Life Together: Sharing

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I’m a little behind posting my sermons, but here are notes from February 5th at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, the next installment of Life Together which deals with the fundamental practice and attitude of sharing.

Good morning again, St. Timothy’s family and friends and everyone who has gathered for worship this morning, and especially welcome to everyone gathered with us online. As we spend time looking into our scriptures, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our rock and our Redeemer! Amen.

Does anyone else enjoy a bit of retail therapy? Retail therapy is shopping for the purpose of feeling better, raising your mood. Getting stuff! Maybe it’s shopping and shipping things from Amazon, visiting a thrift store or the mall or searching for ridiculous but wonderful things on eBay. A little retail therapy feels good and we enjoy things don’t we? From favorite things we buy and collect to fine meals and cars, we have created an economic system which caters to delivering to us what we want. We’ve been trained to feel good when we buy, to spend money to feel validated and powerful, to rely on our money and wealth for security and well-being. I have to admit, when poorer or richer, I’ve known the joy of a little retail therapy; how much money I had simply determined where I was shopping.

Getting what we want is not necessarily a bad thing, but we have to be careful that all this stuff doesn’t blind us, doesn’t give us a false idea of what really matters in life. We have a faith which calls us to turn to one another in sharing and giving, a faith which has always been about our shared blessings and not just me getting what I want. Our foundational practice for building relationships and community today is sharing.

Sharing is Caring

Like so many things we’re taught as children, this is one of those things we sometimes forget, as though we grow out of or past the call to share, the need to share and the joy of sharing. Our economics of personal pleasure and satisfaction can even leak into our faith making us consumers and critics who become too comfortable with phrases like church shopping and church hopping as we try on different faith expressions until we find one we like. Now, finding a faith community which feeds your soul and lifts your heart and mind is a true gift. The problem comes into play when all I do is I want to receive, and I forget that I’m also called to give.

I love that bit of prayer from our Eucharistic Prayer C, a longer form which is not used very often. It leads us to pray:

“Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.”

Book of Common Prayer, pg. 372

In other words, let us not believe that Christ feeds us and fills us for our benefit only, but remember it’s also for the benefit of all who are within our reach! The risk of a self-centered faith and forgetfulness of people around us is nothing new and certainly not something any of us invented. Our reading from Isaiah is a powerful passage about God’s unhappiness with a group of people who do religious things, and do them well and often, but in daily life the economics of their day oppress and refuse to share the wealth and blessing of the land.

Indeed, through our Isaiah reading today God says I won’t listen to your prayers while you are oppressing your neighbor and refusing to share what you have with those in need. But if you will open your hearts to others, if you will share, you will be rebuilt, ancient ruins made new and your streets made livable again.

In our James reading he had a startling statement for us: if your faith isn’t active and enriching for the people around you, it’s probably dead. Seeing a need is our call to meet a need. Faith needs to be active and moving and sharing! Faith needs to breathe and move in our shared life and our shared blessings.

And many of us are familiar with that scene Jesus describes in Matthew 25. He presents us with a final day of reckoning in which some are found to be pleasing to God and others not pleasing to God, and it all comes down to their sharing. Jesus doesn’t list any theological achievements or correct doctrinal beliefs they held. Instead Jesus illustrates their living sharing faith of action and impact.

God’s Economy

Even as we live in this Western economy of getting what we want, our call and our faithful work is about bringing about God’s economy in the world. That economy is shaped by faithful sharing, caring about the people around us and about people having what they need. The Apostle Paul was explicit about this kind of an economy… In Ephesians 4:28, in the midst of some of the things we’ve been reading about correctly using our words and speech to build others up, Paul says “Those who steal must give up stealing; rather, let them labor, doing good work with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” We change our orientation from just what I want to include what others need, and we work to meet the need.

Again, when speaking to the church in Corinth about their help to others in need, Paul describes an economic value, not of personal gain or loss, but of pursuing equality, 2 Corinthians 8:13-15, “For I do not mean that there should be relief for others and hardship for you, but it is a question of equality between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may also supply your need, in order that there may be equality. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’” That as it is written reference is to Exodus 16 when God’s people received the manna, the bread from heaven, and were told to only gather what they needed without greedily hoarding more. Just as we saw in Isaiah, God’s economy of meeting needs has been around since the beginning. It’s not new to Jesus, to Paul or to us.

