Showing posts with label Reflections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reflections. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

(Much Delayed) Reflections on a Month of Blogging

Last month, I wrote 24 consecutive days, missed one, and finished out with a small bang on Sunday. I still have a dozen more ideas for posts, and plenty more to say. I am not entirely sure where to go from here, however.

Blogging takes time. Even a short post demands a certain amount of mental energy, and producing 500 words takes me at least 20 minutes. That's a bare minimum: depending on the 500 words in question, they might take me an hour to whip into a satisfactory shape. I might be able to push out 1000 words in 35 minutes—but only if I refuse to edit the piece, if I intentionally let the written record be simply what I thought at first. As any good writer—and especially any good editor—will tell you, that's a terrible strategy. So, given that I was publishing posts between 500 and 1000 words long every day, that was an average of 45 minutes each day that I spent on blogging. That, in turn, was an average of 45 minutes each day I did not spend on other things.

As it turns out, I didn't particularly miss most of those things. While there were a few days I didn't want to put out a blog post, by and large I enjoyed writing far more than I missed any of the other things I wasn't doing with that time. Halo: Reach is fun, but not nearly as enjoyable as thinking through interesting concepts, synthesizing ideas from the books and articles I'm reading, and generally forcing myself to grow by forcing myself to write.

That is part of why I love blogging so much. Like many others before me, I find that I learn by writing. I start out with a rough idea what I think on a subject, and tease out its intricacies, its twists and turns, its interesting corners by writing about it. Sometimes I find that I have to rewrite the opening of a position piece because, by the time I finish it, I have changed my mind. The process of wrestling through ideas and their consequences is transformative. At its very best, it forces me to distill vague notions down to concrete terms, forcing the vapor of my original conception to materialize into a solid shape.

Add to that the challenge of saying something meaningful day after day, and writing proves the best sharpener of my thought—and indeed, the best means of provoking careful thought throughout the day—that I know of. I enjoy writing not only for its own sake, but because it forces me to think throughout the day, not merely to drift along in the current of consciousness but to seize a paddle and force a direction through my stream of thought. It forces me to take hold of a notion and grapple with it until I understand it well enough to say something about it to others.

On the whole, I loved blogging every day last month. It was draining at times, certainly, especially when combined with a busy schedule and another major project running simultaneously. (You can see the results of that project here.) That sort of busyness is not itself a problem, at least from my point of view. My time was being spent productively and effectively, and I enjoyed it more than I would have enjoyed any of the purely entertaining alternatives.

For my beloved wife, however, the month was a bit different. She was not inside my head, enjoying the adventure of thinking, processing, understanding with me. Much as I try, I can never quite communicate the thrill I get from thinking and writing—to anyone, even her. For her, those hours not spent playing Halo were hours not spent playing Halo with her. She felt separated from me, isolated by my tapping away at the keyboard. We are different, she and I. I feel happily connected if we are sitting near each other, occasionally pausing from our own tasks to talk, or share a quiet moment of holding hands, or an amusing thought or idea from a book or our own musings. She feels connected when we are sharing the activity itself. In short: I like writing side by side, she likes watching movies together.

While there are several reasons I haven't written a post since the start of November, one is that I haven't yet worked out the balance here. On the one hand, blogging is good for me. For all the reasons outlined above, it benefits me deeply. It sharpens my thinking and forces me to think, and in the sheer mundanity of my daily routine, that's important. At the same time, my relationship with my wife is exceptionally important. If I value my own intellectual satisfaction over caring for her and making sure her emotional needs in our relationship are met, I am just being selfish. When you add in all our other activities, especially in the evening, it is easy for her to feel disconnected (even if I don't). That is not a situation I can or will tolerate. As such, I am chewing on how to both serve my wife and achieve the ends that blogging helps me reach.

When I figure it out, I'll let you know. Until then, I will be here, fitfully and irregularly as ever.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Head-Knowledge and Humility

Over the course of the last week, I've had several conversations about humility. It's always an interesting topic for me, as pride is probably the area I struggle most. Today, I had a couple realizations that were humbling—and a neat analogy to help fit it all together.

I try to work out fairly regularly. It's important for staying healthy—I have a desk job, so if I don't work out, my body will deteriorate. My employer provides access to a nice gym nearby (five minutes from the building I work in), so I have no excuse not to exercise, and lots of reason to. After all, my body is a good thing, a gift from God that He calls "very good." I need to take care of it. Given that, I make a twice-weekly pilgrimage to the gym, where I buckle down for some running and weight training. (I also add in Ultimate a few times a week—but that's fun, so it requires a good deal less discipline.)

I have been working out at least twice a week almost every week since May—the longest stretch I have ever gone since I stopped training for football in high school. (Yes, readers who have been with me a much briefer time, I played high school football—not very well, but I played.) I enjoy the fact that I'm substantially slimmer, more toned, and—dare I say it?—even a little bit well-muscled in a few places. Or at least, I like to think I'm well-muscled in a few places. Alas for that idea, I go the gym twice a week—where I am surrounded by people who work out far more frequently, and who have been at it for far longer, than me.

It is humbling, to say the least, when despite your best efforts, you're constantly surrounded by people who are simply bigger, faster, and stronger than you are. (That, in fact, is a very nice summary of my high school football career.)

When it comes to head knowledge, I probably have a better grasp on the essentials of effective conditioning than many people my age—including some in the gym with me, and yes, including some of the guys who are in substantially better shape. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, though: I can be as chock full of good information about how to run faster and build more muscle mass; if I never actually run or lift, I won't get better.

The same is true, in many ways, of our Christian walk. On the one hand, I have a good deal more theological knowledge than many of my peers—and for that matter, than many people who have been walking with God much longer than me. However, that knowledge does not itself make me a better Christian. It doesn't automatically make me closer to God. It doesn't somehow transform me into a super-Christian just by dint of having it. No, despite the fact that I know more than many other Christians, I have a lot to learn from them. The Christian walk, like exercise, progresses not merely by knowledge but by practice. We grow closer to God (and thus, more like Him) by walking with Him, not treating Him as merely the subject of academic study.

Don't get me wrong: that knowledge helps. Understanding the mechanics of the human body and having good form help me train more effectively—but the knowledge is effective only when applied. So too, theology is incredibly helpful, but only when it is put to practice in our lives. Knowing in the abstract that I am saved through faith by grace alone is good—but do I live like it, or do I rely on my own abilities to carry me through? Knowing that men are to lead their wives sacrificially is essential—but do I actually lead, especially in ways that are costly to me? So it goes. I can have all my theological ducks lined up in a neat little row, but if I'm not practicing the knowledge, it doesn't matter.

That's why you can meet people who know very little theology and are nonetheless seriously Godly—they've walked faithfully with the tools they do have. Just as one can get a long ways athletically just by working hard, even without the best tools and knowledge, we can grow very close to God indeed simply by walking with Him. After all, sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit, not our own abilities. That doesn't diminish the importance of theology: the more we know God truly, the better we are able to walk with Him faithfully. Getting our theology right is important; there is nothing more important than knowing the living God as He really is. We need to know Him as well as we possibly can, and that means having good theology—but it means having good theology that we live out.

