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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Envision the Gospel - Conversation

Relationship is founded on conversation. The act of sharing words is at once simple, and yet incredibly complex. Words communicate ideas and those ideas spring from thoughts and those thoughts come from the core of who we are. Though it’s a long and winding road from the depth of our soul to the words we share, there is a connection that can’t be denied.

Those moments when a conversation turns from playful sharing into deep hurt or from thoughtful reflection into belly-shaking laughter can happen in an instant. The sudden transformation isn’t due to the surface of the words, but the underlying connection to our deep selves, our hearts. That’s also why conversion is such a poor tack to take. The words of conversion may be completely rational, but they are not traveling a course of reason. Not at the end, at least. The terminus of the word-journey is deep in the heart. So, dangerous words are kept out. Otherwise it could hurt too much. There is a wall that prevents suspect words from traveling the path into the depths of us. Conversion words are deflected, rejected and denied. Those words that say our hearts are wrong and our walls are misplaced can’t be allowed inside. It’s too vulnerable, too risky.

But in conversation there is no sense of attack in the words. The words aren’t unsafe when they are in the context of relationship. You aren’t challenging my core beliefs, you’re just telling me about yourself. I’m not questioning your worldview, I’m just sharing my experiences. I admit that you might be right and you admit that I might be right too. Our words and thoughts are up for negotiation in the context of our relationship.
I’m fond of saying that the good news must be both good and news. In order to be good it must be better than the alternatives. We have to be showing lives that are significantly different and better than lives without Jesus. Good news must also be news. If it’s not noteworthy, then it’s not worth talking about. If we could do the same thing by the simple exercise of willpower, then there is really no news to tell. But if the only explanation for the difference is that the Spirit is within us and empowering us, then that’s truly news that’s good. Add to that that good news can’t be shared outside the context of relationship. If I’m just reporting facts to you, then it’s not something that is terribly good, and if you don’t know who I am, it’s not really news to you. But, if you know my story through conversation and if you care about who I am because of our relationship, then then it’s news that’s good.

How can you be a good news presence with your conversation?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Envision the Gospel - Relationship

Story is communicated through relationship. When Jesus wanted to show us the story of Eden, to give us a glimpse of how the world was meant to be, he didn’t do it through proclamation. He did it through relationship with people. Sure, Jesus preached and taught, but the majority of his time was spent walking with people and living among them. John 1 lets us know that Jesus dwelt among us (v14) or as Eugene Peterson puts it, he “moved into the neighborhood.” Jesus tells a story in the context of relationship. He’s not interested in intellectual affirmation of his message. Jesus wants relationship with us and participation in his story of good news.

We see, more than that we feel, the story of the good news because of relationship with Jesus. It’s a mystery that can’t be fully explained through logic or reason, but it can be felt in the gut. Donald Miller talks about the reasons for love. When you ask a man why he loves his wife, he might say that it’s because she’s pretty, funny, smart, loving, kind, etc. But, if you offer him a woman who’s prettier, funnier, smarter, more loving and more kind, he won’t accept. Those aren’t the reasons for love, but the explanation we develop for the mysterious connection we feel. Our hearts love and then our brains seek to explain it.

So, starting with an intellectual explanation of Jesus and his story is a poor way to help people see the good news. Rather starting with love, mysterious and mystical, gives people a way to experience good news before they can understand or explain it. That can only happen in the context of relationship.
Relationship is the seed-bed of the gospel. It’s the ground that must be tilled before it’s ready to accept the word, it must be watered so that the truth of Jesus’ love can germinate and it must be kept clear so that the story of the Spirit can grow up into the lives of people. Without relationship though, none of the rest is possible.

I’m thinking about the time I spent as a farmer in Ireland. It was a summer of hard work. We first had to clear the planting area which was waist high with a mix of thistle, stinging nettle and bind weed (which would bind it all together). Once all the obstacles were removed and the earth broken open, then the seeds could be planted. Then it was time to wait. Perhaps a week went by (which was an eternity) and the dark earth showed no signs that our work had been worthwhile. The weeds sprouted almost immediately, but those lines where cabbage and kale, beans and lettuce should have been growing were bare. We could do nothing but wait.

