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Archive for September, 2009

Being a man, there are many things in this world that I don’t fully understand.  But the obsession with augmenting our bodies, specifically women’s bodies, has got to stop.

Granted, there have always been some rather twisted things that women have done to make themselves more physically attractive, most of which have been based in particular cultural images of beauty.  There have been times where heavy set women were the ideal of beauty because it meant that they were rich enough to have an excess of food.  Women paint their lips red to mimic high levels of blood flow to the lips that is associated with arousal.  The shaving of body hair is based in our culture’s obsession with youth and the image of a perpetually young woman.  More recently people have had fat sucked out of certain parts of their body only to have it injected in others.  There have been all kinds of foreign substances that we have filled ourselves with for a variety of reasons.  Most disturbing to me is BoTox, which stands for Botulism Toxin and is the same thing that will kill you if you don’t can your vegetables in the right way, but people now inject it into their foreheads to paralyze their muscles to reduce wrinkles.  There’s even a children’s book out now called “My Beautiful Mommy” to help kids cope with a parent who has had plastic surgery and is now unrecognizable.

This week I’ve seen two more things that have really put me over the top.  The first was print advertisement for a plastic surgery center with a very thin woman in a Bikini.  The tag line was “You (only better)”  Really?!  Never mind the theological implications of trying to improve what God created, is this the self image that you really want to impress upon young women, or any women for that matter?

As if that wasn’t bad enough I then saw an advertisement for a new drug treatment for the purpose of lengthening your eyelashes.  It is a glaucoma treatment that they figured out would also cause your eyelashes to grow.  The advertisement is below, but notice the side effects.  One of which is the possibility that it will change your eye color permanently.

Now, it’s not like Men don’t have their share of crazy things marketed to them.  Between Viagra and Enzyte, it seems like every man in America should question their ability to preform in bed.  Or maybe there’s a different problem.  What does it mean to be beautiful or to preform well.  We’ve been sold this unattainable image of beauty for so long that we’re now actually trying to turn ourselves into the Monsters that we so idolize.  Maybe the thing that we should be questioning is our definition of beauty.  There have always been ugly people and beautiful people, but what criteria society has judged them on has varied widely depending on you place in time and what location you find yourself in.

For those who say that the Bible is ancient and irrelevant, let this be a testimony to it’s relevance to modern day life.  In a point in history that surpasses all others in both the message of self loathing and the pressure and ability to augment our physical bodies, the message that every person is created in the image of God and is loved is as profound and earth shaking as it has ever been.

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Do you ever have a moment where you look in the mirror and ask yourself “how did I get to this point in my life?”  I had one of those about 2 weeks ago.

I had just gotten out of the shower and as I was looking in the mirror it dawned on me that it was the 6 month anniversary from when I began my work at Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church.  This spiraled into my sudden realization that I am now 28, have been married for 5 years, I am finally done with all of my official education and have now been working as a solo pastor for 6 months.

What’s more amazing, it’s not like any of those things just happen (well…except for being 28), they all require a significant amount of intentional energy and focus to accomplish.  Perhaps this is such a strange feeling for me because when you are in the midst of working to all of these goals, you don’t really have a lot of time to process what will happen when you actually achieve them.

So here I am………..now what?

That’s not completely true.  I’m not completely lost.  I am blessed to be working with a church that seems (for the most part) to actually be paying attention to the things I say on a weekly basis and that has (so far), given me the space to be human as well as a pastor.  We are also in the beginning months of a new school year and an exciting youth program that has good leadership who are growing with and leading the youth.

I also recognize that I’m still new at this whole thing.  And by “this whole thing” I mean my job here at PVMC as well as being an adult in general.  I’m sure that many reading this blog will think “ahh, 28, to be young again”.  I’m self aware enough to realize that I’m definitely on the upswing of life.  I’m also old enough to know that I’m not bulletproof anymore and that the superior intellect that I possessed during my adolescence has now begun to wear off.

Life is in a constant state of flux.  But it’s worth stopping every now and then to mark the seasons.

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This is really part 2 of some digital resources related to the WDC/SCC Women’s retreat that I spoke at on Sept. 12, 2009.  The first part is the Digital Dictionary post which can be read by clicking here.

This post originated as an email that I sent to my entire congregation.  It outlines a number of different key points that are helpful for writing emails in general.  (As a side note, my name is Alan, our secretary’s name is Bobbie, and all the other names are made up.)  I have changed some things slightly from the first email just to make it slightly less specific, but keep in mind that I was talking to a specific audience at one point.

