Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Bible and Some "R" Words

Not long ago, I saw a pastor holding a leather-bound copy of the New Testament. It was, if one pays attention to such things, a great book. It was nicely sized, well bound, and looked like it was a very comfortable book to use.

As lovely as it was, I could not help remind myself that, without the Old Testament, the New Testament offers only a part of God's message to humanity. Indeed, a nice study version of the New Testament is a great tool! But to overlook the text of the Old Testament is like reading the last book of a series without reading the ones that come before it.

Over-simplified and taken as a whole, the Bible represents God's plan for being in relationship with humanity and how humanity, in response to a right relationship with God, might be in relationship with each other. Beginning with Adam and Eve, we can see repeated cycles of "R" words that represent God's relentless pursuit of a relationship with humanity.

For this discussion, we'll jump into the cycle at Right Living. There are places in the Bible where we see humanity doing well and living rightly. This is what God hopes for and for what humanity was created to do. We are meant to enjoy our relationship with God and let that relationship lead us to Right Living.

Inevitably, however, we will see that Right Living is followed by humanity's Rejection and Rebellion. From Adam and Eve and onward, the Bible demonstrates that the people God created will turn away and pursue those things outside God's will.

The consequences of this always lead to less than ideal circumstances for the one who rebels. Consider as an example the "Prodigal Son" whose rejection and rebellion led to his demise. The nation of Israel shows us repeated examples of the consequences of falling away from God's will.

Humanity's hope lies in the truth that, even in rebellion, God continues to pursue relationship. God seeks out humanity, waiting on us to turn back. At the lowest of lows, Repentance (humanity's action) and Redemption (God's action) converge to put humanity back on the path toward Right Living.

Following Repentance and Redemption, God and humanity join in the process of Restoration. The people of God return to living in accordance to God's best plans for them.  In time--sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly--the people of God resume Right Living.

Thus, we see the cycle repeated:  
Right Living
Right Living

God, seeing humanity fail over and over again, ultimately took action to establish a final process of redemption, and we see that in the closing chapters of the Gospels with the crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then, from the first chapter of Acts and through the rest of the New Testament, we are shown how humanity should, therefore, live rightly in response to that once-and-for-all act of redemption.

We see this cycle repeated in various New Testament writings. For instance, Romans can be roughly (and over-simply) broken down into six chapters about humanity's rejection of God and the consequences, six chapters of God's act of redemption, and from chapter 12 onward, how humanity should rightly live in response to relationship with God.

There are many ways to apply what we see in the Bible, but the most direct application is to us as individuals. Our aim is to reside in Right Living--to live in relationship with God and let that reflect in our relationship with others.

Locate yourself on the cycle and do what you must to get back to Right Living.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

His Fan

Not long ago, some work was being done at Visible Music College--Chicago, where I serve on the staff. One day, some workers came by to load up about a half ton of old metal desks to be salvaged as scrap.

As they started the loading process, one of the two men carefully lifted a box fan out of the truck and placed it tenderly on the ground by a shovel they use in their work.

"I'm going to fix it," he said.

I don't know what was wrong with it, but $20.00 would have replaced it.

He didn't want a new fan.

"This is all I have left," he explained. He went on to describe how hard luck had fallen on him, and he was, with his work partner, trying to get by. The old fan was all he had left from his former situation. But he wasn't bitter. He accepted his part in his demise and was resigned to start anew.

His words moved me as I slipped my $700.00 (if I didn't have a contract) phone out of my pocket to take a picture.

I live in such a way that I am comfortable by ANY standards. I push my income to the limits and need nothing. I have some luxury items, of course, and justify having things like a DSLR, up-to-date tablet, and fancy screens for my computers. Yeah, that last word is plural. In contrast to the owner of the fan, I live like royalty. Most of us do. I am sure I am not the only one to be mostly blind to conditions of others around me.

Yet, despite being in a hard way, the fan's owner had not give up. He was doing what he could to start over.

His work partner's word's moved me more: "I'm trying to help him get back on his feet. It's been a hard time for him."

"Yeah, [Name Omitted] takes care of me," said the fan's owner.

But [Name Omitted] is far from living the high life. Yet, he is doing what he can to help his work partner. At $50.00 for a half-ton load, the going is slow.

Long after they left, I was haunted by my interaction with these two men. I shared this anecdote with my son, who happens to work at a salvage yard in another city.

"Dad, I see stuff like this every day. Guys coming in with $8.00 loads three times a day trying to feed their families."

But hearing my story, he added, "I won't look at customers the same after this."

