Monthly Archives: May 2010

Christian Communities The Online Halo?

When you think about all the pros and cons of the internet one topic always seems to surface, the fact of community. There are both positive and negative aspects to online community but there is no denying that online communities have formed a spiritual and relational tidal wave that is sweeping our world.

The fact is that the internet allows for community in a unique and powerful way that has never been possible until this millennia. Look at the explosion of sites like MySpace or Facebook. Go to any college or high school in the U.S. and you will find people who are living in community on the internet. Now more than ever even the older generations are utilizing the internet to find communities of like-minded people. This networking is growing every day and is exciting to some and very scary to others.

As Christians we must do more than just realizing the fact that online communities are changing our world. We must actually begin to embrace this change and use it for God’s glory. It is true that the internet’s unique and powerful opportunity for community comes with some negative repercussions. One, the availability of all kinds of sin and temptation at your fingertips. Two, the lack of accountability for what is done within online communities. There are many more, but my focus is not on these negative repercussions. Rather, on the benefit that we as Christians can bring to God’s Kingdom if we will embrace the concept of digital community and use it strategically for His purposes.

I believe God frowns when His people are cynical toward new or progressive concepts such as online communities. I can just hear God saying, “Why not use that for my glory?” So why don’t we? I mean, why not really use it! Why not get involved in such a way that we, as Christ followers, become some of the forerunners in this digital age instead of always the tale sniffers?

When we see something like online communities exploding across the world, most of which seem to be ran by people who could care less about Christ…why as Christians do we not get some unction in our function and start figuring out how to compete? The apostle Paul was a competitor! He competed for lost souls by which he became all things to all men in hopes that he might win some for Christ. (1Cor9:22) He also said he ran this race of life as to win the prize! (1Cor9:24) Sometimes I wonder if we get more excited about our kids little league soccer competitions, Sunday afternoon football, or climbing up the corporate ladder, than we do the competition for lost souls!

Paul was a great winner of souls because he was available. Simply, he was willing to do God’s work in God’s way! (K.P. Yohannan) Paul didn’t limit God’s avenues of reaching the lost, he was on the cutting edge.

It is time as Christians that we make online communities a priority! Very simply, we are losing the race. A whole generation is being impacted in online communities and we are sitting on the sidelines booing! If we are going to bring the transforming love of Christ to all nations and fulfill the Great Commission (Matt28:19) then we must not forget about the new nation of “the World Wide Web”. So far, it is our great omission within the Great Commission…But I believe this is changing…

What must we do to continue the change? First of all, get involved in a Christian online community. Use it as a tool to disciple and edify other like-minded people. For the more experienced and those with bedrock integrity, get involved in a non-Christian community like Myspace or Facebook and let your light shine! Further, make your voice heard. Support the pioneers who are out there trying to make a dent in the internet for Christ! Encourage your local church to put a budget toward online marketing or to partner with an online Christian ministry. Lastly and most importantly, support Christian online community! We need more places on the internet that are safe. Places where you can tell your kids that it’s okay to chat, it’s okay to get advice. Support online communities that you feel are spreading the gospel and if you can’t find one start one! Online community is here to stay. Question is: in the online arena, are you a contender or a spectator? Let the Gospel ring loud in all our communities! Christ in us, the hope of glory! (Colossians 1:27)


Community Magazines – Writing – Publishing – Reading

So you’ve made the decision to publish your own community magazine, but what now? Where do you go for advice, information and above all, inspiration?

Despite its growing popularity, the business of publishing local community magazines is not covered to any great extent on the internet and there are very few web sites where you can get informal advice and communicate with like-minded people. Unlike normal publishing, the business of publishing local community magazines is very often the domain of individuals working alone for much of the time, and it can become a solitary existence.

Basically, there are two types of local community magazines favoured by aspiring local publishers. The first comprises booklets, usually in A5 size, containing local trade and business advertisements, and this type of magazine is generally distributed around your local area free of charge, with income being made from advertising revenue alone.

