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Beginning to believe

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So today, I was challenged to do what it takes to truly believe that I’m a writer. I’ve declared it, and It’s the answer I give when asked what I do, but do I really believe at the core of my being that this is what I am?

I write at work. And on a purely technical level, that does make me a writer. But for me, that’s not enough. To me, that doesn’t make me a writer. I have to write from my heart. I have to let what’s in me out. In my mind, it’s when I write for me that I become a writer. But there’s an interesting dichotomy here, because before I can do that, I have to believe I’m a writer. I have to sit in that truth and give myself permission to create.

Jeff Goins says we have to trick ourselves–we have to trick ourselves into believing that we are writers. And this isn’t about lying to ourselves. It’s about doing what what we need to do to help ourselves recognize who we really are. Because most of us don’t believe that we are who we were made to be. Most of us believe lies about ourselves. To become who we were made to be, we have to rebuke those lies. We have to shake them off. We have to begin to step into the truth. But we first must believe it–really believe it–to the point where it changes our actions. To the point where we begin to live out of that truth.

In today’s challenge, Jeff Goins quotes a wise man who said that that we are the sum of our conscious thoughts. And this is true. Words create worlds. And the words we speak over ourselves–whether audible or not–will make us who we are. So what do I have to do to believe that I’m a writer? I have to silence the lies. And when they’re too loud to be silenced, I must ignore them. I must speak truth louder. The key is being intentional about what I focus on. Will I focus on the voices that tell me I can’t or will I focus on the truth I know deep down–that I am a writer? This is what will determine what I believe.

Written by liferenewed

June 7, 2012 at 3:26 am

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My Declaration: I’m a writer

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So, I recognize that It’s been a while (a long while) since I’ve blogged, but I’m starting to find my voice again, and I plan to establish a new presence on the web (stay tuned). In the meantime, as I hone my craft, I’ve decided to re-enter the bloggosphere by participating in Jeff Goins’ 15-day writing challenge. You can learn more about this challenge here. But first, be sure to check out my declaration, and feel free to share your own in the comments.

I am a writer

I am a writer. I’m not a wanna-be writer, a struggling writer, or a future writer. I am a writer. Here, today, in this moment. I know how to craft a sentence, a paragraph, an essay, a story. But that’s not what makes me a writer. I am a writer because I believe I have something to say. Something that matters to me, and just maybe, matters to you too.

I’m not Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, Emily Dickenson, J.D. Salinger, or Donald Miller. I’m Jessie Lester. And I’m a writer. I walk in the footsteps of these greats. I admire and learn from their work. But I will never be them. And I don’t need to try. All I need to do–all I can do–is be me. I can ignore the voices that tell me I won’t succeed. I can–I must–laugh in the face of fear and embrace the possibility of failure. Because this is where true art–true creation–begins: in the place of vulnerability. The place where I stop caring what people think, stop trying to create a persona, and begin to write from my heart.

This is my declaration. It’s for me, more than it’s for you. It’s me owning who and what I am. And as I do this, I begin to walk toward my destiny. Perhaps slowly at first, but I’m taking steps nonetheless. And I invite you to join me. What do you need to declare over your life? What fears do you need to reject, and what potential failures is it time to embrace? Whatever it is, start today. Take the first step and declare your destiny.

Written by liferenewed

June 5, 2012 at 9:11 pm

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Are you losing your attention?

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My thoughts on a world in love with technology

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person from my generation who feels that technology has actually done more to complicate — rather than simplify — our lives. I wonder if I’m the only one who finds it disconcerting just how addicted we are to instant communication and worrisome that we spend so much of our time in the virtual world. I’m old enough to say that I remember life before the internet but not so old that I lived most of my life without it. Despite the fact that I can navigate my way around most computers with relative ease, I often feel like a grandma among my peers. Why? Because while others are concentrating on how they can pull themselves closer to the world of technology, I’m wondering what I can do to push myself farther from it.

