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Sermon About How Totally Uncool We Are

I have this friend Caitlin who tends to just tell me the truth about things, which isn’t always comfortable.

Caitlin and I close friends but are really different people, and years ago we were both planning our 40thbirthday parties. Mine was a roller disco party at a rink I rented out – and hers was a group of close friends watching the sunrise on a hill over looking the city, which made me comment that Caitlin has so many personality traits that are just truly lovely and that I don’t have those same traits and she said “Of course you do Nadia, they just aren’t your favorite ones.”

I thought about that this week when I was reading our Gospel text and how Jesus seems to be addressing the things we do or don’t do so that we can be thought of in a certain way. As though he can just see right through us. Which is just the worst.

Be nice. They're listening (and taking notes).

Illustration by Ken Davis

SINCE WE NOW know the federal government has been monitoring our every move for years—recording our telephone calls, reading our emails, trying to friend us on Facebook (“you have 295,984,457 mutual friends!”)—I wanted to clarify a few personal remarks that may have been misconstrued by NSA computers; computers which, I might add, are doing a heckuva job.

When I emailed a friend that I thought I “killed” at a recent gathering, I meant that I was particularly amusing that evening. I was not bragging about some heinous crime, which I would never commit anyway because, frankly, that’s not where the laughs are.

But “killed” looks bad in cyberspace, even though it’s something comedians want to do, as opposed to “bombed,” which is the opposite of “killed,” although NSA computers probably recognize a certain similarity between the two and automatically alert law enforcement officials. But again, the word “bombed” is a comedy concept meaning, variously, “wishing you were dead as an audience sits silently in judgment,” or for me, who entertains mainly in the homes of friends, “wishing you were dead, because people are laughing about you in the kitchen.”

But living in a free society means we shouldn’t have to watch what we say to avoid the unwanted curiosity of federal authorities. Heck, I get into enough trouble just trying to cheer up taciturn gatherings. (“Hey, is this a party or a funeral, hah hah?! What? Oh, sorry, I didn’t notice the flowers. Yes, he’ll be missed.”) On second thought, maybe a few days of secret CIA interrogation might do me some good. (“Were you under instructions from al Qaeda when you embarrassed your host by juggling the dinner rolls? Are there other social events you plan to terrorize or disrupt in the near future?”)

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'If You REALLY Love Jesus, Click and Share!'...And Other Abominations

"Share if you love Jesus." Vector image via wizdata1/shutterstock.com
"Share if you love Jesus." Vector image via wizdata1/shutterstock.com

One of my favorite comments from yesterday's post on Seven Deadly (Social Media) Sins:

"My biggest annoyances are those "If you love Jesus, 'like' and share" posts. My faith and my love are not to be measured by whether I like your cheesy photo/slogan/tool of judgement."

Amen, sister. I think these are even more annoying than those “Just checking to see if you will even read this…if you are reading it, comment and then copy this exactly and paste as your status update. 95% of you will ignore this. Just trying to see who my real friends are” updates. Sniff. Sob. Poor me!

When the Government Lies, a Covenant is Broken

Photo courtesy RNS/Shutterstock.com
Portrait of a man in a suit with an umbrella. Photo courtesy RNS/Shutterstock.com

After denials and evasions, we learned that two successive administrations lied to the American public about unprecedented spying on ordinary citizens.

The latest phase of this longtime spying effort began shortly after 9/11 and accelerated steadily, as the government used existing laws and newly passed laws to demand access to supposedly private information, such as cell phone call logs and email data.

It might have begun as an effort to track foreign terrorists as they interacted with allies in the U.S. and visited the U.S. But it spun out of control as the National Security Agency decided it needed to spy on all citizens.

"Only Fools Rush In ..."

Designed by Ken Davis

WITH SO MANY of our sacred institutions collapsing from within, it was a relief to hear that all charges have been dropped against an Elvis impersonator from Mississippi, thus sparing his worthy avocation from disrepute. Paul Kevin Curtis had been accused of sending poisoned letters to officials in Washington, D.C., but FBI officials soon came to their senses and realized that anyone who spends time impersonating a celebrity who’s definitely left the building probably couldn’t make a salad dressing with vinegar and oil, much less extract lethal chemicals from exotic plants.

Ricin was the poison in question, and seems to be the current compound of choice for disgruntled letter terrorists. Before that it was anthrax, an easy-to-produce material which, as it turns out, is what happens when you make salad dressing and get the ingredients wrong. A little too much balsamic, a couple nosy neighbors, and pretty soon the FBI wants to chat.

Fortunately, this man was absolved of all wrongdoing, guilty of nothing except the single act that sets him apart as a hallowed foundation of our society, the one institution that has consistently contributed to Americans’ self-esteem. Because as long as there are Elvis impersonators around, the rest of us will always feel happy and fulfilled. All of our important life decisions—some made in haste, others made in desperation, and each one now regretted—seem steadfast and well-considered, because they have kept us from going down the path of a celebrity impersonator.

Not to say they aren’t amusing—these men dressed like Liberace at a rodeo on the Fourth of July—and worthy of a moment’s nod of recognition. But then we turn and walk away, shuddering reflexively, happy that our lives of suffocating tedium are still better than a guy who regularly accuses people of being “nothing but a hound dog,” and then, in a display of unnecessary gratitude, chants “thangyou, thangyouverymush.”

