One week of working from home in the books, and honestly, it’s been really great. Yeah, there have been challenges, and sometimes the temptations toward distraction lure me away from getting my work done.
But the best thing about working from home so far? I get to see my family a lot more. I can walk downstairs at lunch and eat with my girls. Sometimes, my wife brings our baby into the office and sits her down in a chair facing me for a little while so that she (my wife, not the baby) can take care of our toddler or knock out some church admin work. So, naturally, my productivity slows as I make faces as my sweet little one. And when quitting time hits, I’m not faced with 30-45 minutes of commuting–just a quick walk down 15 stairs.
Of course, things get a little hairy when you have little ones and are working from home. As evidence, I present what might well be one of my top-3 all-time favorite Twitter threads (click the link to dig in, it’s all gold):
Tell us about a young child but say “my co-worker” or “my friend’s co-worker” instead of their name. (Because, you know, this is reality now for some of us.)
Ex: My co-worker asked for yogurt and is now crying because I gave her yogurt.
If you keep checking back (and I hope you do), you may well find me getting a little stir crazy if this keeps up for a few months. But for right now, I’m feeling pretty good. And no offense to my office-mates, but I’m really enjoying hanging out with my current coworkers.
So my encouragement to you, dear reader, whether you are free to get outside and maybe go pick up food from your local restaurant (if so, please do and support your local businesses!) or you are sheltering in place (hang in there, California!), I hope you’ll take a moment and find five things to be thankful for, no matter what your circumstances are.
God has been generous to us, even if our current circumstances are challenging. Thank Him for His gifts, and enjoy them with gratitude.
I know this is something most people face from time to time, but for some reason, our block attracts the noisiest of neighbors. When the family across the alley who held block parties moved out, the family that moved in picked up where they left off. Though people come and go, the one constant is they all generously share their playlist with everyone in the neighborhood. Several times a day.
The neighbors on the side nearest the street have a really impressive stereo system in their detached garage. Even with the garage completely enclosed, the bass from their sound system reverberates throughout the entirety of my house. No exaggeration; the “thump thump thump-thump-thump” of whatever hip-hop artist they are enjoying reaches the farthest opposite corner of our upstairs. No part of the house is safe from its pulsating presence.
Most of the time, I get the privilege to ignore it, because I’m at work. My wife just endures it since she’s here at home all day. It doesn’t wake up our little ones during naptime, so she just ignores it.
Now that I’m working from home for the time being, I’m having less success ignoring it.
I went over and asked them to turn it down yesterday, which they did immediately, no issue. But it’s back up today, full-blast, rumbling through the wall as I’m trying to edit. Apparently they thought it was a one-time request.
Why do I bring this up? Two reasons:
One: In this time of unusual challenge, we’re all going to be a lot more uncomfortable than we like. It’s gonna happen. It’s gonna get worse, in all likelihood. And that means that we get to practice using forbearance. Do I like hearing the bassline of my neighbor’s stereo? Not particularly. Is it harming me or my family in any way? No. It’s a little thoughtless on their part, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter. If it means not alienating a neighbor I don’t know that well and probably should get to know a bit better, then fine. I’ll just turn my podcast up louder. The way we bear with one another’s burdens, the way we show patience with other people’s thoughtlessness, will exhibit what’s really in our hearts and where our peace and hope is found.
Two: It reminds me to take a moment an consider what my “loud stereos” are. Because I’m sure there are habits of mine that annoy those around me. It would probably be a good idea to be mindful of that. Being home for an extended period of time is a blessing, but it also disrupts the rhythm of our household, and I know there are things I do (or forget to do) that get on my wife’s nerves. The more I’m mindful of that and try to address those issues, the better “neighbor” I can be to the woman under my own roof.
In conclusion, be neighborly. Turn down your stereo. Pick up your dirty clothes. And pray that God would show you how you can love the people around you well. Even when they are blasting you with bass.
I think part of the reason I haven’t blogged consistently in the last few months is because I have been waiting to post something insightful and grand. I had this idea that I needed to transition into being this Serious Blogger and eventually Serious Author, so I needed to step up the quality of my writing. But I don’t need to do that right now. Right now, I think I just need to write.
