219: Readers talk about sprouting media, green spirit and a Dark Knight

Once again, we’ve received so
many creative and helpful notes from readers this week that we’re going
to share some of your best comments and ideas … Today, it’s your
page! And, please, we love to hear from readers!

    In our Monday-morning Planner this week, I alerted readers to check out a virtually empty, brand-new journalistic Web site: Shoestring Reporter. As of Monday morning, that site was the pristine sandbox of former Detroit Free Press reporter Joel Thurtell — going online to explore his voice as an entirely independent journalist addressing other media professionals. There weren’t more than 100 words on that site Monday morning.
    Today? Thousands of words.
    If you’ve followed ReadTheSpirit or our Planner newsletter, you know this is sprouting because the summer of 2008 is turning out to be the summer in which a number of the great Titanics of American print journalism are starting to sink. Journalists have been laid off by the thousands coast to coast.
    Here’s what’s so fascinating. Shoestring Reporter exploded like a fresh blade of grass in one week. The point I’m making here is this: Watch what’s unfolding at this historic moment in American journalism — and you’ll find new forms of online news and analysis popping up like a botanical garden suddenly doused with Miracle Gro.
    To be fair to Joel, let’s give him a while to stretch out his legs and develop his site before rushing to any judgment about what he’s doing with his new online journal for journalists.
    But — if you want to flash forward to see how fully developed a new online news site can get in a hurry — we’ve given our weekly “Hot Read” honors this week to Wisconsin Native, founded by two venerable names in Wisconsin journalism: David Stoeffler and Susan Lampert Smith.
    In fact, this week, David became a ReadTheSpirit reader — and I became a Wisconsin Native reader — and we got to conversing via Email. David already has a cool spiritually themed page up inside his site, inviting people who love Wisconsin to identify favorite inspirational spots in the state. If he gets some activity going on that page in coming weeks — we’re happy to connect again and tell you what they’re finding up there in cheese country that’s truly inspiring.
    But, here’s the point: This is how fast news media is changing now!
    In the course of a single week, a whole new publication like Joel’s online news site can spring to life — and another bigger online magazine like Wisconsin Native can reach out farther across the U.S. than most Wisconsin print papers could ever reach.
    (INTERESTED IN OUR PLANNER NEWSLETTER? Drop us an Email and we’ll add you to the once-a-week newsletter Email list. You can cancel the Planner at any time.)


e’ve reported many times on the growing spiritual consensus about the connection between faith and environmental stewardship. Whatever your religious tradition may be, our congregations should be in the vanguard of promoting a “green” relationship with the world. Here’s just one example of a story we ran before Earth Day on the surprising diversity of people supporting this idea.
    Well, we saw this demonstrated again this week among readers following some of our themes on Facebook. A fascinating exchange unfolded in a Facebook group called “Save the Environment, Save the World,” which has more than 4,500 members around the world, including me.
    I started a discussion in the group, asking for readers’ thoughts about “the spiritual connection with greening” — and over a 48-hour period, two readers swapped more than two dozen thoughtful messages on this theme.
    I’d never met these readers before — and don’t know them at all — but one is named Adrian, a father of two who is trying to live an earth-friendly life and enjoys growing much of his family’s food. It’s not clear where Adrian lives in the world, but the discussion unfolded with Evar, who points out on Facebook that he lives in Australia.
    If you’re part of Facebook, visit the group and read their long series of exchanges. It’s just an inspiring example of a couple of guys really grappling with the meaning of global responsibility. You won’t agree with everything they say, but there’s great hope in seeing a conversation like this sprout, grow vigorously and challenge both sides to deeper thinking.

    Writing from Down Under, at one point, Evar writes: “It’s not the countries with high
population density that have caused the environmental damage we have
seen to date. What is clear, though, is that if those countries — i.e., India, China, Indonesia — reach the level of consumption that we have seen in
the West then there will be serious shortages. Most of the
trees that were cut down in Australia were cut down by irresponsible
grazers who wanted more land for their cattle — cattle exported to the UK and US primarily.”
    A little later, Adrian writes: “Resources should be distributed for all species and natural features
for the benefit of all. It’s common sense to me and many others.”
    They chide each other a little bit as their comments unfold. They’re really pushing each other deeper into the discussion. At one point, Evar asks: “Should we support the development of all nations — while
trying to ensure that they don’t make the same environmental mistakes
that we have? If we don’t help our neighbors and support
them in their time of need, then how can we ever expect them to help us, if we should face a dire problem?”
    Those are just a few excerpts of the much longer exchange.
    Here’s the point I’m making: When I raised the question in the Facebook group — I had no idea that Adrian and Evar were out there somewhere in distant corners of the Earth, waiting for a chance to engage in this kind of spiritually challenging conversation. But I sent out the question across the Internet — and it connected with two readers who I’m sure I’ll never meet beyond our brief two days of dialogue around the vast contours of this spinning planet.


