Tuesday, February 19, 2013


"The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God." Psalm 51:17

It's not often that a song brings tears to my face these days...no more than a dozen times a week, I suspect....OK, it may not be that often, but it does happen, and it's been happening every time I hear Tenth Avenue North sing Worn.


I'm tired 
I'm worn 
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes to keep on breathing
I've made mistakes 
I've let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that's frail and torn
I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that's dead inside can be reborn
Cause I'm worn

I know I need 
To lift my eyes up
But I'm too week
Life just won't let up
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that's frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that's dead inside can be reborn
Cause I'm worn

And my prayers are wearing thin
I'm worn even before the day begins
I'm worn I've lost my will to fight
I'm worn so heaven so come and flood my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that's frail and torn
I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that's dead inside can be reborn
Yes all that's dead inside will be reborn
Though I'm worn 
Yeah I'm worn

by Tenth Avenue North
Songwriters: Jason Ingram, Mike Donehey, and Jeff Owen

...and I'm already crying...I can't even listen to the song and write this without feeling it deep down in my broken soul.

I'm taking a stand...to be weak...to be broken...because I can't do this life on my own.

I'm worn...I don't have the strength. I don't have the strength to get up in the morning. I don't have the strength to go to class or write my papers or do my reading. I don't have the strength to look at Facebook every day and see all my peers posting pictures of their happy families. I don't have the strength to look at Facebook every day and see all my peers complaining about their families and wishing I could do that, too. I don't have the strength to crawl out of bed on Sunday morning and go sit in church and listen to Pastor Mark tell me about the God who loves me. I don't have the strength to clean my house or wash my laundry. I don't have the strength to cry another tear.

I don't have the strength to take my next breath.

Instead, I have Him. I have the God who gives me strength. I have the God who picks me up and carries me through all of these things. I have the God in whom redemption wins. I have the God in whom the struggle ends. I have the God who can mend a heart that's frail and worn. I have the God who will not reject a broken and repentant heart.

What do you have? Who do you have?

Is it time to look our brothers and sisters in Christ in the eye and just admit we can't do this? Is it time to stop putting on fake smiles and pretending to be strong when we see each other at church and on the street? Is it time to fall into each others arms, cry our broken tears, and carry each other to the only one who can give us strength? Is it time to admit that fighting the good fight is simply waving the white flag?

Some of you may have already figured this out. Some of you may have learned this a long time ago.

Some of you might be like me and have to be reminded...every single day...that I just can't do this, but I know who can.

Abba, I lay my brokenness, the ashes of my broken life, before you. I lie at your feet and need to feel your cloak of comfort cover me. Father, thank you for reminding me that you are my strength.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Shallows

Soooooo...I went back to school. More accurately I have returned to school. Classes started at the end of January and since then I have been slightly "overwhelmed" with the process. Not in a bad way mind you, it's just a little unsettling to go back to college after having been out of that environment for almost 17 years.

The reading that I had been doing has been put on hold and replaced by reading for class. To be honest, I don't remember having to read this much the first time around. Of course, the first time around I was a communication/broadcasting major. We talked a lot...didn't write many papers...but had lots of "projects" centered around video and audio equipment. Here in my first semester back at school I have about 2,000 pages of reading to do...and that doesn't include reading I'll have to do for my end of semester research papers.

Therein lies the problem...my brain is NOT adapting well to reading for academic purposes. I've been doing plenty of reading over the past  year for my own edification and self-improvement. As such, I haven't found myself overly concerned when I can't remember specifics from the books I've read. I have a broad overview and understanding of the context of the book and that has been sufficient for my own needs and requirements. However, I have this idea in my head that academic reading should result in being able to remember specific passages and then be able to draw on that knowledge in classroom and online discussions. Comprehension of the text seems to be taking a lot more work than it used to and I find myself reading pages more than once to truly pick things up. The downside of this is that it effectively turns 2,000 pages of reading into 4,000 pages of reading. What has changed in the past 17 years (aside from getting old) to cause me to be less "able" to remember what I've read? Apparently I can blame it on the Internet!

