samedi, août 03, 2013

How to be the classier person in a déclassé online world

This past week I participated in derailing a serious conversation my son was having on Facebook.

It became just another ventfest for people voicing their usual positions, another round of blah, blah, blah that goes absolutely nowhere.

And only one person on the thread made a genuine effort to answer the question that he asked.

I knew I was getting sucked into another debate that would go nowhere. I also knew that the adults involved were re-stating positions they had held for a long time, and that no one's mind was liable to be changed.

But I jumped in there. I guess it felt good to vent.

We don't always treat each other well in these conversations. More to the point, we don't make progress in doing anything to solve the problems we all clearly see. It's just blather.

I admire youth -- youth's seriousness, creativity, and most of all, youth's hope. The question could have been asked by anyone's child. I don't think we honored it.

On a completely different front, I was approached by a guy online in a way that seemed innocuous at first, but turned out to be outrageous. As I've noted before, some people behave in the "safety" of their online universe in ways that they never would behave in real life.

I can't imagine  this fellow going all Anthony Weiner on a colleague, but you never know. People feel free to let their libidos hang out (as it were) online. To be provocative -- I'm not sure that there is a big difference between being sexually explicit online and going off on a political rant.

It's not about convincing someone else (unless you are sharing information).  These eruptions are about relieving anger, or sexual tension, or stress, and making yourself feel better.

This week also saw an intense conversation peter out when it was put to the "reality" test. No matter how often I have these communication events (I'm not sure how to tag them), and I am more and more choosy about whether I have them, I still feel burned when the other person disappears into the ether.

I say that I'm not going to let the poor manners and unchained egos of the Internet change me, but I've already been altered.  

Yeah, o.k.,  I'm not hitting on guys or posting rage-filled reactions to someone else's ideas. But I'm still not where I want to be.

In this regard, a few of my elders have been wonderful teachers. They never post anything to Facebook unless it's edifying. 

A few resolutions, then, for leading a more classy online life. Feel free to add your own. It's a good conversation for those of us who can't keep our mouths shut online. Or maybe it's just a constructive one for me.

1. Think before you post. Consider your audience, the ones who speak up, and the ones who are observing you. Do you want to be known as the "village" blabbermouth?

2. If you err, make it on the side of kindness. Do not post in anger, or in snark. 

3. Not every thought that goes through your head is worth sharing, either on Twitter or Facebook.
Cull relentlessly.

4. Does your online persona match up with your real life behavior? I recently read an article in the NYT book review section about famous writers.  Many of them were outright jerks in real life. There are lots of things I'm NOT good at, but I am obsessed by trying to be the same person in "rl" that I am when I'm raving at you on Facebook.

4 a.  Keep it zipped. You know who you are. No one needs to see you exposed in a tell-all, or standing with your wife, husband or partner at a press conference.  Prudence is often a hidden virtue.  Dangerous behavior can be forever. 

5.  Which brings up another point;  Be honest.  Be truthful with others, but above all, don't start lying to yourself.  That's how we begin to live in ways that are splintered and alienated from our better selves (I'm aspiring to better, and letting God worry about "best"). 

I'm pretty darned good at dishing out advice. Let's see if I'm even better at taking it. You have permission to hold me accountable when I err, as I will now and then. Someone has to...

mercredi, juillet 31, 2013

When it comes to leaving church, we're not just "talking about my generation"

Over the past week, there's been a ton of "water-cooler" conversation  over why Millennials (read: twentysomethings with a bit of thirty tossed in) are leaving the church. Rachel Held Evans got it started this time around (as she often does) with analysis: young people are sick of their parents culture wars, and don't want to be in a church that peddles a bunch of predetermined answers. In addition, they are tired of discrimination against LGBT people, tired of exclusivity and tired of the same old same old, even if it's the same old worship music.

It's not about the hip worship, she admonishes pastors -- it's not about the new new thing covering up the old thing.

Then Derek Rishmawy, who is even more of a Millennial than  Held Evans,  (he's 27, she's 32) came out with his own reflections (after hers went viral.)

i’ll be honest, my initial instinct when I come to pieces like these is to balk a bit. I worry that we can tend to come off as whiny, demanding, or entitled. Even worse, there’s a sort of myopia involved in thinking Christianity must change or die every 30 years or so

Part of the reason young people are leaving the church,  he suggests, is that they don't get the whole idea of the Church, the Bride of Christ, the Body.  Evangelicals have "dropped the ball:" in this regard, he asserts.

While I'm happy to hear what Held Evans and Rishmawy have to say, and I'm paying attention,  it seems to me that a larger point is getting lost here.

