Updates, Odds, Ends, etc.

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Hi reader.

It seems like quite a bit of life has happened in the last 2-3 months, both in the world and here at home. I don’t have time for all sorts of detailed explanation, so here are the bullet points:

  • Work/ministry/family life is a bit hectic lately, but humming along. I’m thankful to God that my family and I are healthy and that He has graciously supplied all of our needs, just as He always does. That said, I’m feeling the strain of many commitments and not much time.
  • We are in the process of buying our first home. If you’re not aware of how ridiculous things are in the real estate market, I’ll just say that this video is only barely satire. We have a contract on the new place and may be closing and moving in over the next month (more on this later, I’m sure). As such, I may not be posting too much until after we get settled in the potential new homestead. (Of course, anything would be better than the almost-zero I’ve posted since the beginning of the year, right?)
  • Speaking of posting, I’ve started contributing to Things Above Us, a Christian group-blog. (Don’t get jealous–I’ve only posted once so far.) I would very much appreciate if y’all could check that out and, if it interests you, sign up for the email updates and follow us on socials. The guys I’m writing with are solid dudes, and it’s a pleasure to join them and contribute in some small way to the site.
  • I’ll be heading to Together for the Gospel in a few weeks, thanks to the generosity of a good friend. This will probably be the last time I get to enjoy a conference like this for a while (see above re: buying a house in this crazy market). I’m really looking forward to getting a little time away to worship and recharge. It’s been a tough spring.

That’s really all I’ve got going on: work, church, household, a little writing. But that’s enough.

Before I go, a couple links you may find interesting:

  • Starting on a somber note: as I’ve mentioned before, I love international versions of The Voice. Here’s a video from The Voice of Ukraine–one of my favorites, actually. Here’s a band of soldiers performing just a few weeks before their country would be invaded by Russian forces. There’s no way to know if any of these brave men and women are okay, but it’s just another reminder that this month-long war that may not directly touch many of us across the West has a very human cost.
  • Okay, this one’s actually somber, too: Austin McConnell gives us a glimpse of the heart-breaking secrets behind (literally) a 19th century French painting.
  • Less somber, more epic: here’s a cover of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” in the style of Muse.

That’s it. Happy Thursday, gang. I hope to post sooner again sooner rather than later. In the meantime, join the mailing list in the sidebar so you get notified every time there’s a new post. Thanks!

Happy December!

[Source: https://clearlakeiowa.com/high-five-clear-lake/ ]

Howdy, folks!

Sorry for the extended, unplanned break there. I wasn’t really thinking I’d take a solid month off from posting, but to be honest, I was just struggling to find things to say. So here’s a bit of the ol’ “This is Where I Am Right Now.”

Personal Updates

November was better than October, on the whole. I mean, no loved ones died, so that’s a positive right there. I didn’t spend quite as many late nights working. I got to take a few days off here and there and spend time with my immediate and extended families. And while I didn’t really engage in any performative public thankfulness online, I will say that I tried to appreciate all the many gifts I receive from God on a daily basis. And I’m feeling better, at least mentally. Still dealing with some physical pain and stuff, but doing well on the whole.

Blog Updates

While I won’t try to do another daily-posting stretch anytime soon, I will be hopefully uploading at least 1-2 posts of substance each week. I’ve got a few sermons in the can that I wanted to upload (the last half of the Jude series from the summer, and another sermon I got to preach last month). I have some ideas for Christmas-y content that I may roll out before too long, as well. The point is, I’m easing back in. Thanks for sticking around.

Health/Goal Updates

I’m easing back into my low-carb/intermittent-fasting regimen. “Easing back” meaning that I’m not 100% LCHF-keto, but this week I’ve started reducing my carb intake considerably, and I’ve tried to stick to at least a 12-hour overnight fast between dinner and morning coffee. Over time, I’ll tweak that and shrink my eating window down a bit more. It’s all about iterating and learning how I function best. I’ll probably post on that again in the near future.

As for other goals, rather than wait for January to resolve anything, I wanted to get started with an idea I came up with that keeps my goal-setting a bit more simplified: the Power Five. These are five goals I’m shooting for every day, in order to build back some habits that have fallen into disrepair. My five daily goals are:

  1. Time with God, in Word and prayer;
  2. Doing something physical for 30 minutes every day that breaks a sweat;
  3. Taking care of my body, not only by doing the basic hygiene stuff like showering and flossing, but by actively working to heal/recover where I’m hurting;
  4. Eating wisely and making good choices about what kind and how much food I consume; and
  5. Looking each of my girls in the eyes every day and telling them how much I love them.

