A Divine Connection: A Devotional

A Divine Connection: A Devotional

I stopped using instagram about two years ago. Then, I stopped using Twitter as my new year’s resolution. On some level, I realized that these apps were consuming my time and making me a less happy, more anxious person in return. As an outsider looking in, the amount of times that someone in my life has had a relative or parent become transformed through social media grows with the days. It seems almost ironic how a technology that was supposed to connect people more effectively has, in some respect, begun tearing them apart. Being connected to others is great, but no one stopped to consider what kind of relationships could be fostered online. The resulting digital landscape can often leave people feeling more isolated, self-conscious, and valueless than anyone could have anticipated. However, there is always hope.  The bible offers keen advice for fostering not just connection, but true community.

Unlike most of my peers, I actually didn’t get consistent access to the internet until I was in high school. For better or worse, this distinction provides me with a certain level of perspective. I was someone who went from seeing the world plainly to someone dropped into a new era where performance and reality start to blend together. I watched as friends and acquaintances grew more and more involved with the technology in their lives. Some people were able to adapt and use this new digital paradigm to their benefit, others struggled to try and gain footing in this new age. The only common thing linking these people and their relationship with technology is the fact that digital social relationships would become more and more important as time marched onward. 

When the pandemic hit, no one saw just how much technology would become a central facet of everyday life. Classes went online at my college near the end of the school year. I assumed we would be back next fall. Then fall came, and next winter, spring and so on. During that time, I spent a lot of time talking with friends and family members online. Even so, I could not abate a growing and pervasive sense of loneliness, a sentiment I’m sure others experienced during this period in time as well. Being limited to mainly digital forms of communication began to expose just how much of the digital world exists as a reality unto itself. The internet is a place where anything is possible, but also a place where authenticity is hard to come by.  It’s nice to be seen and heard, but fully appreciating others for the qualities that make them unique is almost impossible when you also have to cut through the fog of artifice that pervades social media.

The biblical solution to this problem of connection despite obfuscation is eloquent and simple. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Matthew 22:39 is one of the most famous verses in the bible but it is also one of the most important. In the final days of his life, Jesus visits the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem and stops to speak to a crowd of Pharisees, Sadducees, and lawyers. During the speech, a man asks Jesus what the most important commandment is. The man was a lawyer and a religious man which alludes to the personal and cultural significance of this question. Jesus replies simply “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is…thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” 

The first part of this statement has become so foundational to Christian belief that it is almost a given, but the second and equally important part of the statement can be harder to put into practice. Yet, out of the hundreds of laws that make up the Hebrew legal system, these two laws were selected as the most important. One cannot help but ask why?

At the heart of this plain statement lies a simple emotion, empathy. You might not know everything about the situation that another person is in, their life could be great or incredibly hard. It is easy to focus on disparities like these when empathizing with others but this is merely a distraction. We are all human beings living here together on this planet, we are more alike than we realize. On that most basic level, we are connected. We’re born, breathe, eat, sleep, and eventually pass away. Through this experience of living we are connected and as followers of Christ, this experience is precious since it was given to us when God first breathed life into Adam. 

One of the reasons that I believe we are first instructed to love God with all of our hearts is so that we can learn our value as creations of God. One the other hand, the reason that we are instructed to love our neighbor as ourselves is because they too are creations. Appreciating others as not just sources of affirmation, love, or entertainment, but as unique individuals created and loved by the same God who created us provides a pathway to more genuine, authentic relationships both online and in life.

Why You Should Stop Posting Meme Photos on Facebook

Why You Should Stop Posting Meme Photos on Facebook

It used to be that you had to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic to be exposed to sarcastic, misleading, and — fine, I’ll admit it — occasionally entertaining slogans about politics and spirituality.

No longer is this the case.

If you use Facebook with any kind of regularity, you’ve probably witnessed photo memes popping up like dandelions. And you may have liked them. You might have shared them. You might have even created a few. But I implore you — please stop. You’re making it hard for real communication to take place on Facebook, which is one of the few places where people with radically different worldviews can engage in honest dialogue.

Don’t believe me? I offer several reasons, with examples:

Reason No. 1: They’re often inaccurate or misleading.

