Practical Principles about Virtual Reality

I felt offended the first time I went to a McDonald’s and couldn’t place an order with a person but had to order at the digital screen. I felt it was an affront to our humanity to have a screen mediate our transaction, and I’ll probably never be ok with it.

When I think about how to spend my limited resources of time, money, and technology, I want to live out of an abundance mentality, rather than scarcity. What good and beautiful thing can I throw my energy into? When God dreamed me up, what did He intend for me to be? I know He didn’t intend me to be a dour, nay-saying person.

What’s my biggest YES?

God and His purposes are the the non-negotiable part of my life. Beyond that, my biggest YES is connected to people and words.

Being sure of my main YES is wonderfully clarifying. I’m convinced that He intended me for:

  • Action rather than passivity
  • Creativity rather than consumerism
  • Interaction rather than spectating

These convictions help me sort out what to say YES and NO to regarding technology and devices. It even shapes my policy not to use the self-check-out machines at Walmart, because they cut out one person that I could interact with.

Passivity, consumerism, and spectating tend to shrivel and diminish a person—not what God had in mind when He dreamed up humans.

In contrast, action, creativity, and interaction make us fuller, better, healthier people.

Flourishing would describe it, and is surely what God designed us for.

Below are some practical ways that demonstrate my ideals and my main YES. When I know what to say YES to, it filters out clutter. I have more time for what I really love. I get to live in abundance, not scarcity.

But first a qualification: I really enjoy social media. I love Instagram. Also, I know loneliness and the magnetic pull for more, more, more faces and profiles and witty exchanges. Dopamine is a chemical we all like to feel, but the soul translates its absence as loneliness, and I feel it too. I’m not speaking out of a distant, Luddite attitude. Not at all.

I mostly watch videos only  if they’re classical music, choral music, painting, or lettering because they speak to my creativity. Who has time for cat videos? How are cats connected to anyone’s big YES? Oh yes, the people who work in catteries. But I’m not a kill joy, honestly. I love a good laugh. Oh yes, and I love, love, love Nathan Pyle’s Strange Planet because he makes me laugh every single day.

Housecleaning

I’m very Marie Kondo about my feeds. If something doesn’t spark joy, I unfollow it. Simple. I followed a very talented artist, and learned from her, and liked what she did, but she complained all the time, and I decided I don’t need that negativity. Same way for someone who consistently rants about their pet grievance or enthusiasm. If it’s about politics or multilevel marketing, it’s out. It’s nothing personal but it’s a boundary that gives me space to interact with the people I really want to hear from.

Friends or strangers

I accept most friend requests because I’m an author and welcome interaction that extends beyond the book. But with little or no exception, I don’t follow people I don’t know in real life, unless it’s a public page relating to creativity or people. Nobody is keeping track of how many friends or likes I have, and if they do, they must not get out much.

Real people vs virtual connections

People are colorful and unpredictable and quirky. They have all these stories and insights covered up in their souls, and I refuse to miss out on that by burying my face in my phone. Are some people boring? Yes. But they stay boring if I don’t engage with them.

And yes, interacting with real humans can be awkward and risky on all kinds of levels.

But how can people live their hours behind a device and then be vibrant, wholesome, contributing, flourishing husbands and wives and church members and mentors and artists and teachers and committee members?

Passivity and consumerism bleed into crippled, selfish relationships where I must feel good and cozy all the time, or I’ll escape into a device. Saying YES to interacting with real humans now exercises the muscles necessary later to love the difficult son or daughter, the awkward small group member, the selfish committee member. Refusing to interact in real life results in shriveled, diminished humans, which is an ugly alternative to what God dreamed for us. Is interaction with real people easy? Nope, not always.