The first book we read in my REL304 class was The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr. Oddly enough, I had already purchased this book a couple of years ago. I saw it profiled in Wired magazine and found the subject matter to be fascinating. I bought it, read the first chapter, and promptly forgot about it. I'm still not sure about how the content of the book REALLY fits into a class about the first 3 chapters of the biblical book of Genesis, but now I can say I've read the whole thing. The focus of the book is on examining what the Internet is doing to our brains. How is it changing the way we think?

This is the first academic paper I've written since 1996. It felt good to get the academic juices flowing again. Hopefully the neurological paths required for this kind of work will be firing on full blast prior to the end of this semester. So, without further ado, here is my review of The Shallows.


Chad A Cole, Review of Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, 2011).

“The Web is a technology of forgetfulness.”  Carr, Nicholas (2011-06-06). The Shallows:
What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Kindle Location 3178). Norton. Kindle Edition.


The latter half of the 20th century brought with it unprecedented advances in technological breakthroughs and discoveries. This rapid expansion has had a profound impact on the inventions and tools humankind uses on a daily basis. In as much, we must notice the tools that govern our lives also change the way we live, work, play, and think; however, measuring these changes, especially in regards to computer technology and how it changes the way we think, can be difficult . One of the more pervasive inventions of the late 1900’s is the Internet. As this global computer network continues to expand, humankind finds itself in a position of having the vast knowledgebase of the world available to anyone who has the ability to connect. Today, in most developed countries, access to this resource is available to most people, with little to no restriction; it is available to the rich and the poor, the urban dweller and the ruralized, the educated and the uneducated. The percentage of the world’s population that does not have access continues to dwindle rapidly as businesses, institutions, and governments race to push access to the far reaches of their nations. As this all-inclusive media begins to dominate our globe, some people are left questioning its true impact on society and how it might affect our futures.

In his book, The Shallows, Nicholas Carr asks the question, “What is the Internet doing to our brains?” He takes the reader on a journey through history, looking at the science of, and beliefs about, the brain and how those have changed over the millennia, examining the effects of technology on different cultures and the world throughout recorded history, and challenging the concept that, “the technology is just a tool, inert until we pick it up and inert again once we set it aside” (Kindle Location 119). If asked, the vast majority of people would likely say the Internet has be a boon to the learning process – bringing a depth of knowledge to the individual user, which has been unavailable prior to the advent of said technology. Carr is one of a handful of authors and/or researchers beginning to investigate, nearly two decades after the introduction of the modern graphical web browser, whether or not the Internet actually promotes long term and/or deep learning. In an effort to support his ideas and claims, Carr relies heavily on learning studies and brain-based research performed over the past 15 to 20 years. He takes considerable care to lay his thesis out in a thoughtful manner and walk the reader down well-manicured path toward his conclusions.

The Shallows

Carr’s primary goal is to investigate the Internet in terms of how the usage of this tool is shaping the way our brains work. He sets the stage for his treatise by making sure the reader understands the Internet as a medium for the delivery of content – educational, informational, conversational, video, music, text, or otherwise. He also is clear in expressing his belief that the issue at hand is not the content of the Internet. Carr admonishes his audience to consider that “a medium’s content matters less than the medium itself in influencing how we think and act” (Kindle Locations 111-112). His focus will clearly be on the behind the scenes, nearly subconscious, mechanisms that drive the Internet and not on the purpose of its use. Carr expounds upon his own experiences, as a technology and Internet user, and relates how it has changed not only the way he goes about his work but also the way he perceives that his mind works. He interweaves the reflections of others, experiencing similar effects, into this narrative primarily as a means of setting the foundations for what is to come in the following chapters. While not advocating a return to a Luddite style of living, Carr does seem to be issuing a warning about what we might be giving up as we dive ever deeper into the ocean of the Internet, “What we’re trading away in return for the riches of the Net— and only a curmudgeon would refuse to see the riches— is what (Scott) Karp calls ‘our old linear thought process.’ Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts— the faster, the better” (Kindle Locations 219-222).

