How do we reclaim personhood and relationships in a technological world? Andy Crouch, author of The Life We’re Looking For, talks with me about technology and what it means to be a person. We conclude our conversation with daily practices to help us reflect the truth that we are designed in and for love.
Andy Crouch is partner for theology and culture at Praxis, an organization that works as a creative engine for redemptive entrepreneurship. His writing explores faith, culture, and the image of God in the domains of technology, power, leadership, and the arts. He is the author of five books (plus another with his daughter, Amy Crouch).
- Website: andy-crouch.com
- Twitter: @ahc
On the Podcast:
- New Book by Andy Crouch: The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World
- The Shema: Deuteronomy 6:4-5
- Romans 16:22-23
- Mark 5
- To Be Made Well by Amy Julia Becker
- Rosalind W. Picard
“Technology is the ideology of our age. It’s both the material reality of our age and the dream of our age and…the idol of our age, and, to a great extent, [the] unacknowledged source of injustice of our age.”
“Technology is giving all of us practice in depersonalizing other people, whether we treat them as something to be outraged about on Twitter or as an object of objectification…so whether we’re repulsed by them or lured by them, we’re not practicing seeing them.”
“The practices of technology don’t necessarily help us attend to other people, and that’s the pre-condition for the neglect or violation of other people.”
“[A person is] a heart-soul-mind-strength complex designed for love. To be a person is to be this beautiful, mysterious combination of these four things that Jesus adapts from the Hebrew Shema.”
“Our ability to extend [love] waxes and wanes with the circumstances of life, but no matter how limited, young, old—whatever a person may be—they are designed to be part of that web of love.”
“Effortlessness does not develop me in any way.”
“[Jesus’] priority remains presence to persons…highly unproductive but highly germane to his real mission, which in the end is not just the cessation of a few illnesses or even the recovery of a life but the recovery of love in the world.”
“We believe, far more than we would like to admit, that real power doesn’t require persons and it definitely doesn’t require love.”
“The securing of health and healing for human beings is this intensely social, personal, relational thing.”
“Every day I walk outside—and there’s this world going on that isn’t about me—instead of [first] picking up this device that is exquisitely tailored to me, too tailored to me. To that device, I’m the center of the world. It wants me to see myself that way. [The practice of going outside first thing in the morning before touching my phone] has really almost single handedly freed me from the sense of dependence or, as we say, addiction, to my phone.”
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Season 5 of the Love Is Stronger Than Fear podcast connects to themes in my newest book, To Be Made Well…you can order here! Learn more about my writing and speaking at amyjuliabecker.com.
*A transcript of this episode will be available within one business day, as well as a video with closed captions on my YouTube Channel.
Note: This transcript is autogenerated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
But this book is really about what it is to be a person, but technology is the ideology of our age. I mean, it’s, it’s Mo it’s both the material reality of our age and the dream of our age. And, and to me that means it’s the idol of our age and to a great extent, unacknowledged source of injustice of our age. So yeah, the through line is what would it mean for us to fully own our identity as image bearers and what stands in the way of that? And why, why do we fall short of that? Why do we avoid that?
Amy Julia (44s):
Hi friends, I’m Amy, Julia Becker, and this is love is stronger than fear. A podcast about pursuing hope and healing in the midst of personal pain and social division. I am here today with Andy crouch. Andy is a longtime friend of mine, but also just an advocate. He’s been so wonderful in supporting me as a writer over the years, and I’m really grateful. And I think it just speaks to his character, that he really looks out for people like me, who are trying to make our way into a world of, you know, faith and writing and culture and commentary. So I’m really grateful for him in general, but also particularly for our conversation today, it’s hard to introduce him cause he’s got a long bio and maybe Andy crouch is someone you’ve heard of before he has for decades been offering wise insight into culture and to what it means to be human into Christian thought and practice.
Amy Julia (1m 43s):
And he’s done that through speaking and teaching and writing and again, through mentoring and being generous with his time towards people like me. I have had a chance to interview him here on the podcast before am always eager to talk to Andy. And I only wish our conversations could be longer and this time was no exception. However, today we get to talk about Andy’s new book, the life we’re looking for, and I’m really glad you get to be here to hear his thoughts on what it means to be a person and how to live as those who have been created in and for love you’re in for a treat today.
Amy Julia (2m 23s):
So glad you’re here. Well, Andy, thank you for being here today. It is always a delight to me to get to talk with you and I’m really grateful for your time.
Andy (2m 34s):
Completely the same for me. Thank you, Amy Julia. Really happy to get to talk.
Amy Julia (2m 39s):
I know I’ve kind of found recently that I feel like my podcast is just a way for me to not go to conferences and like meet up with people who don’t see that in real life, but I really like and want to talk to about ideas. So,
Andy (2m 52s):
And have honestly way better, less interrupted conversations than in any hallway or whatever
Amy Julia (2m 59s):
We aren’t. No one is going to come over and say, can I join you? So I’m glad to, well, I wanted to start because I often get the question of like, people will say, so what do you write about? And they’re often asking me that because I write about these different things and they’re like, how does disability have to do with privilege, have to do with healing, have to do with parenting, you know? And I think I suspect the same might be true for you that people ask like, well, wait, how does, how did these different books of you’ve written all line up? And I, you know, I’ve given people a little bit of your bio and perhaps some have been heard you talk on this podcast or other podcasts before, but I’d love to ask specifically, you’ve got a new book out, the light, the life we’re looking for.
Amy Julia (3m 48s):
How does that connect? How does that emerge out of ideas that you might I’m guessing have returned to and explored from different angles? So can you give us a little bit of like your backstory as a writer and thinker in terms of how this book came to be?
