Can You "Forgive and Forget" in an Internet Age?

One of the most e-mailed New York Times articles right now is a sobering piece by Jeffrey Rosen, a George Washington University Law professor. It's entitled "The Web Means the End of Forgetting" ( For any of us who've ever done something we regret, especially for those who've either posted compromising photos online or been the victims of unwanted Internet exposure, this article shows just how hard it is to remove the digital stain of our failings.

Rosen writes: "The fact that the Internet never seems to forget is threatening, at an almost existential level, our ability to control our identities; to preserve the option of reinventing ourselves and starting anew; to overcome our checkered pasts."

He continues: "the permanent memory bank of the Web increasingly means there are no second chances — no opportunities to escape a scarlet letter in your digital past. Now the worst thing you’ve done is often the first thing everyone knows about you."

Screwing up was painful enough before the Internet. Now, if someone (or you yourself) should upload something incriminating against you, it may haunt you for life. This gives pause to everyone, especially parents shepherding their digitally-native offspring through the online world. What does it mean to find forgiveness, when our failings are so hard to erase and so easy to access? Oddly enough, this brave new world may make genuine integrity even harder to come by as people may just find better ways to hide their shame (in fact, as the article points out, there are now web-based companies whose mission it is to help restore people's reputations by finding ways to hide or cover their incriminating behavior on the web).

Rosen draws our attention to a recent book by the cyberscholar Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age.” Mayer-Schönberger notes that a society in which everything is recorded “will forever tether us to all our past actions, making it impossible, in practice, to escape them.” He concludes that “without some form of forgetting, forgiving becomes a difficult undertaking.”

How grateful I am that our God has a backspace button! The Internet may never forget our sins, but God graciously erases them through the sacrificial death of his Son, Jesus Christ. Incriminating images, compromising photos, embarrassing texts--all deleted from God's memory! "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed! (2Corinthians 5:17). Friends, believe the Good News!

Developing Good Taste

"Taste and see that the LORD is good"
Psalm 34:8

I'm learning to make my own salad dressings these days. Fresh, simple ingredients--olive oil, balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic, Dijon mustard, honey, shallots, etc--are easy to come by, inexpensive, and far tastier than the stuff at the store. These natural flavors are transforming my palate and I'm losing my desire for commercial dressings. It's a change of taste.

Coffee, of course, is another area where taste and freshness, proper measurement and natural ingredients create a flavor that most cafes can't challenge. Once you get used to one of my cappuccinos, you'll think twice about visiting that big coffee chain!

It takes a while to train our palates, doesn't it? It's quicker and easier, we think, to go for the store-bought stuff, or whip through the drive-thru. But we compromise ourselves. Too often, efficiency trumps enjoyment. Maybe we need to slow down. Go old-school for a while. Take our time.

It's that way with God. Too often we're satisfied with God-substitutes. Quick fixes, God-on-our-own terms, God-in-our-own-image. Our God becomes too much like the drive thru: a faceless presence into which we speak our order and expect our outcome--lickety-split.

How, then, do we retrain our palates? How do we develop our taste for God? A couple thoughts come to mind, things which this preacher's trying to practice:

Get out in nature. Go for a walk. Observe flowers, trees, clouds, birds, mountains. Let the slower rhythms recalibrate your rushed spirit. Savor. Give thanks.

Eat healthier...and more slowly. Enjoy the bounty before you. I tend to do that with steel cut oatmeal. Making it and eating it slows me down. Knowing that it's lowering my cholesterol naturally makes me grateful. Spend a little more for quality, local ingredients.

Meditate. Take a brief section of Scripture and read it slowly, several times. This morning I found Romans 8:26 wonderful: "The Spirit helps us in our weakness." Allow the import of the passage to sink in to your soul. Too often we think quantity (a book or chapter of the Bible) is better than quality. Go brief but deep for a season.

Fast. This is something I find personally difficult and often elusive. But nothing gives us more of an appreciation for God's good gifts than temporarily forsaking them. Give up a meal or dessert or TV for a night and see what happens, what it does for you.

Be patient. Changing our palates takes time. What do they say--it takes several weeks to form new habits? (Somewhere I heard that Lent's 40 days are perfect to teach us new patterns, but why wait 'til then?). Good stuff takes time--in the kitchen, on our plates, in our lives.

I'll bet that once we develop a taste for the genuine article, the old things won't satisfy nearly as much.