I am 30 now, which means that I can still remember using BBS's and installing a pre-5.0 version of netscape. In short, I am old.
My job caters well to the fact that I am old. I don't really bother memorizing anything any more. In an age when I can type in a few words to a song into google and immediately pull up the lyrics, a link to buy it, 37 mashups using it and a video of a cat playing a keyboard to it, most things simply do not register as important enough to dedicate the attention required to memorize them. As a consequence, I believe that my memory is getting weaker. If it were up to my retention abilities, both the good and bad would be forgotten quickly. Thanks to gmail, archive.org and google web cache, however, I am free the from the responsibility of ever remembering anything that is said to me or that i said to anyone else. A little over 10 years ago, Neil Postman wrote a talk called 5 Things We Need to Know About Technological Change, in which he explains in the most distilled way I can imagine a sort of "heads up" to the leadership of the world about what is coming in the next 10-20 years. The 4th point in his wholly amazing work is summarized below:
Here is the fourth idea: Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. I can explain this best by an analogy. What happens if we place a drop of red dye into a beaker of clear water? Do we have clear water plus a spot of red dye? Obviously not. We have a new coloration to every molecule of water. That is what I mean by ecological change. A new medium does not add something; it changes everything. In the year 1500, after the printing press was invented, you did not have old Europe plus the printing press. You had a different Europe. After television, America was not America plus television. Television gave a new coloration to every political campaign, to every home, to every school, to every church, to every industry, and so on.
The addition of an automatic stenographer for every thought I bang out to my wife or father, or friends has many benefits. I can easily refer back to see if I said something incorrectly, or missed an important detail. I can pull up emails that were sent 5 years ago (I was on the early curve of the gmail thing) and get exact quotes from people I have not seen in years. The issue is that my changed ecology allows me to easily re-kindle old grudges. Before Christmas, I was sent an email response to a note I had sent to a relative. The email I got was, in a word, inflammatory. Possibly more so than the author had intended. In the 2 months since, my anger had moved from foaming-at-the-mouth seething rage, to a much more restrained irritation. Last week, a conversation with my brother caused me to search for the message in question and the second I re-read it, I was immediately filled with the same emotions once again. This automatic record has the capacity to turn every little offense into a Hatfield Vs McCoy level feud.
I have been convicted recently about my treatment of another family member, again fueled by a perfect record of the wrongs I have 'suffered.' Even if I am justified and wholly 'right' (or as much as so as a human can be), am I allowing this shift in my spiritual ecology, the environment in which my faith exists, to be a less-Christ-like forgiver of wrongs done to me? A friend of mine recently wrote in an article for Collide magazine on this subject. He said:
Theologian Miroslav Volf, author of The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, says that when we try to deal with the past, we often make one of two mistakes. Sometimes we downplay what happened, saying, “Aw, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I only lost, like, six followers over it.” This way, we don’t have to forgive the event as it actually happened. Other times, when we hold resentment against someone, we inflate an event in order to make the offender look worse. “She posted that over the entire Internet.” But Volf, who underwent a months-long interrogation during the Yugoslavian conflict, suggests that a major part of forgiveness is not forgetting, but remembering rightly so we can forgive what really happened.
For Christians, this means that the Internet’s ability to help us remember rightly is a chance to practice a theologically-informed, true kind of forgiveness. Rather than downplay an incident or cut people off every time they annoy us, we have the chance to look at the past with Google-like accuracy and choose to stop holding those wrongs against those who harmed us.
Wow. For me, this is about the hardest thing in the world. I like to pretend that I never play the victim and that I will just take all kinds of abuse without saying a word. The truth is, though, that I act worse than my kids when I am wronged. The hardest parts of the Christian life are the things that fly most in the face of our instincts with no payout in return. When we give financially, we feel good about it. When we serve in a ministry, we get kudos from other believers. When we forgive someone who has wronged us without throwing it back in their face, we a) open ourselves up to getting hurt again and b) walk away from our right to be right, to be the blameless one. The hardest part for me is that second one, the one where I have to treat the other person like they are as forgiven as God says they are. I don't get to be a martyr any more. I hope that someday I will be as able to forgive and treat another believer as blameless as gracefully as our savior and some of his more sanctified children have show me in the past.