Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Which Medium?

Every once in a while, I have something I want to share. Maybe I just thought of (in my opinion) an incredibly witty quip, or maybe someone I know has been especially helpful to me and I'd like to tell them. Humans communicate about everything, and I think it's interesting to take a look at a few of the ways we do that and why some are more appropriate in certain situations.

Appropriateness of medium is a little strange if you really take the time to consider it. If I need to tell someone "I'm sorry," why should the message be different depending on whether I tell it to them in person or over a tweet? Why is a love letter so cherished and stored for years, while the text message "I luv u XOXO" is much more easily discarded? I've heard many times, often regarding breakups, the line "I can't believe he/she couldn't say that to my face." All examples of mismanaged media.

There are a few reasons I want to touch on, along with a couple of my personal favorite media options, and I'll wrap up with what I think is the underlying differentiator between different types of media.

The first reason some methods of communication are inappropriate for certain situations is effort.

Telling someone I'm deeply sorry for their loss in person at a funeral carries much more weight than a Facebook message partially because it just takes more effort. There's a much greater chance that I'm sincere if I got dressed up, drove to a Church, and waited in line to express my sympathy than if I rolled out of bed without combing my hair and pecked out my condolences on a keyboard before my morning shower.

A second reason is effectiveness.

Someone is bleeding profusely on the sidewalk! Quickly, how do you contact the proper help? If you answered "write an urgent letter to the hospital, asking for assistance, post haste!" you're either living in the 1800's or you need to think a little bit about how effective your communication is. That might be a ridiculously silly example, but it gets my point across. Some situations are better resolved through one medium than another. Desperately trying to get a hold of someone for an address while they're in a meeting at work? A text message might be your best option. Wishing your Grandmother across the country a happy birthday? A phone call is probably optimal (unless you have the resources to fly over to her for a birthday hug, of course). Simple enough.

Now more difficult: need to let a friend know that you were hurt by something they did? It's probably time to assess the situation to make a decision. You could talk to them in person, confronting them about their actions. You could call them to talk about the issue. You could write a carefully worded email expressing your feelings. A lot of it depends on who the person is.

My favorite method of communication is email. If you've known me for any significant period of time, there's a decent chance you've gotten at least one from me. I often write emails when a face to face conversation would be more appropriate, a phone call would be more convenient, or a text message would suffice.

This is because, frankly, I'm not great at face to face conversation, I suck at using the phone, and I'm a little long winded and punctuation dependent for texts. Email gives me the opportunity to sit with my thoughts for as long as I need before committing to them for public consumption. I've had foot-in-mouth moments more times than I can count, but I can honestly say that there aren't any emails I would REALLY like to have back. What I have had is emails where I've read through my first draft and thought, "Wow. That would have been an awful thing to send." before editing (and on a couple of occasions, re-editing over and over for a week or so) them. My mind has a decent filter, but it's often incredibly slow. Being able to parse my thoughts and choose my words carefully gives me the chance to make sure I'm saying exactly what I want and need to say.

This brings me to my final point, and the one that got me started on this whole subject in the first place. The main difference between types of media is vulnerability.

Putting ourselves in vulnerable situations is one of the most convincing signs of sincerity and respect. There's a reason kneeling is a sign of submission. For all of the good things that come along with writing an email, it still allows me to hide behind the wall of the internet. Posting something on someone's Facebook wall is different than sending them a private message because a private message implies private content, which can expose motives. Talking to someone in person is different than talking to them on the phone because you're forced to acknowledge their facial expressions and body language, just as talking on the phone is different than email because you pick up on inflection and emotion more easily.

I don't really know where to go from here, so I'll just leave it at that. Hopefully it's a little bit of food for thought as you consider all of your communication options.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Changes.

After a fantastic week of hanging out with friends, going to the beach, Seadooing, playing cards, watching movies, and resting (and working I suppose), it's starting to sink in that this probably won't happen ever again after this summer. I'm not anticipating losing contact with all of my friends, but from here on out it's only going to get more and more difficult to get everyone together in one place. As I move on to grad school in Ann Arbor, everyone else moves on to their next step as well.

I'm not all that nervous about grad school beyond the requisite uneasiness about how hard classes will be, who I'll meet, and how I'll eventually pay for it, but I'm disappointed that the current phase in my life has to end. Between saying goodbye to old friends, new friends, and acquaintances it's finally hitting me that this is actually happening, and it sucks. For the moment I don't want anything to do with more responsibility, more freedom, and growing up in general. I want to go to the beach and throw a football around instead.

