“The Internet is like alcohol. It accentuates what you would do anyway. If you want to be a loner, you can be more alone. If you want to connect, it makes it easier to connect.” ~ Esther Dyson
When it comes to the role that material objects in our lives, computers are one of the most complicated. While a computer is a physical object, it is primarily a gateway into the more abstract digital world. So when it comes to a more focused and simple life, computers can be either a blessing and or a curse. It all comes down to how one interacts with computers. More likely than not computers are a mixed blessing in your life that at times both helps and hinders you.
At their best computers are powerful tools that make our lives easier. When used mindfully computers can greatly improve our lives for the better. The modern minimalist movement was only made possible by laptop computers and smartphones. Think about all the devices that a laptop computer and smartphone can replace … alarm clock, bookcase, camera, CD player, DVD player, filing cabinet (via computer scanner) GPS, library card, television and video camera. This alone allows one to not only save space but also money thanks to the virtue of the multipurpose nature of computers. Computers also allow us to streamline our workflow to get more done in record time. Not to mention how much information computers can store which rivals even the most advanced paper filing system. Digital file storage is also easy to backup which greatly lower the risk of losing things. Of course, this is not to say that computers are not double edged. If one is not organized in their file storage structure computers can enable a new level of disorder. Information is only useful if it can be found in a timely manner when needed. Digital clutter and disorder can multiply much faster than physical clutter in our lives. Not to mention computers can also make it possible to lose things faster than ever before if one neglects to keep proper backups. Finally, computers can only help one be more productive when they are used mindfully. Digital distractions unfortunate allow us to take procrastination to a new level.
As a society, we have reached the point that it is unrealistic to avoid computers due to their potential pitfalls. Thus as Christians, our spiritual lives need to be inclusive of computers. Anything that plays a large role in our lives has the potential to help or hinder us spiritually. Ideally, our spiritual approach to computers should be positive and focus on the strengths. So what are some ways that computers can support your spiritual life?
“Whenever material things, money, worldliness, become the center of our lives, they take hold of us, they possess us; we lose our very identity as human beings.” ~ Pope Francis
“Over against this whole array of materialistic infidelity, now, we owe it to ourselves to make sure at least of our own personal hold on the realness of things unseen and eternal; so that the spiritual world shall not be for us a shadowy utopia simply, but a positive substantiality, coming close home to our daily interest and thought. Such habit of mind cannot be in us with the facility of mere natural growth. It requires heavenly planting, and much inward attention and culture. It would carry us too far to go here into the details of this culture. Meditation, prayer, the right use of God’s disciplinary providence, intimate converse with the Word of God, where the powers of the spiritual world are always at hand as indwelling ‘spirit and life’.” ~ John Williamson Nevin, The Spiritual World, 1876
When it comes to a blog with a primary focus on deeper spiritual living, the topic of minimalism may catch some by surprise. Minimalism is normally thought of in terms of material possessions and responsibilities. Minimalism is not about being lazy and only putting in the minimal effort needed to get by. The purpose of minimalism is to seek to reduce the amount of things that ultimately do not matter in order to be able to better focus one’s time and resources upon what matters most. Therefore minimalism is to some extent an essential part of mysticism. Sure I realize that many people turn to minimalism as a way to get rid of the mountain of unneeded stuff that is weighing them down. The truth of the matter is that simply getting rid of stuff for the sake of being free is not a long-term solution. Likewise, a hoarder that simply gets more stuff for the sake of feeling secure is also not a long-term solution. Minimalism is a tool, and like any tool, it is important to understand not only what it can do but also what it can not do. As let’s face it regardless of how high quality of a hammer that one has, a hammer is useless when it comes to fixing a clogged toilet. As a tool minimalism can be useful to help one regain and maintain control over runaway amounts of material possessions. Although minimalism alone cannot change anything deeper than the surface. The materialist can focus on how much stuff that they have just like the minimalist can focus on how little stuff they have. The frugal minimalist can focus on how little money they spend on stuff. And the only the best minimalism can focus upon the quality of the few things that they own. Although in the end all of the above are still slaves to their stuff. Given that obsession over their stuff demonstrates that their material possessions possess them. The real problem is not with minimalism. The real problem is that the deeper problems are ultimately spiritual in nature. Many of us have even been duped into thinking that we can treat the spiritual with material things and activities. Meaningful living requires having a spiritual purpose and meaningful life goals. Thus a radical minimalist living out of a single bag can be equally spiritually malnourished as a hoarder that has most of the rooms in their house filled wall to wall, floor to ceiling with stuff. Given that a healthy level of detachment from physical objects, it can be impossible to make progress on one’s spiritual journey. You do not have to go to the extreme of getting rid of everything and forsake personal ownership of any material object through a vow of poverty. Just realize that spiritual and even life development can be hindered until one is able to put physical objects in their proper place. Material possessions are tools that help you accomplish things and not a source of meaning and purpose in your life.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” ~ Jesus (Matthew 6:19-21 NRSV)
In our culture the celebration of Christmas includes the giving of gifts to others. Christmas is ultimately the celebration of the greatest gift ever given. God’s gift of Jesus as the Incarnate Christ in the world to bridge the gap between God and humanity. Which is why as a society we traditionally give gifts in remembrance of God’s gift to us. I realize that some people question if our emphasis upon gifts is healthy. Their concerns are reasonable given our culture of consumerism obsessed with material possessions. Although I do not believe we should feel threatened by the materialist nature of gift giving. This is because material possessions can not meet our deeper spiritual needs. Thus at their worse
Regardless of your age, more likely than not somebody has already asked you what you got for Christmas by now. So let me ask you a slightly different question: What did you get for Christmas that will still be around in 5 or even 10 years from now? And by be around, I mean things that you would still regularly use and enjoy. Not something like a book that you may read once (if at all) and then put on a bookshelf only to be touched when dusting. Nor an article of clothing that you were for a time before it gets neglected in the back of your closet for the next decade. No, I mean gifts that will last in the long haul both physical durability and usefulness. Objects that continue to serve a meaningful purpose in your life on a regular basis. This immediately excludes all electronic items and the latest music albums and movies. While it will be safe to assume we will still be using technology in 10 years. Any new computer, smartphone or tablet even if they are still functional in 10 years will almost certainly no longer be in regular use. The same goes for all sorts of household goods such as blenders, and the latest high-tech coffee maker. I know this may be shocking to think of what our new items will look like and mean to us 10 years from now. That is what makes it helpful as it helps us gain a long-term perspective on what is really important in our lives. Keep in mind I am not saying that it is wrong to give and receive gifts that will not last. Just that it is important to realize that their meaningfulness and usefulness is temporary. They are no different from clothing. Regardless of how well they are made, they will wear out with regular use. This is fine as objects that wear our have served their purpose and were not wasted. This point is the easiest to see in “consumable gifts” such as candy, flowers, gourmet coffee & teas, homemade jam or wine. All gifts that we can give and receive a humans are temporary in nature. Only the gifts given to us by God are eternal and the greatest gift by far is the gift of Jesus as the Incarnate Christ. This is the best way of viewing the giving of gifts regardless of the time of year, as well-meaning shadows of the true eternal gift given by God.