TMI (Part 3)

Maybe it’s ironic I’ve used three posts to say all I want about information, making my series on TMI too much information. Or maybe it’s just redundant.

Nonetheless, I’m finishing up the series with these last thoughts.

Information itself can become a danger—we can end up knowing too much.

We’ve all used the catchphrase: “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” Not seriously though. Well, most of us. If you’ve ever used that phrase seriously I want to encourage you to stop reading and never visit this site again. You’re scaring me.

We have held to the idea that knowledge is power. And that those who are in the know have an exclusive advantage over those who are not.

I used to believe that knowledge reigns supreme over nearly everyone. An idea first introduced to me by a high school friend through the rap group Boogie Down Productions.

Both of those ideas are reinforced through popular culture, that knowledge is key to having power and control over others.

So we make and keep secrets.

And we gossip.

Have you ever wondered why gossip is so powerful? Why we are so susceptible to listen to it? Because it draws us in with some secret word that is being exclusively shared with us, but not with others. We’re drawn in and accepted.

But I’ve come to realize that information and knowledge aren’t truly the greatest source of power. By themselves, they are merely tools used to manipulate and maintain the illusion of control.

You see, there is a great danger of knowledge without appropriate action. Maybe that’s why we keep secrets. We’re afraid of sensitive information getting into the wrong hands.

We live in a world full of information. There is too much to ever think we’d be able to consume it all; we can’t keep up with what’s served up to us each day.

That is our new reality, and it demands that we come to grips with how we are going to handle and interact with that plethora of information.

When Apple introduced the iPhone, it changed the way we interacted with information. It put more information at our fingertips, and shrunk the globe.

It became a blessing and a curse.

The danger is that we can become intellectual foolsacting as though we had power, but really only had a piece of information.

The world is already full of these people; and I fear we have assumed their posture by hunching over our phones, both hands gripping tightly as we ignore the reality around us. We have recreated Plato’s cave and furnished it with comfortable seating around the fire.

Knowing more has never been enough. But the lie that knowledge alone is enough has been a subtle deception from almost the beginning of time. The serpent used a lie about knowledge to trick Eve into doubt and disobedience.

Knowledge is only a piece of the puzzle; the key comes in knowing where it fits. This moves us from knowledge to wisdom, acting rightly with the information we have at our fingertips and frontal lobes.

So those who know more hold a greater responsibility to act rightly.

Exposure to the plights of the world around us demand we act justly. Knowing my friend is hungry forces me to feed him. Recognizing another is weighed down under the burden of life necessitates me to step in and relieve her load.

Information is really only too much if we continue to consume it without acting on it. As if holding it would mean power and control. Living in light of it—demonstrating grace and forgiveness, justice and mercy—that is where true power comes. Not because we use it to manipulate the masses, but now we are able to love and serve and grace others.

Grace is active, not passive. We can’t roll up our sleeves with our thumbs still searching for more information.

What will we do with our Twitter and Facebook feeds? What good and humble use can come from us holding CNN and Wikipedia in between our two hands? At some point, don’t we have to put the devices away to lend our hands to another?

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TMI (Part 2)

In my last post, I sought to draw attention to the overwhelming amount of information we are exposed to. Then I asked whether my adding a blog to the mix was just too much, just more ‘noise’ in an already loud world. But I also asked whether there might be grace enough for me to seek to write and find my voice anyhow.

This time I’d like to look a bit closer at all of our involvement with this information overload. Because we’re all partly responsible. Yeah, all of us.

Are you a Facebook user? I am. And the emphasis is probably on user. I probably overuse the site—abuse it, really.

It’s a place we both love and hate, isn’t it?

We use it to keep up with old friends, connect with family, read odd news, stalk people, and waste time.

But my issue today isn’t with all of those various uses, but on answering the questions: Do we share too much? Do we reveal too much about ourselves in a public setting?

