Month: November 2015 (page 1 of 2)

Real Person Tuesday!

Black-Friday“Black Friday” – The day after Thanksgiving. For some, Black Friday actually begins on Thanksgiving, sometime between the final whistle of the Cowboys game and the time you eat your first dinner-buns-with-turkey-scraps sandwich. It is a day when Americans attempt to recreate the running of the bulls, only indoors with more danger. All this, while the Best Buy store stereo blares, “…all I want for Christmassss is you…” Should’ve added, “…and that. And that. And that.

“Love Actually Saturday” – The Saturday after Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Christmas season + 1. This is a day when you vow to never look at another human being again after yesterday’s fiasco. Instead, you hole up for your now-annual tradition of Baileys, the couch, that ratty “Team Building Exercise ’99” sweatshirt, and the crooning of the immortal Billy Mack’s, “…I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes…” Or, alternatively, you watch 8-10 more hours of football. Substitute Baileys with Bud Light. Sweatshirt can stay the same.

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“Swiffer Sunday” – The Sunday after Thanksgiving. Finally, you address that growing heap of dishes in the sink and get your significant other to help you put the dinner table back to its normal size. Your dog (thankfully) begins to act as your personal swiffer, having just worn off his own Tryptophan coma. You flip on the tube and “…What? How many #$%^ football games are there?! All I want to watch is…wait, who’s playing?…okay, that sounds like a good game…”

“Cyber Monday” – The Monday after Thanksgiving. This is the day where shoppers remind themselves that they live in the 21st century and there’s this thing called the Internet. A huge store with amazing goods all at a person’s fingertips without the noise, the lines, the people. Your commitment to Cyber Monday does not require camping in front of the store for days on end—it just requires your Visa. After some strict family detox, you begin to entertain the possibility of re-entering society, the first time that’s happened in about 4 days.

“Real Person Tuesday” – The Tuesday that inaugurates Christmas season for real. This is the day where people become human once again. This is the day when you throw away the remaining turkey in your fridge. This is the day that you don’t buy any presents. This is the day you warmly invite a friend to a cup of coffee and a walk around the greenbelt. No cell phones. No sales. Just you. And him. No asking about your travel plans or home decorating progress. Just you. And her. Talking about the things of the heart. A little by little, you begin to thaw. Real Person Tuesday is my little idea for you. You.conversation2

You know what I know: Black Friday is revolting, Christmas has been murdered by Walmart, and the Emperor is rebuilding the Death Star. You are reminded, once again, that Christmas hymns playing in your local malls and shops feels insanely sacrilegious. Even profane. You don’t give a flying ___ about the red cups at Starbucks, but you acutely register a disconnect between the specific joy of the Christian Christmas and the vague amusement of a holiday season where one has permission to drink too much and disregard commonly accepted fashion rules.

Folks, if we’re going to restore humanity to the country we love, let’s start by re-ordering the way we do Christmas. And to do that, it will behoove us to re-establish some simple truths:

  • Christmas is NOT, and never has been, about family and friends. It’s not about getting together, reconnecting, or being with someone special. Christmas certainly isn’t about the shopping or the food, though in the case of the latter, it remains a decent perk. But didn’t you just say…?! Yes, I called for relationship time with a loved one…because this is what life together can be like. It still has nothing to do with Christmas.
  • Christmas is about incarnation, not excarnation. The image of God became flesh and made his dwelling with us as an embodied human being, a little Jewish boy born of a woman into a frighteningly alien world so different from God’s original design. Our excarnational culture would have us believe that an image is so much more significant than the real, and thus, the culture has committed itself to the transformation of the Christmas event into a sign, an image, probably emblazoned with a sticker that reads, “30% off!”

“Christmas is NOT, and never has been, about family and friends.”

conversation1Turn your Tuesday into a walking proclamation of the Christmas event, a bold witness to the power of God’s grace made real in a world that often rejects reality. If Christmas remains grounded as the incarnational revealing of God to man, then…

…we most certainly can enjoy the neighbors and family that surround us, in awareness that family itself—even friendship—was a feature of Jesus’ humanity from his very first breath.

