Fumbling the Torch


Our television died last weekend.

My parents had a 70’s-era Sony for 25 years. Our JVC lasted only 11. Bought it for my wife when we were engaged. (The vacuum my parents bought us for our wedding croaked this last summer. Thankfully, the marriage still holds up.)

Toward the end of our TV’s life, the favored fix for its tendency to scrunch the entire image down to a line a quarter-inch thick across the middle of the screen consisted of an authoritative whack to its cabinet. Kapow! and the picture would balloon to normal size. Over the last six months, it resembled a speed bag more than a television. Last Saturday, no amount of throttling on my part could bring it back.

Given that a new television compliant with the FCC-mandated digital requirements will set us back a minimum of $750, we may simply have to do without. It’s just the way things are right now.

Though I wish things were not that way, my television viewing’s fallen off to a limit approaching zero since The X-Files went off the air, anyway. Back during its network run, I taped nearly every episode, my devotion to the show evident in my inability to participate in any event that coincided with it, for fear some drunk would crash into a power line somewhere and erasing my carefully crafted programming of the VCR. That, of course, didn’t happen—except on the one night I had no choice but attend an event. The episode in question just so happened to be the infamous inbred family one, which FOX elected never to run again. Ever. Of course.

But that slavish devotion taught me never again to surrender time to TV. I haven’t followed anything since and probably never will.

(Readers: “So, Dan, where does this boring intro actually lead?”)

Imagine a campfire on the plains of Palestine circa 200 AD. A dozen people gather ’round its warmth, trading stories. At one point, the elder of the group stands up and tells of Jesus, His ways, and how those ways became the ways of their people. He talks for an hour, while the younger ones trade questions with him, learning, absorbing. Tomorrow night, the conversation will be similar, but varied enough to take others to a fractionally deeper place than the night before. The faces might be different this night, the main storyteller another of the wise ones, but what lingers in the cooling night air contains the same truth, the same life-giving wisdom.

On some nights, stories surrender to music. But the music doesn’t jar with the oral traditions. No, it reinforces truth, resembling what was taught and told, only in words set to rhythm and melody.

Night after night, this is how it unfolds for those people. This is their entertainment and their revelation.

My parents’ generation was the first to adopt television. I will argue that theirs was the first with a soundtrack from cradle to grave, too. They embodied the first completely media-savvy generation.

And for that reason, my generation got ripped off. My son’s generation will be, also. And his son’s.

Media stole the passed torch. It distracted those who came before us from their primary duty of ensuring the wisdom of the ages survived into the next generation. Whatever that wisdom may have been, that generation preferred the dull gray light of a cathode ray tube, or the voice of a box of transistors, to passing on the only things worth saving.

In time, their newly adopted habits combined with the islandization of the cities and the suburbs to destroy community as known by the denizens of Palestine 200AD. Work habits changed, and employment moved far from home. Every day. Connections withered. Who we were supposed to be in our souls got lost amid The Honeymooners and Little Richard.

My entire twenties consisted of the relentless drone of young Christians around me repeating the the same mantra over and over: “I wish I could find a mentor.” Sorry, but the mentor couldn’t pry himself away from Charlie’s Angels.

But who could blame him? He slaved in an office in some nondescript tower of glass and steel all day, had no one pouring life back into him, so what did he have to give at the end of the day? Better just to tune into Laugh In and tune out for an hour or two than to step out of the cultural programming and back into something older and more lasting.

I look around today and can’t help but think it’s infinitely worse. Cruise the Godblogosphere long enough and it seems like everyone’s glued to a 50″ plasma display OR an iPod OR a PS3 OR the two dozen flicks at the multiplex OR some pointless Internet distraction. Meanwhile, the next generation’s holding out their hands, dying for what little got passed on to us.

So the threads of tradition thin and weaken. Trivia replaces wisdom. Words lose to throwaway images.

