Oct 30, 2023
The message was delivered on Sunday, October 29, 2023, at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar, Senior Minister.
In the book: “Breaking Bread with the Dead” Alan Jacobs is concerned about children watching only stuff that is marketed to and for them, that is “fired like an arrow to their amygdala.” Stuff that was manufactured for their immediate effortless consumption. Rather than pushing them out of their comfort zone, experiencing some ambiguity and thematic density.
He also writes about the importance for all of us of engaging the ideas, art and music of people from previous generations as a way of living with less anxiety in the present. One of the major ways that attending All Souls adds value to our lives is by regularly introducing us to ideas and music from the past in ways that improve our lives in the present. This Sunday we will recognize 71 new members who have joined All Souls over the last few months. The following quote from Jacobs’ book introduces my theme for Sunday and one of the reasons so many people are drawn to All Souls in these times.
"…information overload—a sense that we are always receiving more sheer data than we know how to evaluate—and a more general feeling of social acceleration—the perception that the world is not only changing but changing faster and faster. What those closely related experiences tend to require from us is a rough-and-ready kind of informational triage."
Triage—it’s a French word meaning to separate and sort—is what nurses and doctors on the battlefield do: during and after a battle, as wounded soldiers flow in, the limited resources of a medical unit are sorely tested. The medical staff must learn to make instantaneous judgments: this person needs treatment now, that one can wait a little while, a third one will have to wait longer, preferably somewhere other than the medical tent. To the wounded soldiers, this system will often seem peremptory and harsh, uncompassionate, and perhaps even cruel; but it’s absolutely necessary for the nurses and doctors to be ruthlessly brisk. They cannot afford for one soldier to die while they’re comforting one whose injuries don’t threaten his life.
Navigating daily life in the internet age is a lot like doing battlefield triage. Given that what cultural critic Matthew Crawford calls the “attentional commons” is constantly noisy—there are days we can’t even put gas in our cars without being assaulted by advertisements blared at ear-rattling volume—we also learn to be ruthless in deciding how to deploy our attention. We only have so much of it, and often the decision of whether or not to “pay” it must be made in an instant. To avoid madness we must learn to reject appeals to our time, and reject them without hesitation or pity.
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