Three months after my house arrest sabbatical, I realized I had a problem. I was stomach down on my living room floor with my laptop sprawled in front of my face, and I was desperate for something to read.
The problem was, I’d already read 14 articles, and it wasn’t even 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
I had to ask myself in that moment: what is so alluring about reading six different articles about Miley Cyrus and her downward spiral? Why am I reading a film review of Fast and Furious 6 when I decided at age 13, after seeing 2 Fast, 2 Furious, that I was too old for anything involving Paul Walker?
I realized after a little introspection that I was doing it for a number of complex reasons. It wasn’t so much about the content in these articles, video clips and GIF-addled lists, but the feeling of being in the know about something. It was about feeling smart and separate from the nonsense, as if reading about the vanities of artists and the vacuity Hollywood made me, in some way, above it all. All the information made me feel like I had a little more control of my place in a culture that’s becoming more confusing and disheartening every day.
And yet, where was I? On the floor, my nose buried in my newsfeed.
Please, don’t misunderstand this as a critique of technology, or of our excess of information. The problem is not that we have too many ways to waste time, but that we choose to waste it. When a glutton gorges himself on a pound of chocolate in a half- hour, you don’t blame the chocolate. You blame the glutton.
The problem is that our new excess of information and the infinite ways to access it makes consumption feel like action. And as Christians who are called to be “in the world but not of the world,” the pull is just as strong, if not stronger.
Our ability to critique secular culture from an arm’s lengths makes it easy to feel like we know absolutely everything about “that world out there”—that secular world—to know every bit of its brokenness, and just leave it there to fester.
This may seem hypocritical, since admittedly I’m adding yet another article to the swarm of online information, and I’m asking you to read it. My only hope is that these words inspire exactly what I think is the solution to our consumption epidemic: creativity.
Of course, the real solution is, and always will be, Christ. With any arising cultural conundrum, it’s of the utmost—no—it’s of eternal importance that our faith in God and His promises is the foundation of our solution. And it seems to me that this conundrum in particular—this tendency among young, social media-savvy evangelicals to consume information about the depravity of our culture like Cookie Monster at an Oreo Factory, only to belch out the same tired critiques—comes down to our understanding of the Kingdom of God and how it’s made.
As long as we’re standing in the space between Christ’s resurrection and His return, when his Kingdom will come fully, we have some responsibilities. While there is infinite cause for lament and for desperate cries of Christ’s return, Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God as something that is cultivated through our faithful, persistent work. Though we’re not responsible for its ultimate arrival, we are responsible for what N.T. Wright calls “building for God’s Kingdom:”
“What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future.”
You might have noticed that “tweeting” is suspiciously absent from that list. What we should note, however, is that Wright also leaves out “criticizing,” which is precisely what the saturation of information, and of ways to access it, welcomes and encourages.
Isn’t there more to building for God’s Kingdom than merely articulating what’s wrong with the crumbling shanty-town that is Pop Culture? Pointing out ugliness is easy. Making beauty is the hard part.
I think “building for God’s Kingdom,” if you’ll grant me the liberty of redefining our terms, is synonymous with what you could call creating a culture that reflects God’s Kingdom. And I believe people, both on an individual and a communal level, play a fundamental role in determining the presiding culture.
People make the choice to either to respond negatively to the images put out by the media, or decide to create, build and work toward better ones. And if the Holy Spirit and our knowledge of a loving, redeeming Creator drives us, how much greater is our power to influence the culture around us?
Yes, we should be wary of the dominating culture’s depravity, but what if we were so focused on creating and cultivating our own culture of goodness and beauty that we could finally see the riff raff for what it is, and no longer felt so threatened by it?
This isn’t about taking a social media fast or turning a blind eye to the sad things about our culture that need to change. It’s about reversing the flow of what media excess encourages so that we can more effectively build for God’s Kingdom. We need to create first and consume second.
We need people who know that making is always better than taking.
Our access to a million different viewpoints, images, and snippets of information threatens to turn us all into quasi-critics of everything and creators of nothing. And while there is a place for critics (see: Prophets), the last thing the Kingdom needs is a million not-so-good ones.
We need poets who write good poems, engineers who build sound bridges, bakers who make delicious bread. We need people who approach their work, play, and relationships like a fresco painter approaches the freshly erected walls of a sanctuary: with the care, passion and joy that comes with knowing his work will last into the coming of the Kingdom. We need people who know that making is always better than taking.
It’s easier than ever to devour every piece of insight and information on the Internet and mistake the feeling of oversaturation for satisfaction. But in the end, the only things that bring satisfaction are things where the sole purpose is the active worship of God.
So, if reading 15 articles a day is what it takes for you to get up and praise God with your mind and hands and words, then by all means, do that. But in my experience, gorging myself on data and online criticism never makes me want to love more or build anything at all. It just makes me a pseudo-expert in how and why things fall apart.
And if we’re truly “building for the Kingdom,” we should be far more concerned with how we can make things come together.