Why I’m celebrating Advent for the first time by fasting Twitter

Refugees: The Holy Family by Kelly Latimore

This December is the first time I’ve observed Advent. I mean really intentionally observed it.

While I love this season as much as anyone, I usually don’t make the most of it. I’m usually distracted by whatever it is I’m working on and, by the time Christmas comes around, I get swept up in whatever festivities are happening around me. I usually let other people curate my Christmas experience.

Not so this year.

I can remember coming to the end of almost every winter holiday season wishing that there had been more focus on Jesus. I felt sad that something that is so important in my life had been sidelined.

While I had the intention of celebrate his coming to Earth, my attention was elsewhere. It was on logistics and shopping and meeting friends and family members and cooking nice food.

Don’t get me wrong, all these things are good, it’s just that I have experienced them as distraction from the kind of space I actually want to inhabit. I want to be someone whose life isn’t hurried, but is deeply centred.

At times in church history, Advent has been used for fasting and reflection. It’s been a time in which decorations are kept to a minimum in order that we celebrate Jesus coming to a world that wasn’t prepared for him. Fleming Rutledge puts it this way:

The purpose of this withholding is to teach us that, in the birth of our Savior, we have received something that is beyond our deserving, beyond our preparations, beyond our human potential, beyond our expectations–that comes to us, in the words of beloved carols, in a “silent night,” in the “dark streets,” “in the bleak midwinter”

Fleming Rutledge, Observing Advent

So this year, knowing that it won’t work to start pursuing centredness on Christmas Eve, I’ve decided to embrace Advent. I’m using it as a time of preparation for what is to come. I’m taking time for reflection and focus in the hope that this will influence my inner space by the time Christmas comes around.

One of the important factors in cultivating this space is reducing distraction. Instead of falling prey to the cacophony of voices that usually crowd, and shape, my imagination, I’m taking back control.

One of my sources of endless ideas and questions and opinions is Twitter.

Even though I deleted the app from my phone several months ago, it has continued to be one of my go-tos for new information.

But more than that, I’ve noticed that it’s been my go-to for a quick fix of distraction: an escape from my inner journey. And my inner landscape has been deforested by this incessant running away.

So this Advent I’ve decided to abstain from using Twitter.

I won’t be opening that particular tab on my web browser until after Christmas. And even though I have minor anxiety about missing out on some important news, I think things will be okay.

Hopefully, learning to spend more time reflecting on the things I choose to, rather than the things that are thrown at me, will mean that I have more to offer the world.

How about you? Are there things you do during this season to help you reflect? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email to share your advent practices.

Ps. for those of you who arrived here from Twitter and are wondering if you caught me cheating, that was an auto-post ūüôā

Deciding to hit publish

I have been on a writing journey.

Having blogged for many years, I started studying for my Master’s degree and began reflecting seriously on questions of source critique and academic authority.

I also hung around Twitter, watching the venom with which people pounce on the smallest mistake or slightest revelation of imperfection.

These two journeys side-by-side made me apprehensive about hitting publish. While I would draft several posts per month, I would rarely end up publishing them for fear of having selected my words poorly.

And now I’m realizing that it’s important to practice putting things out there. Even when they’re not perfect.

Even in a world which likes to pounce on our mistakes.

I’ve been inspired in this by Seth Godin and his challenge to post something every day, and also by Jason Evans whose blog I have followed since 2003 and who still posts regularly

Stop falling for the allure of News FOMO

Last night I dreamed that I bumped into Nassim Nicholas Taleb in a cafe.

He was sat thinking, recording his ideas via audio note on his mobile phone. Then his phone rang and he spoke to someone in Arabic for a few minutes.

After the phonecall I introduced myself. I told him how inspired I was by his Antifragility concept.

Half way into this dream, a girl in a beret snuck behind the philosopher. She switched his beret, which had been resting on a shelf behind him, with hers.

He didn’t notice the girl but, before she finished sneaking behind his back, I pointed her out to him. He had a twinkle in his eye as he stopped her and reclaimed his hat.

