Am I Technology’s Slave Whether I Like It (And I Do!) Or Not?

Let me start with Facebook as an example of a technology that people now consider optional. I know plenty of people who still don’t use it. Some never have, and a few eccentrics I know had Facebook accounts but gave them up. Will they always have that choice, or will Facebook, like various other technologies, someday become essentially a requirement for functioning in the world?

After attending and presenting a paper at a three-day conference this week at Baylor University called “Technology and Human Flourishing,” I’ve been pondering the ways in which technology runs my life. Even though the conference included many amazing examples of new things technology can do, the speakers expressed at least as much anxiety about technology as celebration of it. I want to devote a few posts to technology’s influence, both good and bad.

The first area I want to consider is how much Choice I have—or don’t have—about which technologies control me. I like to think I’m a careful consumer of technology and that I choose which gadgets and services will dominate my time, energy and attention. I like to think I am not a slave to it, but is freedom from slavery to technology realistic anymore?

When Technology Was Still Optional

In one sense, I have chosen each technological device and service I use, and I could get rid of them any time I like. Unlike people of a younger generation, I still remember living in a world before such advances as email, voice mail, cell phones, texting, the Internet, Facebook, ipods, VCR’s and similar inventions. I remember when computers were not considered a necessary tool in either the workplace or the home.

I also remember making the conscious choice to bring some of these technologies into my life. My standard response to new technology has been to resist it at first, insisting that I don’t need it and never will, and then Continue reading

When Life is Unfair, Can I Know God is Good?

Our guest blogger this week is Jim Davis, author of the upcoming book, Why Me? (And Why That’s the Wrong Question). I met Jim earlier this year at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. He was part of a wonderful group of writers who took part in a practicum I taught there, and he was working on a book about suffering. After the conference, he was offered a contract for the book, which will be published next year. On his blog, http://tavbiblestudies.wordpress.com/, Jim is described as “a Sunday school teacher, husband, dad, attorney, college football fan, blues music devotee, and frequent Food Network viewer who writes and teaches Bible studies. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with Sonya, his wife of 21 years, and his 13-year-old son Tully.” I asked him to tell how his book came about, and I am honored to post his response.

When Life is Unfair, Can I Know God is Good?

by Jim Davis

A member of the Bible Study class I co-teach entered a hospice program this week. Clay, 39, fought cancer for years. Now the doctors say that medicine has no more to offer.

What do I say to Clay and his family? When life seems so unfair, can I know that God is good? And if I don’t know that, how can I get up in front of the class on Sundays and tell them that His Word is worth studying?

Today I am confident in what I believe, even without all the answers, but that wasn’t true when I first started teaching. Situations like Clay’s challenged my faith. Like millions before me, I wanted to come to terms with suffering and God’s goodness. I started with two questions that I wrote down one evening after a funeral that featured the saddest, tiniest white casket I had ever seen: Why this person and not someone else? And if God loves the hurting person, why doesn’t He fix the problem? I didn’t know, so I wrote a book.

I did not begin with the goal of writing a book. There was just something I did not understand that I wanted to understand, so I read and researched and prayed and thought until I learned what I could and was at peace with what I didn’t know. I decided to write down what I had learned and come to believe. My book is the result of the study I began after the long-ago funeral for a friend’s baby.

In the book, I argue that our typical questions about suffering (such as my original two) are not helpful, are not answerable, and have little foundation in Scripture; however, there are other questions we should focus on that point to God and can help us grow during a storm.

That is not at all what I set out to prove. I started out simply looking for answers to my two questions. I found a little helpful information in my initial research, and many unproven theories, but it became clear to me that God does not Continue reading

Some Thoughts on That Planet Made of Diamond

Imagine a planet made of diamond.

Photo by Haven Giguere. Artist's rendition of the diamond planet.

It exists.

According to National Geographic, this planet, which has been given the unimaginative name “55 Cancri e,” is twice the size of earth but has eight times its mass. At least a third of the planet is composed of pure diamond.

I am endlessly fascinated by astronomy and the discoveries that are being made about the universe. I love to read about the vastness of space, the variety and mind-boggling number of planets, galaxies, moons, suns and objects that are out there. In my recent book, Pieces of Heaven: Recognizing the Presence of God, I write about the discovery last year of the most massive and distant clouds of water ever found in the universe. The National Geographic article reporting on that discovery says the giant cloud of mist weighs forty billion times the mass of earth. The water in this cloud is enough to fill all the oceans on earth 140 trillion times.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t just skim over facts like that. They stop me. I have to let my imagination play with what such an enormous body of water would look like and how it could possibly even exist. Or when I read that a diamond planet is floating out there in space, I wonder how—and why—could that be true. It pushes my mind to the Creator of such a universe. Why would God put a diamond planet out there? Why would he create that vast space-cloud of water? For fun? Just because he can? For variety? What, if anything, will he ever do with that planet or that water?

I know that these amazing astronomical facts don’t “prove” the existence Continue reading

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I am happy to welcome guest blogger Michael Bruner, a popular and gifted Honors professor at Azusa Pacific University.

 Michael was born and raised in the Philippines to missionary parents. He moved with his family to the US when he was ten and received his B.A. in English from University of Washington in 1988. He received his M.Div. from Princeton Seminary in 1994 and was ordained as a Presbyterian Minister shortly thereafter. He now teaches in the Dept. of Practical Theology at APU and lives in Pasadena with his wife and two children.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

By Michael Bruner

I was thinking of Heaven as I was reading the Lake Isle of Innisfree a couple of days ago, and I thought about how terrible it would be if Heaven were just a place we came up with in our minds, a Lake Isle of our own making, in order to counter the reality that we are in fact alone in this life. I then extended this idea further and considered how truly awful it would be if, as we are told in that nursery rhyme, this life itself is “but a dream.”

It then occurred to me that that’s what hell is, and the severest forms of mental illness (which are, in some sense, merely mirror images of each other): being alone in one’s own existence with nothing but voices and phantoms of one’s own making, an echo chamber of chaos where one is profoundly misunderstood even by oneself — and ultimately unknown to oneself. This is also the height of narcissism, which, I am convinced, is the DNA of all mental illness.

And so, if Heaven is real and, by extension, this life is not a dream, then Heaven must be an even deeper reality than this life, where we understand more and are, in turn, more fully known; we’ll see ourselves as parts of a larger whole, as separate (but not separated) parts of who we all are and who God is. And yet we will, in some sense, remain a mystery.

Which would make eternity, in our as-yet presently unredeemed state of individualism, hell. The boundaries between us must dissolve before the boundary of time can disappear. In heaven, we won’t be the same self-conscious, individuated people we are now. We will know ourselves for being known in communion with others. We will still be ourselves, no doubt, replete with bodies, but they will be Continue reading

Why Christians Shouldn’t Run From Their Own Terminology

One of the issues I raise in the opening chapters of my new book, Pieces of Heaven: Recognizing the Presence of God, is how people shut out God from their conversations and thinking. People’s own mental distractions shut him out. Rules of etiquette shut him out in many social and business settings. The current academic and scientific assumptions of our culture often take any consideration of God off the table before the conversation even begins.

I deal with those ideas more specifically in the book, but here I want to focus on another way in which Christians themselves take God out of the conversation. As I write in the book, “To make matters worse, some Christians have crippled their own vocabulary when it comes to talking about spiritual issues.” How? By buying into the idea that Christian terminology is somehow “insider language” or “Christianese” that believers should avoid because it may be offensive or not understood by those who don’t share the same faith.

I know that Christianese can be insidious when people use words and phrases to say one thing when they really mean another. The Evangelical Press Association came up with a list of such phrases that are both funny and sad when Christians abuse them. For example, the phrase “if it be God’s will” may really mean Continue reading