Cyber Heroism

I was killing time in Barnes and Noble this evening browsing through the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly (why I ever let my subscription expire I don’t know…I’ve held a long and passionate love affair with this magazine) and this article caught my eye (you’ll have to pick up the print issue to read the full article…it’s well worth it, trust me…I rolled in laughter). Rosenbaum has discovered a group of counter-scammers, if you will, who turn the tables on email scammers with some elaborate plots of their own. His descriptions of the “trophy room” contents on the counter-spammers’ website left me…well, laughter is an exaggeration, but certainly with a satisfied smile on my face. The original spammers…those who initiate the emails that cause many less-than-wise among us to unwittingly part with substantial sums of money and often enter financial ruin…essentially become the victims of the skillfully crafted plots of the counter scammers, referred to in the article as “scam-baiters.”

Rosenbaum expresses concern about the mean-spirited nature of some of the more humiliating plots that the scam-baiters draw those unsavory types into (make sure and read about some of the signs that people were caught holding while photos were taken), and toys with the idea that they are cyber-vigilantes. The scammers are never brought to conventional justice, but are at worst embarrassed, and at best tied up with elaborate hoaxes and therefore not spending time sending email spam to draw more unwitting victims into their traps. Essentially, Rosenbaum concludes that these “scam-baiters” have gone too far, and reports instances where there has even been physical violence.

While I don’t condone physical violence, I have to say, though, that I love this. The bad guys left with egg on their faces by cyberspace superheroes? Who could ask for anything better? For those of us who hate being bothered by ignorant wastes of time and ridiculous amounts of spam that no filter can completely take care of, this is the greatest thing since the “do not call” list.

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Health Nut

When I married Karen a little less than a year ago, there were several aspects about our personalities that were a comical mismatch. For example, she loves mountain, I love the beach. Where to live? We’re still figuring that one out. Turned out that one would be the one I’d hold firm on (wait…we’re still living just outside the Blue Ridge mountains…what??), and others I caved on pretty quickly.

I’m actually glad I did.

Karen is a granola through and through. Recycling, health nut, even likes the color green. She married a guy who ate out 90% of the time because of my ineptitude in the kitchen. My idea of a healthy diet was landing at Subway more often than IHOP. I was addicted to Starbucks, and I Sprite and iced tea were staples (I became addicted to iced tea when I moved to the south).

Well, I confess my Starbucks addiction holds firm. One of the first things she changed about my life, though (long before we married) was that I replaced every other drink with Aquafina. Now, you wouldn’t think that would be such a huge deal, but I’ve actually learned a lot about physiology and the importance of hydration in the last year. Turns out soda dehydrates you. I actually learned that a glass of water first thing in the morning (even before my precious cup of Starbucks Breakfast Blend) will decrease the chance of heart attack. Who knew?

Amanda Congdon’s latest blog hosts a physician decrying soda as harmful to one’s health. The information really has been around forever, but I’ve found that recognizing it and beginning to re-vamp my diet entirely has made me remarkable healthier. Not always easy to do in the south where everything (and I mean everything) is fried, but I blog before you a much healthier man that I was a year ago.

Why am I writing this? Well, it was on my mind (along with too much time on my hands). So, take my advice: replace your soda with water.

But don’t ever give up Starbucks. Perish the thought!

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Our Not-So Inclusive Morality

The New Yorker Magazine‘s conference entitled 2012 recently posted a presentation by Jonathan Haidt on the conference’s podcast called Morality: 2012. Haidt is a psychology professor at the University of Virginia who has done significant research in the area of morality, and is a bit of an expert in the field. His presentation was fascinating. He introduces the concept that those who would label themselves “liberal” found their morality on two pillars, while those who label themselves “conservative” found their morality on five pillars. For example, liberal morality may involve primarily the concept of harming no one, while conservative morality incorporates tradition and so forth into a much more complex value structure…watch the podcast, because my attempt at explanation here will fall sadly short, and I promise it will be 30 minutes well-spent.

