Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Justin Bieber has 16.7 million followers on Twitter. He has tweeted almost 13,000 times. I, on the other hand, have tweeted 1800 times, and my followers number in the dozens, at just shy of 200. It’s game on, Bieber!

Twitter is, of course, just one of the multitude of social networking tools that has taken over the world of communication in the last few years. From a service that started just five years ago, it now numbers users that rival the population of the U.S. It is being credited with the overthrow of dictators in Egypt and Libya and with populist movements in places as far flung as Syria and the United States. If you can edit your thoughts down to 140 characters or fewer (that’s about 25-30 words), then Twitter might be the tool for you.

Like all technology, it’s a double-edged sword. The short length of messages seems to play into and contribute to the sound byte culture which plagues us so – and if we had forgotten that, another round of elections is here to remind us that content most certainly isn’t king. Critics attack Twitter for feeding into our unhealthy narcissism, where people feel compelled to share what they’re having for dinner and why they think “Two and a Half Men” is better with Ashton Kutcher.

And yet, at the same time, it has given people who have long been disenfranchised access to information. We need look no further than the Arab Spring for evidence of that. And for truly breaking news there is no better source than Twitter. While Fox and CNN try to fill the void of the 24-hour news cycle with vapid information and pointless commentary, if you really want to know what is going on at the moment, Twitter gives you instant access to eyewitness accounts.

What strikes me as curious about Twitter, alongside everything else, is the language choice of “follow”. Unlike Facebook, where you “friend” someone, in Twitter, you “follow” them. And they can also “follow” you – which sounds a bit like everyone is just going in circles. And that is one of the dangers of our technological boom. We are self-selecting for the information and relationships that agree with what we already think we know to be true. We are less and less likely to seek out friendships and websites and news channels that challenge our assumptions about the way the world works. We are feeding our own self-righteousness, and becoming more and more siloed from folks who aren’t like us.

And that’s where the Scripture texts today come into focus. We first heard the dramatic tale of Jonah, skipping over the introduction where Jonah tries to run away from God, gets caught in a storm, then thrown overboard, eaten by a giant fish, and spit back up onto dry ground. Now God is telling him, yet again, “Go to Nineveh and tell them to get straight.” And they do. The people of Nineveh fast and pray. And God relents from the promised destruction.

For Jonah, following God meant doing something he didn’t want to do. Nineveh was a big, bad city, and the last thing he wanted to do was to go there and tell everyone how big and bad they were, like Pee Wee Herman trying to use the phone in a biker bar.

For the people of Nineveh, following God meant doing a 180, spinning on their heels, putting a stop to their ways and starting off on a new path. For the people of God, following breaks us out of our silos and can often bring us into uncharted territory.

No one knew this fact better than the disciples. Today, we heard the familiar story of the four who simply dropped their nets and followed Jesus. Simon and Andrew were drawn by the promise of catching people in their nets instead of fish…the same with James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

We’ve talked before about this story and the weight of the decision these disciples made. Bethsaida, their home town, meant “the place of fishing.” There’s little doubt that this was work that had been handed down for a multitude of generations. This was a great deal more than a simple career change; to follow Jesus was to turn their backs on everything they had known. Fishing was practically in their DNA. And while Jesus promised they would still fish, it would be unlike anything they had experienced before.

To become a disciple means quite simply to become a student, a pupil. But there’s one key difference: the student can eventually become the teacher. The disciple remains a disciple. And for the disciples, following Jesus meant heading off into the unknown.

What about us? What does it mean to be followers of Jesus?

Like Jonah, are we being asked to do things that we don’t want to do? Are there places in our lives where we know that the faithful thing to do isn’t always the easy thing to do? It’s never as easy as saying that the right thing to do is always the hard thing to do. God expects much of us in terms of our own wisdom and discernment as we think and pray through choices in our lives. And yet, we all know of moments where we know what we ought to do, and that this obligation may have a cost that we’re not quite willing to pay. Is that where you are right now, facing a decision that may take you somewhere you’re not sure you want to go?

