Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age :: Summer Reading Series

The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

By Sherry Turkle

We are being silenced by our technologies—in a way, “cured of talking.” These silences—often in the presence of our children—have led to a crisis of empathy that has diminished us at home, at work, and in public life.

I begin my case by turning to someone many people think of—mistakenly—as a hermit who tried to get away from talk. In 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved to a cabin on Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, to learn to live more “deliberately”—away from the crush of random chatter. But the cabin furniture he chose to secure that ambition suggests no simple “retreat.” He said that in his cabin there were “three chairs—one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society.”

These three chairs plot the points on a virtuous circle that links conversation to the capacity for empathy and for self-reflection. Solitude reinforces a secure sense of self, and with that, the capacity for empathy. Then, conversation with others provides rich material for self-reflection. Just as alone we prepare to talk together, together we learn how to engage in a more productive solitude.

Technology disrupts this virtuous circle.

The disruptions begin with solitude, Thoreau’s first chair. Recent research shows that people are uncomfortable if left alone with their thoughts, even for a few minutes. We are so accustomed to being always connected that being alone seems like a problem technology should solve.

And this is where the virtuous circle breaks down: Afraid of being alone, we struggle to pay attention to ourselves. And what suffers is our ability to pay attention to each other. If we can’t find our own center, we lose confidence in what we have to offer others.

I’m not suggesting that we turn away from our devices. To the contrary, I’m suggesting that we look more closely at them to begin a more self-aware relationship with them. So, my argument is not anti-technology. It’s pro-conversation.

We miss out on necessary conversations when we divide our attention between the people we’re with and the world on our phones. Or when we go to our phones instead of claiming a quiet moment for ourselves. We have convinced ourselves that surfing the web is the same as daydreaming. That it provides the same space for self-reflection. It doesn’t.

It’s time to put technology in its place and reclaim conversation.

*Excerpt from Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. Penguin Press, 2015. Book review in The New York Times.

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 38 (Listen – 3:20)
Revelation 8 (Listen – 2:15)

Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist :: Summer Reading Series

The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

By Karen Swallow Prior

“This is a celebration of a particular woman, but also of women in general. It is the story of one person’s faith, but also of the power of faith. It is the story of God’s grace pouring into and through one life to impact many others. It is the story of God-given gifts given back to God to be used for the benefit of others.” — David, Park Forum Reader

“Come! Let us ride to London to see bishops and booksellers!” The invitation comes from a small girl standing atop a wooden chair. Her bright eyes sparkle. The chairs have become a carriage, and the girl, Hannah More, is about to embark on an imaginary ride from this little village all the way to the bustling metropolis of London to see the men whose words she knows, even at this young age, have the power to shape the world: the bishops and the booksellers.

[Years later,] Buoyed by empty streets, the shouts of Bristol’s town crier echoed into the city churches and down the aisles, startling the worshippers assembled as usual one midsummer Sunday morning. The crier announced a reward of one guinea to anyone who would bring forward a runaway African girl who’d fled into hiding.

The girl’s master had threatened, for some unknown reason, to ship her to a slave-trading island to be sold, and she’d disappeared. Although slavery had been illegal within the borders of England and Wales since 1772, a “domestic servant” from Africa, such as this girl, was common.

The reward offered for the girl’s return, one guinea, was the British coin minted by Bristol’s Royal African Company as currency for trade in western Africa. In its original language, guinea meant “black person.” The morning’s worship was being interrupted by the offer of a guinea for a Guinea. Twenty shillings for a few stone of flesh.

Sometime after the solemnity of the city’s worship had been broken by the town crier, the girl was found, and the “trembling wretch was dragged out from a hole in the top of a house, where she had hid herself, and forced on board ship.”

The account is recorded by More, who was living in the countryside outside Bristol at the time. “Alas!” More wrote in a letter to a friend, “I did not know it till too late, or I would have run the risk of buying her.”

When she wrote this letter in 1790, More had been actively immersed in the fight against the slave trade for a long time. By the power of her pen, she would journey to London for real—not only in her childhood imagination—where she would see bishops and booksellers, and more, much, much more.

*Excerpt from Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. Thomas Nelson, 2014. Book review at The Gospel Coalition.

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 35 (Listen – 1:43)
Revelation 5 (Listen – 2:39)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 36 (Listen – 4:00) Revelation 6 (Listen – 3:12)
Isaiah 37 (Listen – 6:37) Revelation 7 (Listen – 2:56)

The Cost of Discipleship :: Summer Reading Series

By Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits.

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception” of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.

The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.

It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

*Excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. Touchstone, 1995. Background and brief biography at The Gospel Coalition.

