What Is In Your Stack?

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 While most people may look at this as outdated, he is more comfortable using Word Star for its simplicity.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.

Possessions That Really Matter

“If your house was burning, what would you take with you? It’s a conflict between what’s practical, valuable and sentimental. What you would take reflects your interests, background and priorities. Think of it as an interview condensed into one question.” ~ Foster Huntington
 
It is amazing how much a single picture of one’s most prized material possessions can reveal about a person. The things that a person value is a very insightful window into their priorities and values. Foster Huntington created The Burning House to invite people to answer this question with a picture. The Burning House asks the question in a metaphoric sense to get people thinking about the role material possessions have in our lives. As the reality is that no material possession is worth risking one’s life for in a fire. In the moment such a question would almost seem too overwhelming on the spot when one is mentally in the flight survival mode. In which case the universal first thoughts are people and pets as nothing else matters. If that is not an issue, then a person may grab their bag, laptop, phone or wallet, but only if it is next to them on the way out.
 
With that in mind consider this similar question: Imagine you live in a small village in a tiny one or two room hut. In the middle of the night, you wake up to an anti-Christian mob going through the village. They are going from house to house and hacking all the Christians to death with machetes. You realize that your only chance to survive is to immediately flee into the night toward the forest. Praying that you can avoid detection long enough to hide and not be found. Assuming that you are dressed and that you do not own any weapons, what if anything would you grab before running out of the house?
 
I wish the above situation was purely hypothetical for the sake of an argument but it is not. It comes from an article about modern persecution of Christians I read years ago. A Christian woman in a third world nation really did wake up in the middle of the night to an anti-Christian mob going through her village and hacking to death all the known Christians with machetes. Without any hesitation, she grabbed her Bible and hymnal and ran off into the night. The situation leading up to her split second evacuation is clearly nothing to glorify. Although I feel what it flushed out about her values was a very beautiful thing. The woman’s actions demonstrated that she knew the true value of the material things in her house in terms of her relationship with God. Strictly speaking there is nothing remarkable about a Bible and a hymnal in how they are both physical books made out of paper. Bibles and hymnals are only significant when they are used as tools.
 
In this case it demonstrated the woman’s value in being able to read God’s Word and worship God with hymns. So she valued these two books as the most important items in her house to grab on her way out. I realize that some critics will try to downplay this given her context. Sure Bible are a lot more rare in areas of persecution where they are illegal to own. So how much do you value your Bible? Or I should say Bibles given that you likely have several physical Bibles and eBibles on your computer and or phone. If you are like most American Christians you likely own more copies of the Bible than the times you have read through the entire Bible. Can you honestly say that your most treasured material possessions are a Bible and a hymnal or prayer book?

Sweeter Than Chocolate Book Review

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“Do you enjoy God’s Word more than television? More than the Internet? More than your phone? If you find yourself turning off the television, unplugging from the Internet, or ignoring your phone to study the Bible, you have developed a healthy addiction. That’s a true expression of how much you value God’s Word.” ~ Christy Bower
Sweeter Than Chocolate is a basic book that has two main goals. First to inspire you to truly enjoy the Bible by approaching it with the right mindset. Second to provide a basic overview of the different ways of taking in the Bible and various study aids that may be helpful. The book is inspired by the image in Psalm 119 which describes the Word of God as tasting sweeter than honey. Christy points out that in the modern world chocolate has become to us what honey was in the ancient world. Today when one craves something sweet to enjoy, it is chocolate, not honey that we seek out. Thus to put Psalm 119 in a modern context, the Bible should be enjoyable or something is wrong. More times than not the problem is not approaching the Bible in a way that leads to understanding. The book then goes to provide an overview of the various methods to get more out of the Bible. This includes various approaches to reading and reflecting upon the Bible in a way that is meaningful to who you. Christy also provides an overview of the numerous types of Bible study resources that can help increase one’s understanding and enjoyment of the Bible.
What I like most about Sweeter Than Chocolate is Christy’s very positive writing style. Her book is completely free of any fear and guilt manipulation to make people feel bad if they do not read the Bible. Instead, Christy offers gentle encouragement and helpful suggestions to take into consideration with an overall emphasis on how reading the Bible should be enjoyable. She even goes to the point of urging the reader not to read the Bible when they do not feel like it. The logic behind this suggestion is that forcing oneself to read the Bible only reinforces the negative view that it is a chore. As compared to enjoying the Bible which will naturally lead to us wanting to spend more time in Bible reading. I see Sweeter Than Chocolate as being the especially helpful to teenagers, young adults and people who are new to the Christian faith. Although any Christian can be inspired by her message of how the Bible should be enjoyable in the same way that eating chocolate is enjoyable.
Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book by Christy Bower in exchange for agreeing to write an honest review. I have not been paid or pressured to write a positive review by Christy. The content of this review is completely my own opinion. This post contains affiliate links to help cover the cost of running the site.

Bible Apps and Pocket Bibles

“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.

Christianity and Technology

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.