Archive for August, 2019

Reading Ramblings – August 25, 2019

August 18, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 25, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 66:18-23; Psalm 50:1-15; Hebrews 12:4-24; Luke 13:22-30

Context: Our relationship to God is one not simply of creature to Creator – that would appear to more accurately describe the relationship between all other living species on Earth and God. Rather, human beings created in the image of God (imago dei) are invited into a personal relationship with him that makes us his children. And as children, we should expect discipline from our heavenly Father just as parents are expected to discipline their children. Once upon a time such a concept was common sense. But years of psychological theories have reduced the willingness and ability of parents to discipline their children. Remembering their own discipline experiences in their youth, they overlook the long-term character formation created in moments of transitory, unpleasant discipline, and vow not to discipline their children. In foregoing temporary unpleasantness, long-term character issues become not just possible but likely. Our readings remind us that discipline from our Creator (and therefore from our parents) is a gift, not child abuse.

Isaiah 66:18-23 – The people of God are always apt to adopt an exclusionary attitude towards those outside the faith. But God’s intention and desire is that all might be saved, and to that end works unceasingly towards reaching all nations and peoples with his Good News of Jesus the Christ. Our apathy must always bear correction from our Creator, a reality which is unpleasant as it forces us out of our comfortable routines to question seriously how to follow God the Holy Spirit’s promptings. It is God the Father’s good pleasure that everyone – not just Hebrews – receive the Good News of Jesus Christ and turn to him in faith and trust. As they do, they become full co-heirs with God’s existing faithful, not just second-rate newcomers. We must continually check our own hearts and the hearts of our faith community to ensure we are not allowing ourselves to become indifferent to God’s plans, both for ourselves and in the lives of those who have yet to hear of him.

Psalm 50:1-15 – The Lord’s discipline will come to all of Creation, either as a refining fire that purifies, or as the fire of destruction. God’s faithful should expect that they will feel the refining fire, and we are dangerously mistaken if we presume even our acts of worship and obedience to be completely free from sin and error. We seek always to worship God in fullness and truth, acknowledging that the sin within us keeps us from doing even this correctly, and further acknowledging that we are prone to going through the motions, or enshrining practices we consider pleasing to God that may well not be. What God desires is the sacrifice of our hearts and minds and wills not in mindlessness but in active, searching, joyful obedience to his will and Word. We should not presume that our tithe checks or our estate planning are what satisfies God – He who created and owns all things has no personal need for our assets, whether firstfruits or leftovers. But He desires our day be day leaning on him as both our wisdom and strength as true acts of worship and adoration.

Hebrews 12:4-24 – The Lord’s discipline will be, by definition, undesired and unpleasant. Whatever contradicts our willfullness we seek to avoid. And whatever pain or discomfort we might experience we presume to be solely from Satan. But God chastises and disciplines those He loves. We are to see this discipline as good, then, shaping us for eternity and beginning the process of burning away the dross and impurities from our lives. It will not be easy or pleasant, necessarily. Therefore we must strengthen ourselves and those around us for God’s discipline, that we might bear up under it not in cursing and confusion but in continued trust and reliance on the one who sustains all Creation. What we are being prepared for is nothing less than the presence of the Holy One, the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier of all things. We are being prepared for communion not only with the saints who have gone before us but with angels and all the hosts of heaven. Are we ready for such a union? Hardly! Therefore rather than speculate on the nature or source of the burdens and struggles in our lives, we continue to bear up under them as faithful children promised the kingdom of God, and knowing that even the work of Satan in attacks against us can be used by God the Holy Spirit to make us that much closer to readiness for our eternal glory in Christ.

Luke 13:22-30 – In direct contradiction of our cultural mantra today that everyone is essentially good, Jesus makes it clear this is not the case by a long shot. Our random and inconsistent and selfish acts of kindness to others are hardly the holiness and righteousness our Lord created us for! Moreover, Jesus makes it plain that not even all those who consider them to be his people are actually his people! Some of those who think they are followers of Christ are in fact not, and will be denied entrance to eternity. Simply having your name on the membership roster at church does not make you a follower of Christ. Relying exclusively on the grace of your baptism when the entire rest of your life has been lived in denial or ignorance of that baptism does not automatically include you in the redeemed.

