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Monday, November 19, 2012

Celebrating Death

You may not be able to tell, but that picture is of me catching Ryan Woods after he swung across a gap on a ropes course at Camp Yamhill. Yesterday we celebrated his life and mourned his death.

One of my first memories of Ryan is from youth group games. I was a college volunteer and he was in high school. We'd play games at a weekly church gathering. Almost invariably, Ryan would look for a way to bend or break the rules. He never saw the rules as confining. Instead, he found ways to work around them to get what he wanted.

At first it frustrated me. I was supposed to keep these kids in line; I was supposed to be an authority. But Ryan's joyful flouting of the rules taught me that people are more important than rules. I'm still trying to move that lesson from my head to my heart.

Ryan kept breaking the rules for the sake of people. You can read his story about life, cancer and death here. It's raw, honest, thoughtful and blunt. People aren't supposed to be that transparent on the internet. But Ryan was and it touched thousands of people.

Yesterday, as I was listening to stories about Ryan, it occurred to me that his powerful affect on people came out of his belief that embracing awkwardness doesn't hurt relationships, it helps them. Of course this is a naive belief; sophisticated people avoid awkwardness at all costs. But his naivete let him touch and bless many people who were invited to embrace the awkwardness with him.

That's hard for me. I don't like being awkward. It terrifies me. I want to be right. I want to be sophisticated, not naive. Being right and sophisticated, however, doesn't do much to help relationships. Naive awkwardness does.

Today I'm celebrating Ryan's life and taking fearful steps toward embracing awkwardness.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Inclusive or Exclusive Dialog

If you're having a conversation on Facebook, you can take steps to make it exclusive or inclusive. Your tone and content have much to do with how your conversations are perceived.

If you want to make sure your conversation is exclusive, use church phrases, quote scripture and write a long post.

Church Phrases
You know the kind. The words that drip of church-speak are phrases that you wouldn't hear in a movie or at coffee shop. They are insider language and keep your dialog from including people who don't speak the same language.

If you quote scripture, you are automatically excluding anyone who doesn't think the bible is the word of God. That's fine if you want to only have conversations with others who also believe in the bible, but if you want to have dialog with people outside your church context, then avoid leading off with scripture. It takes a faith-commitment to believe that the bible has any meaning beyond an interesting ancient text. Inclusive dialog doesn't ask people to make a faith commitment to be a part of the conversation.

Long Facebook posts are off-putting. I know that I rarely will read a status update that's longer than a few sentences. One or two lines is ideal. The longer your post, the fewer people will read it and fewer still will comment on it. Look at it this way. If you want to have a monologue, go ahead and put up a long post. You'll get to speak your piece, but you may not get much interaction. However, if you want to have a dialog, keep it short and, if possible, ask a question.

However you want to post on Facebook is fine. But if you want to have inclusive conversation, you need to avoid long, scripture-laden, churchy-sounding status updates.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

How to Deal with Election Results on Facebook

One Mike Birbiglia offers, what is probably, the best advice for using social media after this election:
"What I should have said was nothing."
Sure you can delete a status or comment, but people will still see it. Whether you think it's good or bad, when you express your raw emotions online, there's a good chance that it will go poorly.

I think the emotional release of social media might be its most tempting and damaging aspect. We all feel emotions in response to events. We celebrate when we perceive things are good. We grieve when we perceive things are bad. We're angry when we perceive things are unjust. This is good and normal. We're emotional people and our emotions help us to process life.

The problem comes when we don't use emotions as a tool to help us process, but instead just air them in public.

See, if someone makes me mad I can process the emotions in private, vent to my wife, think about what I'm going to say and then go and confront (or not) them. That's typically a healthy way to let emotions be a part of the process of life. They alert us to a need and motivate us to address it. If the need is justice, the anger helps to motivate us to act.

But, emotions by themselves can be damaging when they aren't a part of a process that looks at the purpose and the desired outcome. If you're mad right now, you might not be able to think about what you'd like to change or why you want to make the change. But through the process of talking about it and reflecting (and cooling off), you can figure out those things and make some productive steps.

Facebook, and other social media, tend to remove the processing time and give people the chance to just vent their emotions. What was once a private action is now in public. What was once a preliminary step toward purposeful activity is now the end.

