Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Think before you share

After the Zapruder film, I was done.

Done with sharing graphic images on social media.

WARNING: We are going to briefly describe some of those images in this month's TinyLetter. You are welcome to click through to the "How to Internet" tips for your own self care. You know what you can handle.

It all had started with the MH17 plane crash in Ukraine. I was following lists of journalists and media outlets covering the conflict in Ukraine that we already had vetted at the newspaper where I worked as social media editor, aggregating and sharing updates as news of the crash broke in July 2014. As the details began to trickle in, so did the photos. One was the first photo from the scene by a trusted new organization, twisted metal indistinguishable from charred earth.

I clicked on it for a closer look. Yup, that was a plane crash alright.

I shared it.

And then I read the comments.

Honestly, there weren't many. Most people grabbed it and shared it as quickly as I had. But a few expressed outrage because HOW COULD YOU SHARE THAT YOU CAN SEE BODY PARTS.

Looking at it again, really seeing it this time, the humanity slowly began to take shape. This wasn't just breaking news. These were 298 lives.

Not long after, the nation observed the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. I read all the articles in the paper. I brushed up on all the conspiracy theories. I even watched the Zapruder film to see if "back and to the left" and the grassy knoll and curved bullet were supported by evidence. Several times. Until I realized with horror what I was watching was a man's head exploding – a real human being's death caught on video.

And I was done.

Or at least I was very careful and intentional about the graphic images I chose to share.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Photo: Made using Unsplash and Canva.

Monday, July 27, 2015

REVIEW: Monster Hunters by Tea Krulos

"Did you feel that?"

All day long, my coworker had been convinced she was hearing a metallic growl coming from beneath the floorboards, something that periodically rattled her chair. The features department where we worked in the old Courier-News building in Elgin, Illinois, was directly above the old printing press room, but the press was gone now; the room, huge and empty and dark. We'd joked we should rent it out as a roller skating rink.

I hadn't heard or felt anything all day, but now it was late, and I was alone in the office, and that old, empty building was starting to get to me.

Maybe the building was haunted, I thought.

Maybe we should contact one of those paranormal groups to come investigate the building. Maybe there's a paranormal group here in the Elgin area. Maybe they could come investigate the building, and I could write an article about it, and then I could be like that lady on "Most Haunted."

This was nearly a decade ago, and so when I started investigating local paranormal investigation groups online, I found the Elgin Paranormal Investigators – on MySpace.

I did end up going on an investigation with EPI and writing an article about it for The Courier-News, although the group never investigated our newsroom. In fact, I ended up writing four or five articles about the group while I was at the suburban newspaper, even picking up an award from the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association along the way.

Milwaukee-based journalist Tea Krulos came to report on the Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee by his interest in writing about subcultures considered unusual or quirky.

But Krulos didn't stop with ghost hunters.

In his book, "Monster Hunters: On the Trail with Ghost Hunters, Bigfooters, Ufologists and other Paranormal Investigators," not only did the author spend a year investigating supposedly haunted locations with PIM, but also he traveled to the International Crytozoology Museum in Maine; spent a weekend hunting a lake monster at Champ Camp in Vermont; attended sessions about alien abductions, the synchronicity of owls and UFO sightings and celebrity UFO encounters at the International UFO Congress in Arizona; and acted as Bigfoot bait in Michigan.

Along the way, his own beliefs about the paranormal were challenged.

Also, he wrote, "I imagined Jason Robard's Ben Bradlee in 'All the President's Men' frowning at me for even daring to consider approaching the topic as news."

But the strength of "Monster Hunters" – what makes it different from so many other books I've read about paranormal investigation – is this approach. Krulos never pushes his own beliefs about the paranormal. This isn't a how-to or case study collection by an investigator, like "Dark World" by Zak Bagans or "Paranormal State" by Ryan Buell or "Ghost Hunting" by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson. It doesn't start with the assumption ghosts aren't real – or, worse, are evil – and then proof text its way around it, like Ron Rhodes' "The Truth Behind Ghosts, Mediums and Psychic Phenomena."

