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Tuesday
Sep182018

Throw the dogs some bones

I just returned from a great visit with my brother in Connecticut. My brother has been living in the U.S. for many years. He's a citizen now and his daughters were born there. He anda his wife are welcoming hosts, and we enjoyed a boat tour around the island of Manhattan (exactly the way I would want to see the city) and then we went to a shipbuilding museum which was like a little community where we could go inside buildings and see artifacts about the life of a community back in the days when people hunted for whale. 

While we were socializing, enjoying food and drink, of course the matter of politics came up. My brother has his own perspective about such matters having been raised in Canada, moving to the U.S., and working in the financial industry. My brother is not a Christian, so many of his views are to be expected, but what really floored me when I had a chance last night to check my email and get re-organized, was the number of Christians who don't sound much different about politics than he does. It got me thinking: how does our position in Christ affect our politics? What makes us different as voters and citizens? That's a big question, and while I'm in the middle of Greek Ex and Synoptic Gospels, it's a question I won't think of much beyond the time it takes to post this. 

This whole social justice matter has produced such virulent dialogue from Christians. While not strictly a political issue, it is definitely related. As I witnessed some discussion last night, I had the image of a cage of about three hungry dogs and someone dropping a meaty bone into the midst, and then standing back and watching the progress. That is what I thought a particular tweet looked like. Why do people do that? Why do Christians gleefully announce how their words have enraged someone? It is a way of relating to an issue that frankly, doesn't seem Christian. It doesn't come across as civil, reasoned, or measured. It looks like there are a lot of Christian pastors out there who use their spare time to post things they know will incite conflict. An all in the name of "I'm proclaiming truth."

I thought about my brother and his views on politics and social justice, and how one of the biggest differences between us is my faith and his lack of it. Would I direct him to Christian social media to learn about Christian views on politics and other matters?

Not on your life. 

Wednesday
Jul252018

Snark is not a spiritual gift

What is the difference between being snarky and being incisivie?

Attitude.

I found this definition of snark from the Cambridge Dictionary:

"Criticizing someone in an annoyed way and trying to hurt their feelings."

Merriam-Webster softens it a bit to describe it as "crotchety, snappish," or "sarcastic, impertinent, or irrevent in tone or manner."

My big 1600 page Oxford English Reference Dictionary doesn't even have a definition for the word, the reference being to a creation of Lewis Carroll featured in the book The Hunting of the Snark. The term is North American, apparently. Snark is meant to be cutting.

When I was a kid, I got in trouble for being snarky. If I am snarky with my husband, he isn't inclined to listen to me, because the attitude that often accompanies snark is arrogance; I am right; I don't care about your feelings; I want to put you in your place.

A biting retort is often useful in making a point, but a steady diet of snark is tiresome. I get tired of seeing people on social media bragging about their proficiency in snark as if it is a gift of the Spirit. "Be filled with snark" is not something I have read in my Bible.  

It is possible to write incisively and directly without mocking. But it takes more work. Maybe it involves a little thought and prayer? Or maybe just a good thesaurus or perhaps reading a little more widely to develop one's vocabulary? People who know they are snarky and boast about it don't come across as having any interest in alternative ways of communicating. And they are blind to the negative example they set as Christians.

If someone is characterized by snark, I'm not interested in what they have to say. Chances are, there is someone else making a similar point with more grace and skill, and I want to listen to that.

Thursday
Jul122018

Is Twitter the enemy?

My brother is not a fan of social media. He is by no means a Luddite, working himself in a industry dependent upon technology. However, he hates social media. And he especially hates Twitter and Facebook.

In the face of the phenomenon of "tweet threads," I sometimes understand where he is coming from. Rather than write blog posts, people tweet lengthy threads. Sometimes these can be easy to follow, but when they start running the length of twenty or so, they are less likely to be appealing for a reader who appreciates seeing an actual paragraph not bound by a particular number of characters.

When I see those threads, I want to yell: "Just get busy and blog the stuff!" 

But I have an idea why people use tweet threads: people are less likely to click away from Twitter to read a blog post. You've got their attention with your Tweet; why ask them to do the arduous task of clicking away to your post? In order to have people listen to you, you gotta do what you gotta do. That is certainly a boon for Twitter.

