Revealing reactions to stolen photos

A crime was revealed last week, the hacking and theft of hundreds, if not thousands of private photos from high-profile celebrities. Many of these stolen photos were nudes taken by the celebrity intended only for the eyes of her beloved. Reactions to this news falls broadly into two camps. One, the one that has been repeated in reaction to sexually related crimes against women for hundreds of years, is worn out to the point of ridicule. “She should have been more careful.”

characterquoteThe other reaction is almost startling in its common sense. “How many other precautions should she have to take? Is it your fault when someone steals your identity?”

What needs to be remembered, first and foremost, is that a crime was committed against these women. Their property – sometimes with extreme effort – has been stolen from their private devices. One woman noted that she’d deleted her images a long time ago – and was astounded when they suddenly showed up again.

Now, with the publicity of these photos, the women are being victimized again and again and again. How different is this situation from a peeping pervert photographing or videotaping a woman without her knowledge, and then publicizing those pictures or videos. It is a crime, and the woman in the safety of her own home, is not to blame.

Yet again and again the echoing rejoinder, the slut-shaming, victim-blaming culture insists that none of those women should have ever had naked pictures of themselves to start with.

Ok, Mr. Morality, let’s say they shouldn’t. Does that excuse the thieves? Does that justify the eyes of lustful men who intentionally seek out these stolen image for the thrill of looking at naked women. Of women who would NEVER reveal themselves like that to anyone but their very significant other? (It’s like reading other peoples love letters and pretending they were meant for you. How pathetic and creepy.)

The “but they shouldn’t have…” response was best answered by author Chuck Wendig. Chuck blogs over at Terrible Minds and his language is, well, more colorful than what you will ever read here. Still, his response drives home just who’s the criminal party in this event.

“If you don’t want nude pics leaked, don’t take nude pics with your phone —” *Tasers you* *steals your shoes* SHOULDN’T WEAR SHOES BRO

— Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) September 1, 2014

The next question is, why am I writing about this? Because this attitude is a root issue. It is at the core of so much pain.

It’s the beginning of the rape culture that says, “did you see how she dressed/drank/acted in the past?”, as an excuse for inexcusable crimes. It is the attitude that a woman’s sexuality isn’t her own and once it’s “out there” it’s available for anyone to use for any reason without apology or even second thought. Because that entitled attitude is the foundation that leads to human trafficking.

In a Facebook conversation, one woman thought the deeper issue was about teaching young women to have more self respect, to not post nude photos. Caution, certainly, is a valuable lesson. But her plan is less than half of the solution. We need to be teaching our boys, too. We need to tell them, and demonstrate to them, absolute respect for each other and ourselves. Boundaries, in a word.

And one line that should never be touched is one you have to have hacker skills to cross.

Miley Cyrus fights youth homelessness

Miley Cyrus generated headlines after her Video Music Awards appearance on Sunday evening. This time, however, she wasn’t even tapping her toes to a beat – much less launching the term “twerking” into the global vocabulary. This time she swung a wrecking ball to fight youth homelessness in America.

Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” was one of the nominees for video of the year. When she was announced the winner, she surprised the audience by sending Jesse Helt up to accept her award. The handsome 22-year-old read a brief message about the plight of homeless youth, especially those in Los Angeles, and touched briefly on some of the hardships he dealt with when he was homeless. Los Angeles has the largest population of homeless youth in the nation.

Jesse Helt stands with his date to the V.M.A.'s, pop star Miley Cyrus.

Jesse Helt stands with his date to the V.M.A.’s, pop star Miley Cyrus.

So, who benefits from Cyrus’s change of public face? She’s turning traffic to a youth homeless shelter called My Friend’s Place. My Friend’s Place was established in 1990 and has a unique and effective approach to helping homeless youth.

My Friend’s Place Stats:

My Friend’s Place served 1,418 homeless young people last year – over one third of the homeless youth population in Los Angeles

MFP provided nearly 30,000 meals to homeless youth

MFP provided over 540 linkages to on-site and off-site medical care for youth

MFP provided intensive case management to452 homeless young people

MFP helped over 118 homeless youth successfully move into housing

Of course, My Friend’s Place is not the only homeless shelter in American that deserves support. Whether you donate your money, time, or fame, to MFP, or to a shelter near you – the important thing is to do something.

