On Being a Seminarian: Being “Present” Through Social Media…

This is part of a weekend series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Be sure to check out other posts by other blogs, especially if you’re interested in biblical studies.

During my fifth year as an undergrad, I took an introductory PR class. Not only was I still adjusting to the switch from the English Department to the School of Journalism at the U of O (English major, Comm. Studies minor), but I was also adjusting to a particular style of class interaction. There were the vocal discussions much like my English classes, but in this particular PR class, Twitter was used – in fact encouraged! – as a medium to engage the course material.

Ever since that class, I have loved using Twitter. And in a weird way, it helps me to take notes during lectures. If I can process the concepts I learn in class well enough to make a joke about them (many of my tweets are sarcastic remarks), then I’ve processed them well enough to remember them. Knowing what those concepts are about is a little bit trickier, but that gets balanced out with an extra bit of studying. As far as the tweets themselves are concerned, they only seem to help me.

Yesterday, I talked about the challenges this introvert (myself) faces when engaging larger groups of people. During class the night before, we had used Twitter to share thoughts, jokes, and questions about the book of Esther (we listened to an audio version of it - feel free to read tweets here). While, for the most part, I sat back and read all my class mates’ tweets (sharing a few of my own here and there), I noticed how I felt much more engaged with the rest of the class – something that doesn’t necessarily happen all the time in a regular class without the utilization of social media. Don’t get me wrong; I always feel present in the class, but hardly ever a part of the class – like a simple observer occasionally brave enough to raise his hand once every month or so.

Much of it is my own choice. I mean for one thing, I always sit in the back of the class. And for another, I prefer to listen to what my classmates have to say simply because my own thoughts are still being processed – in other words, I don’t process them very well vocally. Obviously this is why I write in general; to process things. Yet with a medium like Twitter (or this blog or Facebook – well, kind of with Facebook), I’m able to write my thoughts and still partake in the class “discussion.”

Why then am I taking in-person classes when I could be taking online classes? Ironically enough, I learn better in the in-person environments. Like I said, I enjoy listening to what my classmates have to say in the spontaneous moments that in-person classes provide. In the online settings, thoughts are shared and they’re great, but they’re a little more edited, a little more refined. I enjoy seeing the beginning stages of thought development because most of the time that is where I feel I am – in the beginning stages.

What I find even more wonderful about Twitter are all the connections I’ve made in the four years I’ve been tweeting. Just a couple weeks ago, I met a newfound friend (Natalie Trust) for Mass – I had never attended Mass before, so a blog post is most certainly in the works. Before that, I received a book for free (believe it or not, from Joel L. Watts himself). And even (long) before that, I started following Brian LePort and Near Emmaus’ posts, which means I may not be blogging over there if it weren’t for Twitter.

Social media, I don’t believe, will ever be a replacement for true, genuine human interaction, but I have enjoyed the many times it has supplemented those interactions. Similar to my question yesterday, how do you – as a student, seminarian, pastor, professor, etc. – see the integration of social media platforms into your church, classroom, or even workplace? Do you see it as an enhancement to the already-present social dynamic or a hindrance?

Big Churches and Introverts…

Last night’s class discussion led to a talk about finding ways for big congregations to make everyone feel as though their voice is heard. Our talk began shortly after a Twitter exercise where we tweeted our thoughts whilst listening to an audio version of Esther, so obviously I was still reading/favoriting/retweeting everyone’s tweets. And before I could chime in about having been an introvert in a large congregation, class was drawing to a close (“having been” is in relation to once being a part of a 150-200 person congregation; not to the introverted part). I’d rather blog my thoughts anyway.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time now; how our Christian sub-culture tends to be geared toward the out-going and extroverted. Of course, I’m speaking from my experience in the evangelical world; I have little-to-no idea how things are in the traditional settings. In said experience, though, church means weaving through the masses, “meeting” a bunch of people whose names I’ll immediately forget, and knowing that at any given point throughout the service, there is usually someone people-watching me (I know this is true because I’m usually the one doing the people-watching).

Granted, some of these things happen with smaller congregations (especially the people-watching thing), there is still something quite challenging for an introvert in a group of 300 or more people. Even 100 people in a single room is overwhelming for me; my class sizes are about my max. Like many introverts, I feel drained by the sheer number of people I’m pressed up against – and this is without talking to anyone or engaging in any type of service-level dialogue. If you add that element in, I usually feel pretty wiped after church.

