Tag Archives: community

Prevent Suicide by Looking Up

8 Jun

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 9.58.33 AMThis is the second high profile celebrity suicide this week. I keep reading comments on social media such as, “You never know how a person is truly struggling.”

Having been one of those struggling people, who dared myself to swallow a handful of pills, fought the impulse to drive myself into a pole, or to  just end it all with the slit of a wrist, I can tell you this. And I really want to emphasize this point.

Yes. Yes, you can know how a person is struggling. You can sometimes see the brokenness in body language or erratic behavior.

The problem is that we as a society can’t look up from our phones long enough to see the tears rolling down the cheeks of the lady we passed in the grocery store. I’ve cried openly many times in public spaces. Not once has someone asked me if I was ok or how they could help.

Not once.

Do you want to know if someone’s heart is breaking? Or if life seems unbearable? Stop and ask. When a friend or family member seems off, ask that person to lunch or dinner or just text or make a phone call.  Don’t assume “someone else” can or will do it.

Most of the time, I don’t need advice on how to pray harder; I just need to know someone cares. I need someone to love me HARD (especially because the person who loved me hardest for most of my life–my mother–is gone.)

If I’m going to be fully honest, and why not? I AM struggling right now. I’m trying to find purpose. I fiercely miss my mom. I’m not sure how to set up my office and I want to be healthy but I’m always hungry. I hate being in physical therapy and I’m frustrated my foot is still messed up five years after I broke it. I miss going to church, but trying to visit one turns me into a physical and emotional mess.

Coupled with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and whatever else is on my charts, it’s A LOT.

And it’s not just a you-need-to-trust-God thing. I DO trust God, even when I struggle to understand Him. In humans, He created us to NEED each other.

Do you see? We NEED each other. One of the gifts God has given us is our need for Him, but also our need for community.

Look up, look out, look at your Facebook friends list, talk to your neighbors, CONNECT—you just might save a life, even your own.

For more information on suicide prevention, check out Project Semicolon or The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Hitchhiking with ASBO Jesus Founder Jon Birch

6 Sep

All cartoons are courtesy of ASBO Jesus’ Jon Birch.  Click on the image to view the cartoon in full, and check out all of Jon’s work at http://asbojesus.wordpress.com.

By Amy Sondova ASBO Jesus is a phenomenon not even founder Jon Birch saw coming.  His site speaks about controversial issues in the church such as female pastors, cutting, abuse, but Birch uses few words—he lets his cartoons tell the story.  And just because they’re animated doesn’t mean they’re so easily dismissed.  Millions flock to The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus each week to check out the latest cartoons, comment on social issues, and find encouragement in the community.  Jon, who lives across the pond (that is, in Great Britain) took time out of his work to do a Q&A via e-mail.

Not everyone is familiar with ASBO Jesus, what exactly is your site about?

It’s a blog where I put up cartoons on issues of faith and the church. Sometimes satirical, sometimes empathetic, sometimes ridiculous. Over time, quite a community has grown, so I’ve used the cartoons to stimulate discussion. The purpose of the site is to say things, or bring things up for debate or thought which are often thought yet seldom said (at least not in public) by people of faith. Having said that, the site is open to people who have lost faith, or are still working it all out (Aren’t we all?)

ASBO, itself, is a British term for “anti-social behavior disorder”–why use this term in conjunction with your cartoons?

It was my wife, Clare, who put the two words ‘ASBO’ and ‘Jesus’ together to make a title for the blog. It came out of an interesting conversation we were having about ‘if Jesus were alive today, in our culture, would He be given an ASBO’.  We concluded, rightly or wrongly, that He probably would. It seemed to us that He was killed for being what the religious authorities and others deemed ‘troublesome’, so at the very least He would be given an ASBO.

Also, in Britain, ASBO’s generally end up being given to those on the margins of society.  Jesus very much identified with those on the margins, so the name ‘ASBO Jesus’ seemed to me to fit the bill beautifully. It is quite possible that the intriguing, possibly controversial, name is one reason why the blog started to get a lot of hits. That is more of a happy accident than a pre-planned thing.

Where did you get the inspiration for the site?

I did cartoon # 1 just shortly after my mother died. Still shocked and beginning the process of coming to terms with a profound (and very sudden) loss, I started cartooning. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was a welcome distraction, perhaps it was the need to try and say meaningful things.