Well, the quick and easy answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Otherwise we wouldn’t find ourselves sounding off about some people’s overuse, “unfriending” people that have irritated us, and generally complaining about how cluttered our timeline is.

And let me be quick to say that Facebook isn’t the only place this happens, but it’s definitely the most popular of the various social media sites. But my aim isn’t at Facebook as much as it is at us, the users and subscribers.

But what is the problem exactly? Why do we think people post too much? Why do we post too much? And who defines what is too much? Because I don’t think I do, but I certainly think you might.

What’s behind this information overload, both the desire to consume and the desire to share things that complete strangers can discover about us?

Wait, you only post those things on your timeline and only your friends can see them because of your privacy settings? Did you forget that this is all on the Worldwide web?! Nothing is deleted. Nothing is hidden. It’s all there—for anybody with enough time, energy, and desire to dig it up.

But I’m getting distracted now. Surprise, surprise.

So what’s the basis for this behavior?

Here’s my thought: at the core of this personal information overload is the desire to be known. We all want to be loved. To let others see who we really are and then to be accepted for that reality. So we seek opportunities to have our voices heard, our pictures viewed, our kids adored and ultimately, to be loved for and through it all.

But somewhere along the way we get swept up in it and the desire to be accepted wins out over authenticity and we begin to project the best versions of ourselves. Instead of just desiring to be loved, we move to a space where we want our lives envied. We become discontent with others loving us for who we are and instead want them to love to be us. It becomes a non verbalized sort of competition. A dangerous and graceless competition. But it isn’t real life. We’ve set up highlights of ourselves which turn out to be veneer covering an either truly shallow existence or deep wounds we are afraid of revealing.

We post more, to be loved more.

Once again, the problem isn’t Facebook, or Twitter, or Pinterest . . . okay, maybe Pinterest is the problem.

The sites will change. Culture demands that. Todays Facebook is tomorrow’s Myspace. Whatever the forum, we’ve got to learn to leverage these spaces for opportunities to connect in meaningful and vulnerable relationships, with noncompete clauses. Life is hard enough without having the pressure of competing with friends through social media.

Instead, might I suggest we use these sites to engage with grace?

To recognize that sometimes it isn’t the content which speaks loudest and clearest, but it’s form and frequency.

Let’s seek to understand the content, but accept and love the person behind it. Let’s be those who are so winsome and free with our grace that the Spirit uses us to draw people into Jesus, where full acceptance, satisfaction and validation are found.

We don’t have to muster up this love on our own. We don’t have to fabricate feelings. We merely need to pass on what is already our’s in Jesus. Let’s be conduits of the grace we’ve received from the Father.

Do you agree? Do we share too much? Is it possible to continue to share our lives, but to move towards it happening in a meaningful and encouraging way?

TMI (Part 1)

Writing

One thing that’s true about the internet is that there’s plenty of information. It’s an easy place to go and waste time, but also to rationalize the time spent by recognizing all the knowledge we gleaned and how much more we “know.”

With that realization, what difference does it make that I should have a blog? After all, aren’t I just adding to the noise? Am I so important that my two cents and my opinions need to be shared with the masses?

These are questions you may not have asked, but I certainly have.

I don’t think it’s important to say something just to make my voice heard; I’m not arrogant enough to think that the world is missing out if it doesn’t hear me speak. However, I also realize that each one of us is given a voice and we ought not be afraid of speaking with boldness and clarity, grace and charity.

And so this is going to sound incredibly self-centered, but it’s the reality which I’m operating from:

I don’t write so much so that you’ll hear me, as much as I write so I can find my voice.

But giving too many details has long been a struggle of mine. An English professor from college once wrote on a paper, “Summarize, my friend.” That advice has echoed throughout my life in numerous contexts.

Even now I’m tempted to say more, to elaborate further, to be sure to clarify so that you understand the point I’m trying so desperately to convey.

I know, I’m beating a dead horse.