Let me explain. I love technology. I love that I can listen to podcasts of my favorite radio programs or watch TV shows days, weeks — even months — after they’ve aired. I love that I can get news from anywhere on the planet at any time of day. I like knowing about big events in my friend’s lives moments after they take place. And let’s be honest, I love that I can type my symptoms into a computer to diagnose my own illnesses (can you say hypochondriac?) or Google my latest debate with my sister to prove that, once again, I’m right. But in the midst of my increasing reliance on, and gratefulness for, technology, I also have a growing unease about the role we allow it to play in our lives.

Ours is a hyper-connected world — we’re constantly plugged in to an endless stream of information that is taking many of us to interesting, often beneficial, places. But if we’re not vigilant in our use of technology, I think we run the risk of unwittingly allowing this stream to carry us away. Recent history shows that as a society, we’re pretty quick to accept new innovations and integrate them into our lives. Our ability to adapt and change with the times is part of what makes us human. Nevertheless, I sometimes wonder if, in our eagerness to improve our lives through technology, we’re failing to recognize the sacrifices that technology demands of us.

Simply stated, we only have so much time and attention to dole out. While technology may increase our efficiency, it also demands our time and attention. And sometimes, I think we fail to realize that for everything we add to our lives, we must also give something up. That’s just how it works. This principle isn’t unique to technology — it’s true of any venture we pursue — but I find it particularly important where technology is concerned, because technology is beginning to infiltrate every area of our lives. I recently heard someone on NPR saying that nearly everything we do today is virtual. I wanted to argue with him, but generally speaking, he’s right. This worries me. It worries me, because the more involved we become in the virtual world, the less engaged we will be with the real one. A fascinating infographic detailing the world’s obsession with Facebook recently reported that 57 percent of people talk to others more online than they do in real life. Again, the more time we spend in the virtual world, the more opportunities we’ll miss out on in the real one.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI shared his opinion of social networking in a speech entitled “Truth, Proclamation, and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age.” While I’ve not succeeded in finding a complete transcript of his speech, what I gather from the summaries is that he condoned social networks as something that can add value to our lives, while also issuing a strong warning of what he sees as their dangers. The Pope made it very clear that we must use wisdom and caution in the way we engage in social networks, asking: “Is there a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world ‘other’ than the one in which we live?”

I think that, in the digital age, we’d all benefit from using this question as a microscope with which to examine our own lives. Is the technology we use enhancing our lives or simply absorbing our attention? Where is our focus? I’m not here to bash social networks or suggest that we give up on technology and join the Amish. Instead, I’m imploring us to evaluate the technology we do use and ask if it’s truly adding to our lives. This is an ongoing process. In our fast-paced world, this question will never get old. And the answers aren’t the same for everyone. The things that enable you to live your life more effectively may prove to be a distraction for me. But a good rule of thumb, if you’re wondering what you might need to limit — or eliminate altogether — is to examine where your time and attention are focused. Do a systems check to see how grounded you are in the real world. Ask yourself if your life has become more complicated as a result of your technology usage. Are you struggling to maintain friendships in the physical world, while constantly stressing over the nuances your virtual relationships? Are you sitting at the computer, wondering why you don’t have as much time as you used to? Are you reading about your friend’s days on Facebook, wondering why you’ve lost touch with your family?

It’s when we don’t stop to ask these kinds of questions that I think technology becomes dangerous. When it comes down to it, technology is just a tool. It can be used well, or it can be misused. Using it correctly requires purpose and attention. And I think the benefits of technology are worth it — worth taking the time to regularly sit down and evaluate the risks.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to post a link to this blog on Facebook.

Written by liferenewed

February 4, 2011 at 4:33 am

Leaving Christianity for Christ

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Why it’s hard to be a Christ follower in a country full of Christians

I feel somewhat guilty confessing that I don’t like to call myself a Christian. All my Sunday school training warns me against rejecting this title and simultaneously, betraying Christ. Yet, as I study the message of Christ in the gospels and look at what the word Christian has come to mean in present day America, my desire to disassociate from this term only grows stronger.

