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The Inspiring Acts Of These Religious Figures Will Restore Your Faith In... Faith

Wed, 2014-06-04 10:08
The number of Americans with no religious affiliation is at an all-time high, with 20 percent reporting no connection to any particular organized faith. But the positive impact religion can have is still realized every day. Often lost in the news of religious figures resisting social change and waging ideological -- and sometimes violent -- battles is the reality that people around the world are using their faith as an engine for tolerance, empathy and inclusion, not closed-mindedness, fear and malice.

Here are some great examples of groups and individuals getting back to the more compassionate and empathetic roots of religion.



1. A North Carolina United Methodist church took a stand by refusing to marry everyone. Equally.



Green Street United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina is not allowed to wed same sex couples, as decreed by their United Methodist church rules. But that doesn't mean they can't equally deny everyone the right to marry. "On the matter of gay marriage, the church sees injustice in the legal position of state government and the theological position of our denomination," said a Green Street spokesperson in a press release in March 2013. The North Carolina church is encouraging their ministers to refrain from marrying straight couples as long as the United Methodist Church as a whole continues to deny same-sex couples the right to get married.



2. Catholic Bishops held mass on the U.S.-Mexico border to raise awareness about the U.S.'s inhumane immigration system.

.@BishopWester + fellow bishops at the border near Nogales, #AZ reflect on migrant experience and deaths #bordermass pic.twitter.com/0p7xz48MQg

� BBBimmigration (@BBBimmigration) March 31, 2014


In March, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gathered for mass on the border in Nogales, Arizona to raise awareness about America's failed Mexico border policies. Since 1998, 5,595 immigrants have died crossing the border as of May 2013. These deaths are not a political issue, but rather a humanitarian one. The USCCB began Justice For Migrants in 2004 with that it mind, to educate the public, especially Catholics, about the church's teachings on immigration and to push for positive reform.

"This is not just a political or economic problem," says Pope Francis adviser and Boston Cardinal Séan O'Malley. "This is a moral problem. ... Those who have died -- and those deported each day -- have the same value and innate God."



3. After anti-Christian attacks, Pakistani Muslims surrounded a church to protect them during mass.



Two weeks after over 100 people were killed during twin suicide bombings at All Saints Church in Peshawar, a town in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Muslims from the community came together in solidarity with Pakistani Christians, joining hands around St. Anthony's church to protect the congregation as they held mass on Sunday. "The terrorists showed us what they do on Sundays," said organizer Mohammad Jibran Nasi. "Here we are showing them what we do on Sundays. We unite."



4. Instead of retaliating against a thief, this Christian woman bought his groceries.

Jessica Eaves had her wallet stolen while grocery shopping in her hometown of Guthrie, Oklahoma. The mother of four approached the man she believed to be the thief and said to him, "You can either give me my wallet and I'll forgive you right now, and I'll even take you to the front and pay for your groceries," or she would turn him over to police.

The man apologized profusely and Evans, as promised, paid for the man's groceries, which amounted to about $27. As the head of a Christian outreach group at the First Christian Church Guthrie, Evans says when she saw the man, she was inspired by a passage 6:29 in Luke which says, "If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don't withhold your shirt either."



5. He lost his position in the church because of it, but nothing would stop this pastor from officiating his gay son's wedding.



A pastor with the United Methodist Church, Rev. Frank Schaefer found out that his son Tim was gay when he came out at the age of 17. The Schaefers accepted him and promised to love their son unconditionally. Frank and his wife continued that acceptance when Tim and his partner announced their engagement six years later. Tim asked his father, pastor at a church that didn't allow the officiating of same sex marriages, to preside over the wedding. Without hesitation, the reverend agreed.

Schaefer went forward and officiated Tim's wedding and was later defrocked when a member of the United Methodist Church filed a complaint. Schaefer now practices on his own, spreading God's word and welcoming the LGBT community with open arms.



6. Religious leaders united in Africa to tell the world that animals need our protection, too.




Sometimes what unites humanity's religions is the love and safekeeping of our planet. In 2012, the World Wildlife Fund partnered with various religious groups in Africa to raise awareness for the illegal slaughter of elephants and rhinos. Dozens of religious representatives of Christian, Muslim and Hindu faiths from nine African countries arrived at Kenya's Nairobi National Park and prayed over the charred ivory collected from a 1989 ivory burn intended to draw attention to poaching.

"Halting wildlife trade is a moral issue," says Dekila Chungyalpa, WWF's Sacred Earth program director, which is why he's turned to the religious community. "A religious leader can say, 'This is not part of our values. This is immoral.'"



7. This sick Christian Arab teen's dream was to meet Pope Francis, so a rabbi stepped in to make it happen.



To some degree, the job of a believer is often to exhibit your faith through your everyday actions. And when a person of one faith helps out a person of another faith simply to do a good deed and not to preach or convert, that's a special moment.

Such was the case with Chief Rabbi David Lau in Jerusalem when he learned of a young local Christian Arab boy named Mark Rouk. Rouk, 16, is dealing with a debilitating chronic illness that has infected his joints and tendons, leaving him dependent on a wheelchair. It was the teen's wish to be blessed by the Pope in the hope that it might improve his condition. Rabbi Lau stepped in and facilitated a meeting with Pope Francis during the Pope's visit to Jerusalem.

"The Pope's visit in Israel is all about the strengthening of relations between the religions," said Lau. "There is no better way to display that than when a young boy feels he can ask the chief rabbi of Israel to help make this wish come true."



8. Many would have looked away, but Pope Francis embraced this disfigured man with a kiss.



The Catholic Church is used to criticism, whether it's over rampant child abuse, concerns of financial abuse or just plain intolerance toward those outside the organization. But despite being less than all-inclusive, there are those within the church who do good, compassionate work. This was highlighted best by Pope Francis, when he was photographed blessing and kissing a man who had been disfigured by a non-infectious genetic disease called neurofibromatosis. Acts like these can often be even more meaningful when performed by the head of a faith, as these individuals are meant to set the example.



9. The Metro Baptist Church started an urban garden initiative to combat food deserts.



Perhaps the largest critique of organized religion is its inability to change with the times and be conscious of current social issues. Food insecurity is something that affects millions of Americans. According to the USDA, 17.6 millions households lacked access to adequate food. But one church in New York City wants to fix that.

In 2011, the Metro Baptist Church in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City took seven metric tons of soil to their rooftop, along with a few dozen kiddie pools for flower beds, and began their own urban garden. At the end of the first season, all the produce raised was given to the Metro Baptist Church's food pantry and the food pantry of another community church.



