Rethinking My Feeds: Outrage.

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

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?

Need just a bit more time!

Hey y’all! I apologize for missing my Monday post deadline. I’m working on some neat stuff right now for you, but I just don’t seem to have enough time with work and other obligations. Here’s what’s (potentially) coming in the next 10 days or so:

  • A review of the documentary American Gospel
  • Two #52Stories posts
  • Some thoughts on razors, masculinity, and virtue (possible cross-posted on my Medium feed)
  • The next round of #FridayFive
  • A post about internet outrage
  • A mini-review of Senator Ben Sasse’s book Them

Hoping to have something new posted by tomorrow afternoon. Thanks for your patience! Have a great day!

 

Feeling the sting.

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Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

My grandfather died last Thursday. He was buried yesterday.

He was almost 90, ravaged for the last several years by Parkinson’s. Over the years, he has been losing the ability to communicate clearly, to understand, to care for himself. And in the end, his final decline was sudden and heart-breaking.

He was a good man, a godly man. He was a strong Christian, an ordained minister, and a faithful husband, father, grandfather, and church member. He loved and poured himself out for children; he taught school for more than 2 decades and taught Sunday School for longer than that. He would drive around the neighborhood every Sunday morning for years, picking up kids in the station wagon to bring over so that he and my grandmother could teach them Bible stories and songs, give them snacks, help them do little art and craft projects, and let them know that they are loved by God. I can’t imagine how many hundreds or even thousands of young lives my grandparents touched over the decades.

My grandfather’s hope in life and death was firmly and securely in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as his Savior. And now, my grandfather is enjoying the presence of his Lord, without pain or disease, without the encumbrances and restraints of mortality and frailty.

I miss him.

For almost my entire life, I’ve lived a thousand miles away from my grandparents, so I don’t have the “every Sunday” or “every holiday” memories with extended family that others do. But I have some very clear and very warm memories over the years of time spent with my grandparents. My favorite was how he used to give the biggest, tightest bear hugs. He wasn’t muscular, but he was as wiry and tough in physicality as he was tender and warm in spirit.

He had a playful sense of humor, which was often incredibly dry and subtle. He told good jokes. (That’s one of the things I love about my dad, as well: how he almost can’t contain himself when he tells a joke.) And I remember my grandfather’s laugh after telling a joke: silent, mouth open, bobbing up and down slightly.

(One of my touchstone “embarrassing” memories was when I misunderstood a joke he made and he had to explain himself; I was 10 and he probably forgot it immediately, but for some reason, that one memory sticks with me–one of those silly moments I cringe about from time to time, just to myself. I don’t know why that one memory sticks, but there you go.)

There is so much more to say about him, so many more memories to share. But that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m sharing this for two very simple reasons this afternoon:

First, I wanted to emphasize that my family is mourning this week, but we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. It’s not some vague, “we-hope-we-see-you-again” wish, either. When my grandfather’s body was laid to rest in the ground yesterday morning, my family was planting him there with the full knowledge that one day, that very ground will break apart and his physical body will be resurrected and restored to life, when Jesus comes back to call His people to Himself. Our hope–our only hope–is found in Jesus alone: in His sacrificial death to pay the penalty for our sins, in His glorious resurrection to give us the promise that we too will be raised up to life. If you are afraid of death, or unsure of what happens next, I’d be happy to talk to you about the hope you’re missing. Please, please ask.

Second, I want to encourage you: reach out to the family members you haven’t talked to recently, especially the older ones. When I first heard that my grandfather passed away, what hit me most was a very palpable and deep regret that I didn’t keep in close contact over the last few years. He wouldn’t have the chance to hold my daughter as an infant or toddler. While I “knew” that he wouldn’t be around forever (at least in this life), I kept putting off regular phone calls and emails. I got busy with the “urgent” things in my immediate vision. Whenever I would be reminded that I haven’t talked to my grandparents recently, I would feel sincerely guilty, and say to myself, “Oh man, yeah, I should get on that. Maybe next weekend…” Now, that window has closed. It’s now incumbent upon me to make up that lost time with my Sweetie of a grandmother, for all the years we are blessed to continue having her here.