In a country where some 75 percent of the population claims to be Christian, the word has become ambiguous at best. Many individuals proudly flaunt the title, using it to back their cause, advance their political agenda, vouch for their personal character, or ease their conscious. But originally, the term—which literally means “little Christ” or “Christ follower”—was not an adjective that one would claim for himself, as if he were adding another badge to his identity sash. Rather, it was a noun bestowed upon a group of counter-cultural radicals who followed the teachings of Jesus. In other words, it was actions, and not self-professed labels, that made individuals Christians. When outsiders looked at those who were following Christ, they recognized that these “Jesus people” responded to the world differently than others around them did. Christian, then, was a noun referring to a person or group of people who sought to shape their lives after Jesus Christ. But, as Rob Bell points out in his book Velvet Elvis, we have made this word an adjective—a term we can attach to almost anything in order to feel as if that thing—or person—has God’s approval. Doing so has cheapened the term and only contributed to the confusion that is Christianity.

Originally, Christianity wasn’t a religion. It wasn’t about rules or legalism. It wasn’t really even about a ticket to heaven. It was about loving people the way that Christ loved them. After all, it was Jesus who condemned the piety of religious leaders and said that true religion is caring for orphans and widows. But as the church spread, there are places in which Christianity became twisted into a religion of rules and judgment—many of the things Jesus condemned his contemporary religious leaders for. I say this not to sound cynical or dismiss the Church altogether–there are places in which the Church is thriving and truly living out the call of Christ. But there are also places in which the Church has misused the Christian label, and unfortunately, marred the name of Christ.

Consider the experience of author Erik Reece. Erik’s grandfather and father were both Baptist preachers, and Erik was raised under the umbrella of strict fundamentalist Christianity.
Erik’s experience of what it means to be a Christian was shaped by his grandfather’s dualistic rejection of earthy pleasures and countless “hellfire” sermons, designed to inflict guilt. Today, Erik is still jaded toward Christianity. In a NPR interview discussing his book, An American Gospel, which chronicles his rejection of the church and quest for spiritual guidance, Erik recalls asking the question, “what is left of Christianity when you remove the fear?” In the interview, Erik simply lets the question hang. His silence says it all. Erik experienced Christianity as a religion of fear, rather than a relationship of love.

Eric’s experience showcases one reason that I’m reluctant to call myself a Christian. When someone asks me if I wear this title, I don’t know what Christian means to him. I don’t know if he’s experienced the Jesus of the gospels—whom I hope is shaping me to be like himself—or a Jesus who has been shaped by the ideals and desires of men and institutions, who are always bound to fail.

The other reason that I hesitate to call myself a Christian has to do with the way in which Christianity has been watered-down by American ideals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful to live in a country where I am free to worship as I please, but I often wonder if America’s obsession with God has simply made it easy for us to call ourselves Christians without really understanding what it means to follow Christ. There are circles in which being a Christian is just about as American as apple pie and baseball. Anyone who doubts this need only to listen to his local country music station for an hour or so. To many, love of God and love of America are practically synonymous. Take for example a new and frightening book known as The American Patriot’s Bible. The book, “intersects the teachings of the Bible with the history of the United States,” as if somehow, the founding of our country were ordained enough to now be included in the sacred texts. This is disturbing on many levels. Greg Boyd does an excellent job of fleshing them out in his review.

The words God bless America roll off our tongues so quickly that we rarely stop to question if the things America is doing are worthy of God’s blessing. And when the blessing of God is so imbedded in the rhetoric of our country, it becomes easy to buy into a belief that America is somehow God’s chosen land—his ally and beacon of light to the world. But this type of thinking isn’t only wrong; it’s dangerous.

For one thing, it makes it easier to dismiss, forget about, or even begin to hate our brothers and sisters around the world, be they those who live in other countries or those who simply don’t “fit” with our idea of American. This dismissal of the other not only compromises our witness, but it blatantly disregards the teachings of Christ. One current example of this is the way in which many have approached our nation’s recent wars. As our country waged these “holy wars” in the name of God, many Christians seemed to forget that the leader we claim to follow instructed us to love our enemies and lay down our swords. The teachings of Christ were conveniently forgotten so that we could claim he backs our cause. As war shatters and destroys the lives of innocent people, do we take time to pray for them in our churches, or are we too busy asking God to protect America and preserve our way of life?