I do know my mother understood the empathy I have for the marginalized and in the last conversation I had with her she encouraged me to carry on being myself, to carry on loving those who others might judge. These things are hard to put into words, but she told me of a wonderful gay doctor who had been very good with her.  She smiled and said, “You would have loved him.”  My mum was cool; I’d like my life to do her justice.

There are, of course, many inspirations for the cartoons I do.  Not least, these days, the conversations that go on at ASBO. Sometimes it is the conversation that sets the agenda for the next cartoon. I hope my site is a service.  I hope it is edifying and helpful. I also hope people find it funny… at least sometimes; I do.

How have your cartoons made a difference in how Christians think?

Wow… I don’t know for sure that they have. I do know that some cartoons have made people think though, because people have said as much on the blog. I would like to think that sometimes the cartoons enable people to think again about things that maybe they thought they knew. There are some subjects that some people have entrenched views on, but hopefully through the cartoons and through the ensuing conversations; there is a way for them to at least hear another view.

I’d like us all to think again really, about all sorts of things. We are, none of us, always right.  We are, all of us, sometimes wrong.  I am no expert and I don’t pretend to be. My own cartoons often lead me to ponder things that I otherwise might not.  I am often learning from the insights and experiences of people who contribute to the comments on the site. Without their input the cartoons would have dried up a while ago.

Why do you think your site has become so popular?

I think it is, in part, because from the start I tried to make sure I joined in with the conversation. To begin with, in the blog’s infancy, I would simply say ‘thank you’ if someone left a comment. Later, when people got brave and started offering views, I would try to engage. Essentially, I like people; and I hoped to make sure people who took time out to respond would feel appreciated.

As I said before, the name of the site has in some ways helped. Also, I have found that very often, people will use an ASBO cartoon on their own blog and link to my site; this has generated a lot of traffic. There are a few very well known bloggers who have referenced my work or used a cartoon; this has flagged the site up for people’s attention.

I also think that people return because they are interested in the comments left. Some of the conversations have been truly inspiring and involving. I am amazed at the willingness of some, to be honest and soul searching. Somehow, although the blog is open to anyone, it seems to have become a safe space to debate, try out arguments, empathize and also to have some fun. Long may it remain that way.

Sometimes though, I think that people enjoy a laugh in the day. ASBO sometimes provides that. Life is often intense and we all need some relief.

What cartoon has been the most controversial to date?

Cartoons on sexuality always stir things up. Sex sells, even in Christian circles. It is interesting that a cartoon which is controversial to one person isn’t at all controversial to another. The one that brought the most comments was a cartoon about gay partnership and marriage. This was too much for some. Although the cartoon was not prescriptive, it was done to elicit a response. However, I have to say, that the majority of the conversation was positive and fruitful. There are some lovely people in the ASBO community who I can trust to set the tone of the conversation. ASBO has become for me as much about their personalities as it is my own.

Christ was controversial. A cartoon site which searches for Christ is bound to be controversial. Some subjects are controversial simply because we are afraid to discuss them. I find this a little ridiculous and try to be open to bringing up anything which I think ought to have an airing. Some of the stronger (maybe not even funny) cartoons I have done are the ones I am most pleased with. A cartoon on self-harming, which I was prompted to do, is still my favourite. I did a lot of heart searching before I posted it, but again, the conversation that ensued told me that this was a subject that really needed to be out of the closet, I was pleased and amazed by the warmth and sensitivity of many of the comments.

When you raise a subject like this, you will probably be affecting those for whom this is an issue. I would only want to have a positive impact; I would want to help the situation, not worsen it. I hope that is what happened. I can only judge by what I read in the comments, but given the amazing variety of people who commented and the things they said, I think it was helpful. I am very pleased I managed to pluck up the courage to post it.

It seems that drawings can communicate a very real message in a less intimidating way, why is this?

Maybe ‘a picture paints a thousand words.’ Maybe they are a bit like parables. Maybe the simple characters are appealing in some way. Maybe it makes a refreshing change for people. Maybe it invites comment and response. I am not entirely sure. I do think though, that a simple picture can encapsulate a lot. Certainly in Britain, there is a strong tradition of cartoon satire; it is a well understood medium of communication. Also, even a simple cartoon can draw you into its world, so you get a different way in to thinking about the world we live in. these are just some thoughts; I don’t really know.