Eventually the plants started growing and we kept watering. And weeding. So much weeding. We went over that garden dozens of times removing weeds that were growing up all around the plants. Every patch of soil passed through my fingers several times over. And still the weeds came. So they had to be pulled again.
Relationship is not so different. It takes touch after touch to keep developing. It takes patience to wait and watch what happens. It takes persistence to cover the same ground time and time again. And, it takes the vision to see that things can be different. The good news is visible through relationships that are tilled, watered and tended – and then God does something mysterious.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Envision the Gospel - Story

The story of Jesus is…

What comes to mind? What do you think of when you think about the story of Jesus? If you’re like me, you grew up hearing the story of Jesus being born and dying. It seemed like that was the only reason to talk about Jesus. Preachers could make any sermon come around to the point of Jesus dying on the cross for your sins. But what if there’s more to the story of Jesus than that?

Let me affirm, that Jesus death on the cross and resurrection from the dead was incredibly important. Nothing I say should take away from the gravity and value of what Jesus did on our behalf, rather I think that the story of Jesus should add to the value of his sacrifice.

Jesus’ story is the story of Eden. Jesus came to call us back to a time in a garden where people walked with God in the cool of the day, to a time when shame and fear were unknown, to a time when love was assumed and hope was an ever-present reality. Jesus came to open our eyes to the moment when God surveyed all of creation, crowned with the formation of humanity, and he declared it to be very good. God walked among people in Eden and then didn’t do it again until Bethlehem (or crawling, I guess).
The story of Jesus doesn’t stop, however, with the death and resurrection of Jesus. He didn’t give up on his vision of God walking with people when he was nailed to the cross. He didn’t abandon the vision of Eden when he was crucified. Jesus is clear that the story continues, and even gets better, with the coming of the one after him. As he’s giving comfort to his disciples toward the end of his life, Jesus says to them: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14.16-17)

Did you catch it? The story continues. Jesus work doesn’t end with Jesus. He tells his disciples clearly that he came to show them the Father and that now the Spirit (from the Father) will be within them. The Spirit will be within us too. But, the world won’t know or accept the Spirit who is unseen. Jesus came to make the Father known so that the disciples could accept the Spirit.

Our story is to make the Father known so others can accept the Spirit. We, through the Spirit, have stepped into the role of Jesus. We continue the story that he started. No, we’re not dying for the sins of the world. Instead, we’re living to show them Eden. We’re living to show them what it is to walk with the Father as a friend, to show what it is to live in community without shame, to show what it is to love each other fully.
What’s your story saying?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Envision the Gospel - Technology

Making the good news of Jesus a present reality is, in some ways, the same as it’s always been. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Give a cup of water to the thirsty, bread to the hungry, clothes to the naked and comfort to the captives. But, with the technology available to us, there are myriad more ways that we can show the good news of Jesus as a present reality. Connecting through social media and the internet allows us to share more news and more relationships more quickly. We have huge opportunities available, but if we don’t use them, we will likely be used by them. We can’t escape the effects of the internet and social media, so we must become a part of the process.

Good news is always in contrast to the brokenness of the world. Good news is other, apart, it stands as a critique of brokenness. As Michelangelo is to have said: “I critique by making something beautiful.” Good news, however, can’t be fully separate from what it critiques. The criticism isn’t valid if it comes from outside, but good news critiques from within. We are, as Jesus prayed, in the world yet not of it. We are a part of social media, but we don’t become consumed by it. We are a part of the online community, but we don’t live by the values of the internet.