Does Jesus seek here to rattle our faith? Of course not. But He does intend that we should consider our faith soberly and seriously, and we should be active – striving – in our lives of faith to take seriously the Word of God as it guides and directs. The life of faith is never one of rest and satisfaction. While we don’t live in fear and anxiety, neither do we reach a place where we ‘retire’ from an active faith, assuming that all we’ve done already is enough to sustain our faith in Christ. It is not simply the young who can wander away from the faith through spiritual apathy – it happens to the elderly as well!

Each day, each week should be a celebration of Christ’s work on our behalf and the Holy Spirit’s continued work within us. Each day and week should include times of self-examination. Are we apathetic or anemic? Do we prefer our little creature comforts over the Word of God and his Sacraments? Do we assume that we’re good enough, and no longer need these things, or that God doesn’t really provide them to us for good reason? These are dangerous paths to wander down. Our works do not save us, but how we prioritize our time and money and thoughts goes a long way towards showing us what really matters in our lives.

The road is, in fact, narrow. Not because God’s grace is limited, but because our sinfulness is so deadly real and serious that it continually strives to lead us away from that narrow road into fields of poppies (or worse yet, flying monkeys!) that ultimately prove to be dangerous and even fatal. Together, the people of God set our eyes on the promised new Jerusalem and the Word of God that alone can lead us through the sinfulness of this world and the sinfulness of our own heart by the power of the death and resurrection of the Son of God to life everlasting.

Clashing Worlds

August 15, 2019

She is very young.

In the language of today, which must constantly judge and categorize, she would undoubtedly be called privileged.  Sheltered.  But that is to some extent the condition of the young.  And here she is on the other side of the ocean from her home, interning in the court system in our town for a few weeks as part of her course of study in law in her home country.

She arrived home harried, which is not uncommon, but also agitated.  Today I went someplace I never want to go again.  I guessed where she had been before she revealed it – the jail.

Not as an inmate, but as an observer.  Her first time in a jail, and the first time is always overwhelming in one fashion or another.  It was terrible, she said.  It’s easy to know what the law says and know that if I break the law I could go to jail.  But people think they won’t get caught, won’t go to jail, and if they do, it won’t be that bad.  But it’s bad.  It’s terrible.  

I think back over my many years ministering in jails.   Yes, it’s bad.  But what you learn over time is that there are worse places.  That for some, three squares a day and a bed and a shower and a lot of regiment are just what they need.  Far better than the uncertainty of addiction or crime.  But that first time, well, the first time you simply know it’s terrible.

And by extension, you know the people there are terrible.

Why else would they be there, right?  For all the media talk about misjustice and injustice and all manner of very serious and very real issues, the vast majority of the people behind bars are there for very sound, real, good reasons.  Most of them will admit this to a greater or lesser extent.

It’s easy to see only the crime and not the person.  Probably as easy as seeing the person without seeing the crime.  And of course there is a tension between the two, a relationship to be acknowledged, a dance that must be completed and hopefully not repeated.

She gathers her dinner plate.  Mostaccioli and salad and toasted garlic cheese bread.  We’re eating out back on the patio tonight.  It’s cooler than inside and we have three extra guests tonight.  Three women, at least one if not all three who were at some point or other – perhaps very recently – in jail.

Repeatedly.

Addiction does that.

But they are gathered for dinner at our house tonight because for the time being they are working very hard to beat the odds and their addictions in hopes of a life free from jail in the future.  You wouldn’t know it to look at them.  A statuesque blonde.  A young Hispanic woman with beautiful long straight hair, though she looks with admiration at the naturally curly hair of my wife and daughter.  All three of them laughing and carrying on together like girls and women do together, enjoying food and the cool evening air.

