Most of us are familliar with the “Pale Blue Dot” image taken by the Voyager-I spacecraft in 1990.  From a distance of six-billion kilometers our earth takes up a little more than one-tenth of one pixel.

The late astronomer Carl Sagan, at whose suggestion this image was captured wrote the following a few years later.  In light of current world events and the dialog happening here in the United States over refugees, immigration and the ageless and timeless battles over religion it would do us well to ponder these words again.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”  – Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

Considered from a different perspective, this image is a closeup . . .  a “selfie” taken with a really long stick.  The vantage of Voyager’s cameras at the point where this picture was taken is at the edge of the Kuiper belt which lies at the outer reaches of our solar system.  Our solar system in turn is but a tiny and insignificant fuzzball in the infinite vastness of the universe, the observable portion of which is a sphere some 552 sextillion miles in diameter.

Who is my neighbor?

In reality, every person on this tiny spec of dust we inhabit is really, really close.

Perhaps we should all start acting as if we understand this.

 

paypal-scam

 

This appeared in my email this morning as I scanned the inbox on my iPhone for whatever came in overnight.  

Now, being an IT professional with a number of network security certifications the chances that I would actually fall for this are essentially nonexistent . . .  yet I will admit that my initial gut reaction when I saw the message was something like, “Oh crap – how did this happen.”

In the amount of time it took for a few of my pre-caffeinated neural synapses to wake up I actually wondered why PayPal would have closed my account.  In a post French-roast state this might have been milliseconds – but as I had not made it down to the kitchen to visit Mr. Keurig yet it might actually have occupied my mind for several entire seconds.

And so I understand why people fall for emails that, to me, are obviously phishing scams.  I know that PayPal would never send out such a message with a blind link requesting that I reveal my credentials.  I know that PayPal would never just “close my account” because of suspicious activity.  I know that credit card providers don’t share information about unusual charges on my account with merchants like PayPal.  I also know that legitimate emails from a company like PayPal would not be replete with multiple phrases written by someone who could obviously benefit from an extensive remedial course in sentence construction.

There are plenty of other clues that email messages like this are an invitation to create serious havoc in your life.  So as a public service I will use this as an opportunity to remind all those who happen by of a few basic rules to live by when messages like this manage to sneak past your junk-mail filter.

  1. Never follow a link in an unsolicited email to a page where you will be asked for ANY sensitive information including user names and passwords.
  2. Never follow a link in an unsolicited email that seems out of context for the sender.
  3. Remember that legitimate financial institutions and vendors will NEVER send out a message like this.  If you suspect that such a message might actually be legitimate, close the email, open your browser, and go to the site yourself like you normally would.  NEVER USE THE EMBEDDED LINK IN THE EMAIL.

And finally, a note about passwords.  I know it’s a pain in the rubber parts, but please do yourself a favor and develop good password habits.  The following rules apply to any account you have that you don’t want some Ukrainian wiz-kid accessing.  This obviously includes things like online banking accounts, merchants that might store your credit-card information, email accounts . . .  essentially any account that you care about:

  • Use a unique password for each account.  NEVER use a password for your online banking account or an account like PayPal for ANY OTHER PURPOSE.
  • Don’t use trivial passwords like 12345 or (God forbid) “Password”
  • Don’t use common words, your spouses name, your birthday, or the name of your pet.
  • Do use combinations of different character types.  Mix uppercase, lowercase, numeric, and symbols.  More and more sites are actually requiring this now.
  • The longer the password the better.  Eight characters containing a mix of upper, lower, numeric, and symbols is a bare minimum.

Periodically check your account names with sites that track known breached accounts.  This one is pretty good:   https://haveibeenpwned.com/

Oh yes . . .

Never start responding to emails before your first cup of coffee, or after your second glass of wine.

 

 

faithandreasonWith vacations, entertaining relatives and various other summer distractions including a worship service I wrote and presented earlier this month I’ve been absent for a while, but all the time collecting fodder for future posts here at DPS.

As I mentioned in an earlier piece I follow a number of blogs including Stuff That Needs To Be Said by John Pavlovitz, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who is out of a rather different mold than most who hold that identity.  Yesterday he posted a piece called, “We’re All Really Just Agnostics With Suspicions” in which he wrote . . .