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Be all here

My phone shows only my Whatsapp, Messenger, and email notifications on the lock screen. I don’t need anything else when I’m working or socializing. I don’t have to know what’s going on on Facebook or Instagram until I’m alone and have time to open the app.  If I leave for an evening and I’m not the driver, the phone usually stays home. Others have heavier responsibilities than I, and don’t have the luxury of being as untethered as I am. But if they’re not a Person of Pressing Responsibility, I wonder why the phone can’t stay on their table a few hours until they get back.

This extends to taking pictures. We’ve all seen the circle of friends who are looking down into their phones at the pictures they’ve just taken instead of out into each other’s eyes. Or they’re contorting themselves to take a Instagram-worthy picture instead of internalizing the moment.

It makes my heart hurt to see that, but I feel the rub. Last Monday evening I was in a choir rehearsal. I’m so excited to be in an 80+ voice choir for Larry Nickel’s “A Cappella Christmas Cantata.” Part of my job is to publicize the event, and pictures do that best, right? But I felt so conflicted because I could either be a good choir member and stay engaged with the singing. Or I could take action shots. But I couldn’t do both, and when I tried, I failed on both fronts. sigh

Then yesterday I spent the day with a small group of pals critiquing writing projects. It was a lovely atmosphere, and I kept thinking about how I could capture part of it in a picture. After several hours of being all there, I tried surreptitiously to take a picture, but it wasn’t a good one and it still derailed the conversation toward styling a picture and talking about #vscobasics. Some conversations can afford to be interrupted with a camera, and some can’t. I’ve decided that my best moments don’t make it to the internet because they’re so sweet and precious, not for public consumption, and too valuable to interrupt with a camera.

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The disrupting shot

There are people in my life who have shaped me enormously, and they do it by being completely present with me. When they talk to me, they make me feel like I’m the most important person in their world. They ask thoughtful questions that show me they remember our last conversation even if it was a long time ago. They’re not grabbing at a pocket, or glancing at a screen when it dings. They have a million other things to do, but in that moment, they’re with me, and my soul is soothed in a way that no screen can mimic. The tilt of the head, the squint of the eye, the wink, or touching my arm tell me that they are all there, and I find it deeply restorative. We don’t have a selfie to document the moment but something real and lasting happened inside me.

This is the kind of presence and intention that will shift a person, a community, a world, and I want to be part of that.

Join me?

Last week, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion about practical ways to approach life and technology. This is the expanded version of what I shared there. I’m also indebted to my co-writers yesterday who helped shape this into better coherence. It was a case in point: presence over electronics!

To Be an Ear

Some years ago, I was one in a quartet of English teachers in Poland. We’d taught and traveled and joked and experienced lots of things together for two years. We knew it was an exceptional season of our lives and things wouldn’t always be this fun.

So the day a team member left to go back to the US was a very sad day.

We waved him off at the airport, then joined other friends in downtown Warsaw. I put on sunglasses to hide my red eyes, tramping around being tourists. They were a big, jolly group, and I loved the chance to share our capital city with them.

On the hour ride home, we caught an old train without AC, and it was hot. Often Polish passengers don’t like any moving breeze, even in high summer, but since our group filled the whole train car, we slid open all the windows.

While the others sang and laughed and made up fun games, I stood by a window. It was open at shoulder-height, so I folded my arms on the rim and rested my chin on my hands. I watched the birch trees and poppies flit past, soaked up the blue sky, and let the hot breeze wash over me and dry my cheeks because tears kept dripping onto them.

Soon Manu, the group’s photographer, came to stand at the window next to mine. We stood elbow to elbow, leaning on our window rims, watching the countryside, while he took pictures of this and that. He turned to me to say something about the sky, and I couldn’t turn away quickly enough to keep him from seeing my tears.

A man who stays steady when a woman cries is a strong, good man. Manu turned back to his camera as if he’d not seen anything amiss. After a minute, still watching the trees, he said, “I guess you had a pretty hard day today.”

I don’t know what I said, but yes.

“It’s really hard to say good-bye,” he said.

