Aldon Hynes's blog
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Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. World AIDS Day. Advent. Seeking quiet and simplicity, amidst suffering. Contemplating ekphrastic poetry and non-violent communication techniques online. Getting ready for another busy day.
Three words that I have been thinking a lot about as this Advent gets off to a start are uncertainty, simplicity, and transformation. Coming into Advent, I was thinking a bit about uncertainty. Recent events in my life, and in our political life has increased my sense of uncertainty.
To add to this, I’ve been listening to a recording of The Cloud of Unknowing. I am trying to live into uncertainty.
One of the Advent study guides I’ve been looking at is all about simplicity. I tend to think of uncertainty as being complex and not simple. How do uncertainty and simplicity fit together? What is simple uncertainty? Somehow, this makes me think of Zen stories. Somewhere, I have my copy of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones kicking around. Perhaps not the typical Advent study guide, but well worth it.
In a different Advent study, the Archbishop of Canterbury is talking about studying the Bible. A key point that he talks about is approaching the Bible with the expectation of being transformed. It seems like we should be approaching much of our studies, much of our lives, with the hope of being transformed.
So, now I’m wondering about how uncertain simplicity can lead to transformation in my life.
Last night, as part of my Advent discipline, I read the first section of Practicing Simplicity with All Your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind. This reflection was on practicing simplicity with all your heart, which for the writer meant focusing on one thing at a time. In an earlier part of the introduction, they spoke of two areas of wellness in the heart, relationships: “The ability to create and maintain healthy, life-giving connections with others” and emotions: “The ability to process, express, and receive emotions in healthy ways.”
While I appreciate the ability to focus on one thing at a time, I do have to wonder about whether this is really part of simplicity and really part of wellness in the heart. The author expands on her thoughts about this saying, “Multi-tasking is a hallmark of our culture” and goes on to talk about smart phones, the 24 hour news cycle and the ability to quickly learn about suffering around the world.
While I recognize the importance of being in the world, but not of the world, when I read this, it sounded a lot like a digital immigrant bewailing the ways of the new culture of the digital native. If these ideas, Digital Immigrant and Digital Native are new to you, I encourage you to read Marc Prensky’s essay, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. While I am older than the typical digital native, I grew up with technology and find the culture of digital natives more in line with my own.
I also work in health care, and spend a lot of time focusing on “cultural competency”. We need to meet the people we interact with in the contexts of their culture. It is, to borrow from the books introduction, part of how we “create and maintain healthy, life-giving connections with others”. Suggesting that part of simplicity of heart means rejecting part of the new culture doesn’t sound right to me. Indeed, I’ve always loved that part of our Anglican tradition which is about translating the Good News to the vernacular.
Let me expand a little further on this. Another key essay to read is Linda Stone’s essay, Continuous Partial Attention. It describes how digital natives relate to one another.
To pay continuous partial attention … is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment.
To a digital native, this makes a lot of sense. To a digital immigrant this may sound foreign. This is not to say that we shouldn’t put down our phones from time to time. We should. We should do it very deliberately. We need to determine the right time to put down the phone, not because of some vague idea that being a live node in the network is somehow bad, but because through doing it, we can further enhance the attention we give to others.
Another key online resource to consider is Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, Changing education paradigms. Listen to what he says about growing up today and pause to wonder about how this relates to focusing on one thing at a time.
As I was thinking about this, I thought about when the Lord appeared to Elijah. We hear that the Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake, nor the fire, but in the gentle whisper. I’ve often heard people suggest that this is an indication that we need to listen for God in quietness instead of in the chaos of daily life. However, it feels like this may not fully understanding the text. We need to make ourselves present to hear God in unexpected places. If you are expecting to hear God in the wind, the earthquake, or in fire, maybe you need to listen to a quiet whisper. Yet if you are expecting to hear God in the quiet, or perhaps in a symphony, or see God in nature, maybe you need to work at being more present in the chaos of daily life. Perhaps you need to be more present around the verbal altercations that take place amongst homeless men near where you were. Perhaps you need to be more present in the twenty-four hour news cycle and all the posts online, to hear God’s voice there, and connect more deeply with those we need to serve.
This response in longer than the reflection it is a response to, but hopefully it will cause people to stop and think more carefully about their relationships, both positive and negative to digital culture.