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Monday
Oct092017

Keep some of ourselves to ourselves

There is a reason why books like Finding God in My Loneliness get written. I got a deal on that book for Kindle over the summer. I haven't read it, but I've read other things by Lydia Brownack before, and I really like her. It is, of course, one of the ironies of contemporary life that in a context where we are flooded with information and the ability to interact with people at the click of a mouse that loneliness has not been eradicated.

Augustine was right when he said we are restless until we find our rest in God. Much loneliness comes from trying to fill an empty space with something that is fleeting. And yet there are Christians who have found their rest in God who still struggle with loneliness. I often wonder how online activity contributes to loneliness among Christians.

It's popular to be transparent online. Sometimes, it really helps someone out. To find someone who understands our struggle is always encouraging. However, for the one who writes those things, there is a risk. What happens when we share our hearts and no one reacts? Does that mean no one cares? When you put little pieces of yourself out there and no one is receptive to them, it can make you feel a little discouraged. There are times when if we want to combat feeling lonely, we need to just keep ourselves to ourselves. Being too open can make us later feel exposed, and that may make us feel lonely. There is nothing wrong with guarding our hearts. Transparency is not a bad thing, but a wise person will know not to be too transparent. It takes discernment and good writing skills to word things in a way that gets to the heart of the matter without leaving ourselves open to feeling vulnerable. I haven't figured out how to do that yet. 

I need to write things to process, so I have been doing more of that offline. Blog and social media circles have become funny things, reminding me more of the high school cliques I loathed than places where one can feel encouraged to participate. I have grown more cautious as I have got older. More than ever, with our culture being so connected, I think we need to foster those face to face connections where we are confident someone cares about our thoughts and struggles. 

And of course, there's always simply taking those things to the Lord.

Tuesday
Aug222017

Be known by the people you know

Quite a few years ago, I was having a chat with my pastor, and I was really surprised when he said he'd never heard of Mark Dever. What? I, in my discovery of all things Reformed, could not believe it. Sure, Dever was not as well-known as R.C. Sproul or John Piper, but I was surprised.

Christian circles are actually pretty small, and just because a lot of Christians have heard of someone, it doesn't mean everyone has. I'm pretty sure that if I were to go out on the streets of my little town and take a poll, most would not know who Mark Dever is, if any. And most, if any, would not know who John Piper is. Now, if I asked if they knew who Taylor Swift was, that's a different story (for the record, I am no fan of Swift, but because of her recent court case, her name was first to pop up in my head as an example. This post is not an endorsement of her).

When we put something online, there is a feeling that we're known. It's like being given our own little speaker's corner. Here in Canada (and I don't know if it's done elsewhere), one of the television networks used to have kiosks on various street corners in Toronto (and I think, Vancouver) where people could record themselves talking about something. If it was outrageous enough or interesting enough, the clips would be broadcast on television, during a segment, obviously, called "Speaker's Corner." Having a blog or using social media is like Speaker's Corner daily; except, of course, for the crucial difference that most people won't ever read our blog posts. Even the "big" bloggers still don't reach people in the way that really famous people do. And even people like Taylor Swift are likely unknown in countries which don't have a steady flow of information. I suspect my Compassion child, who comes from Uganda, doesn't know who she is.

For all that we are aware of this reality, we still tend to post things on our blog, or say things on Twitter, or post pictures on Instagram which reveal that we believe we are known by everyone; as if someone is waiting for our next utterance. In most cases, it's likely that if we stopped posting to our blogs or tweeting that in a few days, people would stop thinking about us. Perhaps even sooner. I don't think about 99% of the people whose blogs and tweets I read beyond that moment of reading. Just because we can read our own blog posts or tweets doesn't mean someone else is reading them, too. And it doesn't mean we are known.

Similarly, name dropping doesn't mean we're popular, too. Seriously, if you know someone who is popular in Christian circles, more power to you. I hope you enjoy that connection. But it doesn't make you well-known, nor does it obligate others to get to know you.

We should desire to be known by those who are right in front of us. We should desire to be known by the people whom God has placed in our lives, face to face, right now. I've been guilty of caring more about what my online friends think. I am ashamed to admit that I've been obtuse to the fact that I've been doing it. We can build some great connections online, but they will never be what they can be if they were face to face.

The truth is, online connections are easier because they require less effort, and I can protect myself. The real test comes when we have to live side by side and people see our warts. We have the perfect excuse to not have to drop everything to care for an online friend, but what about those friends who have needs, and they're five minutes across town?

At time, I find it challenging building relationships. We have to open up, to expose ourselves. But at the same time, I've come to see what is lacking in a strictly online friendship. While I continue to build those online connections, it should never be to the detriment of the others. It's something I'm continuing to learn. 

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.