Saving the Holidays from Impossible Expectations

Clark Griswold as "Jason" - from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (C) Hollywood Pictures
The Holidays Again: extended time with extended families, the in-laws, and the familial out-cast all armed with a thousand expectations. The busy mom is looking forward to a break from the children to talk uninterrupted with her mother, and the work-wearied dad is hoping to catch a few afternoon football games and catnaps. The schooled child is looking forward to snow (if he is headed north) or nice weather (if headed south). And these are the just the few obvious, specific-but often universal-expectations. (read more)



“It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Lam 3:26

The night does not remember the day, but casts long shadows on empty breezeways and emptier shoes that lie within. Neatly lined, right angles hide the onetime disarray: the chaos birthed in subtle strains of bending wills and nurturing. Red and blue are thus entwined in shades of gray layered deep. The candle burns low and lone tells that time has passed. But the soul remembers all of life’s drawn-out disappointments.

What sad recollections play out in flickerings of light, sepia in the growing dim, matched by lines of years engraved in furrowed brow. Brittle hair fails to coat the orb of age, while shoulders sag beneath the load: bow down once-vibrant strength.

But then, the sudden burst of light inspired by subtle breeze climbs high. Shadows fall in terror, driven back to cobwebbed corners. All shades return red and blue, bespeak the white of morning light diffused and soon restored again. Morning will return mercies without end.

We call to mind those fractal tales which, small and smaller, frame the days: empty shoes are miles past and years fleeting by, tread by tread, hour by hour. But faithfulness recounts the verse: great is the love, and greater He who loves. The stead steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
Though the flame dies down again, gives way to night’s onset, the heart releases what in fear it grasped. The wait is good in the seeking, and in the seeking, find. In finding, there is a hope unwavering. What small is sown as patient wondering is greater grown in journeying not told in worn out treads. The soul finds portion. The quiet descends. And with the joy of morning, we wait upon the salvation of the Lord.


What’s wrong with Facebook, and what you can do to fix it! Hint: “Share” isn’t Care or Prayer

