Yesterday, I drew a line in the sand and it would not be right of me to leave it at that. Since I am a priest, by my own admission, I ought to be able to answer the question. Therefore, I’m going to spend the next several posts attempting to do just that.
In my scenario yesterday, we imagined someone walking up to me after service (or even coming to see me midweek) and saying, “All right, I really do want to be like Christ. You have convinced me that it is only as I walk with him and become really like him that I can know the fullness of life for which I was created. Now tell me precisely how to go about it.”
To really do that, it’s going to take some exploration of where the person is right now and where they have come from. To provide good direction, it is imperative to understand what kind of person we are dealing with, so my initial answer would be to set up a time to meet to talk with this person and explore these questions. Since I can’t do that with our hypothetical person, let’s look at some things I am likely to say based on most parishioners I know.
Spiritual growth is not just a list of things to do; neither is it just a list of things to stop doing. For the vast majority of people, it is both. I think most people expect to be told to do something to grow spiritually, so let’s start by focusing on things to stop doing for a moment. There are two kinds of things we must cease.
First, we must stop obvious, persistent, sinful behaviors. We cannot clutch our pet sins and expect to follow Christ. Most people do things they know they should not; I rarely meet people who are not educated beyond their obedience.
Second—the much more controversial piece of this and where I am about to lose a whole bunch of you—we must make room in our lives for following Christ. This means setting aside not just sin, but most things that do not directly help us in this endeavor.
What exactly do I have in mind?
Throw away your television (or equivalent) and all of your video games.
I can hear the gasps of horror, but the time you’re spending is ridiculous. There is really no other way to put it. None of it, not one single minute, challenges you to better follow Jesus. Let me explain.
In high school, for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to take sociology during summer school. I have not regretted that decision because Mr. Camponoli taught me two things that have stuck with me (which is saying something, since I can’t even remember the names of most of my high school teachers now.) He taught me that television exists for the sole purpose of making money. Networks make money by selling advertising and to sell advertising, they need you to watch their programs, which have constantly, slowly, become more and more sensational and less and less “moral.” Mr. Camponoli also taught me that advertisers and networks long ago figured out that if a program makes you discontent or fearful and they couple it with advertising that promises to cure your discontent if you only buy something, the advertisers sell more. TV is one giant marketing tool.
Cynical? Jaded? Unrealistic? Then why are companies lining up to drop $5,000,000 for a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl? That doesn’t even account for the production cost of the ad. They aren’t doing it because it’s fun, but because they expect a return on investment. You are being conditioned to be a consumer.
Oh, yes, I also mentioned video games. According to a Nielsen report, the average American aged 13-up spends over 6 hours a week on video games and 64% of Americans play games on some device. Based on personal observation, I think both of these figures are low, though I could be wrong. Either way, this is another 6 hours per week doing nothing to motivate Christ-likeness and in many cases, it is instead conditioning you to kill, cheat, and steal.
I do not think dropping these two activities from your life will be easy since they are engineered to be addictive—if you don’t watch and play, the companies can’t sell ads or games. So why do I start with such a tough task? Why not just encourage you to pray a little more? Because the question was not about how to feel a little more spiritual, but how to really seek after Jesus. In some ways, this is the modern equivalent of Mark 10:17-22. I know many will turn away in sorrow because they are very into “their shows” and “their games.”
I would start with a tough task because I am not interested in giving direction to someone who has no interest in following it. If you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask the question. How can I be sure this is good advice? You won’t find a TV in my house; I’m not asking you to go anywhere I have not gone myself.
If you’re an average American and you’ve just purged television and video games from your life, you have just received back 30 hours or more each week. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about some things to put into that time.