Starting Over

Reset ButtonSometimes hitting the reset button leads to better things. It certainly does on my cell phone when it decides to act wonky and refuses to respond to my commands in a timely fashion. When the Blu-Ray player at our house chooses to freeze in the middle of a movie (ironically, it happens during the film Frozen, to the chagrin of all three of my daughters), a quick reset will normally fix the issue. My computer at work is notorious for this, but at least it automatically saves my work in advance, giving me one less thing to be concerned about.

In life, however, we often don’t take the opportunity to push the reset button and start over when necessary, even if it means stopping for a quick break to do so. We’re too caught up in our lives. We’re concerned about the ramifications for others. We’re concerned about what others will say about us.  If we do it, it’s half-heartedly.

Christians celebrate the reset button of Easter every year, as Jesus’ resurrection from death offers a chance to start anew with life and get going on a path that winds closer to him. It’s a choice, however—one that takes place on a moment by moment basis. We always have the right to return to the old way of doing things and making comfort our friend. But that’s not supposed to be the case. In fact, Jesus stated that anyone who puts their hand to the plow and looks back isn’t fit for service in the kingdom of God. If we sit back and reminisce too much on what was, we can’t be useful for what can be.

To that end, I look at this blog as sort of an opportunity to start over. I’ve been writing some in the time since my last post, which has been quite a while. But I don’t want to look back.

Too much has been happening in the world lately that has to be talked about.

Too much has to be called into question.

Too much has to be dragged into the glaring spotlight and made known.

Too many black eyes are being given out (even after Easter Sunday).

The plow is being pushed and we have to be ready for what is going to be happening.

Thus, I’m pressing the reset button on the No More Black Eyes blog.  Hopefully, I’ll never have to hit it again (but I reserve the right to smack it another time if need be).   Let’s commit ourselves to making today (and each day) a good one in our words, thoughts, and actions.


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 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!

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 #002 — Fear

Fear is something people crave.

Think about it for a minute.  People flock to theaters to experience white-knuckle situations that may or may not involve blood.  Music only heightens the mood.  Books allow people to conjure up situations in their minds and ruminate over them in their dreams (often waking up in the middle of the night as a result). When October 31st rolls around, people dress up like their favorite ghouls and monsters, walk around neighborhoods soliciting free candy, then shell out big bucks to be scared witless by other people dressed up like zombies wielding chainsaws.  And then they bring their friends along to ‘enjoy’ the experience.

Okay, maybe that’s not entirely the case.

Fear is actually a four letter word people many Christians simply don’t want to deal with in life (it’s also the one George Carlin didn’t mention, but I digress).  The end results are pain, suffering, and a huge black eye for Jesus.

The sad part is how pervasive fear can become and how, if unchecked, can influence an entire culture.  A recent example comes to mind:

On April 20th, 2012, an article was posted on the Christian news site entitled “What June Brings to Disney World.”  The author, Charlie Butts, shared insight from Florida Family Association (FFA) member David Caton that on June 1-3, the Disney parks in Florida would be celebrating ‘Gay Day.’  While the comment may be true, the article was a classic example of trolling—or at the very least, not fact-checking before posting.  Disney has no hand in sponsoring the days, as that is done by an outside organization.  Instead, an air of—you guessed it—fear is conveyed through the article, imploring parents to consider keeping their kids away from the parks on those days.  Butts ramps up the fear angle in the article with phrases like “Last year, FFA hired a plane to fly over the area with a warning banner” and “Caton’s team has estimated in several past years that as many as 10,000 people entered the Magic Kingdom only to promptly exit before 1:00 p.m. upon witnessing homosexual patrons.”

From the comments below the article, one would think Butts’ article had the intended effect.  Numerous responses bemoan Disney and their audacity to do such a thing (not realizing they also have a Night of Joy for Christians as well) and implore folks not to go to the Parks on those days.

Step 1 of fear is avoidance of a situation deemed (correctly or not) to be against one’s beliefs or morals.  If this was all that was going on in the Comments section, it would be bad enough.  Sadly, there’s more.  Much more.

