Archive for the 'Society' Category

Spending Good Fridays with the Country Club Christians

“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” – Jonathan Swift

“I don’t remember learning how to hate in Sunday School” – Steve Earle’s Jerusalem

I don’t know why we expect institutions to be more noble than the people that comprise them, but we do. And no loftier are those expectations than for churches and organized religion. Yet, it seems that organized religion can disappoint almost as often as it can inspire. I experienced such disappointment first hand over several recent Good Fridays.

Several years ago I was helping out as an usher with a Good Friday church service. During this particular church service an intense young man (who was not a regular member, or had never even been to the church to my knowledge) sat in the front pew looking seriously and intently at the pastor, and nodding away in agreement as he gave a traditional Good Friday sermon (such mild expressions would have gone quite unnoticed at an AME church service I can assure you). Rather than appreciate that a member of the flock was actually awake, alert, and following the sermon, the pastor apparently became concerned that the man was unhinged. After the service was over, the pastor asked several of us ushers to keep an eye on the this apparently erratic young man.

Now, while it was obvious that this young man was indeed intense and concerned about something, it did not seem to rise to the level of a safety concern. And I found it extremely odd that a pastor would even notice, let alone be concerned about such a person. I guess I expected that pastors by the very nature of their training and experience would be accustomed, maybe even desensitized, to dealing with folks in crises, especially since those crises such as death, disease, divorce, prison, and the like seem to be their bread and butter.

Anyway after the service, under the pastor’s guidance, that young man was lead out and away from the church unassisted so he wouldn’t be a problem. Someone who just wanted to talk about a particular problem and experience some love and encouragement was instead turned away by the church – and I was indeed part of that group, too busy at the time trying to get my own kids home and in bed. But it did made me feel bad and wonder if I shouldn’t have set a better example and maybe try to be part of a different sort of group. I eventually left that church and strived be better at helping those in need, especially when they most needed it.

A couple of Easters later, I met Tom Armstrong, a former Pennsylvania state lawmaker who had caused considerable angst in his community by taken three homeless sex offenders into his comfortable home in Marietta, PA (a suburb of Harrisburg). – I was truly amazed – here was a person who was surely living up to the true words and ideals of Christ, and perhaps not unlike Christ in some respects, he was quite persecuted for those ideals – ironically enough by folks who most claimed to be highly religious and supportive of “Christian Values.”  Now, if you were truly Christian and really wanted to find a modern analog to healing Lepers, you could hardly find a better candidate than much-reviled sex-offenders. Yet he was totally and absolutely persecuted and even hated by those so-called Christians who are supposed to be the same very champions of unconditional forgiveness and love.

It is extremely odd that few would see the inconsistency in such a belief system of persecution. The analogs to the recipients of Christ’s love are everywhere in today’s world – take your pick of combinations: women being stoned (convicts), prostitutes (homosexuals, drug addicts), tax collectors (abortion doctors), Lepers (sex offenders), and the lists goes on and on.

Last Good Friday was unfortunately another disappointment, the state was debating gun law changes in the wake of the Newtown massacre and there was a long and sternly worded Letter to the Editor from the pastor of our largest local church. This letter espoused the bizarre belief that in order to be true Christians, that true followers of Christ must own guns and be prepared to take up arms at any moment to support “Christian Values.” So much for turning the other cheek I guess – and it sounded a bit too much like that line from Mean Girls where “…on the third day God invented the Gun….” It too seems that if you wanted a modern analog to the cruel Roman guards and their spears – it is people who love their guns and their associated culture of death.

Those “Churches of Good Fridays Past” seem like they are not Christian churches at all, but more like the Temples of the Romans or the Pharisees. These so called “Christians” with their “Christian Values(do they even know what that means?)” don’t believe in helping the downtrodden, there are the oppressors. They don’t believe in unconditional love and forgiveness, they are the ones setting the conditions and making forgiveness unobtainable. They are not the Apostles or the Disciples, they are the crowd demanding Christ’s Crucifixion. They don’t have a consistent belief system – they have a club – a Country Club. They long ago forgot their guiding principles and turned into self-promoting social clubs full of Comfortable Christians – with followers who are so far removed from Christ’s original principles as to be almost indistinguishable caricatures of Christ.

So if you want to truly learn something about Jesus and Christian Values – you might do better this year to just skip the church service and simply watch Johnie Cash’s Gospel Road. But please remember to check your fear, hate, and guns at the door of this church.

Amen on Good Friday to those simple Gospel messages of true Christian Values – simple and timeless values of unconditional forgiveness and true love.



