Jones of the Nile

Monday, October 30, 2006

Communications directors learning from other communications directors

I'm a PR person, and my way of doing PR is to steal ideas from everyone else, and use them for my own agenda. *evil laughter*

Kidding. But I do value learning from my colleagues, and found this article by the Communications Director of The Genocide Intervention Network to be a great read for those looking to change the world. Having worked in PR for human rights and social justice causes for years now, one challenge always remains "how do I get my message out there?" There's never any money, never enough staff people, sometimes the fax machine breaks, the wireless goes down, things catch on fire (my favorite obstacle over the course of the last few careful when making Rice-a-Roni!).

As this article explains, any grassroots (or non-grassroots) organization looking to build a "netroots" following, needs to be amenable to online social networking - the concept of promoting connections and collaborations between people who share similar interests, backgrounds and geographical locations, among other details.

The Genocide Intervention Network has grown over the past two years into a movement of more than 300 colleges and 200 high schools - connecting people through sites like You Tube, MySpace, Friendster, Facebook and more.

This article is probably not news to anyone reading my blog, let alone the millions of others who blog daily, read blogs daily, or know what blogs are. But it's helpful to be reminded of the effect that social networking can have, particularly for organizations looking to mobilize people. Sure, this technology can also be used to schlep Coca-Cola, or the Gap, or Betty Lou's banana bread recipe. But it's most dramatic impact may just be in its capacity to support direct action - whether that direct action is attending a rally, writing a letter to a Congressperson, or getting out the vote.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Jesus: Gay activist?

During my adolescence, as I was battling the triple whammy of acne, discovering my sexuality, and learning about body hair in new places, I remember coming across an op-ed that, while I wouldn't go so far as to say changed my life, certainly stuck in my craw over the years. It was about political movements that use Jesus, more or less, as a weapon to outcast others. The image that the author painted was Jesus, having a blast riding on a roller coaster with all sorts of individuals that "religious" people all too often label as sinners: GLBT folks, sex workers, drug dealers, prisoners, single mothers, welfare recipients, etc., etc.

The point? That Jesus, in his truest sense, won't necessarily be found in the stuffy churches, in the fancy suburbs, in the giant SUVs, in the million-dollar megachurches. Rather, Jesus is with society's "sinners," those that are marginalized either for who they are, or mistakes they may have made.

There's nothing particularly revolutionary about that image, but it always stuck with me. Maybe it's because I always assumed Jesus would prefer Merry-go-Rounds to roller coasters, or maybe it's because it was the first time I read anywhere that God is most present with the people and things you'd most likely not expect.

I was reminded of that article (now more than a decade ago in my memories) by another article, this one on South African Anglicans saying that Jesus would support gay rights. Reading that headline, I could almost picture James Dobson of Focus on the Family losing control of his bowels. Such a paradox! Such a heresy!

I'm deeply moved by this article coming out of South Africa, a country so steeped in violence and oppression toward the other over the course of the last century. Hard to imagine that less than 15 years ago, South Africa still existed under apartheid laws. But there's something about that history, that legacy of division, that lends an extra weight to what these folks are saying.

"Jesus is challenging churches," says Anglican priest Jo Mdhlela. "Jesus is saying if you said apartheid was unjust then you must say laws discriminating against homosexual people are unjust."

What a potent argument, especially as the debate over gay rights and gay marriage becomes a hot button in South Africa. A bill in the legislature right now could make South Africa the first African nation to recognize same-sex marriage.

So while the U.S. media feeds into the frenzy over New Jersey, and whether the NJ Supreme Court's decision last week on gay marriage mobilizes evangelicals to vote, I'm more moved than ever by what Anglican leaders are saying in South Africa. It's not that South Africa is some sort of utopia certainly isn't. But to think of where South Africa was just two decades ago, and where it is today, I can't help but think how, sometimes, the capacity of people to open their minds sometimes just can't be stopped - no matter how cocky the Karl Roves and the Family Research Councils of this world get.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Biting off more than we can chew

The following was sent to me today...I can't vouch for its authenticity, since I've never heard of this index before. But if it's true, which I wouldn't be surprised, I think we're all up a creek. Unless, of course, global warming dehydrates the creek, in which case, I guess we're up a cracked dirt path that once used to hold water.

But that's just not as catchy. One more reason to pay attention to the climate crisis: it ruins treasured cliches!

Anyway, this is from the Global Footprint Network.
Beginning on October 9th and continuing through the end of the year, the world will be living beyond its ecological means. Ecological Footprint accounting shows that, as of October 9th, humanity will have already consumed the total amount of new resources nature will produce this year.

Each year Global Footprint Network calculates humanity’s Ecological Footprint (its demand on cropland, pasture, forests and fisheries) and compares it with global biocapacity (the ability of these ecosystems to generate resources and absorb wastes). Ecological Footprint accounting can be used to determine the exact date we, as a global community, begin running our annual ecological deficit. Designated “World Overshoot Day,” this year demand begins outstripping supply on October 9.

