Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Break the chain!

My first introduction to "chain letters" was accompanied by a muffled curse from my mom. (My mom's version of cursing was the use of the expletive "darn!")

Anyway, she'd gotten this letter in the mailbox from some relative or another. From what I remember, it was all about recipes. She, my mom, was instructed to add a recipe the letter, make a certain number of copies of it, add a name to the bottom of the letter (which contained a number of names and addresses), and then send the whole mess off to everybody on the list, including the new name added by my mom. I gather the new person had to do the whole thing all over again, adding still another recipe and and another (hapless) name.

I probably got this all wrong, but here's what I do remember and which evidently ticked my mom off the most. There was something rather sinister in store to those who "broke the chain."

Remember, we're talking about recipes here, for heaven's sake!

Today there's a new version of the old chain letter...and it's far more sinister than collecting recipes.

To put it bluntly, it's about otherwise pious people being tricked into playing God.

I got one today. I get at least one a week. Generally, the subject line reads something like the following:

"Pass this on and be blessed!"

"Forward this and receive much happiness!"

"Don't stop others from receiving God's grace...pass it on!"

The crazy thing about these letters is that they're almost always "prayers."

A prayer to a certain saint. A prayer to God for any of a number of intentions. Even a prayer of simple praise to God.

All of this is fine...as far as it goes. But always — always! — there's a caution attached. Whatever words are used, the caution is always the same message:

"If you don't forward this to [fill in specified number here] of people..."

And then the warnings of dire consequences ensues.

"...you will not be blessed."

"...you will not receive your wish."

"...you have proven yourself to be Ashamed of Being A Christian."


From today's mail:

"If it [this prayer] stops with you, then the blessing will disappear. The blessing will
only keep working if it is continuously passed around. If you are a recipient
of a blessing, keep the blessing working by being the source of blessing to
other people."

In other words, I am in control of God's graces...not Him.

Folks, I don't know how to say this in any other way...this is superstition, plain and simple. And superstition is not just wrong...it's evil.

"But Kelly, they're so harmless..."

No. I don't think they are. The seem harmless. After all, who can find fault with a nice (generally soppy, but that's just my personal opinion) string of words invoking the Almighty's grace?

What's so wrong with a second-rate Hallmark Card knock-off?

What's wrong is that...it's wrong.

I can send you a nice little note, letting you know that you're in my prayers. I can even quote the prayer I offered for you.

I can also send you that same nice little note, adding the "request" that you forward this nice little prayer to everybody in your address book — or else the prayer "won't work."

Huge difference. The first is a kindly, pious gesture.

The second is skirting 'way too close to idolatry. To making myself the Giver of Blessings. The Arbiter of Who Gets Blessed. The Judge of Graces.

So please...break the chain!

Don't fall for your friend or relative's — and generally these missives are from friends and/or relatives which makes the whole thing even harder to deal with — well-meaning but totally misguided messages.

Do this instead. Privately respond to the sender (or, if you feel strongly about it, "reply to all"...these things are generally sent to a group of people) and gently but firmly point out that what is being sent is a chain letter and that, as such, is not reconcilable to your belief in the One True God. Add that the sender is in your prayers — and make sure you do pray for the sender.

Or just hit the ol' delete key.

You may not stop the chain altogether. But at least you will have broken a link in it.