Where have the good men gone? Chances are you’ve counseled a frustrated young single woman in your church who has asked you this question. Or perhaps you’ve asked it yourself. This question is the catalyst for Kay Hymowitz’s book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, an indepth analysis of the state of the average middle-class American male in his twenties. …
Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau: the story of feuding brothers is one of the oldest in the book. Now it’s time to add another chapter. In The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith, Peter Hitchens challenges, head-on, the claims of his older brother, Christopher, and like-minded atheists. As the provocative title suggests, Peter shares his brother’s cheeky style. His approach is simple. He pulls back the curtain on post-Christian societies of the past and examines the wreckage.
Photo credit: Reach Records
This was a spur of the moment poem I wrote over my lunch break for a former coworker, Mark Selvidge. He was bemoaning the waste of the shriveled orange on his desk that he kept forgetting to eat:
Of Mark’s Forgotten Orange
Behold once blithe fair maiden fruit
How diminished she dost appear
Passed over oft for sustenance of a different sort
Coyly, shyly yet ever hopeful, she plied her seductive citrus wares
And welcomed every longing glance of yon lusty young bachelor
But ere hunger could be satisfied, withered she before his eyes
Under relentless fluorescent glow
How could it be one suckled from mother earth
Dandled upon father sun’s accommodating rays
Succumbed to such a mournful blight which dims the fair rouge’d
Cheeks plumpt with sweet nectar and left poor shrunk old maid in its stead?
Fruitfulness entombed forevermore in dried up inner chambers
Hear the toll of baleful time’s relentless din
Feel the weight of time’s foreboding scythe
Incline your ear and pay you heed to the lugubrious song of unrequited love.
When I was a young boy, one of my favorite things to do when my family went to Wal-Mart was to “play” the arcade games near the entrance. As the demo version played on the screen, I would press buttons and swivel the joy stick, pretending that I was playing the game on the screen.
Sometimes I would get really lucky and someone would insert a couple quarters and start actually playing the game. I would stand there looking over his shoulder (at that time it was invariably a “he”), and as the action on the screen got more and more intense, I would begin to bounce up and down with excitement. Who knows what the people around me thought of this, but I didn’t care. I was totally absorbed in what was happening on the screen.
I remember a few times when my dad took me to a real arcade; the ones with aisles and aisles of arcade games. The rooms were filled with seizure-inducing flashing lights and a garbled cacophony of music and sound effects. Each console seemed to compete for your quarters like a street vender in an Arabian bazar, playing its music loudly and calling out to you as it hawked its most engaging game footage to lure you in to play it.
I’d follow my dad over to the change machine and watch him feed paper money into it. The bill would disappear into the bowels of the machine, some hidden gears would whir, and magically, change would spill out into the tray below. It felt like winning the jackpot in slots. With change in hand, he and I would set off together to find a game. At that time, I was a huge fan of any game starring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When we found a Turtles game, my dad would reach down and drop a few quarters into the slots below as the game chirped its acknowledgement of the money. With much anticipation, we poised our hands over the “start” buttons and together we pressed them. And the adventure began.
After a few minutes, one of our characters would die, and dad, without a word, would feed more quarters into the machine and the character would be resurrected to battle some more. I think this memory stands out in my mind because it was one of my first realizations of the prodigal nature of my dad’s giving toward me.
Now let me quick clear something up for those who, like me, thought prodigal meant “runaway” or “lost,” as in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Tim Keller, in his book Prodigal God points out that prodigal actually means “profuse or wasteful expenditure,” and the parable is talking about the wasteful spending of the son, not the fact that he was lost and wandering. But Keller points out that prodigal can also be applied to the father’s freely lavish and extravagent giving in providing a feast for his son when he returned.
Back to the arcade. To my young mind, quarters were a lot of money. My dad was relatively frugal and normally didn’t throw money around. Now he had a pile of quarters that he got from his paper money, and he was spending them all on me. Every time I let my character die, he just put more money into the machine to bring him back to life. He didn’t tell me to be more careful. He didn’t make me feel like I was wasting his money. He just let me keep playing with his quarters. I could tangibly see his quarters disappearing, yet he didn’t care. He just wanted me to have fun playing.