While there is much to Haidt’s foundational approach with which I disagree (he’s a self-proclaimed atheist, if there is such a thing), he poses intriguing conclusions in his lecture. I see the products of this in modern evangelicism frequently. For example, the bent of the traditional church (what Haidt would call conservative morality) has long been to combat such issues as abortion and gay marriage, while ignoring equally pressing social issues that Christ was just as disapproving of, such as discrimination, racism, classicism, or leaving the homeless on our streets. It causes me to wonder how much the tradition of the church controls our morality.

It certainly causes me to question our approach.

After examining Scripture about these issues, I have certainly come to hold the larger evangelical view that abortion is wrong. I don’t support marriage between two people of the same gender. I don’t necessarily believe that making it illegal is the answer…unfortunately, many Believers were quickly swayed to vote for DOMA without reading the fine print (it apparently caused quite a legal quagmire for same-sex partners who were victims of domestic abuse, for example). And while I do think that the church should be vocal about these issues (notice I say be vocal, not engage in hate speech and judgemental segregation…there’s a difference), I’m curious as to why the church at large doesn’t take a stand against racism. Or the AIDS crisis. Or the economic elitism of America. Strange how we don’t seem to see those as major issues.

I suppose that I would fall dead in the middle of Haidt’s proposed morality labels..dead in the middle between conservative and liberal, by his definitions. But, riddle me this: why aren’t Evangelicals taking a broader look at the issues facing humans today? The mission of our church is to engage our culture, which means that we first have to recognize the primary plagues of our human condition today. That goes far, far beyond what the hyper-conservative fundamentalist movement wants to label as “sin.”

Perhaps our traditions need to be tossed by the wayside in order for us clear our vision a bit? Hmmm…me being against tradition…not such a new thing, I suppose.

Experience speaks volumes more than analysis, though. On my first visit to New York City many years ago, on a cold Spring weekend as I hurried down a sidewalk toward my Times Square hotel in freezing rain, I passed a woman who was partially hidden in an alleyway, naked except for a trash bag that she had thrown around herself, and desperately holding out a fist full of dollar bills in her frozen fingers as she pleaded with passersby for enough money to find a place to take shelter from the weather.

No one paused to acknowledge her.

That image has haunted me through the decades. Jesus wouldn’t have walked by her, but I did, because I was concerned about my personal safety. Apparently, my traditional moral values leave much to be desired.

Perhaps we should spend more time re-vamping our internal perceptions about these types of encounters than protesting at abortion clinics?

But, then again, I guess that wouldn’t be traditional enough.

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Damage Control

While Jerry Falwell’s death was a notable blip on the national radar screen that many of my readers in other parts of the country have forgotten already, it is still front page news in central Virginia. And, as that is where we live at the moment, Karen and I have been bombarded with the imagery since Tuesday when I heard the then-breaking news.

There was significant debate for the next 24 hours or so about the legacy that Falwell, the proclaimed “face of the religious right,” left in his wake. Some conservative Christians swear he was the most profound Evangelical leader of the last century, and other, often more liberal Believers, disagree strongly. Karen spoke with a co-worker the day of Falwell’s death that was having a complete meltdown because she feared that her family members who had recently come to faith would now fall away because Falwell was gone. I saw local newspaper photos that night of thousands of students at Liberty University gathering to pray for Falwell (why pray now? He is where he is, it’s a little late to pray at this point). Throughout the media bombardment, I was consistently amazed at how so many Christ-followers seem to deify this man.

His legacy? My opinions are predictably mixed. There are ministries that exist in central Virginia, such as a substance abuse treatment facility and a crisis pregnancy shelter, that were founded by Falwell (indirectly through his church) that, Scripturally, are the truest embodiment of Christ’s love that we can show. There have certainly been many people, although much more conservative than myself, who have come to faith through his church and schools. Certainly, there is a positive aspect to Falwell’s legacy.

Unfortunately for Believers everywhere, there is also enormous damage to our faith that is the result of Falwell’s legacy. A Christ-follower who has been afforded the media spotlight has the responsibility to represent Christ well, and, as anyone who can recall a portion of the bigoted hate speech that Falwell engaged in can conclude, he failed tragically in that regard. Falwell enforced a spirit of denominational divide among Evangelicals that taught hate and rejection of anyone who didn’t view the faith from a hyper-conservative mindset. Falwell divided and hurt more than he demonstrated love, yet a faith in Christ is all about love.

