Black Eye #003 – Social Media Gone Awry

Typing on a keyboardSocial media (SM) has, in recent times, established itself as a force in modern society that will not go away.  When something significant happens in the world, you can bet that one or more social media outlets will be talking about it immediately, often faster than traditional forms of print, radio, and television (if you’re not sure about this, check out this article about the death of Whitney Houston).  As a result, people have an unparalleled ability to interact with each other in ways beyond a simple phone call.  Postings can be rich with multiple forms of media (pictures, links, audio clips, etc.) and can reach around the world multiple times in their lifespan.

With great power, however, comes great responsibility.  A single posting or comment has the potential to be used for good—or for more nefarious things.  This, for some reason, seems to be an issue with followers of Jesus, and even the most well-intentioned folks can give him a black eye or two through their words.  James put it well when he compared our speech (or shall we add ‘keyboard usage’) to a spark that sets off a forest fire: “By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell” (James 3:6 Msg).

Those are stinging comments that should not be overlooked by anyone, from the newest Christian to the pastor of a long-established congregation. Christians are supposed to lead from the forefront by their example, not react in ways that belittle and divide.  As a result, there are a number of procedures I try to follow whenever I add anything to the world of social media.  I heartily encourage you to add to these in the comment section, since I know I’m going to forget something:

* Social Etiquette 101
When commenting or posting, it’s important to make sure to follow basic rules and procedures in order to make sure your voice is heard properly:
A) If a comment is directed at someone, use the @ symbol to designate who you’re talking to.  Otherwise, the assumption is that the comment is for everyone.  I’ve even used @Everyone: when directing discussions that have gone off-topic or have become heated.
B) Make sure to use your best grammar and spelling skills in all posts and comments.  Otherwise, you can delete the post/comment and try again (with Facebook, you can edit comments using the pencil icon at the right of the post—but you can’t do this on phones yet (I’m sad about this).  It bothers me to make a mistake, so I will make a second comment stating the correction, then make the changes when I can get to a regular computer, deleting the correction notice).  It doesn’t take long to do a simple check before submitting something.
(Example: “I couldn’t breath.” – Incorrect | “I couldn’t breathe.” – Correct)
C) Writing an entire post or comment in all capitals is verboten.  Don’t do this—ever!  Not only is it universally considered shouting, it’s an easy way to not only get your message skipped or ignored, but can also get any future posts and comments blocked by people who might need to hear them.  When you consider using all capitals for part of a comment, think about how others will read and react to it.  There are other ways to emphasize a point.  I rarely will use capitals, but *will* put words in asterisks to make a point (see what I did there?).
(Note: The same goes for overt use of punctuation.  One exclamation mark or question mark is fine.  Thirteen is way too many [and improper grammar, to boot])
D) Emoticons are okay to use and can be used to help another person understand intended sarcasm or happiness.  Just don’t overuse them!
(Example: You don’t really need that.  😉 | You don’t really need that. )

* Verify Your Sources (if applicable)
When in the heat of the posting moment, sometimes rationality is the first thing that gets lost.  If you quote a source about something, verify it beforehand.  The same goes for statistics.  Otherwise, you risk someone else reacting to misinformation and passing it on to their network, starting a chain reaction that is difficult to stop.  You should also have snopes.com on Internet speed dial and should use it in every circumstance possible.

* Know How to Defuse Potential Issues
Some of us have a deep inclination to attempt to start discussions on controversial topics (politics, for example) or enjoy adding fuel to an already raging inferno.  It’s okay to discuss these things, but be ready to tone it down a notch if it seems that things are spiraling out of control.  Discussions and even personal attacks can be handled in a loving and prayerful manner, becoming valuable ways to bring someone closer to God.  Really, they can.  Know how to make it happen. And remember what James had to say!

* Watch Those Forwards, Reposts and Retweets!
One of the more subtle problems online involves resending material that may or may not be true.  After checking with Snopes, consider whether if posting such material is going to encourage, build up, annoy, or start a heated flame war.  I personally find reposts (on Facebook specifically) to be lazy, guilt-inducing, inaccurate, and, most of the time, simply not useful.  Specifically guilty are those ‘pictures’ that are simply words or stories with a “Repost this” or “99% of you won’t have the guts to repost” comment.  As a result, people who pass these on to me are often blocked from posting future items to my News Feed.  On Twitter, it’s not as a big deal, since links a the prime form of communication—but it’s still important to check them before sending out a retweet.  Consider who the post was sent by as well—we all know those who we can trust.