10. Faith groups united in Washington to end the use of weapons that could mean the end of us all.



In April, a coalition of various faith groups gathered in Washington for "Making a Difference -- Faith Communities and the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons," an event to promote the abolition of nuclear weapons around the world. Eleven different faith groups, including Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Muslims, signed a statement promising increased activism by their respective religious organizations. Their goal is to highlight the incredibly inhumane and devastating effects these weapons have on the health of the planet and its people.

Religion shouldn't be about about rushing toward the end of the world (or worse, helping to facilitate it). For most people, it's a celebration of what we've been given by whichever higher power we hold most dear -- in this world, now.

Working in Illinois? This Ranking Will Make You Think Twice About It

Wed, 2014-06-04 08:40


There's no way to sugarcoat this ranking. It's just bad. Illinois is the third-worst state in the nation for business.

And that's coming from a survey of more than 500 CEOs, so they know what they're talking about when it comes to business.

For the second straight year Illinois is ranked 48th in Chief Executive's rankings of the best and worst states for business. The rankings were based on factors of taxes, regulations, quality of the workplace and living environment.

What does this mean for Illinois? Clearly the state is struggling in those four areas and if conditions don't improve, it's likely to prompt more people to leave the state looking for better places to live and work, including Indiana, which this ranking found was the sixth-best state for business.

Or maybe people already are fleeing for a different state after seeing the budget Springfield politicians approved. Lawmakers are spending funds that were supposed to go to pay down unpaid bills, they failed to address the future of the state's income tax and they started paying themselves again for furlough days they had been taking.

It's a budget filled with absurd facts. We found 15 of them to be exact.

'Jupiter Ascending' Pushed Back To February 2015 Release Date

Wed, 2014-06-04 07:56
Uh oh. "Jupiter Ascending," the sci-fi thriller from Lana and Andy Wachowski, has been pushed back from its July 18 release date to Feb. 6, 2015.

Channing Tatum stars as a "half-wolf, half-albino warrior" who tries to save Mila Kunis' character, a house cleaner with perfect genetics who threatens the Queen of the Universe. Naturally, the queen tries to have Kunis killed. Warner Bros. has already released a few trailers that preview the fire-powered action and futuristic costumes.

"Run All Night," a Liam Neeson action film from Warner Bros., was set to debut on Feb. 6, but has now been bumped to make room for "Jupiter." A new release date for "Run All Night" has not been announced.

The movie had a reported budget of $150 million but needed extra time to work on the more than 2,000 special effects shot in the film, Variety reports. Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman told the trade mag, "A lot of the issue for us was getting it ready for the international release, since the foreign territories need additional time."

The Wachowskis are the brains behind the "Matrix" trilogy, which grossed more than $1.6 billion, "V For Vendetta," "Speed Racer" and "Cloud Atlas."

Check out the trailer below.

Alumni Feel 'Deja Vu' On College Sexual Assault Controversies

Wed, 2014-06-04 06:34
This past February, Andrea Dooley found herself feeling "a very strange sort of deja vu" when she learned her alma mater, the University of Chicago, was under federal investigation for allegedly mishandling cases of sexual assault on its campus.

Nearly two decades earlier, in 1996, Dooley was part of a group that pressured the school to reform its sexual violence policies, only to ultimately feel brushed aside by the administration. The group had formed in response to a number of maddening incidents, alumni recall. Sloppy work by campus police and student health services had resulted in the destruction of evidence in some cases. Reported victims were steered away from the Chicago Police Department. And the lack of centralized coordination was causing survivors to bounce from one office to another until they eventually gave up.

Now, in 2014, upon hearing of the latest allegations, Dooley and a group of 28 other UC alumni issued an open letter to the school's administrators. That was in February. By May, more than 600 people had signed on, including some who had graduated UC as far back as the early 1980s.

Their message, Dooley said, was "don't pretend like you've never heard this before." Some of the present-day administrators were even among the same people Dooley and her fellow students dealt with in the '90s, she said.

The University of Chicago is one of 60 higher education institutions currently under investigation for allegedly mishandling sexual violence on campus in violation of the gender equity law Title IX. An unprecedented groundswell of student and survivor activists have pushed the issue into the national conversation, garnering Congressional attention and a response from the White House.

For all the focus on the current complaints, there's a parallel conversation taking place among alumni in meetings, on Facebook, over email and on the phone. Graduates have noted again and again how they themselves raised similar concerns years or decades ago. It's incredible, alumni say, how little has changed.

The specifics may differ, but the central issue is the same, and alumni are determined to make sure their alma maters acknowledge this history.



Dooley has saved plenty of old articles from her time as an activist pushing for reforms to the university's sexual assault policies. She even has an editorial by Tucker Max, then an undergraduate at UC, saying the policies were inadequate. (Today, Max is a comedy writer whose work often draws accusations of misogyny.)

"There are 500 people willing to sign on to a letter in a week or two," said Dooley. Noting that "hundreds" of alums are threatening to close their pocketbooks, she summed up UC's position as she sees it: "They've got a problem developing in their donor base."

The conversation among UC alumni echoes others taking place between graduates of Dartmouth College, Columbia University, Williams College, Northwestern University and more. Hundreds have signed open letters at schools like Yale University, Occidental College and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Last week, an informal network of alumni from more than a dozen schools began holding conference calls to discuss how they can put pressure on their alma maters to revise campus safety policies. Withholding donations is a threat that comes up again and again from aggrieved alumni.

At Harvard University, another school under investigation, alumnae recalled how 25 years ago they sponsored similar discussions on how to better serve rape victims.

Lisa Paige, a 1980 graduate and president of the Alumnae/i Network for Harvard Women, said Harvard seems to be facing the same "institutional gendered violence" that she experienced as an undergrad.

"When I was a victim of sexual harassment and rape by the teaching assistant of one of my classes," said Paige, "I went to my house tutor, and he said, 'You're a second semester senior -- drop it, it's not worth pursuing.'"

It appears, she said, that "Harvard is unfortunately still not supporting women in a way that women deserve to be supported."

TAKING CUES FROM THE PAST

Fifteen years ago, at Columbia University, a group called Students Active For Ending Rape formed to pressure the university senate to overhaul a "notoriously inaccessible" sexual assault policy.

"The first step for students with complaints was contacting what the policy termed a 'gatekeeper,' one of a number of designated faculty members who would then make further recommendations," said Kaja Tretjak, one of SAFER's original organizers. "These 'gatekeepers' received no training in handling sexual violence issues. Many were not even aware that they were on the list of gatekeepers."

Members of SAFER held informational meetings, communicated their message over student media and went door to door in dorms to discuss their concerns. "The campus was covered with flyers affixed with red tape, used by SAFER to symbolize bureaucratic attempts to thwart reform," recalled Tretjak, now 34 and a postdoctoral fellow at SUNY Buffalo Law School. The red tape was everywhere, on students' backpacks, on their wrists and over their mouths at demonstrations.

