When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert: a Perspective Shift

Title: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor | Authors: Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert | Genre: Nonfiction | Paperback: 230 pages | Publisher: Moody Publishers (2009) | ISBN: 978-0-8024-5705-9 | Rating: 5/5

My ministry to refugees was hurtful when I began 3 years ago.

Once during my earliest days as an intern on the field, I stopped by a newly settled family’s home to check in. They’d been in the States for just a couple weeks at this point, and the woman told me she needed some tomatoes. That’s what was pressing to her. She needed tomatoes. It could have been worse.

Mostly, she needed a way to get the tomatoes. She had the money, but no car. Wanting to be helpful and meet a need, I drove to the market less than a mile down the road to buy her tomatoes. She stayed home. I think I used my own money to be reimbursed by the agency, since her money was on a card and she didn’t tag along.

I chose the tomatoes, waited in line to purchase, bought them and dropped the tomatoes back off to her within 15 minutes. When I got back to the office, I thought it was strange when my supervisor told me that the woman could get her own tomatoes next time.

Ouch. I thought to myself, “But wait, I thought we were here to help? What’s wrong with buying tomatoes? She’s been through so much, surely just a few tomatoes didn’t hurt that much?”

I’ve watched other leaders serve refugee families on the field better than I did (and still do). I’ve learned from them. And one thing they all have in common: they don’t buy tomatoes for their refugee friends when it could do more harm than good.


When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert has been recommended to me by multiple people in the nonprofit sector.

It didn’t take long once I started reading to learn why this book is revered in this line of work.

When Helping Hurts defines poverty, and then lays a foundational understanding of how to alleviate poverty. The book teaches best practices for long-term poverty alleviation, restoration of human dignity, and propelling leaders into culturally relevant, long-term modules of work.

This book challenged and changed my perspective about poverty. It gave words I didn’t have to describe the hope of my work with refugees. It also gave framework for many of the practices and philosophies I have learned to practice. And yes, it showed me why buying those tomatoes that day wasn’t the best choice.


There were many points to take away from this book, but let me share the top 3.

001: we work to restore human dignity, and yes, it takes a long time.

The point of helping others is not to fix it for them. The point is to seek solutions with them.

Your role is to work together with them. They are called to participate in their own rebuilding. Why? Because there is a sweet reward in allowing someone to accomplish something on their own. We are made to work and be satisfied.

Deep down, no one really loves things to simple be done for us. Actually, we crave the satisfaction of providing for our families and accomplishing tasks ourselves. We are wired this way. This is dignifying and shows us a better way of helping others.

Because of this, there are no quick fixes. One of the stories in the book talks about a church that spent years working to get its feet on the ground in an inner city community. One of the church’s first projects was to build a house. A single house. And it took years.

But by the end of it, you know who was leading the congregation? You know who had grown into the facilitators? The people in the community – those who had originally been helped. They were now leading and working in the church body, growing as individuals and meeting unique needs in their community. It took longer, but the fruit was richer.

002: You might think you have the best idea, but look again.

What works in America won’t work in other countries. Actually, what works in your neighborhood may not work in the neighborhood you are reaching out to. It is so important to recognize the role that culture plays; it affects our entire worldview.

The most powerful thing you can do when stepping into new places is to invite your neighbor into their own rebuilding. Give a voice to the voiceless. Recognize that the very people you are helping have ideas and skills that are perfect for their situation, and the most empowering thing you can do is to point that out to them.

I cringed throughout the book as I came to face to face with my privilege. So many times.

This point is only one way that reared its ugly head. I had to confess that I don’t always have the best ideas, and it’s my responsibility to hear what my refugee neighbors have to say too. They are thinking, living, breathing individuals too. Why should I think my ideas are law? I can’t help but wonder what ideas they’d share if I gave them the voice and listened.

003: I am just as broken as the neighbor I’m helping.

Above all, I am no better than my poor, addicted neighbor.

I am broken too. I’ve got my own wild views of the world and experiences. When we learn to see ourselves on this same level as the people we are helping, it completely changes the way that we approach them. It banishes the idea of “us and them.” It gets rid of my pride to do it for, but to instead rebuild with.

