The Holy Spirit: No Ashleigh Keister!

The great people don’t need to act great. They understand that what they are (what we perceive as their greatness) comes not from what they do but from who they are. I saw this in action the other day among people none of you would know, so suffice it to say that one up-and-comer (who we will simply call Ashe Keister) was trying to do great stuff (and therefore getting in the way and mucking up the process) while the other person was perfectly content to be ordered around by the secretary, and managed to get a lot done (and save the day), not by announcing the fact that he was the Executive Vice President of All Sorts of Important Things in Life and the Universe, but rather by obeying the secretary.

It reminded me of the Holy Spirit and his relationship to the Father and the Son. Scripture tells us that the Son is begotten of the Father and that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, two phrases that are also enshrined in the Nicene Creed. This is about all that we know about the Trinity. The eternal movement of Divine Life is outward to the Son and Spirit (and beyond), and the eternal movement of Divine Love is to flow back inward as an expression of their true union and unity.

This is their being: three equal persons in eternal dynamic relationship, flowing out and flowing in. Thus God is not a static entity, but a dynamic entity of love.

In contrast to their being, there is they’re work. I have in mind particularly John 15:26 (which I will quote from the KJV, since it uses the word “procession”) where Jesus says, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.”

In terms of God’s work in the world, the Son will send the Spirit for the purpose of testifying of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the “economy” of God (that is, how God works in the world), the Son sends the Spirit. But in the “being” of God, the Spirit “proceeds from the Father” (not “from the Father and the Son,” as the Latin translation of the Nicene Creed incorrectly says, if it is referencing John 15:26). This is why Jesus says, “I will send the Spirit to you “from the Father.”

Of course the Son has already been sent into the world by the Father, so in their work, one might go so far as to say that the Spirit is playing third trombone. If the Spirit was anything like Ashe Keister, he might get a bit huffy about this. He is, after all, of the same essence as the Father and Son, he is equal to the Father and the Son, and just as the Son is begotten of the Father, so the Spirit proceeds from the Father.

But like the Executive Vice President of All Sorts of Important Things in Life and the Universe, the Spirit is perfectly willing and glad to take orders from the secretary (or the Son, in this case), and it is through this invisibleness of person and willingness to work for the greater good, that the true glory and honor of the Holy Spirit is revealed.


A Prayer

This lovely prayer is from today’s Morning Prayer:

  be the beginning and end of all that we do and say.
Prompt our actions with your grace,
  and complete them with your all-powerful help.
I love the idea that it is God who prompts, and then, when we respond with action, it is God who completes.

On The Proper Day to Take Down a Christmas Tree

I know this is burning question (yeah, it’s a pun) for many of you. I now have an authoritative Orthodox answer. (And I know that’s exactly what you’ve all been looking for. ha!) That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it! Smile

Growing up we went to the mountains (okay, hills … but they had pine trees on them) south of town on Friday after Thanksgiving and cut our tree. That thing stayed put until Epiphany: Thanksgiving until the end of the twelve days of Christmas. Fire hazard be damned! It’s not that we celebrated Epiphany. I grew up in a family that was highly suspicious of anything smelling of Roman Catholicism, but mom just loved the Christmas tree lights.

Of course, in many communities if you don’t have your old, dead tree out by the curb during the week between Christmas and New Years you’ll miss the tree pickup and have to dispose of it yourself. It’s all a bit of social engineering as community leaders try to avoid Christmas tree fires involving very dry trees wrapped with electrical cords.

In response, many Christians have been busy on social media insisting that the tree should stay up until Epiphany (Jan 6) which is the twelfth day of Christmas on the Roman Catholic calendar. But from a family systems standpoint, this is rather impractical, because the kids are back in school, and typically this means that mom gets stuck removing the decorations and taking down the tree all by herself.

But this year I have stumbled upon a solution that is community tree removal friendly, sympathetic to family dynamics, and liturgically correct … you just have to be Orthodox for a week or so. In the Orthodox Church the Christmas Feast is only seven days long. The Leavetaking of the Nativity Feast is Dec. 31. January 1, the eighth day after Nativity, is Name Day (or Circumcision), when Mary’s baby receives the name Jesus – not technically part of Christmas, but a feast in and of itself. We then move into the Theophany Cycle with what is called the “Forefeast of Theophany.”