* Threadjacking and Spamming are No-Nos
The word threadjacking refers to interrupting a comment stream in order to post something completely unrelated.  For example, if a number of comments are discussing the fastest car on the market today, a threadjacking comment would be, “Black Friday is the absolute worst day of the year to go shopping for bedding.”  It’s annoying at best and, if constantly done, can lead to others blocking your posts and future comments.  Spamming, on the other hand, is threadjacking intended to promote a cause or group.  To me, this is the bigger issue.
An example of the latter: I routinely ask questions on my Facebook page in order to generate discussion.  A few days ago, I inquired which of the seven dwarfs from Snow White people related to the most.  After three good replies, a fourth popped up that said (in essence): “I don’t relate to any of them.  However, I do relate to this band!”  It was followed by a link to the band’s home page.  Thankfully, the next few comments returned to the question at hand.  When I asked for the spamming to stop, the offender replied, “That’s the best part of Facebook—free speech!”  They were correct, but not within a thread they had no reason to spam.  Causes on FB can be promoted in separate posts with no issues whatever.  A page can even be set up for them.  But they have no place in an organized conversation.  And yes, the result was a blocking of the offender.

* Dirty Laundry Stays in the Hamper
When people get emotional, they can be somewhat irrational about the things they post.  There are places to handle situations that are of a personal nature.  Social Media is not one of them (note the word ‘Social’ in the title).  When dirty laundry gets aired, it happens in one of two ways:
A) A massive avalanche of pain and frustration comes out, burying anyone who reads it.
B) Vaguebooking occurs.  If you’re uncertain about that term, vaguebooking refers to posts that are general enough not to say anything yet are intended to make someone post “Huh?” in an attempt to provide a reason to share the dirty laundry.  An example would be, “One of the worst days of my life” or “Needing to go for a long drive in my car.”
The best thing to do, if you’ve got laundry to air, is to avoid SM entirely and go right to the source to deal with it.  Asking for prayer is cool, but you should be guarded in any responses.  If you’re reading the post, be careful with your words and comments (if you so choose to respond).  Requesting for the poster to delete the post is fine (which they should do), but please be respectful in asking.  If you can ask in ways other than through a SM post everyone can read, that would be the best.  Your well-intentioned comment could be viewed the wrong way by people and subject you to negative comments.

* Images Have Rights, Too
One of the recent trends in social media circles is the proliferation of images that are copyright protected on people’s accounts.  Admitted, a large part of what is on Facebook and Pinterest is cannibalized by others—this makes original material a premium you should take advantage of.  However, if an image has an obvious copyright notice on it, you shouldn’t post it on your feed.  This goes for comics out of newspapers as well—no matter how interesting or timely they are.
But just because an image doesn’t have a notice on it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily okay to use.  There is a principle called Fair Use that dictates what images are okay to use and in what particular situations (a good explanation can be found here).  It’s pretty tricky to tell what’s acceptable, even for bloggers.  Simply put, if you got the image (or article) from a certain site, it’s common practice to give the site credit for the item in the form of a thank you or a hat tip (sometimes abbreviated as h/t).  Err on the side of caution, though.  And ask yourself, “If that image was mine, how would I feel about people reposting it without giving me credit?”  It’s a great example of the Golden Rule Jesus shared.

* The Sword Works Both Ways
Christians have an uncanny ability to encourage someone who is down with a well-timed verse of Scripture (or one of those ‘word pictures’ I mentioned above that doesn’t say ‘Repost this’).  At the same time, they’re able to hurt and do worse things through untimely usage of Scripture.
I know.  I’ve done it myself. One person who was struggling got a verse in 1 Timothy from me a number of years ago that said, “You were running the race so well.  Who cut in on you and led you from the truth?”  Sadly, that person wasn’t seen at church after that.  The sword worked both ways.
So when using a Scripture passage, consider the potential ramifications of it (and, if the post will be sent out en masse, how others will react).  Then select accordingly or comment in a more appropriate matter.
Also, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to use a Scripture reference in every sentence.  Many people will skip over them anyway (sadly).  Instead, it may be better to paraphrase the idea in an impactful manner.

