Five-minute update.

Hey readers!

I’ve missed checking in, so I wanted to give you a five-minute update (5 minutes to write, not to read!).

  • Things are busy. Just…really, just busy. Work is busy (yay, computer system overhauls!), church life is very busy (yay, church mergers!), home life with a wife and two littles is very busy (so many tantrums!).
  • I haven’t been reading much (got 75 pages into a 600-pager and stopped because I knew I couldn’t finish in time!), and I have a stack of short-story books on my shelf that I need to work through before they’re all due back at the library. What that means is you will get more #52Stories posts very soon. I’m going to finish that project, even if it’s just for me, folks. So I hope you don’t hate it. 🙂
  • I’m also thinking about starting a series of posts on Mondays where I work through what I’ve been teaching in Sunday School lately: a fly-over summary of the Minor Prophets. Basically, it’s just an overview that gives you the historical context, major themes, and some application points. If you’d be interested in something like that, let me know in the comments!
  • Coming up later this week: my thoughts on using the Monk Manual personal planner for 2 weeks. It’s been a different kind of daily-journal / productivity experience, and I look forward to sharing that with you.

That’s it, time’s up, see you later this week!

“I ain’t gonna work on Susan’s Farm no more…”

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So…how much is your time worth?

Last night, while looking at a freelancing site, I was shocked how many people underestimated the time and effort required to complete the jobs they posted. In one instance, a poster offered $5 per 4000 words proofread, and flatly stated that if the price wasn’t right for you, then you weren’t the right person for the job. (This comes out to a fraction of the average burger-flipper’s hourly wage.)

I was both amused and offended. “You need to value my time better!” I smirked.

Then the irony dawned on me: I don’t value my own time even that much.

I had just spent 2 hours watching Youtube videos as I finished the dishes and sat down to unwind at the end of the day (not an uncommon occurrence).

Youtube sells its users’ attention/eyeballs to advertisers. Essentially, we’re the product being sold. And I gave Youtube a few hours of my time to sell for…what? Fractions of pennies?

I enjoy content creators on the platform who cover geek culture or video games. But after giving away hours and hours of my attention for a trifling bit of amusement (“a-muse”=”not-thinking”), I start to wonder if $5 per 4000 words might be, comparatively, a princely sum.

I use Youtube for lots of things: music, information, but mostly distraction. It’s often background noise while I work or do chores–a sometimes distracting video-podcast. To be honest, I was afraid to look up how many hours of partial or full attention I’ve given away to a platform that seems to be more interested in reshaping my worldview than supplying my entertainment needs. But I went ahead and did it just now.

26+ hours in the last 7 days.

More than an entire day in the last week. Almost 4 hours a day of this ubiquitous screen demanding my partial or full attention. I’m…mortified.

It’s time for me to step back from Susan’s Farm, find another source for my daily music listening, and (crazy thought) go without a daily distractor for a few weeks. I don’t like being a product. Beyond that, I don’t like that I’ve consumed all this media without producing much of anything. This feels really out of balance.

If Youtube is the way you unwind, I get it. It’s cheap, and there’s lots of options. I hope it benefits you.

But looking at those numbers, I have to wonder if, for me personally, there may be a better way to spend these fleeting moments, even in leisure. (Perhaps I need to re-read Digital Minimalism or Competing Spectacles for inspiration.)

Policy shift.

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I was in the middle of writing a different blog post when I realized it was probably a waste of your time, so I deleted the whole thing.

It was an anecdote about how a passing acquaintance whose writing and ministry I appreciate didn’t recognize me in the airport, and how that disappointed me until I realized it had been 5+ years since our paths last crossed. I had planned on stretching that weak premise into a 500-word post about the illusion of relationship that social media fosters and how we undervalue being known by God, until I realized that I’ve probably written that post 3 or 4 times over and even I’m bored of it.

As a matter of principle, I don’t want to create content just to chase your clicks, but I also don’t want to waste your time. Moving forward, if I realize I’m basically writing a filler post, I’ll toss it rather than cluttering your reader or email box. Scout’s honor.

