by Dr. Barry Shealy, FPD Assistant Headmaster
Spring Break this year gave Laurie and me a welcome opportunity to reconnect with our USMC pilot son and his wife in Southern California. After our visit, we spent three days at Grand Canyon National Park. That visit followed fall hikes in Rocky Mountain and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. Anyone who knows me probably knows my love of the outdoors and understands how close to heaven I felt. Pictures cannot do justice to the majesty of the Pacific Coast, mountains, desert, canyons, and dark skies we were blessed to experience. The colorful pallet of spring desert flowers, fall aspens, and sunsets painting on the canvas of canyon walls fill the spirit.
I have always enjoyed sharing nature with children and youth. Our nature trails, instructional garden, ponds, and new forest preserve are some of the most valuable physical assets God has granted FPD. The foundation of Christian education is the creation mandate God gave us to care for the world and see to its appropriate use and to fill the world with His image (Genesis 1:26-31). Experiencing creation allows our children to learn more about our vocational responsibility and encounter God (Romans 1:20).
The devotional aspect of encountering God’s creation is vividly expressed in Scripture. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps 19:1). Mountains, rivers, and trees singing and clapping their hands, filled with joy, is a common image in scripture (Isaiah 55:12; Psalm 98:7-8; cf., Psalm 8) expressing God’s sovereignty and faithful providence. As Job said, if you want to recognize God’s hand in action, “ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you” (Job 12:7-8).
The Proper Place of Technology
As Laurie and I made the rounds of our Southwestern sights, I thought about how I used my smartphone. Of course, I made sure it was charged and carried a mobile charger just in case. However, I was mindful of the admonition we give our study abroad students in Italy. We ask them not to experience their trip only through a screen. We want them to take in a slow and patient sketch of any scene around them, experiencing the whole context before packaging it into a more content-impoverished Instagram snapshot for friends back home. Andy Crouch, in Tech-Wise Families, says that one of technology’s places is helping “us cultivate awe for the created world we are part of and responsible for stewarding.” It is out of its proper place, Crouch says, “when it keeps us from engaging the wild and wonderful natural world with our senses” (21). My smartphone helped me keep track of where we were (although I am a physical map lover), identify plants and animals, find stars and identify satellites, and check up on historical questions (although I tried to save those questions for later).
Clearly, I hope this article encourages families to get out and experience the outdoors, contemplating God and our place in His world. However, I also hope we will think about the place of technology in all our activities. God has given us the technological tools we use. Any tool can be used in a productive and edifying way or in harmful and destructive ways. Crouch mentions several other ways technology can be in and out of place in our families beyond appreciating nature.
Crouch says technology is in its proper place when it is:
- Helping us to bond with real people around us versus people at a distance, like celebrities, whom we will never meet,
- Starting great conversations versus preventing us from talking with and listening to one another,
- Helping us develop knowledge and skills versus replacing this development with passive consumption,
- Helping us take care of our bodies versus seeking to escape our limits and vulnerabilities. (20-21)
He also notes that technology does not get into its proper place on its own. We must use it with intention and care or “we will end up with quite an extraordinary mess.”
Commitments for Healthy Technology Use
In his book, Crouch provides help in thinking about the use of technology by describing ten commitments based on three choices. The foundational choices that “nudge” us in healthy directions are to choose to focus on character development, shape space to promote proper use of technology, and structuring our time (38-39). Three of the commitments Crouch describes stand out for me.
I appreciate Crouch’s admonition that families focus on developing character together. One commitment resonated strongly with me. He suggests shaping the space in our homes so that the center is focused on activities that “reward skill and active engagement” and that help us “create more than we consume” (41). For example, Crouch emphasizes the value of making music rather than simply listening. Building and creative play were always a big part of our family’s life. Hours were spent with Lego, Playmobil, and other construction toys and action figures (and cleaning them up). This is play that requires work and rewards time and effort. Choose activities that participants can get better at by practice. Games have been an important activity for our family. Risk, Settlers of Catan, Chess, Mancala, Scrabble, Monopoly, a panoply of card games, and a host of others have occupied our time. Other families may invest their creative play outdoors hunting and fishing or in organized sports. A wealth of character development can take place during gameplay (including how to win and lose well).
Crouch advocates using technology together and for a purpose rather than aimlessly and alone. Set aside time for engaging others as well as our surroundings in purposeful activity. Another of Crouch’s commitments is based on the biblical idea of Sabbath rest. He suggests having a natural cycle of work and rest, including rest from technology. His family has one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year that they go technology free. There is value in disconnecting to reconnect. Plan for reconnecting with those around us, with the world around us, and with God.
So, what will you do this summer?
Whether your activity for growth, character development, and togetherness includes sports, games, natural and historic sites, travel, or reading, I hope you will spend time intentionally thinking about character development together. Talk about your activities with your children. Discuss the books they read. Maybe choose a book for your family to read together. Discuss current events. Reflect on God’s providence. Use technology as a tool to enhance this experience for your family and God’s glory rather than a focal point.
Standing at the Desert View Watchtower taking in one last vista before leaving Grand Canyon National Park, I was brought to tears as I noticed a plaque with Psalm 66:4 – “All the earth worships Thee; they sing praises to Thee; sing praises to Thy name.”
Source: Crouch, Andy. The Tech-Wise Family. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017.