Week 12: Misplaced Identity, Individualism, Sin, and A Cure.
Weekly Digital Detox Reflections
Hello and welcome to week 12 of my digital detox reflections. In case you missed my recent update, I’ve decided to keep these reflections going for an entire year. I’m going to allow myself to take weeks off here and there. I will let readers know when those breaks are coming but, for the most part, I’ll be publishing weekly reflections every Thursday. Here is where I ask to hear from you, lovely readers! Do you have a digital detox routine? Have you ever done a detox or at least considered trying it out? What is your relationship with digital technology like? Do you think detoxes are even necessary? I’d love to hear about how you choose to engage and or disengage with digital technology.
I have no updates or progress in terms of my use own digital technology. Usage has continued to stay low. My update this week is the wildflowers pictured above. Look at those beauties! I know many stems are brown and burned from our brutal Georgia summer but they’re still lovely. I planted them in March hoping they’d be blooming by the time my son was born in June. Yet June came and they were almost indistinguishable from weeds. Then came July and August came I gave up hope. I thought for sure the heat had gotten the best of them. I knew they were being scorched and I didn’t have time to give them the attention they truly needed. I let the rain do the watering and let them be. Suddenly, it’s the middle of October and we have flowers with more coming in each day! Every time I look at them I’m reminded that the beauty you wish to see from your efforts will come. There is no need to be in a hurry for it.
Where My Thoughts Have Been
Being a Christian means navigating life with a few certainties. When it comes to problems in the world or trouble within our hearts, we are certain the cause of these problems is sin, be it our sins or the wounds we suffer from the sins of others. Sin, in the Christian understanding, is anything that separates us from God. Our awareness of sin can simplify our lives. When things are off, we Christians know quickly that sin is at hand and prayer is needed to combat it. However, we often run into trouble when it comes to identifying which sin we’re dealing with. This is a problem because when we cannot identify the sin for what it is, we settle for fighting symptoms or ignoring them altogether. This is foolish. If you want to cure a disease, you must treat the root cause itself. Managing symptoms is futile if it doesn’t actually heal. Ignoring symptoms means certain death. Yet this is where we are. There is a sin as old as time we are struggling with here in America. Not only are we ignoring the symptoms, we accept them, celebrate them, and are now exacerbating the disease.
One symptom we’ve embraced is that of misplaced identity. Traditionally, our concept of identity was focused outward. It was formed by understanding how you as an individual participated in and contributed to the world outside of yourself. Today, when constructing our identity, we turn inward. We look at ourselves, our talents, gifts, and abilities, and view these as what make us unique, special, and different from everyone else. We look at the world and do our best to separate ourselves from it and each other. Sadly, we’ve gotten really good at this. Identity in this way, is misplaced for we were not created to be alone. We have been made to live in communion with each other. It is better, therefore, to recognize how we can fit into and be beneficial to the greater good of our community. One may be an artist, an athlete, or a gifted public speaker. These things are good, but if they become your identity, if they become ways in which you separate yourself from others, they become problematic. A more prudent and traditional approach would have one say “I am a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, or a friend. I am a teacher, a coach, a counselor, or a coworker and I can use my talents and skills in these capacities to improve my community.”By looking outward and seeing ourselves as part of a greater whole, our identity becomes how we join and enjoy community. If seeing yourself as part of a larger community sounds foreign, frightening, or plain awful, you’re probably suffering another symptom or this age-old sin. You are likely extremely individualistic.
Which comes first? Misplaced identity or individualism? Which is the chicken and which is the egg? Does the answer to that question matter? Hardly. The point is, that we’re up to our necks in individualism and would rather drown than be saved. This intense individualism, just as our misplaced identity is not just seen as normal, it is encouraged.
Use your money to serve yourself. Give to the poor but make sure you put it on Instagram so everyone sees how charitable you are. And don’t forget about your tax break! Buy yourself too many things while others stay in need. Eat anything and everything you want while many go without. Get yourself the latest gadget. Get them for your family too. That way when you all get home for the day, you can all go do your own thing, instead of hanging together as a family. This sounds cynical and perhaps it is. But for many people, this is their reality. It’s such a reality, that it has even crept its way into the church. Many evangelical Christians have developed this awful habit of jumping from church to church if “their” needs are not being met. They aren’t looking for ways to serve, contribute, or benefit the church, they want a church to cater to and serve them.
