Archive for December, 2007

Year’s end a time for candid reflections

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

Year’s end a time for candid reflections

Another year over, full of gratitude and regret.

With the new year come subtle and obvious reminders of all the promises we made ourselves last year, but somehow have not kept. Reflection upon the past 12 months can lead to a sense of satisfaction, combined with wonderment about the insistent march of time.

Worst case, ask for a do-over, hoping to reclaim a year we didn’t use to its fullest.

I’ve had my share of both. Following are some of both the bitter and sweet reflections with which I’m left as another year goes into the books:

Though it could be worse, it’s hard to accept that I’m 10 pounds heavier now than I’ve been for the past 12 years. I joke about having the physique of a writer and such, but trends like these, unattended over time, lead to bigger problems.

I’m more grateful than ever before to be right where I am. Having traveled for years as part of my job, and having always struggled with any idea of permanence, 2007 has afforded me a sense of peace about raising a family in a town far different than that of my own upbringing.

I regret that yet another year has passed without any communication between me and my father. It seems that the longer two people go without contact, no matter how close they were before the schism, it only gets harder to bridge the growing gap.

I’m also blessed to have the opportunity to redefine what it means to be family. Though our genetic heritage is an indelible part of who we are, it is not the only basis for who we call family.

For the church community that has grown up around us from nothing over the past four years, for the friends who go out of their way to embrace us both literally and figuratively, and for those related to me by marriage but who treat me as their own, I am grateful.

Though I feel like we, as a community, have done some good, I have some ambivalence about the state of the world. We have fed the needy, yet every night, right here in our city, people go to bed with no food. We have comforted the afflicted, though even more suffering persists. We cry out for peace, but war still is a part of everyday life.

I am grateful that we have done something, but regret that it still is not enough. I am grateful for how much I have been given, but regret how relatively little I have to show for it. I am also grateful for knowing my family is in a position of relative security, but regret that my wants and fears still make me restless for more.

I am grateful for the many signs of divinity I have seen in those around me, but regret that those glimmers have not been enough to extinguish my doubt, or even to bolster my confidence in the more benevolent tendencies of human nature.

I am grateful for the patience offered to me, and regret not having more patience of my own.

I am grateful for time, but regret I have not always used it as well as I could.

I am grateful for a child that has grown before my eyes, but regret the days when I have been too consumed with less important things to notice the subtle changes.

I am grateful for all of the times I’ve heard the words “I love you,” and regret that I struggle to say it at least as often as I hear it.

It’s easy to set ourselves up this time of year, making lofty promises of change that we can never realistically honor. Fueled by the best of intentions, our regrets can either become tools for self-abuse when we fail, or they can serve as the blueprint for filling in the gaps in a less-than-complete life, still taking shape. The actual shape of the life to come, however, has less to do with lingering regret than the actions that follow such feelings.

Christian Piatt is the author of “MySpace to Sacred Space” and “Lost: A Search for Meaning.” For more information, visit

My new website

Monday, December 24th, 2007

I wanted to let you know about my new web-based service I’ve developed at It’s a very affordable marketing tool that’s appealing especially to people involved in sales and others who maintain significant database of contacts. I thought you might like to look it over, and please pass this along to any other sales folks you know who try to keep contact with a database of contacts.

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Our flagship service is a weekly custom newsletter & email blast service called Branching Out. For only $99 a year, you receive a new article every week to help drive traffic to your site.

Just provide us with your business logo, a photo of your choice and we develop a customized web page to display your content. We suggest three easy ways to use Branching Out to reach your client base: 

ONE-CLICK – We’ll give you the code to place a Branching Out “Button” on your home page. This keeps people coming back to your site weekly to read the new articles. One more click, and they’re back on your home page.

DIRECT LINK – If you use an electronic newsletter or email blast to stay in touch with folks, we can give you a personalized Web link that you can put right in your email. People can click to read the story, and then jump right back to your home page. 

COPY/PASTE – Want to put the article right on your website or in a blog? You can do that! With your $99 annual subscription, you have all of these options at your fingertips. 

Most people pay $35 to $50 an hour for marketing consultants to develop compelling content for their websites and blogs. With Branching Out, you have a team of professional writers, editors and web designers on your side, all for less than $2 a week.

Happy holidays,

Still searching for the “true meaning” of Christmas

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

Still searching for the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas

I am as crusty as any Christmas traditionalist, I suppose, when it comes to the co-opting of the “true meaning of Christmas” by the so-called secular world. It annoys me that the greeting of “Merry Christmas” has been watered down so often into a more benign “Happy Holidays” wish.

