Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reaching The Shallows and Going Deep

I started reading an interesting book recently--The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. The premise is interesting.

One of the features of the human brain is "plasticity"--that means that our brains are capable of adapting, as they respond to constant stimulus. The nature of that stimulus has a huge impact on how our brains develop. And one of the major ways that our brains are stimulated has to do with information technology.

For instance, when the printing press was invented--a major information technology change-- the way that people received information resulted in a change to how brains developed. Rather than listening to information being spoken, the written word became accessible to the common person and then reading became the primary mode of learning. Perhaps the democratic revolutions that followed were inevitable results of the explosion of the printed page.

We are in the middle of a major information technology revolution. First computer technology, but then more importantly, online connectivity and smart phones have changed the way we receive information. We are constantly being bombarded with information in bursts--email, web pages, texts, tweets, Facebook, YouTube--and often a message of very few words are accompanied by compelling graphics and videos.

One of the results of the information technology revolution is a change in the way our brains operate. For instance, rather than reading books the way we used to, many young people are beginning to "scan" the pages of a book, their brains looking for pertinent information, like scanning a web page. The result is a shallower understanding of the topic.

Another implication has to do with how we relate to one another. Intimacy seems to have become public. Facebook pages, constant texting (and sexting) results in a kind of pseudo-intimacy in the public sphere.

All of this has implications for those of us who are seeking to bring the eternal Gospel of the Kingdom to a new generation.

One of the most important parables in Mark's Gospel is that of the Sower and the Seed. The Gospel message is broadcast into the culture and falls on four kinds of "hearers" that are compared to four types of soil. Some sewn along the path are so shallow that the enemy snatches it away before it can sprout. Some sewn in rocky soil begin to seed, but once again, the shallow nature of the soil results in instant withering of the roots. Some sewn among thorns and the cares of the world (could this be likened to the constant "noise" of the technology revolution?) choke out the plant. Only a few are sewn in good soil that takes in the message and it is able to root deeply. (Read Mark 4: 1-20).

The punchline of the parable is: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4: 9). Perhaps a paraphrase would be, "Pay attention to how you listen to the Word."

I believe that the Evangelical church in America has a problem with "The Shallows." We have spent so much time learning how to "relate" to people in a shallow culture that we have sometimes made our message shallow. But we are called to be counter-cultural in so many ways. To be a disciple of Jesus is to go deep. You cannot be a follower of the Son of God in a casual, shallow way.

This has incredible implications for how we preach the Gospel and how we make disciples. A disciple must take the time to allow the message to sink deeply into the soil of their lives so that the full implications of the message have their intended transforming affect. This is why solitude, silence, meditation, contemplative prayer and study are necessary for the life of discipleship.

As we seek to communicate our message in a shallow world, we must learn to use the tools of modern technology to reach a new, online, wired generation. But let us also call people to break out of the shallows and go deep--listening attentively and thinking intently and being transformed into true apprentices of Jesus.


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