Social media is voyeuristic and narcissistic, when taken to its extreme. One’s own opinion is the highest authority and generating comments is the highest aim. This doesn’t lend itself to real dialog or deep connections. Good news, in contrast, sees “not only your own interest, but also the interest of others.” If you’re willing to give up your status in social media, you can engage in real dialog. But you will have to admit when you’re wrong and admit when other people have opinions that are better than yours. It takes grace and love to interact online in that way. You can also develop a sense for when people are expressing hurt online and reach out to them. Send a private message to someone who appears to be struggling, or better yet, ask them out to lunch and have a conversation with them.
The internet is a black hole of selfishness, among its many faults. Finding ways to bring a selfless attitude to online interaction is an important way to communicate the good news – to help people see tangible evidence of good news – even online.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Envision the Gospel

Good news is what Jesus came to share. He said that his purpose was to tell the good news that the kingdom of God is near. The good news if a reversal of the curse, an undoing of the damage that sin has done. That damage is so ingrained into creation that the only solution is a re-creation, a re-making of what God once made so that again, he can call it good. But Jesus didn’t put the re-creation as a wholly future prospect, he came with immediate, palpable evidence that God wants to renew and re-create.

The renewal took shape in feeding hungry and caring for the poor people in the world. Jesus rejected the damaged world of social inequality and demonstrated the good news of humanity treating each other humanely. Jesus rejected the damage of disease by bringing healing. He rejected the damage of dogmatic religion by breaking down the power structures in the religious world and replacing them with discipleship and reconciliation.
Jesus’ work provided us a way to see good news, not just to hear about it, but to see it in action. God’s ultimate goal for us is to be re-created, renewed and reborn, but Jesus came to make that future an immediate reality. Not completely, no, but now. Jesus died, in part, because the world was still broken and damaged; it rejected his message of good news like a sick body rejects a transplanted organ that could save it. But Jesus still wants for us to make the good news known, not just the theory, not just the future, but to envision the gospel right here and right now.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Conversation vs. Conversion - Story

One of the largest differences between a conversation and a conversion attempt is the presence (or lack) of story. Conversations give you a chance to share stories, compare stories and join in each other's stories. Conversion attempts have one narrative and it's non-negotiable.

If I'm attempting to convert you, I have to stick to my story and I can't give any power or credence to yours. Every time your story comes up I have to tear it apart to show how my story is better. Whenever you talk, I'm not thinking about what you're saying, I'm just thinking about how I can turn it back to my story. Conversion isn't a very friendly way to interact.

But a conversation allows two stories to merge. I get to share my story and you get to share your story. We're both interested in building each other up and appreciating the value that we bring with our stories. When you're talking I can just think about your story and how what you're saying relates to the rest of your experience. I enjoy looking for ways that our stories overlap and coincide. Conversation is the posture of friendship.

Jesus was a master of story. He told stories and he listened to people's stories. He sat at dinner and talked with people that no one else would hear (Zacheus in Luke 19), because he was interested in conversation and story. If you notice, Jesus never pushed people to convert. He listened and loved them. He pushed people, but it was for conversation. Jesus boldly invited himself over to Zacheus' house -- he was kind of pushy about it. But the result was Zacheus joining in Jesus' story.

How can you invite people -- boldy -- to conversation?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Conversation vs. Conversion - Your Job

What is your job in this whole process?

If you see it as your job to convince people that you're right and they're wrong, to attack false beliefs and set people straight on the true path, then you want to try and convert people. I had that job once, it's called "sales." I did not like being a sales person, it just doesn't line up with my personality. I don't like pushing people to make a decision.* That's part of the reason that I wasn't a very good sale person. I liked the product that I sold (computers, if you must know), but not so much that I wanted to get pushy with people. I loved the part of the job were I could train people to use their computers better and help them solve problems.

If you see your job as helping people to solve their own problems and walking with them to learn how to do life better, then you are a conversationalist. You want to engage in the process rather than just aiming for the end result. Conversation is never quick. It's never the fastest way to convince someone of your point. It takes time to listen, process, share and just be still. Conversation is never quick, but it's the best way to begin to change someone's mind.

