Monday, December 26, 2011

"The Digital Diet" by Daniel Sieberg

TITLE: The Digital Diet: The 4-step plan to break your tech addiction and regain balance in your life
AUTHOR: Daniel Sieberg
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2011, (272 pages).

Digital addiction. The ubiquitous Internet has led to an insatiable thirst for WiFi, digital information, and an unending need to be connected online. Daniel Sieberg calls this 'tech addiction.' He writes:

"Technology has overwhelmed our daily lives to the point of constant distraction. Many of us can no longer focus on a single task or face-to-face conversation without wanting to reach out - or retreat - to the virtual world every few minutes." (Back cover)

Proposing a four-step strategy to break the digital addiction, Sieberg aims to help readers regain a semblance of human normalcy, to win sensibility back from an online virtual world to an offline reality.

Step 1 is Re:Think. Before one can change, one needs to acknowledge the current condition. Here Sieberg exposes the dangers of being addicted. When one is plugged-in, one essentially checks out of the real world. There is also an unhealthy 'binary binge' where one consumes digital units without regard for one's general physical, mental or emotional health. Using the language of body diets, Sieberg warns us about letting technology 'fog' out our minds, creating an unhealthy 'e-obesity' where we consume technology without observing limits, and other environment problems that result from always on technology devices.

Step 2 is Re:Boot which begins a series of detox steps. He suggests practical steps like putting our gadgets into a box periodically in favour of something old-fashioned. By listing down the different technologies, one starts to distinguish between devices that are for communications and those that are for preparing daily essentials like oven, refrigerators, etc. The key is to give ourselves a fresh start to welcome nature, be open to real people, and to basically detox ourselves from digital madness. Suggestions are also made for discovering our own 'virtual weight index.'

Step 3 is Re:Connect which lists more practical exercises to take. From simple things like gazing at a tree to physical exercises, Sieberg encourages readers to learn to 'subtract' non-essentials. Often, technology contains too many fancy gizmos that we do not really need. Part of this subtraction exercise is to help us differentiate the needs from the wants.

Step 4 is Re:Vitalize. At this point, one is ready to move from an inorganic addiction to a more wholesome and natural organic lifestyle. He ends with ten digital rules to note.

  1. Avoid tech turds: by NOT placing our technological gadgets at prominent places, (eg leave phone in your pocket when at a restaurant dinner table.)
  2. Live your life in the real world: avoid posting personal updates too readily until you are willing to interact non-digitally with the people in front of you. (eg talk to your companions in front of you more than the distant person on the phone)
  3. Ask yourself whether you really need that gadget: not everything digital is a must-have. 
  4. Seek tech support: if necessary, outsource the use of the digital device
  5. Detox regularly: tackling digital addiction is an ongoing exercise to be done on a regular basis.
  6. Sleep device-free: Have a safe haven from the reaches of technology.
  7. It's either the human or the device: make an intentional choice of people over gadgets.
  8. Remember the 'if/then' principle:  how we treat our digital addiction affects the way we treat the real world.
  9. Structure your e-day: plan our daily consumption of technology
  10. Trust your instincts: pursuing our ultimate goal in balance and awareness.
My Comments

Manage technology before technology manages us. The longer we stay in addiction, the harder it is to break from it. Learn from those who have experienced technological burn-out. It is important to ensure that we are able to function normally as human beings. For all its wonders, technology cannot fully replicate the way we live as human beings. We cannot hug a computer and feel any emotional warmth. Neither can we build relationships only through an Internet connection. More often, the way to sustaining a positive and fruitful human relationship is to relate at a human level. Recognize that technology can only help us so much. Remember that technology is a tool, not the ultimate. 

This book is practical, helpful, and necessary in an increasingly connected world. Although the book is planned as a 28-day detox program, it can be easily modified to fit our own schedules. The important thing is not the specific steps. The important thing is to recognize the NECESSITY to take a break from our digital world, and to reconnect with people in the real world. Yes, we can Facebook. We can twitter. We can even depend on traditional emails. Yet, the human being cannot be easily digitized. As engineers, scientists, and technologists increasingly try to make the computer behave like a human, if we are not careful, we are in danger of making humans become like a computer. This book is one such book that speaks against this trend. 

