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Church in the Age of Distraction

“If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation.”

So writes Andrew Sullivan in his provocative New York Magazine piece entitled “I Used to Be a Human.” There he describes his growing awareness of how deeply transformative his online interconnectedness had become. He was addicted to the pleasant, omnipresent distractions of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and the like, mediated through a smartphone, and this addiction was taking away his humanity. He needed to make a change.

The entire article is worth reading (undistractedly). It pushes us in uncomfortable ways to consider the effect our digital habits have upon our lives. Especially intriguing to me were Sullivan’s words about the church. He recalled the Catholic church of his youth, how silence was a prominent part of the liturgy, inviting people out of busyness into something different, something sacred. This silence, he contends, is desperately needed today. And yet, tragically, church services often “have degenerated into emotional spasms, their spaces drowned with light and noise…when their darkness and silence might actually draw those whose minds and souls have grown web-weary.”

Russell Moore’s reflection on Sullivan’s piece (also worth the read!) takes this a step further. He argues that the difficulty we are facing at its root is not a technological problem, but a spiritual one, which actually has been with us for far longer than the dawn of the internet. We gain our sense of worth from frenzied activity: “We have learned to find our identity in our velocity. And that’s not just physically dangerous, but spiritually devastating.”

Our church has a calling in the midst of this confusion to reclaim people as more than productivity machines. We do this with words, declaring (and recalling, again and again) that our identity is found in Christ, not busyness. “I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior…”

And we also do this with silence, and slowness, as we gather together. The pauses for silent reflection and confession, the deliberately-paced prayers, the quiet contemplation on Christ’s sacrifice in communion—all of these invite us to lives that are about something far greater than our distractions. They call us into the true humanity of being worshippers of the eternally unhurried God.


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