The Memeing of Humanity

I often wonder what my generation will be remembered for. There will be the great achievements and the trivial tropes, as there has always been with every previous generation. Perhaps the most significant mark the Millennials (or Xennials as one New Zealand sociologist has named those both between 1977 and 1983) is social media. Of course the internet and World Wide Web are gifts from the generation above us but we’ve taken it and run with it giving the globe access to bad jokes, portmanteaus and memes.

Memes are wonderful things at times. In the wake of any world event some genius with a smart phone pulls a captioned photo or ingenious word play out of the bag and draws us a few millimetres closer together. I find myself as that weird guy laughing on a train, all too often from a meme that someone has shared. Recently though, they seem to have taken a nastier turn.

I think I first noticed when a few memes of the phrase, ‘tag her/his boyfriend/girlfriend’ appeared on my Facebook timeline. These words were captioning a photo of a person whom the original poster (OP for the savvy) deemed unattractive. Thousands of shares, tags and likes later the OP had had their hoped for moment in the sun.

Then I noticed other similar memes, ‘Me at the wedding buffet’ accompanying a child suffering with extropia. There is the wholesale mocking of those who can’t spell, or are poorly educated because their statuses are grammatically incorrect. Others include people dancing and being recorded without their knowledge with tags like, ‘me dancing ten drinks in.’ The meme that got to me the most is that of a man recovering from addiction issues, having lost everything and being recorded for the US tv show Intervention, letting out the wrenching and pained cry of a broken heart – this is accompanied by things like, ‘me when the popcorn is finished’ or something equally as trivial.

I’ve laughed at memes, I have laughed at those similar to these, I am guilty and not innocent, but it’s time that I stop. We have created the memeing of humanity and I’m convinced it is causing widespread personal trauma. It is one thing to laugh at a well edited frame from a TV show with a clever moment-relevant caption. It is one thing to laugh at a reality tv clip placed into a different context. Celebrity photo shoots recast as something different can be hilarious too. But the widespread mockery of everyday people for their appearance or education or mistakes is something entirely different.

I often wonder what happens to the hearts of the people who are the ‘ugly boyfriend/girlfriend’ meme. I know I would crumble and potentially never recover. What happens to the parent whose son is the wedding buffet meme as their son becomes an object of ridicule? Or the person who cannot spell correctly due to their dyslexia or poor education but whose engagement with the world is ridiculed by strangers; what happens to them? Or the recovering addict, whose pain was so evident, who we share and recast to our taste, his shame has become our humour, what becomes of him?

Has the internet made us mean? Has the ability to share or retweet what is essentially the humiliation of another packaged as lighthearted joking made us numb to the consequences in the lives of strangers. I’m sure social media has caused many of us to write cruel things to one another that we’d never say to someone’s face, check every political post for evidence, but I think I also think the instant, disposable forms of online humour have detached us from the reality of what can happen to the subject of a joke.

We are memeing people, not just their facial expressions or their body types. We are memeing their humanity for our entertainment and I am sure it is devastating to their lives. I know that posts like this make me a luvvie, social justice warrior, snowflake or virtue signaller but I’m more than willing to wear those labels. Can we do better? Can we celebrate one another? Can we laugh together at the hilarity in the world that doesn’t destroy the human dignity of others?

I’m sorry that I’ve not been good at this in the past but I want to be better. My Christian faith speaks of all of humanity being created in the image of God and yet I have laughed along at those who carry that same image as me being undermined and humiliated. I have got to change; thus just isn’t right.

We have so much we can laugh at without resorting to this. The world is full of funny things. Feel free to reply with some memes, just try to make sure they aren’t degrading strangers for quick laughs.

(That’s me in the photo by the way – teenaging was confusing and difficult.)

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Does (some) Evangelical theology lend itself to climate change denial? 

I listened to this podcast yesterday and have spent the last 24 hours wondering why many Evangelicals don’t believe in climate change. Is there something in Evangelical theology that lends itself to climate change denial.

I realise not all are deniers and that not all believe these things but they are definite badges of many streams of evangelicalism. (This was originally a twitter thread so forgive the shorthand style.)

1. Us vs. Them – There is an idea that Christianity is opposed to ‘secular’ belief. Dividing lines are drawn between the two. Science is often seen as secular and so part of the ‘them’ camp, so subconsciously and even consciously rejected.

