Living Into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions
I would have finished reading this thoughtful book sooner if it weren’t for all the distractions! Arthur Boers, associate professor at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, has crafted a fine, fully developed reflection on living with focus; being centred on what is truly meaningful. “Our lives are speeding up and changing, and not always for the better,” he warns. Boers acknowledges the place and purpose of technology in our fast-paced world, while calling us to deepen relationships, and live by fundamental decisions that set limits on ubiquitous distractions.
Living into Focus is written in three parts: Focus Matters (chapters 1–4), Losing Our Focus (5–11), and Finding Our Focus (12). This reminded me of Walter Brueggemann’s categories in The Message of the Psalms: orientation, disorientation, new orientation.
Boers chronicles “stumbling into focus” in his own life. He describes “focal practices – activities that centre, balance, focus, and orient one’s life.” Drawing heavily on the writing and thinking of American philosopher Albert Borgmann, Boers has (in Borgmann’s words) “taken a theory and made it fruitful.”
Particularly fruitful is Boers’ analysis of how devices and machines take over the centre of our lives, displacing values and practices that once enriched the quality of our lives. Another practical section is his presentation of six aspects relating to the use and abuse of technology; he unpacks “ALERT” – attention, limits, engagement, relationships, time, and space over six chapters.
As an analysis of the impact and dangers of technology, the book is exhaustive, almost exhausting. Boers draws on a rich range of resources, both scholars (Borgmann, Charles Taylor, Jacques Ellul, William James, and Neil Postman) and ordinary examples of women and men who are choosing to live into focus. His analysis is tempered with a good dose of practical lifestyle suggestions which serve as an antidote to consuming technologies. These include walking, hiking, gardening, eating, bird-watching, letter writing, and pottery.
The book is clearly organized and carefully argued. His balance of didactic and practical teaching gives promise of a wide appeal. There are only a few sections of explicit Bible study and interpretation (Psalm 29; Psalm 73). Perhaps the careful exegesis of Scripture relating to various themes could have strengthened his arguments. Also, there are references to the Amish and their approach to selective use of technology, but little or no specific study of other theological streams. This leads one to ask how theologians from other traditions are grappling with this important lifestyle issue.
One other significant omission is any reference to philosophers and critics who speak positively of technology and its application. Canadian media and technology guru Marshall McLuhan and his intellectual “heir” Derrick De Kerckhove come to mind. This weakens an otherwise impressive assessment of the topic. On a less significant note, he spends an inordinate amount of time talking about food, and has a clearly pessimistic stance toward most popular expressions of public worship.
Living into Focus addresses a serious issue in the Christian life: are we distracted from wholehearted pursuit of and love for God by our tools and gadgets? In his introduction, Boers asks, “Why do we need this book now? I keep running into people who sense something awry with life…. This book attempts to get at some reasons why life for many is not as good and fulfilling as we might wish.” It’s a highly readable and practical guide to living with more purpose and focus.