This is probably just going to be a season of quick hits and short pieces. I still hope to make it worth reading for you, dear readers. I don’t plan on falling back into the “online diary” format I used in years past. But this next month or so may be a “priming the pump” period for the blog–short observations, anecdotes, recommendations for stuff I like. Hope you enjoy it.
After a [checks]month-long break[seriously?], I’m back in the saddle and ready to re-engage.
December was…full. Good–but full. Work demands were high, church demands were a bit high, and honestly, I really wanted to reconnect with my family more. That was my “theme” of the month that I wrote down in my snazzy “Monk Manual” journal (I’ll have an update post on that sometime this month): the theme of “Connection.” So I focused on connecting with my family and friends.
This month’s theme? “Restart.” So here I am, readers!
I passed the 1-year boundary on the #52Stories project, but I do want to finish that, so I’ll try to round that out in the coming weeks. I may or may not continue the Minor Prophets series. Let me know if you want to see more of those.
Coming Up: Later on today, I’ll toss up my 2019 Reading List because, by golly, some traditions must not be abandoned. On Friday, I’ll post a Friday Five with some podcast recommendations, so keep your eyes peeled. That’s all the blog planning I have in me at the moment. (Have you subscribed to email updates? That makes things much simpler. Check out the widget to the right or below the posts, depending upon the device you’re using to read this.)
Happy New Year! Take a walk, drink some water, do something nice for yourself, and we’ll see you in a bit.
So I wasn’t planning on November being a “No-Post November” but it’s sure starting out that way! So what’s the story, morning-glory?
Well, it comes down to this: margin.
I don’t have much margin in my life right now. Like so many of you, I have lots of demands, and to be honest, I’m struggling to meet all those demands. And no, I’m not going to cue up the sad violins and run through the litany of what’s on my plate, because that doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help me.
So instead, I want to talk about stress.
This past weekend, a loved one was briefly hospitalized because he pushed himself so hard that his nervous system decided a hard reboot was in order. This person, in prime physical health in his middle age, gave himself a seizure, due in part to a combination of unaddressed stress, inconsistent diet, dehydration, and high levels of caffeine usage. No matter how otherwise healthy he was, he still hit his limit.
…And I just hit mine, so to speak–there goes my timer. So, I’ll summarize this way:
What this experience reminded me of is that I am not omnipotent. I can’t burn the candle at both ends for long, before I get scorched and the light goes out, as it were.
We human beings are designed to belimited, because this reminds us that we have a Creator God who is not.
So what does that mean for you, practically? It means get some sleep. Be smart about how you fuel yourself. Accept that you can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Maybe try decaf once in a while.
Come face to face with the fact that you can’t do it all, or run the risk of ending up face-down on your bedroom carpet.
A stark reminder, but a necessary one.
More posts this week, if possible. Maybe sign up for notifications in the sidebar to the right (or below, if you’re reading on mobile)? Just in case I don’t get back here soon.
Last week, I tweeted out that I wasn’t doing well. Things were hectic in multiple areas of life, and I was feeling overwhelmed–not despondent, but definitely blue. Over the next few days, several people checked up on me via texts, tweets, emails, and in-person handshakes and hugs. They asked me how I’m doing, if things are getting better, how they can help.
I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. And it reminded me that I need to do that better.
I know several people struggling with different issues right now: unemployment, separation from family due to work, mental health struggles. Chronic issues that can wear down a person’s hope.
It costs me absolutely nothing to take a few moments and send a text or make a call or zip out an email saying, Hey pal, I’m thinking about you and praying for you. You matter to me. I’m ready to lend a hand however I can.
I don’t know why I don’t do that more often. I should.
The news yesterday about Jarrid Wilson’s suicide drove this point home for me. Even the people who seem to be doing okay may not be doing okay. I was reminded of this again in an exchange last night with another friend who confessed how hard the mental/spiritual battle has been for her lately.
So, my encouragement for all of us today:
If you know someone who’s hurting, tell them you care about them.
If you know someone who’s fighting the darkness, remind them that they matter.
Don’t try to diagnose them, fix them, or give them an easy answer. Often, there are no easy answers.
Just tell them how much they mean to you. Tell them they are not forgotten.
Point them back to the compassion and tender grace of Jesus, and then keep doing that.
Happy Friday, readers! I am back from 3 days in balmy Birmingham, Alabama, where I (along with 3 friends) represented our church in the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention.
