If you have made it this far, through the previous three posts, then you are to be commended, dear reader. Thank you. This pause between posts was not intended at all, but life somehow gets busy and hectic.
In the past three posts, I shared introduced you to the idea that we have survived without TV for an entire year. I also shared with you that canceling TV also meant breaking dependence on TV. And in the third post, I shared with you some of my moral convictions concerning visual entertainment.
I assume, then, that this should be the more practical post. Dropping TV left an open block of time in our lives. So I’ll share with you exactly how we filled that.
I still remember the first Saturday afternoon without TV. The NFL playoffs had moved to broadcasting games on Saturday, and, to be honest, I always loved Saturday NFL games. They just felt like a bonus to me from the NFL. All the panache of an NFL game during the time when college games were on TV was just sorta cool.
So when that Saturday rolled around, and there was nothing to watch, there was an immediate shock.
And, of course, I asked the question, “What in the world am I going to do?”
I looked at that three-hour block of time that was usually filled with football, and I had no idea what to do.
Three hours. Lots of time. Needing a mental break. Didn’t really want to do anything.
I went to the bookshelf and pulled out my copy of War of the Worlds. And started reading.
I have read several books in the past year. Most of those I had no time to read before, but since, I’ve taken advantage of a personal library full of classics that I bought to read later. That “later” came upon me, though, and quickly, that particular Saturday afternoon.
One of the more interesting reads, though, has been Fahrenheit 451. An apocraphycal book of a nation who has banned books, “firemen” are commissioned to find the people, and books, who are underground. Their job is to burn those books, and, at times, those people. Individual life is no longer consumed with deep learning (which, in this novel, is gained from books), but rather from watching their version of the television, called the “televisor.” There are entire rooms, called “parlors,” built specifically for these oversized viewing panels.
There are two important passages in that novel that still strike me. I read from it earlier this semester, in the world civilization class I teach, to introduce the topic of revolutions. If I could, I would like to quote two of those passages here. Maybe this will help you understand better my decision to cut my television, and what I did with the time I soon found empty.
Montag, a fireman, and the protaganist, speaks to Captain Beatty, the captain of their fire department. Montag is questioning the reason people are punished for books, and even punished for independent thoughts. Beatty seems to “set him straight.”
“You can’t build a house without nails and wood. If you don’t want want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him on. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel like they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy. Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can, nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely. I know, I’ve tried it. So bring on your clubs and parties, your acrobats and magicians, your daredevils, jet cars, motorcycle helicopters, your sex and heroin, more of everything to do with automatic reflex. If the drama is bad, if the film says nothing, if the play is holly, sting me with the theremin, loudly. I’ll think I’m responding to the play, when it’s only a tactile reaction to vibration. But I don’t care. I just want solid entertainment.”
Later, Montag confronts and meets Faber, an old English professor which was no longer needed in that society. Montag had stolen a bible, among other books, and wanted information on books, and their meanings. Finding Faber was a stroke of good fortune, and in their conversation, Faber says two things: one, about the bible itself, then later, about what is needed to really make a substantial cultural change.
Upon holding the bible, Faber says this to Montag:
“It’s been a long time. I’m not a religious man. But it’s been a long time.” Faber turned the pages, stopping here and there to read. “It’s as good as I remember. Lord, how they’ve changed it in our ‘parlors’ these days. Christ is one of the ‘family’ now. I often wonder if God recognizes His own son the way we’ve dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He’s a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when he isn’t making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshipper absolutely needs.”
Montag later believes that as he watched his own society crumble, he began to surmise that the absence of books is what made society weaken itself. Faber then corrects him.
“It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books. The same things could be in the ‘parlor families’ today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it’s not the books at all you’re looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them, at all. The magic is only what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”
As Faber begins to sow the seeds of revolution in Montag, he says this, after essentially saying that books are hated because “they show the pores in the face of life.” Or, more simply, because they showed quality of information. After that, though, he says that humanity lacks the time, then, to fully comprehend the information they are given. People are not given time to think.