Recognizing this key commonality re-centers me to focus on the heart of my work: to lead others closer into living in right relationship with God, others, self, and creation. I can supply physical needs, like tomatoes all day, but at the end of it there is a deep spiritual need within us all that can’t be satisfied by tomatoes. That’s the impact I want to have in others’ lives.


Now I understand why buying the tomatoes was not my best move.

The woman was capable of going herself. Maybe she was nervous about going to the market herself, but I did not help her overcome that fear by doing it for her.

Instead, I affirmed her mindset that she is incapable of overcoming, and too weak to adjust to life in America. Obviously, that is not what I wanted to communicate to this woman. But, now that I’ve read When Helping Hurts, I can see how I did do that.  

If you are a person who wants to help other people, this is the book for you. Whether you are a pastor or missionary, social worker or teacher, or preparing for a short term trip, this is a must read.

The authors provide invaluable insight, and each page is packed with so much information. You might not agree with every principle or approach outlined, but the main point remains: we seek to restore humanity back to the broken, of which we are too.

As I read, I found it most beneficial to have my journal handy. Each chapter starts and ends with discussion questions, and as each chapter moves, different thoughts and ideas popped up. Because there was so much for me to reflect on as I read, it took longer to read; I couldn’t just fly through it.

But really, those are the best books. The books that shake our norms, and correct gaps in our thinking on a certain topic are not to be ignored. When Helping Hurts is not to be ignored because dealing with poverty cannot be ignored.

And if we’re going to step into the lives of others, helping and teaching along the way, we better have a solid foundation. I’m deeply appreciative of the painstaking efforts the authors went through to lead us through When Helping Hurts. There are lots of facts, stories and statistics, but hold tight.

This is the practical playbook we need as we seek long-term restoration for all people. I highly recommend reading this with a curious perspective about the true reality of poverty, and an open heart about the true cycle and response to helping people.

24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week by Tiffany Shlain: a Message About Rest


I do not have a great relationship with technology.

I either surpass my screen time limits for social media, or I just avoid social media altogether. I’ll attempt to take notes or make lists on my phone, but then get tired of looking at the screen and revert back to paper – making a mess of keeping multiple things in multiple places. I take too many pictures, attempting to get the right angle, and then waste time trying to muddle through them later. I usually feel more like a social media stalker than I do socialite. And I usually leave a long day at the office with groggy eyes from staring at the screen for hours.

But, I’ve also been able to use my phone to reserve books at the library and find my way without getting lost. I’ve often taken out my phone to document a sunset or a coffee date with a friend, moments that will later go in an album. I’ve heard wonderful sermons, songs, and podcasts that have changed an entire day for me. On the days when I do make the calls I know I need, I always feel encouraged.

Technology has been both good and bad for me. A blessing and a curse.

Technology is a language I am struggling with.

If I’m very honest, I struggle with knowing how to use technology to the glory of God.

I often feel like a slave to something I barely understand. I see the ways its value, but I also see its power over us. Like, I feel so overwhelmed by my usage, and fear that I am wasting it. Wasting the resource, and wasting my time on it.

It’s 2020. I – we – cannot avoid this conversation. We have a responsibility to seriously consider the tension of technology in our lives, because it is has woven itself into every piece of our lives, and is changing the way we live. So better get to it: how can I wisely use technology, in a way that doesn’t consume or beat me?


What if the solution I’m looking for is to deeply rest and reset by turning it off?

What if we really could just…turn it off? What if we could step away from the demands of notifications, the onstream of emails, and the never-ending roll of newsfeeds? Relinquishing my screens sounds both simple and seemingly impossible.

Tiffany Shlain, a filmmaker in California, understands this tension all too-well. She believes that developing a healthier self and relationship with technology is that simple, yet seemingly impossible answer: turn it off. For 24 hours every week.

No cell phones, not even for GPS or music. No TV shows or movies. No reminders or emails. And in the place of rings and notification pings, is a quiet that has allowed Shlain and her family to invite friends over for dinner, go on hikes, read books, journal, and ultimately, reset. Every. Single. Week.

It’s wild that such a simple action is a bold approach, but in her novel 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, Shlain takes us on the journey of unplugging one day a week and the extreme benefits she has found over the years. She digs into the science behind tech’s affects on us, and outlines how to use it better.

It was easy for me to enjoy this book, because I am very curious about healthier boundaries and screen time limits. I couldn’t mark enough of this book. One, because it’s the library’s copy and I wish I had my own. Two, because every page had something to say. A couple weeks after reading it, here is what is still sticking out to me:

One. We’re Addicted and Our Brains are Literally Changing

I hate to be the one to break this news, but every engineer behind our screens – every app, every service, every little icon and notification – is designed to “monetize our eyeballs.” We are literally placed on an endless loop that is made to make us lose track of time and place. Like slot machines and nicotine, our desire for stimulation has been fed the overwhelm, instant feed of the web and still feels lacking. How did they do this? Because they know how addiction works.

The developers behind our screens have not intended to make us our healthiest and best selves, although they’ll market that because it sells. The more time we’re on our screens, the more money they get. And they’ve got us because we just can’t look away.

We are no different than an addict and the web is our dealer. Our addiction to screens, like any other addiction, rewires us. It changes our attention span, our level of focus, our memory. It affects the way we connect with others, down to our ability to even maintain eye contact. Shlain gets into a lot of the research and study behind this in 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, and it blew me away.

This takeaway is big for me, because it re-centers me. It reminds me that my usage of technology, if left unchecked, will produce damaging effects to my life goals and relationships. Shlain writes,

“The human brain is constantly developing. Everything you do and experience is reshaping connections in your brain, strengthening some connections while weakening or pruning others. This also holds true for your online life: every link you follow, every post you read, every comment you make, is shaping the wiring of our brain.”

The freakiest part about this is not only do I suffer, but my relationships do too. When I constantly choose my screen over faces, I am saying that my screens are more important to me than connection and community. Deep in my soul though, I know that’s untrue. It’s up to me set up a different routine though.

“Fifty years ago, people turned to cigarettes at the exact times we now turn to our phones: waiting, standing in line, when feeling anxious or bored, first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee, last thing at night, after sex. Perhaps the big difference between smartphones and cigarettes is that usually you could start a conversation with someone by asking for a light, as opposed to the group parallel play we all seem to do today: head down, no connection with the person next to you.”

Tiffany Shlain, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, page 42

Two. Deep Rest Comes in the Quiet

Shlain’s anecdote for the busyness of tech is the quiet of solitude. In one of my favorite chapters of the book, she gets into our deep need for silence, arguing that the best way to control our technology is by making its silence a part of our life’s rhythm.

When we make “silent sanctuaries” for ourselves, we are giving our brains the time to process the overstimulation of notifications, conversations, podcasts, lectures, music and everything else we’ve heard. Literally, we are making healthier bodies that will live longer and stronger brains that will continue positively developing. Shlain delves into the science of how people who rest in the quiet are literally healthier.

Lower blood pressure. Better memory. Longer lives. And all it takes is turning off the noise, and being brave enough to let my mind wander.

I didn’t know this, but I shouldn’t be surprised. God wants us to sit in solitude and quiet with him. Of course our bodies would feel tremendous health benefits when we obey that. Of course God knows us best, and knows that the noise of the world is damaging when it’s all we hear.

I crave his solitude. I really do.

I worry for us all, that we would become so encumbered on our screens that we would rob ourselves of the healthy minds and bodies Christ has given us. I really feel for the church. I fear that my Christian brothers and sisters will grow to love our screens so much, that we will forget how to hear the voice of God and feel his presence in our lives. I fear that we could forget how to sit in solitude with a God who can easily feel far away, and that with every phone pick up, we will distance ourselves further from him. I deeply fear that we would forget how to pray fervently and be students of the word, because we could let our addiction to screens overtake us.

Three. Everyone Needs This

Here is the craziest thing: Shlain is not a Christian. She’s of Jewish descent, but does not practice. She doesn’t read the Bible or claim any relationship with Jesus. But she has picked up on something that is wired in the very depth of our souls, and that is the need for rest. Not just sleep, but deep, soul rest. She has taken an element of Jewish culture – a Sabbath, which is a day of rest – and made it set a part. She’s consecrated it to the renewing and healing of her body by trading in the noise and busyness for solitude and community.

