Saturday, August 30, 2014

Blown about by every wind

[H]e that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. (James 1:6)
Those few of you lucky enough not to have gotten sucked into the Facebook Borg may not know about the Ice Bucket Challenge, in which one is "called out" by friends.  One is then expected (unless one wisely just blows it off) to drop everything and either donate $100 to research on Lou Gehrig's Disease within the next 24 hours or, within those same 24 hours, to make and post a video of oneself getting doused with ice water. Some people do both.

It's a clever gimmick and I gather has garnered a lot of money for research on this particular disease. It has also sparked a lot of interesting talk about the ethics of embryonic stem cell research, since the major organization to benefit from the viral gimmick (the ALS Foundation) has apparently engaged in ESCR in the past and is still using at least one cell line created thereby. So some people have hustled around and found ethical alternative organizations which also do research on this particular disease.

Which is okay as far as it goes but to all of which I want to say:

Stop. Just stop and think a minute. What are you doing? Why are you suddenly getting all interested in just this disease at just this moment? Presumably it's for the entirely arbitrary reason that it's what everybody else is doing at this moment and that someone tagged you in his video and "challenged" you to join in. It's a gigantic fad, a chain letter with a charity tie-in. Are we all so immature that we run our lives this way? Do we all interrupt whatever else we are doing and jump and run to do something, as long as we can find an ethical way to do it, because it's In just now? Have we all turned back into junior highers? Are we incapable of recognizing the unproductive yen to join in with the cool kids and not to look bad just because it happens to be connected to a benevolent cause?

I am not saying that it is morally wrong to donate to research on this disease.  I certainly applaud people's desire to take the trouble to make sure that their money goes to ethical research. But I am speaking out against a spastic culture, a social media culture, that lives by the Facebook challenge, that leaps about jerkily from one thing to another, driven and dragged by pings and tags. National Breast Cancer Awareness Day, National Black History month, National Dog Day, the Ice Bucket Challenge, the disease of the week, the cause of the moment. It should not need saying but apparently does need saying:

An irresistible urge to follow every ephemeral fad is not the mark of a life well-lived.

This also applies when the ephemeral fad happens to be benevolent in intent.

Get a life and live that life. Donate to charitable causes in a calm hour, with a cool head, because those causes are genuinely important to you, and incorporate that giving into your normal life. Don't do it randomly and arbitrarily because someone called you out in a video. Spend your time doing things that you already knew were important. Craft your life. Make your life. Live your life prayerfully and intentionally. Don't let fads make your life for you. If someone sends you the Ice Bucket Challenge and you aren't too busy to drop everything and make a video of yourself getting doused with ice water, you probably aren't busy enough doing more important things. Either that, or you have Internet-induced ADHD. Maybe both.

I'm sorry that this sounds so harsh, but it concerns me that media is making us into people who don't know how to do even good things unless someone tells us what to do, people who don't seem to have our lives in our hands, who don't know who we are. Move forward with your own life, fill it with good things, with well-chosen and well-considered activities.

C.S. Lewis once said (I paraphrase) that he did not feel obligated to read a book simply because the author happened to be alive at the same time that he was alive. The principle is more timely than ever in 2014. If you blog, you don't have to be writing about a topic just because it's what everybody else is writing about this week. You don't have to read a book just because everyone is talking about it and you don't want to be left out. And, yes, that has a ministry hook, too: "I have to read this extremely popular book or watch the latest movie hit so that I can minister to people who have read it or watched it." It ain't necessarily so. And if you give, you don't have to give to the cause that went viral on Facebook this week.

Be, even a little, self-consciously behind the times, because being always in touch with the times probably means that you have been wasting your time just keeping up.


Scott W. said...

Off topic, but I thought you would be interested in one of the most outrageous anti-homeschooling screeds I've ever seen that appeared in a newspaper recently.

Lydia McGrew said...

I don't know whether to say "thanks" or not. What a load of nonsense.

Now I should institute a penalty: For every OT comment on a post, you have to write one on-topic comment. :-)

Beth Impson said...

First, I agree with you wholeheartedly. But I was glad our college president -- who is a genuinely busy man! -- did this particular challenge, for two reasons.

1. It gave him a chance to be "human" with the student body, who tend to see him in a personal way too infrequently.

2. He used it as an opportunity to educate the students about embryonic stem cell research and offer alternative places to donate if this were a cause you cared to donate to. (A woman in a local church which many of our students attend died of ALS just this summer, so it's on many of our minds.)

That said, I reiterate that I agree with what you say on the whole! Just wanted to note someone who did use it in a way that was, I think, given his position, attractive to a group of young people who tend to be too quick to do things without putting in the research. A commentary in chapel would not have been as effective.