Can I encourage you to take some time this weekend and make that phone call you have been putting off, that video chat, that visit to a grandparent or aunt or even your parents? We don’t know how long we have in this life with the people we love. As long as we have a chance, let’s take those opportunities to check in, to share the family news, or just to say “I love you.”

Sorry to end this week on a bit of a downer, but that’s what’s going on with me.

I hope you have a great weekend, and that you have a chance to tell those closest to you (or perhaps distant from you) that you love them.

We’ll see you back here next week!

Happy New Year! Here’s What’s Next.

Hey, y’all!

I only have a few minutes left on my lunch break, but I wanted to check in and say hi!

Programming Note: On Friday, I’ll share something a little more personal, instead of my usual #FridayFive. Next week, I’ll talk a little bit more about my 2019 reading challenge (which my very wise wife suggested I cut down from a very ambitious #100Stories to a more realistic #50Stories–but hey, no reason to stop at 50 if I make it, right?). We may also chat a bit about internet outrage, in light of my 2019 goal to use social media for the good of others. We’ll jump back in with the weekly #FridayFive next weekend. I’ve also got some pretty fun news to share in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for that.

In other words, I’m excited about upcoming posts this month, and I hope you are, too!

But for now, I just wanted to kick off 2019 by saying thanks again for reading, and I look forward to sharing ideas and interacting with you this year!

What are you most looking forward to in 2019? Let me know in the comments!

One More “Thank You”: To the Kindness Ninja, Donna G.

Social media is weird, y’all. It’s tribal and loud and angry and strange, and it’s easy for peaceful, fun interactions to turn suddenly hurtful and frustrating. You have to develop a bit of thick skin and expect to be misunderstood and misrepresented from time to time. It’s easy to become jaded and cynical in your social media interactions.

I don’t remember how I “met” Donna G. No doubt, she found me or I found her through a mutual Twitter follow, but somehow, we were connected. I don’t know much about her. She loves her kids (grandkids?). She loves her Florida Gators. And she was a genuinely kind person.

She constantly tagged people in #FollowFriday posts, and would pull you into group-tweets with 15 or so people to wish you a “Happy Wednesday!” (Have you ever been part of a neverending “Stop-replying-all!” email thread? It’s a little like that.) I have to admit, there were times that I would get a little annoyed when my Twitter mentions would blow up because Donna tagged me on one of those threads, but I never once asked her to stop. I always appreciated it. And I would always try to respond to her (and to her only!) to say thanks.

Donna often asked about my daughter and even asked for pictures. That would be weird, normally, coming from someone I’ve never met. But it made sense coming from Donna. She was like a sweet aunt you don’t ever get to visit, but who tries to stay in touch. So I would DM her a pic now and then of me and my toddler, and she would ooh and aah over how cute she is or how big she’s getting.

Donna’s whole persona, her whole thing on Twitter, was “The Kindness Ninja.” No matter what was going on, you could always count on Donna to share a word of Scripture, an encouragement, a funny GIF, or just a “Have a great day!” She was a singular figure, a bright light in a very hazy medium.

I found out tonight that Donna passed away. I don’t know the circumstances (not sure if she had some sort of lingering illness or if it was sudden). But I have to admit, it’s really hitting me for some reason.

Tomorrow has been declared a Day of Mourning in Texas for the passing of the late President George H.W. Bush. Well, meaning no disrespect to the president, I’ll be mourning the loss of Donna.

I never had the privilege of meeting her in this life. I honestly don’t think I could pick her photo out of a line-up. But her sweet heart, her shining kindness, was and is unmistakable.

Enjoy your reward, Donna. Drink deep of the joy of your Master, and rejoice before Him. One bright day, beyond the River, I look forward to hugging your neck and introducing you to my family.

Thank you, dear Donna, for your kindness. In your daily graces, you have blessed and changed so many of us. We thank God for you.