Ratings: 4 stars of 5.


Monday, December 19, 2011

"A Marriage Carol" (Chris Fabry & Gary Chapman)

TITLE: A Marriage Carol
AUTHOR: Chris Fabry & Gary Chapman
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2011, (144 pages).

Many of us associate Christmas time as a happy and joyous occasions with family and friends. Yet, it is also known that the festive season can also bring about many heartaches and painful memories. Memories of the loss of loved ones, broken relationships, and missed opportunities of love. This book is set on Christmas Eve, the day where Marlee and Jacob are about to sign their divorce papers. As they try to get to their solicitor's office as quickly as possible, their short-cut turns into a long and treacherous fight for survival. The real battle is actually for their marriage.

Marlee stumbles upon a remote marriage retreat center and has an unusual encounter with a mysterious man called Jay. Through three pots, Marlee manages to see in her marriage, her past joys, her present disappointments, and her future hopes. She returns from this experience a changed person.

This little story is a wonderful attempt to tell readers that marriage is worth fighting for.  It is realistic to recognize that there are some marriages where love has died. What is necessary is not to make it worse, but to bring life back. The authors admit that it is easier said then done. Having said that, divorce can very well make it even worse. This book is not just a nice story. It is a necessary reminder for us to note that marriage is not about making good or bad investments. It is about investing in a marriage for better or for worse. Don't fight one another. Fight FOR one another.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


A Marriage Carol Trailer from River North Fiction on Vimeo.

This book is provided to me free of charge by Moody Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. Comments provided are freely mine.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Disciple" by Bill Clem

TITLE: Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus (RE: Lit)
AUTHOR: Bill Clem
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2011.

This is one of the best current books on discipleship in the Church. Written in a clear and captivating manner, Clem has managed to distill the essentials of discipleship by focusing on the person of Christ. Beginning with the original purpose of man, the author takes the time to establish the groundwork that man's calling is still to be the image of God, that man has been created to be. Clem shows us that God reveals Himself to us, through story, and enables us through listening. What is at risk is not God's story to man, but man's distortion of God's story. He writes:

"The God of the Bible does not seem as interested in us knowing about him as he desires for us to actually know him - to have experiential knowledge of him." (12)
He goes on to add that man's version of his own story is distorted and is a futile search for significance. I find it a great reminder not to make the gospel so man-friendly, that it fails to catch God's story. God's story is told through creation (evidence of God in the world), through the Bible (Inspired Word), through Jesus (Incarnation), through the Triune God (relationships). Other themes of the story include conflict and redemption, and the way back to the image of God is via worship, community, mission, and a keen awareness that man is part of something bigger. Much bigger.

The rest of the book hones on:

  • True Image vs Distorted Identity;
  • True Worship vs Distorted Worship;
  • True Community vs Distorted Community;
  • True Mission vs Distorted Mission.

Clem ends the book with a call to renew our focus on God in discipleship, demonstrated in planning, in multiplying, and in faithful living. Without the Cross of Christ, man moves toward shrinking hope. Through the Cross of Jesus, man progresses toward expanding hope and joy in God. The true hero of the story is in Jesus.

The image of God is mysterious, and for man to take wonder. Clem warns readers that there is a tendency to replace this image with 'blessings from God' like 'raises, promotions, positions, and possessions.' (69) There is a danger to replace interconnected living with individualistic lifestyles. There are three major distortions of one's sense of identity:

  1. "I am what I do." - where one's sense of identity is based on successes or failures in the world
  2. "I am What has been done to me." - where one's sense of identity is based on a reaction or retaliation of what has been done.
  3. "I am my relationships, my role, and responsibilities" - of one's sense of identity being wrapped up in temporal and undependable things.

True worship is one that is in love, in truth, in Spirit, in glory of God. Distortions of worship includes the three gateways of pride (Pleasure, Power, People).  In pride lies an idolatry of self that lives a life that is susceptible to anger, or fear.

