A Feast of Friendship and the Problem of Internet Trolls

The festive board
The festive board

Yesterday we used the new monastery table for the first time for a meal with friends. Today would have been even more appropriate, because in the monastic calendar today is kept as the feast of SS Mary, Martha and Lazarus, a feast of friendship and hospitality. So, while the rest of the Church is celebrating St Martha alone, we are celebrating all three siblings together. For us, it is a reminder that all true friendship, all true hospitality, never involves just two but always three; that our Martha days, when life seems all work, and our Mary days, when we glimpse what it means to rest in God, are incomplete without our Lazarus days, when we know the depths of our own helplessness and the graciousness of God who stoops to the lowest part of our need. It is a day for praying for our friends, living and dead, and for learning to be good friends ourselves. Above all, it is a day for acknowledging what a great privilege it is to be friends with Christ — something we would never have dared to say, were it not that he called us friends first.

So far, so good. Friendship is a great blessing, and we can all agree that friends are to be treasured, online and off. But the online world is also home to a particular nasty kind of cyber bully, the internet troll. Caroline Criado-Perez campaigned in the media for women to feature on British banknotes, but as soon as it was announced that Jane Austen would appear on the newly designed £10 note, she began to receive a torrent of abusive tweets, threatening her with rape and death. It is dangerous to generalize from a particular case, but I am sure many people have experienced unprovoked abuse and threats of violence online. Sometimes it is purely verbal: there are some who think that freedom of speech means they have the right to insult others at will and they say exactly what they want without regard to the truth of what they are saying or the feelings of the person about whom they are writing. The comments pages of many sites are not for the faint-hearted! Sometimes, the abuse becomes more hidden, as when an individual is stalked and bombarded with unwanted messages/images. That can be difficult to deal with, especially as some people will go to extraordinary lengths to attain their ends. At the risk of alienating some of my readers, I think there is a noticeable difference between the way in which men are abused online and the way in which women are abused. Men have their arguments rubbished; women are more likely to have their bodies rubbished, and, as in the case of Caroline Criado-Perez, to be threatened with physical violence.

Which brings me to my point. There is much discussion at the moment about how to deal with cyber bullying in all its forms. The official response from Twitter to Caroline Criado-Perez has been a bit weak, but I think the objection to a ‘report abuse’ button should be weighed carefully. It will itself be abused and will tend to drive abuse underground. What is hidden is much more dangerous than what is open, as anyone who has had to deal with internet trolls will testify.

I have no magic solutions to propose, but there is one course of action that I think we should all consider seriously. I think we need to be better friends to one another online. We need to watch out for one another so that no one need suffer abuse alone or fearfully. If we read an abusive or threatening comment or tweet, instead of just ignoring it with a virtual shrug of our shoulders, we could spend a moment or two countering it. If we do so politely, reasonably, but firmly we may encourage others to do the same. Bullies only have power because they think no one will stand up to them. Maybe that’s what we all need to do a little more often: stand up to them online. A faithful friend is a sure shelter, says the Book of Sirach (6.14). Please spend a few moments today thinking about how you could be a better online friend to others.

Spot the Dog
Dog-lovers are encouraged to look hard at the photo. Bro Duncan PBGV is there somewhere.
🙂

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Friends

We keep the feast of St Aelred today (tomorrow being the feast of St Benet Biscop for us) so my thoughts naturally turn to friends. Friends, please note, not friendship. Friends are people — awkward, imperfect, challenging, delightful to be with; friendship is an abstraction, a way of thinking and reflecting on what friends are and mean.

Today let us give thanks for our friends in all their quirky individuality and pray that we may be better friends in return. Christ is always the third person present in any friendship, so let us be friends in a way that he would approve; and if we can think of any friends from whom we are estranged or whom we have neglected, let’s make an effort to put things right.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Connecticut Connections

Bridgettines and Benedictines
Bridgettines and Benedictines in Darien, CT

Last week Quietnun and I made a return visit to the U.S.A. for a series of meetings which took us from Connecticut to Georgia in something of a whirlwind tour. As before, everyone was enormously kind and helpful, even the much-maligned Homeland Security staff who had the job of frisking us at every airport. In London one is accustomed to the occasional jibe or unpleasantness, but we never encountered anything like that in the States. So, lesson number one, the legendary friendliness of Americans, like the exquisite courtesy of Madrileños, is something we could all well emulate.

Our friend Meg made our visit very easy, helping us with transport arrangements and throwing open her home to us while she decamped elsewhere. So, for a few days, Derby CT had a small Benedictine community in its midst. The latter part of our stay was spent with the lovely Bridgettine community at Darien CT, from which it was  a short train journey into New York city. Mother Eunice and her sisters made us very welcome, and we enjoyed the quiet beauty of the Sound and the prayerful atmosphere of the community chapel.

Americans are much quicker to grasp the significance of what we are trying to do as a community and much more understanding of the struggle we face in trying to meet the demands of monastic life with the slender resources we have at our disposal. Indeed, several people asked whether we would consider moving to the States and I must say, by the end of our trip we were beginning to wonder whether that might be something we should think about.

We saw enough of New England on our travels to be charmed by its beauty. Digitalnun kept saying useless things like, ‘Ooo, listen to that lovely accent. I bet that’s what Shakespearean English sounded like,’ while Quietnun went native with her ‘Wows!’ and ‘Ay-mens’. Along with the business meetings went some rather more fun events, including a delightful evening spent with friends in Milford.

Georgia was hot and humid and we didn’t have time to venture beyond Atlanta, but again we were fascinated by the city’s architecture and the local accents. I don’t know why Americans keep saying they have no history to speak of. They have as much history as anyone else, it’s just that it’s recorded in different ways. Derby, for example, was ‘founded’ in the seventeenth century but that only refers to the date of settlement. Before then, as some of the local names indicate, Native Americans were in the area and their history is not recorded in books.

One of the great joys of our visit was to meet our New York discerner again. She has now formally applied to join the community, so please keep her in your prayers.

It will take a while for us to catch up with everything but in the meantime we thank God for our visit. May God bless all those we met on our travels and who gave so generously of their time, especially Meg, who welcomed us ‘tamquam Christus’. Were it not for our internet outreach, we would never have made the connection. Now that is a thought worth pondering, isn’t it?

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail