Tyler: Several years ago you spoke on the same subject that became this book The Wisdom Pyramid, but since then our “post-truth” “fake-news” society has gone off the rails through the election, the pandemic, and more. Nothing, it seems, is truly knowable anymore. In those years since this concept first came to mind, how has your understanding of the value of wisdom shifted?
Brett: I think ideally, the nature of wisdom doesn’t shift with the times. So not much has changed in my overall view of what wisdom is and how we can cultivate it through our habits and intakes. What’s changed in the last few years for me is an even more heightened sense of urgency and need for wisdom. This last year revealed—quite sadly for many of us—the extent to which people we once thought of as wise have actually become foolish, influenced (and sickened) by the toxins of the zeitgeist. No one is immune. Most pastors during the pandemic have been shocked and disappointed to witness people who they thought were faithful, level-headed congregants get sucked into various online shenanigans (partisan echo chambers, conspiracy theories, etc.). The inertia and forces of foolishness are that strong. The epidemic of foolishness is that contagious. But we’re all vulnerable. We desperately need wisdom.
Tyler: In The Wisdom Pyramid you put “internet and social media” at the top; on the same level as candy on the typical food pyramid. But I would imagine even you find it hard to spend more time engaging The Bible than on the internet and social networks. Do the more foundational pieces of the pyramid (such as The Bible, church, nature) mean giving that more time? What does it look like to make those things more foundational in our lives?
Brett: In a sheer “hours of the week” sense I do spend more time on the internet and social media than I do in the Bible. The ordering of the levels of the pyramid is less about portioning out our time mathematically than it is about prioritizing values and our overall orientation in life. What does it look like for me to make the Bible foundational in my “diet”? It looks like prioritizing it early in my day before I do anything on my phone. It looks like reading a physical Bible rather than an app Bible, so I can steer clear of digital distractions while I read. It looks like choosing to miss out on some buzzworthy article or podcast in order to make sure I have time for my daily Bible reading. But it’s also about authority and the controlling narrative of my life. It’s about making sure I’m not taking my cues from the #trending issues online, or whatever Twitter is up in arms about on any given day, or whatever a political tribe is saying is right or wrong, but rather from God’s Word and the kind of life it would have me lead.
Tyler: Even in the midst of quarantine and state-wide lockdowns, here in Oregon I’ve noticed a big emphasis on people visiting local and state parks. But in the day to day of life, I know many struggle to spend time in nature. You live in the middle of one of the largest cities (Los Angeles) in the country—a concrete jungle—how did you cultivate time in nature during a normal week?
Brett: Thankfully even in concrete jungles there are parks and various nature preserves to be found close by! We have our favorite trails, parks, beaches, etc. that we try to visit at least once a week (usually on Saturday mornings for a family walk). Our own backyard is also a little oasis of nature. That’s one thing the pandemic has taught me about nature: it’s beautiful and magnificent wherever you are. No need to travel to the Amazon or the Alps to experience God’s beauty in nature. Just go out in your backyard. The only thing you need is a willingness to be still and pay attention to what’s there.
Tyler: With the Pyramid as a guiding framework for your life in recent years, what changes have you noticed with how you spend your time?
Brett: It’s been so helpful as I’ve written the book to make sure I’m living it. Kira keeps me accountable. “Practice what you preach!” So I’ve been more intentional with things like the priority of Bible reading before anything online each day, and making sure things like church and time in nature figure prominently into our weekly family rhythms. Some categories were always big parts of my life (books, beauty), so they haven’t been hard to prioritize. But since I work for a website and am on social media (in part) for my job at The Gospel Coalition, putting limits on screen time and avoiding the addictive nature of scrolling aimlessly has probably been the biggest challenge. Putting phones and computers away completely when we are around the kids has also been hard (especially during the pandemic, with all of us at home together). But it’s something we are super mindful of and want to be better at! I really don’t want my boys to grow up thinking it’s normal and right to have a digital device in your hand at all times, like a bodily appendage. So that’s probably the biggest daily struggle I’m most often thinking about: how do I work in a digital/online job for a living but also model a life that isn’t tethered to technology, screens, and scrolling all the time? It’s not easy! I think I partially wrote The Wisdom Pyramid for myself in that sense—knowing it’s a diet I personally need to heed as much as anyone else.