This year, there were several serious issues to address, and some contentious dust-ups online, leading up to the 2-day convention. What were my thoughts on the affair?
Here are my 5 key takeaways from #SBC19:
The main thing needs to stay the main thing. One of the most important moments of the convention was the International Mission Board’s commissioning/sending ceremony. Twenty-six people shared some of their testimony and why they were leaving the US to become international missionaries. Some of them had already spent 2 years as part of the SBC “Journeyman” program and were going back for full-time mission work, while others grew up in missionary families or went on trips as a teenager and felt the call then. Several of the missionaries are going to dangerous or challenging parts of the world, so their faces weren’t shown as they spoke. Then, after a time of recognition for their stories, they carried lighted banners with their region of service into the crowd, and groups of people prayed over each one of them. Standing there in that darkened arena, I was reminded that this is what the SBC Annual Meeting is really about. Not the squabbles, not the posturing–reminding ourselves that we have a mission to fulfill, and then honoring and being inspired by those who are ready to risk all to fulfill it.
We need to learn how to disagree well. This theme kept cropping up, both in the mouths of people in my theological “sub-tribe” and people who get the side-eye on my Twitter feed. Mark Dever, during the “State of the SBC” discussion at a 9 Marks at 9 event said, “You younger folks do a lot of things well, but you just don’t know how to disagree.” Al Mohler agreed, adding that the younger generation of Baptists online need to learn how to do theological triage and distinguish between differences of practice and disagreements on what characterizes our denomination. Russell Moore, during the Baptist 21 panel, quipped, “There needs to be more than just ‘I would do that differently’ and ‘Die, heretic!'” This repeated exhortation to learn how to argue and disagree well, how to represent your rhetorical opponents fairly, and how to treat brothers and sisters as such–it struck home with me. This is something I still need to grow in.
True diversity begins at the dinner table. Something Dhati Lewis said during the racial reconciliation panel caught me up. I’m going to mangle the quote, but: the question was about representation of people of color in conferences, panels, church leadership, etc. Lewis said the way you achieve real diversity on a conference stage or in an elder room was to start at your dinner table–who do you know, who do you have a real relationship with. But that caught my attention and made me think about my typical dinner guests, and how often they look like me. Now, I know, you may scoff at the thought, but it’s something I have started thinking about. One of the ways I can teach my daughters to love and honor all people equally is to model that before them, both in the weekly gatherings of the church and, as we have opportunity, in our home. This isn’t about diversity quotas in my friendships; it’s about widening my circle and learning from my brothers and sisters in Christ whose experiences are different than mine.
The sexual abuse crisis is urgent and must be addressed wisely and decisively. This is the deep dark shadow that has hung over the SBC for even longer than the last 4 months. We were reminded that a group was commissioned last year at the annual meeting to address this issue. However, in recent months, as more and more survivors of abuse within Baptist churches have come forward, it has only emphasized that this is a moment of unique challenge, a valley of decision, in which this ragtag network of cooperating churches must decide if we truly believe that our God is a God of righteousness, justice, and holiness. I was glad to be part of the first big steps toward dealing with this terrible sin in the camp, as we voted to amend our constitution to make way for churches that do nothing about abuse or cover up abuse to be removed from fellowship with us. This is essentially church discipline on the macro level, and I think it is an appropriate step. Furthermore, the realities of sexual abuse and its destructiveness were addressed head-on, and survivors were given opportunities to speak and to challenge the denomination to listen. There is much work to do, but there is a clear passion from the executive leadership down, to press in and fight for those who have been abused.
There are still some big questions to work through. One of the major discussion points involves how churches can encourage, equip, and support women to use their gifts and serve in every way the Bible allows them to. What that looks like is still being wrestled through, and there are going to be a lot more discussions and debates as we decide as a denomination where we draw clear lines and where we show grace. Another flashpoint of debate is over the SBC’s stance on specific elements of the social justice conversation, like Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. Some say that these are useful frameworks for understanding secular perspectives and that they can be considered while still submitting them to the authority of Scripture. Others argue that these frameworks are built on secular and anti-Biblical worldview assumptions that render them counter-productive or even harmful when trying to address justice concerns. This debate will continue, as the implications and after-shocks of Resolution #9 play out (if any). Suffice it to say, #SBC2020 will be a wild ride.