Now you may be clamoring to say, “Dave, those goals are too vague! They’re not SMART goals! They’re not measurable or countable or–”

Let me stop you right there, bub. I recognize that the Power Five doesn’t hit the mark when it comes to what “good goals” should entail. There’s a reason for that.

The only measurable I’m aiming for is consistency.

My hope is that, over the month of December, I can begin building a consistent rhythm that will carry me forward. Once I have that rhythm going, I can start attaching some numbers to the process.

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So there’s my update: life is good and I’m grateful; I plan on posting more often this month; and I’m looking to give myself a Power-Five every single day in December.

See y’all later!

#Blogtober Day 4: The Night the Lights Went Out in Menlo Park.

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So Facebook and Instagram just went down, as you probably know.

I haven’t looked up any theories as to why. I’m sure it’s just a technical glitch–someone accidentally deleted a bracket in the code or something.

I have to admit, in the back of my mind, I’m imagining some sort of white-hat hacker op to take down the platform after the recent Wall Street Journal series of articles airing Facebook’s internal memos and studies about the mentally corrosive effect of their product on teenagers.

Can’t you just imagine the movie: A middle-aged man (who “went straight” after spending his 20’s getting into more and more dangerous hacks) settles down and starts a legitimate business in cyber security. He gets married, starts a family, and then has a child who gets into social media in his or her early teens only to be cyber-bullied into doing something drastic and permanent. Enraged and heartbroken, the grieving father exacts revenge on the multi-billion dollar company that profits (in his mind) off of the psychic desolation of bullied and broken children. He runs his “last big job”–a complete takedown of the very social media platform that contributed to his child’s tragic fate.

Basically, it’s a mix of Taken and Mr. Robot. Naturally, the film would star Liam Neeson. (Just kidding. Imagine the extended shots of Neeson pecking away with two fingers at the keyboard while squinting at the screen. No thanks.)

Honestly, I should have written this up as a short story. Oh well.

I mean, this whole thing will likely be over by tonight anyway. Facebook will figure out what’s going on and fix it. The boomers will go back to sharing memes to show they truly love or hate ___. The millenials will log back into Insta. And life will go on as it has before.

But what if–and just hear me out–what if it didn’t?

What if we all come up for air from our phones for a bit and realize, Hey, I don’t need this thing. In fact, the further away from it I get, the better I feel about myself and the world around me.

I mean, that’s total nonsense–no one would ever think that. But, I’m just saying, “what if?”

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna go jump on Twitter to talk about all this.

#Blogtober2021: Once more into the breach, dear friends.

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Hey y’all, it’s been a minute.

I needed to focus on other things in September. (He says as if this weren’t the recurring theme of the last several months.) I’m sorry that I haven’t been writing consistently…but I’m also not. I know that consistent output increases traffic, which then increases click-throughs and multi-post visits, yada yada yada. But the cold fact is, gang, I needed to have fewer things in the back of my mind that really need to get done. I’ve got enough of those that I didn’t get to, as it is.

But hey, I’m back, and you can see the post title, so you probably can guess what I’m about to say: I’m ready to knock out a blog-sprint with y’all again this year. You may recall the rousing successes of #30ThankYous in 2018 and #Booktober in 2020. (If you don’t, feel free to click through and check ’em out–I think they’re pretty great).

This month, rather than shooting for an over-arching theme, I’m going to try something a bit more challenging: time-bounded consistency. My goal is to write, edit, and publish one post a day, without stacking posts in advance or pulling from my pre-written drafts. Each post will be completed within the confines of a 24-hour period. For some people, that may be an easy task. For me, well…we all know how I do with daily posting.

The posts won’t be long or deeply-researched. More like micro-blogs. Snapshots. Quick hits.

Will it be interesting? I hope so. But hey, you can let me know as we go, yeah?

Okay, that’s it. It’s a quarter after midnight and I need to get to bed (I’ve been averaging about 5 hours of sleep a night this week, and I’m feeling it).

I’ll talk to y’all tomorrow–like, for real, I will.

Personal Updates, Coming Attractions, and Remembrance (9/11/2020)

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Good morning, friends and readers! It’s been a month since I’ve posted last, but rest assured that, as the song says, you were always on my mind. I wanted to jump in here to give you some updates on what’s going on with me, drop a few recommended links for your weekend, and tell you a little bit about what I’m working on.

Personal Updates!