Drug Policies So Bad They Make Me Defend Potheads

Lord knows that the world doesn’t need any more drunks or potheads, and I support neither. But it doesn’t need a justice system that is highly incentivized to target and prosecute these folks either-that only seems to compound these woes. I have never written a letter to the editor before but I was mildly annoyed that as the legislature of my state of Maryland debates the first real proposed changes to marijuana prohibition in decades, all of the articles in my local paper were from quite respected members of local law enforcement who were highly critical of even the smallest changes/experiments. What none of those articles mentioned is how completely dependent police budgets are on the current drug-war status quo, and how this “drug dependency” (if you will) might distort the lens of their viewpoint. Anyway here is the article I angrily emailed off to the editor one morning after reading a front page of the local paper filled with such articles… 

It Is Time to Identify the Real Drug Addict

Like an addict worried where he will get his next fix or a pusher worried about losing his best customer, Maryland police organizations are absolutely apoplectic at the prospect of any real experiments with marijuana decimalization. Much like the police, I’m concerned with substance abuse and the prospect that an abuser might drive. But then again, all of the secondary concerns brought up by police, such as impaired driving and child neglect, are already crimes and will remain so even after marijuana decimalization. I am likewise concerned that youth with try any harmful substance including alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana, but it is simply being realistic to acknowledge that most will try these are some point in their youth. However, what concerns me far more are the waste, damage, and discrimination done by current prohibition policies: young lives ruined by criminal convictions, African-Americans prosecuted at much higher rates, high-level drug dealers who are further empowered and enriched, and many similar unintended yet worse consequences of the marijuana war. Much the same as we learned with Alcohol Prohibition, current marijuana laws have done little but waste police resources, hurt the potential of our youth, and benefit dealers. After 40 or more years with the current, misguided policies, common sense tells us that it is time to experiment with change.  Don’t let police continue to use our youth as easy targets and a revenue stream. Let’s break law enforcement’s addiction to marijuana convictions.

Cool Guy Greg on Taxes

Productive Citizen Cool Guy Greg on Taxes

Making Social Media Roles Model Real Life

Facebook released new content sharing/filtering rules today and it got me to wondering why these social network sites make such a fundamental thing as modeling roles and relationships so difficult.

It seems in real life you have a version of (or role for) yourself that you expose to these general groups:

  • You
  • Family
  • Close friends (usually less than 10)
  • Coworkers
  • Schoolmates
  • Acquaintances (usually less than 100)
  • Special Interest/Group/Club/Hobby Members
  • General Public

So I have always been baffled why social content sites don’t use a similar model and let you simply check off which of these groups/roles you wish to publish/expose your content to. 

The Ben Franklin adage that you should “not do anything you don’t want to read about in tomorrow’s paper” is particularly apt in the social media world.  Especially given the number of stories about folks who were fired because coworkers or others saw inappropriate content intended only for close friends (advice on avoiding this here).  So for me personally, I have little interest in most social media until they can get the roles and relationships aspect right. 

To me, Flickr always seemed like the best/easiest site for doing this, but is nonetheless still somewhat restrictive because it only provides 4 role categories: private (you), friend, family, public (I think if they added a coworker category it would be a fairly complete and simple to use model).

Can I be Your Friend?

Can I be Your Friend?

One of the problems with translating this simple model into the social-media world is that 2 people don’t always have the same view of a relationship.  Unlike your own private consciousness where you can define someone’s role and meaning to you without them knowing, in the social media world, people often know the role that you have assigned them.  You might be afraid that calling someone an “Acquaintance” rather than a “Friend” might hurt their feelings.  Or over time as relationships change, a “Friend” might become an “Acquaintance” and then eventually someone you hardly know at all.  “Demoting” these people from “Friend” to “Acquaintance” might also cause hurt feelings. 

The simple solution to this problem is to simply not let people know what you think their role is; this setting should be kept private and known only to you.  One again, the real world provides a compelling solution to even this dilemma.  The real world – now there is a concept for the Facebook generation.

Fahrenheit (Encryption Key) 451

Now Available as "Kindle"-ing

Now Available as “Kindle”-ing

A really perceptive article in today’s CS Monitor: Kindle e-reader: A Trojan horse for free thought.

Until reading, I had not seen the great irony in the unfortunate naming of Amazon’s “Kindle” device and the title and subject matter of Ray Bradbury’s famous book.

Some really thought provoking and sensible arguments in the article include:

That we are trading ownership for access – access that requires the pre-authorization of a corporation and “thingamajig.”

Well-established principles of Fair Use and First Sale are being marginalized and sweep away.

“…What the Kindle should be igniting is serious debate on the fundamental, inalienable right to property in a digital age – and clarifying what’s yours, mine, and ours.”

The article’s author (also a librarian) also includes a great Ray Bradbury quote on how “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture, just get people to stop reading them.”  (or he might have added- just convince them to stop thinking they own them).

Happy ‘Buy Nothing Day’

Buy Nothing Day Ad

Buy Nothing Day from AdBusters

No doubt completely lost in news of Christmas sales and Black Friday specials is the news that today is in fact “Buy Nothing Day.”   Little wonder if you have never heard of it, no major media outlet ever built a successful ad-revenue-based business model by encouraging people not to buy things.  But nonetheless, the idea that happiness is not derived from consumption and consumerism is an idea whose time hopefully has finally come to the general population. 

