Monday, November 29, 2010

The Other Kind of Twitter snob

A few weeks ago, I blogged about what I call Twitter snobs. These are people who aren't really famous, but are using Twitter to create a brand for themselves. If you follow one of these people you will get a mention or a DM that essentially says "Thank you for following. Here is how following me benefits you." I wasn't saying everyone with thousands of followers is that way, I was just saying some Twitter users are more interested in monologue than dialogue. But today, I discovered another type of Twitter snob. I got a tweet from someone I follow that said:

"Facebook is to the web what Microsoft is to the desktop: mindbogglingly gargantuan, relentlessly mediocre & almost inescapable."

This gives credence to another post I wrote a few weeks ago about Apple snobs (and now that I am 6 days away from being an iPhone user I will have to be really careful not to fall into this technological abyss). But this tweet also tipped me off to a second variety of Twitter snob. That is those who feel that Twitter is superior to Facebook and that Facebook users are somehow the Morlocks of the tech world.

I am on Facebook and Twitter. I do not think either is superior, nor can I even compare the two. To me comparing Twitter and Facebook is like comparing a car hood to a hot sidewalk. Both items will cook an egg. But outside of that, the similarities really stop. So why do I think it's erroneous to compare the two?

  • Facebook is a familiar, user-friendly interface that allows people who usually know each other in real life to connect in ways that are usually confined to geography and time. Twitter, in my opinion, is more suited to interactions between people who have never met in person or maybe strictly know each other on a professional level. Have you ever seen someone who has their Twitter account connected to Facebook? When their posts show up on Facebook, nobody comments on them because many times they don't know how to decipher the code lingo or they don't know they are supposed to click the miniature URL.
  • Facebook is an online version of real world interaction. People who know each other can correspond about their shared experiences or ones they wish they had shared. Twitter is the online version of a business/professional conference. People share experiences to people they don't really know very well and everything is done with a premise that certain people are following me because I am either in a certain line of work, into a certain hobby, I have a certain religious view, or something else about me that makes me unique.
  • Facebook is about stating what's on your mind whereas Twitter is more about being clever. Very few people on Facebook thrive on being profound (or even care about it). However, on Twitter, everyone is either a guru or a re-tweeter of a guru.
  • More people use Facebook. Last month, nearly 25% of all internet hits were on Facebook. This is not to say that it's automatically better, but it is to say that it is where people are. Few people would agree that PCs are superior to Macs, but until more people start buying Macs instead of PCs they can get for less than $200, they will always have their place in the market. And while many PC users might learn to love the sleek, smooth, touch-screeny transition to all things with fruit pictures on them, many social media users could care less about the 140 character mini-thoughts filled with too many abbreviations, @user names, and tiny links. They just want to know what their friends are up to and how life is in certain places they can't be right now. And honestly, I don't think Twitter is not the best social media for that. My 80-year old father-in-law is one of my friends on Facebook. Sometimes I post links and he doesn't even realize it is a link to be clicked. But he's on there and we interact. He would never figure out Twitter, but because he somewhat understands Facebook, I think that makes it really appealing.
I did not intend this post to be written in defense of Facebook. But I think it is the nature of all things technological that we feel somehow superior to other people because we use/have certain tech devices, we are able to use our technology certain ways, or that we can speak a language people don't understand. All of this feeds our egos. The bible says in several places that God will exalt the humble. I like this one from Psalm 149.

So do you like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social network? Do you feel this form of media is superior to the others? That is great. But please don't look down on other people because they prefer something else. What are your thoughts? Twitter? Facebook? Both?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Transitioning to a Smart Phone

I have about ten days left on my cellular contract. The display on my Motorola W510 (a dinosaur of a flip phone) is all but gone. If you leave the phone open it works okay, but if you close it, it will either hang up on the call when you open it, or the display will not work when you open it and you have to power off and back on. The funny thing is my wife's identical phone started doing the same thing a couple of weeks before mine did. Anyway, despite incentives from our smaller market wireless provider, we are going to ride it out. My cousins recently gave me an iPhone 3GS and we've recently freed up some money in our budget to go with smart phones. So that is our plan. But as I am getting excited about the endless connectivity of a smart phone, I also have a few reservations. So, here are the things that I don't want to happen with my smart phone.

