GOD ONLINE: Exploring media spirituality

Web sites, TV, films, books and the search for meaning.

Archive for September 2008

Environmental spirituality

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Church groups were once scorned by environmentalists as part of the problem; now they’re valued as allies. Born way back in 1992, Earth Ministry is a veteran in creation care.

Unlike some environmental groups, Earth Ministry doesn’t just rant about pollution and energy. It also looks at humans and the need to make a living. The group also helps people appreciate nature — via stream cleanups, hiking and kayaking trips, and a music festival called the Celebration of St. Francis. And its think pieces come from real thinkers, like Bill Moyers, Calvin DeWitt and Frederick Buechner.

Earth Ministry still seems centered on Washington State, its birthplace. But it has a lot of resources that anyone can use. There’s a handbook for “greening” a congregation. There’s a book on agriculture, called Food and Faith. There are teaching materials for kids, from Catholic, Presbyterian and Christian Reform groups.

Take a long, careful look at the “Pattern Map”: a sprawling organizational chart that interlinks the social, natural and economic realms into an ideal whole. It bristles with big ideas, like “ecosystem services” and “bioregional economies.” But each is explained and may even sound workable. See what you think.

Also click the online pdf of the quarterly Earth Letter. It’s nice-looking, but the posted sample is from winter 2006-7. (A cynic might suggest that it was chosen for its article from Barack Obama.) A subscription comes with a $35 membership fee.

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Written by Jim Davis

September 30, 2008 at 2:22 am

Clicking a prayer?

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Web-enhanced serenity may sound oxymoronic: Can one withdraw from the world by “plugging into it”? But the Irish Jesuits of Sacred Space claim that anyone can learn to pray — even in front of a computer — by following a few steps.

Those steps include the presence of God, freedom, consciousness, scripture, conversation and a conclusion. Click on each step and read each section — a prayer or reflection or a biblical passage — then click “Next” when you’re ready. You can also backtrack and repeat steps.

The whole presentation is meant to impart peace and calm: simple language, mild mottled backgrounds, a pastoral picture on the homepage. Even the steps of prayer fade in and out as you click them, rather than switching abruptly.

Nor are you just a passive consumer. In a section called the Chapel of Intentions, you can post prayers of your own, for yourself or others. The list is sent to prayer communities, and some prayers are posted online.

If you don’t know what to pray for, the Jesuits suggest sharing Pope Benedict XVI’s current prayer concerns, or saying a novena (nine-day prayer series) for peace. The sample prayers come not only from Pope John XXIII, but also from Buddhist, Jewish, Jain, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Bahai sources.

Written by Jim Davis

September 26, 2008 at 3:12 am

Good stuff, with a caveat

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As a superdirectory, the Christian Web Site is well worth a bookmark. Starting in 1995 as Best of the Christian Web, the site now lists more than 81,000 sites, one of the largest such directories.

But you’ll have to take some of it with a grain of salt. More on that shortly.

The lively, well-organized homepage starts with founder Jeff White’s recommendations, including software reviews, blogging tips and a free e-mail service. But the heart of the site is the directory of links in 24 categories — from Apologetics to Chat Rooms to News to Software.

You can look up churches nationwide. You can learn Christian answers to questions from atheists, Muslims and others. You can see who is into paintings or films, dance or drama. It’s a mountain of information, but the directory helps in several ways.

Each site is rated by users on a 10-point scale, and there-s a separate list of the top-rated ones. There’s also a list of “Cool Links,” the top 1 percent. Finally, you can use a search window.

Some of the sites, in fact, are better than White’s own essays. A recent article notes, disapprovingly, Coca-Cola’s plan to include the crescent and star on products for sale in Muslim countries during Ramadan. Then White rants that Coke is “targeting the terrorist market.” Not a great show of Christian love or discernment, Jeff.

Another question mark: “Holy Land oil lamps” for sale. White says these old-looking lamps date from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. He doesn’t say how he knows that, or why he would sell such artifacts for $69 each.

Christian Web site also has a large forum of message boards, with themes like movies, music, sports and politics. You have to register to write comments, but it’s free.

Written by Jim Davis

September 24, 2008 at 2:54 am

Reel spirituality

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Yes, they can be embarrassingly sappy. Yes, the music can sound terribly trite.

But c’mon, admit it. Those many videos interviewing God or dreaming of footprints in sand — now and then, one of them gets to you.

Good. You’ve faced up to it. Now you can freely sample InspiringThots.

Site creator Kwek Sing Cher of Singapore has compiled more than 200 of these Flash-powered movies — complete with Hallmark-style verse, rambling music, acres of flowers and miles of mountains, waterfalls and sunsets.

