Category Archives: Worldview

Cellphone Use as Infidelity in Parenting

A recent study published in the Pediatrics Journal describes how parents use their cell phones while in restaurants with their children. First the facts: most parents “used some kind of mobile device, either continuously or intermittently or at the end of the meal. Of the 55 groups observed in the study, only 15 had no device in play.” More surprisingly, 16 caregivers used their phones the entire time they were at the restaurant. This means there are 15 caregivers at each end of the scale, with the other 25 using cell phones intermittently.

This report from the study makes me sad: “The girl keeps eating, then gets up to cross the room to get more ketchup. Caregiver is not watching her do this; she is looking down at the phone…Still no conversation … Now girl’s head appears to be looking right at caregiver, and caregiver looks up but not at girl…”

I don’t believe that checking a text message while you are eating with your children is going to ruin their development, but mealtimes used to be one space kids could count on spending quality time with grown-ups. The importance of this time is demonstrated by studies which show that children perform better when meal times are regular and uninterrupted.

The timing of this study delighted me because of how it connects with what I have been reading this week: The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. In this book, the author compares our excessive use of technology to infidelity: a suitable word to describe parents who are more faithful to their phones than their children:

“Daydreaming” was once the temptation of romantics who knew their imaginations could disengage from the local scene and contemplate what life might be like somewhere else. Today it threatens to become a way of life for a society whose technology so easily wags it by the tail. The great advantage of a Facebook friendship, of course, is that it is so easy. I get to choose who I want to “friend” and whose friendship requests I respond to. We gather around our common interests, share the stuff we want others to know, and log off when we feel like it. In many ways what we have is connection without obligation. But intimacy without commitment is what our society has traditionally called “infidelity.” As with adultery in marriage, the problem of infidelity isn’t so much that it breaks a rule as it is that it destroys the fabric of trust that sustains a healthy community. (In a troubled marriage, no one feels this more intensely than the kids.) If our relationships with other people do not entail responsibility and obligation, they are easily reduced to self-serving transactions in a marketplace where everyone else is always trying to sell us something—or worse, to sell us themselves. Such a commodification of life denies in practice the fundamental claim of God’s economy—that all is gift and life is a mystery of divine love.

When I preach to families about technology I always encourage them to put their phones away during mealtimes. Its an easy thing we can do to honor our kids and encourage the development of positive social skills.


How Big is Your Drip Line?

This week I have been enjoying the book The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.  Based off Psalm 1, he uses the metaphor of a tree to describe the stable life.

Look at a tree on the landscape out your window and you will notice that it is shaped something like a geyser, reaching up in the single column of a trunk to spray out in limbs, most of them bending back toward the ground. Follow the downward slope of those bending branches as if they were the fluid spray of the geyser, and you can sketch out a circumference on the ground around the trunk of any tree. That circle is called the “drip line.” Without digging below the surface, it offers a pretty good sketch of how far away from a tree its roots reach for the water and nutrients it needs to flourish. Trees vary a great deal in size, and any tree, given the time, can extend its reach through growth. But it is important for the life of a tree that its extension above the surface not exceed its growth below. Stability depends on a tree knowing that its root system beneath the surface limits its capacity to send out limbs and produce fruit. In short, everything depends on the drip line. For people on the go, the root system that a drip line traces may feel more like a limit than a gift.

As a young father, I often feel like the boundaries placed on my life limit my freedom, but this metaphor reminds me that by raising my children in a Godly way, I am actually expanding my root system. To put it simply: these boundaries are expanding my capacity to produce fruit! But don’t just take my word for it:

Paul Wilkes…reflects on his resistance to limits as a young person, saying, “I bridled at restraints; I moved again and again. There was always something more out there I wasn’t finding.” For Wilkes, this led to a midlife crisis about the true meaning of freedom. “I looked upon married life and children as punishingly restrictive and certainly not a path to holiness or heroism,” he confesses. “After my devoted attempt to be a man of the world, I swerved onto other paths, believing I needed to live with the poor, then to be a monk, do some work of great value to humankind. Something out of the ordinary.” All of this frenetic searching eventually led Wilkes to what he calls a “desperately unhappy existence.” Free to pursue any life he could imagine, Wilkes found himself unable to really live.Considering the practice of stability some two decades after this crisis, Wilkes is able to name how his own salvation has depended on accepting the limits of marriage. “With two sons embarking on their teenage years and a working wife, my freedom of movement is severely restricted, my own desires secondary at best. Yet I experience some of the richest days of my life.” No longer free to do whatever he wants, Wilkes sees that he is free to love particular people whose needs he knows. To be sure, that circle of people is limited, circumscribed by the drip line of his life. But as he establishes roots of love, Wilkes can see that he is now able to grow. The boundary lines of his life and love expand as his roots grow deeper.

This book won’t stop prodding me where it hurts, insisting that the grass on the other side of the fence is just that, more grass. In the long run, it won’t taste better than this grass, and the hassle of getting stuck in–or addicted to going through–barb-wired fences is just not worth the bother.

So how big is your drip line? Is it growing as you commit to a place, and to loving the people in that place? Or is it shrinking because you run away from your problems…

Don’t Follow Me, Stay Where You Are (And Follow Me!)

Sometimes it can feel like you aren’t a very good Christian unless you are a missionary half-way across the world. In the book The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, I found this meditation on what it means to follow Jesus in the place you live.

Just as Jesus’ movement is picking up momentum, he tells a man not to follow him. This struck me as odd the first time I noticed it. The man is naked when Jesus meets him. Stripped bare, his spiritual torment is unveiled for all to see. He is alone—without family, community, or the institutions of love that humans need to flourish…Jesus commands the demons to come out of him and go into a herd of pigs. Filled with the demons that had tormented the man, the pigs run off a cliff and into the lake. The point is clear enough: whatever just came out of this man is a force that will run living creatures to their death. When the townspeople turn back from watching the pigs splash into the lake, they see the man who had been possessed “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” No longer constantly driven to flee, this man has been healed. He is seated at the feet of the One who stands immovable. It’s an incredible contrast to the scene when Jesus first set foot on the shore and the man came running, every muscle tense. Restless and distraught before, he is now seated, in his right mind…Yet the sight of this man seated at Jesus’ feet puts fear in the people of the town. We are, after all, accustomed to our demons. Despite our frustration and occasional acts of resistance, we accommodate ourselves to the ways they limit our own lives and crush the lives of others. However terrible our demons may appear when we look them in the face, their presence along the periphery of our lives feels normal. Maybe the demons kill, but we’re often more comfortable with the frenetic forces that drive us here and there than we are with the radical new way of life that Jesus brings. The people of this little town on the other side of the lake ask Jesus to leave. Respecting their wishes, he does. But as Jesus is getting into the boat, the man who has been made whole begs to go with Jesus. His peaceful posture is disturbed by the thought of Jesus leaving. For the first time in years, he has found peace with Jesus. Like a good disciple, he wants to sit at Jesus’ feet. Indeed, he wants to follow Jesus’ feet wherever they go. But Jesus says no. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Stay where you are. In whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it. Jesus delivers the demon-possessed man and then offers him the gift of stability. Maybe the single most important thing we can do if we want to grow spiritually is to stay in the place where we are.

Many early Christian writers understood the principle of stability. For example:

Someone asked Abba Antony, “What must one do in order to please God?” After encouraging the pilgrim to keep God before his eyes and pattern his life after the Scriptures, Antony added, “In whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it.” Another of the desert fathers advised similarly, “If a trial comes upon you in the place where you live, do not leave that place when the trial comes. Wherever you go, you will find that what you are running from is ahead of you.”

I wonder how many Christians are called to stay!

