Multitasking – a good or a bad thing?

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Is our current cultural addiction to multitasking a good thing or a bad thing?  Amazing as it may seem, the jury is still out.  Some say that it is bad, and has produced a generation of young people who can’t concentrate and focus.  Others say that it is good, enhancing creativity and problem solving skills.

The question for me though is what effect multitasking has on our ability to be disciples of Jesus – since multitasking seems on the surface to be the enemy of discipline and structured spirituality.  I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and am slowly coming to grips with what I think is the answer – and hopefully I will share some of my thoughts sometime in the future….

However, with all this in mind, it was interesting to read an article in the New York Times on this very subject – well more the cultural addiction rather than the spiritual implications.  In it the author, Steven Johnson, comments on an up an coming book called called ‘The Shallows’ in which Nicholas Carr argues:

“….that the compulsive skimming, linking and multitasking of our screen reading is undermining the deep, immersive focus that has defined book culture for centuries…..Mr. Carr’s argument is that these distractions come with a heavy cost, and his book’s publication coincides with articles in various publications — including The New York Times — that report on scientific studies showing how multitasking harms our concentration.
Thus far, the neuroscience of multitasking has tended to follow a predictable pattern. Scientists take a handful of test subjects out of their offices and make them watch colored squares dance on a screen in a lab somewhere. Then they determine that multitasking makes you slightly less able to focus. A study reported on early this month found that heavy multitaskers performed about 10 to 20 percent worse on most tests than light multitaskers.
These studies are undoubtedly onto something — no one honestly believes he is better at focusing when he switches back and forth between multiple activities — but they are meaningless as a cultural indicator without measuring what we gain from multitasking

As he continues later in the article:

It’s no accident that most of the great scientific and technological innovation over the last millennium has taken place in crowded, distracting urban centers. The printed page itself encouraged those manifold connections, by allowing ideas to be stored and shared and circulated more efficiently. One can make the case that the Enlightenment depended more on the exchange of ideas than it did on solitary, deep-focus reading.
Quiet contemplation has led to its fair share of important thoughts. But it cannot be denied that good ideas also emerge in networks.
Yes, we are a little less focused, thanks to the electric stimulus of the screen. Yes, we are reading slightly fewer long-form narratives and arguments than we did 50 years ago, though the Kindle and the iPad may well change that. Those are costs, to be sure. But what of the other side of the ledger? We are reading more text, writing far more often, than we were in the heyday of television.
And the speed with which we can follow the trail of an idea, or discover new perspectives on a problem, has increased by several orders of magnitude. We are marginally less focused, and exponentially more connected. That’s a bargain all of us should be happy to make.

Any thought?

Read the full article here.

Church As We Have Always Done It Will Find Increasingly Fewer Participants….

I thought a recent post on Tim Stevens’ Leading Smart blog was interesting – he quotes Ed Fenstermacher as follows:

Eddie Gibbs, in his book ChurchMorph, has identified at least five changes, or megatrends, as he calls them, happening in our culture at present.  They are the shifts from modernity to postmodernity, from the industrial age to the information age, from Christendom to post-Christendom, from production to consumerism, and from religious identity to spiritual exploration.  Books have been written on each of these.  The amazing aspect of them is that they are converging in our time, causing seismic shifts in our culture which require paradigm shifts in our thinking.  In this environment, “church as we have always done it” will find increasingly fewer participants.  Just as financial advisors are needing to modify basic principles they have used for years in this new economic scenario, so will those doing church development need to consider new ways to impact their mission fields.

In his original blog article Ed goes onto say:

Of course, the church will be slow to respond.  The classic bell curve used to show acceptance of innovation applies here.  Since the church is not feeling immediate drastic consequences of the cultural changes, most church folk, including leaders, will be glacial in accepting the need for change.  Ample evidence abounds indicating that even when change is clearly needed, change is very difficult to implement.

And his overall conclusion is interesting:

Missional churches do not necessarily revolve around real estate, buildings, and programs.  They often do not focus on staff driven ministries.  A criticism of many religious folks not reached by attractional methods is a view of traditional church where they feel too much money is spent on staff and buildings and not enough reaching out to those in need.  Missional is not a program to add to existing church.  It is not a category of ministry to add to other categories within the church.  Missional is an ethos which permeates every aspect of what church is, such that all ministries of the church are outward looking and more about the mission field than the existing congregation.  There is no simple threshold which determines if an existing church has arrived at being missional.  It is an ongoing process, sort of like going on to perfection.  However when a church is getting there they can tell the difference and celebrate the progress. 
Being missional is an additional challenge to congregational development.  Since finding new life, vitality and mission in existing churches is tough enough as it is, adding even more depth to the change required will not be easy.  Converting from the attractional model is another level of difficulty, but some churches are doing it.  Likewise most new starts have a strong sense of mission in their early days, but still do so within an attractional framework.  Doing church out there and having much of it stay out there requires a thorough paradigm shift.  To not do so will leave us with ever diminishing returns with the attractional model and a corresponding ongoing denominational decline.