What do you think? What would you do with Miley’s fame?

Do you know what you’re worth to Hollywood?

Did you know there are 100 million Evangelical Christians in America? That is roughly 1/3 of the population of the United States. Industries have sprung up around this number, including one that demonstrates to Hollywood how much you are worth. Apparently it’s working. Witness the flurry of Bible based and themed films we saw open early this year.

That Evangelical Christian label, though, is almost too broad to mean anything.

A more meaningful statistic can be called the Faith Driven Consumer. According to the website Faithnomics, Faith Driven Consumers “make their purchasing decisions based on a biblical worldview and actively seek faith-compatible brands …  In fact, Faith Driven Consumers are willing to pay a premium with retailers that respect them and their Christian values and beliefs.”

There are 46 million Faith Driven Consumers in America spending $1.75 trillion (yes. With a “T”.) annually.

That is a huge, definable, and powerful group of people.

And you are a part of it. As a follower of this blog, odds are you’re a Faith Driven Consumer looking for entertainment that is worth the time and money God has entrusted to you. As a believer and Bible student, you don’t want to squander those precious resources on things that are unpleasing to God and damaging to your soul. I totally get that.

The publicity poster for the 2009 movie, District 9.

The publicity poster for the 2009 movie, District 9.

What we sometimes forget to do, though, is to invest in entertainment that is uplifting, good, and worth thinking about. I’d like to challenge you to remember that sometimes those things come in unexpected packages.

I watched the 2009 movie District 9 for the first time last week. It is, on the surface, simple science fiction. Aliens came to earth, were rounded up and now live in squalid shacks outside a major city in South Africa. Just minutes into the movie, though, I felt something unexpected. Compassion. Conviction. A stirring need to rise up on behalf of the downtrodden. District 9 is a parable about the alien among us, and how we are supposed to show love to everyone regardless of their origin or appearance. It’s James 2:14-17 with CGI and starships.

Maybe the bloody histories in Judges didn’t do anything for you, and the violence in District 9 leaves you cold. There are other movies that depict redemption, faithfulness, self-sacrifice and other laudable Christian traits. Make an effort to support the good things, even (especially) if they’re not popular.

You get what you pay for. But if you bury your coins in the ground you’ll end up with nothing at all.

Mockingjay trailer and soundtrack news

Welcome to District 8

Walking through a makeshift hospital housed in a dark and dingy warehouse, Katniss finally begins to see what the rebellion means to the people of District 8. Even wounded and bandaged, they are willing to fight the Capitol. That spirit moves Katniss to agree to be their figurehead, even while she dreads the thought of fighting anyone ever again.

Other Mockingjay news

Lorde will be curating and contributing to the upcoming The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 soundtrack. Photo via The Guardian

Lorde will be curating and contributing to the upcoming The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 soundtrack. Photo via The Guardian

It was announced last week that Lorde will curate and contribute to the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Lorde contributed a cover of Tears For Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” to the Catching Fire soundtrack. The 17-year-old New Zealnder’s debut album, “Pure Heroine”, was released in September and has spawned at least two Billboard hits to date.

The release date for the soundtrack has not been announced. Typically the soundtrack is made available a few weeks before the movie opening. Mockingjay Part 1 opens November 21.

Youth Events with a Hunger Games Theme

I’m sorry, but it’s time to plan back to school youth events.

I know, it’s so hard to think about autumn stuff when all anyone wants to talk about is another trip to the water park…but I’ve got your back. Here are three tried and true events that will have your Hunger Games obsessed teens jumping in with both feet. More than a trip to the beach, these events can make a difference in the community and hopefully in your youth group, too.

WV_30HF_stacked130-Hour Famine

Yup. Go hungry. On purpose. With teenage boys. (“It’ll be fun!” she said. “Trust me!” she said.)