But, in the end, it's not really your job to change minds. Are you so vain that you think that your 15 minutes of talking can undo a lifetime of beliefs? That's really what we believe if we try to convert people. We think that our words are so much better than the beliefs that people hold that they will be convinced by the words alone. So, we either have a high opinion of our own words or a very low opinion of the people we're talking to. Rather, if we take the time to engage in conversation, we can walk with people through changes at their own pace and when they're ready. We don't force things, we sense things. We learn to see when people are looking for change and we are available in that process.

How can you learn to do your job better?

* Sales is not a bad thing. I know plenty of people in sales who have amazing hearts and do their jobs for the good of other people. I'm reflecting on my experience, not trying to say that sales is bad or that sales people are bad.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Conversation vs. Conversion - Disagreement

One major difference between conversation and conversion is that conversion is only attempted when there's a fundamental disagreement. You don't need to convert someone who already believes what you believe. Conversation, however, can easily happen between two people who agree or between people who disagree. It doesn't matter what the positions of the people are, the discussion can still happen.

So if you start off with an attempt to convert someone or by trying to undermine the other person's position, you're already starting off from the perspective of conversion. If most people are like me, they don't want to be converted. I know that I don't want to launch into a situation where I'm told that what I think is wrong. I'm happy with what I think (otherwise I wouldn't be thinking it), and for someone to tell me that I'm wrong is, at the first offensive and even if I am wrong, it's a lot of work to change my mind about something. I imagine most people are the same way.

Conversation is much easier. You can present your thoughts and I can present my thoughts and we don't have to come to the same conclusions. There is space for both of us to think, feel and believe what we want.* In conversation there is space for one or both of us to be wrong. We aren't required to put limits on things or to define things, within the conversation. What this ends up doing, in the long run, is allowing you to speak bluntly, even boldly about what you believe and why you believe it, because you aren't framing things in the context of a competition where the end result is a winner and a loser. You're framing them in the context of relationship where each of you gets to share equally without making any demands on the other person. When this happens, your words have more power to change than if you were to win a debate.

Remember, it's not your job to convert people. It's your job to love people.

* I'm not advocating a moral or theological philosophy from this approach. I think that, in the end, there is truth and we can find it and it lives in the person of Jesus. We don't, however, need to make that the basis of every interaction.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Conversation vs. Conversion - Online

In online forum, when a conversation devolves into arguing and then from arguing into nasty insults, it's called a flame war. For a conversation to escalate to this scale in real life, it takes quite a bit of time and energy, but online it can happen in moments. Instead of seeing opportunities for conversation, internet provides countless chances at competition and attempts at conversion. It's a very polarizing place.

True conversation needs several things to happen.

  • You need to be known. You can't use a pseudonym or screen name that obscures who you are. You need to have your words tied to your identity. 
  • You need to listen. If anything, the internet has taught us how to be adept at skimming lots of text (you're skimming right now, admit it), but if you want to engage in real dialog, start by listening and then reflect what you heard in your own words.
  • Write like you would speak. Most of us don't shout very often, so avoid using the Caps Lock key -- the internet's equivalent of shouting. If you aren't actually laughing out loud, don't use the abbreviation (lol) to make it seem as if you are. And easy way to test what you've written for conversational tone is to just read it out loud. If it sounds natural, then it's probably good to go. 
  • Make space for other people's opinions. Instead of making absolute statements, make qualified statements. Talk about what you think and feel. For example, don't say: "The [Political Party] are ruining everything with their [Policy or Action]." Instead say: "I'm frustrated by how this [Policy or Action] is affecting me." See, you aren't attacking people or points of view, just expressing your opinion.
  • Be willing to be wrong. This might be the most difficult step in conversation since we are all sure that we're right. But your whole life you've been wrong. Your parents corrected you, your teachers corrected you and your bosses corrected you. It's alright to let your peers correct you to. You aren't always right -- and neither am I -- so don't try to be. 
What else is necessary for true conversation online? 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Conversation vs. Conversion

Have you ever had someone try to tell you that your opinion is wrong? It's often an amusing experience to have your subjective feelings scrutinized and evaluated as if you might change them base upon superior logic. My wife doesn't like coffee, she never has, but we live in the Pacific Northwest where coffee is part religion, part art. Whenever anyone finds out that she doesn't like coffee they try to convert her. Invariably someone'll say: "Buy you just need to try my coffee." As if Andrea has been trying the wrong coffee all this time and all it would take is a switch in brand.

