Find Your Soul Mate, Homer: The Spirituality of Facebook Insight Metrics

I am, however, one of those thirtysomethings with a robust red beard.

This may surprise you, but I’m not one of those 30-somethings that can go deep and wide on Simpsons quotes or trivia past the second season.   The same is probably true for Seinfeld.  That said, I’ve never forgotten some of the nuances of the episode where Johnny Cash plays a coyote in Homer’s vision quest.  You likely have an idea, even if it’s just from other popular media, about what a vision quest is.

I didn’t know until yesterday that it’s also the name of the language (or something…I’m a liberal arts/MFA grad, let us ne’er forget) that Facebook uses to run their insight tools for Pages:

Isn’t that sort of like naming a program “Baptism” or “Bar Mitzvah?”  It strikes me as rather insensitive, inappropriate, and rude. Considering that vision quests are meant to impart, well, a vision, the use of the program or protocol or whatever it is within the Insights application (or whatever it is) feels kind of crass, don’t you think?

If you’ve been reading The Daily Cocca for a while you probably know that I’ve  become increasingly interested in spiritual formation over the last year or so.   I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on First Nations rites of passage or spirituality, but I will say that the general idea of listening for or hoping for or even preparing for the building or outright giving of spiritual insight is something the Christian tradition and other traditions affirm.  With that in mind, the juxtaposition of insight and vision within the Facebook Pages platform got me wondering about the degree to which we all either:

a) think of insight as an ability to know the good in a given situation (political, economic, whatever) and then how to enact it (basically, this is Aristotelian prudence) rather than the building up or taking in of some other kind of knowing (spiritual/existential).

b) think that insight, even apart from its meaning in metrics, is something quantifiable.

c) think something must be quantifiable to have value.

In some ways, of course, most faith traditions suggest a kind of metric for spiritual growth: Christians, for example, speak of the non-quantifiable process whereby Christ is built in us, or in which grace upon grace is imparted to us.  Even though we can’t measure in objective ways the degree to which we are becoming like Christ (or, perhaps, healthier, happier), there are subjective measures: the fruits of the spirit, the sense of God’s will in community, etc.  All ripe for manipulation and abuse, mind you, but useful and helpful in healthy, humble spiritual communities.

I was talking with a friend the other day about whether or not I believe that there’s anything soteriological (saving, in a spiritual sense) about the Eucharist, which Christians also call the Lord’s Supper or Communion.   I’ve believed all kinds of things about the Lord’s Supper over the years, but right now I’m at the point of saying “I don’t believe the Eucharist saves us, but when I take it week to week, and when I go up in front of church of anointing, I….”

“Meet Jesus,” my friend said.


Nothing in my practice or study of various Christian spiritualities convinces me that God requires us to be saved by the Eucharist, but I do think God uses whatever God can from our traditions, and from our need for tradition, to meet us where we are.  I’ve referred to this elsewhere as God deigning to be part of our rituals and practices, but really, it’s more than that.  I think maybe God delights in the opportunity. “Hey, man, thanks for being here. Oh, you need to eat?  Eating is like the most communal thing you do, not just with each other but with all of nature, too?  Well then, friend, when you do it, think of me.”

Did God meet Homer Simpson in what began as a hot-pepper trip? In the person of a God-voiced coyote?  Do I meet God in the act of Communion? Yes, I know I can only speak for myself, and I know The Simpsons is a cartoon. But I also know there’s a lot of mystery in the universe, that our brains do amazing things when given the chance to rest, to solve problems, to sleep, to mediate, to dissolve in the great freeing spaces of spiritual practice or prayer or circadian rhythms.  I heard Tony Campolo saying the other day that when Mother Theresa prayed, she really just listened and believed that God listened, too.  Nurturing our own vision quests requires a certain kind of listening, I think, and that’s different for each of us.  For me, it’s lately been poetry, prayer, meditation and honoring my fearfully, wonderf’ly made self by taking better care to eat right and sleep better.

What is it for you? Let’s not fail to start.

So, You Have an MFA?

Just saw this from the New York Times on my friend Conor’s Facebook feed:

Funny and often true.  Just another reason we have to keep creating.  Have to have to have to.  Looking forward to your novel, Conor. You’re quite good at this creation business.

Search Query Answers: Because You Asked! (And I Don’t Have a Talk Show)

Quite a few questions rolled into the site today via my insistence that search query terms that bring people to my blog are just like emails to Craig Ferguson.  To the issues at hand:

“Who Wrote ‘Don’t Cry’ Axl or Izzy?”

And also Jimmy Dugan.

Cocca says?  Both.  Also give some credit to writer and GNR friend Del James.  As you should know from your collection of Guns N’ Roses videos on VHS, James wrote the short story “Without You,” from which the Don’t Cry-Estranged-November Rain trilogy drew inspiration.  And now, a question for you: Does Shannon Hoon sing on the “Don’t Cry” track(s)?  Yes, yes he does.

