Back on March 20, 2019, Lifeway Christian Resources, the nation’s biggest Christian retail bookstore chain, announced it was closing all 170 stores by the end of 2019, and “shifting its offerings entirely online.” Family Christian Stores shut down all 240 locations of it’s stores in 2016 after 85 years of operation in the midst of mounting debt and bankruptcy. And Cokesbury Bookstores closed all 38 retail stores in 2013 and shifted to online sales, also.
Slate published an article titled, “The Decline of the Christian Bookstore,” on July 11, 2019, by Ruth Graham, a writer for Slate who lives in New Hampshire, with a subtitle reading, “Yes, they sell sanitized music and “Jesus junk.” But something important gets lost when Christian bookstores disappear” (quote source here). In the article she states:
The Christian publishing industry, and its distribution arm in Christian bookstores, plays a central role within evangelical culture, even for those who don’t read “Christian books.” Since evangelicalism has no central authority, the publishing industry’s self-defined borders have a huge impact on the people, ideas, and practices that get publicly promoted—and eventually accepted—as “true” Christianity. “Publishers have been really central to granting authority within evangelical culture … and for evangelical celebrities to be created,” said Daniel Vaca, a historian at Brown University whose book, “Evangelicals Incorporated: Books and the Business of Religion in America,” will be published later this year. “Publishers have provided a cultural center for evangelicalism.” (Quote source here.)
The Lifeway bookstore near me is permanently closing this week. When I stopped in there last week it was pretty bare from previous closing sales leading up to this last one, with what merchandise was left reduced in price by 70%-90%. I picked up five books I might not have normally thought about reading at a discount of 80% on four of them and 70% on the fifth book. Such a deal! For true blue book lovers, there is nothing quite like walking through a real bookstore and browsing the shelves. Online bookstores just don’t cut it in that way. Besides, there is no chance of having a lively serendipitous conversation with a sales clerk or other customer in the store when buying books online.
Online communication has totally changed the way we relate to the world and to others. What used to be a social event (like actually going to a bookstore and look at real, published books, and communicating with clerks in person as well as other customers) is now going online. See if you don’t relate to this nine-year-old article published on August 13 (which also happened to be a Friday), 2010, in The Guardian titled, “Twitter, email, texts: we don’t talk anymore!” by Michelle Hather, mom to three now all-grown-up sons who were still kids nine years ago:
Michelle Hather and her three sons communicate increasingly in a silent world of emails, tweets and texts. Will her boys forget how to speak altogether, she wonders?
It’s 7:28 am and I crack open my laptop and take a crafty peek at my email. I’m not yet out of bed but it’s a simple task to reach across the duvet and pull my MacBook towards me. Emails checked, I click on to my Facebook page, in case I’m missing anything. That’s when I notice my 13-year-old son (and FB friend) is online and doing exactly the same thing.
“Get off the damned computer and go downstairs for breakfast. NOW!!!!” I message. Frantic footsteps rush past my bedroom door.
The night before, as his food sat cooling on the dining room table and he sat in his bedroom, I had texted my middle son: “Dinner ready now! Get down here immediately!!!” Two minutes later, he was down the stairs and sitting at the table.
Then there are the crucial messages I need to pass on to my eldest: “I’m working late tonight”; “Your rugby training is cancelled”; “Where’s the 10 quid you owe me?”; “Can you return my entire collection of mugs, plates and glasses from your room, please??!!!” All sent by email because they have more chance of reaching his brain than actual, face-to-face human- being exchanges.
What has happened to my family? We’re in danger of never speaking to one another again …
I’m not kidding myself that we’d normally be gathered round the dining table discussing anything meaningful – with teenage hormones raging and parental resentment kicking in, I’ve become adept at translating grunts. But I’ve suddenly realized these kids have sucked me into their hi-tech way of doing things. Now I’m communicating with them via message boards, phones and computers – just like their friends.
Gone are the days when we tripped over each other in the kitchen or slumped happily against each other on the sofa to watch a family film. I should thank my lucky stars we had our children before the age of cheap laptops and mobile phones for primary school children, otherwise we might never have known those times.
Fast forward to 2010 and, with four computers in the house, it’s usual to find all five Hathers in five separate rooms, clicking or bashing away on the PlayStation. And when you’re chatting by email to friends in New Zealand, it seems reasonable to slip in a message to your child, sitting in front of his own computer a few yards away on the other side of the bedroom wall.
While we’re at it, why not use unlimited texts courtesy of our phone contracts as a kind of house intercom system? No more bellowing up the stairs – our boys leap on any incoming message with an urgency last seen when they were in short trousers. Crushing disappointment only hits when they realize the message is from mum or dad. I’ve even been known to send them a printed message in the television room, where we keep the wireless printer. As I work in my own office, I can still nag them in red 78-point Ariel Black upper-case letters: “TURN OFF THE PS3 AND GO AND DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!!!!”
But with laptops before breakfast, mobiles left switched on by bedsides and iPods stuck in ears as they fall asleep, I do worry my sons will soon lose the power of speech entirely. When I was a kid, I would spend hours gossiping with my mates, hanging out down the shops discussing clothes, boys and other urgent matters. My children are often happy to stay in their rooms and converse by keyboard.
“Switch off the computer and get to bed,” I yell, as I get ready to turn off my own bedroom light.
“Yep, I’m just saying goodnight to my mates,” they tell me.
Should I resist the inevitable march of progress? Is it enough to use proper grammar and spell out text words in their entirety – much to my children’s amusement – or should I be communicating only when I can see the whites of their eyes? After all, I know I’m a hypocrite when it comes to the lure of the laptop … I used to start every day gazing at my children; these days I open my Mac before I open their doors.
Lisa Warner is a parenting expert whose website Fink (Family Interaction Nurtures Kids) produces conversation prompt cards for teenagers. She says you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. “The way we communicate is changing and your family can’t live in a bubble and ignore technology,” she says. “But kids learn how to communicate from their parents and we lose all sorts of things – crucial body language for example – by not talking face to face.
“By all means make use of the new methods of communicating but make sure you take time to talk about things other than the daily routine.”
The Bercow report of 2008 warned that we were all going to hell in a handcart. “If a child is exposed to a relentless diet of TV and computer games and deprived of interaction at home, that is very damaging,” the soon to be House of Commons Speaker told the Guardian at the time. And 2011 is earmarked as the National Year of Speech, Language and Communication.
It’s falling on deaf ears in our house. The more gadgets that appear, the less we have to do with one another. The other night our street was plunged into darkness by a power cut and the boys were truly shocked. Once the excitement of candles and no showers had waned, the horror of the situation sank in and they slunk off to bed. Nothing better to do, you see.
The way they plan their social life has changed, too. Everything is left to the last minute because everyone can be reached immediately, no matter where they are. Hours of no visible or audible signs of communication with their friends are suddenly followed by a slammed front door as they react to an urgent message or email. “What time are you coming back????” I text after them as they disappear up the road. I leave my phone next to my pillow as I try to sleep–comforted only by a bleep-bleep of a response and an eventual key in the door.
Then there’s Facebook. My youngest tolerates me as a friend, but he has nothing to hide… yet. My eldest two won’t let me near them, though I’m sure I could easily hang around unnoticed among the thousands of friends they have somehow collected. Interestingly, some of their peers have added me as a friend and I often spy on my children from a distance. Oh, how I laughed when I read that my baby had thrown up into a gutter during one jolly jape. And don’t get me started on the photos… when did 15-year-old girls learn to pose like that?
It’s not just speech that is disappearing in our house. The handwritten word is an endangered species, too. My boys rarely trouble a ballpoint pen and homework is always produced on the computer; handwritten notes left for me are therefore no more than a scribble. I think back to my own school days, of aching fingers and 90-minute essay exams, and wonder how on earth these children manage when they are not used to holding a pen.
