#FridayFive: 8/3/2018

Happy Friday, y’all! Here are 5 stories with a “screen” theme!

[Note: A couple of these throw in some profanities, I think, but I can’t quite recall which ones. If you’d rather not risk it, feel free to pass on reading this week’s entries. Hit me up on Twitter, I’ll give you a nickel-summary of them!]

What I Learned About Deep Productivity from a 30-Day Digital Declutter: This post by Nick Wignall provides a case study for what happens when we start re-training our brains to do “deep work” for sustained amounts of time. The read is a little longer than some of these others, but it provides some interesting ideas about how our attention spans can be adapted (or “hacked,” if you want to be click-baity about it).

Facebook’s Addiction Wasn’t Free: Programming guru DHH explores some of the true costs of Facebook usage. Like many others, he addresses the idea that we, the users, were the product being sold. It reminds me of another article I read recently (but can’t remember the author, in order to cite him or her), about how writers/creators should seek to build their own websites and platforms, because to create content and put it on a social media site like FB or Instagram is basically “digital sharecropping.” You get the scraps, while the boss (in this case, the platform you are using for “free”) gets the benefits. I’ve been considering this lately in the context of my own professional and creative plans.

Why I Don’t Think #DeleteFacebook Will Stick: Back in March, when the Cambridge Analytica firestorm first broke, Dylan Sellberg wrote this post to predict why he thought the #DeleteFacebook movement would fizzle out. Four months later, it appears he may have been right. While there have been some who followed through on closing their Facebook accounts (I know a few, and none of them regret it), many of us who clucked our tongues at that story kept on clicking. If the popular history of social media had been scripted 20 years ago (specifically, the hybridization and monopolization of user data and platform access into the hands of a few key players), you would have expected it to be the set-up for a dystopian novel. Well…the future is now.

Florence: Sharing this story feels like a bit of a paradox, because I both wanted and didn’t want to read it myself. It contains spoilers about the new app-based story-game from the creators of Monument Valley (which is an outstanding and elegant puzzle game I can’t recommend highly enough). But this article is fascinating to me both as a casual gamer and as a writer because it demonstrates how this team conceptualized a video game about the life cycle of a romantic relationship. I love games that tell compelling stories in unique ways. I look forward to exploring and experiencing this one.

I’m A Millennial Tech Worker Who Switched to An Old-School Flip Phone: The title pretty much spells it out, doesn’t it? In the interest of full disclosure, I would probably have earned the author’s reply of “Hogwash!” as she describes those who claim they “need” their smartphones. I’ve only had one for a few years, and I admit that I’ve become more dependent on it, particularly as my home computer has become less and less dependable. I use my phone as my food/weight tracker, map, side-hustle platform, calendar, notebook, etc. I’ve made myself dependent on this device. On the other hand, there are times when I look back on the days of having a “dumb” phone and slightly regret making the switch. There may come a point after my smartphone bites the dust that I go back to the much-cheaper dumb-phone era. If I could find a decent slider phone with a full QWERTY keyboard, I’d be almost all the way sold.

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There you go, friends: five tech stories for your consideration this weekend.

Let me also challenge you (and myself): Pick a block of time this weekend to go “screen-free.” Talk a walk, hang out with a friend, play a board game, or maybe read a paper (!) book. I think we all could use a respite from screens now and then. I know I could.

Have a great weekend!

#FridayFive: 07/20/2018

You know the deal–let’s do it:

Teens are Flocking to Youtube to…Study?: If you’re a computer-based office worker like me, one of the most important elements of your workday is background music to drown out the sound of your coworkers loudly calling out to each other. Especially your boss, who has no sense of–oh, that’s just me? Sorry. So yeah, background music is essential. I sometimes listen to podcasts, but when I need to focus just a bit more on the less-data-entry-like aspects of my work, it’s distracting. That’s why this article turned me on to what is becoming a lifesaver in my particularly slammed workdays: lo-fi streams on Youtube.

