Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Christian response to trolling (Her.meneutics)

If you're visiting from Christianity Today's Her.meneutics blog today, welcome!

This is a piece I've been working on for about a month -- and a topic I've been thinking deeply about for nearly a year since I took on the job of managing social media for the Chicago Sun-Times: What does a Christian response to trolling look like? I knew coming to the position that not reporting and focusing instead on social media would be a challenging transition. What turned out to be the biggest challenge, however, was adjusting to the constant barrage of negativity from trolls.

Here's some of what I've learned from my own, personal experience and from conversations with others.

It’s the Internet at its worst.
It’s the Facebook commenter who blames the president for everything from crime statistics to bad TV, the sort of thing I see daily in my work as social media editor at the Chicago Sun-Times. It’s the comments on a recipe for "Amazing Rainbow Tie-Dye Number Surprise Cake" posted on a radio station website that veer away from baking into personal attacks and politics.
Writer or reader, Christian or secular, conservative or progressive, nearly anyone who spends any significant time online and on social media has encountered it: trolling. This is the universal experience of the Internet.
Trolls rear their ugly heads to remind us about their conspiracy theories, personal issues, political grandstanding and, of course, how our misguided theology has us bound for hell.
And they’re everywhere, from mainstream news websites like the Sun-Times to right here at CT. Both recently removed comments from most articles; the Sun-Timestemporarily while working on a new system to “encourage increased quality of the commentary;” CTsaying, “our efforts to carefully and thoughtfully report on controversial subjects have been swamped by comments that do not reflect the mutual respect and civil conversation we want to promote.”
“I guess most everybody feels like they’ve been trolled,” said Micky Jones, a seminarian at George Fox Evangelical Seminary and the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies. “There’s a fine line between Twitter activism and going after somebody and engaging. It’s one of those things people get really self-righteous about.”
Trolling is an intentional disruption of online communities. That’s the classic definition, around since the late 1980s, used by The New York Times in its 2008 article “The Trolls Among Us.” It’s done to “make people angry or otherwise disturb them,” one self-described troll told me on Twitter, adding he often targets people “who needs [sic] to see how ridiculous they’re being.”
Trolling is not disagreeing. Disagreement is part of any healthy conversation -- social media and website comments at their best.
Trolling, on the other hand, ranges from online raging to harassment.
For the rest of the story, read Christian Response to Trolling.

Here are more links for further reading, as well as some of the conversation I had with others on social media about their definitions of and responses to trolling (proving it's not all trolls on the Internet!):

How do you deal with trolls?

Photo: Elisfanclub via Her.meneutics.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sacro Speco: Give your soul an occasional Sunday

"Give your soul an occasional Sunday –
a day of rest from your labor.
Keep yourself in the presence of God,
let your imagination work for you,
but do not weary your mind
or grow tired composing speeches.
Simply set out your needs
and acknowledge that you have no right
to be always aware of God's presence.
There is a time for this,
and a time for that.
Observe them.
Otherwise your soul will grow weary."
– St. Teresa of Avila, from "Let Nothing Disturb You: 30 Days with Teresa of Avila"

Follow my #30DaysWithStTeresaOfAvila on both Twitter and Instagram.

It actually is more like 20 days and completely impromptu (i.e. completely unlike me). I started reading "Let Nothing Disturb You" during my journey through "a gentle Lent" and just am picking it up again now. The Story 201 e-course I had signed up for through The Story Unfolding started this past week, and it has me reflecting on "gentleness and boldness" as I settle into a rhythm to my days to keep me grounded and connected to my Source, to make all the writing I have planned possible.

Reminder: There's still time to sign up for Story 101 through The Story Unfolding.

Inspired by Sacro Speco {Sacred Space} at All Manner of Inspiration.

Photo: Fotopedia.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Somewhere Between Water and Sky by Elora Ramirez -- cover reveal + excerpt!

Earlier this year, I shared an interview here with my writer-friend Elora Ramirez, author of "Every Shattered Thing."

Now I'm excited to reveal the cover of the sequel, coming Sept. 18: "Somewhere Between Water and Sky." It's so evocative of those opening lines of "Every Shattered Thing," spoken in the voice of its main character, Stephanie:

"Sunrises make me feel alive. ... The fluorescent oranges and purples and reds scream the start of a new day -- remind me to take a breath, embrace a fresh beginning."

Does that mean Book 2 will find Stephanie embracing a fresh beginning after we last left her, running from her past?

Here's another look at the front and back cover:

And an excerpt from the upcoming book:

I heard it said once that every human is a story with skin.

If this is true, paragraphs would be etched in the scars on my wrists.

Whole chapters could be written about the way my heart pounds when I startle awake.

And every single one of my tears could fill a book.

I watch the people sitting around me on the bus. The single mother with two rowdy toddlers, the older couple on vacation with cameras strapped to their necks, the boy rapping beats under his breath and writing in a journal—all of them breathe into this poetry of life.

