Discernment and the Value of Printed Church Bulletins

Wonderful piece here by Anne Helen Peterson highlighting our word for the day (I also recommend subscribing to her always astute Culture Study newsletter here):

DISCERNMENT

I won’t spoil the entire piece for you (it’s worth your time), but here’s the kernel regarding discernment… 

The Invite Was Already in My Mailbox:

A printed and mailed newsletter isn’t the right solution for every community, just like a Marco Polo group isn’t right for every friend group and a phone call isn’t right for every work relationship. But now that we, as a civilization, have figured out all these ways to access everyone and everything all the time, the hardest work is no longer in the delivery. It’s in the discernment.

Those of us who have sat through many long stanzas of Just As I Am at the end of our Sunday Service at the local Baptist church as young people, dreaming of the meal being cooked across the street at the Fellowship Hall, know the value of a printed church bulletin. I think a good deal of my love of design and printed aesthetics comes from those old pieces of paper, even today. 

I still have the church bulletin from the 1994 Youth Sunday at Little Bethel Baptist Church in Mullins, SC, when I preached my first sermon (it was on Kurt Cobain and why young people feel disillusioned with the powers that be…). I still have the bulletin from the 2000 Wofford College Baccalaureate Service when I gave the Pastoral Prayer. I have bulletins from most of the sermons I gave while “on the circuit” throughout North Carolina as a seminary student in the ‘00s. I have many important bulletins from Merianna’s career and calling as a Pastor, from her first sermon to her ordination service to the blessings of our children and friends’ children, etc. I have bulletins and programs from my children’s and students’ plays, musicals, and dance recitals. I have my old love letters from 7th-9th grade in the original box they were stored during my youth.

Discernment is one of those intangibles that our modern cultures seem to overlook in favor of the instant gratification of scrolling, likes, clout, and followers count. Yet, as I reflect on these printed souvenirs from my own journey, I can’t help but feel that strange tingling of wisdom that comes with age and the accumulation of experiences at our roots.

I’ll never be an oak tree in this life. Still, this accumulated humus, topsoil, and sometimes painful rain of memories give me a glimpse into what it must be like to be a Mother Tree in the forest, seeing life come and go and then come again over the many long years and human quantified time of centuries while trying to discern what’s best for the forest.

So I hope for a little discernment for you today in your walk along The Way and wherever life might take you. Collect some scraps of paper to help you remember, and keep a good notebook to help you look back in order to look forward better with a little discernment.

Or, as the late great John Prine gave us (via Steve Goodman):

Broken hearts and dirty windows

Make life difficult to see

That’s why last night and this morning

Always look the same to me

And I hate reading old love letters

For they always bring me tears

I can’t forgive the way they robbed me

Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs

Memories, they can’t be boughten

They can’t be won at carnivals for free

Well, it took me years to get those souvenirs

And I don’t know how they slipped away from me

Accelerationism: What Are We Doing to Ourselves?

Here’s your word for today as Apple’s WWDC looks to include an announcement of a major partnership with OpenAI (the folks behind ChatGPT) to make Siri much closer to an artificial intelligence (or “Apple Intelligence” as the marketing goes) assistant.

Accelerationism.

It’s a term that’s been used in the tech world for years, but the mindset (mind virus?) has really reached new levels in the post-ChatGPT 4 era that we now live in before what feels like an imminent release of something even more powerful in the coming months or years.

Here’s an article from 2017 about the term accelerationism and accelerationists: 

Accelerationism: how a fringe philosophy predicted the future we live in – The Guardian: 

Accelerationists argue that technology, particularly computer technology, and capitalism, particularly the most aggressive, global variety, should be massively sped up and intensified – either because this is the best way forward for humanity, or because there is no alternative. Accelerationists favour automation. They favour the further merging of the digital and the human. They often favour the deregulation of business, and drastically scaled-back government. They believe that people should stop deluding themselves that economic and technological progress can be controlled. They often believe that social and political upheaval has a value in itself.

With my mind heavy on what the Apple / OpenAI partnership might look like before WWDC starts in just a few minutes (it feels like this could be an important moment for historical events), Ted Gioia made this thought-provoking post on the realization that we are doing to ourselves what Dr. Calhoun did to his poor mice (unknowingly) in the 1960’s famous Universe 25 experiment.

It’s worth your time to read this and ponder our own current situation.

