“The lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions.” –Proverbs 12:27
After living overseas, including a year in abject poverty in Nicaragua, I struggle with how to deal with money here in the U.S. We have a lot. Others have a little. I don’t like it. I try to be generous. I try to not be greedy.
I’ve never written about stuff before. (Well, I’ve not written much of anything around here lately. This fall’s been active over on the blog for This Ordinary Adventure.)
But this holiday season, as I’ve swung from Thanksgiving into Advent, I’ve heard that song from The Sound of Music:
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things
The proverb I opened with seems to me to indicate we should slow down to appreciate what we have. So sometimes thinking and talking about stuff is how we ensure we’re not caring too much about stuff. (Tweet this.)
So what are my favorite things?
- The Nields’ All Together Singin’ in the Kitchen first came across our radar when we checked it out for a family vacation last summer. This album is by some professionals but it pulls in their whole family. It’s folksy, it’s smart, and it’s funny. We’ve been singing it around the house to each other throughout this fall. It’s entered our family vocabulary.
- Tetley British Blend Tea is as good as any that I had in South Africa, but I can buy it here. I think it’sfresher and fruitier than any other mass-produced tea here in the U.S. At $.04/bag, it’s cheap, too.
- Reading books aloud to our kids is a fun tradition we’ve been doing for almost a decade. It started with But Not the Hippopotamus and other cutesy little board books. Last night there was a murder in our passage of Holes, by Louis Sachar. (We’ve come a long way.)
- Equate Junior Acetaminophen Tabs have been very helpful this week. Phoebe’s had a high fever, and I saw these, at 1/3 the price of liquid meds. Phoebe’s lovin’ ‘em.
- Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference by Philip Yancey has been on my morning reading list for the past few months. I’ve been a serious Christian for about 20 years, and prayer is still a confusing thing for me. This book is well-written, thoughtful, and honest, not smarmy.
- The Born Loomis II Oxford is comfortable, well-made, and I think it’s sorta stylish. (But I’m not the best one to make that call.)
- Duke Otherwise’s Creepy Crawly Love has recently supplanted The Nields as the most-played album in our family. We met the Duke at a concert a couple weeks ago. His songs are fresh, funny, and smart. I woke up this morning singing about “monster spray” today (yesterday it was “this song is not about bananas”), and I don’t even mind.
- Hot showers continue to amaze me. Ever since that hard hear with new friends in a remote village in Nicaragua, I say a prayer of thanks every time I step into running water. It’s a miracle, something we find totally commonplace but is the result of a lot of technology, planning, and wealth.
- Planet Fitness continues to amaze me. They just opened up a few blocks away. I joined for $10/month, no contract. I kept my expectations appropriately low. But it’s large, clean, always open, and has excellent equipment. I am very impressed.
There you have it, stuff that I am noticing, that make life easier or more enjoyable—a few of my favorite things.
What are yours?
“I’m just can’t talk about myself like that.”
“I’m afraid of rejection.”
And most damning, “It feels icky.”
I’ve been a writer for six and a half years. (Well, at the start, I said I was a writer, but I had no evidence of that fact for editors.) I started off in motorcycle travel photojournalism, telling stories about traveling across southern Africa when we lived there. I had no name. I had no sponsors. I had no publishing credits. I didn’t even have very much skill. But I am very good at the key to good self-promotion:
I find out what people need and help them.
You’re an editor of a small magazine in California about on-/off-road motorcycling? I’ll write you a story about my similar experiences in South Africa.
You publish a motorcycling magazine in South Africa? I’ll give your readers a piece on an American’s view of the riding scene, from the inside.
Your magazine covers living with a faith perspective for young adults in the U.S.? I’ll tell you the story of finding out Chrissy was pregnant and how we freaked out.
You are struggling with living out the extreme teachings of Jesus in middle-class America? We’ll tell you about the journey and struggle of re-entry after our years overseas, with insights from friends there, in This Ordinary Adventure.
All along the way, I listen to people, love people, and seek to solve their problems. This is the most natural and effective self-promotion possible.
