Tag Archives: social media

Reflections on a Sanity Day


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am just going to share some reflections of a restful day off regarding friendship, family, and being deliberate rather than reactive in the way I get information. 

I was able to take a comp day for my trip to Gettysburg yesterday. I am coming to enjoy taking a day once in a while to do little but hang out with Judy, each on of us with at least one dog on our lap while I take time to read and reflect. There is nothing more relaxing, comforting, and therapeutic than having a content and happy dog on my lap as I read or write, or just think and muse about various topics. Doing this helps me put priorities back in order and keep me from obsessing about the craziness of the world. 

I spent some time with an old friend Tuesday night. He and I attended the Army ROTC program and were commissioned together at UCLA in 1983. His path took him into academia well before mine, he is a history professor and published author who like me enjoys good craft beer. Though we hadn’t seen each other since my wedding, where he was a part of the wedding party, we have stayed in contact and we picked up where we left off talking about friends, our families, careers, and interests, not to mention our political and social views which are quite similar. Maybe part of that’s because we are both Californians who have lived most of our adult lives outside the state and long for the day when we retire and go back to the Golden State. 

I think days like yesterday and visits like the one with my friend are necessary to keep ones balance and sanity. I know for me that is the case, especially when it comes to disconnecting a bit from social media.  I find that the vast amount of information of all kinds on social media can seam almost overwhelming at times, and attempting to sort truth from fiction can be more than a full time job. The fact is we are not designed to be continually bombarded by information, especially that which is presented as urgent but which is designed by those who put it out to manipulate us and our emotional response to it. It was nice yesterday morning to wake up and not immediately reach for my iPhone, iPad, or e-mail, but simply to enjoy the quiet, laying in bed with Judy and three adorably sweet Papillons. 

When I did get up I first read the comics, then I read through the online editions of major U.S. And European newspapers and periodicals. I leisurely took my time to read articles on a number of different topics from news, politics, sports, arts and literature, and even food. It was a deliberate yet relaxing effort because the news wasn’t cascading against my screen faster than I could digest it. I did share some of those articles on my social media feeds, but I was very deliberate and careful in what I shared. When I finally went to my Facebook page I was taking the time to see what was happening in the lives of my friends. That too was rewarding. 

So anyway, I wish you a good day, tomorrow I’ll be posting an article which is kind of a follow up to my review of Timothy Snyder’s new book On Tyranny that I posted yesterday. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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A Post Election Musing: What Now? 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I am writing from the outskirts of Washington D.C. as we gather with a group of Papillon dog owners. Our two girls are being very good and once she got used to everyone, Izzy is now trying to get all the other dogs to play. It is nice, I have really enjoyed getting to know some of the people here, especially our hosts. I’m hoping that I get a chance to visit the Manassas Battlefield Park this weekend, it has always been one of those places that I have always driven by but never have had time to stop and see, but I digress…

I have been trying for the last few days to stay off of social media for the most part. Too much of what is out there is just too toxic for me to deal with. Instead I have been reading more reflective articles analyzing the election instead of anything partisan, especially the kind of pseudo news from highly biased people and groups that populates Facebook and some other social media sites. I haven’t turned on the television since the election, there isn’t any baseball on and frankly I have been too busy and tired this week to even want to turn it on, especially cable news. Likewise, I have done some reading and I have a number of books that I am sifting through right now. 

But for me I have spent time trying to sort out what has happened and think about historical context and not just the 24 hour news cycle. As I mentioned Wednesday, I am not going to do to President Elect Trump what so many conservatives did to President Obam. While I disagree with almost all what Trump said his policy would be during the campaign, and while I will not give him a pass on his own conduct during the campaign, I think that as President he does deserve a chance to succeed or fail on his own merits, and the fact is that while Trump frightens me, the thought of a President Pence absolutely terrifies me. Thus when I read people talking about the possibility of impeachment already, including Republicans, I am not about to climb aboard that boat anytime soon. 

So over the next few weeks I will do some articles about what might happen during the Trump Presidency regarding civil rights, the environment, economic policy, healthcare, and foreign policy. I will also write some articles about what I think Democrats need to do to regain the trust of the American people, and not just well off white progressives. I will also delve in to the morass of the Alt-Right and its resurgence, and the rise in political and racial violence that seems to be accompanying the Trump victory. 

