Here’s a glimpse of how I spent my time on the world wide web in March. Enjoy.
‘Tis the season for new blog series. Mondays are Mars Hill Mondays (or #MHM for all of you looking to tag something on twitter). Every week is a new 5 Days in a Row challenge. And starting tomorrow each month will end with a showcase of my Monthly Meandering.
Monthly: occurring once a month.
Meandering: to follow a winding course or to wander at random.
I spend much of my time online. When you live in one state and work and go to school in two others, a 13″ or 10″ or 3.5″ screen become your gateway to a great part of the world. And when I’m not in skype or google hangout meetings, posting to a discussion board, or catching up on a barrage of email, I’m enjoying the best that the internet has to offer. I meander through blogs and videos and twitters and more. And when I come across something especially amazing or creative or thought provoking, I tag it in Evernote, creating a trail of my online meandering for the month. And at the end of each month I wade through them all, posting them for your meandering pleasure.
Some of the things I find will make sense to you. Many of them come from my favorite blogs or bands. But some of them might surprise you. And hopefully something will inspire you. Because they’ve all inspired me in some way, shape, or form. (Bonus points to anyone who can connect the dots between something I found online and how it was manifest in my life or work.)
Be sure to stop by again tomorrow for the first post in my newest series. Because it’s that time of the month. And I’m pretty sure you’ll find something worthwhile.
Today on my flight from Grand Rapids to Chicago I sat next to a man who was on his way home to India. He had spent the past two years in Holland, MI working for IBM. Our conversation began as he asked about the book I was reading. (Apparently preaching text books can be a great interfaith dialogue starter.) Our conversation quickly grew from travel to work to life to faith. I’m not sure what the people around us thought of our conversation – I’m fairly certain both of our voices were carrying – but I walked off the plane with two specific thoughts.
One thing my friend in 15C reminded me is that “Hindu” is a label given (or imposed) by by Islam while they were migrating into (or invading) India. A Hindu doesn’t call herself a Hindu. It’s a label that was given by someone else, a way of identifying who they are, where they are from, or what they are all about. “Hindu” originally referred to people living across the river Indus. It was a way to distinguish the Muslim faith from the people if India. This secular term later became a religious moniker. Rather than Sanaat’ana Dharma – Eternal Truth – we know this tradition by another name.
In a similar way, Christianity exists as an external label. The followers of Jesus simply called themselves followers of Jesus (or the Way). It was the people of Antioch who saw this subversive and alternative community and labeled them “Christians,” a moniker that continues to stick to this day.
What I find most interesting about both instances is that the winning “brand” was an external imposition rather than an internal emergence. Both traditions are people seeking to live a way of life, only to have it labeled by the people around them. As too often is the case, the movement became a monument. And rather than seeking eternal truth, Hindu traditions are perpetuated. Rather than asking what it means to follow Jesus, we ask whether or not something is “Christian” – music, movies, language, etc. Perhaps we ought to spend our time rediscovering the original movement, the way of life, rather than the religious monuments we so often create and perpetuate.
My talkative airplane friend was quick to remind me that what we call Hinduism was not (and is not) a religion in the way that Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are religions. It is a way of life. It is a culture. It is a context. You are Hindu in the same way you are German. It is something you are born into and can never shake. But, my friend stated, this way of life has transposed itself into a religion. There are people in India who will tell you “I am a Hindu and this is what I believe,” an identity and credo contrary to the original emergence of this “Eternal Truth” way of life. What has happened, my friend continued, is a way of life has become a religion.
Ironically, Christianity seeks to do the opposite. The Christian faith emerged from and as a specific religion. Though it is common today to hear it referred to as a “way of life” rather than a religion. The movement is to take a religion and create a way of life whereas Hinduism is a way of life that has become a religion.
