Archive | May, 2010

Why We Ditched the TV

10 May

On Saturday, Dan and I put our TV in storage and put our Netflix account on hold.  We rearranged our sitting room so that it would have a new focal point.  It felt good.  It was not that we were watching four hours of TV a day like the average American, we barely watched it at all.  We just did not want it to be our crutch anymore.  We wanted to make sure we could live without it.  So far, so good.

Here are a few of the reasons our TV took the plunge to storage:

1.  When we watch TV, we disengaged from each other and the world.  We start to live vicariously through fictional characters instead of living our own lives and making our own story.  We say that we work so hard that we need an escape sometimes, we need to wind down, we need to relax.  But what are we escaping from? Shouldn’t we instead focus on building a life that is sustainable, that does not require escape?  We want to fall in love with our lives, not the lives of people on the screen.

I have seen this fear of really living life with helicopter parents as a high school sports coach.  Parents are trying to live vicariously through their children instead of continuing on with their own lives to the detriment of the young athletes.  The kids often wilt under the pressure of making their parent’s dreams come true.

Similarly, my friend pointed out the other day how often graduation speeches charge young people with saving society. Grad speeches put all faith in the young generation, so that we do not feel guilty sitting numb on the couch passively ingesting reality TV.  The young people will change the world.  The youth are the future.  Let’s just watch one more episode and let them do the dirty work.  As long as we put all the responsibility on young people, we can sit on the couch numbly consuming media, letting others live our lives for us.  Young people are doing a lot, but they may just benefit from our energy as well.  But I digress.  We got rid of the TV so that we did not forget to live our own lives, being the actors, not the audience.

2.  I recently finished reading No Impact Man.  It is a book I would recommend that supports living intentionally.  The author has a hunch that we are so addicted to consuming because it lulls us to sleep.  It might be that we are so afraid to die that we actually forget to live, and consuming keeps us from real life.  I think he is on to something.  Dan and I do not shop much, but we do consume a lot of media, and that counts.  We have one shot at this life thing, and we might as well stay awake for it and not let consuming mass amounts of media comfort and lull us away from reality.

3.  In The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard quotes Victor La Beau, “Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…. We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”  True.  We are consuming at an alarming rate.  We do not have complete control over how many media messages we consume, but Dan and I wanted to take some control.  We are now consuming more music and books and each other’s stories as opposed to television.  With both of our jobs requiring more and more screen time, it was time to get rid of this screen and seek to fill ourselves with other things.

4. I just completed teaching media and marketing techniques to my teenage students so they would be more savvy consumers.  Product placement in television is pervasive, as are huge marketing campaigns geared to get at our souls.  Big time marketing gurus have interviewed cult members to try to get irrational brand loyalty from its customers.  Media is using spiritual language to try to fill a desire we have to find meaning in life with stuff.  And worst of all, it is disposal stuff that leaves a void luring back out to buy more. Nike commercials are about empowerment, not shoes.  Lexus ads are about inner beauty, not transportation. Gatorade markets bodily transcendence, not hydration.  And we are falling for it!  We act as if things will create identity, as if stuff will give our lives meaning.  We are more willing to align with team Caribou than team Catholic, Team Jacob instead of team justice.  Dan and I do not want to support this industry that tries to make us feel less than beautiful and powerful, centered on stuff to fill life with meaning.

I could continue, but I will just say for us, it was time for the television to go.  It felt subversive and exciting, and three days later, I can report that we are not missing it.  Sometimes it just requires one action that supports the life we want to build, and other things seem to fall into place from there.


Who Will I Trip Over While Taking the Long View?

3 May

Where is the balance between charity and justice?  Between thinking big thoughts and hitting the ground running?  Between effort and rest?  Between retreat and engagement?  Are my gifts best used giving fish or teaching to fish or working to change the whole fishing industry?

Ladies and gentlemen, a small sampling of questions that have been plaguing me lately.  In one of my classes, I showed a film that asked the question, “Is aid to Africa doing more harm than good?” Is foreign aid creating dependency and learned helplessness?  How is it that we should more compassionately distribute wealth so that everyone lives with dignity?  Who should receive micro-loans and scholarships? Should generous donations go to governments, NGOs, middle class employers to create jobs, the poorest of the poor?  How can more relationships be built?   In my favorite scene, two brothers grapple with these same questions.  The question is posed, “Is it more helpful to educate powerful people about poverty or cross boundaries and help people experiencing poverty one at a time?”  As I look out into the faces of affluent teenagers I am showing this film to, I admit to them that this is my daily struggle.  I leave my lesson on poverty to return to my comfortable apartment.  Is it making a difference?

This past weekend, I traveled to North Carolina for a gorgeous wedding.  Before the rehearsal, my spouse and I walked to Duke University, saw the chapel and sat down in the sunshine to enjoy an organic, colorful lunch from one of the many cafes.  I love universities, and really, all academic institutions.  They seem like utopias to me.  We sat at lunch listening in to young, vivacious thinkers and old professors in bow ties philosophize about the world.  I found myself at peace and enlivened.  Many religions agree that the path to knowledge is the path to God.  And I believe it.  To have the leisure time to pursue knowledge feels liberating to me.  And I have seen repeatedly that a key to peace is to educate young people, especially women.

Yet there is also something about academia that grates on me.  As I believe that the path to knowledge is the path to God, I also believe that Jesus is the poor.  Literally.  And academia seems so disengaged and distant from people who are experiencing real poverty.  It is a luxury to be able to choose whether to engage in an intellectual conversation about philosophy and theology regarding poverty while other people are living it.  Do I dare analyze aid when people actually need food right now while I am thinking about it?  Is the pursuit of knowledge also running from reality?

I am finding in me more and more a simultaneous desire to be immersed in education and scholarship while living engaged in the world of people experiencing poverty.  Where do I place myself so that the power I have in the world can most effectively be used to transform the hierarchies in our world?  How can I have informed, passionate opinions without living among people who are different from me?  Can I pursue knowledge without fleeing from the world?

Tomorrow morning I will leave my comfortable apartment to teach affluent teenagers about poverty.  I just wonder sometimes who I am tripping over while taking the long view.

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