This speaks volumes to me. This confirms that God has designed us to be off one day every week. He’s made us to work and create and hustle most of the time, but then to have a time to reset. He’s made us to take note of our limitations.

Not just Christians. All of us.

I used to think that taking a Sabbath simply meant not working, which could include watching Netflix, Instagramming, playing Tetris (literally the only game I have on my phone). Then, several months ago, I started turning my social media off on Sundays. I’m not always perfect at it, but what I discovered is how much richer my days feel when I’m not looking at an endless roll of everyone’s highlight reels.

And as I go deeper still, I’m learning that rest requires more than doing nothing. It requires positioning ourselves to receive what is good for us. Things like dinner with friends, hiking a trail, journaling about the week, praying – those small acts strengthen our souls in ways that picking up our phones again cannot.

I know how it feels to take a day’s hike to an incredible lookout over a river, or the warmth of curling up with a good book. I know how loved I feel when I sit with a friend, and she never once picks up her phone, because the conversation with me is enough. Seeking intentional quiet is good for our bodies and souls. I know why; this is the plan.

It’s 2020. We’re all humans. None of us can avoid this message because (1) we all use technology and (2) we’ve all been made by a God who set designed these patterns within us all the same.  We might be at different journeys and levels of understanding, but none of us are excluded from the need to rest and the implications of our tech-filled society.


Final Thoughts: I Highly Recommend

At some point during reading this book, I realized that my habits make up my life. If I want to live a creative life, I have to make space for that. If I want to spend less time on my screen, I have to set limits for that. If I want to be real with people and live in community, I have to practice it.

And none of those goals will be achieved by refreshing the scroll again or binging Parks and Rec.

I have deep concerns for where we are headed as a society on screens; I have deeper concerns still for the church. We were made for more than life on a screen. 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week showed me that my concern is well-founded, and gave me a blueprint for how to begin the arduous process of change. This book showed me that the lingering desire to do more in my life than stay on a screen, and to find deep rest to recover weekly, is not crazy; it’s innately woven within me. Within us.

If we’re not careful, we’ll live on auto-pilot. We’ll consume, but won’t create and when the time comes to sit, we won’t know how to. We’ll run ourselves dry to the bones, but friends, we were made for something so much richer. The book reminded me of that, and put words to a feeling I’ve not been able to describe.

I’m not yet on a 24/6 lifestyle yet. I am moving and preparing myself to get there though. 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week has been my launching pad, a guide of sorts to help me begin the process. Even if you’re not quite ready for that radical change in lifestyle, I highly recommend this book.

You might surprise yourself with the ideas that come to you when you choose to turn off the tech for a day.  

“When I was living 24/7, life was flying by. Quantity ruled. More hours meant more productivity. More value. More worth. When my family and I started taking that day off, I saw that it allowed the best memories to linger. And it’s no coincidence that most of those best memories fall on my screen-free day. Partly, that’s because it’s happening when I’m doing my favorite things with my favorite people, but it’s also because I’m receptive to it. I’m actually going to remember what happens that day because the impression won’t be replaced by the tweet I saw, the stressful headline that I can’t stop thinking about, or an email that requires my focus.”

Tiffany Shlain, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan: an Illustration of the Resiliency of Refugee Children

Say You’re One of Them | Author: Uwem Akpan | Genre: Fiction

Paperback: 361 | Publisher: Back Bay Books (2008) | ISBN: 978-0-316-08637-0

“It was a time just to be a human being and to celebrate that. What mattered now was how to get people to lay down their weapons and biases, and how to live together.”

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan, page 254

This book is not at all what I thought. But it had Oprah’s Book Club sticker on it, so I should have expected it to pummel my heart to pieces.

In a collection of 5 short stories, Akpan guides us through an emotional journey of life as an African child in the trenches of war and conflict, running and genocide, slavery and street life. Told through the perspective of children, Akpan places us in kid shoes walking through adult situations.

In a genius, moving work, Akpan has fictionalized some of the most real, complex conflicts plaguing the African continent. In doing so, he has placed us directly into places we only see in clips on a screen or read brief headlines about.