* Reread Your Comment
Too often, people tend to respond or post out of sheer emotion or, even worse, from the wrong mindset (jealousy, anger, hatred, judgmental attitudes, etc.).  Get in the habit of giving your comment or post a quick reread to make sure it says what you intend it to say.

* Pray About the Comment
Again, this should be a standard thing to do.  Whether it’s for a particular person, the group reading it, or someone who may see it randomly, you owe it to them to pray.

* Count to Ten
Sadly, SM doesn’t have the luxury of an undo feature (such as Gmail has with its ten-second option to undo the sending of an email) once something is sent.  Sure, you can delete it if you’re quick enough, but you never know if, in those few seconds, someone saw the post.  Why not avoid the sinking feeling in your stomach by counting to ten (maybe twenty?) before releasing your words into cyberspace?

* Keep Exercising
Simply put, don’t run away from the world.  Instead, keep an open eye on current events through the lens of the Bible.  Get educated about issues from a non-biased standpoint if possible (and that may not be an option these days).  I only post about current events if I can validate the source from at least two (2) sources.  It eliminates a good percentage of bias, but also establishes credibility on my part.

* Do it for Love
Remember why you’re here.  Don’t withhold good from those who deserve it when you have a chance to do something about it.  Share in love.  Remember that potentially millions of eyes are watching your words and (fairly or not) judging you on them.  Make them count!

Social Media is great, but it’s not as easy to use as people like to think.  It can, however, be an incredible ally in making the Jesus of the Bible known to the world.

What do you think?  Any suggestions/tips you can add?  Do you think I’ve completely lost it?  Comment away!

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Another Problem With Christian T-Shirts


As I mentioned before in an earlier posting, Christian t-shirts have the ability to give Jesus a black eye for a number of reasons.

Well, it looks like I forgot one.

It can make a famous sports star upset enough to send a cease and desist order to stop its production.

According to an article on Fox News today, Cubby Tees (I would include the link, but their server has crashed) created a shirt incorporating the New York Jets’ logo.  Instead of saying “NY Jets,” it says “MY Jesus” and has replaced the football at the bottom with a Christian fish symbol.  A picture of it is shown above.  The article states that

In a letter sent last month, lawyers for Tebow demanded that Cubby Tees stop selling the T-shirts — which the company admits were produced to reference Tebow’s strong Christian faith — because they give the impression their client endorses the product.

Cubby Tees bosses  . . . will not back down, saying the T-shirt design “shares nothing with Mr. Tebow except for promotion of a common Lord and Savior.”

Okay.  Who do you side with on this one?

A Blog Post Leads to a Lawsuit–From a Church?


Yes, you might want to read that title again.  Sadly, it’s true.

After a mother and daughter left a church in Beaverton OR a number of years back, they couldn’t figure out why the congregation alienated them.  They decided to leave a series of negative reviews of the church online and later started a blog.

The church found out about these comments.  But instead of extending a listening ear, compassion, or anything of that nature, they took matters into their own hands.

They just sued the mom for $500,000.

When the church’s name is Grace Bible Church, something is seriously wrong.  A quick read and application of 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 would do both parties involved some good.

A link to the article can be found here.

Black Eye #001 — Christian T-Shirts

Early on in my faith journey, I decided to step through the doors of a Christian bookstore for the first time. It was like walking into a time warp. Everything I might need for ‘daily living’ was in there–even food (well, if you call TestaMints ‘food’). The books on the shelves seemed to be custom-designed for me. I never knew so many Bibles existed outside of a church building. There were chrome-plated fish I could put on my car.  The music was ridiculously horrible, but I really didn’t seem to mind.  In the back, there was even a small selection of t-shirts emblazoned with verses, sayings, and designs guaranteed to stop people in their tracks and make them ask questions.  I grabbed one that struck me as being cool yet attention-grabbing and plunked down cash earned by mowing lawns in the sweltering South Carolina sun.

I acquired a few more t-shirts over the years and wore them whenever the opportunity arose (read: they were actually clean). But it was one morning in Chemistry class that changed my feelings about Christian t-shirts in general.