…we most certainly can enjoy the giving and receiving of gifts, albeit as a poor reflection of the gift-giving nature of God himself. As Christ reorients the Christian life, gift-shopping moves away from rote obligation (“I suppose I should get ____ something this year”) or friendship legitimization (“This will show them how much they mean to me”)…and becomes a reflection of grace. I give freely because I received freely.

… we most certainly can reject the American facsimile of Christmas, calling it out for what it is: excarnational, materialistic, and ultimately, shallow.

May your Tuesday be a day of grace, a day filled with authentic conversation about the stuff that matters with people that matter even more. May you be filled this week with assurance that God Incarnate continues to prove that the imago Dei became flesh and not the other way around. And may you have the strength to gently resist a culture that would seek to displace the stupendously impossible event of Jesus’ birth with the ‘good news’ of Cyber Monday deals.

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© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

The Flash-mobbing of America

“Flash mob” – n.

  1. a group of people mobilized by social media to meet in a public place for the purpose of doing an unusual or entertaining activity of short duration.
  2. a group of teenagers who have contacted each other by cell phone and social media and gather in an area to trash it or to mug and beat passersby.

I have no problem admitting that the first couple times I saw flash mob videos on YouTube, I was totally impressed. My particular favorite was when a well-organized mob dispersed in and around New York’s Grand Central Station when, all at the same precise moment, each participant involved suddenly froze. A surreal experience. Onlookers and police officers thrown into confusion, some with smiles and others with perplexity. If ever you could create an oxymoronic moment of ‘coordinated spontaneity,’ these events seem to nail it.

My wife’s favorite is a bit more…um…musical:

The original flash mobs weren’t particularly successful. In fact, they were designed to be social experiments on the nature of conformity, a form of social commentary that demonstrated the ease of which people can be herded into doing something ridiculous. Or, if you prefer, think of a flash mob as 7th grade behavior elevated to an art form: occasionally funny, often confusing, and certainly prone to repeat-ability. Soon, as the definition suggests,the term evolved to describe lightning-quick assaults made by a coordinated group of thugs who found easy targets, usually the old and defenseless.

Flash mobs have become a form of social commentary – in both definitions of the word. They can attempt to bring art…or humor. They can also show us our desire to be a part of something big and exciting. Or, they can show us how easy it is to run roughshod over our neighbors.

Now Paris. Refugees. Immigration.

How have we responded? Let’s run to Facebook and start a flash mob of political commentary…acting like teenagers and ready to trash the area, beating passersby with our wit and pithy remarks. On your mark…get set…SOMEBODY HIT SOMEBODY!

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Our Facebook accounts are inundated with people who apparently live by the motto, “Ready! Shoot! Aim!” So far, I have resisted the urge to respond to these refugee-topical posts with a very simple, “Not good enough.” I don’t know how much longer I can hold out. No, the issue is not as simple as we think. No, there are actually several dynamics in tension all at once, so easy answers are not at our disposal. Yes, you can be committed, faithful Christians and have opposing views on the refugee crisis. And yes, we look foolish for using social media as our primary way of communicating our views, because: 1) nobody changes his/her opinion about a topic reading two-sentences status updates, and 2) the very nature of the medium demands a dumbing down of the conversation. More likely, the medium shuts down meaningful conversation altogether.

I imagine there are several compelling reasons to choose social media for socio-political commentary:
-We like to write political commentary, because we don’t trust our ability to talk about it on the fly. We sound smarter if no one can respond to our face.
-We’re relatively certain that our contacts will agree with us because we hand-choose them in the first place. We are preaching to our own choir.
-Therefore, we don’t have to be confronted by those who are serious and thoughtful on the other side, because a) if they’re serious and thoughtful, they probably know the folly of debating politics on Facebook already. Thus, the only voices left are the chorus of sycophants saying, ‘Yes, Joel! More of this! So true! It’s funny because it’s so true. True, yet so funny…and sad. Sad, but true. Funny and sad, yet true! Preach on!’

