Tag Archives: Twitter

Ancient Vengeance Cloaked in Modern Technology

“Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee.”
Numbers 35:6 (NIV)

Last night as Wendy and I sat on the couch she expressed grief and frustration over a pattern of behavior we’ve been observing on social media. It is quite common for the discourse on Facebook and Twitter and online forums to sink into petty jabs, unnecessary name calling, and a general spirit of anger, hatred, and conflict. And this, we routinely notice, from many whom we love and who eagerly claim to be followers of Jesus.

For the past month or two my chapter-a-day journey through the book of Numbers has taken me back to an ancient times. I’ve been mulling over the lives and times of Moses and the Hebrew tribes. It was, without a doubt, a very bloody and ugly period of human society. Ancient tribal societies lived in a time without laws, law enforcement agents, and a system of justice. It was a time of blood feuds, vengeance and “an eye-for-an-eye” free-for-all of individual retribution.

I can’t help but think of the stories we know like The Godfather in which warring families get embroiled in ever escalating acts of violence and murder against one another. The Tataglia family attempts to kill but only wounds Vito Corleone. Vito’s son, Sonny, actually kills Bruno Tataglia in retribution. But, that’s not enough. Michael Corleone also kills the man who orchestrated the plot and the Police Captain who protects him. But that’s not enough. Everyone goes to the mattresses. But that’s not enough. Michael eventually kills the heads of all the other mafia families to protect himself from retribution. The violence and vengeance never ends.

As Sean Connery famously quips in The Untouchables, “He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue!”

What Wendy was observing last night is an example of the old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” We’re still embroiling ourselves in petty, ever escalating feuds between political, religious, and social clans. Now, however, we do it from a safe distance and use words as our weapons. Somehow, we believe that this is better on the grading curve of human society. Name calling on Facebook isn’t as barbaric as literally sticking a knife in someone’s back. Or is it?

I’m reminded in the quiet this morning of Jesus words:

“For the mouth speaks [and the hand types] what the heart is full of.  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

In today’s chapter, God through Moses is leading a radical step forward in human history. It is a formalized system of justice. The priestly clan of the Levites are scattered to live among all the other tribes. Within those tribes the priestly Levites create “cities of refuge” to which murderers and those who commit manslaughter may flee. The priests gave sanctuary so that a trial, complete with witnesses, could be conducted and a just verdict could be rendered. The accused was required to stay under the protection of priest in the city of refuge. But get this: If the High Priest died, a period of amnesty was unleashed. The accused were free. Any blood feud or vendetta of vengeance was to end.

What great foreshadowing God gives in today’s chapter for what He is going to do on a cosmic spiritual scale in the Great Story. Jesus, High Priest (Heb 6:20) in the mysterious order of Melchizedek, comes to live among us like the priests sent to live among the tribes. [cue: Silent Night] To Jesus we may flee for refuge with all the accusation, guilt, condemnation and social vengeance nipping at our heels. When Jesus, the High Priest, dies then amnesty reigns. Forgiveness and grace (literally, favor we don’t deserve and didn’t earn) are poured out to the accused and condemned. Prisoners are freed. Vengeance ends.

Wait, there’s more. Those of us who follow Jesus are called “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). Spiritually, I become a Levite of our time. I’m a priest in the order of Jesus. I am to be a person and place where “others” (even those of other tribes I don’t particularly like) may flee to find protection, understanding, kindness, mercy, grace, compassion, and justice.

So, I have to ask myself: When I allow myself to get stirred up  and let that f*ing, clueless, ignorant, MORON on Facebook know just what a #*&%-eating, #@)#-faced, #)@(#* they are… am I extending the royal, priestly rites handed down to me by Jesus? Am I being marked by the Spirit of protection, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and compassion that I claim to have received from Jesus, my High Priest? Am I fulfilling my calling to be part of that royal priesthood? Or, am I perpetuating a deep, very entrenched human part of me that is given to bloody, feudal vengeance cloaked in 21st century technology?

Ugh.

Lord, have mercy on me. Help me lay down my weaponized words; My vengeance which I try to costume as “justice” and “righteousness.” Make me a refuge for “others” – all “others.”