If we're not living it out, we're just getting flabby as we sit on a couch reading about exercise techniques.

All of that brings me back to the original point of the post: humility. Just because I have more theological training than others—indeed, even if I am more theologically accurate than them—doesn't mean I do not have a great deal to learn from them. People who have been walking with God 20 years may have less head-knowledge than I do, but if they're applying what they do have better (and let's be honest: they've been doing this 20 years, so they almost certainly are), then I have something to learn from them.

Taking that a step further: seeing as everyone grows differently and struggles differently, every believer I meet understands something about God better than I do. If I am teachable enough, I will learn from them. If not, I'll miss out because of my own pride—pride, no less, in something that does not itself produce righteousness, however necessary an ingredient it may be.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sabbath Rest for Dummies

Rarely is the need for rest more evident to me than it has been today. That's a bold statement, considering how I have often been much more tired than I am right now—but it remains true. I worked hard yesterday on a personal project—about 10.5 hours, when all was said and done. That, on top of a long and busy week, left me feeling drained and sleepy this morning. (It probably doesn't help that, with clouds like we had this morning, it's dark until 7:30.

I made the conscious choice midway through the afternoon not to do any more work on the aforementioned personal project this afternoon—I have plenty of time available the rest of the week. Instead, I spent my time talking with a friend, laying down on the sofa with my wife while listening to music, eating dinner, taking a long, relaxing walk with Jaimie, and playing Halo with her (and my sister and her fiancĂ©). It helped. I needed the downtime; I needed to truly rest.

Not long ago, Justin Taylor posted a helpful discussion on whether Christians, who live in the New Covenant, are obligated to observe a Sabbath. I agree with the conclusion he highlighted—that we are not required to observe a particular Sabbath every week—but think the ensuing discussion missed an important point. While we may not have any outside demand on us when it comes to a day of rest, we're pretty silly if we think that God gave it for no reason and accordingly toss it aside with nary a thought.

Americans value productivity over almost any other virtue. As long as you are generating something, somehow, we have little patience for tiredness, rest, and downtime. We are easily bored, frustrated by the slow pace that members of other cultures often enjoy, and obsessed with squeezing every last moment in a day to its fullest (productive) potential. This is bad. Moments are frankly not made to be squeezed. The juice that they ooze out as we wring the last drops from them is sour from overtired, overstrained people who fail to enjoy the good life God has given because they are so concerned with doing something—anything!—with every moment of that life.

Is this obsession not ultimately rooted in our desire to self-validate through our accomplishments? If we can trump our neighbors' number of deeds done, tasks finished, etc., we feel superior to them. If we achieve everything we put on our to-do list at the start of the day, we think the day was a success (even if those tasks were ultimately banal or meaningless). We shuffle aside friendships, trading them for more work, more time spent doing, less time spent being.

Make no mistake: productivity and drive are good things. The problem is that we have made them idols. We have taken a gift and perverted it—how surprising! We cannot take joy in the days God sets before us if we do not slow down enough to actually notice the day itself—if we are so wrapped up in everything we're doing that we miss every sunset, every quiet moment of thought, every delighted outburst of laughter at something silly.

We need Sabbaths. We need rest, a rest that is not only about not doing but about simplicity. Our lives are tangled busynesses—and we take pride in the tangle as well as in the busyness. When we take a step back, set aside the infinite connection to the ceaseless chatter, and simply be with each other, we do far better.

Hint: I'm not necessarily very good at this, yet. I am, after all, typing a blog post on a Sunday evening when I decided to rest. I made this goal, and so I'm keeping it. In the future, however, it seems likely that I will not be typing away at 10:40 pm on a Sunday evening. I will write the blog post earlier in the week, or I will simply take one day off. Rest is important.

I'm only about a week from the end of this experiment—at which point it will be time to reevaluate and see whether posting daily is still a goal I want to pursue. Without a doubt, blogging daily takes a great deal of time and mental energy. It's even more taxing when you're not sure if anyone is reading—so, if you made it down this far, do me the favor of leaving a comment; it's always nice to know who's reading!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Speaking Too Quickly/Wisdom

What do you do when you hear something that simply infuriates you? It's hard to know, especially in the moment, so I'm increasingly learning to simply sit on it, bite my tongue, and pray and think for a while before I respond.

Those of you who know me in person can stop laughing, pick your jaws up off the floor, etc.—yes, I know this is a pretty radical concept for the guy who always has a quick response to anything anyone says. Somewhere in the last few years, God smacked me in the head enough times for me to begin realizing that sometimes, a quick response is unhelpful—even if that response is technically accurate. Sometimes people just need to be heard; sometimes I don't have all the facts; sometimes my opinion isn't relevant even if it's correct.

I have had several opportunities to put this new approach into practice recently, both related to the same general topic. In line with the new policy, I'm not actually going to address it in a blog post, at least not directly, for a while. Maybe ever. Any writing I do on the topic will avoid naming names and specifics in any case. Suffice it to say, I have had several friends bring up a situation and some issues that are incredibly near to my heart, about which I feel more passionately than almost anything else—and I cannot respond at all.

Again, those of you who know me well might recognize that this is hard for me. There are in both cases very good reasons for my keeping my mouth shut—circumstances that mean it would not be profitable for me to speak my mind. That doesn't make it any less difficult.

For a long time, I understood the many condemnations of quick speech in Proverbs to simply refer to speaking foolishly. I saw no problem with my own quickness of speech, except where it directly hurt someone. More and more, however, I begin to understand that those who are quick to speak—me included—are rarely those who are quick to listen, quick to understand, and quick to discern wisely. More often, they are those who are quick to judge, quick to assume, and quick to misunderstand. It is difficult to answer wisely, especially in complicated situations—and let's be honest, most situations in life are at least somewhat complicated—without taking time to carefully consider, to ask good questions, and to pray through the situation.

Woe to those of us who are ready to snap off an answer without taking time to consider carefully the implications of that answer.

Sure, it is possible to go too far in the other direction. I know people who are so afraid of giving wrong answers that they simply will not give answers—or at least, not without constant hedging and qualifying and playing devil's advocate until their answer is obscured beyond recognition. We do people a disservice when they ask us for advice and we refuse to say either, "I don't know," or "I think you should do thus-and-such." Either is a fine answer, provided we have given the situation some thought and prayer, but we should stop wasting people's time with halfway-in-between answers.

For my part, in the situations I referred to above, I do have a strong opinion—but it's not one I can give right now. How does that fit into what I just said? Well, there are a few more options: "I haven't had time to think through a God-honoring response, yet. Can you give me some time and I'll get back to you?" is one. Another is, "Look, I don't have enough information." Yet another is, "I'm too close to this to give you a good answer." All of those presuppose that we're seeking to honor God and give legitimate, helpful answers, though—none of the tiptoeing around an answer for fear of offending someone. (Note: if you give one of these answers as an excuse not to simply tell someone what you believe, rather than because it's the truth, you deserve a swift kick in the shin. Tell the truth.)