Any thoughts, anyone?

Read the article on Leading Smart here.

Read Ed Fenstermacher’s original blog post here.

Postmodernism – Friend of foe?

The Christian Post guest columnist S Michael Craven asks, in a recent article, whether modernism rather than postmodernism is the enemy of Christian faith:

I often hear evangelical leaders speak of the “threat of postmodernism” or the “challenges of living in the postmodern era” as if some new malevolent force is overtaking Western civilization. In short, most Christians tend to assume that postmodernism is completely opposed to Christian faith, but I would argue that this is based more on a popular and uninformed notion of postmodernity than on a critical analysis that seeks to truly understand the complexities of culture and human knowing.

Make no mistake; there is indeed a malevolent force that has overtaken Western civilization, a force that has undermined authentic Christian faith. I’m talking about modernism. Postmodernism offers the first serious challenge to modernism since its emergence from the eighteenth-century Enlightenment; thus postmodernism warrants serious consideration as an ally to Christian faith.

It was the Enlightenment emphasis on autonomous reason that ushered in the modern era and with it a rejection of Divine revelation as a legitimate source of truth. Messiah College professor of English and film studies Crystal L. Downing points out in her book, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith, “Truth for the modern thinker is objectively perceived by the unaided human brain. Reason begins to take precedence over revelation; rational analysis starts to supersede the authority of the church. … While the premodern Christian says that belief precedes understanding, the modern era began to switch it around, saying, ‘I must understand in order to believe.’” Professor Downing adds that, “once reason is turned into the preeminent source of knowledge, it erodes reliance on faith, which is ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’”

As he goes on to explains:

Though they may deny it, modernists do presuppose certain “truths”; therefore they, too, depart from reason at some point, employing faith in their assumptions. This is precisely what postmodernism challenges: the belief in autonomous reason apart from faith, which ultimately gives rise to the myth of the autonomous self. The “autonomous self” taken to its logical conclusion creates its own unique meaning, defines its own morality, and then attempts to live it to the best of his or her ability. In other words, life is all about you, your feelings and your desires. You and you alone remain the ultimate authority in your own life. This is a purely modernistic notion that has infected the contemporary church in ways too numerous to count.

Read the full article here

 

Avoid being culturally relaxed

How involved in our culture should we be as Christians? I think this is a very difficult question – and one that I have been thinking a lot about lately.

Tullian Tchividjian‘s recent article in the Christian Post discusses the issue: 

Becoming “all things to all people” does not mean fitting in with the fallen patterns of this world so that there is no distinguishable difference between Christians and non-Christians. While rightly living “in the world,” we must avoid the extreme of accommodation-being “of the world.” It happens when Christians, in their attempt to make proper contact with the world, go out of their way to adopt worldly styles, standards, and strategies.

When Christians try to eliminate the counter-cultural, unfashionable features of the biblical message because those features are unpopular in the wider culture-for example, when we reduce sin to a lack of self-esteem, deny the exclusivity of Christ, or downplay the reality of knowable absolute truth-we’ve moved from contextualization to compromise. When we accommodate our culture by jettisoning key themes of the gospel, such as suffering, humility, persecution, service, and self-sacrifice, we actually do our world more harm than good…..

Read the full article here.

Christianity changed how women were viewed in Roman culture

There is an interesting article by Chuck Colsen in the Christian Post dated yesterday about how Christianity changed the role of women in Roman society:

In her new book, Paul Among the People, classics scholar Sarah Ruden writes the common view of the Apostle Paul as an “oppressor of women” could “hardly be more wrong.” With the exception of a handful of high-born matrons, the Roman world often treated women worse than it did cattle.

This was especially true of slaves, who comprised one-third of Rome’s population. They could expect beatings, rape, and, if they were “fortunate,” being forced into prostitution. It was a world where unwanted children were left to die of exposure-infanticide.

Even high-status women ranked, at best, third in her husband’s hierarchy of concerns, behind his parents and her children. Sexually, she was expected to be at her husband’s beck and call. Wives could be disposed of when their husbands no longer desired them.

Thus, when Paul wrote that the “husband should treat the wife’s body as his own,” he inverted the way marriage was seen in the classical world. As Ruden put it, the ridiculous idea that some promote that Paul saw women as “sexual and domestic servants” could only be the result of a “brain fever.”

