Approximately 120,000 books are published in America every year. Sadly, few of us ever read them. At least, that’s what some recent stats suggest.
- 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
- 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
- 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year
- 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
- 57 percent of new books are not read to completion.
As a self-confessed bibliophile, that’s just depressing. I’m not sure which is worse, that even college graduates have such terrible reading habits, or that so many families didn’t even bother to buy a single book last year. (I have to confess that I rarely buy books from concrete-and-mortar bookstores either, though I still go on occasion to enjoy the ambiance. Yes, I’m a hypocrite that way.)
But, more importantly, I worry about this lack of attention to the written word for the church today. Granted, the church has often demonstrated the ability to flourish in non-literate cultures. So, reading itself isn’t the only medium of formation. But, in all the examples that come to mind, those cultures retained a strong emphasis on oral education. And,we’re not doing that. At the same time that we are neglecting the written word, we’re also at the tail-end of a decades long shift toward shorter sermons and fewer weekly services dedicated to serious lay development. Put those two together, and you have a recipe for spiritual anemia.
Time Magazine has put out its list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2011. But, I have to admit that it’s hard to take such a list seriously when it includes people like the following. The sad thing is that maybe these are among the most influential people on earth. How long do you think it will be before they have viable colonies on Mars?
- Peter Vesterbacka (developer of Angry Birds)
- Amy Poehler (actress in Parks and Recreation)
- Kim Clijsters (tennis player)
- Rob Bell (apparently it only takes one book)
- Justin Bieber (no comment)
- Blake Lively (actress in Gossip Girl)
- Bruno Mars (singer)
- George R. R. Martin (I like his books, but he really doesn’t fit here)
- Sting (seriously?)
- Mark Wahlberg (Marky Mark made the list?)
The list might be even worse than this, but I didn’t bother to click on too many of the names I didn’t know – a surprising number given their apparent influence in the world.
As my students can attest, I’m constantly fiddling with my classes. Almost every semester, I’m trying some kind of experiment, testing out some new content or a new way of delivering that content, getting feedback from students, and tossing what didn’t work. I’m sure it drives some students batty. But hey, it builds character.
One thing I haven’t tried yet is video-conferencing or live streaming in the classroom. I’ve done a lot with recorded material, and I’ve had students participate by phone several times, but I haven’t yet experimented with live video content. From other professors I’ve talked to, this approach has some tremendous benefits, as well as a few significant problems.
On the positive side:
- It makes it easier to use guest lecturers in the classroom. The costs associated with bringing a guest lecturer to campus are usually prohibitive unless the right person just happens to be in town (not terribly common in Portland). But, video-conferencing makes it far easier. Indeed, one of our professors in San Jose, routinely uses this approach to allow students to interact with the authors of books they’ve read for class. Talk about a great learning opportunity.
- It makes the classroom accessible to a much broader audience. Western has had a pretty aggressive distance education program for a long time, making most of our courses available to people who don’t live in Portland. And, that’s a great thing. Live streaming takes this a step further and opens the classroom itself to more people.
- It makes it easier for students who need to miss a class. The Chronicle of Higher Education had an interesting article on this a few weeks back, “Absent Students Want to Attend Traditional Classes via Webcam.” I’ve already experienced this in classes that I’ve supported with recorded material. Students no longer have to scramble afterward to copy another student’s notes, hoping that she was paying attention in class. Instead, they can just view the lecture/discussion for themselves.
On the negative side:
- The technology isn’t always as stable as you’d think. Nearly every professor that I’ve talked with who has used some kind of live online content has a story about the technology not working properly and the classroom time that they wasted troubleshooting and fiddling with the technology. Even seasoned technology like Skype can glitch unexpectedly, costing precious classroom time.
- It can be frustrating for the students who are physically present. I can’t imagine that there’s anything more annoying that sitting in a class watching a professor fiddle with some technology designed to make the lecture available to people elsewhere. You have to be thinking, ” Hey, I’m right here! I spent good money on this class, so let’s get started.”
- Students may be tempted to skip class more often. This is one of the more commonly cited worries whenever you talk about making classes available outside the classroom like this. And, I’m sure it’s a worry that’s worth talking bout seriously. As the video clip below from the movie Real Genius demonstrates, though, this is a worry that’s been around for a while.
What do you think? If you’re a teacher and you’ve used these technologies in the classroom, what did you think? Was it worth it? Or, if you’re a student (or you used to be one), have you been in a class that used video-conferencing or live-streaming? Did you find it distracting or beneficial? Did it contribute to or detract from your learning experience?