The Trophy: An Essay on Fatherhood: As the daddy of an…almost-one-year-old [*choking back tears*], essays about fatherhood hit me hard. Goins’ posts are always a good read, including this one.

5 Weak Words that Make Your Writing Less Effective: Another Goins post, this time on the weak/filler words that creep into our writing and water it down.

Why You Don’t Need to Read Those Productivity Guides: Although the author drifts dangerously close to “not having an act is your act” territory, he makes some good points here about “enough,” a word that is almost anathema in productivity discussions.

A Choose-Your-Path Twitter Fairy Tale: This is SO GOOD that I furious with myself for not thinking of it. Every so often, there’s a moment–one shining moment–where we all stop and realize, “hey, social media is actually a pretty cool invention that can bring people together in an interesting way.” I think this is one of those moments.

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Your Turn: Any cool stories or blog posts you want to recommend? Throw ’em in the com-box below!

#FridayFive: Five Podcasts I Really Like That You Probably Don’t Listen To (Yet)

Happy Friday, gang!

So, I’m a bit of a podcast junkie and have a tendency to download way more than I could possibly listen to (especially since my daily commute dropped from 3+ hours to 50 minutes round-trip in recent years). But whenever I’m doing housework, or even some of the less-cerebral tasks at my day job (don’t tell the boss, okay?), I’m listening to podcasts.

So, today I’d like to tell you about 5 podcasts I really enjoy that you may not have heard of–in other words, no Radiolab or This American Life on this list.

And, to save myself from repeating it, you should be able to find all of these on iTunes, Stitcher, Castbox, etc. Go check ’em out.

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The “Goliverse” Podcasts: Okay, this first one is a bit of a cheat, because it’s not just one podcast. One of my favorite podcasters is Steve Glosson, who has created a network of podcasts over the last decade. While some of the Goliverse shows have come and gone over the years, Geek Out Loud and Big Honkin Show (my favorites, honestly) have stuck around consistently. Despite losing his entire backlog of episodes due to server crashes (twice), Steve has persevered, and his programs provide a safe place to geek out, an audio cup o’ coffee, and a whole lot of joy and laughter. He’s in the process of re-uploading past BHS episodes, and it’s been a blast to re-experience that show.  He also broadcasts live on Mixlr.

Gut Check Podcast: You know that old college buddy of yours who loved the same 3-4 movies that you do, still quotes them constantly, and grew up to be a pretty chill, cool guy with just the right amount of self-awareness, self-deprecation, and bravado? The guy who you see once in a really long while, but every time you hang out, you come away thinking, “Man, I really like that guy, we should hang out more”? That guy is this podcast. Every episode with authors / podcasters / coffee-moguls Ted Kluck and Zach Bartels sounds like one of those “once in a long while” hangouts. There’s a little bit of awkwardness from time to time, but mostly you feel like you’re being let into the cool-kids circle and get to share the inside jokes. I dig this one.

The Way I Heard It: Okay, fine, this one is pretty well-known, with perhaps a million subscribers, but I never hear anyone talking about it in my corner of the internet, so I wanted to show some love. Basically, TWIHI is a show by Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) who uses that iconic voicebox of his to tell 5-10 minute stories from pop culture history that keep the famous figure behind the story a mystery until the reveal at the end of the episode. This show is often called a spiritual successor to Paul Harvey’s classic The Rest of the Story. I love it. You should love it too.

When We Understand the Text (WWUTT): Pastor Gabe Hughes gives listeners a 25-ish minute Bible study 5 days a week, and it’s always edifying. He works verse-by-verse through a New Testament book on Mon-Wed, gives a chapter-by-chapter overview of an Old Testament book on Thursdays, and then records a “mailbag” segment on Fridays (often with his wife). Hughes is a faithful Biblical expositor with a steadfast devotion to understanding the Scriptures rightly and an approachable teaching style. You should also check out WWUTT videos on Youtube, where you’ll find 90-second videos answering common Biblical questions.

