Announcing My New Book Release: Tweet, Use Facebook, Pray

The future is digital.

Heavy Bibles, deteriorating church buildings, and offline spiritual practices are fads quickly fading into the past. If our spiritual practices are going to help us win the race to stay ahead of the pack in a rapidly changing future, then we need a reliable guide to a fully digital faith.

Enter… Tweet, Use Facebook, Pray: How Digital Spirituality Wins*

Tweet Use Facebook Pray Book

Order Your Copy Today!

Ed Cyzewski knows first hand about the roots of Christian spirituality and how simple spiritual practices can make your faith a winner.

After learning the ins and outs of digital technology’s best practices for keeping us hooked to our devices and consumed with thoughts, Ed is the ideal guide for merging digital technology and spirituality into a juggernaut of influence and captivating content.

Grow an Engaging Faith

What good is a strong faith if it can’t drive engagement in digital media?

What is the use of spiritual contentment if it can’t produce digital content?

Tweet, Use Facebook, Pray is the answer to our prayers for spiritual influence in the race to create the most engaging content that will attract the most attention. Ed’s easy to use, immensely practical guide to digital spirituality will show you:

  • How to tweet your prayers in threads that keep readers hooked.
  • How to post irresistibly sharable pictures of your prayer time.
  • How to build influence with spiritual leaders who can make your spiritual content a juggernaut.

The digital future won’t allow a moment for silence, meditation, or quiet reflection.

Long walks in nature are just taking you in pointless circles away from the real work of creating engaging content.

If you want to win the spiritual content game, then you need a proven guide: Tweet, Use Facebook, Pray by Ed Cyzewski.

Order Your Copy Today!

Help Ed crush the competition on social media by grabbing this sharable digital goody**!

Want to learn more?

Good! Because this is Ed’s annual April Fool’s Day joke! Visit my page of past jokes here.

Visit Ed’s Amazon page for all of his book listings.

Ed’s latest books, Flee, Be Silent, Pray and Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction are both on sale for $2.99 on Kindle during Lent in 2021. Those will be WAY more helpful for you.

Notes: * This is an April Fool’s Day joke. ** I loathe the use of “goodies” as a word in any context but ESPECIALLY when referring to digital products that are not even remotely close to an actual goodie and are, in reality, overvalued useless crap.

Christianity Isn’t a Lie, But There Are Too Many Leaders Who Lie

I’m not particularly interested in proving whether Christianity is true to anyone. I’m more concerned about helping people give Jesus and shot and seeing what happens.

To me, Christianity is a living faith. You get some information (which is true and historically reliable, by the way) and then put it into practice with the help of the Holy Spirit. My practice has grown simpler over the years, with a greater emphasis on listening and silence, depending on God rather than my own knowledge or experience–even if a foundation of some sort can help with getting these practices started.

I don’t lose sleep at night about Christianity being a fraud or a fabrication. I’ve surely got some parts of it wrong, but the central idea of a loving God present for us and revealed in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has been a constant through my highs and lows.

Yet, I do have some concerns about the amount of lies being told among Christian leaders and the kinds of lies these leaders have leveled. I mean, some of the biggest names in Christianity during my formative years have been exposed as fraudulent abusers living double lives.

It’s not all a lie, but there has been way, way too much lying among some of the most influential and powerful leaders among Christians in America, with some even extending their influence overseas.

These frauds, abusers, and liars were certainly not my own pastors, but they were EXTREMELY influential among many of the pastors in the churches I attended and among many churches throughout America.

The list is daunting to the point that I don’t think I can remember all of them. There’s Gothard, Driscoll, Hybels, Yoder, and Zacharias, just to name a few. Also, there’s the lesser deception of the likely well-meaning Joshua Harris who wrote one of the most influential books about not dating while having little to no experience in male/female relationships. Although not intentionally abusive, Harris’ book has had a devastating impact on relationships and sexual identity throughout the evangelical subculture.

