by Tom Sine,
“Don’t Languish, Flourish”
Dr. Laurie Santos, a Psychology professor, reflecting on our emergence from this very disruptive pandemic, stated in the New York Times, “’We’ve all just changed our routines so much’, she said. ‘I think many of us have realized during the pandemic that some of the things we were doing before COVID -19 weren’t the kind of things leading to flourishing in our lives.’”
“With vaccination rates on the rise, hope is in the air. But after a year of trauma, isolation and grief, how long will it take before life finally… feels good?”
Let’s explore how we, as people of faith, can join those who are not only moving from languishing to flourishing… but also discover a much more vital faith. A faith that is also committed to enabling many of our struggling neighbors to flourish as well in our new post-pandemic society. First, I will briefly describe how other forces have caused many Christians to settle for a less flourishing faith even before COVID-19 arrived.
“End of Pandemic Can Be a Restart for Your Life.”
“Studies show that moments of disruption offer an opportunity to set and achieve new goals.”
The good news is the ending of the pandemic is a great opportunity for people of faith to leave our struggling lives of “lock downs”, to join those who are creating a new normal, and to use this welcomed change to create their best lives!
In 2002, Christine and I wrote a book called Living on Purpose. In those days, we weren’t, of course, struggling with the pandemic. However, we were distracted by the unexpected arrival of Big Tech. It enabled our consumer culture to become much more influential in shaping the aspirations and values of us and our young. Shortly before the pandemic reached the US, the tech revolution had dramatically changed all of our lives and the lives of our young. However, unlike the pandemic, many leaders in mainline, evangelical and Catholic Churches did not seem to express much concern.
Looking back on the Influence of Big Tech
As society raced from flip phones to the new iPhones of the big tech revolution, few church leaders seemed to express concern about the difference it was making in our lives, families and the lives of our young. In retrospect, it is clear that this pre-pandemic high-tech revolution dramatically increased the influence of the consumer culture. First, most adults are spending much more time on screens than ever before. We are being influenced by everything from “Instagram envy” to targeted ads using data from our former online purchases.
In 2018, the Atlantic wrote an article titled, “Phones are Changing the Texture of Family Life.” The article reports that “95% of Americans ages thirteen to seventeen-year-olds have a smartphone or access to one…” Reportedly, back in 2019, “US teens use screens more than seven hours a day on average – and that’s not including school work.” Many teens report they sleep with their iPhones. Suddenly, many parents and churches discovered they had virtually no ability to enable their young to be selective in what they were viewing or consuming.
In 2020s Foresight: Three Vital Practices for Thriving in a Decade of Accelerating Change, we argue we are facing a crisis of formation for Gen Next. We also argue that Big Tech is also shaping the values of many of us older Christians more effectively than we seem to be aware.
For example, we also document the declining levels of participation we were experiencing in churches in America just before the pandemic arrived. Let me explain a bit of how this Big Tech-empowered consumer culture is increasingly shaping our sense of what is important and of value. Then it will be more evident how it shapes the stewardship of our lives in ways many of us who are committed Christians may not realize.
Anticipating the Shrinking Church & Declining Outreach
Dwight Friesen and I document how many churches were experiencing declining levels of attendance, giving, and volunteering to help those in need. As churches are beginning to welcome members back into their buildings, the declines in attendance, giving, and volunteering appears to be declining even more rapidly. (2020s Foresight, 62-63).
I believe the declining levels of participation are not just a product of the pandemic. I believe that Big Tech has dramatically influenced our sense of what is important, what is of value, and what is the good life for us and our young. I suspect that this growing influence has a great deal to do with shaping our sense of how to steward our lives and resources.
Looking Back… Did We Get Flourishing Wrong?
Is it possible that as we look forward to seeing the horrid pandemic in our rear view mirrors that even people of faith, and our young, will join our neighbors in viewing flourishing as returning to a more consumptive way of life? This, of course, would likely mean that many of us would make a much more modest investment of our time and money in our churches. It would also likely mean we would invest less of our time and resources to those in the US and other countries that are still being hammered by the pandemic and the recession that accompanies it.
James K. A. Smith, in his important book, You Are What You Love, encourages us to become more aware of what we love and how it shapes our notions of what constitutes the good life. He states, “we need to become aware of our immersions: ‘This is the water’ you’ve been swimming in your whole life.” We read, “we need to recognize that our imaginations and longings are not impervious to our environments…”. “To the contrary our loves and imaginations are conscripted by all sorts of Liturgy that are loaded with a version of the good life.” (38).
Looking Forward… Rediscovering Flourishing for the Turbulent 2020s
In our book, Living on Purpose, Christine and I asked the question, “why settle for more and miss the best?” As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we also need to emerge from all the media influence that seeks to shape our sense of what is important and of value. If as we seek to find a new way of being as we emerge from this pandemic, it isn’t enough to simply have our vaccines and begin our lives over again.
As followers of the servant Jesus, we need to rediscover that the good life of God will never be found in Instagram envy and increased accumulation. We need to join those followers of Jesus who are discovering that we not only have an opportunity to create a new normal but also to create a new sense of what is important and what is of value that is deeply committed to enabling our neighbors locally and globally to flourish as well.
This is the first in a series on FLOURISHING IN THE TURBULENT 2020s
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