If I were writing an essay for a class, now would be the time when I would flip the mood of this post on its head and describe how the thought of Michigan football games, engaging classes, and a tidal wave of new friends is going to make all of my cares float away on a cloud as I'm left with the glorious euphoria of the unexplored future.

Meh.

I'll write that post later. None of it would be true at the moment.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Push/Pull Stewardship

In my Church's July Stewardship Team meeting, we discussed something I'd thought about before, but hadn't really expanded upon much. Many of our discussions and goals thus far have focused on stewardship of time and spiritual gifts. It's tough to try to come up with ways to promote spiritual maturity through volunteering and other channels. Our Church does a great job with this, but there's always room for improvement. In this meeting, though, we dove into what most people think of when they consider stewardship: giving money.

If you're looking for a fun experiment, try this:
  • Go out and find as many Dutch folks as you can. (They might not even need to actually be Dutch... almost anyone affiliated with the CRC will work.)
  • Ask each of them how much they make in a year.
I'd be willing to bet that 9 of 10 would turn a little bit red and decline. Some might even raise their voice at you.

It's this attitude about money that makes discussing monetary stewardship so difficult in our Church and others like it. It's just not something you do using specifics. The pastor might say "You should give 10% of your income or more to the work of the Lord," but it rarely gets more specific than that. Vague ideas are thrown out, ideal scenarios and rarely much more. It's more comfortable for everyone that way. The pastor doesn't have the luxury of telling each member what is specifically expected of them in dollars and sense because a) he would get a serious tongue-lashing from the more salary-sensitive members of the Church and b) it's different for everyone. Some members are capable of giving 50% of their income and still living comfortably. Others are low-income, have hospital bills, and are struggling to get by.

At some point, our council determined that if every member gave 6.5% of their income to the general fund, all of the bills of the Church would be covered, and the remaining 3.5% can be donated at the member's discretion. So do they have the right to demand that kind of money from the members? Running a Church is expensive, and it provides almost all of its services to anyone that walks through the doors free of charge.

So on to my main points.

First, I don't think it's out of line for the Church to discuss specifics on monetary issues, as long as that happens with an understanding and sensitivity to those with much less who may not be able to give.

Second, tithing is really a matter of the heart. If giving your 10% is like pulling your own teeth out with a rusty pliers, you may as well not do it.

Third, there can be some sort of balance between push giving and pull giving. Push giving is when a member is prodded by someone to give. Having the pastor of a Church get behind the pulpit and explain what is expected of his congregation is legitimate and necessary if the Church is to function properly. Pull giving is when an individual feels called to give to certain causes. This type of giving is what often gets people excited, as donating a goat to someone in Haiti is much more interesting than paying for the AC in the sanctuary during services. (Something my Church could stand to do a little less of. It's FREEZING in there on Sunday mornings, regardless of season.)

I guess that's it. Questions? Comments? Suggestions?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Humility.

Many apologies for the fact that this is incredibly disjointed and, at times, almost incoherent. This post is entirely about me getting a lot of thoughts out that I've encountered over the last couple of days. Maybe you'll get something out of it too, but that's not my primary goal.

Often times, if we take a moment to reflect on some event in our lives we can see God working gently and mysteriously in the background. He seems to have a way of taking situations that might not seem ideal at face value and work them out for the benefit of our relationship with Him in one way or another. I think it's fair to say that often (or even most of the time), God works in deliberate, but very subtle ways.

Occasionally, He doesn't.

The last week fall under the "incredibly obvious" category for me. What began with an instant message from my brother asking if I might be interested in flying across the country on a Wednesday to drive some high schoolers back on Friday from a Young Life trip resulted in what has been one of the more powerful experiences I've ever had.

That instant message conversation took place last week Friday, and my initial reaction was to respectfully decline, citing the loss in pay from missing two days of work as my rationale. It just didn't make a whole lot of sense for me to pick up and go. I told him that if no one else was available and the situation was urgent I might be able to reconsider.

Sunday morning I attended Church in the morning with Tyler and received a sermon that was supposedly about unity within the Church, but in actuality was focused on the sin of pride (as one of the primary reasons for lack of unity). Though the delivery wasn't entirely to my taste, the message was powerful. Pride kills. It eats at you from the inside, and it doesn't let go easily. I came away humbled and introspective about the fact that pride is something I struggle with constantly. It's not a week by week, or even day by day, struggle for me, but minute by minute. I see myself as a pretty good guy and tend to judge others accordingly.

