Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Family, Faith and Hackers....

If you're expecting tips on making a Pretty Darn Perfect Pot Roast or Couponing Like a Queen, you're not going to find it today. My mind has been so focused on another issue that tonight for dinner I served the kids a $5 Little Caesar's Pizza. Yup -- not healthy, not tasty, but it's all I could muster.

I hope you'll allow a lengthy, but hopefully worthwhile digression from talk of food for a conversation about family, faith and hackers.

Yes, hackers.

Yesterday Miranda was the victim of a cyber assault. She got a text from a friend asking about a weird message she'd sent on Facebook. The message was vulgar -- really vulgar. And while I'm known to occasionally curse like a sailor, I won't regale you with my vocabulary today, dear reader. Suffice to say, the message spoke of things Miranda would never write. Not to her friend. Not to anyone.

Freaked, she logged on to Facebook to see what was up.


Someone had hacked her account and changed her password so she couldn't get in. They'd also changed her profile picture (adding a rude comment) and sent many (many) vulgar messages to her friends via chat.

We reported the problem to Facebook, then toodled over to Yahoo to check her email for instructions on what to do.


The hackers also cracked her email account and changed her password. We couldn't get in.

It was war... but I bet they didn't know they were messing with a Mama who knows a bit about computers! For two hours we went head-to-head with the hackers, grabbing accounts, changing passwords, fixing the stuff they mussed, logging out, logging in...


Wash, rinse, repeat. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Finally. we. won.

But that's when the other battle started. A battle for souls. A battle for sanity. A battle that kept me up late last night and distracted me through much of today.

Miranda received this message from the mother of a girl who'd received one of the vulgar chats. Miranda and this girl used to be friends, but have lost touch in recent years.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Luke 6:31

Are you a Christian? Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? How would you feel if you were taken from this world and seated at his glorious feet? Would you be proud of the way you have lived your life? I am praying for his mercy and grace in your life, Miranda."

Miranda and I were both shaken, but not surprised. We live in the buckle of the Bible Belt. A place where one of the first questions someone asks when they meet you is "What church do y'all attend?" A place where people kill their resale value brick crosses into their fireplace chimneys and kick off PTA meetings and sports events with prayers (and not the non-denominational kind).

Miranda immediately sent the mother a message apologizing... explaining the hacking... apologizing again.

And I sent my own reply:

"Hi {},

I'm Miranda's mom. We've met on a couple of occasions. I wanted to follow up with you about the message you sent to Miranda.

First, let me say I'm very sorry for whatever message your daughter received from Miranda's Facebook account. As Miranda explained to you, her account was hacked this afternoon. Her email account was also hacked. I've spent the last two hours emailing Facebook and Yahoo, changing passwords, and trying to get everything back under our control. I think we finally have it under control - hopefully.

But the reason I'm writing you is to share with you how disturbed I am by your message to Miranda. I can understand that you were upset by whatever the hacker sent your daughter. But your message is completely out of line.

First, it assumes that Miranda would send a vulgar message. Does that seem like something she would do? Does she have a history of being abusive to your daughter? I don't believe she does. You yourself told her that it surprised you because she 'comes from such a good family'. (aside: how she knows this I don't know. I've talked to the mother all of 3 minutes in my life. I like to think we're a 'good family', but seriously, talk about making assumptions.)

Secondly, your message to Miranda implies that A) if she were a Christian she would not send such a thing and/or B) if she wasn't a Christian that might explain why she sent such a message.

For the record - Miranda is a Christian. And for the record - many members of her family are not. All of them are kind, ethical, gracious people who would never send a vulgar message to someone and who would never make broad assumptions about someone based on their religion."

I spent a fitful night obsessing over this incident, then woke up this morning to this reply:


I apologize if I offended you or Miranda in any way. Yes, the message sent was vulgar. I just wanted to provoke a thought about how Christianity and behavior connect. I read several articles about bullying and how to handle it, etc. Your response is expected. I have many family members that are not Christians and I use the same logic in dealing with them.

Just so you know Miranda's message was only one of several my daughter has received from a group of girls with the same tone. Basically, the same message just worded slightly different. All girls from the high school, all friends, etc. I thought about how to handle this, I have the messages in print. Instead of going to the school I decided to reach out instead. I thought it was the better choice. Don't want to get anyone in trouble, just wanted to get them to think about what they were doing. Yes, I assumed because it was in print and Miranda was just one of many with the same message. Every girl that has sent her these messages are girls that I would not expect it from. [note: I deleted one sentence to protect the girl & her mother's identity] Vulnerable and hurt already, I can see how she could be targeted for bulllying. Maybe everyone has had this same problem, I do not know. Again, I am sorry I offended with my reference to Christianity."

To which I replied:

"Thanks for the message. I am very sorry to hear that your daughter is being bullied. Bullying (especially cyber bullying) is a huge problem these days - I know - and can be very, very hard on a child and her family. I am also sorry about your loss. I did not know.

I am not offended by references to Christianity. I grew up Christian, was very active in church youth group, was president of my church choir and a Sunday School teacher. I have many family members and friends who are Christian (from conservative evangelicals to more liberal protestant denominations to Catholic). I also have friends and family who are Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, agnostic and Atheist. I myself am a Unitarian Universalist.

