Archive - Jan 2018

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January 28th

Winston Smith’s Facebook Page

Companies earn their profits by exploiting their environment. Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment.

- George Soros, Remarks delivered at the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2018

It is an interesting formulation of an old idea. How has our social environment been exploited? How similar is this to the way the physical environment has been exploited?

It isn’t a new idea. For a long time writers have complained about feeling compelled to give away their content in order to be read. I am doing that here. I put my post up. I share links to it on Facebook and Twitter, and hope someone will read it and respond. All of this becomes content to be used by large social media companies to make money off of advertising. Little, if any of that makes its way to the content creators.

To make things worse, the social media companies’ algorithms favor content that will get the most advertising revenue as opposed to the most trustworthy content, or the content that will best lead to the betterment of society.

Soros goes on to say,

Something very harmful and maybe irreversible is happening to human attention in our digital age. Not just distraction or addiction; social media companies are inducing people to give up their autonomy.

He talks about John Stuart Mill’s “Freedom of Mind”, and suggest the manipulation that is possible when people start losing freedom of mind has “already played an important role in the 2016 US presidential elections”.

He then invokes 1984 and Brave New World

This may well result in a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined.

If Winston Smith, the hero of 1984 were alive today, instead of a diary, maybe he would be posting on Facebook. This begs the question of how we understand “thought crimes”.

Some of my libertarian friends might equate “thought crimes” with “hate speech” and fight against rules about hate speech. The Ethical Journalism Network provides a useful five point test for hate speech.

They note the tragic consequences of hate speech, especially in the context of the Rwandan genocide. There first point is to consider “The Position or Status of the Speaker”.

journalists and media are regularly trapped by media-savvy and unscrupulous politicians and community leaders. These skilful users of media stir up disputes and discord in support of their own prejudices and bigoted opinions and rely on media to give coverage to their sensational claims and opinions no matter how incendiary they are.

It is interesting to consider not only the position of the speaker, but the medium they are using for speaking. Soros talks about the large social media companies saying,

The internet monopolies have neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions. That turns them into a menace and it falls to the regulatory authorities to protect society against them.

There is also the issue of groupthink. Is this a different way in which thought crimes are prosecuted? Around 2010, Eli Pariser coined the phrase “filter bubble” to describe how people social media algorithms group people together around shared ideas. Are there filter bubbles contributing to groupthink?

In 1972, social psychologist Irving Janis coined the phrase “groupthink” which

occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment”

Recently at my alma mater, there have been protests that were sparked when a member of the college football team posted racist material on Facebook.

The student was removed from campus and conservatives might bewail what they consider groupthink in the reaction of the students. Yet for it to be groupthink one would have to argue that protesting racism shows a deterioration of moral judgement.

How should we respond to the exploitation of our social environment? Are there things we can do to help repair our social environment? I pose these questions especially for politicians, religious leaders, and journalists.

January 27th

Starting a New Semester

And so it begins, my second semester of seminary. I am filled with anticipatory excitement and mild trepidation. What will I learn this semester? How will it apply to my life and lives of the communities I’m part of? What opportunities will I have to participate and perhaps even help shape discussions around renewal in a post-establishment church? Or, will the classes be dry presentations of specific viewpoints preparing M.Div students for to take the General Ordination Examination?

I am currently in the Online Certificate of Theological Studies program at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. It is a program for “those people who are seeking spiritual enrichment or who might be thinking about coming to seminary, but want to try out a few classes first.” It is eight courses long, so at the end of this semester, I will be half way through and could finish next January.

As I get a feel for the commitments of the program, in terms of time, and money, I am leaning towards doing the low residency Masters of Divinity program. I could complete that program in the summer of 2021.

I have slowly been growing into my identity as a seminarian; perhaps more precisely described as an online bi-vocational seminarian; working full time while I go to seminary online.

It isn’t clear where this will lead. Will I end up being invited to take the GOEs? Is there an ecclesiastical organization that might consider me for ordination? I do not know. Instead, I’m trying to live in the moment of being a seminarian and sharing my experiences right now.

And right now, these experiences are drawing me closer to God, bringing me joy, and hopefully helping me better serve the communities I am part of.

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January 13th

Martin Luther King Weekend Reflection

This Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, I am spending some time reading Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or A Nightmare by James Cone.

In it, he talks about the motto of the AME church: "God our Father, Christ our Redeemer, Man our Brother" and that the AME bishops in 1896 said "When these sentiments are universal in theory and practice then the mission of the distinct colored organization will cease."

In 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke on Meet the Press saying

“I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours if not the most segregated hours in Christian America”.

For this Martin Luther King, Jr. day, perhaps we can combine the two to say one of the shameful tragedies of our nation is that sentiment that all men and women are our brothers and sisters is still not yet universal in theory and practice.

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January 6th

Epiphany, Theophany, Old Christmas, and Priests Forever

It is the midnight of Christmas in the old calendar, celebrated by Orthodox Christians. It is bitter cold outside, three degrees the last time I checked, and the furnace is working overtime. There is a commotion, a bright star shining, angels singing, all in my soul, and I, a lowly shepherd am confused and frightened and trying to figure out what it all means.

Saturday was Epiphany, Three Kings Day for the western church. On the front door to our house, we chalked “20 + C + M + B + 18”. I posted a picture on Facebook, including a prayer to go along with it

The three Wise Men,
Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar

followed the star of God’s Son who became human
two thousand
and eighteen years ago.
May Christ bless our home
and remain with us throughout the new year. Amen.