So when I share one of our columns in Relevant with my Facebook friends, I use a quote that might be challenging or encouraging. When I tweet about my work for Urbana 12, I share student ministry insights from my InterVarsity colleagues and the excellent work of 250+ international missions. organizations. When I speak on campus about our book, I will first find out where students are at, what issues they’re dealing with, and what they need.
Even this post is an example of this commitment. If I wrote a post today called “Why Our Book is Awesome,” no one would read it. But I’m solving your problem of needing to promote your work but feeling uncomfortable about it and so here you are, at the end of the piece, with a little encouragement, maybe a new idea, and a general impression that I’m a happy, helpful guy with an interesting book coming out. See what I did there?
Love people and solve their problems. That’s the key to self-promotion.
And that’s not icky.
Did this post address your misgivings about self-promotion? Why or why not?
My first book is coming out in a couple weeks (This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling). I co-wrote this book with my lovely wife, who wrote another book a couple years ago. I helped as a quasi-agent for that project. We also write a biweekly column for Relevant and contribute to their print magazine. And we both blog.
In the past few years, then, I’ve thought mucho about how and where our content goes out. The publishing industry continues to lurch and sputter, trying to figure out how to adjust to the new communications landscape. This ought to give you pause if you’re thinking about writing a book.
Here’s why you shouldn’t:
- You want to be rich. The average book sells something like 1,000 copies. Even at cover price (and no one has bought a book for cover price since the 1800s), that’s like $15,000 gross. Take out printing. Shipping. Ads. Editorial staff. You may pocket the advance, but a few thousand dollars for the number of hours that go into a book doesn’t equate to “rich.” It’s got to be something like .1% of all book projects that pay the author more than minimum wage for their time.
- You want to be famous. How many authors do you think you could name? Recognize on the street? Even just know the name of while browsing books? I’d guess maybe a few hundred for myself, and I’m good with names and I read a fair bit. Even in a niche market, there are not many famous authors. Committing a novel crime is a much easier way to get famous than writing a novel.
- You want to be a writer. It’s far easier to just publish your own work on a blog or as an e-book through one of the new services that’s popped up. You don’t need to publish a book to be a writer. You just need WordPress. It’s easier and it’s faster. So why schlep through the months (years!) of a book project?
But we’ve got a book coming out anyway. Here’s why we still thought writing This Ordinary Adventure would be worthwhile:
- We want to reach certain people. A key to effective communication is using the audience’s preferred mode of communication. Some people simply prefer books. So if we want them to consider our ideas, we need to hand it to them, made of paper and print (or pixels for the Kindle and Nook addicts).
- We have big and deep ideas. Books allow a depth and pace that other formats do not. They are focused and immersive in ways that phones, laptops, and even tablets with browsers are not. We do blog (at IntoTheMud.com, ExecutingIdeas.com, and we even have a big announcement coming next week about a new publisher for our new blog). But a book hangs together, welcoming readers to sink in deeply.
- We write and speak. Having a book out really has helped Chrissy (and me, too) build a platform, giving a reason to be in front of audiences. “Author” still confers a level of credibility beyond what we can get from “blogger.” (I’m not sure how much longer this will last.) For now, it makes a lot of sense to do both.
But here’s the biggest reason why we wrote a book, despite all the reasons we shouldn’t:
We want to help people. At the end of the day, our lives are for serving others. We have lived in Nicaragua, China, and South Africa, trying to learn from and to help friends in hard places. When we came back to the U.S., lots of people said, “We would so love to do what you’ve done!” and “That’s so amazing!” What we really heard in that was, “I feel like my life sucks. And there’s nothing I can do about it.”
We wrote This Ordinary Adventure for those friends (and thousands of others) who feel like they’re not living out their calling where they are. Our time overseas gave us a unique perspective on life in the U.S., and now that we’re back here and rooted a bit, we’re wrestling with how to live a life of significance, a life of deep faith for the good of the world. Our hope is that our struggle—our journey—helps others in the midst of theirs.
Have you written a book or thought about it? Why do you think you should or shouldn’t?
We’re on vacation. After our years of adventures overseas, we don’t think, “Let’s go to Disney World!” or “We should see Yosemite!” or “Let’s go see the coolest KFC in the nation!”
We say, “Let’s go see people we love!”
Our main destination for our vacation is Jubilee Partners, an intentional Christian community we’ve lived in before, one that’s motivated by their faith to care for refugees, live simply, and welcome people in. (More on this later in the week.) The community is in northern Georgia. We live in Wisconsin. We’re not really into Super 8, so we start asking, “If we drive about 10 hours the first day, we could stay in Nashville. Do we know anybody in Nashville?”
I tick off an old college friend who we’ve not seen in over a decade, someone I met though work a year ago, a writer friend, and colleagues with InterVarsity, only one of whom I’ve met in person. I sent some emails, texts, Twitter DMs, and Facebook messages. They went something like this:
We’ll be in Nashville this Saturday night 8/11 and the following Saturday 8/18. We’re just passing through en route to and returning from a vacation in Atlanta and at a place where we volunteered with refugees. Any chance we could stay with you or that you could connect us to folks we could crash with? (It’ll be Chrissy, Phoebe, Zeke, and me.)
Part of our Amazing Days commitment is to avoid hotels and find real people to stay with whenever possible. Thanks for your grace in considering what might be a weird request!
Hoping you’re well,
After a bit of back and forth, some “Hey, did you get that message I sent?” a little prayer and referrals to a couple friends of friends, we had lined up dinner right when we arrived on Saturday with that old college friend. And we got to know that work contact that I met last year, along with his rad singer/potter wife and kids that Phoebe and Zeke had fun with.
I posted on Facebook on Sunday morning that we were in Nashville and someone we’d met in three years earlier South Africa commented, “We’re here! Let’s hang out!” Thus, our lunch was planned.
On Monday, we spent a few hours hiking Kennesaw Mountain outside of Atlanta and eating a simple lunch with someone we taught with in China and caught up with another set of old college friends with four boys that our kids could romp with.
Tuesday dawns rainy and grey. Today, we will drive across Atlanta (no small feat, I’m learning) to have brunch with a fantastic couple that does beautiful photography and helps persecuted Christians in Pakistan. Then, it’s onward to Jubilee Partners for a few days.
Next weekend, we reverse the process heading back to Athens on Friday night for yet another friend from our days as Badgers at the University of Wisconsin. Saturday will take us back to Nashville to stay with the same family again and hopefully the writer friend, too.
The key to all this hospitality was asking for it.
We had to send the messages, ask the questions, make the awkward re-introductions. If we did not make this effort, we would have been in a motel by ourselves with the cable as our only friend and fast food as our sustenance, rather than real people with real stories and real food.
We did not know these people well. Some we had met once. Some we’d not seen for a very long time. But they are good people. If someone needs a place to stay, they’re eager to help, even if it’s finding space at a neighbor’s place (two of them actually did this for us). They were so generous, so helpful, so hospitable, I felt bad, because we couldn’t accept it all. These acquaintances and old friends were very happy to house and feed us (or they’re very good at hiding their grumpiness).
While overseas, we learned to expect extraordinary hospitality—a family’s last chicken has been killed and cooked up for us on a couple different continents. People here are eager to house and to help, too.
You just need to give them the chance.
How do you cultivate hospitality? Do you ask others for it? Do you try things to welcome others into your home and life?
About a year and a half ago, Jeff Goins called me. We talked about writing, about being freelancers, about our day jobs with InterVarsity and Adventures in Missions. Since then we’ve kept up the way one can now through social media, occasional comments on one another’s blogs, some retweets, and a bit of witty banter.
With our new book (This Ordinary Adventure) coming out in a few weeks, Chrissy and I have been developing a series of posts on other books y’all would like. When I saw Jeff had a book coming out and saw its title, I knew it would be a good candidate. As it’s launching today, it gets to be the first in the series.
(Jeff’s got some great book launch freebies running for the next day or two, so make sure you click through!)
“This is a book about brave choices, about ordinary people helping beggars and moving to foreign countries. About listening to that still, small voice whispering, ‘Life is not about you.’” So Jeff begins his book, and it’s a very worthwhile read.