It’s kind of like alcohol; I have a certain capacity for how much I can handle before I start “feeling it,” (even in that case, it’s not very much). But over time, one’s capacity tends to increase. Similar thing happens for introverts and larger congregations. But even if that’s the case, I still need my time alone. I still need my space – not only for “recharging” purposes, but to connect with God. So in churches with a bunch of people, you could imagine how it might be difficult to have that moment of connectedness – that moment that builds up the introvert, even amongst all the activity.

My introversion is my own, though; I know other introverts who enjoy larger congregations and are even able to grow in those types of settings. But I also know of a lot of introverts who are like me and are rather intimidated, overwhelmed, or flat out drained in places with a lot of people. Not to say that we’re anti-social, even though it seems that way; but to say we function better in smaller, more intimate settings. And this seemed to be a backdrop question to our discussion tonight: How do we grow bigger as a single congregation, but also smaller to provide a “close-knit” group for as many people as possible?

No, I most certainly do not have an answer. And since I’m not part of any congregation right now, I don’t know if I should attempt one. What I do know is that I tend to steer clear of the large congregations partially because of the exhaustion factor. It’s not the deciding element, but it carries some weight.

After leaving class tonight, though, I was actually feeling quite thankful for Twitter or WordPress (microblogging and blogging) or even the practice of journaling. As an introvert, I write to process things, which makes it much easier to “voice” my thoughts (share them with a larger group). Tweeting during class discussions is something that, strangely enough, helps me understand and grasp the concepts we’re learning in class (and also invites non-Seminarians to the discussion/lecture). If there’s a church out there that encourages live-tweeting, please let me know!

So I suppose I’m posing the questions to anyone who’d care to chime in: How does your respective congregation cater to the introverts (or extroverts, if your congregation is mostly introverts)? Especially if you have a larger congregation, how have you focused your ministry (or ministries) in order to create an environment conducive for genuine spiritual families on a smaller scale (growing bigger, but smaller)? What about on the Sunday mornings, Saturday evenings, or whenever you have your larger meeting time? Is there an atmosphere that seeks to build a bunch of smaller families within a large group of people that doesn’t require a separate day?

God bless.

Digging Up Dirt…

Finding community in the Portland area has been difficult. I have hung out with friends here and there, but I have not yet found something consistent – something week to week. I don’t think I have much of an excuse since there’s a church right across from my apartment complex, but finding community is more than simply going to church. It’s about investing in friends – both new and old – and engaging people on a relational level. And because I’m lacking genuine person to person community, I’ve gravitated toward the online communities.

As many social media users know, outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even LinkedIn allow us to present ourselves as we want to be seen. We make sure we aren’t picking our nose in our profile picture (or that we are – depending on the image you want to present), tweeting things that shouldn’t be tweeted, or listing previous jobs that didn’t work out so well (where we were either fired or laid off and we still don’t want to talk about it). It’s like social media is a paperless résumé; a small medium through which we present ourselves in the best light possible.

Problem is this isn’t reality.

Editing our profiles so people see us as we want to be seen isn’t allowing them to see us as we are. Everyone knows that you’re supposed to wash your car before you sell it. But, as I learned this past summer, what really matters is how well things work under the hood. In the same way, who we are underneath the masks of Facebook, Twitter, and even our blogs is most important.

A side effect of having online community as one’s primary source for social involvement is that one develops the habit of being someone other than who they truly are. Over time, this develops into a disability; being someone else for so long that one cannot be honest and real with one’s self. As I wrote about before, this is oftentimes why we can’t deal well with silence; because it causes us to deal with who we really are.

Joshua 7, as referenced last post, highlights a moment when someone took something he shouldn’t have and was punished for it. Moral discomforts aside, I can’t help but notice what he did with the something he stole:

“Then Joshua said to Achan, ‘My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and make confession to him. Tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.’ And Achan answered Joshua, ‘It is true; I am the one who sinned against the Lord God of Israel. This is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them and took them. They now lie hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.’” Joshua 7:19-21

He buried it.

Jesus tells us that a wise person is one who builds their house on the bedrock, but notice what he says in Luke 6:47-48:

“Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.”

Years ago at a CCF (Collegiate Christian Fellowship) retreat, a pastor named Brett Gilchrist shared a message about this passage and he slowed things down. He pictured both the wise person and the unwise person building their houses next to each other. While the wise one kept digging, the unwise was already putting up walls. When the wise person had finally reached the bedrock, the unwise had finished their three-story house. As the wise one began laying the foundation, the unwise was decorating. While the wise finally began building the house, the unwise was putting in a pool. Finally, as the winds began to blow and the clouds covered the skies, the wise person finished their simple little house while the unwise was adjusting their new satellite dish. You can imagine the shock and horror of the unwise person as the water washed underneath their home and carried it away, while the wise person nervously watched, but was safe.

The wise person was safe because they had put in the work to dig up dirt and lay the foundation the right way. Christ wants to build a home for Himself within us, but He needs us to dig. Yet we don’t want to because it means we’d be unburying all the skeletons, lies, addictions, abuses, and all the other things we didn’t want people to see. We can’t hide behind our Facebook page when we’re facing God; He knows something’s wrong.

We bury things that we’ve either done wrong or hurt us in some way. For years I used to hold my emotions in when talking about my childhood. Even to this day, I still have physical reactions to the memories. For instance, in The Blindside (the movie), Michael Oher has a flashback to when he was a kid in the backseat of a police car crying out for his mom who was being restrained outside her apartment. Although my memory is slightly different, I still recall when I was in the back of a police car while my mother was outside her apartment crying. Every time I see that scene, I begin to shake uncontrollably; in most cases, I have to skip it. And I still have the teddy bear the police officer had given me.

Hiding who we are is oftentimes because we have a painful memory we’ve tried to erase. We seek all sorts of means to erase that memory, but ultimately wind up causing more bad ones – not just for ourselves, but for those who love us as well. If we devoted our time to engaging them and letting them in to see what Christ is doing within us, we may not feel anymore comfortable, but we’d be healthier.

No, I’m not saying delete any of your social media profiles; I’m saying share a meal with some of your friends or family members instead Instagramming what you cooked (or do both if you must Instagram). Instead of posting pictures and status updates about how miserable or awesome your life is, tell somebody in person or over the phone about how much they mean to you.

Practice authenticity – for your own sake and for the sake of those around you. It makes digging up your dirt much easier if you have someone to help.

God bless.

Four Years Old Today…

In the spring of ’07, I started an electronic journal in my dorm room at the University of Oregon. Right around the same time (perhaps a few months later), I started writing Facebook notes. Much of what I write in my electronic journal (it’s a Word document) is what I’ve been emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually processing and when I started posting some those entries on Facebook, I soon found out that there was always somebody else processing the same stuff. On October 4th, 2009, I launched this blog.

I turned it into a blog to help open up various ways of connecting with people. After writing a few posts, I quickly discovered other bloggers writing about similar stuff or stuff that I hadn’t thought about. Seeing many other people processing the same stuff that I was went a long way in telling me that I’m not alone. This, of course, led me to recognize that none of us is alone.

Online communities will never replace the authenticity of in-person communities – like your local church, Bible study, book club, or even your workplace. Yet what online communities enable – via blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and plenty of other social media sites – is a space for people to share their thoughts, beliefs, and questions (in no particular order) in their own time. You don’t have to wait until your next Bible study to ask a question about Jesus or share whatever it is that God has brought you through. I’m not saying the internet is going to have all the answers, but I can say that it opens up the possibility of discussion. And more than likely, you’ll find someone who’s been where you are before.

Above all else, what I have found to be most beneficial from blogging is the depth of therapy in the act of writing. You see, journaling goes a long way to allow the individual to process the things around him or her. But until those thoughts are shared in community, the individual will remain as such: an individual. They will never hear what we all need to hear at some point in our lives: “Me, too.”

As I said above, blogging (and online communities in general) will never take the place of face-to-face meetings (Skype and Face Time kind of help, but being physically present is most essential). Yet in the last four years, I’ve seen how blogging has helped enhance those face-to-face meetings. It has helped formalize my thoughts and feelings so that I can more clearly and succinctly talk things out with my various in-person communities. And it has taught me that there are plenty of other people who’ve had similar experiences in life (growing up without a father, having suicidal thoughts, seeing your church community evaporate, etc.), but processed them differently.

All I can really say on my blog’s fourth birthday is that I would not be where I am without it. It makes me excited for what’s to come (especially being at George Fox Evangelical Seminary). I’m excited for the things I’ll learn and the people I’ll meet. I’m excited for the communities I’ll grow with. And I’m especially excited to see what God is going to do through it all.

Writing goes a long way to help the introvert and extrovert in their walk with Jesus.

Thanks for reading and God bless!

Phone Calls Only…

Two nights ago, I spent three and a half hours talking to an old friend (Dani Phillips) on Skype. When I had called it quits, I felt tired for two reasons: 1. Because it was nearly 2:30am and 2. Because I rarely talk to people on the phone anymore.

Tonight, ironically in a Facebook chat with a friend (Sierra Stopper), I have realized my dependency upon technological mediums to communicate with others (i.e. text-messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.). I don’t think I’ve sinned, but I definitely think I haven’t challenged myself well enough. Introverts don’t need more things to hide behind; we already spend enough time to ourselves and immersed in our own thoughts. We simply need to vocalize more.

And this is what brings me to a (sort of) New Year’s resolution. It’s a very big challenge, but not for the entire year (well, most likely not for the entire year). For one month, I will only call people whenever I want to talk with them. No texts, no Tweets, no Facebook chats or wall posts, and not even Google+ messages. In some cases, not even emails. Phone calls only.

This is to force myself to return, as much as possible, to the basic human root of communication: Talking. These technological mediums offer something that talking doesn’t: Instant editing. I can write and rewrite until I find the best message without taking the human risk of being wrong or misspeaking. These mediums give me comfort instead of challenge; talking would be the opposite.

No, it does not mean that I will be off of Facebook or Twitter or Google+; it simply means you won’t be getting any text messages of any kind from me. You’ll be getting a phone call instead. It also doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop blogging; in my blog, I’m not talking to any one person, but to many people (and yes, I consider 8 to be “many”).

If this time of year is all about making adjustments to improve one’s livelihood, then why not start it off with a challenging one? My post that talked about reading and writing more revealed some rather easy things to do; the real adjustments are the hard ones to do. Being more socially intentional is not easy for me. And this is why, at least for the month of January (possibly longer), I will only be calling people. It’s a tough step toward being more socially involved. But I find it a necessary one.

Yes, I will have to manage my minutes (something I haven’t done, like, ever!) and yes, I’ll have to keep charging my phone, but it’ll be worth it. Even though the average person can’t effectively disconnect from the technological world entirely, one can still practice the simplest form of communicating. I aim to do just that.

If you care to join me, by all means do so. And if you don’t think I have your phone number, send me a message (Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.). I may not reply in text, but I will definitely call if you want me to.

Hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year’s celebration!

God bless.

Football, iPhones, and Other Distractions…

One week ago today I received an unexpected gift for my 25th birthday: an iPhone 4. I absolutely love it. In comparison to my BlackBerry – just kidding, there is no comparison between my old BlackBerry and my new iPhone. For instance, I can use an application without my phone freezing. And I’m free to explore the worlds of Words With Friends, Instagram, and use that weather application that I’ve seen pictures of on Facebook where my Oregon friends complain about the rain or my California friends brag about the sun. Being with the “in” crowd never felt so good.

Several days after acquiring this Godsend, I got sick. I woke early Saturday morning to a really bad sore throat and spent the rest of the day combating a runny nose, coughing sprees, and chills. Of course it was much easier since I was listening to the Ducks put up 70 points against Colorado. After work I cooked up a can of soup, played several games on my new phone, and then went to bed.

My cold got worse come Sunday morning, which prompted me to miss church and call in sick to work for the first time ever. I didn’t mind so much because I was in five intense games of Dice With Buddies and there were several NFL games on TV. It was nice to have so many distractions on a day where I felt so miserable that I didn’t even want to walk to the kitchen. What hadn’t happened all through the weekend, though, was a single moment with God.

I’m not blaming my iPhone or the NFL for getting in the way between God and me. I’m simply pointing out that things like iPhones and football are things that we can enjoy as a part of our walks with God. We don’t need these awesome games and cool pieces of technology to experience Him. We just need Him. These things, in various ways, can supplement our walks with Him (i.e. fellowship during the Super Bowl or having Bible apps on your iPhone), but by no means are they needed for a genuine walk with Him.

What was my real issue over the weekend? I was using these man-made things to find relaxation and comfort as I tried to recover from my cold. It’s not wrong to do this; it’s wrong to do this too much. I certainly could have written in my journal or read some Scripture or read a book by C.S. Lewis or N.T. Wright. I could have done something that would challenge me out of mental vegetation, but I chose to open new games of Words With Friends and Dice With Buddies. I chose to allow myself to be completely distracted from God.

Thinking back through the weekend and remembering how I felt through all the sickness, especially the sick day, it actually felt fairly manageable. In fact, both Saturday and Sunday felt more physically comfortable and healthy than Monday did. When Monday arrived, I decided not to call in sick, but instead go to work even though I was still feeling some heavy symptoms. On my drive there, I prayed that as I worked, the cold would get better and by the end of the day I’d feel as though I was back to normal. Not even an hour into my shift my asthma acted up and never stopped until three hours after I had gotten home. It was one of those moments when I realized that God is not an application on my phone meant to be used at my convenience. He’s a person. And He wants to be treated like one.

These past three days, despite being sick, were still good days. But they would have been way better had I allowed God to be in it all. Who knows, I might have finished off one of the 15 books I have on my desk that I’m “currently reading” or maybe I would have written several other blog posts. Heck, I might have even gotten some laundry done. Once again, it wasn’t because of the distractions that I didn’t do any of that; it was because I wasn’t seeking God. Instead, I sought comfort.

All things in life are good, but become bad things if used incorrectly. Football, money, clothes, books, iPhones, Facebook, laptops, blogs, TVs, etc. are all meant to be enjoyed and used for good. But if they get in the way of our walks with God, then we’ve misused them and made them bad things. To turn them around, though, is simple: Seek God.

Pray. Read Scripture. Mingle with fellow believers. Do whatever is needed to connect with God… And it usually means doing what you don’t want to do, like sacrificing comfort even though you’re sick.

God bless.

Casey Martin to the U.S. Open…

Have you ever been truly happy for someone else’s success? I really cannot remember the last time I was excited for someone else when their dreams were realized – or at the very least enabled. But when I was following Adam Jude’s live-tweeting from Emerald Valley yesterday, where Casey Martin was giving a clinic on how to qualify for a U.S. Open, I was tuned out to everything else. I wanted Casey to win just like I wanted Tiger to win in the old days.

Why? Well for one, I met him a couple times. He might vaguely remember me as this quiet kid hanging out with Ethan Holub once or twice. And there was this one time I was at the same party he was. Okay, it wasn’t a party; just a bunch of Christian guys having beers together. He was there. I was there. I think he looked in my direction.

Apart from kind of knowing the guy, though, I know his story full well. I know that in order for him to compete with the world’s best golfers, he had to sue the PGA Tour for not allowing him to use a cart. You see, Casey has a rare condition in his leg that causes him pain 24 hours a day – a condition for which there is no known cure. Years ago, the Tour didn’t allow him to use a cart to get from shot to shot (the rule was you had to walk the course with a caddie). His story caught so much attention then that even Rick Reilly backed him up saying, “Martin isn’t asking for any help playing the game. He’s only asking for a lift to his ball.” And seeing him still able to compete with the best golfers – let alone still walking on both of his legs when doctors said he’d probably lose one – is ridiculously awesome.

What I think makes this story even more amazing, though, is knowing that it isn’t a testament of Casey’s own will power, but rather of his faith in God. What this says to me is that even years after lawsuits and rules and regulations and traditions (and just a bunch of prominent people telling him he couldn’t), Casey still believes in God’s ability to write a powerful story of perseverance. Casey still hears God telling him that he can. And he’s still marching along as best he can to see it through.

Does that mean Casey’s going to win the U.S. Open? I don’t know. I think it’d be a real capstone to Casey’s testimony, but that’s my perspective. God’s perspective is usually something different. Maybe this Open-qualifying experience is only a taste of what’s in store for Casey? Maybe there’s a bigger dream God has for him that none of us – not even Casey – can really see right now? Maybe God still has unfinished business with Casey’s story? All I know – and I think the only thing we need to take from all of this – is that Casey is still dreaming of something God gave him. Casey is still pursuing with as much vigor as he was at 25. And he’s still not allowing anything – not even his own leg – to stop him.

When the U.S. Open rolls around next week, I’ll be excited to see Tiger. But I think I’ll really be cheering for Casey because to root for him is to root for God’s ability to write a magnificent story. I’m always a fan of that.