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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

Dr. James Emery White's weblog

The five-hour drive from Glasgow to the Isle of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland, is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful trips you will ever experience. Iona is, for me, a spiritual place. It feels like you are standing on the edge of the world, alone with your spirit before the Spirit, in nature’s great monastery where buildings are only a part of the cloister.

Many retreat to Iona for spiritual rejuvenation. But spirituality does not require a place as much as a state of mind, one where there is – in the ancient Celtic sense – an “inner attentiveness to God” alone. This is easier said than done, even among pilgrims to Iona. Drawn to the famed Celtic crosses, I went into a small museum behind the abbey to see some of the original carvings. Opening the door, a light immediately tripped on, along with a woman’s shrieking voice: “No! No! Oh, da*n you!”

(Nice to see you, too.)

She then apologized and explained that she had been waiting for the automated lights to turn off so that she could take a flash picture, and my entrance had tripped them back on. She apologized, realizing that she had cursed me over a picture of a cross.

But we all fall into that pit, don’t we? We are not very much like Jesus and often have no idea how to be. We try to capture His life like a photo, only to have our actions spew forth obscenities through our failures.

Why is there such a disconnect?

Partly because of the myths we believe about the life we are trying to live. I am reminded of the last stanza of the 8th century “Deer’s Cry,” more popularly known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate, perhaps the greatest of all Celtic hymns:

Christ with me, Christ before me; Christ behind me, Christ in me; Christ under me, Christ over me; Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me; Christ in lying down, Christ in sitting, Christ in rising up; Christ in the heart of everyone that thinks of me; Christ in the mouth of everyone that speaks to me; Christ in every eye that sees me; Christ in every ear that hears me.

Isn’t this what we long for?

So let’s clear away the barriers, particularly the myths that permeate our thoughts and our actions about having a spiritual life:

  1. The instantaneous myth: The first misunderstanding about the nature of the spiritual life is that spirituality happens, instantly, at the moment you enter into a relationship with God. That there is an immediate, substantive, in-depth miraculous change in habits, attitudes and character. The truth is that this is only the beginning of the development of that relationship. It isn’t something that just happens—it’s something you are intentional about.
  2. The time myth: The second myth is that true spirituality is merely a by-product of time on earth. The truth is that being a Christian does not automatically translate into becoming Christ-like. Someone who has been a Christian for five years will not necessarily have five years’ worth of spiritual maturity. The heart of Christian spirituality is to be like Jesus. And to be like Jesus you need to train. You do things Jesus did in order to live like Jesus lived.
  3. The transformation myth: This is perhaps the greatest myth of all—that to become spiritual, you have to first be spiritual. No! It’s when you come to God that you begin the process of transformation. The biblical order of events is to come as you are, receive God’s gift of a personal relationship and then enter into the transformation process. And even then, it will often be a process of three steps forward, two steps back. Remember that God is in the soul-making business. He does promise to transform you!

This is the message laden throughout what is arguably the best-known Celtic prayer set to music, one that millions have sung without knowing of its origin. The 8th century prayer was composed in Old Irish and began:

Rob tum o bhoile,

a Comdi cride.

Ni ni nech aile,

acht ri secht nime…

It was then offered in a metrical, poetic version and set to a traditional tune. I am sure that you can sing it with me:

Be thou my vision,

O Lord of my heart;

Naught be all else to me,

Save that Thou art.

Thou my best thought,

by day or by night;

Waking or sleeping,

Thy presence, my light.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Adapted from James Emery White, A Traveler’s Guide to the Kingdom.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

My wife and I were in a restaurant having lunch with one of our sons and couldn’t help but notice a nearby family: a mom, a dad, two sons and a daughter.

The daughter was middle-school age and clearly in contemporary middle-school mode—ear buds securely in place, staring off into space. Every aspect of her demeanor made it clear: “I don’t want to be here and I don’t want to be with my family. So I am going to stay in my world of music and media. By plugging in, I’m tuning out.”

And her parents were letting her do it.

They’re not alone. 

Media use in children ages 8 to 18 is off the charts. Teens (age 13 to 18) consume an average of 9 hours of entertainment media per day, and tweens (age 8 to 12) use an average of 6 hours, not including time spent using media for school or homework, according to a 2015 census report from Common Sense Media, a child-advocacy group based in San Francisco. 

And 25% of teens say their parents know only “a little” or “nothing” about what they do or say online. As you’d imagine, mobile device use is on the rise as well, now accounting for 41% of all screen time among tweens and 46% among teens.

For the younger children? Overall, children 8 and younger spend an average of 2.25 hours per day with screen media, and 42% of these children have their own tablet device.

So no wonder the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) must be vigilant, continually releasing updated guidelines on children’s use of internet, TV, mobile devices and video games. They also have an online tool for parents to create a personalized “Family Media Use Plan.” Jenny Radesky, MD, of FAAP said, “Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk or sleep.”

