Friday, February 27, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 10

You've all been in the room with that guy. He's your friend who keeps sending text messages while you're having a conversation. His eyes volley between your dull face and the brilliant LCD screen. I can understand the allure of the text message: It is the digital reenactment of passing notes in ninth grade. What I don't understand is why a reply cannot wait.

When I worked at a high school in Denver, texting was pandemic. These were kids who struggled with literacy, but had the nimblest thumbs I'd ever seen. During one classroom session on choices, I asked them to explain the rational behind sending a text. The reasons were enlightening:
  • to finish a conversation started between classes
  • to get the latest gossip
  • to schedule lunch plans
  • to distract from a boring class
  • to get answers on a test
All the answers could be summarized in this thought: to be somewhere else.

The topic in Chapter 10, "Together Apart," peers beneath communication technologies. Opening the chapter by analyzing two commercials from cell phone providers (AT&T, Nextel), Hipps identifies the connectivity and fragmentation resulting from our cellular devices.

Few would argue with the connection phones provide. My greatest time of catching up with old friends is long drives with my Bluetooth looped around my ear. And Verizon makes it clear that you don't buy a service but join the IN network.

But I've also experienced the opposite. Bad signals and poor timing have led to numerous tense conversations with my wife. And you never feel more lonely (and stupid) when you realize your heartfelt comment was cut off halfway through due to dead zones.

Simply put, there is a loss of presence with the abundance of digital media (see "I am Here" article in Wired Magazine 17.02) We've all drooled at the iPhone commercial that show an ordinary finger unlocking a world of music, topography, news, and streaming video. But even the simplest cell phone can ring during a conversation, and leave the flesh-and-blood person digging meat chunks out of her molars with her tongue while she waits. I appreciate Hipps advice: "Prioritizing those who are physically present can have a transforming effect on us when so many are digitally absent" (pg. 108).

Presence is important to me as a Christian. I recently preached about the Here & Now life required of the church. Moses' response to God at the burning bush was "Here I am." A few sentences later, God said, "Now go" (Exodus 3:1-10). The more distracted, fragmented, sidetracked, multi-tasked, and stretched abroad we become, the thinner our relationships will become, as a result.

In our electric age we will no longer wrestle to locate people, but walking with them is a different story. The 'electronic experience' has generated what Hipps has coined 'Empathy at a distance' (pg. 108). Televised horrors and broadcast brutality have exposed the average American to our globe's restless suffering. What this has spawned is 'numbness and exhaustion,' Hipps states. He warns, "Over time, if unchecked, this numbness undermines our ability to extend compassion to those in our own city, neighborhood, or even our own homes" (pg. 109).

I tend to agree. So the next time someone takes a phone call while I'm at lunch with them, I might punch them in the face. These days a pinch is too subtle. And for the next phone I hear ringing in church, its owner gets the privilege of preaching.

Integrity Check (these words included)
Hipps: 50
Total: 590
Percentage: 8.5%

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 9

I have a confession: I always look at myself first in a picture.

I have another confession: I want to look cool in my future biographic photo that will don the back cover of my book.

One final confession: My wife took the picture several years ago in a frozen pose of youth, intrigue, and hair. (This tip was inspired by author Neil Gaiman, who stated on his website that an author was wise to market his more handsome days of youth.)

Recently, we acquired a box of photographs from Liz's grandmother. My wife and I stumbled across a startling photograph. Linking arms with her husband--deceased over thirty years ago--my grandmother stood with a wide grin. She looked genuinely happy, and expression I have little seen.

Pictures are often deceptive. They freeze candid moments and present them as common. At least, this is what our 'celebrity culture' has formed in our thinking. We see Barack Obama with his shirt off, Michelle Obama with a sleeveless dress, Jessica Simpson with hiked up jeans, and Michael Phelps with a bong. These are not accurate representations of reality, but they sell an issue for the small price of our soul.

