Changes

A diet changes the way you look.  A fast changes the way you see.

Craig Groeschel

Love Wins

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Thanks

You send rain on the mountains from your heavenly home,
      and you fill the earth with the fruit of your labor.
 You cause grass to grow for the livestock
      and plants for people to use.
 You allow them to produce food from the earth—
     wine to make them glad,
 olive oil to soothe their skin,
      and bread to give them strength.

Psalm 104: 13-15

Love Wins

Not possible

It is not possible for a modern State based on force non-violently to resist forces of disorder, whether external or internal. A man cannot serve God and Mammon, nor be ‘temperate and furious’ at the same time.

Ghandi

Love Wins

Killing An Arab

The following is a really fine blog post by Mark Sayers.  The original is HERE.

Killing an Arab

Around the midway point of the 2oth century Albert Camus’ existential novel L’Étranger (The Outsider) told the story of the killing of an Arab man, a story which forced Western culture to confront its own ethical viewpoint. At the beginning of the 21st century the killing of another Arab man, has forced us to do the same. 

As the death of Osama Bin Laden broke,with one eye I was watching the coverage on television, and with the other, the Facebook feed. Reading the status updates, my friends on the Christian left were dismayed by the spontaneous scenes of people celebrating the killing of Bin Laden in New York and in Washington D.C. My friends who work tirelessly to see God’s peace break out in the world, reminded us that violence begats violence, that killing cannot bring about the kingdom of God. That the victims of 9/11 were not brought back to life by the death of civilians in bombing raids in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. They produced scriptures that commanded us not to celebrate the death of the wicked, and quotes from Martin Luther King, and Ghandi, lauding the attributes of the approach of love and peace.

Simultaneously my friends on the Christian right expressed relief that justice had been done. They updated their belief that a man who declared war explicitly on Christianity, who wished to finish what Hitler had started by killing the Jews, who wished to subjugate women, and who deemed Hindus, atheists, homosexuals, and Buddhists killable on the spot, who had made it his life’s mission to violently create a world-wide Caliphate, who wished to kill you and I, was dead. My friends on the right, with heavy hearts, concluded that sometimes, when individuals choose the path of evil, who present a clear and present danger, that they regretably must be killed. My friends also produced scriptures that told us to celebrate the death of the wicked, as well as quotes lauding the quest for justice and the pursuit of freedom.

As the heat online grew, I noticed some of my younger Facebook friends were becoming dismayed or confused. Respected leaders, people they looked up to, seemed to disagree so strongly, both sides providing compelling arguments. On the TV and online the experts, politicians and opinion makers also presented their arguments forcefully. Each using the death of Bin Laden to expound their agenda, or worldview. His death quickly became symbolic, being used to advance various political, social and religious ideologies.

Historian Diamaid MacCulloch, has noted it was the Greeks who developed the habit of turning people into symbols of things. Their gods represented ideas and concepts, so it was natural that this philosophy would spill over into the human realm. Follow this line of thinking and Hitler becomes the embodiment of evil, Ghandi of peace and so on. The problem though, is that life is never that clear cut, hence why almost all Biblical characters do not fit neatly into boxes, into camps of good and evil.

The Jews with their monotheistic iconoclasm understood much better than the Greeks that it was difficult to turn people into symbols and perfect representations of abstract ideals. The controversy over Bin Laden’s death reveals a great philosophical and theological question. A question which is concerned with the intersection between justice and love. It asks how can we be both just and loving? It is possible to have love without justice? Is it possible to have justice without love? Is God a God of Love or of Justice? 

In our society with its divisions of left and right, progressive/liberal and conservative, the left will almost always err on the side of love, it will always take into account circumstance, environment and upbringing. It will view God as primarily a God of Love. The right will always err on the side of justice, and will always look to personal choice, and the decisions one takes, despite their circumstance, environment and upbringing. The right will always view God as a God of Justice.

These are huge weighty issues, issues wrestled with throughout history. Issues held and pondered by our greatest minds, philosophers, jurists, leaders and theologians. We can see this dilemma struggled over during the dark days of World War Two by figures such C.S Lewis, Dorothy Day, Neville Chamberlain, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and George Orwell, great figures who chose to stand on the sides of either justice or love.