Every generation is leaving the church.  Millennials are simply leaving it faster -- or never signing up at all.

Here's a quote from Pew's  Research on Religion and Public Life Project "Nones On The Rise." That came out last fall, and caused some consternation among those who run religious institutions. The quote below suggests a steady erosion in religiosity among Americans in their forties, fifties and sixties:

 Generation Xers and Baby Boomers also have become more religiously unaffiliated in recent years. In 2012, 21% of Gen Xers and 15% of Baby Boomers describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, up slightly (but by statistically significant margins) from 18% and 12%, respectively, since 2007.

And we're not even talking about people who claim to be a part of a faith, but never, or almost attend a house of worship.

So what's going on?

I don't pretend to have the answers, any more than Held Evans or Rishmawy do (they might be slightly more confident, but youth does that for  you). 

I do have a few notions. And before you get curious,  I'm not targeting any church in particular. including my own. I happen to love my congregation simply because it is, often, so imperfect. We let our rough edges show. 

But I'm weird that way -- a lot of people want smooth and shiny, a nice rose that goes down easy instead of a biting red.

So - a few ideas.

First of all, we may be trying too hard to get potential attendants  in.  People aren't attracted by showy programs and clever marketing.  They can see right through that.  That includes mass evangelism programs ( not at all my aesthetic, though they do have their appeal to some, I confess.)

Secondly, it might be useful for churches to examine what drove some members of older generations out in the first place. As a member of a tiny, tiny, and shrinking denomination (at least here in America),  I find the wars of the past two or three decades an utter disgrace.  They reflect poorly on liberals and conservatives alike.

I'm a convert -- and a priest, and I considered leaving. When we divide and seek to conquer, we aren't following Jesus. Episcopalians complacent about the way things have turned out might want to look a those empty pews and inner city churches turned into chic condos. Conservatives might want to check out the ongoing splintering among their own, and ask themselves if the "prize" of a sanctuary "untainted" by female and gay clergy was worth the battle. 

I'm not at all sure that, many times, we offer people what they really want.  I'm not saying here that people always want what is good for them, or what the Gospel demands of them.  But those who are broken (aren't we all?) need to be met where they are.  Yes, they are often grimy, and yes, a lot of what they've done ain't purty -- but plenty of times I take a look in the mirror myself and see smudges.

Churches need more transparent and even more transient leadership -- in many congregations, leadership seems to recycle itself, with the same people in the same positions year after year.

Finally, I long for a church where we can be truly honest with one another. I WANT to hear about internet porn on Sundays. I want to hear about people who struggle with their sexual identities.  I want to hear about alcoholism and mental illness and marriages in trouble. Not necessarily from the pulpit, mind -- that's a lot of  stress to put on a pastor.

But he or she ought to feel comfortable or holy uncomfortable, speaking up and out when the Holy Spirit calls. 

Then I want to hear about Jesus, and what He's doing in people's lives.  But our tendency is to start with the good stuff -- and never get to what's really bugging us. 

What if vestry members and deacons, pastors and choir section heads could be open about their fears and doubts and know that they would be accepted and encouraged in love? What if we weren't so darned clubby about who we welcome into such confidences?

There's no guarantee that such profound honesty will bring people of any generation back, encourage them to remain -- or to begin.

But perhaps it's time we took a tough look at ourselves,  instead of wondering "what's wrong with them"? 

dimanche, juillet 28, 2013

Review of 'The Light in the Ruins' by Chris Bohjalian

I gotta tell ya -- I usually avoid books featuring a lot of violent events like the plague.

As someone who is sensitive to nuance and detail in life (as a journalist one becomes trained to ream it up from the cosmos),  I'm also way too prone to take it in from novels.

I know I've missed some good stuff -- but I don't feel obligated to stay up to date on every dark excursion into  someone's subconscious (or attempt to exploit the huge female market for horrifying tragedies inflicted on mothers, gag me).

Chris Bohjalian is wonderfully different.

His acute, poignant and yet sweetly comic character study, an early novel titled "Water Witches," hooked me.  He's got an eye for the telling detail and a masterly way of showing empathy for his characters, no matter how bizarre their beliefs or behavior.

Plus, he lives in and loves Vermont, the lovely terrain of my childhood summers.

 In addition, from what I can tell, at least superficially, he seems to take  criticism thoughtfully, a genuine mark of character.

When I saw that my editor had Bohjalian's newest novel on his crammed reviewing bookshelf, I asked for it.  Those of you with a taste for dark realism and suspense, with the added frisson of a doomed love story, will probably rip through it in one sitting.

Just don't read it late at night. And keep the lights on.