The whole time, he seemed gathered and at ease, in good spirits.

Once the girl was gone, it was like she’d never been there. He finished his conversation with me and went back to his thinking.

I think this dream illustrates my own inner dialogue pretty well. I adore well developed, longform writing and thought: philosophy, theology, fiction. I long to be part of that world. But I have a boundary problem: I let too many of the thoughts of others into my head.

I do this through Twitter, news apps and email. Before I deleted some of my apps, I was also a slave to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Flickr.

For example¬†the BBC app tells me¬†“worry about the Democrat Party leadership contest,”¬†and I do. Even though the outcome of this particular contest will have little or¬†no impact on my life. Even though there’s nothing I can do to change the outcome.

By letting others dictate what I think about I lose control of my mental space.

I lose the opportunity to apply my thinking abilities to the work of crafting ideas that I can be happy with.

The girl who wants to steal my beret and the guy who wants to stop and have a chat have distracted me from my work of thinking.

Unlike the Taleb of my dream, my undisciplined mind falls prey to the many things that vie for my attention.

Now I’m not saying that I want to cloister myself from the world. There will always be diversions, welcome or otherwise, from the path I expect to take.

But there’s a difference between handling¬†everyday intrusions and choosing a lifestyle of distractedness.

There’s a phrase that Paul of Tarsus uses in a¬†letters to his followers:¬†“take captive every thought.”

I think he’s alluding to the fact that we have some influence over what we think about. We have¬†responsibility for¬†taking every thought captive.

But how do we do it?¬†I think it involves¬†looking¬†at each one, examining¬†it and¬†asking “does it belong in my mind?”

We have to cultivate mental space that we own and that reflects our values.

Thinking right is important

We all know that thinking right is important to how we view ourselves and the impact that we make on the world. We’ve all seen the damage that thinking wrong can do to a person’s life.

We’ve known people full of potential but held back by their fears of who others say they are. For some¬†of us, we are those people: always asking ourselves, “who do you think you are?”

If thinking right is so important, why we give so much mental space to others?

After all, those “others” usually don’t have our best interests at heart.

Back to the BBC

All news organisations are in a competition for readers and viewers.¬†Reporting feel good news doesn’t attract readers the way that reporting danger¬†does.

Humans want know what risks are ahead.

Journalists know that a story describing some new risk will be easy to sell to a news agency. Their goal is selling papers, and spreading fear does just that.

Those agencies have apps and Twitter feeds that keep us updated on the Breaking News that we need know about.

At any moment we can be interrupted with the latest notification. The new thing that totally overshadows whatever it was we were just thinking about. Our previous thought relegated to the back burner.


If it’s not our just our hunger for knowing about risk that keeps us tuned in. We are also plagued by FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

It’s no fun being the only person who doesn’t know about that latest thing that just happened.

But in this sphere¬†not missing out (NMO) isn’t as satisfying as we expect.

In the real world, when we let FOMO take over, the payback is usually tangible. We go to that party instead of staying home. That means that we have the memories and experiences of that party.

But most of the breaking news that we hear doesn’t offer us a payback. Our day gets distracted because X has happened, but there’s nothing we can do about X.

Sure, we can talk about it. But the outcomes of this particular scenario are out of our hands. Instead of feeling engaged, we end up feeling alienated.

The elites skirmish and play their power games and all we can do is spectate.

Our news cycles are set up to reinforce dissatisfaction and a sense of powerlessness.

Take the power back

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It’s something we each have to weigh up for ourselves.

There are some for whom electronic discipline comes naturally. They know when to turn off their phones and focus on the real world.

And there are others who just don’t see it as an issue. The convenience of constant connection to the shared consciousness far outweighs its drawbacks.

But I’m not in either of those groups. I¬†want to take back my inner space, and I can’t do it without conscious effort.

