Archive for February, 2018

Considering Technology

February 23, 2018

So I’m going to rant a little today.

And no, it isn’t going to be about guns– at least not in this post.

I’m going to rant about the internet. Well, not the internet, per se; but some of the effects of the internet, some of the unintended consequences we’re facing, that I’d guess most people don’t even think about.

First of all, let me say that even though I was born before personal computers became a ‘thing’, I was a pretty early adopter. In about 1981 at a family reunion I became aware of the very first Apple computers, the ones you had to program yourself. A family member had bought one, another family member was working on a degree in computer science– this was my first exposure to the world of computers. My sisters got an Atari for Christmas soon after that and in my college courses they were beginning to appear. Unfortunately I didn’t have a knack for writing code nor the patience to acquire the knack; but once PC’s came along, I was all in. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it through seminary without a PC and today I have a laptop, a smartphone and a Kindle that I use all the time, all in different ways.

So when I started working at the library I was shocked to discover the number of people who don’t know how to use a personal computer. I was even more shocked when I discovered that many of those people are my age and younger, that it isn’t just elderly people who are computer illiterate (in fact, many people older than me do very well with computers. My parents are both internet savvy and my mom is even on Facebook.)

What’s even more shocking is the way our social structures have changed in response to internet use. You can’t apply for a job without going online. You can’t make an appointment to visit a friend in jail without going online. You can’t apply for social security benefits, unemployment benefits and many other public services without going online.

I know this because, as an Information Services Assistant at the library, it is a big part of my job to help people use our computers. And a big part of that job is helping people with those particular categories of computer use.

Now, you might think I’m making too big of a deal about this. After all, it’s easy, right? You just show someone how to log into the computer and they’re on their way, right?

If  only it were that easy.

First of all, to do anything on the internet you have to be able to read, and read pretty well. Then, you have to have an e-mail address. Yes, Gmail is free and easy to sign up for– that is, if you know what a username is and a password is and can create a username and password that you’ll remember. Because to apply for a job, or make an appointment to visit your friend in jail, or file unemployment or file for social security benefits on line– which you must do– you have to have an account.  An account requires an email address.

It’s the job thing that gets me. It’s no wonder people have trouble getting jobs.

A guy came in to my library yesterday and he said, “I’ve been hired at [local restaurant] and I need to fill in an application on line. But I don’t know anything about computers. They told me to come here and you’d help me.” Okay, that’s part of my job, and I’m more than happy to help.

But here’s the thing: many people who don’t know how to use computers lack that knowledge because they never had the privilege of learning how to use one. Perhaps they struggled in school and couldn’t get the hang of technology. I’ve noticed that many of the people who are computer illiterate have trouble reading. Perhaps their school didn’t have the funding to acquire computers, so they never really were exposed to them. And a lot of people who haven’t been exposed to technology are afraid of it.

But there comes the day that they are trying to get a job, maybe they got laid off from a job they’d had a long time, from back in the days when you could get a job by filling out a paper application; and as I said they don’t have a computer or an email address or a smart phone and they’ve been living their lives just fine without all that stuff. So they come to me, knowing nothing, needing to fill in this application right now, today!

If you have used computers all of your life you forget how complicated they seem when you first sit down at one.

The man I was helping yesterday was trying to get a job as a dishwasher– a dishwasher— and had been promised a job but had to fill out the online paperwork. And, God bless him, he had no idea. He had no email address or any idea of how to create one. He had no idea how to find the employer’s website, even though he had the address; he had no idea how to find the job application page, he had no idea how to go about this process that was far more complicated than it needed to be. He kept saying to me, “I have the job, I just need to do the application on line, they told me I have to do the application online and I can start work tomorrow.”

No shame in being a dishwasher. My kids have both worked as dishwashers. But it shows a lack of respect for a person’s humanity when a person applying to be a dishwasher must fill out an online application before they can begin working. It shows that the company’s convenience is more important than the human being they’re trying to hire.

This man needed someone to sit with him and walk him through this process and I could not do that. And I had other patrons come in and I tried to balance helping him and helping them but finally I think he got frustrated and left. I felt that I had failed him.

But even though perhaps I could have done more, it really isn’t me, or the library, who failed him and many others like him. It is a system that has a one-sized-fits-all way of doing things, making no allowances for those who can’t or don’t understand technology. It is a system in which the odds are stacked against you if you didn’t have the privilege of growing up around computers or being an early adopter when they came along. It’s a system in which human resources are limited in favor of technological resources.

Tech is great. I use it every day. I am lucky enough to be unafraid of technology, I am lucky enough to have the background that enables me to use my different tech items. But as we go ever forward into a more and more tech-dependent world, we must be intentional about not leaving people behind.