30-Hour Famine is a World Vision program that raises money to feed the poorest of the poor in developing nations. Participants raise pledges and collect money after they’ve completed the 30-hours without food.  Organizing a 30-hour famine is as easy as deciding to do it. World Vision provides everything from clip art and tied-in Bible studies, to publicity posters and ready to customize press releases.

By skrewtape, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by skrewtape, via Wikimedia Commons

Cardboard Box Sleep Out

Raise awareness about homelessness in your area by gathering up a bunch of cardboard boxes and using them for shelters in a parking lot. This might be especially effective in November, National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.

Of course, in the northern tier of the continent, there can be snow in November. Early September might be a better time for this…

This may take more effort on your part as there is no organizational sponsor (that I’m aware of). Make a difference in the community by asking sponsors to donate blankets, warm clothing and toiletries the  youth can then deliver to area shelters. You can raise the level of difficulty by allowing the kids only a very small amount of money to buy their food for the entire time of the event.

Your group should come away from this event with a greater compassion for the homeless and a desire to continue helping these people achieve a stable home.

Parcel Day

In Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, Parcel Day is a monthly event when food is distributed to all the residents of the victor’s district. Your goal will be to gather food to distribute to the food pantries and soup kitchens in your district. This is particularly effective if you’re having a Hunger Games themed event (to launch/wrap up a Bird on Fire Bible study perhaps?)

Donating boxes of non-perishable food to the local soup kitchen was one of my favorite things about launching Bird on Fire.

(Hat tip to the uber-awesome Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half.)

Hat tip to the uber-awesome Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half. Never heard of her inspiring book? Click the image.

Do all the things!

I dare you! And please, send me pictures when you do! Even if you do one of these events, I’d love to share your story and pictures here on the Bird on Fire blog.

Headlines: Human Trafficking, Hunger, Homelessness

Here is a selection of headlines from the past week concerning human trafficking, hunger and homelessness.

Two of the headlines concerning Human Trafficking come out of Ohio this week

Ohioans selling sex with their own kids

This headline from The Columbus Dispatch grabs most readers by the throat. The author explains that the younger the trafficking victim, the more likely he or she is to be trafficked by one or both parents for drugs, rent or cash.

Anti-human trafficking billboards go up in Dayton

Abolition Ohio has partnered with United Methodist Women Task Force and Key Ads to erect an anti-human trafficking billboard near the I-70 /I-75 intersection, which is a prime location for traffickers.

Hunger, and what to do about it

National Geographic explores the difference between “hunger” and “food insecurity”

Today the hungry are almost always employed, a sea change since the 1960s. In 2012, 60 percent of all food-insecure Americans lived in households with a full-time worker; another 15 percent lived in households with a part-time worker.

Feeding American earns coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator

Digital Journal reports if you want to make a difference, giving through Feeding American is an effective way to do it.

Homelessness is a crime in an increasing number of cities

The Herald-Tribute columnist writes from Sarasota, Florida, “On homelessness, we want decency — and invisibility”

Criminalization is “the least effective and most expensive way” to address homelessness, said Tristia Bauman, a lawyer and primary author of the report “No Safe Place: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities”.

This was not really news in Sarasota, columnist Tom Lyons writes, since Sarasota was named the “meanest city in America” by a national homeless-advocate organization. But, he ads, neither is Sarasota alone in making it a crime to be completely down and out.

Then concider this report: Millennials May Be Next Generation to Face Homelessness

Robbie Couch reviews a 2013  study for the Huffington Post finding that unemployment remains stubbornly high within the demographic, the cost of renting a home is exceedingly expensive (renters are spending more on rent than they have at any point in the past 30 years) and a dramatic increase in heroin use is comparable to the same increase in crack cocaine use three decades ago.


So, what does a reader of Bird on Fire do with all this grim  news?

Give, if you can, to your local food bank or Feeding America. Support your local charity-run resale shops, make your money mean more. Vote. Vote for candidates and proposals that improve the lives of the least of these – because that will improve life for everyone.

Don’t forget to visit me over at Goodreads! The give-away runs through July 31st, so be sure to spread the word! While you’re there, feel free to ask a question with the Ask the Author app.

Goodreads: Ask The Author/Win the Book

Bird on Fire. It's not just a blog!