So what’s the point with this post anyways? I guess I’m just asking for a little grace. I know I might write too much, use too many words in a post, overly repeat the same idea with incessant redundancy. But I’m trying to figure it out, to find my voice–and maybe the meter and frequency that will best accompany.

Really, grace is that thing we all need. We’re trying to figure out this thing called life. Whether its a blog, a relationship, a career path, parenting, whatever, we all need a little grace to keep us going.

We need permission to try, to fail, to get back up and keep on going.

So while information itself has become a sort of commodity, grace has not. It cannot. It is, by it’s very nature, free.

Give it away.

The New (and Removed)

A couple of years ago I spent the better part of a week in Spring working on a home improvement project. And by better part of the week, I mean the part that was over 80° and sunny . . . and this was Michigan in March. I put the finishing touches on the project on a Saturday when it was going to be 60° and rainy—which was more typical for the season.

But let me be clear about the project, too: it had been a project that had been staring me tauntingly in the face for the last 2-3 years. It was our deck. Old/New Deck

For whatever reason (I’ve got lots of excuses and blame to shift), the deck that was built 7 years prior simply did not hold up. The wood no longer repelled the water and instead soaked it up like a sponge—so much so that our kids would get splinters in their feet if they didn’t wear sandals or shoes when they went out to play in the yard. And removing splinters from the tender feet of 2-5 year olds is an exercise in patience and persistence that seems to border on brutality in the eyes of the tender footed.

Okay, so you’ve got this right? The deck was awful. It had been in poor shape for far too long, but I just hadn’t bitten the bullet to repair it. I’d priced it out multiple times, but no matter how many trips I made to the home improvement store, the materials never seemed to make their way to my home and install themselves. And so it looked as though we would just endure another season of splinters.

But enough was enough. I was not man enough to spend another summer extracting splinters from the soles of my little girls’ feet. But I was man enough to rebuild a deck.

Or so I thought.

In my mind (let’s not spend too much time here), the project would entail buying the materials, cutting the boards to size and then after the obligatory task of removing the old decking I would install the new deck boards. It would be a one-man day’s-long project at best.

I can hear you chuckling already.

Yeah, it didn’t go that way at all. The old decking—rotting though it was—refused to cooperate. And like giant splinters in the soles of tender footed little girls, it took patient and exacting labor to remove the old decking before I could even begin installing the new material.

The boards had swollen with all the moisture they’d soaked in and were actually covering most of the screws. So, before I could I could go and remove all the screws in order to free up the individual deck boards, I had to go on my hands and knees and free up the screws with a pocket knife. This involved not only shaving away the wood that was covering the screws, but also digging out the dirt and debris that would otherwise cause the drill bit to strip the screw.

On one of these laborious attempts to remove the wood swollen over a screw, my knife skipped off and lodged itself in my arm. It didn’t actually penetrate that deeply, but the damage was done and now I had to leave the work to stop the bleeding. (I’m sure there’s another metaphor here.)

Alright, I’m going to spare you any more of the boring details. I think you get the picture: the job that I had expected to complete in one day had now taking two days just to remove the old decking; I was barely halfway done.

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And I did finish the job within the week, but not by myself—my son helped.

We loved having a new deck, but I think that weeklong project is an apt picture for much of life. We have great intentions of starting new things and get a fresh blank page, but sometimes the greatest work is just preparing the surface through removing the old. Preparing for the new can’t happen without first removing the old.

In Ephesians 4, Paul tells us

to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

I get really excited about the idea of a new deck–of putting on the new self, but I often overlook the difficult and necessarily laborious task of removing the old. It’s akin to removing splinters before being able to run through the yard. If I skip the former, I’m not going to be able to enjoy the latter. If I don’t get rid of the old stuff, the new stuff isn’t going to function the way it’s supposed to and there will still be unnecessary pain.

It may take longer than expected, require more help, create wounds and leave scars in the process, but it is still better than merely living with the old.