“A few years ago I was talking to a good friend about faith and doubt, and about the constant, annoying tension between what we believe and what we know. The subject of organized religion ( more specifically, pastors) came up and my friend offered the following critique:

 “Boy, it takes a lot of guts to get up there every Sunday and preach at people!”

Only she didn’t say guts.

She used a decidedly more colorful word, one that much more aptly captured her feelings about a religious leader (or for that matter anyone) who claims spiritual things with any sort of absolute certainty.

The idea that anyone would be so bold and arrogant and brazen as to stand before a group of their peers on a given day and dare to say, in essence, “What I am about to say? This is exactly what God is like, this is exactly what God says, and this is exactly how you should live and believe in light of it”, seemed to her to be the very epitome of “gutsy”.

I’ve come to agree with her.”

My response on John’s Blog is below.  You may want to read his excellent article in full first.

 


 

Yes John . . .  “Gutsy” indeed . . . and spot on, even though it will be too “gutsy” for those who cling to a need for certainty.

My journey to agnosticism began at an early age. Raised as a Roman Catholic I was taught in Catechism class that only good Catholics would get into heaven, a notion that I quickly rejected as nonsensical when I was eight or nine years old. In the small, rather WASPy New Hampshire town where I grew up us Catholics were a decided minority – and it made no sense to me that my best friend Robbie would be excluded just because he was Protestant. Even as a young child I had figured out that I was Catholic because my Dad was Catholic . . . and I knew that Robbie was a Congregationalist because his parents were. That Robbie and my mom (a non-practicing Baptist) were to be excluded from heaven was . . . well . . . so nonsensical as to call the entire notion of selective salvation into question.

And question I did . . . and question I still do.

There is, as you say, little that we can really “know” for sure, and each one of us develops our own understanding of God (or whatever word or notions one may choose to describe the Ultimate Source) as well as the specific paradigm that makes some sense of that notion be it scientific, theological, mystical, mythical . . . or some combination of the above.

What takes a great deal of “guts” (or the more masculine-oriented colloquialism your friend used) is to insist that others accept my understanding of God and my path to getting there.

Yet, there are a few things I think I do know with a significant level of certainty, at least as much certainty as is possible to us mere mortals.

I know, for instance, that you and me, and all of those reading this blog . . . and the people next door . . . and the homeless guy who stands at the Interstate onramp every day at 5:00 . . . and the undocumented immigrant . . . and his kid . . . and the CEO of the mega-corporation . . . and the starving child in Somalia . . . and the angry Muslim youth who has been told that we are his enemy . . . and every other human soul on this little blue ball floating around the sun . . .

All of us are made of the same stuff.

All of us came from the same source.

As did the bright-eyed golden retriever standing in front of me wondering why I would rather play with this silly iPad instead of the ball she is holding expectantly . . . as did the butterfly on the flower and the flower . . . as did the soil on which it grows and to which it and we will all return.

Christians are made from the same stuff as Jews, as Muslims, as Hindus, as Buddhists and Sikhs and Celtic Pagans and confirmed atheists and questioning agnostics and . . . and . . . and.

All from the same source.

And what is the nature of that source?

I don’t know.

And what happens when we return, as all of us surely must – as at some point this Earth itself must too return?

I don’t know.

And that’s okay.

And that one certainty that I do have . . . the iron-clad knowledge that you and I are brothers along with all of creation compels me to live humbly and walk with all others knowing that same spark lives within every person I know, every person I will ever meet, every person I have never and will never meet.

And how you pray, or who you pray to, and what scripture you read . . .

May you find it fulfilling, and may you grow in your understanding.

And may you live in blessing.

UUMJeff:

As I work on building Don’t Push Send, I continue to be inspired by some of the great writers in the blogosphere. One of the inspirations behind my renewed efforts in this space is John Pavlovitz, the author of the blog Stuff That Needs To Be Said

On queue, as he always seems to be, John kinda hits the nail on the head in this post. For me personally he highlights the struggles I face as I try to set the direction for this blog, and inspires me to stay above the ugliness that characterizes so much of what we read in our virtual on-line world. And while I do not identify as a Christian in the traditional sense of the word, (I’m a Unitarian Universalist . . . more on this in later posts) I’m totally in sync with the Christianity that John Pavlovitz reflects in his work.