These two guys--indeed, with troubles and problems, some resulting from their choices--have been on my mind in in my prayers for a few weeks. My words here come so short in painting the full picture, but I don't think blog readers would attend to many more.

I am going to take a chance and call them ([Name Omitted] has a phone for their salvage services.) and invite them to lunch, my treat. I don't know if they will accept, but I am going to ask.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

115 Tweets--A Experiment Using Social Media as Serial Fiction

Back at the beginning of April, I got an idea to use Twitter as a format for writing a short fiction story. I made up three characters, made up Twitter accounts for them and plunged in.

Sharing my idea with a few writer friends, I got some comments and encouragement. Johne Cook posted this (and more) on his Facebook page:
So here's something cool and inexplicable: a friend you may know is doing a thing I can't exactly explain but which is seriously cool.

So, I pressed on. I used Hootsuite to plan posts days in advance and worked out the plot, trying to reveal the story as if the character was actually Tweeting--read it and I think you'll understand!

Now, the story (as it is) is done.

To experience this, you need to put on your literary forensics cap and start at the BOTTOM of the Twitter feed, with the OLDEST post first. Read from oldest to newest, keeping in mind that the Tweeter doesn't know he is in the middle of a story.

Here's the link:

Twitter changed how the page works, so if you see the character (MundaneOne) start a Tweet with @someone's name, that is a conversation, and you'll get more story if you open it up.

If anyone is interested, when I have more time, I'll post some comments here reflecting on the experience. Meanwhile, enjoy!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Don't Over-do and Don't Settle

In a Tweet that I scheduled* for earlier today (@BillSnodgrass), I claimed the following:
The world's standards are a lie--either unrealistically too high, or too low, accepting anything as a "good try." Seek truth!
Think about it...

The world wants us to think we all must look like the models we see in magazines and on television-- with the tight stomachs, or "six packs," with perfect hair, white teeth, and clear skin. Guys have to be ripped and girls need to curve in all the right ways. Bulges are for muscles only.

The world wants us in the nicest cars, fine homes, and expensive clothes. No one will accept us if we come up short!

The world wants us to smile and be happy. All the time. We must be perfect on the job, rarely making a mistake.

Media all around us demands that we reach these standards, or else we are failures! And advertisers are sure to remind us of this!

On the other hand, trends in society of accepting anything also abound. I have heard stories of teachers and coaches who were required to give EVERY member of their team or class a trophy or an award so no one would feel left out. EVERY level of performance was rewarded.

Society and media allow--even suggest that it is normal for men to be poor husbands or ill-equipped fathers because "that's just how men are." Women get, likewise, to be moody or irresponsible with money. We are told to accept substandard conduct, never judging it inferior or demanding improvement.

"Accept him for what he is," some will urge with regards to someone who consistently makes life difficult for others. "That's just his way."

Neither the unrealistically high, nor the anything-goes standards are right.

There is a better way. Look to sources of wisdom--time tested teachings, principles, and thoughts--and you will find that neither demanding perfection nor allowing blatant underperformance is acceptable. Unrealistically high or dismally low standards are not good for the person nor for society.

Set standards that make sense. Be healthy, but don't worry if you won't win a body-building contest. Try to have reliable, functional goods and safe homes, but don't worry if you can't drive a $75,000 car and live in a million dollar mansion. Learn to share life nicely with others and don't excuse yourself for things you haven't bothered learning to do. Learn to attend to others with honor and respect and don't let your natural, selfish nature hold you back.

Standards should be realistic. High standard arguably lead to a better quality of life. Fit is better than unfit. A car that works properly is better than one that won't start. Tattered clothes are usually a bummer.  But the media ideal is created by our lustful eyes and by other people's desire to SELL STUFF to us.

Accepting others is nice, but don't accept their bad habits without trying to help them overcome them to live better. Urge them to reach a reasonable standard of performance, whether it is in how they keep house or how they perform at work.

Neither set standards too high nor too low.


*I also scheduled this blog to post in advance, too. I wrote both the tweet and the blog some time ago!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Maybe You SHOULD Judge

Post-modernity is rife with the idea that people have no right to judge others. Frankly, this is just ludicrous. While certainly we have no right to disrespect others nor to treat them without love, society is built on the principle of sharing sound judgements and passing them on to following generations.

In the secular social paradigm, judging is called "coaching," "mentoring," or "teaching," and its application to our lives is how we know not to eat grass or dirt. Being judged and mentored is how we know how to dress and groom ourselves. How we learn to interact with others. Being judged and corrected is how we know how to operate within the norms of society.