The Context of the Pinterest Quote

“Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:15 (NRSV)

We have increasingly become a culture that boils things down to simple thoughts. We gather quotes, sayings and images on social media. We try to say something or quote something worthwhile in the 140 characters that a tweet will allow. Everything is reduced to make it smaller, pithier, and more quickly consumed. And, in doing so we lose context. Without context things change and lose the fullness of meaning.

josh 24 15 grab edit

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua said in today’s chapter. These words can be found on countless Pinterest images (example above), plaques, wall hangings, keychains, bookmarks, pens, and etc. It’s a popular sentiment and statement of commitment. I’m afraid very few people know where it originated or its context.

Joshua, the chosen successor to Moses, is at the finish line of his life. He’s dying. His number is almost up and he knows it. He gathers the nation together around the Big Top – the great tent that had been Israel’s mobile worship center since the days of Moses himself.

Joshua recounts the story of the nations history from Abraham to their present day (“Where have we been?”).

Joshua reminds them of the blessings they are enjoying in the lands which had become their inheritance (“Where are we now?”)

Then Joshua calls them to commitment: “Choose this day whom you will serve…” (“Where are you going?”)

The call to commitment is not for Joshua himself. He’s done. He’s run his race. The answer to the question of commitment will have no bearing on him. He no longer has an earthly future. He’s making a declarative statement for his family. He will not have any power to enforce it, he will not be physically present to hold his family accountable to it, and he has no assurance that they will actually fulfill it. It is a  faith statement.

Joshua’s statement belies the real question that is weighing on his 110 year old heart: “What am I leaving behind?”

His statement, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” is far greater than the letters on a Pinterest post can provide to the casual observer. The depth of it cannot be realized in reading the mere words. It’s important to understand the whole story and the context in which the statement is made. This is a declaration of death-bed desire. It is a plea to his descendants. This is Joshua’s great and motivating want. It is the revelation of his dying wish and his heart’s pure and final longing.

Today, we come to the end of Joshua’s story. It is the final chapter in the book, and in a moment of unplanned synchronicity it falls on the day before my 50th birthday. Today, I find myself asking:

  • “Where have I been?”
  • “Where am I at?”
  • “Where am I going?”
  • “What will I leave behind?”

 

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image: Christmas Morning by Andrew Wyeth

 

Social Media, Rights, and Responsibility

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
2 Timothy 2:23-24 (NIV)

Just yesterday morning my daughter was sitting in my office and we were discussing how much life has changed in the past ten years. We were musing on how life has changed simply in our circumstances, but I also marvel at how social media and technology have changed the landscape of our daily lives.

Like everyone else, I have my own thoughts and opinions about all sorts of topics. I am also a huge proponent in every American’s first amendment right to free speech. In ten years I’ve published over 3,300 posts on this blog sharing my thoughts on all sorts of topics. In many ways social media is like the soap box that sat on the town square back in the day. Anyone and everyone was welcome to stand up and have their say to any who wanted to listen. Hear, hear. That’s freedom. God bless America.

However, I am increasingly aware that instead of one soap box sitting in a corner of the public square, today everyone has their own soap box within easy reach. Whereas I once had to make a point of going to the town square if I wanted to listen to what others had to say, today I can’t look at my phone without being barraged.

I find that as I read posts on Facebook and Twitter, as I read comments to blog posts and on-line news articles, I am struck at the vehemence, the snarkiness, the disrespect, and lack of meaningful discourse that takes place in this most public arena. The color of Christmas cups blows up into national debate. Jabs and insults are hurled non-stop from behind the disguise of pseudonyms and avatars. So much time, energy, and emotion gets wasted on things of such little consequence.

That’s the thing we once taught our children about rights: rights come with responsibilities. Because I have a right to my opinion and my say in the public square of social media doesn’t mean that it is beneficial for me, or anyone else, that I entangle myself in the endless petty conflicts, arguments, debates, and  that erupt ceaselessly in my feed.