Andy (4m 4s):
Yeah, that’s a great question. And I do get versions of it and sometimes struggle to answer. I mean, ultimately I read books. I mean, I do everything I can to avoid writing books. So I only read a book when I feel like there’s some angle of something that, that if I don’t do the work of figuring out what I think about it and saying it, you know, something might be missing in the world, I don’t know. But the theme that I think ties all of the books I’ve written together is the image of God and human beings as the bearers of the image of God and how that plays itself out, you know, in culture, which was my first book in, in our exercise of power, that led me to think a lot about idols, which are in the biblical frame of mind, false images, inadequate substitute images, which then leads one to think about the other thing.
Andy (5m 2s):
The Bible talks about a lot, which is injustice, which is the violation of the image, usually in, in the service of some idolatry. And that led me inevitably to technology because which is kind of what this book is about. I mean, it’s because it’s really about what it is to be a person, but technology is the ideology of our age. I mean, it’s, it’s Mo it’s both the material reality of our age and the dream of our age. And, and to me that means it’s the idol of our age and an unknown to a great extent, unacknowledged source of injustice of our age.
Andy (5m 43s):
So yeah, the through line is what would it mean for us to fully own our identity as image bearers and what stands in the way of that and why, why do we fall short of that? Why do we avoid that? Because I think we do. So that’s sort of what is percolating under the surface? Pretty much every time I feel like I’ve got to write a book.
Amy Julia (6m 9s):
I love that if I had, you know, heard you say that in those sentences, like before we recorded, I would have only asked questions about what you just said, which hopefully is what I’m about to do in terms of what my notes have led me to. But, but I don’t actually in what I’ve already prepared. I haven’t, I don’t have a question about injustice. So I’d actually love to just follow up on what you just said. I wrote this down that injustice is a violation of the image and, and that technology is kind of often there are unacknowledged injustices there. Can you just say a little bit more on both of those points because I’m really intrigued just by yeah.
Amy Julia (6m 49s):
That framing of it.
Andy (6m 51s):
Yeah. Well, I think there’s a couple of layers. One is at the very material layer. The truth is that our, so if technology is very, roughly, we, we may come back to this, but a much greater power with much less effort than human beings who’ve ever been able to exercise that power comes from somewhere. It comes above all at the Dawn of the modern era, the industrial era from the discovery of fossil fuels and their extraordinary energy density when refined and turned into fuel and, you know, getting that out of the ground and getting it to the people who want it and pay for it involves a lot of steps that do not pay a lot of attention to the well-being of a lot of image, bearers and underwrites, a lot of regimes in the world, both autocratic.
Andy (7m 49s):
And kleptocratic that, expropriate the wealth, the extraordinary wealth generate. If you happen to have this stuff under the ground, in your country for the benefit of a few at the expense of many. So there’s that layer. And then of course we can say, oh well, but we are moving onto renewables now. But the material, the renewables require materials specifically a number of quite rare elements or constituents of the planet that have to be mined. And so again, the procuring of those materials, even if you’re not no longer excavating or, you know, drilling for hydrocarbons, you’re still drilling for cobalt and, you know, all the, all the basic inputs and not to mention a fertilizer, which is, you know, agricultural technology.
Andy (8m 36s):
So all of this stuff generates disproportionate concentrations, concentrations of disproportionate profit, and that could be used. Some nations use that for the benefit of everyone. I think the nation of Norway plausibly could be said to truly be redistributing the wealth generated by north sea oil, to their entire population in ways that are not terribly unjust. Let’s just stipulate, But in much of the world, that’s not what happens. So that’s the material level. Then there’s the kind of formal level or the, the level of this kind of systems of life that are created here.
Andy (9m 18s):
And in this, I think there’s way more toil that that goes into producing the technological ease that we experienced than we really appreciate. And it’s a bit of a punching bag and I do punch on this bag in the book, but Amazon is astonishing in as a consumer. I mean, every decision Amazon makes is meant to satisfy a consumer, such that they can occupy a dominant market position. It’s not such a great place to be a laborer. And the more machines they introduce into their warehouses, the more constrained, a difficult and machine like is the work in those, in those warehouses.
Andy (9m 59s):
So even as they technologize their own distribution chain, that actually makes the jobs, at least in certain respects, worse for people. And there are all of these people whose toil we just never see for. You know, all we do is click a button and, you know, poof, the thing appears, but that’s not quite, what’s actually happening behind the scenes to say the least. So, so, and then I think the top layer is, you know, ultimately you only violate another person by concealing their humanity from your attention.
Andy (10m 40s):
I don’t, I don’t think most of us can fully look someone in the FA like truly see another as human and, and then just routinely violate them. I may, maybe I underestimate our human depravity, but let’s say it’s a lot easier if you can avert your gaze. And I think that technology is giving all of us practice in depersonalizing other people. And whether we treat them as something to be outraged about on Twitter or as an object of objectification because of their, some feature that they have of them or their life, that’s beautiful and attractive. So whether we’re we’re repulsed by them or kind of lured by them, we’re not practicing seeing them.
Andy (11m 25s):
And so even when there’s no like outright exploitation in the chain, the practices of technology don’t necessarily help us attend other people. And that’s kind of the precondition for the neglect or possibly violation of other people. So that would be perhaps too long, an answer to that.
Amy Julia (11m 44s):
Oh, that’s great. That’s really helpful. And, and does lead into just this question of personhood, which is where I want to go, but I’m also just thinking about the, you know, this whole idea of the attention economy and the idea that what you attend to is where your love goes like that. And so I think there’s a real relationship here between attention, injustice, love, personhood, all, all of those things. There’s a line. So can we talk about persons? What is a person, why do we need to define a person like what even, you know, creates that question in our modern era and actually historically as well, because I think there have been different historical problems with the idea of personhood that we’ve overcome some of and created new problems in other ways.
Amy Julia (12m 39s):
So can you just give us a kind of a brief history of personhood as well as like, why does, why is this something we need to be talking about?
