Like most other mornings, I wake up early to the sound of a digital wind chime. I roll over and unconsciously slide the unlock bar on my phone, briefly checking my e-mail and scrolling through last night’s Tweets and Facebook statuses. Moments later, I’m at my desk with a cup of coffee, ready to meditate on scripture and pray before rushing off to work.
Father, I ask for grace to walk in Your peace and presence today.
An Instagram image of my friend’s birthday party flashes through my mind. Was my ex-girlfriend there?
Teach me Your wisdom and help me share it with others.
I wonder how I should respond to my brother’s Facebook message. I need to do a better job of staying in touch.
Help me to honor Your name and remember Your ways in all that I do.
My next thought is replaced by college jocks doing the Harlem Shake underwater on YouTube… How do they hold their breath for so long?!
As I integrate more and more social media into my daily routine, I find it increasingly difficult to clear my thoughts and focus on one subject, and I doubt I’m the only one who struggles with this. Twitter feeds and Tumblr dashboards condition us to engage in multiple conversations at once. Instagram trains our minds to rapidly jump from one subject to the next in less than a few seconds. Our brains effectively adapt to process the most common forms of sensory perception they receive, so this begs the question: Is social media killing our focus?
More than half of the world is now on some form of social media. Today, one out of every seven minutes spent online is on Facebook. Twitter receives about 300,000 new visitors daily. Not coincidently, a study by Lloyds TSB Insurance showed that attention spans have fallen to an average of five minutes, down from 12 minutes in the late 90’s.
Culturally, this loss of patience is seen clearly in the growing popularity of speed dating. A friend once invited me to go with him to a quick round downtown, saying, “You’ll meet 20 girls in an hour.” Since I had no other plans for the night, I lackadaisically agreed. Later that night, I found myself zipping down a line of tables, making fast-paced comments like, “I love dogs, too!” and “I thought about studying anthropology.” It seemed like a conveyer belt of conversations, and although I had never speed dated before, it felt oddly familiar to my online interactions. Sadly, I made no genuine connections and walked away with nothing other than the knowledge that most girls like dogs and anthropology.
Of course, this is a goofy example, but a serious problem arises when our relationships with our friends, family and God parallel our interactions on social media.
Throughout scripture, we see examples of God leading His people to listen with patience and focused attention. When God calls Ezekiel to wait for His presence on a mountain in 1 Kings 19, for example, Ezekiel must resist the distractions of the wind, earthquake and fire before he hears the Lord’s voice in a “gentle whisper.” Had he let his mind wander, he may have missed the God of the universe speaking to him. Today, if we allow social media to deeply influence the way we think outside of digital space, we run the same risk of overlooking the most important voices in our lives.
Inherently, social media platforms are neither good nor bad. They are tools that allow us to globally share our thoughts, ideas and creative works with others. When used wisely, they have enormous social benefits (think Arab Spring, NGO fundraising and breaking news coverage).
The key therefore is not unplugging altogether, but rather examining how each platform affects our minds, and then creating balanced approaches to minimize damage on our focus. Because really, Harlem Shake videos should never take the place of deep conversations.
Pride is a funny thing.
We often carry it like a six-foot golden trophy, waving it in other people’s faces to show them we’ve successfully one-up’ed them on the social ladder with some accomplishment, skill or possession. The odd thing is social status always comes down to perspective.
I saw this clearly in a putrid slum in East Africa. While partnering with a youth ministry seeking to help homeless teenagers overcome their addictions, I walked through a dust-covered alley overflowing with rotting garbage. I noticed a group of boys who looked like they hadn’t eaten in days and may have gone months without changing clothes. They were the face of poverty. As I talked with a few of them, a golden object caught my attention as it reflected light into the corner my eye. I turned and saw the face of pride.
An ox-like man approached with a fancy pep in his step that caused his fat gold chain to bounce against his sleeveless knock-off Ed Hardy shirt. He looked like a scrawny Mr. T with a dose of Swahili swag.
“What’s up brothah? What are you doing in ma town?” he asked me.
I instantly understood. As the local drug dealer, this guy profited the equivalent of a couple American coins by selling dank marijuana and cheap glue bottles to the teenage addicts. By the world’s standards, he is the lowest of the low on the social ladder, but in this East African slum, he is king of the trash heap.
From an impoverished vantage point, this man has authority, control, power, wealth and prestige. From a first-world perspective, he stands somewhere between a pithy criminal and prime example of African poverty. In other words, he reveals the fact that social status is subjective, and that from the right perspective anyone can be a beggar or a king.
When I apply this to my life, I realize how absurd it is to compare myself to the social ladder of my surroundings. In Washington D.C., power and prestige come down to political savvy and popular sway. People advance in this city by leveraging connections to garner political advancement. This works differently in other places.
In New York, status equals money.
In Los Angeles, status equals looks and fame.
In Nashville, status equals musical/creative ability.