Christians, when looking to scripture, can easily find proof texts, which taken in isolation can justify one side or the other. But both sides when faced with the totality of scripture, will find troubling passages and teachings, texts which seem to undermine our ability to firmly come down on the side of love minus justice, or justice minus love.

I remember sitting in a Californian prison with convicted murders who had been caught in the cycle of retaliatory gang killings, a constant spiral of death and violence, a misguided quest for justice which only resulted in more blood. As I sat there I was on the side of love.

I remember standing and listening to a holocaust survivor in Caulfield, Melbourne, who felt that European Christian culture’s desire for love and peace minus justice, had facilitated the rise of the Third Reich and almost seen the annihilation of his people, the Jews. A people who he believed only existed today because almost too late, supposedly Christian nations chose the path of justice. As I listened I found myself sitting on the side of justice. 

Interestingly as I watched the TV coverage of Bin Laden’s death, there were several interviews with victims of Bin Laden’s violence, people from as diverse places such as Indonesia, Kenya, the United States and Australia. Almost every one expressed a confusion over their feelings, an initial relief and jubilation at the news of his demise, followed by a sense of loss, a fear that this death would only bring more. I think that it was the victims who spoke the most clearly, who unwittingly got to the heart of the issue. 

And so I find myself shifting from one side to the other, as I read history, as I process our world today, I only feel more conflicted, more confused. I want love, I want justice. And then as I write, I look up and out of my office window across the buildings. In the autumnal sun, atop of the faux gothic church, a Cross sits. It is weather beaten and missable, yet it speaks of those expansive Golgothan minutes, where the perfect balance was struck. When on a wooden cross justice and love was held in divine symbiosis. We as believers will continue to debate and argue over how to live that out that symbol. We will ponder and fight over the tension of holding to both justice and love, struggling to enflesh a seemingly paradoxical truth.

So I do not celebrate Bin Laden’s death, nor do I mourn his passing. I quietly sit and listen to my fellow believers on the right and left. But most of all I wait. I wait for the return of him, who is both perfect love and justice.

Love Wins

From Sabbath Poems

To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzak Rabin, November 6th 1995.

Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,

for I know you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know

there is no answer
but loving one another
even our enemies, and this is hard.

But remember:
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine

though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.

You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you have the courage for love,
you may walk in light. It will be

the light of those who have suffered
for peace. It will be
your light.

— Wendell Berry

Love Wins

Your Life Torn Open

Here is a thought-provoking essay by Andrew Keen.  You can also find it HERE.  This topic is something we of the facebook generation ought to ponder seriously.

Every so often, when I’m in Amsterdam, I visit the Rijksmuseum to remind myself about the history of privacy. I go there to gaze at a picture called The Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, which was painted by Jan Vermeer in 1663. It is of an unidentified Dutch woman avidly reading a letter. Vermeer’s picture, to borrow a phrase from privacy advocates Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren, is a celebration of the “sacred precincts of private and domestic life”. It’s as if the artist had kept his distance in order to capture the young woman, cocooned in her private world, at her least socially visible.

Today, as social media continues radically to transform how we communicate and interact, I can’t help thinking with a heavy heart about The Woman in Blue. You see, in the networking age of Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, the social invisibility that Vermeer so memorably captured is, to excuse the pun, disappearing. That’s because, as every Silicon Valley notable, from Eric Schmidt to Mark Zuckerberg, has publicly acknowledged, privacy is dead: a casualty of the cult of the social. Everything and everyone on the internet is becoming collaborative. The future is, in a word, social.

On this future network, we will all know what everyone is doing all the time. It will be the central intelligence agency for 21st century life. As Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams argue in their 2010 book Macrowikinomics, today’s “age of network intelligence” represents a “turning point in history” equivalent to the Renaissance. They are, in a sense, right. On today’s internet everything we do — from our use of ecommerce, location services and email to online search, advertising and entertainment — is increasingly open and transparent. And it is this increasingly ubiquitous social network — fuelled by our billions of confessional tweets and narcissistic updates — that is invading the “sacred precincts” of private and domestic life.

