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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ask the Matriarch: Web Tangles

Today's just been one of those days. I've been coping with a migraine for the past 24 hours, and it's *finally* abating, so I apologize for not infusing this week's AtM with my usual gallycat flair. But we have a couple of internet-related questions that bear sharing.

What Would Jesus Forward?
I receive email letters from unwitting (offering the benefit of the doubt) friends that make me shudder sometimes. For example, an email that wants us to stop help to immigrants in order for veterans get their money. It makes immigrants look bad, though the government has made promises to both immigrants and veterans. It's the government that we ought to go after, not the individual immigrants, as usually happens. We invite people to our country, then make it pretty hard for them in many ways.

What is sad is that this spreads a type of discrimination and prejudice that we don't need more of in this hurting world. It seems like another type of computer virus which is even more harmful. Some folks will get comments, and not even know where they stem from.

So, where is the love of God, in Christ, in this? I cannot see it. We need to be more aware of how to deal with these emails and let our congregation be aware...and the young people, what action WE can take. I replied back to my friend that I could not send the email on and explained why.

"Our small corner" is now world-wide. That means hate is spread a lot quicker and a lot more people are affected. Since email and the internet are here to stay, we can actually erase something before we do send it. In other words, you can take what you say before it's said. And not forward things that diminish others.


Email "forwards" are often hoaxes or propaganda, and any time I get something that says "Send this to everyone you know!" I make a conscious decision to make "everyone I know" equal to "deleted items." Even when I agree with the message, chances are, I know I could get the message out more effectively by gathering my own facts rather than relying on a spin doctor or heaven-knows-who for those facts. And those of you with pulpits--I envy you sometimes, because a forward I got recently from one of my friends would have made a lovely sermon talking point.

But truth is, most of these internet forwards really are fiction. "I'll often take a moment to check, which is an urban legend research/debunking site," writes Karen. "They actually track down the history of internet rumors and assess whether there is any truth to them at all. About 90% of the SEND THIS TO EVERYONE ON YOUR E-MAIL LIST!!!!!!!!!!!!!! e-mails that I get are on Snopes--albeit sometimes in a slightly different format. Once you've found the Snopes article that debunks or explains the rumor/hoax in question, there is a button you can click to email the article directly to someone. I've often sent the e-mailer of a mass-panic-type note the very Snopes article that explains why what they just sent me is complete hooey."

One funny one that I got not too long ago was a revisitation of an email that was true three years ago--you might have seen it, too, that Mars was going to be closer to the Earth than it had been for hundreds of years and zOMG SEE IT NOWZORS!!!!11!!1 It was being passed around in August of 2006, but that approach had happened in 2003, and the reason I remember it so clearly was that I had snapped a photograph of Mars from the parking lot of my apartment complex. So I like passing people back to that photograph and making the reference to the "billboard in the sky..." it usually, as intended, gets a laugh.

But on a more serious note, some people use the relative anonymity of the internet to create messages that they can send without worrying whether they are violating a social norm. And it is a virus: a cross between those lovely cultural transmissions we call "memes" and that tactic that in business that's known as "viral marketing." Sounds like this note about immigrants is up there. Peripatetic Polar Bear, who works with students, offers a brilliant suggestion: "For what it's worth, this is my policy on email forwards at work. I write:
Dear Susie, Thanks for thinking of me. As you can imagine, I get a lot of email forwards in my line of work. In order to be fair to all congregants, I make it a policy to not participate in forwarding emails to others. I hope you will understand. I am, however, very interested in speaking with you about x topic in person. Please let me know what time might be good for you to meet. Hugs and Smooches, Your Pastor.

I find that only about 20 percent of these folks will meet with me face to face, and of those, I've had very, very fruitful discussions."

That's a good place to start, anyhow.

On to the next question...

What Would Jesus Blog?
I find myself in a bit of a quandary thanks to my recent new status in a
new church setting. From time to time I notice things in the church that I want to blog about: some things that can be used as springboards for other topics of exploration (such as the fact that most, if not all, of the Sunday School teachers are women), and some are conversations with members that make me think seriously about things (like why do we really need altar flowers, and why to they always have to be freshly cut and professionally arranged?). Normally, I wouldn't have a problem blogging about these things (with no references to names, of course) but I know that a member of my congregation is aware that I have a blog, and most likely reads it. (This member actually googled me before I came). In the interest of discretion, but at the same time wanting to share my thoughts, how do I negotiate the line of sharing my experience to illustrate a point I want to make?