Expect to see more of John’s thoughts reblogged here.


Originally posted on Stuff That Needs To Be Said

 

This is getting simpler.

I’ve recently found a clearing of sorts; a place where my mind and my spirit are finding peace and rest no matter how loud and ugly things get—though it wasn’t always this way.

 

For a long time I let the angry, mean-spirited, violent noise get the best of me. That happens to so many good people out here trying to change things, trying to care about stuff that matters, trying to help build the world they wish to see.

Spend enough time in the thick of the fight and you become conditioned to it, poisoned by its cynicism and contempt, hardened by its continual cruelty. Face the world in a battle posture long enough and you lose the ability to live any other way.

Too many people can only function if they have a villain to war with, a cause to rail against, an evil to condemn.

I’m conscientiously objecting to that fruitless war these days. I am finding a better way to fight.

 

More and more, I am letting what and who I care deeply about drive and move and fuel me. It allows me simplicity and clarity:

I abhor racism and bigotry, so I strive to see and treat all people equally and individually. 
I detest homophobia, so I care for and support my LGBT brothers and sisters and their families.
I believe fully in gender equality, so I do my best to advocate for this equality.
I find poverty detestable, so I look for ways to contribute to eliminating it.
I can’t stomach hatred in the name of Jesus, so as a Christian I try daily to reflect Christ’s love as well as I can as often as I can.

In short, I am learning to live and love offensively.

I no longer allow myself to be burdened with those who see me as an enemy. 

 

Their perceptions are formed from a distance anyway, and so I simply refuse to be defined by them. The more you know who you are, the less threatened you are when someone attacks you and the less interested you are in attacking back.

 

I am not very concerned with convincing others to agree with me either. I simply speak my heart clearly and continually and unwaveringly, trusting that those whose hearts echo mine will come alongside me while those who disagree will still be forced to hear me.

 

I spend less and less time these days being baited into verbal public battles, as those rarely do anything for the dignity of either side. I do not feed those who thrive on confrontation, as it takes my time and energy from those who need me; those who are so often forgotten, ignored, or drowned out by the din of social media shouting matches and endless culture wars.

 

More and more, I simply live to be the antidote to the things I find hurtful or damaging in the world, rather than arguing with those I believe are being hurtful or damaging. There are certainly times to identify dangers and to call out injustice, but those pale in comparison to the countless moments that simply require personal goodness.

 

Friends, there will always be those whose medium is vitriol, whose currency is condemnation, whose agenda is provocation, but resist responding in kind because that only conforms you to their image.

 

If you claim Christ, until you have a Christianity without venom you don’t have one that resembles Jesus quite yet. As a person of faith, this is the only kind of religion I am interested in.

 

Maybe you are like me. Maybe you’re bloodied and weary of the fight, but finding your second wind and discovering a better path, one less mired in sarcasm and less toxic to touch. 

 

Maybe you’re intentionally walking away from the war trenches, so that you can move toward the hurting, the unloved, the waiting—and respond.

 

If so, welcome.

 

This is the beginning of a holy movement in the world.

 

This is the stuff real revolutions are made of. 

 

May you fight well.

 

May you learn to love offensively.

 

selfcheckout

I walked out of Home Depot yesterday without the merchandise I had spent a half-hour selecting.

I laid it on a stack of boxes near the self-checkout lines . . .  the only lines that were open . . . informed the one cashier supervising the checkout lines that I was leaving . . .  and why . . . suggesting that she inform the manager . . .  and I left.  I won’t be back any time soon.

Mind you, I’m no Luddite nor am I in any way so technologically challenged that I can’t manage using a self-serve register.  In fact, I’m a technology professional who designs large-scale computer networks and voice and video solutions for businesses and government / non-profit organizations.   I’m fine with using technology to improve our lives and make business more efficient.

I’m not okay with using technology to replace people.   

And self-checkout registers are only one tip of an iceberg with many peaks.

Not that being a cashier at Home Depot, Stop and Shop, or any other large retailer is a great career.  The same can be said any number of other non-skilled positions typically held by young people, those needing supplemental income to make ends meet or those whose skills have been rendered obsolete or whose positions have been “offshored” to places where people will work for compensation that doesn’t even conform to our utterly inadequate wage laws.

