Tag Archives: communication

I’m still reading email while Trump can’t stop tweeting

One of my New Years resolutions this year was to write a letter each week to a significant person in my life. I mean a poorly-scribbled, pen-to-paper letter. (And you may be saying, “So where’s my letter?!”) I also use Facebook messenger, texting, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, and all sorts of other innovations. But, like so many people, social media is losing its lustre in my eyes. The platform seems to dull connection rather than heighten them. So I am trying to get more basic.  I have my own farm-to-table approach to communication; I want those I love to know who grew their note in a palpable way — I sign my letters with my own hand.

More devices, less communication

The more communication devices we have, the more distance there seems to be in the world. Some days the disconnection we experience in the church is palpable. We are getting forced apart by choices to connect at minimal levels with quick, minimal devices [old Sherry Turkle Ted talk]. As a church, we keep talking about this surplus-opportunity- yet-dearth of communication all the time. Because we are fully adapted to the devices and the  social networks that dominate them, and we wonder if they will quench the Spirit, if they haven’t already. The newness contained in one cell phone (which is probably giving you cancer) is downright terrifying. Facing the overwhelming pressure of rapacious capitalism applied to communication is hard to combat. But Trump’s tweets are sending people for the doors — he’s so bad we can’t miss how the systems are set up to abuse us.

Image result for anza-borrego desert
Anza-Borrego State Park

Some people among Circle of Hope advocate severely restricting all use of machines to interact. They have a point. And I am not judging them when I note, “There are Amish in every age of the church.” Lord knows I often wish I were living off the grid in the Anza-Borrego desert somewhere collecting dew for my garden. And I am back to handwriting letters! So I relate to that application of “resist and restore.” Newness is usually suspicious and often frightening. The Amish said “enough” in about the 1880’s.  But I think we have to admit that the newest form of the same old evil is much scarier than the old evil to which we already conformed. For instance, the old school farming practices of the Amish pollute the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They might feel righteous for not adapting to new ways, but their old ways had some evil in them too.

I am usually more on the other side of the argument. I want the latest technology with which to communicate and to work. I can’t get it fast enough. I am even Google-ized now. I even downloaded (and used!) Venmo this week. I want to discern what evil the technology  carries and resist it. But I also want to seize the opportunity it gives me and use it. As a church, talking about technology is hard. We have been talking about coming up with a “theology of technology” for years. But we can’t quite get there. I suppose it is because we are like Asian carp — too busy adapting to our new environment to think about what it means to be an invasive species.

1) We’re too busy mastering the changing technology. We don’t have time to think about whether we have anything to say about it. That’s pretty scary since it means that the technology already runs us, we don’t run it. [Not over Smashing Pumpkins].
2) We are too small-minded to have a group project like coming up with our own thoughts about what new technology means to us. We are doing very individualized stuff and don’t see group thinking as possible. Our thoughts can be as small as our screens. If you wonder why we can’t connect and break up shortly after we do, don’t underestimate how technology has atomized us and how we have adapted to the illusion of togetherness the media perpetrates. We are sitting ducks for huge forces because we inept at getting together in real time.

Seven years ago, a 25-year old blogger from the East Village wrote down seven things a twentysomething can’t do. Now he’s 32, but I think things may have become even more pronounced. Six of his seven things had to do with building decent relationships, mostly about communicating. We’re all losing our capacity to connect. We want to do it. The many devices we are being sold to communicate could increase our ability to connect, and in some great ways, they have. For instance, I really like texting about where I am and when we are meeting, and about what laundry detergent to buy. But my experience is that people who fully commit to the phone screen for communicating are too small to really do it. They may be wired, but they are not always connected.

My “big” discipline: read email

The powers are determined to make us all rats in their cages. They dominate the devices and conform them to proper rat-usage. SO, I think we should sit down and read our email.

I admit, I don’t seem to know how to have this discussion yet. One time the Cell Leader Coordinators talked about it and they had what, for them, amounts to a spat. I said that I need to read my email on a big screen, which gives more honor to the writer and their art. I don’t think we should do major communicating as the body while we have ten seconds at a stoplight to scan an email or blog post.