Meanwhile, the thief breaks in to steal and destroy. And he plunders the entire house because the homeowner couldn’t pry his attention away from Lost or American Idol or 24 or some other pointless entertainment guaranteed to burn on Judgment Day.

Hey, I know that’s a tough word, folks, but we’re fiddling while America burns. It’s one thing for Christians to be culturally-savvy in cultural distinctives that last for generations, but quite another to be so enamored of pop-cultural artifacts that won’t stand up to a decade’s time.

If the best we can give our kids when they move away from home is the complete DVD collection of The Office or our Radiohead box-set, how is Jesus going to get a word in edge-wise?

But He’s Jesus, right? He’ll find a way to compete!

Can we hear ourselves? What life is going to flow into those kids? And into their kids?

My generation got mugged on the way to “maturity.” My parents did a decent job and were good people, but they still suffered from media distractions. They fell prey to disconnection and fractured community. My mother’s generational wisdom should’ve fed me, but by the time I realized I needed it, she was too far gone to help. And I didn’t know I needed it because I was too lost in my own media-driven stupor. Because the generation before me was, too. It was all I knew.

In the end, the torch I should be passing on to my child resembles a paper matchstick.

All that wisdom—gone. When my parent’s generation dies off entirely, so goes heritage, at least for many like me. We won’t remember all the second and third cousins. We won’t know how Christ changed that one great-uncle. Those salvation stories won’t be repeated around campfires any longer. The Bible passages that changed a generation will retreat into the book, to be remembered no more. And the hard-earned wisdom gained through decades of walking with Christ will blow away like dust along with the folks who learned it through bloody prayer, but took it to their graves.

What a grievous loss!

I wish we could grab our old people by the lapels and beg, “Don’t die before you instill in us what you learned about Christ. If you’ve been to the secret places, show us how to get there, too!” Don’t leave our generation to reflect on what might have been!

You know what I wish more of us did on Sunday? Rather than the same old, same old, why not begin a quarterly recollection Sunday (and center it around a full church meal and communion), where people tell stories of how Jesus changed their lives. How He came through and led out of the darkness. Have our kids hear those stories from people besides us for a change. Show them the relevancy of Christ from one generation to the next. And please God, send the fire on us so those stories burn with miracles and deliverance and the kind of supernatural power that proves to the next generation that “Awesome God” isn’t just a tired old song on the radio.


Because that’s the kind of thinking we must resurrect if the generation that follows us is going to have any sense of purpose and history to pass on to their children.

{Image: Rembrandt—Jacob Blessing the Children of Joseph, 1656}

48 thoughts on “Fumbling the Torch

  1. Heather

    Wow, Dan. What a hard, awesome and extremely edifying word!! You have presented quite a challenge to me personally. I will be pondering this and praying on this.

    Your last paragraph … what a tremendous idea! Recollection Sunday … love it! Aesome God isn’t just a tired old song on the radio … it’s who HE is!

    Thanks for posting this! I have much to think about …



    • Heather,

      It grieves me to think about the way things used to be. Sure, the Bible tells us not to spend all our time considering the former days, but “considering” is at the core of that warning. What do we have to consider now? Are the things we consider and the things our ancestors considered even makng it down into the next generation? When people aren’t rooted to anything, chaos reigns.

      When the books are opened and a whole generation gets an “F” because no one took the time to tell them of the things that matter, which of us will take the blame?

      Thanks for reading.

  2. Wow!!!! Once again, Dan, you have nailed it! Of all the reasons I have read over the years for removing television from our homes, yours is clearly the most compelling. “Recollection Sunday” – brilliant! Blessings!

    • Patricia,

      I’m not aganst TV. I’m against slavish devotion to TV. My family watches a DVD from time to time. We all enjoyed the recent update of Pride & Prejudice a couple weeks ago, getting up to pound the TV at regular intervals.