I’m sure there are some days when you get a ton of complaints and you just feel down, why do you keep going?

I’ve not had tons, but I’ve had a few. Complaints don’t really worry me, provided people are complaining about what I’ve said and not what they thought I said. I’m making comments on things, so I guess I’m fair game for those who disapprove. I’ve not censored any comments (except spam). Someone once wrote something like ‘why don’t you do something with your life, like kill yourself or die or something?’ I didn’t even censor that. It’s there still. That sort of silliness is very rare; you can’t let that sort of thing bother you. I do sometimes get down, but that’s me, it’s never anything to do with ABS Jesus. To be honest, I’m my biggest critic.

When you’re not making the ASBO Jesus cartoons, what else do you do?

I make a lot of animations, produce a lot of music and run proost.co.uk with my partner in Christian crime, Jonny Baker. I’m a trustee of a Christian youth charity in my home town. I’m about to start work on a graphic novel with a very good writer friend of mine. And I’m trying to get our home sorted out… it’s looking a little less like a building site than it was a while ago. I have a wonderful wife called Clare, a scruffy dog called Gromit, and am blessed with wonderful friends and family. Right now I’m finishing off a few animations and preparing stuff for Greenbelt (a big UK festival)… I have the Olympics on in the background as I work.

Print copy of interview.

Take 5 with PostSecret’s Frank Warren

1 Aug

By Amy Sondova What started as a small community art project has become a world-wide phenomenon, such is the power of art and secrets in the Internet age, such is the power of PostSecret. The concept is simple—decorate a postcard anyway you like with a secret that no one else knows, and mail it to what is becoming one of the most famous addresses in the world—13345 Copper Ridge Rd., Germantown, MD 20874.

Each week, PostSecret’s founder Frank Warren reads through thousands of secrets, posts around 20 on the PostSecret’s blog, and interacts with his audience. Not only does he offer chats a couple times a week, he tours the country talking about PostSecret and its impact. Be sure to catch Frank and PostSecret on his fall speaking tour. Frank was gracious to take time out of his busy schedule to “Take 5” with Backseat Writer.

Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives (2005)

Postcard from book, PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives (2005)

PostSecret has become so popular, why are people so into virtual voyeurism?

I think if it were just virtual voyeurism, it would not be so popular. What has surprised me the most are how people are choosing to share secrets that represent every emotion, hope, sex, fear, humor, despair, kindness, etc.

Sometimes I get emails from people explaining how they were able recognize a secret in their own life for the first time only after being inspired by seeing a courageous confession at http://www.postsecret.com . I think it is these kinds of human connections taking place in a nonjudgmental safe “place” that bring millions of people back to PostSecret every month.

I know that PostSecret partners with 1(800) SUICIDE, why did you form this partnership?

I do not think there is a direct connection between secrets and suicide. But the issue of self-harm has touched my life in several ways. Over 150 million people have visited the PostSecret website and I think that by making visitors aware of some of the social services available for people in need the project can serve a higher purpose than if I just posted advertisements and pop-up banners.

Frank Warren speaks at a PostSecret event.

Frank Warren speaks at a PostSecret event.

Nearly all the postcards that I receive come anonymously and some of them contain painful details. I can’t reach out and offer help to these people individually but I can use the sites popularity to raise awareness and funds for the issue of suicide prevention. So far we have raised over $500,000 for 1(800) SUICIDE.

How many postcards do you receive a day and how do you sort through all those secrets?

I get about 200 postcards every day from all around the world. I read and keep each one. I’m a guy so my organization and sorting process is pretty lame. That’s one of my secrets.

Do people come up to you at events and tell you about postcards they’ve sent to PostSecret?

Yes, one time at a book signing someone came up and talked about how cathartic it had been to mail in this one card that was in the book. We talked for while and hugged before she left. Not long after that another person in the same line said she had mailed in the same card.

Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives (2005)

Postcard from book, PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives (2005)

What is one of your favorite stories that happened via someone sending in a secret?