There are several franchise opportunities available for this type of community magazine which can prove to be a great way to get started as almost everything you will require is included in the package, including software, advertisement templates and on-going support. The drawback to this type of opportunity is the initial cost of your investment, which can be as high as several thousand pounds. A number of companies now offer local community magazine publishing franchises and a search on the internet will enable you to obtain further information from those readily available.

The second type of local community magazine offers a much more personal reflection on your community, comprising the recollections of local people and a study of your town’s local history, which are compiled into a saleable product. It is unlikely that you will find a franchise opportunity available for this type of magazine and if you decide to go along this path then much of the groundwork will have to be done by yourself. However, in terms of overall interest, this type of magazine will offer much more appeal to your readers.

Establishing a local community magazine featuring the recollections of people from within your home community along with studies of your town’s local history can be accomplished with very little financial investment. It is possible to begin printing your magazines from home using a suitable laser printer until you have established a circulation sufficient to meet the cost of commercial printing. Even if you opt for commercial printing from the outset your initial investment could be relatively small.

The main difference between these two very different types of magazines is that one is distributed free of charge, while the second has to be marketed and sold, although as we have already learned, the second type of magazine produces a very saleable product.

A magazine based primarily on local advertising can be highly lucrative but the competition can be intense as there are already a large number of similar publications in circulation and you may well find yourself competing against large-scale organisations. On the other hand, a magazine featuring personal recollections will generally have very little, if any, competition.

Whichever option you choose there is a fair amount of work to be done in order to become established. You must either contact local businesses and sell your advertising space or you must obtain interesting accounts of your town for publication. As always, getting started is the most difficult part.

In terms of appeal among your intended audience, the more personal community magazine is easily the better option and can soon generate sufficient interest to ensure that once you have obtained content to begin publishing, additional content will be submitted directly to you by your readers.

It must be borne in mind that a magazine based on advertising can also incorporate features providing local interest, and in much the same way, a magazine featuring personal recollections can include local trade and business advertising as a source of supplementary income.

Publishing local community magazines can either be simply a business or a very enjoyable and extremely satisfying business – but that is for you to decide.

Close Friendships and Why We Need Them

As a life coach for over 20 years, I have noticed that my clients are looking for more than insights or pearls of wisdom; they want a guarantee that they can trust that they will not have to vie for someone’s attention, that they will be heard and cared about, and that they will be listened well to, without interruption and without feeling

Most of us don’t consider ourselves isolated or friendless. Yet, almost 25% of Americans say they don’t have even one close friend they confide in. What this tells me is that we may no longer expect friends to take the time to listen or to have the skills to help us reflect on our circumstances. In other words, intimacy, while valued highly as suggested by the price people are willing to pay for it professionally, is no longer a criterion we gauge our friendships by.

This puts more pressure on mates, who are as ill prepared and time crunched as everyone else. Many of my clients fight with their significant others more about communication or lack of it than about sex, money, or children. They have a hard time resolving day-to-day issues because they can’t find the time to talk to each other or don’t feel listened to, resulting in escalating arguments rather than solutions.

Couples sometimes schedule with me as a way of carving out uninterrupted time to talk or to have a mediator who will keep them from hurting each other’s feelings. My work is about supporting a receptive environment where they can each listen better and can practice communicating sensitively. This takes practice—lots of practice—which we are increasingly deprived of in our culture.

It isn’t just technology that is at cause; it is the dwindling social skills as a result of technology that hinder intimacy and friendships. It takes more than just time to be a good listener; it takes skill. One has to learn to focus one’s attention on someone else to discern and help with underlying feelings that might be too painful or embarrassing to reveal immediately. This can’t be done via text messaging or email. It is tricky enough to do on the phone when we can’t see someone’s face. Without practice or the expectation from one another that we provide this, we lose both the ability and the commitment to provide the glue that binds us as something more than acquaintances.

