A stack is a term commonly used among computer scientists to describe the collection of tools and technologies that one uses. Stacks, by their very nature stacks are a mix of personal preferences and the core essentials. A famous example of an unusual stack is George R. R. Martin’s writing computer for the Game of Thrones novels. His writing computer is an ancient DOS computer from the 1980s that runs Word Star. While most people may look at this as outdated, he is more comfortable using Word Star for its simplicity. While it is not his primary intention, George R. R. Martin works on an air gaped computer system. His writing stack is not Internet comparable which means he is immune to modern computer viruses and hackers. The DOS machine also protects his attention as he is able to write on a computer without the distractions that come with an Internet connection.
Computer programmers and writers have custom designed stacks for their needs. So what is preventing us from having a custom designed spiritual stack? After all it is impossible for technology not to interact with our spirituality. Sure some people may use old technology but they still use technology. If we own or even use a Bible, we are making use of some type of technology. This holds not only for electronic Bibles and audio Bibles but also paper Bibles. Even a series of clay tablets written with a stick would be making use of the technology of writing.
So I ask you: what is in your spiritual stack? What technologies do you use in your spiritual life? I assume you are using a Bible of some shape or form. This may be supplemented by another book be it a daily devotional booklet, hymnal or formal prayer-book. You may use a calendar, planner or to-do list to help keep yourself focused. There are also various newsletters you can sign up and either get them in your postal mailbox or your email inbox. You may also make use of some type of inspirational artwork or other materials. This may take the form of religious Icons, posters, or desktop wallpaper. You may have meaningful Bible verses cross-stitched on a pillow, a wooden plaque or post-it notes. Who knows you may have taken Deuteronomy literally and written Bible verses on your door frames and fence posts. We are surrounded with ways that we can make use of technology to benefit ourselves spiritually. Yet all too often we get hung up on the negative that we lose sight of the positive. So please take the time to reflect upon the ways that technology can and has already blessed your spiritual life.
“Listen to Jesus, and every day the word of Jesus enters our heart and makes us stronger in the faith. I suggest taking a little copy of the Gospels, a little one, to carry in your pocket, in your bag, and when you have a bit of time, when you are sitting here or there, and you can read, pick up the Gospel and read a few words. The Gospel is always with us!” ~ Pope Francis
Years ago there was a little email parable going around that compared Bibles to cell phones (before smartphones). In short, it challenged the reader to treat their Bible more like their cell phone. In the sense that most people carry their cell phone with them at all times and will return to retrieve it upon realizing they left it behind. Without a doubt, this was a very creative and well-meaning illustration to make us think about how much we value the Bible in our lives. Although it neglected the obvious differences between Bibles and cell phones. Cell phones unlike books, are designed to be portable and easily fit into our pockets and purses. As compared to Bibles which tend to be a bit too large to carry around like a cell phone.
A more helpful question for today would not be if you treat your Bible like your cell phone but are there any Bible (and possibly prayer) apps on your phone. Smartphone Bible apps are best suited for quick reference and short readings. As phones are too small to be well suited for longer devotional readings. So for practical purposes, Bible apps are the little pocket Bibles of our modern age. I am referring to the pocket Bibles the size of a man’s wallet. They generally contain the New Testament and maybe Psalms and Proverbs in tiny print. The pocket Bible of the previous generations did not replace full-sized Bibles at home. So while a Bible app on a phone is not the best primary Bible, it allows one to read the Bible in the little bits of time during the day. Chances are that all of us that have Bible apps on their phone, also have games and social media apps on our phones, myself included. Let me be clear there is nothing wrong with games and social media in moderation. What matters is that we should seek to become more aware of the activities that we tend to default to during pockets of unexpected free time throughout the day. This is because the things that we naturally drift toward reveal what we focus upon most which reflect and influences our values. It is just like how companies know that the more they expose you to images of their products in advertisements, the more likely you are to buy it. This is why the Bible tells us to take care and be aware of our thoughts and the ideas that we are taking in. It is not any different from a person that wants to get in shape and lose weight. If they are serious about their goal they will immerse themselves to fitness and nutrition articles and videos. This helps increase their chances of success by reshaping their values and lifestyle to be in line with their goal. In the same way, the Bible instructs us to expose ourselves to God’s thoughts and ideas, in order to be transformed into the people that God is calling us to become. Thus the more we focus on the things that God values, the more God’s values will become our own and shape how we live out our daily lives.
When it comes to deeper Christian spirituality, computers are rarely considered a good companion. In recent years I have heard of people giving up social media sites for Lent. I have also heard many people talk about fasting not from food but from the Internet. Much like there are now unplugged spiritual retreats that outright ban electronic devices. This is enough to make one wonder if Christian spirituality is Luddite in nature. Given how it is clear that a lot of Christians today feel that deeper spiritual focus does not mix well with computers. The detail that we need to remember is that computers in all shapes and sizes ranging from desktops, laptops, smart phones & watches and tablets are simply tools. Tools by there very nature are neutral and this it is impossible for a computer to be hostile toward Christianity or any other religion. It is true that computers, just like any other tool, can be used in ways that are either helpful or harmful to one’s spiritual health.
I wonder what it was that more recently changed the church’s view of technology. Christianity has a long legacy of being on the cutting edge of information technology. Early Christians soon became known as the people of the book to those outside the church. This not only refers to the value the church placed upon the Bible but also to their advanced technology. At the time, the codex was the latest breakthrough in information technology. A codex is the oldest form of organizing written pages that we would recognize as a book today. In short a codex is a stack of pages with handwritten content that are bound together on one side. I am sure it comes as a shock to a lot of us today how big of an information technology breakthrough the codex was at the time. Compared to the scroll, the codex is superior at every level. A scroll has sequential access memory which makes it awkward to use and even handle. As compared to the codex with its more advanced “random access memory” which makes it much easier to use. This new style of data access forever changed how people of all faiths read their sacred texts. The ability to turn to any page with ease was what led us to index the Bible into chapters and verses. The codex was also much more economical than the scroll for several reasons. First the codex is bound in a way that allows for easy use of both sides of the papyrus, vellum or paper. The second is that codices are more durable because the pages are bound within a protective cover. The Bible was the first major work to be widely published as a codex. The codex was developed by the Romans and not the church. Yet, the church’s early adaptation of the codex happened at just the right time. This is why the spread of codex technology is associated with the rise of Christianity.
The next major point of early information technology adaptation was the printing press. The first modern book to be mass printed on a printing press in the West was the Gutenberg Bible. The Gutenberg Bible was produced over several years in the early to mid 1450’s. The Bible was also the first book that was electronically indexed in a computer system. The Univac Bible of 1955 was both the first ebook and the first instance of computer Bible software. The Univac Bible was used to create a concordance for the Revised Standard Version Bible. This was so ahead of its time that few people realized how big of a deal it was. The first Bible ebook predates Microsoft(1975) by 20 years and Apple(1976) by 21 years. Yes the first electronic Bible came decades before the first household personal computers. (Click here to see pictures of the Univac Bible project)
Unfortunately, the technology explosion created by the computer revolution has become a stumbling block. The church is not alone in the struggle to adapt to the increasingly computer driven world. Now is not the time to get bogged down pointing fingers at each others in the blame game. Even if it was possible to name names and explain how we dropped the ball with computers, it will not help. What matters most is that we week to get back on track with information technology. As the church we need to work on figuring out how to best use computers to our spiritual benefit. We need to find a way to develop deeper Christian spirituality in the increasingly shallow cyber-world of our Internet driven culture.