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News That Illustrates: April 23, 2012

The Secret Service and Entertaining Prostitutes
As of today, 11 Secret Service agents have been placed on leave amid allegations that they entertained prostitutes during President Obama's trip to Colombia. Apparently, some of the agents paid $60 apiece to owners of the Pleyclub, a strip club in an industrial section of the city of Cartagena, to bring the women back to the hotel where Obama's advance team was staying. Of course the incident has left many observers both outraged and befuddled—as in "What were you thinking?" How could Secret Service agents commit such an obvious breach of their role? On one level, this shows the seductive, overpowering presence of sin in our fallen hearts. But Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan also said something that applies to all followers of Christ: "[It is] imperative … to always act both personally and professionally in a manner that recognizes the seriousness and consequences of our mission."

PREACHING ANGLES: Focus; Mission; Sin; Temptation

The Hunger Games: The Power of Hope
In case you've been cut off from popular culture for the past two months, the hottest movie going these days is the first installment of the novel turned into film The Hunger Games. Here's a quick summary: "[Suzanne Collins] creates a dystopian future where the remnants of the United States are ruled by a despot who enforces his rule with an annual 'game' that's a cross between Roman gladiator contests and a modern reality TV show. A couple of people from each province are chosen by lottery to enter into a group battle to the death, all televised. Last person standing is the winner." The film has a powerful scene where President Snow, the bad guy who runs the regime, asks the lead Gamemaker why he thinks there's a winner. Snow answers his own question: "[Hope] is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective; a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it is contained. So contain [hope]."

PREACHING ANGLES: Future; Hope; Vision

Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?
Here's a fantastic article chock-full of preachable quotes and stories about the connection between social media and loneliness. The author argues, "Over the past three decades, technology has delivered to us a world in which we need not be out of contact for a fraction of a moment. In 2010, at a cost of $300 million, 800 miles of fiber-optic cable was laid between the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange to shave three milliseconds off trading times. Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information." The entire article is worth the read.

PREACHING ANGLES: Community; Loneliness; Technology

Big Data Is Watching You
As Obama and Romney gear up for this year's election, an army of marketers are helping them to focus their campaigns. They'll use what's called "microtargeting" to zero in on the detailed choices and preferences of our lives. And they know a lot about us because we all leave behind what's called "data exhaust," which includes the trail left by our emails, Amazon orders, Google searches, resume uploads, and our tweets—to name just a few things that leave a trail of exhaust. Whether you want it or not, every campaign tracks what you do and what you like. All of this raises some interesting, challenging questions: What does your "data exhaust" say about you? Does your public world match your private world?

PREACHING ANGLES: Confession; Integrity; Secrets

Planned Parenthood Sets Up "40 Days of Prayer"
If you're looking for a story about rationalizing evil, you won't find anything better than this. Taking a page from Rick Warren and a pro-life group's "40 Days for Life" campaign, a California abortion business developed their own "40 Days of Prayer." "We believe life is holy," the pamphlet says. "That's why we believe in your right to choose to be a parent or not." On Day 1 you can pray "for women for whom pregnancy is not good news, that they know they have choices." Day 36 invites people to "pray for the families we've chosen. May they know the blessing of choice." Day 38 says, "Today we pray for a cloud of gentleness to surround every abortion facility. May everyone feel calm and loving."

PREACHING ANGLES: Abortion; Rationalization; Sanctity of Life

What Does Your State Do Best?
This chart claims that "every state is number one in something." For instance, did you know that Delaware has more doctoral-level scientists, as a percentage of the population, than any other state? South central Indiana is the nation's leading producer of building limestone. Iowa produces more corn per year than any other state. Washington has the highest percentage of non-religious people. Minnesota has the nation's largest mall. Mississippi is the most generous state (based on giving versus annual income). It's a fun way to set up a sermon on church vision (our church's greatest strengths) or spiritual gifts.

PREACHING ANGLES: Focus; Self-esteem; Spiritual gifts; Vision

Married Couple Celebrates 83 Years of Love
Here's a fun article about marriage, commitment, communication, or conflict. "At ages 17 and 19, Eunice and Lloyd Ford were married in secret late one night by a Baptist preacher in Paris, Texas …. That was the night of April 9, 1929. Lloyd, 102, and Eunice, 100, recently celebrated their 83rd wedding anniversary." They claim that over that 83-year span they've never had a fight. Although Eunice did qualify that: "We've gotten mad at each other, but we never have fought. Usually if he got on me about anything, I walked off and left him." Then she offered this bit of advice for married couples: "Most of the time, if you get mad, walk off until you cool off."

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