Things have been busy here at Chez 4thDave. Working from home is still a joy in a lot of ways, but lately it’s been a little more challenging with a very mischevious toddler and a baby who’s now able to crawl with sneaky quickness. As such, the interruption frequency has been pretty high, making workdays more frustrating.

I also have been given more opportunities to serve in my church and to serve other churches in the area. I’ve had 2 opportunities so far to preach at another church as part of a team providing “pulpit supply” until they can find a new lead pastor, so that has meant more time in study and sermon prep. This looks like it will continue through the fall, so I’m looking forward to getting more opportunities to preach the Gospel, something I really love doing!

My Monk Manual reviews continue to be my highest-traffic posts ever. It’s cool that a blog post just talking about something I really like and use personally is connecting with so many readers. And thanks to an affiliate-link agreement with the company, I’ve been able to make some unexpected but much-appreciated extra income that is helping my family out as we pay off debt and look to the future! What a blessing that is. (By the way, if you are in the market for a new journal/planner, check out those links–my code gets you 10% off your purchase! …Okay, shameless plug over.)

There are a few other big things on the horizon for my family, but I’ll save that discussion for later. All that to say, lots of important things happening to me personally, so the “fun” things (like blogging) have slid to the back burner for a bit.

Blog Updates!

I have a few posts I need to polish up and publish, including some sermon-text / Bible-study posts, some #FridayFeed content, and maybe a few other opinion pieces, depending on how salty I feel like getting. (Considering how tired I am all the time, you can probably count on my blogging for the next few weeks to be pretty low-sodium.)

Something else I’m thinking about doing is trying to post daily micro-blogs in October, featuring 31 books that I enjoy or that have made an impact on my life. And of course, there will be a corny hashtag: #Booktober. What do you think: should I go for it? Let me know in the comments.

I’m also planning on continuing my Twilight Zone (2019) commentary (I’m a few episodes into Season 2 so far!), so you should see a couple posts on that in the next few weeks.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about going back and finishing my #52Stories project from 2019, so I can close the loop on that challenge. Better late than never, right? Let me know in the comments if you think that would be worth doing. If so, maybe I can round out November with some of those posts.

That should set me up for the next 2 months of blogging. My problem is always making big plans and then not following through. But you know what? If y’all are willing to come along for the ride, I’ll figure out a way to make it work. In the words of DJ Khaled:

Friday Links

Finally, we should acknowledge the somber remembrance of the day.

  • Right now as I’m getting ready to post this, the reading of the names of the 9/11 has been going on for over an hour. I would encourage you to watch at least some of the video of this year’s remembrance and take some time to think about and pray for the victim’s families.
  • If you haven’t read it yet, my “where were you when” story is posted here.
  • If you’ve never read through Ari Fleischer’s Twitter recap, every year he provides a minute-by-minute account of the events of that day from his perspective inside the inner circle of the White House. A fascinating insider look at how the United States responded to that terrible attack.
  • The ESPN 30 for 30 film “First Pitch” is an outstanding look at the place of sports in the aftermath of 9/11. I don’t know where you can find the whole thing online for free (legally anyway), but here’s a great clip that sums it up.

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That’s all I have for today. Go hug your kids, tell your parents you appreciate them, call your grandma (because it’s been too long!), and do the kind of things that you’ll look back on and wish you had “gotten around to” more often.

Have a good weekend, friends.

Message Received.

red and white stop road signage
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Receiving clear and direct feedback is necessary, especially when it’s uncomfortable.

Over the last few months, I’ve been pondering how I can build a readership, serve my audience, and use my writing to build up others, especially fellow Christians. Thanks to Jeff Goins’ recent series about email lists and Seth Godin’s book Tribes, I had a flash of inspiration a few weeks back: What if I put together an email newsletter?

I could focus the content toward guys like me–lay pastors who want to grow as teachers and communicators and faithfully lead their families and churches. I’d be writing as a peer, not as an expert, and would focus on encouraging the brothers. Maybe I’d even throw in some writing advice or Scriptural encouragement.

I was instantly excited about this idea, so I decided the best way to gauge potential interest in this project would be to ask my Twitter follows; after all, they’d be my core audience for such a venture.

I put the question out there as a poll, with the plan that, if I got at least 20 or 25 “yes” responses, I would start brainstorming for an early 2020 roll-out.

I certainly got an unambiguous response.

nope poll

In the words of Alex Hitchens (Will Smith’s character from Hitch))… 

I’ll admit, my pride took a bit of hit. When a brother started asking very specific follow-up questions about what exactly I would include in such an email, I started to get defensive, mainly because I hadn’t thought it all through yet. I had an exciting idea but no plan of how to get there, and no real clear goals. Truth be told, I may have been more enamored with the idea of having an email list than actually serving my readers, which would have been almost instant death to any goodwill if anyone had signed up.