For those of us who are hundreds and hundreds of miles away, he has made these situations real through the art of storytelling. And I both hate him and love him for that.

A Writing Style That Honors His Culture

Akpan has a unique style, and each page flows poetically. His stories have given me a higher caliber for the fiction I read. Some of the most recent ficion I’ve gotten into suddenly feels lame compared to the way Say You’re One of Them reads.

Also, if you’re interested in world languages, this one is for you. Akpan has written true to the language of the people in his story. The dialogue can be tricky to follow, as its written in broken English and certainly doesn’t follow an accurate grammar. But, the speech is true to what we might actually hear if speaking to a nonnative English speaker.

Plus, Akpan has sprinkled in plenty of phrases and words in the heart language of his characters. Which certainly makes for a more interesting read, but is also more difficult to follow at times. I love that he has chosen to honor his fellow Africans by letting us into their own language.

I Expected Happy Endings

I guess I thought this would flow through one cohesive story, or at least that each chapter would relate to one another in one way. I was several pages into the second “chapter” before I realized that there was no connection between that “chapter” and the first.

Instead, I had just read a story. And the ending to it surely didn’t feel complete. I was still looking for the ending from the first “chapter” while I was reading the second, which I eventually realized was not a chapter but a whole different story in and of itself.

This was hard to grapple with. Man, I love a good happy ending with some kind of resolution. However, this book did not deliver that. In fact, none of the stories have an ending that you’d hope for.

But I can’t blame Akpan for that.

He is simply telling us about real situations on the African continent. As hard as it is to stomach, we have been waiting for innumerable conflicts to find closure for generations; they just haven’t yet.

I Left Feeling Both Completely Built and Torn

As a Westerner living in a developed world, reading through a lens of nearly uneducated children living in total poverty was hard.

I was inspired by the resiliency of the kids, but also emotionally depleted to witness their struggles. Their innocence reigned brilliantly, and though I celebrated that, it was heart-wrenching to see that same innocence violated.

I rooted for the kids, and felt a sense of pride when they succeeded in a small victory. I soon realized that these small spurts of victory were always quickly followed by a harder to defeat.

I was amazed by the conditions in which these families live in – huts, limited food, no shoes on their feet or vehicles to drive – and felt challenged to live on less too. But then I felt their loss when what little they had was taken away. I saw what riches can do to a person, especially a poverty-stricken person, and was confused about it.

Especially in the Largest Refugee Crisis in Modern History…

As a person who works with refugee families every day, I have to say: this book is profound because of the perspective it gives to the background of a refugee.

A refugee is a person who has fled their home based on well-grounded fear of persecution, war, genocide, or natural disaster. Usually because of things out of their control, such as race, ethnicity, religious or political preferences. It’s easy to skim through that definition, until you let it sink in, and start really considering what the journey of a refugee looks like.

Especially as the U.S. commits to bringing a record low number of refugees into the States this year, I believe reading the stories of fleeing is more important now than it has ever been. I don’t have to clarify this, but I will: there is a gross misunderstanding of who a refugee actually is.

Refugees are not the enemy. They are the targeted, the unwanted, the hated, the ones pushed aside for the selfish, horrifying gain of others. They are, really, people born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Refugees are the vulnerable, making decisions from a place of survival without the time, energy, or resources to consider thriving.

And when unprotected children are placed in this number of chaos and terror, and when we read the story of kids running away totally alone from something they don’t even understand, it creates a different kind of compassion within us.

It’s a compassion that moves with an urgency to see justice against their enemies (who are really our enemies too), and a passion to bring them into a fold of protection. To guard them, and restore them back to believing that they are valuable and welcomed. Have some of the world’s children ever heard that?

No, I can’t solve all the world conflicts and I can’t help all the millions of refugees displaced from their homes now. I can’t even help the thousands who will flee their homes today alone. I don’t mean to be rude, but I doubt you can either.

But, what we can do is seek to understand their story and make it known. I can tell the stories of people who have courageously left, and made impossible decisions just to take a few more breaths. I can tell you about the resiliency of the most vulnerable people in the world today, and through their journeys, show you just a glimpse of their passion for life and desire for safety.

Sometimes the most powerful, and honest, form of advocacy is storytelling.

In Short: Read It, but Read with Wisdom

The dialogue and language barriers will force you to read this more slowly. Be okay with that. Honestly, it’s a blessing because these stories are too emotionally difficult to rush through.

Every story shook me, some more violently than others. Akpan spared us many details, but still painted a picture of what it feels like to ride a refugee bus or to watch a sister fall into prostitution. He illustrated what could possibly lead an uncle to sell his family into slavery, and what it truly feels like to be a Muslim on a bus full of Christians and wizards.

We think we know about these things; we don’t have a clue.

I left each page feeling emotionally spent. When I finished the last story, I was grumpy. I gave Travis short and snappy responses, and was acting like a brat for at least an hour on a road trip with my family. Then it clicked: I have to process this. I have to give myself time to settle these feelings, and to recover from this book.

It was a hard read.

But, it’s important too. I applaud Akpan for giving us a glimpse into lives we can barely imagine. Say You’re One of Them is beautiful, stunning, awe-inspiring – it’s all of this, and more, because of the voice it gives to the unheard voices and the untold stories.

And these small – yet not so small – voices unify us with a passion to create a safer world for children to live in. I’m going to meet my own refugee kids at after school today a little more gently and compassion filled, because Akpan has told a story of their history that they’ve yet to understand. The journey to that realization is not easy, but it’s a worthwhile pursuit that has changed my perspective.

I thought I understood the journey of a refugee, but I didn’t have a clue. Thank you, Uwem Akpan, for penning these hard words. I am better for it.

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman: A Prophetic Wake Up Call, Echoing Back Decades

Amusing Ourselves to Death | Author: Neil Postman | Genre: Nonfiction

Paperback: 184 | My Edition’s Publisher: Penguin Group (2006) | Original Publisher: Viking Penguin Inc. (1985) | ISBN: 978-0-14-303653-1

Rating: 5/5

“Television, in other words, is transforming our culture into one vast arena for show business.”

Postman, page 80

If you need a wake-up call to the ways that entertainment has reshaped our culture, and continues to infiltrate every part of our society, this is for you.

If you need to confirm your weary suspicions that media is crazy and is making us crazy, this is also for you.

Neil Postman in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, argues how public thought and conversation has been misshapen in an era of show business, constant entertainment, information overload, reliance on technological media, and ultimately, led us to an addiction us to our own deadly disease. Speaking to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Postman describes how we are ruining ourselves and our society with our addiction to being entertained.

Yeah, it’s a lot.

It’s a heavy read, and it took me several weeks. But, I think this is important for us to consider. We cannot deny the fact that our entire society has been completely infiltrated by entertainment, technology, and media.

Have we made it through the year 2019 yet? Just barely. Have we survived next year’s presidential election? Lord, help us.

It Got Me Thinking…

Postman’s argument is not simply that TV is bad. Instead, he illustrates to us how vastly different communication has become in recent decades. Taking each chapter to discuss a different avenue – specifically politics, education, news, and religion – and how TV has changed these spheres, his overarching theme is that TV is deteriorating those spaces because it is not suitable to relay this information and to give room for conversation to follow.  

In short, modern day America has become so addicted to entertainment, that we won’t even receive the news and politics and education without it.

But what if those pairs can’t coexist?

When we choose to use the screen to relay all of our news and politics and education and religion, we are choosing to receive it in a way that entertains us, and only widening the gap between our ability to have a thoughtful discussion and our desire to always be entertained. This book makes us wonder how entertainment has changed the difficult conversations.

“Television, as I have implied earlier, serves us most usefully when presenting junk entertainment. It serves us most ill when it co-opts serious modes of discourse – news, politics, science, education, commerce, religion – and turns them in to entertainment packages. We would all be better off if television got worse, not better. ‘The A-Team’ and ‘Cheers’ are no threat to our public health. ’60 Minutes,’ ‘Eye-Witness News,’ and ‘Sesame Street’ are.”

postman, pages 159-160

He says that we are teaching ourselves to love TV – not the information. We are a society of people who are being taught that if it’s not entertaining or pleasurable to me, then I don’t want to hear it. So, the only way that we receive information is by getting it in little pieces crammed between advertisements. There is no cohesion, or connection to its context. There is not background or even time for a full argument, to discuss all of its implications.

