Article Review: Christianity is about more than just rules.

Picture this: You spend your life living in two separate worlds. In one life, you’re happily married to your partner of 22 years and raising a 12-year-old child. In the other, you provide guidance to kids attending a Catholic high school. But what happens when those two worlds collide?

Ask former Roncalli guidance counselor, Shelly Fitzgerald. The school administration and Archdiocese of Indianapolis gave her a choice: divorce your wife or resign.

I know what you’re probably thinking. That’s crazy, right? Who would agree with that? Personally, I didn’t think anyone would, but then I stumbled across an op-ed on Twitter written by IndyStar’s Gary Varvel.

Varvel openly admits that he believes Roncalli made the right move when they handed the ultimatum to Fitzgerald. I applaud him for saying what he believes, but do I think he’s wrong? Absolutely. I’ll address that in a moment though.

Varvel’s conviction is based around two key elements: the existence of a contract and labeling.  Varvel, who used to teach at a Christian high school, says both he and Fitzgerald signed contracts which bound them to uphold the behaviors and beliefs of the Church. So yeah, I agree she knew the consequences. One point to Varvel. But, his second argument was a stretch. Varvel claims more people aren’t coming out in support of Roncalli because they’re scared of being labeled as bigots.   

Well Gary, I think people aren’t supporting Roncalli for a much larger reason: Forcing Fitzgerald into an impossible decision was not the Christian thing to do.

Varvel argued that the Christian thing to do for the couple was gracefully part ways, citing the creation of the Lutheran church. But Fitzgerald didn’t go silently to prove a point. All denominations of Christianity, whether it’s Catholicism, Lutheran, Baptist, ect., are based on the teachings of Jesus. What church leaders should keep in mind, however, is that being a Christian is about more than rules. It’s about the lessons Jesus taught us while he walked among us: love, mercy, grace and kindness.

Varvel based his argument on a contract, providing readers with verses about settling disputes. I’ve decided to base my argument on what should matter: the actual teachings of Jesus Christ.

This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” – Zechariah 7:9-10

It’s not my job, your job or anyone else’s job but God’s to give a guilty verdict. God tells us that the true justice is mercy and compassion. Not to force a resignation or divorce.

While it seems like the school administration and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis have lost sight of crucial teachings like the one in Zechariah, students and parents haven’t.

Roncalli Senior Elijah Mahan defended Fitzgerald to IndyStar shortly after the story initially broke.

“It’s a Catholic’s duty to respect, defend and build up one another no matter what their race, sexual orientation or social background is,” Mahan said.

Interesting… What do you think? Does the ultimatum Roncalli gave Fitzgerald sound anything like that?

Earlier this week, Fitzgerald, Mahan and a few other Roncalli students appeared on Ellen to share their stories. It so easy to see that Fitzgerald touch these kids’ hearts. One of them even called the guidance counselor’s office her “safe place” in the school. To show their support for Fitzgerald and the LGBT+ community, the students decided to start a foundation, named Shelly’s Voice. Shelly’s Voice will be focused on cultivating equality in the workplace, so that those in the LGBT+ community, like Shelly and like me, won’t have to huge hide parts of our lives.

In his article, Varvel mentioned he signed a contract when he was employed at a Christian high school which stated he had to exemplify the values written in the Bible. That’s fine. I don’t see anything wrong with that… as long as the contract holds employees accountable to all teachings of the bible, including the compassion, mercy, love… Oh, and divorce.

You could argue, “It wouldn’t be a divorce in the eyes of God because they shouldn’t have been married in the first place.” And I’m going to stop you right there. Same-sex marriage is legal. Churches will perform same-sex marriages. There are same-sex couples all around the world who spend their lives giving just as Christ did. So, let me make this very clear: a homosexual divorce is the same as a heterosexual one.

You know what I find really funny, though? Homosexuality is only mentioned specifically in six or seven of the Bible’s 31,173 verses. Yet, the church has been up in arms about hindering the rights of the LGBT community. You know how many verses there are about divorce? A lot more than six or seven.

So, in the eyes of the Catholic church at least, Fitzgerald was told to pick her sin: divorce or homosexuality.

What happened to the love, kindness, mercy and compassion that the majority of the Bible was devoted to? People like the Roncalli administration, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Varvel, who choose legalism over compassion, are not representing the Christian faith as described in the Bible. But people, like the students at Roncalli who choose to love unconditionally, embody the character and message of Christ.

The moment the Internet called an audible.

I like to think of the Internet as a football team. One with history, like the Packers or Cowboys. When the Internet was first established, it didn’t really have a lot of plays. Every down was a run up the middle or a pass down the sideline. Don’t get me wrong, the playbook didn’t suck. It revolutionized the game… of communications. But it was just text, and eventually email and pictures followed. But like any good football team, the Internet’s playbook grew as the team matured.

Before you know it, the Internet could kick field goals, run trick plays and even call audibles. Just picture it: The Internet is up against the defending champs, Television. Television has captured the attention of fans every single year. While the Internet has come close, the team hasn’t been able to pull off a win. But, this time might just be different. The Internet has a new play. It’s third and 11, and the Internet is down six. The quarterback comes under center and he yells, “YouTube!”

That one audible changed the entire playbook. The establishment of Youtube brought about a new era in digital media. Now, I could sit here and talk about how the first video on YouTube was really the game-changer. But it wasn’t. And no, it wasn’t the first music video posted to the site, either.

Saturday Night Live likes to call this play, “Lazy Sunday.” Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell spend almost three minutes rapping about the Chronicles of Narnia and cupcakes (which is really the only kind of rap I can get down with.) This ridiculous, pointless video racked up over 5 million views in 2005.

But as we’ve learned over the years, funny videos catch the world’s attention. “Lazy Sunday” is the first time people really embraced their newfound ability to watch videos anywhere their hearts desired (as long as there was Internet access, of course.) Now, we have a phrase for that phenomenon: it went viral.

People go to extraordinary lengths in hopes of producing a video that goes viral. Sometimes they even try to make a career out of it. Many times they fail, but sometimes, they don’t even have to try. But speaking of viral, do you know who else tries to make videos that catch the attention of the public?

Ding! Ding Ding! We have a winner!

Oh yes, advertisers want your attention, and they want it desperately. In 2007, Ray Bans created a video dubbed, “Sunglasses Catch.” At first glance, there isn’t anything special about this video. Its a minute and 37 seconds of two guys throwing sunglasses onto each other’s faces. Harmless, right? Wrong. That was the first time a company meddled in digital advertising.

Fast forward to the 2018 season, digital ads are everywhere. I can’t even imagine going to a website without seeing at least five of them. I’m an advertising minor, and in every single advertising class I’ve taken, we’ve spent at least two weeks covering digital media. “Sunglasses Catch” brought about a “lightbulb moment” for advertisers. Through web video, marketers and advertisers realized they could reach a broader audience without paying for a TV spot or print ad.  

As the Internet continues to grow and develop, its playbook is only going to get bigger. Yes, YouTube changed the game, but now the Internet has other options. YouTube forged the path for streaming services, like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. The rise of digital media and web video has only begun. Television is no longer the team to beat; it’s the Internet, and personally I think it will years down the road before any other team rises to the occasion.

Like the Cowboys and Packers, the Internet is building a dynasty. One where there is unlimited potential. One where the team has only scratched the surface of its digital media capabilities. One where the Internet is going to be raising Super Bowl banners for years and years to come.

I’m fine.

“I wanted to talk about it. Damn it. I wanted to scream. I wanted to yell. I wanted to shout about it. But all I could do was whisper, ‘I’m fine.'” — Unknown

Many of us have come to know that the phrase, “I’m fine” means many different things depending on the person and the situation. People say it when they don’t have time to chat. People say it when they don’t feel like getting into the excruciating details of their days. People say it when they don’t want anyone to know they feel like they’re dying on the inside.

Depression comes in many shapes and sizes. It plagues those who have fought through life’s worst circumstances and it haunts those who seem to have a perfect life.

My journey with depression began when I was 15 years old. I was in a constant battle between accepting my identity and conforming to who society thought I should be. That still small voice inside my head grew louder and louder every day telling me I wasn’t good enough. That I didn’t deserve love. That no one would even notice if I was gone.

Over the course of the next couple of years, I put my family through hell. I transformed into a person a didn’t even recognize anymore. I vividly remember one night where I was home alone. That voice in my head had driven my to the brink of insanity, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t sad or lonely or tired. I was completely numb. All of the sudden, I noticed blood beginning to pool in my bathroom sink.

That’s when I knew it this was a war I couldn’t fight on my own any longer. Now, the way my family found out about my depression wasn’t ideal. My mom didn’t find out from me, but honestly, I’m not sure I’d still be here today if someone hadn’t reached out to her without my consent.

Here’s the thing: No depressed person every wants to admit they’re depressed, especially not to the people they care about. It’s not because they’re ashamed or embarrassed. Despite the fact we’re hurting ourselves, the last thing we’d ever want to do is hurt someone we care about.

If a loved one is struggling with depression,

Don’t try to rationalize it. Don’t try to find the root cause. Don’t chalk it up to a “bad day.” We don’t need you to understand. We don’t need you to fix us. We just need you to listen.