He simply introduces the field, capturing – just as vividly as the legends – the cast of characters and diversity of opinion in the paranormal community, the skeptic who admitted, "I do it because I genuinely want to know." He presents the evidence he encountered in his year of investigations and the things that challenged him (including what he described as "one of he weirdest experiences of my life"). He shares stories that are sometimes hilarious and sometimes frightening, and he leaves space for "true mystery."

That's what makes this a good read for both skeptics and believers and the perfect introduction for anybody interested in the field.

Maybe it's not hard news, imaginary actor-playing-Ben Bradlee. But it gets at that thing journalism, at its best, is capable of doing: helping us understand what the other side believes, why they believe what they believe, and they may not be as unusual as we thought.

They may, as it turns out, be just like us: in search of, as one investigator told Krulos, "some f---ing answers."

Get more information or purchase "Monster Hunters: On the Trail with Ghost Hunters, Bigfooters, Ufologists and other Paranormal Investigators" by Tea Krulos.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Also, I received one or more of the books mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Photo: Chicago Review Press.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Living with the Amish is actually no romance novel, one woman explains (Acts of Faith)

Emma Gingerich doesn’t have anything against the Amish romance novels that have become such a popular subset of Christian fiction.

Gingerich just hopes readers realize those novels romanticize the Amish lifestyle – something she knows about first-hand.

“It’s like any novel, really,” she said. “Some novels are all about feeling good, and that’s the way the Amish (ones) are too. But I think if people really want to know the truth about some of the things that happen in the Amish community, they need to read books that were published by people who grew up in the Amish community, and there are several of those books now.”

Amazon now lists 1,504 results in its Amish romance category. Between 2003 and 2013, the genre’s three most popular authors alone sold more than 24 million novels, according to the Wall Street Journal. And between 2003 and 2010, others self-published more than 150 Amish e-books, the Journal reported.

There are nonfiction books, too, about those who have embraced the Amish lifestyle: “Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order” by Marcene C. Miller and Sherry Gore’s memoir, scheduled for release next month, “The Plain Choice: A True Story of Choosing to Live an Amish Life.”

And then there is a string of new titles released in the past year hinting there might be more to the story than sweetness and simplicity – memoirs by those who have left the Amish. Those books include “Plain Faith: A True Story of Tragedy, Loss and Leaving the Amish” by Ora-Jay and Irene Eash and “Beyond Buggies and Bonnets: Seven True Stories of Former Amish” by Brenda Nixon.

Gingerich’s own memoir, “Runaway Amish Girl: The Great Escape,” documents her departure from the Amish, the only life she’d ever known, on a cold January day back in 2006.

It was okay being Amish, she said, until it wasn’t – until she finished her schooling at age 14 and spent her days at home, weaving baskets and watching her younger brothers and sisters.

One day, she said, “all of a sudden something changed, and I just didn’t feel like I belonged there anymore. I was curious about the outside world, and I longed for more.”

Photo: Zach Weber Photography.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

On the Feast Day of the Lily of the Mohawks and the danger of a single story

Káteri Tekahkwí:tha wasn’t a saint yet when I met her.

She was “blessed” several years ago when I heard on the radio a traveling collection of relics would be stopping at a parish in the Chicago suburbs.

I’m not Catholic, but I’m curious, and so I found myself standing in the long line of believers rounding blue-clothed tables displaying tiny golden reliquaries of bones and bits of cloth that once belonged to the saints. I scanned each one, like faces in a crowd.

When I saw St. Káteri Tekahkwí:tha, I felt a flash of recognition and hugged the reliquary with a bit of her bone to my heart. It felt like meeting a friend from the Internet for the first time in real life.

I didn’t know much about her then, before she became the country’s first Native American saint recognized by the Catholic church, just the stories most have heard if they’ve heard of her at all: Born in the 17th Century in what is now New York, Tekahkwí:tha was orphaned by smallpox at age 4. The sickness left her face disfigured and her eyes, weak, something she hid by veiling her head with a blanket. Afterward, she was raised by her uncle, one of the chiefs of his village.