Andy (12m 47s):
Yes. Yeah. There’s a German philosopher recently deceased spam on his, his last name who, who says a person is the difference between something and someone there’s a lot of things in the world, but then there are some entities in the world that we encounter with, like, you’re not as something you’re as someone and what that is is personhood. And in the book I define a person. One way to think about is as a heart soul mind, strength, complex designed for love to be a person is to be this beautiful, mysterious combination of these four things that Jesus adapts. You could say from the Hebrew Shamal, the Deuteronomy command, a love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, your soul and your strength.
Andy (13m 32s):
And Jesus adds mind for some reason. So heart, soul, mind, and strength designed for love. That’s, that’s what we are. But the recognition that that applies to every other human being is a very fragile and recent idea. That is to say there have been long stretches of the human story in different parts of the world, where human beings, who are in fact persons, every single one, we’re not all in fact treated as persons. And it’s really interesting to me that the Christian movement begins in a world where somewhere between 20 and 35% of the empire, the Roman empire are treated under law law.
Andy (14m 17s):
There’s literally two major categories of Roman law, the law of persons and the law of stuff. I mean, so this Latin word, race res, which means thing or street, I think stuff is a good and slaves. Enslaved were treated as, as stuff for the purposes of the law. And so you would walk through a Roman city and you know, between one and five and one in three of the people you met of the other human beings who crossed your path, you would have no obligation if you were a free, if you were a free, no obligation to regard them as anything but stuff in the first century of the common era.
Andy (14m 58s):
And it’s not that, of course, Roman the Romans weren’t aware that they were human, but there was this like systematic denial that they were persons. And then we have this interesting echo of this in our own history, in the United States with this very complicated issue of the, the three-fifths clause in the constitution, which, which apportions taxes and voting power and so forth, according to the three fifths of the number of enslaved persons. Now, the interesting thing about the constitution is it actually does very specifically say they are persons. It doesn’t depersonalize. And I think that’s because the north won that side of the battle to recognize the personhood of those enslaved at the time of the American founding, but the south one, the part of the battle that did not want to fully apportion them.
Andy (15m 50s):
And, well actually, sorry, I misspoke. It’s actually more complicated. The, the, this constitution limits how much they can be counted for the purposes of voting. And that’s actually a loss for the south as well, because since they’re only a portion is three fifths, it, it, it reduces the voting power of the sign states. So the northerners gave away, gave personhood in the text of the constitution, but took away two fits of it in order to maintain a certain amount of political dominance. So the north, as so often as a northerner, I’m like, oh, those southerners they’re so bad, but then I like go back and look more carefully at the history I realized, oh, actually the north,
Amy Julia (16m 34s):
Right. The north stood to gain.
Andy (16m 38s):
So anyway, so this is just a recurring theme in history, like who, who really counts for us as a person is a really big deal. And, you know, arguably only intermittently under the influence of this astonishing social movement that began in the first century that called ultimately it was called the Christian movement. Have we, have we sort of stretched towards, or, or reached towards this reality that in fact, every human being is a person, but that’s not, not how it feels all the time and not how it really is all the time.
Amy Julia (17m 16s):
Yeah. And I think for me, as, you know, the mother of a child with down syndrome and being more involved in disability areas than I would have probably ever been otherwise, that sense of who is a person in the womb and even out of the world, just knowing that there are ethicists who would argue that personhood is linked to cognitive ability in particular, I think there are other ethicists who would say that personhood is linked to lack of suffering in some way. You know, when we start to think about whether it’s the right to die on a euthanasia line or the right for a parent to withhold, you know, lifesaving measures for an infant that sometimes might have to do with intellectual capacity at other times, might have to do with a perceived understanding that you are a person, if you are free, not to suffer in some way.
Amy Julia (18m 11s):
And in both cases, I think the, the ways we are reducing personhood rather than saying, this is an expansive understanding. And that’s part of why I love your definition in terms of the heart soul, mind, strength, complex, designed for love. And also, I would say like designed by love for love, right? Like there’s like a, there’s a relationship that it’s generative and bestowed, right? It’s not it, I mean, it is intrinsic to every person
Andy (18m 42s):
Amy Julia (18m 43s):
Andy (18m 45s):
Totally. And bestowed by a creator and also mutual, like, you know, designed for love, I think yes, designed to love others, but also designed to be loved. So some, some people have limited capability. I start the book early on. I talk about the sauna friends of mine. He’s clearly, you know, it’s early in his life. So it’s hard to diagnose these things, but you know, some version of autism and not able for years to recognize that all his parents, as, you know, beings that he would want to gaze, that they, you know, like never made eye contact and never indicated kind of special awareness of their presence, which of course is incredibly painful.
Andy (19m 28s):
But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s loved and designed to be loved. And, you know, every night we fall asleep and our cognitive capacities are gone, but, but really we only safely fall asleep in a place where we’re loved. And so we all need to be in this circle of mutual regard recognition care that in which our ability to extend it waxes and wanes, you know, in with the circumstances of life, but no matter how limited young, old, whatever a person may be, they’re designed to be part of that web of love. I think
Amy Julia (20m 7s):
I agree. And I appreciate that distinction or yeah. Kind of nuance that there’s a, a giving and receiving there and I’m, this is skipping ahead in the book a little bit, but I think it’s relevant to this aspect of the conversation because you’ve hinted at this, that the life death and resurrection of Jesus changes our understanding of personhood. And you have a story that’s woven through this book that has a lot to do with very modern technology and superpowers and airplanes and phones and all these things woven through all of that is a conversation about Gaius and tertiary and the names in the new Testament that I to glaze over and not pay any attention to.
Amy Julia (20m 52s):
But I would love for you to talk about how Jesus changes things and then, and actually tell us the story of, of Gaius and churches and how, how that speaks to this.