Symptoms Made Worse
These symptoms are ugly and painful. Ugly because they distort our view of the beauty God has filled the earth with and painful because on some level they affect all of us. One way to get a grip on how they are affecting us is to look at how these symptoms are exasperated by our use of digital technology. See what is being said here. Using digital technology is not a sin. However, current trends and habits of prolonged and uninterrupted use of digital technologies make these symptoms worse. Wiser, more educated people have clearly demonstrated the detrimental effects of too much screen time, particularly when it comes to smartphones. They’ve explained the isolation that seems to emerge as we become increasingly connected to the internet. If modernity has focused our identity inward and made us so individualistic that we are basically allergic to communal living, then digital technology has come along, locked us in our own minds, and convinced us that isolation is better. It has driven us further into ourselves.
Remember though, these are symptoms of a greater disease. So what disease, what sin is underneath our misplaced identities and extreme individualism? What makes the self-fulfilling use of digital technology so appealing? The sin as old as time itself. The sin of pride.
“When pride cometh, then cometh shame: But with the lowly is wisdom.”
Proverbs 11:2 KJV
Pride is a sin that can readily be seen in others but is rarely admitted to ourselves.
Ezra Taft Benson
Pride makes us think we are smarter than our neighbors, wiser than our elders, and more important than anyone. It excuses gross misbehaviors and enables us to justify the worst parts of ourselves. When taken to its extremes, it leads us to believe that we are not only made in the image of God but are gods ourselves and to be treated as anything different is an insult. This obstructs any idea of repentance and further separates us from God.
The good news here is that the lie of pride and its false claims have now been made known to the general public. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, many were forced to stay inside. Work from home, shop from home, connect from home, and do anything you want as long as it can be done digitally. We had been made to think we were enough for ourselves, that we didn’t need others. But, when forced into isolation, we quickly realized we missed each other. Scrolling endlessly through social media feeds, shopping on Amazon, and stupid Zoom meetings for months on end helped us to see the value of time spent with other humans. It forced us to admit that whether we like it or not, we actually love each other. Love emerged as the cure to our misplaced, individualistic pride.
I recently read Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. The book is absolutely beautiful and well worth reading. I’ll do my best not to spoil anything here. There are many things this book is “about” but overall, it’s about love. Love, of course, is a very broad term that has many different facets. The genius of Wendell Berry, in this book, was the intricate weaving of these facets throughout the entirety of the story. Jayber Crow experiences several epiphanies. I shared one epiphany with Jayber when he expressed being struck by the famous bible verse John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
John 3:16 KJV
Jayber, sort of lost in thought about this verse, realizes that many people only focus on the second part of the verse while overlooking the first part which says “God so loved the world”. Jayber’s experience, up until then was to look upon the world with disdain. It was a world that needed saving because it was evil. It was evil because it had fallen away from God. Here, Jayber is struck by God’s deep love for the world and everything He created despite the fact it Had fallen away. This realization that God’s love and devotion to His world was so strong that He sacrificed His son to save it, changed Jayber and gave him a lens of love through which he must view the world, no matter how broken it appears.
As the story continues, love becomes more visible. Love of place, people (friends and enemies), nature, stewardship, and especially “spousal”1 love, moves you and leaves hoping that maybe one day, you can love as deeply, earnestly, and selflessly as Jayber Crow.
But love, sooner or later, forces us out of time. It does not accept that limit. Of all that we feel and do, all the virtues and all the sins, love alone crowds us at last over the edge of the world. For love is always more than a little strange here. It is not explainable or even justifiable. It is itself the justifier. We do not make it. If it did not happen to us, we could not imagine it. It includes the world and time as a pregnant woman includes her child whose wrongs she will suffer and forgive. It is in the world but is not altogether of it. It is of eternity. It takes us there when it most holds us here.
Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow
The story of Jayber Crow should give us hope. If we can recognize the love God has for the world, we have every reason to stop focusing on ourselves and focus on serving others even when there is no apparent reward. We have every reason to disconnect from our digital technology and return to the realm of human connection. We have every reason to love, for God has first loved us2.
Love of this kind is best exemplified in the love Christ has for us. The love of Jesus ushers us into the world beyond ourselves and assures us we belong, for we belong to Him. His love removes all pride leaving us humbled and appreciative for everything He declared “good”. His love for us reveals the beauty of the image in which we were created helping us to see that beauty in others.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt,
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us, we sinners.
Thank you for reading! Do your best to disconnect from the artificial, and connect with others.
And as always,
Keep thy head cool and thine eyes true.
Howard Pyle, Men of Iron
Scripture of the Week
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ESV
Word of the Week
(noun) Fondness- affection or liking of someone or something.
Why fondness? Well, I couldn’t just use the word love again, could I?
Music of the Week
Spousal is in quotation makers for a reason. If you know, good. If you don’t, go read Jayber Crow!
1st John 4:19