I’m concerned about the message that is sent by things like the American Patriots Bible because it seems to suggest that God is strongly united with the beliefs of this country. Yet when I look at America, I see an economy based on greed, a cultural mentality of individualism, and a dangerous national pride. Historically speaking, it’s nothing new for nations to grow corrupt and proud. Just look at Rome. But when this happens, it is the place of the Christian Church to live in a countercultural manner—to be in the country but not of the established order. And again, I don’t want to generalize the Church, but plenty of congregations and individuals wear the Christian label while also pledging allegiance to man and the gods of America. I’m not trying to point the finger but rather, to share something that God has and is convicting me of. It’s an easy trap to fall into, because in this nation, Christianity has been defined by American culture and politics. And many go astray because they fail to realize or don’t want to believe that American culture and politics were not defined by Christ. If this were the case, we would see a country more welcoming to foreigners, less hasty to go to war, and more willing to share our resources.

Recognizing that western or American “Christianity” actually does more to hurt than uplift the name of Christ puts true Jesus followers in a difficult place. Because if we are going to truly follow Jesus, we are going to have to reject the Christian title and what it has come to stand for. Donald Miller—an brilliant man whose books I highly recommend—said in a recent post on his blog, “I’ve actually had people come up to me [after speaking events] and say they thought I was about to renounce my faith, which in ways, I actually do. At least my faith in whatever has become of Christianity.” I don’t know about you, but I’d like to join Miller. I’d like to reject fundamentalist Christianity experienced by individuals like Erik Reece. And I’d like to reject the Christianity that wreaks of American ideals. Turning Christianity into a dualistic religion of regulations and rules only puts God in a box and stifles the gift of freedom Christ came to offer. And marrying God and country leads to an extreme conflict of loyalties—especially when the values of our country clash with the teachings of Christ. And believe me, they do and will.

So what are we to do as true Christ followers when we come to the place where we can no longer call ourselves Christians? When we realize that the religious order around us has strayed from the teachings of the one they set out to follow? The answer is simple to understand but hard to execute. Live differently. Live like Christ. Become less concerned with titles, labels, and rules, and begin to focus on actions and the motivation behind them, which should always be love. The term Christian arose because of a group of people who lived radically differently. Their actions necessitated the term. If we begin to truly follow the call of Christ—which is more radical than many mainstream Christians want to believe—it may just happen that people won’t know what to call us because we won’t look like any Christians they have ever known. And this will be a good thing, because it will give us the opportunity to point back to Christ, who has been hidden behind dualism, legalism, and national pride.

How do we do this? It’s a process of submitting our hearts to Christ, and it’s something I for one am still learning to do. But if we want to know what Christ expects of his followers, a perfect starting place is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew five, where Jesus clearly lays out what it means to be part of his kingdom. From there, the Gospels give us a good idea of how to fashion our lives after Christ. And the epistles show us what this looked like for the early Christians—those I talked about earlier whose actions birthed the title. And when it comes down to it, “they will know we are Christians (individuals who follow Christ) by our love”—not by the rules we follow or the nation we live in.

I write this as a confession of my own imperfection. I write it to be honest about the things God has convicted me of and as a challenge to myself to live up to his call. At times I’ve fallen into the trap of focusing on rules—of thinking of Christianity as a religion rather than a relationship. And I’ve been guilty of misguided allegiances. Though I’m ashamed to admit it, I’ve found myself buying into mainstream American Christianity. But admitting these failures is the perfect starting place, for following Christ begins with acknowledging our need for forgiveness and grace. And for me, it feels like getting saved all over again. It feels like getting saved from a watered-down Westernized version of Christianity to discover that all the while, Christ had something bigger and more freeing than I could ever have imagined.