The focus of Carr’s argument lies in the science of neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity. This modern concept of the brain stands in stark contrast to the age-old belief  “that the structure of the adult brain never changed” (Kindle Locations 376-377). According to Carr, new research is shedding light on the brain in a way that helps us understand how our neural pathways and synapses can and do change due to changes in our behavior, our environment, and/or injury. Carr’s message is succinct, “The genius of our brain’s construction is not that it contains a lot of hardwiring but that it doesn’t” (Kindle Locations 560-561). As the reader moves through the book, Carr delves into examining the history of brain science and intertwining his research with examples of how different technologies have affected humankind, from the way we live to the way we think. Much of his focus in the first half of the book is on humankind’s transition to what is best described as deep thinking or “being cultivators of personal knowledge” (Kindle Location 2289).

The pivotal point of The Shallows arrives when Carr begins to focus on the Internet, especially in regards to the impact it has on our brains and the way we learn; “the Net is best understood as the latest in a long series of tools that have helped mold the human mind” (Kindle Locations 1904-1905). He feels that the question of impact on the human brain is worthy of asking because “the Net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use” (Kindle Locations 1915-1916). In the early days of the Internet, educational experts believed that “introducing hyperlinks into text displayed on computer screens would be a boon to learning. Hypertext would, they argued, strengthen students’ critical thinking by enabling them to switch easily between different viewpoints” (Kindle Locations 2079-2080). As Carr hones in on his thesis, he begins to cite multiple research studies that refute the idea that hyperlinks, the base concept that makes the Internet the Internet, promote long-term learning. Instead, he lays out a clear argument identifying the ways in which the Internet instead becomes a distraction by citing studies that show “links got in the way of learning” (Kindle Locations 2117-2118). For Carr, heavy Internet use among humankind is leading us away from being cultivators of personal knowledge and back to a more primitive state of thought where we are now “hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest” (Kindle Locations 2289-2290).

Carr’s message is not entirely negative. He does acknowledge the valuable assets the Internet brings to humankind by providing us quick access to information, potent search tools, and an easy way to share our thoughts with even a small but interested audience. His charge is not an implication of the tool itself causing change. The tool is merely an agent, changing our behaviors which, in turn, changes the way our brains process incoming information which, in turn, effects on our ability to learn, moving information from “working memory” to “deep memory” or long-term memory. As humankind offloads the cognitive capacity of our memory onto the Internet, Carr warns against “a slow erosion of our humanness and our humanity” (Kindle Locations 3600-3602) and advises that “we shouldn’t allow the glories of technology to blind our inner watchdog to the possibility that we’ve numbed an essential part of our self” (Kindle Locations 3477-3478).

Personal Impact

As a person who spent 14 years working in the information technology field, 10 of them in the K-12 education environment, Carr’s message reached this reader on a personal level. My first dalliance with hyperlinked text came as a college student during the mid-1990s. As part of my senior thesis, I theorized that creating a multimedia supplement to a textbook would both enhance a student’s self-perceived enjoyment of the learning process while at the same time cultivating a deeper understanding of the material presented in the textbook. The graphical browser arrived on the scene at the same time I began my project, and my focus shifted from a CD-ROM based multimedia experience to an Internet based one. For various reasons, my thesis never reached the stage of implementation; however, based on Carr’s presentation, it is clear that many other people were studying the exact same thing at the same time. Had I finished my work, I wonder if my findings would have been the same as those who found that “when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning” (Kindle Locations 1908-1909).