Her mother had been a Christian, and Tekahkwí:tha, too, was baptized when she was about 20 after Jesuit priests came to her village, taking the name Káteri from St. Catherine of Siena. Against her uncle’s wishes, she left for a Jesuit mission south of Montreal.

“Who will teach me what is most agreeable to God so that I may do it?” she famously asked.

At the mission, St. Káteri Tekahkwí:tha swore off marriage and performed severe and disturbing penances, praying the rosary in the snow and mixing ashes in her food, wearing an iron girdle and sleeping on a bed of thorns. The priests at the mission later recorded they at once both “admired” and “reprimanded” her for these things, and as she already was in poor health, they likely accelerated her death at age 24.

Perhaps the most famous stories about the saint are what came next: How after her death, her face reportedly became “beautiful and shining,” as one of the priests later recounted. How lilies supposedly bloomed from the place where the “Lily of the Mohawks” was buried. How several in the village claimed to have seen her in visions after her death and felt her protection.

But I was reminded, as I read pieces of the biographies written by the priests who had known her, of what novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the danger of a single story.”

We all are impressionable, even vulnerable, in the face of a story, according to Adichie. And when we hear a single story, it creates stereotypes: not necessarily untrue, but certainly incomplete. When that story is told by those in power, it makes one story the only story.

“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person,” she said.

The definitive story of St. Káteri Tekahkwí:tha is the one recorded by Jesuit priests Pierre Cholenec and Claude Chauchetiere, one of a saint among savages, of “good Mohawks and bad Mohawks,” as Mohawk journalist Chad Kader put it.

But the priests’ story ignores the fact she was a part of her people. She has the distinction of being the first weaver of wampum belts mentioned by name, Darren Bonaparte wrote in “A Lily among Thorns: The Mohawk Repatriation of Káteri Tekahkwí:tha.”

It ignores the fact before the Jesuits came, the Mohawk already were telling their own story of a virgin mother giving birth to a Peacemaker, according to Bonaparte.

It ignores the fact the Mohawk had been forced to accept those priests as part of a peace treaty made after the French had burned their villages to the ground, he wrote.

It ignores the stories that didn’t fit into their narrative, a mistake we repeat when we aren’t conscious of the stories we’re hearing and believing and sharing. It’s a mistake we repeat when we aren’t intentional about seeking out those stories that don’t neatly fit our narratives. It’s a mistake we repeat when we don’t get to know people and hear their stories, to recognize them and hug them tightly.

It’s the stories we may never hear about St. Káteri Tekahkwí:tha, a woman whose story is made all the more remarkable by the fact she was not so different from her people or from us. A woman of incredible faith and fierce resolve, who fought for the right to remain unmarried and to worship as she chose.

A woman who challenged us to ask, “Who will teach me what is most agreeable to God so that I may do it?”

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Photos: For more photos of my everyday adventures, follow me on Instagram.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

What I'm Into {June 2015}: Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and more stops on my road trip summer

Joel and I spent the last week of June at my family's cabin in the Northwoods of Wisconsin with our friends Kristin, Jill and Peter. I put a pot of coffee on and got some writing done in the early mornings when the cabin was quiet and the lake was still.

But mostly we spent our days on the water, kayaking and swimming and fishing. We went to the Fourth of July parade and the volunteer firefighter brat feed in town, and later we pumped our fists in the air ridiculously and yelled, "AMERICA!" when a bald eagle screamed and landed in a tree overhead. At night, the boys cooked meals over the campfire and blew up fireworks while I stood by with my trusty bucket of water (BECAUSE THERE'S NOTHING LIKE A FOREST FIRE TO RUIN A GOOD TIME, YOU GUYS).

There was a weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska, before that, celebrating Living Life Reformed Church's 10th year partnering with Hope for the First Nations, and a weekend in the Quad Cities celebrating our friend Lewis' wedding before that.

There was a solo week on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, observing HFtFN's summer camps organized by the church in Nebraska and a church in Evanston, Illinois. I went to powwow between camps and to the Episcopal church celebrating the feast day of St. Enmegabowh, or "Enmegabowh Day," as my friend Lindy called it. I accidentally went off-roading during a rally in the forest preserve. My car broke down then for unrelated reasons, and by the grace of God, it made it into town before it needed a tow, and a very kind mechanic fixed what was wrong with it on his own time so I could get the car back to Chicago before Joel had to go to work.

