On Responsibly Using the Internet

Internet User

source: chunk251.rssing.com

I have a love/hate relationship with the internet. It puts vast knowledge at our fingertips, keeps us connected to people around the world, and gives us a voice we may not otherwise be able to share.

At the same time it is easy for the internet, social media in particular, to become a place where the underside of humanity is put on display. It doesn’t take very long to come across things that don’t contribute to the good of society. With that in mind, here are a few guidelines we can all use to keep ourselves in check and make our internet experience less aggravating, less discouraging, and more helpful to us all.

[On what authority do I offer these guidelines? None. I speak as an expert in doing and saying stupid things and getting really worked up over very small issues.]

1) Don’t share things that are not true. This is called lying. Just because a photo or meme or quote agrees with your opinions does not make it true. Before you click “Share,” check the source. Is it reputable? Do an 8 second Google search. Most stats and stories can be verified or debunked quite quickly. Believe it or not, not everything on the internet is true (Bonjour!). It hurts your credibility when you share things that are false and when those things are about a person or group or political position it adds to an unhealthy polarization that has developed in our culture. When in doubt, don’t share. The world will keep right on spinning.

2) Be tactful. Sitting behind our screens has made some of us think we are pretty tough and others of us forget the whole “treat others the way you want to be treated” thing. We are quick to point out everyone else’s flaws and act like a bunch of playground bullies. We are dealing with real people with real feelings. If you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, it doesn’t need to be said online. And some things that you would say in person especially don’t need said in a public forum. Just because you think it doesn’t mean it needs to be said. Use a filter. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be considerate. Use your manners for crying out loud. I feel like we learned these lessons in kindergarten but maybe we need a refresher. This is how civilized people behave.

3) You don’t have to engage everyone who disagrees with you. This one is hard for me. It is easy to feel as if it’s our job to correct every wrong opinion we come across. As if we are some sort of keyboard crusader protecting the masses from the danger of not thinking like us. Usually our efforts are fruitless. When is the last time your opinions changed because someone pointed out how incorrect you were on Facebook? I am all for healthy dialogue and debate, but we don’t need to always be on the prowl. We should learn to be okay with people being wrong disagreeing with us. Maybe sometimes we can just keep our thoughts to ourselves. It’s not the end of the world, we are not always right, and there are better ways to spend our time. (I am going to reread what I just wrote there.)

There are probably a lot more guidelines we could discuss (feel free to add some in the comments), but let’s work on these three for now. If we can pause our fingers long enough to avoid these pitfalls, social media will be a much better place and my blood pressure will go down. The world, not just the internet, will be more truthful, more polite, and a little more enjoyable as well.

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On Being Pro-Life.

In January churches from across the country recognize Sanctity of Life Sunday. The primary focus of this effort is on the lives of unborn children. I consider myself pro-life and am all for the message that life has value and should be protected, but sometimes we need to take that concept a step or ten further. Working in a crisis pregnancy center for four and half years forever shaped the way in which I value life.

I sat with couples who barely knew each other’s middle names and now faced the prospect of raising a child together. I met with students who were not old enough to drive to their prenatal appointments or vote or legally consent to sex.

I heard from a Christian who, when faced with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, said the church was the last place she would have turned for help. There would be too much condemnation. Too much disgrace. (She secretly ended her pregnancy through abortion.)

I know people who made a decision to end a pregnancy based on sound medical advice. And people who decided to go against popular medical opinion. There were mixed results across the board but there were many broken hearts and sleepless nights on all accounts.

We worked with dads who were completely unequipped to raise a healthy child. There were couples who were homeless and couples who couldn’t keep the electricity on. There were couples who had their previous children removed from the home due to being unfit. There were women who would leave our building and return home to drug addicted and physically abusive partners to share the news of yet another pregnancy.

I sat with many people who were completely devastated by two little blue lines. Their reasons varied and their abilities to cope varied, but time after time the news of pregnancy was not welcomed or celebrated or an answer to prayer.

I share these stories to remind us that these conversations are complicated. We may never all agree on when life begins and who has the right to decide and what things are included in that decision, but we can all agree that this stuff is messy.

These stories involve real people with real dreams and real fears and real hurts. They are sons and daughters and moms and dads facing difficult and uncertain futures. Some are dealing with shame and some are dealing with crushing poverty. Some are seemingly trapped in cycles of bad decisions and some are guilty of momentary lapses of judgement. Some are victims and some have been naïve. Some have never been taught anything different. Some are searching for love and acceptance. And all have worth and value.