Every so often, when I’m in London, I visit University College to remind myself about the future of privacy. I go there to visit the tomb of the utilitarian social reformer Jeremy Bentham, a glass-and-wood mausoleum he dubbed his “AutoIcon”, from which the philosopher’s waxy corpse has been watching over us for the last 150 years. It was Bentham, you see, who, in 1787, at the dawn of the industrial age, designed what he called a “simple idea in architecture” to improve the management of social institutions, from prisons and asylums to workhouses and schools. Bentham imagined a physical network of small rooms in which we would be inspected “every instant of time”. He named a tract after his idea, calling it, without irony, Panopticon; or, the Inspection House. Bentham’s goal was the elimination of mystery and privacy. Everything, for this utilitarian inventor of the greatest-happiness principle, would become shared and thus social. In Bentham’s perfectly efficient and transparent world, there would be nowhere for anyone to hide.

Unfortunately, Bentham’s panopticon was a dark premonition. The mass mechanical age of the telegraph, the factory and the motion-picture camera created the physical architecture to transform everyone into exhibits — always observable by our Big Brothers in government, commerce and media. In the industrial age, factories, schools, prisons and, most ominously, entire political systems were built upon this technology of collective surveillance. The last 200 years have indeed been the age of the great exhibition.

Yet nobody in the industrial era actually wanted to become artefacts in this collective exhibition. The great critics of mass society — from John Stuart Mill, Warren and Brandeis to George Orwell, Franz Kafka and Michel Foucault — tried to shield individual privacy from the panopticon’s always-on gaze. As Foucault warned, “visibility is a trap.” So, from Mill’s solitary free thinker in On Liberty to Josef K in The Trial and Winston Smith in 1984, the hero of the mass industrial age is the individual who takes pleasure in his own invisibility, who turns his back on the camera, who — in the timeless defence of privacy from Warren and Brandeis — just wants to be “let alone”.

Yet now, at the dusk of the industrial and the dawn of the digital age, Bentham’s simple idea of architecture has returned. But history never repeats itself, not identically, at least. Today, as the internet evolves from a platform for data into a space for people, the panopticon has reappeared with a chilling twist. What we once saw as a prison is now considered a playground; what was considered pain is today viewed as pleasure. The age of the great exhibition is being replaced by the age of great exhibitionism.

Today’s “simple architecture” is the internet, that ever-expanding network of networks combining the global web of personal computers, the wireless world of handheld devices and other “smart” social products such as connected televisions and gaming consoles, in which around a quarter of the Earth’s population has already taken up residency. With its two billion digitally connected souls and five billion connected devices, the network can house an infinite number of rooms. This is a global building that, more than two centuries after Bentham sketched his design, allows us to be inspected every instant.

This digital world — described by New York University’s Clay Shirky as the “connective tissue of society” and by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton as the new “nervous system of the planet” — has been designed to keep us forever on show in our networked crystalline palaces. And today, in an age of transparent online communities such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, the social has become, in Shirky’s words, the “default setting” on the internet, thereby transforming digital technology from a tool of our “second lives” into a central part of real life.

But this real life could have been choreographed by Bentham. As Shirky notes, popular geolocation services such as Foursquare, Gowalla, Google Latitude and Facebook Places, which enable us to “effectively see through walls” and know the exact location of all our friends, are making society more “legible” and allowing us to be read “like a book”. No wonder, then, that Jeff Jarvis, one of the leading apostles of what he calls “publicness”, promises that social media will make us all immortal.

No wonder, either, that, as the American journalist Katie Roiphe has observed, “Facebook is the novel we are all writing.” We are becoming WikiLeakers of our own lives. There has been a massive increase in what Shirky calls “self-produced” legibility. This contemporary mania with self-expression is what two leading American psychologists, Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell, have described as “the narcissism epidemic” — a self-promotional madness driven, they say, by our need to broadcast our uniqueness to the world.

While social media, for all its superhuman ability to see through walls, might not quite guarantee immortality, its impact is certainly of immense historical significance, equal, in its own way, to the early industrial revolution. As the venture capitalist John Doerr, a partner at the blue-chip firm Kleiner Perkins, has argued, the “social” represents “the great third wave” of technological innovation, after the invention of the personal computer and the internet. Such is Doerr’s confidence in this social revolution that, in October 2010, in partnership with Facebook and the gaming social network Zynga, Kleiner Perkins launched the $250 million sFund dedicated to putting money into social businesses.