Just like our addiction to scrolling and seeing dozens of photos and bits of information in a mere minute, so is our reception to news. Just tons of tiny bits, and no glue to hold it together. Not to mention, no time to make sense of it all.

One of the most alarming chapters to me was Chapter 8 “Shuffle Off to Bethlehem.” In this chapter, Postman discusses religion and TV. And it’s astounding.

On our screen, we have witnessed profane events and have sinful memories etched into our brains; it’s difficult to use our screen for a sacred event. I can easily turn my screen to a Preds game or Netflix. It’s no problem to click over to Instagram. What about that space is suitable for my worship? What have I truly consecrated and given up in the total adoration for the Lord that I claim to love, when I give him a bit of time between my scrolling and watching? When I rely on my screen for spiritual refreshment, I will always be let down, because there are always apps waiting on either side of my worship, rushing me back.

I should also note that Postman doesn’t claim Christianity, or any other religion in the book. But even as he writes from a secular mindset, he sees these problems – perhaps more clearly than my religious friends can. That’s also astounding.

“The problem, in any case, does not reside in what people watch. The problem is in that we watch. The solution must be found in how we watch. For I believe it may fairly be said that we have yet to learn what television is. And the reason is that there has been no worthwhile discussion, let alone widespread public understanding, of what information is and how it gives direction to a culture.”

postman, page 160

By the way, in case you didn’t catch it above, this book was written over 3 decades ago. And he is spot. On. In a prophetic tone echoing from its original creation in 1985, Postman has presented us with a detailed warning that we are on the way to our own disaster. His message has not lost meaning over these years. Instead, it’s clearer and more relevant now than ever.

As I read, I thought of my own screens. No, for me it’s not cable television anymore. But it is Twitter and Instagram, Netflix and Crowd City. It’s mindless scrolling, wasting time numbing my brain and believing every headline I read. And after the last couple years our nation has seen, as we mock a president’s ridiculous comments on social media and receive risqué headlines that barely give us the story, who can argue that we don’t have an entertainment problem.

Actually, if I’m honest with myself, I have a hard time stomaching the news because it does feel like a joke. I can’t take the most serious news I will receive seriously, because of its packaging. And of course, the way its packaged and delivered alters the message altogether. It leaves me to wonder – what can I trust?

From a Christian, to a Christian:

Coming from a Christian worldview, brothers and sisters, we have to consider this topic. As Christ-followers, we should desire to be the most present, intentional people in all our conversations – no matter how big or small. But how often does our media get in the way of our presence? How many time have we worshipped our media and entertainment? How often do we let it rob our memory of the dignity of a person?

If the world cares about education, politics, religion, how much more should I? I know our Maker, and I know what he says about the value of people. He has dignified our position, and I call him a liar when I’m not engaging in these conversations.

Most of all, my pride is reigning when I choose entertainment first. I am saying that how I feel is more important than the person or conversation at hand. This is a woe of 2019, but that doesn’t excuse us from the damaging affects of our phones.

The verdict:

We would all do well to seriously consider our relationship with media, and to question our addiction to entertainment. And for that reason alone (and because I love ya and don’t want to see you waste your brain power), I believe this provocative, bold book is well worth the read.

Don’t fall asleep on this one. Put on your brave face. Brace yourself for impact. Grab a cup of coffee, and settle in. This is good. Difficult, but good.

Charlotte’s Web: A Life-Giving Classic That Will Make the World Feel Like a Miracle

Charlotte’s Web | Author: E.B. White | Genre: Children’s Fiction

Paperback: 184 | Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers (April 10, 2012) | ISBN: 0739477072

Rating: 5/5

In case you don’t know, I coordinate an after school program for elementary refugee students. I literally get paid to play games in order to help kids practice English. Amazing, right? So several weeks ago, when I was in the trenches of planning for the school year, I found myself following a rabbit trail of looking at children’s books. When I finally found my way back, I had a new Good Reads list with 40 titles on it. I call it “Kiddos.”

One of these titles? Charlotte’s Web. I realized I had never read this classic before, and knew that had to change. So when I was at the library just a couple days later with an adult ESL student, I modeled the check-out process with none other than Charlotte’s Web.

