Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Antidote to Hurry Sickness

[This was published in Moody Magazine in 2001 in my column, "Culture Watch." I lost it on my hard drive, but just I found it on line. I don't think I've posted it before, but that may be wrong. This topic came up on a church staff meeting today, and that jogged my memory to try to find this.]

Culture Watch
From Hyperculture to Shalom
By Douglas Groothuis

MODERN AMERICANS CRAVE AND LIVE ON SPEED. Fast is "cool." Computers get faster by the month and are outdated in a couple of years. Cultural trends come and go in a flash. Yesterday it was Teletubbies; today it’s Pokeman. What will it be next week? Short, brisk sermons are recommended for people with short attention spans. We dare not "waste time," and we must always "save time." Professor Stephen Bartman identifies this infatuation with speed as "hyperculture." Through it all, we may lose a sense of shalom, of God’s peace.

Speed is beneficial when being faster saves lives or improves life. Ambulance service should be quick. E-mail allows me to send items in a few minutes, as opposed to several days through "snail mail."

Speed can even teach spiritual lessons. The Old Testament Jews were instructed to eat the Passover meal quickly to help them remember their hasty exodus from Egypt at the hand of God (Exod. 12:11).

The Book of Hebrews chastens its original readers, saying at that stage they should be teachers, but are "slow to learn" and need "someone to teach [them] the elementary truths of God’s word all over again" (5:12). They were spiritual slow-pokes. Paul exhorts us to make "the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:16). We can’t imagine this evangelist, apologist, and theologian wasting time.

Yet our culture is accelerating in unhealthy ways. A few Americans have even opted for a drive-through funeral parlor, with the corpse behind a glass, and a guest book in the driver’s reach. Grieving isn’t fun. Speed it up. Get it over with.

The pace of television and movie images has radically increased. James Gleik notes in Faster that "No matter how fast a movie goes these days — or a situation comedy, a newscast, a music video, or a television commercial — it is not fast enough. Vehicles race, plunge, and fly faster; cameras pan and shake faster, and scenes cut faster from one shot to the next."

But the mind cannot keep pace with the medium. The swiftness of video excites the senses while dulling the soul. Humans were not created to assimilate images this rapidly. Film historian Annette Insdorf notes, "There’s a kind of mindlessness. The viewer is invited to absorb images without digesting them. Music videos seem to have seeped into the rhythms of creativity. It’s rare these days that films afford the luxury of time." But mindlessness is not a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23)! Building a Christian mind takes time.

Many of us maneuver around the Internet at breakneck speeds — surfing from one web page to another, absorbing images and sounds, without reading the material critically. Gleik writes that in 1997, Sun Microsystems "conducted research into how people read on the Web and concluded simply, ‘They don’t.’ They scan, sampling words and phrases."

These examples point out the pathology of velocity: Our mental and moral lives become debased through excess speed. We may become addicted to rapidity without counting the costs: superficiality, impatience, anger, and frustration. When life becomes a blur, it can’t be lived well before God and others. We all have our own "speed limits."

How do we find the proper pace of life? We can pursue shalom, God’s peace. We should limit our intake of any medium — whether television, movies, or video games — that encourages the pathologies of velocity. Sometimes, slower is better, richer, and deeper. Rather than "surfing" through the Scriptures, we can read reflectively, pausing to consider the implications of truth for us. Instead of mini-sermons to fit our mini-attention spans, we need to develop our powers of concentration so we can enjoy longer and deeper messages. Absorbing biblical truth can’t be rushed.

Scripture summons us to "wait for the Lord" (Psalm 130:5). As we still our souls, look upward, and slow down, we begin to find the meaning that is missed when life is an adrenaline-driven blur. In all things we should cut against the grain of hyperculture and learn to hear God say, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).

Dr. Groothuis is Professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary. He is the author of Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (InterVarsity Press).


Small Group Guy said...

"Our nature consists in motion; complete rest is death"

-Blaise Pascal

I had a friend give this to me once as a statement on why being so busy is O.K. for him. Of course it is painfully out of context. We can be in motion, and not at full motion. We can stop and smell the roses and not get cut by the thorns.

Dr Mike said...

Dr G:

You are probably familiar with Swenson's book Margin, which addresses this issue and others. It is a life-changing book - or would be if I had the time to implement it.

William Bradford said...

Adrenaline driven and mind numbing are key phrases indicating an addictive aspect of the speed craving.