Training in Righteousness
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Tuesday
Jul252017

I wanna talk about me!

I recently finished the book Being There, by Dave Furman. It's a book I would recommend to anyone. It really made me stop and think about how I relate to those who are suffering. And further, it made me stop and think how I relate to people, period. Specifically, it made me think of how often, in conversation, I turn the topic over to myself.

One of the things that doesn't help someone who is suffering is to give that person a long account of similar suffering we have experienced. It doesn't really help someone who has a life-shortening neuromuscular disease to share my stories of having had a broken ankle and understanding what it means to lose mobility. The truth is that the situations are not comparable, and even if they were, my goal in talking to my suffering friend is to love and serve him, not bring myself into the dynamic. There are situations where mutual experience is helpful, for example, when fellow mothers deal with issues. It helps me to know that other parents have had similar struggles. But even then, we must remember that it's not about us.

Many years ago, I was driving with my family through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and a funny song came over the radio. It was called "I Wanna Talk About Me!" I have often thought about how that describes us all at times. I don't want to be that person, and I am sure I have been more times than I want to know.

This past year, two of my closest friends have experienced suffering. One lost her son and the other was diagnosed with a serious illness. I want to be helpful to both friends. I'm always the person who wants to do something or say something to make it better. The fact is, I can't make it better. I just have to learn to be there. Hence, Dave Furman's book comes in handy in that pursuit.

It's difficult not to become self-involved. We are naturally inclined to do so. It's also the majority occupation of social media. I'm just as guilty, and I'm making a concerted effort to say less on Twitter and Facebook. I don't need to announce on Twitter that I #amwriting. If I want to write, I'll just do it. It isn't more real if I Tweet it. And there is no one waiting on my every move. There is no need to respond to every infuriating comment. There is no need to announce to the world my brokenness and grief over my sin or the tragdies of others. How much of what we say is simply a way to turn the conversation back to ourselves?

One of the ways we can fight this fascination with the miniutae of our lives is to cut back on social media or use tools to filter what we don't want to see. There are some people on Twitter I just don't want to listen to. Unfortunately, some of the people I do like to hear from re-tweet the comments of those whom I'd rather tune out. I can use the "mute" function to ensure that I can ignore those comments. Of course the goal is that I'm not irritated by the obnoxious words of other people, but I'm a work in progress, and sometimes, I just need to avoid temptation to think bad things.

I can also be quieter on Facebook. I don't have to like everything or comment on everything. And I can be the kind of person who doesn't keep beating a dead horse when the conversation has clearly devolved into something entirely unhelpful. I had to leave a Facebook discussion group because it seemed that too many discussions were like that. And some of the participants were just too aggressive. 

Talking less about ourselves gives us opportunity to be a good listener. I like good listeners. I trust them. I don't know as if I'd trust me because sometimes, I'm too prone to say too much. I want to fix that. I'd rather be the kind who lives with the principle that less is more.

Thursday
May182017

If I could kill a word

Pardon me for using a pop culture introduction to this post. I don't usually like to do that.

I was out for a coffee date yesterday. In the car, during the hour drive, I had the radio on. I have one of those old fashioned cars that does not have satellite radio, so I listen to the regular kind of radio. The music fare out there is pretty dismal. There are really only three stations I can stomach at any one time: the oldies/easy listening station, CBC, and the country station, and the country station gets played when the oldies station plays something I don't like. On the country station yesterday, I heard a song which caught my attention, called "If I Could Kill a Word." The opening verse say this:

If I could kill a word and watch it die
I'd poison never, shoot goodbye
Beat regret when I felt I had the nerve
Yeah, I'd pound fear to a pile of sand
Choke lonely out with my bare hands
I'd hang hate so that it can't be heard
If I could only kill a word

Of course, it's one of those sappy country songs, and is actually quite forgettable, but as a lover of words, the thought of killing one was interesting. I thought to myself, "I'd like to kill the word platform." Not the kind that someone stands on; I mean the other kind.

The Reality of Influence

The reality is (and often, it is a sad reality) that people who become well-known have influence. For some inexplicable reason, women want to know what Oprah is reading and will follow her suggestions. At the beginning of every year, we Christians who love reading want to know what the well-known Christians are reading, and we may take them up on their suggestions. Influence is a reality.

What I really find troublesome is the very self-conscious nature of our influence in these days. The idea of building a platform means we recognize our influence (or maybe we think we have influence or are looking to have it). And I think in recognizing influence, one must tread carefully. It isn't far from recognizing influence to demanding influence or presuming a false level of influence. In short, it can be a direct line to pride.

There have always been influential people, but with the internet, we are faced every day with those people, knowing much more about their personal lives than we need to. We have gone from a suitable mystery about them to a constant diet of the minutae of their lives, making our own little worlds seem, well, little.

The Example of B.B.