Honoring God sometimes requires us to remain silent. Other times, it requires us to speak kindly, graciously, and firmly. In one or both of these situations, the time for such speech may come. I will address the broader issue underlying both situations at some point in the future, but when that time comes, it will not be a response built out of my immediate emotional backlash against something that bothers me. The most helpful and edifying responses may involve an emotional component, but wisdom involves both careful thought and considerable prayer. Reacting in the heat of the moment is almost never wise. Yes, occasionally we need to be able to answer immediately—but such moments are far rarer than my proclivity for quick answers would suggest if we took it as normative. (Thankfully, my proclivities are not normative for the Christian walk in any way or area: far too much sin in me for that to be anything but a deeply horrifying nightmare.)

In short: be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath—for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:21). Take time to think things through carefully, and then give people the best answer you're able. Don't feel ashamed of that answer if it was decided in careful thought and prayer. Simply trust God to do his work far better than we are able.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Across Language, Ethnicity, Social Strata, Continent, and History

Today at work, I had a long, meandering conversation with a coworker inspired by his looking through some of the material at Pillar on the Rock last night. The fellow in question is a convert to Catholicism who started out as a Southern Baptist—obviously our views diverge a bit on the correct form of church government, as well as a host of other issues.

As I was driving home, I was pondering the conversation with him, and thinking through some of the factors that might lead someone toward Roman Catholicism. For completely unrelated reasons, I was thinking about Christian bookstores, and how very little space in them is devoted to Catholicism—despite the fact that, despite my significant differences with Roman Catholic doctrine, it is far more orthodox than much of the dreck that is pushed front-and-center at the local Mardel. For some reason, the two different thought processes merged together and highlighted just how local much of Protestantism is in contrast to the global unity inherent in the Catholic structure.

Before anyone gets riled up, I'm not suggesting we return to the Catholic church or dump the principles of congregational government. I don't think either would be a good idea. However, I think it is important to reflect on some of the things that have been lost since the Reformation, especially as Protestant churches have continued to splinter and factionalize. There are many problems with the hierarchical structure embodied by the Roman, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox churches. One thing they do well, however, which other denominations do less well the more congregational they are, is consciously reinforce the connection of believers all around the world.

I am united by faith with believers in Peru, Italy, the Sudan, and Vietnam. However, I am united with them only by faith. We have no organizational ties; there is nothing mundane (other than perhaps missions donations) connecting me to them or them to me. That can make it difficult to remember that we are part of the same church, connected as deeply as can be. For all their other flaws, the hierarchical structures have an institutional connection to each other—they have common leaders and authorities, common methodologies, common doctrine. In short, there is a practical advantage to those structures in some ways, despite the theological problems with them—at least when it comes to remembering that we are part of the church universal.

There are a number of ways to help correct this deficiency in Protestant circles. First, of course, is simply teaching. We need to be reminded of our commonality with our brothers and sisters around the world, because we do not have existing institutional reminders. Pastors must find particular ways to highlight this as it is relevant in sermons. They can also make a point to model prayer for fellow believers in countries on the other side of the world. If the church has particular missions ties to particular people groups or nations, they can regularly make mention of those not only in the service but in prayer request emails and on their websites.

Second, I think it may be helpful to just get outside of our cultural box as much as possible. Even breaking out of the walls of our own church to partner with likeminded but culturally different churches in our own area can help here—the middle class suburban church teaming up with an urban plant, a primarily-Hispanic church joining with a largely-Asian fellowship, etc. Beyond this, short-term missions that focus on developing relationships with both nonbelievers and missionaries in foreign cultures, receiving visitors from foreign cultures, and long-term partnerships with ministry workers in cross-cultural evangelism can all help us see how we are connected to believers around the globe.

At an individual level, many of the same options are valuable, but others exist, as well. Resources like Operation World can help us see the big picture of God's work in the world. Church history can help us see our place not only globally but historically, and emphasize that we are part of God's ongoing work throughout all the world—every tribe, every tongue, and every nation. Wherever we can break out of our narrow, localized perspective, we will be able to see our connection to believers the world over better—and perhaps that will help us be more faithful and effective where we are.

In closing, one final, striking thought: I've spent this whole post discussing ways we can remember that we are united with believers the world over. So stop for a moment and ponder that: you and I, by faith in Christ, are deeply, meaningfully united with people who have nothing else in common with us—not language, or ethnicity, or social strata, or continent, or history. But our unity in Christ far surpasses everything that could divide us. Remember that.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

10 Minute Drill

It's late. I had (a very productive) worship practice tonight, got back late, edited PJ's article for Pillar (going up on Friday), finished editing and scheduled my own article for Pillar (a review of Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something, going up tomorrow). That, combined with a simultaneous conversation with my younger sister on the telephone, pretty much maxed out my abilities for the evening. But here we are, because I'm committed: a blog post every day in October. The 31st should be #501.

A few of the things I've been batting around in my head today:

  • The difficulty of the transition into adulthood, relationally speaking. As many challenges as there are in growing up, I think the single most difficult (at least in our culture) is the readjustment in relationship with parents. I can say that both from observation—that is, watching many of my friends deal with the tensions there—and, sadly, experience, in that I muffed a lot of that transition along the way. There is a natural yearning for independence and the respect that comes with adulthood—but the way we go about seeking those things is often quite backwards. For me, it certainly was: demands to be treated like an adult are, well... childish. And thus, counterproductive.

    The challenge, it seems to me, is to learn how to honor one's parents even when disagreeing with them—how to seek their counsel even if you don't always take it, how to respect their opinions even when you think they're wrong, how to demonstrate to them and everyone else that they are a blessing from God. The transition is hard on their end, too: they have to learn how to treat us like adults, when our whole lives their job was to keep us safe and guide us in the right direction, in large part by making the right decisions for us. It can be a very rocky patch. Hopefully I will remember that in 20-ish years when Jaimie and I walk through it with our own children (God willing).

  • The simple beauty of the gospel is a marvelous thing. I've been listening to an audio book version of Greg Gilbert's What is the Gospel?—it's a fantastic book, and you should go buy it immediately—and I have repeatedly been impressed by how marvelous the Gospel itself is. This is a theme I plan to return to at length, perhaps tomorrow, because it is also something that hit me hard in my Bible study today, as I looked at just how imperfect David was: a marvelous foreshadowing he may have been, but in the end he just left Israel (and just leaves us, reading along) hungry for the real deal, the true Messianic King to come.

And that is all I have time for tonight. Not amazing, but not terrible, for 10 minutes. Sleep well, all. I'll be back tomorrow, with pithier thoughts.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Don't Play Chicken With Sin

It's a typically rash high school adrenaline move. Two cars, headed directly toward each other at high speed—and whoever swerves first is the "chicken." If no one swerves, both people die. It's all about pushing as long as you can before fear takes over and compels you turn the wheel—about the thrill of nearing the cliff's edge and skating along it as it crumbles.

I never played chicken with my car. The whole idea seemed dumb to me—why risk life and limb for that sort of pointless thrill? I wonder though, if this isn't exactly what we do with sin, all the time.