There you go: my five key takeaways from this year’s Southern Baptist Convention.
…But I have so many more thoughts! So here’s a rapid-fire list of observations from my first SBC experience!
I love free stuff, but man, I really had to check myself on this trip. There were so many freebies that, even being selective, I still added about 10-15 pounds to my luggage–and that’s just free stuff; I didn’t buy anything. Most of what I brought home was (big surprise) books. I told my wife that I’m making a challenge to myself: I’m going to read all the books I got from the 2019 SBC before I (Lord-willing) go to the 2020 SBC. (Considering I’m still not done with many of the books I received at the 2012 T4G, this may be a tough task!)
Picking up free stuff from exhibit hall booths is like an advanced-level version of grabbing a grocery-store snack sample. Feigning interest, awkward small talk, names and handshakes exchanged. I’m going to be really honest here, folks, and I know I sound plain mercenary, but sometimes I just would like a free coffee or book. That’s probably wrong of me, but there it is.
Getting to see old friends is a joy. I got to talk for a few minutes with a dear brother I served with at a previous church for 8 or 9 years. I hadn’t seen him in 4 years, so it was a sweet thing to get to catch up.
That said, seeing old acquaintances who apparently didn’t recognize you: less joy, more awkwardness. More on that some other time.
The exhibit hall floor is a roaming multitude of people, and it became overwhelming really quickly.
One of the ways the in-person experience of the meeting is so different from watching it online is that I found myself caring about all the reports a whole lot more (for the most part). And I have to admit, when people streamed for the exits during some of the prayers or presentations, I became a bit judgmental in my heart. (I’m sorry, y’all.) Watching these conventions from home, I can dip in and out while on Twitter or working, but being there in person is such a cool experience, because you’re reminded that you’re part of something bigger. All these believers around you, representing tens of thousands of churches, all together working toward our singular mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus to all people. It’s thrilling in a way you just can’t appreciate from a distance.
I think my favorite part of the convention activities was the “9 Marks at 9” event. The vibe was very relaxed and familial, and the panelists (Mark Dever, Danny Akin, Al Mohler, and HB Charles) were relaxed and open. They were able to speak off-the-cuff and joke with each other, and at one point Mark Dever even opened up a can of worms that left Dr. Mohler flustered and caught off-guard, but he was able to take it in stride. It was just refreshing to hear these faithful men speak candidly about the issues of the denomination, disagree with each other, and still demonstrate respect and friendship. I’m thankful I was there to witness that.
One of the things that frustrated me greatly was that some of the people who beat the drum against misrepresenting your opponents on social media were more than happy to make straw-man arguments in their talks. I’m not going to name any names, because I don’t want to rustle up any more controversy. But it was irritating.
JD Greear repeatedly making the “deep state…of unity” joke got old. That said, as I noted on Twitter, evidence of the so-called “SBC Deep State” came out when Dr. Mohler accidentally claimed during the seminary report to have been president of the Southern Baptist Convention for the last 27 years. (I, for one, welcome our bow-tied overlords.)
Birmingham was NOT ready for us. Long lines, crazy waits. At least 4 of the 6 restaurants in Terminals A, B, and C of the Birmingham airport ran out of food on Wednesday night, before 7:30pm. That said, Birmingham was a neat town, and I’m sorry I didn’t schedule an extra day or two to experience more of it than the four square blocks or so of downtown where we stayed and convened.
Eugene’s Hot Chicken in Birmingham, y’all. Don’t sleep on it. It’s gooooooood.
I spent almost all my time with my fellow elder Travis. Two and a half days of fellowship with a brother I admire and am encouraged by was one of the biggest blessings of the week.
You never appreciate your own bed so much as your first night back from a trip.
I’ll stop there for now, but may have more to say later. If you have specific questions (for example, about the B21 panel and Matt Chandler’s interview), let me know in the comments.
Suffice to say, it was a great experience and I look forward to going back in the future!
If you were at #SBC19 as well–first of all, why didn’t you TELL me?!? We could have hung out!!!–or you watched it online, let me know what you thought in the comments below.
If you have questions about the SBC in general, I can try to answer those as well.
Have a great weekend, and I’ll be back next week with new content!
I have to admit, I’m taking the national debate over abortion pretty personally.