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How to write an email (to your church)

Hello Church Family,

This Sunday the scripture is from James 3:1-12 and stresses the need to be attentive to the words that we use and how we use language.  As the world of technology increasingly shapes the world we live in and how we communicate with each other, it becomes necessary to understand how to communicate in new ways.  One of the newer forms of communication that we in the church are using to communicate with each other is email.  To help this form of communication go more smoothly, I’d like to offer some tips and suggestions for writing emails in general, but also in regards to how our church sends mass emails.  This is not in response to anyone or any specific situation.  I’m presenting on “technology” at the WDC/SCC Women’s retreat this weekend and thought that this is a good opportunity to offer some of my thoughts.

Email 101

The “Subject” line
The subject line is meant to give the receiver of the email a one line idea of the point of the email.  It’s like the headline for a newspaper article.  Subject lines such as “hey” or “this is neat” aren’t particularly helpful.  When you’re scanning your inbox you want to be able to quickly identify what each email is about.  Having a subject line that reflects the subject of the email is key.  “Request for casseroles” or “prayer request for Alan’s surgery” are more helpful.

Greetings Ya’ll
Especially in a mass email, identify which group of people that you are sending the email to.  Some of us are a part of a variety of groups and it is helpful to know which group is being addressed, and why you are receiving this email.

Quiet please!
There is much that is lost when we communicate digitally.  The way we say things is often as important, or sometimes more important, than what we are actually saying.  In an email you can’t really tell if someone is being sarcastic or serious, and it matters.  Be aware of the ways that your words could be taken, even if you didn’t mean that way.  That being said, there is one big no-no in the digital world.  Even though you can’t hear someones voice, when you write in all capital letters and use exclamation points IT LOOKS LIKE YOU ARE SHOUTING AT THE PERSON!!!!!.  Unless you really are trying to yell something, this is something to avoid.  If you want to add emphasis to a particular word or point, try using italics, bold or underlining first.  In addition the use of colored words can sometimes be confusing or problematic.  For example; in our culture, the color Red is often associated with danger, anger, or a tense situation.  Using that particular color may unintentionally communicate something that you hadn’t intended.

Proofread
Unfortunately, some of us have a love-hate relationship with the written word and with spelling.  I, for one, rely to0 heavily on spell check and other people for the correct use of the English language.  (A big thanks to the church secretary here)  It is very easy to simply type up an email and hit the send button before you have thoroughly checked your work.  In the same way that you would read over a physical letter before you put it in the mail box, take the time to read over your email to make sure that it is really what you want to say.  It is important to check for spelling and grammar errors but it is also important to make sure that your email actually communicates what you are trying to say.  Could it be misinterpreted? Make sure the words on the page reflect what is actually going through your head.

Does everyone need to read this?
There are some things that are not appropriate for mass email.  Especially emails that are connected to the church.  The area of biggest concern is that of prayer requests.  It is very easy to distribute information to a large number of people very quickly through email.  In fact, it’s probably too easy.  While we do want to hold people in prayer and genuine concern, we do not want to be contributing to gossip and distributing more information to more people that the person being prayed for wants.  While Bill might be OK with telling his close friends about his recent surgery, he might not be OK with telling everyone in church or everyone on the email list.  More importantly, once you send out an email, you really loose control over who gets that information.  While you might send out an email in true Christian love, it might wind up getting spread around to a much larger audience than is appropriate.  When sharing specific prayer concerns, make sure that the person whose information you are sending out knows exactly what you are doing and that they are fine with you distributing the information.  It is also acceptable to ask for prayer without giving all of the details.  Some people are fine with others knowing that they had surgery, but they don’t really want people to know what kind of surgery.  God still knows what’s going on and that’s what counts.

For most churches, the email list is primarily meant to communicate upcoming events, important information, church news, denominational communication and prayer concerns.  It is not a place to hold in depth public discussions, air personal grievances, or send email forwards.  Large issues and interpersonal problems are things to be worked out face to face, not over the internet.  Generic Email forwards, no matter how inspiring or gut wrenching, are best done through your personal email address book.  The church email list is primarily for things that effect or draw on the entire church.

Accumulated addresses
If you have ever received an email that has been forwarded multiple times you may have noticed that you will often have to scroll down through a whole lot of unnecessary information just to get to the original content of the email.  This is not only annoying, it is potentially a problem.  Each time you forward something, all of the previous email addresses get inserted into the body of the email.  All that stuff that you always scroll through usually contains a very large number of email addresses, most of which are connected to people you’ve never heard of.  On the flip side, they’ve never heard of your, nor have they heard of the people you’re about to forward that email to.  If you do choose to forward an email, please make sure to delete all of those email addresses for the sake of your future readers, but also for the sake of the people who’s email address is now floating around the internet without their permission.