Anyway. Have a great Saturday and do not despair; for sometimes the greatest changes that actually shape the future come in the wake of defeat. This is something that we as progressives need to remember and then take concrete actions to enunciate in ways that people can understand. We don’t do that well and it showed during this election. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Sometimes It Is Better to Say Nothing: Learning Better Social Media Manners and Boundaries as a Christian

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“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Abraham Lincoln

I like social media. I frequent both Facebook and Twitter but after a number of years of emotional frustration I have been working the past few months to turn over a new leaf in how I conduct myself on it. I am learning though that sometimes strongly held opinions need to be muzzled in places dominated by people that like to slam their opposition with what amounts to sound bites, usually accompanied by some vitriolic picture and phrase to paint whoever and whatever they oppose in the worst possible manner. This is especially bad on Facebook and though I like the medium as a way to stay in contact with friends I am growing tired of its use as a vehicle to promote political, religious and other issues in a manner that cheapens debate and actually destroys any chance of reasonable discourse.

I used to join the political, ideological and religious wars on Facebook until they wore me out. I would try to enter into actual dialogue, get blasted, often by third parties that didn’t know me and then find that I got spun up and drawn into the muck. When I did that I felt cheapened and that something died in me. It wasn’t real debate, it was shouting and sometimes people that I thought were long time friends turned out only to be friends so long as I completely agreed with them.

Twitter seems to be a better fit for political discourse because at least there no-one is claiming to be a friend. They are followers or supporters maybe even haters and trolls but it is easy to not be as personally consumed by debate so long as one knows that going in, where I don’t know if Facebook has that distinction or if people understand that friends can disagree and still be friends.

Some of my twitter comments do end up on my Facebook page, but I do try to keep things separate. I would rather use Facebook now to keep up with friends and attempt to stay out of the political, social and religious wars that often envelope those pages. To do that I have worked over the past few weeks not to enter into those firefights on other people’s Facebook pages, even if I think that they are full of crap. I don’t have the energy for it. I would actually rather write well reasoned articles here and then deal with the replies.

As far as those that decide to comment on things I have on my Facebook page I try to be civil and reasoned now and sometimes just leave negative comments alone, not because I am afraid of conflict, but because I would rather try to maintain relationships rather than prove myself right. I figure that time will always tell.

I have around 1150 Facebook Friends. I would have a good number more had I not gotten into some of the firefights that I have over the years. Some was my own fault, but others, well intolerance is more common, especially among the more “conservative” Christians who I spent much of the last 20-30 years hanging around with. I was actually surprised to see how many of them were quick to savage me when I didn’t agree with their (and my former) religious-political-social views. Things got so bad that earlier in the year I went through my friends list and weeded out the dozen or so worst offenders, those whose posts that were the worst, most vicious, intolerant and mostly inaccurate that showed up on my page. I didn’t need the vitriol, hatred and viciousness. Out of 1100 or so friends I only got rid of about a dozen, and the sad thing that most were ministers, many from my former denomination which kind of creeped me out.

No wonder so many non-Christians want to have nothing to do with us when the face that they see is one of hatred, bigotry and intolerance. Today I saw a friend, who is a minister, on another friend’s page blast someone that he did not agree with. The tone my minister friend framed his comment was arrogant, condescending and demeaning to the other person, a young person who was obviously struggling with faith. I decided not to jump in knowing that no good could come out of another debate on someone else’s page.

So I am learning to shut up a bit and try more to let the grace of God permeate what I do on social media. If some people think that is foolish I guess that it will have to be that way. There are some things that do spin me up but I am going to try to treat people, even if they disagree with me or I them the way I would want to be treated. I will probably screw this attempt up later tonight or tomorrow but I am going to do my best to be a better citizen on the often un-social social media. Hopefully in doing so maybe set some kind of example that will maybe help people with radically different views find reconciliation and not just toleration.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thinking About Community: A Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Cheers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMNVNRybluQ

Some years ago the theme song of the television show “Cheers!” struck a chord with people, because it expressed the desire of many people. I have talked about it before and the song is a favorite of mine.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. 
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

We live in an increasingly disconnected world despite the proliferation of devices designed to make communication easier. Our dependence on these devices often serves to disconnect us from community because we use them to accomplish things without any human contact.  I mean really, what percentage of our Facebook “friends” really know us and how many can we go to when the chips are down.

We shop in massive stores, attend mega-churches, exist on fast food bought at a drive through and we don’t know our neighbors. To most organizations we are not real life human beings but statistics whose only value is in profit and market share.  And we wonder why so many people are depressed, lonely and even despair of life.

Sometimes you want to go, Where everybody knows your name,

and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.

Having a place where people know you and care about you matters.

In a time where many people feel alone and disconnected community really matters because as Americans we are all in this together. Today, as they have for the past few years large numbers of American cities and towns are enduring great hardship, and this disconnect between people, evidenced by the fact that we often don’t even know our neighbors has created a social isolation that only breeds hatred and discontent.  With this true lack of community we should be surprised with increasing crime, violence, discrimination and prejudice.

