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Starting in the middle

In May, Showtime released a limited series revival of Twin Peaks, a 1990 quirky two-season television crime drama set in a small town in Washington and centered on FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s investigation of the murder of a teenager named Laura Palmer.  I hadn’t watched the original series, so when I ran across it on Netflix, I thought I’d try to give it a go before Showtime’s series aired.
From the opening scene, however, I was utterly confused. The characters made references to other characters as if I  should already know who they are, and I couldn’t really grasp what was going on from scene to scene.
At first, I chalked it up to creator David Lynch’s surreal style, but half-an-hour in I discovered why I was so confused: I was watching the first episode of the second season instead of the first season.
The memory still makes me laugh, but it also reminds me of the way many of us approach Scripture. We often start in the middle, with Jesus—who is, indeed, the central crux of and …
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Time to take our temperature

I recently ran across an article in The Dartmouth that underscores the effects of political polarization in the U.S. "A survey of Dartmouth's political landscape" explores the results of a campus-wide survey last month in which a little over 430 students answered questions about several issues, including tolerance for and relations with opposing political viewpoints--as revealed in the graph above.

Surveys like this take a reading of public opinion and where certain populations stand, but they are also a good opportunity for us to take our own temperature. How would we answer questions like how comfortable we'd be having a roommate with opposing political views to our own? A question like that can reveal how much we invest our belief systems in political ideologies--and as I explored in my previous post, we need to be mindful of that.

Bugs, politics and the church

If you are looking for something to binge watch on Amazon Prime, consider the one-season CBS comedy-thriller BrainDead, a political satire set in a present-day Washington, D.C. that’s been invaded by extraterrestrial insects which both feed on the brains of and take control of people, including congress members and staffers. As the bugs take over, they cause their hosts to become more extreme in their ideologies and tactics—so much so that the Democrats and Republicans mirror each other to the point that it gets hard to distinguish one from the other.
The bugs’ agenda? To keep people distracted: while the humans fight each other, the bugs take over the planet.
As the political climate degraded last fall, I found a bit of relief in the satirical series' use of things like exaggeration, irony and humor to comment on current issues. But with the frequent shots of Trump and Clinton on TVs in the background, BrainDead’s reality felt a little too close to our own. According to PEW, politi…

The scope and nature of suffering in 'Lion' and life

Recently, I finally got around to watching Lion, the Oscar-nominated film based on the true story of Saroo Brierley who, as a five-year-old boy, is accidentally separated from his older brother while scavenging in trains in India.
After falling asleep on a bench at one of the stations, Saroo (played by Sunny Pawar) boards another train hoping to find his brother but ends up 1600 kilometers away in Calcutta. Illiterate, Saroo doesn’t know his last name or his mother’s name and he can't speak the local language, so he ends up spending harrowing weeks trying to survive on the streets. He eventually ends up in an orphanage, where he’s adopted by Sue and John Brierley (played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) along with another boy from India, and they both grow up in Australia. In his 20s, haunted by his past, Saroo (now played by Dev Patel) begins a six-year search for his birthplace, eventually locating the town he grew up in using Google Earth and reuniting with his birth mother.
T…

Metro cars and church

The other day, I took the Metro into DC. The station was at the beginning of the line, so the car was only a quarter full. I grabbed a seat, took out my phone and started scrolling through email and social media apps. By the time I put away my phone 10 minutes later, the car was packed.
You’d think with that 60 or so people crammed in one little space, there’d be some noise, but it was so quiet that I could hear the rustle of a newspaper page being turned half a car away from me. Some riders were reading or looking at their phones while others closed their eyes or looked at nothing in particular. No one was talking.
This isn’t unusual. There’s a certain etiquette for riding public transportation that creates a kind of unspoken social order to protect personal space and politeness. And as an introvert, I don’t mind at all.
But that morning it suddenly struck me that one of the only other places where I could sit with that many people in silence was in a church service.
And that got me t…