That red tape has made a comeback at Columbia in recent weeks, as students protest what they see as an inadequate handling of sexual assault cases. Red tape made it onto the caps and gowns of students at Columbia, Brown and Harvard at this year's commencement ceremonies.

Names of alleged rapists have also been showing up at Columbia recently, handwritten on bathroom walls in a manner reminiscent of incidents at Brown University in 1990 and at the University of Maryland in 1993.

Red tape in protest of Columbias mishandling of sexual assault at Barnard Graduation today pic.twitter.com/nV8QXBr1cd

— Anna Bahr (@anna_bahr) May 18, 2014

SAFER's activism eventually led to the establishment of an office dedicated to sexual violence prevention and education, headed by a full-time staff member with expertise in the area. But just as important, said Tretjak, was the heightened campus awareness that her group helped to bring about. She's glad to see that tradition carrying on today.



"It was clear that ongoing vigilance on a grassroots level would be key to protecting the secured improvements and building upon them," Tretjak said. "One of the biggest challenges for campus organizing efforts is the high student turnover and corresponding lack of institutional memory. This is one reason why the continuous work of advocacy groups to empower student campaigns, alongside broader social change efforts drawing attention to rape culture, are so essential."

After the initial Columbia campaign, Tretjak helped to transition SAFER from a campus group to a national nonprofit, which remains active today. She also worked as an attorney, representing immigrant survivors of domestic violence, and co-founded Hollaback!, a movement to end street harassment. Tretjak says her work wouldn't have been possible if a previous generation hadn't pushed for rape crisis centers in the 1970s.

A BATTLE SPANNING FOUR DECADES

S. Daniel Carter, a longtime victim advocate and ‎director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative at the VTV Family Outreach Foundation, said that it's impossible to single out a particular institution as being the worst at handling sexual assault.

"Higher education has not done the culture-changing thing to fully address the issue of sexual violence," said Carter. "So it's not surprising to see the same issues being raised."

Indeed, Title IX complaints have been brought against schools in the past, though much more rarely than in recent years.

At the University of California, Berkeley, for instance, current complainants have worked with alumnae who were part of a Title IX filing against the school in 1979. That filing included allegations of sexual discrimination and harassment by professors. At the time, UC-Berkeley officials had dismissed complaints that a student was given low marks because she refused to have sex with a professor.

Occidental has also faced a Title IX investigation before. In the early '90s, a group of students known as the Feminist Consciousness Coalition filed a complaint with the Education Department over sexual harassment and misogyny on campus, which they attributed at the time largely to the fraternity system.

"I am sad yet not surprised that 20 years on we continue to face many of the same structural barriers to women's safety and gender equity," Deevy Holcomb, a '93 alumna and former leader of the Feminist Consciousness Coalition, wrote to organizers of Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition, a present-day group on campus.

Harvard and Columbia have launched committees to examine their Title IX policies, and many of the other schools facing criticism say they are making their own revisions. Columbia has also promised an annual campus climate survey, additional Title IX investigators and 24-hour on-call access to professional staff for victims.

A new Executive Vice President for Student Affairs office will centralize overall responsibility for the issue at Columbia. Likewise, the University of Chicago is adding a new associate dean of students to investigate sexual assault cases.

And it may be those new administrators who finally improve these campuses.

"Many of the newer administrators who are now ascending to positions of greater responsibility across the county are far more tuned into and recognize the importance of tackling these issues," Carter said. "What we're seeing is a lot more institutions take it far more seriously. That's what gives me the most hope."

Old Clips From Student Activism Around Sexual Assault In Previous Decades:

An article about the protests around sexual assault policies at the University of Chicago in 1996 and '97.


A flyer at the University of Chicago from 1996.


A copy of a 1996 editorial by Tucker Max, where he stated the university sexual assault policy is "pathetically inadequate."


From the 2000-01 "Disorientation Guide" at Columbia University.



--

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6 Things I Learned About Life And Aging From My Fitbit

Wed, 2014-06-04 05:48
You know how those freeway signs spoke to Steve Martin in "L.A. Story?" Well I'm having a similar relationship with my Fitbit. Fitbits are those little electronic tracking devices that you wear to record your exercise, sleep and -- when synchronized with a mobile app -- your food intake. It's a tech version of keeping a diet log and since I'm always looking for things short of having a heart attack to motivate me to lose weight, I bought one. While I've only had it a month, I've already learned a lot about aging from my Fitbit. Here's what I mean:

You are never too old to make new friends.
On our first morning as a couple, my Fitbit greeted me with a cheery digital message of "Good morning, Annie." I told my husband that only my close friends call me "Annie" and that I wasn't sure my Fitbit and I were actually on such personal terms yet.

"Hey, I don't call you 'Annie'," he noted. I pretended I didn't hear him.

On Day 2, my Fitbit began showing signs of excessive morning enthusiasm. "Ready, Annie?" she asked me. (I've decided my Fitbit is a girl.) I don't like excessive morning enthusiasm -- my husband's or my Fitbit's -- but shoved her in my bra anyway. Bras are where this particular version of Fitbit is supposed to be worn, something that my husband thinks is weird, but I think he's still hurt by the Annie thing.

So yes, a month into things, my Fitbit is like my new BFF. I will observe that making friends gets harder as you get older, primarily because you don't encounter the same quantity of people your same age and/or with similar interests as you did in other life stages -- like in college for instance. The office is populated by people of various generations, and in various life stages. Try asking the Mom with three kids under age 10 if she has time to stop for a drink after work and you'll see what I mean.

Me and my Fitbit? She'd like us to go dancing Saturday night and says my husband can come along. It's good exercise you know.

Sometimes those voices you hear in your head actually have worthwhile things to say.
In my case, the voices started the night I had the "L.A. Story" dream. In it, my Fitbit began delivering me messages.

"Why take the elevator when you can walk the two flights of stairs?"

"Tell the waiter 'no bread;' go on, tell him!"

"No, you really don't look like a hamster when you use the treadmill; hamsters are much thinner, Annie." (This last one sounds like the voice of HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey.")

I deserve to be appreciated and valued at any age.
My Fitbit? Well, let's just say that having someone take such a keen personal interest in my well-being has felt both good and refreshing. I also like that my Fitbit requires very little of me in return for this unconditional interest except maybe remembering to recharge her. (Even the houseplants ask for more.) My Fitbit never loses socks in the dryer, misplaces the car keys, and she has never left for school without her lunch expecting me to drop whatever I'm writing and rush it up there to her.

My Fitbit pays so much attention to me that she even knows how many times I've walked up our steps on any given day. She literally watches my every move and you know what? It all feels good.

As you age, you might notice that you aren't getting enough attention. My Fitbit has reminded me to up the ante on expressing my need for appreciation to those who profess to love me even though they never seen to care how many times I've had to run up and down the steps to fetch them things.