Moving from the place of accepting God’s grace to actually taking up his call is not easy. We will be misunderstood. We may feel or be treated as if we are rebelling. It’s frightening to let go of the framework through which you have always viewed life. And it’s scary to tell an institution that they seem to be failing to follow the leader they claim to serve. But when others point the finger at us and accuse us of rejecting our faith, we can rest assured that we are in good company. Early Christians faced this exact same type of persecution. The established religious order did not understand them. I’m not suggesting rejecting the Church or rebelling whenever we don’t like what they are teaching, but I am suggesting that we put the framework we’ve been given from the Church up next to the framework of Christ. If the two don’t match, then it is our responsibility to live lives that show the Church, and the world, what it looks like to serve Christ, even if it means that we can no longer call ourselves Christians.

Written by liferenewed

October 19, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Remembering Michael Jackson who was, after all, ‘only human’

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Thursday was one of those days we will all remember forever. It doesn’t matter how otherwise uneventful the day was, for years to come, we will be able to recall exactly where we were when we heard that Michael Jackson was dead. For me, it was a moment of deep shock, followed by a somewhat surprising level of sorrow. I guess the reason I was taken aback by how sad it made me is because I didn’t really follow MJ’s celebrity when he was in his prime. Growing up, we didn’t listen to secular music, so in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, I knew who MJ was, but didn’t know many of his songs.

In fact, my first Michael Jackson exposure came from watching the music video for “Will you be there” on Free Willy. Definitely not what MJ is best known for, but nonetheless, this was my introduction to the king of pop. And, while I loved the music video, and appreciated Michael’s voice and emotion, as a child, I thought he was just a tad strange.

And he was. The continual morphing of his physical appearance and the allegations that defined his press for the next decade confirmed it. To one who didn’t know much of his music, Jackson was simply a strange, if not eccentric public figure—someone to look at sideways while shaking your head. And that’s what many in my circle did.

It wasn’t until high school that I really became familiar with Michael’s music, largely, by force. Sophomore year, my gym teacher loved to blast MJ’s ‘80’s songs during our pickle ball games and badminton tournaments. There’s nothing like “Beat it” to get the momentum going. In the years since that high school gym class, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for Michael’s talent. His work is simply unparalleled. And let’s face it, when you want to have a dance party, where else are you going to find music that’s so perfect?

But it wasn’t just my recently discovered love for Jackson’s songs that sparked my sadness upon hearing of his death. In some ways, it was the realization that a cultural icon was gone. It was a reminder that nothing lasts forever; a reminder that even those who our culture puts on pedestals are nothing more than mortals—human beings like the rest of us.

That’s something we would have done well to remember during Jackson’s lifetime. Watching the news channels chronicle MJ’s life and rerun old interviews the past few days has only confirmed how broken and hurting he was. Michael was morning a lost childhood and searching for an identity. Like all of us, he had a deep inner longing to be known and loved. Dismissing him as an eccentric public figure or a simple icon makes it easy to forget this. But, as I reflected on his death Thursday, my heart broke for the conflicted person that he was.

I’m not trying to excuse any of Michael’s bizarre or inappropriate behavior, but I think that we too often judge people—particularly those in the spotlight—without taking into account how hurting they really are. Often, the actions we look down upon are a cry for attention and perhaps even a cry for help. Jackson got attention; in fact, he was idolized almost as a god. But that’s not the kind of attention people were made for. The thing that amazes me about the response to his death is how many people are mourning as if they lost someone close to them. The whole world feels as if they know him, and yet no one really did. That’s a lonely place to be.

As I reflect on his life and death, my heart breaks for Michael Jackson
. He so wanted to make people happy and bring joy into the world. Yet from all appearances, his personal life was full of heartbreak and pain. Perhaps the saddest thing is not MJ’s death so much as it is his lost potential during life.

Idolizing anyone is dangerous
. It removes their humanity and makes it all too easy for us to forget that they have the same needs we do. “Will you be there?” is about an individual’s need for a friend—someone to hold him and carry him—and in this song, Jacks clearly states: “I’m only human.” It’s a good reminder that no amount of celebrity can kill our fundamental need to love and be loved. I hope that in the final days of his life Jackson was able to find peace and the love he had been seeking for so long.

And for those who like me, first met Michael through Free Willy, here’s a video you’re less likely to see them playing on the news or other web sites.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fm23tXYiXV4

Written by liferenewed

June 27, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized