2019 proved to be the most productive year of my life due in large part to the fact that I was deprived of something that had become essential to it: TV. But 2019 wasn’t just about productivity. The Lord actually revealed several things to me in the midst of my television famine – things I never would have seen had I not been able to step away from a habit that had become second nature. However, before I share these five things, it’s important I clarify three: (1) I did not go the entire year without cable. Just the majority. (2) We began in the Spring, thanks to my wife’s urging that we save money from something we didn’t use enough to justify the cost. (3) We quickly resorted to the classic alternative: Netflix. I mean, we are Americans, aren’t we? However, as my wife can attest, I didn’t find Netflix to be as appealing as the visual buffet offered by good old-fashioned cable television. Nevertheless, I stayed the course. And my daily routine looks much different today than it did a year ago. Here are 5 things God has revealed to me in a year without cable. Again, these are not universal rules of life, but only what I’ve learned about my own mind and soul:
- Sports had consumed a huge portion of my life.
I love sports. And I’m not ashamed of it. In fact, watching sports has probably been the most difficult part of TV deprivation. I also pastor in the South where sports (particularly college football) are more like a way of life. So I definitely still keep in touch on my phone and computer. In other words, I know enough to know enough. And I occasionally find ways to watch the big game. However, in hindsight, my first indication that I watched too much sports was when I married a woman who didn’t have a sports-watching bone in her body. Marriage often shows us our blind spots. (If it doesn’t, you ain’t doin it right) But in the last year, I’ve realized that I often waste my life on sports. Watching sports, watching people talk about sports, watching people talk about people talking about sports. It’s a titanic industry in America and it only gets bigger. I was subject to that world for a long time and it prevented me from seeing how all-encompassing it is. Again, I think sports are awesome. I love my Kentucky Wildcats. But I had begun to treat certain games and certain seasons as more or less determining my schedule and how I lived my life. I’d forgotten that sports are sports, no matter how much money and how many fans are involved. As a result, today I spend more time with my family and playing with my twins, and I’m now more sensitive to how American culture can subtly dictate my worship and my thoughts about God.
- Watching the news had begun to jade my view of reality.
I still prefer to occasionally catch up on the news on my phone. Especially when there’s earth-shattering news. And that’s the point: most of the news is not earth-shattering. But I didn’t always realize that nor was I made to realize that by media companies whose job is to tell the news in an earth-shattering way. A lot of people my age don’t watch the news for precisely this reason. I began watching the news as a kid. When Mom and Dad came home every day after work, we all sat around the TV and listened to Tom Brokaw on NBC give us the day’s headlines. Not to be too nostalgic or to portray the 90s media as if it were somehow incorruptible, but news has changed a bit even since Brokaw. Today, conservative and liberal media outlets alike often draw us into political narratives that make us think that the sky is constantly falling, and they can subtly avert our hope found in Jesus to an earthly hope in human leaders and policies. Again, I firmly believe in staying well-versed in current events. And I think the news can actually confirm our Christian worldview. But now I see that being constantly immersed in the news was coloring my view of the world and making me somewhat critical. I wasn’t as joyful. The nightly news is sufficient to confirm human depravity but it does nothing to remind us daily of the saving gospel in which we find our hope. We need that gospel everyday more than we need social and political vigilance. Now, I’ve come to read my Bible more in the mornings rather than turning on the TV.
- The Office re-runs never get old.
As I said, I didn’t jump into Netflix quite as much as my wife did. But nor was I able to quit all viewing completely. I started by watching The Office and I loved it. Then, after surveying the countless other shows, I thought to myself, “Why not watch The Office again?” So I did. It’s always funny – even the extremely awkward episodes! While watching the series multiple times has confirmed that Michael Scott is a comedic genius, it’s also confirmed something else: I don’t believe our current culture could ever pump out another show like The Office. After all, Michael’s character (played by Steve Carrell) is predicated on inappropriate and offensive behavior. Only seven years removed from the last episode, America has no tolerance today for offending anyone in our hyper-sensitive world. As a result, while we’re more considerate in our culture toward historically marginalized and abused groups, our sense of humor has been stunted a bit. Watching Netflix has also showed me that I’m somewhat of a TV curmudgeon now. I prefer the old shows and movies and I’m increasingly convinced that the new stuff isn’t as good. I’ve become my grandfather.
- I rediscovered the joy of reading.
I received my PhD in Theology in 2019, so I did a lot of reading. I also secured my first book contract with Cascade Books (coming in 2020) and was published in 2 international journals and 3 American journals. As I said, it was a productive year. It’s amazing how much time I wasted watching TV. But going without television also showed me a new way to look at reading. For almost as long as I’ve been in school, even sometimes as a pastor, reading was something you had to do, not something you wanted to do. But I’ve started to change that thinking now. Since I defended my dissertation in July, I was effectively finished with school by the Summer. One night this past Fall, as we were sitting in our living room and I was reading a book, my wife asked me why I was reading if I was done with school. And that’s a very American question considering two things about our culture: (1) we often assume that reading isn’t for pleasure, (2) and we also assume that reading is only something we do if we can’t watch TV. But after receiving my degree, I still read. In fact, I love reading. Growing up, I developed this idea that reading was for education and that TV was for entertainment. But reading can do both. And when our reading is enhanced, it can only fuel our reading of God’s Word. Bible plans and daily devotionals don’t seem so daunting when we love to read the words of the living God. Not surprisingly, I read the Scriptures more in 2019 than I did in 2018.
- Television isn’t the problem. Sin is.
If your hand causes you to sin, Christ teaches us, cut it off and throw it away. (Matt.5:30) Therefore, if your TV causes you to sin, hide the remote! If it turns you into an aloof father, throw away the box. If you become a passive husband when you watch TV, get rid of it. If sports keep you from loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, run away. But, of course, that doesn’t mean that TV is inherently sinful. Sports are fun and here for our enjoyment. For all that God has revealed to me by removing TV from my life (at least for this season), He’s also revealed to me the depths of sin in my often-Pharisaical heart. In other words, I can be a detached Dad even with a book in my hand. I can take my wife for granted even when the TV is turned off. Pride and spiritual apathy can fester in a home without a TV just as much as they can in one with a 80-inch plasma. Walling off our children and our own lives from the ills of television is not in itself a replacement for discipleship in the home. The problem in most American homes is not a problem of television; it’s a problem of worship. In the past year, by His grace, God has given me a greater understanding of my own sin and my need for Him – not a TV.