Revisiting the stories of those who misled, deceived, or failed us won’t do much to help us move on, provided we’ve fully confronted these events and seen them for what they are. Yet, if so many people who presumed to be leaders in morality, theology, church planting, and spiritual formation were abusive, fraudulent, or, at best, misleading, what does that say about the substance of Christianity?

I understand that some could dismiss this as just a few bad apples. There are so many others who have been faithful and good without making names for themselves or without egregious moral failures or misrepresentations of themselves.

That’s true to a point. The unfaithfulness of one group doesn’t cancel out the faithfulness of others. But the sheer number of liars, deceivers, and abusers at the highest levels of American Christianity should make us want to examine ourselves and hopefully make such people less influential in the future.

What does it say about American Christianity that so many can amass power and influence and yet avoid scrutiny or accountability to the point that they lead double lives, harm people behind closed doors, and peddle in deceptive ideas?

This troubles me because I often wonder if we measure the wrong things in our spiritual influencers and leaders. I include myself in this. Do I value the wrong things in leaders and influencers?

One thought I’ve had is that inspiration is probably overvalued. We love it when leaders inspire us to do better. But I wonder if we need to look for leaders who are willing to ask the hard questions, to say the unpopular things, and to make us uncomfortable.

That certainly isn’t a perfect safe guard, but it at least could help us check some of our inclinations to build cults of personality around inspirational spiritual leaders. Leaders can inspire and direct people to great things without being spiritual or in step with the Spirit.

I also wonder if we need spiritual leaders who can point us to spiritual processes rather than moral outcomes that meet certain standards. In other words, instead of spelling out what faithfulness and morality will look like as an end result, we need leaders who will help us seek God and then trust the outcome to God.

At the very least, this would help us ask whether our spiritual leaders actually have the credibility to direct us. Do they have an active spiritual life, an interior depth that is grounded in God’s presence and power? People who focus on correct answers and correct outcomes don’t need to have spiritual depth or a vital relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Finally, I wonder if we honestly just need to view spiritual leaders of any large enterprise with extreme caution. Without accusing them of the worst, we should recognize that spiritual leaders with massive followings are, at best, on dangerous ground and we should increase our scrutiny as their followers increase.

Leaders who give away more of their influence and power, who plant new things, who give away what they’ve built, who know when to step back , and who recognize when life is out of balance should have more credibility in my eyes.

This may not be the perfect example, but a few years back pastor and author Francis Chan left a large, thriving ministry. Some people thought it was irresponsible. One prominent pastor I mentioned above even asked him if he was proving himself unreliable to people who would minister with him in the future.

Without getting into all of the details, Chan recognized a need to step away, and I think that sensitivity to the Spirit is the kind of thing we should value in our leaders. Leaders who move away from more power and influence should not be anomaly. We shouldn’t be shocked by this.

Too many well-meaning leaders have been crushed by the entrepreneurial, corporate-influenced model of pastoral leadership in America. Far, far too many church attending Christians have been burned by abusive leadership systems and toxic church cultures.

If we have this many prominent names leading double lives, deceiving their congregations and readers, and perpetrating horrible abuse to the most vulnerable, it’s time to start second-guessing our judgment when it comes to our spiritual leaders in the American church.

At the very least, we need leaders who show evidence of a deep inner life of prayer, a message of dependance on God rather than working toward specific moral outcomes, a capacity to recognize their limits, and a willingness to even give up the power and influence that is so readily given to them.

When a spiritual leader’s popularity and influence increases, so should our scrutiny and our caution toward them.

Join Me for a 30 Day Facebook News Feed Fast

We know that the 2020 election in America is already upsetting and divisive, capturing our attention and making it difficult to focus on what matters most each day. A big part of the problem is what we see on our social media feeds and how we react to this content.

Unfortunately, a lot of content showing up on social media, especially on Facebook, is coming from malicious sources, and it’s designed to unsettle and divide us.

