40-Day Techno-Revolution

Lent is upon us and Ash Wednesday thrusts us into the midst of things, opening for us the riches of this season of grace.

This day of well-disguised fasting, secret alms, private prayer and bright mourning finds us signed with ashes, recommitting ourselves to the daily work of dying to sin and rising in grace. Lent re-binds us to that old rugged and death-ward facing Cross, while at once awakening us to the God-ward facing Resurrection of Christ who alone makes us free.

Are you ready?

Are your resolutions worthy of a true, lasting and Christ-inspired change?

iAm Free

In the spirit Pope Benedict’s 2013 letter on social media, I highly encourage all to examine their technological habits and cultivate a techno-asceticism that draws technology into the ambit of God the Father’s Icon-made-flesh, Jesus Christ (cf Colossians 1:15).

To encourage virtuous liberty in our use of technology, I propose here the cultivation of Four Freedoms for Lenten observance. Many more could be proposed, but these are the ones that sprang first to mind.

Freedom from inner compulsion that binds me slavishly to haphazard, time-wasting, duty-evading, mind-numbing and frivolous engagement with electronic devices and new media, atrophying my ability to be wholly present and faithful to the just demands of my present state in life.

Freedom from the cyber culture of gossip, slander, vulgarity and calumny that wreaks havoc on truth, justice and charity and cripples the power of our Christ-witness. This includes freedom from recklessly airing the dirty laundry of others, freedom from cursing enemies and employing, in the name of Jesus, the violent power of sardonic humor in order to gleefully skewer those with whom we disagree.

Freedom for the use of technology in service to the God-given demands of my vocational state in life and to the primacy of face to face relationships. Using technology in a manner that builds others up, that discerns with care the ordering of time in daily use of technologies, including a regimen of periodic “fasting” from screen-gazing that manifests and deepens self-discipline and impulse control.

Freedom for creating a cyber culture that is worthy of the mind and heart of Christ; that is cognizant of the creative and destructive power of words; that is committed to cultivating intelligent dialogue in search of truth; that is characterized by thoughtful prudence in posting and forwarding; that promotes the joy of Christ; that does justice to human dignity; that refuses to curse the darkness but instead kindles a light; that reveals to those we disagree with the greatness of a hope that impels us to will the well-being of our enemies.

An Anecdote

I’ll never forget the day, seven or eight years ago, when one of my children came up to me one evening when I was working intently on the computer. As he spoke, I continued to type, periodically saying “uh-huh,” or “sure.” He came at me relentlessly, “Dad, Dad, Dad!” Finally, losing my patience, I barked back, “I’M LISTENING!” He replied, without missing a beat, “But your face isn’t.”

I stopped, turned off the screen and looked at his face and he said, “Finally.”

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” – 1 Cor. 13:12

Adendum: Screen-Free Sabbath

I would like to mention here our family’s hallmark and year-round practice — which was my wife’s genius — of the “Screen Free Sunday” (SFS). SFS means that every Sunday we fast from all computers, iDevices and TV, with the exception of certain sporting events or edifying movies (my kids hate the word edifying, so we don’t use that anymore). In place of virtual reality, we engage in the non-virtual world of board games, bike rides, frisbee, drawing, reading, carpentry, beach going, gardening, visiting the sick, working in a soup kitchen or some other hands on and face to face family activity.

Among the many ways my wife and I have tried to bring a family-friendly order to the ubiquitous world of technology, I would say this has been our most cherished and successful. However, I would also say that cultivating a healthy and disciplined approach to technology has been our most difficult sustained challenge as parents. Classmates and culture so often encourage limitless access to the iWorld, but let me say that if we don’t teach our children from the very beginning how to properly utilize technology and remain fully human is absolutely imperative the iWorld will.

It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop on-line friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbours and those we meet in the daily reality of our places of work, education and recreation. If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development. — Pope Benedict XVI

8 comments on “40-Day Techno-Revolution

  1. […] Lent is upon us. Ash Wednesday thrusts us into the midst of things, opening to us the riches of this season of grace. This day of unnoticed fasting, tear-streaming prayer and bright mourning finds us heartily repenting in ashes and committing ourselves before God to prepare for a daring Easter renewal Source: Neal Obstat Theological Opining   […]

  2. WhoopieCushion says:

    Let’s get updated in the Church! Burn the technology! Smear it all over my smiling face : )

    • Tom Neal says:

      Now that’s a great image, Whoopie. You have a way of saying things that is marvelously crazed. And of causing smiling.

  3. Lisa Schmidt says:

    Funny thing, I read this first thing today, and at first I thought the “Four Freedoms” were Papa Bene’s words. And I thought, “How the heck did I miss these gems in his WCD message?!” After a cup of coffee and a second glance, I realized these are your words. Now I know you are smart … wicked smaht … but this here is simply a work of the Holy Spirit, Dr. Neal. Thanks for being an open conduit to share such a powerful message.

    • Tom Neal says:

      Thank you, Lisa for paying this New England-er the supreme compliment: wicked smaht! The Holy Spirit is so good to use such wicked instruments to do such good!! 🙂

  4. Dismas Dancing says:

    Welcome back, sir. Looking forward to the “road less traveled” upon which you, guided by the Holy Spirit, shall lead us toward the magnificent glory that is Easter. Tonight at Mass, our smallish group of ten or twelve serious musicians both professional and amateur, led by an insanely talented, very young director, will sing Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere Mei Deus”. It will be sung a capella–sans technology–save a few microphones to amplify its beautifully pleading tones to the faithful. “Have mercy on me, oh God…wash me from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…” (Ps 51:1-2) This haunting rendition of David’s magnificent penitential Psalm never fails to bring me to my spiritual knees…”For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight.” (Ps 51:4) Beginning Lent in that spirit, especially considering your timely words in the musical context of Allegri’s beautiful piece, helps to break open a stubborn heart and spirit to the demand Christ places on us to deny myself and take up His cross to bear it willingly.

    Having re-read several times your fourth freedom, I am reminded of just how often my personal use of technology, especially in this Facebook era, allows (perhaps encourages) me to abandon all of the things that are counterintuitive to what the world will have us do with all those wonderful technology tools. The principles you espouse exist eternally on that road less traveled, a road so meticulously obscured from our daily trek, either by omission or commission by both our own predilections and The Enemy’s hordes of devouring lions. In the relative anonymity of social media, it is entirely too easy to revert to old habits that refuse to go quietly into the night. Thus I shall post a copy of Freedom Four near my computer, and read it often before booting up. There to remind myself in the far-too-frequent times when I am sorely tempted to blast off on somebody for his/her right to their opinion that a good “doctor” offered a picture of the thorned path, the path of great resistance, the “via dolorosa”, the answer to WWJD?:

    “Freedom for creating an iCulture…characterized by thoughtful prudence in posting and forwarding; that is worthy of the joy of Christ; that does justice to human dignity; that replies with blessing, refusing to curse the darkness; that reveals to the “ideologically otherwise” the greatness of a hope that fills us with a serene confidence so that we, like our Crucified Master, might desire the well-being of our enemies.”

    “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and put a new and right spirit within me…Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence…O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. For You take no delight in sacrifice…A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Ps 51:5-17 excerpts)

    Great peace and blessings to you and all of your followers during this Holy season.

    • Dismas, It’s like welcoming an old friend back into my home when I read your posts. It’s remarkable. I wish I could hear your choir! Thank you, again, for the beauty of your prose, the depth of your reflection and the honesty of your insight. It will be a glorious Lent walking with such as you. Abundant lenten blessings on you and your loved ones. Pax et bonum, Tom Neal

      • Dismas Dancing says:

        You are gracious, indeed. Thank you!

        As it turns out, we used NO technology, not even the mics. Our director had us go to loft at the rear of the church where our pipe organ is to go. From there, armed only with the instruments with which God made us, we sang the “Miserere…” during the imposition of ashes. An exquisitely moving experience for both choir and congregation! Armed with your “kick-start” and the evening Mass, yesterday served as a most appropriate start to this great season. I too, look forward to a spiritually invigorating walk with you and all of our fellow travelers. Peace!

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