Sunday, January 26, 2014


Godwin's Law states that online debates will eventually result in someone invoking an analogy to Hitler or the Nazis. The assumption is that a Hitler analogy is always going to be a stretch, and that once you've invoked one, you've lost the debate.

I kinda wish there was a similar law in regards to analogies to pornography. At least we would all agree that porn is a base line of evil. When considering the worst atrocities of photography, film, sexuality and relationships, we would fight the temptation to say something like, that Netflix series wasn't any more redeeming than porn. 

My point is that I know that relating the smartphone to the voyeurism of porn might be a bit much, but bear with me a little longer.

The obvious irony or perhaps, hypocrisy, is that I'm bringing porn into conversation with the smartphone and social media while I am personally involved with social media. These reflections then are a kind of lament because I ironically feel trapped in these apps that are intended to be so socially liberating. When I was a kid there was usually a TV on in more than one room in the house. In high school I recognized I had developed a compulsion to turn the TV on when I entered a room, and I recognized it as an addiction.

My solution was to never have a TV again once I left for college. Now over twenty years later, I have two TVs but they are never used. I bought one to watch an OU football game when I was 27. It sits in our basement for the boys to watch VHS tapes on. My father in law bought us the other. It hangs on the wall behind two paintings.

But the internet has taken up the addictive space of TV in spades. When I wrote the first essay on the smartphone, I had been concerned about the amount of time I spent on the laptop. Now the smartphone might as well be an appendage. This phone-as-new-body-part way of living is the new norm that we might at best chuckle about with a bit of chagrin. I'm hoping these reflections can open a more significant conversation that might help me and others be more aware of our daily disciplines.

I was able to cut myself off from TV and cable. Well, I never had cable. It would have been too much. So, goodbye prime time television. I'd already lost interest in sports, so that wasn't difficult. And I was apolitical at that point, so the news didn't matter either.

In his book Technopoly, Neil Postman asks, "what is the problem to which this technology is the solution?" What dire need do we have for social media and the smartphone? How has it attained the status of a body part?  Getting rid of this smartphone is exponentially more difficult than cutting myself off from TV, and I've only been using one for a couple months. I'll elaborate later on some specifics angles to what I'm struggling with, but I want to return to the analogy to pornography.

We have an incredible capacity to hold and touch, to draw close and fondle. We have a drive within us to linger, ponder, meditate, gaze upon lovingly and adore. I'd like to suggest that smartphone can simulate this intimacy. I'm suggesting that it is the device itself that we are largely grateful for and that content is largely inconsequential.

In Amusing Ourselves to Death, written in 1985, 12 years before the debut of the iPhone, Neil Postman explains:
"Information is now a commodity that can be bought and sold, or used as a form of entertainment, or worn like a garment to enhance one's status. It comes indiscriminatly, directed at no one in particular, disconnected from uselessness; we are glutted with information, drowning in information, have no control over it, don't know what to do with it."  
What we love is not so much the information itself but the power of the voyeur, the giddy freedom to glide effortlessly throughout the WORLD WIDE WEB! We love the constant opportunity to do what we want, when we want, how we want. And we love having all this power in our hands.

Of course there are many interesting things to be found through the phone and through social media. I'm hoping you'll read this blog after all, but perhaps there is a more healthy access? Maybe it shouldn't be the air I breathe all day long but something occasional instead?  Phones used to have cords attached to walls. Newspapers were eventually folded and left at the breakfast table by an empty coffee cup. A movie was something you watched once in a while. I'm nostalgic for those limitations.

What even more interesting things might we do if we put down our damn phones?

I'd love to hear from you. How do you discipline yourself? Am I alone in this struggle?

Friday, January 24, 2014

What's Not So Smart About the Smartphone

The smartphone has effectively taken the place of the Holy Spirit in my waking life these past few months I've started using it. It is difficult to be spiritually awake when it is within arm's reach. I find it takes the space in my spirit where prayer could otherwise be. I reach out for it and I reach out through it to search and discover. The gaze of the soul is always searching and pondering. The question is where we direct our attention. I find myself no more rested or filled when searching the surface of what the smartphone gives me access to because as a tool, the phone only offers access to surface things.

This is troubling when presentness is so very dear. The capacity to be immediate and present has been most important in leading worship, sharing a meal, teaching, and it is the soul of my current training in spiritual direction. There is very little presence in the smartphone, little to share.

As a venue for social media, the smartphone effectively facilitates a kind of voyeurism that is not unlike looking at porn. I worry that the bulk of my so-called social interactions are so hygienic and controlled. I mean the viewer's control. Real immediate interaction is messy and unpredictable, sometimes awkward and sometimes delightful. Real interaction usually requires work. Social media, like porn, makes you think you are experiencing intimacy when you are not. And further, it seems that social media may be as addictive for some as porn is for others.