I have been pro-life (or anti-abortion, if you prefer) all my life. I was a child when my parents were able to adopt a little girl who was scheduled to be aborted in George Tiller’s mill, but God’s providence intervened. She is now my sister, and I can’t imagine my childhood without her in it.
I’ve participated in peaceful protests. I’ve educated myself on alternatives and support services for pregnant women, and supported such services with my time and money in the past. And while I haven’t had the opportunity yet to take a more active role, my wife and I have talked about and are still talking about foster care in the future. (We were actually in the midst of foster-care training when we found out about Baby #1, a few years ago.)
I have seen lots of discussion on social media about “women’s rights” and “women’s bodies,” and whether or not “blobs of cells” or “blobs of tissue” have the same rights. I’ve read comments of prominent politicians arguing about how a 6-week-old embryo can be destroyed because it’s hard for women to know whether or not they are just “two weeks late on [their] period”–as if the living being within the womb is an after-thought. I saw recently that national newspapers referred to a fetal heartbeat as mere “embryonic pulsing” (what an perfect example of Orwellian newspeak).
Whenever I see those comments thrown around, I can’t help but think back to this:
That’s my second daughter, at 12 1/2 weeks of development. A human being, with a head, limbs, a speedy little heartbeat–and at that point, no human rights, as she was still legal to abort in more than 40 states.
Even now, at 33 weeks along, my wife could travel to New York or Illinois or several other states, and our daughter (currently around 4-5 pounds, full of energy, doing flips and kicks, lungs expanding and contracting, mouth swallowing, heart still pumping away) could be medically disassembled, ripped literally limb from limb, brain matter sucked out, skull crushed, in the name of “choice.” This is “health care,” after all.
Those who oppose my views talk about the rights of women. Scroll up and take another look at that picture. Take another look at that little girl.
What about her rights? What about her bodily autonomy? When do we grant her humanity?
See, that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s about acknowledging her humanity. It’s about recognizing that that little “blob of cells” that had an “embryonic pulsation” as early as 6 weeks into development is a human being, endowed by her Creator with inalienable rights. It’s about believing and defending the truth that this little girl–my daughter–is fearfully and wonderfully made.
For me, this national discussion isn’t about controlling women’s choices or women’s bodies. It’s not even about political power plays or left-vs-right bickering.
It’s about demanding the recognition that my daughter, like all unborn children, is still a human being.
And when you refuse to do that, I take that very personally.
(Baby #2, back in February, at 19 weeks development. Babies at this stage are still able to be murdered legally in Texas.)
Early last week, I put up messages that I was taking a few weeks off of social media. I wanted to do the “Digital Detox” thing that Newport recommends in Digital Minimalism. I logged out on Tuesday or Wednesday and said, “okay, that’s it for a while.” My plan was to stay off of social media for at least the next 30 days, maybe into the summer sometime.
I keep logging back in.
On the plus side, more than half of the time, I will check for notifications, maybe peruse the first screens of items in my feed, and then log out. In other words, I haven’t been idly scrolling and losing all track of time, like I would sometimes do before this.
But I keep going back. I keep wanting just to check if anyone has said anything to me or tagged me on any conversations. I log in, hoping for the little dings and pings I’ve become so enamored of.
As much as I try to describe my use of social media in noble terms, as a way to connect with others and find edifying and challenging content, the diabolical truth of the matter is I use social media most often because I want attention. I want to be noticed.
Like a dumped boyfriend or a cut-off junkie, I keep lingering around the periphery of Twitter and Facebook, hoping to get a peek at what’s going on, hoping to be seen. Hoping to be missed. Trying to get just enough of a fix to take the edge off.
Okay, I’m being hyperbolic. But it’s not as much of an exaggeration as it should be. See, I know something that none of you readers do: I know my heart. I know my sinful little self. And I know that I want to be known. (And I cringe to acknowledge it, but to my wicked heart, being known by the very Creator God of the universe doesn’t seem to scratch that itch, some days.)
So here I am, taking my seat at the table, cup of cheap coffee in hand.
Hi. My name’s Dave. I’m addicted to social media attention, and I need to change that.
(For the record, that is not my actual back porch. But, hey, #HouseGoals, right?)
I spent most of my Sunday screen-free.
