Today’s Media: Content & Constraint

MEDIA IN THE 21st CENTURY

Media today more than ever, in its various forms, has become the determiner of the thoughts and intents of our hearts and minds. This is a scary concept! The definition of the word media is the means of communicating information or ideas through publishing, radio, television, computers, smart phones, videos/DVDs, movies, the Internet, and computer games. Media influence has a profound effect on our thinking and lives. It can be a very useful, positive tool in many ways, but if misused it can bring devastating and destructive consequences to us and to the lives of those we love. Because of wrong choices in this area many young people have been drawn down the path of spiritual bankruptcy and sinful disobedience to God.

More importantly, the advent of the personal computer has transformed how we communicate, promote ideas, perform research, plan vacations, and conduct our personal finances. Of critical concern is the extent to which we—especially our youth—text, post and chat rather than sit down face-to-face and have a conversation. Among family and friends, among colleagues and lovers, we turn to our smart phones instead of each other. It is not unusual, for example, for couples to break up via text message or by changing their relationship status on Facebook to single. This new mediated life has gotten us into trouble. Face-to-face conversation is the most human—and humanizing—thing we do. When fully present to one another, we learn to listen. Frankly, this is the only way we learn the capacity of empathy. Experts worry that social media and texting have become so integral to teenage life that they are causing increased anxiety and low self-esteem. Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are leading to feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness.

Lately we seem to be finding ways around conversation. We hide from each other even as we’re constantly connected to each other. From behind our mini screens, we are tempted to present ourselves as we want to be seen. On line and at our leisure, it is easy to compose, edit and improvise as we revise. We put our best foot forward, even if we’re lying or exaggerating. The word phubbing has been coined to describe the habit of snubbing someone in a face-to-face conversation in favor of texting. Unfortunately, this has become such a normal part of life that we might not even notice we’re doing it.

JUST HOW WIRED ARE WE?

According to the Pew Research Center, U.S. Census figures from 2015 indicate that 84% of U.S. households own a computer, and 73% of U.S. households have a computer with a broadband connection to the Internet. (Census: Computer Ownership, Internet Connection Varies Widely Across U.S., Sept. 19, 2014). The Internet, and specifically social media, has had a major impact on the Christian church. While some pastors and elder church leaders see this as troubling, worrying that Christ can only be properly shared face-to-face, and that online churches will eventually replace the local church, others see it as aiding the church in spreading the Good News worldwide. Regardless, it is important to see computer technology from a biblical worldview. 

GOOD OR EVIL?

My great-grandmother had a very jaded and suspect view of computers, and felt they were the makings of the Beast. To her, computers would be integral to establishing a one-world government, and would help the government establish complete domination.  I used to see computer technology as one of those tools that were “of the world,” with the potential to do more harm than good. By the time I reached college in 1982, I no longer held that negative opinion. My biblical worldview regarding computer technology has been given a positive boost as a result of personal experience and research.     

The notion of being able to connect to millions of people worldwide with a personal computer or smart phone is irresistible to someone with a story to tell. I found an online article on the Society page at www.christianitytoday.com that fits completely with my biblical worldview of computer technology and social media. According to Tim Kenny, vice president of Media Services and Internet Evangelism for BGEA, “We happen to think we’re called to tell the greatest story in human history, so it’s a no-brainer that we need to be active in social media.”

Christian-Social-Media

Richard Helsby of CBN’s Digital Media department, said, “As [Christians], we now have unprecedented opportunity to reach people we could never reach before.” CBN Social Media manager Juana Lopez said the response toward evangelism has been so great that in just one month they received over 7,000 salvation responses through social media. (Christian Ministries Using Social Media to Connect to Millions All Over the World, April 11, 2016).

CONTENT OF MEDIA

Two important areas in the use of media today must be carefully considered to help guard our minds and hearts. The first area is content. Many of the programs on television are an increasing source of crudeness which lead us to accept warped social standards and immorality. Bold, blatant sexual content, profane language and graphic violence are entering our homes on a regular basis through television. The videos and DVDs that have made their way into our living rooms have served to desensitize us even further to what the world’s view is and what is acceptable to watch.

Christian parents, teens and children watch movies that the world has rated PG, PG-13 and R. According to one Barna survey, 30% of born-again Christians watched an R-rated movie in the past week. At the college level, many students don’t even realize there are sexual scenes or profane language in some of the DVD movies they watch. Ephesians 5:3-4 says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be any obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking…” (NIV).

The computer with its Internet and gaming capabilities has not only had a negative effect on many people, but has destroyed their lives and families. The readily available “private” pornography on the Internet, the graphic sexual violence on many video games, and cyber gambling have the devastating consequences of control and addiction. As much as 60% of all websites typically visited are sexual in nature and the term “sex” in the word search is used more than the next eight most popular terms combined. More than 50% of men with Internet access admit to spending significant amounts of time viewing explicit material.