It would make no sense to say, "Well, it is really not my place to judge. Drive on whichever side of the road you like."

Social media of late is FULL of judgments. Posts like "Check out these ten foods to NEVER eat!" judges what is good and what is bad food. The contents of an article, "Top ten ways to dress to impress your date" IS judgement. We accept judgement such as these, but balk at more substantive calls to live better.

Letting other people venture into peril without warning is just maladaptive. "I can't judge you, so if you want to live in crippling debt, it is up to you." While it IS, ultimately, up to them, sharing experiences and insights just might save them a lot of hardship, should they decide to accept the judgement.

This is how society advances: we examine people's lives and compare them with functional, adaptive, healthy norms--standards of conduct that have proven effective for navigating the challenges of life. When we judge that what we observe comes up short, we coach, teach, and mentor the other person toward the better alternative. But without judgement, coaching, teaching, and mentoring would have no rudder, no direction.

While my judgement may not be correct or may not take in all the factors of a situation, society is built on the need for me--for all of us--to challenge others to live better, safer, healthier, more whole lives.  We do this by judging what others are doing and deciding if, from our point of view, it is helpful, healthy, and if it will lead to positive outcomes.

What kind of person would I be if I let people make the same mistakes I have made (or have seen others make) and not warn them--not judge their actions as being problematic?

In the business paradigm, we call judging "performance evaluation" or "performance review." Supervisors judge the performance and work product of those in their charge. Where necessary, they recommend changes, judging some practices inferior to others.

Judging employees assures us, customers, that every Starbucks® will treat us and serve us in a very, very similar manner and that the products we order will be very, very similar, no matter where we are.

From the religious paradigm, we call judging "discipleship," "accountability," or (as with the secular) "mentorship." Christians will surely recognize that the New Testament basis for judging is solid. Paul was not at all keen on people living unholy lives! Jesus called people to live better! Throughout the New Testament, people are encouraged to hold each other accountable, in love, to uphold the ideals taught by Christ.

The idea that people should not judge simply does not hold up. It is a ploy to open the door to any and all conduct. If no one has the right to judge, then nothing we do can be criticized. Yet, in our hearts, we know that we judge and that judging is necessary to keep life moving along. We just don't want our pet vices to be judged!

Monday, January 06, 2014

Four Tips to Better Social Media Profile Pictures!

Few can deny that social media is a huge part of post-modern society. Along with each social media conduit comes the profile picture. These icons of the author should be thoughtfully selected to help identify the person or cause to potential readers and followers.

Using the following dos and don'ts will help make your profile pictures work better!

1.0 Pick a picture that is YOU or an image (logo) that represents your cause. This is the best practice. There is a reason they call in Facebook®!
1.1 Couple pictures are okay, sort of, if you have a name that could only apply to one of the people in the picture. If I see a man and a woman pictured and the name is Tony Brown, I'm pretty sure which person is Tony. But if it is a man and a woman in the picture, and the name is Sam Brown--lost again! 
1.2 Parent/child pictures follow the same principles as rule 1.1. If a potential follower cannot tell which of the two (or more) people in the picture is the one named, don't use it.

IF HOWEVER, you just cannot bring yourself to put your actual face or logo on your profile:

2.0 Pick an image that is clearly NOT you. Go with your cat, if you must. Or a sunset.  Or a flower. Whatever...  Just don't pick an image of your neighbor or a relative that someone you have not seen in years would find confusing!
2.1 Don't pick an image of your child, parent, or grandparent!  This is confusing! A while ago, someone using their 15ish year old daughter as their profile picture sent me a private message: "Hi! Remember me?" This person had married and changed her name, so neither the picture nor the name rang a bell.  "Nope, can't say I do remember you."
2.2 Group or buddy pictures--please don't (unless you ARE a group)! Use them in your cover picture, not your profile!
2.3 Don't pick a picture of some random person or celebrity, either. People trying to decide if they know you would just be confused... 

IF you DO use a picture of you:

3.0 Use a picture that actually looks like you look!
3.1 If you are more than 10% older than the picture, update!
3.2 If your weight has changed by more than 10%, update!
3.3 If you have grown or shaved a beard, update! 
3.4 If you have dyed your hair or drastically changed hair styles, update!

Whatever image you use:

4.0 Pick one that is clear and in focus!

The profile picture is meant to introduce you to those who follow or friend you--so they can put the name with a face (or logo). Use these four tips and you will be on the right track!