Exhibit A in our proceedings is this gem above rebuking Christians for focusing on the wrong things. Now the fact is, the underlying truth behind this is something that I believe in strongly — Christians should be known more for how we help the disenfranchised than for what political stands we take. But the actual statement is just not true. Plenty of Christians line up at food banks and homeless shelters all the time — so much so, in fact, that these days it fails to even qualify as news. But you’d never know it from this meme photo, which relies more on stereotypes than actual data.

And this image is just the tip of the iceberg. With the next big story involving a church or a Christian leader, there’ll be plenty more.

And even the ones that aren’t snarky in tone can be disingenuous. If they include any kind of statistical graph, for instance, they’re bound to manipulate or distort the truth in some way. After all, there’s a reason why Mark Twain referred to statistics as the worst form of lying. The best of these are usually large and thorough enough that they require full-screen viewing to accommodate all the details. But even these should be taken with a grain of salt.

And don’t even get me started on the photos-with-long-stories-as-captions, which are often just the same recycled urban legends from email forwards.

Reason No. 2: They exist primarily to amuse or incite people who already think like you do.

Let’s be honest. People don’t encounter these photos and say, “Wow, perhaps I’ve been wrong all these years, and my long-held political and/or religious beliefs are actually dangerous and wrong.”

It never happens because these aren’t designed to engage people who hold different views. Rather, their purpose is the same as much of the partisan-slanted media we see today — to reinforce your views and help you feel better about yourself for believing that way.

Now, I’m all for exercising free speech — but images have power. And as we know from Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility. And if this were only a political issue, I might not be as concerned. But in today’s political climate, where being a Christian is still associated with being Republican, these photos are making it harder for unbelievers to see the truth of the gospel because of all the political baggage.

I believe that everyone, Christian or not, has a right to participate in the political process. But Paul told the church in Galatia to avoid letting their freedom become an excuse to indulge in their sinful nature. For many of us, sharing these photos is a way of sticking it to the people who we feel are “the problem.”

As citizens of a global community, this is wrong.

Reason No. 3: If not misleading or divisive, they’re often so generic as to be meaningless.

Because “if at first you don’t succeed” at motivating your friends, maybe there’s something missing.

And that something is context. Many of these inspirational quotes and images, if they were on my refrigerator, I might find really moving. But the thing is, they would only be there if I put them there. People self-select these things. You can’t pass out inspirational nuggets like candy and expect them to be effective. One person’s inspirational quote is another person’s cheesy platitude.

And finally…

Reason No. 4: They make it harder to enjoy actual photos taken by your actual Facebook friends.

No disrespect to George Takei, the Japanese-American Star Trek alumnus whose posts get shared like crazy by his millions of Facebook fans, but he’s not my Facebook friend.

I know that in today’s relational economy Facebook friendships are slightly more meaningful than people with whom you make eye contact in elevators … but still. With so many people in my Facebook feed, I find much more meaning and significance in the large and small details that my friends post about their lives. You know, babies, vacations, meals, costumes, graduations, etc. So by constantly sharing these photo memes, you’re cluttering your feed with stuff I’m not interested in.

Because that’s the point of Facebook, right? To make connections and enjoy relationships. So if you want to be someone who builds relationships across the cultural divide, do us all a favor and stop posting these photos.

Why You Should Stop Posting Meme Photos on Facebook

Why You Should Stop Posting Meme Photos on Facebook

It used to be that you had to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic to be exposed to sarcastic, misleading, and — fine, I’ll admit it — occasionally entertaining slogans about politics and spirituality.

No longer is this the case.

If you use Facebook with any kind of regularity, you’ve probably witnessed photo memes popping up like dandelions. And you may have liked them. You might have shared them. You might have even created a few. But I implore you — please stop. You’re making it hard for real communication to take place on Facebook, which is one of the few places where people with radically different worldviews can engage in honest dialogue.

Don’t believe me? I offer several reasons, with examples:

Reason No. 1: They’re often inaccurate or misleading.