In the morning, I went to a local Orthodox church to join in the celebration of the Feast of the Theophany. As we said the creed, “I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church”, I thought about being baptized and confirmed Congregationalist, received into the Episcopal Church, and worshiping with the Orthodox. I looked at the young boy in the pew in front of me and prayed for him. Had someone prayed for me, the same way when I was young? Had someone else prayed for that person in a similar way? Is there a hidden apostolic succession that ties us together throughout the ages?

As we approached the blessing of the waters, small children ran around, joyful at the expectation of Christmas and at getting splashed with holy water. Women holding onto tradition filled their jars with holy water for the year. I rejoiced in the ample holy water splashed on me at the end of the service and wished I had a jar I could bring home some holy water for my family. A young boy gave me an ice cube from the holy water that he said I should take home to my mother. I carefully tucked it in my coat pocket until I could get in the car and put it in an empty cup.

In the evening, I returned with my daughter for Vespers. At the end of the service, the priest marked us with holy oil, myrrh, or Myron. I savored its smell as I drove my daughter to her grandparents’ house; the chrism of confirmation after the water of baptism. I did not know that Myron was another name for the holy oil. My middle name is Myron. May I too be used by the Holy Spirit to sanctify and consecrate.

I went to bed early and read for a bit more. I am reading “A Priest Forever” by The Rev. Carter Heyward. At times I’ve been sharing quotes from the book on Facebook. This evening, a few quotes jumped out at me. “Any attempt to postpone justice is a sign of weak faith.” A few pages later, she talks about Kairos, God’s time. “Kairos cannot be calculated by clocks, calendars, or conventions. Kairos bursts without warning into chronos”.

I seek to live into Kairos. I experience it when I pray in various churches and monasteries. I experience it when I partake in sacraments. There are moments of Kairos in family life or while spending time with people in need.

My thoughts go back to “A Priest Forever” and I think about excuses that have been given for not welcoming certain people into certain ecclesiastical ordination processes; wrong gender, too old, there’s already too many priests, impediments of health, finances, or family, all of which sound like the excuses for a lack of faith in pursuing God’s justice.

Mine is not a great cause, easily understandable, like Carter Heyward’s quest for the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church, but it feels like it is of the same essence. It is about renewal. It is about “looking ahead to a future with even more novel forms of ordained ministry” to use the words of a resolution from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut’s Annual Convention.

The star continues to burn bright in my heart. Kairos has burst in and we are all shepherds at the manger, children running around the church on Christmas Eve, aspirants to holy orders, and priests forever. Amen.

January 1st

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, New Years 2018 and the Perpetual New Year

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit. Happy New Year. A new month begins. A new year begins. I’ve often written blog posts starting with Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit remember a childhood idea that doing this would bring good luck for the year. I’ve often celebrated the new year with champagne toasts, herring, lentils, or other things thought to bring wealth and good luck for the coming year.

Last night, my wife and I went to dinner at a neighbor’s house. After dinner, we came home, and I went to bed not much later than usual, and I awoke this morning, not much later than usual. I’ve been thinking a lot about the social construct of time. Last night was New Year’s Eve in the Western Roman calendar, coming on the last day of the final month, the tenth month, December, not counting the months added for the Emperors, Julius and Augustus , and before the first month, January, named for the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions.

It was not New Year’s Eve in other calendars, like the Hebrew calendar, the Persian calendar, or various Asian lunar calendars. In reality, any moment, every moment, can be viewed as the beginning of a new year.

Yet even this is based on the idea of time as dimension that we move sequentially through, that what is past is past and what is yet to come, is yet to come. It is as if we are walking along a path and think of what has disappeared beneath the horizon behind us has ceased to exist and what is coming up on the path ahead of us doesn’t exist until we see it.

In the Christian Gospel of John, we find some interesting thoughts about Jesus and time. “Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’” Does something special happen to us when we celebrate the Eucharist or when we pray? Do you become part of an event that goes beyond time and location, joining a heavenly crowd? If we pray without ceasing, as 1 Thessalonians 5:16 calls us to, are we ceaselessly participating in something beyond space and time?

Where does this leave us when it comes to New Year’s resolutions? Is every moment a moment of new resolutions? What can we resolve for the new year, for the new us, moment after moment? I’ve always like the resolution, “to live each moment more fully and more lovingly than the previous”. I’ve often failed at this, but it remains a great goal.

Where does this leave us as we try to discover, as we try to live into, the future that already is, into God’s loving dream for all of us?

1 John 3:2 comes to mind:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Yet this raises an interesting question. If we are all going to be like God, to a certain level, especially if we apply some elementary math like the commutative and associative properties, then we are going to be like one another. In what ways am I going to be like the homeless man fighting addictions and other mental health issues? In what ways am I going to be like one of the first lesbian priests ordained, or a professor of black liberation theology? In what ways am I going to be like a conservative voter?

How does exploring this change who I am? How does it relate to living each moment more fully and more lovingly than the previous?

I guess these are aspects of my resolution for this coming year. I’m starting off by reading “A Priest Forever” by Carter Heyward. I hope to read a bit of “Martin & Malcolm & America: A dream or a Nightmare” by James Cone. Perhaps I can add in some writings from indigenous people here in America and around the world as well copies of various street newspapers.

How do we take this further in changing our daily media diet? What ideas, resolutions, or resources do you have?