But every one of those empty check-out lines with the light off represents a person with one less opportunity to make ends meet, one less young person who can learn about what it means to work for a living, one less student who can supplement his or her income while working through school, one less elderly person who can supplement their Social Security check with enough additional income to put food on the table or keep the electricity turned on.

As more and more of these jobs that employ entry-level workers or those living on the edge are replaced with technology more and more of the people who would have held those jobs are out in the street, pushed further into the margins, and left with no choice but to depend on government programs.

I can afford to spend a few more cents on a lightbulb if it means there will be a register with a real person in it.

So while I will not claim that I will never set foot in another Home Depot again . . . they have dominated the market so thoroughly that we are often left with little choice . . .  I will consciously choose otherwise whenever I can.  I will take my business to the local Ace franchise even though it doesn’t have as much selection, is a bit out of the way, and may be a bit more expensive.  I will opt to go to the Lowe’s that is almost inevitably within 2 blocks of the orange monster – at least they always seem to have one or two real registers open.

I will not use an automated checkout line.

I will not allow an employee to use an automated checkout line to scan my purchases, sending a message to management that these devices are working.

#justwalkout

Send a message.

startbutton
According to what I have read it is estimated that, at the time of this writing, there are somewhere on the order of 450 million active blogs in the English language. (1)  This doesn’t count the millions more dead or “zombie” blogs that have been abandoned or forgotten by their owners . . . or started with the intent of actually doing something at some point in the future . . .  whenever “someday” comes.

I am responsible for a couple of those.

This time is different.  I actually have an idea of what it is I want to do here.  Inspired by some really excellent blogs I have been following recently, I want to add my voice to the multitudes.  Perhaps it will be heard by enough to make a difference.  This is probably the hope of most bloggers out there, and it appears as if I have plenty of company.

The “dontpushsend.com” domain was originally owned by  singer / songwriter Carrie Newcomer.   It was a humorous on-line extension of her song of the same name from the 2008 album “The Geography of Light”   The site featured a collection of email bloopers including many from on-line contributors.

The song begins:

“This is a story, a very sad tale
Of intrigue, romance and electronic mail
A dangerous form of information
And the perils of instant gratification
How many times did I hit my Mac
Want to crawl inside and take the whole thing back
But it’s no use say it again and again
Don’t push send”

The song goes on to detail several instances of email disaster – the office email excoriating the shortcomings of coworkers that ends up being copied to everybody in the company,  the suggestively intimate email accidentally sent by a wife to her father-in-law instead of her husband . . . (Don’t you just hate it when Outlook inserts the wrong “John Smith” in the recipient field?) . . .  the angry reply sent to someone late at night while under the influence of a little to much wine . . .   or the failure to change a potentially incendiary subject line when forwarding a professional message.

Most of us have, at one time or another, pushed the “send” button and soon wished we could undo the damage.  In fact, Google has recently rolled out an “Undo Send” feature to their popular GMail product.  Unfortunately this only gives you up to 30 seconds to change your mind, hardly enough time for regret to set in or the effects of that third glass of chardonnay to wear off.   The reality is that non-realtime communication media including not only email, but social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter present ample opportunities for damage to ones reputation and relationships.

Anthroposemiotics is the study of how human beings communicate.  Unique to our species (as far as we know) is our ability to comprehend and discuss abstract ideas about time and space.   Other animals can communicate concrete “here and now” emotions and needs like aggression, danger, fear, hunger, the desire to mate, dominance and submission, etc.

Humans exchange ideas that do not necessarily have anything to do with an immediate situation or need.  We communicate rhetorically and relationally.    In rhetorical communication we try to influence the thoughts of others and persuade them to our way of thinking.  In relational communication we work together in partnership to reach consensus about a particular outcome.

Don’t Push Send is about ideas.

Don’t Push Send is about how we communicate ideas.

Don’t Push Send is about culture, it’s about politics, it’s about religion, it’s about relationships.  Feel free to add your voice to the comments section, just remember the basic guidelines for comments – if you wouldn’t say it in front of Mom, don’t say it here.