MDS Blog: Finding Frenemies

Our team in InterVarsity’s Ministry in Digital Spaces crew recently put together a series of blog posts on engaging with social media, and you should check it out right here.

For my part, I wrote a post called Finding Frenemies. It’s important to make sure your social media feed includes some voices that challenge you. Here’s a small excerpt:

It can be scary and challenging to discuss different points of view. We might not feel like we know enough to back up what we believe. We might be afraid that the other person will outwit us. We might be afraid to find out if we were wrong about something! But that’s also why it’s so important to seek out these opportunities: if we’re wrong about something, it may hurt to admit it, but we get correction and can go forward with better understanding. And if we’re right, we come away from the exchange even better prepared to defend the truth.

I hope you’ll head over and give the whole series a read! We don’t currently have comments enabled on the MDS blog so feel free to comment here or come say hi on Facebook or Twitter.

MDS Blog: Technology, Empire, and Authority

I have a new blog post over on InterVarsity’s Ministry in Digital Spaces Blog, reflecting on a talk given by Andy Crouch at this year’s InterVarsity Staff Conference. He gave a great talk, and I had some thoughts on digging deeper into one of the topics he covered.

A snippet:

No one, if they’re honest, wants to be vulnerable. Christ teaches the importance of it, and the richness of life that comes when we embrace this truth, but we all have hearts that want to get rich quick, and High Authority, High Vulnerability life is a get rich slow scheme. Technology lays no special claim on the earnest pursuit of a more comfortable, less demanding way of living.

Check out the full post, and the rest of the great stuff our team has written!

A Psalm for a Digital Age

I wrote this psalm last August during a team retreat for MDS. I just found it again while looking through old notes. It seemed good to share it. Forgive the plagiarism of the first line.

How lovely is your dwelling place, oh Lord Almighty
And how vast its storehouses, full of food for the feast.
You invite us to sit and dine with you,
to sample the treasures you have prepared just for us.
We ask you, selfishly, to tell us the price of admission,
for we fear that the cost is too great

And you tell us,
smilingly,
“Love me”

And we say to ourselves,
“is a feast of infinite richness
worth so high a price?”

Lord, though you have given us so much already,
we need you ever more to fix our broken scales
Which regard the unburdening lightness of your fee
heavier than our hardened hearts

Father God, be gracious to your children,
and in every room and hall and avenue
and help us weigh your grace with more honest scales
and bring our appetites to embrace your bounty

Amen.

Believing in Equality

Recently, I shared an article on Facebook detailing how two coworkers – one male and one female – had very different experiences dealing with clients, and they proved sexism was involved by swapping email signatures for two weeks. That resulted in a torturous week for him and an incredibly productive week for her. Read the article for the rest of that story; the rest of this post isn’t really about that article.

When I shared the link, my dear friend Laura spoke up, first commenting on my post and then later composing her own post about this story (and others like it).

Here’s what she said:

Hey, you know what would be cool? If everyone just BELIEVED WOMEN WHEN THEY SAID THEY ARE TREATED UNFAIRLY AND IN A SEXIST MANNER instead of only noticing their complaints when it *gasp* happens to a man!

I guarantee she had mentioned it before and he (and the other boss) just dismissed it.

Just believe women when we talk about our experiences, for the love of god, and stop acting like there’s some sort of giant revelation when a man realizes we’re actually, really serious.

She has an excellent point, and I support her entirely. I want to encourage everyone to err on the side of believing people’s stories, especially when it’s about the lived experience of being different from you (I’ll talk about men believing women for this post, but the theme can also apply to race, sexuality, gender identity, and a host of others).

In order to contribute to this goal, I want to share some thoughts on why it might be that men often struggle to believe women when they learn things like this, why I’ve failed to do so in the past. Let me be absolutely clear, before I begin, none of the following is meant as an excuse or justification for mistreating or marginalizing anyone. I’m not trying to get myself off the hook or excuse any lapses in judgment. But I think looking at why we struggle to empathize with one another is an important step in bridging the gap.

My Experience

Let me lay out my entirely unearned credentials: I’m a straight, white, cisgender Protestant American male. Quite by accident, I won privilege bingo; the only possible claim I have on being marginalized is that I’m left-handed, which means I had a rough time with scissors in elementary school.

So in context of this discussion, that means I struggle to relate my own experience to the majority of stories I hear about women being mistreated, marginalized, or harmed in a sexist incident. Sure, I’ve had my share of people insulting or mistreating me, but never because I’m male. So when I hear of this kind of treatment, I’ve learned that I can’t rely on instinct or experience to respond.

I’ve also started to understand one reason it’s hard for many men to believe women when they hear accounts like this. No reason justifies or excuses it, and this needs to be confronted and overcome, but understanding it helped me start doing that in my own life. It has little to do with facts and much to do with perspective.

Perspective

Have you ever heard someone say they’ve never watched your favorite movie and reacted in shock? “You’re kidding, right? Everyone’s seen Star Wars!”

Have you ever seen someone freak out when they hear of another culture’s delicacies? “Wait, people actually eat that?”

Those are examples of culture shock, and the kind of disbelief men express when women share their stories behaves similarly. In short, we doubt stories more when they conflict with our expectations of how people treat one another. We react with disbelief because we don’t expect what we hear – not because we mistrust the person telling us, but because we aren’t prepared for the story to be true. And, being privileged in the ways that we are, men are more likely to doubt stories of sexist abuse and mistreatment precisely because we’re less likely to be victims of that very abuse.

I suspect (and hope) that the majority of these cases are accidental, automatic responses. New information doesn’t fit into our picture of the world until we make room for it; the more a piece of information conflicts with our preconceptions, more effort it takes to make room for it, so we’re more likely to resist it. For men who have never experienced sexism firsthand, being mistreated because of one’s sex can honestly feel like a huge paradigm shift.

Now, at this point, we could say “See, there’s a reason for the doubt, it’s justified!” and use that as an excuse to remain comfortably oblivious.

Or, perhaps worse, we could say, “See, men and women both deal with challenges when it comes to this sort of thing,” and use that as an excuse to feel like we’re helping without actually helping.

But neither of those responses are actually worth anything. Yes, there is a reason for the doubt, but upon realizing it, we now have an obstacle to overcome, not a cushion to settle in. Yes, men have challenges to face when it comes to embracing and establishing true, lasting equality, but no sane person should claim that being oblivious to harm is just as bad as being a victim of that harm.

What To Do

So here’s some practical advice.

First, a statement I made earlier: err on the side of believing. When someone tells you about something they’re personally experiencing, grant them the grace and trust to treat it seriously, even if it sounds strange to you – maybe even especially then. Give them a chance to tell you more and include you before drawing any conclusions. Importantly, I’m not saying that you need to believe everything everyone says, always. People do lie and exaggerate, for lots of different reasons. That will come out if it’s the case; but frankly I’d rather believe someone and try to help them, only to be deceived, than deny help to someone who really needed it.

“Help me understand” – The best advice I’ve heard on bridging a gap like this involves inviting people to share. If a woman tells you she’s being treated unfairly and in a sexist way, and it’s shocking, your instinct may be to disbelieve because it’s unlike anything you’ve experienced. Tell her so, and ask her to help you understand better. It’s not her job to help you understand, but at the same time, letting someone know that you’re willing to help but not sure you have the tools is a much better starting point than saying “I don’t believe you.”

When in doubt, be vulnerable. Acknowledge that your perspective is incomplete. I’ll start: Friends, I’m writing this post with very good intentions, but I recognize that I am still a novice in this area. I don’t want to sound like an expert telling you what to do, and if anything I’ve said here sounds wrong to you, please let me know, so that I can be a better support to all my friends and neighbors.