Facebook Posts Fall into One of Six Categories:
1. Look at / listen to what positive (good, funny, noble) thing I (or my friend, spouse, child, etc.) did.
2. Look at/ listen to what negative (stupid, foolish, idiotic, crazy) think I (or my friend, spouse, child, enemy, governmental official) did.
3. Look at what (team, politician, platform, party, book, movie, television, etc.) I like / don’t like, or what I just did (grew, painted, wrote, bought, sold, won, played, watched, etc.)
4. Read an article that I agree or disagree.
5. View a picture of something I think is (cool, foolish, unbelievable, crazy, nonsense) of myself (or my friend, spouse, child, politician, team, book, movie, etc.)
6. I’m funny and witty, and I’ll prove it.
7. Random hijacks by kids who think bathroom talk is funny! (This one is really an extension of number six).
Why Facebook is Making Us Stupid
Do you have to ask? You just spent 20 minutes mindlessly viewing cartoons of Coffee with Jesus between movie trailers for Batman, The Hobbit, and End of Watch, while reading about all the exercise your friends got while playing with their children, repainting their houses, writing books, watching movies traveling #withhappypicturefacesfromeveryangleandexoticplaces! (Seriously: Joe Biden in the VP Debates last night wasn’t that happy. Nobody is!) You just subjected yourself to the entertainment equivalent of skimming one paragraph from the pages of twenty different books and pretending you learned something!
Too Harsh Reality?
“Come on,” some will say, “My friends want to know what’s up with me and my kids and my #breakfastlunchdinnermenu items.” Really? How do you know? Unless your friends “like” something or, on occasion comment, there’s no way to tell whether you’re at the top of their wall or blacklisted from it. I get that some people view it like journaling, only in a pathetic way. When somebody journals, the assumption is they want to know themselves better apart from the public eye. When someone posts a status update, they want to be the public eye.
Information is Trivial by Nature
Wikipedia gives a better definition of “information” than Dictionary.com does: “Information, in its most restricted technical sense, is a sequence of symbols that can be interpreted as a message.” Binary is information, Fortran, HTML, C++., and Facebook posts. (The only difference is that FB posts won’t make your computer do something cool.) Information is trivial by nature to the extent that information does not require action. Information: It is raining. Action: Maybe I’ll get an umbrella (and then maybe I won’t). Information: The stock market is up. Action: Maybe I’ll invest (and maybe I won’t). The word trivial comes from the Latin triviālis meaning “of the street corner.” Facebook is “of the street corner.”
Not just Facebook. But news sites, like CNN: reporting this week Olivia Wilde’s first marriage in utterly inappropriate terms, right next to the “We Were Soldiers” hero who died at 92, both of which were billboarded by Jerry Sandusky’s response to his 30-60 year imprisonment (He and his wife responded by saying “the boys he sexually assaulted” were “ungrateful…liars.”
Facebook feeds this. Why are all notifications in the brightest color of red possible, prominently placed (for western readers) at the top left corner of the page. Notice the placement of status related notices in this Chinese version of Facebook: top right corner. Facebook knows we vainly want to know who likes our triviālis.
Knowledge is Actionable
But you can do something about it! Start by asking, “Who am I posting this for, and why?” If you are really posting for yourself, a bookmark, a reminder, a journal entry, just make it private. If you are actually posting for others, go beyond the habit of informing and be bold enough to have a call to action. All knowledge has a call to action. A call to action involves an urgency and immediacy, is important, has significant consequences and, depending upon the response, can actually change the results of the outcome. Have we accepted that all we can do is report on life, forgetting our dignity can be used to actually make it better?
That’s why “like” is tempting. It invites the expression of opinion in a notified way without any cost or consequence. I can “like” at no cost. “Share” feels good, but it doesn’t require that I actually care. And as a Christian, it doesn’t come near prayer. Calling to action is the belief that what you have to say is not only worth reading, but requires a change in normal and established outcomes of those who may listen.
When the Apostle Paul wrote, “Set your mind on things above, not on things below,” (Col 3:2) I have to think he meant things of value and weight. When Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” (Matt. 6:21), I have to think that meant the treasure of our words, intentions, attitudes, and longings. I want to be known, followed, read, and admired as much as the next person. It’s time for an end to the perpetuation of information. So… 
  • Post a link to a political article: but call us to read it and tell us how it should impact the way we vote or at least think about the electoral process.
  • Share about some injustice: but immediately call us to take one minute to pray for that cause! 
  • Tell me about a product or service: but tell us why we should or should not buy or use it.
  • Advance your political candidate: and invite us to vote for her or him too, because you believe it’s the right thing to do!
  • Tell me about a movie: but tell us how watching it will impact my life, my growth, my maturity, my joy, my encouragement.
  • Tell me about your sports team: but tell us something valuable and worthwhile about them, why they are worthy of imitation, what makes them great. 
  • Even write about your day, your kids, or some random event: but tell us how you are changed by it! If you are unchanged by something, how can you expect it to have a lasting impact on anybody else?
Even Chick Little, ignorant of physics and the nature of trees as she was, believed firmly enough that her experiences required a call to action. Let’s be part of a generation that would rather look stupid for taking a stand than so uncommitted that we never do.
Instill values, invite responses, risk offense! But by all means, end the unhelpfulness of the information stream by risking that you find something worthy enough—artistically, biblically, morally, judiciously, economically, environmentally, athletically, fiscally, humorously—to invite, if not also insist upon, an action!
I think you should. I believe it’s right.
(ps. That’s my call to action!)


Fox's Fringe: Shifting Toward Decline

Fox and JJ Abrams have shifted the trajectory of Fringe, following in the footsteps of Lost and other mystery-meets-drama-meets-science-fiction-meets-alternative-realities. What is this shift? Irrelevancy and, should it continue, this shift will ultimately result in Fringe's cancellation.

Total Recall
Most television viewers like to be surprised, amazed and even gripped by cliffhanging continuations. But as the layers of complexity become more abstract, barriers to entry for new viewers and return on investment (ROI) for existing viewers are too great. For Fringe viewers, it was one thing for Olivia Dunham...(click here to read more).