Christians who are dating love to ask one question more than almost any other: "How far can we go without it being fornication?" In a broader sense, I think that's often the question we're asking: "What can I get away with?" These are, of course, completely the wrong questions. We're playing chicken with sin, but there's just one problem. Sin never swerves. Either we swerve soon enough—and the temptation to swerve later and later is always growing, because the thrill of almost doing something wrong is so powerful—or we hit the other car, and sin wins.

The approach is dangerous, fool-headed, and one we need to break ourselves of. The longer we play chicken with sin, the more likely we'll fall. People who toy with lust end up in adultery. People who toy with greed end up embezzling from their company. People who toy with gossip destroy friendships and tear apart churches. Pick your sin; the consequences are inevitable. When you play with fire, you get burned.

The question we really ought to be asking is not, "What can I get away with?" but "How can I best glorify God?" You see, it's more than the fact that sin will win every time in our games of chicken. It's that asking "What can I get away with?" is itself sinful. It betrays the real attitude of our hearts: not a desire to honor Jesus Christ as Lord, but a desire not to be punished. It shows that we do not understand the gospel or know God well. In Christ all our sins are forgiven; God's mercy is very great and his love beyond our understanding. If the only question we are asking is, "How much before God punishes me?" then either we are still very immature in our faith, or we are not believers at all.

The more we know God, and the more we understand what Jesus accomplished on the cross, and the more we seek the wisdom given by the Spirit, the more we will learn to love God—heart, soul, and mind. We will do good and hate evil not as a means of avoiding punishment but out of love, and because—more and more every day—we truly do love doing good and we truly do hate evil. We will treasure the things God values and cast off the things God despises not out of some misguided attempt to curry favor but because increasingly we are like him. That sort of radical transformation marks the difference between real gospel transformation and therapeutic moralism with a Christian imprint.

And most of us are playing chicken with sin. God help us.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Video Games

One of the consequences of adding commitments to my life—like blogging every day—is that there is correspondingly less time available for other leisure activities. Like video games.

Halo: Reach came out a few weeks ago; I've invested a fair amount of time in it, but haven't actually even opened the game up since Friday, October 1st. Too many other things I've been working on. Interestingly, and perhaps a bit controversially in some circles, I find video games can be a very profitable way to spend my time—sometimes. While I know a number of Christian leaders decry all video games as wastes of time, I have found theym to be invaluable in at least one area: keeping up the "fun" aspect of relationships with long-distance friends.

Xbox LIVE allows me to connect with the guys I grew up with for an hour or two here and there and spend time just "hanging out." Is it as good as being in the same room? Not even close. Is it far better than not getting to spend some pure fun time with them at all? Absolutely. So, over the last month, I have spent a fair amount of time doing just that. Once my dad picks up the game, it will be a good connection point with him as well (it's fun being able to play video games with my father, and even more fun being able to do so even though we live 750 miles apart).

Perhaps surprisingly, it's also a great way for Jaimie and me to spend time together as a couple. While our definitions of spending time together differ at times, Jaimie and I deeply value the hours we can spend with each other. I am uniquely blessed with a wife who enjoys playing video games almost as much as I do. (Aside: she's taking a nap at the moment, and I just watched her distinctly nod her head as though in conversation with someone. She's quite a dramatic napper.) In fact, playing video games is one of the ways she most enjoys spending time together—along with watching movies and taking walks. So again, video games can be a great benefit to me.

(If you're curious, her favorite games to play are those in the Halo series and Lego Star Wars. Strangely, at least from my perspective, she also gets a pretty big kick out of watching me play through Mass Effect—she commented that it's something like watching a 30-hour-long, action-packed, well-written sci-fi movie. And she likes sci-fi movies, so that works out well for her.)

The catch with video games, though, is the point that makes so many Christian leaders eschew them. They can be serious time wasters. While I don't play nearly as much as many of my friends do, I certainly can fall prey to the same urges: to sit down and go at it for hours on end. Games like Reach, which have some brilliantly conceived built-in reward systems, can be particularly addictive. They make me want to keep playing. The trick for me is to enjoy them in moderation—neither feeling guilt for relaxing by playing a game for a few hours, nor being sucked in and doing nothing else. It's much easier to be productive when I have relaxed at times as well, but it's also easy to fail to be productive by spending too much time relaxing.

Somewhere in here is a thought about honoring God not only by being productive but also by enjoying the lives He has given us. I suspect that American culture's emphasis on achievement can bleed over into our faith in strange ways, leading us to think that relaxation is bad, or that simply taking time to enjoy the good things in life together is somehow sinful. (Whatever you may hear, these aren't the ideas of the Puritans, who in fact valued times of enjoying life far more than most modern believers do. Blame hatchet jobs like those pulled off by Nathaniel Hawthorne or Arthur Miller for our skewed and caricatured views of the Puritans. They had their flaws, but generally they were different flaws than later thinkers have tended to ascribe to them.)

God made this world and called it good. Though it has since been subjected to futility, much that is in it remains good—just as there remains much that is good about fallen people, and just as those fallen people produce much that reflects God's goodness. Taking time to enjoy life, even by playing video games, can honor God, if it is done in moderation and with the right understanding.

On which note, I think I'm going to go do something productive for a while, so that I can confidently enjoy some Reach later tonight.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Xanga Posts and Maturity

In yesterday's post, I referenced my first blogging efforts—and in order to link to them, went and found said earliest entries. They provide both a certain amount of humor, because I really was a typical freshman in many ways: big eyes at everything going on in college, overly dramatic responses to the events of my days, and overwhelmed by amounts of homework that would later seem trivial. Not to mention: I took myself far too seriously. (I wonder if, reading this entry five years from now, I will think the same of myself now?)

There is opportunity for serious reflection, as well, though. On the one hand, I am very much the same person I was then in terms of personality. I am still interested in a wide variety of things, I am still deeply passionate about the things of God, and I can still get very riled up about issues I care about. On the other hand, I am very different than I was five years ago (as not only my old blog entries but also everyone who knows me can attest). To all of you who knew me then: thank you for tolerating my many idiosyncrasies, follies, and rough edges, and for loving me despite them. I am who I am today in large part because of the ways God used you in my life in the intervening years.

It is sobering to realize how mature I thought myself at the time, in comparison to how immature I really was. Again, I wonder: will I think the same of myself now when I look back in five years? The answer, I am afraid, is probably.

Having a record of the past, of who we were and how we thought in the past, can be incredibly instructive—and incredibly humbling. If I grow was much in the next five years as I did in the past five (and God willing, I will), I will unquestionably look back on many of the things I say and do now with regret or embarrassment. I will be able to recognize then foibles and sins that now do not even register on my radar. If nothing else, the number of posts I had to smile at in chagrin as I read yesterday should remind me not to be overly confident in the things I am thinking and writing today. They, too, are subject to the revision and correction of the Holy Spirit, and so while I hold my views confidently, I should also hold them humbly.