I wonder what she would say if she knew.  Knew that but for a glitch of timing she might have met these ladies in jail, in that terrible place with terrible people who have done terrible things to themselves and others.  Her  disgust and disdain are palpable, but she’s happily engaged speaking in another language with one of our resident guests.  She doesn’t know.

I pray that as she enters the field of law she will be able to walk the difficult tightrope of never forgetting the law but also never forgetting the people.  That she will remember that ultimately our hope is not merely punitive but restorative, and that her faith – however perfunctory it may or may not be – will guide her to give  both thanks and praise to the Creator.  The God who created her in her youthful inexperience, as well as the people in the jails and prisons of our world.  People who perhaps need to be there, but hopefully don’t have to be there forever.  I pray that she never loses hope that lessons can be learned, debts to society can be repaid, lives restored, and glory given not to the magistrates or parole boards or wardens but to the God who alone has the power and will to restore life from death, hope from ashes.

And I pray that if she can be sustained on that tightrope, she won’t be adverse to sitting down with people she may have been required to put in jail at one point or another, in anticipation of an eternal feast where our places are guaranteed not by the purity of our lives but by the grace of our Creator through his Incarnate Son, who pays the penalty for our sin that we might be set free.

Free Tuition?

August 12, 2019

Democratic candidates are stumbling over themselves in a bid to offer the most sweeping promises of college student loan debt to young voters.  Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are the most detailed and perhaps the most generous of the candidates in this respect, offering partial loan forgiveness based on current earnings (Warren) or complete forgiveness of all debt regardless of current earning levels (Sanders).

It’s a smart ploy, of course.  College tuition has skyrocketed in the past 40 years and now even in-state students can easily rack up tens of thousands of dollars in loan debt – per year – at a public institution.  The local state university near me estimates $30,000 a year for an incoming, in-state freshman living off-site.  Just tuition is over $12,000 a year.  What a campaign pledge – imagine not having your student loan payment any more!

Funny how none of the candidates are questioning the outrageous tuition rates.  Funny how none of them are questioning whether it is reasonable, rationale, or moral to set a 4-year degree as an expectation for every single person in our country, regardless of their aptitude or the necessity or applicability of such a degree to the work they’d like to do.  Funny how the party that likes to portray itself on the side of the working person presumes that the average working person should be a college graduate no matter what the cost.  In fact, the cost is irrelevant because if you vote for us, we’ll eliminate the cost!  Well, the upfront cost.  In reality, you’ll still be paying college tuition not  just for yourself but for everyone else through higher taxes and other fees imposed either personally on you or the financial institutions you rely on who will pass the costs on to you.  For the rest of your life.  But right now?  When you’re 18 or 25?  Poof!  No more $500 student loan payment a month!  You’re instantly richer!  If you vote for us, that is.

This is what I call the short-term view of the situation, though.  Trading student loan forgiveness for short-term votes.  What I believe is going on though is a much bigger and long-term play for votes.

Universities and colleges – especially public ones – are overwhelmingly liberal/progressive/Democratic in outlook and philosophy, both as institutions as well as in terms of the personal views espoused in and out of the classroom by professors as well as in the textbooks used.  Of course Democrats are going to push for everyone to go to college, because by and large everyone will be exposed to the ideologies and assumptions that undergird progressive/liberal platforms.  While this will obviously be the case at public institutions, it will also be the case at many private ones as well.  I’ve talked with multiple recent graduates from the local private, Christian university in town.  They jokingly laugh about how they entered the school with one set of ideas – generally more conservative and traditional both politically and spiritually –  and emerged with a more progressive/liberal set.  Some can recognize this and chuckle about it – sometimes.  But I don’t see many of them resisting it very much or very well.  To get through the system you need to at least be able to repeat what they want you to say, even if you don’t believe it or agree with it.  Do that often enough, and it’s hard not to internalize the ideas you are required to regurgitate.