So there's my bummer reflections. Maybe you have better experience than me? Congrats then.  In the past I tried to write too much in this space, to foresee all the angles and arguments. I'm going to try really hard to keep my posts tight by avoiding the temptation to be the last word on anything.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

BLOG Revival!

Woot! Woot! Ring them bells...Banner is back on the blog.

I'm a stay at home Dad now and my goodness, I need some way to connect with something, someone outside of the house. So there is at least this space here. Right?

The deets: I put my notice in to the college last December 2013 and agreed to stay on through this past Fall semester so they would have ample time to put someone else in the position. They have just recently hired someone and this someone is a very exciting and interesting pick. I'll let the college make that announcement.

Susanna is now "on the market" applying for tenure track positions. She is a hero and quite brave right now.

The boys are a beautiful, loud, sweet, squirmy mess..

I have been learning much about what it means to be a FOUR on the enneagram, "the individualist" or a "needs to be special" person. I feel everything and that makes leading or overseeing four weekly worship services that put me in front of some 1200 people very demanding. The trouble is that in all this feeling, I am very capable of deep love. And as I have loved those college students so, it is insanely tough to be away from them.

I also need a space to share ideas. So here is something I care about from Jacque Ellul:
Technique has penetrated the deepest recesses of the human being. The machine tends not only to create a new human environment, but also to modify man's very essence. The milieu in which he lives is no longer his. He must adapt himself, as though the world were new, to a universe for which he was not created. He was made to go six kilometers an hour, and he goes a thousand. He was made to eat when he was hungry and to sleep when he was sleepy; instead, he obeys a clock. He was made to have contact with living things, and he lives in a world of stone. He was created with a certain essential unity, and he is fragmented by all the forces of the modern world.

I bought and am now using a smartphone and that is interesting since I wrote this, "Dose of Techno-Pessimism.  More on that later.

I also recently wrote this music piece, "From Miley to Music: How We Listen. Check it.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Conversation w/ Dustin Re: Passion 2013

Dustin, I'm thankful for you as a friend and learning counter-part personage. I might not be able to do my prayers with a koine greek New Testament in the morning like you, but I think I've read at least as much Jeremy Begbie. Ahem....

Your comments on The Twelve guest blog are generous and thoughtful. If anything you demonstrate to those outside of the contemporary worship and evangelical circles that there are some inside who are self-critical and wrestling to get it right. I fear that most on the outside assume the contemporary evangelical scene is a loud, popular-culture-acquiescing monolith. You burst that bubble. I pray I do too.

And I hope that your candid reflections also demonstrate to some (perhaps the students I lead) that my initial reflections on Passion 2013 are not as heavy handed as they might seem. As I've said before to you, how can we love the church enough to critique it?

Thanks again for reading and sharing. Much love!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Thoughts on the Passion Conferences, An Addendum

In the 11th hour of Thursday night I was asked to guest blog for The Twelve, a blog associated with Perspectives, a Journal ofReformed Thought. In the wee hours I put down some thoughts about the Passionworship movement since I’d been thinking about their conference that day. I want to offer one more reflection on my friend Charlie Hall here that wouldn’t fit in the brief word length of the other piece.

On the last day of the Passion conference I attended in the late ‘90s, I walked down to the stage with the college students who were with me from the church where Charlie and I were leaders. After seeing his face and goatee so massively displayed on the enormous video screens above, it was a relief to watch him turn to us and retreat from the many other conference attendees/fans who were vying for his attention.

The stage was some five or six feet high. Charlie sat down on its edge with his legs crossed to say hello. I have never seen Charlie be anything on stage that he isn’t off stage. The same was true for that conference. Still, it was good to look my brother in the face and know him. The surreality of the stage and the enormity of the venue were finished like waking from a funky dream, and there he was again, a bona fide human being.

While I don’t keep up with him much anymore, all that I know and continue to witness of Charlie’s ministry continues to inspire. He is an honest relief. While my Reformed and Charismatic selves are conflicted, Charlie has pressed on for a couple decades with a simplicity and purity and a thoughtfulness that lends gravity and trustworthiness to Passion. I get overwhelmed with all that can come off as sensational, emotional and sentimental in contemporary worship circles, and then there’s Charlie and Dustin and Quint, still doing their thing.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Here is the other ordinary neighbor page....except this one is plural to include Susanna. We're getting everything all synced up between our sites and with bandcamp where you can purchase our record and her books. You can also find us on facebook....yada...yada...yada..... Internet marketing blitzzzz on this release because we have two boys and won't be able to get out to play and support the record properly.

I don't know if I've been more stoked about anything I've worked on. The goal was to make a record I would want to listen to and hopefully that love will be interesting to others. We'll see. If you do take a listen and enjoy it, please spread the word and help us find some more listeners a fb post, a tweet etc.

I'll share more later. Right now Casper, Shepherd and I are all sick. Sus is healthy thankfully.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Here We Go - Ordinary Neighbors

Here We Go - Ordinary Neighbors from Joshua Banner on Vimeo.