Jeff draws upon the wisdom of Mother Teresa, General Patton, Morpheus, Tyler Durden, Yoda, Jason Bourne, Chesterton, William Wallace, Thoreau, C.S. Lewis, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ayn Rand, and Jesus. There’s also a good deal of insight from Jeff’s life lived, his school of hard knocks.
And that’s sort of the point.
We need hard knocks. And a world of hurting people needs us to take them. Jeff casts a very compelling case for us needing to get wrecked, to come to the end of ourselves, to spend ourselves—our lives—on behalf of others. This is life as a Christian—this is life.
“(Kids’) lives are full of reckless abandon, and no one has to tell them so.” I think when Jesus spoke of the need for faith like a child, he was talking less about naïve belief and more about this wholehearted embrace of risk.
Chrissy and I have been talking and thinking for years about life in North America, fearing it (while we were serving in Nicaragua, China, and South Africa) and wrestling with in since we moved back two and a half years ago. Jeff observes correctly, “Something is missing. Something important. Something necessary to making a difference in the world. And most of us are afraid to find out what it is. Because we know. It’s the secret we’re afraid to admit: this will cost us our lives.”
“The process is horrible and ugly and completely gut-wrenching— and at the same time, beautiful. It is real and hard and true. Most of all, it is necessary.”
This resonates with us. This squares with our reflection on the Bible, on our years abroad, of our meager efforts to live for others. As a friend of Jeff’s said, ““When I travel, my problems slide into the context of the rest of the world.” Amen.
“If we are to follow the Jesus who suffered with us and bled for us, we too must suffer. We must hold the dying in our arms. We must shed tears for hungry stomachs, trafficked children, and wandering souls. This is what He wants for us. It’s the reason we are called to lay down our nets and take up our crosses to pursue the Suffering Servant. And it’s the one thing we will avoid at all costs.”
But Jeff and his wife Ashley have stopped avoiding it. They’ve run into it. And their friends have, too. Jeff tells stories of hanging out with people on the streets of Spain and Nashville (which I connected to my similar days in Barcelona and Madison, WI), taking in wounded teens, and touring the country in the real-life grind of a band.
There’s wisdom here, on what you’re living and dying for, when to commit and stay put, when to cut back or move on, and real significance. Wisdom is rare these days. Jeff’s got some that he’s shared well, in a compelling fashion.
Wrecked is perfect for college students and twenty-somethings. This Ordinary Adventure is tilted a smidge older, recent graduates up to our peers in their thirties. I think they actually hang together pretty well as a one-two punch for people starting their first jobs, getting engaged, and trying to start marriage well.
May we each proclaim today, with Jeff, and with people who have lived great lives:
Instead of wanting more, we will strive for less.
Instead of easier, faster, better; we will opt for slow and deliberate.
We will take our time.
We will seek first the needs of others and trust that our own will be provided.
We will discipline ourselves to believe.
We will find our lives by losing it.
We will seek the pearl of great price and sacrifice everything
We will become less to gain more.
We cannot become who we are without going through pain.
Our year in Nicaragua—without electricity, transportation, or water—certainly wrecked me. I was totally insufficient. I was doubled over by giardia and malaria and a broken ankle, and crushing poverty. But God graciously worked on me there (and since) and even used our efforts to work real good there.
What has wrecked you?
Last week, 120 younger leaders in the evangelical movement got together in Madison, WI. I was privileged to be one of them. This was the first of several “younger leader gatherings” that the Lausanne movement is pulling together in each of the regions of the world. We started from the Cape Town Commitment document and broke into working groups that included business as mission, leadership development, unreached people groups, cities, theological education, and arts and media, where I found myself.
Tom Lin and the rest of the steering committee brought us together to consider how we see the work of the church from our roles with our churches and organizations. But the real beauty of this was the connections that formed in the hallways, during breaks, late at night, and over breakfast.
I met fantastic people. Bryce is leading a church way up in Canada and doing some cutting edge research. Chris is facilitating a conversation about who we are and who we should be. Bethany is making the case for justice work from a biblical framework. Matt is gathering together first hand observation and analysis from people on the ground all over the world. Emily is mobilizing people to care for vulnerable children. Jonathan is re-envisioning the church as gospel communities on mission, with a network of others. J.R. is leading a conversation about what our church cultures do to us and the potential of that, in his new book. And Tanya is traveling and teaching about God’s character to young adults.
