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.

Some Random Thoughts About Music

Buddy Holly in concert
The coolest.

When I was 16, I heard Gibby Haynes say the music scene needed a new punk moment and he hoped it was Beck.  For one or two summers, it was (FEZtival ’97, I’m thinking of you).  But then people my age graduated and started file-swapping and before you knew it, the Philadelphia region was the largest market in the nation without an alternative rock radio format.  Mourning the death of high school preset king Y100 (“why? Because it’s good, that’s why!” said Noel Gallagher in my favorite station ID) I thought Gibby never got his wish: I didn’t seen any  rejection of pop excess at the last decade’s end and a commercial reset.  I didn’t see what I imagined the Clash did as the 70s waned or what coalesced as Nirvana circa 1990.  As the 9’s tipped to the aughts like gasoline meters, boy bands roared back from their late 80’s exile, pop ceased being a meaningful qualifier when placed before the word music, metal ceased meaning anything when preceded by nu and grunge rather cynically faked a revival.  This isn’t a full recounting, “American Pie”-style, of that era’s musical history, but eventually I came to realize that the punk moment had indeed come, that it was about distribution and choice.  And hip-hop.  And Wilco.  But I can’t get into all of that now.  I have an MFA thesis to write.  And Sufjan Stevens.

I’ve been thinking lately that if the current global economic crisis is as game-changing as was the Depression, and if rock ‘n’ roll was birthed by a nascent youth culture cutting the tension of economic crisis, a few wars, and  a war-fueled recovery, perhaps we’re about to see a whole new set of transforming creative moments like the 50s and 60s in Lubbock and Memphis and Detroit and Liverpool, like London and the Bronx circa 1976.  Like wherever Kayne West was ten years ago.  The art coming up out of those places drew from common pools, there’s a shared musical history, sure, between blues and rock and gospel and hip hip and punk, but there’s more to it than rightly cherished source code. These explosive movements came each in their own ways from conflict, from the merging of cultures, and, at their best, from a widening sense of neighbor and diminishing definitions of Other.  I’m not saying music sets everything right, but there’s a reason the Clash covering Bobby Fuller is sublime, not ironic. There’s a reason Johnny Cash doing “Hurt” is better than Trent Reznor, there’s a reason everyone bought Thriller, that the Gaslight Anthem sing about Miles Davis, that the Fugees cover Don McLean and Don McLean covers Buddy Holly.  That everyone covers Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, that Teddy Riley samples Bill Withers, that everyone loves the Beatles and the Temptations.  There’s a reason I’m getting carried away.

This post started with the intention of getting into a discussion about books, but I’m going to table that for a few hours.  Yesterday was the 52nd anniversary of the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper.  It happened 21 years before I was born, but it still makes me sad.  Here’s to the last train for the coast.

Special thanks to Jay Trucker for his Guest Post from yesterday.  Looking forward to Part II on Monday.

And to all a good night.

Top Three Songs for Sunday Morning

Happy Sunday.  This was going to be another video blog, but I don’t want to go crazy.  Top Three Songs for Sunday Morning:

3. “Sunday Morning Birds (Singin’ Hallelujah)” by Pajaro Sunrise

2. “Sunday Morning” by the Velvet Underground

1. “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” by Kris Kristofferson

Top # 1 Band Name Inspired by a Kris Kristofferson lyric:
My Cleanest Dirty Shirt (hypothetical, but I call it).

Have a happy, fruitful, blessed, restful Sunday.