There are an alarming 15-plus million Internet users that visit gambling sites, wagering a combined amount of money in the billions. Also, smart phone capabilities have compounded the problem with easy downloading of pornography and gambling sites. Christians, young and old, have been drawn in and hooked. Content choice in these types of media, unfortunately, is very destructive to our spiritual well-being and ultimately to those around us.

CONSTRAINT OF MEDIA

The second area that needs to be very carefully considered is constraint in media usage. Not only is pornography/gambling controlling and addictive, gaming has become a worldwide obsession. Young adults enjoy many of the fast-paced computer games, which are very entertaining. But it’s hard to stop at a game or two. Because of the time spent playing these games late into the night, high school and college students are failing their courses and dropping out. My research shows that sitting for long periods of time—as occurs often in all-night gaming sessions or regional gaming marathons—may increase a person’s risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) regardless of age. Chris Staniforth, 20 years old, died after spending twelve hours at a time playing video games. He suffered a blockage—pulmonary embolism—to his lungs when he developed DVT. The coroner confirmed DVT as the cause of death despite Chris having no medical history of ill health or underlying medical conditions.

Chris Stanisforth

BUT IT’S NOT ALL BAD NEWS

A mind-blowing number of people are able to become members of a global community today as a result of the Internet and social media that would otherwise be severely limited in their exposure to other cultures, geographic images, writings, publications, news and religion. I believe God, in His infinite wisdom and omniscience, knew future population growth on our planet would reach the billions. He knew the Body of Christ would need extraordinary help in reaching the four corners of the globe. Inasmuch as God created man in His image, and given the fact that He created all raw materials available, I also think the computer is an indirect creation of God.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

The rise of social media has provided for the church both challenges and opportunities. Social media opens doors and opportunities to engage with people who rarely, if ever, step foot in a congregation. Numerous pastors have started blogging. Pastor Mike Miller, of my home church Sunbury Bible Church, writes a weekly blog. Our church also has a Facebook page and an official website. These media outlets allow for spreading information about our church, including worship times, community and Sunday school groups, special events, and the opportunity to watch sermons and worship services online. In addition, we are able to provide links to websites relative to special Sunday school groups, such as our current class in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

Through social media, Christians can share their faith with people they might not otherwise have the opportunity to witness to. The Internet allows for posting of testimonies, spiritual or inspiring quotes, photographs and other images relating to missions, teaching Bible study, inviting people to events, reaching out to individuals mired in sin or in bondage to addiction, create prayer groups or bulletin boards, share contemporary Christian songs, hymns, and gospel music, and seek to create unity in the Body of Christ.

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15, NIV).

Stephen King on Writing

Stephen King has published 57 novels, all of them bestsellers. He has sold more than 350 million copies world wide. According to Forbes, he earns approximately $40 million per year, making him one of the richest writers in the world. He is number 6 on the Forbes list of top 50 writers, and has a net worth of $400 million.

In 2002, King temporarily abandoned writing horror novels. Instead, he wrote On Writing, a book that chronicles his rise to fame and discusses exactly what he believes it takes to become a good writer. Since then, it’s become the most popular book about writing ever written, pulling in over 1000 reviews on Amazon, selling God only knows how many copies. Check the book out here.

I’ve read On Writing from cover to cover at least three times, and each time, I saw a noticeable improvement in my writing. I am particularly fond of King’s “tool box” metaphor. The book teaches the fundamentals of the craft, which is something no writer should ignore. It also sort of rubs off on you. The first half of the book is dedicated to King’s experiences as a writer. Basically a short biography. He candidly discusses his troubles with alcohol and cocaine, as well as the incident when he was run over by a van while walking his dog. The second part is very succinct, covering every aspect of the craft of writing.

King has recently published a list of some of the habits that will help you become a great writer. He advises to write because it fulfills you. Do it for the pure joy of writing. Writing isn’t about making money. Rather, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work. Remember, you can’t please all of the writers all of the time. Do you want to crack the code for writing popular blog posts? It helps to keep a notebook and pen with you at all times. Jot down ideas you could write about. Make a special note of the ones that you believe 80% of your readers would find irresistible. Now, write about those topics and nothing else.

It’s okay to approach the act of writing with nervousness. It is also okay to experience despair. King says, “You must not come lightly to the blank page.” If you want the world to take you seriously, first you have to take yourself seriously. You have to look at your blog as not just a blog, but an opportunity to change the world. Then write as if the whole world is reading. If you are just starting off as a writer, consider cutting the plug off the end of your TV. King decided to do a test. He cut his TV time to one show per day, and invested the time reading. His creativity exploded. He went from writing 1,000 words per day to pumping out over 2,000 words per day in the same amount of time. He said, “Television may be popular, but it’s poisonous to creativity, and all truly dedicated writers need to limit their exposure to it.” If you want to be a writer, there are two things you must do: read, read, read; and, you guessed it, write, write, write.

King believes writing is a distilled art form. It is also refined thinking. A lot of books on writing tell you to write like you talk. While that’s fine for a beginner, it’s death if you ever want to be a respected writer. Yes, your writing should be conversational, but it should be the conversation you would have if you had time to think everything through and say exactly the right things. The truth is, any great piece of writing is preceded by hours and hours of thinking.