It’s a worry. But then one day you see their online work and hope is resuscitated. They can write, they can express themselves, they do still have a language–they just don’t do it or use it the same way we do. Last month, I asked my eldest son to email me his latest piece of English private study. It was a beautifully crafted piece of work based on Sebastian Faulks’s “Birdsong,” in which my boy used words and phrases I could only dream coming from his mouth. It was thoughtful, moving and nothing like the usual clipped language I get in his texts and emails. You see, it’s all there–it’s just lost inside the computer.
With keyboards or phone pads prompting most communication within the Hather house, it’s easy to forget we are still chatterboxes at heart. So I didn’t hold back when I told my son what I thought of his essay: “It’s really lovely,” I texted. (Quote source here.)
Do remember that this article was published nine years ago. And the issue has only escalated since that time. Does it sound familiar? It reminds me of a phrase that Jesus stated several times–“he who has ears to hear.” GotQuestions.org gives the following answer to what Jesus was meaning when he made that statement:
In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of those who have “ears to hear” at the end of a difficult saying or parable (e.g., Matthew 11:15; Mark 4:9, 23). Who is “he who has ears to hear”? Better yet, who is “he who has ears”? Ears are a feature shared by all of humanity—to not have ears would be an unnatural occurrence. Therefore, when Jesus addresses those who have ears, He refers to all who have been given His words—no matter their age, ethnicity, language, or status.
But there is a difference between having ears and having “ears to hear.” Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed contrasts types of hearers: those who let the Word of God pass straight through their ears and those who truly listen and seek understanding (Mark 4:13–20). Some hear the Word, yet they do not allow it to take root because the seduction of worldly pleasures and comfort overcomes them. Others end up rejecting the Word because of persecution or trials. Others hear the Word and open themselves to understand and accept it so that it transforms them. Those who have “ears to hear” allow the Word to bear fruit to the glory of God. It is up to the hearer to decide whether to take the Word seriously and pursue understanding; only a few are willing—the rest have ears, but they do not have “ears to hear” (Matthew 7:13–14, 24–27).
Whenever Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” He is calling for people to pay careful heed. It’s another way of saying, “Listen up! Pay close attention!” Speaking in parables was one way in which Jesus sought to gain the attention of the crowds–people love stories, and the parables depicted events and characters with which they could readily relate. But unless they were willing to tune out other distractions and come to Jesus to understand the meaning of His preaching, His words would be only empty stories. They needed more than ears, however keen they were; they needed ears to hear.
When asked by His disciples why He was speaking to the crowds in parables, Jesus refers to Isaiah 6, which speaks of people who have eyes and ears, yet who have hardened their hearts and chosen to ignore the Word of the Lord (Matthew 13:10–15; cf. Isaiah 6:8–10). Part of the judgment on those who refuse to believe is that they will eventually lose their opportunity to believe: “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (Matthew 13:12; cf. Romans 1:18–32).
A similar phrase is found in Revelation in each of the seven letters to the churches: “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). And in Revelation 13:9, immediately following a description of the Antichrist, we read, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” The readers of Revelation are called upon to pay close attention and seek God’s wisdom concerning what’s written.
Who is “he who has ears”? The simple answer: all people who have been or are being given the words of God. Like the parables’ original audience, we must also “Listen up! Pay close attention!” Jesus’ simple request is that we use our God-given faculties (eyes to see, ears to hear) to tune in to His words (John 10:27 –28; Mark 4:24; Revelation 3:20). “For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open” (Mark 4:22). Seeking God’s truth takes energy and focus; it takes a willingness to be challenged and changed. While the way of God’s truth is not the most convenient or fun path to take, we can be assured that it is the best one (John 1:4; 10:9; 14:6). And so He bids us, “Come” (Matthew 11:28 –30).
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David (Isaiah 55:1–3). (Quote source here.)
Let them hear . . .
What the Spirit says . . .
To the churches . . . .
YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean: