I Like My Echo Chamber

We’ve heard a lot lately about how we have filtered our social media feeds to hear only what we want to hear. We have created echo chambers for ourselves and that’s bad. I say not so fast. That depends on your echo. My criteria is simple – is this person a jerk? Do they substitute snark and sarcasm for intelligent thought? Do they view cruelty as just another brand of humor? If their public discourse generally belittles others, then I try to have minimal contact with them. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time cultivating my Facebook feed and social media contacts. I’m long past accepting every friend request that comes my way just because we come from the same home town or spent a few hours together on a project. I’ve unfriended many folks, both Christian and atheist, conservative and liberal. I have “unfollowed” a great many more, mostly because the social cost of unfriending them is too high (as in, “You may be family, but I still don’t have to listen to your crap.”). There are several more that deserve to get the boot and probably will the next time I’m feeling feisty and motivated. Along with many other people today, I grieve an election that didn’t go the way I would have liked. In fact, it probably went sideways for me months ago when civil discourse was replaced with anger and fear. HOWEVER, my social media feed remains largely respectful, kind, and in many ways still hopeful. Almost no one is gloating. Many people are expressing deep, raw feelings of hurt, but I mostly see people reaching out to comfort and support them. Why? Because that’s what I have created. This is the kind of echo chamber I want for myself. I like what these people have to say and surrounding myself with them makes me a better person. My echo chamber tends to support the Gospel over Christian politics, integrity over winning, discourse over hyperbole, patriotism over nationalism, and compassion over fear and anger. If I have to give those things up in order to experience “diversity,” then no thanks. So, here’s what I have to say to my echo chamber: The most frequent command in the Bible? “Fear not.” I don’t know how this will turn out, but I know how it will end. If one of my friends needs someone to do their wedding, regardless of who they want to marry, then I’m open to being asked. If you need a Christian community that will accept you for who you are and yet genuinely seeks to wrestle with and understand what it means to follow Christ, then I know such a place. If you need someone to go to the bathroom with you, walk with you, or generally help you feel less afraid, feel free to ask me. There is a shortage of racial and religious diversity in my life. This has less to do with my echo chamber and more to do with…

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Because There Aren’t Enough Opinions Out There Already

So, from Friday on, I was pretty much “off the grid” and all the headlines blew up. It’s been interesting catching up. Usually, I like flying under the radar and being inconspicuous. I don’t do bumper stickers, yard signs, tattoos, or green / blue / red / rainbow Facebook profile pics. Now that I am once again serving in professional ministry, I sometimes feel pressure (from myself) to have an “official opinion” about stuff. So, here’s mine: I decided a long time ago that God does not call me to be the morality police to this world. I think we are specifically called to (1) love God, (2) Love our neighbor as ourselves, (3) make disciples, and (4) announce the presence of God with those who need to hear it. We were never given the job of being prophets, proclaiming the ways in which we think others violate our understanding of God’s laws. That’s hubris. Plain and simple. Instead, I am called to do things like love others and seek mercy and justice. That kind of sucks, because that’s a lot harder to do than telling other people that I think they are full of crap. I choose to try to give others my love and respect to my fullest potential. I choose not to seek ways in which I tell others how they are violating God’s laws when I fail to meet God’s standards of excellence on a regular basis by merely existing. I choose Love. I choose Love no matter whom you choose to marry. I choose Love because Love was given to me unconditionally and I have no choice but to respond accordingly (Which again, kind of sucks, because I’m not that good at it). One day, I will have to face the creator of the universe and answer for the way I have conducted my life. It won’t be pretty. Like Job, I may have to face the crushing power of the infinite and declare that “I have uttered what I did not understand.” But also like Job, I hope that I will be affirmed for questioning things that seemed unjust and unfair in this life. Because if God looks at me in the end and says “I didn’t want you to choose Love. I wanted you to judge the world and hold it accountable to rigid legalism and poorly understood ancient writings,” then I’m going to have to say “Well, that’s some bullcrap, right there.”