The heart of the recommendations? 

Consistent limits need to be set on the amount of media time used for entertainment purposes, and it should never take the place of sleep, physical activity or other healthy behaviors. Children younger than 18 months should avoid use of all screen media other than video-chatting with family. And for children 18-24 months, if they have any screen interaction it should be high-quality, educational programming with parents watching alongside to help explain what they are seeing. Venturing dangerously into parenting territory, they also suggest having a no-device rule during meals and after bedtime, and keeping television and internet-accessible devices out of kids’ bedrooms. 

But that means Mom and Dad need to follow the same rules.

“If you go to any restaurant, Family 3.0 is Mom and Dad are on their devices and the kids are on theirs,” says Donald L. Shifrin, a pediatrician in Bellevue, Washington, and an AAP spokesman. “Who is talking to each other?”

Apparently, not many.

So let’s state the obvious, and shame on us for needing pediatricians to step in and tell us:

It’s time for families to unplug.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Michael Robb, “Tweens, Teens, and Screens: What Our New Research Uncovers,” Common Sense Media, November 2, 2015, read online.

“The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens (2015),” read online.

“The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight (2017),” read online.

“American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use,” AAP, October 21, 2016, read online.

 Andrea Petersen, “Pediatricians Set Limits on Screen Time,” The Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2013, read online

Create your own Family Media Use Plan HERE.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

In Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion, the New York Times columnist offers a synopsis of the core beliefs of America’s wave of “spiritual but not religious” teachers such as Deepak Chopra, James Redfield, Eckhart Tolle, Paulo Coelho, Neale Donald Walsch, Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Gilbert. According to Douthat, their “creed” shares four beliefs:

  1. All organized religions offer only partial glimpses of God (or Light or Being). Thus, we must seek to experience God through feeling rather than reason, through experience rather than dogma, through a direct encounter rather than a hand-me-down revelation. As Neale Donald Walsch writes in his book Conversations with God: “Listen to your feelings. Listen to your Highest Thought…. Whenever any of these differ from what you’ve been told by your teachers, or read in your books, forget the words.”
     
  2. God is everywhere and within everything—especially within you. You can encounter God by getting in touch with the divinity who resides inside your very self and soul. At the climax of his book The Alchemist, Paul Coelho writes: “The boy reached through the Soul of the World and saw that it was a part of the Soul of God. And he saw that the Soul of God was his own soul.”
     
  3. Sin and evil are largely illusions that will ultimately be reconciled rather than defeated. There is no hell save the one we make for ourselves on earth—no final separation from the Being within whom all our beings rest. Elizabeth Gilbert assures her readers, “There is no such thing in this universe as hell, except maybe in our own terrified minds.”
     
  4. Perfect happiness is available right now. Heaven is on earth. Eternity can be entered at any moment, by any person who understands how to let go, let God, and let himself or herself be washed away in love. James Redfield writes, “At some point everyone will vibrate highly enough so that we can walk into heaven, in our same form.” And Coelho adds: “I do believe in life after death, but I also don't think that it’s that important. What’s important is to understand that we are also living this life after death now.”

I have written similarly of the “Church of Oprah-Wan Kenobi” and the rise of a new New Age movement that is based largely on popularized Hinduism, which is what Douthat has described. But what Douthat, I and others have actually detailed is the official religion of the cultural epicenters, namely media. It is not the official religion of the religiously unaffiliated.

At least, not yet.

The Pew Forum study, among others, has found that the ranks of the unaffiliated are not predominantly composed of New Age spirituality or alternative forms of religion. Generally speaking, the unaffiliated are no more likely than members of the public as a whole to have such beliefs and practices. That means that approximately three in ten say they believe in spiritual energy in physical objects and in yoga as a spiritual practice. Approximately 25% believe in astrology and reincarnation. Six in ten say they have a deep connection with nature and the earth. About three in ten say they have felt in touch with someone who is dead, and 15% have consulted a psychic. All of these figures closely resemble the public as a whole.    

The importance of knowing the “bad religion” advertised through popular culture is the effect it will inevitably have on the religiously unaffiliated as they separate from religion itself. Right now they do not seem to be any more affected than people of defined faith, but that is arguably the strength of their, largely, Christian memory. Most of the newly unaffiliated were part of a Christian faith tradition that was anything but Eastern in orientation. Once untethered from these moorings, whether Catholicism or Protestantism, they will be more susceptible to the prevailing views of culture.

Our inner world abhors a vacuum; we will fill it with something.

James Emery White

 

Sources

James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.

“The Core Beliefs of America’s ‘Spiritual but Not Religious’ Teachers,” Preaching Today, June 20, 2012, read online.

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Nones on the Rise,” read online.

To learn more about the rise of the “nones,” Generation Z, and how the church can respond in our post-Christian culture, register now for the Church & Culture Conference kicking off the U.S. tour this August.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

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