That went out to everyone?
The single greatest danger to email communication is the “Reply All” button.  Everyone who uses email must learn the difference between “Reply” and “Reply All”.  If you hit the “Reply” button it will send an email only to the person that sent the original email to you.  If the original email went to multiple people and you hit the “Reply All” button, your response will be sent to everyone that the original email went to.  This becomes a problem when you make a joke about your boss that was only intended for your friend in accounting but winds up going to everyone in the company, including your boss (or pastor, if applicable).  A potential example from church:  Let’s say Judy sends out an email to the whole church asking for people to bring pies for the bake sale.  Sandy wants to let Judy know that she will bring 3.  If Sandy accidentally hits “Reply All” everyone, including Fred who is only interested in eating pie, will now know that Sandy will bring 3.

When “Reply All” is your friend. (This is somewhat specific to Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church, but the principle is still important)
There is one specific time when the “Reply All” button is helpful for what we do here at church.  Bobbie does have a list in her email account than she can easily send out a mass email.  If you want, you can still send things to her that she can forward out.  However, there are sometimes that she may not check her email for a couple of days and something needs to go out sooner.  What do you do then?  Not to worry.  If you have received a mass email from Bobbie, then you have all the email addresses of the people in the church.  Here is where you want to use the “Reply All” button.  After hitting “Reply All”, simply delete all of the information in the subject line and the body of the email and, presto, you have a blank email ready to go out to the entire church.  Use this information wisely and follow the rules above.  It is always important to use good judgment as to what is appropriate information to send out.

Last but not least…..
When you close the email, make sure that you have included all of the correct contact information.  At the end of every email that I send out I include my name, a contact phone number and my email address.  This allows for people to come back later and find out exactly who they should be contacting and how to get in contact with me.

Postlude: How to read an email
When you are responding to a particular email it is important that you respond to the right person.  Sometimes a church secretary will send out emails on behalf of other people or groups in the church.  While it is easy to simply hit “Reply” to that email, the secretary may not be the person that needs to get it.  Let’s say that Bobbie (our secretary) sends out an email for Judy who is organizing a church meal and asking for people to bring casseroles.  If you hit “Reply” and say that you’ll bring 2, that will go to Bobbie and not Judy.  At which point, Bobbie has to pass that information on and sometimes, due to scheduling, the information doesn’t get there in time.  The best thing is to cut out the middle man and send an email directly to Judy.

The other key to reading an email is to read with a large amount of grace.  Because of issues that I described earlier, it is sometimes hard to know what exactly someone is trying to say.  If you receive an email that you could take either as negatively or positively, assume that they meant it in a positive way.  I have had many encounters with people who misunderstood what I was trying to say that have led to much conflict and stress.  Assume the best.  If you still feel that there is tension, find a time to meet with the person face to face.  Most conflicts can be resolved more easily and quickly when both people are in the same room, rather than online.

Homework
Well, I hope that this has been helpful.  As the world changes my hope is that we can all build each other up and share the unique skills and knowledge that each of us have.  For some, this is new information.  For some it’s a refresher.  I hope that it’s helpful for all.  As I said in earlier in this post, I’ve been working on a short dictionary of digital information for the Women’s retreat.  You can check it out at the following link.

https://thewanderingroad.wordpress.com/2009/09/11/digital-dictionary/

Happy Emailing!

Alan Stucky

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This post is primarily for the people who will/already have attended my seminar on parenting and grand-parenting in an age of technology at the 2009 WDC/SCC Women’s Retreat at Camp Mennoscah.  My assumption is that most people who are regular followers of this Blog might already know most of this.  If not, I hope you find this little interactive primer helpful.  Either way, I hope you enjoy.

A word of instruction for the following dictionary

This is something of an interactive list that will hopefully point you to examples on this Blog of what I am describing.  One thing that I will use quite heavily is something called hyperlinking.  (See the full explanation below).  The core of it is that you will be able to click on certain words that are highlighted and you will then be taken to another webpage.   An example.  In the next sentence, the word “here” is a hyperlink that will take you another webpage when you click on it.  My name is Alan Stucky and if you want to check out my other website, click here.  Look for other words along the way that look like this for more links.   Most everything that I have linked to is also footnoted in a traditional format.  The footnotes contain the full web addresses if you are interested.  I will also reference certain things on this webpage, most of which you should see on the right hand side of the screen in the section that runs down the side.

