Armin Rosen for City Journal:1
In Lagos… nothing is guaranteed. Everything is relative. Your yellow cab could be driven by a drug dealer, or it could be driven by a banker who wants another income. You just don’t know.
Poverty, confusion, and moral fluidity haven’t stopped Lagos from achieving global prominence. Maybe an all-pervading looseness has even been a source of the city’s growth, since it has expanded with a velocity that prudent planning would avoid. Lagos is now West Africa’s economic and cultural hub, as well as perhaps the continent’s largest city, depending on which population figures one accepts. By most accounts, Lagos has twice as many people as London, along with a GDP greater than all but six African states. In its successes and failures, the city offers a cautionary preview of where an urbanizing developing world is hurtling.
Much more in the full piece. This profile of one of the world’s most overwhelming cities reminded me of of another quote I read a couple of years back: “Lagos is chaos theory made flesh and concrete.”
When I lived and worked in Mexico City, we were astounded to discover that its population was growing by 500 people a day. As a church planter, that meant that a new church of 500 needed to be launched every single day to reach only the new arrivals — never mind the city’s extant millions. According to this City Journal profile, Lagos has four times Mexico City’s number pouring in: 2000 people every day. That’s 730,000 new arrivals a year, more than the entire population of Washington D.C.2
There has been, perhaps, no other city in history with this kind of population growth. It makes me all the more thankful that we get to know and serve Femi and Tosin Osunnuyi and their work to establish a new church in Lagos.
After all, like the above article also states, “the world is sure to look more like Lagos in the coming decades.” In other words, we have work to do. As the world becomes more urban, so must the church.
Great Newsweek (remember that?) article from 1995 on all the ways the Internet is an overblown fad.
Unsurprisingly, the author got so much wrong:
Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.
Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.
Yet, other things he got so, so right:
What’s missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities. Computers and networks isolate us from one another. A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee. No interactive multimedia display comes close to the excitement of a live concert. And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing? While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where—in the holy names of Education and Progress—important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued.
Nat Eliason on “the destructive switch from search to social:”
You don’t go to Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, or Instagram because you’re looking for something, rather, you want to see what it has found for you.
On the Internet in 2006, you were focused on pulling out what you wanted. Unless you were reading the news, whatever you read was something you had sought out. But now, most of your information is pushed onto you. You no longer enter the Internet the way you would a public library, where you browse and pick out what you want to read in peace, it’s more like the Las Vegas strip, where you’re bombarded with demands for your attention and need not exert any effort to be entertained.
–Liv, age 11
Alan Jacobs in The Guardian:
To increase your temporal bandwidth in the direction of the past is to make yourself less vulnerable to the cruelties of, for example, descending in wrath on a young woman whose clothing you disapprove of, or firing an employee because of a tweet you didn’t take time to understand. You realize that you need not obey the impulses of this moment — which, it seems safe to say, tend not to produce a tranquil mind.
The social media ecosystem is designed to generate constant, instantaneous responses to the provocations of Now.
Another benefit of reflecting on the past is awareness of the ways that actions in one moment reverberate into the future. You see that some decisions that seemed trivial when they were made proved immensely important, while others which seemed world-transforming quickly sank into insignificance. The “tenuous” self, sensitive only to the needs of This Instant, always believes — often incorrectly — that the present is infinitely consequential.
One of the Best of 2018 (so far). Cogent, convicting, and deeply relevant. And I love that it was published in The Guardian newspaper.
[A] potent question: “What force shall represent the future in the present?” In other words, what laws and norms will embody our care for those who come after us, including those already here and those yet to be born? But this is a question that we cannot ask if our thoughts are imprisoned by the stimulation of what rolls across our Twitter and Facebook feeds.
Tim Cook in an interview with David Rubenstein:
I realized that if couldn’t get something done, I could just go to the nearest mirror, and look at it, and that was the reason.
This might be my favorite Cook interview that I’ve yet seen or read.
This mental habit is closely related to what we now call “wokeness.” In an older frame of mind, you try to perceive the size of a problem objectively, and then you propose a solution, which might either be radical or moderate, conservative or liberal. You were judged primarily by the nature of your proposal.
But wokeness jams together the perceiving and the proposing. In fact, wokeness puts more emphasis on how you perceive a situation — how woke you are to what is wrong — than what exactly you plan to do about it. To be woke is to understand the full injustice.
There is no measure or moderation to wokeness. It’s always good to be more woke. It’s always good to see injustice in maximalist terms. To point to any mitigating factors in the environment is to be naïve, childish, a co-opted part of the status quo.
If “being woke” is little more than another term for outrage or indignation, then I think that Brooks is right about woke movement’s inability to produce progress. Also, I especially like how Brooks shows that wokeness isn’t limited to the political left; any group can have its own trigger words and safe spaces.