In Chapter Nine of Flickering Pixels Hipps talks about the dark side of our image-rich culture. Cameras feed our narcissism, exploit our 'celebrities,' and, according to Amish and African lore, 'steal our souls' (pp. 95-96).

But not only is the celebrity exploited, the consumer--me and you--has believed a myth. "Our culture has descended to a place where even the natural beauty of a supermodel is simply not beautiful enough to withstand the unflinching scrutiny of the camera" (pg. 98). This comment is in reference to an ad campaign by Dove promoting 'Real Beauty' (see pg. 96).

The scandal of our photoshop-Botox-implant-makeover culture is the perversion of natural beauty. Every run through the grocery store, every session on the Internet, every perusal of the newspaper, brings us face to face with unfair comparisons. Plastic beauty is synthetic--God looks at the heart.

Unfortunately, I have little time to elaborate in this post. The topic is worthy, my ire is high, but my wife has just finished putting on her make up, and we have an appointment at Olan Mills that we're running late to.

(NOTE: This falls under the Integrity limit).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 8

The eighth chapter of Flickering Pixels, "The Dimmer Switch," raises a provocative question: What 'if Thomas had died just seconds before his finger touched the wound' in Jesus' side (pg. 86)? Was Thomas accepted into heaven because his belief was empirical? Did grace save him or evidence (that demands a verdict)?

Theologians call this topic soteriology, and it has three basic phases. Justification is the starting point. In Sunday School we learned this is a legal term meaning God treats me "just as if I had never sinned." The ditty glosses over a blood-stained martyr on the cross. Glorification is the final state of the Christians, where we shine with heavenly light (see 1 Corinthians 15). Unshackled by sin and flesh, we can finally dance (and fly, hopefully).

Sanctification is what Hipps labels the 'dim' stage of Christianity. Bouts with sin and shame. Moments of virtue and praise. Times when certainty feels liquid and faith matures.

Most of our work with the unbelieving world is peddling glorification based upon justification. The dim promises of sanctification don't sell as well. So we profess an 'on/off understanding of conversion' because we are limited by 'the medium' of text. "Printing breeds a strong preference for categories" (pg. 88).

Due to the advances in visual media, metaphors are gaining more strength than categories (pg. 90). The industrial revolution birthed the specialist. The Internet is resurrecting the generalist. Yesterday's pastor was an exegete; today's pastor is an environmentalist. Don't ask me what it means, but I've seen the metaphor abounding.

The best example of this trend is the popularity of Rob Bell's Nooma videos. Not only does he produce compelling audio-visual media, but most titles are limited to single word. Tied to each title is a picture. Thus the metaphor is reinforced. He is not alone in this preaching tactic, I remember a Galilean pointing to the dirt and talking about fertile soils.

Hipps concludes the chapter by returning to Thomas and the metaphor of the dimmer switch. We readily apply the saved/unsaved categories, but 'conversion can also feel like the gradual brightening of a long darkness' (pg. 92). I would argue for both/and.

As a critique, this chapter was one of my least favorite. Its brevity failed to handle a controversial topic with the depth--as earlier argued--expected of a book. I agree that our evangelistic efforts are often too incomplete, but I think time, care, and relationships will change this more than a few metaphors.

Integrity Check
Hipps: 39
Total: 422
Percentage: 10%

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 7

On his ESPN radio show, Scott Van Pelt was lamenting the sensationalism that has run amok in journalism. Case and point: Following the latest Superbowl, countless commentators were using words like best, greatest, most amazing game ever. The last ten minutes were exciting, but on the whole, the game was rather standard.

We live amidst a tsunami of superlatives. To gain attention these days, the medium must shout louder. This is the primary metaphor of George Saunder's book, The Braindead Megaphone. We’ve confused noise with meaning, popularity with truth.