Reading Writers: This podcast about reading and readers is one that I lost track of for a while and recently came back to. I appreciate the easy-going approach and the fact that their focus isn’t on just new books coming out or any of the “industry” updates, but on what reading means to us and how it affects people differently, particularly from a Christian perspective. Sometimes, the hosts interview people in the Christian publishing world (where they both work) and other times, it’s just the two of them talking through a topic. Aaron Armstrong also blogs at Blogging Theologically (a site that feels like a more bookish Challies.com–and that’s a complement).

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There you go–five suggestions to add to your podcast list. Hope you’ve found one of your new favorites in the list above!

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you here next week!

YOUR TURN: Any less-well-known podcast recommendations you want to share? Post them in the comments below!

“Guess who’s back…back again…”

“Good grief, Dave, the first post in 2 months, and you lead with a 20-year-old Eminem reference?”

Shaking the rust off, dude.

“What about all those promises to post reviews of books you read this year, remember that? Regular content, you said. I assume you *have* been reading books. So where are the reviews?”

Yeah, about that…

“You have talked frequently about spending less time on social media and more time ‘creating.’ You even wrote a Medium post about that. And that was it–just talk. Are you still on Twitter and Facebook?”

I deleted the apps off my phone.

“What about the browser? Are you logged in to them on your phone’s browser?”

“Look, man, I don’t mean to come at you so hard, right out of the gate. But you keep telling me that you want to write consistently. You have interesting ideas to explore. You wanted to do a whole series of posts about The Federalist Papers, remember? You wrote 4 or 5 posts before stopping. That was 16 months ago. And it was an interesting idea. You should follow up on that at some point.”

Yeah, I keep thinking about that.

“There are book reviews to write, sermon manuscripts to share, maybe even some short stories or poetry. Remember? You used to write poetry, too.”

That’s true. My wife really enjoys when I write poetry.

“See? All I’m saying is, it may be time to start delivering on the promises and good intentions you’ve been carrying around for all these years. How old are you now, 38?”

I’m 37. Birthday’s in October.

“Okay, then, 37. How about this? We start now with some regular content. Start flexing the ol’ creative muscles. And then we start working on the manuscript to your NaNoWriMo novel, Good Shepherd, and get that baby done before 40 comes around.”

That’s…not a bad idea. I still really like that story.

“You’re right, it’s not a bad idea–it’s a great idea. That story should be told. But we gotta baby-step this one. It starts with writing consistently.”

Okay, I’ll do it. Starting today, I’m gonna–

“STOP. Stop making promises. No more resolutions. Just do it. Don’t tell me about it. Just do it.”

Okay. Today, then.

“Today.”

Done.

My 2017 Reading List, and Top Reads of the Year!

A year-end tradition here at the 4thDaveBlog, so here ya go–what I read in 2017 (in dozens of bulleted lists)!

January

  • A Year of No Sugar – Eve Schaub
  • Why Pro-Life? – Randy Alcorn
  • Silence – Shusaku Endo

February

  • The Only Living Boy (vol. 1-3) – Gallaher/Ellis
  • Silent Night – Stanley Weintraub
  • Narrative of the Life… – Frederick Douglass
  • March: Book One – Lewis/ Aydin / Powell
  • The Souls of Black Folk – W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Under Our Skin – Benjamin Watson

March

  • The Long Walk – Stephen King
  • The End of the Affair – Graham Greene
  • The Circle – Dave Eggers

April

  • The Truth of the Cross – RC Sproul
  • The Final Days of Jesus – Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor
  • Year of No Clutter – Eve Schaub

May

  • Unparalleled – Jared Wilson
  • Reverberation – Jonathan Leeman
  • The Girl With All the Gifts – M. R. Carey

June

  • The Dip – Seth Godin
  • Linchpin – Seth Godin
  • The Wonder-Working God – Jared Wilson (audio)
  • Turning Pro – Steven Pressfield

July

  • So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Cal Newport
  • Husband-Coached Childbirth – Dr. Robert Bradley
  • Family Worship – Dr. Donald Whitney