Could this be the reason so many people get depressed around the holidays?

Sunday, October 15, 2006


If so, you should totally check out this new chain of restaurants that opened up, serving a menu for cannibals.

Yeah, I don't know much about it, but I hear that eating there will cost you an arm and a leg.


Sorry, I couldn't resist.

I won't write a very detailed blog entry today. Why read my writing when you can read this article from Joan Chittister, that talks about one of the most astounding things to happen in the country in my recent memory: the Amish school shooting.

As Sr. Joan points out, the most shocking piece of news about this story isn't necessarily the violence (we can get that from any video game or movie from Netflix). The most shocking thing is the unlimited forgiveness that the Amish community offered the perpetrator, and the perp's family. A lot of people trash talk this kind of unending forgiveness. I'd like to hold it up.

So check out Joan's writing, and thanks for putting up with my once-weekly posts. I will try to be more frequent in the coming days.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The necessity of doubt

One of the privileges of living in Cambridge is being so close to Harvard's Memorial Church, where Rev. Peter Gomes, one of the most gifted preachers that I've ever read or heard, calls home.

He was in Connecticut today, so the throngs of people that showed up to see him were probably disappointed.

Thankfully, in his place, was the Rev. Dorothy Austin, who gave a phenomenal sermon on doubt, and the role of doubt in our lives. Kahlil Gibrain, author of "The Alchemist," said that "Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother." Rev. Austin drew those same connections today, and managed to slam the Bush administration at the same time, which is always incentive enough for me to wake up early on a Sunday morning.

Bush, who at this point must be willing to do anything to deflect attention away from FoleyGate, apparently told Bob Woodward that "I will not withdraw even if Laura and Barney are the only ones who support me." Of course he's talking about Iraq, and of course Bush is showing once again his most brutal, offensive flaw: his inability to even hint at the potential for some self-reflection. Bush doesn't doubt. He doesn't doubt his foreign policy, he doesn't doubt his Cabinet, he doesn't doubt his Vice-President, his political party, his big-name donors.

What's the harm of this? Well, for one, without doubt and self-reflection, it makes you impervious to criticism, which might explain the all-out assault on anyone who's ever bothered to speak ill of the Bush machine. Secondly, without doubt and self-reflection, you can never fully appreciate your mistakes. I'm reminded of the 2004 debate between Bush and John Kerry, when moderator Charlie Gibson asked Bush to name a mistake that he made. Bush didn't name one...said he couldn't name one.

Funny, off the top of my head, I can think of more than 2,700 mistakes he's made, and they all begin with Sgt., or Lt., or Cpl., Capt., or the many other titles that have been engraved on tombstones since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Rev. Austin used for her sermon today the backdrop of the story in Matthew about Peter being told by Jesus to walk on water. To paraphrase (and I'm not the best at relaying scripture stories), Peter and the disciples are out in a boat in the sea, when a storm comes in and puts them in real danger. Afraid, the disciples start to panic. As they are being thrashed around in the boat, they see an image walking on the water toward them. At first they are afriad, not sure of who the person is, even after Jesus identifies himself. Peter, showing his tendency for doubt, says to Jesus "If you really are Jesus, command me to walk on water." Jesus does, and Peter low-and-behold starts to walk on water. But soon Peter feels unsteady, starts sinking, and in a panic cries our for Jesus to save him. Jesus does, and in doing so gives one of the oft-quoted lines of the New Testament: "O Ye of Little Faith...why did you doubt?"

Many right-wingers interpret this passage as "See, since Peter believed in Jesus, he got saved." As Rev. Austin pointed out this morning, it wasn't Peter's faith that saved was his doubt. Jesus isn't issuing a condemnation, or passing judgment in his statement...he's merely asking a question.

As I heard that, I couldn't help but think how if only our President and his cronies would doubt once in a while, how much better off we might be today, how many mistakes we might not have made. Instead, they don't doubt. And we don't encourage them to. We label any politician that might doubt a "flip-flopper," or any business leader that might doubt "weak," or any journalist that might doubt "part of the left-wing media."

Hannah Arendt, a political theorist who reported on the Eichmann Trial in the aftermath of World War II for The New Yorker, wrote that "The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil."

This morning, I have very little doubt that the path of this evil is rooted in an inability to self-reflect. After all, making up your mind about something requires deep thought and deep consideration of all the options on the table. It does not mean thinking you know all the answers, and then failing to check your conscience every once in a while because you're afraid of what it might say.

Have a great Sunday, everyone.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The definition of a miracle

Here's a nugget from Sr. Joan Chittister's presentation at the Network for Spiritual Progressives Conference:

And an ancient people tell the story of a seeker who asked, “Before I follow you, tell me, Does your God work miracles?” And the master said, “It depends on what you call a miracle. Some people say that a miracle is when God does the will of the people. We say that a miracle is when people do the will of God.”

To read Sr. Joan's full presentation, click here. You won't regret it!