Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Facebook and the Influence of Fake News

I've always been fascinated by Mark Zuckerberg, probably mainly due to my proximity to his area of upbringing and the birthplace of Facebook, but certainly also due to his age and persona.

This article doesn't really add too much that's new to the whole conversation concerning what Facebook is and does, but it is an interesting read in considering just what is the power of Facebook. (For one: the article points out that there is now only one people sub-group larger than "Facebook users" - Christians.)

Just this past Sunday (before reading this article), I told my congregation that I was about to get all legalistic on them. And then I told them to stop using Facebook. I was somewhat joking, but they also know that I wasn't completely.

So after reading the article let me say something about myself. There is something growing inside of me that makes me very uncomfortable.

I don't care as much.

I just don't.

It's not that I don't want to care anymore. I just find myself caring less and less about what is going on in the greater world. There are a couple of reasons that I've explored within myself about this happening.

At first, I was concerned about my own spirituality, as I've tried to be a proponent of compassion and solidarity with those suffering. I've tried to use my mouthpiece - be it this blog or Twitter or Facebook or whatever - to speak for those who aren't being spoken for. I mean, Jesus doesn't want people to suffer and die, so I shouldn't either, right? But I find little desire in myself to speak out anymore. What can I say after Las Vegas? What can I say after another black man is shot in the back as he runs? People tell me that what I say matters and I believe it does. But unfortunately, the forum in which we choose to do so today provides little to no actual positive change whatsoever.

Second, I began to think that the an abundance of tragedies has caused me to become calloused. I see many people wondering about this same thing. But as I've thought about it, I don't really think that tragedy is any more present in the world than usual today. It's just that the way we receive these events and deal with it has. Which I acknowledge could mean that I'm calloused indeed. But it's not because of the amount of tragedy.

So I'm searching for why my feelings have changed. I believe that I do care. I care that people are dying and are suffering from a variety of unjust things: violence, racism, poverty, and more. I just don't see that my interaction and yelling at people about the injustice of it all will really do anything.

And so I'm searching the heart of my center which I purport to be that guy from 1st century Nazareth. It seems so right to think that he would be a loud voice in the conversations of today. But as I read the gospels, it doesn't seem to be his approach. Why wasn't he in Rome protesting the injustice and brutality of the crucifixion system? (...a violence that I don't think we really know or understand today.)

For one, he seemed to focus the angst of his message (when it showed up at all) not toward greater society, but toward those who regarded themselves to be the people of God.

You may accuse me of sticking my head in the sand, and you may be right. But I am leaning more and more to the conclusion that what we need isn't a "solution" to these world problems. That is - if I'm reading the cruciform example of Jesus Christ right - it's not really about what the world needs at all. It's about following the leading of a guy who wasn't too interested in solving big problems than he was about meeting the problems of people around him one at a time.
Even so, the atrocities of genocide and ethnic cleansing still ring loudly, whether it's 1930-40s Europe or 1990s Rwanda or (and do we even have the knowledge to say this?)...2017 Myanmar. I don't know. Feel free to help me out with this. But please...don't use the words "slippery slope" with me. I find no evidence of such speaking in Christ's ministry and it's frustratingly annoying that so many Christians continue to do so.

I don't really have a conclusion or question with this post. I guess I'm just passing the article along and asking everyone to continue to consider what Facebook is doing, more so on a smaller scale at the level of our individuals selves and our families, churches, and local communities. And I'm not really believing in any great conspiracy, as though someone(s) at Facebook have a grand plan. That's actually one of the things that I think the article points out: the phenomenon of Facebook is one that perhaps no one is controlling. Maybe it's simply happening and evolving before us. I'm not sure if that's comforting or not. It may be true that I believe that if the wrong group of people got a hold of Facebook, they could do a whole lot of damage (if they haven't already).