It is important for a writer to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten. Such experiences will help the writer recognize when these things creep in to his or her writing, and steer clear of them. When confronted with pathetic  writing, most people click the back button and go for something else, which is understandable. I’ve been there many times. That’s fine if you’re just a reader. If you’re a writer, on the other hand, you’re far better served by sticking around and analyzing exactly what makes the blog so pathetic. They become captivated by your words. You won’t have to beg your readers for their attention. They will follow you to the ends of the earth.

Happy writing!

Family: The One True Constant In My Life

So many things change in our lives. Our address. Our income level. Our mood. Our tolerance and acceptance of others. We are in constant flux. Some changes are subtle, while others are profound. Earth shattering. Some of us have to change our last names (as in when we marry). Others have to change their approach to life in order to adjust to their surroundings. Many of us find our faith in God to be in constant fluidity. Some days we’re very much in tune with God, and other days we’re in complete doubt. I can’t tell you how many times my faith has wavered over the years.

I was unfortunately quite the young hellion while growing up. My behavior was, at times, reprehensible. I discovered booze and drugs at age eighteen. Being in an altered state seemed to be a way to avoid fear and uncertainty. I loved being drunk or high. But the alcohol and marijuana changed my personality and my behavior. Morals became a thing of the past. I started out on a pathway to destruction that landed me in prison for three years at age nineteen.

The one true constant at that time was my family. They traveled hours to visit me every month at the state correctional facility. When I was granted pre-release to a halfway house in the last six months of my sentence, my family allowed me to come home to visit on weekend furloughs. Initially, I had been visiting with my wife and daughter on furlough, but she decided she wanted a divorce. This was a truly unexpected change in my life. I had been writing letters to my family on a regular basis while incarcerated. I had renewed my faith in God, and often shared my feelings about Jesus in my letters. When my wife asked me to stop coming home on furlough, my family allowed me to come home to visit with them.

There were many changes over the years since my release from prison. I went through a divorce. I started college. I dropped out of school and got a job at a Pizza Hut. I became a shift leader and then an assistant manager. But again, drugs became part of my routine. I started smoking pot again and discovered cocaine. My drug use ultimately cost me my job as assistant manager. Although this was a self-inflicted change, I was truly shocked that I was once again facing failure.

I had met a woman in college and we became very close. There was a lot that would change over the ten years we were married. We became parents at a fairly young age. Two wonderful sons. Because I could not seem to stop drinking and getting high, and was therefore not willing to do whatever it took to improve my life, my second wife filed for divorce. Once again, a major change.

This ridiculous behavior continued for decades. I drank and did drugs for thirty-seven years. As you can imagine, there was not much personal growth in my life for decades. Quite the contrary, there were many changes and numerous setbacks. There were far too many stops and starts in my sobriety. I started attending Alcoholics Anonymous in 2001 after nearly being evicted by my younger brother. (We were sharing an apartment.) I did well for a number of years, but had several relapses. I managed to stop drinking and smoking marijuana in 2008, and haven’t had anything since that time. Unfortunately, I developed an opiate addiction, which started when I was prescribed narcotic painkillers for chronic back pain. When I couldn’t get enough pills on my own through various doctors and pharmacies, I started stealing painkillers from family members. I was not able to quit on my own. My family conducted an intervention this past December, and I agreed to go to rehab.

The most amazing thing is this: I just spent Easter Sunday with my siblings, my mother and my aunt. Everyone was genuinely glad to see me. They had forgiven me for my actions, and welcomed me back into their lives. Despite all the ups and downs, starts and stops, and lapses in sobriety over the my life, my family was still in my corner. They were the one true constant in my life. For that, I am extremely grateful. There is only one way to thank them. That is to live a sober and generous life. An honest life. To make amends by my actions.

I know now that many of my failures and unfinished projects, especially writing projects, were due to my addiction. My lack of creativity and courage were because I was nearly always drunk or high. In the beginning, I thought writing while drunk or stoned would allow me to write in a deep and profound manner. Funny, but many of my writings made absolutely no sense when I read them the morning after. Guess I thought I could be the next Hemingway.

Deciding to start a blog has been one of the best decisions I’ve made since deciding I wanted to be sober. I am writing at a deeper level. I am consistent, writing a blog post nearly every day. I am getting at the root of things on a creative, sober and spiritual basis. God has blessed me with a muse I can connect with. God is the Great Creator. As Julia Cameron writes in her fantastic book “The Artist’s Way,” we need to allow our inner child to express himself. We’re all creative. We all have hidden talents. I believe life truly begins when we learn to let those talents shine.

I feel like I contribute something today. And for a recovering addict and alcoholic, that is a tremendous thing. I believe my blogging exercises are slowly peeling back the many layers that have built up during my addiction and my being miserable. I think I can finally share my experiences, my ruminations, my talents with those around me. I believe only good can come from blogging. From expressing myself. From getting at the root of who I really am. Of what my purpose for existence is. I feel truly blessed by God, and I am very grateful for my family.