Monday, September 26, 2011

Enclosed and commoditized on the Open Graph

Mark Zuckerberg evangelizing for the Graph
Last week, I was having flashbacks to the late 90s. When I first entered the software development field in 1999, Microsoft was the "evil empire," the "800 pound gorilla" that everyone (myself included) loved to hate. Yet that loathing was rather paradoxical in that everyone around me was neck-deep in Microsoft products. At this particular job, an e-commerce company, our company's very existence depended on Microsoft!

In those halcyon days before social media and dot-com bubbles bursting, nerd culture was still marginal. Most of my friends had only just learned what e-mail and web browsers even were, much less how to use them. Those days are long gone. The web is ubiquitous and Grandma's on Facebook.

With nerd culture now mainstreamed and Facebook being the latest champion of that process, the company seems to serve the same purpose that Microsoft once did for me and my nerd buddies: People just love to bash Facebook.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The savior of agriculture is...Chipotle?

From Harrisonburg, VA
Consider the following...

This video is brilliant. It works on me at so many levels, it's almost kind of creepy. (Indeed it is creepy, stick with me.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chronicles of the state's monopoly on legitimate violence (cont.)

The view from my classroom window; Debre Zeit, Ethiopia
The picture at the right is what I saw every weekday for three weeks, as I taught "Intro to Conflict Transformation" at Meserete Kristos College in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia. One prominent feature of this city is its being host to an Ethiopian air force base, on the opposite side of town from where we were at the college. So oftentimes during class, we would see and hear (and feel) the low-flying fighter jets passing over the college on their way to the landing strip a few miles away.

This is the memory that immediately came to mind when I saw the following story on Global Post...
US building drone bases in East Africa
Drone News: The Obama administration is setting up more drone bases in Ethiopia and Seychelles to target Al Qaeda affiliates in East Africa and the Horn of Africa, particularly Somalia.
The emergence of unmanned drones as weapons of war first became deeply troubling to me a few years ago when I saw the PBS Frontline special, Digital Nation, which near the end interviews drone pilots with cozy middle class lives in the US, who go to work in an office and operate computers just like so many other middle class Americans, but they just happened to be flying remote controlled planes halfway around the world, dropping real bombs, killing real people (which have a propensity to kill civilians). I still shudder thinking of that segment. So that the use of drones is spreading to other areas of the globe in the name of the forever war called, "The War on Terror," is an unsettling development.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hoeing the rows in the New Jerusalem

"Christ and St. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb"
by Rembrant
This past spring I was quite taken by the book of Jeremiah, particularly the letter in ch. 29, in which the prophet writes to the exiles in Babylon, sending this word from the Lord: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce... Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

This chapter is a significant key for John Howard Yoder's Old Testament hermeneutic. In this passage and the context in which it is set, he sees in exilic Israel the seeds of the church to come, hundreds of years before the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The paper which I wrote, linked above, was primarily an exegesis of the Jeremiah text. Obviously, my Christian faith assumptions were at work, but I didn't make an explicit theological connection to the New Testament, or to Jesus. Well, theologian, Chelle Stearns, seems to have made the connection for me in her wonderful essay at The Other Journal, "Hobbits, Heroes, and Football," wherein she proposes a new archetype for understanding Jesus: the  gardener-hero.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"World's coming to an end, Newman..."

From Harrisonburg, VA
Reuters photo that's haunted me for 10 years
These words I announced to my colleague, Newman, on the morning of September 11th, 2001. Minutes before I had been sitting at my cubicle desk at a large financial services company in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, where I had been employed only since May. I was 22 years old. I don't recall which came first, my not being able to load pages on the internet or hearing hysterical chatter on my radio from a syndicated shock jock out of Chicago. From the former I remember eventually being able to get half of Yahoo! News' home page to load on my office computer, enough to see a photo of the Manhattan skyline with one of the World Trade Center towers smoking, and a headline indicating it had been struck by a plane. The shock jock, broadcasting from a skyscraper in downtown Chicago, was talking frantically about the possibility of his building being attacked. Something was very, very wrong. My stomach sank, and my head spinning. With what little I knew, I walked over to Newman's desk for my first post-9/11 social interaction: "The world's coming to an end, Newman..."