Is Silicon Valley Building Universe 25? – by Ted Gioia:

Even today, Dr. Calhoun’s bold experiment—known as Universe 25—demands our attention. In fact, we need to study Universe 25 far more carefully today, because zealous tech accelerationists—that’s now a word, by the way—aim to create something comparable for human beings.What would you do if AI took care of all your needs?

After being in the classroom for the last three years of “post-Covid” education and seeing how many young people are absolutely struggling with mental health (and how little schools of any sort, from public to private such as the ones where I taught, are doing to help them), it’s shocking that we’ll send stocks soaring on big tech news today that will make our swipes and screen time increase and lead us further down the primrose path of a future of disconnected violence and mental health disaster.

Io’s Volcanoes

Io looks a bit like a pale pizza, covered in weird splotches that turn put to be volcanoes, surrounded by the black of space.

It’s fascinating to me that we can peer up through our thick and whiriling sea of gasses above us that we call our atmosphere and peer into the far reaches of our solar system to capture images of Jupiter’s moons and their surface activity here from the surface of our own planet. 

Thanks to the amazing Phil Plait for the inspiration to look up today!

An amazing image of Io, Jupiter’s tortured hell-moon:

Yowza! All those blotches on it are volcanoes, many of which are active (Io is relentlessly squeezed by Jupiter’s immense tidal force, which create internal friction which melts the moon’s interior and cracks the outer layers, allowing that material to reach the surface). In fact the paper notes that the observations show some changes on the surface. The volcano Pele is the oddly shaped dark blob just below and to the right of center, surrounded by a red ring of erupted material. There are two volcanoes just to the right of it; the left one is Pillan Patera, and the scientists note that the red ring looks overlaid by newer lighter material right where Pillan sits. That’s likely from a powerful eruption that occurred in 2021.

New iPhones Get 5 Year Support

Now add in right-to-repair principles and more ethical mineral procurement (for batteries etc compared to the current terrible conditions and practices) and I’ll be happy!

Apple will update iPhones for at least 5 years in rare public commitment | Ars Technica:

Apple has taken a rare step and publicly committed to a software support timeline for one of its products, as pointed out by MacRumors. A public regulatory filing for the iPhone 15 Pro (PDF) confirms that Apple will support the device with new software updates for at least five years from its “first supply date” of September 22, 2023, which would guarantee support until at least 2028.

Moving On From Wilson Hall

This week marks the end of a significant chapter in my life as our family says goodbye to Wilson Hall, where I have had the privilege of teaching AP Physics, Environmental Science, and Life Science and coaching golf (and Ben completed 2nd Grade, Emmy completed PK, and Lily was basically born this past school year). It’s hard to encapsulate the depth of my experience in a single post, but as I reflect on my time here, I am filled with gratitude and a sense of accomplishment.

From the early mornings prepping experiments to the late afternoons spent discussing complex theories before heading to the golf course, every moment has been a testament to the power of education and the joy of learning.

One of the highlights of my time here has been the field trips, like the recent one to Charleston, SC. Watching my students engage with the USS Yorktown, explore Fort Sumter, and marvel at the beauty of Magnolia Plantation reminded me why I chose this profession. These experiences extend learning beyond the classroom and foster a deeper connection to the world around us.

To my students: You have been the heart of my experience at Wilson Hall. Your curiosity, resilience, and eagerness to learn have been a constant source of inspiration. Keep questioning, exploring, and pushing the boundaries of your knowledge. The world needs your bright minds and passionate hearts!

As I move on, I am thrilled about the future and the new challenges that await me. I am particularly excited about my latest venture, StudiesLab, where I aim to create an innovative learning environment for gifted young people.

I wrote this 11 years ago when I left Carolina Day in Asheville, and it seems like a good passage to include here as well:

My views and philosophy on education necessitate that I follow a different path. I’m not exactly sure what that looks like (“the woods are lovely dark and deep”). Yet I know that drive will take me and my career down a road that is still covered in snow because I have miles to go before I sleep (beg pardon of Robert Frost there).

So what’s next? I have a couple of interviews at exciting schools but I also have the nagging persistence of StudiesLab.

StudiesLab is a business plan and educational model I’ve had written for years in my head (and on paper) of decentralized, cooperative and authentic education based not on 19th century content delivery for Victorian factory workers but on current research aimed at producing world changers. A place for round pegs in a world of square holes. A prayer for hope and humility and learning.

Or something like that.