Suddenly, I realized who I was talking with. This was a young man who’d grown up in an orphanage in Romania and had loved scores of people who eventually walked out of his life. He’d known more goodbyes than I did.

“It used to hurt so much when someone left. Finally, I decided not to care or get attached, so that their goodbye wouldn’t be so terrible.” His voice was calm, matter-of-fact. “But cutting my heart off still hurt me, so that wasn’t a good choice.”

We talked a little more, about how love and friendship enriches more than it depletes, even if it breaks our heart. Then we lapsed into silence, watching poppies and birch trees flash past. Soon I felt calmed enough to turn away from the window and join the rest of the group and laugh at their games. I was fragile for the rest of the day, but that short exchange at the train window helped me turn a corner.

It wasn’t so much what Manu said, though that was good and gentle and thoughtful. It was more what he did: his calmness and understanding that helped steady me and not feel alone.

Several years later, Manu married my good friend, and now they have two active little boys. I always feel calmed and loved when I’m with them. In my days and dreams for life, I care a lot about wholeness and healing for myself and others. These late summer days of clear skies and warm sun remind me of that season back then and how Manu helped me that day. It was an important step in my growth as a person. He showed me that helping someone is mostly about listening and staying present in their distress.

I hope I never forget it.

Just Ask

Five years ago, my friend Janelle and I flew to San Diego for a Storyline Conference that Donald Miller was hosting. I learned and observed things there that I still think about and refer to, it was that powerful and significant.

The strength of the weekend was how Don shared the stage with many other people who have learned to live well and impact their world. People like Bob Goff, Shauna Niequist, Mike Foster, Tricia Lott Williford, and others.

One of the speakers was Jia Jiang, who told us about his experience with Rejection Therapy. His motto was “Just Ask. “ He got into about 100 adventures, like getting a ride in a police car and playing soccer in a stranger’s yard.  (Listen to his TEDx talk here.) The ask that put him on the map was his request at Krispy Kreme for five donuts in the shape of the Olympic symbol.

donuts

PC: Jia Jiang

Just ask, he says. Asking for what you want can open up possibilities where you expect to be rejected. Also, there are ways to ask that help to disarm the person you’re asking and equalize the space between you.

The last day of the conference in San Diego, our hotel shuttled us to the venue, Point Loma Nazarene University (a gorgeous destination in itself). But we didn’t know when the evening session would be finished and couldn’t book the shuttle for the evening.

In the cracks of that day, I kept thinking about the dilemma of getting back to the hotel that was over two miles away. In the evening, it was dark and raining, so walking wasn’t an option. I wasn’t worried, but very curious about how we were going to get back.

After the last session, in the line waiting for the restroom, I happened to stand beside a girl I’d talked with in the morning. She’d told me then that she had driven there, and was staying with an aunt. In a crowd of 1,600, what are the odds that I’d bump into the same person twice? I remembered the “Just ask” speech and asked if she could take Janelle and me to the hotel.

Of course! she said. She was glad to help us out, refused payment, wished us the best, and we never saw her again.

I’ve learned “just ask” is a useful motto in many scenarios. Asking is usually something I want to avoid, because it puts me in a needy place. It reveals my dependence. It’s risky because being refused means I was too much or too something else. But if it’s not unreasonable or demanding, asking appeals to the human, soft part of a person who is happy to help.

Does it mean I always get what I ask for?

Nope.

But I’m collecting adventures too, when I just ask.

Recently I wanted to book an Airbnb in a little town that I’d fallen in love with. I wanted to spend Labor Day weekend there by myself, exploring, reading, and resting. But I waited too long, so the place I really wanted wasn’t available.

I debated about changing my plans, but then felt strongly that I could at least message the owners to ask if they could refer me to someone in their town.

Just ask.

In a couple hours, they responded, saying they’d blocked those days because they’ll be gone, and they prefer not to have first-time guests then. But they’d like to accommodate me because I seem like a sweet person and a fan of their charming village, and what dates do I need the apartment?