It's become an annual ritual for Newman and I to touch base on 9/11. (I'll send him a link to this post when it's done.) We usually compare notes on what we're up to in life and how much our kids have grown. It's a moment to remember that, while a certain understanding of the world which we had known certainly did come to an end on Sept. 11, 2001, life itself on planet earth has continued.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Dear beautiful, sexual Jesus..."

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA
"...all wrapped in swaddling..."
There is a (very) tiny bit of theological wisdom in this scene from the movie, "Talladega Nights," in which Will Ferrell's character - Ricky Bobby - is saying grace at the dinner table and addresses his prayer to "baby Jesus." The tiny bit of wisdom is this: It reminds us that the Lord of all creation which Christians worship and follow did indeed become a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being.

That's where the theology lesson ends with the scene, though there is some hilariously uncomfortable cultural commentary on individualism and consumerism in the scene which I'll leave to you. (By the way, thanks to my friend and former fellow seminarian, pastor Josh K., for mentioning this scene today.)

What I want to try and wrestle with in this post (*sigh*, it's a long one) is the interrelation between beauty, sexuality, and the incarnation of Jesus, the son of God. (Hence the title of this post.) It's coming out of a seminary class I had this morning at EMS, "Human Sexuality," team taught by dynamic husband and wife duo, Mark and Mary Thiessen Nation. The book we're reading for class is the very recent Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith by Matthew Lee Anderson, a young (younger than me!) evangelical who is a prolific blogger at Mere Orthodoxy. So whatever wisdom creeps into this post is a gift from God through them and my classmates, just past our second week in this wonderful and terribly important class.

(The World Together blog at the Mennonite Weekly Review later re-posted this in edited form: Why do we hunger for beauty?)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A journey with biblical proportions

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Couldn't find the Samson picture from this
My journey with Scripture began as a child growing up in my home congregation, the Prairie City Church of the Brethren (my hometown heroes). While my family was all happily Christian, my father was a pastor's kid, we did not practice the reading of Scripture in our home. This was left for Sunday at church. I don't have any specific memories with specific scriptures from my childhood but I do remember my children's Bible which had interesting pictures. I particularly remember a picture of blinded Samson, in the process of pushing apart the pillars that would in mere seconds kill him and all those Philistines. His gauged-out eyes continued to draw my seeing eyes back to his. Such willing self-sacrifice (revenge?) seemed heroic and puzzling to me.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Chug a beer for the Solider-Priests of Freedom!

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
"High life" defined as American consumerism (click image)
Literary critic, William Deresiewicz, offers a biting commentary on America's post-9/11 "cult of the uniform" in a recent New York Times op-ed piece:

An Empty Regard
(via Fors Clavigera)

The author's main contention is that we as a nation have set up this cult of the uniform as a way to immunize the military from critique. This cult is attended to by the secular liturgies entailed by the hero worship of soldiers, who serve as priests of our freedom. The cult is constructed and practiced in such a way as to make criticizing the military analogous to criticizing those who serve in the military. But as Deresiewicz contends...
(W)ho our service members are and the work their images do in our public psyche, our public discourse, and our public policy are not the same. Pieties are ways to settle arguments before they begin. We need to question them, to see what they’re hiding. (Emphasis mine.)
I commend this piece for a host of reasons which I'll explore below. Just briefly, though, this piece is excellent because it voices many of the reasons why I happily and intentionally maintain relationships with American soldiers within my networks of friends of family, while still remaining an ardent Christian pacifist. Criticizing the military-industrial complex and the work it asks of its members by no means diminishes my care for those members, who are real human beings with real challenges and needs.

[Oct '11 update: The Mennonite Weekly Review has since picked up this post in edited form: Hero worship of U.S. soldiers. As usual, thanks to Sheldon C. Good for his editorial hand!]