--To Blog or Not to Blog

This is something that's come up numerous times among the matriarchs as we've seen our number occasionally shrink for someone's having been "outed." It's why we take your anonymity seriously, for one, if you've chosen that on your blog. I wrestle with it, because on the one hand, I'm a journalist and already eminently Google-able, and the kind of work I want to do is relevant enough to my blog journey that I have my RevGals work listed on my resume. But on the other hand, I've disappeared further and further into my gallycat identity, in some ways hoping that when I go in for the job interview, the fact that I keep "Helen" and "Gallycat" fairly distinct will prevent my blog work from being a liability.

What I *do* have is several Livejournals. Any time I talk about anything sensitive, such as work or parenthood, I post it to livejournal using their security functions, so that I know exactly who is reading it. Livejournal isn't the most revgal-ring friendly site around, and that's one of the reasons I have Gallycat's Lounge on revgals rather than Gallycat's Abbey. But I'm curious what other revgals also have livejournals, and could we build a "secure" community there? (Oh! and if you're on LJ, don't miss adding revgals to your friends page through its syndicated feed!)

Peripatetic Polar Bear has some good guidelines on what to post to a public blog, so I'll let her take it from here:

A rule of thumb to use regarding blogging your internship:
a) how would the senior pastor respond if she or he read this?
b) how would the person in question respond if she or he read this?
c) how would the director of my seminary's office of field education respond if she or he read this?

If you can picture any or all of these people exploding, bursting into tears, or moving to Australia in the middle of the night, don't write it, especially since someone in your congregation is probably reading your blog.

That said, obviously church life is ripe fodder for blogging. Your internship is totally where all the theoretical stuff becomes real---of course you want to blog it! The key is to mask it into generalities or to use some heavy duty situation changing (sex changes, age changes, name changes). Most of the things you've mentioned would be totally fine as generalities "Someone once asked me about flowers on the altar....blah, blah, blah" and would probably make for a really, really interesting post. And also, obviously some conversations are so innocuous that you can absolutely blog them.

The to blog or not to blog question is a toughie. I think it's one reason why so many of us are totally pseudonymous with our blogs, and don't even give out city names. It gives us a bit more freedom to blog---but still carefully. It's also an advantage when you've been out a bit, and the lines between what happened last week and what happened in my last parish are much blurrier.

Open Call
Now, if you have something you'd like to share on these topics, let us know in the comments. Also, I'm looking for volunteers to handle questions for an upcoming column: 1. Tips for RevGal dating, and 2. Tips for setting up a men's ministry. If you're interested in contributing, drop us a line at And, just in time, here comes a thunderstorm, so I'll see you next Thursday!

(P.S. I posted this just before the storm came through and took down half a tree in our backyard, came back and found that I had put my "last paragraph" in the wrong place... now fixed. Sorry about that!)


  1. P.P.S. My power went out right after I posted this and didn't come back on until 11 p.m., so I didn't see the error on this post that prevented you from commenting to it. Funny that this would happen on a "Web Tangles" topic, eh?

    At any rate, I've beaten Blogger into submission and you may now comment. And I'll post the pictures of the massive tree branch that fell into our backyard later. What a wild night!!

  2. Thanks for the conversation about e-mail forwards. My congregation is small and not filled with internet users, but a few do forward things to me. What they learned quickly is that I do not respond or participate. They know this because I told them in person. They still choose to send them to me sometimes, but they know the chances I will respond are nearly nil.
    The thing I most despise about religious-themed e-mails is their sometimes manipulative nature: "if you don't send this to 12 people, you don't care about Jesus." Things of that ilk *really* bug me. They are no better than chain letters.

  3. SB they ARE chain letters and I'll have nothing to do with them.

    What I found most useful in this post was the question of anonymity and what / what not to post.

    Recently I was taken to task for something I'd written about the local church - since I do not write anonymously, even disguising the names does not help much ...

    what stung - but was spot on - was the person saying to me ... would you have taken a photocopy of what you wrote, and given it to everybody as they entered the church? Ouch.