Never mind that the root word of “holiday” comes from “holy day,” thus still smacking of religiosity, but we’ll leave that for another time.

My annoyance reached its peak recently when my son, Mattias, was watching one of scores of holiday specials on television called “Shrek the Halls.” Though I feared an opportunistic, pandering string of fart and booger jokes, it actually was pretty clever, and included the original stars’ voices from the “Shrek” trilogy.

However, just as I was drawn in by the jolly old ogre, they slapped me with a profound heresy. They pronounced, rather boldly I might add, that the true meaning of Christmas is about family and sharing.


It’s not as if I expected Donkey or Shrek to pronounce that the true meaning of Christmas is to set time aside to remember the birth of Baby Jesus; that would have knocked me right out of my chair, in fact. However, if you’re not really going to talk about the “true meaning,” why lay any claim to it, right?

Hasn’t ever stopped us church folk, has it?

We’ll assume most people know by now that we co-opted Dec. 25 from pagan traditions in the first place, and that Jesus wasn’t likely born this time of year at all. But the more I look around, the more I realize how much we do without any real understanding of why.

We all know the song about the 12 days of Christmas, but how many of us celebrate a full 12 days? If so, when do the 12 days start? Is Dec. 25 the beginning or the end of the week-and-a-half marathon?

It turns out that hardly anyone can agree, not that this should come as a surprise to anyone familiar with church politics. Generally, the 12 days are considered to be the period in the liturgical year before the Epiphany when the Magi traveled to bring gifts to Jesus. Historically, it’s more likely that this happened over a period of years, but who needs to be bogged down with details?

And whoever decided there were three Magi? Good luck finding that in scripture. But I digress.

For some churches, Christmas’ 12 days don’t even begin until the Dec. 26. Some Eastern Orthodox traditions don’t observe Christmas until Jan. 7. We could go on about why we put up and decorate trees, trade gifts, or why some us seem to think Christmas is permission to abuse our bodies with sweets, alcohol and late-night parties.

But the heart of the matter is best addressed in a quote from Dennis Bratcher, who writes the following as a theologian with the CRI/Voice Institute, a global and ecumenical ministry dedicated to providing “biblical and theological resources for growing Christians.”

“Many of the symbols of Christianity were not originally religious,” says Bratcher, “including even the present date of Christmas, but were appropriated from contemporary culture by the Christian faith as vehicles of worship and proclamation. Perhaps, when all is said and done, historical accuracy is not really the point.”


We may not agree with everything that others do in the name of Christmas, but we can rest assured that, somewhere out there, more than a handful of people object to the way we handle the holiday as well. We’re best served when we take the time to discern our own “true meaning,” while being careful never to lay exclusive claim to such.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my divinely mandated daily dose of fruitcake and rum balls.

Christian Piatt is the author of “MySpace to Sacred Space” and “Lost: A Search for Meaning.” For more information, visit

Let us prey: Who’s to blame?

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Let us prey: Who’s to blame?

Everybody, nobody? After a long litany of online rants, 24-year-old Matthew Murray gunned down unarmed innocents at the Youth with a Mission Center in Denver. He proceeded to make a stop at the Web site where he regularly posted his messages to verbally take aim at Christians in particular before heading to Colorado Springs half a day later, where he took more lives at New Life Church.

Murray’s actions, like those of many other mass murderers in recent years, are made more egregious by the nature of the victims he claimed. Like small Mennonite communities, unknowing holiday shoppers, school-age children, college students and faculty and so on, missionaries in training and church congregants are completely vulnerable. Such violence not only suggests complete disregard for human life, but also smacks of utter cowardice.

So, whom do we hold accountable for his atrocities?

Let’s blame the Internet for providing him with the anonymity and fuel for his emotional fires. After all, you can find a supportive group of peers for practically anything online, including gunning down innocent bystanders.

Perhaps we should condemn violent video games and films for numbing the senses and sensibilities of our youth. Though we have no reports thus far of Murray being a video-game junkie, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to assume as much. He was young, male and had at least a basic understanding of computers. In the days to come, we’ll undoubtedly learn he was a regular player of Halo, Doom or some other “shooter” games.

We could dogpile on home-schooling while we’re at it, since Murray was home-schooled. After all, how can a child possibly develop necessary social and emotional coping skills while cloistered away from his or her peers at home, right?

