“I don’t need your civil war…”

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How do you think about the people around you? How do you see them? How do you speak about them?

There’s been so much that’s gone on in the last month that has burdened and overwhelmed me. So much that I wanted to say but didn’t know how to–or whether or not my words would contribute anything useful or new. I’ve tried to stay out of the online hot-take business (with mixed success), but I think a lot of my thoughts lately are boiled down to this key issue:

When you stop seeing your ideological opponents as human beings worthy of dignity, it makes it a lot easier to justify treating them as sub-human in your speech and actions, both directly and indirectly.

People from my ideological/theological camp talk about the dignity of human life a lot, specifically when it comes to the life of the unborn. But I worry that much of that language is shown to be mere rhetoric when the way we speak to and about our enemies (either political or theological) is degrading, demeaning, and dismissive. (Depending on whom you ask, that makes me a squishy, raised-pinky, “nuance”-obsessed liberal, which is HILARIOUS.)

Labels and categories can sometimes provide a helpful shorthand in conversation, but I wonder if we lean so heavily on those that they start to become personas or avatars to absorb our attacks. It’s easy to make fun of “leftists” or “Trumpists” when you’re thinking about a generic stereotype instead of your parents or siblings. You can take shots, make jokes, dismiss their concerns. But when you start putting names and faces to the labels, it should become a bit harder to be so calloused and contemptuous.

“Should.” But we both know that with practice, we can become very comfortable labelling and smearing even the ones we purport to love with such invective.

“You’re just a…”

“Well of course you disagree, you….”

“Well, if you’d quit listen to all those…”

When Jesus said that in the end times, a person’s enemies would be the members of his or her own household, I don’t think the reason for this was supposed to be who’s on the national ballot or where we stand on cultural hot-button issues.

…I don’t have some great epiphany coming here. I hope you’re not expecting one.

Instead, can I just encourage you to take a few moments and run a mental audit of how you have spoken about people lately, including/especially those you disagree with? Ask yourself, “Am I able to disagree with this person/group while still treating them with dignity, as image-bearers?”

And don’t answer too quickly in the affirmative. I know that my knee-jerk reaction to this is, “Of course I do!” If it’s the same for you, maybe take a second and think carefully about it. If you’re feeling especially bold, ask someone close to you if you tend to speak of those you disagree with in minimizing or dismissive terms.

Perhaps one good step toward addressing some of the bitter divisiveness and tension in our homes and communities is by recognizing that we’re more than our political team-jersey–and the same is true of those on “the other side.”

Look, I’m not calling for some kind of kumbayah, let’s-all-hold-hands-and-sing-Imagine sort of utopian dream, because that won’t ever happen, nor should it. There are serious issues than need to be discussed. There are divides and differences of belief that can’t be ignored or patched over. It’s right and good to disagree, even disagree strongly, about issues of first importance. But if we can’t at least look each other in the eye and say, “you matter,” I think it says a lot about our own hearts. And for those of us who seek to follow Jesus, it may say something mortally serious that we just can’t ignore.

“Please think I’m cool.”

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Confession: That was the thought running like a background track in my head yesterday, as I took part in a group Zoom call with two authors/podcasters whose work I admire.

I’ve tried in various ways to get into their “club” in some way over the years (with some minor level of success), but this was the first time I’ve actually interacted with them face to (screen-mediated) face. I was able to get a few words in, but otherwise, I found myself just grinning foolishly and trying unsuccessfully not to embarrass myself.

I’m a grown man with a wife and kids. I’ve got my own stuff going on, such as it is. I should be fully out of middle-school-mode. But there are still people who I can’t help but see on another plane of coolness. And despite my very best efforts, I slip right into notice me, senpai mode. I hate it.

