Friday, September 19, 2014

Social Media: banality, horror, anger and angst, brutal terror and tragedy liberally mixed with generous portions of useless opinion

2014.09.19 empathy and tragedy

I was working out on a machine in the gym this morning when the news (Good Morning America) came on and spoke of a “family tragedy.” Although the sound was turned off, the captions were on, and as they began to zoom in to a horrible traffic accident, I instinctively turned my head and looked the other way. As an afterthought, I realized that most Americans are hooked on a constant stream of banality, horror, anger and angst, brutal terror and tragedy mixed with a liberal portion of opinion on TV and social media. One only has to scan down the Facebook timeline to confirm this.

Once upon a time, a person could spend their whole lives in a rural village, and the only tragedy that one might ‘see’, or hear about, would be one’s own neighbors and family.  Then came modernity and newspapers, and one could read about tragedies on a national scale, but even that was far different from actually SEEING it happen in real time.

Now, with social media and 24-hour news coverage, one can literally watch tragic, horrible and brutally terrible scenes unfolding all around the world in real time with one’s own eyes. I am convinced that many people are hooked on “the tragic and horrible” like some of my students get a “buzz” out of watching a horror flick.

The problem with the constant mental consumption of all of these sources of dark and toxic emotions is that they eventually “color” our soul and can even get downloaded into our physiology in the form of serious illnesses. We all only have a limited amount of true empathy to give to others. I pretty much used mine up for Debbie when she was dying of cancer. Since then, I find myself shying away from other people’s tragedies, especially if there is nothing practical I can do to help.

I politely suggest that one should not over expose themselves to faceless tragedy and online horror that defies any real attempt to “do something” compassionate. It will eventually make you very, very sick and possibly shorten your life, as well as strip you of the ability to impart real empathy and compassion to those close to you who need it the most.

A wise man once said the following, and I try to incorporate his advice as much as possible on a daily basis:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9).

So, excuse me if you post a video of someone being beheaded, or of someone being beaten by police, or an angry rant against our President, Congress or political system, if I do not “like” it or bother to watch or read it. I would rather look at pictures of cute kittens (banality), or better yet, read a good book!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

stop it!, please, just STOP IT!

Wise words by Gandhi for our contemporary situation .... why should we allow history to continue to repeat itself?

 I am calling on my fellow citizens to please stop beating the war drums for intervention in Iraq. We tried that already, it didn't work the first time around and it will not work the second time around...


 I am not opposed to defending our borders or some strategic air assistance to regional allies. But this is THEIR war to fight not ours. In retrospect, we were wrong to invade Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11 in our thirst for vengeance. We could have invested a trillion dollars in enhanced border and homeland security and thousands of young Americans would still be alive, and 10s of thousands innocent Iraqi and Afghani civilians who have been victims of collateral damage, would also be alive. There would be less terrorists than we have now generated (many are outraged relatives of dead victims of collateral damage). If we had not invaded Iraq, chances are that the Islamic State would not even exist. Violence only breeds more violence.

 We Christians had our religious wars from the sixteenth century from the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572, 70,000 dead) through the Thirty Years War (1618-1648, the death toll was so great that the population of Germany fell from 25 to 40 percent) before Catholics and Protestants had their fill of bloodletting and nearly destroyed Europe. After exhausting themselves with religious killing, Christians of both persuasions came to the conclusion that a better system was warranted and created the modern nation-state system in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

Separation of church and state and religious pluralism soon followed and we have our modern democratic systems guaranteeing individual and human rights (far from perfect, but better killing people you don't agree with). If Sunnis and Shia extremists need to “fight it out” until moderate Muslims have had enough come to the same conclusions that Christian civilization came to in 1648 (and later in 1776 with guarantees of religious freedom), then leave them alone and stay out of it, or give some strategic and limited assistance to whoever seems more moderate and committed to human rights (although I have my reservations about this).

But PLEASE, to my fellow citizens and most especially to my fellow followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace, PLEASE stop whipping up fear and hatred, please stop beating the drums of war. We should have learned our lesson by now. PLEASE JUST STOP AND PRAY. If you don’t pray, then please JUST STOP whipping up the fear and hate.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Martin gets a haircut

Favorite Scene:

  • Johann von Staupitz (Bruno Ganz):  "Martin, I wanted you to reform the church, not destroy it"
  • Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes): "When you sent me out so boldly to the change the world that day, did you really think that there would be no cost?"