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A (short) Digital Dictionary

Text Messaging

–         SMS (Short Messaging System)

–         MMS (Multimedia Messaging System)

–         160 Characters long, based in cell phones.

Instant Messaging

–         Done through a variety of programs that allow you to send text messages quickly between two connected users.

–         MSN Messenger[1] and Yahoo Messenger[2] are the two most common, but it’s a feature built into many other programs.

Google[3]

–         Search engine

–         Allows you to search the Internet using keywords.

Hyperlink

–         It allows you to click on a word or picture and it will take you to another web page

–         If you see something in the text that is underlined or a different color.  If you roll your cursor over it, it should turn from an arrow to a finger and then you should be able to click on it.

–         How it’s used.  If I’m writing about my trip to Paris where I went to see the Eiffel Tower, I can link to a website that explains what the Eiffel Tower is, without my having to take the time to describe it.

Wikipedia[4]

–         “Wiki” refers to anything where a group of people generate the final product.

–         An online encyclopedia that the content in generated by the users.  Anyone can add or change information.

–         There are some people controls on certain pages and some people who do some fact checking.  The bulk of the work, however, is done by people uploading information and then confirmed by others.

–         There are discussions where changes are tracked and controversies are explained and debated

Blog[5]

–        Believe it or not, you’re actually at a Blog right now.  This is simply one entry among many that I’ve posted over time.  On the right hand side of this webpage, all the way at the bottom, is something that says “archives” check there to look at past entries.

–         Abbreviated from Weblog

–         A way of posting (relatively) short pieces of writing on a regular basis.  Similar to a journal that is posted up on the internet for everyone in the world to see.

–         Utilizes RSS (Really Simple Syndication).  RSS creates something called a “feed” which takes the content but not the formatting and allows you to easily distribute it.  An example of this on this webpage is on the right hand column where it says “Forum topics on ‘The Common Root'”.  The Common root is an Anabaptist related blog that I like to follow.  When new topics come up, they are automatically posted into this section of my webpage without me having to do anything.  If you click on any of those links, you will be taken back to the Common Root webpage.  You will notice that the content is the same, but looks very different on my page as opposed to their main page.  What gets transferred is the content, not the formatting (things such as font size, color, etc…)

Vlog

–         Stands for Videolog.

–         Same idea as a Weblog except centered around videos that people have uploaded to their website or Youtube.

Social Networking Facebook[6], Myspace[7], Mennomeet[8]

–         People create profiles with all kinds of information about themselves.

–         When you become “friends” with someone you can see their information

–         It will also tell you when your friends update, change or add something new to their profile.

–         With most of them, you have to join to do or see anything.

–         Most you can set so that only the people you want to see your stuff can.

Twitter[9]

–         Cross between Text Messaging and Blogging

–         It creates a feed like a blog that people can read online

–         Limited to 140 characters like a text message and is designed to interface with a cell phone.

–         At National Convention this past year, I sent back Twitter updates from my phone.  On the right side is my Twitter feed.  As I send updates to my Twitter account, anyone who is following me will automatically receive the update, including the little box on this website.

Youtube[10]

–         Allows anyone to upload a video up to about 10 minutes

–         Makes Vlogging possible

–         Again, you have your own little page with all your videos.

Skype[11]

–         Free program that allows people to video conference or make phone calls over the internet

–         Requires high speed internet connection and a web-camera.

Emoticons

–         Ways of symbolizing facial expressions or emotional expression through text

–         Usually, turn your head to the left and you should be able to see a face or some other symbol.[12]

Abbreviations

–         Partly driven by the limitations of text and instant messaging.

–         Also helps to conceal what they’re saying from people who don’t know the language.

–         There are various lists of definitions and different forms of code language

–         Basic abbreviations[13]

–         “Leet” language[14]


[1] http://download.live.com/?sku=messenger&mkt=en-us

[2] http://messenger.yahoo.com/

[3] www.google.com

[4] www.wikipedia.org

[5] Examples of online blogging websites include www.blogger.com and www.wordpress.com

[6] www.facebook.com

[7] www.myspace.com

[8] www.mennomeet.com , also as a side note, there is a fun little spoof website called www.mennomeat.com which has some pictures of the MCC meat canner.

[9] www.twitter.com

[10]http://www.youtube.com For a more extended history of youtube and other analysis of the phenomenon of Youtube go to  http://www.youtube.com/mwesch to see some of the videos that Michael Wesch has put together.  Michael Wesch is a professor at K-State.  He has led classes in the past number of years that study the culture of Youtube and analyze it from an anthropological perspective.

