Monday, December 26, 2016

Encouraging one another: God's social media addiction solution #2

As I mentioned in my introductory post on social media addiction inspired by an article on Breslev Israel's site by Lori Steiner, I believe our individual identity is firmly rooted in our relationship with God. Her article identified the recent social app driven surge of fear in youth stemming from being part of the wrong social crowd and its confirmed influence towards a general state of unhappiness. Ms. Steiner recommended three Judaic solutions for combating social dissatisfaction for these disaffected souls including encouraging one another through inspiring or educational words.

Educating others

As an educator I know that it's more important to give a student encouragement for effort than to give an assessment on their quality of work. Anyone can get someone these days to tell them what they think is wrong with the world, your life, or the president. I think it may be a too common habit learned from the educational process to find flaws and set yourself up as an expert in a logical experiment to find a new premise and support it even if you're not very good at it and it's really just a pedantic style of complaining.
Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. Pro 12:25
Students need the self-confidence that it takes to keep grinding away at the same problem or topic for years without losing hope that it will be wasted. Even students who are not looking for a degree have the same need to come to terms with the complexities of business theories as they work their way through life and their career. Sometimes that difficult day is just improved by a smile and a recognition that doing a mundane process is being noticed and appreciated.

When God encourages

A critical spirit will sap the life from a creative spirit and turn an idea into an impossible journey when it's the journey that is the joy. To bring an inspiring word to someone who is on the path to a seemingly unobtainable goal is to dispel the despair of existentialism by letting the light of our Lord God who shines in us into the shadows of life.
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Pro 17:22
Sisyphus forever pushing a boulder up the hill represents the Greek standard we are bound to that excludes any hope and creates a crushed spirit. But in this season of Hanukkah, the Greeks are the defeated ones, and our Lord God, who encouraged Zechariah through a vision for the rebuilding of the second temple begun also on 25 Kislev, brought encouragement through the miracle of purified oil on that same day.

Inspiring others

Family members and friends need that support also for trying to do things the right way even though they may be using bad tactics or old habits that irritate you.  But I would always choose a kind heart over a unfriendly demeanor to be with. And if they need some reinforcement, there's nothing like recognizing a good trait in them.

Even our leaders need a good word even when they seem like they are doing just fine. But the tasks of leadership can be overwhelming and hidden from the people they are responsible for. I think it's important to take a minute and let your boss know that you like a particular decision or bring a small gift at an appropriate time.
But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” Deut 3:28
I don't think Joshua would have been so willing to take over the leadership role to lead the children of Israel had Moses told him that he'd never live up to his standards but it was still God's will for him to follow in his footsteps.

Your inspiration

Words about God are words that will inspire you. The mere existence of the world and its wonders should inspire you. Sunrises and sunsets are worth paying attention to just because it's a divine art gallery that you can visit twice a day. Let's look for where our Lord God has put a canvas painted with life and practice to finds words to appreciate that. I can suggest a chapter if you need one.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy. Psalm 65:8
So, with all this encouragement and inspiration, the glamour of social media should lessen. The words on the Facebook posts should look weaker and the followers should turn into just numbers that can't become a person you confide in. The weak links of relationships in social media can't become strong because it isn't built that way. The only way to get a meaningful relationship is through the power of God and following his commandments.

May the Lord God of the universe give us the eyes to see the abundance of examples of encouragement in the world and the amount of detail that exists in harmony to inspire us. Let us give back in worship and praise to the creator who has seen that all parts of our physical world encourage and maintain all the other parts of these perfectly aligned systems. And let Him who has allowed us to live and toil in this creation be blessed by our praise and our encouragement to others to praise him.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Helping others: God's social media addiction solution #1

As I mentioned in my introductory post on social media addiction inspired by an article on Breslev Israel's site by Lori Steiner, I think that our individual identity is firmly rooted in our relationship with God. The point of her article was to identify the recent social app driven surge of fear in youth stemming from not being a part of the right social crowd and its confirmed influence towards a general state of unhappiness. Ms. Steiner recommended three Judaic solutions for combating social dissatisfaction for these disaffected souls one of which was helping others.

A sacrifice of our time

Helping others requires a sacrifice of our personal life resources whether it be the time we are unable to recover or the money which we use our time to replace. This sacrifice of time might be thought of as a loss but because of the reversing nature of this simple mystery, the one who sacrifices is the one who gains. Out of a true sacrifice, a person will discover that they are the one who receives the blessing.

There are many examples of this kind of blessing through sacrifice. The one example that caught my interest recently was when the Israelites came out of bondage into freedom into the desert. The life jeopardizing commandment given from God was to not do work of the kind that creates resalable value on one day during the week so that they inwardly turned to God regularly, and externally puzzled the rest of the ancient world who had no precedent for not working except in the royal classes. The God of Moses asked him to sacrifice a day per week as part of the covenant between them
Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. (Exodus 31:14)
The type of work that creates value is my modern interpretation of this word work (melakah), where doing something that creates value is like God creating a universe that has become our elegant home. It is in direct opposition to a priceless act of work (avodah) or selfless servitude that turns us to rescue another or to worship God and the result can not be bought for any price. Of course, my Hebrew needs a lot of work so I'm open to influence and correction here.