My hope is that some of the regular features I’ve been posting lately (book reviews, #52Stories, #FridayFive, and the Friday feed) are actually beneficial to you, or at least entertaining. Aside from your likes and occasional comments, I can’t really be sure. I could put in the work to find out, but during this season of my life, that time is better spent elsewhere. (We’re having a baby in 2 weeks and a few days. That puts things in perspective.)

Here’s my bottom line, and then I’ll shut up and leave you to go about your evening: This blog isn’t just for me. It’s for you, too. And I’ll keep that front-of-mind as I create content for you to enjoy.

And if you have suggestions for new posts, I’m all ears. (Yes, I’m still percolating a few of your past suggestions, just you wait!) Even if I don’t take your advice, I will appreciate the fact that you cared enough to send me feedback. That’s a really cool thing.

Happy Monday to ya. I’ll have a #52Stories post up on Wednesday, and either a personal #FridayFive or an entertaining #FridayFeed at the end of the week.

Giving and Taking.

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In my experience, the interactions with people that frustrate me the most tend to reveal or reflect my own sinful habits.

I was given a few opportunities in recent months for this kind of hypocrisy to be revealed. In one case, a friend who needed help moving made a few decisions during the course of the move that I thought were pretty inconsiderate of those who were volunteering to help. In another case, people who were invited over for a potluck dinner brought little and ate much. (This happens a lot, actually.)

In both instances, I felt slighted. Taken advantage of. Wronged.

James writes that the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. As one preacher put it, our sinful anger is sometimes motivated by a desire for justice or setting-things-right. But we are not God, and our wrath is just as often corrupted by self-interest.

My frustration in these events wasn’t simply that the people involved made these decisions, but that I felt personally slighted by them. I felt like I was being used or disregarded.

Yet, to paraphrase Nathan the prophet, “I am that man.” 

I can think of instances when my own self-interest has motivated me to contribute little and take much more (sometimes specifically when it comes to food, an area of personal struggle for me). My own pursuit of preference and convenience has inconvenienced others.

The greatest example of this is, of course, the Cross. I had nothing to offer except guilt and just condemnation, and Jesus took these things from me and gave me His righteousness and inheritance. And yet, even now, I still treat this great exchange as an after-thought, something to be taken for granted.  Sure, I appreciate the promise of resurrection and of abundant life and a source of joy and peace that cannot be quenched by the worst of life’s tragedies–but what have you done for me lately?

So after I left my friend’s new home, and after my guests made their exit and left my wife and I to sweep up and wash the dishes, once my grumbling had come to an end, I was forced to consider the fact that I’m no better than anyone else in this regard. Truth be told, I’m often tempted to take more than I give, to consider myself more highly than others, to pursue my own agenda.

I’m in danger of becoming the ungrateful and unforgiving servant, forgiven a fortune yet demanding a pittance to be repaid–the result of not spending enough time contemplating how great a debt I owed in the first place.

Do you also struggle with this tendency toward double-standards? If so, let me encourage you, as one sometimes-hypocrite to another: remember that there’s nothing we have that we have not been given by God, nothing we build or create that we aren’t graciously enabled to do so by the gifts and kindnesses that God bestows.

And whenever we are “blessed” with the opportunity to bear with what we see as the failings of others, may we both remember to take a breath, release the frustration, and thank our Savior that He is infinitely more patient and gracious than we are.

 

5/24/19 — Still Alive.

This week has been challenging. I am doing my best to take care of my various obligations. Blog writing got bumped again. Look for some content next week.

In the meantime, if you’re the praying sort, pray that our air conditioning gets fixed (temps in the 90s around here this week). Thanks.

“We’re in the endgame, now…”

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If you’re not into movie/comics geekery, bail out now. It’s cool. See you later this week.