–Dave

Still Feeling Thankful.

Hey friends! Thank you for your patience. Over the last several days, I’ve been busy with husband/dad stuff that always must take precedence, along with a challenging sermon to deliver this past Sunday.

But you know what? God is faithful. My wife is feeling better, the kiddo is still a sweetheart, and the sermon turned out okay, praise God. I worked a long day Monday so I could take the rest of the week off, and today I’ve tried to help out where I could around the house and honestly just rested up a little bit–I’m running on low power myself this week.

I am thankful for how God continues to show Himself faithful and provide me with everything I need. I’m thankful for the encouragement of friends and brothers over the weekend and in the days since, regarding my preaching. I’m thankful for my amazing, patient, and kind wife, and for my brilliant, affectionate, and (generally) sweet-natured daughter. I can’t wait to spend time with my parents and siblings on Thursday for the holiday.

Never fear–#30ThankYous resumes tomorrow. For the rest of the week, I’ll be writing more personal letters for ThankYou’s #21-25. Interspersed among those, I’ll try to play catch-up and publish ThankYou’s #14-20 (which feature a pastor, a president, and a pro athlete). My goal is still to post all 30 letters by the end of the month, as promised.

So once again, thanks for hanging with me, and let the thanks-giving continue!

And if you are posting your own #30ThankYous, please let me know in the comments! I’d love to check those out!

#30ThankYous Day 7: Team Pyro

Gentlemen,

It’s not easy being a Christian blogger, especially if you are actively seeking to teach and correct through your writing. People assume the worst possible motives in your words, misread your tone, take you out of context, and otherwise seek to condemn you for being judgmental or hypocritical. That’s what you get for kicking over hornets’ nests and tipping over sacred cows, I guess.

When the Pyromaniacs blog was in its heyday, every post’s combox became a bit of a rhetorical brawl, as the usual suspects showed up to lob accusations and misconstrue what should be PLAINLY OBVIOUS IF YOU READ THE POST. Nevertheless, you all handled these volleys with aplomb, often by logically and carefully responded to the fool so that he did not continue in folly, without stooping to foolishness yourselves.

I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you, gentlemen. Thank you for caring deeply about the Church, and spending time and effort to proclaim and defend the truth. Thank you for being willing to interact with people, confront ideas, even challenge foolish arguments. It was instructive for so many of us who were watching and growing from the interactions. Thank you so much for the edifying and challenging Sufficient Fire Conference. (I’m still holding out hope for a Sufficient Fire 2 someday. If you announce it, you can count on me being there!)

Most of all, thank you for the example each of you set:

  • Phil, thank you for not shying away from controversy, but being willing to continue standing up and speaking out about issues in the wider evangelical church. Your appearances on Wretched Radio are always instructive and beneficial, and of course your contributions to the ministry of John MacArthur and GTY continues to bless countless thousands.
  • Dan, thank you for your books, which continue to be a blessing to me. Thanks also for your example of faithful local ministry at CBC. You exemplify the day-in, day-out pastoring that Paul and Peter describe.
  • Frank, thank you for your wit and wisdom online, and also for your wise example in pulling away from social media engagement when you found it to be too destructive. And that’s not a back-handed compliment, either. There is so much discernment in stepping away when engagement begins to tear down the user. Too many people lean in despite these dangers and shipwreck themselves. Thank you for setting a good example in this.

In the world of Christian blogging, particularly discernment blogs of a reformedish nature, there are some real jokers and seedy characters. You guys have managed to be one of the few that not only didn’t go off the rails but continues to set the standard for how such writing should be done. Thank you for staying faithful to the task, in whatever context each of your finds yourself.

May God bless you as you have blessed (and continue to bless) His people.

–Dave

“I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout you…”

“Do you think about me still? Do ya? Do ya?”