What’s more, this clear response said something else I wasn’t eager to hear: An email audience is earned, and I hadn’t put in enough work to earn that level of trust.

Let’s be real: of the 170 or so “followers” of this blog, there are maybe 20 of you who actually read my posts. (In fact, do me a favor: if you’ve made it this far, reply in the comments with your favorite ice cream flavor. Just humor me–or Good Humor me, if you prefer.) Most of my blog follows are other bloggers looking for follow-backs, or folks looking to sell me something. If I tracked actual engagement via likes and comments, the number is much, much smaller.

As Jeff Goins puts it, joining someone’s mailing list means giving them specific permission to get into your “space” and speak to you directly. This is a closer level of access than a blog post that can be ignored. For an email newsletter list (of any kind) to grow, readers must believe I have something worth saying that is worth their valuable time to read. It’s clear I haven’t done enough to prove that yet.

It may not have come the way I wanted, but I’ve heard my 2020 challenge loud and clear: I need to give my audience a better reason to listen.

AND I need to have a better answer for the inevitable “why” question. Maybe that starts by deciding why I’m really interested in the idea of an email newsletter at all.

Suffice it to say, I won’t be creating an email newsletter in 2020. I’ve heard you loud and clear, folks.

Now, a podcast, on the other hand–there’s an idea…

Policy shift.

person holding white paper and typewriter
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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.

Rethinking My Feeds: Unfollowed.

coffee smartphone twitter application
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[Note: The timing of the post is incidental. There is no joke coming. FYI.]

A couple months back, I shared some thoughts about rage-baiting and resisting the pull of hot-take media seeking to enflame our passions and soak up our attention for ad revenue. (At that point, the outrage du jour was Gillete’s “toxic-masculinity” advert and the Covington boys’ protest debacle–feels like a year ago, doesn’t it?)

I’m still thinking about my relationship with social media and how I use it. My recent dive into Cal Newport’s writing has further encouraged this self-analysis. (I’m currently listening to his last book, Deep Work, and it’s really, really good.)

New Twitter, Who Dis?

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about audience and curation–whom I’m speaking to, and whom I’m listening to. (Since Twitter is my main social platform, that’s the focus of my consideration here.) I’m reminded of a suggestion from Senator Ben Sasse in his book Them. After talking about a prolonged hiatus from Twitter, he came back to the platform with an entirely different perspective. His intended audience changed. When he used his personal Twitter account (his “professional” account is run by staffers), he stopped trying to impress the mass of humanity who happened to stumble across his tweets. He said he started writing to a specific audience–friends of his from his early adulthood, people he still kept in touch with over the years, despite physical distance. He said he wanted to write for them, to connect to them, to make them laugh.

Sasse described how having a specific audience in mind for his social media posts helped him focus on how to use the platform more intentionally.

Digital Connection Isn’t Worthless, It’s Just Insufficient

This idea of having a specific audience in mind got me thinking: why am I on Twitter, really? Though I have to admit that I have sometimes chased the attention of “celebrities” or others that I esteemed highly, over the years what has kept me on Twitter is the “digital friendships” I’ve made with like-minded people online, across the country. I’ve only met a handful of them in real space, but I hope to–that’s the biggest reason I want to make it to the G3 Conference or ShepCon one day.  It’s this group of connections that keeps me coming back.

If you recall my Digital Minimalism review a few weeks back, I wrote that Cal Newport dismissed these digital interactions as mere “connections” rather than communication, and he argued that digital connection should have the explicit goal of providing logistics for in-person communication. I think that’s partly true, but on the other hand I think there’s a place for the encouragement and (dare I say) friendship that can grow out of initially-digital interactions.

Are these folks on Twitter my friends? In one sense, no, because there’s no real-space experience communicating with each other. But in another, I can’t help but think of these people as my friends–my Twitter squad.

Trying Something Different

This leaves me with the question: if I’m going to use Twitter in an optimized, healthy manner, what would that look like? Two specific goals come to mind:

  • Following My Squad: One way to optimize Twitter is to dramatically reduce the accounts I read and engage-with to the handful of people I enjoy most. Here’s the thing: I don’t care to use Twitter for engaging ideological opponents or calling out falsehood. Maybe that’s your mission or ministry–have at it. I’m not trying to change lives here. I’m just looking for a little encouragement, a little humor, and the occasional free book giveaway. Limiting my inputs to people who provide that specific value could eliminate a lot of needless scrolling and still maintain some of those digital connections I enjoy.
  • Seeking Edification: Following people whose content challenges and encourages me in my faith and thinking is another beneficial method of approaching Twitter. Following the accounts of certain theologians and groups can bring a net-positive into my feed.

