Is TMI making us D-U-M-B?

One of the constant laments here at CAPC is the loss of creativity in the Christian sphere.  Really, it’s a funny problem.  The church is flung far and wide across ethnicities, cultures, geography, and political spheres.  Is it really so hard to find a few creative Christians?

A short, sweet article by Frank Bures in Poets & Writers (Way, Way Too Much Information) makes the case that problems with creativity, at least in the field of writing, may have something to do with the constant flow of information we face.  Often we have multiple e-mail accounts, dozens of websites we check constantly for updates, cell phones and pagers, news tickers, television (sometimes with multiple information flows happening at one time), newspapers and magazines, radio, snail mail, and advertising that manages to fill nearly every corner of our daily existence.  Oh, right… we have to deal with the real world, too.

I recognized my personal struggles with this problem just the other day.  After working through a, “stack,” of e-mails and clicking through a dozen websites, I attempted to read some poetry.  I found myself impatiently skimming entire lines, checking the clock, and skipping ahead to find out what happens in the poem.  Just for your benefit, I’ll let you in on a secret- that is NOT a helpful way to study poetry.

As Bures points out, using plenty of helpful testimonials from other writers, all of that information can easily waste our time, reduce our memory, and even temporarily decrease our IQ.  Even worse, though (he says), it crowds out some of the most important characteristics of creative thought.  He describes two of the key places where creativity is born; First, time spent doing absolutely nothing, and second, the mental state of forgetting the world around you, which writers call flow.

The article is excellent and I urge you to read it.  The challenge for us as Christians, I think , is that we are generally no better at carving out or prioritizing time for unbroken reverie and creative thought.  We allow our world to become so furiously full that we lose our ability to generate creative articulations of our physical and spiritual lives.  When was the last time your church community worked together to do less of something?  The nearest example I can think of is young couples babysitting kids for a, “parents night out,” but that time is usually spent (rightly!) on relationships rather than writing.

If we desire the Christian community to increase its depth and spirituality, we must begin thinking strategically about how to promote time for reverie, quietness, and unbroken thought.  It’s nice to think of quiet times that way, but too often we only use that time to cram in Bible reading, active prayer, and a book chapter.  If we want Christian art rather than culture-copying swill, we may need some systematic changes in how we disciple church members in the wisdom of building time away from the information flow.  (And frankly, by that I mean systematic changes that go beyond a single Sunday school lesson on how to solve the problem by yourself.  Our individualism is getting out of hand, and it isn’t solving problems.)

But even if we do set aside whether churches should be approaching this systematically (or, as is likely, if your church is not interested in addressing something like this), it’s good to consider how we can implement more time for creative thought and reverie into our lives.  You may think that you don’t need it or that you are more productive without it, but there is a simple test for that- try it!

As I mentioned, I struggle with this issue a lot.  In fact, one of my odd-but-explainable habits is that when I’m trying to solve a problem in my head, I go take a shower.  This gets strange when I might take three showers a day while doing a paper for class, but perhaps I just have not bothered to discover any other place where my thoughts can simply run.  So, I intend to work on carving out some time for reverie in the coming weeks- time uninterrupted by television, e-mail, cell phone, or even (gasp!) books.

My problem is that I let information overwhelm my ability to think creatively about the world God has placed me in.  Is it also a problem for the church?  Is it also a problem for you?

About Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife and two terrific kids. His degree is in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, and he has a bunch of education from a bunch of other places with nothing official to show for it. He has taught high school speech and debate, worked for a congressman in Washington DC, and worked in the health and energy industries. He is interested in how pop culture, history, politics, and theology interact with the inner and community lives of individuals... which is weird because he now works as a business analyst. Few things make him happier than reading, discussing, and recommending books.

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  • http://scottedwardschultz.blogspot.com/ Scott Schultz

    I’m coming near the end of an excellent course called “Church and the World” and what you’re communicating is something very much inline with what my professor has been trying to get across to alot of us. One project for the course involved a four-week fast from a single technological device (I abstained from microwaves), during which time we were to reflect on the various ways in which we are affected by the presence or lack of that technology. Obviously he was trying to expose the still unpopular fact that technology has a double edge.

    For all the efficiency that many present day devices offer, they also have the power to control us. This is manifest in a thousand ways, but one form that’s rather obvious to me is educational method. Even in seminary, there is a poverty of study that involves sustained reflection on a single theme.

    I’ll be doing a 3 credit study this summer that will involve reading over 4000 pages of somewhat technical writing in three months. To me, this is insane. There is no way that I can really digest the substance of the material in that time. I would much rather spend three months slowly working through the core 600 pages or so, taking notes, reading commentary and so on. But the tendency to reduce education to data intake is sickeningly pervasive.

    So, yeh, I hate it, and I’m with you on the need to confront it. There’s some sort of insidious idolatry about it, though I can’t quite put my finger on it yet. Still, I wonder what it would mean to integrate awareness of the problem into mainstream Christian discipleship programs. To be sure, patience, wisdom, and meditation are desirable for the Christian life, but I’m not sure what the proper context or structure is for teaching these things. For example, I would be suspicious of a 6-week Sunday School curriculum that focused on the need for solitude and peace. True or not, I don’t know that it’s appropriate to the Church’s educational ministry. Time seems better spent teaching people the Scriptures directly. Do you have some ideas?

    Scott Schultzs last blog post..The Failure of Christian Hip Hop

  • Alan Noble

    Ben,

    I just got around to reading this this morning. What an uncomfortably convicting post!

    Issues like this one will be increasingly important for the Church. As with many insidious aspects of our culture, Information appears to benefit us when it can actually enslave us and make us more susceptible to idolatry (consumerism, personal entitlement, etc). It will certainly not be an easy thing to address in discipleship, but if we know that there is a great danger here, don’t we have a moral imperative to hold each other accountable in this regard?

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Hey guys,

    At the moment I’m at the hospital… my wife is in labor! So I probably am not in a state to answer fully.

    Scott, I think your question is a great one. I agree that this isn’t a problem simply solved by a long Sunday School series. I’ll think through some possible longer answers later, but my short answer is that discipling relationships and home groups should be a key factor in encouraging each other to bring peace and time for reflectiono into over-busy lives.

    Alan, I think you’re definitely right. Too many churches think their moral responsibility for each other stops when the church member walks out the door, but I don’t see any reason to think that’s true. As the culture presents increasingly complex moral problems and challenges, we as Christians must find ways to respond with proportional corrective force in each others lives.

    Maybe more when my son has arrived!

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..Proactively Vulnerable

  • Alan Noble

    Ben,

    I’m praying that everything will go well with the delivery and recovery.

    Ps. Get off CAPC today! You just became a father!

  • David

    Ben,

    Congrats on becoming a daddy! It’s a fantastic new world that lay ahead of you.

    Now, in regards to your post: I love this article. It might be one of my new favorites. I actually affirm the role and responsibility of the church in training its members for times of reflection.

    I would also like to propose that this is one of the reasons that so little good congregational worship music is being produced these days. Church Worship Departments all across the nation need to spend more time in reflection and less time on service planning etc. I apprecaite groups like Sovereign Grace Music and the various bands that play at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, not only do they write all their own music, but they write realy good music! I can only imagine that it comes from times of reflection and prayer.

    Great post!

  • http://.html Isabell Schmerge

    You’ve had great numbers positive points here. I found almost all people will agree with your points.


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