I'm glad that people feel strongly. I want to embrace and use our emotions, not avoid them. But jumping the gun and just cutting loose with emotional outbursts isn't the right answer.

Look at your Facebook feed today. If it's like mine it probably has about equal numbers of people complaining about the election results and celebrating them. Those emotional reactions are natural but, in this case, not helpful.

More than that, the people who jump in to say, "Don't worry" or "God is in control" or "Keep calm and carry on" aren't adding anything either. Instead the din of emotional outbursts is increased. People's emotions are made to seem invalid and everyone feels the need to turn up the volume.

So for today, I'm not going to say anything about the election. That may seem weird because I've been creating some great dialog leading up to the election, but the heightened emotional state right now is antithetical to dialog.

Maybe, before you post that tirade, celebration or pious chastisement you should stop and decide if it would be better to just say nothing.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Winning and Losing Online

It's nearly here. This long campaign season culminates tomorrow in the election. Until now there has only been conflict between the positions. Tomorrow there will be winners and losers.

There aren't many conflicts where ultimate winners and losers are decided. Even when a team loses in sports, there's always the hope for next year or the explanation of how circumstances conspired to cause the defeat. But after the voting tomorrow, there will (most likely) be official, uncontrovertible winners and losers declared.


Remember that if your initiative, referendum or candidate wins on Tuesday that doesn't make you right. It just means you chose to vote the same way that others did. Our political process is about a cycle of dialog and action. We've been through the dialog, now we're approaching the time for action. Winning the election doesn't mean the dialog is over, just paused for a time while action can happen. We'll take up the conversation again, evaluate the action and figure out the best way to move forward. It's what we do. 

But winning the election doesn't make you better than the people who lost. It just puts you on the side of the people who are now empowered to act. 


Remember that if your vote is cast on the losing side Tuesday, that doesn't make you wrong. It just means you chose to vote the way that others did. In the process of dialog and action, now is your time to reflect for further dialog. The people chose a different plan from what you think is right. Now we're going to test that plan in the fire of action. But the dialog isn't over, we're just putting it on hold for a time. We need you to keep the conversation going so we can fairly evaluate our actions.

Losing the election doesn't make you worse than the people who won. It just puts you on the side of the people who are now needed to evaluate.


So many people have poured time and effort in to winning on election day. But what we need is engagement after that. We need all the voices to be a part of the dialog going forward and all the hands to be a part of the action. 

No matter how you voted regarding marriage, we need to you to continue working to make marriages healthy. Work in your community with the people around you to build strong marriages. 

No matter how you voted regarding the President, we need you to continue working to strengthen the economy and help people without jobs. 

No matter how you voted regarding abortion, we need to you to continue working to help prevent unwanted pregnancy and to provide clear, healthy, safe options for women. 

No matter how you voted, no matter who or what wins, we need you to keep working. Your vote isn't the most important thing you can give, your life is. Devote your actions to the issues that you're so passionately campaigning for right now. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Why Facebook is the Best Place for Conversations

With just days until the election, many people are disavowing Facebook as a worthless sink of political fighting that's not worth the time. So many people are espousing politically intransigent views that belittle others that it can seem like Facebook is a wasteland. The volume is so high on the noise that the signal of real conversation is nearly lost.

It seems that Facebook is a terrible place for conversations. My opinion is that Facebook is the best place. Here's why.

Facebook offers a range of thoughts and opinions that are not available in most other formats. The ability to bring together disparate viewpoints in person is difficult on a regular basis, but friend groups online can span the spectrum of political and religious thought.

Facebook gives you a the time to share your thoughts at your pace. When conversing in person, it's easy to let the speed of the dialog short-circuit the thought process. You want to get out your next point, they want to get out their next point and you keep speeding each other up until the actual conversation degrades into the basic issues. But online there's the time to slow down and consider what each person is saying (and delete rash comments before they're sent into the fray).

Facebook lets others see your conversation and benefit from it. There are many people who don't comment on Facebook, but instead read what other people are up to. I've had numerous people tell me, in person, that my online conversations have been encouraging to them. They don't comment, but they read what's said. Your thoughtful, engaging dialog can show more people that it's possible to have civil conversations in this divided time.

What do you think? Is Facebook a good place for deep conversations?