Andy (21m 1s):
Yeah. So there’s a couple of things I’m attempting in this book. And one is to say, as, as new as our problems are, in some ways they’re not fundamentally new. And, and as whatever hope there is that we can somehow navigate through this technological world, which I do see as very damaging in some ways to human beings, the hope actually is not so much inherent in us, but inherited a larger story that has been going for a long time. And the end that originated in this in its own way, equally stratified, unjust, messy also in its time, technological empire. I mean, the Roman empire had a degree of channeled power, financially militarily engineering power.
Andy (21m 48s):
There was just unparalleled in, in its time and its place. So there’s a group of people who lived a really different way, right in the midst of this. I mean, as this empire is just like going great, it’s the POCs Ramana, it’s the triumph of Augustus Caesar and the establishment of the empire under a single, under a single figure that the emperor and, and part of what I’m actually trying to do in this book. It’s not, it’s not that I don’t believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, I believe in that very much, but I actually don’t talk about that very much in the book. I it’s, I’m kind of looking at the, I said, I don’t want to say the shadow cast by it.
Andy (22m 29s):
It’s like the light cast by it. I mean, I’m looking at this, this sociological manifestation of something that happened such that, and this is again to your invitation to tell this little piece of the story it’s such, that we find we glimpse in Romans 16 as it happens to be in this chapter that is mostly passed over by preachers and readers, because it seems like it’s just a list of hellos. You know, all these, all these people Paul wants to greet and we don’t really know much about most of them. And so really what are you, what are you going to get from reading it? Right? Well, as, as I spent some time with it, I became more and more astonished, particularly at, at where this letter is being written.
Andy (23m 12s):
And we can put together that they’re in the home of a man named Gaius. He owns a house. So he’s a Potter, familias he? He is a person when he steps on the street, people pay attention. People know who he’s connected to. Who’s connected to him. He’s part of a web of relationship and patronage and the, in the Roman world Erastus is there, he’s the city treasurer. And that’s not very surprising. Like of course, you know, Potter familias is, or Patras of Amelia and city treasurers hang out and have dinner together. But then we find out there’s this other person there who’s actually writing down the letter. We know that from the text and his name is tertiary is, and this is a total surprise because you know, the scribes were pre slaves were present all the time in Roman households.
Andy (24m 0s):
In fact, in ways that would seem really weird to us. Like they were present to every single thing you did in a household, including in the bedroom, which is just crazy. So of course there’s a slave there probably a slave, certainly ascribed taking notes for this letter, but it turns out he’s a guest in the home. He’s not just an employee. And in fact, he’s a brother he’s seen as a brother by Gaius he’s he’s guys, his brother and, and tertiary is his name in Latin is just the word for number three. It means third. So basically the Romans only named their first born son, because that’s where all the family line would go. And then by the third son or a baby born, maybe in the third month of the year, the Roman year, you know, if it’s not the first part, they’re like, ah, we’ll call this one number three.
Andy (24m 49s):
And then he actually says, tertiary is his writing. He’s like Gaia, CSOs to me, greets you, or asked us to say, treasurer greets you. And you know, I S I say, hello. And so does the brother quartus, which means number four. So you have, on the one hand, Gaia’s harassed us, who are men of prominence, then you have Tertius and quartus whose names literally mean number three, number four. And then we know who’s going to pick up the letter that tertiary its rights and carry it herself to Rome, because she’s the first one named in Roman 16. And her name is Phoebe. And all of them are sitting around this table.
Andy (25m 29s):
Now, anyone, you know, the Romans didn’t have a glass, you know, in their windows. So you would walk by people’s houses and you could look in, and I suppose they might’ve had curtains and that sort of thing, but you could hear what was going on. And if anyone had looked in or heard, you know, Gaius referring to Tertius as his brother, they would have been probably horrified like that is a violation of social status. You do not talk about this, these stratified relationships this way. And then if they’d realized that Phoebe was the one who was going to take the letter and interpret it to the Romans, because when you carried a letter, is your job not just to sort of hand it over, to read it aloud and probably give commentary, explain it, answer questions, right?
Andy (26m 15s):
And she’s the one entrusted with this and she’s their sister like this just scrambles. And then of course we have the fact that there’s this guy named Paul, who used to be called Saul, who as a Jew would never have been in this house until something happened. So in the book, I don’t really get into like, what happened, you know? Well, I mean, it’s clear something really crazy happened within 30 years. Cause this is probably happening in the sixties at the latest, within 30 years of the life of Jesus, the end of the historical end of the life of Jesus. You’ve got this just mad thing happening in which all these people, some of whom have no, can’t, can’t even give testimony.
Andy (27m 1s):
A court of law CA can be treated as property. They are all seeing one another as members of one family. It’s amazing.
Amy Julia (27m 12s):
Well, and one of the things you do in not just telling that story, but also tracing out those consequences when it comes to seeing human life differently and valuing going after the infants who have been left out to die. I mean, and truly I was actually, I was, this was just an article I was reading in a magazine today, but like even the idea of visiting people in prison and bringing sustenance, like, you know, call this sense of the people who typically are discarded, whether that’s by law or just by social practice, becoming ones who are honored and who are very much seen as those who bears the bear, the image of God.
Amy Julia (27m 55s):
And there are lots of implications and we, on the one hand have inherited a lot of those implications, not only as Christians, but even just living in the west, but on the other hand, they can become, we might not have to think them through in quite the same way because we’ve inherited them. And I think that’s part of what you’re trying to do in this book is to say, well, wait, what do we really mean? Like, it really might mean as inconvenient as it is that you questioned your purchase from Amazon, right? Or, and which, you know, as a, an Amazon prime member myself, I am loathed to do, and yet I need to be doing that. I really do. And, and I guess this is, I want to move us to the conversation about super powers and magic and, and just, I want to seed this thought, this stream of conversation with this quotation, from your book.