Hipps blames electricity for this. In Chapter 7 of Flickering Pixels, “A Thousand Feelings,” he fixes our eyes on the effect (and affect) of photography on our faith. A former marketing guru, Hipps demonstrates his awareness of visual impact on emotions. Earlier in the book, he admitted his task was ‘to save people from feeling impotent, unattractive, or powerless’ (pg. 12). Salvation was depicted in a Porche…or L’Oreal, Budweiser, or changing your insurance provider to Geico.

Marketers manipulate through imagery. Televangelists are notorious for this. They package religious services with swooping camera angles, throbbing music, dancing parishioners, salivating preachers, and miraculous signs. It is significant that these shows are called hours of power, not hours of equipping. Hipps labels this ‘image culture’ and admits it is ‘far better for presenting impressions and experiences’ than communicating truth (pg. 77).

Television is the ultimate form of ‘brain candy’ with its ‘extraordinarily stimulating’ flow of content (pp. 77-78). Watching requires no response. Channel surfing requires no dexterity. Even informative shows on PBS are no substitute for reading and human interaction. Unfortunately, we have reduced Discovery to a channel, not an active pursuit.

Discipleship, as Jesus envisioned it, was interactive learning. Good teachers create opportunities to show truth; good learners imagine the application of their curriculum (see pp. 82-84). Moving to an increasingly visual (and increasingly entertainment-oriented) culture, will suffocate the mind. “The mind was made to generate, create, and imagine. Creative imagination is fundamental stage of brain development,” Hipps writes. Our image culture has ‘hijacked’ the mind.

The mind is supposed to be the captivator, not the captive. Paul makes this pretty clear in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

The absolute greatest and best way to win this ultimate battle is to close our eyes to the imagery. Close our eyes so we can pray.

Integrity Check
Hipps: 464
Total: 41
Percentage: 10%

Monday, February 23, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 6

I am a little frightened by Google, though, I would not protest if my blog was at the top of the page when the name Tim was entered. Everyone has his price. (Coincidentally, if my full name is entered, old cross country results appear—once upon a time I was a decent athlete.)

I recall the first time hearing Google as a verb was in the movie Hitch. The proper noun was synonymous with ‘finding something out.’ This is not far from Google’s mission: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’

Google has its critics. Copyright lawyers have sued Google for infringement. Legislators have tried to block the company for monopolizing the search engine world. An attempt to purchase Yahoo was recently shot down for that very reason. And some Internet users are bothered by the permeation of advertising behind the engine.

My problem with the virtual Googliath is philosophical. In an age of relativity, truth is now defined by popularity. Google is the antithesis of the elementary school geek: In Googleland, you’re popular if you get a lot of hits. The result is people confusing accessibility of information with usefulness. Mission half accomplished.

“Electric Faith,” is the title of Chapter Six in Flickering Pixels, in which Hipps discusses the effects of the Internet on Christian thinking. The chapter opens with Hipps recalling a failed witnessing effort. Mustering up the arguments of C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and other apologists, Hipps realized he had answers to questions post-modernists were not asking.

We can blame the Internet and Wikipedia for taking truth from authority figures and moving it to the voices of anonymous contributors, but the trend started long before in Morse’s invention of the telegraph. Morse’s initial message, Hipps reports, was prophetic: What hath God wrought? (pg. 66). In arguably the best line of the book, Hipps notes “[T]he telegraph tapped out the obituary of absolute Truth and created the conditions necessary to usher in the postmodern age” (pg. 68).

The reason the telegraph, and later the radio, television, and Internet, were so dangerous is the rate in which they sped up the flow of information. Thus, ‘information increasingly became a commodity in itself, something that could be bought and sold’ (pg. 67). In his book, The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman says that television is a medium that ‘must be filled’ and does not discriminate concerning its content. The lack of filtering and the unlimited access has, according to Postman, killed childhood. Moreover, it makes me think that Google’s mission to make information ‘accessible’ is, in ironically misinformed.