     All this week at ReadTheSpirit, we’ve been exploring the theme of heroism — especially in the lives of ordinary people. We introduced you to a young journalist crisscrossing America on his bicycle, bravely exploring our spiritual back roads and byways. We introduced you to films about the spiritual struggles facing ordinary Chinese men and women, bravely searching for enduring values in the midst turbulent cultural change.
    This whole theme really got rolling last week with the debut of “The Dark Night,” which already has pulled in a stunning $200 million in revenue as its second weekend starts! This film sold out countless movie theaters across the U.S. last weekend — and represents a cultural milestone this summer for many young viewers.

    You may have steered clear of this violent, disturbing tale. All you have to do is wade through some of the growing pools of moviegoer comments online to realize that this film truly was disturbing for many viewers. There are online pages this week devoted simply to Batman fans who are rushing to file their thoughts on what made them clap, laugh or feel creepiest while watching the film.
    By the way, the leading votegetters on most of those lists (for clapping, laughing and feeling creepy) are: “the pencil trick” and “Joker as a nurse.” If you’ve seen the film, you know the eerie scenes these phrases describe. Clearly these already have become iconic moments for younger viewers, especially, because Facebook already is sporting various choices of pencil-trick Flair. (Flair are shiny, button-like “gifts” people share as greetings on Facebook and several new buttons already play off the pencil-trick scene.)
    The sheer fact that millions have seen the film — and are flocking to share reactions ranging from comments to new buttons they’re designing to swap online — means that there’s a whole new stew of spiritual reflections simmering on the front burner of our culture. Yes, “spiritual reflections,” because this does involve grappling with life’s ultimate meaning and its fragile nature. (That’s what the pencil-trick scene, ultimate, is all about — the fleeting nature of life.)
    We also received some Emails at our Home Office this week on this latest chapter in the Batman saga.
    A high school student, Joey Houghton, wrote about grappling with the extreme moral changes that transform characters in the film. In one case, a noble hero cracks and crumbles and Joey wrote that he has pondered this transformation: “It shows how people can be easily changed by an overwhelming emotional and physically painful experience.”
    Jennifer, a college student from Houston, Emailed in response to our “Batman” article on opening day: “You want us to tell you what we ‘see in this Batman?’ The movie’s lots bigger than that. … I’m going back to see it again before I decide. I’m more interested in Heath Ledger aka Joker. There’s a lot of emotion there in all of that about Heath’s death and this is the last thing he played and all. … When the movie ended, I had tears.”
    So, again we extend an invitation — tell us what you’re thinking about “The Dark Knight” or any of the blockbusters coming to theaters this summer.
    Thank you Joey and Jennifer!

AND, THANKS to all the readers we’ve quoted today!

    If you didn’t see your comment or suggestion today — keep
reading, because we’ll have more news, reviews, quizzes and inspiring
interviews next week.
    The Interfaith Heroes project is gearing up again, getting ready for another month-long focus in January on these spiritual heroes. Over the past week or so, we’re seeing an upswing in your interest in that project — and some new nominations of heroes have come our way. Thank you! We’ll tell you more about this in coming weeks.

AND PLEASE, as these readers have done — Tell Us What You Think.
    There’s still time to sign up for our Monday morning ReadTheSpirit Planner by Email — it’s free and you can cancel it any time you’d like to do so.

    Not only do we welcome your notes, ideas, suggestions and personal
reflections — but our readers enjoy them as well. You can do this
anytime by clicking on the “Comment” links at the end of each story.
You also can Email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm. We’re also reachable on Facebook, Digg, Amazon, GoodReads and some of
the other social-networking sites as well, if you’re part of those

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