Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry-the-Beloved-CountryMost of my favorite conversations about literature have been with David Powlison, and most of those conversations have been spontaneous, leaving me to scribble down notes on whatever paper was close. But six years ago, in the spring of 2009, over dinner in a restaurant, I wised up, brought a handheld recorder, got his permission to record, and then asked him about the novels that have most shaped his ministry.

As you might expect, he commended Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. But first he commended Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. Here’s what he said (6-minute audio):

iPhone Flattery

I’m finishing up a survey of 8,000 of our readers at desiringGod.org, to get a sense of the scope and influence of social media on the Christian life. The results are eye-opening. Probably most surprising is the generational divide that splits over whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic about what our devices are doing to us.

I hope to share the full findings at DG in the coming month, but what I see is a trend among the 18–39 group (especially men) who are pessimistic and more likely to admit their phone habits are self-destructive. The +40 group (especially among women) is trending optimistic, a demographic that seems more likely to use social media as an extension of face-to-face relationships.

Nevertheless, take it from Andy Crouch, who disconnected for the 40 days of Lent, to explain what life was like freed from illuminated pixels:

There is a lot of talk about the ways our devices are distracting us, and that is certainly true. Having spent several weeks away from it all, I’m a bit aghast at how much buzzing and blinking, how many notifications and messages, how much unasked-for stimulation, I’ve let creep into my life over the past few years. But there’s something deeper than just the sheer variety and urgency of data that presents itself to us. The issue is not just cognitive. The deeper danger of our screens, I am coming to think, is flattery.

Our screens, increasingly, pay a great deal of attention to us. They assure us that someone, or at least something, cares. The mediated world constantly falls over itself to tell us, often in entirely automated ways, that we matter every bit as much as we secretly hope we do. They tell us we are liked, retweeted, favorited—that we are significant, useful, and urgently needed. Every generation of devices gets better at this, becomes less a persnickety, recalcitrant technician (does anyone remember the exacting syntax of command-line interfaces?) and more and more an utterly dedicated, ingratiating concierge for our preferred future.

The unmediated world does not flatter us in this way. Stand on a deserted seashore and the creation pays you no evident attention, except perhaps for a few creatures that alter their paths to keep a safe distance. Even our fellow human beings rarely flatter us with the attention we think we deserve. Walk down a street in Hong Kong or Phnom Penh or London or Rome, and unless you are young and beautiful, or possibly rich, no one will pay you the slightest heed. And youth and beauty, even wealth, are fleeting things. I never was beautiful, but I have had some success, enough to know that even at the heights of attention, when the whole room is looking at you, smiling at you, standing and applauding you, the overwhelming experience of life as a human being is smallness and disregard. There is a hunger for attention that all the selfies in the world will never fill, a hunger that only grows as our mediated world breathlessly offers more and more ways to call attention to ourselves.

Read the whole article here.