However, Eric Mason suggests an alternative: “redeeming” wokeness from a mere “urban colloquialism” to something deeply connected to God’s mission in the world:
Woke is an urban colloquialism used by black nationalists and those who are in the Black Consciousness movement, of “being woke,” in the sense of the systemic sociological, economic, and comprehensive disenfranchisement of African Americans.
But I love the Bible when it says, “Redeem the time for the day is evil.” I believe that there are so many things in our world that are redeemable, and one of those items… is this word “woke.” The greatest woke passage in the Bible is Ephesians chapter 5, when Paul says, “Awake sleeper and rise from the dead and Christ will shine upon you…”
I believe that the “wokest” — if that’s a word — people on the planet should be believers, cross-ethnically around the globe. And this wokeness is not merely centered on sociology, on economics, on geography, on psychosis, and all of those different things — which are all important for the gospel to influence. But I believe that wokeness [has to do with God’s] goal based on Romans 8:29… “to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ.” And in this disposition of conformity, wokeness should not only awaken to the issues in our context as it relates to race and injustice, but to anything that is exalting itself against the knowledge of Christ that needs to be torn down and decimated.
Christianity Today’s “Quick to Listen” podcast has an episode on Jordan Peterson:
He’s a Canadian psychology professor. A YouTube star. A bestselling author. He’s Jordan Peterson. Here’s how New York Times columnist David Brooks describes him: “In his videos, he analyzes classic and biblical texts, he eviscerates identity politics and political correctness and, most important, he delivers stern fatherly lectures to young men on how to be honorable, upright and self-disciplined — how to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives.” Despite his success, Peterson is an increasingly polarizing figure.
Like millions of others, I first came across Peterson from this interview earlier this year.
David Frum for The Atlantic:
Here’s something to bear in mind: During Soviet times, the communist authorities expressed themselves in operatically vehement language. Non-communists were denigrated as hyenas, jackals, vultures, and other disgusting animals; as bandits, fascists, Nazis, and other enemies of humanity.
In response, Soviet dissenters developed their own language: factually precise, emotionally restrained.
The article unsurprisingly uses Trump as a case study, but the principle of decency as the antidote to vitriolic outburst applies to much more than contemporary national politics.
Emily Badger for the NYT:
For $1,200 a month, Patricia Torres and her family were renting a bedroom, a share of time in the bathroom, one vegetable drawer and one shelf in the fridge, and two cupboards over the stove. They rented not so much a home as a fraction of one…
…San Francisco’s housing crisis had meant living without essential elements of home. A large affordable housing development rising downtown promised what they did not have: 95 complete homes, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments with privacy, a sense of peace, a place to cook.
Andrew Wilson posted an excerpt from sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning on Think Theology:
The combination of high sensitivity with dependence on others encourages people to emphasize or exaggerate the severity of offenses. There’s a corresponding tendency to emphasize one’s degree of victimization, one’s vulnerability to harm, and one’s need for assistance and protection. People who air grievances are likely to appeal to such concepts as disadvantage, marginality, or trauma, while casting the conflict as a matter of oppression.
The result is that this culture also emphasizes a particular source of moral worth: victimhood. Victim identities are deserving of special care and deference. Contrariwise, the privileged are morally suspect if not deserving of outright contempt. Privilege is to victimhood as cowardice is to honor.
There has been quite a bit about this phenomenon over the past few years, especially in American universities.1 Overall, I tend to agree with what Campbell and Manning are observing here, particularly on victimhood as a new kind of “status.”
In some ways, this reminds me of the “busy” phenomenon: people say that they don’t like to be busy, yet they are quick to cite how busy they are because there is a certain status to it. There is indeed something like this going on with victimhood, but I wouldn’t attribute the word “culture” to it (yet) for two reasons: 1) unlike honor and dignity, victimhood is not the predominant paradigm by which the majority of westerners make their daily decisions, and 2) because calling it “victimhood culture” only perpetuates, well, the victimhood phenomenon. To the very bloc that would most benefit from a less tribal worldview, it is a term that is argumentative rather than persuasive.
Louis Scheepers, a friend and colleague, writing about the water crisis in Cape Town:
Since 2015 Cape Town and its surrounding area have experienced the worst drought in over a century. As rainfall decreased, dam levels slowly started falling. The demand for water increased significantly as the population grew from 2.4 million in 1995 to an estimated 4.3 million in 2018….
If Day Zero comes, I do not know how a city of this size will respond. Will people help each other or trample each other? I hope we will not find out! I pray that despite grave weather predictions, God will continue to send rain to fill our dams. However, my biggest prayer is that he will fill the empty spiritual dams in people’s lives, that people will seek God in this crisis and that Cape Town will turn to God, who is capable of doing much more than we can ask or imagine.