I cannot help but think of B.B. Warfield. If there was ever a man of influence, it was Warfield; in his day and in ours. That man would have had a platform if he were alive today. Part of me hopes he would have a healthy distance from social media. Despite his brilliance and influence, he seldom left home for more than a few hours a day. His wife was an invalid, and had in fact been so from early in their married life. He stayed close to her in order to care for her. Today, that would mean not attending large conferences or preaching engagements. No book tours. Hardly the picture of a man tending to his platform. 

Live as Redeemed People

If one is influential, it is a huge responsibility. Our nature is to lift up those who have ability and have become known. But it is an unfair thing to do, because there is only one way off of a pedestal: down. The wonderful thing is, however, that as Christians, we serve one who truly reigns and will never be toppled from his throne. We don't need a platform to minister to others. We don't need a platform to do the work of Christ. All we need to do is live as redeemed people, clothing ourselves with Christ, and taking every opportunity to love others and serve them. We don't need a platform to be good spouses or children, to be good writers and thinkers. In fact, to live to the glory of God, we don't actually need a platform at all.

Yes, if I could kill a word, it would be platform. At least in its figuarative sense. The other kind of platform is pretty useful.

Wednesday
May032017

Unplugging is good for your mood

I returned late last night from a holiday away to see my family. My father turned 80 on Saturday, and I wanted to be there to celebrate with him. I finished my last term paper on the 23rd of April, scurried about trying to get my neglected house back into order, and then left early on the 27th. I had a window seat on the plane so I could watch the landscape transform from the rocks and water of northern Ontario to the flat, checkerboard fields of the prairies. I was home. I have lived more than half of my life here in Ontario, but I call Western Canada home. It is where I was born, and it is where my ancestors moved when they came to this country.

It was a very busy time away. On the day of my dad's birthday, we had breakfast with people we used to go to church with when we lived there, I had lunch with one of my oldest friends, and then along with my brother and his family, we had a dinner at my dad's golf club. My mother had arranged for a private room in the clubhouse, and I was able to spend time with my nephews, whom I had not seen for fourteen years. One of them is married now, and I got to know his wife a little. Although two of my brothers were not there, I know my dad enjoyed having everyone together. The next day, we headed into Manitoba to visit my dad's brother and sister-in-law. This couple is like a second set of parents, and I was eager to see them, since in the time between our last visit, my uncle had sustained a head injury and concussion in an accident. When our families begin to get older, we must take these chances to see them. 

On Sunday evening, after supper, I took my camera and went into the yard at the farm and puttered around, trying to catch the twilight. My uncle's dog followed along behind, protecting me. When I got to the fence to have a peek at the cows in the yard, he immediately inserted himself in between me and them and looked up at me as if to say, "It's okay; I'm here." I expressed my thanks with words of gratitute, assuring him that I appreciated his efforts. It was a clear evening, and there is always something so comforting about walking around the yard where I have spent so much time. There were little ghosts of me around every corner. The visit ended all too soon, and after being fed well, and catching up, we had to head home. I love to drive across the prairies. I know a lot of people find it boring, but I do not. There was a storm coming out of the southwest, and with my cellphone, I took pictures of the clouds rolling in. On the morning we left, I got up early for a breakfast date with another girlfriend, and then I had to face the always difficult task of saying goodbye.

I also read a fair bit while I was away. I read Keri Folmar's new book The God Portion and made some notes as I plan to write a review later today. I started reading Sinclair Ferguson's Devoted to God. And of course, there was time for games. That has always been a big part of my family. We played in teams, sometimes with my dad and I partnering up, and other times, the ladies against the men.

I did check in a few times with Facebook and Twitter, and I checked my email. But I spent very little time online, and I found my mood very light. Vacations and unplugging go together. Sometimes, we need a break. And being with old friends and family, remembering that we are social creatures and that nothing beats face to face communication, was exactly what I needed. I felt very grumbly before I left, and it was always after I had spent more time online that was useful. I was reading an article in the National Post yesterday about hockey, and the writer made a very apt comment. He said that Twitter is like the Roman Coliseum when it comes to sports. We love to watch the blood and gore. I think the Christian Twitterverse is a little like that as well. 

And now I am home. And after hearing about the antics my puppy perpetuated with my son, I think I have some work to do there. I have laundry, a pretty empty refrigerator, and a long list of spring cleaning chores. I am eagerly waiting for my Moral Theology grade to be finalized (got an A in systematic theology; yay!), and have reading plans and a knitted blanket to finish for my son before he is married in August. Will I continue to spend fewer hours on social media? I don't know, but I hope so. I do know one thing: taking breaks is a must. People are important. Online theology debate is not as important. And certainly observing those debates can be a mood killer. Visiting social media is not a problem; it's when we live in it and for it that makes it problematic.

Thursday
Apr062017

Cellphones, conferences, entertainment, and hockey

I got my first smart phone over six years ago. Prior to that, I had a regular cell phone, and used it very little. When I got a Blackberry, it opened up a whole new digital world, and it provided an instant distraction to most aspects of life.