Once oriented around the distribution of data, internet innovation is now increasingly focused on social products, services and platforms. Google’s data-driven “links” economy is being replaced by Facebook’s people-powered “likes”. The integration of our personal data — our “social graph” — into online content is becoming the driver of internet innovation. There is now Facebook-powered social search from the Bing and Blekko search engines; social internet browsers such as RockMelt and Firefox; social music from Pandora and the iTunes Ping network; social reading on the Kindle and the iPad; social photos from Google’s image-sharing platform Picasa; social “location tracking” on Google Maps; socially produced news from The Washington Post and The New York Times; socially produced information on Quora; a growing infestation of social networks for kids such as the eerily named Togetherville; and, most troublingly of all, medical informational networks such as 23andMe, with the power to transform our DNA records into socially distributed products.

There are services such as Klout that quantify our social influence in this new “reputation” economy and CafeBots, Kleiner’s first sFund investment, which provides a Friend Relationship Management (FRM) system for the influencers of this new reputation economy. Then there are multimillion-dollar networks such as Groupon and LivingSocial that transform individual commerce into a social activity; well-backed start-ups such as Miso and Philo that reveal what we are watching on television; and, most bizarrely, quickly growing social-ecommerce web platforms and services such as Blippy and Swipely that publish all our credit-card purchases.

The digital networking of the world is both relentless and inevitable. A report from media-research company Nielsen revealed that in June 2010 Americans spent almost 23 per cent of their online time using social-media networking — up a staggering 43 per cent year on year, with use among 50 to 64-year-olds almost doubling in this period. Facebook, with more than half a billion members investing more than 700 billion of their minutes per month on the network, is expected to hit a billion members within the next 12 months. By the end of 2011, half of all American consumers are expected to own networked smartphones, thereby sweeping them into the social-media maelstrom. Like it or not, Tapscott and Williams’s “age of network intelligence” is imminent — the only question is how intelligent we really all will be in this brave new social world.

And all this, I’m afraid, is just the early stages of the social-media revolution. The CEO of Ericsson has predicted that there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020, making the network more and more invasive and visible. Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg, the smiling utilitarian at the heart of this social darkness, has even come up with his own law to imagine the future of the trap he is laying for us all. “I would expect that next year people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and the next year they will be sharing twice as much as they did before,” Zuckerberg’s Law states.

Zuckerberg’s ideas on “sharing” could have been invented by Kafka. Just as Josef K unwittingly shared all his known and unknown information with the authorities, so we are now all sharing our most intimate spiritual, economic and medical information with all the myriad “free” social-media services, products and platforms. And, given that the dominant business model of all this social-media economy is advertising sales, it is inevitable that all this data will end up in the hands of our corporate advertising “friends”. That’s why Facebook, a six-year-old, barely profitable new-media company with little proprietary technology of its own, was valued recently at about $50 billion. Zuckerberg is taking Bentham’s ideas to their ultimate conclusion, and the result is a panopticon in which privacy is relegated like an historical artefact. Facebook even has the audacity, in good Benthamite fashion, to be developing a “Gross Happiness Index” which will supposedly quantify and thus own global sentiment, making the social network the central bank of our new public socio-informational economy. Today’s digital social network is a trap. Today’s cult of the social, peddled by an unholy alliance of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and communitarian idealists, is rooted in a misunderstanding of the human condition. The truth is that we aren’t naturally social beings. Instead, as Vermeer reminds us in The Woman in Blue, human happiness is really about being left alone. On Liberty, the 1859 essay by Bentham’s godson and former acolyte, John Stuart Mill, remains a classic defence of individual rights in the age of the industrial network and its tyranny of the majority. Today, as we struggle to make sense of the impact of the internet revolution, we need an equivalent On Digital Liberty to protect the right to privacy in the social-media age. Tapscott and Williams believe that the age of networked intelligence will be equal to the Renaissance in its significance. But what if they are wrong? What if the digital revolution, because of its disregard for the right of individual privacy, becomes a new dark ages? And what if all that is left of individual privacy by the end of the 21st century exists in museums alongside Vermeer’s Woman in Blue? Then what?

Love Wins