Amy Julia (28m 51s):
So you write, you cannot take advantage of a superpower and fully remain a person. And so we need to define superpower. You write about, for example, like a bicycle being a soup, not a superpower, but an airplane being a super power. So maybe that’s an example that you use. And, but then why, so what’s what is a superpower and why can you not take advantage of it and fully remain a person?
Andy (29m 18s):
Yes. So I suppose I would say a superpower is a greatly increased power with greatly decreased effort. It’s both much expanded capabilities and kind of amazing ease or simplicity. So cause you know, when Superman who I sort of, the original super hero sets out to fly, he doesn’t have to be like, okay, I, you know, gotta start beating my arms really fast in a reach, takeoff speed or something like he just decides to fly. Right? And so superpowers, I think, carry this, this connotation of it’s just effortless, extraordinary ability.
Andy (29m 58s):
And this is what technology often is sold as promised promising us. And often literally with the word, because I’ve been seeing this word everywhere in the last few years in kind of tech marketing, it’s a very favored kind of language of Silicon valley in particular. But I do believe, and I actually am. I do believe that sentence. You read that you cannot take advantage of a superpower without leaving some part of your personhood behind. I don’t, I don’t know how to prove it, except that I have never seen a superpower that keeps you fully engaged, heart, soul, mind, strength with love in the world.
Andy (30m 38s):
So, and I, I, I think it’s for two reasons, one is effortless. Ness does not develop me in any way. So the more time I spend in the book, I call it the superpower zone where I’m like, whether it’s pounding through email or, or, you know, flying from place to place, albeit with the help of an airplane, not like Superman, but still like I’m, I’m not exerting any more effort than Clark Kent does. Right? In Bali. I’m just sitting there and I’m flying. I wish to fly. I paid to fly and now I’m flying. That’s a super power. As far as I’m concerned, all of these attenuate, certain fundamental parts of being human.
Andy (31m 18s):
So even when I’m feeling super productive, I’m like answering email really fast. There’s actually an email interface called superhuman. I don’t know if you’ve heard about that. It’s, it’s the really hot thing. A bunch of my coworkers love it. Cause it allows you basically to get through email really fast by pretending it sort of inserts this layer of processing that makes your responses much quicker and yet makes it seem like you’re actually paying attention to people while you do it. That’s maybe a little unfair, but it’s, it’s, you know, it’s a nice set of tools. I, I have no objection to it per se, but even while I feel like, oh, I’m being very effective, I’m answering. I mean, Julia’s email that I’m answering this other person’s email, I’m getting a ton so fast and you feel this kind of you’re in the zone, you’re making a lot of progress.
Andy (32m 2s):
Your body is totally inert, right? Like, and this is the whole thing about computational circle superpowers is they pay basically no attention to our need to move as human bodies and to develop our strength. And so they’re not developmental. They often leave one, one or more parts of heart, soul, mind, strength completely at the door, like just not engaged. And I also think it’s very rare. They, I don’t think they ever lead us more deeply into love. I think the whole point of superpowers is to get stuff done and getting stuff done is, is sort of at best, you know, orthogonal like just totally unrelated to loving the persons that I’m given to love cause to love is not to get any particular thing done per se, with a person, at least not in the sense of that, that attention, that care, that is the primary duty of love.
Andy (33m 4s):
I suppose, when you make dinner for your family or you clean up the dishes, you are loving your family and there can be productivity there. But so the superpowers that were given by the technological world are amazing, but they’re not amazing at developing us as persons. They’re just amazing at getting stuff done, which is not bad, but it’s not the main task of human beings. What’s the first commandment get a great deal done in the world. No, it’s love the Lord, your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbors yourself and superpowers just don’t help with that at all.
Amy Julia (33m 41s):
Well, and we do see in terms of thinking about humans as being designed for love, I think we see a great human toll from our superpowers. You know, whether that’s like literally just obesity or heart disease or, you know, some sort of like physical effects. But I think also in terms of our bent towards productivity, instead of relationship measuring ourselves and to others in those terms, rather than understanding ourselves as those who are given to and from, and for love. So, you know, we get a lot done and we are not the better for it.
Amy Julia (34m 24s):
And I think even the data, you know, backs that assertion up
Andy (34m 29s):
Completely. And you know, I was just, before we started talking, I was reading the section in your book, your latest book about mark, oh, I forgot the chapter, the, the, the healing of the woman for 12 years, mark five. And you know, think about this now, Jesus, like we would think a superpower is the ability to just heal people like instantly, that sounds like a superpower. So, you know, but think about that chapter. So first of all, for the context as you so beautifully, it’s one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible, as you’ve beautifully described, the context is he’s been asked by the synagogue leader named gyrus to come heal his daughter. Now, if Jesus has super powers, why can’t he just do it?
Andy (35m 11s):
He actually does in other places like there’s a Centurion who comes through and it’s like, you don’t, you don’t even need to come to my house. Yep. And so Jesus is already doing this very inefficient thing of walking to gyrus his house very slowly because there’s a large crowd. Like surely he should be like Superman and be like, excuse me, why fly over the crowd? Get to the house if necessary, but really just act as a distance. Like we know you can do it, Jesus, but then it’s compounded right by this woman who, who comes up behind him in the crowd, touches his cloak. There is this kind of quasi magical, you know, cessation of her illness. And Jesus is specifically not willing to just let the magic happen, right? He’s like, who touched me?
Andy (35m 53s):
And I think this indicates to us that Jesus though, indeed he is presented us to us in the gospels as having extraordinary abilities that, that we ordinarily don’t know how to access that were available to him because of his intimacy with his father, he would have said, and I think that’s the heart of the matter. Even then with all that extraordinary ability, his priority remains presence to persons, you know, presence to the daughter who’s in front of him, presence to the daughter whose homie’s going to presence to gyrus presence, to Peter and James and John, who he invites in to be part of that.