I don't want to become a phone addict. I don't want to be that guy who can't go to sleep at night because I'm still checking my Twitter or Facebook. I hope I am able to establish healthy limits on my "phone use" since I'm getting so much more than just a phone.

I don't want to use my phone at the expense of others. I don't want to be sitting at dinner with my wife or with some friends or acquaintences and have my face projected down at my tech toy. I also don't want to be sitting at home with my family totally ignoring them because I can now get on the internet from my recliner.

I don't want to get carried away with my apps and downloads. With all of the apps available to make my phone more functional, I want to make my phone functional, but I don't want to break the bank trying to get every app or ringtone I think I need to make my phone cool or useful.

I don't want to become a tech snob. I posted a blog a few weeks ago about the phenomenon of the Apple snob...and here I am getting an iPhone. But regardless of the brand name on our tech devices, they are not a lot different from cool cars or houses in that we often view them as status symbols. I think tech people often enjoy making people feel dumb by rattling off a bunch of sophisticated lingo that is littered with acronyms. "What, you mean you can't check your email on YOUR phone?" How do you survive?

I don't want to send my work emails to my phone. The iPhone allows me to set up more than one email account. I can also use my email address to streamline different email accounts to go to one address. I will be choosing not to do this for one reason. When I am at home, I want to be at home. I don't want to be checking office emails when I should be visiting with my family. If someone from the church wants to get in touch with me, they can call or text me. If it's an important matter, they shouldn't email, but rather call.

Rhett Smith wrote a great post a couple of days ago on establishing boundaries with Facebook. Most of the same stuff applies here. He suggests having a box or a basket at the house where we turn our tech gadgets off and place them there for a designated period of time. So what boundaries have you had to establish with technology?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Token Thanksgiving Post

This is a post I wrote for a conglomerate blog called "The J-listers" where I write every Tuesday about a different mutually-agreed upon topic.

This is Thanksgiving week, so we have decided to write about the things for which we are thankful. This year, I’ve been doing some extra study on the history of Thanksgiving that has given me a renewed appreciation for the hardships of America’s earliest pioneers. After spending several months cramped on a relatively small vessel, the survivors arrived in the New World with their lives. Having consumed most of their supplies on the ship, they did have some wheat which they intended to plant, but found it did not grow well in the rocky New England soil. So had it not been for the relationship with friendly Native Americans, one of whom happened to speak English (another blessing from above), they literally would have died. There were a number of obstacles that they faced and much of it was met with the sweat of their brows, but after a year, ultimately, God truly had met their needs.

This year, I’m thankful for much the same things as the Pilgrims-life, health, family, sustenance. Sure, sustenance has changed over the last 400 years, but does still mean that God has given us the means to provide for ourselves. So while I’m not necessarily thankful for a successful corn crop, I am thankful for my job and the paycheck I receive from my church that allows me to provide for my family. And family has taken on a new meaning this year, at least in a way.

Almost three years ago, I married my wife, and became the step-dad to a wonderful 6-year old girl. On November 15, after a 6-month ordeal of court processing and legal fees, the District Judge granted me her adoption. So while not much has changed around our house (she is 9 now), this is the first holiday season where I am officially a child’s father. Every time I went to the courthouse, or the Sheriff’s office, or the newspaper, to complete another step in the process, I was reminded of my own adoption-not by my earthly parents, but by my heavenly Father. You see, the way I read the Bible, it tells me that while I was lost in my own sin, God demonstrated his own love for me that while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me. So while I am thankful for the adoption of my daughter, I’m also thankful for my adoption into God’s kingdom.