When I was speaking on a college campus one time a woman came up afterwards and told me she had found the strength to leave an unhealthy relationship because she recognized a secret she was keeping from herself on a stranger’s postcard. The secret read, “I know I am an abusive relationship because I have lost all my own opinions.

Be sure to visit PostSecret online to read this week’s secret (the blog is updated every Sunday), learn more about the community art project, and to check Frank’s speaking schedule. You can even support PostSecret by buying one of the books here.

Print copy of Take 5.

Review: We Need Each Other by Sanctus Real

5 Mar


Album Released 2.18.08
By Amy Sondova Sanctus Real’s fourth album, We Need Each Other, is a voice crying in the wilderness of a society full of disconnectedness and despair. Focusing on the themes of community, unity, family, and wholeness, the songs on the album don’t seek to mend fences. Rather, Sanctus Real is ripping down the fences altogether and clamoring for unity not only among the body of Christ, but in humanity at large.

The album’s opener “Leap of Faith” is a rock anthem, true to the band’s roots, yet the lyrics cut to the heart. Ripping through formalities and clichés, the result is a song that causes listeners to come face to face with their own insecurities and doubts saying, “And you fail in your mind before you ever try.”

Following “Leap of Faith” is the album’s powerful title track, “We Need Each Other”. Drawing on the need for healthy relationships with friends, family, and loved ones, the song’s chorus is haunting with its simple message, “Oh, oh, we need each other…cause we’re not meant to be alone.” In reflecting on the song’s meaning, lead singer Matt Hammitt admits, “Unresolved conflict weighs on my soul.”

Showing lyrical and musical depth, Sanctus Real’s latest also tackles a theme fresh in the headlines—the war in Iraq. Playing off war as a spiritual metaphor, “Lay Down My Guns” tells of a soldier returning home after fighting in Iraq. Not only does the song have heavenly significance, but a very real perspective on the thoughts and feelings going through a soldier’s mind as he or she leaves the war zone. A touching tribute to our military, “Lay Down My Guns” also reminds listeners of a time when they will lay down the guns of this world and head to their heavenly homes.

From learning new instruments to use on the album to giving their vocals a work-out, Sanctus Real delivers a power-packed punch of introspective thoughtfulness, a call to worship, soul-searching ballads, and the rock anthems for which they are known. The music of We Need Each is delightfully infectious and unavoidably soul searching, but the message is simple—we were never meant to live alone.

Print copy of review.

Interview for Jobs the Virtual Way

23 Feb

This is my character, Amelia Snook. I worked feverishly to try to make her shirt longer or the waistline of her flared pants higher, but sadly it never worked out.

I’ll admit that I found Second Life amusing…for a bit. But the virtual community’s slow, interface was annoying and the game itself was time-consuming. It was easy how to see how people that didn’t have real lives could reinvent themselves in Second Life.

My character was named “Amelia Snook. I know, that’s a real jump from “Amy. I believe that Second Life provided the last name. It reminds me of “Olive Snook”, my favorite character from “Pushing Daisies” played by the lovely and talented Kristin Chenoweth (read about my Kristin Chenoweth obsession here: “Snooked on Pushing Daisies”).

Amelia Snook was smokin’ hot–especially with purple hair and green skin. I think I enjoyed Second Life initially because it was like playing dress-up with a virtual doll. I mean, I don’t look anything like her in real life, I don’t have wings, and I can’t fly. But after a while, it’s pretty boring wandering around the virtual world talking to freakish looking avatars created by other users. Plus, except for my friend, Miguel, who flew around Second Life with me, the conversations I had with other users were lame. Although Miguel and I went to this “Christian” island and some guy witnessed to us over Second Life. It was very, very strange.

Imagine my surprise when I came across this New York Times article discussing how Second Life is moving the job interview process right along. According to Linden Lab, the outfit that owns Second Life, businesses are buying “islands” (land) and building their own little worlds where they interview candidates virtually (article here).

I’m half-amused and half-horrified by the whole thing. I mean, imagine my dear Amelia Snook flying across Second Life for an interview. She would probably have to change her whole persona just to get a job. I suppose if I were to interview for a job, I would have to make a person that looked like me and had my name–but what’s the fun of that? I don’t have crazy spiky purple hair or blue skin or wings in real life.