August

  • Teammate – David Ross
  • Call for the Dead – John LeCarre
  • Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
  • The Cubs Way – Tom Verducci

September

  • Secret Identity – Kurt Busiek / Stuart Immonen
  • Horrorstor – Grady Hendrix
  • DC Rebirth Deluxe Ed. – Johns/Frank/VanSciver/Reis/Jimenez

October

  • Why We’re Protestant – Nate Pickowicz
  • Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow – Carl Trueman

November

  • The Down-grade Controversy: Collected Writings of CHS – Spurgeon
  • Playing Saint – Zachary Bartels
  • Playing Saint: All Souls Day – Zachary Barrels
  • Can I Be Sure I’m Saved? – RC Sproul

December

  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
  • Life Together – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Desire and Deceit – Al Mohler
  • Parnassus on Wheels – Christopher Morley
  • Batman: I Am Gotham – Tom King / David Finch
  • The Haunted Bookshop – Christopher Morley

 

Final Tally: 44 books

Genre Breakdown:  

  • Non-fiction: 26
  • Fiction: 13
  • Graphic Novels: 5

Thoughts on This Year’s List: 

  • I thought I had read more fiction than that. I guess it seemed like more because it ran in spurts. But over a third is still a pretty good ratio, I guess.
  • I read a LOT of short books this year. If we break it down by pages read and average length, it would be significantly down from years past. Honestly, I’m okay with that. This year, I didn’t have the benefit of long commute times, so I squeeze in reading where I can. I have to admit, I also gave a lot of time away to TV–I don’t watch a LOT and I try to be discerning and specific with what I will watch, but there’s some good TV shows out lately, and those stories have been eating up reading time for me as well.
  • What’s not included on this list are about a dozen books I started and never finished, either because I ran out of year or just decided to give up. That never used to happen; once i’d start a book, I would grit it out to the end. However, in recent years, I’ve realized that life is too short to muddle through books that can’t hold your interest. It’s better to walk away from a book you’ve invested 100 pages in, so that the time it would take to read the other 200-300 pages can be devoted to another book you’ll enjoy more.
  • I also attempted some theme-months, with mixed success. I was able to finish 4 books about the African-American experience in February, and I have a list of others to check out in the future. That was really helpful to me, to walk in someone else’s shoes for a bit. I tried to make October “Reformation Month,” but didn’t get through much. Finally, I had a bound collection of five “Christmas tales” by Charles Dickens. I made it through “A Christmas Carol” (which I loved), but immediately got bogged down by “The Chimes.” I just stopped caring. Maybe next year!

My Top-Five Recommendations from This Year’s Reading List (in no particular order):

The Souls of Black Folk – W.E.B DuBois — This book helped me start to understand how black experience and thought began taking shape and being expressed in the 20th century. I could recognize ideas and phrases that would be echoed in other writers (like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ work that I read last year). I found this to be a challenging and informative read, and I was the richer for reading it. It also emphasized for me personally how important it is to read widely and read outside your own experience (something I would have acknowledged abstractly but now see the importance of in a new way).

The Cubs Way – Tom Verducci — Yes, I’m a Cubs fan, so a book about their world championship season is a no-brainer. But even if you’re not a Cubs fan, if you like sports writing AT ALL, this book is well-worth your time. Verducci takes the reader inside the nuts and bolts of a major league organization and tells the individual stories that make sports so inspiring and exhilarating. Verducci is a gifted writer, and this book is one of my favorite sports books ever (subject matter aside).

Playing Saint / Playing Saint: All Souls Day – Zach Bartels — I’ve praised Zach Bartels’ work before, but I’m here to do it again. These books are just great. Bartels takes the supernatural mystery/thriller genre and just works it like a master. If you want a thrilling, dark page-turner, these two books are right up your alley. (Sensitive readers should note that both books deal with serial killers, and some of the crimes are described…if not graphically, then at least effectively. So, be advised of the content concerns there.)

