Christina Crook "The Joy of Missing Out" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen: Now and Then. Our goal at the Henri Nouwen Society is to extend the rich, spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. Each week, we endeavor to bring you a new interview with someone who’s been deeply influenced by the writings of Henri Nouwen or perhaps even a recording of Henri himself. We invite you to share the Daily Meditations and these podcasts with your friends and family. Through them, we can continue to reach our spiritually hungry world with Henri’s writings, his encouragement, and of course, his reminder that each of us is a beloved child of God. If you’re enjoying these podcasts, we’d be grateful if you’d take time to give us a good review or a thumbs up, that helps us get the word out that there’s something of worth here for others who are looking for spiritual resources.
Now, let me take a moment to introduce today’s guest. Christina Crook is a young woman who has been deeply influenced by the writings of Henri Nouwen. She herself is a poet pundit, and I think of her as a modern day prophet. She writes books, speaks in podcasts. Her best known book is ‘Jomo’, The Joy of Missing Out. Christina is very savvy in the world of technology, and in this strength, she leads others on a voyage of discovery, teaching people how to thrive in our digital age. I wanted to talk with Christina as we entered this new year because she can challenge us on how to reshape our technological landscape and actually consider a technological Sabbath. I love the title of this book, The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World. Is it even possible, Christina?
Christina: That is the question. To be honest, I actually railed against the word balance and my subtitle, because I think it is a pretty complicated word. It kind of has become a cliche, you know, defined, balanced and all things, but ultimately, yes. I do think that we can, but it requires a lot of intentionality and discipline to find balance with our ongoing relationship with technology.
Karen: One of the things I love about your book is, I love your honesty. I mean, you share your own personal struggles. How did you set about to get control of your busy wired world?
Christina: Well, I did take a substantial break from the internet. I took an entire 31-day period offline to really discover what kind of person and parent and creative, as a writer I would become without the demands, the everyday demands of the internet. So that’s sort of where it began for me. But I did study mass communication in university, and so I was early on in my studies and in my career, I was keyed into the impacts that technology has on our individual lives, but also, culturally. So I have had a pretty deep awareness about how those things intersect, and then when I came back online after my offline experiment, I was extremely intentional about the ways in which I brought technology back, and maybe we can talk a little bit more, about that throughout our conversation, but it was sort of like a water fast.
You don’t want to gorge yourself on a huge meal. The day after a 31-day water fast, you want to bring it back bit by bit. Early on a very practical thing I did was unsubscribe from a huge amount of email subscriptions that I had accumulated for years and years, because when I went back to the email inbox, it was sorta like, whoa, this is too much. I need to clear this away, and those were some of the practices that I brought forward with me.
Karen: There was a question that I found, oh, I mean your book, one of the things I really enjoyed about it with the good questions that it was asking, it was helping me ask to be honest. You write: ‘Technology’s not going away; the genie’s out of the bottle. But the big question we need to be asking ourselves is, is it going to manage us or are we going to manage it?’ You mentioned that you made some choices then, but I can imagine it’s very easy to have slippage to find yourself back in a place where it’s kind of ruling you. How are you dealing with that?
Christina: Yeah. The New York Times has said that how we live with technology is the cultural question of the next 50 years. Technology is advancing at such an intense rate. So yeah, how do I keep technology as my servant and not as my master? It is one very practical thing, which I think would resonate with your listeners, is having a technology Sabbath, one day a week that is largely if not entirely technology free and spending that time in different ways. I really am more focused on what we put into those spaces and the removal of technology. So say you take a day off from the internet, it’s not shame, shame. I shouldn’t be on tech. It’s: ‘What am I going to put into this container? Are there spiritual practices? Are there connections to nature that you want to foster in your life? Are there personal human connections that you want to deepen?’, and really shifting gears for a day a week to sort of take the focus off technology and onto yourself.
And one of the other beautiful things that I think is so tied into the work of Henri is this concept of self-forgetfulness. When we’re online, we can control everything. It’s an incredibly controlled environment. We’re also very focused on ourselves and the ways that we position ourselves and the way we communicate. When you disconnect from the internet, whether it’s for an hour or a day or a longer stretch of time, there’s this element of self-forgetfulness where you kind of reposition yourself, or remember your state in the world, which is that, when you’re not commenting and liking and sharing and doing all those things on the internet, the world keeps going without you, in a really healthy way. The world keeps on turning without Karen or without Christina or without Mike or whoever you are, and yeah, that’s definitely been a practice that’s helped me and my family keep things in a proper focus.