That sort of humble confidence seems to be one of the areas many Christians struggle. We tend on the one hand toward confidence in our own wisdom, unbridled by humility, and on the other to think humility means holding our views so loosely they could be shaken free by a gust of Oklahoma wind. (Okay, bad example; Oklahoma winds can be downright tornadic. You take my meaning.) We should hold our views with confidence when we have taken the time to carefully orient ourselves to what Scripture says, but with the humility to admit that just as we have changed our minds before, we may do so again. We are not infallible. At the least, quick perusal of those early posts and some of my later views on things will certainly serve to highlight my changing views over time.

This sort of confident humility allows us to speak boldly and courageously in a gracious, gentle way. One of my greatest weaknesses is a tendency to communicate my views passionately but not courteously. Even when I think my tone is expressing mere intensity, it can often be mistaken for anger, anger at people, anger even at the people I am addressing. Clearly, I have a great deal more growing to do. In this, as in all things, I am thankful that the Holy Spirit is the one who sanctifies us—because 23 years of life have taught me just how futile self-improvement is.

Sometimes I may indulge in a bit of meta-discussion of the post. It should prove insightful. Today, for example, you'll get to see everything I wrote before I came up with anything meaningful to say.

Day 2 of blogging every day this month. Day 2 isn't hard. Day 24 probably will be. [Ed. note: given the below, that's an amusing opening.]

I had about three post ideas today, independent of the suggestions offered in response to my last post (which were good ones). Unfortunately, I lost all but one of them—a problem I have had before, and that I have even still failed to find a good solution to. Calling myself isn't an option, because I can't call my own phone number without it going directly to checking voicemail. Leaving myself notes is impossible in many cases because many of my best ideas come when I am driving. Perhaps I can start coming up with mnemonics. Thoughts?

Thanks to the time I spent writing the previous paragraph, my brain was able to retrieve another of the ideas. So now I will write about that. And stop talking about writing about it. Alas, now I am writing about writing it. And the circle continues. Metacognition, and meta-function in general, are topics I plan to tackle in a fair amount of depth. Just... not today.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Disliking Facebook's Like

This post is written in weariness. Expect little of it.

A friend shared a link to a news article about a loved one's death on Facebook earlier today. I wanted respond meaningfully. I could not. I could hardly click "Like" with its little thumbs-up. Think about it: how bizarre is it that a website has standardized and minimized our reactions to things to whether we like them or not?

A comment on the shared item would have been only marginally better. There is something missing in a short blurb of text pasted on a white screen. Had this friend held up the article in the paper in person, I would have reached out and squeezed her shoulder, or perhaps offered a hug. The internet has no comparable communication. There are no internet touches—only internet letters, images, symbols. Everything is fleeting, unphysical, almost unreal.

I like the internet. I use it every day, often for several hours. I spend considerable amounts of time creating content for use on the web—whether in writing or in web design. I enjoy the ways it enables us to communicate with others, with people we would not otherwise be able to stay in contact with. I appreciate the ways I can interact with the lives of my friends even when apart, separated by miles or circumstances. It is nice to know that a friend had a baby, a cousin joined ROTC successfully, or a sibling got splattered in paint on the first day of school.

But sometimes, I just want to give a friend a hug when it's needed. The internet can't do that. For all its promise, and all its already actualized potential, it is in the end as insufficient as a letter—save that the letter has on it the advantages of physicality.

I wonder if, in our rush to embrace the internet, we have perhaps forgotten the necessity of touch for reality to make sense?

For me, at least, ebooks will never replace a book, for this very reason. Paper's very texture carries feeling, weight, substance.

Take some time away from your screen. Go give a friend a hug. Share a cup of coffee. Read a book. Take some time away from electronic signals and spend some time talking in person. Enjoy the internet for what it is—but stop trying to make it do things it will never be able to do.

Someday I will make a real essay out of these thoughts. For now, I'm going to sleep.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Observations from Driving

I have an essay that has been churning in my brain for quite some time—thoughts on the relationship between popular media, culture at large, and relational expectations between spouses. I hope to have it up by the end of the weekend.

In the meantime, however, I will content myself with two recent observations from driving.

As I have noted a few times recently, driving often provides an opportunity for reflection that we would not otherwise enjoy. For my part, I spent 50 minutes to an hour in the car every day: more than ample opportunity for reflection, if I will but take advantage of it. Sometimes I do; other times my mind drifts along like dandelion seeds on the breeze.

Two days ago, I was thinking—hard. Not about driving. I found myself reacting to other drivers' behavior at a barely conscious level. At some point, I began observing my own mental processes as I drove. The human brain is a fascinating thing. I could on the one hand be thinking quite serious about my wife, ministry to friends and neighbors, and how to relate to foreign exchange students, and on the other hand be correctly processing and interpreting immense quantities of data regarding other car's relative positions, velocities, and likely future behavior.

I could anticipate, on the basis of small motions of people's heads, slight alterations in their speed, and other factors barely perceptible at a conscious level, what the cars around me were going to do. Remarkably, given th complexities involved, so could every other person driving down the road at 70 miles an hour. Not one of us suddenly guessed another was doing something they weren't, slammed n our breaks, and caused an accident. We all kept driving, largely oblivious to the marvelous dance of neurons going on inside our brains.

It's stunning, really: these small, finite minds are nonetheless capable of processing and correctly interpreting incredible amounts of information without even being consciously focused on those particular data points. Especially with years of experience, we begin to subconsciously recognize and react to cues happening far too quickly and subtly to ever process them consciously, and so we all stay alive as we barrel down the highway in steel and plastic contraptions at speeds certain to harm and likely to kill a human being.

My second observation: I entered the north side of Norman yesterday afternoon, and the overwhelming familiarity of the drive arrested my attention. I make that drive daily—occasionally, even more frequently. It has become routine to the point that I no longer really see the fields and warehouses passing by; I see only home and my wife's arms waiting for me.

It was not always so, of course. I remembered driving into Norman four and a half years earlier—driving into Norman by myself for the first time, at the beginning of the second semester of my freshman year of college. It was a strange and almost surreal experience. I had left my home behind in Colorado, and was driving home to Walker Tower in Norman. Somehow, my life had changed, in ways I could not yet define. I only knew my world was different than it had been, could not and would not be the same. I did not know the turns.

Over the years that followed, that feeling intensified, even as I made that drive more and more frequently. Trips to Oklahoma City became less rare, and I had soon driven home along I-35 more times than I had ever driven on I-25 in Colorado. My home was Adams Tower, then Walker again for another two years. My friendships solidified, even as they changed. My world shifted on its axis in more ways than one.

The changes did not slow on graduation or marriage. Colorado is no longer home, however much I love it. A comfortable little apartment in Norman where my wife waits eagerly for me is home. I-35 is no longer a strange sight, the turns unfamiliar, because I drive it twice a day. The world has changed again, and will change again until it changes once for all.

All that from a drive home.

Friday, July 23, 2010

3:01 am

I have been up most of the night. Duty called. The hours have gone relatively quickly; the silence and solitude have been pleasant.

I was driving a little after midnight, a gibbous moon hanging low in the southwestern sky, pinprick stars dotting the sky even with city lights all around, and thinking of the night ahead of me. I am almost done with the night now, the sun is rising outside, and grayscale tones of night are coming aglow with color. I am still thinking about the night, though.

