Technology habits and the connections that really matter

Over the past five years, I have gradually become attached to a laptop. A couple of months ago, I reluctantly got a smart phone. Of course I know I am not all-that-strange for these personal facts, but as one who prefers to be more centered on my spiritual life and my relationship with God than on things, I actually feel ashamed to admit that I spend most of my time interacting with machines.

Of course, the technology can aid me in my connecting to God and neighbor, right? It’s a tool I get to control how I want, right? It doesn’t control me, does it?

Well, a quick assessment of my day reveals that I do, in fact, use technology to connect with God and serve others. I use the Daily Catholic and CRS Rice Bowl apps for prayer. I frequently listen to hymns and read Scripture reflections online. And, I certainly use technology for acts of service and activism and help moderate a Facebook group called The Vocation Discerners (which I founded years ago.) I certainly stay in touch with my dearest friends and family through email, Twitter, Facebook, texting, and even Instagram. Of course my ministry as a writer here and elsewhere requires technology too. These are not bad things!

Still, I am not proud of how much of my life is consumed by technology usage. In this season of Lent, a season that invites consciousness and conversion, I’m trying to honor my cravings for less screen time and more soul-centered time. This focus is causing a clearer portrait of the roots of my struggle to come into view.

A writer I greatly admire, Sara Zarr, recently wrote a reflection of her Internet history of the past twenty years. In the piece, she shares how she began this Lent with the intention of tracking (and possibly changing) her Internet habits. She acknowledges how using it has its pros and cons, and much of her patterns of usage are ultimately rooted in the core human need to connect, to relate. As for her Lenten intentions and possibly changing those patterns, she states “it turned out Lent … happened to be a time where I got to see and experience and lots of reminders of why I wanted to change it in the first place.”

I really appreciate Sara’s honesty about her tendency to use the Internet compulsively. She said it, but I’ve experienced it too: “It is the easiest, fastest way to relieve a moment of loneliness, to procrastinate, to fill a void, to get an ego hit, a dopamine rush, approval…I mean, we all know how that works. It’s hard to turn off and look away.”  Whoa, doesn’t she just name exactly what continues to drive us all online? Certainly, much of the shame and guilt I feel about my own technology usage is due to the things that drive me into it—not because of the fact that I am using technology itself.

Source: Pandodaily.wordpress.com

Spirit is involved in all of this. God is with us in our loneliness, in our habits of avoidance, in our needs for approval and connection. Spirit invites us into holiness and health, not disappointment or frustration. If we let the tools of technology lead us to the right places of prayer and communion, we can meet God, deepen our relationships, and serve others. But, if our human weakness and its sinful nature gets the best of us, we can lose control and technology can become self-serving or even an addiction.

Much of what’s at work is our living in a bit of gap. There’s a gap between our preferred behaviors and our actual behaviors. We can find God in this gap and discover ways to serve others, live in community, to share and participate. That’s what living the Gospel is all about.

It’s part of the reason why the Time article about the “sharing economy” fascinates me so much. I couldn’t help but to think about Jesus’ mission when I read about how many people are giving of their time and resources in order to connect with their neighbors or complete strangers (and yes, at times, to earn a bit of money) by sharing their car, their stuff and their meals. Our Gospel living is about connecting, relating and serving. It’s about communion and building community. It’s about willing the good of the other. If technology helps us with that, then it indeed can be a tool used for God’s purposes.

As we ponder the signs of this time, such as what is occurring in ecology, I believe that technology usage demands our attention. On this topic Ilia Delio writes, “…We humans are becoming something new with technology. Technology is evoking new patterns of relatedness which now include an artificial device. Hence, we need an operative definition of IT as ‘intentional technology.'”

As it turns out I need not be ashamed about my technology habits, as I’m united with many in my dilemmas. Instead, I can heed the invitation of this Lenten season and let my increased consciousness influence my choices. By the grace of God, I can change and become more intentional in my use of technology. With more intentionality I shall gain more freedom. By the grace of God, we all will.

an Easter economy

It is time for a new economy.