What is this within me that drives me to do the things that I do? Where does it come from? Why won’t it let me go? What’s wrong with me? Can I be fixed?
These are the recurrent question raised in season 2 of Dexter. Throughout the season, Dexter struggles to come to grips with what he calls his “dark passenger” who is with him wherever he goes and drives his need for violence. Although it rests deep within him, it feels like a stranger. Some alien force controlling his every action. He strives to hide it from everyone around him, but it’s always there.
In the show, the “dark passenger” works best as a an analogy for addiction. But, as I watched, it struck me as a powerful picture of sin as well. As Paul says, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15)
Here are a couple of the more powerful scenes describing Dexter’s dark passenger. (See also my post on 5 Things I Learned about the Gospel from a Serial Killer.)
She is one of the most interesting/disturbing pop culture figures today. She is likened to other pop divas as Brittney Spears, Katy Perry, and Christina Aguilera, but has cut out a name for herself in her own right. She wears dresses made of raw meat and has one of the most eclectic wardrobes of all time. Every song she produces is a number one hit and I can guarantee that almost every person from the ages of 8-35 (respectively) knows of her or about her.
What you may not have known about Lady Gaga is that she is a theologian! It may surprise some, but she has a view of God, informed by some type of sources, and she teaches a particular doctrine(s). Her latest song, Born This Way, which has stood in the number one spot on iTunes since being released, is called the “Manifesto of Mother Monster,” making it a type of creed for people to live by. The entire song has two goals: 1) To get people to love and accept themselves as they are, and 2) To get people to be love and accept others as they are. The logical reasoning for this acceptance is found in the chorus:
I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way
Don’t hide yourself in regret,
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way
(Born this way)
Sounds like a decent message. She brings God into the equation, and does make an appropriate and true statement about him, “God makes no mistakes.” What Christian can argue with that message? To argue anything other than that is to accuse God of making mistakes, being ignorant of what is going on in the world, and unable to govern his universe. We know from Scripture, however, that God is infinite, wise, all-powerful, and accomplishes exactly what he wants. He truly makes no mistakes.
She makes another partially true statement about “being born” the way you are. If you’re white, black, brown, American, Chinese, or Lebanese God caused you to be born this way. Again, true. We know from Acts 17:26-27 that God established the boundaries of men, allotted them the periods of time they would live in, and what nationality they would be. Who could argue that from the womb they got to plead a case for where they wanted to be born, or what nationality they wanted to be, or what language they wanted to speak. No, God did that and according to Paul he did it in the hope that men would seek him.
Where Lady Gaga goes wrong is in saying that there is no distinction between nationality and sin. If God makes no mistakes, and God is in control of your nationality and time of birth, then God also made you lesbian, gay, straight, or bisexual. Our acceptance of one’s nationality or gender, should be no different from our acceptance of their sexuality. What Lady Gaga fails to consider, however, is that although God makes no mistakes, man makes plenty of them and has been doing so since the Garden of Eden. Is it a sin to be African American? No. Is it a sin to be a white male? No. Is it a sin to be a female from Argentina? No. Is it a sin to be lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or a sexually immoral heterosexual? Yes. When it comes to nationality or gender, you have no choice. When it comes to your sexuality you do, and the Bible is clear when it comes to this issue.
Why does a pop song matter? It matters because everyone is a theologian. And the question is not whether or not a person has a theological grid for understanding who God is. The question is whether or not the Bible and the person and work of Jesus Christ inform that theological grid. Lady Gaga is training/discipling/preaching to culture and the people in your church, especially students, to grid their view of God and others through a particular lens, one of love and acceptance. And that grid is extremely popular in our day! That’s not necessarily a bad thing to call people to. Christians should be calling each other to love people. However, the danger is that this grid does not take into account the justice of God, the reality of sin, the brokenness of man, the wrath of God against sin, or the desire of God to forgive sinners in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. She’s mixing truth with the cyanide of lie, and great hosts of people are drinking the juice.
If Lady Gaga is right, then it is not sinful for a man to be an alcoholic who beats his wife. After all, God made me to love alcohol and hate women. I was born this way. It’s not a sin to molest little children. After all someone’s sexual preference for small children would be no different from the lesbian, gay, or heterosexual persons. Just ask the North American Man/Boy Association. They were born that way. And if you’re really going to buy into the god of Gaga, then not only do you simply need to love and accept yourself for being this way, but all of us who disagree with your lifestyle simply need to be more accepting. If Lady Gaga would disagree with me, that in fact pedophilia and spousal abuse is evil (sin?), then it would be appropriate to ask her on what authority she stands, and why we should believe her? At this point, please spare me the argument about genetic DNA that shows certain propensities towards certain actions. All I have to say to that is, welcome to the human race. We all have those, and it doesn’t make one’s particular actions any more right/good, or them any less responsible for their choices.