It would be irresponsible to leave Ted Haggard, founder and former senior pastor of New Life church, out of the blame game. Murray mentioned Haggard in some of his blog posts, citing the hypocrisy of his apparent do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do approach to ministry. Murray had at least loose ties with New Life, so it could be that his outrage stemmed from disillusionment about an institution he thought would usher him into mission work.

This leads us to the Youth with a Mission office in Denver. Word is that it dismissed Murray from its missionary training program, citing some sort of vague reference to “health issues.” Certainly, being turned away from a calling to humble service is to blame for his disintegration into whatever personal crisis that culminated in the assassinations of his peers.

We should also point a finger both at the firearms industry and legislators for their permissive approach to dealing with guns in the hands of our citizenry. It can, and likely will be argued that, without their complicity, he would not have had the means to carry out his bloody rampage in the first place.

One could cast a judging eye toward Murray’s parents, extended family and friends, as well. After all, how could they not have seen this coming? Could such a violent person not have exhibited some signs of his potential for dangerous behavior if anyone was really paying attention?

And how about the Web site managed by the Association of Former Pentecostals where he left his telling notes? Did they alert authorities about the content of his posts? If so, did they do so in a timely enough manner? Any of the readers on the site could have done the same. Did they, and if not, why?

We could expand our witch hunt to include entire political parties, religious denominations, or even religion all together, without too much effort. But explaining extreme human behavior such as this is far too complex to place the target of blame on any one person or group.

This hardly will stop us from trying, because it’s in our nature to hold someone, something accountable for actions we do not understand, and which we sense we can’t control. Somewhere in the backs of our minds, a voice tells us that, if we can root out and eliminate the cause of that which we fear, we can assure ourselves safety in the future.

Such assurances, however, are illusory. It’s fair to ask such questions, but to expect answers that give us any real comfort is to misunderstand the nature of evil: It is everywhere around us and within us.

We don’t like that answer, but in the end, it’s the byproduct of our own free will.

We’re victims of our own choices, and that scares the hell out of most of us.

Christian Piatt is the author of “MySpace to Sacred Space” and “Lost: A Search for Meaning.” For more about Christian’s books, visit

Virtual world can lead to real-life problems

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

Virtual world can lead to real-life problems

It’s harder than ever before to define what exactly constitutes cheating in a relationship. With the combination of increased access and greater anonymity the Internet affords, more and more people are flocking to the Web to meet needs otherwise met in the “real world,” or perhaps not satisfied at all.

Before the advent of the Internet, fidelity was at least a little bit more clear-cut. If you spent an inordinate amount of time with someone other than your spouse, and certainly if you had romantic physical contact, you were a cheater. Of course, there have always been the more subtle emotional affairs that can drag on for years between two longing souls who never technically cross the line.

With the help of technology, that line has become infinitely fuzzier.

Most everyone knows about the proliferation of pornography online. This is nothing new. When innovators in the film industry developed video for home use, an entirely new adult video industry emerged soon thereafter. Wherever there is a new means to convey information cheaply and privately, you’ll find porn.

However, there are other uses of the Internet that some still may not realize. Since the creation of “chat rooms” – places where people can go online and have discussions on any topic of their choice – there has arisen the phenomenon of cyber-sex. This practice reached even greater levels of popularity with the introduction of private Web cameras. It’s a common enough practice that reaching sexual climax while participating in such activities online has its own name: cybering.

Just like in the physical world, however, there are many types of intimacy expressed between two people online. Some folks, both single and married, carry on years-long emotional relationships with people they have never met. In some cases, they never even see what the other person looks like, and there are people who prefer this safe sense of removal.

As if chatting and exchanging messages was not enough, now there’s the avatar factor. An avatar is an image or character created by its user to represent them online. This allows a balding, pudgy banker from the Midwest to recreate himself on the Internet as a buff, bronze rock star. With the introduction of Web sites such as Second Life, the fantasies become even more elaborate.

Second Life is, quite literally, exactly what it sounds like. You create a character you present into this virtual community, and then you proceed to live a life that doesn’t exist. There are homes, jobs, spouses, pets, churches, schools and entertainment complexes, much like what you find in the world around you. However, the sense of escapism and control over one’s identity and environment is fuel for fantasy in millions of American minds.