Misinformation Is Happening NOW

America’s intelligence agencies have warned us that foreign nations, especially Russia, are sending misinformation our way via social media to upset, to deceive, and to divide us. (CNN, NY Times, The Guardian, NPR)

Facebook Is Ideal for Spreading Misinformation

Former leaders of Cambridge Analytica, who spread misinformation in 2016 have said publicly that Facebook is the single most effective way to spread misinformation. (The Guardian, NY Times, Tech Crunch)

Misinformation Travels Fast

Research has demonstrated that fabricated “news” on social media platforms like Twitter spreads six times faster than the truth because of how sensational it appears to be. (MIT, PBS, BBC)

The Senate Is Blocking a Response to Misinformation

The Senate majority has blocked bipartisan legislation that could take action against this online interference. (The Independent, AJC, MSNBC)

Facebook Won’t Act Decisively

Facebook has resisted taking decisive and effective action against misinformation. While the company has removed some misinformation accounts, numerous public whistleblowers have criticized the company’s inadequate response. (NPR, Forbes, Wired)

How to Remain Grounded in Unsettling Times?

All of this tells me that it’s up to us to resist the vast waves of misinformation coming our way. There’s nothing stopping this tsunami of upsetting falsehoods from crashing into our social media feeds. It’s hard to avoid this misinformation that is designed to create despair, anger, and division.

The good news is that we can step out of the ocean, so to speak, and move ourselves onto dry land until the waves of misinformation and trolling pass us by.

The highs and lows of the daily news cycle don’t have to sweep us away. We can step to a place that is firm and secure so that we can process the events of our times with clear minds and then take prayerful, constructive action.

The place to begin is with the stuff we allow into our minds, and addressing the role of social media is essential in creating space for silence, prayer, and compassionate action.

Fast from Your Facebook News Feed

While it would be ideal if every American simply avoided Facebook and social media in general for 30 days until the election passed, that isn’t realistic. In our small town we rely on Facebook groups to share information among parents, to stream church services on Facebook pages, and to organize events.

Yet, we can still get these connection benefits without the fragmenting content in our news feed. We simply need to fast from our news feed.

This isn’t as hard as it may seem. We can delete the Facebook app from our phones and use browser apps like Chrome’s “Kill News Feed” app to turn your news feed into a sea of nothingness.

At the very least, removing Facebook from your phone for 30 days will significantly cut down on the amount of content you see. If you miss the app, just add it again after the election.

A Chance for a Clean Start

Yet, I hope that a brief fast from the daily cascade of content on Facebook will be a welcome break or reset for your social media use. Perhaps you’ve forgotten what life is like without the daily infusion of content on Facebook.

You could leave social media apps off your smartphone. You could keep the Kill News Feed app running. In fact, I tried it for 30 days a number of years ago, and I was surprised that I didn’t miss the news feed at all.

Tech Companies Want You to Be Hooked

Keep in mind that social media companies are investing a ton of money in personnel and technology to keep you hooked.

The more data they collect from us, the more valuable we are for them.

The least we can do is to meet all of their work to capture our attention is to spend a little time guarding it so that we can focus on what’s most important. A few boundaries around social media can actually be quite liberating.

Suggestions for a 30 Day Facebook Fast

A Simple Fast: Remove Facebook from your smartphone and block/avoid your newsfeed when using Facebook on a computer. You can still use groups, events, etc. on Facebook.

Avoid Facebook Completely: Announce that you’ll be taking 30 days off Facebook. Make sure you have other activities lined up so you aren’t tempted to reload the app. Consider the following: books, arts/crafts activities, volunteer work, or a household project.

The 30 Day Cleanse: If you really want to see what life is like apart from social media, try logging out of social media for 30 days. Use the same ideas as above, but apply them to each social media service you use. I especially encourage journaling during your fast so that you can grow in awareness of how social media impacts you.

Read more about digital formation vs. spiritual formation in my book Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction.

What Motivates Us Besides Fear and Anger?

The other day I learned about a Christian book that combines end times prophecy predictions with extremely questionable but explosive political commentary.

Looking it up on Amazon, it has been selling quite steadily and has tons of positive reviews. As I searched for additional information about the book and the author, I found that he had been promoting it on the television of show of a long time doomsday prophet of the end times, seller of dubious survival kits, and convicted felon.

