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“Fake News” and Real Citizenship

We are all aware that our national public life has become a chaotic swirl of arguments and controversy, fed by Tweets, incessantly repeated ‘soundbytes’, 24-hour news channels, and social media. What’s more, we are now cautioned to beware of ‘fake news’.

In Wikipedia, we find ‘fake news’ defined as:

“… a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically, often with sensationalist, exaggerated, or patently false headlines that grab attention.”

In the middle of the din of information – and mis-information – it is difficult to separate fact from opinion, truth from lies, and reality from concocted propaganda.

On top of all this, we are learning that forces seeking to weaken the United States government and sow discord in our national life are using demographic studies and profiles to target us with propaganda and lies meant to mislead people about the integrity and motives of our leaders and agencies in government, religion, academia, and charities.

This sort of ‘fake news’ and unsupported  opinion, not based on fact or reality can have real-life consequences. We are seeing shootings, riots, and other violent and hostile actions that are caused by some angry or disturbed people responding to that ‘fake news’. Those so inclined then latch onto this information and promulgate it to thousands of other people of the same ilk, further fueling the anger and propaganda.

The more exaggerated or inflammatory the headlines are, the more likely they are ‘fake news’. Headlines or social media subjects are meant to get the reader’s attention, but they’re also supposed to accurately reflect what the story is about. Now headlines use exaggerated language to intentionally mislead or are blatantly untrue.

How Do We Determine What Is Real?

  1. It is not only the responsibility of the platforms to determine the existence of fake news and issue a retraction or take the offenders down (as Facebook, Twitter, and Google have recently learned), but we as subscribers also have a responsibility to monitor what we pass on as ‘real’. It is disheartening that we can no longer trust all we read, but as responsible citizens, we must be more vigilant than ever about checking facts and not passing along lies and propaganda. How can we do this? The most recognized authority for getting at the truth is:

The International Fact-Checking Network (http://www.poynter.org/category/fact-checking/) is the recognized authority for fact checking. Every statement checked goes through a rigorous process for verification of validity.

Other sources for fact-checking are:

Snopes (www.snopes.com) or

Hoax-Slayer (www.hoax-slayer.net)

FactCheck (www.factcheck.org).

USE THEM!

  1. Another safeguard is to pay attention to the domain name and the URL; many websites can be ‘ghosted’, looking like a legitimate source. If the URL has an entry after the “.com”, the website is suspect, particularly if it contains inflammatory information.
  1. On Facebook, check the ‘About Us’ section; it should be straightforward without melodramatic or incendiary claims. Check the language usage; often the fake news sites use broken English, have misspellings, or poor syntax.
  1. Legitimate news sources will contain quotes attributed to experts in their fields; if an item attacks a person and contains text with no quotes, but rather attributes to ‘an informed source’, these are suspect. If an unfamiliar name is cited, Google the person; often that person does not exist.

There are several satirical websites that are ‘real lies’, but the sites will always state that they are satirical. Some of these include The Onion, Babylon Bee, Burrard Street Journal. A list of the top 50 satirical websites can be found at https:/blog.feedspot.com/satire_blogs.

  1. We must also guide our teenagers and children in deciphering truth from fiction on social media. Parents, grandparents and families should take time to explain the concepts of ‘fake news’ to children. If something is incendiary with pictures, younger children will be inclined to believe it. And fake news can cause unnecessary fear in children (thinking September 23, 2017 is the end of the world, for instance).

Each of us has a responsibility to stop the proliferation of this ‘fake news’. For the companies operating the sites, it is a fine line between restricting the ‘fake news’ sites and still allowing freedom of speech for its users. We can help in this effort by checking anything that we share with others. If you see someone in your circle who is passing along ‘fake news’, let them know and ask that they take the entry down. This may not be comfortable, and some may ‘unfriend’ you, but everyone has to correct ‘fake news’.

It is now more important than ever that we stand up for, and honor the First Amendment of the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;”

Within this Amendment lies the keys to much of our freedom as a people. Yet, also, herein lies the danger if forces are free to promulgate lies in the name of ‘free speech’, we must all be ever vigilant in finding those lies and correcting them!

Two-thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by people who believed ‘fake news’, gossip and lies, and were afraid to stand up for the truth. Lies travel faster now, and can be sown more quickly. But the urgent need for each person to stand for honesty and integrity in the face of lies is as great now as ever.

Remember, passing along one ‘fake news’ entry may reach millions of people with one click of the button.

Be responsible!
 
 
(Graphic provided by The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
Written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 13 October 2017

Care of the Earth: The Vital Imperative of the 21st Century

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and TAKE CARE OF IT. (Genesis 2:15)

The earth has endured an increasing array of disasters over the past several years: floods, tsunamis, forest fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes – all in increasing numbers. The past three weeks have seen the most powerful and destructive hurricanes on record do devastating damage to large areas of the United States and the Caribbean. “Harvey” and “Irma” have wrought billions of dollars of damage to major cities and entire states and nations, much of which will take years to recover and rebuild – and it appears more is on the way to these same areas – “Maria”.

The reason or ‘blame’ for all this is argued by various factions of society: some say it is God’s wrath for our godless actions, some blame religions or minority groups – and all this finger-pointing only serves to further exacerbate the tribal divisions that are plaguing our society. The arguing also directs attention away from the clear causes ratified over and over by scientists and meteorologist: it is the rapid and dangerous effect of our changing climate and the plundering of the earth caused by a dramatic increase in the earth’s population and the resulting demands for more energy.

More people demand more fuel and for over 100 years, that demand has been answered by increased use of fossil fuels, oil, coal, and natural gas. As these burn, the carbon dioxide produced builds up in the earth’s atmosphere, acting as a ‘blanket’, holding in heat, and thus warming the temperature of the earth, i.e., ‘global warming’.

Other human actions also contribute to throwing our earth’s equilibrium off-balance: increasing destruction of forests, big commercial agriculture and construction, chemical pollution of our waters by industry, and rampant populate growth.

Unless we attend to this growing destruction of our planet NOW, consequences and costs will be much more severe. So, pointing fingers of blame to elements of societal prejudice really harms us all. The blame is on each one of us, and the responsibility for correcting the problem resides in each of us as well!

Here are some things we all can do right now:

  1. Get involved; contact your local, state and federal representatives and express your support of measures to decrease our carbon footprint. Encourage legislators to impose carbon taxes on those energy polluters.
  2. Be energy efficient; switch to efficient light bulbs and try to minimize your use of energy, particularly those that contribute to our carbon footprint
  3. Trim your waste; carbon dioxide and methane gas from landfills contributes to the increase in earth temperature, so try to use recyclable goods.
  4. Minimize driving; drive as little as possible. If you can’t use public transportation, look at energy-efficient automobiles (either hybrids or electric), or carpool.
  5. Green your community; work within your community to reduce the use of non-green energy, reduce waste and work with organizations that encourage/legislate for clean energy.
  6. Stay informed; belong to elists and organizations that are actively working to switch to clean energy and reduce our carbon footprint.

Moreover, perhaps it is time for all of us at Saint John’s to move together to promote these ideas and actions within our community and the world.

We pray for the healing of the earth, that present and future generations may enjoy the fruits of creation, and continue to glorify and praise you. Amen.
 
 
Written for Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church of Worthington and Parts Adjacent, 18 September 2017

Charlottesville is OUR Fault

Systemic and corporate racism is something that the majority of Americans don’t want to acknowledge exists or they contribute to that racism. And we don’t want to admit that, no matter how inclusive we feel we are, we are all racists to some extent.

This article was written by a young man who had an epiphany after the events in Charlottesville that we are ALL responsible for the racism that exists in the United States. His language may be a little harsh for some of you, but it needs to be said. I hate to admit it, but I see myself in passive racism; I am pledging to no longer remain silent – and I hope you will not either.. – Deacon deniray+

 

I live in rural Northeast Georgia, and was raised in rural Upstate South Carolina. I grew up hearing the black kids called monkeys and the ‘n’ word at the playground in elementary school. I’ve heard members of my family say derogatory things about other races, including these racial slurs. I was even told in third grade that I couldn’t have a black girlfriend because, “people just don’t like that.”

I could make an argument that systemic racism is the cause of a vehicle plowing through a group of protesters in VA, but I know too many people who claim that “racism doesn’t exist.” So please, friends and family, hear me. I’m going to set aside the argument for systemic racism for a minute and look at the four types of racism that I see every day living here in the south.

I see this as a pyramid with the smallest population at the top and the largest at the bottom.

