Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Where Blessings Come From

A Christian writer recently posted an article in an online journal (To Save a Life) averring that we Christians should stop using the phrase "I have been blessed" in relationship to our vocation or job.  For example, 'my company has been blessed, our business was up 50 percent this year'.  His argument is that God does not view our accumulation of wealth as the primary goal of our lives.  Financial blessings are not the direct consequence of the Lord's grace.

This came to mind when I read the opening chapters in the Book of Job.  Satan and God are having a conversation about Job, who has led a very successful life.

Satan says, "Does Job fear God for nothing?  Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?  You have blessed the work of his hands and his possessions bave increased in the lands. But stretch out your hand now and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face."

The Lord then gives Satan permission.  "Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!"

So Satan has Job's cattle and donkeys stolen, burns the sheep and servants, and kills all his children in a massive windstorm that collapses the house in which they are feasting.

Job's reaction:  he tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on his knees in worship.  "Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?"  In a sense, his faith in God is so foundational, that all acts could be considered God's acts and are a blessing.

All of these thoughts come together solely because I read these two pieces within the same 48 hours, and it felt rather coincidental.  I have never read -- or heard of -- the Save a Live publication.  And to be honest, today was the first time I have ever read Job.  I am not a trained theologian.  So I am not sanguine or comfortable with any conclusion.

But the two readings raise plenty of issues around God's hand in daily living -- and the basic debate around free will vs. determinism.

Book of Job, Chapter 1

Friday, January 06, 2017

Picture Gallery

My Facebook newsfeed contains a great number of posts on Donald Trump.  A high percentage of my friends share the same opinion about our incoming President.  As a result, my Facebook feed is the inevitable echo chamber – a place where the same voices are heard, the same opinions are expressed, the same articles and posts are shared.

This is not the public square, where diverse opinions and feelings are shared should be shared.  As with so many social media sites where we each pick and choose our own crowd, each Facebook site tends to be the electronic version of a selective tribe, only talking to each other.

There has already been plenty written about this phenomenon and the social/political impact of Facebook and similar digital sharing sites.  “Echo chamber” even made the annual Lake Superior State University list of banished words for 2017.

I recently noted another consequence of all this sharing:  my Facebook newsfeed is a continuous stream of Donald Trump pictures.

Every shared article leads off with Trump’s picture, so it is immediately used as the lead picture of a post.  Each flick of my finger on my phone or tablet results in a moving montage of the man’s face.  Flick fast enough, and I have a movie short. Rather disconcerting.

I’m sure the data mavens at Facebook have the numbers that demonstrate the most prevalent pictures of people that appear in any 24-hour period.

Imagine the resulting movie shorts if all my friends were focused on Darth Vader for a day? or Brad Pitt? or Queen Elizabeth? or Vladimir Putin? or Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” painting?  or a cat?

Whoops.  Stale meme.  Way too many cats on Facebook already.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Morning Read

My morning reading includes far too many articles about Trump.  He appoints cabinet members and advisors from the monied segment of American economic society (not unique, of course).  His conversation is riddled with exaggerations, and he lacks a sense of accountability for past statements or actions.  His speech emboldens those who view government as an arrogant, useless element, an impediment to their ability to succeed.  His chosen method of primary communication --  Twitter, with its reliance on short abbreviated text -- only highlights his inability to handle complex issues and his lack of concrete policy beliefs aside from his own self-interest.

I go screaming to the sports pages to find solace in baseball news.  There, the articles are about multi-year, multi-million-dollar contracts being given to men who may pitch in 60 innings during the coming season…..Umm.

Just can’t avoid news that has ‘accumulated wealth’ at its core.

From “Social Media’s Globe-Shaking Power” by Farhad Manjoo, NYTimes, November 16, 2016

Why is this all happening now? Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University who has studied the effects of social networks, suggested a few reasons.
One is the ubiquity of Facebook, which has reached a truly epic scale. Last month the company reported that about 1.8 billion people now log on to the service every month. Because social networks feed off the various permutations of interactions among people, they become strikingly more powerful as they grow. With about a quarter of the world’s population now on Facebook, the possibilities are staggering.

“When the technology gets boring, that’s when the crazy social effects get interesting,” Mr. Shirky said.

One of those social effects is what Mr. Shirky calls the “shifting of the Overton Window,” a term coined by the researcher Joseph P. Overton to describe the range of subjects that the mainstream media deems publicly acceptable to discuss.

From about the early 1980s until the very recent past, it was usually considered unwise for politicians to court views deemed by most of society to be out of the mainstream, things like overt calls to racial bias (there were exceptions, of course, like the Willie Horton ad). But the internet shifted that window.

“White ethnonationalism was kept at bay because of pluralistic ignorance,” Mr. Shirky said. “Every person who was sitting in their basement yelling at the TV about immigrants or was willing to say white Christians were more American than other kinds of Americans — they didn’t know how many others shared their views.”

Thanks to the internet, now each person with once-maligned views can see that he’s not alone. And when these people find one another, they can do things — create memes, publications and entire online worlds that bolster their worldview, and then break into the mainstream. The groups also become ready targets for political figures like Mr. Trump, who recognize their energy and enthusiasm and tap into it for real-world victories.