By dissolving mystery and secrecy, such media have likewise destroyed accountability. Unlimited access to information has created a false sense of maturity. Wisely, Hipps takes the second half of the chapter to distinguish between ‘information, understanding, and wisdom’ (pg. 70). He convicts our culture of being trivial and wisdom-depleted. To develop wisdom we need ‘time, experience, contemplation, patience, suffering, and even stillness’ (pp. 71-72).

I know too many information junkies. I hear too many people reciting irrelevant news stories. I have encountered too many folks who are data-fat but common-sense deficient. Let us slow down so we can learn and apply.

Perhaps this is why you should be reading the book (or The Book), not this blog.


Integrity Check

Hipps: 51

Total: 557

Percentage: 9%

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 5

Before emergence was a word adopted by a village in the eastern hemisphere of evangelical thinking, it was a term from scientists. To reduce it, emergence theory is a science of relationships--social, biological, electronic--that claims the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts (i.e., group think or swarm logic). Author Steven Johnson covers this science from the perspective of a cultural critic in the book Emergence.

Christians can learn a great deal from authors like Johnson who are willing to dissect our culture and analyze trends in thinking/being/relating. We may not agree with everything he says, but the beauty of written discourse is our ability to strain an author's thesis through our logically-wired, left brain. Digital technology, to some degree, improves this by allotting a comment section (the borderless version of a book club!).

While I didn't read Emergence (I couldn't risk having such a condemning title in my pastoral library), my good friend coaxed me into reading a follow-up work by Johnson, Everything Bad is Good for You. Admittedly, a title like this could also get a pastor in trouble, fortunately the book is not dealing with morals but technologies. Specifically: Video games, the world wide web, and television series are amoral.

Johnson seeks to upset conventional wisdom. Axiomatically, we state literacy is a virtue, more so than playing Killzone 2 (PS3). We might site arguments that more crime, poverty, and classicism result from reading deficiencies than one's Wii fitness score. But Johnson challenges the conventional wisdom, turning it on its head. Imagining a 'parallel universe' Johnson wonders in prose how people would view books had video games come first.

Reading books chronically understimulates the senses... Only a small portion of
the brain devoted to processing written language is activated during reading,
while games engage a full range of sensory and motor cortices. Books are also
tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in
complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds
together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet
space, shut off from interaction with other children (pg. 19).

I appreciate Johnson's imagination: I do not want to take my world at face value. It is easy to decry video games ("They promote violence and produce obesity!") and herald literature, because older things are more trustworthy. On the surface, this may appear to be the case, but Johnson looks below.

Hipps does the same thing in Chapter 4 of Flickering Pixels. "Subliminal Messages" peers beneath the technology of reading, identifying three major messages that text reiterates: You're an individual; Remain objective; Think abstractly and rationally (pg. 55).

Mass publication opened the door for privatized learning. Hipps calls this 'the luxury of thinking apart from the tribe' (pg. 56). Matt Damon captures this image as the titled character in the film Good Will Hunting. Needing no teacher, no classroom, no assignments, but only the cost of a library card (and a few fines), Will surpassed the intellect of a Harvard professor. The conflict for Will is not intellect, though, it is intimacy.

Literacy bolsters the individual while simultaneously isolating him. I'm saddened by how many men in church I've met who cite authors as mentors. And the fact that American Christianity has reduced 'good' living to a set of individualized disciplines--quiet time, solitary prayer, journaling--finds roots in the text era (pg. 56). We might be people of the book, if we mean we read it, study it, apply it alone, and show up to hear an uninspiring monologue on Sunday mornings. Or as Hipps states the matter: "Community in the print age has been understood primarily as a collection of discrete individuals working concurrently on their personal relationships with Jesus" (pg. 57).

The second part of the chapter deals with the suspicion of pure rationalism in the digital age. Printed text resulted in the 'unintended consequence' that people 'began to believe that our objectivity was absolute' (pg. 58). In other words, Logic became God, and since man had the tools for logic (syllogism and lexicons), 'we started reading Scripture under the illusion we could know God's mind with unbiased clarity of vision' (pg. 58). Arrogance, irreverence, and detachment are the offspring of such thinking.