I think you probably see where I’m going with this. We serve a prodigal God. Every breath we take, every new day we are alive, every wonderful experience we have, every kiss from a puppy’s tiny tongue, every delicious bite of rich chocolate cake, every burst of laughter that leaves you gasping for breath and shedding tears, every clear starry night, is like another quarter dropped into the machine. Our God continues to feed quarters into the arcade game despite the fact that He could play the game better Himself. It’s an incredibly prodigal act if you reflect on it. Every moment is a vote of confidence from God that says your life, your pleasure is worth His time—more than that—is worth surrendering His very life.
Spend some time with God. He’s got a pile of quarters with your name on them.
“In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Ps. 16:11, NASB)
We were created by God as embodied creatures with a unique form and function. But the desire to reshape this form and function has always been with us. In the garden, we see the roots of the technocratic impulse discussed in chapter one of Earthen Vessels. It has been enacted with ever increasing precision as human history unfolds and science advances. Science fiction has always served a prophetic role in our culture. As the lines between science and science-fiction are increasingly blurred, we would do well to pay attention to what it has to say about the limits of our scientific efforts.
1) Birth Control – Children have become a choice to be made instead of a blessing to welcome with a humble openness. An emphasis is placed on the couple over the family. Sex is divorced from procreation so that it becomes about maximizing personal pleasure.
2) Delayed Marriage – Marriage takes on more gravity because it’s a choice that needs to be made and there is a fear of making the wrong choice. Then no-fault divorce becomes the white out for a bad choice and is the nagging exit clause that hangs around in the back of both partners’ minds for as long as they are together. Men and women are interchangeable to the degree that any type of role distinction is gone. Trial marriage and serial monogamy has become an acceptable norm.
3) Social Media – Information is wide-open so that the intimacy created by shared private information is gone. We are constantly connected and eternally present to anyone who has our contact information, so that face-to-face communication loses its urgency. Twitter encourages short bursts of impulsive aphorisms over carefully thought-through responses. Communication is more and more depersonalized and egocentric.
4) White Noise – There is little to no reprieve from media so there is little opportunity to change patterns and habits and to seek deeper intimacy with friends and family. We have little time to process emotions and thoughts about the media we are consuming. Time spent talking with people is typically time spent away from media and entertainment and we have shorter attention spans and lesser tolerance for silence and time spent simply being in the presence of another.
5) Schedule Segmentation – We continually divide our daily lives into smaller and smaller segments in order to fit more and more activity. This gives us the illusion of productivity, but mostly it just adds to our stress and fatigue. There is no rest from activities because our lives are scheduled down to 15 minute segments. No one shares the same schedule and there is no flex time built in to accomodate chance meetings or conversations that extend past their alloted time. So, no one is sharing life.
6) Specialization – Jobs are becoming more and more specialized so that no one has the same work experiences, and we lose sight of how our particular job fits into the whole of society.
7) Independance – The philosophy of suburban life is built around reducing necessary interactions with and dependance on other humans. Many of our amenities are self-initiated and sustained or completely automated: self-check outs, self-serve stations, self-driving vs. public transit, single-person apartments, grocery stores with endless options, etc.
8) Customization – We all have a personalized radio station, playlist, netflix cue, DVR folder, facebook page, twitter, RSS feed, etc. which we prefer to what everyone else is watching or listening to. Conversation topics are drying up as we retreat into our own personalized niche worlds.
9) Individualism – We are training ourselves to expect instant gratification and get frustrated and impatient when things don’t go our way. We expect everything to work out for us all the time and overreact when it doesn’t. When we are not satisfied with something we have ample forums to vent through and endless options for upgrades.
10) Pain avoidance/pleasure indulgence – Why risk hurt, pain, disappointment when your every need is satisfied? Conviction has been muted in favor of tolerance. No war is worth fighting, no sacrifice is worth making. Live and let live is the motto of the day. We are no longer seriously striving together to make a better world, though we talk about it a lot.