Normally, I’d want to know their stories. I’d wait for hints of who they were inside, the poetic shifts that make us human. Now I just watch.

The boy rapping pauses with his hand in mid air and thinks for a minute. Breaking into a smile, he nods vigorously and lowers his hand to his paper. I frown. I used to have a piece of that poetry inside. It’s just all a little broken now. I don’t know how to fix the one thing that used to put me back together. The poems still come; I just don’t know what to do with them anymore. If I’m feeling particularly brave, I’ll attempt to scratch them into a journal.

Usually, I just write them with my finger on my jeans. No one needs to read them anyway. Besides, I can’t hold on to them for very long. The silence is on fire and the sentences and scenes that used to extinguish those flames do nothing but fan it hotter and brighter. I’m a new person here—no one knows anything about me. All of my journals are in various trash cans around the city. I fill one up and then throw it away, shedding the skin and finding someone new underneath every single time.
This is how I dare to move forward and believe in a new beginning. I let go of the old. I just grab the new and run. I don’t wait around anymore. I can’t.

Like clockwork
the words disappear at dusk
empty cans filled up
like dust.

Rapper boy looks back up and catches me watching him and then offers a shy smile. My fingers pause their lines and curl in to the protection of my hand. I flip my lips upward into a quick grin and then look away before he can strike up a conversation.

I don’t want to know his story.

Stories, with all of their promise, only leave room for disappointment. I don’t have room for that anymore. I left it all—the hope, the love, the promise—back in my old life with the ghosts I’d rather forget: Jude. Emma. Pacey.


Something like grief catches in my throat and a small burst of air escapes through my parted lips.

I miss him. I miss him and I can’t miss him. If I give into these feelings…this emptiness…I shake my head and wipe the stray tear on my cheek.

This is ridiculous.

Reaching into my bag, I pull out my phone. One missed call shows itself on the screen and I frown. No one has my number. I swipe the screen open and scroll through until I notice UNKNOWN NUMBER in red font.

Red like blood.

I shudder.

After the life I’ve lived, I’m nothing if not over-dramatic. It’s whatever. I feel I’ve earned it.
With a few more quick swipes, I delete the notification and sigh the misgiving away. There’s no voicemail, and so there’s nothing to worry about yet.

No harm, no foul. No one knows your number. No one knows your number.

I’ve learned different but I’m choosing another way of living. I repeat these phrases in my head, tapping the rhythm of the words on my knee.

Add "Somewhere Between Water and Sky" to your "want to read" list on Goodreads.

Cover design: Sarah Hansen of Okay Creations.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Fasting: Becoming more and more aware of God (guest post by Maheen Raja)

Eid mubarak!

I know, I'm a full week late with the well wishes for my Muslim friends celebrating the end of Ramadan, but you'll forgive me: I spent the last week co-leading a summer mission trip to the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota with my nonprofit, Hope for the First Nations. While I was away, though, I asked my friend Maheen Raja to write a reflection on the experience of fasting during Ramadan. To my great delight, she agreed.

When we were students at New York University, Maheen invited me to a number of events with the Muslim Student Association. We went to cookouts in city parks and on trips to Six Flags. We passed out flyers and hung streamers every year for the Fast-A-Thon at the end of Ramadan. (We also skipped through busy intersections holding hands and singing "Love Is All Around Us" by the Troggs because it was in a Gap commercial at the time and cat-napped at Starbucks between early morning classes and took the subway uptown to eat "carts" at all hours of the night, but that was just us being us.) One year, when she was MSA president, she even asked me to speak at the Fast-A-Thon dinner. I don't remember everything I said, only that I introduced myself as everybody's Christian cousin and talked about how fasting is a Christian discipline, too, just one thing we could share and learn from each other.

That's why I'm so delighted to introduce you to Maheen, who is crazy-beautiful and smart and tremendously funny -- and who always has been passionate about living out and dialoguing about her faith.

The first days were always the hardest.

In junior high, black Sharpie reminders were written on my hands by my Jewish and Christian friends reminding me not to eat. To take it a step further, these same friends would write, “DON’T FEED HINA!!!” on their own hands as reminders to not offer me my favorite lunchtime meal, French fries and mozzarella sticks.

Fasting is prescribed to all Muslims in the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims who are of age (think teenagers and up) are supposed to abstain from food, drink and sex during daylight hours.

It was not the actual eating or drinking that I found hard to abandon, but rather it was the idea that I had to remind myself that this very mundane and normal act was one I could not partake in from sunrise to sunset.

In the first couple of days of Ramadan I found myself resorting to these handwritten reminders to not eat, and towards the middle of the month I became conscious of every single one of my everyday acts. I thought about everything my hands did to ensure they didn’t put food in my mouth.