 

A man displays the French flag in front of the Bataclan concert hall, which was a site of last Friday's attacks, in Paris, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. France is demanding security aid and assistance from the European Union in the wake of the Paris attacks and has triggered a never-before-used article in the EU's treaties to secure it. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Or, perhaps…
-We desperately want our voice to be heard, and we believe that if we can give a few breaths to a rising gale, we will have been a part of a movement bigger than us. A socio-political butterfly effect, if you will. We want to bet on American Pharaoh, just to say we were there when it happened.

I’m far from innocent on this one. A while ago, after remarking about a political affair of which I had strong attitudes but scant knowledge, a professor/pastor friend of mine posted this on his Facebook page: “…pastors who use Facebook should remember that, in general, they are to keep their purely political opinions to themselves–lest with their own merely human opinions expressed for all to see, they might diminish the ranks of those disposed to hear the Gospel of Christ…” Call me adequately chastened. And even though I’m not a pastor, I have taken the lesson to heart and refuse to post status updates on issues of politics, lest we make enemies of our brothers and sisters and become a living firewall for the Gospel.

Before we go further, I want to be clear on one point. It’s not the topic of conversation that’s the problem. It’s the topic of conversation combined with a particular media form that makes everything so volatile. Both elements have their proper place and indeed, pastors should be enjoying fruitful conversations about politics just as any other citizen should. But doing it as part of an online social network flash mob?

“We desperately want our voice to be heard, and we believe that if we can give a few breaths to a rising gale, we will have been a part of a movement bigger than us.”

When we lose the uncertainty and spontaneity of face-to-face conversation, we lose the ability to be formed. We’re preaching loudly, yet without authority. And if you insist that Christian preaching should have a prophetic component to it, I’d say, ‘Yes, you’re right. There is time and occasion for that. But the prophet must be responsible enough to discern whether the message they want to deliver is from God or from MSNBC.’

How about a flash mob conversation? I know this sounds shocking, but what if we committed ourselves to this act of unusual behavior: Call four friends up (even, God forbid, friends who don’t vote for the same political party) and say the following words: “Hi (your friend’s name)! I’ve got this idea. I want to talk face-to-face with some thoughtful people about the Syrian refugee issue. I’m afraid that I might be too myopic on this one and want some back and forth, testing my thought on the issue. Could we meet at the Yard House for beers, burgers, and a polite fight?”

I’m convinced people would be excited to participate in something like this but don’t know how to ask for it. You just might, without knowing it, start a trend among your friends—call it the Our Sister of Perpetual Cultural Challenges Breakfast Club. Set rules. I’ll give you three quickies.

Rule 1: Understand the other person first.
Rule 2: Give everyone a chance to revise and re-test their ideas.
Rule 3: Recognize you could be wrong.
syrianRefugees-Bulgaria

Social media posts aren’t conversations even if there are responses. Conversations are conversations. They require thinking on the spot. They often require backtracking from a misspoken word or incomplete thought. They demand patience and empathy. These conversations may even shock us a bit, but if they are done in good faith, you will feel edified, sharpened, and more adult-like. They require us to be civil and do the hard work of clarifying our interlocutor’s argument to its best form. You might end up in the same spot, you might not. But everyone will be better for the process.

Let the teenagers overturn the trash cans. As for you, commit yourself to being a person who leaves less waste on the ground in the first place.

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© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Your iPhone is not Swiss

schwarzenegg
About 10 years ago, my then-fiancée-now-wife and I visited central Europe as a part of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet some distant relatives. I love art, so the trip was a firsthand experience of masterworks. I love food, as well, experiencing masterpieces of a different kind. In short order, we knocked out prosciutto e melone in Cinque Terre, döner kebabs in Vienna, and remarkable Bier in Munich.

One meal stood out. The meal wasn’t sexy by any means—it was potatoes with melted cheese on top (that’s it)—but the place was meaningful. We broke bread with my Swiss cousin and his parents in a beautiful home/chalet in the bucolic hills below Schwarzenegg, Switzerland, my patrilineal homeland. The cows had bells, the hills had Swiss mountain dogs, and the chapel up the road had a small cemetery with a half a dozen headstones inscribed, “Oesch.” Looking back, the whole experience felt quintessentially…Swiss.

Switzerland.
Cheese.
Knives.
Chocolate.
Watches.
Federer.
Neutrality.

“Joel, what do you think about ______?”
“Personally, I’m Switzerland on this one.”Second_world_war_europe_1941-1942_map_en

We associate neutrality with Switzerland in common parlance mostly due to its political positioning in the World Wars. In the midst of a madman’s obsession with ruling the European continent during WWII, for example, one little chunk of land went basically untouched. The Swiss wanted to stay out of it, and in large part, they were successful.

But I wonder if neutrality, in all of its forms, is but a pipe dream. I’m seriously hesitant to admit that neutrality has any practical force across any number of disciplines. Most specifically, I hear an all-too-common refrain in discussions about technological devices and their impact on modern life. The statement usually goes something like this: “Well, digital devices are ultimately tools. They aren’t good or bad…they’re neutral. It’s how we use them that makes them good or bad.” Technologies, they argue, are inherently Swiss.

I suppose it’s somewhat accurate to say that, yes, tools do appear to be ‘neutral’ – at least until they are put into the hands of a moral agent. With the tool in hand, the agent can wreak great harm or remarkable public benefit. But this cannot be the whole story. The above position practically assumes that as soon as the device is dropped or left behind, the agent’s world returns to some sort of base line.  Normal life ->Tool is used -> Normal life.

But this is not what devices actually do, particularly electronic devices. Track your emotions after you accidentally leave your home without your phone. If you’re like me, you feel partially naked (and afraid?) as if a piece of you, an appendage, has gone missing. The more we look to our devices for comfort, the less we look to the world around us.

We are already transhumanists in at least one important sense—we meld with machines to make sense of our world. They are often the meaning-makers—which is almost to say that they are the culture-makers. They impart value, shape thought, and change perceptions.

“The more we look to our devices for comfort, the less we look to the world around us.”

The iPhone whispers to us constantly. It blings when our favorite team signs a free agent. It tells us when our friends want to connect with us. Siri helps us schedule our appointments and Waze makes sure we get there in spite of the traffic on the 405. We get little hits of dopamine with every flash of the screen, making the iPhone a truly addictive companion.

This digital disposition does not sound at all Swiss, as our devices are not the neutral tools we dream them to be. As the saying goes, “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.”

stringsMaybe this addiction speaks to the general over-estimation of our ability to control our surroundings. We determine what affects us and who gets to speak to us. Isn’t this why we get to ‘choose’ who our friends are? What our Netflix queue will be? What news websites we follow? When this sense of security is invaded, we act like children (Yalies, that means you) demanding that our perfect buffer from the world be re-erected before we fly headfirst into a host of mental disorders.

The need to control is actually one of the driving impetuses of technology development. And don’t misunderstand – this can be a definite good! But when our eyes are closed, the control reverses quickly. Technologies become the puppet masters. The next time you walk down the aisle of an airplane to find your seat, count how many people are on their phones.  27 out of every 32, if you trust my non-scientific survey on Delta flight #2347 from Salt Lake City to Orange County. The Godfather has manufactured silence in an airplane cabin full of people; the iPhone allows each person to control their surroundings. No talk wanted. No boredom tolerated. It’s a deal that we’ve been unable to refuse.

If we admit that technologies have some sort of control over us, how can we cling to the naïve belief that they are just neutral tools, waiting to be used to whatever end we choose?

The cost of an iPhone most certainly may be justified. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that these things we keep in our pockets are only neutral tools.

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© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Discovering Rhythm

We have a guest blogger this week, one very talented Melissa Kircher! She’s an accomplished artist, author, and mother. See her bio at the end of the post. Enjoy! -jco

rhythm3Rhythm. It’s as close as our breath, as the renewal of our cells, the fact that we sleep every night. It’s how we structure our days and months and minutes. If the need for healthy rhythm is ingrained in both our physical bodies and as this sort-of soul longing, then why does it seem so hard to attain?