Bird on Fire. It’s not just a blog!

I’ve been at writing the Bird on Fire blog for more than half a year – so it’s possible by now that some readers are not even aware that there’s a book by the same name, Bird On Fire: A Bible study for understanding The Hunger Games arena, Catching Fire flame and Mockingjay bird.

It is, as the label states, a Bible study.

“So, how does that work?” you might wonder. “What does the story of a vicious dystopia with the kids killing the kids and the heartless government and the starving people have to do with the Bible?”

That is a great question! And now there is a great format to ask this question and more.

Ask the Author (Almost) Anything!

Ask the Author (Almost) Anything!

Goodreads just launched their Ask the Author feature. Authors who participate in the Goodreads Author Program have the option of enabling the new Ask the Author feature which allows anyone to do exactly that – ask the author. So far the only question I’ve answered is one of Goodread’s stock questions, “What are you working on now?” (If you want to know you’ll have to head on over and see the answer yourself!)

While you’re there, register to win one of two copies of Bird on Fire that I’m giving away. The contest runs through the end of the month.

The Hunger Games’ High-gloss Bureaucracy of Welfare

Panem, the fictional nation in Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games trilogy and setting of the massively popular movie series, has a problem. The Capitol (called only the Capitol, it has no proper name) balances on the bent backs of its labor force. It is a precarious position, that balancing act, because if even a handful of laborers rise up the whole organization looses balance and tumbles. Last year when I was writing about the Christian response to The Hunger Games, a blog series that became Bird on Fire, I wrote this, “The Capitol is a bureaucracy of welfare, controlling the poor with starvation so the privileged can sedate themselves with surplus.”

That realization was driven home last week.

Lionsgate, the company behind The Hunger Games movies, has done a very clever thing by running an “in-world” ad campaign President Snow himself would approve – filled with references to old Soviet-style propaganda

Compare and contrast Panem propaganda with these classic Soviet-era posters. Then watch the clip at the end. What do you think? A throwback to a former era? Or far too close to home for comfort?

On Women

propogandaWomen.jpgOn Labor


The Cult of Leadership


Panem Propaganda – Doublespeak Advertising

“George Orwell’s ‘1984’ meets reality TV’s ‘Survivor’,” is how I described “The Hunger Games” after I first read the bestselling trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The propaganda used to control the residents of the fictional Panem sounded to me like doublespeak directly from the mouth of Big Brother.

“The Hunger Games” is set hundreds of years into the future. Economic and climactic upheaval have restructured the world’s political systems and now all of North America is Panem. Each of the 13 districts supply a specialty product to the Capitol, which in turn releases just enough resources back to the districts to keep the residents from starving to death. Each year, to prevent a rebellion from rising as had happened in the past, a brutal tradition is carried out in which teenagers from each district are thrown into an arena and forced to fight to the death. The Capitol’s control is brutal, effective and absolute. If rumors of unrest begin to stir, the Capitol crushes the rebellion before it starts by squeezing the pipeline. Soon the residents are too hungry, or dead, to fight back. All the while propaganda is fed to school children, telling them of the Capitol’s gracious generosity – allowing them to exist when they really should be wiped out because of the terrible rebellion of their great-grandparents.

district heroesOf course I wasn’t the only one to see themes of political oppression. Now, as Lionsgate begins to ramp up to the release of the third movie in the series, they are unleashing a creative and chilling advertising campaign. Panem Propaganda features doublespeak that would make Big Brother sit up and take notes.

It started last week with a series of posters at the “official Government of Panem website” featuring laborers from different districts accompanied with flowery prose extolling the virtues of hard work and dedication.

The image of a worker from District 7, Elias Haan, is a good example of the disparity between the Capitol message and the observable truth.

As you tend to the finest forests and provide your fellow brethren with the most beautiful and flawless lumber, remember that the Capitol treasures your dedication to society. It is your duty as a citizen of Panem to protect the system we have worked tirelessly to conceive. Embrace the challenges of strenuous labor, and remember the instrumental role you play in the preservation of our country.

We in the Capitol admire your strength and commend your loyalty. We must all stand as tall as the mighty oaks you fell, and work together to build and preserve a better future.

