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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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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Vocational Manifesto

I don’t usually cross-post my essays from whoneedsnormal.com, but this one was more personal. Here is the text in its entirety as it appeared here: 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…

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What I Want To Be When I Grow Up

A few times a year, I get the chance to flex my preaching muscles by filling in when pastor friends and colleagues are away from their pulpits.  This last one was shortly after Christmas, and explores the challenges and opportunities of having many passions and uniting them within a single vocation or calling (I know – both redundant and repetitive). Here is the audio of that sermon, entitled What I Want To Be When I Grow Up. For some reason, there’s an audio distortion that picks up about halfway through.  If I can figure out a way to filter that out, I will repost with a cleaner version.  

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Care and Feeding of Your Introvert

Originally published as a contribution to The Secret Lair titled Geek Husbandry – Care and Feeding of Yourself and Your Minions Part 1 – Myths About Introverts I was recently in need of some educational credits for work, and I decided to check out a book about introverted leadership. To my dismay, I quickly discovered that the book was written by an extrovert. I gave up about halfway through the small tome, feeling ickier and more ill-used than usual. After stewing on the issue for a while and writing a scathing review on Amazon, I decided to set the record straight regarding those whom society has judged based on their personality types. I have a personal hypothesis that geeky pursuits tend to appeal more towards introverts for a number of reasons, and so introversion may be overrepresented in that crowd. Feel free to use the following as a quick and easy reference for understanding the introverts that walk among us. Myth: Introverts are shy and socially incompetent. The first thing you need to understand about introversion is that it is all about energy. Where does your energy come from and what causes you to burn it? Introverts live in their heads, where they indulge rich and vivid imaginations. They charge their batteries with solitary activities where their minds are free to wander and explore. By contrast, extroverts live outside of their head, processing their thoughts out loud and gaining energy through interactive experiences. Introverts are not shy. They simply do not feel the need to verbally share every thought that crosses their mind. Find a topic that interests an introvert or something about which they are passionate and you will find more conversation than you bargained for. At times, an introvert may seem unresponsive, but in fact they may be internally processing what is being discussed. Unfortunately, conversations often leave introverts behind, moving on to other topics before they have fully processed their thoughts. This reinforces the stereotype of shyness. Myth: Introverts are afraid to speak in public. Speaking in public is a skill, just like social skills or any other. It can be developed and honed through practice and training. You would be surprised at the number of actors, instructors, and professional speakers who are actually introverts. Anyone can be afraid of speaking in public, and being an extrovert does not give one a natural advantage at the skill. We have all seen the person who gets to a microphone, is obviously quite nervous, and then won’t shut up. Their abundance of words does not make them a good public speaker. It makes them an embarrassment. An introvert that overcomes a fear of speaking and hones that skill may actually make a better speaker, remaining succinct, entertaining, and on topic. Myth: Introverts don’t like to socialize Correction: Introverts don’t like to socialize with large groups of strangers making small talk about topics that do not interest them. To an introvert, that is a waste of words and emotional energy.…

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Crackpot Scheme #763, or Why MMOs Suck

This was an earlier contribution to The Secret Lair and can be read in context here. I confess. I am a wannabe junky for Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs).  I say wannabe, because I have yet to find the right game that scratches my itch for the MMO experience. Perhaps the closest I have ever come to that level of passion and devotion was when playing the original Everquest.  That experience ended with the birth of our first child, when my wife said to me “I don’t think you realize the extent to which this child has changed our life.”  She was right, of course. Being a dad is a lot more important (and fun) than camping for another <generic creature> to kill and acquire another <generic material> to make another piece of <generic armor>. Since that time, I have sampled many MMOs, but I have not stuck with any of them for more than a month or so. I have also spent a lot of time thinking about why those games fall short of what, in my opinion, prevents them from being great games.  Let us hit a few of the highlights: Endless Combat Is this all the Role Playing game has become? Must everything be about the next kill / battle / raid? Grinding Constantly repeating actions in order to advance skill just so you can reach the next level is not that much fun. I have seen people wedge their keyboard keys down so they can keep running or swimming just to increase those skills. Career Options Really, you can only be an exceptional craftsperson (merchant) if you have the fighting skills to go out and get your own supplies. Want to be a priest, monk, or cartographer, you’d better be a fighter first. Instances “Lord Muckgrunk is a real challenge to take down, so we’re going to let everyone kill him once every ten minutes.” or “That other group just entered that dungeon, but don’t worry about running into them. They have entered a parallel dimension where everything is fresh and new for them.”  Instances might as well be minigames in a pub for as much as they contribute to a persistent game world. Yard Trash Apparently, all major metropolitan areas within games cannot extend their peaceful existence more than about fifty yards from their front gate. NPCs, or Lack Thereof I played a game for a while where frequently I was the only person in the entire city, and the only NPCs in the city  stood stock still in their shops all hours of the day and night. There were no wandering NPCs, no other players, and apparently undead shopkeepers. It was creepy. Ganking and Consequences, or Lack Thereof I’ll address the accusations of “Care Bear” gaming a bit later, but giving gamers free reign to kill or take advantage of other players without consequence is just dumb. I’m all about dangerous gameplay, however there should be consequences beyond “this faction now hates you and you…

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One Man’s Jumbo Monopoly Set Is Another Man’s New Computer

The general rule for getting new toys at my house is that I must purchase the new and shiny using the proceeds from the sale of older toys. This allows me to buy fun things without guilt and generally keeps me from collecting too much crap.  The downside is that most of my toys involve technology in some way and decrease in value over time.  This leaves me with a general shortage of fun money when the urge to buy kicks in. Enter the need for a new computer. My workhorse PC is now 8 years old and due for replacement.  A modest new computer would be totally appropriate to purchase out of normal household expenses. However, if the next one has to last another 8 years, then I want to start off with a screaming, fire-breathing, drool-inducing rig worthy of legend.  That, and I want to play the newfangled games that all of the cool kids play. So, once again I begin shambling distractedly around my house, looking intently at my personal possessions and mumbling “I wonder what I could get for that on eBay?”  After decent headway is made towards my new computer, I find myself short, so I enter another round of shambling, mumbling, and calculating. On one particular jaunt into the basement, I spy a rug rolled up in a corner, and there I find the next victim in my selling spree. The following collection is my homemade Jumbo Monopoly Set, circa 1998.  It was sort of a compulsive endeavor, starting with a pewter Monopoly token paperweight.  Then I bought a few more tokens and stumbled across the rug – a 6.5 foot square Monopoly board rug which is almost exactly to scale with the tokens.  It was all downhill from there. Many hours of scanning, layout, and printing brought forth all of the Money, Chance, Community Chest, and Deed cards to play a giant game of Monopoly. Throw in a pair of oversized novelty dice and some wooden blocks to stand in as houses/hotels and I was good to go. (I had actual plans to make scale buildings as well, but never got that far) Now, it’s all going up on eBay. It was fun to put it all together, but I have to admit that it’s probably the closest I’ve come to being compulsive about a project. You see, I don’t really enjoy playing Monopoly.

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Skeptics and Hope

A month or two ago, a friend of mine asked his Facebook friends “Do you believe in God? Why or why not?”  Usually reluctant to (a) share personal things and (b) participate in the online debate / flamewar of the week, I refrained from answering.  I did follow the discussion thread as it grew, and the burden of answering the question continued to roll around in my head. A couple of times a year, I get to dust off my professional ministry hat and put it on for a bit.  Aside from the occasional wedding, I sometimes have the opportunity to fill the pulpit for our pastor while he is on vacation.  This often happens after Christmas, as he likes to take some time off following the very busy Advent and holiday season.  I decided to use this latest opportunity as a chance to explore what I was feeling about this whole God-Facebook debate. The attached file is the result, a sermon entitled “Skeptics and Hope.”  It’s not the greatest title, but it works.  It’s also not my best sermon, but again, it works.  (Indeed, there is a sermon I preached years ago that has become known as “The Hooters Sermon.”  I don’t know what I got right with that one, but I still have people mention it to me.) Referenced within the sermon are a number of external sources: The Skeptic’s Dictionary Philip Yancey’s Church: Why Bother? (and by extension, J.F. Power’s Wheat The Springeth Green) A Letter to Non-Believers by Shane Claiborne in Esquire Magazine Enjoy. “Skeptics and Hope,” December 27, 2009

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I Give Up on Political Parties

I have long ticked off friends and family by not following their lead and subscribing to a single political party.  I’ve made no secret about being registered as an Independent voter.  I think at its core, I find Libertarianism to make the most sense.  Indeed, in the last election I voted for a Republican, a Democrat, and a Libertarian.  I was kind of proud of that. Lately, it seems as though I have needed to hide more and more friends’ posts from my Facebook news feed.  Maybe I’ve just lost patience with zealots in general, but discounting entire ideologies or people based on a label seems to demean us all and our capacity for critical thought.   I’m not really speaking of a particular current event in the news.  The examples are new every day.  Listening to political opinions has become embarrassingly predictable, both from individuals and pundits alike.  Whoever is on the “other side” will be portrayed as utterly incompetent or thoroughly evil, or often a combination of the two. I wish we could give up the labels and start having dialogs about individual issues.  It saddens and frustrates me that the best we can offer the world is that “the other” team will somehow usher in the apocalypse, and the only way to fix it is to completely disavow anything they might bring to the table.  I did not think that Bush was entirely evil, nor do I think that Obama deserves that label.  Both men are what we all are – flawed human beings with personal agendas and ideologies. I resent: Logging into Facebook and hearing how someone thinks we’ll be lucky if we all live to participate in the next presidential election. Being told that Fox News or MSNBC are nothing but partisan hatemongers. Turning on Fox News or MSNBC and hearing nothing but partisan hatemongering. Owning a majority stake in a nationalized car industry. Having my son believe that Alaska is where the villains live, because someone thought it would be funny to make Ted Stevens the villain de jour while playing Batman with him. and so on. We seem to be restricted to being either Red or Blue, therefore I hereby declare myself purple.  Of course, that now gives me the right to ridicule, abuse, and marginalize anyone who is not purple.  It’s the American way.

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