distance

Flipping Switches by Michael Nichols

I can still remember a time when I had no internet. Strange. It's hard to imagine a world without the web. Our first computer was bought when I was five years of age. It ran one of the earliest versions of Windows. I can't remember if we even had a mouse for it. I was young, so what did I do? Play games. What else is a five-year-old going to do with a computer?

While the computers of my very young age rested atop a desk (hence, "desktop" computer), exponentially greater power rests in the palms--the palms of millions of hands worldwide. They're not that expensive, and they do basically everything. Smartphones not only call people, but they process more data more rapidly than the early Apollo spacecraft. It borderlines on miraculous.

Despite the beauty of a world more connected and more accessible than it has ever been, we find ourselves in a predicament. It was more obvious to people raised within a decade of my birth, because they really experienced the first wave of it. I'm talking about media addiction. Sure, resistors have always followed new technology of all kinds (electronics pun emphatically intended). But it was mostly about work at first. As the English proverb goes, "Necessity is the mother of invention."  Then something happened. Computing became about more than work. It became about leasure. Enter the gamer's world.

Atari. Nintendo. Sega. Sony. Microsoft. And let's not forget the countless software devs that work not only with countless hardware platforms but develop countless games for those platforms.

I'm not going to lie. I love video games. I don't play much now, but they're loads of fun. They can be simultaneously exhilarating and almost therapeutically relaxing if that's your thing. But just like anything we do for leisure, we are subject to being caught in a world. Sure, there are professional gamers just like there are professional athletes, professional critics, professional... everything, really. But as someone who has been there, anything can be allowed to get out of hand. Anything can become an addiction.

Let me be clear. Video games, work computers, smartphones, all these things--they're fantastic. They're beautiful. God made us beautifully, so you'd think we'd also make things beautifully, though not on His level... But we're also fallen.

Fallen man likes to create fantasy worlds. Fallen man likes to escape pain. Fallen man likes to walk the easier roads. While tech can be a beautiful conduit, it can easily suck us into itself.

Take social media as a somewhat ironic example. (I am posting this on WordPress, am I not?) Built to connect people with each other, and on a global scale. It has succeeded. Nonetheless, people have succeeded to add this to the shells we tend to put around ourselves. There was email. Then there was instant messaging. Then there was Myspace. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. And they just keep coming. It was just a quicker way to send mail at first. Then it became shorter, and more conversational. Then we could share photos. Status updates. Videos. Articles. Links. We could comment on them. Now we can "Like" them. Favorite, +1, upvote, downvote, pin. Heck. Many Facebookers treat their profile like it's their own personally written and edited news column... mainly because it is. Professionals and people in the public realm use social media on the daily to promote, promote, promote. We, the fans, show our support by following their accounts, liking their fan page, subscribing to their videos.

When a tragedy comes to our friends, we can now easily send them our condolences. They can easily notify anyone at any time about the big, the little, the good, the bad, the average, the special, the exciting, the utterly snoring-boring.

Now, I grant you that not everyone is connected on a deep level. That's okay. That's not a fault, especially when you take into account how social media for the first time makes celebrities easily accessible to fans, serving to somewhat destratify social classes.

But I want to ask you a personal question. Be honest. How easily does this tendency to show support via digital media erode the real-world connections you have? Some may be more prone to this than others. I know I am. When I first started out on social media, I didn't post much. I didn't say much. I had a profile picture, blogged sometimes, and messaged friends often. Then I realized how fun status posting could be. I could share any thought, no matter how small or quirky, with everyone. But despite the fact that this practice isn't necessarily inherently bad, albeit somewhat annoying, eventually, I started to feel cheaper, so I started posting less. The less I posted, the less wrapped up in the news feed I was, the more I lived in the real world with the real people. That should be the point of social media, but is it anymore? or has it turned into more of a personalized TV show, like TMZ for our own little lives. Just like we reduce celebrities in that kind of way, is it possible for social media overconsumption to do that to our own lives, and neglect the people in them?

How sad it is that our show of support to people has been reduced to flipping switches via a digital remote control! No longer do we need to pool efforts, nor make a journey, nor immerse ourselves in each others arms, nor speak words of life, nor give of ourselves. We flip switches. Ones and zeros. On and off. Oh, does this not speak so much about how we think of ourselves and our lives? We have reduced ourselves to the machines we use, but this is not who we are. We are not machines, and therefore, we cannot be fixed. But we can be loved. We can surround ourselves with each other. We can bear one another's burdens. We can encourage one another. But we cannot fix anything, and no, kicking each other will not make us work, as we seem to think is true of our gaming consoles.