Red flags were shooting up all over the place for me.

I could go on about my many reservations over an author like this, whose end times predictions would leave my Bible professors speechless, but enough has been written about that. I couldn’t help thinking about how this author had really cracked the code to use anger AND fear mixed together to sell books.

If an author isn’t going to use expertise, research, or experience to sell a book with a compelling or helpful message, anger or fear are usually the two tried and true paths.

As an author who tries to avoid these tricks to sell books, I wanted to pull the curtain back a little bit to ask some questions and to leave us in a place with better information and a hopeful path forward.

How Anger Manipulates Us

Anger focuses on something outrageous and wrong that leaves us livid. Reading a book about that anger helps us feel seen, but it also stirs up the anger and becomes a kind of addiction in itself.

Ironically, we may become angry about something very valid that needs to be addressed. Yet, anger that is used to sell something rarely offers a point of resolution or a path toward action.

For instance, the Poor People’s Campaign is addressing injustice through a moral fusion movement that may leave us feeling angry that so many have been overlooked and exploited for so long. Yet, the goal is to move people toward redemptive, bi-partisan action that addresses the wrongs.

The goal isn’t to make people angry so that they buy something and then stew in their anger. Rage isn’t the end point of the message.

When anger is used to sell a book, the book becomes the end in itself. We could say something similar about news websites that supplement their useful reporting with posts showing shocking and outrageous news stories, whether or not they’re true, in order to get clicks and to then sell ads.

The news event may be true and worthy of being addressed, but the goal of the website goes beyond informing the public. The emotional high of the anger is just a tool to sell ads.

Anger can be used to motivate us toward positive action, but it’s very easily abused, especially when it comes to book promotion and media.

How Fear Manipulates Us

In a similar way, fear can be used as a dead end motivational tool as well that prompts us to take action based on what we fear. We may be prompted by fear to buy a book or to consume media based on feeling safer if we’re in the know.

This was often parodied on the Colbert Report: “Watch this segment. What you don’t know, COULD KILL YOU!”

End times books have been selling access to secret knowledge to prepare us for the end times for generations. On top of feeling safer by gaining the author’s special knowledge, we feel like we’re special because we’re on the inside track!

I confess that I’ve been wrapped up in some of this end times thinking in the past, and gosh, it does feel good to believe I’ve got a special edge on everyone else. I KNOW THE FUTURE!!!!

However, the real appeal I’ve found in these end times books is the way they address our fear of the unknown. They traffic in special insider knowledge that helps us manage our fears a bit better because we can prepare for what will happen next.

Oddly enough, these end times books run the very real risk of leaving us worse off because we are preparing for a future that will not happen!

But wait, there’s more! We also end up relying on this insider knowledge rather than living by faith. By seeking to mitigate our fears with end times predictions, we aren’t trusting our futures to God and facing the unknown with trust in his indwelling Spirit and the victory of his Son.

It’s all a really big mess.

What are the alternatives?

Empowering People with Expertise, Research, or Experience

I’ve had a front row seat watching my wife and several friends get a PhD. They spend years learning how to responsibly research topics, evaluate their findings, and then present them in a way that honors what has been done before.

While working on my MDIV, I saw the folks on track for a PhD in a theological discipline, and I thought to myself, “No thanks. I’m out.”

Those folks had to read, remember, assimilate, and evaluate A LOT. They seemed to be reading all of the time. When I’d ask them about a topic, they wouldn’t mention the chapter or two of a book they’d read. They’d discuss multiple books, articles, and theories.

Just to write an academic article requires diving into multiple fields, each with their seminal texts, regarded experts, and intellectual land mines. The width and breadth of research is enormous!

All of this to say, getting expertise that you’d find in a seminary or university is hard and time consuming.

Even worse, by the time you’re done getting a PhD and writing for so many academic folks, it’s challenging to transition into writing and communicating for a popular audience. It can be done, but that’s a whole OTHER skill set to learn.

The other paths of experience and research for writing a compelling book are challenging as well, even if they aren’t quite as demanding as becoming an academic expert. And even if you have lived through an experience or invested months or years into research, there’s no guarantee that you’ll catch anyone’s attention.

In fact, you’ll most likely look at best-selling authors who use fear, anger, or a mix of the two and wonder what you’re doing wrong!

When I look at the books that have been most helpful for me, I find that the offer some mix of hopeful change and practical guidance. Things can get better, and this book will show you how.

That message can certainly be exploited with a shallow, quick-fix solution that doesn’t actually work. Yet, a genuinely hopeful message is a bit harder to capture. It’s not easy to articulate hope and change in a brief media hit today. For new authors, this process is especially agonizing as they try to cram a 50,000 word message into two sentences.

It’s no wonder that folks who don’t want to spend the time gaining expertise or conducting research or living through a series of experiences and who don’t want to bother with formulating a hopeful message opt for the shortcut of fear and anger.

The good news is that people are motivated by things other than fear and anger. We are motivated by hope, goodness, and the possibility of change, but fear and anger can become addicting if we are exposed to them over and over again.

Perhaps the most helpful way for us to confront the fear and anger we confront in our world is to remain aware of how they are impacting us. Can we step back from our reactions and thoughts to become mindful and prayerful?

How can we bring our fear and anger to God today?

As we see our fear and anger for what they are, we can regain some of our agency and then ask the next question: How can I join God in bringing hope and change to the fear and anger in our world?

My prayer is that we are motivated by God’s hope and loving presence, even as we are surrounded by anger and fear today.

 

Learn More about Regaining Control Over Fear and Anger

Read a sample chapter from Reconnect about “Reactive Mind”

Check out Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction

Pre-Order Reconnect Today

Download the 4-Session Reconnect Discussion Guide

 

 

I Can’t Talk My Way Out of Every Spiritual Crisis

Words don’t always make difficult situations better. I still haven’t been able to shut down my impulse to speak up when I should probably keep my mouth shut.

I’m the kind of person who always wants to help someone going through a tough time. And so I talk, I try to commiserate, and I do my best to think of something encouraging or helpful to say.

Maybe I’ve helped others sometimes, but plenty of other times I’ve felt like reaching into the air to grab the words and stomp them into oblivion before they land in the other person’s ears. I tend to overestimate the good that my words can do, and so I pressure myself to say something, anything, when sometimes I really just need to be present and remain available.

There’s a kind of theme that emerges in my own spiritual practices and in the stories I hear of others who practice contemplation. We want to talk our way out of a spiritual crisis, we want answers, we want definitive statements, we want the doctrine that unlocks the door that will alleviate our doubt, uncertainty, frustration, and pain.

I have imagined myself talking my way through difficult situations, as if my own chatter would somehow compel God to take notice and offer a solution once I reach a magical threshold of prayerful words. Perhaps there’s also a reverence threshold to my words where I try to sound like a prayer book… “Gracious, magnificent, and merciful God, bestow upon me, your servant, the full measure of your goodness…”

And yes, talking through our prayers can work and yes God can give us answers, but I can’t talk my way out of every spiritual crisis. And to be honest, I’m not sure that I would even want to be talked out of a crisis or given a magical solution to every issue in my life.

I imagine a parent holding a sobbing child without words, just offering presence and comfort. We wouldn’t criticize the parent for that kind of presence. There really is nothing to be said in the moment. The pain must be felt and the moment can only be resolved with presence.

There isn’t a physical God on earth to hold us quite so directly, and so I have overcompensated with words until they failed me. And when words failed and I couldn’t talk myself out of a spiritual crisis, I assumed that God had failed me.

But there is quite a lot more to God than the words we speak or the ideas scrolling through our minds. There is presence and comfort in silence, even if such a possibility appears counterintuitive or unlikely.

Even in this space where I only have words, images, and white space, I can’t talk you out of a spiritual crisis. I can’t give you the magic next steps to spiritual prosperity. I can only say that words have failed me, but God has not. If you step into that silence and stillness, there is something else waiting for you there. I can’t tell you what it is or what it will feel like. Even if you do find it, words may fail you.