So, if you really want to take your Christmas Tree down but have been cowed by your religious zealot friends who insist the tree must remain up until the end of Christmas, you can now be “holier than them” and inform them that they are liturgically misinformed. Christmas ends on Dec. 31 in the East. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

P.S. This scheme has the added benefit of making that ridiculous song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” totally irrelevant. You can now throw that out on the curb along with your old, dead tree.

P.P.S. Oh, and Happy Name Day! And since you’re Orthodox for a week, I certainly hope you served up a St. Basil’s Cake today.

Pilgrims and Tourists

This is an essay that I had originally submitted to a couple of literary journals. As is the norm in the publishing industry, I was rejected by both of them. I still like this essay a lot and decided to post it here. I suppose some might find it a bit pretentious, but I was reading Annie Dillard and Kathleen Norris at the time. Although unconscious of it then, I suspect it is a poor attempt at emulating their style.

Markdown (the html flavor that WordPress uses) doesn’t lend itself to footnoting. I will therefore put the footnotes here. I referenced four works:
– Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality, New York, Oxford University Press, 1998.
– Wendell Berry, Standing on Earth: Selected Essays, Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 1991), p. 22.
– The Berry quote was found in John Chryssavgis, Beyond the Shattered Image: Insights into an Orthodox Christian Ecological Worldview, 2nd ed., Light and Life Publishing, Minneapolis, 2007.
– Ray Davies, Other People’s Lives (2006) on the v2 label, Track 7, “The Tourist” and Track 9, “The Getaway.”

rock top land

This time we entered Capitol Reef by wending our way down the Grand Staircase toward the Fremont River. I was looking forward to this return trip to the largely undiscovered Capitol Reef National Park in central Utah because I had been utterly captivated by this land on a previous trip. It is neither as photogenic as Bryce Canyon nor as dramatic as Zion farther southwest, but this meant fewer people. It was as much the forgottenness as the beauty that drew me. This time we were extending our exploration from Capitol Reef into the Escalante, or Grand Staircase—a massive rock up-thrust of a magnitude that is simply incomprehensible. The combination of the lonely grandeur of the desert and the geologic mystery of this region were irresistible to one who had discovered the power of the desert several years before.

I had grown up in the semi-arid region of northeast Montana where cactus and yucca captured tumbleweeds in their thorns and competed with sagebrush to survive. I lived along one of those endless ribbons of cottonwood trees that marked the occasional rivers in the region, but I spent my days, both at work and at play, in the barren Larb Hills or riding my bicycle into the shimmer of heat that swallowed the highway in front of me. Back then I took it all for granted.

Much later, having moved to Kentucky for school and then to the lush Flint Hills of Kansas for work, I recognized a yearning to return to the happy solitude of that emptiness. It was in this memory of childhood that I began to realize the empty quarters were spiritually powerful. I began to wonder if I were not a lesser person for having forsaken those quarters.

My youngest years – just on the edge of memory – were spent in Sheridan, Wyoming. Sheridan lies in the transitional area between the barren and arid plains stretching past Gillette to the east and the Bighorn Mountains to the west. As I cultivated the memory of that happy solitude of emptiness, an idea revealed itself. I had also spent some time at a Crozier monastery in Nebraska and there discovered the spiritual discipline of rigorous fasting, particularly water-only fasts, which some of the monks practiced as part of their discipline. But fasting in the temptatious city, full of billboards, glorious smells wafting from restaurants, and candy bars at every gas station counter, proved beyond my weak-willed ability. My new idea was to spend a week in the Bighorn Mountains with only a tent and sleeping bag, a prayer book, water – lots of water – and a camp stove for brewing herbal tea.

