I Am More Than A Computer

This is the first part of my series exploring humanity. Click here for more.

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"[Tolstoy] could observe the mass of persons, the peasants, who in the most miserable of conditions found life deeply meaningful, and even sweet. They had not heard about particles and progress. But this is no longer possible. The peasants now watch TV and constantly consume media. There are no peasants now. " Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

This is what the culture demands: work another hour; add another client; bill another dollar; buy another car, a bigger house, and extra pair of shoes, a new watch (the automatic sort, +/- 20 nanoseconds, Greenwich); know your boss, your neighbor, the contact in Beijing who might be a potential client; connect with them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn (do millennials use it?), Instagram, Snapchat (do Gen-Xers use it?); know 10 Ways To Travel On The Cheap, or [tweetherder]5 Ways To Please Your Lover in Bed[/tweetherder], or 7 Habits of Highly Defective People; know a language; know Beyonce's "Lemonade," Trump's xenophobia, the time Hillary barked like a dog; Know the best ways to poke fun at Sarah Palin (this might actually come in handy); know about sex, and not just the euphoria of post-relational bliss, but know about its permutations and associated rights; understand gender, identity, the ideologies of sex, sex, sex; know the news, pop culture (an interesting play on words), literature, art; know Jesus, or Buddha, or The Prophet; know religion, all religions, how religion corrupts, the way it gives life and has stolen it; know justice and mercy--conceptually, not practically; know how to make bread, grill steak, roll sushi, steep tea; learn a language; know how to promote the self, the [tweetherder]8 Paths To Marketing Your Ego[/tweetherder]; be so proficient with Google that no one knows how little you know; be a human computer.

A human computer--yes, be that. Compute, compute, compute. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Above that, opine. Above all else, consume. Consume like a baby bird or a murder of crows. Consume like a tapeworm. Consume like a blackhole. This is what the culture demands, and to bolster its demands it plays this endless sleight of hand: consumption drives economies forward; expanding economies drive progress; progress provides jobs; jobs make people happy; happy people consume.

This is the truth of the modern life. And if that feels a bit too broad for your liking, allow me to restate it: this is the truth of my modern life.

There comes a point in life when one has to say enough is enough. I think I've reached that point. No matter what the advertisers, social media, the internet, the educational system, the church, the gym, the civic organization, or the market forces sell me, I am a person bound by the very real limitations of time and space. I simply cannot keep up with everything, no matter how much I try.

In the creation narrative provided in scripture, God created the sun and the moon, bodies which govern time. We call the cycles of their rising and setting days, and these days consist of only 24 hours. He placed immovable heavenly bodies as a tangible reminder--there is only so much time. He then gave us flowers, animals, companionship, things to enjoy. And though these things can be enjoyed in near-infinite arrays, there's only so much time to enjoy them. The limitations of time mean, simply, every decision I make excludes another possible decision. This is the fundamental premise of economics--a decision to enjoy or know one thing excludes enjoyment or knowledge of another (i.e., you cannot have it all).

Consider this illustration. I have the opportunity to watch a presidential debate and to live Tweet it, blow by blow. In that moment, my connection to the debate and my followers on Twitter precludes a meaningful engagement with my sons or my wife. (As an aside, she'll attest that I fall prey to this tradeoff.) On occasion, such tradeoff might be warranted. I might argue that voters should be adequately informed before walking into the booth. But the rub comes when we become constant consumers, always trading human connection for the dollar, the digital, or the Donald (or any other politician). The rub comes when we trade our family, our friends, or meaningful experiences for endless consumption.

Winn & John

Hunter

Ken

I love what I love. I love roots music, literature, and I have a passing fancy for art. I'm no expert in any of it, though society expects me to consume to the point of pretending to be such an expert. I haven't watched "Lemonadeyet (thought I want too), and I haven't sorted out the legalities of North Carolina's Bathroom Law (though I have private thoughts on that, too). I have three less clients than I ought, make a few thousand less than I could. I suspect I'm limited in my culinary skills (though I can stew just about anything and make it edible). I've lived 38 years worth of sun settings, moon waxing and wanings. I'm not claiming any unique wisdom has come with that age--I'm still young-ish, after all--but I've learned a hard-won lesson. I cannot keep up with the consumer demands of today. They rob me of my humanity.

So, don't ask me about my thoughts about the news or entertainment item du jour. Don't ask me to care, or to Google it, or to understand the nuances of it all. Don't tempt me to become something I'm not. Don't tempt me to become digital.

I am not a computer. I am a person. I want to live a human life, not the life of a Mac.

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Refugees, Compassion, and a Fella Named Clay

1.

I've been watching the handwringing and haranguing over the refugee crisis these last few weeks. I've watched it amplify in the wake of the Paris tragedy. This debate? It's gotten mean. [tweetherder text="See the Syrian-Muslim-Christian-Sunni-Whatevers whose personhood has been stripped by their issue-ness."]And there are the refugees, the downtrodden, the marginalized Syrian-Muslim-Christian-Sunni-Whatevers who've had their personhood stripped in favor of their issue-ness.[/tweetherder]

We're a bunch of sick suckers, aren't we?

2.

Clay is a good man whose wool is dyed Republican red. He's carried a concealed weapon longer than he's carried a driver's license. He breathes to to the rhythm of the National Anthem. He loves Jesus, his wife and kids, fried chicken, and country music. He is the quintessential southern male.

Clay may be all of these things, his wool might be scarlet, but this is not to say he is unthinking or lacks tenderness. On Tuesday, he called, said, "Seth, this refugee thing has me all in a fit. I've been praying, and praying, and praying about it, and I just keep hearing this from God: what's more important, your safety or caring for the least of these?" He paused and as the words hung, the pangs of conviction quivered.

We hashed it out, and over the course of twenty minutes he came to this simple conclusion: his identity as a Christ-bearer was more important than his American identity. He chuckled, asked, "does this make me liberal?"

"No," I said. "It makes you compassionate, a little more faithful, a lot more human."

Here's to Clay. Here's to the wrestler. Here's to the bleach that bleeds red or blue from identity's wool.

3.

Let's hear it for the lovers, patient and kind, the ones who don't take the moral high ground or boast in their rightness.

Let's hear it for the lovers who do not reduce people to issues, or gain from either fear-mongering or love-idoling.

Let's hear it for the lovers who work, and work, and work to quench their anger with cool water.

Let's hear it for the lovers who do not delight in control by fear, but turn their ears to the wind in hopes of catching a simple whistle of truth.

Let's hear it for the lovers who do not fear death. Death is pain. Pain is love. Let's hear it for the lovers.

Let's hear it for the lovers who always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.

Sweet mercy, let's close our mouths and turn our ears to something sweet; let's hear it for the lovers.

*****

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, is available. You can order online wherever good books are sold, or visit your local Barnes & Noble and pick up your copy!

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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Good Friends and Good Links

I sat in the back seat of a brown Buick with two of my sixth grade basketball teammates. We were making the return trip up highway 71 after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Hatfield. The three of us were in the dumps. Mrs. G was driving. Feeling the weight of loss in the car, Mrs. G said, "I know what you boys need," and she pushed the half-ejected cassette tape into the stereo and spun the volume knob to the right. The crooning harmonica of Stevie Wonder filled the car.

A collective groan rose from the sticky naugahyde backseat, but undaunted, Mrs. G turned the volume up even louder. Captive to the sentimentality of a thirty-something mother with a penchant for Motown ballads, we endured Dionne Warwick's meandering first verse. We came to the chorus of "That's What Friends are For," and as Warwick sang "friends are for," Mrs. G pointed at each of us on the beat.

Mrs. G's son turned beet read and put his head down. I looked out the window pretending not to notice. The boy to my left had a tear in his eye. (He was such a tenderhearted point guard.)

To this day, this remains one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

Embarrassment aside, though, I was reminded of this story this weekend. It has been a stressful week of tending to four boys, a dog, and a career while Amber has been in Israel. So stressful, in fact, that on occasion I've felt the ends of my nerves fraying. And in one such moment last night, my phone rang. It was my friend and second-sister, Nicole, and we made small talk at first, hemming and hawing a few platitudes. Knowing this wasn't why she called, I said, "what's up?" She came out with it straight, no chaser.