There's a stark difference between being in a conversation and having someone try to convert you. A conversation gives you the opportunity to share your opinion without feeling judged for it, but a conversion attempt calls into question everything you've ever believed. It's not comfortable to be in the conversion seat, especially when there are a lot of people trying to convert you. Something as innocuous as coffee preference is mildly annoying for my wife. But, when the subject is something core to who you are, like your world-view, then the experience is quite a bit more uncomfortable.

Subjecting people to a conversion experience leaves no room for relationship or conversation. Trying to convert someone assumes that you are 100% right and they are 100% wrong. There are times when that might be true - you might try to convert someone to stop poking themselves in the eye with a sharp stick because you are completely confident that it's bad for them. That's a good candidate for conversion. But worldviews are a bit trickier to tackle. Rather than telling people that they're absolutely wrong, perhaps we could spend some time in conversation listening to why they think they're right.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Relationship through Technology - Unplug

Sometimes the best way to develop a relationship is by getting rid of the technology altogether. You can make hundreds of friends on Facebook and keep in touch with dozens of people at once through texting, but at the end, those relationships can only go as deep as words on a screen can take them - and that's not very deep.

So much of human communication transcends words. Our tone and body language communicate far more than our simple words. Touch, eye contact and posture say more and work better to develop relationships than any number of text messages ever could.

Use the tools of technology to get face-to-face with people. Set up times to meet where you can let the relationship flourish. Use technology in public places where you will get the chance to see people face-to-face and connect with them.

If you'll excuse me, I need to head down to the coffee shop.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Social Media and Riots

There have been continuing riots plaguing England over the last several days. The young, often poor rioters have been organized through texting and social media sites (like Facebook and Twitter). Because of their organization the rioters have been able to keep ahead of the police forces and move to new areas when the police begin to close in on their activities.

So, one of the solutions proposed by Prime Minister Cameron is to shut down the mobile texting services and social networks until order has been restored. That begs the question of whether or not these services are protected as free speech and what role they play in the fomentation of social unrest.

It wasn't all that long ago that Twitter was being lauded for its role in helping citizens of Egypt and Iran have a voice when the government wouldn't let them speak otherwise. Some even went so far as to provide dial-up numbers for people to call to circumvent the censorship of governments. The freedom of speech for the citizens of those countries was preserved by social media and oppressed people were given a voice that otherwise would have been quelled.

On the other hand, the rioters in England are burning, looting and attacking police. They are angry, ostensibly about the drastic spending cuts that reduce public money available to help the poorest citizens of Britain. But the anger is being translated into violence rather than peaceful protests. They are hurting people because they have been hurt themselves.

Does that give the government the right to shut down social media and texting? Does the abuse of the users dictate the availability of the service?

It gets to the point of whether the electronic communication is a right or a privilege. We're fine saying that freedom of speech extends to the spoken word and printed text, but these moments are testing whether the freedom extends to the internet and mobile devices as well. If Britain gives in to the pressure and blocks these avenues of communication, what will that spell for the future of free speech.

Is it worth the cost, as great as it is, of the rioters burning and looting, to preserve the freedom of speech?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Relationship through Technology - Unity

If you aren't the same person from one website to the next, how can anyone develop a relationship with you? The internet has an intoxicating sense of anonymity. It's tempting to be a different person online than you would be face-to-face. You might be more vocal in an argument or you might use different language than you would in person. Whatever the case, you are being a unified person. You are presenting one aspect of your personality on one site, another aspect on another site and still another aspect of yourself in person.

