All throughout our technology driven age there have been predictions of the death of the written word. Over twenty years ago Sven Birkerts composed his literary Gutenberg Elegies warning of the fate of reading in the electronic age (1). As a English professor he had become alarmed by his television-age students “loss of depth… vertical consciousness” and general inability to grasp “natural wisdom.”
Earlier yet, Neil Postman warned that the flickering screen of televised mass media had robbed us of the ability to learn and communicate serious ideas and therefore we were Amusing Ourselves to Death (2).
Even so, I was encouraged to hear Birkerts acknowledge the existence of at least one refuge for contemplative meditation on the written word–Bible reading Churches. Here, he observed, written words were revered and meditated on daily. It seemed to me that this normative Christian behaivor could lead us back to a greater depth of reasoning and thoughtful communication.
Today there is no longer any debate about the precipitous decline of all publishing–books, magazines, and newspapers. And there is no sign that electronic media can ever fill the void. All of the grave concerns raised about the loss of reading and reasoning came before the advent of the mobile computer, tablet, and smartphone. Now the latter is no longer unique, but ubiquitous. One can only imagine what those prophets of the literary end of days might say about the current state of affairs.
At this point I really must acknowledge I have plunged deeply into much of what passes for modern technology. Though I regularly read conventional books, I also listen to audio books on my phone since this allows me to fit supplemental “reading” into other activities. I rarely resist the temptation to Google almost anything my aging memory failed to “backup for future reference.” Further, I employ several eBibles, Bible study tools, and scripture memorization Apps to supplement conventional study aides. The case for the power and convenience of these tools is compelling. This very blog was written and published on my favorite iPhone Apps.
There is, however one manifestation of the written Word that I have not given up. My big, fat, King James, Defenders Study Bible (3). Like so many “old school” Bibles it is thoroughly marked up with marginal notes as a record of personal study of what God has revealed. You see, I find it difficult to search and meditate on the scriptures daily (Acts 17:11) without laying them open before me. Clearly, I do recognize and utilize numerous modern means for learning and understanding God’s Word. However, for thousands of years faithful believers have sacrificed so many things–including their very lives–just to read the written Word of God. I will never forget the Seattle exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls when I read from the sriptures opened to Psalm 119:91, “Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you” (4)(5).
Yet in church services we App-Switch to rarely used eBibles while cyclical and distracting social media, breaking news, and text pop-ups interupt and arrest our attention. And while most could bring an old-school Bible, we rarely do. At best, a few scriptures hover in volatile memory just before the screen saver dims. So goes “modern meditation” on God’s Word. (6)
I do hereby challenge myself and others to meditate on the words, meaning, and application of these few representative scriptures related to meditation on God’s Word (7):
“I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgments have I laid before me.”Psalm 119:30, KJV
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…” Luke 4:16-18, ESV
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8, NIV 1984
Like every generation before us we simply must find the way to refocus our attention on God’s revelation before it dims and then blanks out the very words of God.
- Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in the Electronic Age, Faber and Faber, 1994. pp.74-76.
- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 1985.
- Henry M. Morris, The New Defender’s Study Bible, World Publishing, 2005.
- Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV, Zondervan, 1984.
- Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit tells stories from then and now, Seattle Times, 9/20/2006. http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/dead-sea-scrolls-exhibit-tells-stories-from-then-and-now/
- It is debatable whether a fast-paced and dynamic church service (which I enjoy and appreciate) is quite the right place for serious meditation on God’s Word. Perhaps that is best experienced in private study. However, there does seem to be Biblical precedent for such meditation in the community of believers. See Nehemiah 8:1-8; Luke 4:16-18.
- We may need to consider the following scriptures as well: Psalm 119:15, 18, 30, 48, 52, 97, 148, 160; Deuteronomy 17:18-20; Amos 8:11-12.
- A bit of irony: I am attempting to come to an understanding of the eternal nature of Biblical revelation in a volatile blog post.