How does technology affect our friendships and even our ability to know how to be a good friend? In the 1970’s my husband was on the baseball team at Stanford and when the team traveled to another university for a game, the guys spent their time on the bus talking together. About what? He doesn’t remember. But there was nothing else to do. Without ipods and laptops, these guys were forced to use each other to pass the time and build the camaraderie that cemented friendships he has to this day.

He went back for a Stanford reunion last year and saw something that alarmed him: When the football team got off the bus, they weren’t talking or laughing; they were all plugged into ipods. None of them seemed connected with each other. He imagined they spent the entire duration of the trip alone in their own world of music rather than goofing around, strategizing, learning more about each other, in other words, creating bonds that would last beyond their time as college athletes. He felt saddened for them. How would kids from the suburbs and those from blighted urban areas bridge the gap among themselves if they didn’t find more common ground than what was underneath their feet during a game?

If what used to be a natural alignment such as teammates can be broken by a pocket-sized white rectangle that isolates us in a bubble, how are we to reach out or be reached out to? Even taking the bus to work used to involve seeing the same people every day, affording us an opportunity to reach out to our neighbors and develop connections. Today, on a typical bus ride during commute hours, more than likely we will be on our cell phone or plunking at our laptop keyboard, using the bus as our mobile office. We’re working longer and harder and the price we pay is increased isolation.

With online chat rooms and dating services, text messaging, and email, we can “exclude the wrong people” and avoid “wasting time.” But how many of us who are happy in a relationship would have picked our mates out of a line up? Did we really end up using the criteria we had in our minds or on paper? Does our partner really look or always behave like our wish list? Who are we overlooking by not taking the time to have a cup of coffee but instead choosing to not “wink” back at?

What can we do about this trend? And do we want to do it? Is it simply more efficient to pay for therapy or coaching? The problem with relying solely on “professional friendship” is who is going to pick up your child from school because your boss wants you to stay late or the car breaks down? And unfortunately, you might be afraid to bother even those you consider friends if you haven’t taken the time to nurture these relationships. Needing something in an emergency becomes an embarrassment instead of part of the pact of friendship.

But even beyond emergencies, we owe it to ourselves to have at least one or two people who are available to us without having to whip out our appointment calendars. It takes conscious effort these days. We live in suburbs where we may not be in walking distance to that special friend. We have jobs and chores and families that demand so much of our time and focus. But we need friendship perhaps today more than ever.

Friendship, community, and intimacy require changing our routine, unplugging from the TV and computer, picking up the phone instead of emailing, having meals together regularly, even doing errands together. Most of all, we need to slow down long enough to listen. We will make these efforts when we remember that a true friend is both an investment and a treasure.

The Prestige of Community Involvement

Who are the country’s most courageous people? In many people’s minds, it’s the heroes in their communities: firefighters, police officers and emergency response teams.

Firefighters and police officers were ranked among the country’s most prestigious professions in a poll conducted by Harris Interactive. According to the survey, prestige is strongly associated with respect, public service and good work, and professions with high prestige are those that benefit society and the people they serve.

Yet prestige isn’t necessarily what they face in a dangerous job in which their lives are at risk every day.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought to national attention the need for better emergency response equipment and technology. Toy drives, pancake breakfasts and other fundraising events are just some of the ways communities have come together since then to raise money to help their local heroes.

Many U.S. companies continue to support the cause as well. Wal-Mart stores, for example, give to these organizations on an ongoing basis. And, as a part of their annual nationwide emphasis on safety in October, each of the 3,700 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club locations provides a special grant to local law enforcement officers and firefighters through their “Safe Neighborhood Heroes” program. This year, the company will provide a total of $8 million in $1,000 grants from each of its stores to local fire, police and emergency response teams.

Create Something from Community Service

What is the more important goal of any kid?  Well if you are a kid or have a kid, you can guess the answer right away.  It isn’t concerns about having enough to eat, where they will sleep or whether the bomb will be dropped tomorrow.  No the worse fate that can befall a kid is summed up in one plea – “What can I do?  I’m bored!”