At the end of the day, we only know what it’s like to be us. Life consists of constant exposure to the unfamiliar. The best person any of us can be embraces that strangeness and says “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I want to, so that I can use every scrap of knowledge to make the world a better place for everyone.”

What do you think? Can we do that?

Christianity is Hard: Sacrifice, Risk, and Trust

Christianity is supposed to be hard.

It is challenging and taxing and heart-wrenching.

It is also, undoubtedly, beautiful and life-giving and affirming.

These things are not at odds with one another.

Christianity is holistic, and how could something to cover all of life without both pleasure and pain, both hardship and comfort, both joy and sorrow?

Clarity

When I say that it is meant to be hard, perhaps I should start with what I don’t mean by that.

I don’t mean that Christianity is designed to be unpleasant, unrewarding, joyless, boring, stressful, guilt-ridden, shaming, or unsatisfying. God is not a tyrant who demands that we not have any fun. God derives no pleasure from our pain. His will is not for us to despise our earthly lives. A certain legalistic, puritanical interpretation of the Bible has led some throughout history to believe, essentially, that if something feels good in any way, it must be a sin. This is not the world the Bible teaches.

What, then, do I mean when I say that Christianity is supposed to be hard? I mean many things, but today I want to focus on sacrifice, risk, and trust.

Sacrifice, Risk, and Trust

My incredible friend Mark Weber once preached on this topic, and it’s from him that I gleaned the triad “sacrifice, risk, and trust.” He helped me see the significance of Abraham’s willingness to trust God and sacrifice Isaac; of Moses’ willingness to trust God and be the voice for Israel despite his doubt in his own abilities; of the dozens of risks Jesus took during his life, and the hundreds of risks his apostles took  after his ascension.

The theme is constant in the Bible; for brevity, I’m only posting one reference for each.

Sacrifice

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

Risk

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13 (ESV)

Trust

When I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can flesh do to me?

Psalm 56:3-4 (ESV)

God promises great rewards to his faithful; this is essential. But God, equally essentially, also promises that this reward comes at a cost. Jesus was crucified, and he told those following him that to serve him was to take up their own cross and follow. To an extent, Jesus was speaking metaphorically; he was not saying that every Christian should or would be literally crucified. He was, however, making plain that following him came at the risk of very painful burdens. I remind myself that crucifixion is where we get the word “excruciating.”

There’s a common pattern in the Bible:

God gives a command that puts His servants in dangerous, difficult situations.
They obey.
They succeed only by God’s help.
God rewards them.

Importantly, the reward comes after the obedience.

This is not a simple equation, where risk in yields reward out in some one-to-one equivalence. Rather, this is a challenge to the idea that Christianity is as simple as praying the Sinner’s Prayer, asking God to fix you, and life being painless and stress-free from there on out. Life stays hard, and may even get harder. The point is this: a hard life as a Christian is not at odds with Scripture.

Many, if not all, of the most beautiful moments in my life would have been impossible without pain preceding them. There’s an extent to which that’s really frustrating, but a much greater extent to which it is exactly what makes life worthwhile. If you’ve ever been dissatisfied because the version of Christianity you’ve heard seems too simple and easy and rose-tinted, fear not: the truth is much, much more complicated, and infinitely more beautiful.


I have at least two more posts in mind on this topic, but this was enough for one entry. As always, I welcome any feedback, questions, or outlandish ridiculous comments you have. Leave it here, on social media, or whatever method suits you.

Oh, That’s Easy

“Oh, that’s easy – just wget the tarball, unzip it, chmod 0744 the shell script and ./install.”

“Oh, that’s easy – it’s a 4 chord song in the key of C, just follow along, you’ll pick it up really quick.”

“Oh, that’s easy – just dice some onions, brown the beef, and mix these spices, then sautee the whole thing with a few cloves of garlic.”

