Oct 23

Curtailing Facebook

I recently went through my list of Facebook “friends” and made changed about 900 of the 1000 or so into “acquaintances”, which in theory will keep all but the most important of their posts or activities from showing up in my news feed. I also went through and “unliked” nearly all of the hundreds of pages/causes/etc that populate my feed with their updates (keeping but a small few that met criteria which I may discuss later).

This is the half-measure that I am going to try out in lieu of abandoning Facebook altogether. I’m not sure if it will work.

Here are some initial thoughts and reactions:

1) The experience of the change immediately reinforced what I had begun to realize about Facebook specifically as well as my life in general. Simply, I have a very finite amount mental/emotional/spiritual space and it becomes cluttered more quickly than I ever expect.

Tools like Facebook give us the illusion that since we are able to make and manage more social connections, our capacity to engage them (to care about them) has increased. It hasn’t.

Furthermore, we think that we can introduce, through use of tools like Facebook, thousands upon thousands of new connections, new bits of information, new stimuli and yet still selectively pay attention to, care about, respond to only those that are important, without any loss or negative impact. (It is not I but those other fools that are affected by advertising).

I have been noticing this in a variety of areas of my life, mostly in ways connected with technology. To use Covey’s classic imagery, we readily expand our sphere of concern far beyond our sphere of influence, which contracts as a result. We are concerned about vastly more and thus concerned about each individual matter far less and all the while our ability and inclination to do much of anything about anything dwindles.

I have tended to think that having a Facebook app on my phone that is connected to 1000’s of people and advertisers at all times doesn’t affect me as long as I only open the app an appropriate amount of times throughout the day for an appropriate period. I have tended to think that having a streaming music service doesn’t negatively affect me or change how I think about or value music as long as I don’t play it too much or the wrong thing.

I’m just not so sure any more. Inevitably I find that Facebook and those thousands of connections have changed how I think, feel, react, and regard. Even when I close the browser or turn off the app, spiritually and emotionally the clutter remains.

I am experiencing more and more the truth of McLuhan’s insight, that despite what we think, the medium is perhaps more potent than the message it mediates.

2) As said, I had played around with the idea of these and even more drastic measures regarding Facebook for a while. What I underestimated was how immediate and profound were the subjective effects of cutting a list of 1000 people down to 100 that I am making a conscious choice to engage with.

Instantly, the news feed is no longer a news feed. It is no longer a diversion that I can turn to for an entertainment fix. Suddenly it represents actions, needs, responsibilities, things that I do or don’t but ought to care about.

It is not that those 100 people (close friends, family members, etc) weren’t there before. They were, but they were diluted in a sea of irrelevance presenting itself as news/content/entertainment to be consumed.

3) I realize now how the tendency of the newsfeed of this supposed “social network” to simply become, for one, a source of diversion, of a quick entertainment fix, also leads one to begin seeing all the people represented therein as the same. It starts with those who really are obscure to one’s concern (the celebrity stories, the friends of friends whom one can’t remember accepting a friend request from, etc) then it moves inward to those one is acquainted with but has no ongoing involvement, and finally proceeds to even those close family and friends that one would/should (if one could) care about/love/pursue/engage with for their own sake.

They all become simply content for my newsfeed – the characters that populate the soap opera that is always playing in an open browser tab and in the app on my phone.

4) We know this. All these things are cliche, passé. We know and we resolve to not be affected. But we are and we persist and thus one must question whether we really knew or understood the implications of the situation in the first place.

As my father is so fond of referencing, this is truly a “frog in the pot” scenario. We continually look around and observe the pot, the water, and the increasing temperature, but insist that the heat is manageable now and we’ll certainly jump out if it becomes otherwise. But the whole point is precisely that from within the pot one has the worst vantage point on both the current and future state of affairs.

5) Of course even what I have recently done has been but a half-measure. I am still, for now, on Facebook.There is a case to be made for such measures in such cases though.

Whether or not I perfectly interpreted the work or its implications, one of my takeaways from Neil Postman’s eye-opening “Technopoly,” was the value in a seemingly arbitrarily holding onself back from the cutting edge when it came to technology. It is not that there is some ultimately right or safe level of technology for a human person to inhabit (computers, pen and pencil, stone tablets, the spoken word). But if the concern is whether or not I can evaluate and manage the influence of technology on myself and my family, there is something to be said for intentionally staying behind the curve.

One primary danger of technology (any technology) is simply its initial novelty and the fascination that it engenders in a subject. At its introduction, a technology is a slippery thing to grasp. The new user and even more so the technology’s creator, are in precisely the worst vantage point for evaluating the net usefulness of a technology and its effects on our way of viewing the world and other people, one’s information and values.