Perhaps we can find hope in the possibility that we don’t need more words to be present for God. In fact,  I typically find it most helpful to use fewer words.

 

Reconnect with Soul Care

I’ll be sharing more about these ideas in my newsletter and in my upcoming book, Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction (releasing June 2, 2020).

Sign up here

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Photo by Korney Violin on Unsplash

 

Social Media Puts Me in a Position to Lose, So Now What?

When I log on to social media, I feel like I’m destined to lose.

Not to brag, but I follow some really smart and interesting people. It’s tough to stop scrolling through their posts, often to my own detriment. There’s only so much you can learn while scrolling through social media.

The infinite scrolling feature on most social media sites ensures that I’ll literally never run out of something else to find, not to mention the promise of refreshing my feed for the latest posts.

Then there’s the matter of notifications, because who can resist a bit of affirmation? I can get a daily dose of likes and compliments if I play my cards right and avoid controversial topics.

Two unhealthy false versions of myself face off, as the lazy, distracted side of myself meets the side of myself that craves to be viewed in a positive light as an insightful writer.

I can’t afford to let either fabrication override my true self that is a mix of both and a whole bunch of other things. That’s why I’m so uncertain about what to do with social media these days.

I’ve studied the tricks that include red notification buttons since red gets the most engagement, auto-playing videos that make it as easy as possible to keep watching, a spinning update wheel that resembles a slot machine when refreshing a feed, and even a slight delay in revealing notifications in order to build suspense.

I know all of these tricks, and yet I feel sucked in by them. Knowing that the creators of the red notification button and the infinite scroll buttons can’t resist them either makes me feel better, but only drives home the point that with social media the average user is destined to lose to the engineers because the engineers are even beating themselves with their design.

I simply don’t know what to do with social media. It’s conventional wisdom in marketing and publishing circles that Facebook offers great engagement per post, but I’m not sure how present to be when I know that I am more likely to lose time, attention, and focus when using social media, let alone my concern for other social media users.

Perhaps the question is this: What do we hope to gain from social media? And then there’s a follow up question about whether it’s actually delivering those things.

Is social media promising us a certain level of connection and interaction and then pulling a bait and switch with extremely addicting features that make it difficult to stop and do something else more beneficial with our time?

If our goal is to deliver a lot of data and view a lot of ads, then social media is working just fine as it is, but I don’t think the goals of social media companies line up with the best interests of their users.

As of right now, I’m not sure how to use social media, but I sure about how to not use it. I’m using time limiting apps, blocking apps, and tracking apps in order to keep my usage under control even if I can’t make good choices in the heat of the moment.

If the makers of social media are devoting so much time and so many resources to capturing our attention and time, it’s time for us to use time and resources in order to guard our attention and time.

 

Reconnect with Soul Care

I’ll be sharing more about these ideas in my newsletter and in my upcoming book, Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction (releasing June 2, 2020).

Sign up here

Pre-Order Reconnect Today

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Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash

Remembering Rachel Held Evans

My friend Rachel Held Evans has passed away. The only way that I know how to process this shock and sorrow is to write about her and what she meant to me and to so many others. Rachel was one of the kindest, most creative, and funniest people I’ve ever met.

I can’t remember who first told me about this new blogger named Rachel Held Evans around 2009 before her memoir Evolving in Monkey Town released.

In fact, the only thing I remember is dropping by her blog, skimming a few of her posts, and seeing that goofy monkey picture from her book cover.

The blog was fine, but something about that goofy monkey picture lodged itself in my mind. This wasn’t a “serious theologian.” I clicked away not in disagreement but out of a sense that I was looking for folks who did more “serious theology” writing.

I found out a year later that I couldn’t have been more incorrect in my assessment.

Someone shared a video of Rachel giving a talk at a Baylor University chapel, and in a matter of ten minutes, I got what made her such a gift to the church.