So of course Democrats want to subsidize higher education.  It’s in their best interests in the short term (since once this becomes a policy, there will be a gradually decreasing level of  support and therefore votes specifically for the Democrats as the ones that inaugurated the policy).  But it is also in their best interests for the long haul.  They have the best chance of creating people who agree with their policies if everyone goes to college.  That’s a frightening reality, but not a very far-fetched one, unfortunately.

As a former college educator I highly value education.  But I question the outrageous costs associated with it, and I question why nobody wants to tackle that question seriously.  I also question the honesty of trying to prep everyone for college as though this is the path to financial success.  The past decade at the very least has shown this is not necessarily the case any longer.  While there are some  professions that legitimately require not just a four-year degree but more advanced degrees beyond this, for many professions and companies a 4-year degree is just a box to be checked off on a job application rather than a directly relevant matter of knowledge and experience.

Voters should be skeptical of the plan to offer free college education.  Not just financially but ideologically.  On both fronts, this isn’t nearly as good a deal as it sounds (and frankly it shouldn’t sound like a very good deal to anyone with the ability to think clearly – college-educated or otherwise!).  The government offering to subsidize an industry is pretty much a guarantee that costs will rise and quality will drop in that industry – at least if health care is any gauge.

Reading Ramblings – August 18, 2019

August 11, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 18, 2019

Texts: Jeremiah 23:16-29; Psalm 119:81-88; Hebrews 11:17-12:3; Luke 12:49-56

Context: There’s a scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe early on as the children – minus Edward – are given hospitality by an old beaver couple. Here the children learn a bit about Aslan and some of their misunderstanding is dispelled. Aslan is not a person, but a lion. Understandably this causes some fear, verbalized by the oldest girl, Susan, who asks if Aslan is safe. Mr. Beaver’s response is direct – Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you. The readings for this week immediately made me think of this exchange. How often we wish (or assume!) that God is safe and tame, at our beck and call. How often we wish God were an oversize cat, one who doesn’t always do what we want but this makes him endearing to us, knowing eventually he will come ’round when it’s dinner time. Instead, the image of God as a lion is far more accurate. And while this reality should ultimately be far more comforting, it is not without a strong disconcerting streak as well. Our attempts to domesticate God only do violence to ourselves.

Jeremiah 23:16-29 – Speaking the Word of God is different than any other kind of speech, and it is correspondingly tempting to set aside God’s Word in favor of words that are easier to hear, easier to swallow. Words that don’t rock the boat and don’t push people for more than they want to hear. But such talk, while attractive to both the speaker and the hearer, is unfaithful. God is at war with evil in this world and within ourselves and offers no quarter. We are never to presume that God’s intention is our mere comfort. We are part of his purposes, not the other way around. And while we can and should always trust that God’s purposes are perfect and holy and always for our ultimate good, it may well be that we must deal with a great deal of discomfort and temporary unhappiness. In the meantime, the one who speaks God’s Word must seek to do so faithfully, properly distinguishing between the Word of God and the speaker’s ideas so that the hearers can distinguish the two and ensure that God’s Word always takes precedence in their lives.

Psalm 119:81-88 – Despite it being the most prominent psalm (in terms of length), this is the first time we’ve drawn from it in this liturgical year. It is an acrostic, with a separate eight-line section for each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This section is the letter kaph, which corresponds roughly to our K in terms of a hard C sound. If you look at these verses in Hebrew, you’ll see that each verse starts with this letter. This section poses a situation of longing for God’s response and deliverance. The speaker is in a difficult position and is being persecuted by others. This is not a life of comfort and ease! But it is a life of faith and trust in God. So the speaker can call to God and ask for his help and wonder aloud when that help will arrive. Though the temptation to forsake God’s Word and way in favor of tactics that are not righteous but could help is real, the speaker commits himself to God’s Word and way; they alone can be trusted! The section ends without resolution, but remains steadfast in anticipation of the Lord’s help.

Hebrews 11:17-12:3 – The list of faithful Biblical examples continues from last week. Each called upon to respond in faith to the promises of others as well as God. None of them protected from the harsh realities of being sinful people in a sinful world, but each being called to place their faith and trust in the God who created all things and is restoring and redeeming all things. Each of them, like us, received part of what they were promised, but awaited the full completion of those promises, something attained ultimately and only through Jesus Christ. We are not exceptional in being called to live by faith, but we are blessed with a cloud of witnesses who have gone before us to both show what faithfulness looks like, and to affirm that God is faithful to his promises.

Luke 12:49-56 – Once again we are confronted with words that contradict any image of Jesus as weak or pacifistic or otherwise too timid to raise a commotion. He understands perfectly the nature of his ministry. His ministry is the focusing of God’s wrath against sin and evil – focused in on Jesus himself as He takes on our sin and evil into himself. This is the fire of God the Father’s judgment that falls first and fully on Jesus, so that all of humanity might be spared in faithfulness. Those who will not receive this gift in faith, however, will feel that judgment fire themselves. Those who accept the gift in faith will also feel the fire of God, but not as a destructive, judgmental fire but as a refining flame that gradually purifies us through our lives in anticipation of our complete and perfect purification when our Lord returns.

Jesus has been baptized in water already, but anticipates his baptism on the cross, his ministry framed in water and in blood just as water and blood pour from his pierced heart, and how John asserts that it is water and blood that testify to Jesus’ work and person (1 John 5:6-8). As he awaits this final consummation of his incarnate work, he is under anticipation as well as dread.

All of this to offer us hope, but not peace. He comes to defeat evil but evil will continue in the throes of death after Jesus’ ascension and until his return. Jesus’ perfect sacrificial act will be the centerpoint of all created history, dividing those who believe from those who don’t and creating continual conflict that will penetrate to the most intimate of settings – the home and family. Jesus does not desire this, but our sinfulness makes it inevitable. Jesus has no illusions about how this will play out in some situations.

Verses 54-56 are linked with the following verses logically (but tragically not in the lectionary!). As Jesus journeys with his disciples and the crowds, he reminds them they are on a journey as well, quite literally a journey to appear before a judge. If that is the case, the reality that we as creatures will one day stand before the Creator, it should be obvious that we should be preparing for this encounter, and recognizing the signs it is getting closer. Jesus’ ministry in word and power should be an obvious sign to them that something is afoot, that the kingdom of God is at hand and therefore their encounter with the judge is fast approaching!

Holding Companies Accountable

August 10, 2019

Thanks to Ken for this excellent editorial from the Wall Street Journal.

At issue is how to deal with companies like YouTube or Google who censor not based on offensive content (profanity, nudity, etc.) but based on ideological bent.  This is not the first time I’ve brought up this issue.  Conservative or traditional voices are increasingly being muzzled online.  The awkwardness is that conservatives often do not decry this very strongly because of their strong commitment to minimizing government interference.  Since these entities aren’t the government, they are free to print or publish what they want.

Is that really the case?  Dennis Prager in this editorial answers no, it isn’t the case, and we need to hold these companies accountable for who and what they are in reality, rather than in theory.  Definitely worth the read, even if you have to subscribe to the WSJ in order to access it!

Reading Ramblings – August 11, 2019

August 4, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost ~ August 11, 2019

Texts: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-16; Luke 12:22-34

Context: Faith is trusting the promises of God. Faith by definition means trusting despite the tangibility of those promises having yet to materialize. If I promise to give you $20 you have to trust that I will. Once I have given you the $20, trust is no longer necessary – you have not just my word but the $20. Followers of Jesus have the unique privilege of living lives of faith – trusting his Word in terms of his return and all that follows. When those promises are fulfilled we will no longer need to live by faith. We are unique in all of creation in that we can receive the promises of God and either trust them or reject them!

Genesis 15:1-6 – Abram has been following God since Genesis 12. A lot has happened since then, from relocation to the Promised land, a run-in with a Pharaoh in Egypt, a seemingly unexpected land division with his nephew, Lot, then a dramatic rescue of Lot and his family from local warlords and raiding parties, culminating with an encounter with the enigmatic Melchizedek, priest of God Most High. Abram has been richly blessed, but God has not fulfilled all of his promises, most notably the promise of an heir. Abram points this out to God. Abram isn’t getting any younger – he was 75 when God called him in Genesis 12! At this point he only has Eliezer, who may be one of his trusted servants but we have no defining information for. God’s response is not to immediately confirm his promise of an heir to Abraham, as He does definitively in Genesis 18. Rather, He reiterates his promise. Abraham has trusted so far, and is to continue to trust. He will continue to live by faith, which the author of Hebrews will interpret as a lesson for those who wait on the return of the Son of God today. We stand in a long line of people who chose to trust God’s promises.

Psalm 33:12-22 – Faith in God is a subjective response to an objective reality. God is really there. He really is in charge of all things. Faith recognizes this and seeks to live in harmony with this reality. Rejecting God and refusing to acknowledge or trust him does not alter the reality that is God and his relationship with his creation. Those that acknowledge his reign are the blessed ones (v.12). There is one nation that can be said to be truly blessed through faith in God, and that is the nation that God chose and created for himself in the Old Testament, the people and nation of Israel. That people should have, of all people in all of history, understood better God and their relationship to him. Of course, we know that this was only true to a limited extent, and given enough time, sin obscured that proper relationship and brought it to an end. We are encouraged in the final verses both individually and corporately not to let this happen to us, to keep our plans and ideas secondary to the will of God as much as humanly possible.

Hebrews 11:1-16 – Though this should be the lectio continua portion of the readings, we’re doing a fair amount of jumping around. We skipped the last chapter of Colossians and now the first 11 chapters of Hebrews! Based on the Old Testament readings from Genesis the past few weeks, this section of Hebrews makes good sense. Here Paul (the traditional author if not the universally acknowledged author) paints a picture of what faith looks like. This is helpful to us since in the preceding chapter Paul asserted that we live and are saved by faith. Now, to help substantiate this assertion he turns to the Old Testament and the patriarchs, using them as a picture of those who trusted God’s promises as they waited for fulfillment. Abel, Noah, and more centrally Abraham are all examples of people who trusted God, living their lives out actively in that faith and trust. Noah actually built the ark he was told to – what a tangible expression of faith! Abraham left his extended family to follow God’s instructions to a land God promised would be his own. He lived in that land as a sojourner rather than an owner for nearly all of his life. Paul extends his argument that while they didn’t necessarily receive everything promised to them in this lifetime, they trusted God to fulfill his promises to them ultimately. If this life is not the end, then God’s promises can be fulfilled beyond our lifetime, and our trust in no ways should be diminished as we can expect to see them fulfilled beyond our deaths.

Luke 12:22-34 – Verses 35-40 are optional for the Gospel reading and I opted to omit them. On first blush they seem to deal with a very different issue – preparation for our Lord’s return as opposed to needless worry. However the two things are very much related. Rather than worry and fret, we prepare our hearts and our minds. Rather than worry and fret about the uncertainties of life in a sinful and broken world, we center our thoughts on the assurances of our Lord. Preparation may seem a side-effect of fear or worry, but it more rightly should be the proper course of action of someone who is not at the whims of fate but rather firmly in the hand of their Creator and Redeemer.

That being said, vs. 22-34 are tailor made for our culture of worry and fear. With God and his Word now mostly removed from the public sphere and considered dangerous conversational topics, it can only follow that the void will be filled by something darker and terrifying. Without the assurances of our Creator’s constant presence and concern, we fall back on ourselves as the sole determiners of our lives. Everything becomes an opportunity for pride but more often than not a source of fear and worry. How do we prepare our children for the future? How do we ensure they get good jobs? How do we ensure they’re happy and well adjusted? For that matter, how do we ensure these things for ourselves? In a culture of affluence and plenty we focus on the fear of scarcity or failure.

Christ’s words are simple, though by no means the answer our sinful hearts would prefer. We have no control over many, many things in our lives. The more control we attempt to exert, the more we realize all the other arenas we need to apply ourselves in as well to ensure better control. It’s a cascade that can lead ultimately to despair, as evidenced by skyrocketing rates of depression and violence against self and others. Jesus simply reminds us of the truth. We have very little control. We are not called to control our lives and the lives of others but to live each day in faith and trust in our Creator. Then, whatever happens and whenever it happens, we will have peace. There is sense and order in the world, or perhaps better put, the apparent lack of sense and order in the world will no longer be a source of fear.

This is not easy! To quit worrying is difficult, at best. And Jesus is not calling for a passive disengagement with our lives, an abandonment of personal agency and responsibility. Rather He calls us to see our engagement and agency within the proper context. We are not gods. Our control is limited and imperfect. But this should not lead us to despair because there is a God who is neither limited or imperfect. In him and only in him we can rest our uncertainties and fears. The one who sent his Son to die on our behalf and raised him from the dead again as evidence of grace and forgiveness to all is ever-present, and while we may feel our lives are out of control we are never out of his hand, and therefore never need give ourselves over to despair and anxiety.

FOMO and Pulling Triggers

August 3, 2019

After several weeks of preparation and contemplation, I just deleted my Facebook account.

Of course, few actions are immediately irreversible in the technology world.  I have 30 days to change my mind and reactivate my account (and access all of my posts, pictures, and other tidbits accumulated over the last 12 years).  But once that window passes – and I trust it will pass without inordinate temptation – I’d have to start from scratch with a new account.  Theoretically at least, Facebook will delete all of my data and information.  I downloaded a copy of it a few weeks ago in case I want to peruse it one day.

Not checking Facebook multiple times a day over the past month has been an amazingly simple experience.  Once I deleted all my friends, there was no content to tempt me back.  Facebook was, in the final analysis for me, not so much an avenue for self-expression as it was a means of lurking on the lives of others.  I doubt I’m unique in this, but I’m willing to admit it for what it was.

In our age of acronyms this is known as FOMO – fear of missing out.  What if everyone else has discovered something wonderful and I’m out of the loop?  What if I miss out on the latest meme?  What if I’m not on the cutting edge of current water cooler conversation?  What if, what if, what if…..

Having crested mid-life, FOMO has a diminishing pull on me.  All well and good because  having crested middle age I’m now largely irrelevant to the culture around me.  Old enough not to be swayed by the myriad  cries of the masses virtually or otherwise, to  be skeptical of the swaying needle of cultural opinion or fashion or celebrity or other metrics.   When I honestly admitted that lurking on the lives of people through Facebook I’m barely connected to otherwise in life was unhealthy for any number of reasons, cutting the cord was easy.  Being willing to admit that 99% of the people I was friends with on Facebook hardly fit that title by any reasonable definition was harder.

It’s like the much-maligned band Nickelback and their single Photograph.  I’ve thought for years it was simply a nostalgic trip down memory lane, when actually it’s a recognition that such strolls have to come to an end some day.  It’s not healthy or accurate to perpetuate the state of a relationship years or decades ago through a social media outlet if that’s the only connection that remains.  People I’ve worked with across multiple organizations and vocations, people I’ve gone to school with in various places across the decades, people associated with other groups or times of life – if  my only connection to them is watching what they post and liking it or visa versa, this isn’t really a relationship.  It becomes an obsession with the past rather than the present, an attempt to maintain the illusion of something deeper which died a long time ago, and barring some miracle of the Holy Spirit’s strange connectivity, will never live again.

Some of those Facebook friends I’ll keep touch with in other ways, but the vast majority I won’t.  That’s OK.  It’s not that I wish them ill, think any less of them, or  otherwise don’t care about them.  But I need to acknowledge that what Facebook helps create is the illusion that those relationships are still alive and active and to some degree unchanged.  As though liking a post or a photo  of someone I haven’t otherwise communicate with in 20 years is the same as the old  water cooler discussions or the old late night camaraderie.  It isn’t.  Those things have passed on.

That can be hard to acknowledge if there aren’t a set of new relationships to replace these old ones.  It can force us to acknowledge our actual isolation in the here and now.  But such honesty might also spur us to greater efforts to build new relationships.  When I first began serving as a pastor in this part of the world, I was told about a program specifically designed for new pastors  in the area to connect with one another and begin to build relationships with people right here rather than rely exclusively on past relationships (or even current but geographically distant ones) through social media.  That was a dozen years ago.  The program long ago died off, but the need it sought to address back  then is only more real now.

I don’t think social media is bad, per se.  There are unhealthy aspects to it, but there are also beautiful blessings it provides.  As with most tools, it’s how we use them that matters, and recognizing that technological tools also seek to use us.  I can pick up a hammer to hang a picture on the wall and put the hammer down and it won’t pursue me.  Social media can and does pursue.  In the last month since I quit checking Facebook I’ve started getting texts and e-mails from Facebook telling me that there are new posts and messages that I should check in and see.  Unlike a hammer, social media needs me every bit as much – or more likely more –  than I need it.  And when that’s the case we need to carefully discern what we’re providing compared to what we’re receiving.  Concerns about privacy and data breaches are as common as the air we breathe, and perhaps that’s the point – we get used to the idea that we don’t really have privacy, that we aren’t entitled not to be commercially objectified or exploited 24/7.

How people calculate these balances will differ.  For my, psychologically and emotionally it’s time to pull the trigger on Facebook.  I’ve realized I’m not missing out on anything, or perhaps more accurately, I’m still missing out on the same things whether I’m on Facebook or not.

Misplacing Shame

August 1, 2019

San Francisco is a big city with a big problem – people want to ride the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) for free.  A one-way ticket costs just shy of $4.00.  BART estimates  they lose between $1 million and $25 million a year due to people hopping over the turnstiles without paying.  That’s a large range.  A better handle on more accurate figures could assist in determining what – if anything – should be done to prevent people from free-loading more often.

What they’re currently testing is  not popular with a lot of people.

They’re installing chrome blades that shoot up out of the turnstiles if someone tries to push through without paying.  I’m sure they aren’t sharpened, but are designed to make it harder and slower for someone to circumvent the system.  This article describes the outrage these modification systems are raising.

The blades are cited as a danger to people in wheelchairs, though unless someone is bent over at a very awkward angle I’m not sure how that could be.  Others are cited are critical because they see this as an economic oppression of the lower classes.  Their solution is that BART should be free to low-income people.  An interesting proposition, though one that undoubtedly comes with a hefty price tag in terms of systems implementation, and still would not likely deter those who won’t bother to register and prefer to just hope the turnstiles.

But nowhere in the article is there any shame cast at those who are the problem – those people stealing free rides by jumping the turnstiles.  I’m not unsympathetic to an argument for a free or lower-cost rate for low-income people, but I find it problematic that nobody – other than BART – thinks that the real problem is people who  feel they should be able to ride for free while others pay.

Throughout the article, those people are never called out.  Never criticized.  Never shamed for their behavior, no matter how justified or necessary their situations may make it seem to be.  If theft isn’t shamed and called out as wrong, it won’t change.  Justifying the behavior just makes it that much more acceptable to a wider range of people.  It’s an endemic problem in our culture these days,  and it’s contributing to the deterioration of law and order on a wide scale.

Go ahead and be critical of a particular methodology aimed at curbing fare-theft.  But don’t forget to be critical of those stealing rides.  They contribute to lost operating revenues and the need for ever-increasing fares, which only makes the situation for low-income people as a whole (at least honest ones) worse.