You need to realize how important your actions and words are. I know that seems like common knowledge, but this journey is going to be frustrating for the both of you. You’re probably never going to be able to understand that every breath we take, it feels like we’re drowning. You’ll never be able to comprehend that we literally cannot fathom having to get out of bed another day.

You’re going to have to be patient, though. Depression isn’t something that will ever go away completely. I would love to be able to say that after I went to therapy, everything was sunshine and rainbows all the time. But it doesn’t matter how far ahead I seem to get or how happy I am, depression always catches up eventually.

If you’re depressed,

Know that you aren’t alone. I know that it feels like the weight of the world is crashing down on you. I understand that it feels like no will ever get that you wake up every morning living in a body that wants to survive with a mind that wants to die.

The next time you pick up that razor or that knife, or reach for your drugs or the bottle of alcohol sitting next to you, take a minute. Take a deep breath. And remember that there is someone is this world who loves you and who wants you to keep living. And when you can’t think of anyone else, you can think of me. I love you and I want you to keep fighting.

If you haven’t reached the point where you’re ready to tell your friends or family, that’s okay. There’s no shame in calling the suicide hotline or texting a crisis intervention specialist. When you constantly hide your battle and hold everything in, you let that voice in your head win. So, let it out. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be pissed off. It’s okay to not feel anything. But I promise, once you start to talk about it, it will get better.

Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Textline: Text HOME to 741741

Why isn’t Twitter taking a stand against hate speech?

Before I get too political, let me make one thing clear: I love Twitter. I use it every day. I check it when I wake up in the morning and right before I go to bed. It’s how I keep up with the news, my friends who are away at school and the latest trends. But, Twitter has a very big problem.

Last week, I mentioned that there is one very big downfall of social media: cyberbullying. Twitter, and specifically CEO Jack Dorsey, have chosen to ignore the problem rather than face it head on. Nearly a month ago, Karla Peterson, a contact reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune, published an article addressing Twitter’s lack of action regarding fake news and hate speech.

In Twitter’s defense, its hard to monitor 335 million active accounts. But Peterson’s statement to Dorsey focused on one account; an account that garnered national interest due to its sensational and false statements. That’s right. Peterson was talking about Alex Jones and his infamous “news” outlet InfoWars. Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify banned Jones and InfoWars. So, why would Dorsey not follow suit?

“If we succumb and simply react to outside pressure, rather than straightforward principles we enforce (and evolve) impartially regardless of political viewpoints, we become a service that’s constructed by our personal views that can swing in any direction,” Dorsey tweeted.

Peterson had no problem saying it and neither do I: Jack, you’re wrong. CEO’s of social media corporations are often referred to as guardians. They are the people who regulate who’s able to say what on the Internet, and they determined what falls under the protections of free speech. But where should they draw the line? Does hate speech fall under the protections of free speech? Do false information and conspiracy theories?

To answer these questions, let’s take a minute to refresh what we have learned about free speech from a legal and historical context. The First Amendment was adopted in 1791, but in the early 1900s, courts began to clarify what was and was not protected by freedom of speech. As of now, the constitution protects one’s right to refrain from speaking, to protest, to use certain offensive words or phrases in a political context, to donate money to a political movement, to advertise, and to participate in symbolic speech . However, the Constitution does not protect the right to incite action that may be harmful to others.

On the other hand, Twitter does not clearly define what is and isn’t considered hate speech on its platform. Twitter’s Hateful conduct policy focuses on three things: content, context and behavior. Users’ content can’t promote violence or attack or threaten someone else. But, the context in which content is evaluated is crucial. Tweets may seem offensive if they are viewed in isolation, but are meant to be part of a larger thread. In terms of behavior, its Twitter’s policy that abusive tweets have to tag specific users in order for it to fall under hateful conduct.

So do we all have a basic understanding of what freedom of speech constitutes now? Do we all understand Twitter’s policy on hate speech?  Cool. Moving on.

Jones has an avid and passionate following on social media. In fact, as Peterson mentioned, “his followers hounded the parents of a Sandy Hook victim so relentlessly, they had to move seven times in five years,” after Jones claimed the tragedy was a hoax conducted by crisis actors. Looking back at what we learned about free speech and Twitter’s Hateful Conduct Policy, should Jones be protected?

According to the Constitution, no, he absolutely isn’t. According to Dorsey, its not his job to worry about it.

That’s right ladies and gentlemen. CEO Jack Dorsey is pulling a classic CEO move: delegation. Rather than taking responsibility for false information Jones spews to 899 thousand followers, Dorsey delegates the responsibility to someone else.

“Accounts like Jones’ can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors,” Dorsey tweeted, “so it’s critical journalists document, validate and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.”

I think if Peterson and I had been in the same room while reading this tweet, we might have laughed until we cried. I agree. Journalists have a part to play in protecting free speech, but so do you Jack Dorsey. So does your company. In this day and age, it isn’t feasible for journalists to expose every right or left-winged conspiracy theorist who take snippets of correct information and develop an entirely false narrative. Donald Trump has declared war against the press. No one who follows Jones will believe anything a reporter from CNN, AP, NBC or ABC says. His followers will only believe the personal cheerleaders of President Trump: Fox News and InfoWars.

Since the public outlash, Dorsey had changed his tune… publicly, at least. But, it’s going to take a lot for him to convince me he’s willing to take a stand against hate speech.

Social Media: A Blessing, A Curse and A Tool

Like it or not, social media has changed the landscape of our society, both positively and negatively. If you take a blast to the past, say 25 years or so ago, social media was pretty much nonexistent; not even texting had been invented yet. If you wanted to meet new people or build a relationship, you actually had to talk to them. Weird, right? Social media has caused an entire generation to lose sight of the importance of face-to-face interaction. Instead, people hide behind their screens masquerading as who society wants them to be all for the sake of gaining a few extra followers.

And of course, I can’t forget to leave out what I like to call the plague of social media: cyberbullying. Sure, bullying has always been around. But like I mentioned, social media has given people an easy opportunity to have an alternate personality. A lot of times, these personalities are ruthless and hateful. One hateful comment, video or meme can go viral in minutes. Unfortunately, the comments or actions people take through social media cause their targets to feel worthless, depressed and alone. Sometimes, victims even take go as far to to take their lives.

But as in life, there are two sides to every story. The story of social media isn’t all bad; it’s not even mostly bad. A lot of good has come from the evolution of social media. Sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have connected the world it a way that it never has been before. Different people from different cultures find common ground without having met. News outlets share stories with readers without having to wait for the next paper to roll-out. Victims of school shootings establish activist movements that go on to inspire entire nations.

What I find to be the most beautiful aspect of social media, probably seems like the most insignificant. It feels like every time I log on to Facebook or Twitter, I see stories about hope. Whether it’s a friend who finally found their passion after years of searching, or a story of a stranger donating money to hundreds of teachers across their state, those posts show the best of humanity. Sometimes it’s hard to see past all of the terrible things going on in the world. But, social media lets people have a voice and gives them the opportunity to provide hope where all hope might seem lost.

Social Media as a Branding Tool

Like I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of people who use social media as an excuse to be someone they’re not. Social media can be used for the opposite purpose, as well. It’s a fantastic resource when attempting to amplify your personality and build your personal brand. Throughout my PR journey, professors have preached on the importance of personal perception. No matter the business field, employers want to know who they are hiring. What better place to find out than on social media?

While Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Snapchat are outlets for social interaction, it’s always important to keep in mind who might be watching. You know the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Yeah, that doesn’t apply here.  Employers don’t want to associate themselves with candidates who don’t reflect their company’s values or mission. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you’d be ashamed of your grandma seeing it, don’t post it.

Now, this isn’t my slick way of saying you need to be a cookie-cutter professional with no unique personality. That’s boring. Social media gives you the opportunity to show the world who you are and what you want to accomplish in your lifetime. Your personal brand on social media should set you apart by highlighting your values, skills, talents and goals.

Social Media as a Networking Tool

Public relations, much like life, is built on forming and maintaining relationship. That’s why I’m not mystified as to why a strong professional network plays such a large role in successful job or internship searches. You might be thinking, “I have over 500 connections on LinkedIn. I’m good.” I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it doesn’t matter how many connections you have on LinkedIn if no one is willing to advocate for you. So, no. You are not “good.”

Social media in itself is not enough to build a strong network. A strong professional network should be comprised of seasoned professionals who are willing promote your work. But, building connections on LinkedIn is a fantastic way to start. Don’t let that be the end of your story, though. Social media literally puts the world at your fingertips, giving you the ability to connect with millions of professionals around the globe.

Trust me, I understand that taking the first step can be slightly terrifying. When I started marketing myself as a professional, I was hesitant to connect with or reach out to anyone I didn’t personally know. Actually, that’s an understatement. I refused because, honestly, they really drilled “Stranger Danger” into me as a kid. As it turns out, strangers can actually be your allies in the business realm. Everyone has a different path and a different experience. It’s always valuable to reach out, listen to a new story and gain fresh perspective on your work.

When you take a risk, reach out and build a relationship, you’re elevating your personal brand. Your new network of professionals will likely connect with you on more than just LinkedIn; they’ll follow your twitter, instagram and your blog. More importantly, they will read and share your work with prospective employers.

As I continue on my PR journey, and through life, my blog and my social media will embody my values, passions and goals. Social media, like most things in life, is a blessing and a curse. But at the end of the day, its given each and every one of us something that no one can ever take away: a voice.