It’s been a while since I’ve just sat down and started typing a blog post. The last few months…I don’t know. When it comes to this blog, I think I started out trying too hard to do it “the right way”–not writing, but “creating content,” not communicating but “building an audience.” And then it started feeling fake, so I pretty much stopped. My words dried up. I want to keep writing, but I don’t know if I want to keep doing it this way, you know? (And it’s not like I’ve been posting that much content, generic or otherwise. We both know I haven’t posted much of anything lately. Every time I sit down to write, I start getting all knotted up over it. Not writer’s block as much as writer’s rebellion. I’m not sure what my problem is.)

While working on something for a friend, I started digging through my past blog posts–I mean the early, early days of my blogs. Have you ever read diary or journal entries you wrote more than 15 years ago? Cringe-y is the word.

And yet, while I’m embarrassed by my emotional immaturity on display in those best-forgotten days, I was struck as I read the posts by how much fun they were to read. (No, I’m not humble-bragging or post-facto-bragging or any such thing.) It was just so clear that I loved writing. I loved writing blog posts, stringing together turns of phrase and pop-culture references and song lyrics. I was much more open and unvarnished and emotive. I bled on the screen.

I think I miss doing that, a little.

Things are different now. Times have changed. I’m no longer a young man in my early 20’s with a keyboard and a broken heart. I’m now a middle-aged man in my late 30’s, with a wife and a daughter and responsibilities–not quite where I hoped I would be by now, but getting there. At this stage in the game, I don’t need to be giving full-vent to my spleen in this format. I’m an adult. I need to act like one. To be honest, I don’t really want to go back to treating blogging like a public diary–that’s what Xanga is for. (Any of you kids remember Xanga? No? Just me? Okay.)

(No, I don’t actually have a Xanga. Actually, I think I did at one point years and years back, but the log-in has been long forgotten.)

[What was I on about? Oh yeah.]

I haven’t posted anything “from the heart” since mid-July, it looks like. And who knows, maybe that’s for the best. Maybe that’s what you readers want: that I should stick to book reviews, interesting-link aggregation, a bit of this and that about writing and freelancing, and some Bible study blogging. Maybe that’s why you’re here, really. Maybe that can be enough.

What I’m getting at is this: the blog is just starting to feel a bit shallow to me. I don’t want that to be the case, but I’m not sure if or how I should change that.

Maybe nothing ultimately changes. Maybe I just need to start writing more and trust that it will start feeling natural again. I don’t know.

I’ve been wanting to say something to y’all for a few weeks, but I kept waiting for some great idea to kick me back into gear. The idea never came.

Here’s the update from my side of the screen: I’m busy with work, with church, with life stuff. I’m still putting off creative work that I am a bit too afraid to really commit to finishing, but even more afraid of giving up thinking about. There are a dozen things right now that need attention in my life and I’m constantly having to assess and reassess which priorities are most important.

But I miss talking to you, gang. So I’m checking in to let you know I’ve been thinking ’bout you (ooh na-na-na). And I hope you think about me still.

Happy October.

That Morning.

(Reposted and expanded from this post way back in 2004.)

It was fall, and school was just getting into full swing. My senior year of college, full of 400-level classes and theater and a girl with whom I was utterly smitten.

We, she and I, were getting lunch. Walking from the school cafeteria counters to the beverage island in the middle of the dining hall. Two small cups of Dr. Pepper, one of chocolate milk, balanced on my plastic tray, trying not to spill.

The nearby television was tuned to MTV, as Kurt Loder (or someone similar) was discussing the death of Aaliyah, the R&B star who died in a plane crash just a few weeks before. She and I chatted about the tributes and the memorial services that dominated the airwaves.

She mentioned that she heard one announcer say that Aaliyah’s death would be our generation’s “where were you when” moment. Our parents would have the Kennedy assasination, our grandparents would have Pearl Harbor, and we just had Aaliyah. I thought that was a bit of an overstatement (no offense intended to the dead), and that it would be pretty sad if the death of a pop singer were “the” landmark news moment of our lives.

She agreed. “I was more impacted when Kurt Cobain died. There were girls at school who cried all day, when they found out.”