Exhibit A in our proceedings is this gem above rebuking Christians for focusing on the wrong things. Now the fact is, the underlying truth behind this is something that I believe in strongly — Christians should be known more for how we help the disenfranchised than for what political stands we take. But the actual statement is just not true. Plenty of Christians line up at food banks and homeless shelters all the time — so much so, in fact, that these days it fails to even qualify as news. But you’d never know it from this meme photo, which relies more on stereotypes than actual data.

And this image is just the tip of the iceberg. With the next big story involving a church or a Christian leader, there’ll be plenty more.

And even the ones that aren’t snarky in tone can be disingenuous. If they include any kind of statistical graph, for instance, they’re bound to manipulate or distort the truth in some way. After all, there’s a reason why Mark Twain referred to statistics as the worst form of lying. The best of these are usually large and thorough enough that they require full-screen viewing to accommodate all the details. But even these should be taken with a grain of salt.

And don’t even get me started on the photos-with-long-stories-as-captions, which are often just the same recycled urban legends from email forwards.


Reason No. 2: They exist primarily to amuse or incite people who already think like you do.

Let’s be honest. People don’t encounter these photos and say, “Wow, perhaps I’ve been wrong all these years, and my long-held political and/or religious beliefs are actually dangerous and wrong.”

It never happens because these aren’t designed to engage people who hold different views. Rather, their purpose is the same as much of the partisan-slanted media we see today — to reinforce your views and help you feel better about yourself for believing that way.

Now, I’m all for exercising free speech — but images have power. And as we know from Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility. And if this were only a political issue, I might not be as concerned. But in today’s political climate, where being a Christian is still associated with being Republican, these photos are making it harder for unbelievers to see the truth of the gospel because of all the political baggage.

I believe that everyone, Christian or not, has a right to participate in the political process. But Paul told the church in Galatia to avoid letting their freedom become an excuse to indulge in their sinful nature. For many of us, sharing these photos is a way of sticking it to the people who we feel are “the problem.”

As citizens of a global community, this is wrong.


Reason No. 3: If not misleading or divisive, they’re often so generic as to be meaningless.

Because “if at first you don’t succeed” at motivating your friends, maybe there’s something missing.

And that something is context. Many of these inspirational quotes and images, if they were on my refrigerator, I might find really moving. But the thing is, they would only be there if I put them there. People self-select these things. You can’t pass out inspirational nuggets like candy and expect them to be effective. One person’s inspirational quote is another person’s cheesy platitude.

And finally…


Reason No. 4: They make it harder to enjoy actual photos taken by your actual Facebook friends.

No disrespect to George Takei, the Japanese-American Star Trek alumnus whose posts get shared like crazy by his millions of Facebook fans, but he’s not my Facebook friend.

I know that in today’s relational economy Facebook friendships are slightly more meaningful than people with whom you make eye contact in elevators … but still. With so many people in my Facebook feed, I find much more meaning and significance in the large and small details that my friends post about their lives. You know, babies, vacations, meals, costumes, graduations, etc. So by constantly sharing these photo memes, you’re cluttering your feed with stuff I’m not interested in.

Because that’s the point of Facebook, right? To make connections and enjoy relationships. So if you want to be someone who builds relationships across the cultural divide, do us all a favor and stop posting these photos.

An Open Letter to Lena Dunham

An Open Letter to Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham, creator of HBO’s Girls (Photo Credit: All Access Photo/Newscom)

Dear Lena,

First, let me apologize.

I formed an opinion about you without really examining your work. All I’ve been able to see from your critically-acclaimed comedy Girls is clips from YouTube. Since I didn’t exactly know what to make of them, I mostly ignored and moved on. But since hearing of your casting Donald Glover as a black Republican boyfriend – even for just two episodes — I thought to myself, “maybe I should give her another chance.”

So looking for an entry point, I watched your feature film debut, Tiny Furniture. And I was impressed by its emotional honesty. While I’m glad that it helped me to get a broader sense of your cinematic voice, I can now say with certainty that many of my initial instincts were correct.

You and your costars, the progeny of successful, famous people, have inspired quite the backlash from critics and bystanders – a potent combination of curiosity, incredulity, and let’s be honest, plain ol’ Haterade.  There are many reasons for this, but one stands out:

Lena Dunham, you are, quite literally, a living embodiment of white privilege. (By the way, that “literally” was spoken in Rob-Lowe-as-Chris-Traeger-voice.)