[11] www.skype.com

[12] http://www.netlingo.com/smileys.php

[13] http://www.netlingo.com/acronyms.php

[14] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leet

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For my generation there are very few shared memories.  It would be safe, however, to say that just about every kid in my generation has strong memories with Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and Reading Rainbow.  Simply hearing the music for anyone of these shows will bring about a warm fuzzy feeling that is unparalleled.  Fred Rogers passed away a few years back.  This week, another era has come to an end.  This week Reading Rainbow aired it’s last episode.

The PBS kids show “Reading Rainbow” began when I was two years old.  I have really never known a time without the show.  The show was hosted by LeVar Burton and is an iconic part of the memory of virtually anyone who grew up in the last 30 years.  Even for a slow, apathetic reader such as myself, the show had the ability to capture my imagination and to inspire a connections with the books that it featured.

The end is bittersweet, however.  The show is being canceled, not because LeVar wants to retire or for some other altruistic reason.  The show is being canceled because no one wants to pay for it.  According to the NPR article, PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the station that produces the show all declined pay for the shows production.  The decision is partly due to funding cuts enacted over the past number of years.  It is also due to decisions made during the Bush administration as to what kinds of shows they wanted to promote.  The decision was made to promote shows that taught kids how to read.  The point of Reading Rainbow is to teach kids why to read.  Reading Rainbow was intended to instill a love of Reading and Learning that went beyond the simple mechanics of reading.

As a nostalgic side note, LeVar Burton was also the star of the miniseries “Roots” and played Gordi LaForge on “Star Trek: the Next Generation”  As I grew into my adolescence I became a fan of Star Trek and quickly gravitated to LeVar’s character.  This crossover of roles led to my favorite Reading Rainbow episode ever where LeVar takes us on a behind the scenes tour of Star Trek.  Thanks to the wonder of Youtube, the clip is now below.

Reading Rainbow was a significant cultural force.  It’s existence and now demise, make me as nostalgic as a 28 year old can get.  My only hope is that it comes out on DVD so that my kids will be able to watch it as well.

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A few weeks ago I gave a sermon at church basically outlining the Mennonite Peace stance.  More specifically I said that what Jesus and the New Testament is really talking about isn’t simply a non-violence that sits on the sidelines, but rather an active non-violence that works to bring about the Kingdom of God.

In the sermon I addressed a number of criticisms that are leveled against people who hold a peace stance.  One of the classic hypothetical situations that often comes up is the question, “what would you do if someone was trying to harm a loved one?”  While for many people this question is asked honestly, it is not an honest question.  Contained within the question are a number of assumptions that are not necessarily true.  For one, the question assumes the success of any violence that would be used against the aggressor.  Basically, the question assumes that if you were to wake up in the middle of the night, grab a gun and find a way to harm an intruder in your groggy state, that you would, in fact be successful in stopping the intruder.  If you ask any police officer they’ll tell you that in the above scenario, you are more likely to harm a loved one than the intruder.

Another assumption within the question is that the only option is to respond with violence.  Yes, you could respond to the intruder with a gun.  You can also disarm them by offering to make them pancakes.  The online version of The Mennonite had an article that contained the following video.  It’s a first hand account from a former member of the KKK who was ultimately transformed by the unexpected, non-violent, creative resistance of an African American pastor.  When people who are committed to working for peace talk about creative non-violent resistance, this is the kind of thing we’re talking about.

One of the greatest factors that fuels the culture of violence that we live in is not a desire for blood, but rather a lack of imagination in a better way.  Cultivating an active imagination is essential to what it means to be follower of Jesus.

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For the last 6 months, I’ve said that I was going to take a monthly spiritual retreat day.  Yesterday, I finally took my first one.

Among other things I decided to catch up on some Bible reading.  While I was finishing up Leviticus I wound up falling asleep on the couch at the cabin.  (A real shocker, I know)  I was awakened when I felt something gently tickling my left hand and I awoke to see a very large wasp walking around on my hand.  In my groggy state I managed to flick him off with the other hand before getting stung.  As I lied there with my heart beating fast, I noticed that one of his brethren was on the window right next to me.

My first thought was to swat him with the first thing that I could get my hands on.  That, I realized, was my Bible.  Fortunately I had the presence of mind to think this through.  My first thought that kept me from wielding the “sword of the spirit” as a real weapon was the thought of trying to explain why there was wasp goo on the Bible that I used during Sunday morning services.  Only later did I feel the moral quandary of killing a living being with the same book I used to preach peace and harmony.

So I used my shoe.

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