Faith, Media

Resisting the Path of Least Resistance – Searching for a Response to the Baltimore Riots

Our news media and our social media are not reliable. They force us into instant judgements. They typically have a particular narrative they’re trying to tell. A group of people is instantly either bad or good, either peacekeepers or rioters, either good American citizens or criminals.

That is the organic path today, the path of least resistance. No longer are we talking about complex human beings that we have to love, but we get to talk about flat caricatures of people that are easy to hate.

As Christians it is our job to resist that. It is our job to fight for the humanity in everyone. The humanity in the voiceless who feel they have no where else to turn. Yes, it is our job to fight to preserve the humanity of protesters, rioters, police officers and politicians alike. It is our job to protect God’s flame burning inside every precious soul. Because if we do not, well, you know what our news and social media, or even our own broken prejudices, will do to them.

It is also my job as a Christian to acknowledge that I don’t know what it’s like to feel completely powerless to change my situation. I am enmeshed in a network of powerful people that I could call if I really felt the cards were stacked against me. It’s my job to acknowledge that I don’t know what it’s like to have my entire complex, beautiful identity distilled down to my skin color. It’s my job to recognize that telling a story in which the powerless are merely thugs and criminals is a temptation too perfect and strong for the powerful to resist.

So when we do see the coverage on TV and in our Facebook feed, as Christians we have to recognize the natural reaction and then search for our Christian reaction. It’s easy enough, almost effortless in fact, to feel like you have it all figured out. “Those rioters are all thugs.” “I would never do that.” “Look, they’re all like that.” It’s easy to despise them, and to feel hatred start gripping your heart.

I’m searching for the Christian reaction to what is happening in Baltimore. I know that reaction is not the path of least resistance. I know that reaction must work to protect God’s holy light that shines in all people. I know that reaction includes not having all the answers and seeking understanding from people different from me. I know I am called to see everyone through God’s eyes. I know I am called to work for peace.

God, help us to protect flame burning in all of us and not burn one another.

God, help us all to fight for one another and not against one another.

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Media, Parenting

Do We Love our Children More than We Love Their Picture on Facebook?

I hope this will be the first in a series: The Most Important and Unexpected Things I Hope to Teach my Children. I came into parenting with a lot of preconceptions almost all of which I have thankfully shed. What I thought I needed to teach them has changed a lot too. Here is one I certainly didn’t expect to be so important.

Several months ago I had a seemingly small but powerful revelation. I had my two boys at the mall playground. I sat down, thankful to have them preoccupied for a few minutes, so I could pull out my phone and try to shut down my brain for a bit.

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“Daddy, look at me!” I glanced up and saw Isaiah who had just climbed up the foam helicopter. Then he jumped. Such a big boy. The revelation then hit me when I looked around and every single parent there was staring at their phone, just like me. Wow. We were all missing it.

Here’s a whole tumblr blog showing pics of parents on their phones. Such a funny, cute, postmodern problem to have right? But I was left with this startling question:

Do we love our children more than we love their picture on Facebook?

This statement sounds trite. Of course I love them more than their picture on Facebook. But we are the first generation of parents to be raising children in a constantly-connected smartphone-always-within-grasp world. Now it seems that the distance from our hands to our pockets is too far, demonstrated by these bluetooth/smartphone watches that make notifications that much closer.

Picture this scene, which is all too familiar to me and plenty of other parents I’m sure: You’re playing with your children, having a great time. You’re all laughing. Then your child does something so excruciatingly adorable that it would be a crime not to capture the moment and then share it with your friends. You post it to Facebook immediately. Fast-forward three minutes: the playing has stopped. Now you’re on the couch, phone in hand, watching the likes and the comments pour in, updating every minute to see how many other people think your child is as cute as you do. Your child has stopped laughing, your attention having passed from them to their picture on Facebook. I am guilty as charged.

