Thinking Out Loud

April 19, 2021

Some Social Media Tension Could Be Lessened

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:06 pm

During the last few months I’ve watched two very longtime relationships erode; people with whom we’ve enjoyed close fellowship since we moved to our small town over 30 years ago.

Not everyone sees everything the same way. I get that. And I enjoy good and healthy debate, provided the basic premises of debate are followed, one of which is logical argument. If the reasons given for a particular position are worthy of consideration — even if I disagree — I’m willing to entertain the conversation.

I’m also willing to listen to someone if they have a portfolio of concerns, but often someone is like a one-issue candidate; the guy running for mayor but really only cares about expanding the baseball diamond in the park, and when asked about road construction or taxes is simply unable to articulate the issues.

But sometimes that’s more subtle. The issues seem varied, but the common theme is preaching to their social media audience. I suppose there is the unlikely chance they might convert someone to their positions, but it’s rarely seen. Often they think the strength of their viewpoint is going to be measured by the volume of their online posts.

I really want to send this to my friend. But I still value the friendship more than anything. However, if I did, it would look like…

Dear ________;

I see you’re once again posting about the _____________ issue. I see it differently, but I also see the frequency of these posts to be concerning.

Your friends and relatives know where you stand. And you know they don’t necessarily agree with you on this subject. Personally, I would think a reminder maybe once every 2-3 months would be sufficient. Not every other day. Especially when a few of them are stretching to make a point.

On a personal level, I do wonder how many people or organizations you are subscribed to that provides you with the vast number of sources from which you gather the various content items. I think about the time this must involve, time that could be spend taking a walk in the fresh air, or doing something different. Your best friend on social media is the button that says, “Log Out,” and you might want to consider using it more often.

I also worry because this rather huge number of social media sources you follow is creating a giant echo chamber which prevents you from hearing from the other side. If we surround ourselves with people who agree with us on everything, we never experience growth.

Last week I had an insight that helped me to see this differently. I’m wondering how much of this is just done for the (predictable) reactions you get. Being deliberately provocative. Poking the bear. Raising peoples’ blood pressure. Being a troublemaker.

I’m reminded of the boy sitting at the back of the middle school classroom making fart noises because it makes the boys laugh and it makes the girls yell at him to knock it off. Either way he gets a reaction. He gets attention.

I am convinced you’re on the wrong side of history on this subject, but neither of us will be around to see the outcome. We can only estimate based on current trends and statistics. But I wouldn’t want to be known as the _____________ guy. Especially if my position could be construed as simply based on my personal preferences.

I’m not going to block you. Not yet. I still consider you a friend. It is amazing though how out of what I always thoughts were common roots we shared we have diverged along very different paths. We need to strengthen the things that remain instead of working toward division.

Your friend,

Paul.

 

August 19, 2020

When the World Baits Us for Knee-Jerk Reactions

Filed under: books, character, Christianity, culture, current events, Jesus, reviews — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:31 am

Review — A Gentle Answer: Our Secret Weapon in an Age of Us Against Them (Nelson Books, 2020)

While 2020 will best be remembered for its top health story, the year will no doubt also be marked by the increase we saw in both online hostility and public protest. There is no middle ground and no room for nuance as things because increasingly more polarized; more black and white.

What is the appropriate response for someone who is a follower of Christ?

Anecdotally, it is not much different than that of the general population, but Jesus — and the whole compendium of scripture — teaches us that as citizens of another place entirely, we ought to formulate a different type of reaction.

When Brant Hansen wrote Unoffendable, which I reviewed here in 2017, one pastor mentioned that this was a topic he had been drawn toward covering, but felt it was no longer needed, as Brant had done an excellent job.

But three years later, the world (and especially the U.S.) finds itself in a situation where it would seem someone was monitoring all the yelling and reached forward to turn up the volume button. From mask-wearing to racism to political candidates, everyone has both an opinion, and an opinion as to why their opinion is correct.

Maybe it’s time for another book on the subject.

Scott Sauls is a name unfamiliar to me even 60 days ago. Someone had asked me about A Gentle Answer but it was a few weeks after that I discovered a previously-received review copy. Around the same time I learned that Scott Sauls had served for many years alongside Tim Keller in New York City and was better known to people in the Reformed community.

