Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit - October

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. October. Forty years ago this month, a high school senior disappeared on her way home from the college library in a bucolic New England town. They found her body towards the end of the month a few towns over. It is still listed as an unsolved murder.

I had skipped my senior year and was a freshman in college in Ohio and only learned about what was going on through letters from my mother and read about the funeral in newspaper clippings she had sent. I never got to say good bye in a proper way and October has become for me a month of incomplete endings and tenuous new beginnings.

October became the month in which I changed jobs, prepared for my second marriage, saw the birth of my youngest daughter. It is the month that the Federal Fiscal year starts. In some years, like this year, it is the month when Rosh Hashanah falls.

I think about Rocky’s death, soon after Rosh Hashanah back in 1976 and I think about a friend who will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah for the first time as a woman this year. What name is written in the book of life? On Facebook, I have written, “May the name Danielle be written in the book of life.” It is important to put things this way, because Danielle’s parents will not use the name she has chosen to represent her full self, including her gender identity. Instead, they cling to the name they gave her when she was born, a boy’s name.

So, here we are, October 2016. What will I find this month, forty years after Rocky’s death? September has been a very busy month for me and I’ve written much less than I would have liked. I’ve dealt with illness in the family. I’ve dealt with a very busy period at work. I’ve dealt with my spiritual journey. I’ve dealt with running for office again.

This October is likely to bring big events in my spiritual journey, a couple opportunities to read my poetry and deliver stump speeches. It will bring opportunities for reflection, about Rocky and about my mother, both of whom died this month.

When the rain passes, the air will be crisp, with an autumn clarity that reveals so much. What will be revealed this month?

Living Digital; Joining God - #sms16 and #missionalvoices

Saturday, I participated in a gathering of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut called “Living Local; Joining God”. This is an effort by the Episcopal Church in Connecticut and a few other diocese to explore encountering God with our neighbors. The Episcopal Diocese of Maine describes it this way:

The world has changed. More and more of our neighbors are encountering God in places other than church buildings and services. And more and more, if we want to encounter God with our neighbors, we have to go out into our neighborhoods and see what God is up to.

At one point during the gathering we expressed concerns and I shared my concern that too often people think of their neighborhoods geographically. As a social media professional, I asked people to think about their digital neighborhoods. I asked people to talk about their community of interest neighborhoods and their professional association neighborhoods. My comments appeared to be appreciated and led to a great discussion over lunch.

During lunch, I talked a bit about Marc Prenskey’s great essay, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. I noted that it seemed like almost everyone at the gathering was a digital immigrant, someone who had grown up in a non-digital world but now lived in a digital world. I noted that I often identify as a digital aborigine. If you know where to look, you can find stuff I wrote online from 1982. There may be older stuff still online, but I haven’t found it.

As a digital aborigine, I often talk about living in a digital world, in digital communities and digital neighborhoods. My digital immigrant friends talked about a future that was becoming more and more digital, and often spoke of that as if it were a bad thing. I think some of that may simply be because of them looking at the world from a pre-digital perspective.

Prensky write, “The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first.” I pushed this a bit further and suggested that viewing online relationships as being inferior to face to face relationships may also be part of digital immigrant thinking. I met my wife online. We were married in an online community before we were married in a church. Our relationship is enhanced by both its online and its physical aspects.

Online relationships often lead to face to face relationships. They have advantages for people who have problems communicating face to face, including people on the autism spectrum, or even simply introverts. My fourteen year old daughter has many deep meaningful online relationships. Some have not yet led to face to face interaction, for example because of distance. Others have started off online and have become empowering face to face relationships. We need to be connecting with people online, even if we are digital immigrants or digital introverts.

Another issue that people expressed was the concern about sacred space. I’ve visited physical spaces considered so sacred that you must take off your shoes before entering them. Surely, people suggest, there are places so sacred that digital technology should not come in. I think this is an important point. We need to think about how we view sacred spaces in relationship to digital technology. We also need to think about sacred digital spaces. It is an area I haven’t thought enough about. Like a good digital aborigine, as I wrote this, I did a quick Google search of sacred digital spaces and found various links I’ll explore later:

Intervarsity has MINISTRY IN DIGITAL SPACES with the hashtag #thisisreallife. It reminded me of discussions back in the nineties I had talking about “real life” and “virtual worlds”. I maintained back then, and today, that our interactions in virtual worlds are part of our real lives.

As I explored their website, their digital neighborhood, if you will, I found, Pokemon Go: a modern day well. At the event this morning, when we went out to ‘map the neighborhood’. One of the first things I noted was that the church we were starting out from, like many churches, is a Pokestop. Churches should own this part of their space.