The four levels of the pyramid:

Active Racism: Active racists truly believe that one race is superior to another and they are willing to make their race have a higher standing than another. An example would be Hitler in Nazi Germany. Or, a more topical example, these idiots in Charlottesville.

Quiet Racism: Quiet racists also truly believe that they are superior to others, but they’re just not willing to say that in public. This is the scariest group of people on this list. Here’s a personal example: I once needed some work done on my vehicle and I took it to a shop. When I went inside, I was greeted with a heavily used dartboard with Obama’s face on it, followed by a conversation with the owner in which I heard the n word several times. This guy is not ramming cars into people or at a Neo-Nazi rally, but it’s easy to see how the people that are at these rallies are surrounded by folks like this guy. I’m a teacher, and on multiple occasions I’ve had students tell me about some of the things that their parents have said about people of other races. They justify police shootings followed by riots by explaining how “they are made that way” or have “genetics that make them criminals.” This is real, folks.

“Soft” Racism: Soft racism is when people make racist comments or have a racial thoughts that they don’t realize are racist.  “Today I was on the road and I saw this black guy walking”… or, “I teach a lot of “urban’ students,” or, “I have black friends, so I can’t be racist” etc. This group also contains racial bias. Radiolab did a fanatic podcast about a father who had adopted a black daughter, but still found himself being cautious around a black man walking down the street. Even though he had just explained to his daughter that it’s not fair that people do this, he still found himself being a part of the problem. Why is this?

Every single person I know would say that they are not racist. And, again, we’re setting aside systemic racism for this argument. But I would argue a lot of people I know are soft racists. This is where I sat most of my life, and still find myself here on occasion. It is important that we not fear the prejudices that we are taught as kids (“people won’t like it if you date a black girl”), but to make ourselves aware of when these thoughts happen and to war against it, just like the man in the story above.

Passive Racism: For the most part, people I know aren’t any other these other three groups. Most people I know (including myself) fall into passive racism: they don’t speak up when others are racist, intentionally or unintentionally. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve heard a racist joke or even an off color statement where I haven’t had the guts to say, “hey, that’s not okay.”

This passivism is the root of the problem. Most people know racism when they see it (when people on the passive level see people on the soft level or higher), but just don’t say or do anything about it. But, what if this majority became active? What if we all agreed to, kindly, inform others that we’re not going to let people around us say or do racist things? What if, instead of blaming the president, or Nazis, or the alt-right, we took responsibility for our actions and the people in our own lives?

We must begin to speak up because by being passive and letting racist jokes and statements slide, we are literally building the foundation on which the KKK, Neo Nazi, and White Supremacist’s groups are built at the top of the pyramid. It doesn’t matter if it makes you uncomfortable or if it hurts your relationships, people are literally dying because the masses aren’t speaking up for those without a voice.

It is also easy to just cut off our friends and family who are soft and quiet racists. But, it is our job to stand up when racist ideas are brought up. As white people, we have an audience with our families and white circles that the black community will never have. If we do not start to have these conversations at the lower levels of the pyramid, who will?

So yes, Charlottesville was my fault, and your fault, and the fault of anyone who is not standing up to racism in our daily lives. Please, please, don’t be defensive, but take a moment to attempt to see that silence really is compliance.

I’m making a stand today to no longer sit by and let these things happen. I hope you’ll consider standing with me.
 
 
Josh Bryan, Sarondipity Universe, August 13, 2017
Charlottesville was my Fault

 
Written for Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, 20 August 2017

The Tragedy at Charlottesville

We saw the underbelly of American the last two days in Charlottesville, Virginia. People who now feel that they have ‘permission’, even support from people in the government, to spew their hatred and bigotry and racism openly and violently. We saw armed militias carrying Confederate flags marching in goosesteps, white supremacists shouting angry slogans, members of the KKK no longer hiding under bedsheets, but openly proclaiming their part in the election of the president and their right to return America to a white, Christian nation. Hatred consumes these people; something that is NOT a Christian value.

And most tragic of all, we saw a young person from Maumee, Ohio, deliberately drive his car into a group of peaceful counter-protestors, killing at least one innocent bystander just trying to cross the street, and injuring scores of others, some who may still succumb to their injuries. This kind of hatred and violence does not only happen ‘somewhere else’, but right here in our state and our communities. We need to stand against this.