I know, that mentality seems unrealistic, kind of Amish. Nevertheless, right now, part of my discipline of communicating is to read my properly filtered email, daily. As you know, I send quite a bit of it, as well. Circle of Hope feels like a major inbox loader for people who haven’t shut off notifications to their phone and feel like they are holding a pulsing, overstuffed screen in their hand. Some people unsubscribe from the Covenant List because they count it as clutter! Some of the cell leaders don’t even read the the info email from their pastor each week, or all the way through. Some of the Leadership Team don’t even take time to read emails they use to lead the church with some integrity and vision. It is a challenge to be that disciplined and committed, but it makes a difference as to whether we are knit together meaningfully.

These are four reasons I still read email and don’t  encourage people to use my cell phone for texting, even when I give them the number, unless it is a texting subject (like “tacos or pho?”).

1) I’m trying to communicate.

To me, communicating is about relating, not just data. I want to say something I actually thought about and receive a thoughtful reply. That seems more like love is growing in the world. I don’t want to merely pass out info and have data hogs sniff around to see if it is something they want to consume. Dialogue creates deeper community. When we can’t be face to face, heartfelt writing can be a decent replacement.

2) I want to hear more.

It is hard to keep up with my email. I would rather talk face to face or in a meeting or even over the phone (although I’m not always that great over the phone). But those ways of communicating are hard to keep up with too. Communicating is hard. But I still want to hear more and connect more with more people. To be the church, we need to listen to one another and listen to the Spirit in one another. That takes quite a bit of listening in quite a few ways.

[The opposite is also true, of course. If you are addicted to checking email because you think some life-altering message is in you inbox, that’s not so good. More is usually the enemy of something. Checking email more does not necessarily mean you are listening more. Here’s a link for the addicts.]

3) It is good to slow down and connect.

All this sounds kind of strange, I guess, coming from a person who was there when the original email was sent back in the 70’s. It was so amazingly fast then! Now, sitting down in front of a screen and composing something thoughtful and loving seems like it is kind of old fashioned. Maybe this is my nod to the “Amish” types. The new Amish-types are often people who still know how to write in a language other than textese.

Being alone, concentrating, and writing, are all good, meditative ways to be who we are in Christ and live a life of love. I am writing this with love, too. It takes time. Even as I write, I am facing the cost of acting this way — there seems to be so much to do! But the writing is helping me to be. The way you pause to read and respond is helping you to be, as well, I hope.

4) I am committed to good infrastructure that extends the kingdom.

At this point, email has been a great way to connect the disparate elements of Circle of Hope. Every year, as we grow larger and add more congregations, we have a big challenge to be one church. We are always pushed to be smaller units, if not just random individuals. Holding together by speaking the truth in love is a major counterattack on the powers that want to dominate us. Our cells and Sunday Meetings are the major ways we express our commitment to being an incarnation of Jesus. But by the time they are over they can instantly be run over my the next media avalanche. We need a daily means of togetherness. Our computers and email can help us if we think about what’s going on.

Hey, if you got this far in this blog post, I feel loved. Thanks. You honor me, like I have tried to honor you with my time and thinking. That is splendidly weird and Jesus-like, and it won’t go for nothing.

The G-kids teach me about communication

wedding, rod white, gwen white, fun, photo booth
The wedding had a photo booth. Is this picture worth a thousand words? (If not I have three more to try).

A whole day with a two-year-old and a five-year-old (including six hours in a van!) can be very educational. Naturally, I was educated about Circle of Hope. Our church is thinking through so many important things these days as we amp up for the future, that my mind is swimming with educable moments. One of the things the boys were teaching me is about communication.

Communication is key to connection, which is something every child wants and against which every child rebels—and that sounds just like Circle of Hope.

Theo is a babbling two-year-old. Completely cute and, if you have not learned his language (like Oliver has), almost completely incomprehensible (although I can always hear, for some reason, anything that sounds like “Papa”!). He made me think that we, as a church, are a lot like him. We’re like toddlers who are just getting language, but we don’t know how to use it that well. But we do a lot of talking: this website, the Way of Jesus site, at the Sunday Meetings, in circles of cells, blogs, the email lists. What is all this babbling about? Love. We want to connect. And, as Theo knows, connecting is not that easy.