Virtually Real Church

Last summer, my family acquired one of the latest revolutions in virtual reality — a headset that uses a smartphone as a display. It looks like a giant visor, and once you hold it up to your eyes and strap it on, you are immersed in a wide variety of 360 environments — from standing in a dense forest with a very real-looking computer-generated dinosaur to balancing on a surfboard gliding under giant curved walls of moving water.
Some of the environments almost feel like the real thing — and many people are drawn to it.
“This technological paradigm shift brings a level of immersion unlike any that has come before it,” says Monica Kim in “The Good and the Bad of Escaping to Virtual Reality.” Like many technological developments, there are concerns about how it will affect us and our culture — but immersion itself is nothing new.
“We are always immersed in something, whether it is narrative, a form of media or just our own thought process. It can be difficult, though, to see what we are imme…

Inside 'The Circle'

This past weekend, the film adaptation of Dave Egger’s The Circle premiered in movie theaters. While the film—at least initially—sticks pretty close to the book, I didn’t find it nearly as creepy or effective in its themes, which challenge us not only to examine the implications of technoconsumerism but also our understanding of transformation.
Like the novel, the film focuses on Mae Holland, a recent college graduate who lands a job at The Circle, a powerful internet corporation that consolidates all your online needs--from tablets, computers and cell phones to biometric devices, social media and financial security and identity—into one service. Picture Apple, Microsoft and Google wrapped up into one and you start to get the picture.
As Mae rises through the ranks, we encounter a society where privacy is slowly being strangled by voyeurism in a world where cameras proliferate, the hunger for connection is insatiably fed by social-pressured and all-consuming social media, and corporati…

Netflixing the Story

Recently, friends of mine who are software developers told me about Netflix’s data collection, which not only tracks everything we watch but also every time we fast-forward, rewind, pause or abandon a movie or show altogether. Netflix uses this information to personalize recommendations as well as make decisions about what programming to feature or create.
In “How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood,” Alexis Madrigal explores how Netflix also “microtags” every movie and show (from the plot, director and actors to the main characters’ jobs), incorporating that data into a system she compares to Facebook’s Newsfeed—“but instead of serving you up pieces of web content that the algorithm thinks you’ll like, Netflix is serving you up filmed entertainment.”
I find all that pretty impressive (and handy)—but others are a bit more wary.
In “How Netflix is Using Big Data,” Ritika Tiwari notes that some critics are concerned that Netflix is abusing the data and hindering creativity—for example, “i…

The ghosts that haunt us

Last month, the live-action remake of the 1995 anime film Ghost in the Shell hit theaters.
Set in a future when many humans are augmented with cybernetic enhancements, the story follows Major Mira Killian, whose body was mortally injured in a terrorist attack. Her brain is experimentally integrated into a robotic body called a “shell.”  With no memory of her life before the attack, Killian uses her enhanced abilities as part of a counter-terrorist team.
Both films explore themes related to integration of biology and technology, what makes us who we are and the mystery of consciousness (referred to as one’s “ghost”). A central theme in the 2017 film is Killian’s struggle with identity and purpose heightened by her memory loss and cybernetic body. In a way, she is haunted by her own “ghost” as she experiences “glitches” or flashes of memory, leaving her feeling isolated from herself and others.
She longs not only for understanding of who she is, where she came from and her purpose bu…

Hiring a refugee

Besides being a fascinating story about creating a business, 60 Minutes' interview with Chobani's billionaire founder last month gets at the benefits of employing refugees. Several churches in our region are encouraging their members who are employers to consider hiring refugees. It makes such a difference in their lives.
They got here legally. They’ve gone through a most dangerous journey. They lost their family members. They lost everything they have. And here they are. They are either going to be a part of society or they are going to lose it again. The number one thing that you can do is provide them jobs.  The minute they get a job that’s the minute they stop being a refugee.

Bringing God-talk back to open spaces

Some of you have noticed that I took a break from blogging for about a year. It was less intentional than due to an influx of responsibilities and pursuits—from settling into a new job with a local social services agency to going through the college application process for my oldest child and getting my youngest prepared for high school.
In particular, I have had some amazing opportunities to advocate for refugees. My job connected me to the resettlement agencies in our region, and over the past year, I began helping to inform our community as well as congregations about the refugee crisis, connecting them to resettlement agencies and working to develop ways to both embrace refugees who have resettled in our communities as well as those languishing in camps and settlements around the world. It is exciting and encouraging work—one which I hope to share more about both here and at For Such a Time is Now in the coming months.
It’s been a full and good year, but I have missed taking the …