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens — This is like picking the Patriots to be Super Bowl contenders. “No, duh, Dave, are you for real? A Christmas Carol is good?” Yes, it is. But I’m picking it because I think people forget exactly how good it is. Dickens is an incredible writer, who spends pages on description because he wants the reader to see and hear and smell his London setting. Plus, the novel gives you details and side comments and scenes and conversations that are always cut out of film or stage adaptations of the story, and it’s a delight to re-discover those elements of the story that we don’t see in other media. I hadn’t actually read this story since high school, and I’m glad I revisited it. You should, too.

Honorable Mention: Secret Identity – Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen — This graphic novel was better than I expected, so I wanted to give it a shout-out. It’s the story of a boy from the Kent family who grows up in Kansas–no, not that boy. This boy lives in a world where Superman is a comic book character–yet, his parents decide to name him Clark anyway. Young Clark Kent grows up to resent his super-powered namesake…until he develops strikingly similar superpowers of his own. He then must decide if he actually wants to take up the fictional mantle in the “real” world. I thought this take on the Superman mythos was a lot of fun, and would definitely recommend it to even casual fans of the original character.

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What’s Up for Next Year: Next year, I’m going to do battle against tsundoku by reading only* books I physically own as of December 31st, 2017.  I will also be doing something new for next year’s reading list — I’m going to try writing a capsule review (or longer, if I feel the urge) for every book I read in 2018. (Yay! More blog content!) So that means, by the end of the year, if you’ve been hanging tough with me, you’ll already have a good idea what my top-five will look like! As always, this is subject to change; I am a fickle fellow when it comes to New Year resolutions and reading plans. But why not try, right?

 

[*I’m leaving myself a little grace/wiggle-room in case I “have to” read things for church purposes (e.g. book studies, men’s groups, etc.). But I’m not going to seek out any recreational reading other than what is on my TBR shelves as of this coming Sunday. Probably. I’ll try.]

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So there you have it. My 2017 reading list.

Did you read anything great in the past year? Comment below and let me know!

#FridayFive: Another 5 Interesting Medium Posts

Hey folks! Back this week with another group of Medium posts that I found informative and/or challenging, and that I think you may appreciate:

Confessions of A Failed Female Coder – Caroline McCarthy tackles the topic of women in STEM (specifically in Computer Science) and provides some perspective on the infamous “Google memo” by James Damore. McCarthy’s insights on how education and learning style influence the way girls interact with STEM subjects gave my wife and I some good things to discuss regarding how we will raise and educate our daughter.

Las Vegas, Murder, and Gun Control – Rick Thomas wrestles with some of the political/cultural conversation around the latest mass shooting in the US. Most helpful for me was his breakdown of the 3 arguments used by cultural evangelists, in regards to guns.

You Weren’t Very Persuasive Today – Cody Libolt provides some good ideas on how to have productive and persuasive discussions with people with whom you disagree. In an age of people screaming past each other into the digital abyss, this post is worth some consideration.

Killing Television – Michael Marinaccio cites a few Pew Research results about the demographics of news consumption and media trust, as he considers the possible effect of a generational shift from visual news back to print news as a more trusted resource.

Why You Should Quit Reading Paper Books – I disagree with Andy Sparks’ premise entirely*, as do apparently ALL of the commenters (the answer to your problem, Andy, is a combination of marginalia, pocket notebooks, and highlighters), but I’ll admit he has some useful tips for how to capture and review ideas and quotes from your digital reading. So take that for what it’s worth, and leave the rest, I guess.

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There you go, gang. Some fun reading for the weekend.

If you’re on Medium, let me know! I’d love to check out your work. I’m on Medium, too, if you want to follow me there–though I haven’t produced much of anything in that forum. Yet.

Have you read any useful or challenging articles online lately? Post the link in the comments below!

 

 

*Much to the possible dismay of Mr. Sparks, I’m actually playing around with the idea of reading EXCLUSIVELY print books in 2018, and limiting myself to books I actually own as of January 1. I figure it’s a good way to battle my tsundoku tendencies.

#FridayFive: 5* Interesting Stories I’ve read recently on Medium.