When awake in the middle of the night—when 3 am rolls around in the quiet darkness—we watch with the sort of expectation that strains to see the slightest hint of color in the eastern sky. We wait for black velvet to ever-so-subtly turn blue—because that means the night is ending. That first moment grows and spreads imperceptibly until the whole sky is aflame with color, clouds blazing orange and pink and the sky a stunning mix of gold and white and blue, until the sun itself comes burning over the horizon in a spray of fire.

That first hint of changing color is a long time coming at 3 am, though. The glimmers at horizon's edge are illusions or tricks or false hopes: city-shadows cast skyward, or moonlight shining on the tops of faraway clouds, or imagination coloring the darkness. Weary, middle-of-the-night minds see dawn long before it comes, are disappointed at how it tarries. Daylight comes in its own time, not the schedule set by a heart longing for an end to darkness. But it does come.

We who follow Christ wait in the dark. When the clock reads 3 am, it is easy to ignore the glimmers on the horizon: we know they are illusions. No clock measures down the hours till he comes again, though; no almanac proclaims the time of his arrival. Christians always wait urgently and hopefully, because the dawn could come at any time. Time and again someone cries out, "Look! First light!" Time and again we strain our eyes to see, and realize that no: this is no second coming, no dawn to end the night forever. The cry was a mistake. Still: the dawn could come at any time.

When it comes, it will not be a glimmer, barely perceived. The age of darkness will not end like nights do, slow and subtle and sure. The sun will leap over the horizon in one blinding moment, darkness crushed out of existence in an instant.

It is 3 am, and we wait with baited breath. He could come at 3:01.

Friday, July 2, 2010

This Marvelous Busywork

This has been a good week. I have written a fair amount, spent good time with friends, spend better time with my wife, been productive at work, and learned a lot.

One of the more interesting aspects of this week was work. As you may have noticed, work has been on my mind a great deal recently. On the one hand, I really like working. I enjoy doing good work well, and I like glorifying God through excellence. Programming has the benefit of being interesting at least some of the time; there are good intellectual problems to solve on a semi-regular basis. Alas, recent months have not afforded me much opportunity to do the best parts of programming; since coming on with this job, I have spent most of my time analyzing data and trying to identify the causes of failures. That is good, important work— but it is hardly work that stirs the mind, much less the soul.

That has led to a certain amount of quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) discontent. As my mother can attest, from years of homeschooling me, I loathe boredom; the only thing worse is busywork. Being confronted with both on a regular basis, and often starved of social interaction (programming involves solitarily staring at a screen for hours on end) has left me mentally fried. In this I do not think I am particularly unique. Whatever my oddities—and make no mistake, I have many!—the struggles that afflict me are common to everyone.

Each of us wants our life to have purpose and meaning. We all want our days tasks to accomplish something, no matter how small. The particular kind of work that will satisfy each of us varies gloriously; I praise God (not least out of gratitude) that there are people who enjoy electrical work and repairing cars; I am not among them. As the kindly gentleman I spoke with at Borders a month ago pointed out, though: we are all of us needed. What matters is that we take joy in doing our work well and hopefully find vocations where we can exercise our gifts. For him, that is laying floors. For me, right now, it is carefully crafting software. What it will be in the future remains to be seen.

Work is good. God did not create work as a punishment for the Fall; Adam was commissioned to tend the Garden first. Like everything in this world, it has been corrupted by our sin. Ingratitude and complaints obscure the gift God has given us. Our relationships with bosses, subordinates, and coworkers are poisoned by sinful relational patterns. Work itself can become a drudgery, especially when we are set tasks to which we are not suited. Yet still it is a gift, not a curse. However much we may find ourselves toiling with frustration instead of joy, work is a gift.

The questions, for each of us, are whether we will choose to gladly accept that gift and whether we will seek to use it to the glory of God. In each case, if we answer in the affirmative, we will find the work better. It may not be any more pleasant, but even the worst of work, done to the glory of God, is good work.

For me, then, the challenge is to recognize that the tasks I have to do each day are worthy of my best efforts. No matter how they frustrate me, and no matter how pointless they may seem, they are the work that God has set before me. I must remember that I am not merely allowed to work; I am called to work, and to work well. Even busywork can be glorious.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sanctified (Slowly)

It happened again today. I found myself at work, convicted. Apparently, the Holy Spirit means business, and He's going to sanctify me, whether my flesh is interested or not. (That's good, given my flesh's stated disinterest in the things of God.)

I sat at my desk, having more and more enjoyable work than I've had in a long time, and I thought to myself, "I hate this." I was furious. I didn't care for the direction the assignment was going, my brain wasn't working well, I had a headache, and I was mad. Not someone asked me to do something immoral mad, or even someone asked me to do something stupid mad. Just mad.

Just like yesterday, the Holy Spirit gave me a moment's pause, and let the thoughts running through my head echo around for a few seconds. The ridiculousness soon dawned on me. I've been hungry for more and more substantive work for weeks, as my friends and wife can attest. Here I had it. More code changes and additions in a single day than in the previous six months combined. Real programming work, with some actual problem solving to do. Nothing terribly exciting; the problem in question isn't even a problem so much as an opportunity to make things better for the future. Nevertheless, it is far better than data analysis or some of the other ways I have recently had to fill my time.

Yet I was complaining. Never mind Scriptural prohibitions on complaints; never mind the immense blessing it is to have a good, stable job (especially in a down economy); never mind that this job was from the beginning an answer to prayer. It wasn't exactly what I wanted it to be today: so I grumbled in my head.

None of this escaped my lips, of course. I am far too skilled a sinner to let others know about my depravity, at least where I can hide it. For that matter, I hide my sin from myself as much as I can. The longer I can pretend my anger is deserved, my pride warranted, my jealousy justified, the longer I can go without really submitting to God. Today, again, God showed the depths of his grace by showing me my ingratitude and self-absorption.

Paul meant business when he wrote about dealing with sin. He exhorted the early believers to put sinful tendencies to death, and to recognize that their old, carnal ways were dead. They were now alive in Christ; how could they keep on sinning? Today, I think we take sin lightly. We psychologize it into oblivion, rationalize it into nonexistence, and above all trivialize it into meaninglessness. Sin is but the hobbyhorse of an older, less enlightened age; we understand that all our foibles are but the products of wounds done us at some earlier stage.

I am not discounting psychology, and I have seen how I often lash out at others in precisely the areas where I have been hurt the deepest. But the reality is, most of our sin is just sin. No excuses, no justifications, and no way out. It is sin, and we have to put it to death. We must do so in full reliance on the power of God, not trusting to our own devices. We must call out for help, rememering that God who has saved us is the one who will finish the work he has started. He will complete our sanctification and glorify us with him. Our hope is secure.

So, to all of us, the call is press in and get to work. Kill sin—or it will kill you. By the grace of God, we will all of us look more like Him tomorrow (and no doubt he will show us then how much remains to do).