Oliver, on the other hand, is an articulate five-year-old. He can recite the strangest factoids from the Discovery Channel—his father Googles his teaching to verify it! But at one point while we were waiting for the wedding ceremony to begin, I sent him on a mission to go around a nearby tree and come back (and use some energy he was saving up for a ceremony outburst!). He went to the tree and went around, around, and kept going around. Finally I shouted in a whisper voice, “You need to come back. They are going to start!” He looked at me as he was going around. Finally, to the amusement of the gathered guests, I got up and retrieved him. He also reminded me of Circle of Hope. There are plenty of us looking at each other, and at the “official” communication devices, and blankly ignoring them for a moment of differentiation, or just power grabbing. Who knows why we disconnect in plain sight like we do?

kids, child, children at marlton pike, circle of hope
Regulars at Marlton Pike attend a wedding

We’re like a big kid, this Circle of Hope. Some of us can’t wait to connect and are really trying to get heard, even frustrated when we are not understood. Some of us feel talked to quite enough and feel very sure of our place, even if we ignore the latest attempts to get in touch with us. We’re Theo connecting and Oliver ignoring every day. It was still a happy dayand Circle of Hope is pretty happy, too.

Last week we thought about hiring the Communication Director we put in our previous map. If we ever have the right person and have enough money that will be great. Because communication is key to love and we all need help with it. If that person ever gets hired, I guess they will be like me in this little picture I have been drawing. They’ll be the loving parent figure who is full of love and hope—hope that we’ll talk, hope that people will hear, hope that you’ll feel listened to, hope that you’ll be found when you are moving into some independence but still staying in earshot.

Participation: invitation or imposition?

So why am I writing my weekly blog post on December 29? For one thing, I should be out jogging off the extra five pounds I put on during the holiday. But for another thing, who in the world is going to sit down and read this post? It is December 29!

This is the bane of the info age, isn’t it? People are pumping out info from all the programs they use and then using their increasingly high-tech analytics to see if anyone is listening. The whole info machine is designed for people who want to participate. But does anyone want to participate?

Avoidance as a survival skill

I am not so sure people have the participation time or interest necessary for all the participatory things being pumped out. If I am any indication, a lot of us are not that interested in being wired up and analyzed all day. (That would make me “apathetic” on the analyst’s chart, I think). I think a lot of us are already on to the game and resist most of what is trying to get us to stop resisting and participate!

Pretty soon, I suppose we will all be required to participate just to get paid. And I don’t mean just do a job and get paid, I mean serve the ends of the product like you LOVE it. For instance, the newest business technique is to get all the corporation’s employees to be boosters online so advertising is organic and culture-creating. For instance, a consultant says: “a highly engaged workforce is also your most potent marketing tool to help build, promote, and evangelize your brand.” Tweet the product, pin it, post it, Instagram it. Capitalism meets social media. You”ll wake up in the morning and type up some cute thing your boss at Halliburton said so people will see the human side of Deepwater Horizon.

When a lot of us get wind of all that requirement our response already is, “Whoever, meet my blank screen. I’m out.” One of my friends says that the major psychological trait of the present generation (unlike the narcissism of the Boomers) is avoidance. Is the main communication skill required these days managing to avoid all that communication?

info overload

Can Jesus hope for participation?

I am especially interested in this because I am a communicator (I am typing this on Dec. 29, after all), and we, as Circle of Hope, have come up with a very participatory kind of church and a map for 2015 that requires a lot of participation which will mean a lot of communicating. Did we just get organized for a generation that is not interested in listening for more than 140 characters? — or, even more, who don’t listen at all, just consume images?

I think we might be that weird.

The corporations are actually going to try to steal our word “evangelism” and apply it to consumer offerings, as if what they produce will save people. So that’s one thing. But the other thing is that everyone with a smartphone (almost 60% of the population and escalating) already has skills in blocking out unwanted material, which is most of what’s coming at them. Yet here we are asking inundated people to believe we are not just branding Jesus and believe they should participate in his mission like the valued people they are.

How do you think that is going to work out?

We are the media

The other day at our pastor’s meeting we were talking about communication and all the different ways we try to hold together and influence the world as a network of cells and congregations in Christ. We are pretty good at holding together and influencing the world, but it is difficult.