2. Sovereignty – God is in control. He would never allow something catastrophic to happen to the world. This ignores disasters already happening. Also removes any agency humanity has over the earth.

3. A Weak Humanity- A low view of humanities ability. How can weak humanity do anything to can damage the planet? Only God has power to do that. We are small and powerless.

4. Creationism vs Evolution – Science has been painted as bad/dishonest for so long with regard to evolution that many distrust ‘all science.’ Climate science part of same ‘dishonest group,’ so easy to ignore.

5. Science is liberal – Much of western evangelicalism has joined conservative political causes. Pervading idea within some of those political ideologies is that science is liberal and so an enemy of the cause.

6. Personal sin – Morality focussed on behaviour modification e.g. sex, alcohol etc. This limits the idea of societal and collective sins like environmental destruction.

7. Leader as ‘Lord’s anointed leader’ – Pastors are final authority on all things so in minds of many congregants know more than scientists about climate. Science therefore is never read by many believers as it has been castigated by their pastor.

8. Blessing over stewardship – In many evangelical streams there is more teaching on receiving of blessings than how to steward blessings well. Western blessing often correlated to wealth, influence and possessions. Planet stewardship low on this agenda.

9. Personal Jesus – Does ‘Me and God’ theology lower sense of being part of and responsible for the wider world?

10. Parachute eschatology – Does living for a future Heaven cause some to negate the value of this life on this planet? Is Earth just a cab ride to heaven and therefore disposable?

11. End times theology – A belief that we are in the last days can cause many to assume Jesus will return within their lifetime. Earth is ending anyway so why care for it?

Any other thoughts on this?

Salaam, Shalom, Peace

If you are like me; white and non Muslim, please don’t allow this attack to be different to those that have happened in the past few months. I have realised in the past year that I give more of myself in response to events in which I can more easily place myself. If I recognise a place, if he victims look like me, if they were doing things that I do, then I respond with a deeper level of sadness, anger and solidarity. This is normal but it is something I must find a way through.

If you’re like me, you also have to wade through the half-narratives and prejudice that comes out daily about the Muslim community in the UK. You see the cursing tabloid headlines as you buy your lunch, you see the tweets and the screaming far right nationalist protests. We can ignore it but it lingers just outside of our thinking.

We must be consciously combating that message of ‘us and them,’ that divides humans into subsets and tribes. Tribal civilisation was violent and turbulent. We can’t allow ourselves to be dragged back there. We cannot allow our response to terror and violence to be governed by dividing lines drawn by the agendas of others.

A faith community in London will never be the same after last night. If you’re a Christian imagine this happening as you left your evening prayer meeting, or bring and share lunch. It’s heartbreaking. People celebrating something that brings them together suffering an attack for a false association to an oppressive and evil movement.

The Metropolitan Police are right. This is an attack on all Londoners. These nightmares are an attack on us all; on our shared humanity and we can’t allow those who do these things to win.

If your ideology, be it religious or nationalistic, causes you to drive a van into a crowd of people, then you are a terrorist. You have committed violence for your cause. You have attacked all of us, but people like you will not win as long as the rest of us continue to reach across these fake divides drawn in our communities.

I always struggle with how the media behave in these moments. I hate to see the attacker’s faces on the screen, and their cause shared and dissected. This is the same. I don’t care who this person is, I care that a faith community has been attacked. I care about those in hospital. I care about our services having to deal with another attack. Share those people on your Facebook. Tell their stories. Don’t raise up the twisted narrative of the attacker, let it fall silent.

Whilst this is an attack on us all, it is clearly a specific attack on the Muslim community. A community who already feel marginalised and blamed. If you live near a mosque, find time to pop in and say hello. My advice from experience is to call ahead. If you can’t go visit send an email or message on Facebook or Twitter. Ask if there are ways to send support to those who were attacked. If you are appalled, but have no experience of Islamic communities it is natural to be nervous and confused about how to help; the easy answer is to ask questions. It might just be the asking how to help is the act of solidarity you can show.

An attack from Islamist terrorists and an attack from nationalistic terrorists have the same goal, to kill and divide through fear. We won’t let either win. We will overcome fear by choosing love and doing good. We will overcome division by coming together and knowing and befriending those whom we are supposed to be suspicious of.

The Jewish and Christian traditions speak of Shalom. The idea of wholeness, prosperity, tranquility, harmony and welfare – peace in short. In Islamic communities this is known as Salaam, and is used in the common greeting ‘As-salamu alaykum,’ or ‘peace be upon you.’ Our traditions have peace at their centre. That is our great commonality. Our humanity brings us together. Let us make Shalom, Salaam and Peace together, that is how good people respond to violence and division.

Finding words when the world hurts.

My timelines on Twitter and Facebook have been hard to read recently. Whether the world is a worse place to be than it ever has been, or it is the outcome of 24-hour news, and instant information via the internet, the reality is, we are now almost constantly faced with stories of unbearable tragedy.
 
My reaction to these events that display the worst of humanity’s abilities, is usually similar. I begin with anger and sadness and soon follow with defiance. Others I know, spend more time in sadness and fear before moving towards defiance, but they never get angry. Some find it hard to break the cycle of fear. Others seek to reason the causes and impact of tragedy. We are all different.
 
The past two weeks have seemed to hit many of us harder than previous events. Perhaps it is that the Manchester attack seemed so awful as it was directly against children. Perhaps it was that something as everyday as eating ice cream was under attack in Baghdad. It seems that in the past number of days there was an acceleration of pain and an increase in senseless violence.
 
There is definitely something about tragedy occurring in a place that you recognise, that amplifies its impact on our emotions. I’ve been to the Manchester Arena, I’ve walked over London and Westminster Bridges. My memory can place me in all three in seconds. We often berate ourselves for giving greater value to things that happen in our western world than to those in other places. We should be more gentle with ourselves. It is natural to react differently to things that are familiar than to things that seem alien and other. It doesn’t make us less human, it doesn’t make us any less compassionate. Our minds are catching up with the information age; perhaps we weren’t meant to process this level of grief and horror all at once. So when you see a ‘yeah but what about this place or that place,’ status or tweet, scroll on, don’t breathe in guilt, process what you can, be kind to yourself and to other people. Of course you are horrified by events elsewhere.
 
I’m a language focussed person. I process almost everything in my life through talking or writing. So when faced with these things I write and I talk. I rarely sit in silence and consider things. Writing has been hard in light of the events that have dominated the past days but I’ve needed to do it. It has become increasingly hard to find words on which to hang my emotions. It is hard to find words that sum up the rage, sadness, bewilderment and defiance that I feel. The inability to express these things has been frustrating. I know I am not alone in this, it seems the world has been hit so hard, and in such quick succession that many of us are struggling for the words to help our emotions find solid ground again.
 
Perhaps through instinct or perhaps by accident, I have turned to the Psalms. We all read the Psalms in different ways and from different perspectives. Some will read them as letters from God for our comfort, and others as the collection of ancient songs about humanity’s experience of God and the world. Whatever your view, my suggestion is to try reading them in times like these. They are easy reads, they are beautifully poetic but they are laced with honesty. For all of their hope, they don’t ignore the moments of despair. They are full of triumph and full of defeat. They cry out to a God who feels distant and rest in a God who feels close.
 
Sometimes when we can’t put words on our own lips, it helps to put use words of another; words that have been passed through the past few thousand years because they reflect our human condition, that this world is as full of beauty as it is ugliness, as full of wonder as it is full of worry. If you’re struggling to process what you’re seeing unfold, then allow the words of another to guide you to creating your own expressions of mourning, anger and hope.
 
A good one to start with is Psalm, 139. In the same poem, the writer admits that only God can see the tangle in his heart and wishes for the wicked to be slain, that they be washed from the world. It is humble and it is angry. It is hopeful and it is hopeless. All of our emotions in one poem. Start there and read around. There are 150 to choose from. Some will lift you from the pit and some will sit alongside you at the bottom of it. Some will put hope in your heart and others will tell you it is ok to weep. Try it for 30 days, it might help you as it is helping me.
 
Psalm 139
1 You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
psalm

A prayer for London and everywhere else. 

In light of another senseless attack on our everyday lives hashtags and even prayers can feel futile, but I don’t know what else to do.

Almighty God, who made us and gave us life, we are hurting and confused. We find ourselves, once again, bewildered by how those whom you have made in the same God-image as us can be so callous and do such great evil. The list of tragedy gets longer. Senseless killing across the world you made and first called good.

We are hurting again, as we have before. We are mourning life lost, both young and old; stolen by another senseless act of cowardice. How many more of these tragedies must we face? This world that you created and called good, is pocked with violence that seems only to increase.