The sad thing to me as a religious leader, a Navy Chaplain is that for many people that I encounter the Church is not a place of love, safety, community or acceptance. Many have suffered greatly at the hands of religious people and institutions and some though raised in devoutly Christian homes across the denominational spectrum have not only left the church, for some other church but no longer believe.

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Community doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes illusion of perpetual prosperity only serves to drive us apart.  However, sometimes communities are reborn when facing crisis, people begin to look out for one another again and the welcome sign means that you really are welcome.

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I have found that in a number of places, in Virginia I have my friends that the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant,  Harbor Park in Norfolk and St James Episcopal Church inPortsmouth. In North Carolina I have found that community at Rucker John’s in Emerald Isle and with my friends from Kinston, from when that town still had a Minor League team. Those friends have remained and I am grateful, especially because of how broken I was when I returned from Iraq. I don’t think that until one experiences that kind of brokenness that one really appreciates a place where people care for you, accept you and make you feel like you belong.

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But, what has been neat for me and what is true for others is when we do find that special place for ourselves it is a beautiful thing. Likewise, when we can provide that kind of home to others we can really understand the last stanza of the song from Cheers which never aired on television.

Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,

People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Painful Lessons of Looking in the Mirror of Social Media

orange-BloomCounty-morals

I had an encounter this last weekend on a leading social media site. It was not pleasant and I waited for a couple of days to think, pray and meditate on what happen in the encounter before I decided to write about it.

It occurred on a page which is pretty popular and deals with military issues and the man that runs that page I enjoy very much. He frequently brings up very pertinent issues dealing with military issues, strategy and tactics, foreign policy and national security policy as well as social aspects of current military life.

I got involved in an debate, probably not the best thing to do because the debate had already degenerated into a pretty vicious cesspool of recriminations between pro and anti-gay rights supporters. The subject was the actions of the Officers Wives Club at Fort Bragg North Carolina to initially reject the entry of the lesbian wife of a female Army Lieutenant Colonel for membership, the subsequent court battle and the wives club’s grudging issuance of a “guest pass” to the woman.

What got me to comment was the absolutely venomous tenor of the gay rights opponents, their often obscene comments about the lesbian couple and how many self identified as Christians or supporting Christian values. It wasn’t a matter of agreeing or disagreeing about policy and interpretation of law or even the validity or sincerity of their beliefs, it was the shameful way that they demonized and dehumanized the people involved as well as those that pointed out an opposing viewpoint.

I hesitated at first but then having seen such how such clubs deal with those different from their majority of their members I wrote this comment:

“in my experience of 30 years commissioned I have found many Officers Wives Clubs to be a cesspool of gossip and self-righteousness covered with a veneer of respectableness covering up their own vanity. Most often they are the domain of white women, who do not work and historically have shunned male spouses of female officers, wives that are working professionals whose identity is not built around their husband’s achievements as well as minorities, the physically disabled or wives of officers who spent years as enlisted men. The treatment of the Lesbian wife is another chapter in officially sanctioned discrimination. Chaplain wives organizations are similar, except you can toss in the stigma of not being a Evangelical or Conservative Protestant. Wives of Chaplains that don’t fit that mould are marginalized, be they Mainline Protestants, Jews or Mormons and of course wives whose faith is different then their husband, such as a Protestant Chaplain with a Catholic wife. My view, if they want to be a private membership that excludes those that they don’t think fit in, then meet off base…”

I don’t think that my comments were off base. They actually seem to describe the history of these organizations fairly well. However, my post attracted the ire of a relatively recent Army retiree and stupidly I shot back with a flippant comment. He had already been heavily engaged in the debate and the fact that I was a Chaplain gave him all that he needed to begin tThat comment was ill advised. A Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel friend of mine noted that I shouldn’t wrestle a pig. I ignored his advice as well of the advice Judy also tried to warn me off.

My flippant comment elucidated an attack from the man that went well beyond dealing with policy, law or even faith, it became a personal attack. To him my arguments did not matter, it was a matter of not only attempting to defeat what I said but to discredit and destroy me in the process. When I attempted to build bridges to dialogue and invite him to actually get to know me, he attacked more vehemently and personally making accusations about me, my character and my beliefs. Instead of debating any of my defenses of my position, theological or constitutional he dismissed them. His characterizations and comments that were so off base and wrong that anyone who either knows me personally or reads this site regularly would know that they were absolutely false.