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About The Mississippi Flag

  Today, I added my name to the following letter regarding the Mississippi state flag. To: The Clarion-Ledger Editorial Board Date: June 24, 2015 We are each Baptist pastors in Mississippi. We recognize all forms of racism as sin, and we acknowledge the sin of racism in our own hearts, in our Baptist churches, and in the people of this good but wounded state. We lament the violence and the bloodshed and also the everyday dehumanization that are the result of this vicious sin, and as the prophet Jeremiah said of Rachel, we “refuse to be consoled” so long as our brothers and sisters face any degradation. As we seek the peace and the well-being of this good, but fractured state, we call upon Governor Phil Bryant and the Mississippi legislature to act immediately to change our state flag. The current flag contains a powerful symbolic reminder of a war, waged by our own ancestors to maintain a system of chattel slavery. It evokes a history of Jim Crow subjugation of black people. It has been flown as a sign of defiance of integration, and we believe that such defiance is sinful. In our own baptisms we promised to turn from sin and renounce evil, so as pastors we also call upon all believing Christians in Mississippi to make their voices heard and to stand up to evil. We all know that we inherit a legacy of looking away while evil has been perpetuated in our midst. Now is the time to turn away from this symbol, to open our eyes and mouths, and to speak up for what is right and true. May our words and deeds unite with our most important state symbols to express the hospitality of our good state, creating a place of welcome for all people. Rusty Edwards, Pastor of University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg Jay Lynn, Pastor of St. Martin Baptist Fellowship in Gulfport Bert Montgomery, Pastor of University Baptist Church in Starkville Chuck Strong, Pastor of Olive Branch Fellowship in Olive Branch Gabe Swann, Pastor of Church Arise in Decatur Stan Wilson, Pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Clinton When given the opportunity to add my name, I didn’t hesitate, but it was not a decision made in haste and without thought. Beyond incorporating a time of recognition and remembrance of the massacre in Charleston in our Sunday worship, I was hoping for an authentic and appropriate opportunity to express my thoughts. I felt as though there was little I could add to the noise already surrounding the issue. Having taken a public stand in my capacity as a pastor, it became appropriate for me to explain my thoughts on the issue. I’m not a huge fan of political correctness in its extreme. The hubris of the internet age has allowed all of us to become indignant with a hair trigger over any perceived slight. I recently ran afoul of someone who took offense at my use of the word “unchurched” to describe…

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Are You Ready for a Change?

What would it take to…? Whenever I started a sentence like that, my business partner at our small marketing firm would just roll his eyes and laugh. He knew that I was nurturing the seed of some new idea – something probably odd and impractical that could easily make money or flame out in spectacular glory. It was a regular enough occurrence that it ceased to be a surprise. We would just move to the conference room where he would graciously hear me out. We would walk through the pros and cons of the idea and then map out what it would take to become a reality. It was a simple but effective exercise and it started with a simple question – “What would it take to…?” The world is full of good ideas, but I learned a long time ago that ideas are worthless without the planning and ability to make them a reality. (Remind me to tell you the story of how I pitched an idea for motion capture technology to Jim Henson’s Creature Studio way back in 1996. Needless to say, it went nowhere.) It’s not enough to be the “idea person.” You have to be willing to get your hands dirty to make your dreams a reality. Too often, when someone announces that we should do this or that, they really mean that they would really like it if someone else would make that happen. They want to be responsible for ideas and decisions without any of the work necessary to see it through. This is natural. It’s a part of the creative process. Most people are not being lazy or manipulative. It’s just fun and easy to generate ideas, but that’s all they are – ideas. Turning good ideas into a reality requires discipline and commitment. We have to train ourselves to take ownership of our ideas as well as their outcomes. In places where I lead, if someone enthusiastically suggests that “we should…,” I try to get them to complete that thought with “and I will…” I’m currently leading our small church / non-profit charity through some “what would it take to…” discussions. We need to decide what sort of organization we want to be, cast a vision for the future, and make specific plans for moving towards that vision. Asking those kinds of questions means starting with what we are willing to put forth. In essence, what are we willing to risk? Everything has a cost. It may be a financial expense or the use of some other kind of resource. It is important to understand your “budget” before you even begin to move forward. Your situation may be different, but these are the kinds of things you need to assess: Money How much are you willing to spend, literally? Are you totally strapped for cash and unwilling / unable to put more cash on the table? If you can’t afford it, are you willing to borrow money from other people and take…