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On Leaning In

Sheryl Sandberg, speaking at the World Economic Forum, via World Economic Forum
Sheryl Sandberg, speaking at the World Economic Forum, via World Economic Forum / Flickr.

Well, somebody had to do it: Somebody had to go buy the incessantly hyped volume Lean In by the stratospherically successful Facebook COO (and mother of two) Sheryl Sandberg, and figure out what’s behind the seemingly endless radio talk shows and online profiles — they have been following me, they have, filling up my car like clouds of incense and dinging on my phone with the book’s mantra-like subtitle, Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

I bought this part-memoir, part self-help book on a gorgeous spring weekday when, because I work part-time, I was supposed to be home anyway. Because the pollen was getting to me and I had woken up groggy, my husband generously offered to take the children to school on his way in to work, something that Sandberg would applaud: husbands who will assume major leadership at home are a major key in enabling mothers to succeed.

I stumbled around the house in my nightgown for a while, then finally got dressed and picked up Lean In at the Target in suburban Largo, Md., which at 10 on a weekday morning, was as silent as a tomb.

I drove half an hour to have lunch with a homeschooling friend, folded laundry and cleaned some grout, picked up my children from school and finally settled down to read the book on the bench at my son’s baseball practice, as the evening sun sank over the trees.

I found myself surprised by how much I enjoyed it: Sandberg, who’s about my age and who shares some of my generational preoccupations, comes across as warm and intimate, gently self-deprecating in describing her own “monkey bar” career path (it’s not a ladder, she says, because you can move sideways too), as well as some of her mistakes.

Vitriol Infests Rick Warren Family’s Grief

Brandon Hook, VKA, RedKoala, and Skovoroda / Shutterstock
Social media and broken hearts. Brandon Hook, VKA, RedKoala, and Skovoroda / Shutterstock

Pastor Rick Warren, the best-known name in American evangelism after Rev. Billy Graham, lost his 27-year-old son, Matthew, to suicide on Friday.

In the days since, uncounted strangers have joined the 20,000 congregants who worship at the megachurch network “Pastor Rick” built in Southern California, Warren’s nearly 1 million Twitter followers and hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers in flooding social media with consolation and prayer.

“Kay and I are overwhelmed by your love, prayers, and kind words,” Warren tweeted on Sunday. “You are all encouraging our #brokenhearts.”

But a shocking number are taking the moment of media attention to lash out at Warren on their digital tom-toms. The attacks are aimed both at him personally and at his Christian message.

We Aren’t At Their Mercy As Much As They (or We) Think

Photo: Citibank logo, Gerry Boughan / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Citibank logo, Gerry Boughan / Shutterstock.com

NEW YORK — The ancient dream of making money by simply moving money took a hit last week when Citibank announced plans to lay off 11,000 workers.

Across town, the dream of making money by actually making things – a dream that had seemed lost to foreign labor – got a boost when Apple's boss Tim Cook announced plans to make some computers in the U.S.

Citibank's move sent shock waves among people educated to take meetings, crunch numbers, and parlay networking into fees for passing money through their hands. There's no actual creation of wealth; just dipping a large ladle into wealth as it flows past.

Apple's small and somewhat symbolic move, by contrast, stirred hope that manufacturing might return again to American shores and stimulate the manufacturing wages and productive attitudes that once built a middle class.

Now THAT's Epic: 'Brother of the Year'

The chalk drawing by Wes Noyes, 17, with his superhero brother, Jonah, 8.
The chalk drawing by Wes Noyes, 17, with his superhero brother, Jonah, 8.

“What I do every day is get a pencil, take a piece of paper, and draw,” Wes Noyes said.

The 17-year-old artist hopes someday to work in animation or as a graphic artist. Wes works for more than an hour a day, takes classes, and to date has made more than 500 pencil drawings.

After Wes playfully collaborated on a chalk drawing made by his mother Rebekah Greer, his work as a cartoonist gained national attention.

Greer, a photographer, musician, and the mother of five, had drawn fanciful backgrounds — a cityscape, an ocean scene among them — on the family’s driveway one evening this past summer and took portraits of her children posing in front of them. Wes added to the drawing she had made for son Jonah, then eight, by adding flames and interjecting himself into the picture as Godzilla.

When Greer posted the photo to Facebook, it quickly went viral.

“It sort of spread around,” Wes said simply.

The picture, titled “Brother of the Year,” has indeed “spread around.”

Survey: Most Americans Keep Faith Private Online

Facebook image: 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com
Facebook image: 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com

Meet the social media “nones.” A new survey finds that Americans, while mostly religious, generally do not use social media to supplement worship and mostly keep their faith private online.

The Public Religion Research Institute survey found about one in 20 Americans followed a religious leader on Twitter or Facebook. A similar number belonged to a religious or spiritual Facebook group.

The results seem to defy the familiar story of prominent religious leaders using social media to build a following – and a brand.

“We were surprised when this turned up really low levels of people engaging religion and faith online,” said PRRI research director Daniel Cox.

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