Instead, work toward unity. Be the same person online as you would be in person. If you wouldn't use certain language in real life or you wouldn't argue a certain way, then don't do it online. One way that you can nudge yourself this way is to use your real name when you sign up for web services and to use a recognizable picture of yourself. This picture is the one that I try to use across all of my online presences. That way if someone finds my blog and then they find me on Facebook they can know it's the same person.

Because I try to be unified online, there are things I just don't post. There are comments I don't make. Even though they go through my head, I self-censor. My online personality is a public thing. I try to avoid saying anything online that I wouldn't say to a crowded room of acquaintances.

Unity of personality online is difficult. It takes effort and discipline, but the result is deeper, more-real relationships online.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Relationship through Technology - Disconnecting

As much at technology allows us to connect with each other, it also provides a barrier that can disconnect us. It's not uncommon to see a group of teens sitting silently and all texting each other. It's easy to find the scene of two people sitting at a coffee shop together and both engrossed in their own computer, rather than talking to each other. Even in the online world, technology can provide a boundary to real relationship and connection.

You may see someone every day on Facebook, but just because you read the status they put up, doesn't mean you really know what's going on in their lives. You may have an idea about the activities that they are participating in, but it's not easy to get to know people for who they really are through online communication. The internet provides one dimension of communication -- the words. All of the tone and body language are removed from the equation and only the words are left. Typically what happens then is that you will insert the tone you expect to hear based on the words you see. If you expect someone is complaining or being sarcastic, you'll mentally add that tone to the words online. So what you end up with is a connection to the person you imagine is writing the words, rather than the actual person. It's not until you spend a significant amount of time with people in real life that you have a firm picture of who they are that can inform your image of them online.

Technology has myriad ways of disconnecting us, but that doesn't mean that it's bad. It just needs to be used with caution. Fire can burn down your house and kill your family, but it can also heat your home and cook the food to feed your family. Don't blame the tool, just learn to use it well and appropriately for building relationships.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Relationship through Technology - Connecting

There are different social spaces and corresponding relationships (I've mentioned this before).

  1. Public - Anonymous to surface-level relationships. Large personal bubble. Crowd sized group.
  2. Social - Surface-level to friendship relationships. Smaller personal bubble. Some sharing conversation. 15-50 group
  3. Personal - Friends to good-friends. Smallest personal bubble. Deep conversation. 3-12 group.
  4. Intimate - Closest friends and spouse. No personal bubble. Deep sharing. 1 or 2 people besides you in the group.
Strangers are in the public space. Acquaintances are in the social space, friends are in the personal space and family is in the intimate space. As you meet people and develop a relationship with them, you move from one space to the next. Strangers become acquaintances and move from public to social space. The deeper the relationship, the smaller the relational space. So, if you're wanting to become closer friends with people, you need to manage the spaces in which you interact with them. 

I know this can sound like it's not natural, if you're calculating the growth of the relationship it seems fake somehow. But, think about dating. If you're like me, you calculated the dating encounters. I remember seeing Andrea (my wife) across the campus when we were just starting school. I liked her, but she was a stranger. Then we both happened to attend an ice cream social (social space) where I made it a point to introduce myself and talk to her. Things went well, so I asked her out on a date (personal space). It's a natural thing to work on moving relationships from one space to the next, but we aren't quite sure how to fit the space of the internet into the equation. 

Friday, August 05, 2011

Story and Good News - Resolution

While I was in Miss Benoit's English class as a Freshman in high school, I learned a French word: denoument. It's the way to say that the story is done. Things have come to a conclusion. It's the "happily ever after" moment.

It's not that every story should end with everything happy and fantastic, but that stories are meant to resolve. The come to a close. That's why a cliff-hanger is so effective. When you're watching a TV show and Jack Bauer is about to disarm the bomb (or explode) and the end credits appear before you can find out what happens, you are longing for a denoument. Since human brains work in stories, the move toward resolution is like gravity. We seek it, either consciously or unconsciously, we move toward resolution as quickly as we can.

