Luke 1:68-79 (69)
I am getting used to the commute, and it’s not for long.
Jackie said to me this week, that if I wanted to move sooner, we could. It was sweet, even though it won’t work because Elias won’t finish school before June and besides, our house needs some attention before we can put it on the market.
So, for the time being I am getting used to the commute.
On my drive on Thursday I listened to the radio. They talked about facebook.
I read about facebook from time to time. I scan European news headlines from time to time. A German lawyer is seeking crown prosecutors to charge facebook under German hate-speech legislation and is also privately suing facebook for failing to remove hate speech from the pages of its users.
New media bring new problems. On the radio they talked about the extent to which facebook may have influenced the American election. That was were the conversation began. It lead to the more interesting question about the algorithms facebook uses to determine what news stories to display on your page.
The show’s guest was Sherry Turkle, a professor Professor for Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She said, “Well, one thing about Facebook is that it shows you … what it thinks you want to know based on what you’ve wanted to see before. So that’s its job because it wants you to be happy. It wants you to click. It wants you to buy stuff because you’re happy clicking and seeing things.”
She then explained the social effects that make this a problem. It’s not new. In a Ted Talk in 2011 Eli Pariser pointed out similar things about Google algorithms.
The thing is that print media generally offer a variety of perspectives and opinions but facebook does not. It just gives you what you think you like. That’s the only news you get but we know its not the only news.
This is in addition to the fact that many people already use the internet to read what they like to the exclusion of dissenting opinions. That means that many are no longer exposed to alternate views and opinions. Turkle describes this as burrowing oneself into a silo.
Maybe this sounds innocent. Yet the problem is that such burrowing excludes the world I disagree with. Such exclusion destroys community because we all live in communities of great diversity and the only way to shape that diversity into a community of respect with some basic common values is if we listen to one another.
Selective consumption (I don’t like this word very much) excludes not only opinions but also people. I will no longer seek to be in conversation with people who view the world differently than I do.
Over the years I have known a few people like that, and perhaps you have too, people who felt threatened by dissent. It shuts down conversations and eventually relationships.
Turkle says that online behaviour that seeks affirmation and denounces those with differing views has begun to shape our offline behaviour. She says that the way we communicate with each other – about political and ethical issues – has become coarser and rather than exploring the validity of an argument, we label and insult, if not people, then their opinions. Trolling no longer happens just on the internet.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Yet the feast of Christ the King is relatively new. It hasn’t even been around a hundred years. I was was instituted in 1925, as a counterpoint to emerging secularism and to claim a space for the church in a world in that seemed to pay less attention to Christ than previous ages had (– though that may be debated). But that was the context.
The Gospel readings for all three lectionary years give us a different image of royalty than what we might expect. In Matthew the King identifies with the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, and anyone in need. ‘What you have done to the least of these you have done unto me.’ In Luke, today’s Gospel text, Jesus reigns from the cross and consoles another dying prisoner.
Power is applied differently. Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself and was born in human likeness.
God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
Let me return to where I began. The whole world or only part of it. All people or only some people.
Not only do we see Jesus speak with all people, with Pharisees and Sadducees, high priest, sinners, gentiles, lepers, the crowds, Pilate, his tormentors and executioners, and those who are crucified to his left and right. Jesus spoke with all people.
Jesus did not agree with all he spoke with but he spoke with all. He engaged those who came to him and with those he encountered. Jesus was tempted at Gethsemane to withdraw into a private life he rarely had, to burrow into his silo, when he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”
But Jesus did not choose privacy, Jesus chose community, even a community that did not choose him. They all mattered to him, they all mattered to God. They mattered enough to pay attention to them.
There is more I would like to know about the disciples than the Gospels tell us, yet there is enough for us to see how being in the presence of Jesus transformed relationships.
His disciples are a colourful group. Among them fishermen, all of them different personalities, a tax collector (Matthew) and a zealot (Simon the Zealot). The tax collector was a Roman collaborator, the zealot part of the group that led the uprising in the year 66 which led to the destruction of the temple in the year 70.
Can you imagine what their dinner conversations were like? The Gospels are mostly silent about this. What we know is that in the company of Jesus there was room for both. And not only was there room for both but both were transformed in Jesus’ presence, both followed Jesus, and both died for their faith, even the one who once would have taken up arms.
We are his followers, we live in his presence, we are transformed by his love. One of our liturgy’s prayers after communion asks that we who have received the bread of life may become bread for the world, giving away ourselves as Christ gave himself.
We know that that is what our King does and what his reign looks like.
And so we pray that all people may matter to us enough that we would make time for them, and that through us the Kingdom would also come to them, not by force but in humility.