Monday, June 28, 2010

An Evil Heart

I saw again today the evil that lurks in every heart—I saw it in my own. One little thought, but it quickly made the point. I looked at a coworker (one I’ve never seen before, never met) and thought, “Wow, somebody’s hair got stuck in the wrong decade.” And then the thought echoed in the silence of my mind. How cruel is that? How vile and despicable is it to so swiftly scorn someone on the basis of their hairstyle?

Praise God who does not leave us in our sin.

When I thought that cruel, despicable thought earlier, he graciously let it echo in my mind for several seconds. What an ugly thought. Self-congratulatory, other-belittling, and simply sinful. It was disgusting. I was ashamed.

It strikes me now, though, how very typical that mental exchange was. We look at others and see ourselves better than them. I do it all the time, in small ways and big. I count myself a better writer, programmer, composer, thinker, person. It is, as I realized this morning, disgusting. I am not a better person. Even in areas where I may be more talented or more skilled, two salient questions remain: what does that matter, and who made it so? To which I must answer: it matters not a whit, especially as a person’s worth is concerned; and God made it so, not I.

Such comparisons are always sinful. The only aim I can have in comparing myself to another person is to puff up my own pride. The only possible results are always bad: I will either count myself better and pride myself in it, or count myself worse and forget that my worth and value are found in Christ alone.

Nor was God done exposing the evil of my heart.

For a very long time I have prided myself on seeing people beyond their surfaces, seeing who people really are. That sentence alone should give me pause; too often it has not. Whatever we pride ourselves in is folly. We have nothing from ourselves; there are no self-made men. Every one of us was born into circumstances outside of our control, given breaks (hard or easy) outside of our control, given a personality outside of our control, and given talents (or a lack thereof) outside of our control. My wife, talented woman that she is, did not somehow conjure for herself the ability to write; the talent she has carefully honed were given to her.

Yet pride in my talents or abilities is not the worst of its siblings. More dangerous by far is pride in our moral standing. Humility, as Ben Franklin quipped and others have often echoed, the hardest of all virtues: whoever thinks he has it almost certainly does not.1 When I begin to pride myself on seeing others truly, on not failing to miss the deeper aspects of people’s character and personality, I am running a very dangerous course indeed. I run the course of religious people the world over—Christian and non-Christian—who put their trust in their own moral competence rather than in Jesus and his finished work. I become a legalist,a Judaizer, a fool.

Again: praise God who does not leave us in our sin.

I, who pride myself in judging others well, at seeing deeply, at looking beyond the surface—I scorned a woman for her hairstyle. How very misplaced my pride is. I do not judge as I ought. I do not see as I ought. I do not look at others as I ought. These grounds I thought I had for boasting prove instead to be in fact a cause for shame. The light of grace shows up my moral excellence for what it is: failure and ineptitude.

More than that: even if I were as righteous as I thought, I would have no cause to boast. I have no holiness to call my own. God works in us to sanctify, God delivers us from sin’s consuming power, God overcomes our resistance to his grace, God provides the strength to follow him, God accomplishes our salvation.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13

1 When I was much younger, I once ponderously responded to my youth pastor’s question, “Who is the humblest person you know?” by saying, “You know… honestly, I think I am.” The irony was lost on me; I don’t know how anyone in the room managed to keep a straight face.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Smile Power and a Shirtless Biker Dude

Two observations from my day:

There is a woman I work with, probably in her mid to late fifties, who is easily the loveliest woman her age I have seen. It's because she smiles so much. Every time you talk to her, no matter how hard her day or week or month is going, she smiles. She faithfully asks how you are doing, and wants to know the answer. She will sympathize if something is wrong, laugh with you at something funny, and rejoice with you when things go well. She radiates joy, and it has left a decades-long imprint on her face. I have no doubt she will still be beautiful when she is 80.

Most of us struggle to hold that joy for a few hours, much less days or weeks or months. This woman, I know from conversation, finds her joy in Christ and in living well. It shows. I find myself both humbled and encouraged by her example. Would we were all so joyful! The more we find our hope, our satisfaction, and our happiness in God, the more we will reflect that same glorious spirit. Perhaps in three more decades, I will have learned to smile that much as well.

Motorcyclists, on the whole, comprise about the same spectrum of intelligence and aptitude for safe driving as other drivers—although perhaps with an emphasis on both extremes. The best motorcyclists are some of the most careful, conscientious drivers on the road. They signal assiduously, move predictably, and give plenty of space. By contrast, the worst motorcyclists are dangerous, unpredictable, and generally a picture of stupidity. And they never wear helmets. In driving 45 miles a day, I have of course seen plenty of motorcyclists.

Today, however, the stupidity topped the charts. A man rode his cruiser down the road, wearing nothing but his shorts, a pair of sandals, and his sunglasses. (His overly large gut made the picture even less attractive than you could imagine.) I imagine the feeling is fairly exhilarating. Of course, the feelings caused by an accident would be far more powerful than that brief thrill. Would we were none of us so foolish—but I think, in many ways, we often are, flirting with sin as we do, baring our chest to out of misplaced pride in our own strength.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I find more and more that I care deeply bout accomplishing meaningful objectives each day. I regularly find myself frustrated at work when my tasks seem unimportant or wasteful. I especially struggle when I have little to do. I am made to work.

Over the last 9 months, I have discovered that I love web design. I enjoy putting together attractive web sites, and I enjoy the challenge of making them work properly however one is viewing them. (Admittedly, my tangles with Internet Explorer have been less than pleasant.) At first I was designing Pillar, then redesigning this blog, then helping redesign Jaimie’s blog, then redesigning Pillar, then helping Stephen Carradini tweak the design for Gospelized, and finally doing the customizations for 52 Verses. Now that I have no such projects in view ahead of me, I feel a bit adrift.

In the past year, I have written a grand total of one piece of music, and that one not very long (though good, I think). Yesterday, I began work on a piece of clarinet and something—either piano or cello, depending on what the clarinetist can find in short order. It is refreshing; I somehow manage to forget how thoroughly entwined my soul and music are.

Yesterday, Jaimie began drawing in her sketch book—something she often used to do, but has but once or twice since we have been dating. She lost herself, apparently, in the strokes of her pencil. I know the feeling; it is how I feel when I wrote poetry, or let notes spill across (electronic) pages, or tweak a website’s design to perfection.

We are artists, all of us. Every one of us bears the imprint of our creator. I drive to work early enough to see the sunrise at one state or another—a glorious painting beyond the ability of my words to capture, no matter how I try. Our hearts are stirred by stories, moved by songs, stunned by the sweep of a cathedral. They leap at the sight of the Grand Canyon, ache to dance and shout and somehow take all the world in from the top of the Rockies, and crash in rhythm with the waves at ocean’s edge.

Not every man can be a painter, but all of us live to make something new. Every mechanic and every engineer, every plumber and yes, every person flipping burgers, is still making. Quibble if you will at their worth; admit, perhaps, that modernity so often fails to understand the point of beauty—but never deny that every man is a maker at heart. We each of us have a glimpse of God to offer to the world. Not, as so many have claimed, because we are all God, but because we were made to be like him: little mirrors that each one show a part of who he is.