Again, this is not really a new consideration, although I'm trying to consider what it does to me more than others at the moment. It's easy to point and blame how fake news is spoiling everyone else around us than it is to consider how slightly fake news might be affecting my own self.

The fact is not lost on me that in my desire to share this article, I know that the best way to do so is on Facebook...I mean, I don't even have y'all's email addresses. But please, if you feel the need to respond to what I'm saying, read the article. It's pretty important to the context of what I've said here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Cross & Culpability

I've been led to think about culpability, theologically-speaking, quite a bit in the past several months. As a participant in the Social Action committee at the General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene, it was frustrating to me how many times people stood to speak against the idea of us making a corporate statement as a denomination about a given issue in case it looked like we were then accepting culpability for something we didn't do.

At first, as a human, I understand this tendency to safe-guard reputation. As a parent, I want to warn my kids where and with whom they are seen. While I can state that physical safety is the main goal, if I'm honest, it's also because I care about their reputation. Reputation matters in this world. A good one will make things a lot easier in the long run.

But when I think theologically, and more specifically, christologically, and even more specifically, soteriologically, I am caused to remember that I have chosen to let Christ and the cross serve as the primary determinative for my perspective and action. The cross isn't simply personally salvific; it is corporately prescriptive. What the community of Christ says and does together will be shaped by the cross of Christ.

So if Christ were to have said, "I didn't do it, so I will not participate in its redemption," then damn us all.

But he didn't. Culpability is exactly what Christ took upon himself on the cross, and in doing so, he accepted it and then made way for it to be dealt with in grace and love. It wasn't the safest thing to do. And it wasn't the easiest thing to do. But it was the divine thing to do, which means it's the Christlike thing to do. Thus, it is our call.

I truly believe that in following Christ, part of our call to evangelism is to take upon ourselves the suffering of others, even if it is the result of sin for which we are not culpable, and even if it is the result of sin that those others themselves are culpable for. That is good news indeed, and not news today's society really knows much about. Everyone else is to blame and so no one is to blame.

So let's be clear: Christ's cross was never meant to save face. It was meant to save lives. Passing on the culpability of others will save face. But that wasn't Christ's game. He came to save life. And the things of violence and fear and racism are deeply embedded life problems. Let the Church be at the forefront of absorbing this pain so that it can be dealt with in grace and love.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Political Conventions and the Likelihood of a Messiah

I understand that people can't intellectually accept the idea of God, and even more specifically, Jesus Christ. I get it. There are some days even for me when deism or atheism just makes sense within all human reason.

What I can't understand is how many of these same people put just as much faith as I try to have in Christ into modern human political saviors who are just as much of a possible projection of nothingness as seems to be the story of a man who lived and died and lived again some 2000 years ago.

The amount of fervor and hope projected at a political convention can rival any church service any where. (One could make similar observations about sports or a Hollywood movie franchise, except that most people who sit in these arenas understand that athletes and characters are entertainers, even if their fans put more time and stock into them than anything else in life.) It's even more amazing that the masses continue to do this even after an every-four-years reminder that no one ever keeps all those promises. There is encouragement in this observation for me though: people have hope. Regardless of the side of the political aisle, they have hope that a human being can actually fix their problems or at least be the catalyst to do so. Many of the tactics by which they hope that this hope comes to fruition are hopeless, but it's good to at least see that people have some kind of hope in a person.

It's clear that the desire for a messiah is a rather universal human phenomenon (I'm sure there are exceptions). I accept the human notion that I'm wasting my time following a guy who's far removed from modern reasonableness. But we have yet to see that Hillary, Barack, Ronald, or the Donald are any more salvific, and certainly not remotely close to the same blamelessness.

So for me, I choose to follow the narrative and person of the humble, loving Middle Eastern guy from Nazareth. You can call me a sucker, and it's certainly possible that we'll find that to be true someday. But don't try and tell me that any of these other saviors are any closer to reality.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Humans, Pets, & Love

I am a dog lover. Always have been. I can count the number of years of my life that the household in which I live has been without a dog (or two) on one hand. I currently have a dog. Well...a Chihuahua, but close enough. I love his affection, companionship, and the safe space that he provides for me after a long day.