“If you’re not driving a hundred miles an hour, at a clip where you can’t think of anything else but the danger, then you’re playing some game or sitting in some room where you can’t argue with the four-wall televisor. Why? The televisor is ‘real.’ It is immediate, it has dimension. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be right. It seems so right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn’t time to protest, ‘What nonsense!’ ” … “Who has ever torn himself from the claw that encloses you when you drop a seed in a TV parlor? It grows you any shape it wishes! It is an environment as real as the world. It becomes and is the truth.”
There was a growing sense in me, as I read this book, that my perspective on life, on the world, even on my faith, was being shaped and formed by what I watched. I saw God only through the lens of television, grasping at the straws of Gospel in various shows. And I viewed my daily schedule of time around what I needed, or wanted, to watch. The time I needed to fully think, to fully exist and enjoy life, was being squeezed by repetitive dramas, sports, and crazies on the news. I couldn’t breathe.
Thus, it had to stop.
Since, my life ceased being dominated by every evening’s choice of programs, which, until last February, was a critical point every day.
Every evening, now, is spent with my family. My children are not immersed in a week where every evening is spent watching a television. Instead we play together, read together, and now, for the first time, pray together.
Liberating our lives from television also offered more time for Eran and myself. We talk more. We do things around our home that need to be done before the day ends. We watch plays produced by our daughters. We laugh. We watch movies with our girls. We talk about the agenda for the next day.
Freeing my family from the grip of television gave us a bonding, a formation, that just did not exist before. We were free to be together.
But one more personal note. Since I ceased watching television, I have become devoted to the Word of God in ways that were never obviously possible before.
My mornings, now, are no longer filled with news shows, or sports highlights, but are instead spent reading through the Word, and my investment in the Word of God, instead of in the world of flash and news, has been the single largest blessing of my life this past year.
My time in the Word has made me a better husband. Even in the moments I am not reading, and when the house is quiet, I tell Eran what I have read, and find meaning in those readings in our circumstance. I can hardly write this now without finding tears in my eyes at the gratitude this time has given me. It has led me to pray more with Eran, and to be the spiritual leader of my family that I am called to be. Before last January, before I began my intimate journey with the Word, I did not have the foundation to do this.
My time in the Word has made made me a better father. Every decision I make on behalf of my girls, from disputes over toys, to their deep questions, is now filtered by what I read. Understand what I just wrote: every. single. decision. I. make. on. behalf. of. my. girls. is. now. filtered. by. what. I. read. I did not expect that to happen, but am so, so, so grateful for that.
Replacing viewing time, then, with reading time has altered my worldview, and validated what I already believed to be true: there are no coincidences in life. God is in every detail, and I began to see that more and more.
Therefore, I must find Him in every detail of my life. Even in children’s disputes over toys.
My time in the Word has made me a better minister, and has given me a deep theological base from which to draw. Before, I felt there was only a constant carousel of teaching the requirements of behavior. Now, the Word of God is a never-ending well of God’s personality, and has given me deep, rich thoughts of God in times when, before, my time would be filled in very selfish pursuits, watching, perhaps, television. It has sharpened my teaching to both students, and adults, and it has energized my worship, and my worship leading. I sing to the God of the ages. And I lead others to sing to the God of the ages. And that is a very, very serious thing for me. Arguments over styles, now, to me, are completely irrelevant. I’m no longer very patient when people present arguments and opinions based on select verses, and lifetimes of tradition. The Word of God is sharp, inspired, and pervasive, and supersedes all customs, traditions, and opinions.
Canceling my television subscription has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. Ever. And I have survived, and in fact, thrived, without it. I wish I would have done it sooner.
And thank you, dear reader, for your time. I hope my journey has blessed you.
I’ve written an addendum, though, and my failure is on full display. You can find that here.