Thus there is good reason to consider holding back, enforcing a certain distance from the cutting edge, using technologies that are now boring OR intentionally limiting or truncating the functionality of novel ones, however arbitrary and counter-productive such things might seem.

It has been said that technology makes a good servant but a bad master. What we underestimate is how easily the former can shift to become the latter and how subtly can be the change.

“I understand the technologies I am using and I would know if I am being unduly influenced or changed by them” says the frog swimming in an already-quite-warm stew.

6) So this is my experiment with Facebook for now. It may be temporary, it may be a half-measure, it may not work. But I am reaching for perspective and space to evaluate such things. If greater cuts must be made, then so be it.

7) On a separate but not entirely unrelated note, you should check out Marc Barnes’ essay on “Modesty and Act” which explores what it means to be a subject and how one’s ability to act/choose is affected by the world. It is a fascinating piece that digs into this question of our perception vs. the reality of whether and to what degree we are influenced by fashions, technology, the opinions of others, etc.

Mar 28

“Read C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy”

We actually had a custom bumper sticker made displaying the above exhortation and the names of the three books: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

My wife and I love the Space Trilogy and Archbishop Chaput does true! It makes the list in his article: “Ten ways to deepen our relationship with God.”

“By the way, if you do nothing else in 2014, read Tolkien’s wonderful short story, Leaf by Niggle.  It will take you less than an hour, but it will stay with you for a lifetime.  And then read C.S. Lewis’ great religious science-fiction trilogy — Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.  You’ll never look at our world in quite the same way again.” –  ARCHBISHOP CHARLES J. CHAPUT, O.F.M. CAP. http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/Interiorlife/il0142.htm

Mar 18

Home for a Hermit – Introducing “Friends of the Little Portion Hermitage”

Kevin Lowry, William Newton and I have started a non-profit organization to raise money to buy/build a hermitage to house my good friend, colleague, and mentor, Brother Rex Anthony Norris, and others who may succeed him in this vocation. Our organization is entitled “Friends of the Little Portion Hermitage”. Please take a moment to read the following blog post from our president, Kevin Lowry:

Br Rex This is Brother Rex Anthony Norris, or Br. Rex for short. He’s a hermit.

Yes, a real, live hermit.

So what does a hermit do? Well, suffice it to say that what is referred to as the eremitic life is a vocation, and has to do with what the Church calls assiduous prayer.

He prays. A lot.

Br. Rex is something of a walking contradiction. You might reasonably think that a hermit experiences some level of solitude as part of his (or her) vocation (yes, there are women hermits too). And you would be correct.

What doesn’t show up on paper, though, is that the guy is a total crack up. He’s hysterically funny, with a tremendous sense of humor and thoroughly infectious laugh. Simultaneously, he’s a deeply committed prayer warrior, who spends countless hours in intercessory prayer and takes his vocation extremely seriously.

You definitely want to be on this guy’s prayer list.

In knowing Br. Rex for the past couple years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called when things were rough, knowing he would take my prayer requests to his daily Holy Hour and hold them before our Lord. In fact, my debt of gratitude became so great, that a couple friends (the esteemed Jon Marc Grodi and Billy Newton) and I started a non-profit organization called Friends of Little Portion Hermitage to “support the worship of God, the eremitic life, Christ-centered solitude, contemplative silence, intercessory prayer and the spiritual works of mercy.”

Br Rex 1

Our vision is very much in line with the above: “Through the generosity of our donors, Friends of Little Portion Hermitage seeks to provide for the temporal needs of Little Portion Hermitage and the hermit who resides there. We believe consecrated life to be essential to the spiritual well-being of the Body of Christ, most especially the witness of those in consecrated life whose lives give first place to prayer for the glory of God, the good of the Church and the salvation of the world.”

So here’s where you come in. Br. Rex was lamenting to me the other day that he hasn’t received many prayer requests through the website we set up, littleportionhermitage.org – and that’s an opportunity.

At the same time, Friends of Little Portion Hermitage would like to purchase a modest hermitage for Br. Rex and his successors. Thankfully, he lives in a part of Maine where land and buildings are inexpensive, but we still need at least $50,000 to make things livable – even for a hermit.

Would you help us? Please stop by littleportionhermitage.org and send Br. Rex your prayer requests. It will make him happy, and these intentions will be treated with the utmost respect and confidence.

Also, if you can afford to make a donation towards the home for a hermit project, we would appreciate it ever so much. Let’s keep Br. Rex in prayer – and facilitate his prayers for us. Thank you for your support!

Special note: We’re happy to announce that Br. Rex will be appearing on EWTN’s The Journey Home program on Monday, April 7 at 8:00 p.m. EST. Hear the story of Br. Rex’s conversion to Christ and His Church!

For more information on Br. Rex, please see:

http://chnetwork.org/2014/02/interview-with-brother-rex/ and



Nov 07

Hug your tax collector

Had a great chat with Tom Grossman and Eric Neubauer of http://www.communitiesofprayer.net whom I met at the Catholic New Media Conference in Boston.

