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News That Illustrates: March 18, 2013

"Please Don't Let Me Die"—Hugo Chavez's Last Words
Hugo Chavez, the 58-year-old president of Venezuela, died on March 5th after a long battle with cancer. The normally brash and confident leader, who often bitterly criticized the U.S. government while dining with U.S. celebrities, died longing for more time on earth. One of his generals told the Associated Press, "He couldn't speak but he said it with his lips … 'I don't want to die. Please don't let me die.'" Those are sad but honest words from a powerful man facing his own mortality.

PREACHING ANGLES: Christ, resurrection of; Death; Life, short; Mortality

"You are not a religion"

A recent court ruling determined that "Sophie," a Virginia fortune teller, cannot claim First Amendment rights of religious freedom to overcome local zoning/licensing rules. While Sophie argued that her "inner flow" of spirituality constituted a religion as required by legal definitions of that term, the judge disagreed. The notion that we can be our own religion might look ridiculous in the courts, but it takes forms in everyday life—even among followers of Christ. The way that we spend our time, our money, our adoration is often (usually?) tantamount to self-worship, which (according to Genesis) is the second oldest religion in the world. So channel your inner flow with me here, and chant "I am not a religion …"

PREACHING ANGLES: Community; Spirituality; Idolatry

The Good, Racist People

You mean racism is still an issue? In this country? In 2013? Here's some food for thought. Last month the actor Forest Whitaker was accused of shoplifting at a New York deli. When the owner of the deli discovered it was Whitaker, he sincerely apologized. But New York Times writers Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on how "good people" can be guilty of profound racism. Coates writes, "In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed …. We believe that even when we are being racist." Coates continues, "The promise of America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the 'middle class,' will be treated as such. But this injunction is only half-enforced when it comes to black people …. Forest Whitaker fit that bill, and he was addressed as such …. I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicholas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli and I find myself laughing in the dark."

PREACHING ANGLES: Racism; Prejudice

'I Have the Right to Be Unlimited'

Sprint is running an ad pushing its new data plan. Mark T. Mitchell notes that the ad has a lot to say about where we're at as a culture (and there's a bunch of illustration possibilities here). For instance, Mitchell notes that the ad's first words—"The miraculous is everywhere"—imply that "the miraculous is merely the apparently magical work of technicians …. No longer is the term 'miraculous' reserved for God and his works." At 23 seconds into the ad we're told, "I need, no, I have the right to be unlimited." Mitchell comments, "In our cultural moment, the idea of limits is an offense. Limits suggest that my desires can be thwarted or perhaps even that my desires should be thwarted. But who has a right to do that?" Mitchell concludes: [This] ad says more about us than about the merits of a data plan."

PREACHING ANGLES: Limits; Limitations; Postmodernism; Secularism

"ATMs of Happiness" dispense Free Cash in Depressed Spain

Spain, currently in its third year of economic recession, can use a little cheering up. Enter the "ATM of Happiness." Part viral corporate marketing and part hope-filled social experiment, the machine dispensed 100 Euros to anyone who came across it and wanted to make a withdrawal. There was a catch, though. Recipients had to spend the money on someone else. According to Coca-Cola's smile-inducing video, that's just what they did. You can see people, after overcoming the initial surprise of getting a tidy sum of money for free, getting and giving away food, theater tickets, music, and more. Who knows if everyone who received the money used it as intended, but from all appearances, the ATMs of Happiness were smash hits. It's a reminder of the power of grace. A free gift, it can be used or abused. It's best used when given away in turn to others. Each of us will experience and share it differently, according to our needs and abilities, but the common thread is the same. It's free. And it's really something to smile about.

PREACHING ANGLES: Grace; Gift of Salvation

New Photo App Highlights our Ephemeral Culture

Snapchat is a mobile photo app with a twist. The pics you take with it don't last. The point of the image sharing service is to take a photo, send it to a friend, and then let it disappear after a few seconds. A recent Wall Street Journal article laments the "Disposable Culture" that produced this app. As evidenced in Snapchat, the article argues that our collective memory is being eroded. Timeless, seasoned art and wisdom are traded for disposable and fleeting moments. He has a good point in saying so. But there's another way to illustrate this story. In a world increasingly "cluttered" with data, there's often very little focus given to being fully present in the now. Snapchat demands engagement with something that will not last long. Like life. Maybe learning to embrace the ephemeral (without letting the timeless be thrown out) is a good thing.

PREACHING ANGLES: Attention; Time; Culture

Sinkhole Swallows Florida Man

Here's a sad story about how your life—or your life's foundation—can change in an instant. A Florida man's home seemed secure until a sinkhole swallowed him and his brother. The bother survived but the homeowner died in the tragedy. CBS News reported that a fire rescue spokesman "determined the home's bedroom is the center of the sinkhole, which measures 100 feet across." The article noted: "Sinkholes are common in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The state lies on bedrock made of limestone or other carbonate rock that can be eaten away by acidic groundwater, forming voids that collapse when the rock can no longer support the weight of what's above it." So how's the condition of your life's foundation?

PREACHING ANGLES: Insecurity; Judgment; Refuge

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