The shirt I had on that day had a traffic sign on the front with the line “Get right or get left.”  A friend of mine had attended a concert with me at the church earlier in the year and raised their hand when ‘the question’ was asked.  I saw some changes in his life over the next few months, but was asked on this fateful morning a question about the t-shirt.  This was odd, I thought, as I had prepared for over a year to say the right thing–and yet nobody had ever asked me about it.

What I said came out completely wrong.  In a spoonerism I haven’t duplicated since, I told him that he was supposed to get left, not get right.  Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but I don’t remember seeing the same changes in his life after that.  I did apologize and corrected myself after the fact, but the damage may have already been done.

Is this the main reason why I consider Christian t-shirts to be a black eye–a mistake on my part?  Not at all.  Since that time, however, I’ve become leery of them and their effectiveness (implied or not). To this day, I’m not sure if anyone has ever seen a Christian t-shirt and came to faith on the spot (if you know of someone who has, I’d love to hear the story).  Can they be useful?  Absolutely.  However, they can be better–much better–than they currently are.

Here are three thoughts you should consider when making a t-shirt selection at your local Christian bookstore:

1) If you’re going to choose something, please be original.

For decades, corporations have created brands that are easily recognizable to the general public.  These logos and slogans are used on everything from television advertising to packaging to online media.  Yet, almost without fail, a person can find a t-shirt in a Christian bookstore that has co-opted a trademarked logo to something Jesus-related (a prime example of what blogger Jon Acuff calls the ‘Jesus Juke‘).  Reese’s peanut butter cups become Jesus-themed.  Coca-Cola becomes an ad for the Savior.  The release of  The Hunger Games in theaters provided an opportunity to showcase ‘Hunger for God’ shirts using similar fonts and styles. I personally get a sick feeling in my stomach every time I see a modified corporate logo being worn in public.  How the companies that consistently do this haven’t been sued is completely beyond me.

Cannibalism is *not* creativity.  Stop it and be truly original!

2) If you have difficulty in reading and understanding what’s on the shirt, others will too.

I’m surprised more people don’t say anything about this point.  In theory, at least, a t-shirt is supposed to catch the eye, make a point, and impress it on the viewer in about 2-3 seconds.  Sure, there are going to be occasions where a person has time to stop, read, and think about what a shirt says.  But that’s not the norm.  So why do Christian t-shirts feature verses written in 14-18 point font (or a little larger than the text you’re currently reading) that are more than ten words long?  It just gets lost on the shirt itself.  If the font is script or difficult to read, it just makes things worse.

In addition to this, a number of shirts feature verse references from the Bible.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing to do, provided people either a) know the verse by heart or b) take the time to pull out a Bible or grab their phone (or iPad) and look it up on the spot.  It just rarely happens in that 2-3 second window.  Some shirts I’ve seen also make it a point to link a reference to everything, offering 7-8 verses (or even passages) to consider. Besides, if the shirt is to be used as a witnessing ‘tool,’ a non-Christian isn’t thinking about finding a Bible. Their next appointment, a situation they’re dealing with, or beating their high score on Temple Run is of significantly more concern.  Why do we forget this?

Keep it simple, clear, and to the point!

3) Do consider the underlying message you’ll be giving off by wearing the shirt.

Wearing a Christian t-shirt tells people (if they can understand its meaning in that 2-3 second timeframe) that you’re a Christian who follows Jesus.  This is a good thing, but can also immediately stereotype a person as well whether they believe certain things or not: “Oh, they’re for this or they’re against that.”  “We know how they’re going to vote in November.”  “They’re part of that crazy group I read about in the news that…”  Those reactions may not be necessarily true, but why not allow one’s words and actions do the talking instead? Why not tell the truth without letting a potentially obnoxious shirt muddy the waters instead for you–as well as those Christians that person might come into contact with in the future?

If something becomes a hindrance or wall that keeps people away from Jesus, my first task is not to rationalize or defend the wall.  Instead, I get rid of the wall and keep the communication lines open.

Think before you choose!

What are people going to to know Christians for?  Hopefully, it’s not by giving Jesus a black eye in the form of the things we wear to ‘promote’ him.  Be an example to others in life, in love, in faith, in speech, and in purity instead.  That will speak more eloquently than a t-shirt ever could.