We messaged back and forth in a flurry, and in a few hours, they unblocked the dates and I made the booking. They’re going to be gone, and I’ll have the place to myself the whole blessed weekend. I’m excited beyond words.

Just ask.

 

 

The Only Way Forward


So the news last week was that Josh Harris divorced and says he’s not a Christian anymore. I felt heavy hearted about it on several levels.

I want to weep at the vitriol, sarcasm, disdain, harshness toward him that rippled through social media. Sin is sin, yes, and divorce is a travesty. But is public contempt and expecting the worst of someone ever, ever, redemptive or bring the healing and repentance that Jesus asks for?

The Josh Harris news hit me hard because he’s my age. Which isn’t old, but it’s old enough to have done some good or some hurt. I love being my age but I often wish I’d done things differently. I’d like to retract the heavy-handed, glib things I said when I was in my 20’s. I cringe when I remember my inept ways of being dean and teaching at Calvary Bible School. I made stupid, thoughtless decisions that had to have hurt people who trusted me. I wish I could redo my first ESL lessons, because they were pathetic.

James is absolutely right when he writes that teachers will be judged more severely, and sometimes I wonder why anyone would choose to be an influencer.

And then I remember that everyone influences someone.

Some people have a louder voice or a bigger platform or more attractive words than others, but every time we open our mouths, we make some kind of impact on the ears around us.

Or on the eyes reading our blog. Or Facebook comment. Or the scorn in a conversation.

If we could see the knock-on effect our words have, I wonder if we would say less or more.

“I’m hungry for ice cream–let’s go to McDonalds!”

“That picture of the refugees made me cry.”

“How are things going for you?”

“He thinks he’s so cool.”

Words of passion and zeal and knowledge without wisdom are lethal. Truth without grace is a sledgehammer swung around without direction, volatile, harsh, dangerous. If we always have to be right, and always decry the latest scandal, and constantly shout truisms, we destroy the trust necessary to win an audience and make the difference we’re wanting.

That doesn’t mean we compromise truth. Jesus is full of truth and grace, and His people should reflect those qualities. If we don’t, something is seriously broken.

God’s Kingdom needs bold, winsome, confident, inviting words flung like confetti around the world. No one needs more hate, doubt, or hostility thrown at them.

One of my friends says that her husband prays every day to be humble and confident. I think that’s a posture that God would honor. We don’t have to be slinking around, doubting ourselves, making every disclaimer before we say something. The Holy Spirit said He would help us say the right thing at the right time. The problem isn’t that He doesn’t have the right words for us. The problem is that we aren’t always quiet enough to hear Him.

Josh Harris made some grave mistakes in his 40+ years.

I have too.

We all have.

Repenting and depending on Jesus with humility and confidence is the only way forward.

Giving and Receiving Life

Recently at work, when sending an email to over 60 people, I made an innocent but dreadful, mortifying mistake. While I was writing the message, intending to send it with Mail Merge, I didn’t realize Word was tracking all the changes, and the message went out with red lines and replaced red words all over it. It looked like a something a child would do. It looked confusing and ugly and awful, not like an informative message.

I saw the first message in my sent items, in shock and disbelief and horror, and started wailing. Loudly. Luckily, the office was empty except for Lucy, who came running. I showed her the garbled messages, still trickling into my sent items. “I’m so sorry,” she said, and started rubbing my shoulders. “It’s really going to be ok.” But I couldn’t believe her, and the shoulder rubbing wasn’t calming me down.

Then my phone rang. It was one of the recipients. “I just got your email, and in case I was the first person you sent it to, it looks like there’s some problem with it.” I wailed and whimpered to her, and she was very sympathetic, and while we were still talking, my inbox pinged. It was from another recipient: “Am I supposed to respond to this?” His bluntness and confusion tickled my fragile emotions, and I started howling with laughter. Thankfully, it was a perfect storm in that my message showed simple, honest editing, and nothing incriminating.