All of them have worth and value. That’s what I mean when I say that I am pro-life. I mean all life, not just life in utero, has value and is worth defending and worth my involvement.

All life having value makes me stop and consider things that are uncomfortable. It makes me less quick to condemn and draw lines and declare enemies. It means I cannot reduce this topic to a political talking point. It means I can’t just grab picket signs and cast votes and expect to make a difference in someone’s life.

Being pro-life means being there when a woman is weighing her choices. It means being there for her whether or not she decides to continue with the pregnancy. It may mean opening our homes to provide a safe place for her (and her boyfriend and her other kids). Or opening our hearts and our arms.

Believing life has value may mean fostering or adopting children whose parents chose life and for whatever reason have not been able to raise them. It means providing support and encouragement and resources for families that are doing that very thing. It may mean filling in for parents who are not around and being a mentor for young kids or young parents. It may mean taking the time and effort to invest in the lives of those most impacted by these decisions.

Being pro-life means we need to take a long hard look at the way cycles of poverty impact generation after generation. It means we have to work to provide quality education and healthcare and opportunity for people who find those things hard to come by.

Believing life has value should mean that we look at things like sex-trafficking and prostitution differently. It should mean we shop differently in response to things like forced labor and inhumane working conditions. It means that saving a buck is not worth it when that savings costs someone else dearly.

Being pro-life means caring for people who have messed up and done wrong. It should make us look at the way we treat prisoners and ex-cons and how we try to rehabilitate them. It means providing jobs and accountability and friendship and forgiveness when people have blown it.

If we really value life it means things like borders and train tracks and income gaps and skin tones no longer can separate us from people in need. If all life has value that includes people who speak different languages and follow other (or no) religions. It means seeing what we have in common more than seeing what makes us different.

Being pro-life means our churches need to be places of sanctuary and refuge. It means we make room for those who might otherwise feel unworthy or unclean or unwelcome. It means being people of Good News when our neighbors carry the weight of bad news.

It may mean we have to give up something we want in order to provide something someone else needs. It may mean we have to do things differently than we would normally choose to do them. It may mean we have to examine our politics and our prejudices and our assumptions.

And being pro-life even means we value the life of even those who disagree with us on this issue. Mocking and insulting and hating and attacking people who choose differently than we do are not a pro-life actions.

Being pro-life means a whole lot more than just being pro-birth. It is hard and it is messy and it is often uncomfortable. Sometimes things will go completely the opposite of how we hoped. It is inconvenient and oftentimes more gray than black and white. It takes intentionality and dedication. It requires work and patience and love and grace. Being consistently pro-life is difficult and tiring and costly.

And it is worth it. That’s what I believe. That human life, in all its shapes and sizes, has value.

And because it has value we must, I must, act and live as if it has value. Not simply by voting or debating or bumper sticker evangelism, but by putting my money where my mouth is. By rolling up our sleeves, getting off our couches, and getting dirty. Then we just might make a difference. By rubbing shoulders and bearing burdens and viewing the sanctity of life from a broader perspective, we demonstrate what we claim to believe – that human life is sacred.

So what do we do next? Here is some information and a few action steps:

  • Did you know 69% of women who have abortions are economically disadvantaged and 73% report a religious affiliation? Read statistics on abortion here.
  • In the U.S. 397,122 children are living in the foster care system and 101,666 of these children are eligible for adoption. Find out about fostering and adopting here, here, and here.
  • Here are 5 practical ways to support foster families.
  • Sign up to be a Big Brother or Big Sister here.
  • Volunteer at a pregnancy center.
  • Sponsor a child here or here or here.
  • Babysit for single parents. For free.
  • Support efforts to change our criminal justice system here and here.
  • Students living in poverty (51% of public school students today) are more than 13 times less likely to graduate on time. Join efforts to remedy this here.
  • Contribute to someone’s adoption costs. Or college costs.
  • Throw baby showers.
  • Educate others about the reality of human trafficking and a world with more slaves now than ever before.

The possibilities are endless. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It is time for those of us who claim to be pro-life to live like we mean it. To enter into brokenness and pain and darkness in order to offer hope and wholeness and life.