I woke up at 6:00 a.m. today, which is something I rarely do. I worked for a couple of hours, took a shower, walked a mile, read a passage from the gospel of Mark and then journaled about it.
Part way through all of this, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s mercies in the routines of life. And I was content to just be present in the moment. Being human is a beautiful experience. Our Creator designed us to create, think, feel and love.
As the sun came up, I looked out my office window and could see leaves blowing across my front yard, rather than a foot of snow, which is customary for Nebraska this time of year. I’m in the minority, I know, but I prefer the snow. It paralyzes the city and forces us to slow down. We’re not always the best about doing that of our own volition – at least I’m not. But now that I’ve found a pocket of time to do so, I’d like to bring you up to date on a few issues.
I switched to Mail Chimp yesterday to handle my email list for this website and that led to duplicate mailings of my post about living in deeper community. I apologize for that. It shouldn’t happen again. The new service gives me more control of the list than I had before and it should produce a better end result for you. If you aren’t already a subscriber, then I would love for you to become one. Just enter your email address in the “Subscribe” box at the top right hand side of the page.
From now until the end of February, I’m offering all subscribers (new and existing) a link to free audio presentation called “How to Get the Most Out of Your Blog.” I’ll also send you a copy of the corresponding handout. Not all of you are bloggers, so this won’t interest everyone, but I think you’ll find it helpful if you are one. If you are an existing subscriber, just hit the reply button and tell me you want the presentation. If you are a new subscriber, then I’ll send it to you automatically.
Social Media Panel Discussion
If you are an author, or an aspiring author, you’ll want to make time to view a Google+ panel discussion this coming Thursday morning (January 30) about social media. Author Angela Meyer, of the Wordsowers Christian Writers Group in Omaha, will be hosting the panel that includes Tamara Clymer (owner, CrossRiver Media Group), Jeannie Jacobson (writer) and me. We’ll offer tips for marketing and platform building. Hope to see you there. (I’ll post more details as the event draws nearer.)
Wordsowers Christian Writers Conference
If you live in the Midwest, consider attending the annual Wordsowers Christian Writers Conference in Omaha, February 28-March 1, 2014. You’ll have the opportunity to meet publishers, receive training about the publishing process and you will make new contacts in the publishing industry. I’m on staff and would love to see you there. Scholarships are available. For more details, and to register, visit the Wordsowers website.
After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up on a high mountain by themselves to be alone. He was transformed in front of them … As they were coming down from the mountain, He ordered them to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept this word to themselves … (Mark 9:2, 9-10a)
I don’t think Jesus fretted over how the other disciples felt when he took Peter, James, and John up on the mountain to witness his transfiguration in the sight of Moses and Elijah. They were the first three he chose to follow him initially and he grew closest to them. He had no reason to apologize for that.
Author S.E. Hinton once said, “If you have two friends in your lifetime, you’re lucky. If you have one good friend, you’re more than lucky.”
That may sound like a pessimistic view of friendship, but I think the distinction she makes about finding a good friend versus simply calling someone a friend is valid. Good friendship can probably be defined in various ways, but rock solid trustworthiness is certainly at the center.
I have several friends who have seen me at my worst, and most vulnerable. They have heard me say vile things. They have seen me shed tears over the loss of my father, the hardships of relatives and even over the loss of my cat, Midnight. They have heard my dreams, my struggles and my confessions. They know my weaknesses, but yet, fail to throw them in my face. And they keep my confidences, which is probably the best indicator of trustworthiness.
This week, Chuck Colson said something on his Insight for Living broadcast about keeping a friend’s confidences that I’ll never forget.
“I know very, very few absolutely confidential people. The longer I live, the less I know,” he said. “Very few people will die with any secrets still in their hearts. You and I should have dozens that die with us. There are tombstones that are built in my mind, of information that will never go one step further.”
He has built tombstones over the gravesites of confidences he is keeping. That’s quite a word picture, isn’t it? If the confidences are buried six feet deep, they have no opportunity to be revealed. As such, maybe an even better word picture would be to bury confidences in unmarked graves where nobody will ever know they existed.
When Jesus pulled aside Peter, James and John and took them up on the mountain, he ordered them to keep his confidence about what they had seen, and “they kept his word to themselves.” He trusted them, and they kept his trust.
American evangelicalism has been embracing a trend over the past five years that emphasizes community. We stopped referring to Sunday school, and instead began calling it a community group. We stopped referring to small groups that meet in homes and began calling them “life groups.” My previous church called these groups “missional communities.”
As such, leaders urge us to work out the implications of the gospel in community, and that’s a good thing. It’s hard to love your enemy or forgive someone if you live in isolation and are never schemed against or offended. But these groups are temporal and seasonal, by design. They are good, but a smaller group of two or three believers who are in it for the long haul is better.
In one sense, these smaller groups, which I’ll call deeper community, are the church – not in the institutional sense, but rather, in the organic sense. We need both, but deeper community is the place we remove our masks, grieve, confess, dream, speak loving rebukes and words of healing. And it’s the place where confidences are buried in unmarked graves.
Last Friday, I met two friends for lunch and we experienced deep community there. That night, I met two more friends for coffee at Barnes & Noble and the same thing occurred.
I always know when I've been in deep community because it lingers, and it has a nuanced influence on my thinking and sense of belonging long after we've gone our separate ways.
And after I've experienced it, I can't wait to experience it again.
How about you?
Technology is passing me by, and frankly, I am content to let it do so.
Don't use Blogger because serious bloggers use WordPress. That's what multiple experts have said over the years. Never mind the fact that you have to know how to access something called a style sheet to perform what should be the simplest of tasks. I now use Weebly because it couldn't be simpler.
Nobody uses Blackberry phones any more. They are slow and obsolete with tiny screens. So I switched to a Droid last year and can't type a message on it without looking like I didn't pass third grade spelling. Auto correct is of the devil.
I bought a laptop last March with Windows 8, which is the biggest technological train wreck I have ever encountered. Where is the file manager? Where do programs go when you download new software? For that matter, how in the world do I access my software programs? How do I reboot? After getting used to gadgets, you now want me to use apps instead? And no start button? Seriously? Thankfully I found a work around program that restores the start menu. But if I could downgrade to Windows 7, I would do it in a heartbeat. Of course, that isn't allowed. And even if it were, it would take me two days to figure out how to do it.
A couple of months ago I attempted to upload a book I wrote to Create Space on Amazon.com. Somehow, the pages ended up outside of some hidden margin and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to fix it. Then a horizontal line appeared at the bottom of every other page. After losing a day and a half trying to figure this all out, I threw my hands in the air and surrendered. I sent the manuscript to a small publisher instead and they are considering releasing it.
A couple of days ago an author invited me to an interview on Google+. I don't do Google+. I have an account because my Droid phone installed it one day without my consent and somehow set up an account and started inviting friends. I guess you can say that the droids really have taken over.
One of my sisters called me a few months ago to see if it would be worth the extra money to buy an iPad with a retina scan feature. I had no idea what she was talking about, and I have an iPad.
I bought a digital camcorder a couple of years ago that, as it turns out, only records in HD. The videos are in some odd format my computer cannot read or open so I had to download a third party software program just to view my video files. But the conversion process is a memory hog and it bogs down my computer big time.
I bought a supposedly simple point and shoot camera a few months ago with WiFi capability. It uploads photos to an online cloud ... one photo at a time. In other words, it does not allow you to upload galleries. I took 285 photos for one newspaper assignment I went on a few weeks ago. If I had utilized the WiFi feature to upload the photos I probably would still be uploading them as we speak.
I used to be the guy everybody called for help with their computers and other gadgets. But that is changing. Technology is passing me by and I am losing interest in keeping up. It is just too much, too fast and it is far too complicated. Shouldn't technology be getting easier to use as we make advancements?
NPR recently replayed an old episode of This American Life from 1996 called “Accidental Documentaries.” The first of three acts is about the Davis family – a father and mother from Michigan who traded reel-to-reel tapes with their son who was in medical school in California in the late 1960s, in lieu of written letters.
Somehow one of their tapes ended up in a thrift store in Chicago, and then it found its way to This American Life. I was fascinated by a portion of the tape in which the wife uses one specific term as she is talking about her dissatisfaction with her husband for failing to take his faith seriously, at least in her mind. Here’s what she said:
“I got up to have my worship this morning – I neglected it over the weekend – and as I did, Daddy came in and sat down beside me,” she says to her son. “And I felt rather funny because I really feel he does this as a duty more than anything else. And when I have my worship, I feel communication with God and I enjoy what I’m reading. And when Daddy came in, there was just … I don’t know, I suppose you’d call it an inner resentment, umm, I didn’t know quite what to do. I was right in the middle of reading a chapter.”
Her voice sounds exactly like Pat MacDougall (portrayed by Georgia Engel), Amy's mother on Everybody Loves Raymond. It’s a sincere tone, with a hint of naiveté. I could listen to her talk all day.
“So for the first time in my life, rather than to try to anticipate what he wanted and his needs, I just let him sit there,” she continued. “And I thought if he would say to me, ‘Well, could I have worship with you?’ it would be fine, but he didn’t, so I just continued reading and didn’t say anything at all. He sat there for a little while and then he left.”
I don’t want to talk about her perception of her husband’s faith, because, well – her perception was her reality, as it is with all of us. But instead, I want to talk about her use of the word “worship.” In was jarring to me. In the context in which she was using it, she was referring to it the way the Puritans used to speak about a person’s private time with God, calling it “private worship.” But I’ve never been in the habit of referring to it that way.
Today we call it a “quiet time” or “devotions.” These terms contain certain connotations. Having a quiet time says we are pulling away from the world to confess our sins and reorient our priorities as we meet with and hear from God. Doing daily devotions inherently seems to mean we are devoted to meeting with God for the same reasons.
But the term “worship” is more appealing, at least to me. Worship starts with gratitude for what God has already done. Confession, reorientation and duty flows out of that, rather than the other way around. The woman on the tape touched on this when she said, “When I have my worship, I feel communication with God and I enjoy what I’m reading.”
Admittedly, there have been times in my life when I started my devotions as a duty and stumbled into gratitude, so I’m not against using the more modern terms. But I do wonder if my attitude might be different if I embraced the notion of private worship instead.