It may seem like an odd suggestion then, to both the kid out there and to the ones charged with battling this dread affliction of “boredom” in the kids on our lives that there is one medicine for boredom that you may not have given a chance.  And that is community service.

Now this may be a tough sell because on the surface, community service isn’t a toy or a video game or something designed to entertain kids.  It is something so much different from any of those repacked amusements.  It’s for real.  Lots of computer games are made to give you the feeling you created something whether it’s a city, an alien planet or a spaceship.  But when you turn off the computer, that creation is gone because it never was real.

With community service you DO create something and not by talking to a pretend civilization on the computer screen.  Oh no, what you create is real, it will be there tomorrow when you go back.  And you are dealing with real people and solving real problems.  All of a sudden, the kid isn’t so much a kid any more.  He or she is a valuable member of the community, just like an adult and there is not better feeling than that!

There are tons of other great reasons to get involved in community service this summer or as a hobby to replace the endless hours playing computer games.  There is such a huge variety of things you can get involved with through community service that you can get your hands dirty on a hobby or an interest that you really want to be involved in.  And you won’t be just enjoying that great interest by yourself because you will be working side by side with other youths, older kids in college or beyond, young dads and moms and even grandparents all who don’t want to sit home and be bored and would rather be out there being somebody for someone else.

Volunteering can even give you as much variety as playing games or fooling around with toys might give you and you don’t have to beg mom and dad to buy you a thing.  In most towns or cities, there is a community service coordinating group that will have dozens and dozens of ways you can plug in and do something for someone else.  Some of the great ways you can pitch in and help out might include…

1. Helping stock food that will go out to famine victims or hurricane survivors.

2. Serving meals at the homeless shelter to families who really need the help.  In fact, after the meal is over, those homeless kids would like nothing more than to spend a few hours with some new friends enjoying a simple game or just learning about each other.

3. Help the Special Olympics put on one of their athletic outings.  If you or your kids love sports, what better way to put that skill to work helping others than letting someone who isn’t as lucky as you know that great feeling of winning a race or sinking a basket.

4. Reading to a shut in or to the blind.  You think its great hearing a story?  You haven’t had a thrill until you read it to someone else who has never heard it and you see their face as they enjoy every new twist and turn of the plot.

Community service gives young hands a chance to really make a difference to others in the community.  But maybe the most important thing it does is it opens kid’s eyes to how great it is to stop worrying about themselves and help someone else out for a little while.  It is the kind of addiction your mom and dad will be glad you got into.  And chances are you will never again complain, “What can I do?  I’m bored!”

Community Service Society Village Ethic

A few years ago a book came out called “It Takes a Village” that created a stir.  But the stir was probably because the author was Hillary Clinton more than the topic itself.  But in this book Mrs. Clinton advanced the theory that in society, much of what we do that has value, including raising children is not just the work of individuals.  It takes community action to make things of lasting value happen.”

This concept may have had some political reason for being written but Mrs. Clinton did introduce into the public mind that phrase which is really an outstanding summary of why community service works so well.  The key word in community service is community.  When a group of people come together for a shared purpose to do something good for the community in which they live, that is a special moment.  Not only does it foster tremendous good will in the team and for those who are beneficiaries of the community spirit but it inspires others who see these good things happening to get involved.

If you live in a city of any large size, we have more trouble thinking of our community as a ‘village”.  And to some extent the size of the city might also have an influence over your willingness to get involved in community service projects.  But there is a way to view even life in the big city in such a way that you can find good reasons to make a contribution.

Even if you live in one of the large metropolitan areas of the country, the truth is, we all to some extent live in a village.  You have a limited area that you travel for the most part.  Most of us go to the same grocery stores, play at the same parks, attend the same church each week and use a limited number of streets even if you live in surrounded by one of the biggest cities in the country.  Philadelphia, one of the largest cities in the country, is known as the “city of neighborhoods.”  And within those neighborhoods everybody knows each other and life is localized.  In a way, those neighborhoods are right in the middle of a big city.

So, you too live in a village within the large city around you.  And within that village, you can see ways that you can make a contribution to the lives you touch and that touch yours.  Some great community service ideas that you can look for that will affect your ‘village” might be…

1. You learn from your child that the family of one of his friends cannot afford to repair their porch.  You can mobilize the parents of many of the children in that class and show up there on a Saturday with a surprise porch repair crew.  That kind of spontaneous event will bring bonding to just that ‘village” of parents of kids in that school room that could build friendships that will last a lifetime.

2. You find out that a family owned business is going to have to go out of business because they cannot bring their building up to code.  You can circulate a petition of the many customers who love that business like you do and organize a fund raising campaign to get that building fixed.  This doesn’t just have to be about money.  You can get everybody into the act having yard sales, bake sales and doing other fund raising events to keep that wonderful family owned operation a part of your community for a long time to come.

3. A local church has all of their beautiful stained glass windows blown out by a tornado.  You can use your research skills and the skills of other business people to find some replacement windows in a defunct church and get them sent to your community to make that church beautiful again.

All of these things make life better in the streets and community centers of the area of town where you live.  And when you pitch in and make your little area of the world a better place to live, the good feelings and friendships you build have positive effects that are beyond measure.  And above all you took the time to be of help so can say even with Hilary Clinton that it really does take a village.

Global Community Service Initiatives

When we think of community service, we almost always think in terms of our local community.  And reaching out to those in your own town is truly the most dynamic type of community service.  But there are dramatic examples of people who reached out beyond the city limits of where they lived to really make a difference in the lives of people around them.

Examples of ways that neighbors reached out to neighbors beyond their borders and out into the larger community of the nation can be found in youth outreach programs through local churches or community centers.  Every year thousands of youth spread out all over the country to help those less fortunate than themselves.  But there is one example of neighbor helping neighbor even past the borders of our country.  This is an example of government working hand in hand with citizens to extend helping hands around the world.  And that example of community service on a global scale is the Peace Corps.

The idea of the Peace Corps was the brainchild of dreamers during the 1960s, a decade where the youth of America were searching for self-definition.  It took a dynamic leader like John F. Kennedy to take that vision and find a way to organize it into a government program that could capitalize on the energy, the good will and the enthusiasm of youth to reach out to nations around the world.  The idea had gained sufficient momentum that it became an important part of Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency so much so that when President Kennedy gave his inaugural speech, it was the Peace Corps he was talking about when he uttered those historic words…

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country”

The Peace Corps has given tens of thousands of America’s youth the opportunity to become part of a large community service outreach where that opportunity may not have existed before.  Since its inception in 1960, over 187,000 people have served in the Peace Corps.

If we take the time to reflect on the mission of the Peace Corps, it was truly an ambitious undertaking.  The scope of this new federal agency was well summarized in the wording of the actual law that brought into being which states that the Peace Corps was established… ‘to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.” One wonders how the Peace Corps really is a way for a young person to ask what they can do for America in that it is an outreach to people in need all over the world.  But in truth, efforts like the Peace Corps have done as much to promote democracy and to build good will between foreign nations and the United States as any official ambassador or formal meeting of heads of states could ever do.

The Peace Corps has build relationships between peoples at the local level.  And it is when the citizens of nations around the world see the true hearts of Americans and that sense of trust and good will is built up between peoples that the good will that naturally happens on a Peace Corps outing begins to take root and change opinions on a national level about what America is really all about.

We can only hope that the Peace Corps continues to do its good work for many generations to come.  The friendship it builds between people of all nationalities can go further to spread democracy and our way of life than any war can do.  And in doing so, it fulfills the dream of President Kennedy that America’s youth would be more about helping others than their own ambitions and that this would be his legacy to America and indeed to all the world.