So I have a confession to make: I use the “bookmark” function on Medium entirely too much.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Medium is a free public blogging platform in which anyone can submit articles. (And I mean anyone.) If you subscribe to certain people’s feeds or click that you are interested in certain topics, you can get a daily (or weekly, I imagine) digest email from the site with links to articles that might interest you. And you can even “bookmark” things you want to read later.

What happens when you bookmark a whole lot and don’t actually read that much? You get a backlog of articles that may number into the several hundred. Or so I’m told.

So I figured, at least for a few weeks, I was going to go through this backlog and pull stories to tell you about that I found interesting, informative, funny, and/or generally worth reading.

Disclaimer: I will try to warn you in advance, but in these posts I will link to articles with bad language from time to time. I’m going to trust that you and your conscience will make good choices, based on your convictions. If I link to the article, it’s because I think the content is worth reading, despite objectionable verbiage.

So here you go–5* stories I’ve read recently that I thought were worth sharing:

I Envy Your Fake Life — Stephen Altrogge talks about the confluence of social media and comparison. I appreciated his honesty, and the reminder of how God’s sovereignty speaks to our contentment.

The Only 3 Types of Writing People Actually Want to Read — Okay, so a lot of the stuff I read on Medium has to do with content creation, writing, publishing, etc. This piece by Ayodeji Awosika was a very useful and direct reminder about what people want to get out of online content (or really, any written content).

Read Like You’re on a Diet — Okay, this one hit a little close to home, as Cody Musser describes the glut of reading material online, the temptation to try to catch it all, and how overwhelming it can be. He’s also frank about how writers’ motives can cloud how good or useful content is. And he emphasizes the need for creating, not just consuming. Worth considering. (NB: language)

23 Ways to Immediately Get more Traffic to Your Blog — Okay, this post is SEO’d to the max. Unsurprising, since it’s Jeff Goins, who’s a pro at platforming. BUT it’s also got some good and useful ideas for boosting the number of eyes that land on your writing, so if you’re into such things, this is a good one to read.

Reading to Learn: Why You Shouldn’t Read Beginning-to-End and What You Should Do Instead — Michael Motta discusses what looks like a very effective method for reading non-fiction (especially textbooks) with an eye to better retention and comprehension. If you’re in school, this may especially be worth a look.

BONUS:

Jesus Took Away My Freedom of Speech… — Couldn’t wait until next time to include this one. Billy Schiel reminds us in this great article about the implications of being servants of Jesus Christ, including how it affects the way we speak (or blog or tweet). Don’t miss this one.

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There you go: the first “Medium” edition of the #FridayFive. If you are already on Medium and are so inclined, you can follow me there. No, I don’t have much content up at this point, but I will be rectifying that in the next few weeks–both with cross-posts from this blog and some Medium-exclusive content as well. Looking forward to that!

Have a great weekend, do something fun, be with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day if you’re a believer, and I’ll be back next week (hopefully).

Like. Follow. Subscribe. …Or create.

It’s a curious thing how I self-sabotage my attempts to detach from media (social or otherwise).

I started using Medium and Feedly as news aggregators with the intention of divesting my energies from Facebook and reducing the temptation to scroll or blog-hop for hours. In the end, I find myself now hoarding (ahem, collecting) bookmarked articles on both platforms, which I am hopelessly behind on reading, and I’m still using Facebook (though decidedly less-so).

I’ve culled my FB friend list to people I have had meaningful (or at least intentional, word-based) interactions with in the last 2 years. I have “unfollowed” and “unliked” a host of websites and entertainment pages on FB, though Zuckerberg still thinks I’m not getting enough advertising in my diet. (“Your friend Joe likes the ‘Peruvian Llama Juggling’ page!” Well… good for Joe?)

I infrequently trim down my Twitter follow list, but then I’ll take on new Twitter activities like anonymous accounts (let’s call that “fun-work”). I’ll turn off Twitter notifications on my phone, but keep the app and check it frequently.

I’ll delete podcasts from my devices, and then subscribe to new ones. Same with my streaming movie service. I have several authors to whom I owe book reviews, and yet I’m still adding books to my hold-list at the library. Why? Because I’m a jerk blogger/reviewer. (I owe apologies along with those reviews.)

[I pause to add the following clarifying statement: I’m not complaining. I’m not asking for assistance. I’m just talkin’ here, folks.]

The truth is, I still like using social media. I know the dangers. I’ve read the news articles about its negative effects. I’ve seen scores of blog posts about how people quit FB and Twitter, and their lives are JUST. SO. AMAZING. NOW. (See: previously-mentioned bookmarked Medium articles.) And I know that’s all true.

But I also know that I enjoy interacting with my “Twitter friends.” I still use FB groups and messaging to stay in touch with people, groups, and projects.  I’m aware of the sneaky dangers of FOMO and my tendency toward oversharing, and I’m working on both. I think I can stop worrying and learn to love the blog.

However, there is one side effect of continued social media interaction that I need to start taking more seriously: Social media engagement proves that “I don’t have time to write” is a lie.

I’ve got the basic outline, a few solid chapters, and a handful of scattered scenes written for the first book in a trilogy of crime stories that I’d really like to finish. I care about the main character, I’m intrigued by the themes that these books involve, and the questions that the overarching story raises set it apart from other books in the genre. I think it would be a really cool thing to bring these stories into the world and share them with you.

For the years–YEARS–that I have weakly gestured at writing, I have convinced myself that I don’t have the time to commit to it. My time spent on social media proves otherwise.

I want to write more. I have the ability and time to write more. And I don’t have any good excuses for not pursuing it.

So, well, uh, there it is.

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What, you were expecting more of a rousing call to action?

Do we really need one?

Would it really work?

(Un)Happy Warriors.

Hey, Christian friends–can we talk just a minute about social media?

*sound of stampeding feet*  GUYS, GUYS, WAIT, COME BACK!!!

Look, y’all–I enjoy using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, just like most of you do. I’ve developed many great interactions and (I think) some genuine friendships with people around the country through this medium. But it would serve us well to take a step back and think once again about how we’re using these gifts.

Maybe it’s the intensified political climate, maybe it’s because the issues of race relations and abortion are always topics of discussion in January, but as I’ve pulled up Twitter and Facebook over the last few weeks, I’m constantly seeing my online friends–solid, grounded, fruit-bearing believers–engaged in social-media slapfights with either believers of other tribes or with non-believers. Argumentation bleeds over into insult. Blocks and bans are celebrated with high-fives.

Here’s the danger, y’all: We can’t let gamesmanship get in the way of the Gospel. “Jerks for Jesus” are still just jerks. 

I’m not saying that you can’t engage and debate online in a healthy way. I’ve seen some of my friends do that also, and do it well, in recent weeks. I want to learn from those examples.

But some of us?  We just enjoy pickin’ fights.

bh-fight

In my experience, we Reformed (or Reformed-ish) folk seem to fall into this trap regularly, as we take our stand as warriors of orthodoxy and defenders against heresy.

I’ll be the first to affirm that doctrine matters, and truth is worth fighting for. However, we must be ever so careful that our love of truth is not overwhelmed by our love for the scrum and skirmish of ideological battle. We happy theological warriors can quickly become hardened and bitter. We turn our blades on each other. I’ve seen it happen.

My brothers, this should not be.

Confession: I do it, too. (I am Captain Buzzkill, after all.) As I grow more and more aware of this tendency in myself, I am trying to dial that down, to recognize when I’m growing pugilistic in my interactions. Because it’s not becoming of a follower of Jesus to sling snark on a constant basis.

And frankly, gang? It makes Twitter less fun, because it turns Twitter into a perpetual outrage party.  No thanks.

Maybe you think I’m off base. Maybe you think I’ve gone soft. You know what, brother, sister? I can handle that.