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Thirst for Attachment (the truth of Tanha)

2014.03.21 thirst for attachment

From my lecture this week:
  • Buddha articulated the second noble truth, the truth of Tanha (thirst, craving, unsatisfied longing, the will to live).
  • Buddhists often use the analogy of a flame to describe the burning desire of Tanha.
  •  Tanha is also a thirst for attachment, ideals, views, opinions, theories, conceptions, beliefs
I am sitting at FIU taking a short break. I realize that my date with a very nice person last week caused me to open a little window of hope in my heart for a romantic attachment, and it quickly released an emotional floodgate, ultimately resulting in depression. It has been a rough week. Now I have to put the genie back into the bottle = let go of any attachment to outcomes and embrace being alone again, or non-attachment.

I have already gone through an excruciating process of letting go of my attachment to “ideals, views, opinions, theories, conceptions, beliefs” as well as ministry and mission. What else? My own personal “hero myth”? …. The Christian missionary action figure who saves the world …. (sigh …smh).

I have to let the thirst for attachment die in me …. How can I reprocess that? How can I change my focus?
This is good, I never thought that Buddhism could be so helpful for me on a personal level.
This reminds me of the conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman in the gospel of John, chapter 4

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Maybe there is more I need to learn about the living water which should, theoretically, be springing up within me.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The 99 and the Lost Shepherd: A Modern Parable

....or maybe postmodern, I really don't know ....

Once open a time, there was a faithful shepherd who lived in a place called Churchville. The Shepherd’s job was to keep watch over one hundred sheep, making sure they had good pastures, clean water and protection from wild predators. He made very little money, but it really did not matter to him, for he lived simply and he truly loved the sheep. The truth is, he would have cared for them for free, such was his love for the flock.

Every night as the shepherd led the flock into the church-pen (there were several church-pens in Churchville) for their protection as they slept, he carefully counted them to make sure that all one hundred were there and none were missing. One night, he counted only ninety and nine. One was missing!

What was the shepherd to do? He didn't want to leave the 99 sheep alone and unprotected, but he worried about the missing one. What if it was in danger? What if it were stuck in a fence, or hanging over a cliff? He spent a terrible night of anxiety.  However rationality and the weight of numbers told him that it was smarter to protect the 99 than it was to put them at risk by leaving to go look for just one lost sheep that had foolishly wandered off.

 The next day, as he led the flock out to graze on the hill sides, he strained his eyes in every direction, looking for the lost sheep, but to no avail. That night, there were still only 99 sheep and he tossed and turned, fighting growling and biting zombie sheep in his nightmares as he searched for the one lost and helpless sheep.

The third night, he could stand it no longer, and after he got the righteous sheep settled for the night, he left and went looking for the lost sheep by the light of the full moon. He remembered an area with underground caverns with many holes and pits that opened up into the caverns called the ‘reelworld.’ As he neared the reelworld, he began to hear the bleating of the lost sheep calling for help. Just as he was about to lower himself down into the pit to go to its rescue, he was attacked by a half dozen of the strongest righteous sheep who had followed him curiously from the sheep pen. “Shepherd! What are you doing? Are you crazy? You cannot go down there, you might get hurt or worse, and we would be left helpless, with no one to feed us and protect us! For you own good, we must take you home.”

So they pulled a bag over his head and tied his hands and dragged him back to the church-pen.

For several days he tried to forget about the lost sheep. He understood the 99’s reasons for fearing the reelworld and for not wanting to risk losing their shepherd. Nevertheless, only with great difficulty was he able to put the lost sheep out of his mind. Finally, he could stand it no longer and decided that, if he was to be worth his salt, he had to try once again to save the lost sheep, if indeed it was still alive. So, again, but this time more quietly and stealthily, he slipped out of the church-pen and went off to find the lost sheep in the reelworld.