I had no idea when I picked this book off the shelf how endearing Charlotte would become to me, or how Wilbur would soften my heart. I didn’t expect for Templeton to frustrate me, and to giggle at Wilbur and Charlotte’s interactions in their friendship. The book was incredible, weaving together truths of friendship and mysterious kindness, and to all my adult friends – I have to recommend it to you. It will take you only a few hours to read, and you’ll be richer for it.

“Wilbur ate heartily. He planned to leave half a noodle and a few drops of milk for Templeton. Then he remembered that the rat had been useful in saving Charlotte’s life, and that Charlotte was trying to save his life. So he left a whole noodle, instead of a half.”

I have to recommend it because it will make you giggle. The quirks of the farm animals and their interactions, the human characters’ responses to Charlotte’s web, the comments of Wilbur – it’s all just as enjoyable for children as adults. It’s an innocent kind of humor that offers a childlike humor and wonder, filling you with an easy comfort that honestly, you’ve probably missed and not even realized it.

And in all the humor, I didn’t expect to see life as a miraculous wonder. There’s a particular scene where Mrs. Arable goes to the doctor to inquire whether or not she should be concerned about her daughter, Fern’s, hanging around the barn with all the animals. It’s comical, a bit awkard, but also inspiring. The doctor’s response is ingenius. He simply makes the point that life is miracle, and that the spiders know how to make a web without being taught is incredible. And I think that Dr. Dorian’s entire point in the scene is this: life is a miracle.

Don’t get so caught up in yourself that you forget to look up and around. There is an entire world buzzing around you – but you’re missing it when you live in fear and retort criticism of it all. The world is vastly more intricate than you or I can see; we are not the only way of living. Humanity is not the only way of life. There are creatures and critters crawling about, a sky hanging above, a solid ground below. It’s wonderful, really, and to all my adult friends: it’s okay to live in wonder of it all, paying attention and looking for the miracles all around.

“Wilbur blushed. ‘But I’m not terrific, Charlotte. I’m just about average for a pig.’ ‘You’re terrific as far as I’m concerned,’ replied Charlotte, sweetly, ‘and that’s what counts. You’re my best friend, and I think you’re sensational. Now stop arguing and go get some sleep!’”

I didn’t expect to learn about friendship. True friendship uplifts, encourages, and even renames. We all need someone to see us for who we are, even we don’t feel it. Unconditional love and friendship looks us at us, in all our dirt and fear, and say, “Even so, I think you are fantastic.”

Love like this doesn’t expect us to come perfect, but is eager to welcome us despite our shortcomings. It assures us that we are valuable simply for existing – no prerequisites needed. We’re here and that’s miraculous. We can rest in that. We can also call that out in others.

“Ever since the spider had befriended him, he had done his best to live up to his reputation. When’s Charlotte’s web said SOME PIG, Wilbur had tried hard to look like some pig. When Charlotte’s web said TERRIFIC, Wilbur had tried to look terrific. And now that the web said RADIANT, he did everything possible to make himself glow.”

Most of all, I’m not sure I expected to be shown the power of words. The language we use when talking to people will affect them; the words we use to describe them will change them. The other barn critters saw Wilbur as a lame, smelly pig heading for the smoker. And he believed it. He was going to accept that fate. But then Charlotte saw something special in him, and she spoke what she saw over him. When she did, it changed the way he even carried himself. She and her 8 little legs changed what Wilbur believed of himself. He lived up to what his friend said of him.

That’s incredible.

It makes me wonder: what do I speak over people? Is it life-giving, or condemning? Is it helpful and true, or unkind and belittling? I better answer honestly, because my words will make a difference – whether for good or bad – in someone’s life today. And I hope it’s a good one.

You might feel above reading a children’s book, but none of us are exempt from learning these lessons of kind words, friendship, and shifting the way we view life. In fact, some of us need a kid’s book to show us that simply; I’m one of them. Thank you, Charlotte’s Web, for bringing me back to the wonder of childhood and learning to live in the world again.

And to Charlotte – thank you for setting an example of how to be a true friend and a good writer. I want to be both.