050: What are WE reading Online?

The Good News is that an ocean of spiritual resources is waiting for us — beckoning for us to dive in and swim!
But, in this ocean, are all the waters safe for swimming? Where do we find resources to strengthen our faith and communities? And, how do we evaluate the materials that bob to the surface in the turbulent waters of the Web?
Here at ReadTheSpirit, we’re continually asking: “What are YOU reading?” Well, today, we’re going to start sharing with you how WE read the Web. It’s a vast subject, so we’ll share just a handful of ideas today. Then, we’ll share more recommendations about the spiritual side of the Web in coming months.

And, Please Note: These recommendations are becoming a convenient, permanent part of our Web hub. Over time, we’ll collect these recommendations — our own as well as the best sites that you recommend to us. We’ll keep that accumulated list under a convenient link on our Web site to: “Recommended Sites.” Look for that link. If you’re ever online, looking for other good spiritual sites on the Web, just pop back to our Web hub, click on “Recommended Sites” — and you’ll be off and running to good, intriguing places!

THE SINGLE BIGGEST OBJECTION to this idea is this: The Web is as dangerous as the Wild West!
I speak to many groups of readers, each year, and someone in the crowd almost always raises this objection. And, it’s true: There are bad things online. But, please, don’t fear the Web and turn away from it because of some occasionally troubling content.
That’s not just my advice. That comes from the late Pope John Paul II himself (if you missed an earlier article on the pope’s thoughts, click here to jump to that story).

It’s also the collective wisdom of one of the fastest growing religious groups in the world: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among the 10 most-active religious-and-spiritual Web sites in the world, the only denomination that has broken into to the Top 10 of the busiest religious sites is — the LDS church.
That’s because the denomination pretty much administers its worldwide church through its Web site. Each local congregation uses resources from the central site. Plus, the LDS church maintains vast genealogical resources as well.
As the founding Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I am not Mormon and we are not trying to convert anyone to any denomination — but this is a fascinating point to consider: There’s hardly a religious group out there that’s more socially conservative than the Mormon church. Mormons aren’t even supposed to drink coffee because java contains stimulants. Nevertheless, the church’s leaders have not rejected the Web with all of its potential pitfalls and temptations. Instead, they have followed the same argument outlined by John Paul II and they are using the Web to its fullest, healthiest potential for their members.
Mormon or not, we all can learn a lot from the LDS church’s success online!

What else has broken into the Web’s Top 10  busiest religious-and-spiritual sites?
The other 9 on this global Top 10 list are Muslim sites, an astrology site, a site involving tarot cards and fortune telling, a big missionary site in eastern Europe — and the Bible Gateway.
So, let’s start there with our Recommended Sites. If you want to use the Web effectively in your spiritual journey — check out what works very, very well for millions of people:


Those of us working in online spirituality can only sigh in admiration at the vast, elegantly designed Mormon Web site: http://www.lds.org
Non-Mormons are likely to get hooked on the ocean of genealogical material. Click on Family Search from the main LDS Web site to check out those areas. The interest in family trees is deeply rooted in Mormon theology — but the online (and regionally based) genealogy resources from the LDS church are offered as free gifts to the rest of us.
If you’re a Webmaster yourself for your congregation, group or class, don’t get discouraged. There’s no way for an individual to duplicate the enormous resources represented by this site — but look at the clean, clear elements of design used on the site. Look at the easy-to-understand labels and phrases used to direct people through the site. There’s a lot we all can learn from this most successful of the denominational Web sites.


This powerful online Bible portal — http://biblegateway.com — broke into the Top 10 busiest religious sites because it’s so flexible. The site now offers free searches of about two dozen English-language versions, plus eight Spanish versions — and texts in a host of other languages, as well.
There’s even a “preference” page on the site so that you can customize the Gateway’s opening screen. There are lots of other bells and whistles. For example, there’s a page where Webmasters can add a Bible “verse of the day” — or add Bible Gateway search forms to their own sites.
Remember: This is an evangelical Web site, so Catholic versions of the Bible are available through the Gateway — but, mainly, the texts come from Protestant editions.


Let’s turn from these Giants to an example of the many emerging Giant-in-Vision Web sites popping up these days. One of the best is — http://www.turtleislandproject.org/ — sponsored by a close friend of ReadTheSpirit,  the Rev. Dr. Lynn Hubbard. Lynn has decades of experience in breaking down barriers of religious bigotry. Now living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Lynn is developing innovative seminars in a gorgeous setting along Lake Superior. Check out his Web site from time to time to see how his emerging nonprofit center is developing programs for spiritual reflection — with world-class natural wonders surrounding the U.P. site.


We admire courageous innovation — and there’s no site we’ve found with more courage and bold innovation than — http://www.thejewsoflebanon.org — a humanitarian project launched by an Eastern Michigan University senior named
Aaron-Micaël Beydoun.
He’s a Muslim, Lebanese-American student who plans to devote his life to promoting peace and religious freedom. Beydoun has devoted more than a year of his life, so far, to helping the scattered remnants of Lebanon’s Jewish population strengthen their community. Eventually, he hopes to help rebuild and protect the country’s Jewish landmarks.



“Sex. Hollywood. Politics. Science. The Next Big Thing. Good Stuff.”
Believe it or not, those are the main topics on this great new site from the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the University of Southern California — http://uscmediareligion.org/ No, this site is not intended to fuel sensationalist media. Quite the opposite. The site provides a set of well-crafted, multimedia resources to help journalists tackling tough news stories about faith and culture. Even if you’re not a journalist, it’s a wonderful “listening post” for emerging trends.


While we’re revealing the most popular insider Web sites for journalists who are watching the latest news in religion, we’ve got to tell you about http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/. This is where journalists who truly care about accuracy and balance in covering religion go to reset their own internal gauges for judging such crucial issues. Written by an array of top journalists, this is a fresh and insightful guide to what’s Good, Bad & Ugly in American news media concerning faith and culture. And, frankly, there’s not a better barometer on the Web for spotting religious stories that are just crossing our collective horizon.


Finally, here’s an excellent example of unleashing the Web to help us see the world more clearly — a goal that’s shared by almost every spiritual tradition. Three years ago, a handful of folks connected with Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society challenged themselves to develop a portal so that bloggers in the world’s largely invisible countries could be heard globally. The result is still blossoming at http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/ It’s one of the best ideas on the Web for connecting communities in new ways.

HOW CAN YOU SEND US A RECOMMENDATION for our permanent list of great Web sites? It’s easy. If we’re
really busy, it may take us a week or two to look at your
recommendation — but do we welcome your suggestions, so please send
them along!
Here’s how: If you’ve got a favorite spiritual-or-religious site to suggest for our list, then CLICK HERE to email us with your suggestion.
And, please, when you Email us: Tell us what YOU like about the site.
If it’s a great big site — tell us about the best “corners” of the
site. And, please, send your name along and your hometown, because we
want to give you credit for making the suggestion.

COME BACK TOMORROW (Friday), when we’ll share more of our reader recommendations
about books and videos — so, stay tuned, because a recommendation that you’ve sent along to
us just might pop up on Friday.
If you’re particularly a fan of our Conversation With format: Our guest next Wednesday
(which is the first full day of Hanukkah) will be Dinah Berland, the
poet and book editor who recovered a Jewish women’s prayer book from
the dusts of history — and transformed her own life along with those
of many readers. It’s a dramatic true story for people of all faiths.

As always, please: Tell us what you think! You’ll find a
Comment link at the end of today’s story. (If you’re reading this via
our daily Email service, you’ll need to click on the headline and jump
to our site to find the Comment link.) Or, you always can Email me directly.

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