I do not doubt the place of rationality in the Christian life--I wouldn't write if I did. Nor do I question the perspicuity of Scripture. What I appreciate in Hipps's chapter is the exposure of man's hubris. Our exegetical tools are good, but I suspect our boasting is akin to the child who points a magnifying glass to the heavens and says, "Now I can clearly see the heavens."

Cute. Good start. But I would encourage us to bring our glasses to the historical community of God and see what emerges.

Questions to Consider:
  • What are communal disciplines that we might join with our devotions?
  • How might benediction, doxology, and corporate reading strengthen the church?
  • Can we be convinced of Biblical truth and acknowledge mystery?
Integrity Check (these words included):
Hipps Words: 71
Total Words: 855
Percentage: 8.3%

Friday, February 20, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 4

In his recent book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell attributes mathematical success of the Chinese people to their alphabet. The argument is intriguing: Because their pictographic language better represents numbers--unlike our abstract numerical symbols--the Chinese have a head-start on counting, fractions, and virtually all other functions of arithmetic (see pp. 228-230).

Gladwell uses language to illustrate that success is an outgrowth of inherited cultural circumstances. Any good Calvinist would nod his head and agree: Our legacies are tainted by predetermined factors.

Case and point, the Western alphabet has done as much to shape our thinking as any other technology (e.g., printing press, clock, steam engine, telegraph, Internet). Perhaps these latter technologies have only sped the progress of Western imperialism, but the alphabet is the cornerstone to a rationalistic-efficient-progressive lifestyle (pg. 46).

Shane Hipps exposes this concept in Chapter 4 of Flickering Pixels, "Dyslexia and Deception." The author himself was the victim of the titled learning disability, a predetermined 'stain' on his primary education. (That his writing is so effective makes a case for a capacity to overcome biological limitations.)

Neurological research has exploded in the past few decades, and insight into the interaction between left- (rational) and right- (creative) brained thinking is a popular topic (see, A Whole New Mind or The Rise of the Creative Class). Dyslexia has its benefits, a stronger short-term memory, ability to see the 'big picture,' and an artistic bent (pg. 42).

But the real contribution of the chapter is Hipps's clear statement that our way of writing and reading 'restructures the worldview of entire civilizations' (pg. 42). In other words, our writing reflects our thinking reflects our writing. Westerners use a phonetic alphabet, so that meaningful letters combined together make meaningful sounds and in meaningful contexts they mean something. This works left-to-right. Hipps summarizes, "[T]he phonetic alphabet is linear, sequential, and abstract..." (pg. 44).

If you follow Hipps's (linear) argument, the way we read/write affects our faith (pg. 45). The rest of the chapter gives evidence to how Western thinking has produced an 'efficiency gospel' (pp. 45-48). One surprising example was the way the alphabet influenced our physical environment. "After the printing press, church seating started to mirror the page of a book" (pg. 47).

But more alarming, Hipps suggests that the work of the evangelist even became a slave to efficiency. He uses words like reshaped, compressed, and reduced to describe the treatment of the gospel (pg. 48). The evangelist became a giver of formulas (confess sins + receive Jesus = heaven), not a teller of stories. Paul became the biblical spokesperson for the Western gospel, whereas the sermons of the pre-literate church tended toward allegory and parable (pg. 49).

The consequence of such literacy is 'a belief that the gospel could be established and received only through reason and fact' (pg. 49). In other words, systematic theology and inductive Bible study dominate emotive worship and meditative prayer.

God is read, not heard.
God is studied, not felt.
Christians are dutiful, not passionate.

Follow this train of thinking (pg. 50) too long, and you have a church filled with Christians who have suppressed their hearts so long that love, energy, strength, and ambition, 'resurrect in the form of something more meddlesome' (pg. 51). Hence we have apologists in our church who abuse their children, and teachers in our classes who cheat on their spouses, and leaders in our youth groups who cut themselves in bedrooms.

Suppressing emotion and ignoring desire is damning. Albeit, rejecting logic and embracing mysticism is likewise foolish. And since every tribe and tongue will worship God in heaven, we cannot claim one language as the biblical language. Mind (left-brain) and heart (right-brain) are both essential to faith.
Integrity Check (these words included):
Hipps words: 61
My words: 632
Percentage: 10.0%

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 3

The tree was in the middle of the garden. It was supposed to advance her knowledge. Eve bought the lie and bit the fruit. Perhaps it is coincidence that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was 'in the middle' of the garden (Genesis 3:3, NASB), but I think not. Technology always stands in the middle: It is a medium.

In math we learned that the medium was the number in the middle of a set. In Spirituality 101, we learned that a medium was an intercessor for the physical and spiritual world. In the kitchen, we learned that medium was a light pink shade bordered by blood and char marks. And in grammar class, we learned that medium is the singular of media.

In Chapter 3, "Stretch Armstrong," Hipps calls upon a iconic action figure to define media, and by extension technology. Again, referring to McLuhan's work, Hipps explains that 'a medium is anything that stretches, extends, or amplifies human cap city' (pg. 32).

The examples of this are unlimited. Keyboards extend our ability to hand write. Cell phones stretch our ability to talk (depending on coverage and minutes). In vitro fertilization multiplies our ability to have a baby (or eight). And a guitar amplifies our ability to create music (or drown out bad singing voices).

The Bible implies and lists some of the earliest technology in the fourth chapter of Genesis. Implied in Cain's tilling is an instrument to till. Implied in erection of his city are the tools for construction. Explicitly stated media are tents, instruments, and implements (4:20-22). Each of these items 'stretched, extended, and amplified' human progress.

History, however, shows that such advances have also catalyzed regress. Cities host more poverty, injustice, and crime than anywhere else; implements have been used to murder and make drugs; instruments have created misogynistic music and stir up rebellion. This will happen with our tools.

Within the chapter, Hipps retells two Greek myths--Narcissus and Perseus. These myths share the metaphor of the mirror. The mirror is a tool that, depending on who and how it is used, either results in good or evil. Narcissus--the lover of self who reflects our Entitlement culture-- becomes a slave to the mirror. Perseus uses the mirror to deflect Medusa's stony gaze. Hipps conclusion is helpful: "When we fail to perceive that the things we create are extensions of ourselves, the created thing takes on god-like characteristics and we become their servants" (pg. 35).

Where this failure to perceive is most evident in the Biblical narrative is the story of Babel. The irony of the story is the contrast between man's ignorance and God's awareness. They come and settle. They say let's build. They want fame and glory. But their plans are devoid of God. In contrast, the Lord sees their attempt at extending themselves to heaven and dethroning God. His response is haunting: "And now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them" (Genesis 11:6).

Every new level they added to the building was stripping away their dependence on God. However, it was not the media of bricks and stone, but the medium of shared language that stretched them.

Extending ourselves to the point where we don't need God is evil. I fear too many technologies do this. As he explains the four dimensions of media (1: amplification; 2: rendering old media obsolete; 3: borrowing from old), Hipps clearly warns against the final 'dark dimension.' "Every medium, when pushed to an extreme, will reverse on itself, revealing unintended consequences" (pg. 37).

Amoral or not, the very fact that each technology has the capacity for evil, should be warning enough against overuse.

Questions to consider:
  • What is the dark dimension of the alphabet? Bible translation?
  • How are churches becoming overly dependent on technology (this blog not included)?
  • Why do we feel the need to extend ourselves?

Integrity Check (these words included):
Hipps words: 53
Total words: 664
Percentage: 8.0%

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 2

A friend recently told me he left a church because the media used to depict Jesus was borderline blasphemy. The church rewrote a scene from Napoleon Dynamite, where the geeky anti-hero was played by the Christ. Nun chuck and bow staff skills would serve little purpose for a non-resistant Messiah (Matthew 5:43-48).