I suppose it goes back to our prayer with which we began this sermon series: “Open our hearts, our minds and our hands to all you would have us love, know and do.” That’s a prayer of entering into God’s economy. It’s a prayer that orients us to the sharing that meets needs, blesses neighbors and builds communities. May we ever more and more allow God to guide our hearts, minds and hands into sharing the abundance we’ve been given. Amen amen and amen.

Be Blessed, rev. Todd

Facebook Etiquette: An Exercise for Us All

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facebook shotEveryone should write a blog on Facebook etiquette. It just makes sense that if we are going to use a social media tool as much as we do we should be thinking about how we use it. So right away, I want to say: I’m not writing this piece as only a corrective to some naughtiness I’ve noticed in others, but also as an exercise for myself.

I’m not writing out of any pet peeves about vague posts, TMI posting or vague posting, but just a simple frustration that so many people ignore basic concepts of civility and courtesy on Facebook. The nature of social media gives us a creative and powerful platform for misbehaving.

I’ll try to distill my thoughts into a few simple ideas, “best practices” as it were. These are ideas to which I personally aspire, even if I don’t always manage to hit the target. And though they would save me loads of frustration if more people followed them (and i did a better job myself), they would also help make some generally smart people look a lot wiser than they seem when posting. So here we go…

1. You’re Never Too Old to Do Some Homework

Since the dawn of the internet it has been a home to sometimes entertaining and often frustrating urban myths, fictional anecdotes and intentional misinformation. We are human, and so we are frail and prone to screwups. We all have our blind spots and we all have our prejudices, even if we are working hard to overcome those prejudices. Too often the false stories and alarmist anecdotes that circulate Facebook and other forms of social media strike at the heart of our seen and unseen prejudices, and finding fertile soil they take root and grow into annoying shares and posts.

So when something comes along that looks like a perfect stone on which to grind your political, religious or social axe, do some homework first. Check a story out before you post it or share it. Check the sources. Check the source on Facebook, and see if you can check other sources online or offline… did someone really say what is being said they said? When someone shares a quote from our President (Republican or Democrat) in which they admit to practicing Satanism to win elections and brainwash school children into becoming Duran Duran fans, ask yourself how silly you’ll look for posting it if they didn’t actually say it. If the photo or story was originally shared on Facebook by “I’m a Communist Donut on Steroids” or “Screw All People Who Don’t Think Like Me” you might want to rethink sharing the gem. I made those names up just now, but they probably exist and will troll me next week. Oh well.

Even if it’s a heart-warming story or feel-good anecdote about human goodness, check it out before posting. I have a theory that all the fake feel-good stories that circulate and make the rounds, just to be later debunked, are just adding more cynicism to the world. Then there’s the “God did this…” stories about atheist professors and beakers or chalk and the triumphant young Christian student… all not true. Falsehood and misinformation, even if intended to inspire, will only inoculate us to sincere and meaningful engagement with the true stories of human goodness and inspiration that come our way. A great resource for this homework is! We also have be to careful of parody news sites. Most of know by now that The Onion is all in jest, but I’ve recently seen people expressing genuine angst over stuff from Larknews.

2. Be Happy in 3rd Place

This really goes along with the first thought… we need to slow down and stop trying to be the first to post everything. This speed and haste is just making us sloppy and discouraging us from taking the time to do the meaningful homework. Besides, some jerky friend with more followers than you will just share your story or post it without giving you credit anyway, and they’ll look like the trendsetter. =) But the peer pressure to be first and fast is real as more and more internet sites prod us to be the “first of your friends” to like, share or recommend something. And who doesn’t like to be the first among their friends to get some laughs with the latest angry cat pic?

But really, let’s slow down. One of my favorite sayings from East Africa is “Haraka haraka, haina baraka.” It translates as “Hurry hurry, no blessing” and means, “Slow down, dude… hurrying only makes trouble for you.” We need to stop and think about what we’re posting and why. Is it a post I want to live with a year from now? Is it a true post, accurate and authentic as it’s represented? This is an important question when it comes to “re-sharing” many things that roll across our Facebook feeds. It might take time to find the answers.