These leaders—and knowing gatherings like this are happening around the world—give me hope.
What gives you hope for the next 40 years?
(And that’s saying a lot.) Free Krispy Kreme donuts in exchange for an ugly tie!
I lead a team of writers for my day job. I also set social media strategy for InterVarsity. I have done a lot of freelance work for magazines, with my excellent wife, Chrissy. We even have a book that’s on Amazon, ready for pre-order. I’ve had this blog for two years.
But I’m a terrible blogger.
Because of my work helping lead communications for InterVarsity, I know how to be an awesome blogger. I should:
- get up really early to write. (OK, I do that one sometimes.)
- write catchy headlines. (OK, I hit this occasionally, too.)
- zero in on a specific area, learning as I go and becoming the expert in that area. (And repost excellent content from others related to my area of focus.)
- post daily (or at least a couple times each week).
Bloggers who blog about blogging for bloggers give all the recommendations above and thousands more. They say, “No excuse. You want to be a blogger, you have to blog.”
The last two are why I’m a terrible blogger. Today, I want to deal with the frequency of posting.
I’ve occasionally gotten into a rhythm where I’m posting regularly—putting up solid content as often as three times a week. I was on the blogging team for the Global Leadership Summit, with some writing that I’m proud of. That came on the heels of the World Assembly of the International Fellowship of International Students (the IFES), where I also produced some good stuff.
But lately, I’ve struggled to write for my blog. Even a post per month seems like a challenge.
I think I’ve put my finger on why I suck at this.
At some point, blogging impedes living:
My kids just turned 7 and 9. We value a balanced family life. The kids are not in tons of stuff, but I try to be around most mornings and most evenings for them. I don’t really care if I ever have a platform of 50,000 blog subscribers. I care very much if Phoebe and Zeke are nurtured well. I don’t want to sacrifice my children on the altar of WordPress.
I write elsewhere. I have articles going out in magazines. I oversee and occasionally write for the national InterVarsity blog. Our book is being released in a couple months. (and I value much of this other writing more than pushing out content here). So it’s not like I’m not writing at all. But blogging doesn’t fit well.
I want to live Amazing Days. One of the premises of the new book grows from a commitment I made in high school to do something amazing every day. Chrissy already was doing the same when we met. Recent Amazing Days include weeding the garden with the kids after work with the kids, building a treehouse, meeting up with a friend I’d not seen in at least 12 years, learning to filet a fish, going in to work super early, doing yoga, and sitting and enjoying the sunrise with a cup of tea in our yard. Eating the woodchuck raw and sucking the marrow out of life take time and keep me from writing here. (If you’re lost at this point, go read some Thoreau.)
The good news, I s’pose, is that I’ve been squirreling away blog ideas for the last year, just not writing them. I think I’m about to let loose the floodgates.
What about you—why are you a terrible blogger?
That’s a lot of Farmville.
As most of us in the U.S., particularly on campus, are on Facebook, I’ve been thinking about how I should use it. It can’t be good to embrace something wholeheartedly without a little critique and consideration of if it’s good for me and others. And as a Christian, I need to ask how my thoughts on faith sound to others, even in the cybersphere. Here’s where I’m at:
1. Be there.
In order to love people, help people, and serve people, you need to be where they are, even if that’s a digital platform. I’m sure God calls some of us to eschew Facebook (and other social streams) for good reasons, but for most of us, I think it’s a part of a robust cultural engagement that Christians often have missed. Some of my friends who aren’t Christians really appreciate getting to interact with me (and vice versa) and that wouldn’t be happening without Facebook. I’m accessible, and so are they.
2. Know healthy boundaries of sharing.
Some people are inclined to only share that which makes them look really good, a carefully tended image. Others don’t know when to shut up. Crashing and burning in front of everyone (and with Facebook’s new defaults and public options, I mean everyone) isn’t healthy or helpful. Some things do not need to be “Facebook official.”