Recharging does us a world of good.
My Fitbit is on-the-go 24/7. She doesn't even rest while I sleep because she is busy checking how my sleep is going. And we all know what happens when we push ourselves too hard, right? I've come to appreciate how sleep -- which becomes more elusive as we age -- is so vital to my focus, joy and function. When I don't get enough rest, I peter out. I lose patience, work sloppily, and forget more things. My Fitbit is like that too. One day, she just sort of collapsed on me -- her little flower icon (which I think measures how much juice she has left in her battery) was just a little seedling. We had a talk, my Fitbit and me.

Now, she takes time off to recharge. I make sure she is not connected to any devices (she and my phone have this syncing thing going on) and she just recharges while I sleep. And when we wake up, we are both raring to go. Or at least she is.

Use it or lose it.
My Fitbit has encouraged me to step things up a bit in the exercise department. She convinced me that the old "use it or lose it" expression is for real. She was talking about herself, though. I only lost her once but it became a big deal in our house. (I had switched into a running bra after work, something I would think she would have understood. But instead when I finally picked her up from the old bra on the floor, she gave me a low step count just because I forgot to take her running with me.)

Peer pressure doesn't go away as you get older.
Not only doesn't it go away, it's moved online. Yes we pretend that we are being supportive of one another in our MyFitnessPal.com conversations, but there is also a message in the unspoken: Cindy just lost three pounds this week and we all send her messages of "congrats" but I am secretly wallowing in the pain of the damage done by that bag of potato chips I wolfed down in the car on the way home from the supermarket.

While my Fitbit would never chide me for walking a measly 3,000 steps a day when I should be doing 10,000, just having her close to my heart has been a motivation. That, and the fact that she has a pretty active social media presence and I've always avoided public humiliation.


These People Got To Spend A Day With Some Cute Animals, And It Was Pure Bliss

Wed, 2014-06-04 05:18
Photographs and videos captured during PetSmart's Inspiration Waggin' tour prove just how powerful and beautiful a simple snuggle from a furry friend can be.

The multi-city tour, which took place last month, saw people who don't usually get the opportunity to enjoy a pet's company -- including seniors at a Texas retirement center, kids at an Arizona children's hospital and sailors docked for Fleet Week in New York City -- sharing special moments with some adorable animals.











“The purpose of the Inspiration Waggin’ tour is to bring pet-inspired moments to people across the country,” said PetSmart CEO David Lenhardt in a press release prior to the tour's launch.

The tour aims to bring the benefits of "a wagging tail and some unconditional love" to people of all stripes, according to the release, in the hopes of making "even the most regular of days better."

Studies have shown that spending time with a pet can lower blood pressure, strengthen your heart, reduce stress and lower your risk of depression, among many other health benefits. Plus, as anyone who's smooched a pooch or stroked a cat's pretty face will know, getting loved on by an animal just feels oh-so-great.

Just look at the pictures and video above if you don't believe us.

To find out more about "Inspriration Waggin'" tour, visit PetSmart's Inspired By Pets website here.

Top Ten Q&As About God, Jesus, the Bible & LGBT People

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:03
It's June again. Gay Pride Month. Time for parades and for festivals, for rainbow flags and dance tents. And this year we're not only celebrating Pride; we're also celebrating the first anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 that paved the way for marriage equality in 19 states (plus the District of Columbia) with Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, Idaho, Arkansas, and Texas all waiting appellate court decisions after lower courts ruled for equality.

And we are not just celebrating; we are recommitting to continuing the struggle until liberty and justice for all really means "all." Everywhere.

So here's the 2014 version of my annual Pride Month FAQs about God, Jesus, the Bible and Gay People -- offered in hopes that together we truly can be the change we want to see in the world, and in rebuttal to the rabid rhetoric of the anti-gay religious right. They do not speak for me. And they do not speak for my church.

1. Is being gay a sin?
No. Sins are acts that separate us from God and keep us from loving our neighbors as ourselves. Being gay is not a sin. Bullying is a sin. Being hateful to other people is a sin. Putting yourself in the place of God to judge others is a sin. Being gay is not.

2. What did Jesus say about gay people?
Jesus said the same thing about gay people that he said about all people: God loves you beyond your wildest imagining and calls you to walk in love with God and with each other. He also said a whole lot about loving your neighbor, welcoming the stranger, embracing the outcast and ministering to the marginalized.

3. Does the Bible really condemn homosexuality?
The short answer is no, it does not. The handful of passages in the Old and New Testaments that talk about God condemning specific sexual acts have nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with contexts such as cultic prostitution or gang rape. To put it another way, using the Bible as a handbook on human sexuality makes as much sense as using it as a handbook on astronomy. Just as those who wrote the Biblical texts had no concept of the science that would prove the earth actually revolves around the sun, they had no concept of homosexuality (which wasn't defined until the 19th century).

4. How do I respond when people say "God hates f--s"?
First of all, God's nature is to love, not to hate. We believe that what God cares about is not our sexual orientation but our theological orientation -- and that the question that matters is not "who do you love?" but "do you love?" Recognizing that homophobia causes some folks to project onto God their own fears, prejudices and biases against LGBT people, sometimes the best response is simply no response. It can be a challenge, but getting triggered by hate-mongers prevents us from being the change we want to see.

5. What do I tell people when they say being gay is a sin and a choice?
Tell them that Jesus said absolutely nothing about being gay, but he said a lot of things about judging other people. Then tell them that while there is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation, there is consensus that sexuality is a continuum. So the "choice" is not to be gay, straight or somewhere in between; the "choice" is to build our own healthy relationships -- and give other people the grace to build theirs.

6. How about transgender people? Where do they fit in?
The same place all God's beloved children fit in: smack dab in the center of God's care, love and desire for health and wholeness for every single human being.

7. How do I respond when politicians condemn my sexuality, citing their belief in the Bible?
Remind them that the First Amendment protects them in believing whatever they want to about what God does or does not bless, but it also prohibits them from using those beliefs to decide who the Constitution protects or doesn't protect. Tell them to stop confusing their theology with our democracy. And then campaign for and donate to their opponent in the next election cycle.

8. So is the Episcopal Church in favor of marriage equality?
Yes. In 2012 the Episcopal Church adopted a resolution entitled "End Discrimination Against Same-Sex Marriages" urging "members of the United States Congress to pass legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and allow the U.S. federal government to provide benefits to couples in a same-sex marriage." And here in Los Angeles all three of our bishops signed on to the amici briefs calling for the repeal of DOMA and overturning Prop 8.

