On Thursday evenings Jeff, my husband, and I pull out of our driveway in Claremont around 6 o’clock and drive to a Fitness Studio in Rancho Cucamonga where we participate in a group exercise class called Boot Camp. The studio is located in one of those industrial complexes with businesses ranging from financial services and Mobile Home sales to a brewery and wall bed manufacturer. The latter is called, WALL BEDS AND MORE. The store front of WALL BEDS AND MORE can be seen from Archibald Avenue and acts like a visual cue for where we need to enter the park. This was an important cue before I had a car that talked to me.

For years I have traveled in old cars. Jeff and I only buy used cars, we drive them until they give up and then we donate them for a tax credit. I don’t have much ego when it comes to my ride – in fact up until May I was driving a 1991 Toyota Tercel, with hand crank windows and a cassette player. It got me around – until it didn’t! And today I am driving a 2016, plug-in hybrid.

I am still navigating all the technological wonders of this car. One of my favorite features happens when I first get in. My iPhone is automatically synced to the software in the vehicle, so, I am able to take phone calls through the car’s audio system and play music from my personal library. It’s all pretty standard in new cars but, as I said – new to me.

Recently, I noticed that every Thursday night when we get into the car to drive to Boot Camp in Rancho Cucamonga – a trip we have been making for several years and one I could navigate in my sleep – a message pops up on my phone that says, “18 minutes to WALL BEDS AND MORE”. “That’s helpful information”, I think to myself, “18 minutes. Okay the freeway must be open. Good to know”.

But then I have a second, more ominous thought, kind of Orwellian. How on earth does my phone know where I’m going, I wonder?? I am at once appreciative and disturbed.

Thanks to Amanda and Jacob, our Summer Service worker, I now understand that my phone has a location tracking application. I allow that application, which then allows other applications to track things from… how many steps I take each day, to the exact path I hiked, to determining the best route to your homes or hospitals when I visit.

I allow it. And I love it!

And while I understand my phone is tracking my whereabouts, I did NOT fully comprehend that it is actually tracking and STORING all that information.

And here I stand before you, creeped out all over again!

Where IS all this information being stored and WHO has access to it?

In August, my son traveled to Austin, Texas to visit friends. His hosts made all the travel arrangements using their Frontier Airlines frequent traveler points. The morning he was traveling home, he texted me his flight information. Now stay with me here…. from my computer here at church – a computer NOT linked to my phone or private social media accounts – I “Googled” Frontier Airlines and tracked his flight status so I would know when I had to leave. Later when I was parked and waiting for him at the airport, I passed the time by checking my Facebook status and what do you think was the first thing to pop up in my feed??? A promotional offer from Frontier Airlines!

Shouldn’t we all be a little freaked out about this??

To be honest – I never really gave it a second thought. I chalked it up to progress. Until I watched a Netflix documentary called, The Great Hack.

The Great Hack explores how the data company, Cambridge Analytica, came to symbolize that dark side of social media. It is compelling and pretty disturbing!

Turns out, Google is tracking our searches. Facebook is collecting and sharing our information with data mining companies. Those companies are using that information to understand our purchasing decisions, our political affiliations, and what we are most afraid of for the purpose of using that information in an attempt to manipulate our future decisions.

 

Although quite fascinating, I won’t go into the details of how that all occurs – you can choose whether or not you want to watch the documentary for yourselves. One of the central and most compelling figures in the film, is Carole Cadwalladr, a journalist for Britain’s Guardian & Observer. She investigated how Cambridge Analytica mined voters’ personal data during the lead up to the Brexit vote. But, this is a story that has played out all around the world because Brexit turned out to be a petri dish for similar scenarios, perhaps one you may even be familiar with….  The 2016 presidential campaign here in the United States. Through focused operations targeting individuals deemed “persuadable”, political campaigns used Facebook to plant stories for advertising purposes. It was so successful that, today, Cadwalladr travels all around the world trying to bring awareness to the fact that we have no real plan or strategy for how to deal this social media glitch which, she believes compromises the upcoming elections in Britain and the United States.

 

Our personal data is out there and being used against us in ways we don’t understand.

Information has replaced oil as the world’s greatest commodity. Information!

We are in unchartered waters here folks. And so were Adam and Eve.

 

I know this is a tricky story. I am asking you to suspend everything you think you believe about Adam and Eve. All of it – the fall of humanity, original sin, the tree of knowledge, good and evil, shame, blaming woman. Can you put that all aside for a moment? Because, there is something relevant in their story for us.

 

Adam and Eve were created by God and given everything they needed to survive; food, shelter, water, companionship and love. Together they roamed paradise with the awe and wonder of small children – which in a sense they were. They were brand new. They didn’t have any concept of life outside of the Garden of Eden – a place of beauty and boundaries. They had no concept of manipulation or that someone could use a power imbalance to gain advantage and create fear. But, all that changed when they met “the most clever of all the wild animals”.  In my reading of this text, the snake preyed upon Adam and Eve’s innocence. They were targeted and groomed with deceit and misappropriation of information for the purpose of creating chaos when the snake told them to ignore God’s instructions. Adam and Eve are in many eyes, considered the first sinners but I would argue that the snake be given that designation. Adam and Eve’s rebellion emerged from the wounds they received from an outside source – that source hell bent on causing harm.

Now, Adam and Eve, (as is true for all of us) are still responsible for their actions. They had to live with the consequences of what they did with the snake’s information.  And those consequences were catastrophic. The moment they started making room for the possibility that they could actually cultivate or acquire omnipotent power and glory for themselves, they lost sight of God (this separation from God is what I would consider the sin)  This then caused them to become consumed with fear and driven to hide.

Fear is a powerful weapon. Fear can cause us to abandon our beliefs, our faith, and ourselves. Fear makes us believe there isn’t enough…not enough love, not enough money, not enough status, not enough security. And ultimately, fear causes us to hide. We attempt to conceal the parts of ourselves we deem unacceptable whether that is  physical, emotional or spiritual in nature. Every one of us can recall a time when we didn’t speak up because we were afraid of what others might think. Or a time when we tried to hide our feelings because it made us feel too vulnerable. Or maybe even a time when we truly felt like the weight of the world rested on our shoulders and we were afraid we couldn’t bear it. Perhaps, even, fear caused us to act in a way that was hurtful to others (and separated us from God). Fear consumed Adam and Eve and it consumes us today.

Every time we click on those social media stories that bait us with salacious news about a political candidate we support or oppose, or when we take that fun little quiz to find out what our spirit animal is or what state we should live in – and I’ve done ‘em all! – we are making ourselves vulnerable to data mining companies who use that information to distract us with bad information.  It is really hard to not feel afraid when we are bombarded with news feeds and stories that attempt to tell us what we should believe, and who are enemies are. It’s bad information, but it loses its power if when we stand up and speak out against it.

 

Adam and Eve acted on bad information. Their fear caused them to break relationship with God. They cannot go back to un-knowing and neither can we. But we don’t have to suffer their same fate.

 

We are living in a whole new world. We have more access to information than any other time in history. And the platform to share whatever is on our mind at any given moment with relative anonymity and devastating impact.

 

Did anyone read about what’s going on in Fresno on the cover of the LA Times this morning? It involves teenagers, blackface and a racial slur – posted on social media. The teenager involved may or may not be clueless about her actions, but make no mistake this is an action based on generational fear.

 

Is Facebook the enemy? Of course not, it really can be a wonderful tool for staying connected to friends and family and sharing love all over the world. But, we do have to be careful what we let it tell us about ourselves, our neighbors and the world.

 

 

When the Bible says, “do not be afraid”, it’s not a suggestion or an attempt to tell us how to feel or think. “Do not be afraid” is a call to courage. And courage begins with honesty.

We are not going to move out of fear through more fear. It’s going to take facing some things we don’t want to. But, the wise know that fear attacks us from within and only grows stronger when not examined. Fear loves the dark.  So, I ask you:

 

Who told you you were naked?

Who told you that you weren’t smart enough? Cool enough?

Who told you you weren’t good enough?

Who told you you weren’t relevant anymore?

Who told you you were too much? Or not enough?

Who told you your life didn’t matter?

Who told you to be afraid?

Who told you to hide?

 

What shall we say to these things?

 

Adam and Eve listened to the snake and they got in trouble. We need to start listening to another voice. The voice that says, “In this world you will have trouble. But, take courage; I have overcome the world”.

 

We need to listen for God’s voice. The voice that says, “you were created for a life of wholeness, abundance, joy and love, and so are ALL of God’s children”.

We need to hear these messages for ourselves and then we need to speak them out loud – as many times as it takes for us to believe:

 

There is enough.

You are enough.

You are not alone.

Do not be afraid!

Amen