Healthy rhythm is something my family and I have been working toward the past couple of months. My husband and I realized that we were “on” too much; that we weren’t incorporating rest and fun and generosity and freedom into our everyday living. The digital-ness of the world was creeping in, as well as the demands of parenthood, jobs, owning our first house, and all the other responsibilities of adult life.

We tried to fix our lack of rhythm the old-school way. Both children of Modernity, we like rules and guidelines. Tell us what to do to achieve healthiness and we’ll do it. Religiously.

So we tried creating a Sabbath—a break from the cell phones and Internet and house projects and work and people and expectations and drudgery.  It’s what you do, right?

Well, it spectacularly sucked. Like really. Our children are ages two and three right now. They’re in the whining and potty training and generally being a ton of work stages. And both the hubs and I are creative, outgoing introverts (Yes, that’s a thing) who need both people time and alone time, and who actually enjoy doing projects on the weekend.

Even so, we forced in a Sabbath. Saturdays became twelve straight hours of “Be together all the time, have fun, create meaningful memories, rest, relax, let everything go.” Recipe for disaster anyone? By Sabbath’s eleven AM every week the hubby and I were fighting and at least 75% of the family had shed tears.

A Sabbath day simply did not work for us. Not for our stage of life with little ones and not for any of our personalities. Except maybe Nora, our daughter, she’s the more cheerful extrovert of the bunch!rhythm2

Which led both hubby and I to dig a little deeper into this thing called rhythm. The weird surprise was that we both came back to the drawing table with the same idea. Perhaps rhythm wasn’t so much about practice; maybe it was more breathable than that. Maybe rhythm was about principle; meaning that perhaps the idea of what healthy rhythm looked like for our family was an ever-evolving thing.

We started asking questions like: What does healthy rhythm look like for us this weekend? What do each of us need for healthy rhythms of engagement and rest each day? What obligations are truly obligations and where can we say “no”? What are the social activities we really want to attend? How do personality and rhythm interact, meaning how does each individual need to spend their time to be the truest version of themselves?

All of these questions brought up an even more insightful theory: perhaps knowing one’s self well is paramount to finding healthy rhythm.

 I think this gets to the heart of the issue. I can’t carve out healthy rhythms in my life if I don’t know who I am.

And if I don’t love who I am.

After all, how can I be disconnected and hateful toward my uniqueness, yet strive to feed and nourish the very things that make me…me?

rhythm1So then, to find healthy rhythm I first need to understand myself and then I need to fall in love with myself. After this I, or anyone, might be able to discover healthy rhythms for the day or week or month or year I find myself indwelling.

Some questions to ponder: Who are you really? What makes you tick? What ignites your soul with joy and passion and life? What activities energize you and what drains your energy? How do you process emotion? How do you deal with hard times, with times of excitement and change? How do you relate to others? To God? What does rest mean to you? What are chores? What does your perfect day look like?

The answers to all of these questions could be helpful in gaining a more profound understanding of who you and I are as individuals and in turn lead to healthy rhythm development—simply because we know what works and what doesn’t in our unique life.

I’d like to report that the hubs and I now have a real handle on healthy rhythms, but nah, we don’t. It’s a process, just like anything else. A journey deeper into who we are as a blending of dust and glory, who we are in our marriage, and as a family unit. I’m sure that while the practice of healthy rhythms might ebb and flow as the years wind on, the principle of knowing and loving ourselves will be a lasting blessing.

-mk

 

MELISSA KIRCHERmelissa
Unashamed nerdy bookworm & author of Dream On, The War Inside, and The Gray Horizon. Artist, writer, mum, and seeker of life. She lives in Norwalk, Connecticut, with her husband Jake and their two kiddos.

See more of her work at: www.mkircher.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MKircher83
Instagram: https://instagram.com/melissakircher/


© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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