9. Do you have women and LGBT clergy in your church?
Yes. The Episcopal Church has been ordaining women to the priesthood since 1974, and we have women deacons, priests and bishops throughout the church -- including two women bishops here in the Diocese of Los Angeles. When it comes to gay men in the priesthood, the issue is not homosexuality; it is honesty. The church has ordained gay men for centuries, but finally the Episcopal Church added "sexual orientation" in the non-discrimination list in 1994 and "gender identity" in 2012 ending our version of "don't ask, don't tell." Because the Episcopal Church allows for diversity of practice, the leadership of "out" LGBT and women clergy is more prevalent in some places than in others. But the Diocese of Los Angeles is proud to have been in the forefront of inclusion.

10. Should I try to "pray away the gay"?
No. If you need to pray away something, pray away homophobia. Homosexuality doesn't need healing. Homophobia does.

Jesse Jackson Jr. Could Leave Prison Sooner Than Expected

Tue, 2014-06-03 15:14
Convicted ex-Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. may taste freedom even sooner than expected.

The disgraced former Democratic Representative from Illinois will be eligible to leave federal prison and serve out the final year of his sentence in a halfway house beginning Sept. 20, a Bureau of Prisons spokesman told the Chicago Tribune Tuesday.

Just a day earlier, officials announced Jackson could have more than three months shaved off his sentence.

Under federal prison guidelines, officials may reduction of an inmate’s sentence of up to one year upon successful completion of a drug or alcohol treatment program. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke would not comment on what treatment Jackson may have received while serving time.

“We don’t discuss an inmate’s programming history,” Burke told the Chicago Sun-Times.

In the summer prior to his resignation from Congress in 2012, Jackson sought treatment at Mayo Clinic for bipolar disorder.

Jackson, who in 2013 was sentenced to two and a half years for illegally spending $750,000 of campaign funds, was originally projected to be released from prison Dec. 31, 2015.

If the new anticipated release date of Sept. 20, 2015 holds firm, Jackson will be free after serving less than two years of his original sentence.

A recent court filing revealed Jackson paid the remaining $550,000 in restitution he owed the U.S. government. He wrote a check for $200,000 to the U.S. Marshals upon entering prison and last month was reportedly refinancing one of the two homes he and wife Sandi Jackson keep in Chicago and Washington, D.C. in order to pay off the balance.

A Bureau of Prisons spokesman told the Tribune there's no link between Jackson's restitution payment and new projected release date, calling the matters "unrelated."

Sandi Jackson, who was convicted at the same time as her husband, was sentenced to serve one year in prison for filing false tax returns. A federal judge allowed the ex-Chicago Councilwoman to serve her sentence after her husband's in order to have at least one parent free to look after the couple's young children.

Chicago Sun-Times Pulls 'Disgusting And Transphobic' Op-Ed On Laverne Cox

Tue, 2014-06-03 14:53
The Chicago Sun-Times faced an onslaught of calls for an apology and a retraction after it re-published a National Review op-ed that LGBT advocates are calling "disgusting and transphobic."

The op-ed, written by right-leaning correspondent Kevin D. Williamson, is titled "Laverne Cox Is Not A Woman" and repeatedly misgenders the "Orange Is The New Black" actress and trans icon, who is gracing the cover of the latest TIME Magazine. It also raised offensive questions concerning Cox's anatomy.

The Sun-Times removed the op-ed from its website Tuesday afternoon without explanation, then later issued a statement and apology to BuzzFeed:

We try to present a range of views on an issue, not only those views we may agree with, but also those we don’t agree with. A recent op-ed piece we ran online that was produced by another publication initially struck as provocative.

Upon further consideration, we concluded the essay did not include some key facts and its overall tone was not consistent with what we seek to publish. The column failed to acknowledge that the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have deemed transgender-related care medically necessary for transgender people. It failed as well to acknowledge the real and undeniable pain and discrimination felt by transgender people, who suffer from notably higher rates of depression and suicide.

We have taken the post down and we apologize for the oversight.

Williamson's piece inspired a Change.org petition calling for an apology from the paper and the removal of the op-ed from the Sun-Times website. As of mid-Tuesday afternoon, it was signed over 1,800 times.

A separate petition launched by Women, Action, and the Media, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit focused on addressing gender issues in media, calls for the paper to "institute transparent new standards for covering transgender people in your pages." The letter, addressed to Sun-Times publisher and editor-in-chief Jim Kirk, has been signed 675 times.

"It is beneath any reputable national journalistic outlet to reprint such dangerous and false rhetoric," the letter reads.

GLAAD also addressed the piece and had reportedly been "in communication with the editors" of the paper.

"This ugly and insulting propaganda is dangerous to readers' understanding of who transgender people are," GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a blog post.

Meanwhile, prominent Chicago-based trans activist Jen Richards penned a response to Williamson's piece on The Daily Dot:

Williamson’s grasp of “the biological facts of life” is no different than pointing to the rising and setting of the sun as as clear evidence that the earth is the center of the universe. Transgender people aren't lies in the face of facts; we're facts that widen the truth. Williamson's audacity to determine what Cox's body means is a worse sin, and the consequences of an attitude so thoroughly rooted in self-serving prejudice are far darker. His essay eerily echoes centuries of white men telling black women what they are. All who value human agency and self-determination should be deeply disturbed by such ideas.

UPDATE: 3:15 p.m. -- GLAAD has also shared the Sun-Times' statement and said they are continuing to work with Chicago trans leaders on other responses to the controversy.

John Oliver's Army Of Internet Trolls Broke A Government Website

Tue, 2014-06-03 14:44
John Oliver and an army of Internet trolls managed to break the FCC's website Monday night.

On the Sunday, June 1, episode of "Last Week Tonight," Oliver issued a rallying cry to angry online commenters to "focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction" against the Federal Communication Commission's proposed changes to net neutrality regulations. The following day, the FCC website's comment system received so much traffic, it stopped functioning for more than two hours.

We’ve been experiencing technical difficulties with our comment system due to heavy traffic. We’re working to resolve these issues quickly.

— The FCC (@FCC) June 2, 2014


We’re still experiencing technical difficulties with our comment system. Thanks for your patience as we work to resolve the issues.

— The FCC (@FCC) June 2, 2014


Oliver's Sunday segment explained the ongoing issue of changing net neutrality rules to potentially allow content companies to pay Internet service providers in exchange for faster service to the companies' customers. Oliver also touched on what these changes would mean to both companies and average Internet user. The clip ends in a call to action for the "monsters" of the Internet -- you know, those people who leave hateful comments on everything from this article to the YouTube video of your daughter's first-grade dance recital -- to "channel that anger, that badly spelled bile" and target the FCC.

At the time of this writing, the FCC's "Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet" filing had received almost 3,000 publicly viewable comments in the two days since Oliver's net neutrality segment aired.

The number of comments was already high without Oliver's help: More than 47,000 comments have been posted in the last 30 days. This number will undoubtedly grow as Oliver's clip helps to bring more publicity to the comment system.

New Music From the Old School: Bob Eike, Billy Thompson and Soul Stew Records

Tue, 2014-06-03 13:48
Bob Eike playing a 1931 National steel guitar (Photo by Johnny Nevin)


There's an art to being an independent label, but the heart of the art isn't exactly what most people might think. It's not so much the ability to discover, produce and promote that makes a great independent record label. It's more a talent for appreciation. When you find an indie label that you want to follow, that you would want to hear more from, it's often because the people there not only appreciate the music they bring you, they also appreciate how good it is for for everybody who loves that music when that music can be heard.

There's a new label like that just outside of D.C. They call themselves Soul Stew Records, and they started releasing music last year, bringing a promising new touch to an old idea: find great music, and bring it to the people who love it. "We deliver blues, soul, roots, jazz, gospel, Americana and any other genre that is real and moves us," is the way they describe themselves, and Soul Stew's first two releases (both of them what most people would call the Blues) deliver a lot.

These are two albums that spotlight two very different sides of the Blues, though. Bob Eike's CD happy little songs about futility and despair showcases the acoustic side of the art's oldest traditions, although Eike's songwriting is so rich with forward-leaning imagination that he makes a familiar style feel like it's new right now. With a very different approach and a very different sound, Billy Thompson's new release Friend is a such a road ready, crowd driving, blues-rock jam that you could almost forget to tell your friends how accomplished the musicianship on it is.




This is new music for sure, but that doesn't mean it's not old school. Brightly creative, yet true to the best of two richly different blues traditions, both albums sound classic and proud of it. Both Thompson and Eike go back far enough to have seen plenty of what's real in music, and between them they've shared stages and studios with a roll call of great players. They're also old friends, and as artists they have a lot in common. Perhaps the most important quality they share is an unspoken understanding, an understated conviction, that whatever music you most love to play, that's the music that people will most love to hear.

Bob Eike's story is an especially unusual one about how to love music, and how to make music that you love. "When I was a teenager in southeast Texas. I was blown away by the sound of a steel resonator guitar, and Blues in general," he explains. Eike had read somewhere that there was a man in Nashville named George Gruhn who sold National steel guitars, so he went to the library to get his address and wrote him a letter to find out if he could afford one. "I saved my lawn mowing money and sent him three hundred and twenty-five dollars, and he sent me back a fixed-up 1931 National," Eike says. "I still play it today."

The 1931 National George Gruhn sent Bob Eike back in the day (Photo by Johnny Nevin)


He saw a lot of Blues around Houston, and once watched Lightnin' Hopkins tear the roof off a club that was so packed some of the audience (including a young Bob Eike) had to sit next to him on the stage. "Seeing him just own the joint, him, his guitar, the audience, was a magical thing," Eike recalls. Right in the middle of one of his songs, Hopkins stopped and pointed to Eike. "You ever see someone that you immediately liked the first time you see them?" he said to the packed house. "I really like this cat here, this man is cool." Eike says he went out and bought every Lightnin' Hopkins record he could find, and started trying to play like him. "To this day," he says, "It's the image of what I want to be. Just me and my guitar, trying to tell my story and own the joint."

A lot of people would call what Eike plays 'Delta Blues' ("I just call it bangin' on the guitar," he says), but the more you hear his music, the less you want to classify it, because you start to hear that what he loves about music includes so much that's so different. "I'm an avid listener to all kinds of guitar players, Ry Cooder, Marc Ribot, Frank Zappa, Flamenco, African, and all sorts of Latin Players," he says. "There are a couple of Indian slide players that I know God has got turned up loud all the time." It gives you an idea of why he's able to layer so much music into one guitar, played in real time.

It's an unusual title for an album, happy little songs about futility and despair, and even more remarkable is how well it captures what's on the record. It's true that the songs aren't long, and the instrumentation couldn't be more straightforward (one voice, one guitar), but that only makes it more intriguing that every song looms so large. They aren't exactly about 'futility and despair' either, although Eike's poetry often leans to the darker side of realism. "Nobody's got an answer, nobody's got a clue" he sings in 'That's Just Not Right', "and if you never wonder, you know you're bound to get fooled."

Bob Eike (Photo by Johnny Nevin)


Somehow, though, despite it's often scorching take on a world full of trouble, happy little songs about futility and despair plays like a defiant affirmation of something much brighter, probably because of Eike's remarkable musicianship. He can pull melody and rhythm out of a guitar like he's conducting a six string symphony orchestra, and there's such a brightness in just being able to do that (or in hearing somebody who can) that his album makes you feel like somewhere, something must be alright.

If all of that makes you wonder where he's been, there's a story about it, but it's not really a complicated one. After what he calls "a brush with the big time" (a feature in Guitar Player magazine as "an undiscovered great", a strong and well-produced independent album that was never released, and much more), Eike eventually began to live his life like his music was his own business. Why that changed, and how he came to put together an album as impressive as happy little songs about futility and despair is also a story, and that one has a lot to do with his friend Billy Thompson.

Thompson's talent as a performer has been in a lot of spotlights, on a lot of big stages, and for a lot of years. Besides an almost uncountable list of performances with his own band, he's played in hit broadway shows, at the 2002 Superbowl celebration, on big network TV shows, with the San Diego Symphony and with legends like Little Milton, Albert King, Earl King and Art Neville. He can find all kinds of different shades and colors in a guitar, and he and his band drive their way through a live performance as if playing great and meaning it is just the beginning of what they showed up to do.

His album Friend manages to include all of that, and something more. Thompson's guitar playing always finds just the right expression, just the right feeling, to paint the pictures his songs imagine, but taken together, the songs on Friend add another dimension to his musicianship. True to the album's title, there's a determined sense of good will that runs through the album. "While the worlds winding down, Days may seem dark as night," he sings, "We've got to do all we can to make each other feel alright". It's a theme that runs throughout much of the album, and in songs like "While the World's Winding Down", "Many Faces", and the title cut "Friend", you get a good idea of who it really is that's playing that guitar.


Billy Thompson (Photo by Conrad Trump)

Thompson and Eike go way back. They met in Southern California years ago, although Eike doesn't really remember exactly how. "I think he was doing sound at a jazz club in La Jolla that used to have a blues night, and I was playing it," he says. When Eike was picked up to do a full production spec album, he insisted on playing with Thompson. "I had my pick of guitarists, and I insisted on Billy because I respected his work and depth," he says.

Years later and still good friends, Eike took an active interest in introducing Billy to audiences in Chicago, where Eike had settled, and got the Billy Thompson Band booked at the city's legendary Blues venue, Rosa's. "Thinking of seeing Billy, and not having a new song, I started banging on the guitar again," Eike recalls, " and when he showed up I showed him what I was working on." Thompson had recently signed with Soul Stew, and when the label's founder, Eric Selby, heard Eike's music he immediately knew that more people would want to hear it too. "Eric seemed to like the songs," Eike says, "and he was nice enough to put them on his label. Its a great label, and a great relationship."

There's an art to being an independent label, as much as there is to playing a guitar or making a record, and the heart of the art is even more than just finding good music and releasing good records. As important as that part will always be, it may be even more important to be able to appreciate how worthwhile it is to make it so that all that music can be heard. That's why, If you give a good listen to these two records, to Bob Eike's happy little songs about futility and despair, and to Billy Thompson's Friend, it just might make you want to hear some of the music that Soul Stew Records will probably be finding for years to come.
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________________________________

Bob Eike's happy little songs about futility and despair is at iTunes, Amazon and at CDBaby, and you can listen to more of the tracks at Reverbnation. Billy Thompson's Friend is at iTunes, Amazon and at CDBaby, where you can also get the CD. You can listen to more of the tracks at Reverbnation. There's also more about Billy Thompson at his site billythompsonmusic.com and at his Facebook, where you can also check his show schedule.

This story originally appeared at aotpr.com

Instagram Introduces 10 New Features

Tue, 2014-06-03 12:42
Instagram, the photo-sharing service made popular by photography enthusiasts and teenagers with their darn camera phones, has introduced 10 new features that allow users to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation and warmth, among other things.

The new creative tools, which were announced on the Instagram blog, will be available for download via the App Store or Google Play on Tuesday, June 3.



The new features certainly give photography fans a simple, yet powerful, way to further adjust their photographs. You know, besides just slapping a filter on them.

According to Peter Deng, director of product at Instagram, the updates are all about "trying to bridge the gap between being a photo geek and the rest of the world."

In an interview with Mashable, Deng said, "Instagram's always been about taking these tools that were previously inaccessible ... and making them accessible for free for everyone that uses Instagram."

This is the first major change to Instagram since the addition of Instagram Direct in late 2013. The feature allows users to send private photo and video messages to other users.

Sick Children To Have Access To Medical Marijuana In Illinois

Tue, 2014-06-03 11:35
Medical marijuana advocates notched a major victory Friday when the Illinois Senate approved a bill that will grant epileptic minors access to a form of the drug to treat their symptoms.

In the waning hours of the Illinois General Assembly's spring session, the bill garnered bipartisan support with senators voting 54-2 in favor of the proposal.

In states like Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky, parents of children suffering from epilepsy have pushed for the legalization of cannabidiol, or CBD oil, to treat their children's intractable seizures, which can range from debilitating to deadly. Unable to secure the drug in their home states, families from around the country have moved to Colorado, which passed generous laws on CBD oil access for minors.

"It puts parents in an extremely difficult situation," Nicole Gross, one of the Illinois parents who lobbied for the bill, told The Huffington Post in May. "You can stay where you are and face the possibility [your child] may not wake up the next morning from SUDEP (sudden unexpected death in epilepsy). Or do you move to another state, but be separated from your home and family?"

Gross is among parents who moved to Colorado with her children to get CBD oil; her son, Chase, suffers from epilepsy. Gross' husband Randy, who remains in Illinois for work, was following the bill's progress closely and told HuffPost via Twitter Friday its passage marked "a good day for us in Colorado and Illinois."

The bill passed the Illinois House last month; advocates are confident Gov. Pat Quinn (D) will sign it into law when it reaches his desk.

Minnesota Vikings Player Chad Greenway Rescues Stranded Boaters In Lake

Tue, 2014-06-03 11:31
Who better to rescue distressed boaters than a Viking?

Minnesota Vikings player Chad Greenway helped save two stranded boaters Monday afternoon after the steering failed on the couple's new boat. Crystal and Edward Alexis were left spinning in circles on Lake Minnetonka and edging toward the rocks.

That's when Greenway spotted them, KARE11 reports.

(Story continues below)

Yes, that's @Vikings Chad Greenway rescuing stuck boaters on Lake Minnetonka, @kare11 at 10. @RenaKARE11 pic.twitter.com/C12k4rxev1

— Bill Middeke (@wildmediabill) June 2, 2014




"I just ran down, of course with my two little girls following behind me, trying to stay out of the way, and I figured I'd help them out. It looked like it was dangerous," Greenway told the station.

A video of the rescue shows the boat bucking in heavy wind and rough, choppy waves as Greenway steadies the craft. The 6-foot, 2-inch, 242-pound linebacker succeeded in securing the boat, then gave the soggy couple a ride back to their car.

After the rescue, the couple told KARE11 they hadn't realized the good Samaritan was a Minnesota Vikings player. Crystal, a Vikings fan, was thrilled; Edward had another take: "I'm a Chicago Bears fan, I'm just going to keep it real."

Greenway laughingly joked, "Good thing he told me that after!"

Watch A Tiny Apartment Grow With A Wave Of The Hand (VIDEO)

Tue, 2014-06-03 11:23


It's no secret that when it comes to micro-dwelling, everyone's looking for space-saving solutions that can really open up even the teeny-tiniest apartment. But instead of resorting to hanging stuff everywhere or purchasing double-duty furniture, MIT Media Lab’s Changing Places group is going in a drastically different direction and really taking things to the next level with their new CityHome project.

Through the help of gestures, touch and voice control, a mechanical box that looks a bit like a custom closet transforms into a complete home as the hiding bed, table, kitchen, workspace, closet and storage units emerge. But the innovation doesn't end there -- the entire module is built on low-friction rollers and can be moved a few feet each way to dynamically fulfill any small-space needs.

And according to lead researcher Kent Larson, who noted that CityHome isn’t just a concept, but a viable product he intends to bring to market through either a startup or a commercial sponsor, “at $1,000 per square foot in Boston, the extra cost of technology is trivial compared to space saved for a furnished apartment.” Just imagine the difference that'll make for New Yorkers and San Franciscans...

Airbnb Doing What It Can To Stop Orgies From Happening In Your Home, OK?

Tue, 2014-06-03 11:01
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky is working really hard to make sure that people aren't throwing orgies in your home.

In an interview with Katie Couric for Yahoo News, Chesky revealed that the site has banned thousands of Airbnb members from the community for throwing wild parties, trashing apartments, or even turning apartments into temporary brothels.

Surprisingly, the bad press doesn't seem to be hurting the company. TechCrunch reports Airbnb remains popular among investors and continues to grow, particularly in Europe.

Chesky told Couric he'd like to move beyond finding members a place to stay and plans to focus on booking activities and other aspects of the hospitality world. These future plans won't work if customers are too afraid to list their homes on the site.

