The Lust for Seeing: from Josef Pieper

Josef PieperThis quotation from philosopher and theologian Josef Pieper captured my attention over a year ago when I was preparing a series of messages for students on distraction and attention. Themes of distraction and attentiveness have become increasingly important to me as the information economy takes hold of our culture and shapes our lives more than we realize. I saved this quotation on my desktop for further consideration, and I continue to return to it again and again. While Pieper wrote these words just shy of eighty years ago, I feel they are just as relevant today as ever. Maybe you will agree.

There is a lust for seeing that perverts the original meaning of sight and casts a person into disorder. The meaning of sight is the perception of reality. However, the “concupiscence of the eyes” does not seek to perceive reality but rather just to see. Augustine notes that the “lust of the palate” does not attain satisfaction but only results in eating and drinking; the same holds true for curiositas (curiosity) and the “concupiscence of the eyes”. In his book Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), Martin Heidegger says, “The concern of this kind of sight is not about grasping the truth and knowingly living within it but is about chances for abandoning oneself to the world.” The degradation into curiositas of the natural desire to see can thus be substantially more than a harmless confusion on the surface. It can be the sign of one’s fatal uprooting. It can signify that a person has lost the capacity to dwell in his own self; that he, fleeing from himself, disgusted and bored with the waste of an interior that is burnt out by despair, seeks in a thousand futile ways with selfish anxiety that which is accessible only to the high-minded calm of a heart disposed to self-sacrifice and thus in mastery over itself: the fullness of being. Since such a person does not truly live out of the wellspring of his being, he accordingly seeks, as again Heidegger says, in the “curiosity to which nothing is closed off”, “the security of a would-be genuine ‘living life’.”

The “concupiscence of the eyes” reaches its utmost destructive and extirpative power at the point where it has constructed for itself a world in its own image and likeness, where it has surrounded itself with the restlessness of a ceaseless film of meaningless objects for show and with a literally deafening noise of nothing more than impressions and sensations that roar in an uninterrupted chase around every window of the senses. Behind their papery façade of ostentatious lies absolute nothingness, a “world” of at most one-day constructs that often become insipid after just one-quarter of an hour and are thrown out like a newspaper that has been read or a magazine that has been paged through; a world which, before the revealing gaze of a sound spirit uninfected by its contagion, shows itself to be like a metropolitan entertainment district in the harsh clarity of a winter morning: barren, bleak, and ghostly to the point of pushing one to despair.

Still, the destructive element of this disorder, born out of and shaped by illness, is found in the fact that this disorder obstructs the original power of man to perceive reality, that it renders a person unable not only to attain his own self but also to attain reality and truth.

If, therefore, a fraudulent world of this kind threatens to overrun and conceal the world of reality, then the cultivation of the natural desire to see assumes the character of a measure of self-preservation and self-defense. And then studiositas (diligence) means especially this: that a person resists the nearly inescapable temptation to indiscipline with all the power of selfless self-protection, that he radically closes off the inner space of his life against the pressingly unruly pseudoreality of empty sights and sounds-in order that, through and only through this asceticism of perception, he might safeguard or recoup that which truly constitutes man’s living existence: to perceive the reality of God and of creation and to shape himself and the world by the truth that discloses itself only in silence.

[From Josef Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1991), 39-41.]

 

 

When Distractions Overtake Us

apple pie.jpg

Some of you know that I love pie. This past Fall our school had a fund-raiser with Elegant Farmer pies and someone in our family bought six just to be on the safe side to make sure that we would have enough. We worked through those pies as a family over the course of the winter. It’s possible I ate more than my fair share. Sometimes, I think that I could eat pie all the time, but if I did that, well, the results wouldn’t be good in my waistline or in my internal bodily health

This is sort of true in our lives overall. Our lives are made up of different roles or functions:

  • we are students
  • we are children
  • we may have job, so we are workers
  • we may be athletes, or musicians, or artists
  • we have leisure roles, like keeping up with Snapchat, hanging out with friends, or playing video games

Life roles

There is usually a sort of order to our roles They don’t always look like this, but there is a fairly even distribution to them. But sometimes our lives get out of whack. We lose focus and one or two of our functions get out of proportion to what they should be. If I decided that eating Elegant Farmer pies was my primary role in life, having more importance than being a husband, a father, a son, a friend, or a worker, it might look like this.

Disordered ife roles

For others of us, this happens in various other ways: one relationship may overtake everything else (codependent), our work may overtake everything else (workaholic), a substance, like alcohol or drugs, may overtake everything else (addiction), or one of our hobbies, like social media or video games may overtake everything else.

When this happens, we become confused about life and about ourselves. In this state, we are divided in our hearts and vulnerable to so many messages that come our way that lead us in all too many different directions. Not only do our actions become confused, but our desires become misdirected. It’s that experience you have when you realize you’ve been scanning through Instagram for the last 30 minutes but can’t remember anything you saw. It’s like that feeling when you know you should be working on your homework, but you end up binge-watching something on Netflix. We keep taking things in, even when we don’t really want to.

The Apostle Paul talks about this reality in his letter to the churches in the city of Rome in this way:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)

“For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19)

In this sort of place, we realize that there are so many things shaping us as people in so many ways that we are becoming misdirected as people from the good life into so many other things. Not all of them are bad, but even neutral distractions piled on top of one another become bad when they take us away from what is truly good.

How have distractions moved you away from what is most important?

Have you found your life roles getting out of whack because what is not central has overtaken your time and energy?

The Weekend Wanderer: 9 March 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

Lent fast word cloud“What to Give Up for Lent 2019? Consider Twitter’s Top 100 Ideas” – Once again, you can follow in real time what Twitter users say they are giving up for Lent, which this year begins on Ash Wednesday, March 6.  As in past years, food is the most popular category for abstention, followed by technology and ‘vices’ like smoking and drinking alcohol. After analyzing the first 1,500 tweets—both serious and sarcastic—OpenBible.info’s Stephen Smith noted that ‘perennial favorites’ such as social networking, alcohol, and Twitter lead the list so far.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 11.57.21 AM“In Praise of Boredom” – With reference to Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head, James K. A. Smith engages with the dehumanizing aspects of distraction and the importance of boredom for our recovery. “But how to overcome distraction? How to break through the bedazzling glare of our screens, the latest threat to parade as an angel of light? The problem isn’t simply that the technologies of distraction prevent us from making or appreciating art. This isn’t simply a competition for attention. The concern is more egregious: our distraction demeans us.”

 

iphone keyboard“Repenting in the age of iPhones and instant gratification” – Lent helps us learn repentance in our lives at multiple levels. Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill reflects on what this mean in the smart phone, social media culture. “The work of naming our wrongdoing to ourselves and to God is unlikely to bring immediate gratification. Nor will it engender the sort of external and public validation we may crave from our frequent forays into Twitter, Snapchat or FaceBook. The Creator of all will not be giving a ‘thumbs up’ to our expressions of remorse. The Divine Majesty is probably not going to ‘follow’ our episodic utterances of regret on Instagram. No, repentance is an I-Thou exercise.”

 

Welcoming the Stranger“A Migrant Invasion?”Noah Toly, Professor of Urban Studies at Wheaton College, reviews the revised edition of Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang’s Welcoming the Stranger. Both Matt and Jenny were part of our Mission Fest at Eastbrook a couple of years ago, and this updated edition of the book is even more timely given our current debates. Toly offers a fine review of the book with helpful reflections on why Soerens and Yang’s work is “more than a counterpoint to anti-immigrant uproar, it is an antidote to the propagandistic way of being in the world.”

 

hands folded“Integrating Justice Into our Spiritual Disciplines”Kevin Garcia opens a discussion about gaps in classical spiritual formation related to justice, reflecting on ways that he has attempted to integrate the pursuit of justice within his spiritual formation rhythms. “Everyday there are several rhythms that shape our beliefs. What podcast do we play the most? What books do we read? What channel do we go to for our news? Who do we follow on Twitter? I began thinking more deeply about this recently as our church joined in a fast to start the new year. During this time, I immersed myself in some works considered classics on spiritual disciplines.”

 

Pope Pius XII“Vatican to open secret archives on World War II-era and Pope Pius” – “Pope Francis has announced that the Vatican next year will open its secret archives containing World War II-era documents from the controversial papacy of Pope Pius XII. The archives cover the years 1939-1958 and consist of several hundred thousand letters, cables and speeches. Critics of Pius say he did not do enough to publicly combat the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy. Supporters say he worked diligently behind the scenes to save Jews from the Holocaust.”

 

Macrina“This Church Mother Comforted the Grieving with Scientific Thinking” – “In AD 379, Basil the Great, one of the men who contributed to the Nicene Creed, died. Basil and his brother Gregory of Nyssa were two of the three Cappadocian Fathers­—men responsible for major theological decisions made in the early life of the Christian church. What is less well known is that they also had an older sister, Macrina. She was deeply precious to them for her love, her insight, and her wisdom; they even called her ‘Teacher.'”

 

gary saul morson“The greatest of all novels” –  At The New Criterion, Gary Saul Morson reflects on how Leo Tolstoy explores the complexities – not the simplicity – of human existence in his masterpiece, War and Peace. “All purported social sciences held that, as with Newtonian astronomy, the complexity of observed phenomena was explicable by a few simple laws. But with society and individual psyches, Tolstoy insisted, the very opposite is the case: ‘the deeper we delve in search of these [fundamental] causes,’ Tolstoy observes, ‘the more of them we find.’ Things do not simplify, they ramify.”

 

Music: “Forgive Us” from At the Foot of the Cross, volume 2, featuring Julie Miller, David Mullen, and Gene Eugene.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Attention as a Key to Wisdom

Multicultural friends group using smartphone with coffee at university college break - People hands addicted by mobile smart phone - Technology concept with connected trendy millennials - Filter image

The distractions of our lives slowly become the purpose of our lives when inattention and lack of focus reign within our souls.

The more information we have, the less true knowledge we attain. The less knowledge we attain, the more confusing our life experiences become.

Lacking knowledge and meaningful experience in a whirlpool of information, the more improbable becomes the development of wisdom in our lives.

One key toward gaining wisdom in our engagement with the world around us is attention.

Attention involves an extension of the self into the world, so that the world is more powerfully received into the self. It is the essential and necessary means of our growth in knowledge and of any progress that we make on the path toward wisdom. Attention shapes what we know and value, and therefore determines who we are and can become. – Christopher O. Blum and Joshua P. Hochschild,  A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Manchester, NH: Sophie Institute Press, 2017), 120 [italics mine].

Without attention, we lack the ability to focus in our growth into true knowledge. Without attention, knowledge will not mix with our experience to become wisdom. While not the only key to wisdom, without the ability to attend to people, objects, and experiences around us, we will never move forward in gaining true wisdom.

Distracted and Divided from the Good Life

Multicultural friends group using smartphone with coffee at university college break - People hands addicted by mobile smart phone - Technology concept with connected trendy millennials - Filter image

In an article entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, Nicholas Carr wrote:

Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case any more. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do.[1]

Studies have actually shown that not only are we becoming more distracted these days, but the power of distraction and multi-tasking are making us less productive in our work, more anxious, struggling with relationship-building, and often more lonely.[2]

Our Problem: Distracted from the Good Life

Our problem with distraction is that it divides us up, confuses us, and leads us away from life at its best. While we have more information than ever before, tremendous amounts of technology with greater capacities than ever before, and greater ease in life than ever before, we are simultaneously struggling as much as ever – if not more – with attaining to the good life.

The good life is that life the we would like to live; the life that we most desire and long for. Unfortunately, the good life seems to be slipping through our grasp even as we have more access to information and ease than ever before.

I’d like to take us some initial exploration of what it means to live life at its best; that is, how do we attain the life we really desire? This will require some degree of self-awareness. We will need to know our own selves well, and what is hindering us from the good life. Specifically, we will need to give attention to distraction, both the distractions that come from outside us and the distractions that come from inside of us

It will also require some God-awareness. Awareness of God is the key to the good life, specifically how to move from division to unity – or integrity – as people. Let’s look at Psalm 86:11:

Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart
to revere your name.