Paul’s’ teaching about equality in the Church was, if anything, even more revolutionary. The distinctions between slave and free, high-born and plebian were so much a part of the classical world that Paul’s teaching was scandalous. It was so scandalous that the pagan critic Celsus called Christianity a “religion of women, children and slaves.”

Good stuff.

Read the full article here.

Spiritual but not religious – or just self-centred?

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From a recent article on CNN:

“I’m spiritual but not religious.”
It’s a trendy phrase people often use to describe their belief that they don’t need organized religion to live a life of faith.
But for Jesuit priest James Martin, the phrase also hints at something else: egotism.
“Being spiritual but not religious can lead to complacency and self-centeredness,” says Martin, an editor at America, a national Catholic magazine based in New York City. “If it’s just you and God in your room, and a religious community makes no demands on you, why help the poor?”
Religious debates erupt over everything from doctrine to fashion. Martin has jumped into a running debate over the “I’m spiritual but not religious” phrase.
The “I’m spiritual but not religious” community is growing so much that one pastor compared it to a movement. In a 2009 survey by the research firm LifeWay Christian Resources, 72 percent of millennials (18- to 29-year-olds) said they’re “more spiritual than religious.” The phrase is now so commonplace that it’s spawned its own acronym (“I’m SBNR”) and Facebook page: SBNR.org.
But what exactly does being “spiritual but not religious” mean, and could there be hidden dangers in living such a life?

Read the full article here.

HT: Mark Sayers

Welcome to “the new busy”

The idea of busyness is being reinvented, a ‘new busy’ for a new generation, so writes John Naish in last Saturday’s edition of The Times:

The launch of Microsoft’s latest global ad campaign for brazenly rebrands the modern, harried life. Firing off e-mails in your leisure time isn’t a sign of a stressed lifestyle. This sort of multitasking is, according to Microsoft’s wisdom, “The New Busy”.
’We are redefining busy because we know that having a full calendar means having a full life,” states the company blurb for Windows Live Hotmail. “It’s about people who lead big, busy lives and love every minute of it. The ‘new busy’ make beavers look lazy. When you can take your desk with you, the world is your workspace.” Perpetual busyness is becoming a badge of pride.
Our cultural icons are no longer the leisured rich, but the super-active. Madonna’s public life is an ever-shifting carnival of new hobbies, from extreme aerobics to knitting to kabbalah.
Even relaxation has become hardcore, with the rise of hot yoga and one-minute meditation classes.
But do we really need to mourn the death of leisure? According to the experts, there is much to suggest that whirling busyness can benefit our health and morale.
Being busy is becoming our comfort mode, Rachel Lawes, a London-based futurologist, suggests. “People are moving from ‘sitting back’ activities to ones that are ‘sitting forwards’,” she says. “People think that they have got something worthwhile to do and worthwhile to say.”

Read the full article at the TimesOnline website here.

I Want a Perfect Body: Is Plastic Surgery a New Religious Rite of Passage?

Should we start to consider our culture’s fixation with physical perfection as a new religion?  An article in Religious Dispatches today says that we should:
Though it may be a global phenomenon, the roots of this fixation on the body may lie partly in American religion. We need only think of America’s many corporeal obsessions (from dieting to fitness crazes to cosmetic surgery) to begin to suspect that beliefs and commitments at the very heart of American culture are at work here. Harvard’s R. Marie Griffith argues that religion, specifically Protestant forms of Christianity, has been a key influence on the conception and creation of American bodies. Protestant ascetic expressions of Christianity, Griffith argues, promote what she calls “corporeal acts of devotion.” Griffith traces shifting Christian conceptions of embodiment from these early-modern Protestant roots through Christian Scientism and the New Thought Movement. The emphasis on manifesting the inner, spiritual self through disciplines shaping the outer, physical self has thrust the body to the forefront of the American imagination.

According to Griffith, the ideal of bodily perfection rose to general prominence toward the close of the twentieth century, emerging from the evangelical devotional diet movements that first cropped up in the late 1950s. Promoting the belief that inner goodness was apparent in one’s outer aspect, this vein of devotion was built on the doctrine that “fat was sin.” A thin, firm, beautiful body, it was believed, was the visible reflection of goodness and godliness. 

The idea that “fit bodies… signify fitter souls” permeates the American consciousness with anxiety about the body while shaping beliefs about beauty.

Today….the forces of globalization have propelled the American conception of the perfect body into the world at large, where it has merged with and inflected traditional Western ideals of beauty…..“The promise of bodily improvement is fueled by advertising campaigns and commercially-driven Western media, reflecting an increasingly narrow palette of beauty.”

Interesting stuff.  Read the full article here.

Any thoughts or comments?