The Van Winkle Project

I have a good friend and colleague at ACU who just started what he calls The Van Winkle Project.

My friend, a self-confessed news junkie, will be depriving himself of all news for one entire year. He fell asleep--Van Winkled--on September 11 and won't wake up until September 11, 2011. As the blog relates, this involves the following:

If something happens on this planet, my goal is to not know about it. This includes natural disasters:

* Floods
* Droughts
* Hurricanes
* Tornadoes
* Earthquakes
* Volcanic eruptions
* Famines
* Epidemics and pandemics

I also will not have any inkling if there has been a man-made disaster or tragic happening:

* Airplane crashes
* Train derailments
* Freeway pileups
* Factory explosions
* Fires
* Terrorist attacks
* Shootings, murders and kidnappings
* Riots
* Wars (declared and undeclared)
* Oil spills

My information blackout, of course, precludes my knowing:

* Results of the mid-term elections on Nov. 2
* If the economy slips into a dreaded "double-dip" recession
* How the NFL or NBA seasons progress, who makes the playoffs, who wins the Super Bowl or the NBA championship
* Whether Tiger Woods gets his game back

As far as entertainment goes I will have no idea of:

* What new movies come out
* What new shows become hits on TV
* Who the next pop star or band everyone is buzzing about is
* What noteworthy books have been published

I will also be blind to and ignorant of the introduction of new products and their reception such as:

* iPad v. 2
* Chevy Volt
* Affordable 3D television sets

On a more sobering note, I won’t know about:

* Famous people who are splitsville, enter rehab, or simply die of causes natural or unnatural
What is the Van Winkle Project interested in? Two things:
1 - How I feel while I’m "asleep"

Does a state of not knowing have a calming effect? Do emotions swing the other way so that I start to go crazy with curiosity? In the absence of facts and information, am I able to read clues as to what as to what has happened in people’s behavior or from a subtle but detectable buzz in the air? Do I suddenly have extra time on my hands and, if so, what does one do with it?

2 - What it might feel like to "wake up"

When my wife and son present me with oral evidence as well as textual (newspapers, magazines, web saves) of what has happened during the past year will I be amazed? Appalled? Will I really try to catch up on all or most of the news? Or will it be better to let those months in 2010-2011 rest in peace, the equivalent of a 365-day "lost weekend"?
I encourage you follow The Van Winkle Project over the year. In this world of 24/7 news cycles, the Internet, and mobile devices, I can't imagine a more interesting psycho-spiritual experiment.

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22 thoughts on “The Van Winkle Project”

  1. And a dangerous one, too! Without the public's attention, those in power will not be accountable. This is what the elite count on from the "ignorant" or uninformed population.
    Just today, it was reported that this adminstration wants to give the president the power to close down the internet if there happened to be a cyber attack. This is a very serious "problem", because without information, the public can be "led" like lambs to the slaughter, and yet, terrorists are after information that protects our national security! So, this issue must be addressed without giving another place for executive power that usurps the 'balance of power".

    Propaganda can flourish in such an environment, because it will be easier to control the media and what they tell the public. We will all be dependent on these for all our news, without getting other or outside information and make up our own minds, how and what we think about issues, and policies...And we are one step closer to limiting more of our liberites...and undermining our Bill of Rights.

  2. Actually, I think the more "plugged in" you are to the talking head news cycle the more 1) paranoid or 2) hypnotized you become. Unplugging seems to be a good way to get one's head clear.

    Still, this is why Christians believe in community. If Armageddon comes I can just drive over and get him, because he'd be clueless, and take him to my bunker to ride out the End of Days.

  3. Hmmm... Actually that's pretty much my life for the last 40 years. I don't read newspapers, I don't do internet news, I haven't watched TV since 1959, I rarely listen to radio except to get traffic reports in the morning (so I do catch SOME current events). I can't share Angie's concern because well, "some trust in chariots and some in horses but we will call on the name of the Lord"... politics and religion in bed with each other is what killed Christ and I believe it is killing Christianity in America. I could care less if this kingdom survives, flourishes or falls, my faith and Christian life are not dependent on who controls congress, the monetary system or who sits at the Oval Office desk. Yes, I'm out of touch, but whenever I hear people talk politics and religion NONE of them are at peace. None. I'll pray for my secular "kings" and the world as St. Paul directs, but I don't have to know the political landscape (as interpreted by the media which is selling opinions based on arbitron ratings for ad revenue... so of course they aren't biased....) or all the celebrity shenanigans which are really just all the same old sins sold in glossy tabloids (for profit). I'll take inner peace, quiet prayer and dependence on God any day over being manipulated by the media who is selling me the illusion that I can control any of this stuff anyway, thank you.