One of the most powerful, fascinating skills the human brain has is the ability to take fascinating, wonderful, complicated things and make us feel like they’re simple. We assimilate, absorb, consume the essence of an activity so that we transform from bumbling creatures unable to lift our own heads into multitasking heroes, performing incredible feats of coordination, calculation, and dexterity – and be unimpressed. When’s the last time you brushed your teeth and thought, “Wow, I’m really getting good at this!” or patted yourself on the back for having the coordination required to pat yourself on the back?

Okay, I got weird there for a second. Bringing it back:

This is a terribly important skill for us to have. If we, as a species, were unable to acclimate and develop new norms, we’d still be emotionally overwhelmed every time we saw fire – to say nothing of electricity, chemistry, music, and everything else we take for granted most days. It is vital to progress, invention, learning, and it’s a beautiful thing.

However, like everything else, we take this skill – our ability to take incredible things and normalize them – and we normalize it. This, too, is good, but it can have some consequences. The most significant is this: after we learn something, we quickly forget what it was like to not know it. We forget how to empathize with people who don’t know, and we rapidly begin assuming that most people also know everything we do, even though we had no idea what we’ve learned was a thing, not so long ago.

Here’s a trivial example: When I was in third grade, I was pretty good at arithmetic. I was always one of the first ones done multiplication table challenges, I got A’s on my test, and I was doing stuff in double digits (a big deal for a third grader!). One day, my teacher asked me to help another student who was struggling with multiplication. I went over to help, and after a few false starts, trying to explain how multiplication worked, I broke down in tears. I didn’t know how to explain arithmetic to my friend — I just did it. Four times three didn’t make twelve because I’d followed a sequence of steps to arrive at that answer. It just was twelve.

There are plenty of more complicated examples, like those I’ve listed at the beginning. As we develop mastery over a topic, especially one in our career or favorite hobby, we transition from “how do I” to “I bet I can” to “Oh, so that’s how” to “Oh, that’s easy.”

The important thing, which I’ve only learned much more recently, is how this affects the way we share our knowledge with others. It is good and important for each of us to develop mastery in skills, and be able to regard as easy things which were once mysteries. It is not so great to greet a new learner in that same skill with “Oh, that’s easy.” It is important to remember that some things are not inherently easy, but instead have been made easy by much practice, during which that same task was hard.

This is just a simple reminder. It’s not a clickbait-y, “here’s one thing everyone needs to stop doing” admonition. It’s not finger-pointing. I’m passing no judgment. But it’s worth remembering, from time to time, that many of the things you’re really, really good at today are things you used to be unable to do, and think about that when you get a chance to share it with someone.

How about you? What’s your “oh, that’s easy” from your profession or hobby? Have you done that to people before? Had it done to you? Let me know.

I Love You

In light of recent events, I want to share this short message.

If you’re reading this, I love you.

I love you if you believe what I believe. I love you if you don’t.
I love you if you like what I like. I love you if you don’t.
I love you if you look like me. I love you if you don’t.
I love you if you act like me. I love you if you don’t.
I love you if you respect me for being different from you. I love you if you don’t.
I love you if you love me. I love you if you don’t.
I love you if you feel valued and respected by the culture you live in. I love you if you don’t.

I love you if you love people who aren’t like you. I love you if you don’t.

Smile When You Are Ready

I don’t usually care very much about fortunes from fortune cookies. They’re usually cheesy, vague, and blandly positive. “You will have a good experience” and “Friendship opportunities await you soon” are not going to change your life (and I once saw a friend get a fortune which read “You are mumph,” which was just befuddling).

But I actually got a fortune that meant something to me recently, and it really underscored my experiences over the past few months. It said: Smile when you are ready.

Here’s some context: I woke up one particular Sunday morning on the wrong side of the bed. I used to believe that was a dumb expression, but I’ve experienced waking up in a bad mood for no reason a handful of times now. This unlucky Sunday, things that normally irritate me a little were making me want to scream, and I had no patience for anything. It culminated with my walking out of the sanctuary halfway through the worship service and going off to a quiet place to sulk.