In the middle of an elaborate dialogue about how we can best communicate, we had a little “Pentecost.” It centered on Facebook. We started talking about what Facebook makes us do to talk to people: how it restricts us, how it commodifies us, and how it tries to use us to make money. We asked, “Why are we doing this? What monster are we paying to communicate? What rules are we learning for relating?”

Someone said, “Why don’t we just desert it and stop using the medium and focus on being the medium? We already have a great communication system. It is called living in community. Let’s focus on being the media, not on conforming to some other rubric. Let’s be face to face, not Facebook.” It was like a little fire burned through us. I heard Peter preaching “Be saved from this wicked and perverse generation!” in Acts 2. I have been building the Facebook pyramid for a long time. Increasingly, it tells me to produce bricks without straw. Why would I willingly do this with all the people I love best?

Continue reading We are the media

Cut off and screwed over — learning reconciliation and communication

I’m kind of enjoying the geekiness (no offence) of Pentatonix these days. So let’s start out with them. They do a cover of Gotye’s big song of 2012: Somebody That I Used to Know:

Apart from telling a good story, Gotye and Kimbra summarize in song what so many people experience every day: being cut off and screwed over. Those are common ways NOT to relate. But a lot of people have experienced so much abuse and have had so little opportunity to recover, that they don’t know how to relate another way. They’d like to love, but they are always getting cut off and screwed over. Let’s talk about that.

In the song, Gotye’s character sings about how she “cut him off.” That’s a common experience in relationships that is worth noting. We could talk about how someone refused sex or did some emasculating thing (another time, maybe). But I want to talk about how people try to disappear their intimates to manage their fears. [More here]

When Kimbra’s character comes into the song, she’s talking about something just as relevant: how she feels screwed over. She is so glad she got free of his unprocessed manipulation! And she doesn’t mind telling him so. Maybe you’ve been there.

The song demonstrates two relationship traits common to people when they are not safe in Jesus and are not aware of the frailties they need to have healed. These two common traits are sinful ways we kill love.

Getting cut off happens. 

It feels terrible. Gotye paints a vivid picture of it.

  • Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
  • But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
  • Have your friends collect your records and then change your number

That last line hints that that he may have caused the cut-off himself, since who sends their friends to get their stuff or who changes their number unless there is some kind of weirdness going on? Were there constant texts? I heard about that a few times lately. Friends did have to send their buddies to retrieve their stuff because the ex might go off.

This movie actually exists
This movie actually exists

I have a friend who has perfected the cut-off. She says it – you do me wrong I cut you off, you’re dead to me. Most of us would not say that; we’d just do it [even legally with restraining orders]. When we are threatened, we disappear people. We make them nothing. So a lot of us feel cut off. You might feel like a relationship is bleeding right now and you are emotionally wounded.

I am not going to do a big Bible study to respond. I think it is enough to say that our preoccupation with Matthew 18 around Circle of Hope is important because people have been cut-off and have cut people off. Cutting someone off is the common sinful way to deal with “problem” people and with our own troubled feelings. We cut them off. In an abusive and abused, violent society the laws are all about protecting victims (who are numerous). So the society even teaches us to cut-off.

That’s the problem Gotye’s character has in this song. What he did not do is presume that he was in a relationship in which all the parties are sinners, including himself, and that reconciliation was going to be a constant necessity. He actually says in the song that they discovered that they did not make sense, as if that’s how relationships work – like they are supposed to magically make sense, or the interaction is supposed to be so effortless that they never don’t make sense.  That’s very unlikely.

Christians relate with reconciliation in mind. They know they need to be listening for God to make sense of things. They know that their loved one needs to be loved, not to make sense according to some tiny idea we have of what makes sense. I know so many people, including myself, who have spent entire evenings arguing about how their interpretation of what happened an hour ago makes more sense than their mate’s interpretation! Reconciliation is more important than everything making sense.

Getting screwed over also happens.

It is a terrible feeling and Kimbra paints a vivid picture of it.