Or do you find yourself more in line with the people of Nineveh? Is God asking you to turn away from choices you have made which have been, time and time again, the wrong choices? The churchy word for that is repentance, which means turning to face God and owning up to mistakes. If so, then the invitation today is to take the opportunity to start over. It’s still January, and though the calendar is an admittedly arbitrary tool, it may just be the tool you need to make that 180 and begin afresh. The road may feel uncharted, but the truth is that God goes before you every step of the way.

Or is it the story of fishermen which resonates with you today? Is there something nudging you, calling you to a bold new adventure in faith? Is it a change in careers or a leadership role here at OPC? Is it downsizing your lifestyle to make more room for the things that you know are of ultimate importance?

Maybe none of this strikes a chord with you today. Maybe you’ve already heard this message before loud and clear, and so the text today is meant as an encouragement to stay the course.

In any case, to follow Jesus is to break down the walls of our silos. We are brought into relationships with those who are unlike us. Jesus is not the ultimate “yes man”. There is, always, a word of challenge at work. In our afflictions, we will be comforted; and in our comforts, we will be afflicted.

And to follow Jesus puts us very much in the here and now. We care about this world because it is God’s world. We are invested in our community because, in Christ, God’s own self became deeply invested in a world of material, fleshy reality. To be followers of the incarnate God is to be, ourselves, the incarnate body of Christ, the hands and feet of the one who calls us to drop our nets, follow, and fish in a whole new way.


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The pace of technology is mind-boggling. From the dawn of the internet to the introduction of power-packed cellphones and tablet computing devices, the way we interact with each other has changed dramatically in the span of a generation. And like most things, this evolution is a double-edged sword.

Global Positioning Systems on our smartphones have rendered maps, directions, the yellow pages documents of a bygone era. Programs like Skype allow us to video chat for free across continents, a thought that was mere science fiction not that long ago. Platforms like Twitter have even been at work in unseating dictators in the Middle East.

But wait: there’s more!

For the iPhone alone, you can get the following apps:

  • Payphone locator! Have an iPhone? Want to know where the nearest payphone is? Love irony? Then this is the app for you!
  • How about Beer Opener? You can enjoy the experience of opening a virtual beer without the hassle of having to drink it!
  • And my personal favorite: HangTime. This app measures how high you can throw your iPhone. And it only costs 99 cents. Plus the cost of a new iPhone.

For every device that might save us time, there are tons that would love to waste it. When you embrace technology, you have to take the bad along with the good.

We might as well say the same thing about our current sermon series. The basic idea is that, as we face the dawning of a new calendar year, we might consider the ways we might like to start over. And the beautiful thing about our faith is that it constantly gives us the opportunity, no matter the season, to begin again.

Now the title, Ctrl+Alt+Del, is taken from technology. If you own a Windows computer, you have, at some point, had to use this little combination of keys to restart your device. So if you understood the title of the series without the explanation, then you are a fellow lover – and hater – of technology.

Today’s sermon pushes the technological conceit one step further. It’s a play off of the idea of Web 2.0. If you know anything about this concept, then you will know that I understand it only in part. But here goes:

The world wide web began as a one-way communication technology. Sure, you could send emails back and forth, but these were not interactive in the way that, say, a face-to-face or a telephone conversation is. And websites took this approach as well. Websites started as kind of a virtual brochure. For your company or your organization or yourself, they were places you could post information that you wanted the user to know about you: your history, location, telephone number, email address, etc.

In tech circles, this approach is now referred to as Web 1.0 – kind of a rough draft version of the internet.

We have now moved into a phase known as Web 2.0, which has added the interactive component to internet activity. Rather than a model in which the owners produce the content, the reality now is that the user has a great deal of say in how the content is received. It has introduced a level of participation to the internet.