There are reports of people going onto sites such as Second Life and spending hours in front of the computer screen with a virtual spouse, managed by some other woman or man they don’t know at all. Meanwhile, their real partner sits in the next room, flipping through channels or reading a book. The Second Life character cohabitates, makes love, buys gifts, gets sick, and conducts him- or herself as realistically as one can imagine.

It’s not real. Or is it?

Can someone cheat on a spouse with someone they don’t know and will never touch? While many find great safety in the shadows of such so-called games, the potential damage is evident.

Communities of faith offer a potent antidote to this addiction to safe anonymity. The key word is community: unity through togetherness. With this togetherness comes accountability, not necessarily in the form of judgment and guilt. If we have a group of people that lovingly expects us to be more generous, faithful and kind than the average person, then we tend to want to live up to these expectations.

Church communities aren’t perfect, but there’s something basically important about physical presence. It demands something of us, and in the cases when the vision for the group is affirming and based in hope and love, it nudges us into expressing the best parts of us we already have within us.

Christian Piatt is the author of “MySpace to Sacred Space” and “Lost: A Search for Meaning.” for more information, visit

Good or evil: Do we even have a choice?

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Good or evil: Do we even have a choice?

There are those rare people we meet in life who seem to exude a glow of goodness. They radiate a gentle energy that makes everyone around them feel good. Then there are those whose souls seem permanently damaged, darkened by anger or hatred, irreversibly evil.

How do two members of the same species become so morally different? Can St. Francis of Assisi and Osama bin Laden really both be equally human?

According to a recent Time magazine article, the answer is yes.

It seems to be common sense that there is some greater social value in care for others. Particularly in times when we lived more in the midst of nature and its many threats, it stands to reason that close-knit tribes and families had to look out for each other or get eaten. After all, we’re not the fastest or fiercest animals on the planet, so an “everyone for themselves” attitude would be detrimental to long-term survival.

So how much of this survival-based moral code is innate in our genes, and how much is learned? It turns out that, much like spoken language, we’re born with a certain “moral grammar” that affords us the potential for empathy, kindness and concern for the well-being of others. However, just like someone who never experiences language in a social context, we do not develop our moral skills without learning both from modeling by others and through the consequences of our own actions.

By watching our peers, and through trial and error, we learn the social protocols of our community, and thus, we help ensure our place within the larger group. In return, we receive some of that same protection and care in return.

If our capacity for good is both inborn and nurtured, it stands to reason that both nature and nurture can play parts in those same systems going haywire. In some rare cases, humans are born without that so-called “moral grammar,” making it much harder, if not impossible, for them to learn by example or trial and error. In a broad sense, we call this sort of social detachment psychosis.

More often, a series of choices and/or experiences gradually lead to us veering off the moral tracks, turning increasingly inward, casting an ever-broader net of “otherness” over the world around us. Extreme cases of such divergence result in genocide, systemic neglect and countless loss of life. In the everyday world, it may result in us making a more selfish choice at the expense of others.

In the Time article, Jeffrey Kluger concludes that “merely being equipped with moral programming does not mean we practice moral behavior. Something still has to boot up that software and configure it properly, and that something is the community.” He notes that we generally cannot learn a sense of right and wrong that meshes with our culture unless it is taught in applied settings.

This means that the old “do what I say, not as I do” approach simply won’t stick. We can learn to some degree by being told about right and wrong, but in the end, it must be lived out. Ideally, parents, teachers and other peers throughout the community would all be consistent in their moral modeling, but we all know this is not the case. Some parents fall short; some teachers grow weary or apathetic; some ministers model greed and corruption even while preaching compassion from behind the pulpit.

Like individual humans, churches have a choice in the direction they take. Perhaps nearly as powerful as our capacity for good, however, is our ability to justify our own behavior.

Kluger suggests that the most powerful agent in our tendency to stray is in our potential to “other-ize” the world beyond our immediate environs. It worked for the Nazis, and we see it today. From government-sanctioned ideological warfare to neglect of entire continents under siege, as long as the group under attack seems somehow less than human, it’s a short journey to justify horrendous acts of evil, no matter who we are.

At its best, church provides not only the moral message but also the living example of kindness, compassion and righteousness. At its worst, as has been seen throughout recorded history, church is the one drawing the lines of other-ness, sanctioning everything from rape to murder as part of the “greater good.”

We have been given the tools we need, but only we can decide how and when to use them.

Christian Piatt is the author of “MySpace to Sacred Space” and “Lost: A Search for Meaning.” For more information, visit