Karen: I find that I do a little bit of that too. I’ve made a Sabbath day in which I try to stay clear of the internet, try to stay clear of technology, and I find it good. People are often annoyed with me because they’ve been trying to get ahold of me. But I think it’s all right to be able to close off some of your life and say, I need to have time where I’m doing other kinds of thinking than the kind of thinking that I do, which tends to be very kind of surface thinking when I’m just interacting with emails and that sort of thing. I loved your quote from Socrates ‘beware of the barrenness of a busy life’. Isn’t that true?
Christina: Yeah. How quickly we can start operating at a very surface level, I think is what I’m reading into that or hearing in that quote today. It’s sort of like not digging down deep enough into the well, keeping things right at the surface level, and I know that that temptation is extremely real for me. I am a very task-oriented person. It takes a lot for me to sort of sit and be still even with my family in the living room, I’m learning different little tricks and habits for myself, I like to be busy with my hands. So whether I’m sewing or crafting something on the couch that allows me to be still and more present to my family, that sort of ever-present push to produce and consume and produce and consume, is something we really need to push back on. There’s a quote from Flannery O’Connor, I love where she writes that you have to push as hard as the age that pushes you, and so I think that the pushback that we need in our culture is the pushback on this sort of production consumption hamster wheel that we find ourselves on so often.
Karen: I recall there was a movie title on it, and this must be 20 or 25 years ago, maybe even 30, when I was a television producer. The title was ‘I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can’. In reality, I think that’s often the case when you’re a creative, you can be dancing as fast as you can. It doesn’t mean you’re dancing beautifully or well or memorably, but you’re dancing as fast as you can. That’s another way of probably saying that ability to be busy without, in a sense penetrating or going deeper with what you’re doing. I know that this has been, I got so much out of reading your book and I want to encourage people to go there. You have a kind of tribe that’s following you– Jomo, the joy of missing out. People have been fed in a fresh way by some of the thoughtful ways in which you’re sharing and drawing them into a circle, which is very releasing of that sense of just dancing as fast as you can with the problems of the overload or the over awareness of what’s going on. It’s an interesting thing though. Here we are in the midst of a pandemic and the fear of missing out is a reality. We’re missing out in so many ways and the internet has become our connection for the world. Tell me a little bit about how you are dealing with that. What’s happening for you with that?
Christina: I remember the first time I was going to post a picture. Typically I would post an image of a person sort of looking down on /at a screen or whatever, facing a screen of some kind as sort of like a cautionary tale, like be careful this isn’t how you want to spend your entire life. I remember maybe it was a month or so into the lockdown here in Canada, here in Toronto, where I had an image I would have typically used in that cautionary way, all of a sudden to me spoke a connection. It was a picture of a woman looking at a phone. I was like, whoa, that’s connecting. This has completely reframed the way that I think about the internet. I think that’s what’s really exciting.
I mean, it’s both, right? It’s such a “both/and” situation. I think what’s really exciting is that people have begun to really view technology as a tool. Yes, we’re bingeing. Yes, we’re doing things to sort of numb ourselves out from the crisis and exhaustion of the pandemic. But also, people are experiencing digital overwhelm to such an extreme degree that there is a need for them to engage in other things, like baking bread. Remember when everyone was baking bread? Like baking bread, going for socially distance walks, getting in nature. It’s forced the issue in terms of enough is enough. Like I have to use this technology to connect with friends. Yes, I have to use it for work like you and I are doing right now. We would love to be in the same room having this conversation, but we’re using it as a tool to have this conversation. It’s also pushing people to see the limits of tech in a way that I don’t think was happening before the pandemic, and that’s exciting to me. That’s really exciting to me.
Karen: I think you’re right. It’s funny because one of the things as I read your book, and this goes back to when you had your ‘fast’ from technology, and your discovering of your neighbors and you’re discovering community. I actually find that that’s been one of the great fruits of this time. Here I am cut off from my neighbors, and yet I find there’s more warmth in my community than there’s ever been. We greet each other on the street, we smile behind our masks. We are learning how to smile with her eyes. But you know something, I have some sense of how much we want human touch and we want to be there for our fellow human beings. What are you finding? What are the fruits for you out of this time?
Christina: Oh yeah, such similar things. I live in a pretty interesting area of Toronto, in Toronto proper. We can be quite proper in terms of the way that we set up our houses and the ways that we put ourselves together to go to the school yard and be in the neighborhood. I loved how early on people were doing really silly things to encourage one another. At our house, my friend had made me this giant tiger cut-out because it was my 40th birthday, when the pandemic started, it was pretty brutal, and we turned it around and put it in our front yard, and I think we said something like, keep going, we’re all in this together. All those, we’re all in this together messages, people were doing things like from Monty Python, like Ministry of Silly Walks. So from this point to this point in front of our house, you must do a silly walk. There was like multiples of these in our neighborhood. Neighbors started painting, permanently painting fences, like rainbow colors, like who even cares anymore? Why aren’t we trying to keep ourselves so prim and proper? Let’s just let it rip. Let’s just embrace joy, and look out for one another. I’ve seen that dwindle a little bit, but it was such a breath of fresh air, and I do see these things sort of continuing on and absolutely not to paint the pandemic. I would never want to do that with a completely silver linings brush, but there have been incredible positive things. It’s going to be so interesting as things do eventually open back up to see the ways in which people embrace one another. I read the other day, someone reflecting on how they can imagine it becoming normal, like people dining in a restaurant and people just bursting into tears in the middle of their meal, just because of the joy of being able to be back together again in those public spaces. It’s been pretty beautiful to be honest, in our community.
Karen: I particularly enjoyed one chapter in your book. We’re going to go on and talk about a number of other things, but I just thought this was a place where it kind of felt, I see a connection with you and Henri. It was actually quitting the comparison game. I just thought, boy, how much that’s a part of elements of our online lives. Tell me a little bit about what you have learned and how you are undoing that as a component in your internet life and in your regular life.
Christina: I just want to quote Henri if I can, because I’ve been revisiting a bunch of his work in preparation for this conversation. I know, obviously you’re so familiar with Nouwen’s three temptations, right? The three temptations. I think this dovetails really nicely in this conversation about comparison because we have an unprecedented opportunity to compare ourselves to now literally billions of people on the internet. Whereas pre-internet, we could only compare ourselves to our coworker, to our brother or sister, to our neighbor people we could actually see, and now we’re comparing ourselves to strangers, millions of strangers online. Henri writes, ‘the first temptation is to do something relevant. The second temptation is to do something newsworthy, and the third temptation is to do something powerful’. I think those are real temptations, and I think we see, or we think we see people, but really we just see a very tiny piece of what people have chosen to put online.
Right. That is the ultimate curation. We’re all curators of what we choose to share, and we are comparing ourselves to people’s highlight reels essentially. There are some people who are very, very intentional about sharing the good, the bad and the ugly, but it is difficult to do well. There are not that many people I know that do it well, and when I see someone doing it well, I absolutely latch on to them. There’s one artist named Lisa Congdon out of Portland, Oregon, and I think she does a beautiful job of sharing her creative process, sharing vulnerabilities, and that’s a beautiful thing. But for the rest of us, we kind of put our best foot forward. I hear what you’re saying in terms of Henri. I think of his relationship to the environment at Harvard and feeling the ambitious and competitive environment, there was very fraught and lonely, everyone comparing, whatever, all of the things, and yearn for something more. I think we all do yearn for something more, and so that chapter, “Quitting the Comparison Game”, was definitely a favorite of mine.
Karen: You have written a beautiful book, The Joy of Missing Out, and I’m sure there’s something new coming, but in the interim, you came to us and suggested the possibility of a book that would focus on Henri Nouwen: ‘My Year with Henri Nouwen’. What an interesting opportunity you put before us and you went at it. Tell us a little bit about that.
Christina: I remember you and I had lunch at the University of Toronto and began this conversation about Henri and my generation and that intersection. It was such a beautiful opportunity for me to dive back into Henri’s work because I hadn’t read it in a couple of years and then to dive into all kinds of Henri’s writing that I’d never encountered before. As I started reading, it became apparent to me very early on that it was going to take me most of a year if I was going to really dive fully into the life and work of Henri Nouwen. What emerged for me sort of naturally was this journey, really a year-long journey with Henri. It’s interesting. The way that my writing began to take shape as I journeyed with Henri, was it began to be framed in the three movements of the spiritual life that he talks about: our relationship to ourselves, our relationship to others, and our relationship to God. That was sort of the arc that eventually began to take shape. Can you remind me which order Henri has those in? Because I reversed one of them. Is his relationship to others and then God and himself, do you remember?