Furthermore, I was conscious of everything I was saying, doing or walking towards.  I was in a heightened state of awareness of my actions. Rather than just focusing on the food or drink that was entering my body, I became aware of each and every one of my actions. Things that were normally natural to me I began to reconsider. Did I accidently say something that hurt someone around me? Was it really necessary for me to utter those extra words under my breath to my mother? Rather than just partaking in a monthly diet, I was going through a spiritual self-awareness.

In essence, as I was discovering who I was and what aspects of myself I had to rectify, I was becoming more and more aware of God.

Towards the end of Ramadan, there are always thoughts about what I actually learned about myself during the month and if it will have an effect on the other 11 months out of the year.  Thoughts about whether I can truly abandon all the acts that were displeasing to Him and transform myself into a dutiful servant to Him and mankind.

Photo: Ramadan decorations via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Story 101: What to write when nobody tells you what to write anymore (PLUS a special discount on the e-course!)

I'm sure I'm not the first journalist who's left the daily grind of reporting to feel it: this restlessness. This question.

What do I write about now?

For nearly a decade, I've written what I was assigned, first as an intern, then a full-time reporter at a daily suburban newspaper; most recently, covering education. Now that I've moved from reporting to editing and shortened my commute from an hour-and-a-half in the car to 20 minutes on the El, I have the time and energy at the end of the workday to write what I want -- if only I could remember what that was. There are breadcrumbs to help me trace that journey back in time: old journals, embarrassing blog posts on Xanga from my college years, a whole lot of articles and memories.

That's one reason why this spring I signed up for Story 101, an e-course through The Story Unfolding.

I wanted to start down that path of remembering, of finding my voice. To mark this transition. To take the first steps renergized, arm-in-arm with a sisterhood of storytellers, with all the tools I need.


Nobody talks about soul care for journalists -- probably because nobody thinks we actually have souls.

I didn't think much about this until I attended the Festival of Faith and Writers this spring, and I noticed it included sessions like "The Facts about Faith: Journalism and Living a Meaningful Life." I noticed it because it was so unusual. I've been to conferences for writers, and we talked about faith, but we never talked about journalism. I've been to conferences for Christians, and we talked about writing, but we never talked about journalism.

I've been to conferences for journalists, and we talked about writing, but we never talked about faith.

Journalists talk about accuracy. We talk about ethics. We talk about thinking first before sharing graphic images of mangled body parts in the wreckage of downed airliners because we don't want to needlessly upset people.

We don't talk about the fact we've seen those pictures. We don't talk about the fact we're people, too, and we can be upset.

We don't talk about what it does to you to sit side-by-side with a woman your own age, married at the same time as you, who just has lost her husband in a war overseas; to gently ask the questions, to feel her anger and her grief, to feel the weight and responsibility of telling her story and to hold it with care. Or what it does to you to bear the news of the 33rd child victim of homicide in your city this year. Or to wade into the deep end of Internet negativity every day, and you can't log off and you can't not read the comments because THAT'S YOUR JOB.

In her autobiography "Talking Back," NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell writes about the emotional toll of covering the Jonestown Massacre, her first big story. Later, she told Washingtonian:

Only after I got out of the taxi from the airport, walked onto my front porch, and started crying did the enormity finally hit me. You can’t forget that these are families—mothers and fathers and children. It’s important not to be deadened to the suffering involved.

Nobody ever talks about finding that balance, about being human without being crushed.

That's one reason why I signed up for Story 101. I wanted to find that place again where work intersected with soul, to affirm the humanity.


I haven't read the book, but I know the quote. It's Ernest Hemingway, and it's from "A Moveable Feast."

I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, "Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know."

Maybe that's one reason why I signed up for Story 101, too. I wanted to remember I've always written before and I will write now; to plant my flag and say, I still am a writer, even if that no longer is what makes up most of day – or my income.


For all those reasons, I signed up for Story 101.

But those aren't the only things I took away from the e-course, not so much about how to write, but a celebration of writing and creating. I took away some new ideas and inspiration: to keep my hand moving, to stay connected to the Source and to set boundaries to protect my writing. I realized finding my voice meant "digesting who we are. ... Then what I write will be imbued with me, will have my style" (Natalie Goldberg, "Wild Mind").

Or, as Terry Tempest Williams writes in "When Women Were Birds":

"My voice continues to be found wherever I am being present and responding from my heart, moment by moment. My voice is born repeatedly in fields of uncertainty."

Mostly, I learned to invite others on my journey.

So I'm inviting you.

I already am signed up for Story 201 this fall. If you're thinking of taking 101, whatever your reasons, now is the time to join: in 2015, the live conference calls, private Facebook group, peer critiques and weekly prompts will turn into a DIY packaged e-course.

The last hurrah runs Sept. 8 to Nov. 21 and is discounted at $127.

To learn more or register for Story 101, click here.

Signed up to take the last go-round of the e-course this fall? Comment and let me know! I'd love to follow your journey and hear what you take from it.

Thinking about taking the course? Let me know what questions you have, and I'll do my best to answer them.

Already taken the course? Share your experience and biggest takeways with us (links welcome!).

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.”
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