Is Your Experience of Christianity Supernatural?

I read a book not too long ago called: Preaching to a Post-Everything World by Jack Eswine. This quote stood out to me because although I am part of a Pentecostal college, it seems like sometimes modern Christians don’t believe in the supernatural:

Francis Schaeffer once asked a penetrating question: “I wonder what would happen to most churches and Christian work if we awakened tomorrow, and everything concerning the reality and work of the Holy Spirit, and everything concerning prayer, were removed from the Bible. I don’t mean just ignored, but actually cut out—disappeared. I wonder how much difference it would make?” The potential of doing ministry without or contrary to God’s Spirit is real. Schaeffer’s question asks us to examine whether our weekly practice would be impacted at all if the Spirit and his appointed means of piety were removed from our ministries.

Often I wonder if most modern Christians are either practical atheists, or just deists at best. If we are honest, is Schaeffer correct?

Is Fair Trade Coffee Bad for Trade?

I am preparing to record a podcast episode for my podcast Rocket to 30 about what it means to be a citizen of the world. For this reason, I am reading an economics book called “The Poverty of Nations” by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus. The book has made me question an assumption I had never thought about before: Is fair trade coffee a good idea from an economic perspective?

Fair trade coffee “seems to be a sensible way to help poor coffee growers earn more money. But the general consensus of economists is that it does not do much good and might even do some harm. Economist Victor Claar points out, ‘Fair trade coffee roughly represents just one percent of the coffee markets in the United States and Europe.’ But Claar points out an economic harm that comes from an artificial increase of the price of some coffee above what the world market will bear (that is, higher than the price set by the world supply and demand). Paying some growers a higher price than the world market price for coffee encourages them to grow more coffee than the market actually demands. Claar writes: Thus, while there is too much coffee being grown relative to global demand in general, there is also not sufficient demand to purchase, at the fair trade price, all of the coffee being grown as fair trade coffee. In both cases, there is simply too much coffee. The larger supply of coffee then depresses the price for other coffee growers that are not part of the fair-trade movement. (This is something like what occurs because of the agricultural subsidies that the United States pays to certain farmers, giving them a price above the world market price for their crops, and then ending up with surplus crops which it ‘dumps’ on the world market, depressing agricultural prices for other countries.) Claar goes on to say that artificially raising the price for coffee just prolongs the problem of too much coffee on the world market: If the fundamental problem with the coffee market is that prices are low because there is too much coffee, then it would appear that the fair trade movement may be making matters worse rather than better because it increases the incentives to grow more coffee. An additional problem is that, by paying a higher price than the world market price for coffee, the fair-trade movement encourages farmers to keep producing coffee when they would be much better off shifting to alternative crops for which there is more demand (he shows how Costa Rica shifted its production to new exports and significantly increased the value of its exports). We noted earlier that Paul Collier is professor of economics at Oxford University and former director of development research at the World Bank. He writes this about fair-trade coffee (but the arguments apply to ‘fair-trade’ campaigns for other products as well): The price premium in fair trade products is a form of charitable transfer, and there is evidently no harm in that. But the problem with it, as compared with just giving people the aid in other ways, is that it encourages recipients to stay doing what they are doing—producing coffee. . . . They get charity as long as they stay producing the crops that have locked them into poverty. We agree with these economic assessments, and therefore we cannot recommend that people support the ‘fair-trade’ movement. Charitable contributions to the poor are more efficiently given by other means, and such charitable transfers will never lead to a long-term solution for world poverty.”

These arguments are complex, and in some ways, hard to understand. As I have been reading this book, I have started to wonder if fair-trade is actually something that just makes rich people feel better about how they spend their disposable income. I’m sure that companies which support these farmers are not malicious and probably have the best intentions in mind, but if it is a broken system for solving poverty on a large scale because it is hurting other growers, how should I respond if I want to be a responsible and ethical agent for change as a Christian?