Analog Christian: Cultivating Contentment, Resilience, and Wisdom in the Digital Age

By Jay Y. Kim. InterVarsity Press, 2022. 192 pages. $17/paperback; $16.99/eBook.

Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still revealing themselves. Readers of Friends Journal may well be interested in discerning more of COVID-19’s effects on Friends meetings and Friends churches than they have already recognized. Recognizing people’s heavy reliance on digital platforms in lieu of in-person face-to-face community during the pandemic, Jay Y. Kim invites us to consider the unintended consequences in his and other Evangelical congregations. His new book, Analog Christian: Cultivating Contentment, Resilience, and Wisdom in the Digital Age, is well worth Friends’ attention. What he has to say illuminates the psychosocial environment in which we live, and particularly the hostility and divisiveness amplified by digital social media that has appeared in formerly cohesive church congregations. The book prompts the question whether similar phenomena have been occurring among Friends and, if so, how they might be productively addressed.

Kim’s starting point is recognition of what he calls “self-centric despair,” a phenomenon rooted in the disconnect between the character of one’s self that one constructs online for public consumption and one’s actual inner life. There has always been a gap between one’s public persona and one’s actual self, but he identifies four features of the digital “world” that are particularly dangerous in this regard:  

  1. the ease of manipulating our digital self-constructs, which can lead us to manipulate our understanding of the world in which we actually live
  2. the way digital social media facilitate a self-love based on comparing and contrasting our digital self-constructs with self-constructs of others online, without having the corrections to our self-understandings we encounter in face-to-face communities of people who know us well
  3. the temptation to identify more with our carefully constructed digital persona than with our actual self, even to the extent of loving our digital persona and despising our deficient, messy, actual selves
  4. the ways in which we can become inhabitants of digital communities that separate us from actual family and local community to such an extent that we perceive ourselves socially isolated from both family and local community

This is the trajectory to “self-centric despair” that the author lays out. He also would have us consider the extent to which we, individually, have taken steps along this path, manifest, perhaps, through greater impatience with others or through comments and actions displaying contempt for others—even erstwhile friends.

The remedy to this destructive path that Kim proposes is active engagement in and with love: accepting love, practicing love, and committing oneself to service as a conduit of love—understanding that God is love, as John says (1 John 4:7-8). Analog Christian develops the author’s proposal of a journey that might lead us toward such a life, a life of well-being and wholeness. While the format of the book suggests this journey would proceed in three stages, it might well be that the three “movements” could proceed concurrently. The movements are practices toward three ends: contentment, resilience, and wisdom. For example, under resilience, Kim recommends practicing patience, empathetic forbearance, and hospitality toward one another, instead of blame, hostility, and/or division. Under the rubric of moving toward wisdom, Kim urges that we focus on living faithfully (instead of on “faith” understood as belief). Faithfulness is viewed as opposed to forgetfulness (as in the Israelites “forgetting” Yahweh while in the desert after Moses had left them to receive further divine guidance). This approach opens up interesting suggestions to avoid such forgetfulness of spiritual insights and practices, to avoid straying from the spiritual journey toward wholeness.

The book is quite readable and replete with illustrative anecdotes as well as biblical references, many of which use the New International Version (NIV) translations. Questions for reflection and discussion are included at the end of the book. I expect that the book would work very well for a Friends discussion group, though the group might want to devise its own questions rather than rely on the author’s questions.

Tom Paxson is a member of Kendal Meeting in Kennett Square, Pa. As a member of the Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee (CIRC) of Friends General Conference for over two decades, he came to deeply appreciate faithful spiritual journeys in all their rich variety.

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