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?

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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!

God’s Newsfeed…

A strange thought came to me earlier today. I was sitting at Subway eating my usual foot-long Black Forest ham on Italian herbs and cheese when I happened to notice a lady sitting across the restaurant from me staring out the window. She had finished her sandwich and was munching on a cookie while sipping her soda. Every thing about her suggested that she wasn’t in a hurry; she chewed slowly, sipped sparingly, and sighed heavily, almost as if she was bored. By all appearances, she was lonely. I wondered, if God had a Facebook account, would she be in His newsfeed?

Obviously she would be – more so because God doesn’t need Facebook to see what’s going on in everyone’s lives, but even if He did need Facebook, she’d show up in His newsfeed. Heck, He might even have it set up to be notified every time she posted something (a feature I found kind of pointless due to the fact that everyone I received notifications about popped up in my newsfeed). But God sees the good and the bad; popular and unpopular; and the befriended and lonely. And careless of popularity points or approval ratings, He loves each and every one of them.

Loving others like God has loved us, to put it mildly, is exceedingly difficult. Not only is it within our nature to be around people who make us feel good or accepted or validated, but our selfish, “independent,” American culture has trained us to instinctively care for ourselves before we care for others. It has taught us “out with the bad and in with the good” so that we just might attain that level of happiness we desperately pursue. And as evidenced with Facebook’s newsfeed settings (as confusing as they are), we’re able to pick and choose the people we care about and the lives we affect.

I really wish I had acted against my selfish tendencies at lunch today. I really wish I had sat down next to her to eat my sandwich and make some empty comment about the weather or allergies or whatever just so that she’d know I at least saw her. Jesus says in Matthew 25 that He’ll welcome God’s people for having visited people who were sick, estranged, or in prison, something kind of like sitting with someone who looked lonely and commenting about the weather. No, I’m not beating myself up for a missed opportunity; I’m saying it was missed opportunity because I want to get it right next time and every time after. I want be effective at loving others as God has loved me.

Sometimes I feel like a third-grader reading a book together with the rest of the class when the teacher asks for a volunteer and I’m simply avoiding eye-contact so I won’t have to read. But instead of the teacher asking for a volunteer, I am asking for a volunteer. And instead of reading a book, we’re helping people. And instead of avoiding the teacher’s eyes, I’m avoiding God’s eyes because I am asking who’ll feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, heal the sick, and so on and I can feel Him looking right at me. I don’t want to turn around because I’m afraid it will be me having to help.

In Mark 6:30-44, Jesus’ disciples seem a little upset that their rest was being disrupted by the thousands of people eager to hear Jesus teach. They told Him to send the crowds away so they could eat, but Jesus flips it around on His disciples: You give them something to eat,” (6:37). His disciples are dumbfounded and tell him no one could afford that much bread. All the while they forgot the Apostles were empowered to cast out demons and heal sick people – literally the same chapter. But I guess feeding people is more challenging than casting out demons…

My point is that we have a tendency to sit around and wait for someone else to reach out to the socially unfavorable while God is looking us in the eye saying, You go and do it.” And then we have the audacity to say, “But God, there’s no way I could reach them; I’d have to hang out with them and learn what they like and maybe even root for a sports team I hate. Clearly, you got the wrong guy.” All the while we, just like the disciples, ignore the power God has given us – a power that compelled Paul to say, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” (Phil. 4:13).

If it sounds like I’m a little frustrated with myself, I kind of am. I’ve been at this Christian thing for eleven years and I’m still making rookie mistakes. But like I said above, I’m not writing about my failures to beat myself up; I’m trying to get them right. Of all the things in the world that I could be good at, loving as God has loved me is the most important. As Paul says:

If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing,” – 1 Cor. 13:1-3

It’s all for nothing if you don’t love. And I don’t mean loving those who love you back or the popular, rich, and powerful. I’m talking about the ones no one else sees. We – those among us who proclaim Jesus as their everything – are the light of the world; therefore, we see everyone, not just the people we want to see.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” – John 1:5

May we take a lesson from Mark 6; that our lives are not about ourselves, but rather the people around us. And it need not be more complicated than asking someone how things are going or talking about the weather. Love ’em, for the love of God.

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.

Running With Jesus+…

In case you’ve missed my recent Tweets and Facebook posts, I bought a Nike+ Running Sport Band. Just like all Nike products, these things make you feel like a professional athlete. This one specifically, however, tracks each run you make by distance, pace, time, and it even tracks the calories you’ve burned. On top of all of this, each run you post on your Nike+ Running profile gets broadcasted on Facebook or Twitter. So now people will know that I’m not kidding about my frequent, Olympic-like runs.

After posting my second run, I got to thinking what it’d be like if there were a device to track our walks with Jesus – a Jesus+ Spirit Band? What would it be like if I could see the exact moments where I was running at a consistent pace and the moments where I slowed down or even tripped up? What would it be like to see – after posting so many spiritual runs and workouts – the overall progress I’ve made since I started running? Honestly, I think I might be impressed by what I’d see. But I don’t think God would be.

God isn’t disappointed in me (or really in any of us); He simply aims higher when it comes to setting the bar. While we seek to minimize our mistakes, He seeks to make us incapable of mistakes. His work will not be complete until our sinful selves have given way to our spiritual selves – until the old wine is tossed out with the old wineskin and replaced with new wine in a new wineskin. Until faith becomes sight, God will not be content with His creation.

How, then, could we ever know if we’re making progress? Shouldn’t there be some kind of validation – even from God – that says we’re doing a certain thing right? This is where we discover that something like a Jesus+ band that tracks the individual’s progress isn’t needed. It wouldn’t be needed because there’s this thing called the church – followers of The Way, God’s people, Christ’s body. In other words, we don’t need a bracelet to tell us we’re doing something right or wrong; we’ve got running buddies. We have brothers and sisters to keep us on track, to help us keep a steady pace, and to help us continue to the very end – to endure the entire race, not just the first leg of it.

A Jesus+ Spirit Band would be useless for yet another reason: God’s focused on what’s before us, not what’s behind. Yes, seeing our overall progress would allow us to see the moments we did things God’s way and were faithful. But it would also force us to see the moments we dropped out – the moments we decided to run at our own pace or not run at all. It would force us to remember our sins. Of course, we already do, but if it was put to a chart we’d see just how damaging that sin was at that point in our lives. And it might revive the guilt and shame that God had worked very hard to extract with His grace. We’d either react by running faster at our own pace – never to again make those same mistakes. Or we’d react by walking away because we had lost all hope.

God does want not us to dwell on the past to improve our futures. Or, to put it in a way my old pastor (Danny O’Neil) once did, you cannot drive a tractor in a straight line by looking behind you. You pick a target in front of you – way in front of you. Jesus and His perfection – the way He lived His life in constant, unwavering faith – is our target. We run to Him and we don’t stop until we get there.

If we aim for an imaginary perfect version of ourselves, we’ll fail at reaching God’s goal every time – even if we succeed at perfecting ourselves to our standards. For God’s standard is much higher than we could ever reach on our own. And if we aim at His standard (Jesus); if we align our thoughts to His, our language to His, our intentions to His, our attitudes to His; and if we run at the pace He sets rather than our own, then we will be so focused on what’s before us that we won’t remember the things behind.

“By your endurance you will gain your lives,” – Jesus in Luke 21:19

God bless.