When the darkness comes close and invades these places so familiar, our eyes struggle to see you, our ears strain to hear you. Questions grow loud and faith is stretched.

Yet we know you are faithful, that in our suffering you draw close. Our heads hope you are good today, help our hearts feel that you are.

In this darkest moment, we come to you again, with all the small faith we can gather, and ask you to help us. We ask that you intervene, that you save us from this mess. With the hope that we have left we ask for solution. We ask that not one more life is lost to this battle, but that peace will rise.

May the whispered promise that love will one day win, become a shout, ringing like a bell around the world. Comfort those who mourn. Draw your arms around the bereaved. Pull the grieving close and hold them to your chest.

May love heal these hearts broken and changed these hearts set on evil.

May your strong hands break the back of every ideology that calls for death. May you dry up resources that buy weapons, and may you silence networks that recruit lost souls for war. May their plans turn to dust and their hands fumble and fail. May every plan stutter and every foot soldier stumble. Have those who make plans to kill lose heart in their cause; kill their fanaticism and turn it to peace.

May your wisdom be in our leaders, our forces, police and our medics. Show them how to respond and how to prepare, and where to intervene. Give them words of assurance to lead us ,and strategy to defend. May the miracle of medicine save lives and heal bodies.

Pour your peace into our beings and let it flow out from our core. Let us reach across divides to draw close to those whom our enemies would keep us from loving. Give us boldness to unite without fear and to stand with solidarity. For your perfect love casts out all fear and by that love we will win.

May your mercy be with us. Your kindness our guide and your hope drive us forward.

Almighty God, be our Father and hold us, your children near,
Amen.

Losing my faith in the God I don’t know anymore. 

I have this vague memory from childhood, of a man with grey hairs on his ears standing high in a pulpit shouting about hell. I have no idea how old I was but I can still hear his voice and see the vein popping on his crimson neck. 

“God is very angry with you so be careful,” bellowed through the church. 

When I was 14 years old a preacher yelled at me from the corner of a street, “Son, your soul is filthy, God looks and is disgusted by your sin.” 

At Bible College in my early 20s, I wrestled with the theology of sexuality, abortion and gender and came to conclusions that allowed me full access to Christianity but denied it to others. It was God’s will.

In my late twenties, like many red blooded males, feeling a little intimidated by the world I was seduced by Mark Driscoll’s brand of mascuchristianity. I heard him preach, and listened and nodded as he stated three times in a row that, “you’ve heard that God loves you, He doesn’t. God hates you. He only shows you love because of Jesus.”

I’m 36 and I’ve realised that the God of my memory, the God who hides somewhere in the folds of my brain, pieced together from bad sermons, angry preachers, disappointments and my own fears and prejudice is a God who I don’t believe in. Yet, at the very same time, I am worshiping that God anyway. A part of my life is still given over to that God’s service, He still has some of my faith. It’s time to lose my faith in that God.

As I’ve got older I find the border between the black and white of my theology mixing into grey. I find that more of what I held as factual is open to debate; my assumptions were subjective and my bias unrecognised. I’ve found that my ‘choose a side, pick a team,’ theology is wanting and that actually the truth about God and His world hangs mysteriously in the balance between seemingly opposing views; this truth both ineffable and understood.  

I’ve found God to be more merciful and gracious than the God I once knew. I’ve found God to be more accepting of people than I am, calling them children and friends. The God I have found is patient and kind. It’s this God in whom my faith should fall, it is this God to whom my service should be given. I’ve found a God who called his creation good and didn’t change his mind.

I want to be as generous as this God who gives so easily this hard-won grace. I want to choose to love and accept people before they change and even if they never do. I want to lose my faith and find it again and live changed by what I’ve found. 
If the God of your memory is one in whom you can’t place your trust or who acts in ways you deem horrific or shocking, then seek the God of love again. Lose your faith in that God of your memory and choose the God of mercy and grace. 

It may mean I am labelled a liberal or backslider or even worse, a progressive Christian, but that’s okay with me. I’m at peace with this God, he looks like Jesus, he loves like Jesus and he treats people like Jesus did. That’s the God who deserves my life. 

They say that if you believe in a single God, that you only disbelieve in one less than every atheist. I’d like to add one to the list that I don’t believe in anymore but hold onto one that I do.