3. Watch out for selfishness and narcisism.
You are not the center of the universe, even the virtual universe. Put others’ needs before your own even online. I try to share useful things with others, and I have a firm commitment to post about what I am eating no more than twice a year. (Nobody cares, folks.) I’ve also learned that my humor sometimes gets lost in the ether. I have to remember to be courteous in my comments and interactions online.
4. Aim to become the person you wish you were.
I’m tempted to post only the very best about me, a persona that doesn’t always match reality. But that persona might actually be worth being. Staying plugged into the public can call you to see the kind of life you want to be living (and posting about), like helping somebody with a flat tire or reading a thought-provoking book. I think God uses Facebook to help me see more clearly the man I am called to be.
5. Monitor your time.
If I’m not thinking about it, I would check Facebook moments after I climb out of bed, as I wait for my tea kettle to boil. I would check it again before I leave home. It would be my first order of business at work. I would check it a number of times in the morning, right before lunch, after lunch, and before I leave. I would check it on my phone at a stop light on the way home, and I would wish my phone was waterproof so I could check it in the shower. It’s addictive. I need to make sure I’m really with the people I’m with, that I’m present. I aim to let Facebook complement and feed into face-to-face interactions.
6. Consider your audience.
I talk differently to friends who I know want to follow Jesus and those who do not. There are different expectations, different themes, even different expressions that work with each group of friends. Some Christians I know don’t seem to consider this, with posts that must be real head-scratchers for people who are unfamiliar with the Bible or the Church. And I know others who probably catch flak from their parents or pastors for being friends with folks who have no interest in the Bible. A couple months ago, Facebook introduced lists that can help on this front, where you can share something like a request for prayer with select people, depending on your relationship and who they are. I’m trying this out and it feels much more natural to me to share most posts publicly and a few specific ones with people I know are with me on the road behind Jesus.
7. Don’t discount weak links.
I don’t really know some of the people I’m Facebook friends with. Some I’ve not talked to since college or even high school. Yet they’ve watched me for a while and concluded that I’m faithful and thoughtful, that I’m a safe person to talk to. Then they message me or grab me at a high school reunion and ask some really deep stuff. In some cases, it seems like I’m one of the few thoughtful, caring people (let alone Christians) in their life. That’s a great opportunity to serve others.
Even though I like to say that “Facebook is my job,” I’m still learning. If you want to read more, check out Friending by Lynne Baab, Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith by Shane Hipps, or The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion by Tim Challies.
Why and how do you use Facebook (or Twitter or YouTube or Tumblr or the rest)?
This post originally ran on the InterVarsity blog.
We’ve just come through Lent, the 40-day season of fasting many Christians practice. It’s a contemplative season, considering one’s own shortcomings, failings, and selfishness and the need for a messiah. Lent culminates, of course, with “Good” Friday, so we consider the great love that Jesus lived and died for, as well as Resurrection Sunday (or Easter).
We are now a week after Easter and Lent. For those who did fast in some fashion during Lent, is there any lingering insight or change? Has life “gone back to normal”?
I was driving home from work one day this week and thinking. I understand Lent and its meditative, somber weeks. But how am I feeling now, after Lent, after Easter? And are there any spiritual practices in which I can grow in this season?
Yes. I need to grow in the discipline of parties.
There’s a forgotten season of the Christian church calendar, the 50 days after Easter, traditionally referred to as Eastertide. I know nothing of this season, so I’m starting to read up. But my starting point is this—after a time of fasting, there should be a season of feasting. After considering that Jesus was dead and our great need of him, and that then he was alive again, we ought to throw a bunch of parties.
I’m not sure what Eastertide has meant throughout the history of the Church. I don’t know what practices traditional churches may have during these weeks. But here is my proposal—for the next fifty days, until May 27, we party.
Let’s celebrate the freedom, joy, and love that Jesus offers. Let’s remember and rejoice that God is still working on us and inviting us to join in good work in the world. And let’s create spaces and events to be together, to just have fun and enjoy life a bit.
Sure beats the heck out of giving up chocolate or meat or coffee and then just going back to “normal life” after Lent.
Already, we’ve gone to two parties this week. And we’re planning a big one on day 50—you’re all invited to our place on May 27.
What are you going to do during these 50 days of feasting?