Fortunately, I ended up sulking real close to a bible, so I spent the next 45 minutes or so reading and praying, meditating on my life and my relationship to God, and gaining a refreshed understanding of some things (which I’ll flesh out in a minute). I didn’t come out of that time feeling cheerful and upbeat, but I definitely felt better. Then I went to lunch, enjoying the company of some wonderful people, and had a little fun for the first time that day. That was when I got that fortune, and it instantly made the whole morning make sense to me. Again, it didn’t totally wash away the gloom, but strangely, I’m glad it didn’t.

Let me see if I can explain why this was profound for me.

In the past few years, I’ve been reminded again and again by Scripture, by friends, and by experience that being a Christian doesn’t make life automatically easy. It’s not a promise of a life free from worry, or pain, or trial. In fact, we are to cherish those trials, because surviving them makes us stronger (James 1:2-4). In general, I have appreciated and acknowledged this wisdom, but filed it away under “good to know” but not pulled it out when things actually got bad. That Sunday, I stared that in the face, and leaned in. I realized, “Here I am, having a bad day, but I’m a Christian, and part of that is difficulty. I can’t deny or reject this bad experience without also denying and rejecting the joy of Jesus’ gift of salvation.”

This ties in a bit with a lesson I’ve learned from the school of mindfulness meditation. A fundamental tenet of mindfulness is to focus on what is, presently, and not to focus on wishes or dreams. Simply acknowledge that whatever’s going on is who you are at that moment. There’s something beautiful about owning your experience, even a crappy one; it doesn’t solve the problems, and it doesn’t make you happy, but sometimes all you need in order to keep going is a reminder that the world hasn’t ended yet.

There’s one more key reason this is helpful: faking it usually makes things worse. You’re lying to yourself, you’re hiding your struggle from the people who might be able to help you, and you can’t fix a problem you keep pretending isn’t there. It is basically always better to acknowledge that things are not great than to pretend that they are. (Of course, there are also plenty of times where you need to keep moving, even if you don’t feel up to it, but you can own up to how you feel and still move on, rather than pretending you’re not struggling.)

I felt all of this summarized and crystallized when I read that simple phrase, “Smile when you are ready.” I’m struggling to capture it in words, because that’s just how profound moments of clarity work, but I hope you’ve taken some encouragement from this short reflection.

Don’t forget to smile, but don’t force a smile you don’t mean.

What do you think? Let me know.

Answering the Call

April 20th will be my last day working as a contractor for Comcast on Xfinity Home. In some ways, it’s a transition that’s been in process since December. However, in many ways this is a transition I began several years ago, before I even started at Comcast and, in fact, before I graduated college.

So where am I going? The answer is in this post, and you’re probably going to scan for it before reading the rest of the post (hint: It’ll be in bold), but I want to preface it with a little bit of my story.

The Road from Here to There

It’s no secret that my faith in Jesus is important to me – in fact, I go out of my way to make sure it’s not a secret. I’m sure I sound like a broken record to some people. But the simple truth is that I believe the Bible, I believe in Jesus life, death, and resurrection, and I believe it is the most important story we can tell, discuss, and experience. I could (and hope to) write much, much more on those ideas, but my purpose today is much more specific.

Take a look at this tweet that I wrote almost two years ago (before starting at Comcast):

I share that to illustrate how premeditated this job change is. This has been on my mind for a while. Since my senior year at RIT (2012), discussing my dreams with close friends, attending Urbana 12, and constantly asking the question, “How can I use what I’ve been studying at RIT for the sake of the Gospel?”, the intersection between faith and technology has been stuck in my brain in a big way. Much more specifically, I’ve sought an intersection between my faith and my career in technology.