Monday morning brought the call I had an inkling would be coming: there really was an urgent need for another person to help drive kids home. (I won't go into deep detail for many reasons, but I discovered that one of the leaders on the South Christian Young Life Wilderness trip in Colorado was no longer available as a driver for the return trip. The entire situation begs for prayer, both for the South Christian community and for the individuals and families involved.) I was informed that we could fly out Thursday afternoon so I would only miss a day and a half of work, and we would meet up with the group in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Friday to begin the 18 hour drive home.

I agreed, seeing a unique opportunity not only for few free plane rides but also a potentially fun road-trip and the chance to help out some people that clearly needed it at the time.

It wasn't clear to me until we met up with the group how much we were actually needed, though. The students were upbeat, but several of the leaders, being closer to the situation concerning the missing driver, had obviously been wrestling with the tidal wave of information that had been unleashed upon them over the course of the previous week. They were tired and worn out, emotionally, physically, and especially spiritually.

It was at this point that my true lesson in humility began.

In my mind, I was doing an honorable thing. I was taking time out of my (admittedly not very busy) schedule to fly to Wyoming and help drive the eighteen hours home less than a day after my arrival. I was a little bit tired, and my long body wasn't exactly comfortable in the driver's seat for three or four hours at a time. If ever there was a time for me to feel good about myself, this is it, right? (For the record, I'm not implying that it was a bad thing for me to agree to help out. I am saying that my attitude was all wrong.)

In the midst of this situation though, in talking to some of the students and leaders, I began to realize that I was completely out of line. Not only had this group spent the last few days dealing with what was an incredibly gut-wrenching situation with someone they all knew and loved, but they had been sleeping in tents for a week, hiking during the day, and putting themselves into some of the most uncomfortable positions possible, not to mention the fact that they had ridden in the vans for a full three hours before Timm and I even joined them. What right did I have to be proud of the sacrifices I was making?

My lessons didn't stop there. I was constantly bombarded with offers to make myself more comfortable. I was given a purse, a backpack, and several articles of clothing to use as makeshift pillows during the leg of the trip where I attempted to get some rest. I was asked if the music was too loud for me to sleep. The list goes on, and each offer came with a smile. All from folks who, in my opinion at least, had every reason to sulk and complain for the entire duration of the trip. I only hope I was able to help lighten some of the burden every once of them must have been feeling.

All in all, I had a blast. It was a great group of people, they helped to teach me a priceless lesson, and I hope I'm at the top of their list of people to call if they need someone to fly out to Cheyenne and help drive them home on short notice.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Water.

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, --Matthew 25:42

Living as Christians in the United States, we often think of water as a metaphor. Pastors tell us to consider "living water" and how it paints a picture of grace and salvation. Community leaders explain that new funds will act as renewing water, bringing life back to an area that has gradually transformed into a rough or poor part of town. The list goes on and on. We see water as a symbol of purity, of beauty, and of nourishment.

The strange thing, to me at least, is that most people in the world, when pondering water and its qualities, think of just one thing: H2O. The clear, wet stuff you get from a lake, a creek, a well, or the sky. It is something to be obsessed over, simply because it is so rare. This isn't strange because it's odd to consider water literally, but because we so rarely do. Sure, we think to ourselves once or twice a day, "Hmm, I'm thirsty. I could go for a glass of water." or "I should really turn on the sprinklers, the grass looks a little brown." but rarely "I need water right now."

I went golfing over the weekend in Wisconsin. Tyler's dad got us a reservation at Blackwolf Run, one of the nicer courses in the country. (Need proof? They're playing the Women's PGA Championship there soon.) Besides the wind that conjured up a sandstorm or two, which I wouldn't have had to deal with at all had I avoided a hundred yard long bunker, it was fantastic weather. The sun was shining, and the thermometers topped out at around 90-92ish degrees. Some holes went well (I had a birdie and a few pars), and others not so well (I had a 10, an 8, and way too many 7's), but one theme remained constant throughout the round: incredible thirst.

I'm not going to claim that I was on the verge of extreme dehydration, but I took advantage of the water coolers at alternating holes without fail, and often multiple times. It was shocking to me how thirsty I could get within the 20-30 minutes it took us to play two holes of golf.

While having a little pity party for myself, trying to keep my spirits high, while waiting for my turn to take a whack at my ball I realized that the slight dehydration I was feeling is what many in this world feel at best over the course of a day.

This isn't the first time I've thought about the problem of water scarcity, or even the first time that I've decided I should play a part in alleviating its effects, but I'm going to make a mental note now that I plan to actually try to do something about it at some point. I am in a position now where I can contribute monetarily a bit through my tithing, but someday I will do more than that. I'd appreciate it if someone could give me a call or shoot me an email in 5-10 years and ask how I'm doing with that commitment.