It is time for Christ to be our Cornerstone of all creation, even our economic exchange. It’s Easter, the season of new days and resurrected, restored creations.  The time is now for God’s Way to revive all that makes us broken and weak, especially the structures that create poverty and violence.

They brought them into their presence and questioned them,
“By what power or by what name have you done this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, answered them,
“Leaders of the people and elders:
If we are being examined today
about a good deed done to a cripple,
namely, by what means he was saved,
then all of you and all the people of Israel should know
that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead;
in his name this man stands before you healed.
He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
which has become the cornerstone.
There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”  -Acts 4: 7-12

Our society loves putting our faith in the wrong places. The early Christians understood that nothing would work unless Christ is its cornerstone, its foundation, the center upon which all is grounded. Today we seem to be pretty dense to this. We gamble on economics and politics to be our salvation as if they are the systems that will lead us toward justice and peace.

Today’s political and economic debates are littered with lies.

All over the spectrum, I hear the propaganda of capitalism. One side is blaring out that we need to have few regulations, little taxation and that those with the wealth and power ultimately will- by the nature of the structure- influence justice.  Supposedly, people can rise up by the boot straps and get on their feet if those with wealth and power are able to create more jobs.  On the other hand, I hear a suggestion that we need to redistribute wealth, that if you’re rich it’s because the structure has allowed you to be and so you owe something to the rest of humanity.  Glossy promotions boom out that careful investments, money management and increased shopping is the way to freedom, justice and peace.  How many times do we justify our materialistic habits with a shrug of: “my purchasing is helping the economy”?  We think morality should be guided by ability.  (I was disgusted to hear a story on Science Friday about mining resources in space to maintain our standard of living, without any discussion about whether it is morally OK for us to do so.)  For some reason everyone seems to believe that if we allow capitalism to work its course then things will be fair and everything will be all right.

Today is May Day, an international day of strike and an Occupy movement momentum maker.  These social movements cry out in response to the propaganda of capitalism: the structures we know aren’t working!

What would work instead?  It’s Eastertime.  We need a new economy, an Easter economy.  The only way is Christ, the cornerstone.

With Christ at the cornerstone of the new economy, all shall be gift.  According to God’s designs, we are interdependent with all creation.  We need plants, animals and clean air.  The creatures of God’s planet need us to care for them, too.  With mindfulness, we shall restore earth’s resources and all have enough.  We give and take with gratitude and constantly ask the hard questions about what we should do, not what we can do.

In an economy with Christ as the cornerstone, we can rely on each other.  We’ll know how to help each other and we won’t hesitate to do so because we understand that judgement isn’t up to us.  We know that hospitality and service means that we risk being uncomfortable and converting to creations who are more united.  We trust each other to do what is right, because no competition shall cause us to do wrong.  With joy, we work with our hands, create art, repair what is broken, grow our own food and freely give away what we don’t need.

The Gospel good news is that many are already living in these Easter economies.  I am thrilled to know people who will, in a couple of weeks, celebrate a weekend without capitalism.   I have some friends who have a “free shelf” in their house and sponsor a regular “free market” in Chicago in order to create a space for everyone to share what they have.

When it comes to giving, loving and serving survival shouldn’t be our concern.  With Christ as our cornerstone, our needs are supplied.  Sure, we may need to live simply and love freely in order to get by, but isn’t that the Gospel Way?  If we’re not concerned about money, bills and income then we suddenly have time to grow our own food, fix things that are broken and look for food in new places. We can give of our skills and time in exchange for the things we need.  I’d be delighted to come and teach a lesson or write for you; you can feed me lunch or help me fix my bike.

This vision isn’t just idealistic or pie in the sky.  This is according to Christ’s designs. Our faith needs to be in Him, we are made to love and share.  With new alternatives, our habits shall be converted and we’ll be healing the crippled and bringing life to the dead.  We recognize that justice isn’t up to us, that’s God’s work.  We all do our part to help make things better.  We trust and believe.   We know it in our hearts and we preach it with our lives: with Christ as the cornerstone of our Easter economy, everything will really be OK.