I’m not sure which is a better starting point, but I do believe that religion is not meant for a compartmentalized sphere of our existence. Everything is spiritual; we are always standing on holy ground (though we don’t always realize it). How can we move to a place where our religion and our way of life are not points on a spectrum but saturated parts of the whole?
Regardless of our cultural or faith identification, my friend and I shared 45 minutes together and discovered our mutual humanity. Rather than bickering over differences or one of us trying to convert the other, we experienced love and hospitality and inquiry. What if every flight was like this, intentionally diversifying its passengers to allow for interfaith and intercultural dialogue and collaboration?
Because we live in a world of many cultures, people, and faiths.
All of which leads me to two questions:
What does it mean to be human in a world of diverse human and cultural expressions?
What does it mean to be a person of faith in a world of many faiths?
First off, yes, I know that today is Wednesday. But I’m not trying to tell you what day it is. I’m trying to tell you about the newest round of weekly blog posts I will be assembling.
I have been working at Mars Hill for just under six years. And with every bittersweet cliche and metaphor at our disposal, this year is my last. And so in my eight weeks I have remaining I decided to declare every Monday a “Mars Hill Monday“ where I post a video or story or something I’ve been a part of at Mars Hill over this past half-a-decade.
And to get things started, I am proud to announce the internet debut of our latest Middle School music video. We filmed it last week after inviting students to come to a video shoot (one showed up) and then showed the video as a part of The.element Variety Show. Enjoy.
Update: My weekly posts now have an official hashtag (thanks to Jannalee for inspiring it) — #MHM. Let the twittering begin.
How many times a day do you check your email?
And how many devices do you check it on?
My answer to both is “way too many.”
I remember my first email account. Thanks to juno.com and a 56k modem, I could talk to anyone, anywhere. And in a world before Skype, Facebook, and the ubiquity of cell phones, this actually meant something. And I actually did, emailing people long and thought out letters. Receiving an email had the same excitement as receiving a personal letter in the mail. But then someone invented SPAM and you receive the same forwarded message three times (and even though you were warned against it, you always scrolled down to see what surprise was waiting for you). And suddenly email was changed forever.
Now we live in a world where fax machines are nearly extinct and I can receive email in my pocket at speeds that make my family’s first computer look like a bike with flat tires riding up hill (56k modem, remember). Thanks to gmail I can filter (most of) the unwanted clutter from my inbox. Email becomes synonymous with communication. And rather than checking my email with the thrill of going to the mailbox on your birthday, I find myself trembling to see just how high the little red number has climbed.
And then there’s the problem of checking it constantly. Because someone might have something to say to me. And I must hear it. Right now. (Because if it’s truly urgent I’m sure they would send an email rather than call or text, right?) I find myself robotically pulling my phone out of my pocket, unlocking the screen, and tapping the tiny blue “mail” icon. And then moments later I do it again. And again. And again. Or if I’m being honest, I usually rotate between email and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and then back again. It’s my own personally spiral of distraction.
I will be working on a project (or trying to start working on one) but tell myself I should probably check my email first. And so I do, getting a little narcissist high with every new message in my inbox. Most of them end up archived or in the trash, but one of them might actually be worth reading. So I’ll put it in my “Reply” folder and read it later. I can’t read my email now when there’s so much more email to check!
Another email is full of links to videos to watch or things that will make my life complete and lead to my utmost contentment. So I’m off, opening a dozen tabs, each full of links to a dozen more tabs, and suddenly my email binge results in thirty minutes of not starting whatever I’m supposed to be working on.
Or when I finally do start working on something I’m convinced I feel my phone vibrate, even though I turn off push notifications so my phone rarely vibrates. Ignoring the common sense that my phone only tells me I have an email when I ask it, I check anyway. And lo-and-behold, a little red number appears! Somebody loves me! The vibration I thought I felt must have been a premonition or some psychic connection to whoever (or whatever – usually a whatever – the joy of automated mailing lists) is sending me a message.
What do you do when something designed for productivity becomes a distraction?
