After tomorrow night's Game of Thrones finale, Michelle and I are finally breaking it off.
With DirecTV, that is. This will be the first time I'm without cable or satellite television since the early 1990s, when I was early elementary school and Armstrong Cable delivered liberation ocular liberation to my childhood boredom. Except now, we've got an incredible number of less expensive options. We'll keep Netflix and Amazon Prime, give Hulu a shot, and likely purchase a HBO Now subscription when the next season of WestWorld and GoT premier. I'm hoping that, with fewer options, we'll spend less time focused on the biggest screens in our home. And yes, before you wonder why we're talking about this, there is spiritual substance to this story.
Part of this is a decision on price. At it's cheapest for us (without an annual subscription promotional price), DirecTV cost about $80 a month. Netflix, Hulu (with commercials), and HBO Now altogether are $32. $48 dollars a month, across the year, is $576 dollars saved. Theologically speaking, there's a stewardship component for us in this decision. That money can be put to better use in our generosity toward others and in our care for the lives God has given to us.
A question related to financial stewardship is becoming increasingly important in my life. Wherever we spend money, Michelle and I now ask, "How is this helping us grow?" Too often, as Americans, we spend money without reflection. Asking how our monetary investments support our development as Christ's disciples tries to prioritize whole life stewardship and reminds us that money, along with our lives, our vocations, and our skills are God-given gifts meant to foster the Kingdom of God in our hearts, our communities, and our world.
This question also reveals the fruitless nature of some areas in our lives. Any farmer will tell you a fruitless plant serves little purpose. Sometimes pruning is necessary, and while painful, can lead to fruitfulness. Sometimes, though, fruitless plants must be rooted out to make space for more fruitful ones. I must admit, though I'm incredibly entertained by my regular television viewing - Highly Questionable, Around the Horn, Pardon the Interruption, Dr. Who, The Daily Show, The Late Show, Last Week Tonight, The Walking Dead, Preacher, Game of Thrones, WestWorld, @Midnight, sports from Duke, Ohio State, and any team from Northeast Ohio - there's a ton of fruitless time in there. Some of it provides for an educational experience. Some it provides formative sermon fodder. Some of it provides joyful relief in the midst of Sabbath. But most of it is just wasted time and mental space. Simply put, much if it isn't helping us grow, so it's not worth the current level of investment.
Anticipating this weekend's divorce with my DVR, I had two choices: binge EVERYTHING that's left or start the process of separation. I chose the latter and found myself drawn to an old love, one I haven't fostered in a long time: music. As a pastor whose ministry is greatly formed by music, listening to new bands, learning new harmonies, tapping new rhythms, spitting new lyrics, and increasing the variety of music with which I'm familiar and that I enjoy, proves quite fruitful in my life. I've already found myself more energized for the work that I'm doing. I find my mind more invigorated by music than television. The aural engagement works my mind in a different way than ocular entertainment and also allows me to more easily multitask. God's shown up already in Duke Ellington, The Academy Is, Tonight Alive, Childish Gambino, twentyonepilots, and a host of other musicians, exciting me for worship in our congregation and connecting our campus ministries with more musical forms of spirituality.
I'm not saying this will or should be everyone's experience, though I do think the amount of money that we invest as a nation into entertainment is sinful. What I am saying is that I'm learning more each day that I don't need the things that I'm so often told by advertisers that I need. Choosing to do without some forms of entertainment, and less of it in general, sets us up to be better stewards of the gifts God's given to us. It also opens new space in our lives where God can show up to invigorate us personally and the vocations through which we serve God and neighbor.
Who knows. Maybe in a few months we'll have island fever without immediate access to 24/7 sports coverage (by "we" I most certainly mean me). But I hope not. It's an experiment worth taking, because as stewards of God's gifts, there so many other things that we might be doing with the time, money, and head space we devote to television. Music and its inspiration for my work as a pastor has been the firstfruits of this pruning process. I'm excited to see what else comes.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.