Several years ago, like Carr, I noticed a “distractedness” in the process of how I think. Reading, for entertainment, which had previously been a pleasurable activity, was now more of a chore. I no longer spent hours devouring the pages of books, and when I did try to read, keeping my focus became work. I became convinced that age was the cause of my inability to retain specific information from my reading, leaving me with merely a vague understanding of the book. As I now dive back into the world of academia, I find reading to be even more bothersome. I often have to read entire passages two or three times to gain an understanding of what the author is saying. I find myself in a position where 2,000 pages of reading for a semester becomes 4,000 pages, just in an attempt to have a working understanding of the context and content of what I have read.

As a Christian, I can’t help but wonder what impact the neural changes our brains experience, as a result of Internet usage, has on our faith. Our Bible is rife with admonition to meditate both in prayer and on the Scripture. A quick Google search reveals a plethora of verses dealing with the belief that scripture needs to be a component of our “deep thought” and long-term memory:

  • "My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night" Psalm 63:5-6 (NRSV) 
  • "Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works." Psalm 119:27 (NRSV)
  • "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." Psalm 119:11 (NIV84)

The irony of searching for these verses on the Internet, using Google, is not lost on me. It would not be difficult to fill page after page with other examples of the call to meditation as a life-style practice for the believer. Yet, the Internet appears to be the antithesis of meditation, “the distractions in our lives have been proliferating for a long time, but never has there been a medium that, like the Net, has been programmed to so widely scatter our attention and to do it so insistently” (Kindle Locations 1878-1879). As my “full life” consumes my day, as my Internet usage rewires my brain into a more non-linear thought processes, I am left asking if I am becoming something other than that which I was created to be?


Should we give up the Internet for the betterment of humankind and ourselves or should we merely tame the way we use it, to bring us back to being “personal cultivators of knowledge”? It is easy to assume most people think of the Internet as a tool, one used to help them accomplish their daily goals while sometimes providing a bit of distracted entertainment along the way. As the Internet permeates our lives on a deeper and deeper level, Nicholas Carr asks us to consider the impact that usage is having on the way we think and learn. “The computer screen bulldozes our doubts with its bounties and conveniences. It is so much our servant that it would seem churlish to notice that it is also our master” (Kindle Locations 135-136). Ultimately it is up to readers to determine the best response and evaluate the impact Internet usage has on their own life, the process of thought, and their ability to learn in a meaningful and constructive manner.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


I originally posted this on Facebook...then I started thinking about how I haven't posted anything here in a long time, even though I've got a major one brewing in the recesses of my brain, and decided a little cut and paste never hurt anyone...

Truth be told, I have never fully involved myself in Lent. I've never felt called to give something up and I probably won't this year, especially since I haven't taken any time to put some serious thought and prayer into it. However, the influx of "self-sacrifice" posts I've seen on facebook this week has prodded me to study Lent a little more closely. For those who are giving something up for Lent, I hope that you also try to incorporate the whole season into your life, instead of just a temporary fast from the "luxurious." Not that abstinence alone is a bad thing, it just seems rather empty when taken out of the context of the "big picture."

As I have dug into the season, I have learned that the traditional purpose of Lent is to prepare us, as believers in Christ, through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial, for Holy Week, our celebration of the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As much as we focus on the giving up, I hope and pray that, as the Bride of Christ, we would spend as much energy or more on prayer, penance, repentance, and almsgiving. I would also encourage you to make sure that you're not just going to replace your sacrifice with something else to help ease the pain of the fast, if that's the case then what's the point?

My study has brought me some valuable knowledge and, in the immortal words of GI Joe, "knowing is half the battle." I look forward to watching this Lenten season unfold through more knowledgeable eyes even while I find myself considering how I can begin preparing now, for the season which begins 365 days from today. Maybe I can start by giving up being preachy on facebook...and, yes, I worked GI Joe into a post about Lent. I'm a little proud of that.

Have a meaningful Lenten season. Relish the sacrifice that was made just for you. I will.