Amongst all of the bad economic news we frequently hear, the US has been in an unprecedented period of economic growth for about the last 25 years (since 1982).  Yet bigger houses, more cars, and bunches of more “stuff” have done very little to change or improve our daily lives.   A McMansion is just a house, a big, expensive TV is just a TV, an iPod is just a record/cassette player and a gas-guzzling SUV is just a car.  So perhaps it is finally time to abandon the naïve notions pimped by manufacturers, advertisers, and the associated culture of consumerism.

Sure, it may be as ineffective as the “Great American Smokeout,” but “Buy Nothing Day” is certainly a step in the right direction.  And the first step to a cure is always to first acknowledge that you have a problem to begin with. 

Go ahead and spend a day cleaning your house and not buying more stuff.   Spend some time with friends and loved ones and reflect how maintaining those relationships will return far greater value than buying yet another sweater or purse.  Afraid that if you don’t buy that gift sweater that it may in fact hurt those relationships?  That is a valid concern, but there are plenty of alternate gift ideas that can be very personal and meaningful that don’t involve much spending.  These include such things as a family tree, a framed photo, an address book (with friends/family contact info already filled in), a self-assembled food basket, and many other things limited only by your creativity.

So, Happy Buy Nothing Day – now wasn’t that much more satisfying (not to mention warmer and safer) than camping in front of Best Buy all night – and your basement and/or garage may just be cleaner for it.

Community, Civics, and Cyberspace

Several years ago at the local strip-mall shopping center, I watched the then-new local Walmart knock down the old Ames that had in turn knocked down the Sears that had knocked down the Woolworths*.  So I started thinking about which community artifacts are truly stable and can even be counted on to last more than a generation (retail stores obviously not being among them). 

My conclusion?  Churches, Civic Organizations, Bowling Alleys, Government Buildings, Bars, and Liquor Stores

Now, because of declining interest and participation, in this generation even the first three items on that list are at risk.  What that means in the long term I don’t know, but it probably isn’t a good thing.  At least not if you believe the work of Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam who wrote the book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival Of American Community.**”  Written in 2000 (disclaimer: I have not read), Putnam laments our lack of community sharing, our increasing disconnectedness from family, friends, neighbors, and social structures, and the resulting “decline in stock of social capital.”   After observing this decline in American civics and social connectedness, he then argues that if America is to continue to succeed this civic mindedness must be reinvented and restored. 

Some will argue that technology and social networking are doing just that.  Personally, I’m not convinced.  The anecdotal evidence I see is that far from bringing us together in the real world, these technologies are just stratifying us and pushing us further apart.  Granted that many of these online ecosystems can truly be considered “communities,” but many are merely homogeneous, and perhaps even stagnant, associations of loosely connected people who generally think and act exactly the same.  Another difference is this same not-easily-defined concept of rootedness.  As the Internet collective hive-mind jumps to whatever the next hip-thing is, these tenuous Internet associations quickly break down.  Don’t believe me?  Try and find those old Geocities or AngleFire pages you did.

I hope I’m wrong and that computer networking technology can lead to “hyperlocalization,” an increased social connectedness, and a renewed sense of community.  But more likely, when Facebook virtually plows under the MySpace that plowed under GeoCities, we’ll be just as disintegrated and disconnected from our real-world communities as we ever were.  At least we’ll still have our local bars and liquor stores to help ease our pain.


* That same Walmart then abandoned that site and moved Borg-like up the road a mile to the local indoor mall and proceeded to knock one third of it down for a Super Walmart.
** Although I did not see a lot of civic-mindedness displayed by “The Dude” and his bowling league in the Big Lebowski – there was definitely diversity.

Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2008

William Burroughs Heart

In Honor of William S. Burroughs

For Al Bundy
In hopes he is still on the couch

Thanks for the candy hearts and Hallmark cards, destined to be perfunctorily purchased –

thanks for an Expression to despoil and poison –

thanks for FTD florists to provide an escape from neglectful guilt –

thanks for St. Valentine and the Martyrs, to forget their lives and meaning –

thanks for a mandatory dinner at Applebee’s or Red Lobster –

thanks for the idea of TRUE LOVE to commoditize and sell until it stimulates the economy –

thanks for the MPAA, for judges who forget the First Amendment, for prudish soccer moms incensed about Janet Jackson’s breast –

thanks for “I (Heart) My Dog” bumper stickers –

thanks for dove-patterned bulk tableware –

thanks for “two months salary” and Diamond Eternity Rings –

thanks for a country where nobody is allowed to think on their own –

thanks for a nation of consumers – yes,

thanks for all the memories… all right, let’s see your credit cards… you always were a simple tender heart –

thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human emotions.

February 2019
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Flickr Photos