I know the Russo Brothers have “officially” lifted the spoiler embargo on Avengers: Endgame (and goodness, the Spiderman: Far From Home trailer is interesting, innit?), but I know what it’s like to have to wait weeks to see blockbuster movies these days (#ParentLife), so rather than dive right in on my reactions/comments about the final chapter of the “Infinity Saga,” I’m going to post them in the comments below.

Feel free to respond, share your thoughts on the movie, your quibbles, your favorite moments, all that jazz.

And if you haven’t yet seen the film and have any inkling about seeing it, please do yourself the favor to click away now. I want you to be as un-spoiled as possible.

Excelsior!

Placing the Big Rocks.

20190311_084109My wife made this picture for me when we were dating. (One of her many gorgeous papercraft creations.) It’s based on the analogy of the rocks, gravel, and jar. In short: a teacher challenged his students to put several sizes of rocks, along with sand and water, in a jar, but they could only do it by putting the big rocks in first. The lesson is this: if we don’t prioritize the things that matter most, they will get crowded out by the lesser things that take up all the space.

Early on in our relationship, H. knew that one of my greatest challenges in our marriage would be trying to manage the big rocks, so she made me this as a reminder.

Lately, I’ve been focused on three big rocks in particular.

My Household: Thing have been going well at home. My wife and I will be married 5 years this summer, and married life is a blessing. We’re looking forward to a family beach vacation in a few months and making plans for the near future. The kiddo is now a year and a half old, and just brilliant; her mind is a sponge, and she’s got a goofy and playful personality.

But the biggest news on the family front is this:

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Baby girl #2 is set to arrive this summer, and we couldn’t be more excited. We have been duly warned that going from 1 to 2 kids is a game-changer, but nevertheless we’re eager to meet this little sweetheart.

My Church: Being an elder at my church is already rewarding and stressful. There are new and more challenging questions I’m asked to consider, more conversations to be had, more responsibilities to shoulder–but I love it, y’all. The biggest challenge for me currently is working through the vast amount of material and training for child safety and abuse prevention materials. As I’ve noted before, this is becoming a big ministry focus for me lately, as I work to make sure all of our policies and procedures are consistent and up-to-date. I’ve been filling up a legal pad with ideas and questions, and what I really need is a day or so to sit and synthesize all the information I’m learning. (Anybody got a spare day laying around that they could loan me? Because I’m time-poor at the moment.) Unfortunately, this isn’t an issue that can or should be put on the back-burner. The time to address these issues is now, and I want to make sure I’m moving forward with the intentionality the issue deserves.

My In-Person Relationships: One of the ideas kicking around in my head as a result of reading Cal Newport’s latest book (review forthcoming) is that in-person communication and relationship-building is more powerful and more meaningful that digital, mediated communication. What this means is that being in the same physical space as the people you care about and want to connect with is worth the time and effort to do so. Sometimes that looks like driving across town through the evening rush to visit a family member in the hospital, or meeting a long-time friend for breakfast whom you haven’t seen in a few months. Maintaining these connections takes effort and grates against the easy-everywhere connection of likes and comments. But I’m finding that it’s worth it.

That said, there are a few big rocks that I’ve neglected lately, like exercise and writing and prayer, that I need to work back into my life. The fun distractions like social media and movies are sand and water in my jar. They work fine as fillers, but if I don’t get ALL these big rocks in place first, they’re just not going to fit.

I’m chewing on some ideas about how to do this better. I’ll share those when I come to conclusions worth reading.

So there’s the update. Hopefully, you’ll see me back here sooner than 2 weeks from now, which appears to be my average time between posts lately. I bet we can do better than that, though, right? Let’s try.

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Your Turn: What are the “big rocks” in your life right now–the most important things you actively make time to pursue? Feel free to share below. See you next time!

Midweek Odds and Ends (2/20/2019)

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[Above: How I’m feeling this week.]