I didn’t share that memory; my upbringing was devoutly devoid of pop music. But I understood and agreed, “Yeah, clearly Cobain had more of an impact.”

We sat at the table, watching the large-screen TV in the caff, and the topic shifted to homework and other things.

That was Monday.

=====

The next morning, my roommate Josh and I were getting ready for the 9:30 class we both had (Children’s Theatre? Scenic Design? Something in the theater building.)

I was perched on my dorm-room desk chair, Mr. Rogers-style, about to pull on my socks, when Josh uncharacteristically turned on the TV (something he never did in the morning). And I saw it. I saw the world change in an instant.

I saw a mighty city in flames. I saw the great tower shudder. I saw the smoke and debris.

Then the image of the second plane vanishing into the side of the second tower. To this day, I don’t know if that was a live video or a replay, but either way, it felt sudden. Jarring.

I sat slack-jawed and half-socked, unable to move. Josh dropped down on his bed, stunned. I heard him gasp. We sat silent, in our small dorm room on the small campus of a small Baptist college in the wide plains of middle America, and we watched in horror as Americans were murdered en masse.

After about ten minutes, I awoke from my shocked state. “I…guess…we need to get to class.” Josh nodded. I finished getting dressed, and we walked together in silence from the dorm to the communications building. On our way, we met our professor speeding toward and then past us, calling over her shoulder, “Meeting in the black box.”

We walked into the small theater, and saw the other students huddled in the seats, in twos and threes, some crying, some consoling, all speaking in hushed tones. We sat. I could think of nothing to say. I was numb. Hollow. As if my spirit had been pulled from me. Mrs. B, the other theatre prof, stood and said a few words. She said that now was a time to pray for our country, and for the families of the victims. We didn’t know how many, but we knew that countless were affected. We didn’t know what would happen next. We were afraid.

Our professor said that class was cancelled, and that we should spend the day praying. We prayed together as a group, and then dispersed. I walked out the glass doors of the building onto the recessed porch, half-stumbling. Some had been wondering aloud if this was the beginning of a war. I wondered the same thing. How many more cities would be attacked? Would there be a retaliation? Would there be a draft?

Most of us ended up in the student “commons” building. There were a few hundred, all huddled around a large-screen TV, watching in silence. Many faces were tear-stained and puffy, drawn with horror.

I stayed there for most of the day, watching the same images over and over. Then the first tower fell. Later, its sister followed.

We could forget about Aaliyah and Kurt Cobain. We had our “moment.” Every one of us now had our story.

So many things we felt. So many things we wanted to say. Now, so many years after, we’re still trying to find the words.

=====

It’s at this point in the original post that I concluded with a rousing “they didn’t just attack New York or DC–they attacked all of us” speech. And that’s still true. For one glorious, all-too-short moment, the partisan bickering was tabled in favor of bowed heads, clasped hands, and “How are you doing, neighbor?”

And now we’re here–17 years later. We’ve defeated Bin Laden and Saddam, and new terrorists and warlords have risen up to take their places. The War on Terror hasn’t ended; it’s just changed location and shape. Truth be told, it’s been largely forgotten by many Americans–white noise in a distracted culture.

Meanwhile, we’ve had three presidents, all of whom were/are vilified by their opponents and defended fiercely by their allies. I’m not going to argue over who was better or worse (though I do find it interesting how one went from being portrayed as literally the second coming of Hitler to now a beloved and even fondly-remembered statesman in some circles–the benefits of perspective, I guess).

In some ways, it feels like this country is on the verge of fracture, though I wonder sometimes if that’s really just social media and cable news talking. Then again, moderation has fallen out of fashion. On the street corners and in the marketplace, everyone speaks in chyrons.

I don’t have answers, either. I’m still trying to find the words.

If there was a single silver lining on that dark day 17 years ago, perhaps it’s this: For one brief moment, we remembered what we had in common, and we realized that there was something more vital, more fundamental than the petty, partisan bickering that was already so deeply ingrained in the national conversation in the summer of 2001.

One nation, under God, indivisible.

May it always be.