An altar all alone

The social media emptiness accumulating through shallow communications we have with people online is creating our loneliness. We interact with messages, false messages, and ads but never a whole person. Honor has been downgraded to a number of likes and not praise. Influence is counted in fickle followers and not obedience. People hide behind their avatars.

There's a spot inside of us where that loneliness is like a vacuum, waiting to be filled. It's an altar for sacrifices where we can find the history of our life much like blood sprinkled on the sides of the temple altar left for the observers to remember. If our sacrifice is a true one, then the life of that sacrifice turns into a blessing of life for us, in a mystery of atonement. Sacrifices when made from real value create lasting memories. And if there is such a thing as the blood of our spirit, it has to be flowing with the memories of those sacrifices.
But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. (Deut 12:16) 
We all have an internal altar or at least a psychological representation of one where we try to fulfill our rite of atonement in other ways. Magazines create sensational headlines calling our seeking for this acceptable sacrifice, the quest for happiness or other flavors of pabulum just to sell issues for the ad revenue. But it's just emptiness on an unused altar.

What if there's nothing on our altar to atone for our sin and we long to find something? Then we find a powerful foreign god to put there. And since there is no life in that idol, then there will be no life in us. So we find another idol and another until the altar is filled with useless distractions of technological power creating the excess of activity seen with keeping up with trying to be popular on social media. Our power pantheon of apps and high-tech devices has grown out of a need to find life, but these bloodless substitutes leave us with memories lacking in meaning.

Our smart phones have a memory of our lives by taking photos and storing thousands of images. But what sense is it to let the phone stand between you and the life that is taking place waiting for you to step into the dance that you find yourself dutifully recording? Will your memory be richer because you can replay one of a hundred different events you didn't participate in or will be you changed because you connected with another human being and it forever impressed you?

A powerless idol

You tell yourself that if I just had something that made me happy, I'd be closer to God. So instead of listening to Hashem tell you about the ways of his righteousness, you run off and try to put something on the altar that makes you feel more like you have the power of a god. The symbols of power are just symbols of the misguided's attempt to be happy. The need to get closer to a source of the power is the same reason they killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.

When you place a power symbol on your altar, it becomes a hope of what god should want. But does God seek any power? He has all authority and power. Looking at another's altar can tell you a lot about a person's hopes. It's a mystery that our God seeks to be in a helpful relationship with us, this very jealous God who found it pleasing to create more suns in more intergalactic miles that we could ever count, to keep us forever humble.

That place of attention always feels empty because it is the place reserved for a gift of life. And unless God takes that life and returns it to you, there will always be a void. I know when I longed to have something that was extremely hard to get and was so valuable in many others' eyes, that when I finally got it, the pleasure lasted just a short moment. I could feel the life I expected to revive me dissipate as it lost all its sheen in the light on God's altar. It's been various things such as a well prepared plate of food, a piece of unique clothing, or a mystical foreign film I "needed" to watch. I felt that vacuum again when I swept that inadequate idol off of my altar and went searching for a replacement.


The call of that emptiness to be filled by the things of the world, which is our evil inclination (yetzer hara), never stops. We fill our minds with music, listening for hours and then having our own minds play it from the echoes it leaves in our minds for days. We fill it with distracting people who move on a large glass panel and talk through small boxes in our houses so we think someone is there. Or we fill it with work activities that occupy us with menial tasks to make the day pass until we see the clock release us from the prison of our unachievable goals.

We were at one time complete with God in the garden. When there was no shame, there was no disconnection between our world and God's world. But now we use the earth to bless the Lord God by building an altar or a house of worship. Our own personal altar is still separated from God and wants to find that reconnection to him. And out of the sacrifices we make by helping others, the connection can be made stronger again.

Let us remember our sacrifices we make out of love where the blessing is to each of us. Let us continue to search for opportunities to give into others' lives as God gives in to ours. In that release of our attachment on the time we use, we find freedom. In the freedom we gain, we are able to worship God more fully. And in that worship amidst this fearful world, we are able to find peace.

Lord God of our fathers who made sacrifices that brought life to our generation, let us give thanks to you that returns that gift of life. We thank you for being patient and merciful while we try so many lifeless idols in our age of social media technology. Forgive us the blindness we have when we don't see how an imitation of your richly expressive universe can't be contained in a handheld computer because we are enamored with our creative efforts. And may you always help us find the peaceful, simple life, that is worth sharing in a real relationship bound by your love.
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