Seeking resolution isn't bad, but in our desire to wrap up stories, we can move toward the quickest resolution rather than the best resolution. We want the story to be done, so we avoid conflict that might lengthen the story, even if it would make the resolution that much better. We avoid pain or cost so we can get to the denoument that much faster.

Everything is abbreviated when we communicate online. The words are more spare and the timeline is shortened. It's scary to leave a story in conflict when you're online. The fragile fa├žade of online relationships doesn't seem like it can withstand the uncertainty of delayed resolution. But if online relationships are ever going to move to something more, become less than superficial acquaintances, then engaging in real conflict and waiting for real resolution is an important step.

When you're hurting, you don't have to put it behind you immediately. You don't have to put on a good face for the people online. If you aren't at a resolution, don't pretend to be. Hurt for as long as you need to. Process as long as it takes. Come to denoument on your own terms in your own time.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Story and Good News - Journey

Once you have a setting and a conflict in your story it's time for the journey. This is the move from conflict to resolution. It takes movement to get to a resolution. If the main character in a story is motionless, there is no hope for resolution and therefore no story. But when the movement starts, the story begins to flow.

If we are going to join others in story and let them see our story, then we need to be willing to move and to move with them. We admit that we aren't finished, we aren't at the resolution of our story, but we are (hopefully) moving in that direction. When we're willing to move it lets other people feel comfortable moving too.

One way to apply this in communication, and specifically online communication, is that we can't hold, unswerving to our point of view. No matter how firm our belief, if we're on a journey, we need to be willing to move.

Here's what I'm NOT saying: I'm not suggesting that you give up your beliefs or that you become a moral relativist. I'm not telling you to be wishy-washy about your trust in God.

What I am saying is that you should be open to growth. You don't believe the same things now as you did when you were five years old. You, at some point, learned that Santa Claus is pretend (I hope, otherwise I just ruined it for you). You're on a journey of learning about yourself and learning about God. What I'm saying is that you should let other people see that journey and join you in the process. What you believe now, at this moment, is the result of your whole life leading up to this point. It's the product of your story.

Don't be afraid of showing your doubts when you're online. They are a part of your journey. For the same reason we have books in the bible like Lamentations, Habakkuk, Job and Psalms. A faithful life is not always a sure life and it's definitely not a static life. Bad things happen and good things happen and the faithful person journeys through all of it with God. The journey isn't always one of understanding, but it's one of trust.

Share that process. Share your journey. Share your story.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Story and Good News - Conflict

A story is nothing without conflict. It's a collection of pretty words, but not a story. In addition to having a setting, all stories tell of some sort of conflict. It might be the good prince fighting the dragon to save the princess or the old woman fighting her internal demons to become a whole person again, but there must be conflict for it to be a story.

Seek out conflict. I'm not saying that you should pick fights with people, but that you shouldn't avoid conflict. Running away from conflict is the same as running away from your story. Somehow we've gotten this idea that avoiding conflict is more like Jesus. We're told to "turn the other cheek." But that's not really the point that Jesus was making with that statement. He was saying to not use physical violence to enforce your rights as a person, but he was also saying that when someone is trying to take away your rights through violence, you stand there and look them in the eye. You refuse to be made into less. You seek conflict with them.

There's a difference between conflict and fighting. Conflict is when two people or groups disagree about something and engage in that disagreement. Fighting is when that disagreement is turned into a competition where there must be a winner and a loser. Too often conflicts devolve into fights, especially online. The faceless people making statements on the internet can just say anything to win the argument for their side, and so you feel like you can too. But fighting never produces resolution or reconciliation. Fighting only produces losers. Sure, you might win one, or even several fights, but eventually you will lose. That's the cost of fighting.