If you take some time, reflect on something and refine the ideas you really want to communicate, you just might find that “third place” is actually a big win. When big news hits or controversial ideas start rolling around, and people immediately begin glutting our social avenues with partial, misinformed or inflammatory responses, you might find that a day later you have an eager audience for well-thought and well-worded reflections of your own.

3. It’s Called a “Meme”, Not a “Mean”

Yeah, I was trying to make a pun with that one, but I hope you’ll keep reading anyway. And I’m pretty serious… the mean memes that just want hurt people, ridicule others and divide us into us/them pockets of angst-ridden combativeness really suck eggs IMHO. Many of the mean memes I see are pics that started funny, but someone altered or redirected them to grind a political, social or religious axe. Yuck.

Does anyone honestly believe that a mean-spirited political meme is going to score some actual influence or alter another person’s view? It’s a meme, dude. My advice is that we keep the memes light and humorous. Let’s not try to get real deep, hoping to explain global economic perspectives with a one-frame visual and less letters than a 140 character Tweet. I’m raising my hand as one guilty of tying. A good rule of thumb might be that if my meme is going to attack or mock someone, it should attack and mock me. I mean, there’s just not enough self-deprecating humor in the world, but it’s usually the funnest if not funniest because of it’s obvious rooting in the truth.

This is a matter of civility. A mean meme attacks, but doesn’t offer any chance for a rebuttal, defense or dialogue. Because of this one-sided nature a meme is typically going to be grossly unfair in it’s attack. I’ve been told that I’m maybe just a bit too “thin skinned” when I talk about this stuff and I need to “man up” and “thicken my skin.” Thanks, but I really don’t want to. Why would I thicken my skin and pitch in with one-sided attitudes of attack and point-scoring when dialogue and civil exchanges accomplish so much more? Let’s just chose our memes wisely and with a bit more whimsy. I promise that this will be my goal.

And this is no just about moving away from meanness in memes, but I would say all meanness in our postings. A noticed a friend of mine recently on Facebook had to say something like, “If you keep using comments to my posts to attack [a particular religion] with nasty statements and meanness, I’m going to delete your statements and unfriend you.” It is so heart warming that we have to police our religious conversations with such justified threats, isn’t it? No, it’s pretty sad. Meanness sucks. Meanness doesn’t score points or win big in any arena of competing ideas and ideologies… maybe one day we’ll have a “Facebook Penalty Box” where we can send our naughty friends for a few days of timeout, so we don’t have to unfriend them.

4. Use Your Powers for Good

Social media has given us all a voice. Like never before each person can broadcast their best or worst, even if our respective audiences differ. We can blog, vlog, update our status in a hundred forums, tweet, post, like and share! Indeed, my friends… we have super powers. We have new strengths of reaching out with our thoughts, opinions, beliefs and reflections. So let us remember the great medical axiom, primum non nocere“First do no harm.”

We should use our powers for good. We must seek the good, own the good and advance the good. This is the higher calling of social media, beyond the drive to be first, be humorous and even be heard. Trolls know the lessons well. I can be crass, mean and vulgar, and draw a great crowd for my antics. I can be funny, at the expense of others, and be heralded and be made a superstar. Or I can add to the world what is needed most, a voice of peace, hope and good, even when trying to be funny, honesty and true.

Beyond what might be considered “basic etiquette” lies the green fields and golden hall of Social Media Valhalla, the expanse of glory that is being a voice which builds up, carries forward and makes goodness in a world in which no end of ill words and images can be found. Even super powers require effort. It’s no wonder that meanness and crassness come easier to social media than goodness and constructive effort. Choosing the brighter road requires strength and determination. 

Trolls don’t change the world. Heroes daily raise the world from the morass of darkness. Embrace the calling in your social posting and feel the difference. Be honest, be questioning, be true to yourself and be open to others. Be a woman or a man of convictions and hopes. Let your posts show this difference. Those posts may not garner as many shares or as many likes, as when posts play to the base prejudices and fears of others, but they are more powerful for it, and the brighter posts mean more to the few than do the darker to the many.