Anyone can start a blog. For free. And anyone can respond to that blog. For free. Anyone can post a video on YouTube. Again, for free. And anyone can respond to that video. For free. If you have a website that is of the 1.0 “information only” model, people will not be interested. You have to open up your site so that people can tell you what they think of your content. And that reaction helps to shape your future content in conscious and subconscious ways.

Another aspect of Web 2.0 is syndication, or the ability to share the content you find. Through social media, like Twitter and Facebook, among a hundred others, you can let other people know what you’re reading, seeing, thinking, engaging, and let them know what you think about it. And they, too, can share that content with others. When a piece of information spreads rapidly, it is said to “go viral” – that is, it has taken on a life of its own and spreads further than the creator of the content could ever have imagined.

At the risk of stretching my metaphor well beyond its breaking point, could it be that the birth of Jesus ushered in a new era of God 2.0?

This may not sit well with some of us. The very reason that we find God to be worthy of trust is that we trust that God is unchanging; that the same God who created the universe is the same God whom we meet in Jesus Christ and is the same God whom we worship here at OPC.

I do believe that this is true. But there is something earth-shattering that happened at the birth of Christ: incarnation…the human embodiment of the divine…God in baby form. As human beings ourselves, our best possible understanding of the nature of God comes through our understanding of the nature of Christ.

In our texts today, we moved from the almost fatalistic quality of Ecclesiastes to the sublime awe of Anna and Simeon. The author of Ecclesiastes lets us know that everything good and bad has its place: birth, death, planting, sowing, crying, laughing, killing, healing, holding on, letting go. And we see all of these things in the life and ministry of Jesus himself.

What springs forth in the lesson from Luke is in the echoes of Ecclesiastes, but in an incredible way. We meet these two characters who fade from the scene as quickly as they arrive. Both have been waiting a lifetime for the promises of their faith to come true: that God would deliver the Messianic goods. Simeon seems to channel the author of Ecclesiastes, saying of Jesus that he “marks the failure and the recovery of many, a figure misunderstood and contradicted…but his rejection will force honesty.” The infant will be a double-edged sword, bringing both division and the possibility of healing to the people.

For Simeon, this is enough. He doesn’t have to see the results. It’s enough for him to know that the child has arrived, that hope is on its way. Anna, too, is stunned by what she experiences. She had been faithfully waiting in the Temple for decades. As soon as Jesus arrives on the scene, she departs – both from the Temple and from our story – to sing God’s praises for the birth of this baby.

God is the same, the alpha and omega, the first and the last. And yet, there is a newness in the form of this infant Messiah. We now have the opportunity to know God more fully than ever before. Rather than dealing with a divine abstract, we now see God as a concrete reality. This is, no question, something new. And if we choose to embrace that concreteness, we must embrace it for the double-edged sword that it is. Christ comes to comfort us in our woes. And Christ comes to heal us, in the fullest possible sense of that word. And part of that healing means the shaking of our assumptions to the core.

How was your 2011? Are you happy to see it in the rear view mirror? Are you ready to start over completely? Or was it, like most years, a year of ups and downs? Are there those moments that you’d like to have another shot at? Then this is your year.

My invitation for all of us for 2012, beginning this week, is simply this: interact with God. Reflect on those places where your faith-life still exists in a 1.0, rough-draft kind of world. God wants your engagement! God wants your participation!


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Starting today, July 13, I’ll be traveling in the Holy Land until July 28. In an effort to unplug from work for a true retreat, I will not be taking my laptop so that I won’t be tempted to check email and the like.

I am, however, going to attempt to blog about my trip in very, very brief reflections. If I can figure out the technology (or if anyone can suggest it), they’ll show up here as blogposts.

If I can’t, then I will “tweet” updates to my blog (currently, my tweets are updated in the left sidebar; scroll down from here). Not pretty, but hey, what do you want from a pastor geeking out on vacation?

It may end up that I’m not able to blog, tweet, or even send messages via passenger pigeon. If that’s the case, then be happy – that means I’ve been able to focus on relaxing (even if I’ll be annoyed that I can’t figure out the solution).

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