Attending conferences like T4G and The Gospel Coalition drew my attention to how often our phones are out. I will be honest, I don't like live Tweeting conferences. If someone I know is doing it, I mute them until the conference is over, because it clutters up my feed. 

I have been in movie theatres and restaurants where the patrons are totally disengaged from the entertainment but are uploading pictures or taking selfies. Thankfully, movie theatres encourage you to turn cellphones off. But as soon as the light goes on, the phones are out. I've done it myself.

Last night, I went to a hockey game in Buffalo. We had excellent seats, two rows behind the penalty box. It is so much more fun to watch a hockey game at that level, because it's more apparent how fast they are skating, and you can see how hard everyone is working. I told my husband that I am spoiled now, because I don't think I'd want to go to a live game again if I have to sit in the nosebleed section. These tickets were part of our anniversary celebration, so my husband didn't spare expense. Knowing that these were not the cheap seats, I was taken aback (although, in retrospect, I shouldn't have been) at the couple in front of us.

Now, when I arrived in the Key Bank Center, I took a few pictures for friends and uploaded them. But after the game started, I didn't really look at my phone except to take note of how my son was faring babysitting the dogs. The game was too much fun. Throughout the majority of the first period, this couple took repeated selfies, videos of themselves, and were otherwise engaged on their phones. The woman, especially, went through numerous drafts of her and her companion before she finally was satisfied with the picture. While they slowed down with the pictures in the second period, I don't think the woman ever put her phone aside. She always had it out. All I could think of is, "These tickets aren't cheap. Why would you waste money to focus on your phone and not the game?"

This is not new. Of course, I'm aware that this is pretty typical conduct. I had just never seen it to such an extent. The entertainment is almost secondary. What is more crucial is that we tell everyone what we're doing; show everyone what we're doing. I don't know why I was surprised. Perhaps this couple (who were likely in their 30's) has lots of money and can afford to pay a lot of money for hockey tickets and then not even watch the game for most of it. We don't have that luxury. We don't do this often, and it meant getting home at 1:00 a.m. and then getting up for school early. I wanted to enjoy every minute of the game. And I did. Even if my team did lose.

If someone does something and does not put it on social media, it does happen. Really. I did attend that game last night, and even if I hadn't put up a picture on Instagram of Max Pacioretty, I still would have been there. Conferences will still go on, and speakers will still speak if we don't live Tweet their sessions. It really does generate in us a narcicissm. The world can't want to hear from me. My friends can't wait to hear from me. This is not true unless it's been put on some sorts of social media outlet.

It was a good reality check for me. How often do I do that? Probably more than I should. The next time I go to a movie, I'm going to leave my phone at home.

Saturday
Jan282017

Where can a gal find an objective book review?

I know that the reality of complete objectivity is a myth. We all bring presuppositions to matters. However, there are times when we bring more or less. I have thought about this as I've watched my social media feed over a number of months presenting book review of numerous new books that came out over the past few months. 

I was approached by a publishing company recently to review a book. I had reviewed for them before, so I was among their contact list. This idea of hand-picking people to review new books is definitely the result of social media. I'm sure this practice is a very effective way of getting the news out about a good book. But are the people being asked the ones publishing companies know will give a positive review? When one receives a review copy, how much pressure does she feel to avoid saying anything negative?

In the past when whenever I have reviewed a book I have been requested to put the review on Amazon as are all the other people who received a review copy. Amazon is frequently filled with book reviews which are 90% five star reviews. Perhaps this reveals my glass half empty view of the world, but I want to hear what some of the downsides are. I'm aware that many people who received review copies are already pre-disposed to like everything the writer does, so will that reviewer be willing to share something negative?

Quite a while ago, I saw repeated rave reviews of a book and I resisted buying it because I didn't really have time to read it, and I didn't want to buy another book which would sit on the shelf unread. As it happens my friend had it, so I borrowed it. Ultimately, I was disappointed, and frankly, I could not see what all the fuss was about. Yes, it was good. But it had some problems, too. I looked at some reviews to because I thought "Why am I not seeing what everyone else is seeing?" I thought there was something very crucial missing in the book, but every review spoke about it as if it was the most perfect book ever written. Perhaps the problem is in how we review books. 

I have participated in review initiatives when the majority of the participants are already supportive of the author in general. It is a good way to promote a book, but I do feel a concern about there being a hesitancy to give a negative review. We follow these authors on social media; we read their blogs; we feel like they are our friends. How willing are we to point out something negative?

It's something I continue to think about when pondering books. I am finding more and more that the best place to hear about good books is a good book itself. I love books with notes and recommended resources. I've been very fortunate in gettng great recommendations from seminary profs. My theology prof will even recommend we read dissenting views. I have benefitted from Amazon reviews, but it's not always a place to find the best ones. I have also been more convinced that I'd much rather buy the book myself, read it at my own pace without a deadline, and enjoy it.