They without knowledge cannot push a button to activate some hidden portion of their minds. They without morals cannot simply plug into a set of values that make them treat the world with as much value as Jesus treats them. They who mourn don't have the luxury of flipping a switch to make it all better.

Jesus inhabits us. He doesn't flip a switch.

Jesus heals us. He doesn't fix us.

We are not machines. We are souls.

Thoughts about Friendship, Distance, and Heaven by Michael Nichols

I don't usually rant when I blog. I usually don't get personal. I usually don't talk about myself. I usually talk about the metaphysical, the ideological, theological, philosophical, universal. I don't talk about me. Something is different, though. I have a lot on my mind. I need to get it out of my system. This is your final warning: turn back now if you don't want to hear it.

Okay. Ready? Here we go.

The world is dark. I know it, and so do most people, and to varying degrees. Some people feel more of the stress, others physical ailment, and others still loss of liberty. How do I know it? I know it in the form of loneliness. I'm not just talking about it in the sense of my being a single 21-year-old guy. I can deal with that. I've learned to deal with that. That is only one aspect of loneliness. As unpleasant as that may be, though, that should not be what I value most in life, among other things.

Everyone I knew when I graduated high school is either graduating college or close. I'm a sophomore in college. Took two years off for medical and psychological reasons. I had once planned to graduate this year with my bachelor's degree in music education. I had hoped to not be single, maybe even touring with a band by now, maybe even be a youth pastor. That was the plan. Now, everyone I knew or thought I knew is moving on with their lives. It's like elementary school all over again, which for me, consisted of ridicule and rejection. Now nobody is ridiculing or rejecting me. They're just gone.

Back then, I had something for which to fight. I had no other option other than to fade, and that wasn't in the docket. Eventually, I did find friends. They were few and far between, and some were even traitors. It wasn't fun, not even a little. Eventually, I stopped caring, and that was right around the time that I found friends that I trusted more than ever, that were truer than I had ever known. Now, I'm watching them slip away. It becomes harder and harder to communicate with them and not to miss them. It's nobody's fault. It just happens. People go in different directions, and that's okay. There's nothing wrong with that other than the inability of the spectator to accept the sometimes gradual yet sometimes violent change in pace. That's my problem, not theirs, but that doesn't make it hurt less.

I've always been a watchful person. I notice things, usually down to the detail of the rugs at work not lining up edge-to-edge. For me to watch the fade is like that, noticing everything that could have led up to the fade, everything that could result from it, everything I would miss were the fade to set in like a permanent loss of feeling... yet I still know that it's not up to me and that I cannot do anything to stop it if it is determined to happen. I'm not just gonna hold with a death grip to those who matter most so that they can drag me around as deadweight, but I can never forget, and I cannot forget the fade. It really helps my desire to make new friends wane, but it shouldn't.

What if knowledge of inevitable loss was not meant to deter me from crossing new horizons, but rather to give me a reason to do so while there is still time? Are we fading here? Yes, and how. Is there anything permanent in this world? Not, not in this world. Heaven, Christ, God, salvation, love - these are called "myths" today, regarded as cautionary tales to tell our children at night in an effort to teach them submission to the social rules, keep us enslaved... but then everyone is a slave to something, even if we don't call it that. Slavery is the ability to use something, be it given or taken, usually assumed to be the latter due to social connotation...

So what about this Heaven "myth"? What if it is just that? Well, then life is completely pointless and bleak in that it began for nothing and it will end for nothing. For all of our sakes, we'd better hope that it is not. We lose so many things to the false hope and temporary pleasure that this world's mind offers by means of violent, chaotic, obsessive attachment because we fear a death that we were never made to handle or experience. We were never meant to hurt people by taking away that which they cherish. We were never meant to drift apart. Things weren't meant to be the way they are; otherwise, death wouldn't come to stop us in our tracks. We weren't meant to feel this way. I wasn't meant to feel this way, and no, it is not okay.

This place, this world, this life, will never be enough for me. I will always lose, I will always miss, I will always fail something. I'm not being fatalistic about it, over humble, or self-loathing, so do not misconstrue my words. This life will never be good enough for me, nor vice versa, but thank God that it is not this life in which I place my hope. I can't say that the kingdom of God is always on my mind, but I'm thankful that Jesus always somehow brings me back to a place of remembrance of the world to come.

Haste the dawn.