Much of the Bighorn range is arid and the tree line – that elevation above which trees can no longer grow – lies at a fairly low elevation because of the arid conditions. Much later I learned that Belden Lane calls such places “grotesque” and “wild” terrain, a sort of “vertical edge” to civilization in much the same way that a traditional desert creates a horizontal edge for the civilized world. At this stage of my life I knew little of the language of purgation, nor of the theology of what some have called the indifference of God that can only be discovered in an indifferent and hostile environment. My early spiritual tradition equated mountaintops with spiritual ecstasy. But what I experienced in the Bighorns was a glorious divine indifference that eroded my ego down to a more appropriate size and contoured my soul into a shape that was prepared to collect droplets and dew of divine presence rather than the expected rushing winds of ecstasy.

Such seeming divine indifference requires attentiveness to discern the almost invisible presence that is there. The magnificent solitude of the empty quarters calls for a different perception. This was not David dancing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, nor was it the not-yet-Apostle, still called Saul, blinded by the overwhelming divine light. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:11). This command stands in stark contrast to the shattering of the spear and the breaking of the chariots that occurs in the previous verse. This is Moses in the cleft of the rock, bereft because the storm, the wind, the lightning were all agnostic ecstasy. But Moses waited. He needed balance and steadfastness before he finally heard the Silence.

By this time in my life I had just begun to read the darkness of St. John of the Cross and brightness St. Gregory Palamas. On the grotesque and wild, but exceedingly empty yet expansive mountaintop, I glimpsed that they were saying the same thing. I also knew beyond anything to which I could put words that this was The Word, there from the beginning. I knew that grotesque was the correct description and that “grotesque” was precisely the same thing as “beautiful” in the same manner that blinding darkness was the same thing as the eternal brightness of day … and I knew that this silence was very good.

Capitol Reef

At this point in my life I had no idea so many other people heard that same mystical whisper. From the days of the “desert fathers” to the latter wanderers from Sinai to Sedona, otherwise well-adjusted people sought out these inhospitable lands; people were drawn to the emptiness. These were lands full of brutal summer heat, bitter winter cold, and piercing wind that could divide bone and marrow while eroding the very soul to its unpretentious essence. It never occurred to me that civilized people who had grown up in civilized places would hear that same lonely call which I remembered from my uncivilized childhood and now experienced powerfully on the barren northern edge of the Bighorn Mountains. And not knowing this great tradition, afterwards the experience remained but a dull ache of memory.

Eventually I became more conversant with desert spirituality and that old dull ache of a memory began to turn into a longing to experience the desert, not just as “comfort food”—a return to the familiarity of childhood memories—but as spiritual nourishment. My sister-in-law taught school in the Navajo Nation and on a trip to see her we decided to spend some in Utah. It was a wide-ranging expedition in which we day-hiked everywhere from Capitol Reef to Glen Canyon to El Malpais, just west of Albuquerque. With textbooks, prayer books, and knapsacks in hand, it became wonderful exercise for both the body and the soul.

Specifically, the time in the wilderness was expansive. Specifically, for the first time I was able to parse the openness of the wilderness that I had experienced riding my bicycle into the shimmer of heat that swallowed the highway in front of me when I was in high school. The empty spaces didn’t stretch a person thin, as did the expectations of job, church, and society; rather, they beckoned one to unravel the tangled threads of a life whose strands had been turned this way and that. And because it was expansive in this manner, it was liberating.

And here I was again—here we were again—wending our way from the mountains down into the Utah desert to once again unravel the tangled threads of our life. The arid, empty quarters were no longer just my childhood memory, a thing of the past; they were a wayside rest to prepare me for whatever may lay ahead. Toward that end Brenda was reading John Chryssavgis, Beyond the Shattered Image. And as we followed the lonely road into the heart of the Escalante National Monument, she read out loud a passage from Wendell Berry that Chryssavgis had quoted:

Apparently with the rise of industry, we began to romanticize the wilderness—which is to say we began to institutionalize it within the concept of the “scenic.” Because of railroads and improved highways, the wilderness was no longer an arduous passage for the traveler, but something to be looked at as grand or beautiful from the high vantages of the roadside. We became viewers of “views.” And because we no longer traveled in the wilderness as a matter of course, we forgot that wilderness still circumscribed civilization and persisted in domesticity. We forgot, indeed, that the civilized and the domestic continued to depend upon wilderness, that is, upon natural forces within the climate and within the soil that have never in any meaningful sense been controlled or conquered. Modern civilization has been built largely in this forgetfulness.