These are certainly over-generalizations, but the point remains that different places and social circles deem status in different ways, and if we live and die by these subjective standards, we will never find fulfillment or inner-peace.
Great freedom comes in letting go of social status and accepting the fact that our lives will always be both enviable and pitiful to different people.
Humility isn’t having a low view of yourself; it’s having a true view of yourself.
Therefore, if we stop measuring ourselves against our immediate social contexts and start viewing ourselves through the love and grace of God, we’ll begin to walk in peace and truth.
Because really, in the eyes of God, our pride probably looks as dumb as the African drug dealer’s knock-off Ed Hardy shirt.
Tom Davis worked as a well-paid youth pastor in a comfortable church, but everything changed after one experience. He led a short-term missions trip to a Russian orphanage and learned the shocking truth about child poverty, neglect and human trafficking. Now, he runs the innovative orphan ministry Children’s Hope Chest as CEO and attacks human trafficking on multiple levels. I interviewed him about his experience and perspective on this horrific injustice.
How easy is it to purchase a child in the developing world?
It depends on the country, but pretty easy. We’ve gone undercover in places like Moldova and Russia to find underage girls for sale. At hotels, normally the concierge or the front-desk worker is in on it. The taxi drivers are in on it. They take you to the place and they get a cut. It’s unbelievable how these networks have infiltrated every aspect of life. You go to main cities, you tell them what you want, and they’ll take you where you can get it. In a Russian hotel where we were staying, a night guard told us the elevators were broken and that we would have to wait for them to be fixed. He said, “I know some young girls who would like to meet you.” He took us into a bar area, and there they were. The elevators had nothing wrong with them, but he deceived us. He wanted to divert our attention to these underage girls—they were clearly trafficked. This kind of thing happens all the time. It’s a network. The average price of a child is about $90 now.
Children’s Hope Chest uniquely fights human trafficking by connecting churches and businesses in America with safe houses abroad. Can you talk to me about this process?
It’s as close as you can come to adopting without adopting. We are trying to do a community-to-community model, meaning we help churches, businesses and online-blogging communities to sponsor families and orphanages overseas. To prevent human trafficking, we provide homes and ministry centers as a place for girls to go. In Russia for example, kids come out of orphanages at age 15 or 16 and 60 percent of the girls are trafficked. But in the regions where we work, that number is less than a quarter of a percent. Why? Because we get to know all the kids, provide housing, tell them the dangers and get them into universities. Much of this happens through the community sponsorships.
Do you feel in over your head trying to confront this issue?
Absolutely. Because it’s evil, it’s dangerous, it’s everywhere. But the success stories keep me going. It’s the 11-year-old girl who we recently rescued out of a brothel in India. That’s why we exist. If we keep a handful of kids out of trafficking every year, then it’s worth it. And the more people that get involved, the more we can make a serious dent in this injustice.
How has your faith influenced your role in the anti-slavery movement?
My faith tells me that people have value, that we are all created in the image of God. That includes you, me and the little girl who is trafficked and forced to serve 20 people a day. She has value and worth, and God created her for something much better. Additionally, my faith tells me that as Christ-followers, we are called to be the hope of the world. God has given us a mandate to go into places of dark injustice and overturn the cycle of events that occur. God isn’t left wondering why there are so many justice issues in the world that aren’t being taken care of. He has given the ideas and strategies into the hearts of his people on how to bring justice, but we must step out in faith. When we do that, the wrongs can be made right. (This interview and others like it were featured in a longer article I did for Prism Magazine titled– On The Front Lines of Abolition. Check it on pg. 8 )
Lately I’ve been playing a game called Go To Parties and Pretend To Be Someone Else.
It’s quite fun.
Since I still feel somewhat fresh in Washington D.C. and want to get to know more people, I routinely go to parties and happy-hour get-togethers to strike up conversations with socialites and political intellectuals.
Sometimes I like to play the impoverished writer. Other times I prefer the missional social-justice crusader, or if I have had too much caffeine, I choose the over-ambitious thrill-seeker.
I usually just exaggerate one aspect of my personality to see how people respond, but on occasion I cannot resist mixing it up. Once in a room full of ultra-conservatives, I pretended to be a communist striving to leverage the Internet for Marxist revolution. That one didn’t go over well.
In all seriousness, I only play this game in quick conversations with people I assume I will never see again. Although this makes for a quick laugh, it reminds me of the larger temptation many of us feel to continually shift our personalities to conform to our immediate social circles.
In other words, we put on masks for the sake of approval.
Because of insecurities and desires for constant acceptance, we tailor our images and lifestyles to match those around us in order to succeed in our current circumstances. At work, we become highly organized, ultra-driven professionals with spotless suits and impressive resumes. At parties, we become witty jokesters with exciting stories and cultural expertise.
Sadly, I think this plays out the worst in church. Many of us wake up on Sunday morning and magically become modern St. Augustines with two-pound Bibles, leather journals and a strange vocabulary that consists mostly of seven-syllable theological terms. I know I personally quote scripture like a seminary student within church circles, then struggle to live it (or even believe it) once I leave.
This type of of shape-shifting eventually grows exhausting, and although we do this for selfish reasons, we only hurt ourselves by creating distance between others and our true identities.
Life is not a costume party. If we continually walk around wearing masks, we never form real relationships and ultimately starve our souls of genuine nourishment.
Whether you’re in work, class, church or a rowdy nightclub, your life exterior should align with your interior. So take off your mask and embrace the weird, unique, eccentric individual you are.
The paradox is that as you become more like Jesus, you actually become a more unique form of yourself.
Turning 25 feels a bit like going to the doctor for a check-up.
It’s a normal part of life and every one has to do it, but there are no real benefits other than an uncomfortable reality-check.
Let’s see how I score.
High-paying or highly fulfilling job? Nope.
Married or in a serious relationship? Definitely not.
Impressive accomplishments? Ummm… I once rode a camel, and there was another time I ran a marathon and almost died.
For the past few months, I’ve dreaded my 25th birthday thinking I should have officially transitioned to stable adulthood with the next 40 years of my life mapped out. I let this looming-age change keep me awake at night, as if I quickly needed to find a way to check off a few of life’s imaginary accomplishment boxes.
As I step back and look at the bigger picture, I realize 25 is the perfect age not to have everything figured out and to embrace a wide open future. Regardless of whether you answered a capital YES to all three questions above or have never moved out of your parents’ basement, you should view the quarter-century mark as a giant opportunity, not a crisis.
Rather than letting stress define this transition, ask yourself what changes you want to make and which goals you should pursue this next year.
Have you always wanted to go to grad school? Go.
Do you want to move abroad and learn a foreign language? Do it.
Have you fantasized about quitting your job to start your own business? Stop waiting.
Of course, many of us already have serious commitments and should not simply pack up and move. But if you find yourself buried in a hole of discontentment, ask yourself what some of your favorite memories and hobbies have been in the last two and a half decades, then make sacrifices to include those in your daily schedule.
More and more however, I realize age should not dictate lifestyle. My friend Mike proves this. Although he is in his mid-30’s, single and does not have the financial support of a fancy organization, Mike is moving to Thailand to work with street children for the next few years. Some may see this as reckless or irrational, but his love and sense of adventure have led him to take a step of faith, regardless of his age.
That to say, life has no formula. Some people become best-selling authors at age 21 and others work as Starbucks baristas in their 50’s. Although one may seem better than the other, success and failure should not be defined by money and accomplishment. Instead, success should be seen as the opportunity to do something you enjoy while loving God and those around you.
So as you circle the sun for the 25th time, define the lifestyle you want to live today and start living it.
Otherwise, you might procrastinate till your midlife crisis and settle for buying an over-priced car or an awful weekend in Vegas. We should all avoid that.
Boredom increases with comfort. Compassion increases with adventure.
Thousands of families in Russia have stockpiled candles and canned goods.
Others have in America have invested in titanium alien-proof helmets and state-of-the-art fallout shelters.
One Chinese farmer even built seven spherical pods complete with seat belts and oxygen tanks so that he can roll around in style when asteroids and hobgoblins burst through the Earth’s atmosphere.
If prophetic predictions based on the Mayan calendar prove true, most of us will disintegrate into dust particles at some point today. Yet I’m willing to bet today’s apocalypse will turn out just like every other in the past century– a waste of candles and canned goods.
From Y2K to Harold Camping’s phony 2011 rapture, new Armageddon predictions pop up every few years. Although I have always dismissed people who believe these prophecies as naive radicals who probably watch too much BattleStar Galactica, I’m beginning to think a deeper heart issue causes this fanaticism.
All of us want significance. We want to believe we live at the center of the universe. We want to think our lives coincide with the most important moment in history.
The fact is, we don’t.
To quote Hemingway who quoted Solomon who quoted God, “One generation passeth away and another generation cometh, but the Earth abideth forever.”
That to say, hundreds of generations have come before us and hundreds of similar generations will probably follow us. Although we have iPads and electric shavers, we more or less have the same desires and the same problems as every other generation in history. We are not the exception.
Through a lens of pride, this is incredibly discouraging. Yet as we look above and recognize that God sits at the center of the universe and holds eternity in his hands,we can take joy knowing that every generation can equally find meaning and purpose in His presence.
Despite the fact that today will probably come and go like billions of other days, there is still infinite significance to be had. But this has to start by laying aside pride and humbly accepting that we all play a part in God’s unfolding story.
Or maybe I’ll be wrong and this guy will have the last laugh on his $160,000 modernized Noah’s ark…
But probably not.
“Until the lions have their own history, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.” -African Proverb