This week I saw a church using billboards promoting The Naked Truth on sex to attract seekers. Perhaps we've misunderstood Paul's statement about becoming the slave and Jew (1 Corinthians 9). Our illustrations often do little to further the Kingdom of God. The line between applicability and appropriateness seems to be thinning.

These are but a few examples of multimedia use in churches. I wonder if the cost of such metaphors is more than a CVLI license and advertising space. Long-term, these 'amoral' media could wreak havoc on American Christianity. Shane Hipps opens this Pandora's Box in chapter two of Flickering Pixels.

"The Magical Eye" relies heavily on the writing of social critic Marshall McLuhan. Like the prophetic Postman, McLuhan was a man of foresight. He suspected electronic media would reshape our culture. While his popularity dropped by the Eighties, his works brought forth the conspicuous phrases:
  • The medium is the message
  • The global village
  • The future of the future is in the present (Source: McLuhan: Foward through the review mirror)
Playing off the first phrase listed above, Hipps deconstructs the assumption from the first chapter, namely, that technology is amoral. He writes, "[T]he various media through which we acquire information are not neutral. Instead, they have the power to shape us" (pg. 26).

I might (not so) boldly attribute the rise of violence, ADHD and autism to the ubiquity of audio-visual media. The printing press trained our Left Brains to dominate, while the revolution of what McLuhan calls the 'electronic age' has resulted in a 'shifting [of] cognitive modes from the left to the right hemisphere' (McLuhan, The Global Village, 80). In other words, the Western culture is watching the brain unravel as it sits bemused before the television screen.

The chapter opens up the topic of 'Christian' media--perhaps influenced by Rob Bell, one of the signature names on the back cover of Hipps's book. Bell writes, "Christian is a great noun but a poor adjective" (84). And it is all too true that marketing has tried to sanctify bad brushstrokes and guitar rifts because the message exploits the medium.

Unfortunately, the chapter is profoundly inconclusive. Using the 90's craze of the Magic Eye posters, Hipps states the obvious: "We need to train our eyes to focus beyond the surface of our technologies" (pg. 30). Fortunately, the rest of the chapters give some insight into how the reader might accomplish the task.

Questions to consider:
  • What lies beyond the surface of the blog (as well as other digital technology)?
  • Why have digital books not outsold printed books, but digital news is destroying printed news?
  • What makes music Christian?
  • What are the gains of the electronic age and revitalization of the right brain?
Integrity Check (these words included):
Hipps's Words: 33
Total Words: 527
Percentage: 6.2%

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 1

Prophets expose the ills of society, knowing responses will be less than cordial. A recent study of Amos, a reluctant prophet (see 7:14), helped me identify some subversive attitudes in our culture. Entitlement, Luxury, Comfort, and Efficiency have all become False Gospels. The fruit of these attitudes is a nation of shopping-mall churches and self-serve, self-help, spiritual pit stops.

It's too easy to go to church without accountability and relationship. While the attitudes are to blame, technology is the vehicle by which these attitudes are reinforced.

As ironic as it sounds, one of my study guides for the book of Amos was a work entitled Technopoly by Neil Postman (Vintage: 1993). Postman traced the advent of two simple inventions--the Western alphabet and the clock--to our modern Gospel of Efficiency.

Postman pointed me to Plato's record of Theuth and Thames, the former an inventor, the latter a king. Theuth presented his invention of the alphabet as 'a sure receipt for memory and wisdom.' But the king disagreed, claiming that users of the alphabet 'will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.'

The technology of writing uses us: we become forgetful. The technology of spell check uses us: we beecome gramatikal imbeecils. Technology always has the potential to reverse its intentions.

In the first chapter of Flickering Pixels, "Mr. No Depth Perception," Hipps begins his prophecy, exposing our culture's ignorance "that the system of visual communication has the capacity to shape and influence faith" (pg. 17). Borrowing from a Saturday Night Live sketch and employing the literature of Plato and Postman, Hipps begins to sketch his 'theology of technology' (pg. 18).