Through weaving her personal story and theology together, she shared a compelling narrative of her evolving faith and beliefs. While my book, published a few years earlier, covered many of the same themes and ideas and struggled to meet its sales goals, she captivated people with her creativity, vulnerability, and command of theology. She wrote for the whole church, but her thinking was deep and substantial. On that day I became a fan of her writing.

Over the the years Rachel firmly established her gift for research and study, digging into one deep topic after another. However, I don’t think we can ever give her enough credit for her creativity.

In my interactions with her, online and in person, she could land the perfect joke. She could make a difficult concept stick because she invested time in presenting it well. She was a kind and compassionate person who cared about people, and she showed it in her writing.

When I look at how I approached the writing of my latest book, there are many lessons from Rachel that I applied to it. She showed so many of us that we could do the heavy lifting of theology and still share compelling stories and narratives.

I don’t think her critics will ever fully appreciate how disarming her A Year of Biblical Womanhood book was. Sure, the one year project book concept was going around, but she used a familiar form to ask deeper questions.

One pastor noted that she had created a work of pastoral performance art that resembled the prophetic tradition. Even if you disagreed with her ideas or disliked the “one year” format, she literally developed a way to interact with the Bible based on what’s written in its pages.

She never lost herself in an idea. She always sought the creative angle, the way to bring it home to her readers. That relentless creativity is what made her such a successful author for one book after another.

When I went to see her speak in Columbus and to go out for Jeni’s ice cream afterwards, Rachel stayed to speak with everyone who lined up to meet with her. She didn’t just sign a book and send folks away. She listened, and listened, and listened. She was a writer, but she had a truly pastoral heart as well. We almost didn’t make it to Jeni’s before closing! (The picture at the top is evidence that  our group managed to make it.)

During her talk that night she frequently mentioned her husband Dan. They were a true team, and her admiration for Dan came through when she spoke. Her ideas benefitted through his thoughtfulness and support, and she wanted the world to know it.

Rachel didn’t just share a message, she also modeled a way of sharing it in her blogs and books that impacted a generation of Christian writers.

When Rachel arrived at a bloggers meetup at the 2011 STORY conference in Chicago (give or take a year), our room of 30 bloggers stopped talking and burst into applause. It was a heartfelt moment of appreciation for someone who helped us find our way forward as writers in a shifting publishing world.

Rachel elevated so many writers by sharing their work on her blog and social media account. She endorsed books, wrote Forewords, and worked behind the scenes to support up and coming writers. I saw just a small slice of this, and many others have shared the same.

I didn’t know Rachel as well as some, but each time we crossed paths she was warm, cheerful, and attentive. It’s easy to think you know someone based on what you’ve seen of them online. Rachel always exceeded my expectations or what I thought I knew of her.

I have nothing but fond memories of her. She set a path of kindness, generosity, and a dogged, honest search for God that is worth imitating.

The loss of Rachel Held Evans is devastating for so many. I cannot fathom the scope of this tragedy for her family at this time. Everything about this feels wrong and unfair for her children and husband.

Rachel left the world a better place because she gave people the words they needed for their faith and she gave writers an example to follow.

May we walk in love with each other as we trust that today Rachel is walking in loving union with her Savior.

You can donate to her family’s Go Fund Me to support them at this time of loss and mourning.

If I Have Not Received Love from Jesus, I Can’t Share It

In the final days of his life, Jesus made an urgent plea with his disciples. Calling them “little children,” he shared a very simple command with them: Love one another.

That’s what often sticks in my mind from this discourse, but there’s something more to it.

Jesus follows that by saying, “You must love one another just as I have loved you.”

If we want to know what it looks like to love one another, we can look at the way Jesus has already loved us.

Putting this another way, Have you received love from Jesus? The love you receive from Jesus is the love you can pass along to others.

If it’s challenging to love others, then perhaps the place to begin isn’t within yourself, your own will, desires, or spiritual practices. The place to begin is what you’ve received.

Do I live in the security and affirmation of Jesus’ love? Have I let his love define my identity, my hope, or my priorities?

Perhaps the love of Jesus remains more of a theological doctrine, something you know in your head but don’t really experience or integrate into your life.

Love for others may feel more like a duty or a chore.