There are many similarities between Sauls’ work and Hansen’s; but also many areas where Hansen is more of a journalist and Sauls writes more as a pastor. If I were asked to recommend either one to someone who needs to hear what scripture can teach us about our character in such heated situations, my choice would depend on who the recipient might be. They are equal but different.

Scott Sauls divides his attention between the gentle spirit of Christ which all his followers have experienced (the first three chapters) and how we ought to allow that to change how we respond (the remaining five chapters).

Although the book doesn’t often address the specific issues of the day (of which I mentioned three, above) it is certainly written with social media outrage and public confrontations in view. A few times he reminds us that this is a lesson which Martin Luther King, Jr. knew well; an arena whereby (to paraphrase Paul) we would do well to imitate King as he imitated Christ.

In the title of chapter two, Scott Sauls reminds us that Jesus, “reforms the Pharisee in us;” making us a people who can do anger righteously, receive criticism graciously, and forgive thoroughly.

I’ve posted some short sections from Sauls at Christianity 201 including an excerpt from the book at this link, and also included a shorter section that grabbed me as I wrapped up reading at this link.

I encourage you to also check out scottsauls.com.


Thanks again to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Publications in Canada for an opportunity to read A Gentle Answer. I’m going to miss those advance review copies!

July 13, 2020

Social Media Debaters Often Lack Social Intelligence

Filed under: blogging, Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:45 am

We’ve been friends for a long, long time, and since the advent of the internet, he occasionally weaves in and out of my life. While we opted 30 years ago to start a family in a smaller town, he stayed single in the busy-ness of the city and connected to a variety of churches, causes and concerns that having children or plugging in to local church ministry or owning a business doesn’t always permit.

The events of the past few months meant that for his part, he had a lot more time on his hands, but for us, that did not necessarily follow.

He has been aggressively texting me about the issues of the day, and I have to pause here and say that while new forms of media usually bring with them new ways of sending messages and chats; to my way of thinking, anything over 100 words should be an email, not a text. It keeps it more searchable and easier to isolate individual sentences to which to write replies.

Some of these issues I grasp. Particularly in this debate about critical race theory, I know that we, the Church of Jesus Christ, need to think about the implications of everything we do. As I get older, I know I need to be careful how I frame what I say, and what jokes should be considered off the table. It’s not that political correctness is making these things wrong now, rather it’s a dawning that many of these things were wrong then, but the culture, even the Christian culture didn’t see it that way.

Hence talk of tearing down statues and re-naming streets. There are even people for whom their last name, their family name, has now, in the last few weeks, become a liability.

Think about how that would impact you.

Anyway, my friend texts me about these things and about the intellectual, scholarly and academic debates being waged by experts in the field. It’s hard to tell the players without a program, but I try to note the names and theories. Some of which are above my pay grade.

Because I don’t want to appear indifferent, I will reply, but my ratio of replies to his texts is approximately 1-to-8.

I will also occasionally send him the video links and article links to things he might be interested in. I do this with a entire basket of people. When I was producing Wednesday Connect weekly, I was online for a large number of hours and always saw things I knew would interest key people in my network.

He listens to these — a part of our relationship I cannot say is fully reciprocal, especially when some of his open on-screen showing a time of 1:44:00 — but admits to listening to many at double speed at 2:00 AM. In that case, I worry about his health.

By sending them, I’m feeding the beast, or more politely, perpetuating the conversation.

Two weeks ago, I explained that we had some friends dropping by at 7:00 that we hadn’t seen in person for a long time. While waiting for me to get back to him, he sent me seventeen texts, some of which were quite lengthy.

But then this exchange last week really did it for me. I broke silence and wrote to him.

“…My employee’s husband had to go to the hospital this morning so the day has been turned somewhat upside down…”

And he wrote back.

“I appreciate your concerns of the day, but I’m wondering if the church will survive the next 5 years…”

continuing on.

Couldn’t even leave the first part as its own sentence without launching back into the one-sided debate. (Key word in that sentence is, ‘but.’)

I think he would do well on Reddit. It strikes me as the best place to engage people on certain topics where there is equal passion. Plus you’re interacting with people who want responses.

I suggested this and he wrote,

“Ha! I can’t even convince you. Why should I start a blog?”

Apparently I’m a project.

I need to be converted.

I just don’t understand how someone can discuss the intricasies of Critical Race Theory and yet be indifferent — or even tone deaf — as to where this is landing. He claims he’s the proverbial voice in the wilderness screaming, “Paul, run! The house is on fire;” and my response consists of “Oh, that’s interesting.”

I’m sorry. These issues matter. Especially right now. And I do watch some of the videos and just completed the 6-part sermon series at The Meeting House with some diversions to Greg Boyd’s church, since it’s located in Minneapolis, where the whole George Floyd thing happened. Boyd’s sermons immediately following were extremely powerful.

But my friend would probably find things in them with which to disagree.

How people respond to these events is going to be somewhat personal; somewhat subjective. As long as they are aiming for a Jesus-focused response, we need to give them space in which to do just that.

 

June 13, 2020

Christian ‘Cancel’ Culture: The New ‘Farewell’

Invoking names like Amy Grant, Sandy Patti, Rob Bell, etc., the discussion was quite lively over the past 24 hours when Christian journalist Sarah Pulliam Bailey posted,

This morning, before my feet had touched the floor, I had read each and every one of the nearly 200 comments which were in the thread at that point.

If you’ve been aware of the modern culture term, “cancelled”

  • To dismiss something/somebody. To reject an individual or an idea (Urban Dictionary)
  • Canceling, today, is used like a massive, informal boycott when someone or something in the public eye offends … or when we’re just over them. The exact origin of this usage is unknown, but as is similar with most word trends, one clever quip sparks a cascade of copycat usage, and suddenly things we never imagined uttering are part of our vernacular. (Dictionary.com)
  • To cancel someone (usually a celebrity or other well-known figure) means to stop giving support to that person. The act of canceling could entail boycotting an actor’s movies or no longer reading or promoting a writer’s works. The reason for cancellation can vary, but it usually is due to the person in question having expressed an objectionable opinion, or having conducted themselves in a way that is unacceptable, so that continuing to patronize that person’s work leaves a bitter taste. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Christians are good at boycotting institutions (Disney), supporting other things (Chick-Fil-A) and wavering somewhere in the middle (Hobby Lobby). It’s something we — especially American Christians — do extremely well. Living blissfully as in a world of black and white before there was color. Or even greyscale.

►► You don’t need to be using the Twitter app to follow the link to Sarah’s post, but be sure to read through as much of the tread as you can. Just click this link.

Here’s two I especially liked; though the sub-themed posts about Rob Bell were especially interesting:

(Love that last term; border maintenance.)

What do you think? Is cancelling a more final-sounding word than farewell-ing? How does grace fit in?

 

May 5, 2020

One Year After: Beth Moore’s Tribute to Rachel Held Evans

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the death of Rachel Held Evans.

At least ten times now I’ve found things on Twitter threads which I feel are worthy of exposure to an audience who simply don’t use Twitter. Recent examples of people we’ve posted here include Wade Mullen, Tish Warren Harrison, Skye Jethani, John Mark Comer, Mark Clark, Sheila Wray Gregoire, etc.

Why didn’t the writers simply put the material on their own blog? I think they see that these are very different audiences. Twitter is a very distinct collection of people. But I’m sharing this for blog readers in this format out of sheer admiration for Rachel Held Evans, and Beth Moore’s perspective on the connection they had, which also is part of a larger Twitter or Facebook situation, but one I’m sure Thinking Out Loud readers can appreciate.

Longtime readers here will be surprised to see me giving this platform to Beth Moore. A year ago, I would say I was very pro-Rachel Held Evans and not-so-much-Beth Moore. It’s now a year later. I’ve seen Beth Moore completely differently over the past 12 months. I’ve changed. She’s changed.

To read the original tweets, click this link.


by Beth Moore

Want to tell you a story. I got a text from my daughter a year ago today. Two words: Rachel died. She was referring to Rachel Held Evans.

I went to the floor sobbing, “No no no no, Lord, please no.” We’d prayed so hard. Pleaded so hard. I never met Rachel. We had a unique relationship. I ask for your grace to tell the story, a story about life in this insane social media culture. I ask you to listen instead of lurch.

Rachel and I had been on opposite sides of several issues. Our familiarity to one another was limited to the controversial. My knowledge of her was based on whatever my part of the world retweeted or circulated about her. We got into it a few times and, let me just say, you didn’t want to get into it with Rachel. I say these words with a smile and tears in my eyes. I never had an opponent in my life I respected more.

In a faith world drowning in hypocrisy, I knew that girl was earnest to the bone. One of the really awful things about social media is that two people who disagree may respect certain rules of engagement and not go for the jugular, but their camps can often mob the other viciously.

I can’t tell you how many times I have watched people say things to others as if on my behalf and I’m thinking to myself, I would never in my life talk like that to her or him. Stop! It’s very disturbing. I don’t like it no matter what that person has done to me.

It was one of those times. Both of our camps were mob-bullying the other. I wanted to direct-message her to check on her but I didn’t know how to do it without following her on Twitter. So I did. She answered me almost immediately. It was brief. Talked about what impact constantly being hit has on the soul.

Then I was left with a most interesting conundrum. I had followed her on Twitter. Was I to unfollow her or keep following her? In those days I still cared that people could make certain assumptions from who you followed. I could not care less anymore but that’s a different story.

I thought, well that’s a fine kettle of fish. We just held out a bit of an olive branch to one another and now I am going to unfollow her and she is going to know it. Seemed unkind and hypocritical to me so I kept following and some of you are not going to believe what I discovered.

Rachel Held Evans was a real live person. She was not the embodiment of all her controversial retweets. She was a multilayered human. She talked about her children. Her man. Her life. She got the flu during that period and I prayed for her and wrote her name in my journal. “Rachel.”

I replied to this or that tweet about regular stuff. She did the same. We did not become best friends nor big direct-message buddies but I’d like to make the point that, for Rachel and me, we became something more important: Real people to one another. We were more than our stands. Rachel and I were, hands-down, the two most hated women in the Christian media world. By fellow Christians, of course and for different reasons. That was our unique connection. And two people have to occasionally see how the other is holding up under the strain. Make no mistake. IT IS A STRAIN.

I’d already been praying for her when she got that last flu. I saw her shout-out when she said, “If you’re the praying kind.” I replied what she already knew. I was praying kind. And now the tears flow. I prayed so hard. I printed out a picture of her and taped it up at Living Proof Ministries. Told my staff what they, of course, already knew, “She is not a social media account. She is a person. This is what she looks like. Here is the picture of her with her husband and children.”

I still have that picture on my phone. I sent her a direct message while she was in that coma. Told her something to the effect of, I will stand over you in prayer continually and then please come back and, well, what I meant was, drive me crazy.

She didn’t.

To all her real live loved ones: I have prayed for you so hard this year. I am so deeply sorry for your loss.

 

 

April 21, 2020

CBS-TV Continues its Ambivalent Relationship with God

After only two seasons, CBS-TV has cancelled the Sunday night Drama God Friended Me. The show will have a two-hour finale this Sunday night, though not the season finale producers envisioned when drafting the master story arc. That episode was lost when production had to wrap up early due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s really just one in a long series of events where the network develops something and then mysteriously chooses to walk away; a series that goes back to the original Charlie Brown (Peanuts) Christmas special more than 54 years ago. The show had no laugh track, there were actual children doing the children’s voices, the soundtrack was all jazz, and finally, there was that pesky extended reading from the Gospel of Luke.

So as we noted in this article, the network decided to just take a tax writeoff on the entire production. Fortunately, the story ends differently.

Perhaps in more recent memory, there was Living Biblically, a weekly sitcom, which was produced by Johnny Galecki of The Big Bang Theory. As we noted in this article, in order to be sensitive to two different religions’ approach to what Christians call The Old Testament, there was both a Christian pastor and a rabbi on the set while they were filming.

CBS cancelled the show after only one season.