It's been a busy road trip summer.

That's something that would have been made more difficult if I still were employed full-time at the newspaper; I know this now. We're having long talks together, God and I, as I put the miles on my car. And I am watching all the pieces fall into place and His plan take shape. 

Also, I finally know what all those warning lights in my car actually mean.

Things I Love

The Justice Conference. When I saw the lineup at this year's Justice Conference, I bought my ticket immediately: Eugene Cho, Bob Goff, Austin Channing, Jonathan Merritt, Micah Bournes, Amena Brown, Shauna Niequist, Ann Voskamp, Crowder, Rend Collective. Every single speaker, every single band was my favorite. The words and ideas they shared broke me open, and they put me back together again. These are things I'll be sitting with and thinking about and writing about for a long time to come, things I expect, without exaggeration, will change my life.

Hoopla. That long, solo road trip to Minnesota and back meant I had a lot of time to kill in the car this month. Luckily, I discovered the Hoopla app, which allows users to borrow up to six audiobooks, movies and TV shows from its partner libraries, including the Chicago Public Library. The selection isn't as good as Audible's, but I did find "A Year of Living Prayerfully," which I'd been dying to read, and listened to the book on my way up north (more on that later).

Illinois Associated Press Media Editors Awards. Well, it's a bit late considering I was laid off in mid-May, but I found out earlier this month I'd won second place for best use of social media by an individual in the 2015 Illinois Associated Press Media Editors Awards. The Chicago Sun-Times also won first place for best use of social media by an institution, which makes me feel really good about the job I did there: My goal always was to promote the paper first, not use it as a tool for my own self-promotion.

Best thing I made/ate: Summer at the cabin calls for meals cooked over the campfire, breads wrapped in foil and baked in the coals, fish we'd caught the day before, corn on the cob smothered in mayonnaise and parmesan and spicy paprika. It also calls for Leinenkugel's summer shandy, which I realize is an affront to beer-drinkers everywhere, but nothing feels quite so right when you're floating in an inner tube in the lake with a drink in your hand. Plus, Leinenkugel's introduced a ginger shandy this year. GINGER SHANDY, YOU GUYS.

Music and Podcasts

Rend Collective and Crowder in concert. I don't love a lot of worship music, but I do really love both Rend Collective and Crowder. Both played at The Justice Conference. Rend Collective's show, in particular, was a powerful time of worship. The band's music is so upbeat, you might be tempted to think it's about as vacuous as any other chipper pop tune. But its lyrics hit me hard as we sang together things that I knew to be true and needed to be reminded of, even if they didn't feel true in that moment. And I totally ugly-cried through the whole thing, scaring all my friends. Sorry about that, friends.

Afterward, I picked up Art of Celebration by Rend Collective.

In Our Heads by Hot Chip. Like Torres' "Sprinter," this isn't an album I would've picked out for myself if it weren't for my Vinyl Me Please subscription. But it turns out I needed some upbeat music this month, and "In Our Heads" by Hot Chip turned out to be just the thing, from its candy-colored vinyl to lyrics like, "A church is not for praying / It's for celebrating the life that bleeds through the pain / It's for celebrating the life that shines through your veins." I needed that call to celebrate. If you're interested in learning more or joining Vinyl Me Please, you can use my link for an invite, and we both can get free vinyl.

TV and Movies

Ex Machina. "Ex Machina" is a smart, intense movie, and it definitely got me thinking as I do some writing about robots and artificial intelligence for a future project.

Jurassic World. "Jurassic Park" is one of my favorite movies of all time. I'm still convinced it has the best special effects of any movie ever made. So I was excited and hopeful when the fourth movie was announced. "Jurassic World" isn't in the same league as the original, but it still was a lot of fun to see in 3-D at the IMAX. It had a lot of throwbacks to the first movie (although, I couldn't tell if filmmakers just were getting lazy at times), and it definitely was a lot scarier. I flailed so hard, I might've pulled a muscle.