She meant well, but that brief recitation ruined any hope of this trip being a spiritual pilgrimage … that is, unless, a pilgrimage is merely a tourist vacation dressed up in a camel hair cloak. Now I could only sit back in the breeze of the air conditioning and enjoy the view. The mystical had evaporated as surely as the soda flat that lay to the left of highway.

rock top land

Brenda shared the quote because she didn’t hear Wendell Berry in the same way I heard him. She was in a place not unlike Lucy Pevensie transported to Narnia, and just as Lucy heard that she could not tame the lion, so Brenda heard that we could not tame nature. Just as Lucy recognized that a tame lion is no real lion at all, so Brenda recognized that domesticated nature is not nature at all, just an extension of the back yard. After reading Chryssavgis, she was ready to cross the fence out of the manicured back yard and try to find the Wilderness.

But I didn’t hear Lucy Pevensie when I heard Berry; rather, it was Ray Davies ringing in my ear. Davies, founding member of The Kinks, and now pursuing a successful solo musical career, is one of the best observers of life unvarnished among contemporary song writers. His song, The Tourist is a biting look at the rootlessness of modern life, and how we, ignorant of place but full of hubris, bang about the world as if we own and understand it: “The Empire State is so very tall / And the Taj Mahal has a pretty dome / And everywhere that I go I say / I want to make it my home.”

And yet, in spite all the urbanity of Ray Davies’ tourist, the song is deeply melancholy. The tourist wants to make everywhere his home, but because he is merely passing through, nowhere manages to be the place where he fits best.

Davies puts his finger on one of the failings of modern society: with such a life we have no home, never attaching ourselves to the joys of place and neighbor nor buckling down to deal with the associated troubles. It’s easier to just move on (or to make our “great escape” as Davies says a couple of tracks later in the song, The Getaway). Rather than people on a pilgrimage, we moderns have become pilgrims with no place—in other words, tourists. And, to bring this back to the point Berry made, we bring our “place” with us. Our place is located with our mp3 player, cup holder, cooler, and change of clothes in the trunk. As long as the A/C is working, the cooler is stocked with water and food, and we are within 100 miles of a gas station, we can make anywhere, no matter how natively inhospitable, our “place,” only to move on in the next few days.

And if this is the case, this condition begs the question, “What is the desert?” In the time when desert and an active or even militant spiritual life went hand in hand, the desert was a spiritual tool because it was the habitation of all that stood opposed to The Garden. It’s not that it wasn’t cultivated—and it certainly wasn’t—but rather, it was beyond the possibility of cultivation or any human management. It was the abode of jackals and demons. But with our technology we no longer fear jackals and with our education we no longer believe in demons.

So let’s reframe the question. Rather than focus on the desert, let’s ask what stands in opposition to all the good that God has given us. St. Anthony went to the land of jackals to battle the demons that stood between him and the fullness of God. Where is our land of jackals? What stands between us and the fullness of God?

Of course the answer to that question is as varied as the persons who ask it. That was the case in St. Anthony’s time as much as it is today. But I am asking this question in the comfort of my air conditioned car, traveling forty miles per hour across a very well maintained gravel road that cuts straight and true, with few surprises (and no real obstacles!) right through the heart of the arid Escalante uplift. From St. Anthony’s perspective (sans road), this is every bit the forsaken desert as the Sinai. From my perspective (comfortably on the road), it’s both as curious and glorious as the “Empire State which is so very tall and the Taj Mahal with a pretty dome …”

What stands between us and the fullness of God? Possibly it’s the automobile itself. Possibly it’s the ability, because of the rise of industry “to romanticize the wilderness” to “institutionalize the concept of ‘scenic’” (to frame the question in Wendell Berry’s words), and finally to escape the responsibilities of place, community, annoying neighbors, and the dullness of making a living day after day in a neighborhood that is not nearly as romantic as a ski lodge in Park City, nor as scenic as the red sandstone cliffs of Sedona, nor as urbane as Santa Fe.

If I would have never left Montana and was still working in the arid and empty Larb Hills north of Fort Peck Reservoir, then possibly the arid and empty places would have been my desert where I struggled against jackals and demons in search of the fullness of God. Instead, I packed up my automobile and moved to Kentucky, and to Kansas, then to Alaska, and on to Nebraska … How can a wanderer such as that make a pilgrimage? For while I still have so many places which to go, I no longer have a specific place from which I come.

When Brenda read Wendell Berry in the midst of the massive rock stair steps of the Escalante, I realized that I am no St. Anthony. I cannot make pilgrimage into the desert to fight my demons when I am so accustomed to traveling to the desert to escape the demons with which I am so familiar.

Jim - Malpais

If I’m going to be a tourist, I shouldn’t pretend otherwise. Meanwhile, I ought to fight tooth and claw, to embrace the wild fullness of God in the domesticated world where I live (in contrast to the wild world where I vacation). Such a stay-put pilgrimage is not nearly as romantic as southern Utah or the Bighorn Mountains, but it is in tune with my life. I have seen the “grotesque and wild.” I have clambered up to “the vertical edge.” And for me they’re not scary, but scenic. Now it is time to come home, to stay home, until I can find divine fullness here in this noisy, busy place. In the midst of the noise of society, the potential of the quiet stillness of God remains as profound as it did for Moses on the mountain, for St. Anthony in his hut, and for the monks on the Holy Mountain.

The Sabbath Rest of Hebrews 4

One of the curiosities (at least from the American Protestant perspective in which I still function intellectually) of Hebrews 4 (which actually begins in the latter part of ch. 3 … wow, that’s a bad chapter division!) is that the Sabbath Rest (which the author is describing) can only be achieved and maintained by obedience, which smacks of works and not rest.

One of my cousins’ daughters took her children (by herself, without the assistance of her husband) on a nearly week long trip to northern New York to visit relatives. While enjoyable, the trip was exhausting. When she got home she had this to say:

We’re safely back home … together with Martijn, Blaze, and Oreo, our family is reunited and complete once again 🙂 Tonight it’s just us and our pillows–tomorrow will come the unpacking, laundry, mail, groceries and to-do lists.

This is the essence of the Sabbath Rest: We are in our proper place, we are with the proper people. We get to sleep in our own beds. Unpacking, laundry, mail, groceries, to-do lists … I contend that this is a metaphor for everything involved in the Sabbath Rest of Hebrews 4. The Rest is not about not doing things, it is rather about doing things in the proper context. Our wandering is over. (Or, in terms of the author’s other reference, the world is now created and complete in six days.) We can now strive to be obedient within the confines of place and people. This is the mystery of the Kingdom of God.

Sagan’s Satisfying Delusion

Today’s (22OCT2012) Daily Reckoning quote of the day comes from Carl Sagan, who according to the DR, said,

It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

How amusing is that? Sagan made a truly great insight although he himself failed to grasp the universe as it really is; he persisted in the delusion that it was merely material and thus completely open to the scientific method. One wonders if he continues to be satisfied and reassured with his delusion after death. Satisfied and reassured? Probably not. More likely he was quite surprised and one hopes quite regretful.

Hangin’ with the Buddhists

We have new neighbors (in the last couple of months or so) and the neighbors were having a shindig today, so I stopped over to meet them. We’ve suspected it was some sort of Buddhist temple or monastery, so I’ve been curious. It is indeed going to be a Lao Buddhist temple. They have not yet received their tax-exempt status so it’s currently just a home for a few monks. When the paper work comes through from the state of Nebraska, we’ll have a second Buddhist temple in Siouxland and it will be just a few doors down from us.

“Two temples for a very small Southeast Asian population?” you may ask. (At least I did.) Most Laotian Buddhists practice Theravada Buddhism, which (according to the Laotians) is the traditional form. Most Vietnamese Buddhists, on the other hand, practice Mahayana Buddhism. According to the Laotians, Mahayana is the progressive variety. Siouxland now has a temple for both varieties.