Healthy conflict, however, sees differences as a ground for discussion and exploration. Good marriages thrive on healthy conflict where differences are discussed and dealt with. There doesn't have to be a winner and a loser, both sides can share what they think and feel about the situation and then, together, you can come to a resolution. This takes time, practice and the willingness to understand someone else's point of view. We have to admit that we might be wrong. We might be right, but there's also the good chance that we might be wrong too.

Healthy conflict online is a powerful way to tell the story of good news. Take the time to truly understand other people's positions. Learn about why other people think what they do. Take the time to research and grasp why people think that you're wrong (that doesn't mean you are wrong). Maybe they have a few points that you need to hear. Unless you're willing to hear their points, they won't be willing to hear yours.

The truth is that some people will never be willing to hear your point in online conflict. They only want to fight. Don't engage in fights. If it looks like someone is just trying to be combative with you, stop. Don't engage with them anymore. It's a waste of your time and it only feeds their desire to fight. But when you find people who are truly willing to have a conversation to deal with conflict, you can share a part of your story with them and, perhaps, some good news.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Story and Good News - Sharing

The human brain thinks in stories. Remember back to the best sermon you've ever heard. What was it that you remember? Most people will key in on a story. Some example that connects and humanizes the message. Jesus loved to teach in stories. Our childhoods are replete with stories. All of which hope to make a point beyond just a simple narrative.

Brains are connection machines. They thrive on making connections between multiple regions. So you have a language center and a visual center and an emotional center. Within those regions you have even more specific areas that deal with, for example, the nouns you use in language and the lines you see and happiness that you feel. Each region of your brain is tiny and can't do much on its own, but when you connect all of the things together into the word, "cake" you create this whole image filled with your context (your story) and emotion. The simple lines on the screen make connections all throughout your brain and fill your head with an image - maybe it's a cake with candles on it as you're about to celebrate your birthday. Maybe it's a wedding cake being cut with your new spouse. Maybe it's the cake that they served at your grandmother's funeral. The simple collection of lines on a page evokes a huge amount of meaning because your brain connects things together.

Stories are connection devices. Stories fit our brains like a key in a lock. Instead of just sharing the facts of something, we share a story. We regale with the saga of our journey to the land of Garage Sale to find the Epic Deal. The facts may be simple, but when we provide all of the connections - emotions, memory, etc. - then our simple Saturday morning becomes a story to share. And retelling the story cements those connection in our brains and in the brains of others. Stories are meant to be shared and re-shared.

Connecting with people is about sharing stories with them, creating space for shared stories and a shared context. Use communication as a tool to connect and share.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Story and Good News - Setting

Stories start with a setting. It might be as simple as "Once upon a time" or as profound as "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." But every story starts with a setting. It's important to think about the settings of stories when we use technology to communicate. Technology removes much of the context for the communication, we don't have the body language or tone of the spoken word. We lack knowledge of a book's author and publisher giving us clues about the content. Words on the internet are voiceless, faceless and without most of the context of other words that we encounter in our lives, so we need to spend even more time providing a setting and inviting people to engage in story with us.

Fighting against us is the temptation to be anonymous. The internet provides this sense of security and invulnerability. We can be anyone we want and say anything we want without fear of repercussions in our regular life. It can be intoxicating to give vent to frustration in online conversations. But what ends up happening is that we divorce ourselves from our stories. We might invent a new story, but we are using the internet to ignore and avoid the story of who we are and how we've gotten to this point in life.

At first it feels liberating to be set free from the bonds of our story. We don't have to claim our mistakes. We don't have to own up to our failures. We can be bold online when we're timid in real life. We can be brash instead of bashful. It's a sense of liberty that numbs us to our real story and to the way that our story touches those around us. We aren't who we are in spite of our history, but because of it. Every mistake has shaped our story. Hiding from the story is hiding from ourselves. It's a numbing tactic every bit as crippling, in the long run, as getting drunk or high.

Stories are what bring us together as a community. When we lose the setting of our story and the shared context with the people around us, we lose out on community.