True community learns to worship together, is devoted to truth, prayer, communion, belonging, and witnessing together. Unfortunately, community is often distorted in at least four ways:

  1. Distortion #1: community as therapy, seeing sin or a need to make an excuse to come together.
  2. Distortion #2: Some see community as a time to network and make friends or business partners.
  3. Distortion #3: Community as Program, where the community is loosely held through programming alone.
  4. Distortion #4: Community as 'exclusively Christian', that creates an unhealthy 'us-vs-them' mentality.
True mission is in two parts. The first is about unveiling the glory of God, manifested in God's people, redeemed creation. The second is about discovering and destroying the effects of sin. Again, mission is distorted through various kinds of 'onlys.'
  1. Only the message of evangelism, where mission is limited to proclaiming the gospel
  2. Only mercy is needed, where mission is limited to good works, social justice, etc
  3. Only freeing from sin, which limits the gospel to a mere unlocking of the door and nothing more
  4. Only apologetics, where one deals with trying to win arguments for the faith.
Instead, true mission has 4 components. One needs to declare the gospel of hope boldly in spite of opposition in the world. One needs to disclose the kingdom of God through Christlikeness. One needs to display Jesus and the Kingdom through tangible ways, to reconcile man to his original image of God. One needs to defend the gospel of hope, against doubts, sin, and all manner of evil. 

In Planning, Clem deals with three common reactions to mission. Firstly, to the statement "I can't do this," he uncovers the hurdles of habitual sins, debilitating mindsets, and a lack of priority management. He lists down ten friends, or 'specialists' that every disciple needs at various times of his journey to discipleship.

  • "A counselor to address your emotional sticking points."
  • "A coach to call you to accountability for the goals you set."
  • "A pastor to provide spiritual direction."
  • "An encourager to provide the inspiration to 'hang in there' and not give up."
  • "A peer to serve as an influencer."
  • "A consultant to provide information and input."
  • "An example to provide a template through their experience."
  • "A mentor who is a life stage or two ahead of you to provide wisdom."
  • "A friend with whom to walk through the journey."
  • "A partner who labors toward the same cause." (188-9)
He proposes a Shepherding compass to help leaders to grow, to feed, to lead, and to protect their flock. Finally, he urges the disciple to be fruitful and multiply through prayer, through the shaping of oneself in the Word, through forgiveness that reconcile relationships, through service with a servant heart, through a visionary mindset, and many more.

My Comments

I like the way that Clem builds his case about discipleship is all about becoming the image of God that God has called us to be, THROUGH Jesus. It is the imitation of Christ. It is to put away our distorted nature, and to let Christ redeem our fallen selves. Without God, the 'image of God' is essentially meaningless. Clem's book is very intentional about becoming like Christ, believing in Christ, belonging to Christ, and bearing the image of Christ to all, through community and hopeful living.

Clem's main idea is this:

"The point I am attempting to make is that if someone is oriented toward imaging God, then the disciple-making process will be more transformational than an informational set of verses and lessons." (65)

Well said. This is a book that deserves to be read by Church leaders and especially disciples of Christ. If you are serious about discipleship, but do not know where to start, the common wisdom is to begin with prayer and the Bible. If you still need help, you can use this book to spearhead your journey into meaningful and exciting path of discipleship.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free, courtesy of Crossway Books and NetGalley without any obligation of a positive review. The opinions expressed are freely mine.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Digital Disciple" (Adam Thomas)

TITLE: Digital Disciple - Real Christianity in a Virtual World
AUTHOR: Adam Thomas
PUBLISHER: Abingdon Press, 2011, (142pp).

Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Virtual WorldThis is a book written by a member of the Millennial generation using language that is familiar to the Millennial generation. As an ordained Methodist Episcopalian (Thanks, Adam for this.) minister, the author bridges the ancient spiritual practices like the Lectio Divina, the prayers, and biblical background to apply them to the modern Internet era. Beginning with an overview of the Virtual World, he highlights both the power as well as the dangers of being connected online. On the one hand, he praises the reach that the Internet has enabled many people to be connected and not feel lonely at all. On the other hand, people can feel strangely disconnected despite having an online connection 24 hours a day. Since we cannot get rid of all the technological downsides, why not learn how to live with it as Christianly as possible? This is where the book fits in.