“The world is too much with us” is the opening salvo in one of William Wordsworth’s sonnets. Wordsworth’s setting was 1800s England. If understanding the risk of choking on this world was a real danger to one’s soul in the 1800s, how much more nowadays? Below I share an anecdote with a message I bet you already know intuitively: it’s important to simplify.
When I’m in my hometown, I have several things I do to blow off steam. First, I like to work outside in the yard. Second, I enjoy exercising/doing PT (physical training, for non-military folks). On a recent trip to the local gym where my family and I work out, I was struck by something: there was no silence. When I entered, I was overcome with the sounds of music from the overhead speakers. Moreover, on the treadmills, there perched TV screens with ports for users to plug in to watch 24/7 “breaking news,” alerts, the latest murders, protests, etc. Of course, that equipment was not new to the gym. Apparently, customers should have TV and music piped in while working out nowadays.
I went to exercise, to sweat, to push myself physically, and I could not escape media bombardment. What does it say about our culture that many people know more about Hollywood gossip (aren’t there entire shows, magazines, and even networks dedicated to this stuff?) than they do about what endures, about what matters, about what is enduringly important? Does anyone really think that the latest breaking news/alert is going to matter in the end? I fear that many people are choking on this world and missing the true, good, and beautiful. There’s too much world in our everydayness. Might we not be better to simplify, unplug some, and thereby increase our likelihood of making the best use of our time (Eph 5:16)?
I’m amazed often when someone tells me about the latest Hollywood shenanigans, and I’m lost. I could not care less who’s marrying whom, divorcing, having adulterous affairs, or what Rosie O’Donnell or Ben Affleck think about politics. Asking Rosie or Ben what they (or others of their ilk) think of political science would be akin to asking me how to repair a Porsche: no thinking person would do it.
Before I’m accused of being a Luddite, I’m not opposed to technology. I, too, spend many hours on a computer, cell phone, etc. with my various jobs and ministries. So, I’m not aiming at the very medium I’m using. Rather, I’m aiming at this question: Are we using technology with discernment or are we enslaved to the banal? In other words, what are the criteria of what’s news? What is newsworthy? May I humbly suggest that the so-called news is infinitely more about profits than discernment? How people can sit in front of TVs or the internet for hours and not feel convicted that their lives are sliding down the drain, mystifies me. Don’t they want to contribute to life? Don’t they have someone they can help? Don’t they want to volunteer at a charity? Don’t they have family or friends they can spend time with or to whom they might write a letter (remember those?)?
Now, to change the setting from our local gym to home. Recently my wife, our 8-year old son, and I were reading a book aloud together as a family. The book was a children’s classic, Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, about an adolescent boy who is stranded in the woods of northern Canada. He struggles to survive after a dramatic plane crash. It’s a wonderful, drama-filled, imaginative story of a boy, fear, loneliness, adventures in the Canadian woods, close escapes, and discovering resilience amidst his new knowledge of the real world, etc. As the three of us took turns reading and talking about what we read, education occurred. And it involved nothing but a book, a family, and time. No TVs, no digital devices, no breaking news or updates, etc. It was simple. It was the ordinary simple ways of learning. However, I bet it’s another time that’ll endure as valuable.
The world is too much with us, I fear, perhaps more than ever. As Christ himself taught, the easiest thing to do is gain the whole world and forfeit one’s soul (Mk 8:36).