Internet

Screen-Free Week and the Still Small Voice

Serene pier, Eugene Sergeev / Shutterstock.com
Serene pier, Eugene Sergeev / Shutterstock.com

“Be still and know that I am God.”  - Psalm 46:10a

From April 29 to May 5 individuals, households, and communities will celebrate Screen-Free Week by disconnecting from their screens — TV, computers, games, mobile devices — during their free time and reconnecting with relatives, neighbors, the natural world, and the quiet voices that may be drowned out by the constant barrage of electronic noise. My neighborhood celebrated early so we could offer a variety of cost-free and screen-free family activities during the school's spring break week. I organized the celebration, as I've done for the last six years. It was satisfying to see kids slow down and engage in gardening, carpentry, music making, nature exploration … 

I also observed Screen-Free Week myself. Seven days of fasting from electronic media showed me how much time I spend using then mindlessly and forced me to confront my idolatries that are fed or masked by this mindless use. I'm using Michael Schut's definition of idolatry:

"An idol is anything we put before God, a partial truth mistaken for the whole Truth, a lesser good elevated to the ultimate good. … Idols [promise] what they cannot deliver."

Virtual Vices Show Shift in American Morality

Seven deadly sins, © RTimages / Shutterstock.com
Seven deadly sins, © RTimages / Shutterstock.com

The seven deadly sins have new partners in crime.

Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride still attract a lot of attention. But as the Internet and other media invade American life, our vices have also gone virtual, according to a new study.

Nearly half of Americans say they are tempted to idle the hours away on the Internet, video games and television, according to Barna Group, a California-based Christian research organization.

Top 10 Things I Learned From the Wild Goose

Wild Goose Festival. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.
Two young boys playing with glow necklaces during a late-night concert at the Wild Goose. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

1) Tune in. Log off. Let go.

Darting fireflies supplied most of the light that pierced the rural darkness when I arrived at the Wild Goose Festival site on a farm in Shakori Hills, N.C., late last Wednesday night. I left my ballast — a huge duffel bag containing a pup tent and enough bug spray to cover a small village, a suitcase full of mostly tie-dyed clothing, a large computer case and a camera bag — in the 15-person van that had spirited me from the Raleigh-Durham airport to the farm about an hour away.

While I’m not exactly known for packing light when I travel, my unusually cumbersome luggage for the festival contained the various gadgets and gizmos that would allow me to work from my campsite on the farm — live blogging about the festival, complete with video, audio and photos, and the help of four Sojourners interns who were set to arrive Thursday afternoon.

I had barely stepped foot on the campground when I checked my smart phone to see if cell service and the festival’s WiFi were working. They were. Good, I thought. All set to work. It would be a hectic few days covering the festival’s numerous speakers and musical performances, but we’d get it done.

Ah, hubris. Humans make plans. God chuckles and says, “Oh, really?”

The Almighty, it would seem, had better ideas for how I should spend my time at Wild Goose, which takes its name from the Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit.

Religious Groups Vie for Internet Space in Domain Name Grab

Address bar photo, Diego Cervo / Shutterstock.com
Address bar photo, Diego Cervo / Shutterstock.com

Religious groups have long vied for prime parcels of land, planting churches on town squares and monasteries amid isolated mountains. But now they’re targeting real estate in a less tangible sphere: cyberspace.

For the first time in its history, the international nonprofit that doles out generic Internet domain names such as “.com” and “.edu” will allow more specific web address extensions like “.church.”

Hundreds of companies, Internet entrepreneurs and cities submitted nearly 2,000 applications, seeking the right to own everything from .app to .zulu, the Britain-based International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers announced last on June 14.

Responsible Adults

THE INTERNET MAKES it easier to sell your old bicycle—but, as a growing interfaith coalition of clergy is emphasizing, it shouldn’t make it easier to sell children for sex.

Two years ago, under pressure from anti-trafficking activists and 17 state attorneys general, Craigslist shut down its “adult services” section. Now, researchers say, the leading online purveyor of “adult” classified ads—which, as numerous criminal cases have shown, include ads pimps use to traffic children they have entrapped—is Backpage, owned by Village Voice Media.

Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, president of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, told Sojourners about the clergy activism catalyzed in fall 2011 by Groundswell, Auburn’s social action initiative. The coalition’s first move was a private letter to Village Voice Media, asking it to take down Backpage’s adult section or to meet to discuss the issue. After getting neither of these things, the coalition went public in October with a letter, in a full-page ad in The New York Times, signed by 36 clergy, including Sojourners’ CEO Jim Wallis.

Because the trafficking issue “transcends a lot of the usual polarizations,” Henderson says, the coalition is wide, including “Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, humanists, Buddhists.” One signatory of the public letter, Duke University Muslim chaplain Abdullah T. Antepli, told Sojourners that the “Quran repeatedly tells us the best way to glorify God is to serve your fellow human brother and sister. I can’t imagine any better way [to do that than to] advocate for people who are victims of the evil business called human trafficking.”

Henderson says the coalition has grown to nearly 500 clergy. An associated petition from Change.org has garnered more than 80,000 signatures. The coalition, according to Henderson, has also started “an education outreach to third parties, including advertisers.”

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Whenever Two or More Are Gathered...Online

Digitally created illustration of the world wide web. Image via Getty Images.
Digitally created illustration of the world wide web. Image via Getty Images.

“There is no distance in the Spirit.”

After 30 years as a believer, I experienced the truth of that statement — powerfully and indelibly — in an unlikely place: online.

Like so many of more than 500 million (and growing) members, I signed up for Facebook, the social networking site, a few years ago out of pure curiosity -- to check in with old friends, boyfriends and former colleagues from a safe distance. With its plethora of personal photos, videos and regular “status updates” from members, it was a voyeuristic paradise, not to mention an excellent place to kill time.

I am by vocation a journalist, author and blogger and had grown accustomed to sharing glimpses of my life in print and online. Facebook was just another venue to do that, but little more.

That is, until early one morning in April 2008 when I signed on to my account, wiping sleep from my eyes with coffee in hand, and noticed the status update of a friend from college: “David is really sad that Mark died today.”

Mormons Confront 'Epidemic' of Online Misinformation

LDS temple in San Diego, Calif. Image via http://bit.ly/zivRxd
LDS temple in San Diego, Calif. Image via http://bit.ly/zivRxd

A Mormon student surfs the Internet for a school assignment and discovers that Mormon founder Joseph Smith had multiple wives, even marrying a 14 year old.

A returned Mormon missionary, preparing a Sunday school lesson, comes across a website alleging that the Book of Mormon was plagiarized from a novel.

Surprised by what they find so easily online, more and more Mormons are encountering crises of faith. Some even leave the fold and, feeling betrayed, join the ranks of Mormon opponents.

It's a growing problem, acknowledges Marlin Jensen, the outgoing historian for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it's one Mormon leaders are working to confront.

"Never before have we had this information age, with social networking and bloggers publishing unvetted points of view," Jensen said. "The church is concerned about misinformation and distorted information, but we are doing better and trying harder to get our story told in an accurate way."

The church "has made no effort to hide or obscure its history," Jensen said, but some aspects — such as polygamy — "haven't been emphasized often because they were not necessarily germane to what is taught at present."

Can the LDS church do better to explain its history, even to its own members? Sure, Jensen said.

SOPA: Why It Was So Dark Around Here Yesterday

Internet. Blackout. Image via Wylio http://bit.ly/wQpju4
Surfing the Internet during the 2011 Blackout, Oceanside, Calif. Image via Wylio http://bit.ly/wQpju4

You’re on the Internet right now.

Maybe you’re on your phone, or your iPad, or even your desktop at work (it's OK, your secret's safe with us). No matter what your choice of access media, if you’re reading this, you’re on the Internet.

Most of us take Internet access for granted. (Who can remember life before Google?) A seemingly endless, free-to-all source of information, knowledge and distraction, the Internet drives and facilitates transactions both inconsequential and global, simple and complex.

Certainly the Internet has a seedy underbelly, from spammers and basement-dwelling sport hackers to illicit businesses and toxic enterprises.

But who polices it? Who’s the Internet Sheriff?

#OccupySesameStreet

occupysesamestreet#OccupyWallStreet (the New York-based protest against social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of corporate money and lobbyists on government) has moved to a new location, a street where the air is far sweeter than on Wall Street.

Won't you tell me how to get, how to get ... there?

That's right, folks, the occupation has taken over Sesame Street.

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