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The Inherent Danger of Facebook and Twitter

You used to be considered “cutting edge” if you had an email account and checked it.

But now, even though services like Facebook and Twitter require all users to have a valid email address, email itself is falling out of use and social networking sites are becoming a primary mode of communication.

On one level, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this: social networking sites are far more flexible and graphically interesting than “old-fashioned” email. And sites like Facebook and Twitter have allowed many, myself included, to maintain relationships and reconnect with folks from my (often distant) past.

But there is also an inherent problem. Social networking sites are increasingly more important as storehouses of contact information and platforms of communication – yet they are single points of failure. The strength of email (at least back in the ‘good old days’) was that it was a distributed service. There was no single email server out there processing the world’s email — there were many servers, each handling email for their little piece of the ‘net world. Every domain has to make provisions to handle its own email, and many otherwise incompatible systems can exchange email through a set of very basic shared protocols. The distributed nature of email meant that even if one server crashed, 99.99% of the other servers would probably still be up and running. In other words, the failure of one member of a distributed system was not enough to bring down the system as a whole. Recently, Google’s gmail service experienced some well-publicized difficulties… yet non-Google email users were still able to contact other non-Google email accounts with no problems. (How mega-services like Google are un-distributing previously distributed services is a topic for another day!)

Social networking sites are not distributed systems — they’re centralized. When twitter goes down, it’s down for everyone. When Facebook goes down or (perhaps worse) implements a sweeping change (that will almost never be received well), all users feel the impact. We are empowered or crippled at the whim of developers, hackers, and hardware failures. Just ask any T-Mobile Sidekick customer if they ever stopped to consider the danger of entrusting too much data to a centralized system before the now-infamous crash.

I’m the proud owner of a Palm Pre. One of the Pre’s strengths is its contact aggregation from sites like Facebook. In the dark ages before smart phones, if I needed to contact someone by phone, I might have looked up their published info on Facebook or some other ‘net resource, then manually created a contact for them in my cell phone. And then it would just sit there — never to be updated again unless I tried the number later on and found it to be disconnected. But my Pre is smart. It grabs all of my Facebook friends, and if they have phone numbers listed in their profile, those numbers are automatically part of my contact list. When they change their phone number on Facebook, my phone is also updated. It’s a wonderful feature…

Or maybe it’s a nightmare waiting to happen. Let’s imagine that something catastrophic happened at Facebook, a glitch that caused all phone numbers to be changed to, say, 555-1212. My Pre would dutifully update my contacts with this bogus info. We’d have to wait either for a) Facebook to fix the glitch, or b) individuals to realize that something was wrong and correct their own data individually. (Incidentally, the flood of folks trying to connect to change their info would probably bring Facebook down, and the resulting Tweetstorm would likely render Twitter hopelessly lagged and unresponsive…)

Facebook doesn’t allow you to export contact info, so there is no easy way to keep a backup copy of your friends’ information. (There are some hacks out there, but they seem to be shady at best.)

So what would we do if we woke up tomorrow and Facebook was down, perhaps indefinitely… perhaps forever?

Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain by Paul Meier and David L Henderson

Pain is inevitable… but it doesn’t have to be permanent. This book walks the reader through seven universal struggles that cause pain: Injustice, Rejection, Loneliness, Loss, Discipline, Failure, and Death. The authors share stories from their own lives, as well as other examples of individuals who have been through difficult and painful situations. For each universal struggle, the authors define the problem, spend some time talking about things in our lives that can contribute to it, and then offer practical advice and solutions to those who find themselves wrestling with those issues.

You won’t find anything shockingly new or different in these pages, but you will find solid advice built on biblical principles and presented in a well organized and easily digestible format. If you’re not dealing with one of these “universal struggles” right now… you will face them eventually. Even though this book is “self-help,” reading it can also help you understand the pain of those around you – and perhaps even help you help them.

This book was especially timely for me. Sometimes we all just need to be reminded to look for God’s purposes regardless of our struggles.

I review for Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers

Raw Worship

It’s easy to worship when you’re celebrating a victory. Praise almost comes naturally when things are going well.

But after you’ve been dealt a blow or experienced a failure — it’s so much harder.

Last week, Pastor Nathan preached about worship. One of the definitions for worship was “honoring someone of greater importance.” Another was “showing submission.” He encouraged us to honor and submit to God by giving EVERYTHING to Him… even our failures. Even the things that didn’t go well. At first, that sounded a little weird to me — don’t we want to give only our very best? What did it really mean to give our failures to Him? How could that also be an act of worship?

