It's a rainy Friday evening but inside it's warm and the atmosphere is alive with excitement.
I'm blessed to be selling Ugandan jewelry at an African celebration. Drums beat in a next door room, people in breath-taking, colorful clothing are everywhere. A sweet man makes me tea and brings it to my table. I smile wide and clutch the little Styrofoam cup close.
"Thank you, it smells amazing..."
"Oh, yes. I put spices from East Africa in it. So, let me know how you like it."
I almost tear up. I long to feel the Ugandan sun on my face. To sit knee to knee with those I love. Thank you, Jesus - for tea that reminds me of where I may some day go. But tonight? I have tea, and I'm happy.
I ask him about his family. He's got two children, a three year old and one brand new baby. He and his wife - they're new to Canada, like so many Africans there that night. He leans in and we talk of Western culture. The busy, distracted lifestyle. Yes, he's noticed.
He immediately speaks of the media.
He whispers it: "My daughter doesn't watch television."
I nod and smile. I can feel the laugh lines in the corner of my eyes. He speaks wisely of preserving her imagination, her innocence. He says he wants a different life for his girls. I don't talk. I just listen.
"My brothers - they're young. Teenagers. Twins. They're obsessed with technology. They've got to have it all." He talks about how their faces are always in their phones and they're always wanting more - the next best phone, the next better screen. I see the pain in his expressions.
I scrunch up my nose trying to think of the right words. He pauses and looks me straight in the eyes.
"You know - my people - we all came to this country to be free. But now, we are enslaved instead to technology."
I swallow hard. His words rip right through me. It's as if the room dims around us. He's just spoken profound truth but he doesn't realize how powerful it is. He is still talking, but I'm not hearing him. My mind is stuck on this:
We are enslaved to technology.
Long after we part and the tables are packed up, I still can't get the thought out of my head. People plagued by oppression and poverty come to our beautiful country to be free, yet we offer a new form of enslavement. Yes, a new type of poverty that can leave the soul starved. The distraction and emptiness of a life swallowed by screens is just another form of poverty. A spiritual poverty.
It shakes me up.
I breaks me. I cry on the drive home.
Because this sweet African man is completely right.
Our culture is suffering from a different kind of poor. We are desperately poor and yet, we think we're rich. We think we're free and yet, we are slaves. So many people are living a life enslaved to screen upon screen. The dings and beeps rule the days. The TV programs, the movies, the celebrities, the lust for more and more and more entertainment and more and more stuff.
You see, because when we are enslaved, it means some form of freedom has been robbed from us.
What has been taken?
We have millions of Western kids (and adults) who are obese, unhealthy, addicted to video games and television. We have teens who are killing themselves because their peers are bullying them on Facebook and through text messages.
We have families who no longer eat together or speak to one another.
We have (on average) children spending 4-6 hours DAILY attached to at least one screen (sometimes 3 or 4 at once).
We have a generation growing up in a way we've never grown up before. They spend more time sitting in front of screens than they do outdoors. If they spend time outdoors at all.
Parents, our children are the guinea pigs. In all of history, we've never functioned this way - enslaved to technology, obedient to the screens. This is new. And it isn't normal.
I know young 20-somethings who live in their basements, with seven screens as their only friends. They are miserable, depressed, angry, and only half-alive. There are countless people like this all over our continent. What would people of other cultures think if they looked in on us?
I drive through neighborhoods in the dim evening and all I see is a creepy greenish-blue glow coming from all the living room windows. We are all staring into our screen gods. And we think we have no false gods in our culture?
Someone asks if you're on Facebook and it's as if you'd be disconnected from all society if you weren't. This is all very recent, friends. Like, in the past five years. Suddenly, I feel very trapped. It's a slow suffocation.
Children are being raised to depend upon screen-based entertainment to fill their days. And that's how they'll continue to live. And one day we'll all blink and realize that none of us are actually living. We're virtual creatures who no longer know how to engage with each other, with nature, and most of all - with our Creator.
Distraction is a kind of enslavement. The freedom we lose is the freedom to really live. To live alive and awake and intentionally.
We have to choose freedom.
We have to choose the unplug.
We have to pull the reigns in.
Life is far too short to CHOOSE to put ourselves in a media jail cell. To be so distracted we can't connect with the people around us. We need to limit the time and trust in the truth of God's word. We have to dare to be radically different in a culture that jeers, 'Aw, come on, it's not that big of a deal...'.
It IS a big deal. People who were enslaved and oppressed in their home country come here and call us slaves. They see it clearly - the screens have control. The people here are enslaved to technology.
We need to wake up. The time is now. Our culture and our children are in major danger of growing up numb to real life. Numb to purpose. Numb to real relationships. Numb to God.
It should shake us to action. To intense passion to protect and preserve our souls for higher purposes. For something culturally bizarre. To actually choose to turn off the screens and break those chains.
It is a choice.
If you're a regular reader of this blog, thank you. (hug) I know many of my posts lately have reflected this heart of 'unplugging'. I'm not stuck on repeat, I promise. This is the work God is doing in my heart right now and I'm sharing my honest, open reflections. I'm a work in progress too... and unplugging for the purpose of seeking God and seeking relationship needs to be deliberate. I pray you will be inspired to do the same and see how God moves in your heart and in your life.
Let's cling to the King who is ruler over all and yet calls us His own. Let's live enslaved only to the gospel... because this is where we find true freedom. It's life's great and most amazing upside-down truth.