203: In a world of depressing news — why are we so “up-beat” all the time?

wo comments prompted today’s reflection.

   THE FIRST: A Blogger who visited our popular new landing page, www.OurValues.org, noted later on his own Web site that he thought we used perhaps too much praise to introduce Dr. Wayne Baker on our site — and, he said he was suspicious that the comments accumulating on the site were somehow too well written and on point to be the notes of “ordinary Americans.” There should be more “junk” in OurValues, he said, because that’s what usually accumulates when Americans are allowed to comment on a site.
   Finally, he concluded about OurValues, “I guess I haven’t figured out exactly what bothers me about the site but something does.” (I won’t put him on the spot by using his name here, because it looks like he’s also planning to be a good sport about this and will continue to visit OurValues.)
   THE SECOND: Wednesday morning over breakfast with a handful of local readers, one man pointed at the morning newspaper with a front-page headline: “Deepening Cycle of Job Loss Seen Lasting into ’09.” He shook his head and asked me, “How can you guys remain so cheerful? The economy’s tanking; we’re in an endless war — don’t you just want to go out there and shout at people sometimes? There are days when I feel like saying, ‘@#!$%@,’ then going back to bed! Don’t you?”

   These notes of puzzlement about our ReadTheSpirit project aren’t isolated.
   We don’t use obscenity here — but gosh darn it all! — we are relentlessly up beat around here!
   It’s true. We spread praise around generously here. We give 4 or 5 stars to most of the books and films we recommend here and on the Amazon Web site. We have praised Dr. Baker — but, if you look back over our hundreds of ReadTheSpirit stories — we praise nearly everyone who visits our site for an interview or who we’ve invited to publish a guest column here. We have chosen these men and women to be a part of this online community and we’re — gosh darn — proud of them.

Why do we do it this way?
   Well, as your Editor, I’ve spent 30-plus years in journalism — in tough newsrooms at four newspapers. And our generosity with praise at ReadTheSpirit certainly does not reflect a lack of critical judgment.
   Here’s the reality: There are lots of silly — and often downright stupid and offensive — books and films released each month. We ignore them. You can find other folks slamming them online, if you really care to look.
   We see our discerning, up-beat style here as a form of hospitality and encouragement in a world painfully lacking in those values.
   In a world where Borders books is openly pleading for another company to come buy the chain before it completely fails …
   In a world where major newspapers that used to be the pillars of our communities are imploding and have stopped covering many subjects that are close to our hearts and minds …
   In a world where truly helpful “voices” are increasingly harder to find out there …
   … we are here every day helping you find the very best in spiritual ideas — most of them in books and films that you can explore yourself and discuss with others. That’s why we focus mainly on giving you the best — the 4- and 5-star choices.
   Also, our online experiment is all about helping people make spiritual connections and build communities. I’ve developed the principles we’re following here through years of writing award-winning spiritual columns for the Detroit Free Press — plus, in an ambitious experiment I led in creating a diverse online community of spiritual voices in the summer of 2007 for Wired Magazine and New York University School of Journalism.

   To be fair to the Blogger who commented on OurValues: He is right about the levels of “junk” online, unfortunately.
    He pointed out that many of the wide-open forums online these days are full of angry rants that are more about venting than expressing a constructive argument. He pointed to an AOL news forum in which raving comments were filled with such fury that the writers seem to have slammed down their Cap-Lock keys and SCREAMED at each other. It looked a lot like what my weary friend was suggesting at breakfast Wednesday morning.
   There is, indeed, a whole lot to be anxious about.
   In Wednesday’s New York Times alone, stories proclaimed that the auto industry is in terrible shape — that it’s now been revealed that U.S. military interrogators at Guantanamo in 2002 modeled their torture techniques on a ruthless torture regimen from the Communist Chinese — and that more U.S. men and women serving in Afghanistan are dying due to the Taliban’s resurgence.

   And, in the midst of all of that, many of our urban oases are closing up shop.
   This doesn’t rank with the moral tragedies of torture and death in battle — but another headline in the Times declared: “Starbucks Announces It Will Close 600 Stores.” Due to “a harsher economic climate,” Starbucks is going to lay off 12,000 employees, “the most in its history.”
   In the midst of turbulent global change, that’s 600 fewer urban refuges. (If you think I’m making light of this, click on the book cover of “Quoting God” to read more.)

   So, yes, dear readers — we’re relentlessly up beat.
   All of us are going to find it harder to find our favorite morning cup of Venti-With-Room. Our urban oases are going to become fewer and farther from our doorsteps.
   At least you know we’re here with a friendly word to help you start your day.
   And, sorry — we don’t serve coffee, yet.

   Readers are doing that vigorously over on the OurValues landing page. Here at ReadTheSpirit, readers usually prefer to Email Editor David Crumm directly — and you’re still welcome to do that. Or, you can click on the “Comment” link below.

COME BACK on FRIDAY for two reviews of — yes, great new choices for reflecting on our world. We also are planning to publish another reader-comments page soon, so it’s a great time to finish that note you’ve been meaning to send us. Remember, the holiday weekend is coming!

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