Another one of these posts, Dave? Yeah, sorry about that. Lemme tell ya a little story:

My wife and I celebrated Valentine’s Day on Saturday, with a tasty Japanese / Korean BBQ fusion place (highly recommended), so our plan for the big day Thursday was to watch a Ramsey Solutions “Money and Marriage” event live-streamed, while we enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal. (My wife is an amazing cook. I’m double-blessed, y’all.) All was going fine until we put the kiddo down and discover she has a 103.6 fever. Onward we went to the pediatric urgent-care doctor. This poor baby, who had just gotten shots not a week before, flipped right out when she saw nurses in scrubs with rubber gloves on. Like, full-body-tremor terror. My heart broke over it. After the kiddo had to get her throat swabbed to check for strep, I rocked her in a chair and sang over her, while my wife was calling her sister (a nurse) about next steps. (There’s something special about singing hymns over your child, as they settle down after a good cry.)

The good news: we came home and gave the baby some OTC meds to break the fever, and she was right as rain. (She’s been a little iffy over the last day or so, unfortunately.) Her parents, on the other hand… Between a possible virus we got from the kiddo, and the roller coaster weather we’re having in our part of the country, my poor allergies didn’t stand a chance. I missed church on Sunday and will miss our mid-week meeting with our Care Group. (Work progresses unabated, unfortunately, so I’m just keeping to myself at work!)

My current status: feeling like hot garbage, thanks very much. But God is good, so we press on, yes? That said, I would appreciate your prayers for a quick recovery. Thanks.

Now, onto the hail of bullets!

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  • I read this Bloomberg article the other day and immediately went on a Twitter rant (now deleted). The idea here is that allowing the government to hold more of your money for a year before giving it back to you at no interest is a “good” thing–at least that’s the spin. And that’s exactly what it is: spin. Like him or hate him, you have to acknowledge that the current administration lowered taxes (and NOT just for the rich, no matter what the hype-train tries to tell you), which means less is withheld from people’s checks because they are paying less in taxes. This isn’t a bad thing, no matter what some presidential hopeful says about it. But the Bloomberg piece contains a pretty insulting assumption: many Americans, particularly lower-income Americans, must rely on Daddy Government to hold their piggy bank because they can’t control themselves enough to save on their own. Talk about the bigotry of lowered expectations.
  • So let’s change gears and think on something fun: Baseball is coming! Full squads are practicing, and spring baseball is on its way! Go Cubs! (And if you don’t like baseball, I have five words for you.)
  • I’m just starting Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s follow-up book to Extreme Ownership, called The Dichotomy of Leadership. Also on the nightstand is Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile. Waiting for me at the library (very excited about this one) is Cal Newport’s brand-new book Digital Minimalism. Hopefully all of these will spark some great thoughts (and posts!)
  • Still reading short stories, still making notes. One of these days I’m going to bust out with a bunch of #52Stories posts, just you wait.
  • Latest musical find: This one-hour symphonic medley of music from the smash-hit indie computer game Undertale. While the chip-tune version of the soundtrack got on my nerves just a bit, I *love* this.
  • If you’re a Christian, I would ask you to pray for churches in the Southern Baptist denomination. Lots going on this month. Lots to think through and do. Pray for wisdom, grace, fidelity to God’s Word, and the courage to act with integrity and honor. I’m trying to take in as much information as I can, so that I can serve our church by making sure we have policies and processes in place to protect our kids.

That’s all I have this week, gang. Thanks for reading and thanks for your patience. I know many of you are subscribed because you like certain types of content, and these kinds of TIWIARN posts aren’t that. Nevertheless, I appreciate that you read, and I hope you continue to do so. Have a great week.

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Your Turn: What’s your favorite restaurant to take your significant other (or closest friends) for a birthday or celebration? Post it in the comments below. (I may need ideas for my next date night!)

Midweek Odds and Ends (2/13/2019)

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Happy Wednesday, friends! What can I say, I can’t bear to stay away too long. 

I don’t have anything specific prepared for today, so I figured I’d provide a little “This is Where I Am Right Now (TIWIARN)”-style update.  Brace yourself for the hail of bullets!

  • My current season of work is uniquely challenging. There have been times when the vibe around the office has been pretty light, pretty loose. The current atmosphere is…decidedly not that. Nevertheless, we persevere. I’ve been reading Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin and have had opportunity to put their personal discipline and leadership principles into practice (thinks like “taking ownership,” “prioritize-and-execute,” and “simplify”). And if that sounds like cubicle-jargon…well, whatever, man. It’s useful to me. All this to say, work has been a beast, and my lunchbreaks have become times to shut off my brain for a bit (usually watching Youtube or reading fiction). The downstream effect of that is that I’m not writing as many posts during that mid-day break. Sorry.
  • Man, I am LOVING this #52Stories project. I’ve got notes on 5 or 6 stories that I’m going to turn into posts soonish, but just the actual reading has been a joy. Plus, as I had hoped, it’s getting my brain clicking on some short-form ideas of my own. At some point (the procrastinator said), I’ll share the fruit of that brainstorming with you. But for now, just know: this project was a great idea. (Though not an *original* idea; check out Jay’s yearly “Deal Me In” Challenge! Dude has been killing it for YEARS!)
  • Interesting and providential confluence of events: the Houston Chronicle’s heartbreaking series on sexual abuse and cover-up inside Southern Baptist churches, coming just one month after I become an elder in my Southern Baptist church. Needless to say, I see addressing this issue as a serious and urgent responsibility. While I’m not aware of any concerns in our church, I’m also not naive enough to think something awful *couldn’t* happen. We have plans and policies in place to vet our children and youth workers, but we can always do more. If you know of any good resources for churches who want to do more to prevent abuse, drop it in the comments or shoot me a message in one of my other feeds. I’m happy to read and learn so I can serve my church family well.
  • Married life is great. We’re coming up on five years in June, which itself is amazing to me–it seems so much shorter, and yet longer (in a really good way). It’s becoming harder and harder to remember daily life before marrying H. She’s so much a part of my day to day, I couldn’t imagine life without her. She has my heart.
  • Not only that, but our little baby isn’t so little anymore. She’s 18 months old, talkative, fearless (climbs on EVERYTHING!), and a sweet kid. She’s also getting a head start into the “terrible twos.” We need prayer, y’all. Kidding aside, this little girl–ugh. She’s my delight.
  • I will try to post something on Friday, but realistically, my next post may be Monday. Lots going on. Thanks for hanging with me.

Quick round-up of my “currently’s”:

  • Currently watching: Life Below Zero on Netflix — a BBC docuseries about people who live near or above the Arctic circle in Alaska. FASCINATING program about what it takes to live in such an unforgiving environment. The language is often harsh, and the footage itself can be unflinching when it comes to hunting/trapping for subsistence and survival. My wife discovered this one, and I started watching it with her pretty early on. This is the only TV show I’m watching these days. I lost interest in what’s currently on network TV–which is probably for the best, to be honest.
  • Currently Listening: My favorite Pandora channel lately is “Coffee Shop Covers” because I am a SUCKER for good covers. My favorite track on there right now is “Wish You Were Here” by the Milk Carton Kids. At work, if I’m not listening to podcasts, I’ll listen to video game soundtracks as background music–today’s selection was Assassin’s Creed, I think, but SimCity is my usual go-to.
  • Currently Reading: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin; The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever; and a bunch of short stories!
  • “Currently” Playing: When I have a little bit of extra time once in a while, I fire up my SNES Classic. I’m about halfway through Super Metroid and a few hours into The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (my favorite video game of all time, I think). “Extra time,” however, is becoming more and more scarce.
  • Currently Thinking: Oh yeah! I have coffee brewed. See y’all later!

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What’s going on with you? Anything cool happening that you’d like to share? Drop it in the comments below!

 

Rethinking My Feeds: Outrage.

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What a difference a weekend’s non-stop news cycle makes.

I was going to write a post about the latest internet debate last week, concerning razor advertisements, implications of toxic masculinity, and the necessity of teaching young men virtue. (Of course, by the time I had started to put some thoughts together, several writers of higher calibre had already written excellent pieces in that vein, so I left off.)