But, if you would indulge me, please take a few moments and think over these reminders of how we ought to engage other people (who despite their sin are still made in the image of God) on social media. Then, let’s go and do likewise:

Colossians 4:5-6  “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

I Peter 3:14-16 “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respecthaving a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Titus 3:1-8  “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all peopleFor we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”

[All translations are ESV; all emphases mine.]

No way I can stop at 7.

The current trending hashtag among my friends on Twitter is #7FavBooks. I have to admit that I’m a little intimidated by my friends’ selections, which are on the whole very theologically-inclined. (Goes to show you the calibre of scholars I pal around with on Twitter.) If I tried to limit myself to seven books, I think my list would be much more focused on fiction,and I would need to explain all my selections. So I’m going to break the rules a bit.

What I’ve included below is not my all-time list (I don’t know if I can come up with one), but it’s definitely my much-beloved list.

Seven Novels/Series I Love and Recommend (Mostly):

  • The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis. Yes, I have some problems with Lewis’ theology in a few places, but this series has been formative in my life. I’ve read through these books almost a half-dozen times, starting back when I was in grade school. I have a deep and abiding love for these books that won’t go away any time soon.
  • Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve read this one, and I think that’s way too long. This Pulitzer-winning novel tells the story of an septuagenarian Iowa preacher named Aames, who is writing down his legacy of memory to give to his young son, since he probably won’t be around to see the boy reach adulthood. It’s a touching meditation on fatherhood and faith, and I need to get back to this one soon.
  • Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo. The summer between high school and college, I worked my way through the 1400-page unabridged version of this classic novel, and I loved every bit of it. Even the random fifty-page diversions in which Hugo would talk about the details of Napoleon at Waterloo or the particular history of an order of nuns in France. The story of Jean Valjean’s transformation of grace is one that has been depicted over and over again in film and on stage, because there is something compelling about the power of forgiveness and mercy. This book revels in that beauty.
  • The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. Criticisms of this Puritan classic generally include that the allegory drives the story–that the story is just an excuse for the didactic sections. That may well be true, but if you’re a believer, I don’t think you can read this book without coming away encouraged and reminded of the spiritual realities of this world. This is a book I have appreciated more and more with each reading, and I think I’m going to start reading it every year or two because it’s so rich with truth.
  • A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. Dickens is still one of my favorite writers of all time, and it was hard to choose one title to represent that. However, I know that his wordy descriptions and multitudes of characters can be tough sledding for some, so I think Tale is his most accessible work with one of his most memorable scenes. No spoilers, in case you made it through high school without reading it, but let’s say that the final chapters produce a moment of nobility that is awe-inspiring. Worth another look, if you haven’t read it in years.
  • The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  This sprawling story about the relationship of the three brothers Mitya, Vanya, and Alyosha is possibly over-long (it’s Russian, so that tends to happen), but within its pages are some of the greatest examples of a novelist wrestling with the realities of faith. There’s a LOT going on here, and it’s a daunting read at first. But it’s worth the investment in order to experience this story. This is another one I want to tackle again sometime.
  • The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King. This one will get me some raised eyebrows, no doubt, but Stephen King’s books are one of my slightly-guilty pleasures. What fascinates me about King is that his novels demonstrate a startling understanding of the depravity of man, but he refuses to turn to Jesus as the answer to that depravity. (As such, religious figures in his books are generally painted in a pretty terrible light, focusing on hypocrisy and moral corruption.) That said, he knows how to spin a good yarn, and the Dark Tower series is his magnum opus–a sprawling fantasy epic that pulls in elements of westerns, horror, science fiction, and medieval fantasy, and shares points of contact with nearly half of King’s immense bibliography. I would definitely NOT recommend it to everyone for several content-related reasons. And I don’t know if I’d ever try to read it again. But I still regard it as a storytelling masterpiece and it holds a special place in my memory.

That’s my current seven for fiction. Tomorrow (probably), I’ll post my list of seven non-fiction books. See you then!

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Your Turn: Okay, I’ve given you my list; now what’s yours? What are some of your favorite works of fiction? Share them in the comments below (and, as always, be courteous about the opinions of others).