Donald Miller questioned whether or not anyone who makes comments of the nature of Falwell’s post 9-11 rant against gays and abortionists truly has any fear of God. I agree with that. Perhaps Falwell had developed the audacity to put words into God’s mouth. Perhaps he was guilty of simply not thinking before something flew out of his own mouth. Having met Falwell through a mutual acquaintance a few years ago, I can say that he seemed genuine enough for me to go with the latter conclusion. However, it was a brief introduction and Falwell, a politician at heart, was gifted at presenting an image, so…who knows?

I do know from many conversations with those who reject the faith because of things that they have heard the likes of Falwell say, however, that he did damage to Christ’s cause that he may only now be realizing. Anderson Cooper interviewed the ghost-writer of one of Falwell’s autobiographies Tuesday evening. The ghost-writer, after years of close friendship with Falwell, came out after working on the book. He said that Falwell stopped speaking to him. He and his partner then moved across the street from Thomas Road Baptist Church and began attending services, but he stated that Falwell still refused to speak to him. That isn’t Christ’s love. Ostracizing someone because of their sexual preference or political opinion, or anything else, isn’t what He told us to do. How tragic that it is what we have a reputation for doing.

The ghost-writer’s closing comments to Anderson Cooper were deeply saddening to me. While I can’t quote them from memory as I write, he said words to the effect of this: Falwell’s personal attitude was to “hate the sin and love the sinner.” His actions, however, were such that he encouraged dramatic amounts of hate to the gay community. Karen made the point when we talked about that interview later that perhaps Falwell’s silence toward this man was political rather than personal in nature. In my mind, that’s even worse, because it’s image management, not substantive faith.

The ghost-writer also told stories of how Falwell would comment as to how he loved it when his ratings increased after saying the things he said. Again, a religion of image management begins to emerge.

I’m saddened for Falwell’s family and their loss. I’m saddened for the loss experienced by the lives he touched in a positive way…certainly they are many. But I’m brokenhearted by the lives he hurt, damaged, and possibly shattered with the things he said, and for the people who were turned, perhaps forever, away from a Jesus that they mistakenly equated with Jerry Falwell…and certainly, they are many more.

Christ-followers have much to live down. We have much to change. We have many people who are seeking and uncertain to show that Jesus Christ is not synonymous with Jerry Falwell.

Indeed, He is far from it.

Choosing the Right Beer

I was listening to an interview with Dick Staubs this afternoon on The Kindlings Muse about his new book, The Culturally Savvy Christian. He’s speaking of the horrendous “parallel universe” that modern Evangelicals have created for ourselves…Christian bookstores, Christian coffeeshops, Christian schools, etc., in an attempt to make our own pop culture and be separate from everyone else (exactly the opposite of what Christ modeled)…and likened modern Christianity to beer. The allusion goes something like this: our current generation(s) want strong, pure ale, but what the modern church is giving them is “Christianity Lite.”

Essentially, Staubs echoes my sentiment that we have digressed into producing pop-culture expression, art, and surface explorations of spirituality instead of engaging and transforming our culture with depth and truth.

It’s funny, because just last night Karen and I were discussing a lack of passion. It seems as though life sucks the passion out of us as we’re doomed to year after year of selling our souls to the industrialized machine in exchange for money instead of engaging in what truly matters.

Staubs points out that the digression began after the 60’s, when the art that was created during that passionate decade that was supposed to transform culture was taken over by corporate interests when everyone moved into the “real world” and got jobs on Wall Street.

I think he has a point.

I don’t like the real world, but I’m stuck here for the time being. Maybe we should try to engage it and change it with something of depth instead of stupid Christianized cliches on youth group T-shirts? Who knows? If we come out of our bubbles and start serving real beer, people just might become intoxicated with it.

Of course, we’re too comfortable for that. But, it was a nice thought. Pardon my interruption…you can go back to sleep now.