Maybe I’ll begin¬†by learning to take every thought captive.¬†

Reflections on my in/voluntary tech fast

Four months ago, just as I was getting into a regular rhythm of writing, my computer’s graphics card failed. When I took it to the Apple Store in Amman, I was told that although it’s covered under warranty in the rest of the world, they couldn’t repair it for free in Jordan*. So I decided to wait until I would be back in Europe.

technology addiction

I toyed with blogging via my phone using dictation, but couldn’t really get into it. Instead I decided to give myself a writing break, as well as some time away from technology. Here’s what I discovered:

1. I’m addicted¬†to information. Instead of just doing everything via¬†my phone, for the first month I decided to delete Twitter, Instagram and Facebook from there¬†too. I figured this would give me more time¬†to focus more on Real Life. After a couple of days I noticed that I had swapped the time I would usually be using Twitter for reading BBC News and Al Jazeera, as well as starting to¬†restructure my Feedly account.

2. Sometimes the creative juices flow more freely when you’re not trying to think of something to write about. I found myself having several “must write” thoughts each day, that may have been stifled by¬†feeling I should write.

3. Reading more, and broadly, is really enjoyable. I decided to take a break from Scandi Crime novels and instead focussed on things that would stimulate ideas. I read theology, history, old literature.

4. It’s easy to use technology as a comfort blanket. I endeavoured to press into the discomfort of living in a new culture. Instead of connecting regularly with far flung friends, I spent more time asking myself “who could I spend time with here?”

Even though I’m now very relieved to be back at the keyboard, I’m glad I didn’t let my first instinct – to be super frustrated – dominate the last four months.

* I was assured by the Apple Genius who served me in the UK that they were more than likely just trying to avoid extra paperwork.

(Image credit: Jake Stimpson)

How I Became More Thankful

Having a positive outlook on life is vital if you’re going to stir up change in the world around you.

I Didn’t Start Out Thankful

When I arrived in South Africa for the first time, I discovered I had some unrealistic expectations of what a change of location could do. I thought that moving would accelerate my growth process and turn me into the kind of person I dreamed of becoming: someone selfless, generous, open hearted and full of peace.

I’m a recovering millennial. It’s well documented that we don’t take naturally to discipline, focus or self-control. We’ve never had to suffer or work hard to shape our society. Our lives have been full of quick fixes to temporary lows as we sedate the inner disquiet.

After years of reading about people like Mother Theresa and Heidi Baker, I was under the impression that a change of location would bring about big change. I’d be overwhelmed with compassion when I walked around the townships, playing with children and showing love to people with AIDS. My heart’s natural tendency to love would come alive and I’d be a living example of Jesus for all to see.

So you’ll understand that I had a wake up call when I arrived and it was difficult. I was homesick, a long way away from my (then) girlfriend (now wife), and surrounded by people I didn’t know.

Instead of feeling the urge to self sacrifice, I was drawn inward, toward self preservation. I spent hours alone, focussed on home, ignoring my heart. I was always thinking about what’s next and how to get there with the least possible effort.

After a lot of wasted time moping and feeling misunderstood, I began to realise that I could do something about my feelings. My mind had been consistently drawn back to something that I envied Paul, from the Bible, for being able to write:

“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.”

This guy had been in and out of prison, beaten and almost drowned. How could he be so content when I was so unsettled?

An Experiment

Fast forward a couple of years and my wife is reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, in which the author describes undertaking an experiment in gratitude.

Each day she would make a list of things that she was thankful for. Over time she found that she was more content and appreciative of what she had, rather than being discontent with what she didn’t.

I was so inspired by this simple wisdom that I decided to spend the following year making daily lists of things I was thankful for. Each day I would add 5 things to my list.

As the year went on, I realised that I was feeling more content. My circumstances weren’t more stable, we didn’t have more money or a better quality of life (at least not materially), but my heart was thankful and that made a world of difference.

It had such a positive impact on my thinking that, after the year was over, I decided to continue with my daily list making indefinitely.

Have you tried a similar to experiment to this? How did it go for you?