So this week, when my extended family gathers around the table, my daughter will be in the presence of real aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. While it doesn’t change the nature of the relationship, this is no small thing. Likewise, we are the children of God-not pseudo children, or step-children, but children. He has placed the family ringon our finger, put his best robe on us, and killed the fatted calf in celebration because we have come home! This thanksgiving, be mindful of the things God has given you, but do not forget his greatest gift…adoption!

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Blog Project

First of all, I want to thank all of you who are followers of this blog and those of you who occasionally hop in off of Twitter. But this post will be one of a different sort. About three weeks ago, I was asked to be a part of a new blog project. The basic premise of the new project is six total strangers, all followers of Christ, and all who follow each other on Twitter, who each take a crack at a weekly topic. Our first topic was our story of how we came to put our faith in Christ (or however each person articulates that particular idea). The second week was just after the recent election, so we took on voting and politics. Week Three is Thanksgiving week, so all of our posts will be related to that.

Please hop over to The J-Listers website and check it out. I have been blessed, stretched, challenged, and affirmed in my faith. I'm also starting to realize just how big my God is. If he can save someone like me, I know there's hope for all of us! Add the J-Listers to your blog roll. You will be inspired!

I will be continuing to keep this blog up, so if you enjoy reading it, no worries! If you don't enjoy reading it, then please pray for the poor innocent victims as my web-presence increases.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Youth Event Nobody Has Ever Seen

I got the idea for this post from Tim Schmoyer's "63 Youth Ministry Issues I Hope You Cover". This weekend, we are doing an event that is probably the most unique event that I've done since I've been in youth ministry over ten years.

We have an annual campout retreat that we do every fall that has evolved into a family event. We encourage our youth to bring their parents. This is a great opportunity for us to have a youth event without cutting into the much-needed family time that many families desperately need. It also gives families an opportunity to study the Bible together as a family. Now, that's not where this event is unique.

This year, we will be doing something a bit different at our family campout. You see, in our area, there was famous Comanche Indian raid that occurred in 1836 during the Texas Revolution (Texas was fighting for its independence from Mexico). The raid occurred just about 2 miles from the state park where we will be camping. There is also a cemetery that is walking distance from our campground where some of the people who were involved in that incident are buried. In the incident, a 9-year old girl named Cynthia Ann Parker was captured and eventually married a Comanche chief. Her son Quanah Parker was the last great Comanche chief and was influential in teaching the Comanche to adopt the white way of life and also became a wealthy statesman, friend of several US Presidents, and even a minister of the gospel (of sorts-see link above).

So, Friday night, of the campout, we are going to go on a hike through the woods (by lantern) and arrive at the cemetery. One of our parents will be in period costume dressed as James Parker whose neice was captured in the Indian raid and who organized many searches for a number of years until she was recovered more than 20 years later. This "ghost story" will introduce the kids to a piece of our local history. Then we will examine the story from different angles and look at the biblical themes in it. The biblical aspects of the story and the biblical stories that parallel this one will be discussion fodder for our Bible studies.

I know most of us would rather teach the Bible than anything, which is good. But I think we often sell our students short by not teaching them the history of their communities. While the Bible has a lot of great role models and examples of character, often times there are people in their communities whom God has used in similar ways.

So what are the youth events you've done that you could call unique?

Do you think an event of this nature is selling the kids short on good biblical teaching?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Top 10 Ways to Kill a Weekend Youth Retreat

We just finished up our annual fall campout/retreat. This has become an annual event for us. While very little went quite as planned, it was still an amazing weekend. I started to evaluate what made this weekend a success and came up with ten things we didn't do to make this trip successful. So, here are ten things youth workers do to ruin a weekend retreat.

1. Micro-plan every second. Part of what makes a retreat work is there is downtime. The idea of the word retreat is that we are retreating from our normal lives. If our retreat weekend is busier than our normal life, we will create more stress and fatigue rather than giving an escape from them. Have a schedule, but make it loose and allow room for flexibility.

2. Allow/encourage technology. I butted heads with several of my students this weekend who were texting back and forth as well as playing video games. One student even insisted that her parents would be upset if she made herself "inaccessible" and turned her phone off. But what is the point of getting away if we stay connected to the real world? I'm not saying everything in the world is bad, but we limit our availability to the Holy Spirit by keeping one foot back home.