What frustrated me about your initial response, and quite honestly many of the interactions I have with some people who live here, is the assumption that if someone is not Christian he/she is not an ethical, moral person. I have experienced this talk first hand. I used to teach for Crown Financial Ministries. Some of the language used in that curriculum clearly states that followers should only do business with Christians because they 'know the Lord' and are trustworthy.

I have also watched several children be bullied by Christians who tell them they're going to hell because they or their parents don't have a personal relationship with Jesus. I have one close friend whose elementary-aged daughter was told she was doomed because she's Hindu. I know another young girl who received a long note at school telling her the same thing because one of her parents in Jewish.

All this to say, I know bullying too. It's a different kind of bully, certainly less vulgar than what your daughter experienced ... and often this bullying comes from a "good place" in that the Christian child thinks he's doing something positive for the other child, offering him/her a chance at eternity. But it's bullying nonetheless. And it's hurtful.

This is why I felt compelled to write you about your message to Miranda. Not to be defensive, not to start an argument. In fact, I'm glad you responded so calmly and that we can have this conversation without the histrionics that often accompany conversations about religion, especially when a child is hurting.

I wish you and your daughter the best..."

Why do I share this? Not to suddenly enter the ranks of confessional bloggers (not my style). And not to get a pat on the back for being diplomatic (though, thanks to my Facebook friends for the kind words!).

I share it because it speaks to the mindful living part of "Necessary Pleasures: Adventures in Mindful Living".

What is mindfulness? I like this explanation: “awareness without judgment of what is, via direct and immediate experience”. It's being "in the moment", fully-engaged, aware of your surroundings, your feelings, your thoughts, your actions, your words. Being aware of them, but not controlled by them.

Mindfulness isn't exclusive to one religion or philosophy. Of course the Buddhists nail it with the Eightfold Path; but elements of mindfulness are also found in the Golden Rule (which, by the way, pre-dates Jesus and is a tenet of Christianity, Hinduism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, and other world religions) and secular humanism.

And here's where this whole long tale actually does tie back to the kitchen ... and food.

As a kid my family would make an annual summer trek to visit my grandparents.

Bill and Leanore Ross led fascinating lives. He was from a large farm family that valued hard work and education. It still amazes me that every child (including the girls) attended college. It was, afterall, the 1920's. She was from a smaller, splintered family that often scrambled to make ends meet.

They met, fell in love, married, had my mother, built a notable career in the Navy (he) and nursing (she), and ended up in D.C. (rocket science, how cool is that?!?). They traveled the world. Experienced all kinds of cultures. (Even spent some time in a Russian jail.)

But back at home, around the dinner table, we had lively discussions about philosophy, religion and public policy (an aside: I remember staunchly defending college coed housing. I was a 17 year old girl. Go figure!).

I'm sure my mother was uncomfortable with these conversations (though she's certainly hosted many a thoughtful debate around her own kitchen table).

I can push and needle and challenge. Not in an aggressive way... but a curious way. Grandma debated from emotion and feeling and passion. Grandpa debated from logic and fact and strategy. I would listen not only to their opinions, but how they expressed them. Why did they think the way they thought? How could they examine the same set of facts and come up with wildly different conclusions from each other... and from me?

I'd put myself in their shoes. I'd put myself in their shoes putting themselves in my shoes. It was a game of intellectual marksmanship that I think led naturally to my becoming a journalist. A professional people watcher. I picker-aparter.

And a mindful person (when I'm at my best).

I "get" why that mother wrote Miranda. I "get" why some people feel the need to think their way is the one and only way. But what I don't "get" is why more people don't routinely put themselves in other people's shoes. Why they don't examine what they think and why they think it; what they do; what they say. Why do they find more comfort in #1 than #2.

Maybe it's because they never had dinner at my grandparents' house!

(Photo Credits: Hacker Head, Cyber War, Mindfulness)


  1. Amazing exchange and kudos to you for compassionately trying to open the mind of this Mom. Maybe, just maybe she has some new food for thought—which is, by the way, very consistent with your blog's daily blue plate special. This incident certainly gave me something to chew on. Thanks for sharing. (And BTW, if/when my accounts get hacked, I'm calling you for help.)

  2. Ah, thanks!

    I do have to cop to a little nervousness trying to actually explain mindfulness (I had you and Jason in the back of my mind... whispering to me) and then extending that concept beyond Buddhism. I'm glad you think it works.

    Still no response from the Mom about my last message. We'll see.

  3. T, you did the right thing. And as always, you pulled me into your story with amazing clarity. I am just as perplexed as you are about why people choose #1 over #2. I am also bewildered at how quickly people cast judgement over another's actions. You've given us much FOOD for thought dear!

  4. Thanks JP! If I get down to G'ville this summer, hopefully you and I can grab a beer and catch up!

  5. Ooooohhh you held back. You are all growed up, aren't you? :) I, too, have been championing this idea of "perspective." Unfortunately, individual ego seems to be a much more powerful force in the human brain. If we humans could just be better at tapping into our cosmic conscious without imparting our egoistic beliefs, then maybe the hypocrisy of it all would wane.

    Listen to me, for I am right. ;)~

  6. Food for thought... This is my favorite post of this blog to date.