But still. It took me at least 24 hours to recover.

Later, Lucy told me, “I felt so bad that I couldn’t help you feel better and that it was someone else who made you laugh.”

But Lucy was wrong because she HAD helped me enormously. She’d run to my desk the second she heard me wail. She’d asked questions and heard me out. She kept me from needing to process the stress alone. That was what I’d really needed in that moment. Later that evening, she brought it up again to see how I was.

There are older and wiser people who’ve said this with more explanation and insight, but my simple way of saying it is: Women need to talk about their experiences, and an experience isn’t complete until they talk about it.

What Lucy did that evening is one example of what many good, wise, solid, life-giving people have done for me all my life.

Talking is how we experience life. We tell about the details, the best parts, the worst parts, the emotions, and our responses to an experience. We tell the back story and the spin offs and the lingering questions. Sometimes we get a bad rap for it and sometimes we deserve that, but usually we’re just women experiencing life more broadly by talking about what just happened.

We tell someone about what just happened because we can’t just stay quiet about it. It happens every day all over the world:

  • letters, texts, and status updates
  • school children coming home from school talking about the day
  • pictures and crummy, topsy-turvy, jerky videos sent to friends
  • strangers talking to strangers in waiting rooms and grocery check out lines
  • phone calls and Whatsapp voice messages

I hear and read:

  • in a Facebook group post: “This is off topic, but I just had to tell someone.”
  • “Can I tell you about what happened when I was at home?”
  • “Thanks for listening. I just had to talk about it. I feel better now.”

The internet takes this to another level and feeds on our inherent narcissism and loneliness, but I want to say that it also taps into what is innately human: that we are more whole and balanced when we tell someone else about our experience.

I’m not promoting navel gazing and endless self-expression. I’m not encouraging everyone to start an Instagram account. I’m saying we are better people for getting out what’s simmering inside, and when we tell someone about it.

That’s why journaling is so therapeutic. It’s why children want to tell about what they saw on their walk to the barn. It’s why I tell my friend how blue the sky is. It’s why debriefing after a traumatic or unusual event is so healing. (It’s why I LOVE Whatsapp: I can talk to my friend about what’s going on and she can respond when she has time, and I don’t feel like I’m imposing on her.)

Sometimes you don’t have time or energy or opportunity in the moment to talk about what’s troubling you or making you ecstatic, but at some point, it needs to come out. There are women who talk all the time only about themselves. That’s not wise or healthy. There are seasons when you feel consumed with your latest crisis and be more needy than you like, but hopefully that’s a season, not the shape of your life. In the talking and processing, it’s a good rule of thumb to talk to someone, or write them about whatever is simmering, or journal it out, before putting any of it on the interwebs.

There are two sides to this kind of life-giving exchange: the speaking and the listening.

If we live life better and more fully when we talk, we also offer life to others when we give them opportunities to talk. It’s very simple. It just takes time and ears and lots of heart. Oh yes–and staying quiet and not finishing the other person’s sentences are skills I’m working on. I think the most whole woman has people she talks to and people she listens to.

I think about what I’ve heard from those inviting me to talk:

  • I want to hear what happened yesterday!
  • You said something about ________. Tell me more.
  • What did you mean when you said that?
  • What are you feeling now?

We can give life with words like these.

Women are good at talking and we are designed to be life-givers. What would happen if more of us would give and receive life by inviting and listening well, and also giving ourselves permission to talk to someone else?

I wonder.

What I Like About Guys Mills

When I told my wordsy and brainy friend Shari that I felt stuck and unable to blog, she gave me a list of things I could write about. That list will likely be the spring board for future posts like this one.

When I first started thinking about what I like about Guys Mills, the tiny crossroads where I’ve been living the last 3 years, I wanted to be snarky. I wanted to say that the good thing about Guys Mills is that there are roads leading out of it.