Anxious Generation Study

Ted’s entire newsletter is a worthy read here, but this part about new research indicating that the current genertion of young people growing up in a phone-based culture (globally) is doing real harm and damage. It makes me think back to the tobacco industry trying to pretend that cigarettes don’t hurt people or the petroleum companies hiding the neurological effects of lead-infused gasoline and so on…

Crisis in the Culture: An Update – by Ted Gioia:

Haidt declared victory on social media: “There are now multiple studies showing that a heavily phone-based childhood changes the way the adolescent brain wires up, in many ways including cognitive control and reward valuation.”

We still need more research. But we can already see that we’re dealing with actual physiological decline, not just pundits’ opinions.

At this point, the debate isn’t over whether this is happening. Instead we now need to gauge the extent of the damage, and find ways of protecting people, especially kids.

Seafloor Sediment Superhighway

Not that bioturbation was on your “To Think About” list for today… but you should think about bioturbation and its role in the larger biosphere. Fascinating stuff!

Mapping the seafloor sediment superhighway | YaleNews:

“Our analysis suggests that the present global network of marine protected areas does not sufficiently protect important seafloor processes like bioturbation, indicating that protection measures need to be better catered to promote ecosystem health,” Tarhan said.

Clear Communication of Worth

Petersen here defies what many of us who have spent our lives in academia or adjacent to it in some way feel… the institutional impact of certain places on our careers, our self-judgements, and eventually our self-worth can be crucibles that define our lives for years. Seeing past that is indeed difficult work, especially when we want to confer respect for ourselves and our future students.

Worthy read here whether you’re a teacher, preacher, parent, or trying to figure things out at age 45 like me…

Ten Years Out of Academia – by Anne Helen Petersen:

When it comes to these students, the best gift we can give them — whether they are our children, our advisees, our peers, our employees, or just ourselves — is clear communication of worth. It’s spaces to fail with security and create and build community outside of resume-building. It’s ongoing assurance of their value: not because of their grades, or their ability to “work hard,” but simply because they are. It’s respect, which looks a lot different than surveillance. Creating these environments requires a lot of work, most of it invisible. It’s arduous in part because it requires refusing so many legible norms of “good” parenting or mentorship. But its eventual value is beyond measure.

AI and Bicycle of the Mind

I don’t have the same optimism that Thompson does here, but it’s a good read and worth the thought time!

The Great Flattening – Stratechery by Ben Thompson:

What is increasingly clear, though, is that Jobs’ prediction that future changes would be even more profound raise questions about the “bicycle for the mind” analogy itself: specifically, will AI be a bicycle that we control, or an unstoppable train to destinations unknown? To put it in the same terms as the ad, will human will and initiative be flattened, or expanded?

Reblog of Merianna Harrelson: The Screen Between

Reblog via Merianna Harrelson

Fifteen years ago, when I pursuing a Master’s in Literacy, we wondered and pondered about the impact of screens for readers. We questioned and discussed how literacy needed to be taught differently because of the availability of so much content and with so much reading occurring on a screen. I attended and participated in professional developments centered around “the screen between.” We discussed and debated how the screen between eliminated so many of the social cues and nonverbal communication that takes place between two people in person in conversations and in classrooms.

These discussions were way before so many people had a handheld device with a screen that fit in their pocket. Now as a minister, I find myself in conversations and debates about that same “screen between,” and how emboldened people feel to type something in a comment thread or text that they would never say to a person’s face.

And that’s just it. We don’t see each other anymore. The screen between us disconnects us from our joint humanity even as it advertises more connections and connetions from around the world.

As I have tried to be more intentional about my own use of screens, especially around our infant, I’ve noticed just how prevalent screens are. There is no small talk in the elevator or grocery store anymore because we are all looking down. Even restaurants have started to put screens on the tables and in their wait staff’s hands which I am sure streamlines the ordering process, but also interrupts the connection that you make with the person who is taking their time to serve you.

I can’t help but wonder when like Dorthy and her followers, we will discover the man behind the curtain or rather the fellow humans behind the screens. While these devices may seem just as great and powerful as the Wizard of Oz, there’s something missing and something we are all longing for. Eventually we are going to have to decide whether we want a screenshot of life, a projection of what appears to be or whether we want to live life with and among those that surround us.

We all want to be seen. We all want to know that we aren’t on this journey alone. But in order to do that, we are going to have to put away the screen between us and look each other in the eyes and say, “I am here. You are here. And here we are together.”

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