Then in Fall 2017 it was deju vu all over again, as the network introduced God Friended Me, in which the God wouldn’t necessarily be the God of Evangelical American Christianity, and the ‘friended’ wouldn’t necessarily be Facebook. We wrote about the series in this article, and also reviewed the first episode, which I compared, quite accurately looking back, the detailed script writing to the series Lost.

Fans using the hashtag #GodFriendedMe are simply shocked as to why the wholesome series would be deleted, especially “now, when we really need it.” Others are suggesting another network swoop in and save the show, with The Hallmark Channel leading a list of suggestions that also includes FOX-TV and The CW.

One writer notes that the lead character, Miles, will receive “one last friend suggestion;” though it’s unclear if this is in the content which will air on Sunday or in the master arc final episode left unfilmed.

Although Miles is an atheist in the story, Christians resonated with his search for God. His father is portrayed as an Episcopal Bishop in New York City. But some felt the series lost its Evangelical following when a lesbian couple was introduced later this season.

Another writer noted that the cast were equally surprised by the cancellation. The actor who portrays Cara, Miles’ partner-in-crime trying to track down “who is behind the God account” while at the same time helping the people it sends as friend suggestions, resigned herself to the news, “Unfortunately this is the end of the road for the God Squad. We found out yesterday that our show will not be continuing for a third season. I’ve been so humbled by all of the messages I’ve received from all of you throughout these last two years, about how much these stories have impacted your lives and helped you through some tough times.”

Again, it amazes me how these networks invest in the development of these series only to pull the plug if ratings aren’t superlative. Many feel the show suffered by frequent broadcast delays due to sports programming running overtime, but the network contended it was comparing to other programs which have had to deal with the same issue.

Is God still alive and well at CBS? Yes he is, in the form of the occasional editorials by outspoken Roman Catholic and Late Night host Stephen Colbert. Hopefully he isn’t being told to tone down faith-focused references.

I’d like to see this show survive on another broadcast network, just as conservative comedian Tim Allen’s sitcom Last Man Standing did when it moved from ABC to FOX. There are precedents for this sort of thing, and I believe God Friended Me still has much longevity.

 

April 3, 2020

Welcome to Social Media: Content Creators Need Not Apply

Filed under: Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:04 pm

When you think about it, social media platforms never need create a single article. Facebook wants you to create content for them to surround with advertising, and if it’s been awhile since you did, they will send you a reminder. Twitter has never published anything significant either, and dare I say that’s also true of WordPress.

When the social media thing — much less the internet itself — started growing exponentially a dozen or so years ago, I thought I was set. I was a writer. All these sites need content, right? I even looked into registering a business — Content Factory — only to discover several others had beat me to that particular name.

Today, the internet of 2020 tolerates typos, grammatical and syntax errors, and let’s not even think about spelling. Everyone is a writer (and everyone is now a photographer) with varying results.

Earlier today John Mark McMillan asked his Twitter followers if there were a better word than ‘content.’

I’d like to propose we all stop using the word “content”. When I think about making “content” I die a little. It sounds like filler, stuffing… air in a balloon. Does anyone have any better words we can use for the meaningful work we’ve all give our lives to?

(I’ve corrected his spelling of balloon; I didn’t need him proving my point.)

I wrote back,

I noticed this a few months ago when it comes to writing. We usually refer to having seen an
• article
• item
• piece
which is somewhat non-descriptive.

Others suggested

  • pith
  • art
  • creations
  • the goods
  • offerings
  • portfolio
  • stories

As I type this, his tweet is just four hours old. Feel free to add your own descriptor. What’s a good word to describe the written output of people on social media?

 

December 2, 2019

Currently, The Echo Chamber is Set at Eleven

Filed under: Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:38 pm

Two weeks ago there was an item in the link list (Wednesday Connect) that has come up several times since in conversation. Here’s how it ran two weeks ago:

■ Transgender Issues (2): …but this young person, after making the full transition, is left with nothing but regret. “I surrounded myself in an echo chamber that supported and validated my poor decisions, because the others were also, unfortunately, stuck in that pit, too.”

There’s a line in there I kept coming back to and this is the fuller context:

He started seeing the doctor a week after his 15th birthday, and from how he describes the next years of his teens, I’d say going to the clinic didn’t improve his life.

“From then on,” he says, “I slowly detached from everything until I was just staying home, playing video games, and going on the internet all day. I stopped reading, drawing, riding my bicycle. I surrounded myself in an echo chamber that supported and validated my poor decisions, because the others were also, unfortunately, stuck in that pit, too.”

A month after his 18th birthday, Nathaniel had what’s euphemistically called “bottom surgery.” For a male like Nathaniel, that means refashioning the male genitalia into a pseudo-vagina. He suffered some complications that required a second surgery a few months later, and he had facial surgery to further feminize his appearance.

Nine months later, he says:

Now that I’m all healed from the surgeries, I regret them. The result of the bottom surgery looks like a Frankenstein hack job at best, and that got me thinking critically about myself. I had turned myself into a plastic-surgery facsimile of a woman, but I knew I still wasn’t one. I became (and to an extent, still feel) deeply depressed.

The unpopular truth, which Nathaniel unfortunately learned the hard way at a young age, is a man is not a woman and can’t ever become a woman, even with surgically refashioned genitals and feminizing facial surgery.

Nathaniel is a bright young man who never had the benefit of sound, effective counseling, which would have prevented this horrible mistake from happening. He will deal with it for the rest of his life.

No one will help this young man to detransition. The so-called “informed-consent clinic” (as if a teenager can give informed consent) washed their hands of him. The reckless ideology claims another life.

(emphasis added)

Right now, the echo chamber is turned up all the way. It’s easy to make decisions when the only websites you visit and counselors you meet are affirming of a particular choice. Unfortunately, they don’t reflect the bigger picture.

We do this in other areas of life as well. We visit the websites which support our political views or our theological perspective.

Personally, I can’t imagine a world where the only input we’re getting is from people who simply look like us and talk like us.

 

July 8, 2019

Talking to People Who Reached Out to You First

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism, ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:34 am

“Blogging is so 2010.”

That was a line in a newspaper article I read on the weekend. It could have been worse. At least they didn’t say, ‘so 2005.’

A friend would periodically tell me about discussions he got into on Reddit.com. Great, I thought, Isn’t there already enough arguing going on at Twitter?

Still he got me scanning r/Christianity and r/Religion and over the past year a handful of the stories that appeared on Wednesday Connect came from those sources.

On the weekend, I could stand it no more. I couldn’t keep lurking in the shadows, chomping at the bit to weigh in on various topics.

Someone was asking a question which I felt somewhat qualified to answer. They’d received a fairly good number of answers, but I thought something was missing. I even did Ctrl+F to make sure the keywords weren’t somewhere I was missing.

I pulled the trigger.

Create account.

Nobody on Reddit seems to use a real name. It’s all pseudonyms. The first three I picked were taken. I thought of just using ‘paulthinkingoutloud’ but decided to distance my responses from what I do here.

God has people out there. Just because there’s an information gap in one particular set of answers doesn’t mean I need to take this on like it all depends on me,.

I posted to three other topics. On one, the information I shared wasn’t necessarily a great fit, given where it turned out the person was located. I looked this morning at the page and nothing particularly jumped out at me.

Still, I go back to where I was a year ago. I often said after my friend first introduced me to the site that if a Christ-follower was just sitting at home each day staring at something mindless on their screen, and they wanted to have a significant online ministry apart from blogging, or Facebook, or Twitter, then Reddit would be my first choice.

I just didn’t take my own advice. I thought I had my hands full with WordPress, Twitter, Facebook and MailChimp.

Reddit is different. It’s not like “broadcasting” on social media, which sometimes feels like spitting into the wind. People are asking for advice. Your answers are going to slowly disappear into the back-catalog of the forums, but for a few hours at least, you can interact with a wide diversity of people on faith-focused subjects in something closer to real time.

Maybe one or two of you will decide to join me.

 

February 10, 2019

From the Twitterverse

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:30 am

My social media worlds don’t necessarily overlap much, but my WordPress world and my Twitter world are closer. Even so, you may not have seen these (and a few retweets) …

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