Short film by Anthony Pellino:
Carl Trueman lecture on “unacknowledged legislators: from William Wordsworth to Kim Kardashian:”
Christians tend to do one of two things when faced with a challenge to their faith: They either focus on the presenting symptom and fail to see that symptom is resting on deeper wider causes. Or they look to a general cause of such universality — typically sin — that it helps explain everything in general and nothing in particular.
….I’m going to argue that today’s sexual identity politics rests upon a number of assumptions about what it means to be human which are now deeply embedded in our culture, and these are: 1) that morality is a matter of emotional reactions or sentiments, 2) that those who can provoke these emotional reactions are those who determine our culture’s ethical norms, 3) that identity is now understood in psychological terms, 4) that sex is central to what it means to be free and fulfilled, 5) that oppression has come to be understood as a psychological category, and 6) that politics, technology, and the commercial entertainment industry all play key roles. That’s a tall order for a 45-minute presentation, but I’m going to attempt it. I promise you we will find a pathway from William Wordsworth to the wife of Kanye West — surely the very definition of a road to nowhere.
Church planter (and colleague of mine at Orchard Group) Jordan Rice on preaching that connects:
I would define contextualization as using the gospel to answer the questions that people actually have—to approach a text first seeking Biblical truth and a commitment to what God has revealed to us in scripture; then, answering the questions that people actually are asking in this present time.
Take, for example, a text about Jesus and the leper. It’s a great theological truth that Jesus became unclean so that we can become clean, or that Jesus would touch the untouchable. Those are great theological truths. But no one is asking questions about leprosy because it’s a foreign concept to us. Contextualizing that passage is answering the question, “What makes you feel unclean? What would make you feel like you’re not touchable, like God doesn’t want to come near you?”
Before I got my driver’s license, my dad scratched out a hand-written contract (of sorts) that outlined what I committed to doing and not doing behind the wheel.
Writing and cutting/pasting ideas from several sources,1 I put together the same kind of thing for my kids, but this time for navigating the wonder and gravity of the technology that they are confronted with all the time.
Like the driving agreement, the real power of this is not because it’s a “contract,” but because it helps to spark good conversation about being purposeful with work and play in a screen-saturated age.
I, __________, understand that devices like phones, iPads, and computers are privileges. And, along with my parents, I commit to establishing structured limits: in quantity, frequency, and moral character.
Devices and the Internet are tools for learning and entertainment
Devices and the Internet are tools to communicate
Devices and the Internet are tools for work and play
My parents — and God, who is my heavenly parent — love me so much that there’s nothing that I can do online or offline to make them love me more or to make them love me less. This is so incredible that sometimes it’s hard to understand or believe! But it’s true.
This kind of love means that our family looks out for and wants the best for one another.
I chose not to put things in quotation marks with footnotes because it made for a less distracting document to talk through with my kids. But I want to acknowledge that a few lines are copied almost directly from Rule of Life and Ourpact. Covenant Eyes gave me the idea for “content, communication, and clock.” And The Tech-Wise Family provided the overall inspiration, although nothing is quoted directly from it (unless it was unintentional).↩
New York Magazine interviews Internet company founders and leaders in its Apology for the Internet — From the Architects Who Built It:
There have always been outsiders who criticized the tech industry — even if their concerns have been drowned out by the oohs and aahs of consumers, investors, and journalists. But today, the most dire warnings are coming from the heart of Silicon Valley itself. The man who oversaw the creation of the original iPhone believes the device he helped build is too addictive. The inventor of the World Wide Web fears his creation is being “weaponized.” Even Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president, has blasted social media as a dangerous form of psychological manipulation. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he lamented recently.
To understand what went wrong — how the Silicon Valley dream of building a networked utopia turned into a globalized strip-mall casino overrun by pop-up ads and cyberbullies and Vladimir Putin — we spoke to more than a dozen architects of our digital present. If the tech industry likes to assume the trappings of a religion, complete with a quasi-messianic story of progress, the Church of Tech is now giving rise to a new sect of apostates, feverishly confessing their own sins. And the internet’s original sin, as these programmers and investors and CEOs make clear, was its business model.
The full article contains many insightful quotes from industry insiders.
The use of a rule of life — a set of practices to guard our habits and guide our lives — goes at least back to the Old Testament figure Daniel. As an exile, Daniel was in an unfamiliar cultural context that provided no support for the practice of his faith — and as a leadership trainee in the court of Babylon, he was exposed to powerful pressures for assimilation to Babylon’s dominant ethos. He and his companions committed themselves to a vegetarian diet instead of “the king’s rations” (Dan. 1) and developed the practice of praising and praying to God three times a day in front of an open window (Dan. 6:10).
The rule covers the areas of time, money, imagination, decision-making. power, and community. The rule in one page is especially helpful.
Praxis cites Daniel as an inspiration, but the idea also reminded me of Benedict.
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