Andy (36m 33s):
And all of that is highly unproductive, you know, but, but highly germane to his real mission, which in the end is not just the cessation of a few illnesses or even, even the recovery of a life, but the recovery of love in the world. But we, boy, it’s hard for us to stay in that when, when we get these abilities, we’re like, well, now I can get a lot done, but I don’t have time for people.
Amy Julia (36m 58s):
Right. And I think there’s a, one of the things I was talking with somebody else earlier today about is the, the, that healing is not like a transaction at it’s at Jesus is healing. It’s not transactional, it’s relational. And I think that’s related here too. Like super powers allow more transactions and less relationships like there’s some sort of, I don’t know, you could create some good, you know, quadrant something on that. You’re very good with those.
Andy (37m 28s):
No, no, totally. Because our superpowers are not in fact based on, on profound, personal intimacy with the creator of the universe. So Jesus never, I, I don’t think Jesus, one moment, his life conceived of the idea of impersonal power, unless it was when he was being tempted by he’s portrayed as being tempted to do magic, which is impersonal power. And he says, I’m not going to live that way. That’s not how, that’s not how a faithful human being lives, but the rest of us. And especially we technological people, the way we get stuff done really fast is not by being more and more personally engaged with God. And with others, we get it done through money basically because you don’t get any of this technology, unless you’re part of the money economy.
Andy (38m 11s):
It’s not just handed out for free. And so you pay for it. And money is like the ultimate magic in a way, because it, by turning relationships into transactions, it makes them highly efficient. Because when I go to the corner store to get something I no longer need to stop and ask about that person’s parents and how they’re doing. They don’t know who I am. I don’t know who they are. I mean, these days you don’t even make eye contact. Like you swipe your card over the reader and the stuff is handed to you and there’s a perfunctory. Thank you. You know that, you know, they were scripted. And then they say, it’s my pleasure, which they were all taught to do. And you’re off. And money is what gives us superpowers. And money turns every relationship into a Tran transaction.
Andy (38m 53s):
Whereas Jesus, Andy and his followers, you know, when Simon, Simon, the magician, I think it is who comes to Paul. He’s like, Hey, can I pay you to be part of this? It’s like you are you so do not get it. Like, that’s, that’s a demonic instinct to think that you could buy your way in to this kind of power in the world. But we believe far more than we probably like to admit that real power doesn’t require persons and definitely doesn’t require love.
Amy Julia (39m 23s):
And yet I think we also probably believe more than we would like to admit, or like no one would say I care more about money and getting things done than I do about love. In fact, I think many people would argue, no, no technology properly used allows us to have all sorts of great things for all sorts of people. Like we can get one laptop per child or, you know, it is, and it’s enabling education. It’s enabling medication. I mean, let’s talk about medicine for a minute. I was thinking about this. You give this beautiful example. I’ll let you tell the story of the, the epilepsy.
Amy Julia (40m 4s):
There’s a story in the book about a detector of seizures.
Andy (40m 9s):
Will you tell
Amy Julia (40m 9s):
That story? Right. So let’s yeah. So we tell about that, but also let’s talk about technology. How is it possible for it to be in the service of love and human flourishing? When does that happen? What are those conditions kind of,
Andy (40m 25s):
Yeah. Great question. Great question. And very important because I do believe, I absolutely believe there, there are places. I mean, I believe technology emerge. We all know it emerges from science, which is the patient disciplines study of the natural world. I believe the natural world is a created world. I believe it’s good. So anything that we truly discover about the world must be part of the goodness or indeed, very goodness. That’s available to us as God’s image bearers. So I am all for using that. And when it’s used in relational context, I think it can be very, very beneficial, especially when it’s used to relieve toil.
Andy (41m 8s):
I think there’s a place for that. And there are some kinds of toil that I think we are glad to be done with. You know, my grandmother would have spent I’m sure a day or two a week simply washing laundry. And now we spend a few hours a week washing laundry. And I don’t see that as a, a great like diminution. I see that as a expansion of room for all kinds of other image, bearing activities though, there’s nothing wrong with doing laundry or, or, or undignified about it, but it’s nice to have technological help and with medicine, I think it’s complicated. And, and, and I want to talk about that, that epilepsy intervention, because I think it’s, it’s another way that we haven’t pursued as much as we should have done.
Andy (41m 52s):
So the thing is we live in this little slice of human history. That’s going to be remembered as the antibiotic era, where we found a class of drugs, that for a certain amount of time with certain pathogens were extreme. They were like magic. Like you take that pill like with, with certain kinds of infections, even just one, your first dose within a couple of hours, you feel like magically better. Yeah. And, and then the big problem is people don’t keep taking the doses because they feel better already. And then we actually get the thing that’s going to cause us to exit the antibiotic era, which is multiple drug resistance and bacteria that will ultimately make under runs around all of our antibiotics.
Andy (42m 32s):
But, but we live in this little sliver of time where there were, there were pills you could take that operated like a magic button for certain ailments. Now there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a beautiful discovery. Saved countless lives, probably saved my own life. You know, I’m probably here because of that. I do think probably our great grandchildren will benefit much less from those drugs because the, the, the, the bugs that will attack them will we’ll be smarter for lots of reasons. And the, the big problem is that that has fooled us as a society, into thinking that’s what medicine should always be. Like. In other words, there should be a fix.
Andy (43m 13s):
There’s like, I’ve got a problem, doc, what’s the fix. And the, the set of problems to which the doctor can provide a fix. Ronald Heifetz calls, these type one problems where it’s a known problem known solution, and all that’s needed is the expertise of the provider. And the patient doesn’t have to know anything like here, just take this bill. Don’t worry about what’s in it. I can’t explain it to you. Just take it two times a day. For seven days, it turns out type one. Problems are very, very small subset of human ailments, even orthopedic surgery, which in one way, like a simple thing, like a broken bone, gosh, I’m so glad there are people who know how to set bones and such that they heal. But even that surgery is complicated intervention into a human being’s life.
Andy (43m 58s):
That is by no means simply, oh, we’ll cut this open. Will, you know, unbreak this thing and put it back together. Like it, you need so many other things around you, not least effective antibiotics, by the way, for that to be possible. And medicine in in fact, the, the securing of hell health and healing for human beings is this intensely social, personal relational thing. Sorry, I feel like I’m going on a little longer, but it’s so, it’s so complicated because another that’s really complicated is the placebo effect, which is this crazy reality that when people believe they will be made well, they are made well, even when we can’t see anything,
Amy Julia (44m 43s):
I almost interrupted you to say with orthopedic surgeons. And I don’t think this is true with broken bones, but many back surgeries, especially, but knee surgeries as well. Like you don’t necessarily need the surgery. You need to believe that you’ve gotten help,
Andy (44m 60s):
Which exactly which it can only be mediated ultimately through the trust in that provider, that surgeon or physician who says, I just, I can tell you this is going to help. And we believe that even if they in a study setting, they’d covertly do not intervene. The trust in that activate something in our mind, body, mind, soul, heart, soul, mind, strength system, to believe that we can be made well, and we are right. So, so it’s actually so much about trust and the effects that actually are mediated by medicine that are these sort of magical, you know, knockout effects are such a small part of what health is, but the problem is that’s become the whole metaphor, the guiding metaphor in ways that are very misleading for both physicians or healthcare providers and patients, and lead us to expect our healthcare system to do crazy things that it cannot do to restore things in ways that can’t be restored in the way we might hope that cause us to miss out on the relational dynamic of, of provider and patient.
Andy (46m 9s):
So that there’s this whole system being introduced everywhere in the world. Now that does nothing, nothing, demonstrably, nothing to serve the interaction between provider and patient. The thing it does is make it possible to make it a transaction. And it’s called EMR electronic medical records. And when you go into a typical Western healthcare appointment, especially in the U S it’s not quite as bad and single-payer countries though, they have their own issues, but you go in and 90% of the time the nurse or the doctor whoever’s providing your care is looking at a screen rather than you is. Doesn’t have the time to establish trust because it all has to be built. And this is doing incredible damage to health.
Andy (46m 51s):
So we need a different model of where healing comes from that acknowledges all the amazing things we’ve learned about the human heart, soul, mind strength system and, and the interventions that truly can help. And that gets, that gets this thing I read about, which I’ll describe really briefly, which is this really interesting thing called sudden death from epilepsy, which, which happens when a person has such a deep seizure, that, that it shuts down the fundamental ability of the brain to keep the bodily systems going. But there’s this window of time where if you could detect it, people can be brought out of these deep seizures, but almost always only through another person being with them at that moment, touching them and ideally calling them by name.
Andy (47m 37s):
And my friend, I’m very honored to call her my friend. I’ve learned so much from her kind of a mentor in all this Ross Picard at MIT, she and her team developed this little, it’s like a little smartwatch type bracelet that can detect the onset of this. I don’t know if it’s technically a grand mal seizure, but very, very profound seizure. And then all, all the, the little thing can do is alert a person, a nearby person. So you, you say, Hey, here’s the cell phone of my neighbor, cause don’t give it your mom’s cell phone. If she lives a hundred miles away, she can’t help give it your neighbor’s cellphone, that the person closest to you who could get to you in time and could touch you gently on the shoulder and say, Amy, Julia, Amy, Julia.
Andy (48m 20s):
And that gets through the, the Mo the brain’s kind of a seizure and penetrates to the point where that person awakens and comes back, but only through the presence of a person.
Amy Julia (48m 32s):
And not just, I mean, I just, I was so struck by that example in your book, because it’s the presence of a nearby person, the touch and the name. And just in terms of that sense of like personhood being, what is both so intrinsic to who we are, as well as so intrinsic to our understanding of healing and yes, as much as we, and, and again, and it’s such a beautiful example of technology that actually is enabling that instead of trying to short circuit or ignore that, that reality. So I thank you. And thank you for your thoughts, not just for that example, but for those thoughts, because I do think for all of us who are, you know, certainly wed, I mean, kind of embedded within this biomedical system, which has created many, many things, as you said, I think I’m sure I antibiotics I’ve saved my life and there are many things I’m incredibly grateful for.
Amy Julia (49m 27s):
And yet also, I, I think one of the things I so want is for us to have medicine and technology in its proper place, because I do think, I guess you, at the beginning, we’re just saying that technology is the idol of our age. And so what that does is it makes it Supreme. It makes it that, which we worship that, which everything is oriented towards. And it’s when we start getting it in that distorted place that I think all of these other residual problems Flow out. Right. Well, I know I’ve taken up a lot of your time already, and nobody else knows this, but I was late to our interview here and you were very patient with me.
Amy Julia (50m 7s):
So I’m only going to ask you one more question. I did want to know how have you structured your own life as a person in order to better reflect these truths about what it means to be a heart, soul, mind, strength, complex, designed for love. What are some things that you either attempt to do or regularly practice now, or, or what, in terms of being a person And recognizing others as persons?
Andy (50m 40s):
Yeah. So I would say I’ll give you maybe two or three things that I’ve tried to do more and more intentionally the biggest change I’ve made in my life in the last five or 10 years, it’s kind of absurd. How big of a deal it has been for my health, not just my physical health at all, my spiritual, like my health as a person, because it’s such a small thing is simply quite a while ago, we stopped having phones in our bedrooms. So all the phones are downstairs, but I would go downstairs in the morning and immediately pick up my phone. So the change I made five or six years ago was to leave the phone plugged in, not look at it.
Andy (51m 24s):
I, I make a cup of tea almost every morning, but the first thing I do really is I go out, out of, out of doors outside and I walk out into creation and I am just this small little person. And the moon is whatever phase the moon is. One of the really interesting side effects that I now know what phase the moon is most of the time, which I probably, there was probably 20 years where I had no idea. And you hear the, you know, it’s spring as we record this. And this morning I heard I was out at 5:00 AM. I was up quite early. I heard the first birds singing and it was cloudy, kind of heavy clouds.