Want to cheer a friend? Try Touch My Heart. Encouragement? There’s I Prayed For You Today. Need to get your man to hear you? Please Listen may say what you want.

And yes, some jewels stand out. What a Pretty Planet has stunning photos of Earth from space, and a gentle appeal to protect it for our children. Kwek even contributes his own bits of wisdom, as in the Born Resilient movie.

There are some historical classics here, too. Advice like the Desiderata and Mother Teresa’s The Final Analysis. Also the prayer of St. Francis, and Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer.

Kwek helpfully sorts the movies by category as well as title, plus which are most popular or most recent. But the videos are grouped into only seven topics. We need more.

But feel free to wander through the piles of Love to Live and God’s Fragrant Rose and It is True, I’m So Blessed. No worries. It’s our little secret.

Written by Jim Davis

September 21, 2008 at 9:50 pm

Gods and monsters

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Dragons, deities, fabled lands: Encyclopedia Mythica has 7,000 articles about ’em — enough to hook you for hours.

And the pantheon goes far beyond the usual Jupiter and Odin. A little browsing will take you to Huwe of the African Bushmen, the Spider Woman of the Navaho, and the Chinese Yellow Emperor — said to have formed spontaneously at the dawn of time.

Then there are the beasts: the giant, condor-like Roc from the Arab world, the chimeric Yali of India, Behemoth and Leviathan from the Bible, the Kraken from Norway, even Sasquatch from North America.

A long article on dragons duly notes differences between European and Asian breeds. Another points out that Indra, a Persian demon, is different from the Vedic god of the same name.

As in other encyclopedias, context can be spotty. The article on Excalibur cites five ponds as the possible resting place of Arthur’s famed sword. But the piece about Atlantis gives only one of the 20 or so candidates for the legendary kingdom.

Also spotty are the 276 images in the picture gallery. Most are Greek or Roman. Hindus, Aztecs, Norse and Mayas each have less than a dozen. And most of the pictures are disappointingly small.

But the encyclopedia has handy tools. One lets you grow or shrink the text. And once you’re deep in the site, a separate frame shows the subdirectory you came from. So you can do keyword searches, then return without hitting the back arrow a lot.

Written by Jim Davis

September 19, 2008 at 4:44 am

Rumor has it — or doesn’t

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What? They’re trying to clone the DNA of Jesus? Billy Graham rode a scooter through New Orleans? Shakira publicly insulted Israel?

Hit the “Forward’ button!

Or not. First, check out that e-mail on a couple of rumor control sites.

First, the granddaddy: Snopes, a brilliantly literate site by Barbara and David Mikkelson. For more than a decade, Snopes has exposed crap like the claim that 4,000 Jews didn’t go to their jobs at the World Trade Center on 9-11.

The other outstanding rumor control site is Truth or Fiction. founded in 1998 by Christian reporter Rich Buhler. He writes that Truth or Fiction is for anyone “who wants to make sure that an email story contains information, not misinformation.”

Snopes probably has more rumors probed, but Truth or Fiction may be more current on religious tales. Among the latest: John McCain was just baptized, Barack Obama made fun of the Bible, and the University of Kentucky has removed Holocaust studies.

Both sites help you get beyond the details. Buhler analyzes the “Anatomy of a Rumor,” and how to tell if something is unkosher. Snopes gets more arcane, with terms like “glurge” and “slacktivism.”

But bookmark both sites. They both probe not only religious topics but reams of others — from celebrities to ghost stories to conspiracies to giant spiders. Even if the rumors never land in your inbox, they’re still fun to read.

Written by Jim Davis

September 17, 2008 at 3:37 am

Free is good

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Is your church short on cash? (What church isn’t?) Consider
Free Pews, an online clearinghouse for church furniture and other equipment.

Each month, churches in several states give away stuff to anyone who can cart it away. And not just pews: It may also be chairs, pulpits, altars, light fixtures, communion tables, even pianos.

The Virginia-based Gabriel Ministries and Church Services lets donors post free ads with contact information. Interested people then call or write the churches to arrange pickup.

Another valuable service: scam warnings, and suggestions on how to recognize a scam. There’s also a tipsheet on how to verify that a church is legitimate.

If your church is a little better off, Gabriel runs another site called Used Church Furniture. The company provides the ad space, but you deal directly with the seller. It’s another free service, although Gabriel does ask for a donation to cover its costs. The Web site also has ads.

Gabriel’s apparent motive for all this, aside from altruism, is to present a good image. Smart move. After all, if you want to buy new, you may think of them first.

Written by Jim Davis

September 15, 2008 at 1:27 am

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