When is Too Early Too Early?

These words, made famous in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, bring to mind a trend that has only come to light in the last year or so.

I pray it stops soon–and the sooner, the better.  Here’s why:

A few days ago (April 18), I was scanning my news feed on Facebook when I came across two requests from friends to pray for Charles Colson, noting that his family had been asked to join him at his bedside.  Seeing as both of my friends had worked for Prison Fellowship International, the ministry Colson had founded, I took their requests as legitimate (in comparison to some of the things that invariably get posted these days).

I was saddened as well, since I had directed an online survey on the viability of BreakPoint magazine for PFI while in grad school.  Sure, Colson made mistakes in the whole Watergate affair, but his later conversion to Christianity had transformed him into a man who had been instrumental in changing lives for Christ over the last three decades.

Later that evening, while gathering a snack, I checked my Facebook account again and noticed that one post made the point that too much death had happened that day (Dick Clark had passed away earlier that afternoon).  It included a link from CBN stating that Colson had passed away as well.

Having been fooled on many occasions before, I always go with a biblical methodology on these things–two sources before anything gets posted.  A quick Google search turned up the CBN link, but nothing else.  I waited about a half-hour, since this would be something the mainstream media would pick up on immediately.  A second search turned up only the one link.

I then made a quick comment to my friend (a different one than the first two) about her source.  She noted that she had heard it on a Focus on the Family program that evening.  I then went to the CBN link and saw the following:

I went to bed praying for health for Mr. Colson and that somehow the article was wrong.  The next morning, I did another search and this time found zero mentions of Colson’s passing.  The CBN link was gone.  Prison Fellowship’s website had an update, but simply said to continue praying for him in his illness.

As of the typing of this post (April 20), I’m happy to say that Mr. Colson is still alive and CBN offered an online apology for the whole situation.  Keep praying for his continued health in the meantime.

So here’s the question: Why is there such a need to be the first one to make note of a key figure’s passing (besides money, fame, and notoriety)?

Ethically, what CBN did was exactly what a blog site did regarding the passing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno back in January.  They jumped the gun, the rest of the media caught on, then everyone had to back off and apologize when it was discovered to be false.  The site’s managing editor paid for it with his job.

It just makes you wonder why waiting a half-hour wasn’t an option.  We all don’t have to be the next TMZ. It’s better to be safe than have to say you’re sorry.  And it gives Christians (who are supposed to be better than this), as well as Jesus, black eyes.

One verse that has struck with me over the years has been Proverbs 3:27–“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act.”  My hope is that CBN–as well as anyone in the media field that reads this–will take this verse to heart and consider the ramifications of their actions.

May this lesson be learned and applied–soon.

UPDATE (April 21): Mr. Colson just went to be with the Lord. Prayers go out to his family in this time. Thanks for your service and faithfulness to the Kingdom, Chuck.

Global Warming, SUVs, and Mars?

I’m sure Mr. Robertson is a nice guy and all, but somebody needs to cut him off when he makes incredibly ludicrous comments like at the end of today’s episode of The 700 Club (start at 4:12 if you want to skip the news article).

His quote to shake your head at:

“Do we think that we have sinned and therefore we have destroyed our planet and therefore we’re going to get it in the neck?  Just keep in mind that Mars, and say, ‘How many SUVs, how many oil refineries are there on Mars?’ And yet, it’s the relationship to the sun that is affecting the climate on Mars.”

The video link:
http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/201204170010

Signs of Life? — #001

You did ask for a sign...There’s a lot of regrettable theology that can be found in the world today.  Not all of it can be found in heavy books with academic-sounding titles.  A good bit of it comes in Twitter fashion–that is to say, 140 characters or less.

In order to stop the black eye epidemic, sometimes we have to be made aware of what’s out in the world.  This is what Signs of Life? is all about.  Whether it’s quotations, Facebook posts, Tweets, Tumblr entries, church signs, or anything else that comes in bite-size forms, that’s what you’ll find here.

Comments and contributions are appreciated.  Just send your links to nomoreblackeyes (at) gmail.com–we’re in this together, after all!

Here’s your first entry (of many) to consider, cringe at, or contemplate doing something about: