Practicing an Analogue Life

How I'm raging against the machine, a short interview, and a Podcast you won't want to miss.

A. Rage Against the Machine

The news of the day is about addiction, though you might need to stretch the definition of a word to see it.

Addiction /əˈdikSH(ə)n/: (n) The state of compulsive, uninterrupted, transfixed devotion to a substance, thing, ideology, or particular person.

Our devotion to politics or politicians, to conspiracy theories, to social media platforms, to rage—isn’t it apparent? I participate in some of those same compulsive devotions, as you no doubt have figured, and so, I do not excuse myself from the lot of addicts populating the modern American landscape. Haven’t I spent too much time doomscrolling, hunting for outrage as sport, or celebrating the changing of the political guard for too many days to count?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

This week I have decided to give it a rest. I’ve unplugged from the social media feeds and have raged against the machine (at least for the most part). I’ve stopped obsessing over the news cycle, though I check occasionally. But I simply disrupted less healthy devotions. I’ve backfilled my time with good, true, and beautiful things. What things? Consider this brief list.

A List of Practical Addiction Disruptors:

  • Instead of scrolling social media or the news, I spend my mornings reading good words, namely, Thomas Merton’s The Seven Story Mountain;

  • When the urge for distraction hits, I have turned to organized a collection of poetry, most of which could be classified as amateurish at best (and yet, it is my amateurish work);

  • I spent time in the early evening revising Bears in the Yard, the novel you can read here;

  • I had an amazing conversation with a distant friend;

  • I have exercised to the point of exhaustion, almost daily;

  • And when I felt the pull of the news cycle, I made a pilgrimage to a midweek mass at my local Catholic Church and reoriented myself to the Sacred World.

This tangible work has pulled me from the marketplace of digital addiction, a marketplace that offers one hell of a fix these days. Literature, creation, exercise, conversation, prayers—these have grounded me in something bigger than our current political milieu, and have reminded me that I owe no devotion to the issue du jour.

Sweet Moses, Seth… this is uncomfortable.

Yes. I can read your thoughts. But before you scroll on, consider: Are you addicted to today’s platforms of weaponized rage, polarization, isolation, and divisiveness? Are you addicted to chaos? Do you crave it?

See? Any addiction is real.

B. A Short Waking Interview

The Book of Waking Up, released just before the pandemic, just before all of us were locked away, isolated with our social media feeds and news cycles and smartphone updates. It’s a book about ordering all things under the Divine Love, whether booze or pills or sex or shopping or technology or chaos. As you might guess, its release could not have been timed better.

Since the release, several have asked me to address the issue of sobriety (or attachment or waking up) in light of pandemic realities. This week, a church from Louisville sent me a series of questions relating to this very thing. I thought I’d share my answers here.

1. Why did you mean by “waking up” in your most recent book?

If you keep up with modern conspiracy theories (I admittedly do), you know the phrase “wake up” has taken on a life of its own over the last year. And though I do not ascribe to the conspiracy theories of the day, I believe there is a quieter sort of conspiracy, one waged since the birth of men. As C.S. Lewis put it, the pleasures of earth—alcohol, sex, eating, shopping, work, anything—can be twisted, used to lead us headlong into destruction by darker forces. These darker forces are at work in and around us, always tempting us to sleep to our own coping mechanisms, vices, and addictions.

Resisting this conspiracy is spiritual work. It is the work of waking. Paul put it plainly:  “Awake oh sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” He put it this way, too, “So then, let us not fall asleep, as others do [as I had], but let us keep awake and be sober.” (1 Thess. 5:6)

2. How would you describe humanity’s biggest problem?

Some might say sin. Some might say brokenness. These are good and theological ways of describing the problem of humanity, I suppose. But as a practical matter, humanity is plagued by pain. We came into the world through pain. We live through a life full of pain. And when we go out, we’ll exit through the door of pain. It’s this pain that so often animates us, particularly when we’re not connected to some larger, grander, more Divine underlying purpose.

3. What are some different ways we avoid God?

The question begs a first order question: Why do we avoid God? Avoidance of God is the default position of broken humanity. The scriptures demonstrate this default position in its earliest pages. After the fall, God came looking for his people, but where were they? They were covered hand-sewn fig leaves, a sort of primitive camouflage they used to blend into the garden. Simply put, they were in hiding.

The scriptures and the whole of human history demonstrate the myriad ways we hide from God. We use the created things of earth like alcohol (Noah), work (Zacchaeus), sex (the woman at the well), money (the rich young ruler), or any number of other things in an attempt to satisfy our own hungers. It’s this self-satisfaction that camouflages our need for the deeper satisfaction that Divine communion gives.

4. Are we avoiding God because of the pain involved in getting closer to him or does God use our pain to draw us closer to himself?

This is a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, the answer seems to be deeply psychological—i.e., do we avoid God because of the way we feel? On the other hand, it seems deeply theological—i.e., does God use pain to draw us to him? I am neither a psychologist nor a theologian. I feel like I can say this with authority, though: Pain is an indication of where things are most broken. And whether the pain is physical, emotional, or spiritual, a recognition of pain provides an opportunity to invite God into it. In my experience, acting on this invitation is the first step to finding lasting healing.

5. If being in a close personal relationship with God is so good for us, and it's God's grace that makes a good relationship with God possible, rather than our efforts, why does it seem so difficult to get closer to God?

It’s my inclination (and I believe the Scriptures support it) that we act in concert with the grace of God. Yes, God provides the grace, but we may or may not dance with that grace. It is clear that some of the most devout biblical characters chose not to dance with the grace of God. So though I cannot give a definitive answer—I’m not God after all, and I do not fully understand the dance between God and men—I have come to believe our human stubbornness, sin, and lack of discipline creates conditions ill-suited for receiving grace. 

C. A Podcast Interview

Trina McNeilly invited me to join her on her show, The Lovely Life with Trina McNeilly. It was an honest conversation, one in which she gave as much (perhaps more) than she took. If you are looking for an honest conversation about sobriety, take a listen. I think you’ll enjoy it.

A post shared by Trina McNeilly / La La Lovely (@trina_mcneilly)

Want to know more about waking up to your addictions, habits, or coping mechanisms? Grab a copy of The Book of Waking Up: Experiencing the Divine Love That Reorders a Life.

Thanks for letting me invade your inbox. I remain eternally grateful.