Beginning with awareness of God will help us access the good life. Increasing our awareness of God as revealed in the Scripture, and preeminently in Jesus Christ, will lead us into transformative understanding of some basic truths. First, the good life is what we were made for. We were created by God, both individually and as the human race, for His good pleasure and for experiencing the good life with Him. Second, the only way to enter into the good life is through right connection with God. That right connection with God requires that our hearts that are focused upon Him through faith in Jesus Christ, and undivided by both inner and outer distractions. The good life requires undivided hearts with God. Over the next few weeks, i will spend some time here at the blog exploring these themes. I invite you to join me in that exploration.

 


[1] Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, The Atlantic, July/August 2008, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/; accessed January 3, 2019.

[2] Eric Westervelt, “Learning in the Age of Digital Distraction,” NPR, November 5, 2016, https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/11/05/498477634/learning-in-the-age-of-digital-distraction; accessed January 3, 2019; and Harriet Griffey, “The Lost Art of Concentration: Being Distracted in a Digital World,” The Guardian, October 14, 2018,  https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/oct/14/the-lost-art-of-concentration-being-distracted-in-a-digital-world; accessed January 3, 2019.

 

 

Learning to Pay Attention [Working the Angles with Eugene Peterson, part 2]

fullsizeoutput_ae1If we are to hold onto our identity and calling as pastors in North America, then we must resist the consumer-driven impulses that have infested our culture and even the church. We must become, as Eugene Peterson suggest, more than religious shopkeepers who keep the budget growing, the building improving, and the congregation busy. We must re-learn how to pay attention, not just in general, but primarily by paying attention to God. There are three pastoral acts that Peterson says are “so basic, so critical, that they determine the shape of everything else.” What are they? “The acts are praying, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction” (3).

These three pastoral acts are part of “the pastor’s responsibility…to keep the community attentive to God” (2). Peterson goes on to explain the way in which of those acts does this:

prayer is an act in which I bring myself to attention before God; reading scripture is an act of attending to God in his speech and action across two millennia in Israel and Christ; spiritual direction is an act of giving attention to what God is doing in the person who happens to be before me at any given moment.

Always it is God to whom we are paying, or trying to pay, attention. The contexts, though vary: in prayer the context is myself; in Scripture it is the community of faith in history; in spiritual direction it is the person before me. God is the one to whom we are being primarily attentive in these contexts, but it is never God-in-himself; rather, it is God-in-relationship — with me, with his people, with this person. (3-4)

This attentiveness to God in various contexts is difficult. As Peterson suggests, “great crowds of people have entered into a grand conspiracy to eliminate prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction from our lives” (4). This feels even more true in the thirty-year distance since he wrote this book. Distractions multiply like rabbits with the rhythmic clicking of a laptop touchpad or the frictionless swiping of a smart phone.

In a distracted culture, how countercultural is it for the pastor to be a person who is utterly attentive to God, self, Scripture, and others? Well, it so countercultural that many of us pastors are as distracted as anyone else, simultaneously immersed in our social media profiles and the endless notifications on our devices. When was the last time we knew what it was to truly enter into uninterrupted solitude with God ourselves? When did we last hear the voice of God whisper into our souls while we sat across from someone asking us for a word from God?

I have returned again and again to the cry of the psalmist:

Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    give me an undivided heart to revere your name. (Psalm 86:11)

Lord, teach us pastors Your ways, and strengthen us to walk in your truth, that we might enter into the undivided heart that leads us to reverent attentiveness before You in our calling and ministry activity.

[This post continues my reflections on Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, which began here. You can read all the posts here.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 20 October 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

Oscar Romero“A ‘Voice For The Voiceless’: Sainthood For El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Romero” – This past Sunday, the Vatican elevated Archbishop Óscar Romero and Pope Paul VI to sainthood, along with five other “lesser-known” saints. “Known to his followers as Monseñor (Monsignor), Romero was a champion of human rights at a time when El Salvador was on the brink of civil war. His tireless fight for civil rights ranks him among figures like Martin Luther King Jr. His devout following filled San Salvador’s towering cathedral each Mass.”

 

peterson-square1“Eugene Peterson Enters Hospice Care” – Eugene Peterson has been one of the most significant influences upon my life as a pastor. His outstanding writing on the work of pastoral ministry, spiritual theology, and memoir of life in ministry have helped keep me on track as a pastor in the North American culture that tends to fashion church celebrities. Given all this, I was sad to hear this past week that Peterson entered hospice care as he nears the end of his earthly life. Christianity Today shares a wealth of the articles and resources that Peterson has written in the pages of their publications.