Now, there’s a clear disadvantage to this approach–namely, that it makes it much easier to crawl into an echo chamber and not engage ideas that differ from my own. I’ll grant you, that’s definitely possible; but isn’t it better to risk doing so and be honest about it? If you follow everyone under the sun but only stop to read and engage positively with the tweetfolk with whom you agree, what’s the difference, other than a bit of self-congratulation because your feed is “diverse”?

And that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to follow people whose views diverge from my own. I have several beneficial friendships and interactions (both in real life and online) with people who vehemently disagree with my religious views, politics, and perspective on the world. Some of those interactions (specifically, the IRL ones) produce good conversation and understanding, especially when we are reminded that the other person isn’t an abstract idea but a person with dignity and value.

That said, I don’t feel the need or obligation to expose myself to interactions that serve only to enrage or frustrate me. I get to make that choice, because Twitter (like all social media) is a voluntary program. I can choose whom to follow, whom to mute, whom to block. I shouldn’t be afraid to do all three, as need be.

If I’m mindful of the dangers of groupthink and seek high-value interactions online, there’s a good chance I can make it worthwhile to stay on social media, while limiting the scope of how I use it. I’d call that a win-win, wouldn’t you?

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Here’s my question for you, dear reader: why do you use social media? Who’s your audience? Do you agree or disagree with my proposed “squad and edification only” approach to Twitter, described above? Sound off in the comments–I’d like to hear your perspective on this. Thanks!

Taking Suggestions…

 

architecture blur bright bulbs
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Hey gang! Just popping in to ask for your help with something. 

I mentioned on my Facebook and Twitter feeds yesterday that I have this crazy idea to read 100 short stories next year and write about them. I may do posts about some individually or write blog posts that respond to several in batches–I haven’t decided yet. But I want to expand my experience in the short fiction realm!

I’ve gotten a bunch of recommendations so far, but I wanted to widen my net and get recommendations from as many people as possible.

So here’s my question, faithful reader: What is your favorite short story ever, or one that you think every person should read–and why?

Put your recommendations in the comments below! Thanks!

What’s Next? (My 3-Step Plan)

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Happy December, friends!

After finishing #30ThankYous in November, I have to admit, I’m feeling a bit of pressure to top that with something even bigger. But that’s totally bonkers and just not feasible at this point in my life.

Instead, I’d like to use some of that energy and momentum to make this site better than ever, heading into the new year. So, how can we do that?

Step #1 is Consistency. This was the beauty of the #30ThankYous project in November–it forced me to publish on a daily basis (albeit imperfectly so!). And while it wasn’t the home run I was hoping, you know what? I posted 22 out of the the 30 days. I’m proud of that, folks. Because in recent years, it would have taken me months to post that many times. And while I’m not going to keep up this blistering, Challies-like pace, I can see now how a 3-posts-a-week process is a very realistic goal. So that’s what I will be shooting for, starting this week.

Step #2 is Content. According to my internal metrics, you folks really enjoy book reviews and Bible discussion, so I’m going to make those weekly features for the next several months. Along with that, I’ll keep posting the #FridayFive, but starting this week, I’m going to mix in some themed “top-five” style lists to mix it up a bit.  I may even post some fiction or poetry here or there throughout the year. No matter what, my goal is to produce content worth reading, posts that matter to you and bless you for having read them. The best way that you can help me be successful in that is by telling me which posts are actually helpful to you, so that I know I’m on the right track. Which brings me to Step #3.

Step #3 is Conversation. Here’s where I make my big ask: I want to interact with you more. Along with producing interesting and helpful content in the coming years, my plan is to be more intentional about posting questions for discussion and responding to your comments. These days, I think most of us are really uncomfortable and anxious about interacting with ANYONE online, and hey, I completely understand that. But I would love to create a forum on this site to talk through ideas and provide suggestions and feedback. So I’m inviting you to engage with posts, interact with me and each other, and join the conversation. I welcome your comments–even your critical ones. (My only request is that you keep things respectful and watch your language.) More conversation may make this a richer experience for all of us.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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Your Turn: Three posts a week means I need some great ideas STAT. So what would you like to talk about? Is there any topic you’d like me to address? Let me know in the comments!