By Dermot Cottuli
I’ve been person who has prided himself with his ability to keep up with the latest changes that are occurring in our digital world. I grew up in an age that didn’t have computers on every desk and our family didn’t have a phone until I was in year 12. I remember what it was like to dial into your internet service provider and the only online conversations were found on bulletin boards. Nowadays the landscape has changed completely and smartphones have revolutionised our social lives. [Slide] And are starting to revolutionize our political and intellectual lives as well. There’ve been many positives that the increased connectivity has brought into our lives but along with the positives there’ve also been quite a few negatives. One of the most disconcerting for me has been the ability of social media and the media in general, to affect the way we view the world around us and our perception of reality and truth.
Control the way a society thinks and you control the direction that it goes. Sounds rather Orwellian but it’s what’s found at the heart of all propaganda, marketing and humanism.
“Technology, electronic communications, gadgets, airline travel—as it all gets “easier,” it also seems to get exponentially more annoying.”
One stark example of distorted reality propagated by social media was demonstrated by the online storm kicked off by the recent federal budget. If you were using Facebook for your social temperature gauge you could have easily thought that 100% of the Australian population hated the budget and were vehemently opposed to the Liberal party. In fact one of my friends asked a question which I thought was quite relevant at the time. She asked how did the Liberals get in at the last election if everyone hated them so much given the nature of the posts she was seeing all over Facebook? Legitimate question if everyone in Australia is using Facebook however it doesn’t take into consideration that 20% of the Australian population is over the age of 60 and the majority of them don’t use facebook. Those that do, predominantly use it as a tool for keeping in touch with family, not for debating the latest political hot button topic.
There are two growing concerns that I have about social media in particular and much of our print and electronic media in general and they are the increasing amount of angst that is expressed about social and political issues and the inability for people to entertain opinions different to the generally held opinion of the Facebook and populist crowd and secondly, the tendency of people to only focus on the highlight reel of their lives when posting personal information online. Something of which I confess, I have been guilty of as well.
If there’s one thing that history has shown us it’s that anger and abuse shuts down debate and intellectual discourse quicker than anything else because people are inherently afraid of rocking the boat. When community discourse is controlled by fear the casualty is always truth. How can you work your way through to what is true if you’re being howled down by those who disagree with you?
That wasn’t such a big issue in the past because much of what we considered to be true was passed down to us from previous generations however for Millennialists (those born after 1980) truth is a shifting goal post. For them truth is defined and discovered through experience not tradition so you can imagine how difficult it is for them to navigate the multitude of opinions out there and arrive at what is universally true about God, life and their part in it all especially given the angst and anger that so often drives these opinions.
Now couple the volatile nature of public discourse with the highlight reels that people like to post about their lives and you end up with a powder keg of false expectation, dissatisfaction and angst. We live in the most affluent generation of Australians and yet are the most heavily medicated generation to walk the face of the earth. Why? Because we aren’t coping with the pressure of our reality, the lives that we live. And the sad thing is that a lot of the pressure we’re experiencing is carried along on the back of false assumptions, false perceptions and false expectations driven by the media and our increasingly interconnected lifestyle.
The ability to step outside our current reality and look at it critically is extremely difficult. We’re so embedded in it that we often can’t see the forest for the trees. We need something to help us see it for what it really is. We need a gauge that we can hold up against our lives to see what’s true and what’s really going on.
When Jesus was brought before Pilate, Pilate asked him if he was the king of the Jews because that was the charge that the Jews had brought against Jesus, that he had claimed to be the king of the Jews. This was a crime punishable by death in the Roman world because there was only one supreme ruler over all their conquered nations and that was Cesar. Listen to how Jesus answered him.
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Pilate then replies “What is truth.” before turning away and declaring to the Jews that he could find nothing that warranted Jesus being executed.
Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.
Within the pages of our bibles can be found a gauge that when held up against our lives illuminates them and helps us see our hopes, our dreams, our struggles our passions, our failings, our sin in the light of truth and the way through the confusing white noise that seems to fill so much of our modern day lives. We can see life for what it really is. We can see the areas within that are healthy and also the areas that are sick. We can see why we’re here and our purpose on the earth. We’re able to see the truth about life and when we do, we’re free to make right decisions concerning ourselves and others because we know what they are.
And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
In all 4 of the gospels the writers recorded a phrase that Jesus often used at the start of his teaching on any given topic, “I tell you the truth….” It’s almost as if Jesus was looking 2000 years into the future and addressing the number one issue of our age, an issue that Pilate had questioned himself, “What is truth?”
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
Sometimes we can take a rather romantic approach to the past and think that it was much simpler “back in the good old days”. Nothing could be further from the truth which is why we can trust the bible to help us navigate the pressure of living in a world system that is rotten at the core.
2 Corinthians 6:3-10
We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. [Slide] We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.
If that wasn’t clear enough he continues in chapter 11
2 Corinthians 11:24-27
Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
So what can we learn from a book written in the past that will help us navigate our future? What can help us find balance in a world that is increasingly confusing?
(1) Don’t forget! Stay committed to the basics.
“But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.
Don’t abandon the basics, the things that got you to where you are today.
When the Holy Spirit, who is truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.
So don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, the Coming One will come and not delay.
(2) Unplug from time to time
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
(3) Be relationship focused
Your relationships are the area in your life where you are most engaged in God’s redemptive work on the earth.
If you’re spending more time with your online friends than your real world friends then you’re underselling yourself and them.
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”