Three times in today’s chapter, the wise mentor Paul gives first century advice to his protegé Timothy which rings with 21st century relevance:

  •  Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
  • Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.
  • Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.

This morning I am mulling over the fact that I am more and more willing to have meaningful, face-to-face discourse and debate with respectful individuals who share very different opinions than my own. I am less and less willing, however, to waste my time and energy entering the ceaseless petty quarrels in the arena of social media.

chapter a day banner 2015featured image: jasonahowie via Flickr

Top Five Tuesday: Distractions

 

Speaking of distractions, here are the top five outlets feeding my appetite for distraction:

  1. Facebook: Who’s doing what, where, with whom right now?
  2. Twitter: #losingmyselfin140characters
  3. MLB At Bat: All things baseball and the Cubs at any moment.
  4. Photos: So many photos, so little time.
  5. PSVita: Inside the man is a boy who loves his games.

Super Tom! (Not)

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

When historians look back on these times that we are living in, one of the major themes that they will address is how social media has changed the world. Society has changed dramatically in the past ten years and I’m not sure we can fully realize in the moment the breadth and depth of the change.

We live in a Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook culture in which thoughts are reduced to 140 characters or a 400×400 pixel image. Please do not read in this post what I am not writing. This is not a judgment on social media, merely an observation.

One of the things I observed is that in reducing the message to fit the medium, the context of the message can change dramatically. Take Paul’s words to his friend in Philippi in today’s chapter. The more well known translation is ” I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Talk about Pinterest quote material.

Yet, in isolating and reducing the message of the verse it appears to be a promise of unlimited potential. I might as well photoshop your face on the body of a comic book superhero to use as the background of my Pinterest post. SuperMe to the rescue. I can do all things!!

But when I read Paul’s words in the context of the previous sentences, the message of that phrase takes on what I believe is a significantly different meaning. Paul’s life journey has taken him to high mountaintops of earthly success and deep valleys of death. He has experienced “the good life” and he has found himself shipwrecked on an island like a real life episode of Lost. When he writes, “I can do all things” he is saying, “I will survive. I will be okay. Whether it’s a good day or bad, I can be content and trust that God will give me the strength to get through.

Today, I’m thankful for context. I’m glad that Paul was not writing an empty promise of superhumanity which does not fit my reality. I may be typing this post in my Batman boxer shorts, but that’s where my super hero capabilities end and I know it. To hear Paul’s encouragement to walk today’s journey knowing that whatever comes my way God will give me the strength to endure…well, that’s a message my heart can really use as I begin my day.

The One Thing

source: opensourceway via Flickr
source: opensourceway via Flickr

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NIV)

One of the most frustrating things for me as a listener is when a speaker blathers on, his or her message chasing off on various tangents without ever clearly saying anything.

I learned long ago that when preparing what I need to say, no matter the context of the message, I should always nail down “the one thing.” Think of “the one thing” as the entire message boiled down into a simple tweet on twitter. It is “the one thing” I want my listeners to hear clearly. It is “the one thing” I am really trying to say. It serves me well as I prepare my message because I can constantly review my points, my stories, and my illustrations with “the one thing” in mind. If something doesn’t directly connect my listener to “the one thing,” or if they have to connect multiple dots in order to arrive at “the one thing,” then it shouldn’t be in my presentation.

This morning as I read, I found it interesting that the scribe who edited the original works summed the entire book up in this short conclusion. In the end he boiled it down and gave us “the one thing.”

Life is full of words, posts, tweets, texts, videos, and podcasts. We are inundated with a steady stream of messages. I wonder if it’s making us better communicators or if the one thing is constantly lost in the blather.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 1

source: Michael M Kenny via Flickr

Jesus replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.” Acts 1:7 (NLT)

One of the more difficult aspects of going through a divorce is the struggle to know when to speak, and when to be silent, with your children. This is especially true when they are teenagers. Seven years ago, as I walked that painful stretch of my own journey, I found two easy temptations with regard to talking to my girls.