Now I realize that in 2013, privilege is no longer the exclusive domain of white people – just ask Rashida Jones – but yours is a situation that specifically illustrates the advantages in the entertainment business that are granted by growing up amongst the liberal, hypereducated upper class.

And none of this is your fault, really. None of us asked to be born into our families. But I say this only so that you can understand how grating it can sound to struggling artists and filmmakers – of any race, really, but especially of color – when you say, as you did in last year’s NPR interview, that you “wrote the show from a gut-level place, and each character was a piece of me or based on someone close to me, and only later did I realize it was four white girls.” You should take plenty of credit for the freedom and boldness that it takes to write from such a gut-level place. However, the ability to express those gut-level fears and anxieties in the context of a commercially successful television program on a premium cable network? As President Obama put it, you didn’t build that. That ability came straight from your invisible knapsack.

I’m sure none of this is news to you, so don’t think of this letter as an indictment, but an encouragement. Your fledgling success actually gives me a measure of hope, because I see parallels in your story to another writer whose work I really respect. For now, we’ll call him Paulie.

This guy Paulie also came from a Jewish background. His upbringing was also steeped in privilege – a privilege that he understood and fully owned, even though he eventually grew disenchanted with it. And even though he could be intellectual and systematic, he wasn’t afraid of showing his real self, warts and all. He wrote with a raw, visceral intensity. He once implied that vegetables are for weak people, he referred to his enemies as dogs, and once sarcastically told some of his critics to cut off their own junk.

But as far as I can tell, there’s one important difference between Paulie’s story and yours. Paulie had an amazing encounter with the Christ, one that quite literally opened his eyes to the world around him (after being temporarily blinded), and eventually transformed his entire worldview.

And you know what the kicker is? All the stuff that I just mentioned… he wrote all of that after he became a Christian, not before. Though he hated Christians and actively tried to undermine everything they stood for, after having really encountered Christ, he went just as hardcore in the other direction.

Now if you’ve made it this far, you might be wondering – how is this relevant, exactly? I’m not a Christian. Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to change that. I want everyone to experience the forgiveness and freedom that comes from having a relationship with Christ.

But that’s not my main objective here. I want to call your attention to a specific aspect of my man Paulie’s story (okay fine, nobody calls him that, I’ll just call him Paul). See, when Paul became a Christian, he didn’t run away from the privilege afforded by his upbringing; instead he leveraged it. He wrote and spoke with firsthand knowledge and experience of the cost of following Christ as one of the Hebrew elite, and his resulting message was credible and resonant. As an apostle, someone who traveled to various churches in various places, Paul understood that God had given him a unique platform. By writing from a dual perspective, both inside and outside of his culture, and by doing his best to be all things to all people, he reached many with his writing.

(I would apologize for the cliché, but Paul’s the one who started it.)

My guess, Lena Dunham, is that with Girls, you’re trying to use your story to speak resonantly to people beyond your core demographic of disaffected, upper-middle class, twentysomething women. In my opinion, that goal, admirable as it is, only happens if you can demonstrate enough grace and humility to reach out and learn from others beyond the scope of your upbringing. And it starts with realizing that you need other people to help you get there.

In Paul’s case, the love of Christ compelled him to do so; in yours, perhaps Nielsen numbers would suffice? Either way, I hope you learn how to cross those cultural boundaries. Your professional output will be better for it. If you do, could you share some of that grace and humility with Cathryn Sloane? She’s probably ready now. You can reach her on social media.

Lord, Deliver Us from Smartphone Stupidity

Lord, Deliver Us from Smartphone Stupidity

The few times I’ve had the opportunity to preach on the topic of reconciliation, I’ve drawn from one of the many iconic Bible passages on the subject, Galatians 3:28 — “for there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is their male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

As a way to inject some levity into the conversation, before I get to the “one in Christ” part, I like to throw in a “neither Mac nor Windows” reference.

Or at least, I used to enjoy doing this. Because there was a time when that was, clearly, a joke.

That time is long gone.