Still, for the record, and for as much as I love Chris Pratt, YOU CANNOT TRAIN RAPTORS. IT CANNOT BE DONE.


A Year of Living Prayerfully: How A Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer Life by Jared Brock (audiobook). Jared Brock's "A Year of Living Prayerfully" is full of stories that delighted and surprised me (his meeting with the pope was an obvious highlight!), that gave me ideas to incorporate into my own prayer life and made me dream of walking the Compostella through France and Spain and visiting the men's-only Mt. Athos in Greece. The last quarter, about Protestantism, felt a little overly long, though, and it seemed to lose the thread of prayer, but I have and would wholeheartedly recommend this book to others. (Kristin, who was scarred by last month's intense reading experience, loved this audiobook, too.)

Possible: A Blueprint for Changing How We Change the World by Stephan Bauman (audiobook). Stephan Bauman's "Possible: A Blueprint for Changing How We Change the World" is a call to action. It's never been easier to join in the work of social justice than this moment in history. Don't miss it, Bauman encourages. "Possible" feels more approachable than similar books, like "When Helping Hurts," but it offers similarly wise counsel for how we engage in that work: We need to partner with the people we want to help – not do for them. We must not simply give nor take, but live in the tension and back-and-forth of relationship. And we must hold on to hope. Because our hope is in God, he reminds, and with Him, all things are possible.

How to Blog a Book: Write, Publish, and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time The best advice in this book came at the very end, from the writers whose blogs had landed book deals who filled out questionnaires from "How to Blog a Book" author Nina Amir. Amir questioned writers who had "booked a blog," she said, because none had "blogged a book." Which should raise a red flag right there. One, in response to the question, "What advice would you give writers wanting to blog a book?" honestly answered, "Don't do it. Blog because you love it. Blog because you're a writer who needs to exercise his ability to wrote. Do not go into this with dollar signs in your eyes or else everyone who reads your blog will see right through you." If you are a writer who has a book idea in mind, by all means, blog about topics related to that idea. Start connecting with readers interested in it. Some of those blog posts may even become chapters in your book. But it doesn't seem like a good idea to me to doggedly set out to write that book, blog post by blog post, or, as an author, to start and maintain multiple blogs all related to different book projects you hope to publish. Then again, Nina Amir really did successfully blog a book, and I haven't.

Monster Hunters: On the Trail with Ghost Hunters, Bigfooters, Ufologists, and Other Paranormal Investigators by Tea Krulos. I heard an interview about this book with its author, Milwaukee-based journalist Tea Krulos, on a paranormal-themed podcast and immediately contacted the publisher for a review copy. I'm planning to write a longer review of this book, so I won't give away everything here, except to say that I absolutely loved Krulos' approach and highly recommend it to anybody interested in the topic.

How to Blog for Profit without Selling your Soul by Ruth Soukup. Every page of this little e-book makes it obvious Ruth Soukup loves blogging and she knows what she's doing. That's because Soukup has done it all, she's studied her craft and she's been successful at both making a profit and not selling her soul. She offers a wide variety of tips to monetize a blog, but the most important is this: Create awesome content.

On the InterWebs

I already have shared some of the words of lament, of conviction and of healing from around the blogosphere that impacted me after the tragic mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Here are a few other posts from the blogosphere I appreciated this past month:

On the blog

I read the papal encyclical, "Laudato Si," the day it came out and live-tweeted all the highlights, Read Along Adventure-style, so you don't have to. I also broke out 10 things Pope Francis said about the "digital life" in the encyclical in the triumphant return of my Tiny Letter, Get the 'Net.

In other publications

It's been a busy first full month of freelancing! When I wasn't traveling, I was writing. OK, sometimes even when I was traveling, I was writing, too. Or at least reading up on a subject I was planning to write about.

Here are some of the articles I wrote this month:

What have you been into this month?

Linking up with Leigh Kramer.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Also, I received one or more of the books mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Photos: For more photos of my everyday adventures, follow me on Instagram.
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