This time, he arrived alone at the same location and managed to climb down into the pit of the reelworld where he found the lost sheep, emaciated, dirty and unwashed, but miraculously alive. Rejoicing, he was able to free the sheep, feed it emergency rations that he had brought with him, and climbed out of the pit and set off with the lost sheep over his shoulders back to the church-pen in Churchville.

As the sun was rising, he arrived at the entrance to the church-pen. The way was blocked by some angry looking sheep. “Shepherd! Where have you been? You gave us such a scare!”

“Yes but look,” cried the shepherd, “I have found your sister, the precious lost sheep, and I have brought her home! All the angels in heaven are rejoicing over this one lost sheep that was lost but now is found!”

The angry sheep looked warily at the lost sheep, disheveled and torn, emaciated with matted hair, and they wrinkled their noses in disgust. “She stinks! Who knows what nasty things she has done in the reelworld? She looks like she has parasites! She probably even has STDs! She cannot come in to our church-pen”, she will make us ritually impure!”

The Shepherd looked at them in shock, his mouth dropping open in stunned disbelief.

The 99 sheep rushed the shepherd and tore the lost sheep out of his hands, and drove her away with many harsh blows and nasty words. The lost sheep ran weeping, now more miserable than ever. The shepherd was absolutely broken-hearted. His soul was ripped in half and his whole carefully constructed theological worldview was crashing down around him.

When the 99 sheep returned, they decided to have a serious talk with the shepherd. They exhorted and counseled him, they prophesied to him, they read to him from scripture. They even laid hands upon him and some prayed in tongues over him. One or two sheep even rebuked the devil in him. They decided to pay for him to get counseling and to possibly set him up in a twelve-step accountability program to help cure him of his obsession with lost sheep and the reelworld.

That night, after all had gone to sleep. The shepherd, broken hearted and depressed, managed to slip away one more time. This time as he left, he broke his shepherd’s staff over his knee, and removed his shepherd’s tunic. He renounced his shepherd’s calling and decided to lose himself in the reelworld like the lost sheep that he had formerly sought.

He came to the pit and lowered himself down into the reelworld, where he found there were other lost sheep from other church-pens. He decided to stay with the lost sheep and become one of them, and they welcomed him with open arms and he cared for them in the reelworld, and in return, they lovingly cared for him as well.

Matt 23:13

THE END (for now)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Faith vs. Ideology? What is the difference?

Below is a paragraph that I wrote a couple of years ago when I was reading through some literature about ideology for my dissertation. How can we distinguish between godly faith and political ideology in the public square? 

"How can religious ideology be distinguished from religious faith? Ideology contains certainties; faith contains mysteries. Ideology promotes militancy; faith promotes humility. Ideology must be implemented with energetic human force; faith rests in the providence of God. Ideology produces antagonism between opposing parties; faith produces love for one’s enemy that bridges oppositions."

Holding a political philosophy or ideology is not necessarily wrong, in fact, it may be necessary in order to participate in the public square. But how do we keep our political ideology distinct from our faith? How do we make room for brothers and sisters to share our faith (one faith) but respect them if they choose to identify with the opposing political ideology?  

How do we advocate for our political ideology in the public square without confusing the public about our faith? 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

David Fitch "Christian Nation"

Here is the chapter on the "Christian Nation" from Dave Fitch's book The End of Evangelicalism?

He is focusing on the problem of the merger of Evangelical faith with political ideology. The idea of a Christian Nation is one of the "master signifiers," in his view, that serves as a unifying symbol for the conservative Evangelical political ideology. (Fitch is theologically conservative). His overall point is that by tying Evangelical faith to a political ideology (and even a  political party) which is now in trouble in the public sphere, as the ideology falls on hard times, Evangelical faith falls with it. Especially among the emerging generation of young adults.

I hope this does not sound too harsh, but this particular issue reminds of Jesus' words in Matthew 23:


13 “I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.
(emphasis mine)
If you would rather download the PDF file and read it, you can access it on my Scrbd account

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sowing in a shattered society

Brian Emmett speaking on "sowing in a shattered society" in San Antonio, Texas in October of 2013. Brian discusses the Daniel paradigm of living in empire and discusses how to be "excentric" people (having a different focus). He also discusses the importance of being discerning about the spiritual influences of technology.


Friday, October 11, 2013


Here is a summary/overview of my dissertation project