But the attacks wounded me and left me incredibly angry. But that was not a bad thing. They caused me they think back to a time early in my ministry when I did similar things to those whose doctrine, beliefs or practices that I believed were wrong. I was very good at it. My Chaplain Assistant who is now a relatively senior Army Chaplain used to call me a “Catholic Rush Limbaugh,” even though I was not a Roman Catholic. A very conservative and reactionary Roman Catholic journal called The New Oxford Review published two of my articles back in 1998 and 1999, which ended up getting me banned from publishing for years by my the second ranking bishop of my former church. I was accused of being “too Catholic” and the irony was that he left that church well before I was forced to leave becoming Roman Catholic and writing similar articles to mine for a major Catholic apologetics online website.

So as I said I was good at this. With precise logic I could devastate others. The man that attacked me was much like me. I was seeing my old self in a mirror and it was not a sight that I enjoyed and it tempered my remarks to the man that I made in my defense.

It seems to me that those that argue most strenuously and personally are not necessarily bad people. They are consumed with zeal. Jesus had to deal with such people during his earthly ministry and every time he left them perplexed. I am not that good at this point in doing that. I simply gave up and told my attacker to “pound sand.” Jesus was much better at ending debates like this one than me.

I felt like George Costanza of Seinfeld trying to get the last word. Not very Jesus like, but revealing to me. Revealing to the point that I was reminded of Bonhoeffer’s words that “nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent in ourselves.” It is a hard lesson to learn and it seems that I have to learn it more times than I like. In a sense it was like looking in the mirror but seeing me more than a decade ago.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Stand up to Government Officials that Attempt to Silence Political Dissent and Criticism: Emma Sullivan Stands up for Freedom of Speech

The test of democracy is freedom of criticism. ~David Ben-Gurion

I have written about the Freedom of Religion and religious speech a number of times and in doing so have often touched on the broader aspects of the right of Freedom of Speech.  I find that tolerance for opposing views from both sides of the political aisle to be a disappearing commodity and nowhere was this more evident last week then deep in our nation’s heartland, the fair an flat State of Kansas where an 18 year old high school student named Emma Sullivan found herself the target of Governor Sam Brownback’s communications director.

And what did did the audacious and dastardly Ms Sullivan do? She “tweeted” that Governor Brownback “sucked.” If she was Ann Coulter, Keith Olberman or Rush Limbaugh she would have been paid good money and cheered to say that about a politician.

Who would think that a “tweet” from a teenager to her 65 Twitter followers was a threat to the good name and reputation of a governor or for that matter any elected official at any level of government. Such tweets take place millions of times a day around the the nation and for the most part they go in one ear and out the other. They are in a sense the new form of schoolyard chatter that back in my day took place between class periods or at lunch.  One kid tells another “hey I think that girl is hot” or “that guy sucks” and their friends agree, disagree or laugh.  It is part of the human experience, it is high school, heck I can remember some of that even today and if Twitter was around back then would have probably “tweeted” about the Jimmy Carter Playboy interview and probably the centerfold a Ms Patti McGuire. But now the advent of Twitter, Facebook and other social media have transformed how all of us communicate, especially young people who are far quicker to adopt and maximize new communication tools, oh too be young again.

However the advent of this new media scares people in power. The thoughts posted on these sites don’t get edited by the media elites and packaged to maintain market share.  They are media from below so to speak. In the Middle East the “Arab Spring” and the unsupported “Green Revolution” in Iran and “Jasmine revolution” in China were and are driven by young people using social media.  Yes there are other powers at work, business, government, finance, military and political/religious movements in all of these countries.  However, the key in making these revolts grow has been the ability of young people to use social networks to criticize their governments and organize themselves in ways that were never before possible.

This is why people in power fear the media of any kind. Napoleon Bonaparte commented that “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” But even more feared by some governments and individuals within government is the thought that springs up outside the institutional press, the kind of ideas that prior to our revolution were talked about in the pubs and ale houses of Boston and Philadelphia as well as in churches around the colonies.  They were the ideas of individuals that could not be shuttered and made their way into print because printing presses were not the sole property of a media elite.

At the same time many people legitimately fear excessive government intrusion on the internet, especially by agents of the government, police, or intelligence agencies.  It is bad enough that businesses can track us via tasty “cookies” planted on our computers for marketing sake and use our personal information for almost anything that they desire, but for all their power businesses do not have the police power of government at their immediate disposal. They can go to court to silence critics or mount advertising campaigns but they do not have the government’s power through the police, judiciary, legislative and executive powers invested in it to silence their critics through force.  They may brutally use the courts and their own economic power to silence opponents but they are limited in what they can do. If a high school student says “Pepsi sucks” the Pepsi-Cola corporation cannot impose penalties on the student. But government officials, especially unscrupulous, thin skinned and petty ones who fear dissent do have power and seem to be willing to use that power in was that would frighten those that founded this nation.

This was very much in evidence last week when Emma Sullivan “tweeted” what she thought was was funny to her twitter followers, her high school friends. She had been to the Kansas State Capitol with the Youth in Government program. She joked that she had told Governor Sam Brownback “just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” In fact people say to say worse about politicians of all parties, especially the President, key Congressional leaders and other major Presidential Candidates and do to tens of millions of listeners, readers or viewers every day and they make big money doing it, in some cases millions of dollars a year.  Most of us actually listen to at least the ones that we agree with or that say what we like to hear about people that we don’t like and don’t have the platform to say it ourselves. Sometimes these pundits cross the line and their employers tell them to tone it down or on rare occasions end their employment, but rude and crude they are free to speak as they want so long as their employers get enough advertising revenue from listeners to make money.

But woe betide the teenager that tweets to friends that the the governor of her state “sucks.” What she did is over the line and has to be crushed before it can damage the good name and reputation of the governor.  What happened to this teen after she sent her “tweet” out to her friends was one of the most Orwellian displays of the brute use of government power by an unelected public official that I have seen.  Governor Brownback’s communications director Sherriene Jones-Sonntag who is in charge of monitoring negative comments and criticism of the less than popular governor spotted the tweet and declared war.

Ms Jones-Sonntag contacted the organizers of the Youth in Government program and expressed her and presumably Governor Brownback’s outrage and indignation at the tweet. The organizers of the Youth in Government program instead of telling Jones-Sontag to pound sand and remember the First Ammendment contacted the Principal of Sullivan’s school.  The principal in turn scolded Sullivan for over an hour demanding a written apology to the governor by Monday morning.  Thankfully Sullivan did not oblige.  She refused and her cause became to use the language of the internet “viral.” This brought about an apology from Brownback who said “My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize.” Be assured there would have been no apology from the governor had Emma Sullivan bowed to her principal’s demands and the story gained national traction.

I find that the use of public tax dollars to pay public employees to peruse blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social media in search of negative comments and then use their position to threaten critics as a mark of totalitarianism.  Unfortunately this is not just as Kansas thing because local, state and Federal government agencies, especially political appointees of both major parties routinely use their position to search out and work to counter or silence criticism but are usually much more nuanced in the way they do it in order not to be caught blatantly doing it. Most politicians have learned the lessons of Richard Nixon and are much more careful using surrogates, Political Action Committees, think tanks or political pundits that are not public employees to do their dirty work.  Almost every “talking head” on Cable TV news stations or the radio fits in category but they are not on the public payroll and not directly working for any particular government agency.

Ms Jones-Sonntag on the other hand is a paid public employee. Tax dollars paid by the citizens of Kansas pay her salary.  She is not only influential in the information management of the Governor’s Office but a key part of the executive branch of the state government in particular the Governor.  A call from her to a school principal’s office is enough to for a spineless educational bureaucrat to attempt to force force a student to apologize for crude but still protected political free speech. That is something that should send a chill down every American of every political point of view’s spine.  The capricious and dictatorial method employed by Jones-Sonntag against Emma Sullivan is something that every American that values their own freedom of speech, religion and association should rally against. In doing so we send a message to others like her that we will not tolerate a public employee of the executive branch no matter what their political party or ideology would use their government office to silence dissent, criticism or opposition.

Emma Sullivan stood up for her beliefs.  Whether one agrees with her or not it takes much more courage to stand up for those beliefs even when the result is further bullying from those that support the right of the government to suppress criticism.  Her criticism of the Governor Brownback was rather crude and juvenile but it is protected by the Constitution.

To his credit Governor Brownback apologized but that does not remove the threat posed by people like Ms Jones-Sonntag who prowl the internet on behalf of those in power to silence dissent.  If elected officials feel so emboldened that they can employ people for the purpose of not only spinning stories but actively trolling for dissent in order to crush it we are not far from Orwell’s  vision of 1984.  The sad thing is that had Ms. Jones-Sonntag and the Principal of Emma Smith’s school ignored this it would have never become an issue at all.  But those prone to love political power seldom pass the opportunity to go after people that they think will simply roll over. It happens all the time I’m sure if she had said the same thing about the President or a Democratic party Governor and had a White House aide or Democratic governor’s communication’s director try to silence her she would be cheered and defended by many of those that curse her now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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