In 2012, the iPhone vs. Android argument is in full force.

It’s been raging for a while now, as I referenced in last year’s tribute to Steve Jobs. But a new round of controversy erupted recently with the release of the iPhone 5. Apple’s decision to jettison Google Maps in favor of their own mapping program may have aligned with the company’s long-term interests (fending off Google’s Android OS), but to put it mildly, their users are not happy about making the switch.

And it’s touched a nerve, because not only are there plenty of iPhone owners lamenting the loss of Google Maps, but also plenty of Android owners gloating over the whole thing. I know because I was, at least temporarily, one of them. I didn’t call out any of my iPhone-carrying friends directly (mostly to avoid embarrassing flame wars), but believe me, it’s not because I didn’t consider it.

I mean, let’s be honest. There’s something delicious about seeing someone that you perceive as arrogant get their comeuppance. (I wish there was a word for that…?) And few stereotypes are more resonant in tech than the arrogant hipster who insists that the latest Apple product is automatically and universally superior to everything else on the market. It drives informed consumers crazy, and eventually they do things like create spiteful, R-rated animated videos lampooning so-called “iSheep” just to blow off steam.

The Foolishness of Smartphones

What is it about phones that inspire these levels of personal investment, adoration, and vitriol?

Maybe it’s their omnipresence. Just about everyone has one, and they are either central or peripheral players in many of the basic things we do every day. We use our phones to communicate professionally and socially. We use them to listen to music, to be informed, some of us even use our phones to read the Bible.

But you add in all of the complexities inherent in understanding all the differences in hardware and software, the various manufacturers, model names (and code names), and the wireless carriers involved, and it’s clear that choosing a cell phone is no simple task.

APPLE PASSION: Eager customers, like these in New York City, camped out in front of Apple Stores around the world last week in order to be the first to purchase the new iPhone 5. Apple sold 5 million of the gadgets in the first three days of its release. (Photo: Don Emmert/Newscom)

And since cell phones often require two-year service agreements, even after we’ve made our choice of handset and/or data plan, we consumers are constantly looking for reassurance that we’ve made the best decision. This often manifests itself as a form of confirmation bias, where we tend to filter the available information by emphasizing the things that confirm our belief.

Just as in any other emotionally charged issue (like, say, a presidential election), once our beliefs are questioned, we tend to come out swinging. In comment sections of tech articles, I’ve seen people use strawman arguments, ad hominem attacks, profanity, you name it.

But they’re not talking about the tax code, campaign-finance reform, or the societal cost of mass incarceration.

They’re talking about phones.

Rejecting Digital Snobbery

Ironically, some of the most mean-spirited, spiteful rhetoric comes from people who would probably boast of their belief in racial harmony and tolerance, including many Christians. But Christ died to break down all of the walls between us. If these folks have somehow cleared the ubiquitous hurdle of race relations, what kind of sense does it make to replace one dividing wall with another?

Especially since the truth is nowhere near as simple as we’d like. Just as there are plenty of other ethnicities and racial dynamics at play besides black and white, there are plenty of other brands besides those of Apple and Google competing for market share. Before the iPhone, the hot “it” phones were usually by Nokia, Motorola, or Blackberry’s Research In Motion. There are no guarantees that either Google or Apple won’t be outshined by some other new phone (for example, check out the new HTC Windows Phone 8 phones — cool colors, shiny tiles … sorry, I got a little distracted there).

Maybe this article isn’t for everyone. But if you’re like me, now might be a good time to take a step back and remember that sometimes a phone is just a phone.

Yes, there are cultural implications to the way we implement technology. Yes, we’re free to discuss, and even defend, the merits of our preferred tech platforms. But like Paul said, don’t let your freedom become an opportunity to indulge the flesh. If you’re an iPhone user and you’re tired of people badmouthing your phone, or you’re an Android user and you’re tired of seeing churches make apps exclusively for iOS, feel free to say so — just do it in love.

Because we all need grace from time to time. And considering how quickly the pace of technology keeps changing, all of us will need help navigating the digital landscape here and there.

Especially those of using the new Apple Maps app, because I hear it’s pretty terrible.

(Lord forgive me, I couldn’t resist just once.)