observations of your time engaged in these avenues.

Frankly, we American Christians should prioritize the Gospel over whether our church has a flag on the stage or not, whether our congregation is red or blue, which network personality to watch, or which party primary registration includes my name. The Gospel supersedes polititainment. Let’s die on the right hill.

Is this a shame post? To some degree, yes. But it’s meant to be more of a reality post. The American church is the frog in the pan of polititainment. It’s heating up. It’s time to leap out of that pan and into the one where the Holy Spirit has freedom, the Son is lifted high, and the Father’s name is hallowed.