I’ve been a long time proponent and user of inbox zero. And I’ve read a handful of articles on limiting the number of times you check your email but I’ve never been able to impart this discipline in my life. Darn robotic thumbs checking my email without letting me know it.
And so as a part of my #5daysinarow project I’m taking on my email
addiction habit. Instead of my “refresh whenever I have five seconds to spare” posture, I am only checking my email three times a day: morning, early afternoon, and evening. (“3mail,” get it?) Because if it really is that urgent, they really will call or text. Rather than death by email, I want to focus my time and attention (both of which are limited resources and only one of which I can control).
Tonight I played the game Liebrary (yes, that is how you spell it). One person selects a card and reads the title, author, and synopsis of a book. Everyone else writes down what they think the first sentence of the book might be. The person who read the card writes down the actual first sentence (it’s printed on the card) and everyone turns their answer in. The answers are read, everyone votes, and whoever guesses correctly receives correctly gets points and whoever has their answer guessed gets points. It’s balderdash but with books.
I loved this game. It combines two of my favorite things: books and writing. And it taught me a valuable lesson: the first sentence is one of the most important. But it’s also the one people forget first.
How many books can you name their first sentence? (I can do War and Peace, Moby Dick, Romeo & Juliet, and Genesis.)
Anyone who writes anything will tell you that the way you open is important, and rightly so; you only get one first impression. As the reader, you (the author) have a split second to draw me and give me a hint at where the whole story is going. A well crafted first sentence can bring me to the edge of my seat and tell me much more than I realize.
This morning I was reading through the story of Jacob and Esau and I realized that even the title we give this story is actually a compelling opener. We call the story “Jacob and Esau.” And if you look close enough at this title you see it riddled with the entire story — Jacob, the second born (so his name should come second) lives up to his name (deceiver, heel grabber) and takes his brother’s place. What should be “Esau and Jacob” becomes “Jacob and Esau.” The opening title says it all, only you don’t even realize it.
It catch my attention. They tell the story before I even know the story. They draw me in.
But when it comes to almost any book you read, you remember the characters, the themes, the overarching ideas and scenarios more than you remember the opening sentences. You might be able to quote one or two lines of dialogue or prose, but chances are the first sentence is not one of them.
So as a writer, take care to craft a well written, intentional, and captivating first sentence. But accept that fact that most of us will forget the moment after we read it.
The first sentence serves a purpose: to draw me in. But it’s the rest of the book that I will remember. So spend some sweat equity making sure it’s worth my time.
While not always a smart move on the poker table, it is how I want to live my life.
Why hold anything back? I want to be all in.
I want to give everything I’ve got, everywhere I am.
When I’m with my wife, I want to be fully with my wife.
When I’m with my friends, I want to be fully with my friends.
When I’m writing something for class (or reading something another classmate has written),
I want to be all in.
When I’m at work with my interns or residents or coworkers or my own ideas,
I want to be all in.
When I’m home by myself, reading a book or playing a game or editing photos or building a website or watching another episode of Battlestar Galactica,
I want to be fully present. I want to smile; I want to breathe; I want to go slowly.
While it might be be possible to multi-task, I want to single-do.
Whatever I’m doing,
I want to be all in.
Last fall we invited the middle school students at Mars Hill to think of ways that God has blessed them and ways they could bless the world around them. And then a few months later they took these ideas and turned them into Grassroots Initiatives, ranging from ways to provide food for kids who would otherwise go hungry, standing up to bullying, simply helping someone feel appreciated, and more.
Whereas many youth groups rally around the pastors’ latest idea for a service project or missional initiative, we did the opposite. We asked our students what they were passionate about and where and how they wanted to join God in making a difference. And then we helped them do it.
The result wasn’t always slick and polished. But when you ask 5th grade boys to design, plan, and execute the whole thing, you end up with the fifth grade boy version.