Andy (52m 5s):
And I felt the weight of the humidity in the air. And, and every day I walk outside and there’s this world going on that isn’t about me. And instead of picking up this device, that is exquisitely tailored to me too, tailored to me, like says, you’re the center like to that device? I’m the center of the world. It wants me to see myself that way. And it’s just been it’s. It has really almost single-handedly freed me from the sense of dependence. Or sometimes we say addiction to my phone, like, cause I come back in to the day on the screens, cause I work a lot with screens and I just feel in the right place.
Andy (52m 48s):
So that’s been huge. So then a more relational thing. Well, one of the things that I learned to do years ago that I’ve kept up is I, I, I ha I try really intentionally to learn people’s names wherever I am. So I’m a public figure of a certain kind. I just got back from nine days in the bay area in California, I did 15 public events. Some of them were really big and you know, big audiences, no way to learn anyone’s name per se, but many of them were medium-sized, you know, eight people, 15 people, 30 people, and up to about 30 people.
Andy (53m 30s):
I really try not to be in a room without learning every name. And that sounds really hard. And it is, it requires a lot of attention. It requires like really intense focus. It’s actually quite tiring to have people go around and say their names, say something about themselves and actually remember, but the good news is if you practice it, which I’ve now practiced. I started doing this when I was about 20 years old. And so I’ve got 30 years of practice. It becomes easier. Like I can learn 30 names really without conscious effort. I just, I just have to tell myself I’m paying attention now. And then I go around the room and I’m like, oh, you know, let me just make sure I got it. And I’m also totally willing to fail. If I forget someone’s name, I’m just willing to say, oh, I forgot.
Andy (54m 12s):
And it freaks people out because they’re like, they’ve never met anyone who actually was listening when they said their name. You know, you started saying, yeah, my name is Andy I’m from Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Like you just it’s so perfunctory because you assume other people aren’t thinking, which is usually the case. But for me, it’s this practice because the reality is in those rooms, people do know my name I’ve been introduced. I’m the special guests, even if I’m just the guests from out of town, you know? And it’s just so important to me whenever I can to look at someone’s face and match that to a name and let them know that I paid attention enough, at least to know their name.
Andy (54m 52s):
And that also has been it’s it’s, it’s just been a very, very helpful discipline in this weird life I have as a, you know, public speaker and influential, whatever I am. So those are two.
Amy Julia (55m 8s):
I love that. I think those are both really beautiful and simple and helpful. And yet also as someone who I’m not in your I’m not there yet on the walking, outside in the morning, but, and it’s amazing to me, how much I still resist that, not going to my phone. First thing I go through these cycles where I leave it downstairs and I can experience like exactly what you’re describing. And then for whatever reason, I, you know, oh, shoot, I needed to respond to this person. Or I needed to check this thing for school, for penny or whatever it is.
Amy Julia (55m 49s):
But it’s not just that on that one day, I kind of violate my practice. That is what sets me back into the, like, it really wasn’t that bad. I’ll do that again. You know, so anyway, I deeply appreciate and need those. I, you know, I, the names I think is also, I mean, it just goes back to even what we were saying about the embrace epilepsy technology, as far as it is really meaningful to people to be named and to be known by name. And so I think that does yes, on some level it’s like a party trick and learning to pay attention. You’ve gotten good at it. But on another level it’s saying I have chosen to pay attention in this way, which goes back to something we were saying earlier in terms of that relationship between attention and love and personhood.
Amy Julia (56m 36s):
And so I do think when we start to be willing to pay attention, it enables us to also bring, and I don’t mean you deeply love every one of those 29 people around the table. And yet there is a sense of like, I’m bringing myself as a person who is equipped to love and able to love that’s who I’m bringing here today. And I’m hoping you’re doing the same, right? So there’s, I think that’s really cool. Well, there is much, much more that we could discuss. I actually have questions we haven’t even gotten to, but I’m going to leave that as a teaser for everyone. Who’s listening to this and should pick up this new book, the life we’re looking for by Andy crouch.
Amy Julia (57m 16s):
And we’ll leave all sorts of, you know, notes in the show notes for people who want to click on links and use technology to, you know, exert super power And have a book on your doorstep tomorrow. But I do, I do think this is one that can generate. We didn’t even talk about households. For example, I’m just gonna, you know, see that as a teaser for something that’s also really important in this book. And there’s, there’s much more, but I really appreciate your words and your thinking. And many years of writing and speaking, I’m thinking that you’ve been willing to offer with all of us, myself included. So thanks for being here.
Andy (57m 56s):
Well, truly a gift. Thank you.
Amy Julia (58m 2s):
Thanks. As always for listening to this episode of love is stronger than fear. I really recommend this book, the life we’re looking for, and I will also give a plug here for Andy’s other books. And that goes all the way back to his first book culture making, which came out in 2008. My personal favorite is actually a small book that Andy wrote called strong and weak Peter and I refer to it frequently, as we think about our own role as agents in the world. And we also love the tech-wise family and Andy’s other book playing God. I will also recommend Andy’s podcast, which he hosts for Praxis.
Amy Julia (58m 44s):
It’s got great conversations about creative entrepreneurship. The show notes will give you all sorts of ways to hear or read more from Andy crouch. I’m also really grateful to Jake Hansen for editing this podcast for Amber Beery, my social media coordinator. She does so much to support me and to support this show. And I’m really grateful that you’re here. So as you go into your day today, I hope you will carry with you. The peace that comes from believing that love is stronger than fear.
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Learn more with Amy Julia:
- To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope
- S5 E17 | The Role and the Limits of Medicine with Dr. Matthew Loftus
- New Rules For Screen Time Pt. 2
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