Another article that caught my attention was Thin Places in Digital Spaces written by Kimberly Knight who describes herself as a “Minister of Digital Communities”. It is an article I want to go back and read more closely later and includes this:

We at Extravagance—myself and the other two ministers, Jo Hudson and Lawrence Tanner Richardson—work to create and sustain community through a variety of online ministries, such as live Bible studies on Zoom.us, asynchronous Facebook retreats, and ancient spiritual practices using Livestream.com. We even engage in frequent pastoral care through private messaging on Facebook, email, and text messages.

The discussion about digital sacred spaces is an important one to have.

So, people asked me if I was posting during Social Media Sunday. Yes, I intend to, although as I’ve written elsewhere, I am a little ambivalent about it. It often feels to me like digital immigrants promoting physical spaces instead of living digitally. To use the language of Living Local; Joining God”, it feels a bit developmental instead of transformational. It feels like one of those programs we feel we should be doing to reach the unchurched, instead of something we are doing to transform ourselves and our relationships with our neighbors. It doesn’t feel, to me, at least, especially missional.

Yet it is very important, just like attracting young families with checkbooks to church on Sunday morning is important. I offer these comments as a challenge, to invite people to try on a more missional approach to social media, as well as part of my own search for people who are living and worshiping in digital spaces.

So, I ask you, if you’ve managed to make it to the end of this long blog post, “What sort of transformational digital sacred spaces do you seek, envision, or participate in?”

Competing Narratives

I’ve always been interested in the underlying narratives of our political process, so an article in Mother Jones, I SPENT 5 YEARS WITH SOME OF TRUMP'S BIGGEST FANS. HERE'S WHAT THEY WON'T TELL YOU. particularly caught my attention. It talks about the Trump supporters narrative:

You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you're being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He's on their side. In fact, isn't he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It's not your government anymore; it's theirs.

If you look at the waiting in line narrative, it is easy to see Obama as the cutter-in-chief and Trump as the person that will stop all this line cutting. It is easy to see Clinton as someone who has already made it through the line, who was born at the front of the line. You can see Sanders as someone who is saying that the line is rigged. If you support BlackLivesMatter, you are very painfully aware of how the line is rigged against black people. If you are white and middle class, seeing the dream slip away, or the possibility of slipping away, the Trump version of the narrative may sound very real. You can also see Stein and Johnson as telling people they are waiting in the wrong line.

It all sort of depends on where you are in the line. Are you a well to do liberal wanting the line to move a little more quickly and fairly for those behind you in line? Are you a conservative a little further back in the line worried about being moved further and further back in the line? Are our part of the dispossessed and disenfranchised for whom the American dream is simply an unattainable dream? Are you someone who has started looking for a different dream?

To a certain extent, I agree with Sanders. The line is rigged. It needs to be fixed. To a certain extent, I agree with Stein and Johnson, it is the wrong line. Yet with any of that, I would be buying into the Trump supporters’ narrative.

Back in 2013, Franklin Graham wrote about America having a heart problem, quoting Ecclesiastes, “The hearts of the children of man are full of evil” and Matthew, “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder”. He then goes on to talk about his opposition to gun control, because it won’t address the heart problem.

I’ve been reading St. Augustine recently, and this is the sort of tortured logic that would have given him palpitation.

Rev. Barber spoke about the heart problem from a different perspective, saying that religion and politics is being used to "camouflage meanness”. When I listen to Graham and the Barber, I hear much more of God’s love in Rev. Barber’s words.

I believe both Graham and Franklin are pointing to a different narrative, one that we heard in the Gospel last week in Luke 16, “You cannot serve God and wealth”. This is where I have a lot of issues with the prosperity Gospel. Yes, God wants to bless all of us abundantly, but that blessing isn’t about material things. It also isn’t something reserved for just the good people, just those who are deserving.

Matthew 5:45 reminds us that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

No, the real narrative of this election is that God calls us, in the words of Micah 6:8 “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”.

Are you going to stand in line along with Trump supporters, squabbling about who gets what? Or are you going to step out of line to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and welcome the stranger in our land? Are you going to serve God or serve wealth? Are you going to walk humbly with God?

The pollsters may not view this as a winning narrative, but I honestly believe that the American dream is based on this loving kindness and that it is deep enough in our psyche that even if we do not use the language of religion, the majority of the people in our country desire Godly compassion more than they desire ill-gotten wealth.

Finding Skittles on the Altar

A form of poetry I’ve been very interested in recently is called ‘found poetry’. Here is what I’ve found recently.

The second and sixth stanza are from a political campaign, but I changed one word in the latter stanza for more impact. The first is a comment a friend made about those quotes. The third stanza is from Matthew 20. The fourth is from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and the fifth is from the musical Jesus Christ, Superstar. I end off with putting the question in the form of the questions asked during baptism in the Episcopal Church.

While some people looko at the political quote as a poor political analogy, I think it is really a great analogy for the Christian life.

Eating the skittles
is following
the way of the cross.

“If I had a bowl of skittles
and I told you
just three would kill you.
Would you take a handful?”