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Rare and Valuable

In my never-ending quest to figure out my own future, I stumbled across the work of Cal Newport, and particularly his recent book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. I’ve made it known on several occasions that I hold many “follow your dreams” bloggers in low esteem, especially those that seem to have no measurable skills or life experience. This particular book caught my eye by echoing many similar sentiments. In it, Newport takes on the “follow your dreams” philosophy and turns it on its head; recommending that we stop trying to be useful by following our passion and instead seek to find our passions by being useful. It’s an interesting concept, and one I hadn’t given much conscious thought to over the years, but it rang with a note of truth. Newport got me thinking about the idea of career capital. In other words, people that we admire for following their passions tend to launch into their passions from a position of experience and strength. They use their established skills and accomplishments as a launching pad into something new. In practical terms, it means don’t go looking for people to pay you for doing what you love, but look for people willing to pay you for what you do well. Then, use that as a foundation for launching into what you love. At the time, I was still looking for the “right” job. In my mind, that meant working for another company or organization. I needed a new way to search for job openings that would fit me well. So, I took the idea of career capital and asked some friends and colleagues the following question: “What skills or gifts do you see in me that could be considered rare and valuable OR could be further developed to eventually become rare and valuable?” It was an interesting exercise, and somewhat surreal. I received lots of good feedback and some really insightful observations describing the ways in which I facilitate teams, think strategically, balance opposing views, and think outside the box. It was humbling and heartwarming to receive such things, but I had to admit to being a little frustrated. None of those answers listed any good keywords or search terms for finding a new job. I wanted things I could just plug into a formula and it would spit out a new job for me. I walked away from the exercise thinking “ These characteristics show that I would be a huge asset for any organization once I am on board, but they won’t get me through the front door.” That was a hard truth. Why didn’t I get the information I wanted? In the end, I realized I was asking the wrong question. The question I asked was more about my personality and less about my skills. Eventually, the correct question was pounded into me by circumstance rather than insight. Upon occasion, people will ask me to help them with their website. For several years, my answer was…

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On Shaving Your Head

The last couple of months have been a bit of a whirlwind – I left my day job, wrote a novella, went to camp with my kids, took a 20th anniversary cruise with my wife and some good friends, and did some freelance consulting and graphic design work. Needless to say, writing new essays became a lower priority for a while. Things have settled into a more predictable routine, so I can once again turn my attention to writing here. So, I shaved my head yesterday. Well, I didn’t exactly shave it with shaving gel and a razor. It’s more of a buzz cut – a really, really short buzz cut. I used the 1/8 inch guard on my clippers and went crazy while the rest of the family was out shopping. When they returned, I’m don’t think they were terribly impressed with the results. On the bright side, they have decided that it is apparently good luck to rub my head. I like that better than rubbing my belly. Going mostly bald wasn’t totally unexpected. In fact, nature has been moving in that direction for some years now. Having been slowly turning gray since I was in my early twenties, this was essentially inevitable. I just helped things along with decisive and immediate action. I have been contemplating this for some time, keeping an eye out for others who choose to celebrate their hairlines rather than fight them. I have several friends that have gone this route with some success, and many celebrities choose the close-shaved stubbly look. Jason Statham wears it particularly well. While we were on our cruise, I also spotted an average-looking guy about my age that really rocked the look. He was well-tanned, bespectacled, and dressed casually. Since I needed a haircut anyway and it’s hot outside, I decided to just do it and see what happened. Here are my conclusions: I am not Jason Statham. When I eventually go completely bald, I know that my head will not be terribly misshapen. A tan is essential. Pasty heads bring the word “underbelly” to mind. If glasses slightly improved my looks with hair, they greatly improve them with no hair. You have to be of average build to really pull this off. Bald, overweight guys look more like bouncers than anything else. On one hand, this might have been a stupid thing to do. While I was running the clippers over my head, I kept hearing Bill Cosby’s voice asking “Was your head with you all day today?” While not permanent, it is certainly irreversible. I’m stuck with a bald head for at least a little while until it grows out. On the other hand, who cares? I wanted to see how it would look and now I know. I’ll get a little teasing from friends and family, but no one else will care at all. I have no appointments for formal portraits any time soon, so it was a good time to experiment. In a…