      We just can’t get so enamored of these shows that they control us. We can’t be so cool with pop culture that we lose the distinctive aroma of Christ. If we’re watching TV and our kids have no sense of real Christian discipleship, or of family, or of good things that endure, then we’ve blown it. And I see too many of us doing just that.

      Lok at the discipleship programs at our churches. People can name all the characters of Lost, but they can’t name the twelve disciples. They can’t present the Gospel, but they can tell you all the songs loaded on their iPod or all the movies showing at the cineplex.

      That’s going to come back to haunt each of us on Judgment Day, this writer included!

  3. I think that episode was on the Sci-Fi channel the other day…But seriously…While trekking through the forest in northern Thailand, looking for a Lisu village that was hidden in the folds of the mountains, my missionary companions were creating a basketball dream team. For two straight hours they pulled statistics and play-by-plays from their heads, arguing why they would put so and so in such and such a position over this or that player. I have never heard such a worthless recital of information in my life. At the end of our search, as we sat and talked with the village elders in a very similar situation to the one you described, simple recollections of the Word of God were much harder to come by. One of my friends turned to me and said “It’s a shame I don’t know my Bible as well as my NBA stats…”

    A shame indeed.

    • David,

      When I was at Wheaton, a friend commented on the sheer number of trivial facts I know. I told him I’d trade it all to know the Bible inside and out.

      I know of what you speak…

  4. I stand guilty as charged! Maybe our economic depression will deny us our technological purchases to the point of limiting our options and driving us back to the importance of relationships within the context of what you are talking about. Probably not. We would rather sacrifice food, shelter, and clothing than give up our technology.

    Twice in the past I’ve done a month of no TV. My relationship with God and others was never better. But I’ve always turned it back on. How crazy is that?

    • Don,

      I think the basic disconnection we suffer in our relationships with others, even within our own churches, fuels some of this—as does the nature of the business world today. Sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer all day is demoralizing and draining, especially when you’re barely making it with what they pay you. It’s no wonder people come home like zombies and don’t want to be troubled with anything, even if that anything means life and death.

      We in the Church need to be talking about this and coming to some radical solutions.

  5. Dan,

    What a timely word! I am studying discipleship and I’ve come to a similar conclusion. We’ve lost the main ingredient of discipleship: spending time (much time) with someone who is spiritually more mature than us. We’ve replaced this with short lessons where we try to transfer information. There has never been a time in my life where a more mature believer has spent time with me, sharing their stories, encouraging me in my walk. I have longed for that. But, now, I must decide… do I deprive others because I was deprived? Or do I try to learn as I live, and spend time with those God sends across my path. I’m trying to shake the shackles of media and entertainment, and I’m learning to really live by pouring my life into others.


    • Alan,

      My wife and I realized a few years ago that “It’s us.” We’re the generation in charge. We can’t sit around waiting for our parent’s generation to do it because they probably won’t. We can’t drop the ball lke they did. We either make a diference in the lives of the generation coming up behind us or we end up like our parents.

      It’s on our shoulders. We can’t sit around hoping that smeone will pour into us. We’ve got to find it for ourselves and make sure our kids get what we didn’t.

  6. B

    Mentors are desperately needed. However, when the ‘mentors’ can only recite the rules of their religion, when they can only be shocked at what they’re hearing from the young people, the young people aren’t going to come to them. Being a (good) mentor means that you have something to give—and young people won’t be satisfied with dogmatic recitations of dos and donts. Nobody wants to be a matchstick carrier!

    • B,

      We’ve got to be the ones mentoring. We can’t stay in this state of looking for a mentor or else the next generation will go wanting, too. Time for all of us to buck up and show some backbone.