Of course I don’t love the likes and the comments more than I love them. But does my child know that? They are born with a sophisticated understanding of attention and love; they are not born with any awareness of the function of social media. I want to make sure that they know they are always more important to me than anything virtual. Sadly, I have to work on this, being present with them even at the end of a long day when I just want 20 minutes to veg out.

I’m not saying we all have to take an ascetic vow of technological-poverty. I am saying that I don’t think any of us has a good estimate of what effect this could have on our children over the course of their upbringing. No one’s ever done this before.

I want to make sure that in their memories of their childhood, looking to me for attention, love and approval, that they see me looking back, and not looking at my phone.

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Media

Miley: It’s not you, it’s me

This week I’ve learned two things.

  1. The Monday after the VMA’s is the day of the year that I feel the oldest. Before I logged into Facebook Monday morning, I didn’t even know “Old Out of Touch Guy Day” was here. I celebrated by telling some kids to get off my lawn and then telling other Old Out of Touch People how superior rotary phones and Led Zeppelin are to what kids have today.
  2. There is no difference between an MTV or a CNN. There is no difference between entertainment and news.

I thank the Onion for driving home that last point with this brilliant article (spoiler: lots of language, don’t read it aloud to your kids; also lots of truth, don’t read if you’re not a fan of that).

My initial reaction when I was reading everyone’s opinion on Ms. Cyrus was, “Wow, everyone really has an opinion about Ms. Cyrus.” I was also wondering why anyone was surprised. I was also wondering why my friends who are genuinely concerned about what is approved as suitable entertainment were watching the VMA’s to begin with. Then I wondered how my horse had gotten so high and if I should probably just get off. So I did. I decided to just let this non-news story pass.miley

But when I read the above linked article on The Onion (disclaimer: I didn’t even know that Miley-gate was the lead story on CNN.com this week), the fake words forced out of the fake mouth of the managing editor of CNN.com were the most real and true I had encountered surrounding this whole event. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, just read these two quotes:

“So, as managing editor of CNN.com, I want our readers to know this: All you are to us, and all you will ever be to us, are eyeballs. “

“ You want to know how many more page views the Miley Cyrus thing got than our article on the wildfires ravaging Yosemite? Like 6 gazillion more.

That’s on you, not us.”

We grant news outlets a lot of trust in deciding what is News, what is important, what we should care about. We assume that’s what their purpose is. There are some big problems with that.

  1. That’s not their purpose. Their purpose is to make money. And as the real estate of our minds and attention gets more and more crowded, they have to be more and more entertaining to get there.

  2. Our culture is experiencing an overabundance of information in the midst of a serious drought of care. Staying informed is seen as a high value, it makes you a good person to know what’s going on in the world. But what do we do with this information? As I have posted before, to quote Hotel Rwanda, we say “Oh my God, that’s awful” and then change the channel.

One of the best examples of this is how social, meta news has taken over our News outlets. Again, we are trusting these sources to inform what we should care about in life. But an increasing trend is for these sources to just regurgitate whatever opinions we have about them from Facebook, Twitter, etc. So, to make this clear: the all important News has turned into our consequence-less opinions about the news that the money-making entertainer has decided was important to begin with. Whew.

The older and more out of touch I get, the more convinced I am that an even older dude (Neil Postman) got it right way, way, way back in 1985: “serious television is a contradiction in terms.”

So here are two actions I am going to try to take in response:

  1. Disarm the entertainment/news’ industry power to tell me what is and what is not important. Knowledge is power. When I remember that they are just trying to entertain as many people as possible in order to make money, I’m a lot less willing to trust them to tell me what to care about.

  2. Focus only on information that leads to action (like action action, not like a Facebook update action). This is really hard, because I cannot possibly have an active response to all the events that are out there. I can pray. I can send money when it is needed. I can contact my representatives to let them know how I really feel on matters that are truly important. I can get on my feet and walk to the local school and ask what I can do to help (note to self: get on your feet and walk to the local school and ask what you can do to help).

The rest is just noise.

So Miley, I have decided that you are more important than my inconsequential opinions. So I’m going to try to not pay attention to you. But trust me, this isn’t your problem. It’s not you, it’s me.