  4. "... whenever I hear people talk politics and religion NONE of them are at peace."
    Yes, and Same Here. I see much heart-shuttered hand-wringing and angst over the macro-political picture (over which they have NO influence apart from a single vote). Simultaneously, blinders are on and discussion is taboo, where one could actually do some real and immediate good. It's much safer to stake one's righteous indignation to a macro picture in which one has no personal accountability.

    I agree with you, s-p, that the status of politics is not where anyone finds peace of mind.

  5. As someone who has moved in and out of the US (spent 12 years in europe as a child/total of 6 years in europe as an adult) I am speaking to you in your role as a friend. please pay attention to his ability to stay connected. 'information' seems to be a commodity that is traded in relationships and not having access to the currency will have an effect on how he enters and joins in conversations.

  6. I thought Christians believed that if you depended on "flesh and blood" and not the "Lord God", then you were ensured to be decieved and duped! Isn't this what "Lordship" is about, as one is accountable to God, while others judge the outward, God judges the inward....etc. etc.

    What I imagine about communal life is primitive Christianity, where there is no private property, or individuality. Identity is tribal. It is pre-modern.

  7. Patricia,
    Those that do not want to be involved with politics are the ones that have a "transcendental future" and can't be bothered about what is happening in the world. And what about those who do not believe in such a future?

    As for "doing good", do you believe that leaders must control one's choices, life and values? Do you believe in "spiritual formation", where others make demands on your life, judging whether you are "spiritually forming" according to their 'judgements about values"? Conformity, provincialism, and evangelicalism is a narrow prescription in defining life. I fight these things, as they are simplistic and unrealistic views of reality.

  8. This is so true, Joy. There are some I know who can only talk about "spiritual things" (I was one of these) and they are lost in the greater connections of life.

  9. Hi Angie. It's nice to see you back.
    Actually, I had a conversation with my mom a while back. She told me she "just wanted to be happy," which is why she couldn't be bothered to talk about things in our family history that need to be addressed. But she has no problem living in high anxiety over politics. And she's not happy.
    Welcome back.

  10. "I fight these things, as they are simplistic and unrealistic views of reality." Respectfully, I think you have an overly simplistic view of reality too if you believe my spirituality is about a "transcandental future", conformity, provincialism etc. I deal with reality every day in the people I meet. I fight homelessness, poverty, loneliness, despair, depression, anger, distance, mental illness, sin and hosts of other issues nearly every waking moment because I pay attention to the people I meet. I am only bothered by what I can actually do something about in the present moment. I change "the world" in one person's life at a time even if it is only for a two minute conversation. I would dare to ask you how you are doing in your "fight"... how much difference have you made lately? With all due respect, isn't this your own form of "futuristic transcandentalism" to believe you personally can fight these "macro" issues on any substantive and quantifiable level that will change the world?

  11. Steve,
    Just FYI, Angie has a unique take on things. Broadly, she doesn't share a Christian worldview and she tends to cram any spiritual language she hears on this blog into stereotypical and preconceived categories which have been largely formed by her own biography with faith. She works through that biography on this blog but often fails to note that the Christianity of her past doesn't match up with the Christianity on this blog. The result is that her comments often feel "off topic," as if she is talking about some other sort Christianity. And she is, the one from her biography.

    The point being, to anyone who is new here, Angie will come at things from really oblique angles.

    And to be clear, I love Angie being here although we rarely see eye to eye. I don't think she sees me clearly. Rather, I think she is interacting with her Christian ghosts.

    Which is understandable. I have a lot of Christian ghosts from my past as well and this blog is kind of my argument with them as well.

  12. Patricia,
    I don't quite think I am following you. Are you saying that your Mom's "escape" into politics is an escape from her family history? I would agree that could be possible. But, I would appreciate you clarifying what you are saying.

    Politics is living life in connection to the real realities in the world. This is the real world, not the transcendental one. But, the transcendental one does have an impact in/on politics, which is our "problem today"...

  13. Richard,
    Your defense of my perspective is understandable, as I know that I struggle against those that think they know what everyone else needs, when it concern "sprituality". These will leave no one alone, as they fear what they "know" will happen if others do not think or believe as they do. This is what leaves me "not at peace".

