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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