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Culture Books

Helpful help books

Books

Helpful help books

Taming technology before it tames you

John Perritt’s short A Student’s Guide to Technology (Christian Focus, 2020) summarizes positives of new technology in chapters like “One of God’s Greatest Graces” and negatives in “Every Knee Will Bow … To Something” and “Why Am I So Tired?” He cites statistics such as “we look at our phones every 4.3 minutes. … If that’s not worship, I don’t know what is.” Perritt advocates thoughtful engagement: “We are to live in the times God has called us to live in. To engage and use technology for the glorifying of His name. To enjoy this home He has given us as we long to dwell with Him in our true home.”


David Murrow’s Drowning in Screen Time (Salem/Regnery, 2020) shows that more screen time means less teen intercourse, brawling, and boozing, but also less volunteering, job-holding, church or youth grouping, and maturing. Screens give adults access to more news and views, but also more misinformation and paranoia. Murrow’s chapter titles accentuate the negative: “Sleepier, Fatter, and Sicker: What Screens Are Doing to Our Bodies,” “Screens = Anxiety Machines,” “How Screens Divide Us Into Warring Tribes,” “Swipe Left: How Screens Are Weakening Relationships.” He gives suggestions—“How Excessive Eddie Cut Back”—and has chapters on how to help kids, friends, spouses, students, or parishioners addicted to screens.


Trevin Wax’s Rethink Your Self (B&H, 2020) offers a useful trichotomy: Looking In, Looking Around, Looking Up. American culture is heavy on looking in—the purpose of life is to be true to yourself, do your thing, follow your bliss. Traditional cultures emphasize looking around: Discover yourself not by looking inside yourself but by understanding the social ties and meeting the expectations that surround you. The Biblical way is to “look up first because only God is strong enough to withstand the weight of all our hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties. Start with yourself and you’ll collapse. Start with community, and you’ll conform. Start with God, and you’ll come into your own by finding your truest self in relation to him.” 

(The “look up” answer to Question 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism—“What is your only comfort in life and death?”—is worth memorizing: “That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins and delivered me from all the power of the devil. He so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head. Yea, that all things must work together for my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.”)

Bookmarks

Puck (1871-1918) was America’s first successful humor magazine. My bathroom wall displays one of its colorful cartoons published in 1887, “Where They Are Most Appreciated—the Arrival of Certain New York Morning Papers in the Infernal Regions.” The caricatures are of noted editors and publishers such as Joseph Pulitzer, Charles Dana, and James Gordon Bennett (both Jr. and Sr.). Their customers include notorious villains: Henry VIII, Caligula, George III, Madame de Pompadour, Lucrezia Borgia, Judas Iscariot—and Emperor Nero, the subject of Anthony Barrett’s Rome Is Burning: Nero and the Fire That Ended a Dynasty (Princeton, 2020).

Many thought Nero had started the fire, fiddled while the great city burned, and then burned alive convenient scapegoats: Christians. Barrett sifts through evidence, including writing by Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio—but no one knows for sure, and the villainous Nero became a fixture of opera, novels and movies like Quo Vadis, and even a Puck ­cartoon. —M.O.