“You do not know what you are asking, Jesus replied.
“Are you able to drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We are able,” the brothers answered.
“You will indeed drink My cup,” Jesus said.

“After supper he took the cup of wine;
and when he had given thanks,
he gave it to them, and said,
"Drink this, all of you:
This is my Blood of the new Covenant,
which is shed for you
and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you drink it,
do this for the remembrance of me."

“I will drink Your cup of poison
Nail me to Your cross and break me”

“Let’s end the politically correct agenda
that doesn’t put God first”

“If I had a bowl of skittles
and I told you
just three would kill you.
Would you take a handful?”

“I will, with God's help.”

#chsocm, #sms16, Skittles, Cheese Sandwiches and Convocation

This coming Sunday is Social Media Sunday (#SMS16) and I’ve been seeing a lot of activity around it. I am glad to see people sharing ways to proclaim God’s love through social media and I worry that often the discussions end up being about social media, and not about God’s love.

This thought came back to me as I read AT&T #InspiredMobility and #SMS16 Twitter Party. When corporate marketing and social responsibility people get involved, when I see phrases like “Thanks to AT&T there is an easy way to find inspiration online” I get concerned.

When I speak about communications and social media, I often urge people to go back to the mission statement of the organization. What are you trying to accomplish? In the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, we find

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

A recent tweet, highlighted in discussions about #SMS16 said, “God loves selfies! So post your selfies cause God loves selfies (and you)!” This was, in my opinion, a great tweet. From a communications perspective, it focused on the mission statement. From my religious perspective, it focused on what really matters, God’s love. I commented

As a social media professional and activist, I've always been ambivalent about #chsocm, #sms16, and related efforts. Too often, at least to me, they feel like they are about social media and marketing, and not about God's love.

So this tweet caught my attention. It returns our focus onto what really matters. God loves you. We need to boldly proclaim this. We need to ask, in all of our media how it helps "to restore all people to
unity with God and each other in Christ.".

I’ve been thinking along the same lines in my political discourse recently. I am generally avoiding political discourse online these days, because it seems too toxic, too far removed from what really matters. Yet two posts caught my attention yesterday.

The first was Craig Casey’s Facebook post that starts "If I gave you a bowl of skittles and three of them were poison would you still eat them?"

"Are the other skittles human lives?"…

Go out and read it.
I shared the post, saying

Generally, in spite of running for office yet again, I'm trying to stay out of most of the political discussions this year. They have become too toxic, too counter-productive. What is needed is proclaiming the Gospel.

This, perhaps, puts the Gospel into a post-modern construct that addresses the underlying issue that has gotten lost in so much of our current political discourse.

As one friend put it, very succinctly, "Eating the skittles is following the way of the cross."

One friend responded asking

Or is it because you favor Jill Stein or miss Bernie? I've never known you to not have a preference.

I responded

I have a very strong preference. I am voting for Hillary. I've been pretty clear about this in my writings for months. She isn't the perfect candidate, but I believe voting for her is closest to voting my beliefs.

Yet there is a much bigger issue. I believe our whole political process has become horribly corrupted. We have lost our focus in politics about what really matters. Our politics is driven way too much by a sick combination of fear and greed. I suspect most people don't think of the politics of who will do the best for our economy or who will best protect our way of life as being based on fear and greed, but that is really what it is.

We, as a nation, appear to have lost touch with our fundamental moral character. It is that moral character, that love of neighbor and welcoming the stranger that is the real basis for making America great again.

The reason I avoid most of the political discussions is that they seem to be arguing, in a destructive toxic manner, which response to greed and fear is best, instead of challenging the underlying dynamic.

This leads to the second article I shared yesterday.
School lunch worker quits after being forced to refuse hot meal to poor student.

The title pretty much says it all, but you should read the full story.

“As a Christian, I have an issue with this,” said Koltiska, of Canonsburg, Pa. “It’s sinful and shameful is what it is.” …

“God is love, and we should love one another and be kind,” Koltiska said. “There’s enough wealth in this world that no child should go hungry, especially in school. To me this is just wrong.”

With both of these, we return to the underlying mission, in a language that the unchurched can more easily understand. God is love. We are called to love one another. It is pretty simple and is a stark contrast to the political discourse of the day. It illustrates, I believe, very vividly, the Gospel lesson for Social Media Sunday, Luke 16:19-31 which starts

Jesus said, "There was a [well tanned] rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table [including Skittles and cheese sandwiches]; even the dogs would come and lick his sores….

On October 23rd, the South Central Region of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut will have its Fall Convocation. (More on this coming very soon). We are asking people, “What do you bring to the table?” as we talk about how we support one another’s ministries.

Perhaps I’ll post a picture of some Skittles and a cheese sandwich from the Convocation on social media, a foretaste of that heavenly banquet where we will feast on what truly nourishes us, God’s love, a love we are called to share with one another, even, or perhaps these days, especially, online.

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