There’s been a lot of iteration since then. I got married. I applied for jobs at a few companies making software for churches. I didn’t get those jobs. I created Kingdom Builders, where I met over 200 people like me. I fought the depression beast (update: I’m winning). And then — those words are poetry to me right now — and then, I went to Hack4Missions at Urbana 15.

The Job

At Urbana 15, I found my dream job. This May, I’ll be joining InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA as a Campus Web Developer and a member of the Ministry in Digital Spaces team. I don’t think my tweet from 2014 was prophetic, but in hindsight it shouldn’t surprise me that I’m joining InterVarsity. RIT’s InterVarsity chapter immeasurably transformed my faith, life, and friendships. Urbana 12 and 15 are both close behind my wedding day on the list of most significant events in my life. InterVarsity, from floor to ceiling, is such a dedicated, sincere, love-abundant hub of service to God that I can’t think of a better place to call home.

I’m excited to join an organization that’s taking technology, the Internet, and the current digital reshaping of culture so seriously. I’m looking forward to helping college students connect with their faith and share their faith well, no matter what medium that connection uses. I’m excited to write code for Jesus!

Responding

Not long after I accepted the position, I had the chance to hear my little sister and her concert choir perform When I Survey The Wondrous Cross, and one verse struck me as the perfect summary for this moment. I may be starting a new job, but much more importantly, I’m responding to a calling, to which I hope to dedicate my life:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Grab Bag

March is almost over, and I still haven’t written a blog post. I have ideas for posts, but nothing has grabbed me enough to dedicate a full post to it. So here’s a grab bag post, mostly stream of consciousness, with a few things for you to ponder.

All Christians Believe…

One of the biggest revelations for me in the past few years has been how many differences in belief there are between Christians. From baptism to end times, even to whether Jesus was a literal, historical person, there are people who identify as Christians and do their best to follow and worship Jesus Christ that believe radically different things.
This is something I’d like to fully explore in a longer post, but the short takeaway here is this:
  • If you’re a Christian, please love your brothers and sisters. If they believe something you don’t, there may be an appropriate way to challenge them on it and explore the topic together, but please, let’s always put loving Jesus and our neighbors ahead of every other issue.
  • Whether you’re a Christian or not, place the Bible in higher authority than people. Every Christian is going to misunderstand or warp at least something, and some will even deliberately abuse the culture of Christianity for decidedly un-Christian ends. This is not a failing of Christianity, this is a failing of people. If you want to know whether the Bible is true, don’t use Christians as a rubric; use God’s word.

Politics

I try to avoid talking much about politics online (the signal to noise ratio is already brutal), but this year is ridiculous. All I’ll say, right now, for anyone who’s reading this, is: when deciding who to vote for, ask yourself, “Will this candidate increase or decrease the amount of love in the world?”

Books

Some of you may know that I read 60 books last year (thanks mostly to commuting by train). I thought it would be good to recommend some of the best books I’ve read, not just last year but in my lifetime. I may write deeper reflections on some of these later.
In no particular order:
  • Ender’s Game – sci-fi novel, very thought-provoking and formative for me, first read in elementary or middle school
  • Mere Christianity – A common favorite work of C.S. Lewis, really added fuel to the fire of my faith
  • Orthodoxy – This book is a masterpiece, and helped restore a wonder and delight in mystery that I had started to lose.
  • I Am Malala – A beautiful, touching book from a perspective profoundly different from mine. Eye opening, emotional, necessary.
  • The Calorie Myth – Like many health-and-diet books, it drinks its own Kool-Aid quite a bit, but I’m persuaded by a lot of the ideas and the book does a fairly good job backing its claims up with data and study citations.
  • Desiring the Kingdom – American Christianity has often presented itself to me in a very individualistic way, being all about a personal relationship with Jesus, and all about how things move you and how you respond to them. This book opened my eyes to the importance of liturgy, communal practices, and how essential it is that faith be lived out together.