  • You “had me believing it was always something that I’d done.”
  • You did not talk so I was “Reading into every word you say.”
  • When we broke up “You said that you could let it go”

That last line has a lot packed into it (which is one of the things that makes this a good song, isn’t it?). Between the lines she is saying, “Now we are broken up and you are still obsessed and angry. That points out how you had been simmering with anger the whole time we were together. I was trying to make that work for you. So I basically screwed myself in your honor. And that makes me angry!”

screw in chipotleSorry to keep using the word “screwed.” But this song is basically about sex. They don’t really get to intimacy. Being used for sex is part of the woman’s pain, I think. “Having sex” in our language right now is not necessarily a term of endearment. “Fuck” is one of the meanest things people say. We “get screwed over” a lot. Sex is often a violation and we are mad about it. A lot of people talk about sex as if they need their rights protected, like they are so shallow that intimacy can be regulated by state law or something – or maybe they feel so hurt they think there ought to be a law.

Kimbra could have helped herself if she had just had one small rule of communication: “Don’t read between the lines.” Clear communication includes the recognition that the other person hasn’t actually said something until they have said it. If you think their body language means something, ask them if it means what you think it means. Don’t react as if you know what they have not articulated. Conversely, communication happens when a person has responded to what you say in such a way that they confirm they heard what you said. Just providing a lot of information and expecting people to find it is not enough. We’re tempted to treat each other like we are websites – “I already laid out all the info, search it.  I don’t need to talk to you because I posted it on my timeline. It’s on my blog.”

There is actually a little incident in John 14 where Jesus has to negotiate this process of communication with one of his intimates. Philip says, “Just show me the father. “ And Jesus is a little exasperated. He says, “Haven’t you heard the words of the father in me? Haven’t you seen the miracles?” I suppose Jesus could have cut Philip off at that point. Or he could have remembered Philip’s cluelessness as an example of all the ways his disciples had screwed him over. Instead, Jesus humbly communicates it again, as clearly as he can. Philip is not required to “read between the lines:” “It is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” The Lord humbly, clearly communicates.

Christians know that truth and love are hard to communicate because they know how hard it is for them to receive the truth and love of God, who is the source of truth and love! So we are patient with our intimates, and with everyone else. We know we are hard to understand; we know the other person is hard to understand — they don’t even understand themselves! Why get all hacked off when they behave as confused and as detached as they are! Help them! Listen to them! Speak clearly and in love!

There is hope

kimbra unpaintedMy favorite part of the video is at the end, when Kimbra stands apart and loses the paint of this unloving relationship. She kind of returns to the state of being naked and unashamed like Adam and Eve were before sin messed them up and they got separated from God and each other. She gets out of the damaging matrix. Now that they aren’t locked in some sinful way to relate, maybe something better can happen. Hopefully, they both learn to practice reconciliation, not just self-defense. Hopefully, they learn to communicate, not just react in some pre-verbal way.

I don’t think Gotye intended for me to get any hope at all out of his sad song. But I am way Christian. I really wanted that woman’s unpainted self to get out of that messy video, so I took it that way.  Why not? Jesus is doing the best God can do to call us out of the condemned and condemning ways we relate and into real love. If we let him be present and don’t suck up some bogus narrative, if we don’t cut him off, if we let him communicate, we have a good chance of being restored to love ourselves and even having great intimacy — and great sex.

Why I Still Read Email

Some days the distance between us as the church is palpable. We are getting forced apart by choices to connect at minimal levels with quick, minimal devices. We keep talking about this, as a church, because we are fully adapted to the devices and the “social networks” that dominate them, and we are wondering if they will quench the Spirit, if they haven’t already.

Some people among Circle of Hope advocate severely restricting all use of machines to interact. I am not judging them when I note, “There are Amish in every age of the church.” Newness is always suspicious. The newest form of the same old evil can be more easily seen than the old evil to which we already conformed. For instance, the fact that the Amish use old school farming practices befouls the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They might feel righteous for not adapting to new ways, but their old ways had some evil in them too.

I am usually more on the other side of the argument. I want the latest technology with which to communicate and work. I can’t get it fast enough. I want to discern what evil it carries and resist it. But I also want to use the opportunity it gives me and use that. As a church, talking about technology is an overwhelming subject. We have been talking about coming up with our “theology of technology” for a couple of years, now; we’ve been totally unable to do it. I think there are two big reasons we can’t develop some lore:

1) We’re too busy mastering the changing technology to think we have anything to say about it. That’s pretty scary since it means that the technology already runs us, we don’t run it.
2) We are too small minded to have a group project like that. We are doing very individualized stuff and don’t see group thinking as possible. Our thoughts can be as small as our screens.