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Faith, Media

The Uncomfortable Truth about Disasters Like the Moore, OK Tornado

This scene from Hotel Rwanda keeps coming back to me. I thought about it after Katrina and after Haiti and after Sandy Hook and I’m thinking about it today after Moore, OK was devastated by tornadoes.

To set the scene, Don Cheadle’s character, Paul Rusesabagina, has turned his hotel into a safe haven in the middle of the Rwandan Genocide. Here he is talking with a video journalist (played by Joaquin Phoenix). Talking about his footage airing on the nightly news, Cheadle says, “It is the only chance we have that people might intervene.”

And then those chilling words from the journalist:

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Faith, Media

Minecraft, Creating, and Consuming

For the last year and a half, I’ve been absorbed in a game called Minecraft (this feels like a confession, not sure why). It’s become an internet phenomenon and seems strange to anyone who only thinks about the photorealistic graphics you’ll find on the PlayStation3 or Xbox 360. Minecraft’s viral appeal spread not because of its graphical power, but because of a powerful idea: you can create your entire world.

The world is rendered in 1 meter blocks. As the player, you have the ability to remove, collect and build blocks however you want. You gather different resources to build more advanced tools and structures. I know I sound like a complete nerd, but trust me, it is awesome.

This game captured my creative urges more than almost anything I can think of in my life (Again, feeling a little sheepish to let that cat out of the bag). This is what I find most interesting: in this post-modern Western culture, it’s so much easier to express our creativity in a virtual world rather than in the real one.

We live in a culture of consumption. Instead of being what we eat, we are what we buy, what we consume. I’ve said it before, and I probably won’t shut up about it: the message we are bombarded with thousands of times a day in so many nuanced, tongue-in-cheek, parody-laden ways is that we are not complete as a human being until we buy X. Geico Insurance. Nike shirts and shoes. Old Spice deodorant. Go Daddy websites. Levi jeans. The newest, newest iPhone (which I thought looked really silly until I watched Apple’s little video, and then I was all like “That thing is beautiful.”)

So it’s no wonder that with all these creative powers rolling around within me (rolling around in all of us), that I would find it much more appealing to express those in a computer game rather than in my writing, or in my relationships, or in my faith.

God creates. It may be the most distinctive and persistent part of God’s character versus all the other gods that have been imagined. And while I believe being created “in God’s image” means a lot of things, one of those is most definitely that we humans are set apart in all creation as creators ourselves. It’s in our being to want to create.

I remember when the show “American Chopper” was first hitting popularity, I watched and thought, “Man, how cool would it be to have a job where you created something every day.” I longed for that feeling at the end of the day to look at my work, touch it, and say: “That’s what I did today. That’s what I created.”

But as long as I listen to the commercial message that engulfs us, my creativity has zero value or purpose. Maybe less, because by creating I’m replacing my need to buy their product. What’s perhaps most ironic with my Minecraft obsession is that I paid for the game. I had to consume before I could create.

So it’s really no wonder to me that the Christian faith, scratching and clawing to remain viable in our culture, has become so consumer-friendly. We go “church shopping” like we’re looking for new shoes. It’s no stretch to imagine visitors wondering, “How does this church express my individuality?” And since so many are programmed to think this way, the church was worked very hard to turn faith into a commodity. If we didn’t no one would know what to do with it.

Is the greatest expression of who we are what you have consumed or what we create?

Are your friends a commodity you consume or are you creating community?

Do you consume your faith or are you creating faith?

Do you spend more time consuming God as a product or are you willing to co-create a more beautiful life with God?

With your creation, the world will be so much more beautiful than it is with the robotic march of a billion consumers. The church would be so much more vital if we all felt we could create there rather than just consume. And she would stand as a stark witness over against this consumer culture, declaring the good news that we are not what advertisements say we are, but instead we are what God created us to be.

I for one have waited too long to share God’s image that I carry around. We’re here to create, let’s get to it.

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