Language does change, and I'd love to have a glimpse into the world in the future to see how we communicate. Combine twitter threads with GIFs, and pretty soon we won't need words because we can just look for some celebrity making a funny face to express what we would normally do in words. Perhaps GIFs can become accompanied by music, to add a little more emotion. Then we can all carry around cellphones plastered to our heads like phylacteries, with the various emoticons, threads, and hashtags we need to eliminate the need for more than a couple of words. It's never been easier to become a communicator these days.

Writers like Dickens, Austen, and the Bröntes had to use a pen an ink. Their work was far more laborious than anything we produce today. They had to use words to communicate; I admire that. I admire someone who, using nothing but words, can paint pictures and take me out of my immediate world to look elsewhere; who can make me lose track of time. It's beautiful. Twitter is for information, but for understanding, we may have to click away.

Tuesday
Jun262018

What's in the mind when you're sober . . . 

. . . comes out when you're drunk. 

That is a saying I heard when I was a teenager. This was one of the many admonishments my mother used to encourage us as kids not to over indulge in alcoholic beverages.

Sometimes, I feel like Twitter operates on the same principle. What people really think comes out on Twitter. And that kind of approach reveals a glaring problem: people forget that Twitter users are actually people. We have all heard the reminder that we should talk to people on Twitter in the same way we would if we were face to face. However, some people probably do talk to others in that way face to face. Twitter simply gives them more freedom to do so. A bully online is a bully offlilne, too. A boor online is probably a boor offline.

I've been so disturbed lately by how people interact on Twitter. I have unfollowed people I've known a long time because of the way they bait others, insist on on having the last word, and are fuelled by nothing other than indignation. When pastors do it, it angers me, because they are supposed to be setting an example. My parents are not Christians, and one of the things my mother has said over the years is that from her perspective, Christians don't behave any better than she does. And in some instances, she is correct.

One pastor I had to unfollow is one who has often bashed young men playing video games, bemoaning their sloth. Well, what about taking time away from one's flock to demonstrate your sarcasm and disdain for total strangers online? Is that really advancing the kingdom? What kind of moral victory is it to slam someone you don't know online? 

Recently, I saw someone people on Twitter pat themselves on the back for having another Twitter use say something nasty about them. It was, apparently, a badge of honour. Really? And getting blocked by a particular person is something to boast about. Seriously? There are times when I would love to respond, but I don't. I am not going to answer a fool according to his folly.

The problem is that more than just the unbelieving world sees this kind of thing. My young adult kids see this kind of thing and it continues to foster their frustration with evangelical Christianity. They were taught not to conduct themselves like this, but they often see their elders doing so. It is a contradiction to them; they see it as hypocrisy. Those who have influence in Christian social media, if they are not going to use it with integrity should simply not use it. It is not a requirement for discipleship, and certainly there are other things one could be doing.

Thursday
Mar012018

16th Century Blogging

I'm in the process of writing a book review of the classic biography of Luther, Here I Stand, and starting my term paper on Menno Simons and Anabaptism. Both of these men were engaged in their own kind of blogging: pamphlet writing. Three of Luther's most crucial writings were pamplets: The Babylonian Captivity, Address to the German Nobility, and The Freedom of the Christian Man. Of course, he wrote other, longer works, and other pamphlets, but those three were particularly influential. 

Menno Simons was not as well-known as Luther, but he was a prolific writer. He, too, wrote pamphlets. Just prior to his finanl break with the Roman Catholic Church, he became distressed with the fate of a group of followers from Münster, one whom was his own brother. A group of radicals, they took refuge in an old cloister which was attacked by civil authorities. Simons was distressed that these people followed erroneous teaching and were prepared to die for it. He wrote a polemic against their leader John of Leiden, called The Blasmphemy of John of Leiden. The full title is a bit longer:

A Plain and Clear Proof from Scripture, Proving that Jesus Christ is the Real, Spiritual David of the Promise, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the Real, Spiritual King of Spiritual Israel, that is, His Church, which He has bought with His own Blood. Formerly written to all the true Brethren of the Covenant scattered abroad, against the great and fearful Blasphemy of John of Leiden, who Poses as the joyous King of all, the Joy of the disconsolate, so Usurping the Place of God.

That title may be too long for a Tweet, even with the expanded character count.

The pamphlets were not like the kind we get today, glossy and with more images than words. They were well-presented arguments. It was their way of encouraging debate, much like how we would use social media today, except with more words. 

And I don't know if what they had for dinner was included in the pamphlet.