Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
—T.S. Eliot, from The Rock
Our world seems wired to short-circuit wisdom. No doubt we live in the information age. More accurately, we live in the information addiction age. Everyone seems to be hell-bent (pardon the pun) on doing damage to their spine, curving it downward by degree to gaze into the ever-updating oracles of our phones, all while we walk about, drive, eat our meals, distract ourselves in meetings, or while “playing” with our kids—God forgive us. We are truly physiologically addicted to the torrents of information in which Verizon and AT&T traffic. Enter dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is critical in various brain functions including learning, sleeping, mood, attention, and seeking/reward cycles. The more dopamine is studied the more it is understood to catalyze what could be called seeking behavior. Dopamine is a key factor in our goal-directed behavior. It has been called the motivation molecule. This motivation molecule has a powerhouse biological partnership with the opioid system (that system which helps us to feel pleasure at the physiological level). The dopamine drive and the opioid reward are complements: the two systems high-five each other with a chemical high, and launch us forward into seeking and pleasure clamoring once again, but with the next round ratcheted up a notch or two. This dopamine drive is a wonderful gift—stoking curiosity, cultivating learning, catalyzing growth and forward movement. But a healthy flow of dopamine supercharged into a frenzied cataract becomes a covert danger, ready to open up a sinkhole in our lives.
This biological reality and the techno-social reality of our ever-dinging text messages, email, Twitter and Facebook accounts, has us on a dangerous dopamine treadmill that increases at an exponential speed. In short, our digital devices have hyper-actualized our information-grasping, dopamine-seeking cycles and are running us into the ground as we unceasingly feed our addiction. We feed on information and “the new” like ravenous beasts, but such data consumption rarely actualizes into knowledge, and on much rarer occasion does knowledge mature into wisdom (wisdom being the skill of living in accordance with reality—the proper use of knowledge).
In short, our dopamine systems are exhausted, and we are physically and emotionally fatigued. We grind facts and news feeds all day long, we inhale streams of pixelated content, and it is anything but nourishing. It is a form of intake that ultimately takes from us. Think of a castaway drinking saltwater to survive: each new gulp of water multiplies the fiery thirst. The devices that were meant to connect us with others and be a savvy tool of the enlightened soul can easily cloud our minds, isolate, and disintegrate our lives. The costs of such information addiction are multiform, as dopamine exhaustion contributes to physical fatigue, depression, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, and various substance addictions.1
This brings us again to comGroups—small diverse groups of people pursuing the Jesus life together. Sorry for the whiplash, but information addiction and the pursuit of the Jesus life are realities that come crashing into one another on a daily basis. The Jesus life is not a process of mere information accumulation (though it is a favorite hobby of the western world to try and reduce Christianity to such data gathering). The life of faith, apprenticeship to Jesus Christ, cannot be microwaved nor abstracted. It cannot be reduced to content downloads. Hosting untold gigabytes of data about Jesus on its servers does not make Google a follower of Jesus; neither does bible data hosted in the gray matter of our cerebral servers make us apprentices of Jesus. Faith is embodied. Faith is always incarnate—in the flesh. It must be experienced and operative in community—in the communion of the saints, the life of fellowship that is the church. It is realized in life together.
Faith is always diminished if it is disembodied, downgraded to ideals and abstractions, concepts that never incarnate into the physical realities of relationships between neighbor and ourselves. Disembodiment is one of the Devil’s favorite weapons. He relishes bleeding love into a phantom. Theory makes him giddy. Generalities, blanket statements, and oversimplifications are all in his arsenal of keeping faith “notional.” He is the anti-Christ—he dis-incarnates. But Jesus loves specifics—specific people, particular places, certain actions in history. He loves Abraham, Rahab, Levi the tax collector, you and the neighbors on your cul-de-sac. Jesus was born an Israelite in Bethlehem and was baptized in the Jordan. He walked around Galilee, lived in Capernaum, and died upon Golgotha. He meets us in our homes and he meets us at 4455 Del Valle Parkway in Pleasanton, California. Names, longitudes, latitudes, and zip codes—ordinary things that becomes vehicles of God’s grace. This is why the book of James (which is considered the wisdom literature of the New Testament) says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22)
So how does the church not ratchet up the speed on the dopamine treadmill by simply providing more content for us to download, study, process, share, like, tweet, post, etc.? It provides presence. It provides opportunity to worship as a people, to hear and respond together, to sing songs—off key or in tune, songs you like and songs you don’t—on a Sunday morning in a specific locale.2 This is why we as a church are seeking to cultivate small diverse groups of people living life together, engaging in embodied presence to pray, converse, repent, forgive, cry over the loss of a friend, and laugh together over a good meal. Such presence is a grace—a gift from God that helps us along the Jesus way. Remember, Jesus came in bone and blood as Immanuel, God with us—God’s presence with God’s people. It was his solidarity in the flesh of our humanity that made it possible for salvation to be procured by his crucifixion. There is no eternal life for the believer without resurrection, no resurrection without the appointed crucifixion, and no crucifixion without the incarnation of God the Son.
Do you check your email with OCD fervor? Do you hop online to answer an email and find yourself somehow researching the gross national product of Madagascar some thirty minutes later? Do text messages routinely break up conversations with the person across the table from you? Do you say you have no time for a comGroup, yet you manage to can find countless hours to fritter away in a digitized world of posts, emails, and news feeds? Until the destructive dopamine treadmill stops, we only short circuit wisdom as we replace loving presence with sheer data, intimacy with bytes of information. The practice of presence—being God’s people in God’s presence, loving one another out of our love for him and his love dwelling in us—this is how we apprentice in the Kingdom of God. Pursuing the Jesus life together, that is where wisdom is born as we trust in Jesus, for Jesus is the wisdom of God taken on form in the flesh and dwelling among his people.
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
—1 Corinthians 1:27-31
Now, I realize the chances are you’re reading this on your phone. So how about you put your phone down and look up for a bit? I think I’ll close my laptop for a while and see if anyone wants to take a walk. Let’s put these pixels away for a moment and practice some presence.
- e.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696819/
- Sunday, by the way, being the first day of the week to remind us that Jesus’ resurrection has established a new creation, a new reality that is breaking into the old order, erupting the Kingdom of Heaven right into the middle of our everyday lives.