The picture is of a strong and handsome young man, but not a privileged hero of the text – his scars, tattoos and amputated leg tell of a life full of pain, loss and struggle.

The poster from District 9, the massive farm district that stretches from the Deep South to the Great Plains, features Triti Lancaster, 17, who “after a day in the fields… graciously offers a bundle of wheat to her fellow citizens of Panem.” But she is sewn into a constrictive wooden corset and a closer look reveals protruding collar bones that hint at pervasive malnutrition. The woman on the District 4 poster is praised as a sixth generation pearl diver and daughter of a deep sea fisherman – yet she is wrapped tightly in a dress of netting, as trapped as the model fish she holds in her hands. The most offensive, though, is little Lily Ilsington, the hungry, dirty urchin from District 12.

Each of these is held up as an example of admirable heroism – apparently for surviving in spite of the Capitol’s callous attempts to work them to death.

But we don’t have to worry about doublespeak here. Not in America, the most prosperous nation on earth. Right?

Ask the “noble savages”, who as savages were different enough to be killed off, but noble, so they’d be alright in the end. Oh, that’s right. You can’t. They’ve been “assimilated”, or pushed onto reservations more savage than noble most days.

Ask the the homeless family who are accusingly asked, “if you’re that poor, why do you have cell phones?” Those phones, their only lifelines to work, family and each other as they bounce between shelters and the homes of more fortunate friends and family. Those phones are the only constant as they fill out forms for work and housing. Without these phones, how would they ever get that desperately needed call back?

Ask the politicians. Listen to political season debates and you will soon learn that the opponent’s party is populated entirely by monsters. Truth in advertising would probably sound a lot like, “Elect me, I’m the least monstrous of all.”

That said, here is the most monstrous politician in Panem, President Snow. What do you think of his message?


18 and Homeless

This homeless youth took shelter under a Vancouver bridge in 2008.

This homeless youth taking shelter under a Vancouver bridge in 2008.

When you were 18 being homeless was probably the least of your concerns. Do you remember what you were concerned about at 18?

I remember. I worried about finding a “cool” summer job. Saving money for college in the fall. Keeping track of my friends’ graduation parties. And I tested the boundaries of my freedom, bracing myself for the feedback when I got home.

One thing I never questioned – it never once crossed my mind – was home. Home was always safe, no matter how much trouble I was in.

These memories resurfaced this week when news broke of an 18-year-old attempting to abduct a 7-year-old boy. When the child’s 14-year-old friend intervened, the 18-year-old tried to claim the child was his son – but the 14-year-old pushed him away and the two boys fled home.

The 14-year-old is, without a doubt, a hero. His intervention prevented untold heartache. I am so grateful that little boy is safe. The suspect was later arrested and arraigned on charges of unlawful attempted imprisonment. According to news reports, he lives in a tent, squatting in a wooded area of a subdivision. His main form of transportation is a bicycle.

A question nags me, though.

How does an 18-year-old, who should be celebrating the end of high school with his friends and family, end up homeless? How did he fall through cracks in a system we assume should keep him safe?  Maybe a better question is “which crack did he fall through?”

The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that during a year there are approximately 550,000 unaccompanied, single youth and young adults who experience a homelessness episode of longer than one week. Approximately 380,000 of those youth are under the age of 18. If we include younger children, the U.S. Department of Education found that the number of homeless kids increased by 10 percent in the 2012–13 school year over the previous year, to a record 1.2 million kids.

How do all these teens end up on the street? They runaway or are “thrownaway” for behavioral issues running the gamut from from rebelling against physical and/or sexual abuse to pregnancy, mental illness or declaring a sexual preference that makes their parent(s) unhappy. Others have aged out of foster care, which unceremoniously dumps 18-year-olds out of the system and into the “real world” on their birthdays. You can probably imagine how hard it is to complete the school year when suddenly you are responsible for your roof, food and transportation – all alone. Others have been released from juvenile correctional facilities and have no where else to go.

I don’t know the history of the young man who apparently attempted to abduct this child. But I suspect as the story unfolds, he will be a tragic figure, too.