I’ve been trying to do that more often, with varying levels of success. This past Sunday wasn’t perfect in that regard, but I’m getting better about it. I noticed throughout the day that I was getting tasks done, I was engaging with my family, and I was feeling more relaxed in general. Who would have thought, right?
While I’m not any kind of strict Sabbatarian, I see the value and blessing inherent in carving out Sunday as a day of worship, rest, and reflection. (And reading–LOTS of reading.) So it makes sense for me to try to make Sunday screen-free as well.**
Online commentary in recent years that examines or critiques our current screen-focused culture often recommends regular breaks from tech as a way of finding refreshment and gaining perspective. (Seriously, do a web search for “digital sabbath” or “digital detox”–ironically, you’d be staring at a screen for ages trying to read it all.)
One of the points that Cal Newport raises in Digital Minimalism is that removing a huge chunk of unproductive (or even harmful) screen-time isn’t enough. Something needs to fill the void, lest we go back to our old habits.
If you’ve been thinking about taking a break from your devices or distractions (whether for a few hours, a day, or even longer), here are a few recommendations for redeeming the time in your now-quieter weekend:
Sleep. Let’s get real for a second: you probably don’t sleep enough. I know I don’t sleep enough. There are all sorts of reasons we stay up too late (maybe related to our tech, maybe related to our anxiety, maybe related to our out-of-balance work-life). So if you make the choice to turn off the screens for a day or two in the near future, please take my advice: take a nap. That thing we all hated in kindergarten is now a thing of beauty and joy, and a gift to us from the God who never sleeps.
Enjoy some face-to-face time with your loved ones. When I stop reaching for my phone to scroll random folks’ text-only communication, I can hear my 20-month-old daughter better, as she learns new words, makes phrases and sentences I can actually understand now, and mixes in babble that she tells me very emphatically (which is seven different kinds of cute). I can talk to my wife about her day and the challenges of being a mom. I can spend time with family members or friends from church, and not be pulled away (mentally or optically) by pings and buzzes. These people, these faces, they mean something to me. I honor that when I give them my undistracted eyes and ears.
Spend time with God. It’s all too easy to be harried and distracted by my daily life so that a thousand petty annoyances crowd out time to read the Scriptures, pray, or read a good book of theology or church history. I’ve been trying to devote my Sunday reading time to things that feed my soul and not just my mind. (That said, I admit I still need to be more intentional about devoting time to talk to God and not just read about God.) Whenever I make the choice to focus my heart on Jesus and not on entertainment or distraction, I come away feeling more alive, not less. More human. More thankful.
Do something physically active. I’m a desk-jockey five days a week. I eat too much sugary food and drink too much caffeine. If you’ve seen me in the flesh, this won’t come as a surprise to you. So my goal for this next Sunday is to do something active. Take a walk. Play on the floor with my daughter. Maybe break out my workout mat and do a quick session with DDPY. (Does that involve a screen? Technically, yes. …What are you, the Screen Police? Never you mind.) I need to make the decision to be more active. No, not *just* on Sunday, but I think it’s a great time to celebrate the “rest” I have been given in Jesus by being active in a way that is refreshing and restorative rather than laborious.
I’m not good at making changes in my life. I’m lousy at consistency. I tend to talk a good game but not back it up well. But if nothing else, I am trying to attain “expert” status at being stubborn enough not to give up on things that I know matter in the long run.
My wife likes to remind me of the verse in Proverbs that says “A righteous man falls seven times and rises again…” While not the perfect contextual application, I think there’s merit in that reminder. Victory, change, and growth sometimes start with just getting back up and starting over (and over, and over, and over).
Sunday is five days away. Can I challenge you to make the decision now that your screens stay dark as much as possible? Then, come back to this post next week and let me know how that worked out for you.
** “Screen-free Sundays, even during football season, Dave?” Yes, I’m going to try to keep it up even during football season. That’s why the good Lord gave us radio.
[Note: The timing of the post is incidental. There is no joke coming. FYI.]
A couple months back, I shared some thoughts about rage-baiting and resisting the pull of hot-take media seeking to enflame our passions and soak up our attention for ad revenue. (At that point, the outrage du jour was Gillete’s “toxic-masculinity” advert and the Covington boys’ protest debacle–feels like a year ago, doesn’t it?)
