Twitching

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  A father was walking his dog while his little boy tried to keep up.  The young man was attempting to get his dad’s attention by pulling on his pant leg; but with no affect.  Why?  The man was talking on his cell phone.  After numerous attempts to connect, the boy disengaged from his father, pulled out a small headset, hit the button on his recorder, and retreated to his own little world.  I wanted so badly to tell this man that he was losing his son.

And schools are losing their students.  My wife Robin is a second grade teacher.  If there is a drumbeat in some educational institutions it is that we must “get through the material.”  To what end?  Robin contests, rightly, that there is little emphasis on comprehension.  Schools can declare that they have attained a certain standard (often attributed by the school itself).  But an overload of information without understanding is simply more forgettable information.

Key to Twitter’s® success is having immediate “knowledge.”  Twitter® advertises the question “What are you doing right now?”  Information is supposedly “super fresh.”  Steven Johnson suggests in TIME that these details of life are not superficial but give depth to life.  It may be true that celebrities can tell us about their causes and intimate, personal details.  But it is difficult to believe that while the United States continues to show poor math skills from its school children, the number of communication gimmicks we have built somehow makes up for bad school scores.[1] No one is complaining about devices, for instance, that allow instant communication about anti-Communist surges in Moldova or China.  Twittering in church, however, makes another TIME correspondent, Bonnie Rochman, concede, “The trick is to not let the chatter overshadow the need for quiet reflection that spirituality requires.”[2]

Diversion is the reason why people “cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.”[3] Our desire for distraction has been beating in our collective hearts ever since Genesis 3.    Norman Cousins in Human Options put it this way:

Our own age is not likely to be distinguished in history for the large numbers of people who insisted on finding the time to think.  Plainly, this is not the Age of the Meditative Man.  It is a printing, squinting, shoving age.  Substitutes for repose are a billion dollar business.  Almost daily, new antidotes for contemplation spring into being and leap out from store counters.  Silence, already the world’s most critical shortage, is in danger of becoming a nasty word.  Modern man may or may not be obsolete, but he is certainly wired for sound and he twitches as naturally as he breathes.[4]

Twitter® shows we twitch.  Many complain that technology is changing us.  I suspect the opposite is true.  We are changing technology so we don’t have to change.  Perhaps the more troubling idea is that I become easily distracted with electrons.  My distraction is a pull toward the mundane, the inconsequential, and the vapid nature of whatever is “new.”  Screwtape encourages his underling to use distraction thwarting the Christian at prayer.[5] A. J. Conyers argues that cultural inattention is a crucial component to distraction.[6] Maggie Jackson warns in Distracted that civilization as we know it is at stake.[7] In short, our attention is drawn toward the temporal over the eternal.  Sin separates us from that which matters most.  Our twitching began in The Garden.

“Is this the way it’s supposed to be?,”[8] the adversary questions in Genesis 3:1.  “Really?”  “Are you sure?”  The Hebrew construction of the serpent’s speech accomplishes two feats: (1) the question temporalizes The Eternal Word, leaving open the option for (2) human evaluation of The Word.  The attack against humanity does not begin with a desire to become God.  The attack is upon The Word of God.  Once Eve is given the opportunity to assess God’s Word she adds to God’s Word: “or touch it” is not in the original Genesis 2:17 prohibition.  Scripture twisting is now open to all comers.  Placing The Word of God on the human level, extracts Scripture’s eternal origin, making the creature arbiter over The Creator.  I would contend that we twitch because we want to twist The Truth.

Bruce Waltke gives the necessary corrective.  Our theological reflection must begin with the text.[9] The Bible always gives primacy to “word.”

God predicts his actions and offers commentary before, during, and/or after the event, thereby asserting his role as the instigator and interpreter . . . of the historical events assur[ing] a recognition of God’s sovereignty over history, and the events are his vehicle of authenticating the truth he desires to communicate through them.[10]

Romans 1:18 tells us that when confronted by Revelation we “suppress The Truth.”  Paul was concerned in Acts 20:30 that “from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things” intent on drawing disciples away.  2 Timothy 4:4 maintains that sound teaching will be subverted, turning “away from listening to the truth, and wander[ing] off into myths.”  So this is Jesus’ mission: John 14:6 declares that The Living Word is “The Truth.”

Douglas Bowman’s move from Google® to Twitter® caused quite a stir in the electronics community.  Citing decisions driven by data “with every new design, critics cry foul.  Data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision.  Without conviction, doubt creeps in.”[11] Without conviction, doubt creeps in. We have a need to hear from authoritative voices, from people who know what they are talking about.  Without conviction, distraction easily leads us astray.  Study is consumed with the need for reliable information, not overload.  Knowledge must be understood, hence the place of comprehension in learning.  But ultimately, Truth is connected to relationship; listening to the right voices, speaking aright so others hear The Truth.  Study must connect us to what matters most—our need for The Eternal Word.  Our itch to usurp the role of interpreter, to become the arbiter of The Truth, has ever since, made us twitch.

Mark refuses to join Twitter: he twitches enough already while teaching Old Testament, leadership, cultural analysis, and faith-learning-integration.


[1] Steven Johnson, “How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live,” TIME 5 June 2009

[2] Bonnie Rochman, “Twittering in Church, with the Pastor’s O.K.” TIME 3 May 2009.

[3] Blaise Pascal. Pensees. 139.

[4] Norman Cousins quoted by Thomas V. Morris, Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life (Eerdmans, 1992): 36.

[5] C. S. Lewis. 1959. Screwtape Letters. (MacMillan): Letter 27.

[6] The cultural impact of distraction is no where better overviewed than in The Listening Heart: Vocation and the Crisis of Modern Culture by A. J. Conyers (Spence, 2006): 52-67.

[7] Maggie Jackson. 2008. Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. (Prometheus).

[8] Gesenius Hebrew Grammar. 1910.  E. Kautzsch, ed. (Clarendon): paragraph 159aa.

[9] Bruce Waltke. 2007. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach. With Charles Yu. (Zondervan): 43-45.

[10] Waltke, p. 44.

[11] http://stopdesign.com/archive/2009/03/20/goodbye-google.html

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