But we also saw a group of people of faith joined together (Catholics, Protestants, Jews,  Muslims, Buddhists and others) singing This little light of mine in love and fellowship to counter the vitriolic chants of the ultra-conservative Alt-Right, Neo-Nazis, KKK, nationalists, white supremacists, armed militia, and people angry because Charlottesville is going to remove a statue of Robert E Lee from a park called ‘Emancipation Park’.

Most of us cannot make any sense or see any justifiable reason for the actions of those who chose to create discord and spew bigotry and hatred and xenophobia. But, those people of faith chose to take the risk, get out there, arms joined together in solidarity, and do what was right.  They chose to get out of the boat! – to risk life and limb to present to the world what the love and teachings of Jesus really are.

They got out of the boat!

So where are you this morning?

Huddled in the boat with a life jacket and your seat belt on?

One leg in, one leg out?

Out of the boat, but fearful, still clinging to the edge?

Or looking with faith into the eyes of Jesus and walking on water?

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, help us to walk with you wherever this life may take us. Help us to recognize whatever it is that:

Helps us to seek you,
Helps us to trust you,
Helps us to obey your teachings.

Help us to face our fears and trust whatever the storms of life may be, You are there, guiding and redeeming us. Be with those who have died and are injured physically and emotionally from this horrid incident in Charlottesville. Wrap your loving arms around them and the rest of the nation, reminding us that

The greatest of these is love  (1 Corinthians 13:13)

And give us the strength to get out of the boat.

Amen.
 

Excerpted from a sermon (‘If You Want to Walk on Water, You  Gotta Get Out of the Boat!’) delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church  of Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 13 August 2017

Why We Should Be Active In Our Community

You have often heard me preach about our need to go out into the world and try to restore justice. We are commanded by Jesus to correct the wrongs perpetuated against the ‘least of these’. But there are other reasons to get active in our community.

Right now our nation is not only deeply divided, but inundated with nasty rhetoric and a general mood of selfishness and greed. Probably, in no other period of history, have the people of this country-at-large been so alienated from one another and unwilling to work together for the common good. Many are depressed, feeling totally hopeless and helpless to find a way to change their attitudes or the country.

Activism is the answer! Some would say that individuals cannot make a difference; we can only change ourselves. Yet, a change in individual attitudes becomes, in time, a ”global mind change” or a change in the entire world.

Being an activist often is stressful, and is plain hard work; burnout is a real problem. But, in the end, activism makes us feel good; it is exhilarating to gather with like-minded people to work for a common goal. Moving chairs, passing out flyers, and lobbying elected representatives is not so dreary when you do it with other people.

If, people who have never been active before, see you enjoying your activism, they may be encouraged to get out also. Who could resist all those women in pink ‘pussy’ hats at Women’s March; they were making a serious statement, but were having fun doing it. . . and all who went described the march as an experience of a lifetime!

When you get out and work with others in your community, it strengthens the bonds of that community; you have a common purpose and goal. Each person encourages the other to make their own little piece of the world a little better place. People are sharing love and energy.

Today’s events have left a lot of people depressed, fearful of where the country is going. Some would like to dig a hole and come back out in four years. Each new revelation makes them become more depressed and fearful. If they will get out and become active, their lives will have a rewarding purpose; it is really hard to be depressed when you feel you are contributing to our own community.

And, believe it or not, activism can be very effective. Sometimes you feel that you will not make any difference – the issues or problems are insurmountable. But that is not true. Just remember Ohio Senate Bill 5 (Collective Bargaining Limit of 2011); that law that was overturned because thousands and thousands of people in Ohio felt it was unjust and successfully campaigned to have it overturned. Each and every one of those people and their vote at the ballot box made a difference!

True, activism is not all fun and games. Each person must believe in the cause and dedicate themselves to the work that it takes to effect a change. It is hard work, but if the belief is strongly held, it is not a burden to go out and campaign.

And remember, activism does not have to be political; it can be cooking for the homeless, reading to the blind, being a school ‘grandparent’, teaching English as a Second Language. It may be driving senior citizens to the doctor or the grocery store, or just having coffee with someone who is shut-in.

Activism makes a difference in your world and makes a difference in your life. Get out of the house and do whatever you can to make this community and world we live in a better place.

But to do something positive for your community and world, joining with your friends and neighbors can possibly change the world, and surely change you!

Don’t rage -ENGAGE!

 
 
Written for Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 20 February 2017