First, I discovered the temptation to say too much because the breakdown of the marriage is affecting them so acutely and I wanted desperately want to provide some reason, understanding, and context. Second, I recognized the subtle, self-centered temptation within myself to want the girls to take, or at least to understand, my side of the story. What teenagers, in their stalwart belief that they are both fully mature and completely omniscient, fail to understand is that information without context, knowledge, wisdom, and discernment can become both a burden and a curse. It is said that ignorance is bliss, and sometimes that is true. Sometimes it is the very least appropriate for the situation. 

As children, we often feel that we have a need to know things. We will even go so far as to think that we have a right to know certain things. We live in a culture steeped in First Amendment rights and the Freedom of Information Act coupled with an almost instantaneous access to any piece of arcane trivial information you could desire. People even publicly post the most mundane and salacious facts about themselves on Facebook and Twitter. Television programming projects an endless hunt for the most juicy, private personal gossip about celebrities 24/7/365. It is no wonder that we feel so entitled to know so much about so many.

I found it interesting in today’s chapter that Jesus deflected some of his followers’ questions. Father God knows things we don’t know. He holds certain things close to the vest, and as His children we are all on a need-to-know basis. For some children, this seems terribly unfair, unjust and spurs fits of childish rage and rebellion. Personally, I find comfort in the fact that He’s got it under control and I can trust Him with that. Someday, when I’m ready and it’s appropriate, He’ll perhaps share some things with me. Perhaps by that time it won’t really matter. Until then, I can let it go and experience the freedom that comes from not having to know certain things.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Thessalonians 3

American 'divided back' postcard, 1916
Image via Wikipedia

May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ. 2 Thessalonians 3:5 (NLT)

I like postcards. For Christmas this year I received a total of 230 postcards as gifts. There’s the set of 100 classic covers from Vanity Fair. Then the set of 100 covers from Star Wars comic books. Finally, I received the set of 30 postcards featuring travel related photographs. I love it. I’m a postcard guy.

  • Sending a personal card is always and will forever be more personal, intimate and meaningful than electronic communication.
  • A postcard is the snail-mail version of Twitter. It forces you to refine what you have to say to a zen like essence, but without being so black and white about it. With a postcard, you can write really small and fit more in when you need to do so.
  • It’s a simple gift. Everyone loves getting something personal in the mail.

Perhaps that’s part of the value for me in postcards. The further I get in the journey the more I appreciate the power of being able to package enormous truths in small packages. I like people who can powerfully get their message across in a well crafted, postcard-like, summary. I find myself having less and less patience for those who talk or write incessantly without really saying anything.

Which, is why the verse above jumped off the page at me this morning. It is such a great example of packing a lot of life lesson in postcard-like fashion: Love and endurance. Say what you will, this journey boils down to love and endurance.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a postcard to write.

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Merry Christmas

Christmas 2003: The Nativity
Image by DUCKMARX via Flickr

A few months ago my pastor asked me how many people read my blog. The honest answer was that I didn’t know. I can see how many people are subscribed. I can see how many “hits” my blog gets, but I rarely look. Besides, the question of how many people actually read it can’t really be answered. The posts go out through email, through feed readers, onto Facebook and Twitter. They get forwarded and passed around.

What I do know is that it’s relatively few people in the grand scheme of the blogosphere. I know a small circle of family and friends read regularly. I hear from some of them that they know this person or that person who reads my posts regularly. Apart from the few who comment now and then, I simply don’t know how many people will read this post. 

Besides, I think the question my pastor was really trying to ask was “Why do you do this?” The answer is no less difficult to answer. The truth is that there are multiple reasons. It’s an easy way to keep loved ones up to date on our lives. It’s a way to express things that are on my heart and mind. Knowing that a few people out there will wonder why I haven’t posted my chapter-a-day provides a little accountability. I like to write. I like the creative outlet.

Anyway, whoever might be reading this wherever you happen to be, I want to take a moment to say thanks for tagging along and for taking the time to read a post now and then. This morning, I’m thinking about you and praying that God’s peace might surround your heart and mind in the midst of holiday craziness and family dysfunction. I hope that somehow we can all have at least one moment in our day today in which we catch a glimpse of the “peace on Earth, goodwill towards men” that came wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger.

Merry Christmas.

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