Amelia Snook isn’t really “me”. She’s an online version of what I would be if I could be anyone at all. But is that want companies want–to see who you are virtually when a bunch of strangers are looking on? Are we now being judged on the little figures we create in Second Life, which is a VIRTUAL reality–meaning not reality. Despite how we try to maneuver around it, there is no replacing a face-to-face meeting with real people.

I deleted the Second Life software off my computer months ago, and think fondly of dear Amelia Snook from time-to-time. I imagine her flying around Second Life trying to find a cool shirt that covers her tummy. As for me, I’m still trying to figure out how to get blue skin without freezing to death.

I Grew Up Online

23 Jan

It wasn’t until I went to college that everyone else was online (I was online at 14). I even participated in some, uh, inappropriate chats. Nothing too crazy happened, but I was a pretty mild girl. However, a lot of my friends were not mild and became enamored with Internet pornography. Keep in mind that I attended an all-women’s college. One day I walked into the newspaper office and a porn site greeted me when I flicked on the computer’s monitor. The Internet had come and inundated our lives forever.

At the suggestion of Patti and YPulse, I tuned into Frontline’s “Growing Up Online” on PBS (if you missed it, you can watch it online)The program was both interesting and informative. I was also grateful that the piece was not interrupted by pledge drive commercials. I always want to call in screaming, “If I give you $50, will you put my program back on? You can keep the stuffed Big Bird!”

According to the piece, 90% of teens are now navigating through the wild, wild world of the Internet (In fact, one program commentator described the Internet as the “new Wild West—no one’s really in charge). The Internet provides teens with three things—self-expression by setting up shop in a little corner of cyberspace, a place to complain about the annoying adults (and other authority figures) in their lives, and the ability to connect with one another.

It was suggested that more teens go home after school to talk to their friends online than actually spend time with their friends in person, so Facebook and MySpace are the new “teen hangouts”. Gone are the days where teens hang out at the pizza shop or ice cream parlor (unless it has free wi-fi).

I was especially struck by Sara, a sweet girl who struggled with an eating disorder. She showed cameras the pro-ana websites she regularly visited that contained “inspirational messages” about how “thin is always in”. Sara weighed 104 pounds and was 5’5”. According to the PBS website, Sara talked to her parents about her eating disorder and is now getting treatment.

Another girl, Jess Hunter, known more by her online personality Autumn Edows (I have to admit, that’s a really cool name), discussed how she got a makeover through modeling in, uh, risqué photos online. Dressing in gothic clothing (or very little clothing at all), Autumn got in trouble for her online exhibition. Her father said, “I had no idea what she was doing. I had no idea what was going on.” Since Jess can’t seem to function without Autumn, her parents have come to accept this part of their daughter’s life.

One person even said, “The Internet has created the greatest generation gap since rock n’ roll.” Now I love rock n’ roll and I love the Internet. Yet if we can’t ignore that times are a’changin’. If you are involved with youth, you need to watch “Growing Up Online”.

Those of us who have grown up with the Internet, at least in part, can help bridge the generation gap—we know what it’s like to have the Internet and what it’s like to go without it. My young adult friends, let us work together to bridge the cultural gap for the sake of the young and the old.

A Note to International Readers

12 Jan

Since I installed this special contraption on my blog, I’ve been able to see where some of y’all reside. It’s been amazing to how many of you are from other countries like Australia and Great Britain, and even Thailand, Venezuela, Japan, and dozens of other countries. I feel honored that you would take the time to visit my blog, but I would love for you to post here. Tell me about your country, your life, and what’s going on with you. (Oh, and if you are in the U.S., I would love for you to do the same!) I am fascinated by people, experiences, and other places. Please, please, please leave a comment.

Also, to my Christian brothers and sisters out there, especially in the trenches of counseling or youth ministry. Please leave comments. I would love to connect with you as well. The blogosphere has great potential for us to come together as a world and discover interesting things about each other. Let’s get to know one another.

Oh, and if you want me to blog about something specific or have a question, feel free to ask (you can see some of my favorite topics over in the “categories” bar). I’m always looking for fresh content. Obviously, inappropriate questions and content will be ignored. So, keep it clean, kids!

You can even shoot me an e-mail at this address: AmyIsMyFriend@aim.com.  Or shoot me an IM via AIM at AmyIsMyFriend.

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