 

Image“The State of Theology: What Do People Really Believe in 2018?” – Ligonier Ministries partnered with LifeWay Research in their third biennial study on religious beliefs in the United States. “This year’s survey both confirmed previous findings and brought some unexpected results. Year after year, we are seeing the increasing grip of relativism on our culture and deep confusion among evangelicals. For example: 91 percent of evangelicals affirm that people are justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, but 51 percent of evangelicals also believe that God accepts the worship of all religions. How can this be? What do Americans—and people in the pew—really believe?” [Thanks to Jim Bohn for sharing this link.]

 

_103887398_kievworshipgetty14oct“Orthodox Church split: Five reasons why it matters” – “The Russian Orthodox Church has cut ties with the Church leadership in Istanbul, the Constantinople Patriarchate traditionally regarded as the Orthodox faith’s headquarters. The Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church has at least 150 million followers – more than half the total of Orthodox Christians. The dispute centres on Constantinople’s decision last week to recognise the independence of Ukrainian Orthodox worshippers. Just another arcane theological dispute, you might think. Well, there is more to it than that.”

 

Walker Percy“Walker Percy: The Hopeful Dystopian” – Walker Percy is one of my favorite novelists, because his work opens up the unique insanities of culture, the depravity of humanity, and the unexpected places that hope rises up. All that being said, Percy’s work is not for the faint of heart.  Daniel Ritchie reviews Brian A Smith’s Walker Percy and the Politics of the Wayfarer (a steeply-priced book published by an academic press) for Christianity Today, and gives the reader some helpful insights both into Percy in general and the value of Smith’s book.

 

Smith-headshot-243x300-circleIn other news at the junction of Christianity and the arts, Image magazine announced James K. A. Smith as their new editor in chief. This is welcome news, as Jamie is an amazing thinker and writer on issues of faith and culture. I look forward to the leadership he will bring in pulling together an editorial team for this important journal on faith, art, and mystery.

 

U“Floating pipe set to start massive ocean cleanup process” – “A 2,000 foot-long floating pipe nicknamed Wilson is about to start its mission to collect all the plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Last month, the Ocean Cleanup foundation launched the world’s first ocean cleanup system out of San Francisco to take on the notorious “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a giant floating trash pile between San Francisco and Hawaii that is twice the size of Texas. It’s the largest of five ocean trash piles on Earth.”

 

1380“The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world” – This latest article from Harriet Griffey in The Guardian is just the latest in a stream of conversation around the destruction of our ability to concentrate in a distracted, digital world. “This constant fragmentation of our time and concentration has become the new normal, to which we have adapted with ease, but there is a downside: more and more experts are telling us that these interruptions and distractions have eroded our ability to concentrate.” I am currently working on a series of messages for a retreat with students in the winter connecting this theme with the plea for “an undivided heart” found in Psalm 86:11.

 

Reader Come Home.jpg“What we lose by reading 100,000 words every day” – Jennifer Howard reviews Maryanne Wolf’s new book, Reader, Come Home. “Wolf wants to understand what’s happening to our reading brains at this historic juncture between the old ways and the new. A lifelong book lover who turned her fascination with reading into a career as a cognitive neuroscientist, she continues to explore how humans learned to do such an astonishing thing as read in the first place….While neuroplasticity allowed humans to develop our ‘deep-reading circuit,’ she explains, it also makes us vulnerable to constant streams of digital input. Clutching cellphones, scrolling through Instagram feeds, browsing websites all day, ‘we inhabit a world of distraction,’ she writes.” [Thanks to David Taylor for sharing this article.]

 

winners-to-be-announced-668x1024Book Awards – And since we are on the topic of books, at the end of last week the finalists for the National Book Award were announced. You can access the entire list here with the categories of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and young people’s literature, as well as a new category of translated literature. The winner will be announced on November 14. The winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction, whose short list I shared in September, was also announced this past week with Anna Burns taking home the prize for her third full-length novel, Milkman.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]