Technology always has unintended consequences. For as much fruit as it produces, some spoils fall to the ground. The early technology of music and song (Genesis 4:21, 25; Exodus 15) may degenerate into idol worship (Exodus 32).

Hipps calls Christians to live with focused perception, both eyes open (pg. 21). Shutting our eyes to every new invention may limit our ability to interact with the garden God has placed us in. Trying to adopt and adapt every new technology will kill us or those around us (see Genesis 4:1-17). That is why I won't join Facebook.

"Technology both gives an takes away, and each new medium introduced into our lives must be evaluated," Hipps counsels (pg. 21). Good advice. Keep both eyes open.

Questions to consider:
  • Is technology amoral?
  • How should we evaluate the usefulness of a given tool?
  • How have new communication technologies (e.g. blogs), unintentionally harmed your relationships?
  • Do you remember anything?
Integrity Check (these words included)
Hipps Words: 40
My Words: 444
Percentage: 9.1%

Monday, February 16, 2009

Zondervan's Tithe: Flickering Pixels

Zondervan gave me 'permission' to use Shane Hipps's new book, Flickering Pixels as a spring board for an 18-day blog adventure. There is one caveat: Only 10% of what is written on this site can directly quote the author. While this may not make the list in Leviticus, what I'm dealing with here is a copyright tithe. The other 90% of the book I have to burn. Don't worry, the publishers told me you could purchase through them ( USD $16.00), if you don't want my ashes.

The blog series is, foremost, a challenge to me--considering I average a post every 10 days, I am pressuring myself to write daily for nearly three weeks. (I will honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.) More importantly, though, I hope to join Flickering Pixels with the biblical narrative to develop what Hipps labels a 'theology of technology' (pg. 18).

My apologies to the author for using a medium as 'ill-suited for deep level analysis' as a blog to begin this conversation (pg. 146). Then again, I invite any reader of this blog to prove Hipps wrong and comment during the next 18 days. This is my medium. This is my message.

I invite you to explore Babel with me, and form a theology of technology. The building project may draw us closer to God. As Hipps writes, "Any serious study of God is a study of communication, and ... of the media and technology we use to communicate" (pg. 13).

Is anyone listening?
Integrity Check (these words included):
My Words: 266
Hipps' Words: 29
Percentage: 10.9%

(NOTE: Let's consider the 10% a round figure....and always round down!)

Monday, February 2, 2009


There is a chainsaw on the floor of a Sunday school class, and no one has said a thing about it. Several young students meet there to learn about Old Testament heroes. The Remington Pole Saw lay against the far wall, dripping oil onto a hunter green table cloth.

Back in November our church hosted a bonfire. We had three stacks of pallets left over from a previous burning. The pallets were too long and heavy to toss onto the fire; I brought the chainsaw to cut them.

After the festivities I was unable to transport the tool home. The pole prohibited me from loading it in the trunk, and my daughters were in the back seat. I wouldn't risk dismembering their precious little legs and fingers. So I stored the chainsaw in the classroom, intending to retrieve it another day.

That was three months ago. Many Sundays have passed, many lessons taught, and the pole saw remains in the same location. Motionless. Unplugged. Dripping oil.

I assume no one has noticed because no one has said anything. At some point I thought I might hear an astute congregant ask, "Hey, why is there a chainsaw in the Sunday school room?"

Or: "Who left a chainsaw in there?"

Maybe: "Is anyone going to move that chainsaw?"

Even a joke about me using it for a sermon illustration was expected: "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off... with this Remington Pole Saw."

Every time I see the thing I feel ashamed. Who lets a chainsaw sit in a church classroom unattended? And why hasn't anyway addressed it?

Perhaps it's because, on a given Sunday, many of us don't really observe our surroundings. We don't come to look through open doors and spy out far corners. We just come and sit. Motionless. Unplugged. Dripping oil.