I had no idea how quickly I’d get a chance to put that into practice. By the middle of the week, I was slammed hard by three things at once: things that were all failures in some way. They made me question my intelligence, my judgment… and even my worth. One of these things resulted in some data being lost — and that hurt not only me, but some folks I really care about — including my pastors. I felt absolutely horrible about it. I was haunted by an endless string of “what ifs,” wishing I could change things. I felt like I was in a deep pit… and wouldn’t have minded much if someone just wanted to bury me there.

When you’re agonizing over your worthlessness, worship isn’t exactly the first thing on your mind.

When I told my pastor what was happening, he could have chosen to focus on the inconvenience that this caused… but he didn’t. Instead, he used that moment when I was at a real low point to remind me that my worth in his eyes and God’s eyes doesn’t depend on my performance.

I was still in a bad spot — I still had a lot of work ahead of me — but that one statement changed the atmosphere in my little personal pit. Before that, I felt mostly guilt and shame and wanted to hide. After… I was both humbled and honored that I could still be valued even when things didn’t turn out so well.

How can you help but respond in worship to such an awesome realization?

I gave those failures to God. That doesn’t mean that I’m not still working on fixing them, but it does mean that I’m leaning on Him for help rather than hiding from Him until I can sort it all out on my own. For me right now, that’s raw worship — worship stained with tears and dirt and blood — a real “just-as-I-am” surrendering, before I even attempt to make myself presentable. An acknowledgment of His superior worth and acceptance of the nearly incredible fact that this God of infinite worthiness and power sees me exactly how I am… and still sees value in me.

Obstacles Welcome by Ralph de la Vega

Ralph de la Vega is no stranger to obstacles. This is a true American success story: born in Cuba, coming to America alone at a young age with nothing but the clothes on his back, working hard, going to college, and ultimately earning his place as a top level executive at AT&T. The author shares lessons from his life and offers plenty of advice for those who aspire to write their own success stories.

While the author’s life is a fascinating tale of overcoming obstacles… I found the author’s style at times to be somewhat of an obstacle to reading the book. When he shared personal stories about his childhood or business challenges, I was glued to the pages. I often wished he had shared more about those experiences. Unfortunately, much of the book was explaining and re-explaining the author’s “Takeaway Messages,” which often overlapped from chapter to chapter. (A couple of times, I found myself wondering if I had accidentally turned back and started re-reading a previous chapter.) That doesn’t detract from the value of the lessons; but de la Vega would have done better to heed his own advice: “A well-honed, effective message makes its point without superfluous clutter.” (p 141)

Yet, there is enough in this book to make it well worth the read. His chapter on sacrifice, while not nearly as unique has he imagines it to be, was refreshing and insightful. His thoughts on inclusion (diversity) were also excellent. There’s nothing “new” in this book — but de la Vega’s perspective is unique and deserves to be heard.

I review for Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers

Woundedness vs Brokenness

I re-read Gene Edwards‘ book A Tale Of Three Kings last week. It’s an easy read — written in the language and tone of a children’s story — but the message is definitely “grown up.” It draws upon material from the lives of Saul, David, and Absalom to teach a lesson about authority and submission. Ironically, the story of David’s submission, even in the face of injustice, has been used by some leaders to coerce people into submission. On the flipside, some leaders have been compared to Saul so disgruntled followers who see themselves as “Davids” could attack them (which David didn’t do).

In the Preface, Edwards says that he wrote the book specifically for Christians who had been “devastated by the authoritarian movement.”  He hoped that it would help them heal and move on… but overall, he gave survivors a rather grim prognosis: “I have never seen anything that has damaged so many believers so deeply. The wreckage appears to be universal, and recovery from it is almost nil.” Not exactly what you want to hear, right?

The author makes no apologies for stepping on toes throughout the book. As the story unfolds, he paints a picture of authority and submission that can be somewhat frustrating for those of us who have lived under legalistic authoritarian leaders. Edwards reminds us that God uses flawed people… and even bad leaders can be “God’s anointed.” There’s no pity party, no encouragement to stand up to leader(s) in question and give them a piece of your mind. Instead, Edwards suggests that it’s best left in the hands of God, and our best response just might be no response at all: just submit quietly, and when you cannot stay any longer, leave quietly without seeking revenge or restitution.

On the one hand, we probably recognize the nobility of such a meek response. But on the other hand, there is something within us that cries out for and even DEMANDS justice when we perceive that a great injustice has been done. Anything less seems wrong — or at least “unAmerican!” (After all, it was Thomas Jefferson & Ben Franklin who said “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”) David’s response to a cruel and unjust leader (King Saul) almost appears cowardly in comparison. Today, a young David would be ridiculed and considered a wimp because he didn’t retaliate against Saul. Someone who had been treated so badly surely he had the right to fight back… but David didn’t! Saul threw spears at David — and David didn’t throw them back. He didn’t even complain about them. As a result, God was able to use Saul to develop brokenness in David.

Gene Edwards says that God doesn’t have many broken men and women, yet this is what He wants (p 15). When I first read that, it seemed strange. I thought I knew or at least knew of a lot of broken people. After I left a legalistic church, I certainly felt like I was broken. But by Edwards’ definition, I was far from it. Someone who is broken learns how to dodge spears without throwing them. Without demanding justice. Without calling attention to it. They don’t get bitter — even when a spear has pierced their heart.

I wasn’t broken. I was wounded. I was bitter, angry, frustrated. I felt beaten down, hurt, the victim of injustice. I mistakenly equated that woundedness with brokenness. Yet by Edwards’ definition, that sort of woundedness is clear evidence of a lack of brokenness (p 19-20). The times when David was most broken before God were the times when he was least interested in promoting himself, proving he was right, or perserving his position. He was broken before he was king when he had an opportunity to kill Saul in a cave, but refused. He was broken when he wept over Absalom, even though Absalom had tried to kill David and take his place.

By that standard, I don’t know if I’ve ever truly been broken… or if I’ve just nursed my wounds and thrown my spears from the safety of a circle of approving (and similarly wounded) friends.

Woundedness seeks swift justice. Brokenness seeks God’s mercy. Woundedness looks for ways to save face. Brokenness looks for God’s face, even in a cave. Woundedness wants to correct others by taking action against them. Brokenness wants to be corrected by God. Woundedness just leads to more woundedness. Brokenness leads to healing.

Looking Up

Looking out WTC observation window

Looking out WTC observation window

(I originally wrote this 8 years ago)

I don’t remember exactly how old I was the first time my dad took me to see the World Trade Center “up close.” I couldn’t have been more than six or seven. My parents tell me I was only 3 or 4… I certainly look young in these pictures that they found. New York City was so big and so strange–fascinating and frightening at the same time–but my father’s firm grip on my tiny hand gave me the confidence to keep moving forward in this intimidating new world.

When we emerged from the subway station beneath the Twin Towers, my dad led me out to the plaza and turned to face one of the outside walls. “Look up,” he said. I looked, and the vertical lines of the buildings’ outer structure drew my gaze upwards, mouth gaping and head tilted back, until I nearly fell over backwards! It was so big, and I was so small, and somehow in that moment my perspective was forever changed.

Looking down from the WTC observation window

Looking down from the WTC observation window

Over the next 20+ years I visited the World Trade Center many times. Often, I had the privilege of bringing other first time visitors to that same spot where my father had first told me to “Look up.” It was an experience that never lost its power for me, even as an adult.

I was living in New York City during the 1993 Trade Center bombing, but never imagined that I’d live to see the horrific scene that unfolded on September 11th of 2001. I found my way to a television set just in time to watch the second tower collapse. Once again, I felt so very small and helpless… and in that moment I realized that my perspective and the perspective of an entire nation was forever changed.

Like many others, I’ve been struggling to grasp the reality and magnitude of these tragic events. I don’t have any profound answers… nor am I expecting any. I don’t understand it… I may never understand it. But as overwhelming and frightening as it is, I am still confident that my Heavenly Father has not loosened His grasp–and when I put myself in His hands, I can face anything in this intimidating new world.

Looking Up

Looking Up

We no longer have the striking architecture of the World Trade Center to draw our gaze upwards, but now more than ever we must “look up.” The pain and the loss are beyond description… but the strength of this nation is beyond estimation. So look up… and encourage others to do the same.

————————–————————–————–

It’s hard to believe that 8 years have passed now since 9/11/01. Every year since then on 9/11, my dad would send a copy of this post to everyone on his email list. So that makes today a little extra poignant for me… because my dad isn’t here to send out that message this year. He was a tower of strength to our family and we miss him very much. Just like the New York skyline will always seem incomplete to me without the towers, there’s a big empty spot in our family without my dad.

And yet… I can still hear him telling me: “Look up.”