  7. Wonkyhead

    Excellent post! Where have all the storytellers gone? Were one to stand up and actually hold forth, in an engaging and creative way, on the wonders (and pitfalls and triumphs) of the journey of faith, would most of us even have enough of an attention span left to listen? After all, we (and this is even more true of our children) were raised on sound bites, 30 second doses of this and 15 seconds of that, all jumbled together in crazy juxtaposition and competing for recognition and recollection inside our over-stimulated brains. It’s tragic, really, but if a storyteller were to emerge, we would more than likely regard him or her as a peculiarity to be tolerated with knowing half-smiles, as opposed to one who may have some irreplaceable wisdom to convey.

    I will be praying about this also.



    • Holly,

      Story teaches. But it needs a personal rather than an impersonal component. That’s one of the things we miss when we rely on movies and TV to replace the power of a lone speaker in person.

  8. I couldn’t agree more.
    I just recently got a world of enjoyment when an elderly lady in our church went into the hospital for several weeks. I was able to visit her regularly and hear those stories, and glean from that wisdom. It was some of the best hours I’ve spent. But then she went home, and the usual restrictions of not intruding on their time went back into play. I wish and pray good health for my friend, but I was never more disappointed than when she left the hospital and I lost that resource. More people should talk, should remember.

    • Flyawaynet,

      I love old ladies. I’ve learned so much from old ladies in my life. We have to treasure our elders. Time and again, they’re the ones propping up the church in prayer.

  9. Heather

    An unintentional misreading of this sentence led me to a thought about your Rememberance events idea:
    “Have our kids hear those stories from people besides us for a change.”

    At first my mind read “Have our kids hear those stories from people BESIDE us for a change.” Because, you know, if most churches were to implement your inspired idea, they would also shuttle the children off to a separate room during the recollections time, so we adults wouldn’t be “distracted.” I’m not trying to be cynical, really. Because most Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings and whenever preachers and elders are expounding on what God has shown them through the Word and believers are remembering Christ through communion, the children are — if efforts are sincere — in a room far away with a devoted teacher going over Noah’s story again. If the heart-motivation is lacking, they are working on their sharing skills and learning that Jesus is “fun.”

    Just a thought. If we are to pass the torch, we all have to give up the idea that our children, other peoples’ children, crying babies, are a distraction. We have to serve each other so that all can hear.


  10. Chooselife

    You make some excellent points. I recently went without tv for about two months, which wasn’t long enough, because I was just getting to the point where I could reflect and hear my own thoughts. I am very concerned about the wastefulness and misallocation of resources (both material and intellectual) in America over the past century. I have been researching climate change and peak oil (the end of cheap oil that some geologists and oil analysts believe may happen before the end of the decade). How will the decline of American civilization (which I believe will happen, despite what cornicopianists and techno-enthusiasts say) affect the western Church’s collective relationship with God? What sermons will we hear on Sunday when half the congregation is out of work, much less without a working television? Will we curse God or repent? I don’t hear much about the Church taking action now to prepare its members for what is sure to come, other than to say get ready for the rapture. We don’t know if Jesus is returning for 5 or 50 years or even if His return will turn out to be what we anticipate. But we do know what he said in the gospels– When he returns, will He find faith on the earth?

    • Chooselife,

      If you haven’t already, check out previous posts here in the “Work” category. I’ve written extensively on the American Church’s utter disconnect with the real work lives of people in the pews. I’ve also repeatedly sunded the alarm that we’re not preparing in our churches for any serious economic turndown.

  11. Diane Roberts

    Well, let’s see, where do I start? The organizational structure of most churches – that is – the pastor is decider, will not allow for this type of thing. The only people that will be allowed to mentor without question are the elders and their wives (and maybe at times their parents). I have never been in a church where it has been otherwise.

    The old people are herded into the old people’s group and the singles into the singles’ group and the marrieds into the marrieds’ group. None ever sees the other – hardly. So, the BIG problem is the church getting these people together. That is why I am such a big fan of geographical church home groups (groups started by and within a church as opposed to cell churches). These groups have the marital, age and often socio-economic diversity for the kind of thing you are writing about here.