Then I spent Friday and Saturday with some other men from church thinking through discipleship at home and in the church, and Sunday with my church family and friends. As I slowly got back online yesterday evening, another outrage had replaced the last outrage–this time, regarding the issue of racially-based disrespect and (later in the day) media narrative bias. Some people who were quick to repost the initial reporting began stumbling over themselves to walk back statements and reassess the latest available information, while others were doubling-down and disregarding any other data points or newly-available information.

One could point the finger of blame at social media for the flare-up of such stories, but then again, if not for alternative outlets beyond the “big three networks” and the cable news channels (ever the bulwarks of, um, “fair and balanced” reportage), we would not often get additional data points that challenge the way stories are framed.

Yes, there’s the ever-present danger of “fake news” and false leads (as was demonstrated when a young man was apparently misidentified as the infamous “smirker” and was hashtagged, stalked, harassed, and doxxed over the course of a few hours). On the other hand, if you limit yourself to what the “officially verified” and check-marked set report, you still may not get the full story. (After all, what’s the good in listening to only one verified source of “real” news when that source is Pravda, comrade?)

Suffice it to say, social media was abuzz with the reaction, the counter-reaction, the reactions to both, and the finger-wagging and tongue-clucking pointed in various and sundry directions. I got sucked in, reading about the drama, forming opinions on second- and third-hand accounts, until I realized I was doing the same thing everyone else was–feeding on the drama as an outside observer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I engage with social media and how that engagement affects me.

Some of that thinking has been helped by recent books (Jonathan Leeman’s How the Nations Rage, Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family, and Senator Ben Sasse’s excellent book Them). Some of it has grown from observations in myself and others, through the ebbs and flows of social media’s outrage spin cycle.

I’ve arrived at a few conclusions about how I need to change my social media use, which I will think through and share over a few posts in the coming weeks. Here is the first:

I am choosing to minimize the amount of rage-baiting in my feeds–both in terms of what I write and what (and whom) I read.

I doubt that term’s original, but I haven’t heard it used much, so I’ll claim it. “Rage-bait,” like “click-bait,” is an attractive invitation to engage–but specifically to engage in order to get angry.

Ben Sasse talks about “nut-picking” in his book Them–the practice of finding an extreme example of bad behavior or ignorance in another ideological tribe and holding it up as an example of that whole group. I think a lot of us are guilty of this, even without realizing it. We post and share stories that incense us, but if we were pressed, I doubt many of us would honestly say that “Wacko #5” is truly representative of the millions of people we would classify in the same ideological tribe.

But man, Wacko #5 gets us those sweet, sweet clicks, doesn’t he…

I want to resist the temptation to rage-bait. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things that deserve our outrage; on the contrary, there are realities that rightly require attention, comment, and even strong rebuke. It may not be healthy to fly to the opposite extreme and live in blissful ignorance of real-world concerns and issues, if we want to be good citizens and neighbors.

The problem is, to borrow a phrase from The Incredibles: If everything is outrageous, then nothing is outrageous.

Internet outrage becomes white noise. It’s barely a blip. One outrage sweeps in after another like waves lapping the shore, and we are all awash in it–partly because we choose to accept it and engage in it.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to distinguish which issues are worth discussing, and which ones we can just ignore. In other words, we don’t need to go off every time someone is wrong on the Internet. We can just shake our heads, close the browser window, and move on.

(And if there are specific people or sites in our feeds that are light on information or content and heavy on rage-bait, maybe the best response is to click that “unfollow” button. But that’s a discussion for another time.)

So here’s my challenge to you, reader: Take a step back and look at what you post and read on your various social media feeds. Consider the posts and tweets and shares that provoke you to anger the most. How much of it is actual issues-focused interaction…and how much of it is rage-bait?

Does the rage-bait actually make you a better citizen? A better neighbor? A better person? Or does it just make you angry?

And what might you do about that?