We are currently in the midst of Buddhist Lent. If this shindig is any indication, it’s good to be a Buddhist in Lent. According the Wikipedia, the monks have to stay home during this three month period in order to study the teachings of the Buddha. Wikipedia didn’t say anything about the community, but based on my one hour of experience, the people celebrate Buddhist Lent with volleyball, loud, raucous music and dancing, and lots of food: sticky rice, chicken on skewers, beef on skewers, pork sausage on skewers, and those funky sweet soybean cakes … oh, and beer … lot’s of beer.

This particular shindig was a sort of kick off party for the new temple. People from the temples in Sioux Falls, Worthington, MN, Storm Lake, IA, etc. came to South Sioux City to celebrate, pray for their dead relatives (which is evidently a primary activity during Buddhist Lent), have a volleyball tournament, and eat, eat, eat! It’s worth noting that all these towns are packing plant towns. Like immigrant populations for several generations, these immigrants tend to work the hard and sometimes disgusting jobs that more established Americans tend to avoid if at all possible.

It’s interesting to see how these populations have become enculturated. It is generally believed that Buddhists eat a primarily vegetarian diet. But today there wasn’t a vegetable in sight. I suspect the truth of the matter is that Indians and Southeast Asians have traditionally eaten a primarily vegetarian diet with a little meat mixed in when available. That regional reality was incorporated into the religion. (This is similar to Christian fasting rules.) When the people and their religion came to the U.S., the diet rules were no longer practical, or at least desirable  These people, although they self-identify as Asians, are very much Americans. They drive like us (SUVs and Audis were prevalent),  they get inked like us, they eat like us, they are us.

It was also interesting to discover that the reason they are in our neighborhood (a few hundred yards outside the city limits), is that the City of South Sioux City would not give them a permit for a temple. The person telling me this didn’t elaborate. He said that they do have to do some work so that their parking, water, and sewage meet the Dakota County standards for public buildings, but other than those public safety issues, the County has no authority over where churches can be built.

If all this is true we have a very big church-state problem in South Sioux City. In a secular society such as ours, if South Sioux City can deny the Buddhists a room at the Inn, they can do the same to the Baptists. On the other hand, it is distinctly possible that what I heard is not accurate. I was trying to understand a man with limited English skills. I was trying to hear him over the very loud music. And he simply could have had his story wrong. But all of that, if it is addressed at all, must be pushed to another essay. For now I’ll say welcome to the neighborhood.

Oh, yeah, and is there any chance we can have Laotian restaurant here in the neighborhood?

The Best Defense …

I grew up being very aware of other people’s image of me. My father, being a pastor, was a public figure in a very small town. Someone knew everything I did and often the things that the children of public figures did became the stuff of coffee shop conversation around town. (The daughter of the other Pastor Nelson in town, for instance, had a tattoo of a flower high on her inner thigh long before tatoos anywhere were acceptable, except on sailors. It’s amazing how many people in town knew that little tidbit!) I didn’t find my situation burdensome, nor (for the most part) did I try to create a secret life which remained outside the public view. Having strangers vaguely interested in my life was simply the way I grew up.

In the internet age this ability to watch people and reconstruct their life from digital flotsam has become more worrisome, and in many cases, downright pernicious. And I use the word “flotsam” deliberately. Typically the digital world doesn’t care about the good, much less the benign things we do. In this day and age, news is essentially gossip legitimized by the fourth estate. And broadly speaking, the only thing newsworthy is when a life shipwrecks, creating flotsam for all the curiosity seekers to comb through. A person’s image culled from the internet is typically far more negative than their actual life, given the realities of the modern world.

I am currently taking a Business Communications class (which is clearly misnamed, but this is fine with me — after taking the placement test I was asked to tutor English … and I’ve given a few speeches in my life, so the communications portion of the class is mere review). We’re three quarters of the way through the course and we’ve finally started talking about how to communicate well in a business environment. What the class has focused on until now is how to get the correct job in the first place. We had to take several inventories which provided very sophisticated personality, interest, and value profiles. We created, and revised, and revised again, our résumés. We’ve learned to write effective cover letters. We spent a lot of time learning how to interview, and then getting interviewed both individually and by a panel.