I was made to make. So I sit and write posts and poetry. I spend hours on blog headers and pour my soul into new compositions. I work hard at work because I was made to make things well. Even when the things created are but lines of code that accomplish some end, I made them well. Praise God.

Monday, June 21, 2010

How Facebook is Losing Me

I was an early adopter. I joined The Facebook, as it was then called, shortly after I got to OU, around a year after the popular networking site launched. I enjoyed it, a lot. In the last several months, though, I’ve noticed a pretty striking change: when I want to connect with others socially online, Facebook may still be my default, but it’s no longer fun.

When I joined Facebook, it was limited to college students, and served exactly one purpose: connecting with other college students. Slowly but surely, Facebook has transformed from that simple concept to a behemoth that now hosts more social profiles than any other single site in the world. “Friend” is now a verb as surely as “Google” is. There has been a lot of good along the way; I have never been one of the naysayers who joined yet another “Million Strong Against Facebook Update X” groups. To be frank, I always found the hysteria a bit silly.

Today, I finally understood why Facebook has stopped being fun, though, and I understand a little more what those people were always on about (even if the changes did not, ultimately, drive away the masses or bring about the predicted end of the [social networking] world). Facebook changed its premise.

Somewhere over the last three or four years, Facebook stopping being primarily a place to talk to other people and started being a place to share content. There is nothing inherently wrong with that shift, but it explains a lot, I think. For example, if you look at the history of my wall conversations, they’ve dropped radically over the course of the last two years. There are a few other factors influencing that (getting married and joining the “real world” being prime movers here), but I don’t think it a coincidence that those two years have also been the years in which Facebook has expanded or introduced a wide array of ways to share information. (I have noticed the same trend on other friends’ walls in the same period of time.)

Pictures, videos, blog posts (in the form of “notes”) and an endless list of applications now dominate the scene on Facebook. I find myself far more likely to “like” someone’s insightful note or even a comment on someone’s wall than I am to comment myself, much less just drop a note on someone’s wall. Most of the conversations I have are not social but centered on ideas or media. This is a fairly radical change from the Facebook I joined. I used to have huge conversations back and forth with people via our walls; messages were second-level conversations for things that could only be said in private. Now, if I want to actually let people know anything important, I immediately jump to a message—the wall is so cluttered with other things that it’s useless.

Though it is only today that this broader picture came into focus, it has been increasingly clear for quite some time. I recently chose to start using Facebook primarily as a place of sharing media—not least because its utility for social connections was dropping so much. It is now essentially a bigger, bulkier, less-pleasant version of Twitter for me: a source of not-so-brief snippets of people’s lives, mingled with a flood of reports about games, quizzes, and media. The deluge obscures the very people I want to connect with.

Am I going to leave Facebook? Probably not, at least anytime soon. Am I using it less and less as a means to connect to others? Absolutely, and I cannot see that trajectory changing anytime soon. Facebook is fine for what it is—but unfortunately, it is no longer what I enjoyed so much when I joined. It is a smorgasbord with everything anyone could ever want... except a simple place to connect with friends.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Borders, again

I sit here in Borders again, writing. Across the little seating rea is a father teaching his daughter to play chess. Scattered about are students. Next to me is the girl who was having a distracted conversation on her iPhone while browsing facebook on her MacBook Pro. The music streaming overhead is some sort of African vocal acoustic recording. I like the quietness of the space, and it is good to be out of the apartment.

I do not feel nearly so artistic this time, though. Perhaps it is simply a difference in mood, or the fact that I'm sleepier and more frustrated with m job than I was three weeks ago. Peraps It is the humidity. In any case, it will make accomplishing my goals for the evening a trifle more difficult. The Pillar post should flow fairly naturally—though I try to write well for Pillar, it's more didactic than artistic. The first step for a new project, on the other hand, may take a bit more discipline and focus. (I'll let you in on the secret as soon as it's ready. Probably tonight or tomorrow.)

In the meantime, I will enjoy my full-score recording of The Fellowship of the Ring, perhaps sip on another fortified Izze, and hopefully honor God with my words.

By the end of this week, I will be working on a new original piece for clarinet and some other instrument (probably either piano or cello). I will have spent at least two hours practicing piano. I will have spent as much time working out. I will have been on a date night with my wife. I will have done many things. The question I continue to ask myself is: will they have been things that are worthy of my time? Will I have succumbed to distraction, or overcome it and accomplished meaningful tasks? Will I have loved my wife well? Will I have considered the things of God more important than the things of this world?

It is easy to lose sight of what is important, with the many urgent demands for our attention that clamor throughout our days. Whether we will succumb or glumly persevere, or count it all joy and walk with grace—that is what defines our days as good or bad, far more than their content.

Tonight, I will try to make good on that.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Being Small (Grandly)

I'm sitting in Borders sipping on a Fortified Izze; I spent much of the evening working on my post on dealing practically with divorce and remarriage in the church. That will go up in two parts at Pillar over the next several days. The crowd here is much smaller than when I came in. It is, I suppose, getting a little late. The study groups have broken up; the kindly older man who lays wood floors and struck up a conversation with me about my Macbook Pro departed fifteen minutes ago. I believe, under the circumstances, I am supposed to feel cool. But I don't have the hip glasses with thick black rims, so perhaps I am excused.

I will fly out to Colorado Springs on Friday morning, spending the weekend there to celebrate my youngest sister's high school graduation. My own graduation seems simultaneously very recent and in another lifetime entirely. The world has changed since then, or I have. (Maybe both.) It has been over a year since I graduated college; high school memories are like the fading remnants of a dream after you wake up, and much of college is beginning to feel the same way—like the Appalachians in the mirror, obscured by the haze before the horizon consumes them.

Now I wake up at 5 in the morning to be at work at 6, write sky poems on the drive, and try to do something productive in the 8 hours that America thinks define my existence. Then I go home, and try to prove America wrong by doing things that actually touch deep realities, in my soul if not in the world at large. I design favicons for friends, tweak the backend of my blog or someone else's to make it work better, sometimes try to coax a song out of my soul into the plastic ivories of my Clavinova, and always do my best to love my wife.

I live a small life right now—but unlike the gray box where I spend my American existence, this small world has windows into the Universe. Echoes of reality reverberate in this microcosm, make me strain to hear the song that gave them birth. Spring rain fills my nostrils, and bright summer-blue skies blind me, and brown leaves crunch beneath my feet, and whiteness tastes like heaven on my tongue, and all begins again—but different. This microcosm always paints the macrocosm truly, however partially.

For I am but a man, one small imprint of the face of God, and when I look into my wife's eyes I see another glorious stamp of the divine. We mirror, in these tiny souls, greatness that excels all that we can see. Lewis was right: there are no mere mortals. Our tragedies and our victories are petty and cosmic all at once. Petty because they turn on such small moments, hinge on such selfish ambitions. Cosmic because they touch the everlasting, every one.

Tomorrow I will still be small. Tomorrow I will know the living God. Tomorrow I will live, and it will be good.