3. Make it all about fun. Any retreat experience has to have a recreational aspect to it. We go camping for ours. However, if fun is the only aspect, students aren't challenged and probably won't learn anything. Make sure fun has a point.

4. Don't offer any new experiences. We have one place we have gone the last 4 years for our fall retreat. However, each year has had a different theme and different activities. Also, there has been a different focus each year. This year we looked at the history of the area we were in and a famous Indian raid that happened in 1836. We tied the story of the pioneers to our own spiritual journey of being strangers in a foreign land.

5. Go to a big city with lots of attractions/distractions. This probably goes without saying, but I wanted to throw it in. I don't know if people in small towns ever go to big cities for retreats, but it just seems counterproductive. Even in a town of 18,000 people, there are a ton of distractions. And the majority of our students live in the country in homes surrounded by woods. Yet they spend the majority of their time playing video games and talking on Facebook. Giving them more distractions from an urban environment squelches the purpose of the retreat.

6. Provide luxury accomodations. Part of a retreat is helping students realize how good they have it. Doing your retreat in a 4-star hotel isn't doing them any favors. The gospel is something that grows out of simplicity and hardship rather than the plush and lavish things of life.

7. Try to lead the whole thing yourself. I've been with great youth workers and I've been with terrible ones. The latter were probably more because I failed to train them or they insisted it was my job to do everything. i.e. What do you get paid to do? But I've found that on youth events where I tried to do everything myself, I was stressed out the whole time and couldn't really enjoy the experience. Have someone to plan your meals. Have someone plan some recreational time. Have someone plan your Bible study times. Don't use your free time preparing for your next session. Use that time to bond with your kids and your youth workers.

8. Do it in a familiar setting. We have a fantastic camp/retreat center less than 10 miles from our church. Our kids go to our district summer camp there for one week every year. I've tried to schedule other events out there and they are always poorly attended. Many of our students literally live closer to the camp center than they do to our church. There is no mystique about going out there for a 2-day retreat. Try to plan your retreats in a place that isn't "old hat".

9. Don't give an opportunity for a spiritual response. One thing I try to do when planning every youth event is ask myself "What do I want to accomplish with this event?" So try to focus the activities and studies towards some sort of spiritual response. This year's response was to live with more of a kingdom purpose. Without a spiritual response, it would have been just a campout in the woods.

10. Expect a certain kind of spiritual result. Remember, I'm saying these things will kill your retreat. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that we shouldn't design the events, activities, and Bible studies toward a certain spiritual focus (#9). But when we expect a certain result, we put God in a box by insisting that what we want to accomplish and what he wants to accomplish are one and the same. Maybe you're hoping that one guy will quit making such poor choices or that one girl will finally have the strength to break up with her boyfriend. Maybe there's another student you hope will finally put his faith in Christ? When we expect these things to happen and they don't it kills all the great things that DID happen during the weekend. A weekend is not necessarily a miserable failure because we were hoping for a particular breakthrough in a particular situation and didn't get it..

What have been the things that have destroyed some of the retreats you have been on? What things really make them better?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Seven Reasons Twitter Is Better than Church

The last few weeks I've been enjoying some conversations with fellow sojourners on this faith path of following Christ through everybody's favorite 140-character social platform, Twitter. I've really enjoyed these discussions because in many cases I have blatantly disagreed with someone else, or they have had opinions staunchly different from my own, but yet we continue to banter in a civil way which I think leaves both of us challenged, and stretched rather than feeling like one of us "won" an argument.

And that's the miracle of Twitter. Conversations that could and would never work in a live-person setting are very much the norm on Twitter. Unfortunately, these live-person settings are often our churches. I think our churches and the Church Universal has a lot to learn from social media. So here are some reasons why, in some aspects, I think Twitter is even better than Church.