I’m still thinking about my relationship with social media and how I use it. My recent dive into Cal Newport’s writing has further encouraged this self-analysis. (I’m currently listening to his last book, Deep Work, and it’s really, really good.)
New Twitter, Who Dis?
Specifically, I’ve been thinking about audience and curation–whom I’m speaking to, and whom I’m listening to. (Since Twitter is my main social platform, that’s the focus of my consideration here.) I’m reminded of a suggestion from Senator Ben Sasse in his book Them. After talking about a prolonged hiatus from Twitter, he came back to the platform with an entirely different perspective. His intended audience changed. When he used his personal Twitter account (his “professional” account is run by staffers), he stopped trying to impress the mass of humanity who happened to stumble across his tweets. He said he started writing to a specific audience–friends of his from his early adulthood, people he still kept in touch with over the years, despite physical distance. He said he wanted to write for them, to connect to them, to make them laugh.
Sasse described how having a specific audience in mind for his social media posts helped him focus on how to use the platform more intentionally.
Digital Connection Isn’t Worthless, It’s Just Insufficient
This idea of having a specific audience in mind got me thinking: why am I on Twitter, really? Though I have to admit that I have sometimes chased the attention of “celebrities” or others that I esteemed highly, over the years what has kept me on Twitter is the “digital friendships” I’ve made with like-minded people online, across the country. I’ve only met a handful of them in real space, but I hope to–that’s the biggest reason I want to make it to the G3 Conference or ShepCon one day. It’s this group of connections that keeps me coming back.
If you recall my Digital Minimalism review a few weeks back, I wrote that Cal Newport dismissed these digital interactions as mere “connections” rather than communication, and he argued that digital connection should have the explicit goal of providing logistics for in-person communication. I think that’s partly true, but on the other hand I think there’s a place for the encouragement and (dare I say) friendship that can grow out of initially-digital interactions.
Are these folks on Twitter my friends? In one sense, no, because there’s no real-space experience communicating with each other. But in another, I can’t help but think of these people as my friends–my Twitter squad.
Trying Something Different
This leaves me with the question: if I’m going to use Twitter in an optimized, healthy manner, what would that look like? Two specific goals come to mind:
Following My Squad: One way to optimize Twitter is to dramatically reduce the accounts I read and engage-with to the handful of people I enjoy most. Here’s the thing: I don’t care to use Twitter for engaging ideological opponents or calling out falsehood. Maybe that’s your mission or ministry–have at it. I’m not trying to change lives here. I’m just looking for a little encouragement, a little humor, and the occasional free book giveaway. Limiting my inputs to people who provide that specific value could eliminate a lot of needless scrolling and still maintain some of those digital connections I enjoy.
Seeking Edification: Following people whose content challenges and encourages me in my faith and thinking is another beneficial method of approaching Twitter. Following the accounts of certain theologians and groups can bring a net-positive into my feed.
Now, there’s a clear disadvantage to this approach–namely, that it makes it much easier to crawl into an echo chamber and not engage ideas that differ from my own. I’ll grant you, that’s definitely possible; but isn’t it better to risk doing so and be honest about it? If you follow everyone under the sun but only stop to read and engage positively with the tweetfolk with whom you agree, what’s the difference, other than a bit of self-congratulation because your feed is “diverse”?
And that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to follow people whose views diverge from my own. I have several beneficial friendships and interactions (both in real life and online) with people who vehemently disagree with my religious views, politics, and perspective on the world. Some of those interactions (specifically, the IRL ones) produce good conversation and understanding, especially when we are reminded that the other person isn’t an abstract idea but a person with dignity and value.
That said, I don’t feel the need or obligation to expose myself to interactions that serve only to enrage or frustrate me. I get to make that choice, because Twitter (like all social media) is a voluntary program. I can choose whom to follow, whom to mute, whom to block. I shouldn’t be afraid to do all three, as need be.
If I’m mindful of the dangers of groupthink and seek high-value interactions online, there’s a good chance I can make it worthwhile to stay on social media, while limiting the scope of how I use it. I’d call that a win-win, wouldn’t you?
Here’s my question for you, dear reader: why do you use social media? Who’s your audience? Do you agree or disagree with my proposed “squad and edification only” approach to Twitter, described above? Sound off in the comments–I’d like to hear your perspective on this. Thanks!