The Digital Curtain and the New Iron Cage

You may have read a few thoughts here about the problem with social media as what Infinity Gauntlet calls “universal input,” the immediate awareness of all life and matter.  I’ve talked about taking a break from Facebook and about not really missing it and not realizing how long I’d been gone.

It also occurs to me that not participating in social media may have unintended, isolating effects.  But I think the remedy there remains in the real world of in-person interaction, something that’s increasingly easier to withdraw from given an expended digital presence.  It’s a not-altogether-surprising idea.

Another tech analogy seems apropos here: the need to reboot.  Reconsidering the social graph has helped reboot my neural pathways away from the reward system some forms of social media train us to crave.  100 years ago, Max Weber talked about labor rights, economic issues and social anxieties in terms of an “iron cage.”  The Cold War brought us the Iron Curtain.  Billy Joel gave us the Nylon Curtain (and we’re living here in Allentown), language for a social and economic barrier that seems far more permeable than it really is.  In the digital age, we have to consider the digitization of our curtains and cages.  Their existence isn’t as obvious, and we’re often hemmed in without knowing.

I don’t have any pat answers, but I can say who and what I understand myself to be.

I am a child of God, a follower of Jesus.

I am a pastor, a progressive Christian.

I’m a graduate of Yale Divinity School (MDiv) and the New School (MFA, creative writing) and Ursinus College (political philosophy).

I participate in my family business.

I am an advocate for people living in poverty and people experiencing homelessness.

I am working on projects that synthesize these settings and experiences, some of which are obvious and public, some of which are quietly rejected by literary journals, and some of which are works in progress with varying degrees of promise.

I feel very, very free.  I know that many people don’t.

I find this video therapeutic.

I miss Prince and Tom Petty and Leonard Cohen.

I have more to do.

I believe in forgiveness.   I need it and I need to give it.

I believe in sharing grace and giving people a break.

I believe baseball is the Beautiful Game.

I believe in local farms and local food.

I believe kids grow up fast, and I don’t believe life should ever be what happens while you’re busy making other plans.








Overreach and Progressive Stamina

I’m going to say something that might seem counterintuitive.  It may also seem like I’m swiping at your political beliefs (regardless of what they are).  I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of conservatism, liberalism, or progressivism as we tend to imagine them.  I’m just going to make a point about stamina, in this case, the stamina of the progressive agenda as I understand it at the moment.

The greatest threat to progressive stamina right now isn’t from Donald Trump or Mitch McConnell, but from the predictable overreach of a certain set of so-called liberals who remain fundamentally detached from the experience of the American working class.

Overreaching on Roseanne doesn’t build capacity for basic universal income, even though the Connors would likely benefit from Bernie-Sanders-style economic policies. At the same time, I recognize that a progressive focus on class that doesn’t also speak to systemic racism is counterproductive and likewise problematic.  That said, it bears repeating: when BLM protestors confronted Hillary Clinton during the 2016 primaries, she “explained” why they were “wrong” about her record, values, and agenda.  When BLM protestors confronted Bernie Sanders, he sat down and ceded the stage.  He literally gave them a platform.  Maybe that’s too nuanced a distinction in an era of increasingly frenzied (if still anemic) values-signaling.  Our current discourse is basically like Starbucks: overpriced, no real substance or nutrition, whipped and frothing in the hopes of producing an illusion of value for the sake of profit.

Feel free to discuss.

Note:  Since I used Starbucks’ products as a metaphor, I should be very plain and clear: the incident in Philadelphia is all the proof anyone should need that systemic racism is deeply rooted and sinfully thriving.  I’ll come back to this later today.  Right now, I have to make an inventory run for the truck.

UPDATE: The Roseanne reference was made before the events that resulted in Roseanne Barr losing her television show.  Here I’m speaking about earlier criticisms of the initial reboot that seemed misguided and underdeveloped.  I don’t retract those concerns, even though Roseanne Barr (not Roseanne Connor) has since said things that have seriously undermined whatever point of view she may have shared with her fictional counterpart.

The Oppressive Metrics of Being Dug

I have been in the midst of a Facebreak. I didn’t delete or hide my account.  I just took the app off my phone.

It wasn’t a Lenten practice, but a bid to rediscover my own personal, emotional, political, and spiritual baselines.  These are easy to lose in an echo chamber, and hard to recover without stepping away.


Something I read right after the Cambridge Analytica story has stuck with me: what if our species is not meant to be connected in this way?  We’re certainly meant to share connections, but what if social media, along with the good it can do, also amplifies our anxieties and passive aggression?  What if it really does take us out of our everyday moments?  What if it really does affect our moods? Our habits? Our appetites?

I have been listening to “When Doves Cry” an awful lot.  That’s probably not germane, but it might be.  Dig, if you will, this picture:  in 2018, the lyrics are about the metrics of not being dug.  No likes on your latest clever status?  How could your friends leave you standing/alone in a world so cold?  Maybe you’re just too demanding, maybe you’re just like your @Father/ too bold?  Maybe you’re just like your @Mother/she’s never satisfied…

We now know that there’s never really such a thing as enough likes. We know the feeling of validation and the primal act of gathering approval are both psychologically addictive. We fret about who liked a post instead of loving it.  We vow to do better next time.

“It’s just exhausting,” Melvin Udall said, “talking like this.”  He was referring to inane conversation in person.  I can’t even image what he’d do with Facebook.

Haiku for AOL Instant Messenger

AIM had a good, long run.  From 1997 to last month.

No one who came of age using it still does, and still, it’s sad to see it go.

Here’s a story about it.

A few years ago I wrote this silly haiku that now seems more apropos:


A-I-M logo,

One day, you will stop running.

One day, you’ll be back.



Act Now and Get Your Officially Licensed NFL Team Flag that Literally Violates the US Flag Code!

The NFL licenses one of these for every single team, in direct violation of the US Flag Code’s standards regarding respect for the US Flag.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 11.18.00 PM

If they can make money literally disrespecting the flag, they’re all for it.

I’m not the first to note this:

The so-called anthem protests happening in professional sports are not about disrespecting the flag or the anthem. The flag and the anthem are abstract ideas, symbols. They represent the ideal of a nation where innocent people aren’t gunned down in the street because they happen to be black. As long as this keeps happening, kneeling in mournful protest seems appropriate. Mourning for victims, and mourning for the fact that we aren’t living up to the standards to which we say this nation — this nation that we love — holds itself.

To me, that’s what this is about.

It’s only about the flag or the anthem in so far as the flag and the anthem are truly desecrated every time an innocent person dies in the street.

The NFL very may well be corrupt to its core, but not because its players are engaging in the most American of acts.

What “Chopped” Tells Us About Healthcare

As a food trucker and a pastor, I know this to be true.

The healthcare system (or lack of one) is bankrupting people all over the country. It’s bankrupting both the working poor and the working middle-class who have become the working poor.

The ACA (Obamacare) helped some people and hurt others. That’s something I also know from experience as a pastor and a food trucker.

The ACA has had a punitive effect on many families. The Republican attempts to replace it so far only seem to punish other sets of people.

Medicare For All seems like a good next step. By 2020, all Democrats running for President will embrace it, and a good portion of the Republican field will offer their own versions of it.

I pray for all who can’t wait that long.