1. Twitter users have no problem communicating with total strangers. Ever thought about talking to a total stranger or maybe felt like the Holy Spirit was "leading" you to but you chickened out? Maybe they looked funny, smelled funny, or there were just too many questions? Not on Twitter. Hardly any of my tweeps are people I have met in person, and I think that's normal for most Twitter users.

2. Twitter users, for the most part, are civil. Most Twitter discussions, while there may be disagreements, tend to keep a tone of "we are both here to learn from each other" rather than an "I am right, you are wrong" tenor. If only our churches could function this way, what would the church universal look like?

3. Twitter users are eager to share insights and knowledge. How many times have you read a tweet and thought "Man, that's good" and you click Retweet or you type RT, paste the message into your stream and add a quick comment? Why is the opposite true of some of our churches? Why do some believers feel that their way is the best way or the only way, to the point that they should isolate themselves from other "Christians" because of doctrinal or denominational differences?

4. Twitter users like to seek the "counsel of many". On the contrary, this often creates division in churches over silly things like picking the color of the new carpet. This scripture from Proverbs has gotten me out of more than one tight spot in my life. However, it seems that some churches that allow the whole congregation to make decisions (as opposed to boards or committees) tend to have more strife than others. And of course nothing is ever done by secret ballot. People see those opposed hands in the air and are automatically taking sides. But Twitter users usually have no problem "agreeing to disagree" and getting on with their lives.

5. Twitter users practice etiquette and give credit to those who create and/or pass on information. I was talking to a youth pastor friend of mine one time who was frustrated because he found another church online whose sermons were posted. His pastor had been preaching the exact same sermons word for word while his congregation assumed they were his own words and convictions. How do we build effective congregations if we are deceiftul in doing it?

6. Twitter users often like to teach as much as they like to be taught. What if our churches had this kind of balance? Have you ever met that know-it-all saint who is only interested in teaching rather than learning? Or have you met his arch nemesis who has a wealth of knowledge and has even demonstrated the gift of teaching in the church, but for one reason or another refuses to teach. While I know there are some pretty arrogant Twitter users who are more interested in establishing themselves as a brand name than learning from others, just about every Twitter account has at least a handful of people they follow. These are people who either have a personal connection to the user or is a person of perceived authority and is worthy of "following".

7. Twitter users seem to be real. While not every person on Twitter is authentic, many of them are. I know on my account I might share a thought about God or ministry, then a tweet about my favorite sports team, or a joke, then pass on an article I enjoyed that could be related to just about anything. Maybe some would say I'm not focused enough with my Tweets, but I would rather be myself than have an agenda. To me, a Twitter account is a peephole into someone's life that only shows what they want to be seen. But church is often not that way. We do things differently on Sunday than we do the rest of the week. We have a church persona and a non-church persona.

Let me wrap up by saying this. I love the church. And while the church isn't perfect, it is what God gave us to be his hands and feet in a fallen world. Do I really think Twitter is superior to church? Absolutely not. But do I think there are some great things about Twitter that could make the church a whole lot more effective in the world? Absolutely.

What would you add to this list? How do we make the church more civil, warm, and focused on unity?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Is Technology an Ego Thing?

The other day I was listening to a technology talk show on the radio...actually, I stumbled on it, but anyway, it was there. The topic of discussion was tech devices and how it is the nature of the technology industry for a company to release a product and to be working on that device's successor during or even prior to the release of the current device. This is where we get the concept that computers and tech devices are "obsolete" as soon as they leave the store shelf.

During the course of the show, a caller called in and was asking about the need to upgrade his current device because he was concerned that it wouldn't handle all of the tasks he required of it.

The host responded that most devices are suitable for most applications, so you will be fine with what you have unless it's an ego thing for you to have the latest device. He elaborated and said that there are some people who just have to have the latest device as a boost to their ego. It's a status symbol the way some people drive new luxury cars.

Now, I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I'm hardly the poster child for the latest tech device. I am still running Windows XP on my laptop and I just recently got it back from having it tuned up and having the RAM increased because my 512MB wasn't enough for the programs I was running. I was also recently given an iPhone by a relative who has more cash flow than I do, but it will be another month before I can set it up with phone and data service.