But when I started looking for the genuinely nice things about this swampy outback, I found several endearing qualities.

My very favorite thing about this place is that when I’m outside at noon and 6:00 PM, the church bells play a hymn and chime the hour. It heartens me to know that someone is beautifying the world that way.

The bells are in the cupolo on on the far horizon in this picture that I took this evening on my walk home.

Another thing I love about Guys Mills is that the post mistress is the happiest, smiliest lady I’ve ever met in a post office. The place is dingy and very ordinary a far as post offices go, but she is beaming and positive and beyond helpful. “I LOVE my job!”she told me. “On Saturdays I do some things around the place then go across the road and drink coffee with my friend on the front porch of the store while I watch for customers.”

Except she’s not on the front porch during this polar vortex, but she’s still happy in her job and serving us superbly.

If I’d have a new drone to try out around here, there are locals who would shoot it down first and ask questions later. When I walk around the block, I’ve seen enough shady characters that make me always stay vigilant. But at the most decrepit house, the owner always waves politely at me and shushes his barking dogs so they won’t bother me. And the snaggletooth mechanic has given me excellent service for which I’ve been deeply grateful. And another mechanic up the road treats my car as if I’m his daughter.

I’m seeing a pattern here.

The people who program and maintain and care about the church bells.

The delightful post mistress.

The respectful, rough-looking man.

The careful mechanics who make sure my car is safe.

The things I love about this sleepy little place aren’t things but people.

I kinda like that. Because maybe it means that even if it’s winter for 6 months and the deer are constant threats to road/car safety and the sky isn’t big where I live, there are people around, and where there are people, there’s a significant level of dignity and beauty which is really what my soul is hungry for.

Melancholy and Dazzling Light

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Closing down one year and turning the page to another always makes me a simmering mess of melancholy and excited, reliving sweet memories, shuddering at hard memories, anticipating and apprehensive and curious about what’s next.

Writing things out helps unscramble the mass of the months and moments, sifts the favorites from the non-favorites, and reminds me of what is true.

Here is a sanitized, public-reader-appropriate list of 2018’s high points. Those closest to me know the crazy and the agony parts, the hysterical and impossible and guffawing and sparkling moments that we shared this year. But that stays with us, not the world-wide web.

This list is neither chronological nor ordered in priority, but savored, round and round, like pearls on a string.

2018

  • Introducing 40 women to doodling at a women’s retreat. Helping them find their inner artist.
  • Traveling to KS with friends and singing in a concert for Nelson & Hannah’s wedding
  • Tea with mentor friends, late, after an age-long day. Tears. Decision. Unutterable peace.
  • Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterworth
  • 2 visits to NYC
  • A Makers Weekend where a pile of friends made stuff and talked and ate food and talked and talked
  • A late-night invitation to neighbors on my birthday. Fire and jackets and stories. Laughter and star light.
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • A week auditing a Christian anthropology class in a seminary.
  • A week in Greece. Sunshine. Sunshine. Sunshine. Sunshine. Swimming. Family. Unbelievable food. Sunshine.
  • This concert of peace. In the heat of summer. In the front row. Healing tears dripping off my chin.
  • Thanksgiving Sunday. Carnegie Hall. Messiah. 500 voices.
  • Connections in my new church, surprising and sweet.
  • An Ola Gjeilo concert where the composer was the accompanist and we heard him improv “Ubi Cartitas” with music heard only that one time.
  • Rings of friends, arriving alone or in dozens, in our living room. Rollicking laughter. Stories. Art parties. Tea.
  • Educated by Tara Westover
  • Friends who took me in as one of their family. Different states. Different occasions. So much love.

2018 brought me choking anxiety and peace, sobs and shrieking laughter, a staggering, preposterous torrent of blessings, joy, and love so deep and so tall, there is no way to measure or describe it.
This reality, of living surrounded by love, tells me to walk into 2019, hands opened wide for more.