According to Scripture however, we learn that God makes no mistakes, he is sovereignly ruling his creation, and that sin has entered and corrupted what was good. What the creation hates is that the Creator God gets to define what sin is. Since a rebellious creation does not like his definition, it attempts to redefine and write its own. The good thing is that God will not stand for his creation rebelling against him and destroying itself, so he intervenes. He models what love really is by sending his own Son to make right what was made wrong and restore relationship. In this God shows his love and acceptance towards sinners (really horrible ones as well, just ask Paul), and his absolute hatred of sin. There is such a thing as sin, God gets to say what it is, it will be accounted for, and everyone will have to deal with Jesus. We were “born this way.” This way is broken and needs redemption. Thank God that we have a redeemer. It is the height of arrogance, rebellion, and stupidity to rejoice in a sin sick state, when the remedy has been provided. Praise God that although we were “born this way,” we don’t have to stay in it.
I still haven’t purchased a new laptop. If you haven’t been following this blog for very long, this may not be terribly surprising. The rest of you know that I’ve been in the market for a new laptop for a while now. But, I just haven’t been able to pull the trigger. Technically, I’ve pulled the trigger several times and then stuffed the bullet back in. I’m now on my fourth laptop in the last six months and I’m still not happy. (I keep returning them.) So, the hunt continues.
And now Apple comes out with the second generation of iPads. So, although I’d written off the iPad a while back because I wasn’t happy with its limitations, I have to check it out again. Thanks Apple.
So, since I’m doing some homework, I think I’d pass along some of the results. Here’s an interesting link showing the iPad 2 from all angles. And, here’s the most helpful infographic I’ve seen so far comparing the iPad2 to its major competitors: the original iPad, the Motorola Xoom, and the HP Touchpad.
I’ve run across quite a few good technology related posts lately. Rather than trying to comment on them all individually, I decided just to gather them in one roundup. Here you go.
- Digitizd comments on The Feeling of Reading a Book.
There’s something, something I can’t explain, about the way a book feels to hold and read that no digital version can match.
- A new report suggests that cell phone use affects our brain, we just don’t know how.
A study published in tomorrow’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association confirms what researchers have long suspected: that long conversations on cellphones affect parts of your brain. Trouble is, not even the study’s authors, the National Institute of Health, know how the calls affect you.
- A Boston.com article discusses five new feelings produced by the internet.
There are some pretty specific feelings that can only happen in the Internet age, as a consequence of it. Or, at least, as a consequence of our angst about it, in the shadow of the self-obsession it facilitates, even encourages.
- A Slate.com article comments on why I Hate My iPad. And, here’s a follow-up article with some of the reader responses.
Now I just feel annoyed, having spent $600 on a device that hasn’t done anything to improve my life. A salad spinner would have been a better investment, and I don’t even eat that much salad.
- And, here’s a compilation of people talking about the internet before people really knew what the internet was.
A recent Wired article argues that we’re paying too much attention to the importance of paying attention. In “Bother Me, I’m Thinking,” Jonah Lehrer argues that the modern world is obsessed with being “focused,” and has missed out on the benefits of distraction.
As he points out at the beginning,
We live in a time that worships attention. When we need to work, we force ourselves to focus, to stare straight ahead at the computer screen.
Indeed, focus is so important that we routinely diagnose kids as having a disorder if they can’t pay attention sufficiently.
But, he goes on to summarize a number of recent studies that suggest there are real benefits to paying less attention.
For instance, researchers have found a surprising link between daydreaming and creativity—people who daydream more are also better at generating new ideas. Other studies have found that employees are more productive when they’re allowed to engage in “Internet leisure browsing” and that people unable to concentrate due to severe brain damage actually score above average on various problem-solving tasks.
The rest of the article focuses on several recent studies that support the conclusion that distraction actually helps promote creativity.
None of this suggests, of course, that we don’t need to be able to pay attention. He recognizes that focusing is a skill that most people need. He just wants to highlight that for some people “distractibility can actually be a net positive.”
Although we think that more attention can solve everything—that the best strategy is always a strict focus fueled by triple espressos—that’s not the case. Sometimes, the most productive thing we can do is surf the Web and eavesdrop on that conversation next door.