A 25-yearold blogger from the East Village seems to agree with me. He writes about seven things a twentysomething can’t do. Six of his seven things have to do with building decent relationships, mostly communicating. Twentysomethings, in particular, need good ways to connect. They want to do it. The many devices we are being sold to communicate could increase our ability to connect, and in some great ways, they have. For instance, I really like texting about where I am and when we are meeting, and about what laundry detergent to buy. But, my experience is that people who fully commit to the phone screen for communicating are too small to really do it.

The powers are determined to make us all rats in their cages. They dominate the devices and conform them to proper rat-usage. SO, I think we should sit down and read our email.

I admit, I don’t seem to know how to have this discussion yet. The last time the Coordinators talked about it, they had what, for them, amounts to a spat. I said that I need to read my email on a big screen, which gives more honor to the writer and their art. I don’t think we should do major communicating as the body while we have ten seconds at a stoplight to scan an email or blog post. (Maybe the devices would say, “You are so 29 seconds ago.”)

Being behind would not be surprising. Nevertheless, right now, part of my discipline of communicating is to read my properly filtered email, daily. As you know, I send quite a bit of it, as well. Circle of Hope is a major inbox loader. Some people unsubscribe from the Dialogue List because they count it as clutter. Some of the cell leaders don’t even read their weekly info email from their pastor each week, or all the way through. Some of the Leadership Team don’t even take time to read the working agenda email they are using to lead the church with some integrity and vision. It is a challenge to be that disciplined and committed, but it makes a difference as to whether we are knit together meaningfully.

These are four reasons I still read email and don’t  encourage people to use my cell phone for texting, even when I give them the number, unless it is a texting subject (like “tacos or pho?”).

1) I’m trying to communicate.

To me, communicating is about relating, not just data. I want to say something I actually thought about and receive a thoughtful reply. That seems like love is growing in the world. I don’t want to merely pass out info and have data hogs sniff around to see if it is something they want to consume. Dialogue creates deeper community. When we can’t be face to face, heartfelt writing can be a decent replacement.

2) I want to hear more.

It is hard to keep up with my email. I would rather talk face to face or in a meeting or even over the phone (although I’m not always that great over the phone). But those ways of communicating are hard to keep up with too. Communicating is hard. But I still want to hear more and connect more with more people. To be the church, we need to listen to one another and listen to Spirit in one another. That takes quite a bit of listening in quite a few ways.

[The opposite is also true, of course. If you are addicted to checking email because you think some life-altering message is in you inbox, that’s not good. More is usually the enemy of something. Checking email more does not necessarily mean you are listening more. Here’s a link for the addicts.]

3) It is good to slow down and connect.

It sounds kind of strange, I guess, coming from a person who was there for the original email to be sent back in the 70’s. It was so amazingly fast then! Now, sitting down in front of a screen and composing something thoughtful and loving seems like it is kind of old fashioned. Maybe this is my nod to the “Amish” types. The new Amish-types are often people who still know how to write in a language other than textese.

Being alone, concentrating, and writing, are all good, meditative ways to be who we are in Christ and live a life of love. I am writing this with love, too. It takes time. Even as I write, I am facing the cost of acting this way, there seems to be so much to do. But the writing is helping me to be. The way you pause to read and respond is helping you to be, as well, I hope.

4) I am committed to good infrastructure that extends the kingdom.

At this point, email has been a great way to connect the disparate elements of Circle of Hope. Every year, as we grow larger and add more congregations, we have a big challenge to be one church. We are always pushed to be smaller units, if not just random individuals. Holding together by speaking the truth in love is a major counterattack on the powers that want to dominate us. Our cells and PMs are the major ways we express our commitment to being an incarnation of Jesus. But by the time they are over they are “so 29 seconds ago.” We need a daily means of togetherness. Our computers and email help us.

Hey, if you got this far in this blog post, I feel loved. Thanks. You honor me, like I have tried to honor you with my time and thinking. That is splendidly weird and Jesus-like, and it won’t be done for nothing.