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Vocational Manifesto

Last week, I turned in my resignation from my day job. It was a good decision, allowing me to exit gracefully on my own terms rather than stay in a situation that would become more and more of a poor fit over time. At this point, it feels more like an opportunity – the kick in the pants we needed to move our family forward into the next adventure. However, it does mean that I have some serious work to do in order to find that next adventure. For the foreseeable future, my kids are going to continue to need shoes, daily meals, and an education, so a day job is probably a good thing to pursue. However, I have the luxury of a little bit of breathing room to allow myself to really reflect on what I want to do in my professional life. After some serious navel-gazing and soul-searching, I boiled my passions and personal preferences down into a single sentence. I consider it something like a personal vocational manifesto: I want to create or accomplish something authentic that impacts people and leaves them feeling happier, enriched, or more positive about the world in which we live. When I start looking for new opportunities for myself and my family, I can measure those opportunities against my manifesto. I can look at each opportunity and ask myself “How well does this opportunity score on these goals?” While there is no perfect job for anyone, a personal vocational manifesto can help you clarify what is important to you and come closer to finding a job that truly fits. Here is my “scorecard” for evaluating opportunities and how they measure up against my own manifesto: Create When I was a teenager, I would say that I wanted to “make neat stuff.” Twenty-five years later, that hasn’t changed much. I want to create. I love imagining possibilities or making something new. It doesn’t matter if it is a piece of art, a work of fiction, a design, an experience, a business, an organization, or a plan. I just have to create. Accomplish If I can’t create something, then I want to accomplish something. I don’t want to be the person that merely monitors or implements other people’s decisions. I want to be in the thick of it where decisions are made and things get done. Something I want to be able to point to something and say “I did that.” Again, it can be an object, a design, an experience, or a system. I just want to be able to claim it as mine, even if it’s only to myself. Authentic Whatever I do, it has to be real. If I’m going to promote a company or organization’s ideals or products, then I have to believe in them. I can’t shill for a paycheck. Impacts I want to do something that has a direct impact on people. I don’t want to be so far removed from the beneficiaries of my work that…

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Going All In

I usually try to “bloom where I am planted.” It seems like generally good advice for living – be content where you are, find opportunities to grow in any situation, give all of your effort to everything you do, and so on. I said “try,” but the truth is that I have to work hard to bloom where I’m planted. Too often, I am distracted by the new and shiny, or I want to indulge an underlying sense of wanderlust. I want to try something new, become good at it, then move on and tackle something else. That feels like growth to me. Many folks, however, can really and truly bloom where they are planted. No matter where they are, they become essential lynchpins to their environment. They become the hubs in tribal relationships, always included in decisions and projects. When they need to develop new skills, they don’t just succeed. They excel. They make the effort needed to move from competency to mastery, rising head and shoulders above those who merely participate. I have friends like that. They are deeply embedded in their tribes or occupations. They are immediately seen as authorities on a given subject or masters of a craft, even if they don’t see it for themselves. People seek them out for their thoughts and perspectives, and companies seek them out for their expertise. I have to admit that I envy them sometimes. I have a secret dream that someone will one day have an epiphany and shout “You know who we need for this? Jay Lynn!” Anything is possible, and maybe one day I’ll get that call. But, the truth is that I am responsible for my own life. I could do a lot more to increase the odds of that kind of thing happening in my favor. Do you know why it’s less likely to happen? Do you know why those other people are so well regarded and sought after? Because they go all in. People seen as masters and leaders totally immerse themselves in a topic. If you want to be seen as an expert or essential resource in a certain field, or if you want to be certain that the tribe includes you in everything, you have to go all in. It doesn’t matter what that topic is. It can be lizard grooming or investment banking, but you have to live and breathe it if you want to be known as THE go-to-guy (or gal) in that field. That means the real question is – how badly do you want it? How passionate are you about your “stuff?” Are you willing to invest all of your creative energy into a specific area of interest? More, are you willing to put in the effort required to move beyond mere participation and on to mastery? If you want to be known as outstanding, that’s what you must be willing to do. I’ve participated in several tribes over the years, with varying degrees of investment. I…

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Marriage and Law – I’m Surrounded By Jerks.