Sep 10

You Have Nothing Better To Do

In my recent post “Discernment and the Hard, Long, Right Road Beneath Your Feet” I pointed out that as we discern what to do with our lives, since God never intends us to reach some good end via evil means, we can rule out options, however attractive, which seem to necessitate blameworthy shortcuts. Either we have been deceived (from within or without) about the actual goodness of the good we have in mind, or it is indeed a good, but not one we are being called to do, or perhaps we are and we just have to be patient. With this in mind, I concluded by talking a bit about this very challenging notion that, thus, in some sense, the road we are on is the road we are meant to be on. It doesn’t mean God doesn’t have something better in mind for us and it doesn’t mean that if we are in dire straits we are meant to stay there, but it does mean that the next step is most likely somewhere within 2-3 feet from where we are standing (give or take a bit, depending on the length of your legs).

With this in mind, here is an interesting question: Is the familiar colloquialism “I have better things to do” ever really true? When we say, merely mutter, or mentally muse “I have better things to do,” we assert that the present frustration or inanity is keeping us from something more important – something “better”. But is this really the case? What does “better” mean here?

Sure, in the general, abstract, objective sense there may be higher goods than are attainable in the long line at the grocery store, or when faced with the third poopy diaper in the span of 10 minutes, or when having to go help with breakfast whilst one’s magnum opus lies unfinished on the computer screen (alas!). However, the good/best (or evil/worst) actions are also contextual:

…the morality of every human act is determined by the object, the circumstances and the intention. If any one of the three is evil, then the human act in question is evil and should be avoided.  - What Makes Human Acts Good or Bad? by Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.

As we can only ascertain the “better” in light of the “best,” and since the “best” actions (in a moral sense) must not only be good objectively but also good in relation to our circumstances and the state of our heart, I find the conclusion rather inescapable: There is never a moment in which I really have “better things to do” than those right in front of me, as frustrating, humbling, or inane as they may be.

Whatever situation I am currently in is the one which I am (now) called to embrace with heroic virtue. No matter where we are going, to whatever more exciting or glamorous goods we are impatient to get started on, our next step is right in front of us and it is that step, first (temporally) and foremost (eternally) that we must seek to live out as perfectly as we can.

So, wait patiently in that grocery store line and be sure to give the cashier a smile. Change that poopy diaper whilst singing “Bingo,” and be prepared for a fourth barrage. And go ahead and hit save on that magnum opus because…

*yells* “I’m coming down, sweetheart!”

… you really have nothing better to do.

(Click here to read more of my musings on holiness in the now: One Day Holy)

Sep 02

Storck Brings Great Insight on NFP

Thomas Storck has an excellent article on Natural Family Planning over at Crisis Magazine entitled “The Curious Controversy Over Natural Family Planning” . In the article he makes a very strong case for the legitimacy of NFP and shows the problems with much of the suspicion and unnecessary criticism that comes from fellow Catholics.

I’ll let you head over to read his excellent article in its entirety at CrisisMagazine.com, and just add one followup thought that I had in response to the article.

Near the end of the article, Storck mentioned one of the usual suspicions about NFP

No doubt someone will point out to me that NFP can be misused.  Truly so, just as any other legitimate human activity can.  But how often is it in fact misused?  NFP users tend to have larger families than the American Catholic norm, even if they do not have families of the size that the critics of NFP think they should have.

I was just thinking about the NFP controversy this morning and recalling analogous arguments I have had with protestants and atheists on the potential abuse of the confessional via the “sin of presumption”. In brief, the accusation is that Catholics will (or do) justify any sin because they’ll just be able to go to confession afterwards.

What such individuals cannot see, from the outside, is that it is very, very difficult to maintain both the sin of presumption and the practice of baring your soul to a priest (and saying the act of contrition). If you are really set on continuing to sin, you’ll much more likely just quit confession altogether.

I have found NFP to be similar in my experience and in the experiences of other couples that my wife and I are close to. Yes, one could imagine NFP being used with the “contraceptive mindset”, at least by some at the start of their marriage. But it is/would be very difficult to keep up both the contraceptive mindset and the communication, sensitivity, and self-discipline that are necessary for the practice of NFP.

In both cases – confession and NFP – there is the potential for abuse but there is also the very real presence of grace, always threatening to break through, always challenging us to make a choice between any internal contradictions we might be trying to maintain.

Having seen and experienced this reality, I just fail to get too worried any more about the “contraceptive mindset” in the relationships of NFP couples. The practice is largely self-corrective via the action of God’s grace working through our feeble efforts. I suspect that those who worry about NFP would be surprised how big a breach in our defense against grace this one act of obedience can constitute.

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