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 34 (Listen – 2:59)
Revelation 4 (Listen – 2:09)

Inklings: Tolkien, Lewis, Barfield, and Williams :: Summer Reading Series

The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

By Philip and Carol Zaleski

During the hectic middle decades of the twentieth century, from the end of the Great Depression through World War II and into the 1950s, a small circle of intellectuals gathered on a weekly basis in and around Oxford University to drink, smoke, quip, cavil, read aloud their works in progress. They called themselves, with typical self-effacing humor, the Inklings.

But history would record, however modest their pretensions, that their ideas did not remain half-formed nor their inkblots mere dabblings. By the time the last Inkling passed away on the eve of the twenty-first century, the group had altered, in large or small measure, the course of imaginative literature (fantasy, allegory, mythopoeic tales), Christian theology and philosophy, comparative mythology, and the scholarly study of the Beowulf author, of Dante, Spenser, Milton, courtly love, fairy tale, and epic; and drawing as much from their scholarship as from their experience of a catastrophic century, they had fashioned a new narrative of hope amid the ruins of war, industrialization, cultural disintegration, skepticism, and anomie.

Interest in the Inklings often first dawns in the minds of readers who have fallen in love with Tolkien and Lewis, and wish to enter more deeply into their spiritual and imaginative cosmos.

Lewis resembled, many said, the neighborhood butcher. Add the ubiquitous tweed jacket and flannel slacks, and he comes up in the world, but only as far as a midlevel accountant. He dressed like an ordinary man. He cultivated an image, that of the ordinary chap, endowed perhaps—one can do nothing about these things—with extraordinary brains, who lived an ordinary life of plain talk, plain food, and plain faith [“Mere Christianity”].

As a scholar, he made sure never to be mistaken for an aesthete. ‘What is life’s greatest pleasure?’ he asked his doctoral student, the future Renaissance scholar Alastair Fowler. Lewis ticked off the possibilities—Fowler remembers them as great art, mystical ecstasy, simultaneous orgasm—rejecting them one by one. “I’ll tell you,” Lewis said. “It’s the pleasure, after walking for hours, of coming to a pub and relieving yourself.”

But this sensuous side of Lewis’s nature was a late development. Lewis as a youth was extraordinarily uncomfortable in his body. His face betrayed him, broadcasting arrogance or anger in just those moments when he was feeling particularly meek or contrite. Each thumb had only one joint, a defect that led, when shaving, tying laces, or attempting other normal manipulations, to fury and tears.

He inhabited his young body as if it were a suit of armor; and if his face was doomed to miscommunicate his true feelings, he would have to learn to play the parts assigned to him, until, as an adult, he could assume his chosen part as Everyman.

*Excerpt from Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015. Book review at The Atlantic.

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 33 (Listen – 3:45)
Revelation 3 (Listen – 3:53)

Fields of Blood :: Summer Reading Series

By Karen Armstrong

The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

I believe modern society has made a scapegoat of faith. In the West the idea that religion is inherently violent is now taken for granted and seems self-evident. As one who speaks on religion, I constantly hear how cruel and aggressive it has been, a view that, eerily, is expressed in the same way almost every time: “Religion has been the cause of all the major wars in history.”

It is an odd remark. Obviously the two world wars were not fought on account of religion. Experts on political violence or terrorism also insist that people commit atrocities for a complex range of reasons. Yet so indelible is the aggressive image of religious faith in our secular consciousness that we routinely load the violent sins of the twentieth century onto the back of “religion” and drive it out into the political wilderness.

Since all premodern state ideology was inseparable from religion, warfare inevitably acquired a sacred element. But to what degree did religion contribute to the violence of the states with which it was inextricably linked? How much blame for the history of human violence can we ascribe to religion itself? The answer is not as simple as much of our popular discourse would suggest.

People rarely go to war for one reason only; rather, they are driven by interlocking motivations—material, social, and ideological. Until the modern period, religion permeated all aspects of life, including politics and warfare, not because ambitious churchmen had “mixed up” two essentially distinct activities but because people wanted to endow everything they did with significance. Every state ideology was religious.

It was not until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that religion was ejected from political life in the West. When, therefore, people claim that religion has been responsible for more war, oppression, and suffering than any other institution, one has to ask, “More than what?”

Until the American and French Revolutions, there were no “secular” societies. So ingrained is our impulse to “sanctify” our political activities that no sooner had the French revolutionaries successfully marginalized the Catholic Church than they created a new national religion. In the United States, the first secular republic, the state has always had a religious aura, a manifest destiny, and a divinely sanctioned mission.

If we are to meet the challenge of our time and create a global society where all peoples can live together in peace and mutual respect, we need to assess our situation accurately. We cannot afford oversimplified assumptions about the nature of religion or its role in the world.

*Excerpt from Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood. Anchor Press, 2015. Book review in the New York Times Book Review.

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 32 (Listen – 2:46)
Revelation 2 (Listen – 4:59)

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