The question I want to pose is: To what extent can and do pets serve as a hindrance from practicing the love of God amongst humanity (a call I believe to be central to God's will)?

Some pertinent thoughts, both for and against such a question:

The joke is told: Why is a dog better than a spouse? Well...if you lock them both in the trunk of you car overnight, which one will be happier to see you in the morning?

Loving pets is mostly very easy. If you don't love them, you don't have to have them. If you do love them, it's pretty much pure joy. Loss can be hard, but in the long run, it's easy to pass love upon a pet.

It's not always so easy to love humans. Yet that is part of our primary call in the gospel: to love humanity.

It's notable to me that in the creation story, the companionship of animals did not provide what God perceived as the antithesis of loneliness. Only another human fulfilled the solution to the problem that "It's not good for man to be alone."

Animals are part of creation. Nurturing creation is part of God's will for humanity. I am one who believes that all of creation is being and will be redeemed, including animals. I look forward to an eternity that includes the whole animal kingdom.*

Yet...how much of who we are supposed to be is transferred upon animals, particularly in USian society? The financial numbers are astounding. As much as I love my dog, I am confounded by what is presented to me when we make a visit to the vet. Some who know me may remember the saga with my previous dog (a chocolate lab) who was the victim of a horribly botched spaying which led us to the animal ER where I had to make an excruciating decision of whether to save her or not (we did...and I still wrestle with it). I'm pretty sure that I'll not make the same kind of decision with our current dog (whose neutering went perfectly fine).

Anyway, I'm open to conversation. Pastorally and ecclesiologically, I see it as a potential problem; a hindrance to our work we're called to in the Church. I see people whose lives seem to bear witness to the idea that they don't need anything else because they have their pet. While on the surface this is cute and perhaps can even be called pragmatically productive, I wonder about it in the grand plan of the Kingdom of God.

Animals can certainly serve in wonderful ways that humans cannot. I have friends with service dogs, helping out in the areas of sight loss as well as anxiety prevention and transference. I think these are wonderful companions and a great example of how God meant for humans and the rest of creation to co-exist.

It is true that the divine love within us can be inappropriately transferred to pretty much anything. Whether it's money, possessions, or even inappropriate human relationship, this is often called idolatry. It's recently become popular to conclude that the opposite of addiction is human love rather than sobriety, a conclusion with which I tend to agree. There's nothing inherently evil about animals (yes, yes...even snakes and cats). I just wonder why we don't call ourselves to task on this with pets more often.

I like to go running at one of the local dog parks in Hingham (Bare Cove - it's awesome, you should go there). I love seeing people walking their dogs. Often, dogs are the beginning of human connection, the start to a conversation that likely wouldn't otherwise occur if not for the pet. But I also see a lot of people who seemingly escape human interaction via their pet.

What do you think?

*Tangentially related, Wesley's sermon, The General Deliverance is a great read concerning the salvation of nonhuman animals.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Bible Women's Project: A Reminder that the Church Needs Artists

Every day my Facebook feed is littered with the shares of all sorts of lists and theories positing what the Church must do if it's going to be successful with this generation or for the future. I read some of them. Some are helpful. Others are obvious click-bait. I find assumption of necessary prescriptions or normative non-negotiables to be rather ignorant of the beautiful diverse contexts in which the Church is at work.

So it's with great caution that I say the following:
The Church needs to enable the artists among us.

We need to listen to artists. We need to give them space to critique, to practice, and to perform. Lest anyone think I'm talking about what happens in the context of worship, please...please...If the Church needs to get over anything, it's the dominance of exhaustively defining the Church by that which happens on a Sunday morning. We might consider that one reason so few are inspired by what the Church does in the context of corporate worship is because by our actions we assume that inspiration only happens therein. (Of course, anyone who knows me knows that I believe in the uttermost importance of the gathered Body, particularly around the sacramental Table.)

Art should be no extracurricular activity of the Church. It is at the heart of what God has made in the created image, deep within humanity. It comes out in many various forms, but it is essential in helping people realize and actualize the humanity that God intended. Here, I am intentionally defining art rather broadly.

I have seen many plays on the stage in the Cove Auditorium on the campus of Eastern Nazarene College. But I have never been as inspired as I was this past Saturday afternoon when I took in The Bible Women's Project. I have also never been disappointed by any of the plays or musicals that director Tara Brooke Watkins has overseen. She really did it with this project. The college campus offers a unique setting for theater: one in which the incredible life and passion of the college student smack into the creative space of the theater. Watkins seems to have a great handle on this breeding ground, especially with this project, in which the actors wrote and shaped the words and scenes they convincingly played.

Placed in a rather simple stage setting with minimal yet poignantly-woven musical accompaniment, the project featured thirteen female actors who brought us through dozens of stories of women in the Bible. Creative license was used well in setting the stories in contemporary vignettes, whether a Jerry Springer-like talk show or theater-within-theater (perhaps my favorite part). The scenes dealt heavily with closet conversations of abuse, addiction, depression, and sexuality. While much of these require somber and reflective tones, the director and cast also knew that such a play demanded humor, and it abounded throughout. As a spectator, I alternated quickly between mourning and laughing, sometimes almost in the same breath. The repeating choreographed interlude was well-placed for self-reflection and emotional adjustment between stories.

Interpretation of the Bible is often a tough undertaking. Believe me, I know. It's kind of what I do. The Bible doesn't seem to be a popular book in the arena of the theater these days. And anytime stories from scripture are attempted, I'm most often dismayed by the cliche and lack of creativity that comes out. But not the BWP. It was an approach to scripture like I haven't seen before (on the stage, at least). At some points it was difficult for me to make some of the extrapolations that they did with stories that are either virtually nonexistent in the text or otherwise bear a lack of historicity. But that was also kind of their point: the gospel demands that we pay attention to the minor characters in any story. The BWP called us to task in this way. So regardless of whether or not you or I think Eve or Rizpah bear an historicity, the narrative of their situation calls to us.

I was very proud of the cast, even though I only know one of the actors, two others tangentially, and a few others by name. By my count, there were five Nazarene pastors' kids and one grandchild (truly, I should probably say "Nazarene elders", but many won't know exactly what that means). I mention this because it's a great encouragement to me as a Nazarene pastor. Many of us (dare I say a silent majority in my context of New England?) have the same conversations that the script handled in smaller circles of the Church. And the encouragement from those involved with this play was that this generation is ready more than ready to handle tough words and elicit tough questions from those who may disagree with us. Too often, critical eyes only see rebelliousness in even having a conversation rather than providing a safe place in which to be honest with one another. This project bursts such conversations into the spotlight, even somehow demonstrating within the script of the play how a group can have such open dialogue. Yes, while other corners of the Kingdom  settled these conversations for themselves long ago - much to the impatient dismay of many of my Nazarene brethren - I am encouraged by these ENC students, alums, and professors and their boldness.

Which brings me back to art. Somehow, art has been relegated to those things we do when we have the time to sit and enjoy something. Yes, art is often enjoyable. But art is often rather painful, shining light on those things we'd rather hide but are actually there. Art has a way of exposing and healing. Often healing requires initial pain. Art also can blaze new paths. Sometimes these paths are ones that scholars or other leaders have tried to begin. But pulpits and classrooms just don't have the power that a canvas or a stage does sometimes. The BWP didn't really open anything new for me. I'm just so glad that these artists were bold enough to give voice to so many of us who have been praying and talking in these ways for a long time.

So thank you, Bible Women's Project.