As a Christian, I get irked by a lot of comments from atheist friends where the word “religious” becomes a pejorative term.  To many folks, the mere presence of faith or spirituality marks me as a fool or a willing dupe. To be called a Christian is to be labeled by default as intolerant and misinformed. The majority of the time, when I see the word atheist, I read “asshat.” Unfortunately, as someone willing to struggle with my own faith and ask tough questions about what it means to be loved by God and how I am obligated to share that love with others, I have the same reaction in the other direction. As someone who once served in professional ministry and now works in a secular environment, I am frequently regarded as secondhand goods, unable to meet the rigors of a spiritual life. So, unless I know someone personally or associate them with someone I respect, when I see the word Christian I still read the word “asshat.” I suppose that I really view people unwilling to have a serious and respectful dialogue about difficult topics as asshats. Once again the national rhetoric has heated up to the point where I want to resign from the human race and say “yeah, I don’t know those people.” The noise to signal ratio has risen to the point where nothing can be heard. Ironically, I choose to add to the noise: Maybe it’s time to take marriage out of the hands of government. That statement probably makes my conservative Christian friends cheer.  Be patient, I’ll probably piss you off too.  What I mean is that maybe it’s time to divide civil unions from marriage. If marriage is an institution defined by God and mandated as an expression of spiritual faithfulness, then let it remain within the domain of religious institutions. On the other hand, allow the government to categorize people as “primary beneficiaries” as opposed to spouses for the purposes of taxes, health benefits, and legal responsibilities. We do not honor God or exhibit a moral superiority by denying people the right to: -stay with someone in a hospital or intensive care room after visiting hours. -designate someone as deserving of health care benefits. -receive estate or retirement benefits as intended. -receiving the tax benefits of sharing property, possessions, and incomes. On the other hand, the government should have no say in defining how a religious institution defines and structures marriage.  Churches should retain the right to choose which kinds of unions they will honor and sanctify. Churches should be allowed to become the moral compass they are intended to be for society. Let them lead by example, regardless of whether that example is one of strictly defined guidelines or open acceptance of diverse standards.  Churches should be the place where people look to see the ideals of marriage exemplified and honored best. The bestowing of legal benefits to another individual under the law is not a degradation of the moral…

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10 Keys To An Authentic Organization

As individuals, we work hard to live authentic lives. But, how do we find authenticity for our businesses and organizations? It’s tough to do. We forget that organizations can be authentic. Worse, we forget that they should be authentic. If you want the short version, here it is: The world is run by and for PEOPLE. Understanding and remembering that fact is essential to maintaining authentic organizations. 1. Remember Your “Why” Why does your organization exist? Why does it do what it does? If your answer is “to make money,” then you’re full of crap. Do you make pornography, sell illegal drugs, support human trafficking, or  bilk little old ladies out of their life savings? If so, then maybe you are in it just for the money. Otherwise, your organization exists for something more. You fill a specific human need. What is it? When you remember the “why” of an organization and you’re genuinely enthusiastic about it, then people will gravitate towards that authenticity, becoming better employees, volunteers, members, or customers. 2. Live Your “Why” It’s not enough to identify why your organization exists. You must embody that identity and live it every single day. When the members of an organization becomes distanced from their core identity, then the organization itself loses its identity. Customer service organizations must strive to serve well. Salespeople must genuinely try to meet the needs of the customers and not merely make a sale. Spiritual organizations cannot stoop to petty materialism and cruelty. If you say it, you have to live it. 3. Teach Your “Why” Frequently, organizations lose some authenticity when its founder or founding generation leaves. If the founders provided the vision for the entire organization, but failed to instill the same passion in the next generation of leaders, then count on trouble. You can’t paint a corporate slogan on the wall and expect it to change behaviors. People at all levels of an organization have to understand the ideals of the organization and truly believe in them. 4. Define Your Success What does success look like for your organization? When will you be able to say “We have accomplished everything we set out to achieve. Well done, everyone.” You can always set new goals and modify your definition of success, but you must be intentional about it. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you somewhere. Make sure that is where you want to be. 5. Know When Enough Is Enough How much is enough? Is the answer always “more?” Can your organization handle an explosive growth in membership, and would it still be the same organization? Is your business only looking for greater profits? Bigger isn’t always better. Profit is never the only goal. Otherwise, we’d all be making porn or bilking little old ladies. What’s your sweet spot? 6. Avoid Mob Mentality “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.” (Agent K, Men In Black) When we allow a mob…

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