Thursday, September 29, 2016

"Why do you come here?": Dispatch from distraction

I've always been amused by the phrase employed by would-be writers (of which I am one), "finding my voice." Whenever I think about that phrase in reference to myself I have to admit I find it reductive, smacking of just the kind of thing I want to avoid: hardening of my creative, intellectual, and spiritual arteries. I hope to continue to be awed by wonder and to let the object determine the method. Like most people these days, however, I suffer from distraction and diffusion of my mental and spiritual energies, such as they are, meaning not all that great form the beginning. Whatever I write bears the scars of this psychic disfiguration.

Diffusion and distraction are largely the result of the my overuse, my often compulsive use, of social media. I know, I know, blogs count as social media. But for me blogging is different because, unlike Facebook, Twitter, G+, and the like, I am able to post something and walk away and not wait around for a like, a comment, a share, etc., those dopamine-inducing, or infuriating replies that prompt an immediate reactive response to whatever I may throw out at any given moment. Sure I will check to see if anyone reads what I post, but far less than I used to. Beginning last fall and moving forward to the tenth anniversary of this blog, I was able to reconnect with my original intent in starting this endeavor, something rather modest: to create a weblog, a kind of on-line diary composed of more or less thoughtful compositions, not raw impressions, like a personal diary might contain.

Based on: Hotel Room, by Edward Hopper (1931). Photo: Kim Dong-kyu from New York magazine

Last Sunday, a Benedictine monk drew my attention to a recent article by Andrew Sullivan published in New York magazine: "I Used to Be a Human Being." I commend this piece to you the way it was commended to me- find some quiet time, a quiet place, and read it. Sullivan's recounting of his personal struggle and the more general insights it yields about the impact of the internet (do we still use that term?- "web" is probably better because it's something we get caught in), particularly social media, on us individually and collectively are well-worth your time and consideration. One thing Sullivan discusses is how on-line activities impeded his ability to relate to others, those actually, as opposed to virtually, in his life, or even just to sit and read a book. One observation worth passing along is:
If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation. Christian leaders seem to think that they need more distraction to counter the distraction. Their services have degenerated into emotional spasms, their spaces drowned with light and noise and locked shut throughout the day, when their darkness and silence might actually draw those whose minds and souls have grown web-weary. But the mysticism of Catholic meditation — of the Rosary, of Benediction, or simple contemplative prayer — is a tradition in search of rediscovery. The monasteries — opened up to more lay visitors — could try to answer to the same needs that the booming yoga movement has increasingly met
Another piece I ran across this morning is also worth passing along- Kim Nicolini's post "Long Drive Home." I have to admit that her experience is very different from own. I mention this because I don't want to co-opt what she has to say, or falsely identify her experience as my own. Maybe it's because her experience is so different from mine than it resonated deeply with me. I don't want to put a Pollyanna spin on her hard-hitting piece (her powerful punches need to be felt, let her hit you), but I am glad she ended by writing about the Glen Hansard concert she attended. Listening to Hansard's songs caused Nicolini to reflect:
Glen Hansard reminded me that despite the ugliness of politics, I don’t have to own them or let them ugly up my life. The human creative spirit is beyond politics and debates. We can make music, art, and poetry. We can dance and love. We can hold onto our inner shining stars because if you are not One Of Those Other Motherfuckers, then you have an inner shining soul. I have mine. It’s vulnerable. It’s been through a hell of a lot in this lifetime. I’m going to do my best to take care of it until I reach retirement, so I don’t drop dead two weeks later but can actually maybe spend the majority of my senior years doing things I love to do rather than things I have to do
This is the part where I am supposed to add my own deep reflection in some kind of meta-attempt to synthesize and maybe one-up both Sullivan and Nicolini. The truth is I can't and so I am not going to try. Instead, I will share some more thoughts refracted through my recent struggle with distraction.

Books I am currently reading

Currently I am reading a stack of books. Apart from three- Robin Ryan's Jesus & Salvation I am reading for our local monthly theology group, Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring I am reading with my 11 year-old son, and Gary Macy's The Hidden History of Women's Ordination I am reading as research for my DMin dissertation and a lecture I have been asked to give on the diaconate in March of next year, I am reading the rest just 'cuz. Due to time wasted going down what Sullivan called the "rabbit holes" of the web, especially in the midst of this horror of an election, which Nicolini had the courage to describe in a manner that I can't bring myself to employ (I am ecstatic she can and does), I am not having much success in finishing these books. While I hope to post here more regularly, my presence on more interactive, reactive, distracting social media will be greatly reduced. In fact, apart from putting up what I post here, I plan to be absent from Facebook, Twitter, and G+ for the entire month of October. During this time I hope to detox and limit my future participation to what is meaningful.

Someone named Douglas V. Steere began his introduction to Image Books' 1989 paperback edition of Pater Tom's Contemplative Prayer with a quote by William Blake: "we are put on earth for a little space that we may bear the beams of love." Lest this, too, be mistaken as an attempt to dress in drag and play Pollyanna, Steere went on to note that Blake's take on human life, in addition to being an apt description of "Thomas Merton's account of monastic prayer," is a "firm reminder of how much remains to be done to prepare man to bear the 'beams of love.'" While we long to be exposed to love's beams, Steere noted, we "fear" love's "transforming power." I don't think it's any great insight to note that since 1989 we've not done much, if anything, to prepare ourselves to bear love's illuminating beams. Rather, I think we've become increasingly intent on seeking out and content to live in the shadows.

Our fear of love's transforming power is what David Bentley Hart took aim at in his recent Commonweal article, "Christ's Rabble: The First Christians Were Not Like Us." Summarizing towards the end his piece, Hart pointed out:
Throughout the history of the church, Christians have keenly desired to believe that the New Testament affirms the kind of people we are, rather than—as is actually the case—the kind of people we are not, and really would not want to be. The first, perhaps most crucial thing to understand about the earliest generations of Christians is that they were a company of extremists, radical in their rejection of the values and priorities of society not only at its most degenerate, but often at its most reasonable and decent
I don't mind mentioning that yesterday I purchased tickets to see Morrissey here in Salt Lake City the day after my birthday at the new Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake. Somehow one of the songs off Morrissey's first solo album, Viva Hate, with which he has been opening most of his recent shows, "Suedehead," seems fitting for what might be an early tradito (we'll see). Below is a live performance from earlier this month in Chicago at RiotFest:

One last distracting thought; today is the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels. Sanctus Archangeli, orate pro nobis!

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