We’ve also talked at length about our image: what is projected in how we dress, how we talk, how we slouch, how we shake hands, and what people see when they google us. (Btw, don’t tell my Business Communications instructor that I just verbed a noun and used the abbreviation btw.) And this last point raises some interesting questions. If a person is largely invisible on the internet, what does that imply? Our instructor theorizes that no internet presence is often worse than a less-than-flattering internet presence. Many Human Resources (HR) departments assume that if someone is curiously absent from the internet, they probably have something to hide. (And let me be clear: This is one instructor’s opinion. I have not done any research on the question; I’m just taking her word for it.)

I do know there are businesses whose sole business is to clean up people’s online image. While it’s impossible to completely scrub the internet , these businesses can make it very difficult to find much of anything at all about a person beyond their credit history, driving record, criminal past, and other matters of public record that were all available to police and private investigators long before Al Gore invented the internet. For a few thousand dollars you too can be “disappeared” from the prying eyes of googlers and HR departments.

Old guys (not in the sense of physical age, but age in relation to the internet) whose ideas of privacy were established before the internet, and who now try to apply those old standards of privacy to the internet age, advocate keeping everything secret and making as little as possible public. Steve Gibson, founder of Gibson Research Corp., is fanatical about privacy and has some of the coolest free programs and apps that will simply make your computer disappear from view. He even has a whole host of work-arounds so that a user can avoid using Flash or Java applications – He doesn’t trust them. The Sovereign Society, a sales organization dedicated to personal privacy, will teach you – for a small fee – how to disappear from the land of the living and exist nearly invisibly, inaccessible from the prying eyes of attorneys, government officials, and ex-spouses. These groups border on the paranoid.

But there’s a whole new approach to privacy embraced by the young turks (in contrast to the aforementioned “old guys”). According to these young turks it’s far better to hide in plain sight. Don’t avoid the public eye; use it intentionally. The best way to keep some HR department from digging too deeply into your past is to make everything in your past that might improve your image easily accessible. To use another well-worn truism, “the best defense is a good offense.” Give the appearance (whether this is actually the case or not) that you are an open book. If the “open book” that prying eyes discover turns out to be a bit bland, boring, responsible, and normal, those snooping around will quickly get bored and turn their attention elsewhere.

Which leads us to another truism of the internet age: Because everything is seemingly so accessible, most people bore quickly of snooping around. Serious, professional snoopers will almost always discover everything – even the stuff you thought was truly hidden. But serious professional snoopers are few and far between … and very expensive. The average snooper will merely find reams of “bland, boring, responsible, and normal, “ assume that this is what you’re really like, and quit looking. (Or, so say the young turks.)

I have had personal experience with a serious snooper. I once did some business with Mark Nestmann. (I’ll make it easy for you. He can be found here, here, and here. And no, I don’t have a second citizenship, nor have I squirreled away my life savings in some far off corner of the world. What I did with Mark was bland, boring, responsible, and normal. … but if it were something else, how would you ever find out?) Before doing business with me, the Nestmann Group asked Burke Files to look into my past to see if I was telling the truth. It turns out I was telling the truth as far as I remembered it, but Burke found stuff that I had forgotten, and even found things I had been looking for but couldn’t find! (… including an insurance policy I didn’t know existed.) I was impertinent enough to ask Burke how much all this “due diligence” cost. He replied that he’d seen my financials and I certainly couldn’t afford him.

I suspect (as do the young turks who recommend that it’s best to hide in plain sight) that Burke Files is the exception that proves the rule. If someone wants to find all the dirt and is willing to pay the price for the dirt, there is absolutely no way you are going to be able to hide it. On the other hand, the best defense against typical snoopers (such as an HR department doing its due diligence before they hire you) is to put your version of the story out there on multiple platforms so that the snoopers quickly get bored with your ordinariness.

Living in the internet age isn’t a lot different than growing up in a small town where everybody’s watching and just a little bit too interested. It reminds me of that old Country Western song (sung by Charly McClain):  “Still you wonder who’s cheatin’ who / And who’s being true / Who don’t even care anymore / It makes you wonder who’s doin’ right / By someone tonight / And who’s car is parked next door.” People are going to snoop and people are going to speculate about who’s parked next door. You might as well embrace it for what it is and use Facebook, LinkedIn, and WordPress  as a good offense.