And there were unexpected rewards from finishing the deck—one of which was decktime: when my wife and I would sit and enjoy a drink and some healthy conversation after our kids were in bed. But I’ll save that for another post.

This lesson can be applied in many ways: from decks to simplifying life to leaving an old neighborhood and context for a new opportunity.

And that’s just where I am: that house with it’s new deck is actually on the market to be sold right now, with someone else getting the opportunity to enjoy the fruit of my blood, sweat, and tears.

But we had to move from the old place before we saw the new opportunity open up.

And I see the truth at work in my life of following after Jesus, too: if I don’t put off the sinful habits and character, no matter how hard I work at it, new disciplines towards godliness aren’t going to be able to take root.

Do you struggle with removing the old in order to put on the new? What new things do you hope to see in your life and what slivers are you working at pulling out of tender feet to make those things a reality?

No More Masks

IMG_3570Yesterday was, of course, Halloween. A day filled with costumes and candy, carving pumpkins and classroom parades, tricks and treats. But in some circles (you should see my Twitter feed) it was also filled with theological discussions and debates. You see, it was also Reformation Day, a day marking the anniversary of Martin Luther standing up to the Catholic Church. (For more on that, go here.)

But that isn’t the only debate happening on Halloween.

For as long as I can remember, Christians have been wondering, debating, and arguing over whether it is right for followers of Jesus to observe/celebrate Halloween and to what extent. At times, and in certain circles, that debate regularly becomes heated.

But this post isn’t actually about any of those things. It isn’t about whether it is right or wrong to wear a costume today or whether your church should hold a Trunk-or-Treat event or whether we ought to be promoting “Harvest Parties.”

Halloween costumes aside, there are far more dangerous masks being worn within the walls where the church gathers that have nothing to do with Halloween. They are widely accepted and even encouraged. Halloween becomes a time when we merely trade one mask for another.

We pretend to be something we are not.

We pretend to have everything together. We dress up on Sundays and get the family there (nearly) on time. But underneath we hide great brokenness. We pretend to be the picture perfect image of what we perceive people believe a Christ-follower is supposed to look like.

And why? Because we are ultimately afraid. What kind of irony is that?

Yesterday, my kids encountered masks that were scary and had the potential of causing nightmares, but the masks we often put on are just the opposite. They are safe and calm and reassuring. We don’t wear them to cause fear, but because of fear. The only similarity is that we are hiding our true selves in both cases. This is hardly a new revelation. Each one of us can quickly realize that we are prone to do this ourselves.

A while back I tweeted the following thought:

Fake smiles help sell plastic lies. The truth can be hard to find when these are the masks we hide behind.

We all want to be known and to be loved. But we wear these masks because we are afraid of being found out to be incomplete and imperfect. And so in hope of preserving ourselves, we have cultivated a culture filled with falsehood. And there is nothing that threatens to undo us as giving ourselves over to fears and falsehoods.

We talk about the need for authenticity, but I think most of us are waiting from someone else to be that first. But genuine authenticity (redundancy, anyone?) demands courage and vulnerability. It means someone is going to have to take their mask off first and risk being known for who we really are. Can this actually happen?

I believe it can. But that kind of courage isn’t something we just muster up, it’s a recognition and reliance on the truth that God has already spoken to us: that we are known intimately and loved completely . . . by Him. His presence is to give us strength. Think Joshua 1:9–“Be strong and courageous . . . the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

It is time for the Church to finally be a place of no more masks. We must speak grace and truth to each other and foster deep relationships that drive us deeper into trust and love of the God who rescues us from these fears.

When we finally begin to rest in He who made us, knows us fully, and loves us endlessly, we are able to removed the masks, drop the charade, and be ourselves. We are no longer dependent upon other’s validation and perceptions, but on the eternal value of the One who is sufficient for all these things.

What kind of masks have you worn? What kind of fears were you trying to hide?