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    All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Introduction

    January 7, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I neglected to mention that Cindy from Dominion Family is running another book club this year. Thankfully, I already had a copy. Or, should I say, Si had a copy, as I believe the book is a source for his book, Culture Makers. The format of the club is fairly straightforward. Read the assigned reading. Blog about it. Read the posts of others who blogged about it. Discuss. Think. And so on.

    If you happen to have a copy of Ken Myers’ All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, now’s the time to read it. Or read it again, as the case may be. I’ve been meaning to read this book for years.

    Cindy’s most recent post concerning the book club was called Creating a Culture of Transcendence. In it, she requested that we try to apply Myers’ work to the internet, which isn’t mentioned in the book because it was published in 1989.

    I remember playing on the internet in 1987. It was entirely DOS based and very black and yellow.

    But I digress.

    According to Myers’ quiz in the Introduction, we here at the microhomestead lead a semimonastic life. This means, according to Myers, that there are “very few conduits of popular culture to which [we] are connected.” This was done deliberately in response to reading Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. If Postman taught us anything, it is that the medium is the message. Actually, he was just repeating what he had learned from Marshall McLuhan, and he was very convincing at that.

    The idea is that something is communicated by the way that one communicates. For instance, there is a difference between my loudly calling the family to the dinner table and my text-messaging them (not that I actually know how to text-message). There is a difference between calling my husband and emailing him. There is even a difference between watching television and watching a movie. And there is definitely a difference between watching anything and reading a book.

    But first, a small anecdote.

    Last week, a real, live harrier hawk visited the microhomestead. It spent a significant amount of time hunting in the back forty-three-hundreths. It perched on our fence and glared into the yards of neighbors. It swooped and flew low across our grass and through our orchard.

    When I noticed this bird, I called to everyone, and people came running from all corners of the house. Pretty soon, there were three little faces smashed against the sliding glass door. Our son considered going outside, but didn’t for fear that the bird would leave.

    All three children had their attention completely fixed on this bird for the greater part of half an hour. There was also time spent flipping through the field guide trying to identify the bird, which we didn’t recognize at first, at least not as a harrier. And eventually, when I left to do chores, little people kept running to find me and update me on the bird’s activities.

    These are the simple joys in life.

    Myers writes:

    Popular culture, like the meat offered to idols in I Corinthians 10, is a part of the created order, part of the earth that is the Lord’s, and thus something capable of bringing innocent pleasure to believers. But not everything that is permissible is constructive. That is the main theme of this book.

    Some folks might look at our almost-media-free life (mainstream media, anyhow), and assume that we are Luddites or think that television and video games are sinful. This isn’t exactly true, and so you won’t find us spending our time condemning folks who have made different choices than us.

    More than anything, we’ve looked at the situation like this: there are only 24 hours in a day. There is only so much time spent in childhood. Each second becomes a minute becomes an hour becomes a day. What is the best way to spend the time that we are given?

    Myers writes:

    Modern American popular culture presents many opportunities for innocent pleasures, but its principal attributes are, I believe, obstacles to enjoying the best of human experience.

    What if, when I had called to my children about the hawk, they had been engaged in watching a movie? Playing video games? I think the answer would be that it would have been difficult to pull them away. They might not have come. They might have missed out on a rare experience. Certain things distract from the real world, from what is before us. Like couples on a first date who are both talking on their cell phones to someone somewhere else, this world encourages us to engage technology to the detriment of what {and who!} is before us.

    Of course, if you like reading, even a book can be dangerous.


    So concerning popular culture, we decided that less is more. Less exposure meant life, and life abundantly.

    Moving onward, Myers discusses one of the dangers of popular culture in general:

    It is possible to develop a taste for instant everything. One could eat instant, drink instant, read instant, think instant, hear instant, love instant, and pray instant. One of the concerns of this book is that popular culture encourages a mood of expecting everything to be immediate, a mood that deters greater depth and breadth in other areas of our lives, including our understanding of Christianity and our experience of obedient faith.

    The problem is that expecting everything to be instant reveals a lack of patience. As our culture becomes less patient, it will also become less loving. Scripture tells us that love is patient. If we are cultivating a spirit of impatience, there is a sense in which we are also cultivating a culture of unlove. (Is that Newspeak?)

    I have found that this is true. Sometimes, my computer really slows down. I can’t load websites I want. It is worse when I think I need them {like something for school}. As I’m sitting there tapping my finger restlessly, my spirit is disturbed. Next thing I know, I’m snapping at one of my children. My impatience transferred from the inanimate object {computer} to the real, live person before me.

    Maybe I’m just easily influenced by technology, but I think that cooking with a microwave would be detrimental to my soul. Starting seeds for our spring garden will probably be the best remedy to the quick-and-easy mentality this semimonastic life complete with internet access has encouraged.

    The Media-Free Childhood
    Redeeming the Time

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  • Reply Kansas Mom January 8, 2009 at 2:13 am

    Brandy, my son would have reacted exactly the same way with a movie on. He simply cannot look away from the TV. That’s why we severely limit his TV and computer time and only turn on the TV for videos (no commercials and nothing unexpected) and NFL football, which my husband loves (though we are considering DVR because the commercials are just too awful!). I find I have the same problem. When a TV is on, I’m just too distracted to really pay attention to people, so I can understand how hard it must be for a child.

  • Reply Brandy January 7, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Thank you all for visiting! I feel quite honored as I have read all of your blogs with admiration. 🙂

    I had another techie experience today to add to the list of how mediums change things for children. I took the baby to the pediatrician for his well check and also brought my six-year-old, who would simply be too much for Great-Grandma to handle (she stayed home with the little girls). Anyhow, the doctor had put out a new toy in the waiting room. It was young for my son, but he has an engineer’s mind and was trying to figure out how it worked. He seemed to really be enjoying himself when the clerks at the front desk popped on a movie. We were the only folks in the waiting room, but I guess it is a habit. Anyhow, he immediately stopped playing to watch the movie. In this, I learned that screens often try to demand attention. I told my son that he didn’t have to watch the movie. He had almost seemed disappointed to leave the toy. So he tried to play with the movie on, but he just couldn’t. The movie was fine; he liked it. But Myers’ spoke of the spoiling of pleasures and I felt like I saw it in action, if only a taste of it.

  • Reply magistramater January 7, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Brandy, I’m so excited to have discovered your blog and read through your archives. You made such a powerful point when you wondered if the kids would have come to watch if they were plugged into a video.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I look forward to more.

  • Reply Laura A January 7, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    This was my first visit to your blog, and I enjoyed it! Not surprisingly given the topic we are both writing on, we read a lot of the same books.

    I liked your point about technology’s power to distract from nature, and your link between technology and lack of patience, which in turn relates to love.

    I look forward to reading more.

  • Reply Dominion Family January 7, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Great post. I am reminded of the video online that I saw a few weeks ago. A man was describing how an airline offered wireless internet. Everyone fired up their laptops for the first time ever on an airplane. After 5 minutes the wireless cut off and immediately everyone was griping and yelling about something that until 5 minutes before they had never had.

  • Reply Dana January 7, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Lovely 🙂

    I would have come to the window to see the hawk.

    Developing tastes is a fine way to see the rearing of children…. I look forward to your future comments on Myers’ book.

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