  12. George ONeal

    When the last of our kids left our home almost 7 years ago, we told him to take our 20+ year-old Sony with him. It was one of the best decisions we ever made. It was difficult at first, but after a few weeks we (actually, mostly me) didn’t miss it at all. Now my wife Sunny and I spend our relaxation time really together, talking, reading, and knitting. One of our fav activities is for me to read “The Message” and an Agatha Christie mystery while Sunny knits. If we get really desperate, we can watch a DVD on our laptop.
    I encourage everyone to simply go cold turkey with your TV. It’s very liberating, you won’t miss it, and you’ll free up tons of time previously wasted vegging in front of it.

    • George,

      People talk. They open up. They reach out to others. Life seems bigger, doesn’t it?

      But it’s not just TV. All sorts of media distract us. We’re more tuned into what some pointless celebrity says and does than our own church members. We need to drop out of vacuous culture and rediscover what’s lasting. Our kids will love us for it.

  13. Great post.

    If you’ve been to the secret places, show us how to get there, too!

    The secret places are not accessed by dogma or apologetics or exegesis. If they were, we’d already be camped out by the fire toasting our holy marshmallows. Truly knowing God and finding those secret places is done by personal experience. If we all were to share our experiences of God as we experienced them instead of how our dogma tells us we should have experienced them, we may all get along a little bit better. And, who knows … we may even find some common ground between “us” and “them”.

  14. Ron Lusk

    In John Owen’s Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, he proposes the believer’s thought life as a gauge of his spiritual-mindedness (“to be spiritually minded is life and peace”). While the imaginations of man are continually evil, the believer has a new root. Yes, you have to think about work and the duties of the day, etc. But what does your mind dwell on when there is no work right at hand?

    Specifically, he identifies times of walking and journeying as times available for your mind to bubble up the thoughts that reveal its temper and tendencies. It is most interesting (to me) that these are the times we now fill with music and talk from iPods and CDs and radios. (My dad’s 1956 Chrysler Imperial had a built-in phonograph, so this isn’t anything new.)

    My MP3 player now lies unused, while I test what’s going on by listening to my own thoughts.

    • Ron,

      I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the best times I’ve had with the Lord have been out alone in the woods. The second best times have been out with others in the woods. Away from distractions. Away from the buzz. Just like the the Lover calls to the Beloved to “Come away,” so we need to heed the call.

    • So true. I find that if the TV is on — even if a show is on that I’m not all that interested in — I can’t do anything creative … nothing!

      Some of my most creative times have been on long drives without any music on.

  15. David Underwood

    Dan, I am a first time reader because of Keith Brenton’s link on his blog. SUPER post, brother. This won’t be my last visit.

    In HIM,

    • David,

      Thanks for reading. Unfortunately, I have to disappoint you in coming days if a new satellite modem doesn’t show up, since mine burned out this morning. I hope to be back blogging by Tuesday.

    • Dan’s gone one beyond just commenting on the former days: he has given us a tangible, do-able idea for improving our future, deepening the culture of our children, and perhaps even introducing a more real, accessible communion into our worship. Michael, this is more than nostalgia. It’s vision.

    • Michael,

      I have to agree with Keith here. That verse can be used way out of context. The Egyptians grumbling about the leeks they ate in Egypt is far different than adults failing to pass on the core of life, family, and faith because they’re too attached to mass media.

  16. Dan,

    And I whole-heartedly agree that others can help point the way. I was contrasting sharing personal experience and arguing dogma. The former is uniting while the latter is divisive.

    One of the problems, I think, is that personal experience is somewhat scoffed at in these days of scientism (check out the Huston Smith quote on my blog and the full interview on beliefnet. Saying “God did this for me” or “God helped me so much the other day” is not as strong a statement as it once used to be.

    • I’m not sure what happened but the comment to which this is a reply should have been a reply to Dan’s reply to my comment where I quoted Dan’s original post. Is that clear????

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