“New Hess diner patio Allentown PA”

Not that I’m aware of.  And I’d like to think this is something I’d be aware of.

“Names of shuttles in the space race.”

My blog is known for commentary on GNR, Hess’s, and the Space Race. Win.  As usual, Wikipedia has the answers, but I’m going to name some from the top of my head:

Enterprise (prototype, I think)

Got ’em all? Wiki says: yep.

“Yuri Gagarin Shuttle Name?”

He didn’t use a shuttle (the US pioneered that in the late 70s/early 80s).  I want to say his craft was called Volstok (but that would make me wrong: the craft, and the the rocket system he launched with, and the whole human-space-flight program itself, was called Vostok, which translates to East. Ominous, right?)

“2011 Baseball Beard”

You can have the beard on waivers.

I got this. Remember the other day when the owner of the Mets publicly ran down his best players?  As a Phillies fan, I loved this.  As a person, I felt kind of bad, especially for David “He’s A Good Kid” Wright.  Wright’s response was pretty classy.  And never again will you hear me say nice things about David Wright.  But I do have a solution to the whole ownership-talent divide.  The Mets should sign me.  I’m good for morale, I have a great baseball beard, and I look good in blue.  Also, I couldn’t possibly make that team any worse. On the business side, I’ll do all the PR.  I can do live tweets from the bench, expertly manage talent-owner relations because of my professional disinterest in both parties, and introduce a plethora of mid-inning shenanigans to delight the Queens faithful at Citi Field. I’ll also ban the selling of any Mets player merch not related to Richie Ashburn or Tug McGraw.  Player ego issues solved.  Just let me take BP and sit with Cliff Lee when the Phils come to town. Listen, Mets office.  I’m ready when you are.

Pomp, Circumstance, and The Macho King

"Macho Man" Randy Savage in the summ...
You are missed, Macho King.

On Friday, I participated in a recognition ceremony for graduates of the programs in The New School for General Studies.  When they played “Pomp and Circumstance,”  I said to one of my buddies, “Macho Man’s theme song!”  I hadn’t yet heard that Randy Poffo, known to all of us as The Macho Man Randy Savage, had passed away at the untimely age of 58.  I got that news via text a while later.

The Macho Man was larger than life.  His persona, his attire, his talent…everything about him epitomized the public face of professional wresting in the 80s and early 90s.  My favorite era of the Macho Madness was when he began styling himself as the Macho King: so over the top, so outsized and grand and awesome. Godpseed, Randy Savage, son of Angelo Poffo, brother of Lanny “The Genius” Poffo.  I’m deeply saddened by your departure.  You were one of the greats, an icon in the hearts of so many fans, myself included.

It would be wrong of me to celebrate the life of this larger than life athlete and entertainer without saying what, by now, must always be said at the early passing of a professional wrestler:  something needs to be done to protect these performers.  I don’t know the medical details of the Macho Man’s passing, but, so often, these incidents are the result of the constant physical strain of their profession.  Often these health issues have to do with performance enhancers: steroids to bulk up, amphetamines to stay awake on the road, sleeping pills to come back down, pain killers to keep going.  If that’s true now, imagine how true it ways 20, 30, 40 years ago.  Consider the things professional wrestlers felt compelled to do just to stay on the card.  Consider the things they may have been forced to do by promoters. So many wrestlers have died prematurely because of the net toll these things have taken on their bodies. Sure, the WWE has health and wellness rules now, but everyone remembers the steroid and safety scandals of the not too-distant past.

I don’t know or need to know the cause of Mach’s car crash to know that he’s gone too soon, that he was one of the greats, that his passing is sad in and of it itself, or that it shouldn’t be noted without renewed pleas to the the wrestling industry to take care of its talent while it can.

Godspeed, Macho Man.   Thanks for the memories, Your Highness.

Still Talking About Hawking

The best way to sum up what irks me about Stephen Hawking’s statement that heaven is for “people who are afraid of the dark” is that it stingily generalizes thousands of years of diverse cultural and spiritual inquires in our shared human experience.  Progressive folks wouldn’t tolerate this kind of talk from self-styled “religious” people, nor should we embrace it from Hawking.  Embrace his belief that there’s nothing to the spiritual all day long.  That’s fine.  But let’s not confuse an irresponsible soundbite for some kind of meaningful blow against the forces of reactionary religion.  It’s not. Neither are all the people who hope or believe they’re engaged in some kind of spiritual life a bunch Bible-beating, Koran-beating, whatever-beating fundamentalists who can’t cope with some scientifically provable rejection of their schema.  But we all know that, don’t we?