Many commenters also took the opportunity to share their hatred of not only the gay lifestyle, but gay people in general.  It wasn’t nice.  It wasn’t loving.  In fact, it was quite hateful for the most part.

Step 2 of fear involves the spouting of intense feelings about a situation in a verbal or written form. Sometimes the feelings have been internalized for such a long period of time that they’re bound to come rushing out at some point.  These days, many people resort to sharing online instead of verbally.  The effects of their words are magnified if they choose to blast their message to everyone instead of a select few (although it can still hurt just as bad).

Let’s go one level deeper.  Many people who were agnostic, gay, sensitive to the homosexual movement, and (or course) a few trolls saw all the hate and decided to make their views known to the Christian posters.  And they were just as mean, nasty, and verbally abusive as the comments they were posting to.

So, up to this point, Caton’s quotes served as the kindling.  Butts’ article added the gasoline.  The first round of comments provided the lit matches and started the fire.  The responses to those comments brought more gas to the conflagration.

At this point, tons of damage has been done.  It’s the Christian’s chance to respond in love, humility, and respect.  Maybe even to apologize for all the nastiness the Church has caused these folks over the years (a la the confession booth scene from the recent movie Blue Like Jazz).

And you can guess what happens.

The Christians become riled up because of the attacks and retaliate.  Armed with the words the former commenters used, a plethora of Bible verses, and various interpretations of those verses, they return fire.  Some attempt to convert everyone in the Comments section by sharing the Gospel in one posting.  Others share the truth in love and get shot down, only to suddenly blow up on the one(s) who attacked them.

Step 3 of fear is aggression in verbal, written, or physical form. I’m very happy that these folks weren’t face to face with each other, or there’s no telling what might’ve happened.

Although this example wasn’t a huge media spectacle, it was probably enough to give the gay folks, atheists, and others involved in the conversation that weren’t Christian a good reason never to darken the doors of a church while alive.  As I read through the comments, my feelings evolved from surprise to shock to disgust to frustration to anger to pain and sadness.  I wanted to stop a few times, but I felt that I needed to see if there was some redemption at the end of the tunnel for somebody.  Alas, there was none (in written form, anyway).

Please know that I’m not singling out homosexuality as the sole element of fear that can bring about attitude changes in Christians.  We do it with other push-button issues such as politics and abortion.  We do it with certain elements of change as well (new styles of music in church, a potential move, a new job, coming to faith in Jesus), just not always exhibiting all three stages of the fear spectrum.

How can we overcome the fear that seems to be pervasive in today’s society?  It’s something I struggle with daily and don’t always succeed at conquering.  However, getting up, asking for forgiveness, and trying again is better than the alternatives.

It involves love.

I’ve been to West Virginia once—for a conference while in college.  While there, I was struggling with an issue regarding my future plans (ironic, considering the conference theme was God’s Will for Your Life).  Too many variables were in play and I couldn’t conform them into something I could understand.  As a result, I ended up following the first two steps of fear listed above.  The avoidance had been for a period of months.  The frustration had come out as I was sitting on a third floor balcony talking to a gentleman from Clemson University.  He sensed the fear of the unknown I was facing and pointed me to a passage in 1 John that says this:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 Jn.  4:18 [NIV])

And there it was.  Fear has to do with punishment.  Punishment from myself.  Punishment from others.  Punishment from God.  If I really was giving my future into the control of God, I had to know and believe that he was going to set things up because he loved me, not because he wanted to punish me for feeling a certain way in the past.  Otherwise, there would always be an element of fear in this area.

If we’re going to stop giving Jesus (and, in effect, ourselves) a black eye in this area, fear must be repurposed into love. Love of people that matter as much to Jesus as you do, despite the baggage they carry or what’s going on in their lives.  Love in what we say, what we type, how we respond, what we do when nobody can see us.  It’s not going to be easy.  Of course, nothing ever worth fighting for is.

So if you’re in Florida and have the means, go to Disney the first weekend of June.  Be an example.  Turn fear into love.  Then do it in all the other areas of your life—and encourage others to do the same.

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.