Because “blessed to be a blessing” isn’t just about joining someone else’s great idea. It’s learning to see the everything differently and coming up with the great ideas for yourself. I didn’t just want middle school students to know how to join my idea. I wanted them to learn a whole new way of looking at the world and create ideas of their own. I’m giving out fishing poles, not fish.
If you want to hear more about our Middle School Grassroots Initiative, come to Mars Hill this Sunday. Josh Bishop will be talking with a couple sixth grade girls about their project at the 9a and 11a gatherings.
Today was a long day.
I went to bed much too late, especially given the fact that I had a 6a flight out of La Guardia. Jes and I spent the evening downtown out for dinner and then a poetry slam (where I was one of the judges – more thoughts on this experience coming soon). After lethargic trains that insist on stopping at every single station, we finally made it home after midnight. An hour or so later, turning of the lights after 130a (after watching an episode of Weeds with Jes) left me with less than three hours of sleep before my alarm nudged me awake so I could catch my 415a cab to the airport. Or at least that’s what was supposed to happen.
We closed the computer mid episode, finally ready to call it a night and we fell asleep. The next thing I remember is not my alarm lovingly rocking my shoulder. I don’t remember my alarm at all (or the back up I set in case that happened, or the back up’s back up — I slept through three alarms!) I awoke at 430a, not too late but well beyond the waiting tolerance of an early morning cab driver, convinced I was going to miss my flight to Grand Rapids and ruin everything (I may have been a bit over dramatic).
Jes helped me get everything together. She called me a cab, lovingly asked what she could do to calm my obviously flustered self, and I was on my way by 445a. From Washington Heights I drove to LGA, procured my tickets, made it through security, wooed by way into an exit row, and settled in for some reading and a not-quite-comfortable nap towards the Midwest.
I landed and quickly checked my next gate. G2 – start walking. As I do I look at my ticket to see my flight time: 830a. I look at my watch to see the current time: 823a. It was my missed alarm clock morning all over again.
How did this happen? Did the plain take a detour while I was sleeping? Did they underestimate the time it would take to travel from the big city to the Windy City? I walked as fast as my tired body would allow, keeping an eye out for the letter G and whichever direction the arrow was pointing. And I finally found my gate, my watch telling me I’m more than late and will be lucky to see anyone at my terminal. Tell my watch I’m lucky, because the display still read “Grand Rapids” and an American Airlines employee was tapping away on the keyboard.
She looked up at me. “I have two questions,” I said. “Have they boarded the flight to Grand Rapids yet?”
“And is there anything available with a bit more leg room?”
Thank you Jesus.
With my new ticket in hand and a gate that for some reason appeared to be boarding extremely late (nearly thirty minutes at this point), I walked a couple gates away to find something to eat. I returned, sandwich in hand, to find a long line stretching back from the gate. I joined in, thinking I would probably finish eating before I even made it to board the plane.
And then someone walked up to the line and asked, “Is this the line boarding for Hartford?”
I looked up at the display. Hartford was listed next to Grand Rapids. Only it said that the departure was at 758a, a time my watch proudly told me was almost exactly one hour in the past.
Then it hit me. I had traveled through time, from one time zone to another. And while my phone will lovingly keep track of my location, my watch requires a bit more waits for me to tell it where we are. And we were in Chicago, not New York. We were in the Central Time Zone, not Eastern.
My rushing and worrying and reliving my how-did-I-sleep-through-three-alarms experience was unnecessary. The “hour late” I was accusing my flight was actually a “right on time.” My body was in one place and my mind was living in the future. I had traveled through time without even realizing it.
And so my long day began.
From there I made it to Grand Rapids and then to Mars Hill for a morning and afternoon of meetings and program prep. Around 5p I hit a wall, my body realizing it had been up for over 12 hours with hardly enough sleep (and also probably crashing from the two soy lattes I drank that morning – one at the airport and the other on my way to the office). Students and leaders began arriving around 630p for our evening student gathering. I alternated between high fives, conversations, and whatever still needed to be set up or prepped for the night. And at 7p the program began.
After a welcome, a group activity, and a few songs, we went outside for my teaching. We are reading through the sermon on the mount and are currently up to Jesus’ words on salt and light. So naturally I spent most of my time shaking salt onto a globe (and hopefully connecting a few meaningful words and ideas along the way).
The teaching ended, students dispersed to their small groups, returning thirty minutes later. We ended the night (Erin Clauson was once again the most hilarious announcement co-host) and I spent the next thirty minutes talking with students before meandering late into a Middle School Leaders meeting.
The meeting ended, most of it a blur, most likely from my lack of sleep and seventeen waking hours of travel and work, and we began the final clean up and “get gone” of the night.
And so my long day finally came to an end. Only the time travel isn’t done yet. Because in my “I can do anything for five days in a row” ferver, I realized I hadn’t finished a blog post for Tuesday. So I sat down to write this post. And while technically it is Wednesday, a simply point and click allows me to travel through time and back-date this for yesterday.
Blogging day 2: complete.
Jes and I were living in Holland, Michigan. She had a board meeting and was preaching at a church in Brooklyn and would be spending the upcoming school year interning at a church (the same church she currently works at as Associate Pastor). She flew out a few days before me and I joined her for the weekend. I boarded a plane in Grand Rapids where everyone looked and talked like me (minus my height and whatever Iowa accent I still carry with me). And when I landed in La Guardia I had entered, to quote Aladdin, a whole new world.
Immediately swept away by the sights and sounds, I quickly realized that I wasn’t in West Michigan anymore. I heard accents and other languages, I saw the full array of skin tones and clothes. My button down shirt and skinny tie that stands out in West Michigan was simply swept into the beautiful diversity of the city.
But this isn’t a post about New York vs. West Michigan. It’s a post about variety vs. singularity, diversity vs. conformity. This is a post about ideas. This is a post about what it means to be human.
My friend Andy always tells me that “ideation” is just a made up word for creative professionals. Or else he’s just making fun of a word he knows I like. But even if he’s right, it makes the word all the more fitting. The process of developing new ideas should lead to new ways to talk about them, even if they’re just made up words for creative professionals.
Divergence, or divergent thinking, refers to a diversity of ideas. This is the intentional fragmentation, coming up with as many possible ideas as you can (as opposed to convergent thinking which is sifting through them and bringing them together).
Both of these words share a common antithesis: when everything looks just the same. Unless you’re trying to create some artistic statement on uniformity, ideation and divergence are drawn to variety and diversity. They are the Midwest visiting New York City, realizing a world of color and sound that you didn’t realize was possible.
When I’m developing ideas, I value diversity and variety. The last thing I want is for all my ideas to all look just the same. In order to find the one that will be most helpful to a given context of problem, I need to see as many as possible. There is a time and place for uniformity, but it is not ideation or divergence.
While the first automobile might have been a variation of the horse and buggy, it soon became a whole other thing. iPods are an alternative to portable CD players, but they are also something else entirely. Ideation and divergence isn’t just about making a variation of something that already exists. They are about coming up with altogether different and new.
The original iPad was divergent. The new iPad is not. One revolutionized an industry. The other made us think, “Oh nice, the screen looks better.” One makes you ask, “What is that?” and the other makes you say, “Look, an iPad.” While we will always need new iPads, I want to spend my time creating the first one. This is ideation. This is divergence.
It’s easy to fall into a mold. Whether the perfect suburban family or the ideal hipster lifestyle, before long people can all look just the same. But your identity and your story are not called to look just the same; you are called to be uniquely you.
We are not just little boxes on the hillside. We are not robots and Stepford wives. We are unique and different and sometimes dissonant human beings. As the esteemed Theorodor Geisel once said, “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
Be a human ideation. Live divergently.
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