    I've made a conscious effort to think things through before I post now. As Thumper's mum said 'if you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all!' ... that's good theology in my book :)

    be blessed. AtM is quickly becoming my favourite part of RevGals :)

  4. Looking at the question of "to post, or not to post" from the other side of the table, a former seminary intern of mine posted a highly charged, and if I may be so bold, highly inaccurate verbatim of a supervisory conference in which I became the functional equivalent of the Wicked Witch of the West. Given her low opinion of me, perhaps it's not surprising that she thought I was too stupid, too old, (hey, I'm not that old), too entirely non-clued-up, to be able to access her MySpace page - which, foolishly, she did not have set on "private." For all you interns out there, let me just say that this was a bad, bad idea.

    My very clued-up son and daughter tell me that potential employers check for indiscreet blogging these days as an indicator of judgment and character on the part of the potential employee.

    Something to think about in those wee hours of the morning when spilling it all seems like such a good idea.:))

  5. Coincidentally, I received a email--the one about Dr. Dobson and the atheists and stopping all religious broadcasting--five minutes after I read this.

    I did my usual--sent them to Snopes. It's much easier (and more authoritative) than explaining it all (again and again and again). That goes for the bonsai kittens and the breast cancer/deoderant connection, and the free gift when you email Bill Gates messages, too...

    I try to do it gently--most people are trying to do the right thing!

  6. I love! I always look these things up, (99% of the time they are hoaxes) and then forward the snopes page to whomever sent it to me in the first place. I have actually "trained" a few people to look there first!

  7. After reading the AtM this morning and comments, I decided after a little soul-searching to remove the post I made to my blog yesterday --even though almost everyone in the congregation knows the content of what I wrote. I did that because I asked myself the question that Lorna was asked --"Would you have copied it and handed it out to the congregation?" No, I wouldn't have, although the situation has been "cussed and discussed" many times by most members of the congregation.

    I second also Gallycat's comment about how it would be great to have a secure place to vent and seek advice, and the livejournals thing sounds like a good idea to me.

  8. re: to post or not to post and Lorna's question of whether you would copy it and hand it out--when I went to meet the CPM and COM of my new presbytery to be examined for ordination, one of the things each member of the committee had been given was a copy of my post about the PUP report vote at General Assembly this summer. Blackhawk is a more conservative presbytery, so you can imagine where this went. I was frustrated with the situation, though we did eventually get through it, but it's a lesson for sure!

    Having said that, I doubt I'll be changing much about my blogging life in this new place. Yes, people read it, and sometimes it leads to really interesting discussion. (Plus I've had it through one church already so don't have a habit of blogging about church.) I just think that if people are reading it, as long as they aren't reading about themselves being bashed, it can be a good tool to open conversation.

  9. I was very excited to see the topic of LiveJournals come up in this week's installment. I chose to go with a LiveJournal over a more standard blog for the privacy reasons mentioned (as well as my own comfort level revealing non-church things). I do have two topic-specific blogs (one for knitting, one for past sermons) but all the everyday stuff goes to LJ.

    It's been a little frustrating occasionally because having that gate down makes it harder to share with online communities like RGBP, but that's just something I gotta deal with and continue pondering.

    As I mentioned to Gallycat by e-mail, having a LJ rather than a bloggy blog has been a major reason I haven't officially joined the blogring yet. Where do I put the links? On my portal page that links my blogs and my LJ? Embed it somehow into my LJ? I do really like the idea of having a RGBP LJ community, but I wouldn't want it to distract from the cool stuff already going on here.

    Anyway. I don't have the answers (which is why I NEVER miss Ask the Matriarch!) but I appreciate these questions being raised here.

  10. If I get a chain letter and the message is basically a good one, I'll clean it up and take all the threats out. That's what they are really. I'll reword it at times to make it more generic, or positve, but....only if there's something worth saying in it.

    Many times, I'll get someone responding with, "How did you know I needed that today?" I did not of course, but we know the spirit works in mysterious ways.

    Most I delete. Chain letters are against the law I believe. This where ethics on the internet can be questionable. Many don't really care, or are unaware.

    Snopes is a good place to check things out too. Thanks for the reminder.

    For those who get emails sent to them in droves...once in a while it may be a good thing to let folks know just how many you get daily. People might be quite surprised and it may curb their desire to send everything on to you....Just a thought.

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