Karen: Well, I think it starts with to God, to himself and then to others is I think the way that he puts that. It’s interesting because I always felt with Henri there was this plumb line in his being. He would ask all these; he’d be torn to be successful, to achieve, and then he’d come back to this plumb line of Christ being the very center of what he was thinking and where he wanted to say yes, where he wanted to serve, where he wanted to respond. And so, the swinging pendulum would be the temptations to be popular, to be known, to be successful, and to please others, and to be what you’ve written or what you have achieved, and then to go back and say, really all I want to be is what Jesus wants me to be, which is an amazing tension.
I kind of find it as I connect with your work, you are a gifted artist. That’s one of the things that attracts me to what I see the whole process of artistry being woven throughout the book that I’ve read now, and I’m sure anything that you do in future will have that. But in the midst of that is the question of, ‘What has worth, where’s my center line? What’s my plumb line in all of this?’ You found some rich stuff in Henri, I’m sure it was in some ways transformative for you. I’d love to hear what you feel like you have taken away from that exploration.
Christina: Where I was going with those three movements of the spiritual life was what Henri really helped me reconcile, explore. Things that he helped transform in me were really around those three movements, and for me it happened a little bit differently, where Henri’s personal vulnerability, his personal struggles, and with that his personal passion right alongside his vulnerabilities, his absolute competence and passion, let me begin to make peace with parts of myself that I think I had really rejected. So for me, the three movements, the spiritual life for me, my relationship to myself came first. Like, ‘What is Christina going to be honest with herself about?’ Like, ‘What is actually true?’ One of the things that was really true for me that Henri helped me realize was, I really want power. Power is what I want. I really want power. I really want control. I want to control myself, my environment, the people around me, and help me to understand, or begin to understand, why I want for that power, which comes out of my own brokenness and family story, and sin, and all of these different things and that ability to face the really real. What was really true in that posture allowed me to begin to journey into God, and Henri did that in a myriad of ways, there’s so many books that I read that year. I’m looking at a quote right now from the Selfless way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life. He writes, “There is almost nothing more difficult to overcome than our desire for power. Power always lusts after greater power precisely because it is an illusion. Despite our experience that power does not give us the sense of security we desire, but instead reveals our own weakness and limitations, we continue to make ourselves believe that more power will eventually fulfill our needs.” And he goes on from there. Then he concludes this particular quote with, “It is through powerlessness that we can enter into solidarity with our fellow human beings.” For me, I needed to come to peace with acceptance with my own powerlessness, and my own vulnerabilities which helped me to enter in more deeply into my belovedness in Christ; my belovedness, period. Then, from a place of oneness with God, I then felt like I had the peace and competence to be vulnerable with others. That was the art, that was the story for me, and I think that remains true for me. That’s the hugest thing that Henri helped me realize, and I feel like I’ve been unpacking it for a couple of years now.
Karen: Oh, that’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. You’re a gifted writer. Your writing is beautifully researched and informed, and what I’d say is there’s a prophetic edge to it, which is really very special, and you made an offer to us at the Nouwen Society. What we always tell people is, go to our website and we’ll have all the links to the things we’ve talked about. Clearly, we’ll have a link to “The Joy of Missing Out”, your book, and we will have a link, if it’s alright with you. You suggested you might share some passages from ‘My Year With Henri’ in some posts. I think that would be terrific. Maybe over the next few weeks, you might make a few posts. We’ll add them to that and give people a taste of here’s a young woman who dove into the deep end of the pool and decided she would spend a year reading Henri Nouwen, and what did she find? What is there for others? It certainly delighted me that you would do that. It took focus and it took a sense of what Henri taught me. It’s funny as we enter into this year of 2021–it’s actually the anniversary, 25 years since Henri died–and one of the things that I’ve been using with more freedom is the phrase that I think he is a “Spiritual Master for our times”. I’m finding that so much in terms of the responses we get from people who read our Daily Meditations. The words of Henri have meant so much, particularly at this time. They’ve been particularly finding that his willingness to be vulnerable and open and honest, rings true to people who are struggling with a year that has turned upside down for them. How have you found that for you in terms of what Henri has had to offer you at this point?
Christina: I think really the heart of what makes Henri so relatable to the contemporary spiritual seeker is that Henri confessed that all his life these two voices competing inside of him, that one encouraged him to succeed and achieve–which is definitely something that we hear constantly in our culture–while the other called him simply to rest in the comfort that he was the beloved of God. And I think it’s such a relatable tension, and as we go into 2021 to sort of hold those things in tension, we are called to succeed and achieve in the things that God has called us to do. I hope that people listening, that all of us, can look at 2021 for the possibility that it holds in a hopeful lens. I’ve been talking a lot in my own community about imagining a 2021 worth wanting. What do we want for 2021? We’ll also hold the tension that we are called simply to rest in the comfort that we are loved just as we are without the achievements, and I just think Henri, if anyone’s considering diving into Henri, this is really the perfect moment.
Karen: That’s neat. That’s really neat. We have on our website a list of books to get you started. If people are hearing for the first time. I’d also love you to share with us what you’re up to. You’re kind of taking your group onward. You’ve got a project called navigation. Would you tell us a little bit about this and tell us how people can get involved?
Christina: Absolutely. I have been studying the intersection between technology and joy for over 10 years. It took shape and into a book. It took shape into a podcast called ‘the Jomo cast’, where I interview mindful tech leaders from around the world who are really showing us the way to live in balance with technology, and the new offering that I’ve created is called “Navigate”. It is a digital wellbeing membership where you get regular teachings and community support to use technology in a way that is aligned with your values and goals. So really putting you in the driver’s seat–you being the master of your technology and not the other way around. I’m extremely excited about it. People can learn about it at: christinacrook.com/navigate. We already have members at Tyndale University, at Oxford University, working at Shopify, at Adobe. We’ve got the most incredible community of creatives, academics, makers, educators, who want to use technology in a way that aligns with what they want to achieve and bring to the world. The reason why I created it was because after much searching and researching–you mentioned that I do research a lot; I am a deep researcher– I discovered that there really is not, and will never be, a one-time sort of silver bullet solution to tech overwhelm. Technology is constantly changing, and we as human beings are constantly changing. It’s a moving target. A one-time program or a one-time product, like a time management app, while they can help with the problem, that ultimately won’t solve the problem, and so that’s why I’ve created an ongoing membership as an ongoing resource to kind of move with, navigate, the technological landscape for the long term.
Karen: We really need you, we really need what you have to offer. I’m so glad you have vision for this, and then that you take the rest of us along, because it’s exactly what we’re looking for. I love the Douglas Coupland quote, ‘the most important thing we could invent right now would be a technology that takes away our bottomless fear of missing out, our need to read the latest news update’. What kind of technology would that be? I think you’re somebody who is leading us into the future. Therefore, I really want to say to our listeners to keep an eye on Christina Crook, to test out what’s there with this new opportunity, and obviously we will post all sorts of things on our website so that there are links to anything that we’ve talked about today. As you look into the future, as you look into this year where we are, based in Toronto, we’re just getting the news that we’re in lockdown for yet another month, and then as we head into the year, we don’t know quite when the end of this will come and what it will look like. Obviously we’re delighted that there’s going to be vaccines and possibilities. There is a future beyond this. What for yourself are you seeing and what would you want us to see?
Christina: That’s such a big, big, great question. I think I want us to see that we have the power to shape the future. We are not victims of our circumstances. We have an opportunity to embrace the potential of what our situations are offering right now. I think what I love about the community that I’ve had the privilege of leading and cultivating is that it’s a group of people that know that, in my area of expertise, that the technology we’ve created is created by us and we have the opportunity to reshape it. I think I would say to anyone that’s looking at 2021 and having a difficult time seeing it through a hopeful lens is to say: what is the one small step that you can take to make 2021 a year worth wanting; make 2021 in your home, in your creative work, in your spiritual practice and your neighborhood, something that you can stand behind and know that you are shaping into something that’s made with love.
Karen: Christina, thank you so much for sharing with us what you have. It’s been rich, and I want people to know that you’re out there and connect with you. So, I invite all of you to go to our website and there you’ll find links for everything that we’ve talked about in this podcast, and we’ll be keeping an eye on you, Christina. I know that good things are coming. I know God’s called you out as a prophet, but you’re also somebody just so grounded in the realities of everyday life of family, of children, of juggling all this stuff that we all have to juggle to make life work for us. I do thank you for sharing with us and I’m excited about you as an artist, as a writer and as a really sweet and generous friend at the Henri Nouwen Society. Folks, I just encourage you to read her postings. You’re going to enjoy them, and it will take us forward. Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. I enjoyed talking with Christina and she’s left us with lots to consider. Will you schedule a technological Sabbath? I mean, it’s a great idea. Please go to our website where you’ll find more resources related to today’s podcast. Christina has even shared portions from the book she’s writing titled: “My Year With Henri Nouwen”. Once again, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast please give us a thumbs up or a good review. Thanks so much for listening, until next time.
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