    We all seek security of life and liberty is necessary for such security. I haven't found that the religous are too open about thier understandings. Either they are hyper-vigilant and over-reactive, or they are irrelavent and sectarian.

    Nominalists are the only ones that could embrace diversity to such an extent that one could "live at peace" and in security. Nominalism would prevent a radicalism that would intrude into another's space and think they do "good".

  14. s-p,
    Sorry, if I offended you. Glad you have found what your passion is! And glad you feel you are making a difference! Go for it!

    Perhaps, if you read my response to Richard, you will understand where I come from...

    BTW, I hope your concern for a certain social class is not universalized as "THE" Christian perspective!

  15. Angie,
    I do think you have added to the conversation. It's just that I often don't think you've taken the time to understand what I'm saying. I think you are reading and typing too fast, working with assumptions in your mind that are not in the posts. For example, about 99% of the time you tend to think I'm coming at things from an evangelical and conservative viewpoint.

    Which is really quite surprising to me.

  16. Thank you for affirming my suspicion. Indeed we all have "Ghosts of Christianity Past" that haunt us. I know I'm new to the blog so I should probably say I'm about the nicest guy on the internet, so I hope my directness wasn't percieved as aggressiveness by Angie (or other readers). As you could probably gather, my personal ghosts have pushed me toward less of a "global" view of my realm of personal influence to a more "personal" one. An Orthodox saint Silouan said, "Save yourself and a thousand others around you will be saved." There's a lot to think about in that simple saying. Thanks for the blog and the forum to chase our ghosts away. :)

  17. Perhaps, my reactions/responses have furthered your psychological understanding of religious impact upon the psyche.

    Whenever one whole-heartedly believes and thinks that what they are doing, believing, etc. is "TRUE", and then find out that it is only a human longing to belong (the political/social) or/and a human "felt need" (psychological), that is "useful" for political ends (Marx believed religion was the "opiate of the people"), and one does not hold to this view politically, then one begins to question their whole framework, understanding and why they even believed in the first place. And it makes one question what they have up to that point "given their lives to"... And it begins a grief process, which I'm sure has been my main "modus operandi" on this blog. But, facing myself (and my "self") in real terms and ways, is necessary for me to become "whole".

    Wholeness means that I have come to terms with myself (my self). And that has nothing to do with 'God", or religion, but with real passion in a real world. The work of becoming a "real self" is not something that another person can do for or "to" you. It is work that must be undertaken by oneself. It has to do with educating oneself, committing to highest values and principles and learning about one's strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes the process can be clouded by emotional reactions,(and emotional reactions can cloud one's ability to evaluate highest principles,etc.) to information that is given in a neutral environment, but percieved as an attack.

    Personal boundaries are necessary for healthy personhood. And these boundaries are foreign to those who've not been taught that boundaries are important distinctions to separate entities. This is where my re-action lies, in communal/tribalistic mentalities where boundaries are not respected, affirmed, or valued....

  18. Angie,
    I'm sorry I wasn't clear. There are things that my mom has some undeniable accountability in, and have affected our family in very real and personal ways. However, she brushes off any attempt to talk about these things with "I don't want to hear about the past. I just want to be happy." But to prove how righteous she is, she goes on and on and on about the wrongs done in politics or reported on the news. These are things much removed from herself, and she has not the slightest power to influence or change them. Her posturing self-image is staked to grandstanding about the macro, while she ignores the immediate lives where she COULD -if she chose - make a good difference.

    I disagree: Politics is not "living life in connection to the real realities in the world." Living for politics is to miss out on the real, and in my mom's case, politics is a high-minded skapegoat that, in her mind, excuses her from facing and dealing with her own life.

  19. No offense taken, Angie, but thank you. Actually, my concern is for human beings. I work construction and mostly for multi-millionaire clients. I find them as "needy" as the homeless person holding a sign, it is just the "home" they don't have is an existential one. Existential homelessness is far more difficult to deal with than handing someone a house. In my mind "THE" Christian perspective is to see in every person the broken image of God and to be a Christian is to not judge that person but to do something in the name of Christ to heal that brokenness. I hope that helps knowing where I come from too. Thanks for the extended conversation with Richard. It helps.

  20. I think politics and religion have this in common: The more fretfully and vehemently and constantly someone preaches, the more off-putting it is to the viewpoint being espoused. The opposite effect intended.

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