The call went fine. When put on the spot to perform a bit of dramatic reading (don’t ask, it’s a long story), I bungled some of my dialogue and felt like a goober. Then I tried too hard to be funny at the very end of the call, so that when it finally ended, I spent the next hour-plus kicking myself for being such an irredeemable dork.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. There’s another podcaster whose work I enjoyed for years, and when I was finally able to talk to him during a live call-in show, I got tongue-tied and said something stupid. For the months/years that followed, while I was active in the live chats during various broadcasts, I was never really recognized as a “regular” by the host or the chat group. Eventually, I dipped out and stopped listening/engaging with that show at all, not out of malice but really just disappointment that I couldn’t break into the circle.

What’s the point of all this? Shoot, I don’t know. I’m just talking here, gang.

Maybe what I’m getting at is this: it’s really easy to chase attention, recognition, and a sense of belonging among those we think are cool, talented, and more “together.” But maybe the thing we should be focusing on most is just doing our own thing and being content with that.

But, then again, you know how it is: about to hit 40, looking at the successes and accomplishments of your peers, comparing yourself to the people around you, second-guessing your life choices. Typical Wednesday.

That’s all I got. See ya later, space cowboy…

WFH Day 34: A Pretty Bad Case of RADD

If you had told me, “Dave, you’re going to be working from home for at least 2 months straight, and you’re not going to leave your house much during that time,” one of my first thoughts (after checking our stock of coffee and immediately settling into my comfiest pair of sweatpants) would be “I’m going to read SO MUCH!”

As it happens, that has not been the case.

It’s not like I have been binging Netflix, either. (Though I did watch The Mandolorian finally, which was *chef kiss*.) Rather, this time at home only confirmed what I already suspected:

I have a severe case of RADD–Reading Attention Deficit Disorder.

I keep jumping to new books, like hopping from rock to rock, after getting about 50 pages into several others. I was already reading 2-3 books at the same time when the stay-at-home order was given, and this was just exacerbated by being at home.

Complicating factors for RADD include:

  1. Overwhelming TBR shelves (both physical and digital);
  2. Easy access to new digital reading material (blogs, newsletters, online library catalog);
  3. Continued use of social media; and
  4. Being a parent of children under 3.

As a result, I’m about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way through several books at the same time, with a desire to start new books almost every day.

While I was able to push through and finish 3 books over the last 2 months (State of the Union, a novella by Nick Hornby; Susie, Ray Rhodes’ outstanding biography of Susannah Spurgeon; and The Final Days of Jesus, Dr. Andreas Kostenberger’s examination of Holy Week), the stack of partially-read books has grown rapidly.

So what has turned my head these days? Here’s a quick look at my “current” reads:

  • The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much, by G.K. Chesterton
  • Five Minutes in Church History, by Steven Nichols
  • We Cannot Be Silent, by Al Mohler
  • On the Incarnation, by Athanasius
  • Holiness, by J.C. Ryle
  • Church Elders, by Jeramie Rennie
  • A Dream about Lightning Bugs, by Ben Folds
  • The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon, by Steven Lawson
  • Church History in Plain Language, by Bruce Shelley

I’m not sure that’s everything, but that’s all that comes to mind at the moment.

On top of that, I just got a shipment of 4-5 books I’m eager to dive into that I purchased from T4G’s Online Store. (Note: This sale is still available today only, but it’s the last day of this sale so if you want to take advantage of deep discounts on great theology texts, jump on it right now. Not sponsored–I just hate for people to miss these deals!)

I’m convinced that RADD is a life-long affliction I’ll just have to manage better in the future. 

Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated, as I struggle through this difficult period.

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Your Turn: What books are you reading right now? And if you’re a fellow RADD sufferer, let us know so we can encourage each other to try to *finish* a book this weekend!

Kotter-posting to start off 2020.

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Welcome back!

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.

Five(ish)-minute Update (11/11/2019)

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Setting the timer…ready…GO.

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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 be limited, 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.

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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.

–d.

[*merp*]

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Gonna take a zero on this week, readers.

Work, church, life, the usual reasons. You know how it goes.

As recompense, next week, I will aim to deliver 2 #SmundaySchool posts and at least 1 #52Stories post, to make up for my absence and keep those projects on-track.

Until next time, be excellent to each other, and Go Astros!

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.