But, as Chesky assured Couric, the site has been working tirelessly to stop those problems, doing everything from removing members, to implementing insurance policies, to hiring 100 employees to ensure that the company is always focused on trust and safety.

Will it be enough? That remains to be seen. And with Airbnb's other concerns (like violating "illegal hotel" laws in cities like New York) only time will tell whether Chesky's startup will maintain the steady growth it's enjoyed thus far.

Overwhelming Majority Of College Presidents Oppose Allowing Guns On Campus, Research Finds

Tue, 2014-06-03 08:24
Nearly every college president opposes allowing guns on campus, according to a new survey.

Research from Ball State University publicized Monday showed 95 percent of college presidents and chancellors oppose permiting firearms on their campuses. The survey of 401 college chief executives identified accidental shootings of fellow students as their top concern with allowing guns on campus.

In addition, the survey found 98 percent of college presidents believe students and faculty feel safe on their campuses.

The findings were published in the report "University Presidents’ Perceptions and Practice Regarding the Carrying of Concealed Handguns on College Campuses." It was publicized less than two weeks after six students were slain near the University of California-Santa Barbara, as 22-year-old Elliot Rodger shot eight people and stabbed three others to death.

There were at least 27 shootings on or near college campuses in 2013.

Allowing guns on campus is proving to be one of the most unpopular proposals in the collegiate world. Legislation to allow firearms at colleges has faced opposition nationwide, including in conservative states.

Previous research from Ball State, surveying students at 15 Midwestern colleges, similarly found four-in-five students oppose allowing guns on campus.

The 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech remains the most deadly mass school shooting in the U.S. The event left 33 people dead.

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Cowbird: Making the Web Better for Humans

Tue, 2014-06-03 07:48
Three years ago, on the eve of unveiling his storytelling and photo-sharing platform, Cowbird, Jonathan Harris called his investors and gave back their $500K investment. Rather than caving into pressure to maximize profitability at the expense of the user experience, Harris stuck to his vision. He launched Cowbird his way: ad-free and passionately committed to genuine interplay among users. Today, it's a thriving community of nearly 70,000 stories and storytellers from 180+ countries who prefer to post stories in formats longer than a Facebook status updates, but briefer than short stories.



This week, Harris rolls out a new and improved Cowbird, with social features that heighten creativity and serendipity among users. User "citizens" can pay a modest membership fee to help fund the site. With this latest version of Cowbird, Harris has refined some of the interface and usability features to make it more like a small town where it's easy to bump into people and get to know them. The search function helps people find authors by roles they play: gardener, business owner, encourager and so on. Finding and sharing stories around life events, troubles, triumphs and concerns is effortless. At most social media platforms it's difficult, if not impossible, to connect with or share with people you haven't already invited into your circle -- it's an echo chamber. But Cowbird encourages chance encounters by referring similar material the same way Amazon does. Popular story lines are extended by daily "seed" story prompts.

While Cowbird is packed with ad-free story telling tools, its hidden asset lies in delivering what many online users secretly crave: a cohesive sense of identity. Most of us have a plethora of identities that we use for various social apps. Not a big deal, right? Until you consider that as we trade more time online for less time out in the world, increasingly the digital realm is where we become who we are. In previous generations, identity was formed through socializing in Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts, or the Moose Lodge or the PTA -- today we cultivate our sense of identity over on Pinterest and Twitter. But these social media sites are insufficient for anyone seeking deeper meaning.



So far, Harris has been able to achieve something remarkable. With very little capital he's tackling the hard, humbling work of engaging people and connecting them to each other based on shared experiences. No matter how overblown the web might seem today, there's still white space. There's still opportunity to capture the attention of millions of people burned out and uninspired by the emptiness of hours spent online using popular social media. It's a triumph of imagination over cynicism about what people want online. And the good vibes radiating out of Cowbird's community are proof that when it comes to knowing ourselves, nothing replaces meaningful human relationships.

Patricia Martin is founder of Chicago-based LitLamp Communications, and author of the forthcoming book on identity in the digital culture.

Chicago Laundromat Shooting Leaves Multiple People Injured

Mon, 2014-06-02 21:30
At least seven people, including a 14-year-old boy, were shot Monday night at a laundromat in Chicago, according to multiple reports.

The Chicago Tribune says the 14-year-old has been taken to a hospital and is in serious-to-critical condition.

This is a developing story. We will post updates as we receive them.

Julia Collins Loses On 'Jeopardy!', Holds No. 2 Spot For Most Consecutive Wins

Mon, 2014-06-02 18:52
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The reign of the winningest female contestant in "Jeopardy!" history has come to an end.

Julia Collins, 31, lost during her 21st appearance on the pre-taped episode that aired Monday. The Chicago-area resident accumulated a total of $428,100 during her 20 victories on the syndicated series. Collins was vanquished by Brian Loughnane, an investment operations manager from Scituate, Massachusetts. Collins went into the final-question showdown in second place, bet everything and lost it.

Loughnane, who is from Ireland, won $22,600.

The clue that stumped her: The New England writer who in 1999 became the last person to win an Oscar for adapting his own novel as a screenplay. She failed to answer with the correct question: Who is John Irving? His novel and film are titled "The Cider House Rules."

Monday's game overall "just didn't go my way," Collins said in a phone interview, adding, "I couldn't have loved being on the show more."

Host Alex Trebek's salute to Collins after her streak ended: "Well done, young lady."

Collins said she was glad her record might serve as an example of female achievement.

"If it helps dispel the idea that women aren't as good 'Jeopardy!' players as men, that would be great," she said. "It's good to see women being applauded for being smart."

Her winnings helped finance a dream trip to Paris, where she rented an apartment for a month. Some may fund future travel adventures, Collins said.

The management consultant, who's been enjoying a hiatus thanks to "Jeopardy!", said she plans to get back into the work world.

The previous top female player for consecutive wins was Stephanie Jass, who took seven games in a row in season 29. Collins displaced her and Larissa Kelly, who was No. 1 in total winnings with $222,597.

Collins holds the No. 2 spot for most consecutive wins behind all-time "Jeopardy!" champ Ken Jennings. He won 74 straight games in season 21 for a total prize of $2.5 million.

She is the third-highest money winner for non-tournament play on "Jeopardy!" behind Jennings and Dave Madden, who won $430,400.

Future "Jeopardy!" contestants might want to consider her advice: Practice your buzzer technique so you can beat out your usually-knowledgeable competitors, and restrain yourself from guessing at answers.

And stay calm.

"I was more relaxed than I thought I would be" when she first played, Collins said. "I thought I was going to have a little 'deer in the headlights' experience. ... I tried not to put too much pressure on myself, not worrying about things I don't know. "

Collins will be back for the "Jeopardy!" tournament of champions next season.

___

Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber@ap.org and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lynnelber.

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