Would You Really End All Suffering?

If you were given the power to end all suffering, hardship, and affliction, instantly—would you use it? The question may sound academic—best discussed hypothetically over coffee and scones. In such a setting, some will (and do) argue that to answer anything but “Yes” is a sign of sadism, bordering on the insanity of every genocide-laden dictatorship.

But the question is far more than academic. Beneath the surface of every political expectation, legislation, or foreign policy is—to some extent—the pursuit of that universal “Yes.” I say “to some extent” because the goal to universally end suffering et al is mingled up with greed, self-promotion, ignorance, short-sightedness, and delusions of grandeur, to name a few. (I am not ignoring the truly evil person whose interest and intentions are only harm; however, ethical debates among Christians too often lump all opponents into such Strawman categories for immediate dismissal.)

Just look at the reach, scope, and names of some current and recent legislation:

· No Child Left Behind
· Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2012
· Troubled Asset Relief Program, 2011
· Job Creation Act, 2011
· “National Nurse-Managed Health Clinic Week”

These benign titles tell nothing of the unimaginable cost associated with them (as a corpus). Nor is this “should we end all suffering et al” only a political debate. Christians hypothesize doing the most good for the most people with the push of a button, as Douglas Wilson does in this blog post, in which all the world is seemingly broken up into two categories: the haves and the have-nots.

Faith Challenged!
Now consider this sobering reality. Jesus had the power to immediately end all suffering, hardship, and affliction…instantly (actually, he still has that power today!) and yet, he did not. We read of children raised and healed, blind men given sight, hungry people fed, and lepers cleansed. But do we imagine Jesus walking through every town and sudden health and prosperity flowing out from him like color into a black-and-white landscape? Scriptures gives us every warrant to believe that Jesus observed funerals, heard crying, saw suffering, and passed by dingily-clad children—who were less than food-filled—and did not end these. One such reference: “There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah…and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow” (Luke 4:25-26).

Now consider that we elect officials, more often than not, with the expectancy that they will do the most good for the most people in the short tenure of their official service. We make them Saviors, so long as they attain to this end; that is, we are willing to give the most power to those who will do the most good for the most people. This contrast between our expectations of elected officials and the actions of Jesus proves that it is easier to have little or no power or to give it away, than to have power and choose not to use it.

What if the better purpose is for those with power to constrain evil, injustice, and popular oppression; such that we—the un-elected—may do the most good for the most people? What if the power of politicians was not to redistribute wealth, pass healthcare reform, fund educational institutions or hospitals, provide food stamps and family planning clinics—but, instead, to set us free as individuals to pursue this true religion: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world? (James 1:27) Ironically, true religion is not to end affliction per se, but to visit (ἐπισκέπτεσθαι) those suffering it.

There was a time, not too long ago, when all of these were the expressions of the church. Hospitals, schools, and soup kitchens were the mercy arm of ministry as much as Word and Sacraments were the proclamation arm. Where did we release these obligations to governors—believing those with power could effect more good than those with presence?

Which takes us back to Jesus—who did not immediately end all hardship, suffering, and affliction. Said another way, he did the most good for the most people by restraining his power. And this bring us back to where we began—to ask again that age old question, “If you were given the power to end all suffering, hardship, and affliction, instantly—would you use it?”

How we answer that says more about our confidence in ourselves apart from God than it does about principles of compassion, mercy, and justice. Moreover, it shapes our expectations of those who lead.

It was Frederick Bastiat who wrote, over 150 years ago, “When a politician views society from the seclusion of his office, he is struck by the spectacle of the inequality that he sees. He deplores the deprivations which are the lot of so many of our brothers, deprivations which appear to be even sadder when contrasted with luxury and wealth.” And he would thus, and often at our bidding, presume to do the most good for the most people, end the most suffering, affliction, and hardship. Instead, he would render us impotent slaves, who relegate our duties to offices never intended for them.

Would you really end all suffering? Jesus hasn’t and could. What makes us think we could do better?