 

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A Day in the Life (Mark 1:29-39)

February 4, 2018

This lectionary year, as you probably know, we are going to be travelling through the book of Mark. Now because Lent and Easter is fairly early on the church calendar the journey won’t necessarily be in order all the way through because during that time we’ll be looking ahead to the end of the story—although as I see it it’s actually the end and the beginning at the same time. But that part of Mark is for another day, and today we’re still in the first chapter, still at the beginning of the story, watching and hearing as Jesus begins his ministry.
I really like the book of Mark, although all of the gospels have their own things to offer; but for me Mark has a real appeal because of its sense of urgency. Mark is the shortest of all of the gospels, and by all accounts was written first; Luke and Matthew drew from Mark for some of their content but Mark was first off the mark (so to speak.)  Mark doesn’t beat around the bush, does it? Not a lot of detail, not a lot of unnecessary fluff to fill it out, Mark basically hits the high points of the story of Jesus, and you’d better pay attention if you want to keep up! One of the most common words used in the book of Mark is “immediately”—Jesus and the disciples are always immediately doing something as if one event in the story leads to another with barely enough time for us to catch our breath. This gives the book a sense of urgency, as if it’s vitally important that the writer get these stories to us as quickly as possible so that we won’t miss anything.
And if the entire book of Mark is a quick retelling of the life of Jesus, the first chapter that we’ve been hearing about over the past few weeks is like a preview of what’s to come, almost like a movie trailer you might see that pulls you in and makes you want to see the whole movie. Just in the first chapter you see Jesus
…being baptized by John
…being tempted in the wilderness
…calling the first disciples
…teaching in the synagogue and healing a man with a demon
…going to Simon’s house and healing Simon’s mother in law from an illness
…healing after sundown on the Sabbath
…going off to pray and then going out to the rest of the villages
…healing a leper
Lots of action in this first chapter of Mark, isn’t it? Beginning with only a short bit about John the Baptist and his ministry, it’s clear that this book is all about Jesus; and through all of this Jesus is established in his ministry and begins to make a name for himself.
As I indicated before I read the scripture, the passage from Mark that we read last week and the one we read today take place on the same day. We see in these two segments a sort of “day in the life” of Jesus. His day begins in the synagogue: he is preaching, with authority, and then he heals a man with a demon. Immediately, the text says—in other words, as soon as they left the synagogue—they went to Simon’s house, possibly looking for something to eat. Only Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever, so Jesus goes and heals her.
It’s important to note something here: since we found Jesus in the synagogue at the beginning of the day, we know it is the Sabbath when this series of events takes place. It is the Sabbath as he teaches, it is the Sabbath as he heals the man with the demon, it is the Sabbath when he heals Simon’s mother-in- law. Later that day, after sundown, many people come to him with their own demons and illness and afflictions and Jesus ends his day healing them. Late into the night he must have worked, because it says the whole city came to see him—even if it was a small village it would have been a lot of people to heal. The passage ends early the next morning when Jesus goes off by himself to pray; the disciples come looking for him wanting him to continue with the healing but Jesus tells them it’s time to move on to other villages; “this is why I came.” he says.
Mark immerses us in the life and ministry of Jesus from the very beginning, highlighting the kinds of things that become his signature activities, laying out for us in no uncertain terms the ways that Jesus’ ministry is a manifestation of the kingdom of God. Mark also wants us to understand the connection to the source of Jesus’ power: when Jesus goes off by himself to pray, it isn’t just that he needs to rest and recharge, but that he needs to reconnect with the One who makes all of his actions, all of his healings and exorcisms and miracles possible. Travis Franklin, on the website Ministry Matters, puts it like this:
While these passages don’t carry the drama of the feeding of the five thousand or Jesus walking on the water, they do share in a subtle way the connection between the works Jesus does and the source that empowers such work. This is an important connection for Mark, because he wants us to realize that the kingdom that Jesus has been sent to express is a direct revelation of God and God’s activity in a hurting and sinful world. In all of these ways Jesus embodies and proclaims the presence of the kingdom of God.
“This is why I came,” he said.
You see, the miracle stories by themselves aren’t important, and the stories of healing by Jesus of many people from their demons and illnesses by themselves aren’t important unless we make the connection to why Jesus does all of these things and how he is able to do all of these things. God wanted to make it plain to all humanity that God is present and active in the world, a world that God created to be good but that sin and evil were and are working hard to destroy.
Interesting are the responses in this first chapter of those who are the first witnesses to Jesus’s ministry. In the synagogue, the people are amazed at his preaching. The demon challenges Jesus—but responds to his authority. Simon’s mother gets up and serves Jesus. The people come out of the woodwork to be healed by him, desperate for what he has, desperate to be freed from whatever burden is breaking them.
There is power in the relationship between Jesus and God the Father; and Jesus is unrestrained in his demonstration of that power. The only place he is cautious at all is when the demons recognize him and he orders them to keep quiet; and this seems to be only to keep his true identity from getting out too quickly, so he can build the ministry God has in mind rather than the people making him into something else. But the power is there, the relationship is there; people eventually hear him talking about God as Father, they see him going off to pray and they begin to make the connection between these things and the power that Jesus so clearly has. The power that is necessary to recreate the kingdom that was so good in the beginning. The power that can make all people whole once again, restored in body, mind and spirit.
The power is there for us to and the agent of this power is the same. Jesus Christ is the one who brings that power among us, Jesus is the one who shows us how to access that power for our own healing and wholeness. Jesus Christ shows us the way, through the stories in Mark and the other gospels, shows us the way to be restored and to help restore the kingdom of God to the goodness God created it to have. There is power in our faith—the power of love, the power of compassion, the power of tenderness. Just ask anyone who has faced a serious crisis in their life, but was able to tap into the power of love that sustained them through it. Just ask anyone who has felt the healing power of a hug when they needed it, who has known that people were praying for them and has felt stronger and more able to cope because of it. A good portion of the power that Jesus accessed was God’s love for the humanity that God had created; and that’s a power that is available to us if we will just receive it. And, it is a power that we can easily share with others, if only we will.