But there are things sometimes that we feel we have to have because of our ego. Maybe it is a particular tech toy. Maybe it's a new car. Maybe it's a motorcycle or an ATV, or in my part of the country it could even be a deer lease. For my family, we are really trying to simplify our lives. We are also putting almost all of our extra income toward paying off debt. But that doesn't mean we don't have a bunch of stuff we don't need. We live in a pretty small house and a lot of my musical equipment (sound system, drumset, etc.) lives at the church where it is used regularly. I have some guns that were given to me by my father that stay in a safe. I also have lots of clothes that don't fit in my closet.

Matthew 6:19-21 says that we should not lay up treasures for ourselves where moth and rust destroy, or where thieves break in and steal. But rather we should store up for ourselves treasures in heaven. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.

What are the things we feel we need to have to satisfy our ego? Is it an iPad? A car? A house in a particular neighborhood? How can we trust God to meet our needs when we don't get the things we think we need?

New Blog Venture-The J-Listers

There are some of you who follow this blog and others who just follow my Twitter account. This blog at times can be somewhat random. I write when the inspiration hits me. It may be something I thought about in my free time, or it may be something someone said or did that challenged my way of thinking and through this blog I share that process with readers. While I try to post at least once a week, it doesn't always happen that way.

But recently, I was invited to be a part of a different kind of blog. It is a blog where every day of the week will be written by one of six people-we take Sundays off. All of us are followers of Christ, but we all come from different faith traditions and backgrounds. We also do not know each other personally, but we follow each other on Twitter. So I'm excited about seeing what comes from such a unique dynamic.

The blog is called "The J-Listers" (as in A-list, but with a J for Jesus). It is also known as the #Superblog in Twitter hashtags, which was the name for the original concept before we had a name. The plan is that each week will present a different theme or Christian idea and the posts for that week will be our individual thoughts and comments on that particular issue.

I will still be writing posts for this blog, but I'm excited about each week having a theme and purpose over on the J-listers blog. Please check it out and add it to your blog roll.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ok, God...What Have You Done for Me Lately?

The strangest emotional roller coaster ride in Texas this fall has been the success of the Texas Rangers. This is a team that had only won one playoff game in it's 50+ year franchise history. But this year, despite a number of injuries, some mediocre teams in their division, and being at least 20 games back in the race for the best record in the American League, they easily made the playoffs, but weren't expected to do much. Then, they beat the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series and the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series to make the World Series for the first time in history.

All of the dormant Ranger fans who had given up on the team after years of watching average baseball suddenly awakened from their slumbers and the Rangers bandwagon was full of enthusiastic supporters. Some even waited until it looked like a win over the Yankees was highly probable to show their excitement, but eventually, everyone came around.

Then the World Series came. The Rangers lost Game 1. Then they lost Game 2. And immediately, we began to hear moans and groans like "What are we going to do about the Rangers?" as if to say their losses in the World Series were typical of their regular season losing streaks in years gone by. Now, many fans are carrying the weight of disappointment, despite the fact that they had a phenomenal season and the future looks bright for a really great ball club with a solid core of great players.

As I thought about the prime example of human nature displayed by our support of a baseball team, I was reminded of how we often treat God. When everything is going well and life is full of blessings, we can hold our head high and worship and serve our Creator wholeheartedly. However, it's in the times when things aren't going right-when the bills exceed the income, when the loved one passes away, when the company is downsizing-that it's hard to remember what God HAS done for us.

As we have passed through Halloween and rounded the corner headed into Thanksgiving, let us be thankful for the things God has done. Psalm 100:4 says we should enter his gates with thanksgiving in our hearts. No matter how bad things get, we have much for which to be thankful because God has blessed us tremendously-if with nothing else, he has given us the means for eternal life through the gift of his son.

So whether your problems are great or maybe you're just mourning your favorite team's latest defeat, remember that God has blessed you and there are a lot of things for which to be thankful. What are you thankful for? What times in your life was it hard to be thankful?