It’s true that our choices each day are very much a part of how we love others, but beneath those choices there can be something else driving us, directing us, and showing us the way forward.

This force residing beneath our willpower or choices is the fire of Jesus’ love for us.

This love has the power to shape us and direct us from within. It isn’t that our willpower or choice isn’t important. It’s that something stronger than duty or obligation shines a light for the path forward.

The way of burnout is marked with words like duty and obligation.

When we know how deeply God loves us, we are free to respond with grace and gratitude, to share that goodness with others, and to love out of the abundance God has given us.

 

Read More about Contemplative Prayer…

After years of anxious, hard-working spirituality, I found peace with God by practicing contemplative prayer. I’ve written an introduction to this historic Christian practice titled:

Flee, Be Silent, Pray:
Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians

On sale for $8.49 (Kindle)

Amazon | Herald Press | CBD

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Photo by Miroslava on Unsplash

The Smartphone and Social Media Trap for Christians

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There is no good time to post about the challenges facing the church regarding social media and digital devices. We are living in a time when social media and smartphones can be useful for civic engagement and activism, sharing the knowledge of wise leaders and instant analysis on breaking news events.

However, living in a time when the church could stand to be a place of renewal and spiritual transformation so that we can better engage with the pressing issues of our time, I have seen too many church leaders and Christian media experts who are far too willing to adopt technology without paying sufficient attention to its dark side.

As I offer updates on my research into digital devices and spirituality, I wanted to share a bit about the urgency of this kind of reflection for the church today: 

Growing up evangelical, I learned that sharing the Gospel message matters the most. Any means that I use to share the Gospel is just a “tool.”

So Billy Graham adopting radio was a necessary, if not vitally important “tool” for sharing the Gospel. Of course he should have done that, right? Thousands if not millions heard the Gospel through his radio broadcasts!

Of course there are factors to consider when sharing the Gospel in this manner:

  • What kind of message travels the best over the radio? Are there modifications being made to the message for the sake of the medium?
  • Are the radio messages appropriate for the people listening to them?
  • What becomes of the people who hear these messages on the radio?
  • Can those responding to radio sermons figure out their next steps toward discipleship and Christian community?

That isn’t to say Christians shouldn’t be on the radio. Rather, Christians have generally believed that reaching more people, more efficiently should always be pursued, regardless of the adaptations that must be made or the unintended consequences.

The medium of blogging has tended to reward those who are the most revealing, most sensational, and most combative, so I dare not throw stones from a glass house here. Each medium for sharing the message of Jesus can present particular challenges

If radio and blogging come with such a laundry list of potential concerns, then we should pay particular attention to the movement of most churches to adopt social media in one way or another. More and more denominations and congregations are asking members to bring their smartphones into the service and to USE them.

There are opportunities to tweet questions to sermons, to leave comments on Facebook posts, or to share images from worship on Instagram.

The folks in favor of these innovations use words like engagement, interaction, and community to justify this embrace of smartphones in church.

If we dare to speak about the outreach opportunities on social media, then the barriers between social media marketing executives and church outreach teams start to blur really, really fast.

Social media is where people are spending their time. So, regardless of whether this is good for them, Christians have reasoned that this is the place to have a presence, sharing the Gospel, sending invitations to church, and inviting the “unchurched” to “engage” in the big questions of life.

Once again, writing from my glass house, I share my own writing about Christianity on social media because that is where people are spending their time, whether or not it’s good for them. I am part of the hyperlink game, trying to “capture” the attention of readers with the hope that they may even buy one of my books on Christian topics or sign up for my newsletter.

The only way I can even begin to justify going about the whole social media game like this is whether I can offer a respite, a bit of a refuge in my blog posts, newsletters, and books:

Can I empower people to take more initiative in their daily searches for God?

Can I give them greater awareness of the game being played to suck in their attention?

We’re all compromised to one degree or another, but perhaps we can begin to live with more intention and healthier boundaries by understanding how conflicted the goals of Christianity can be when stacked up against social media and digital devices, such as smartphones.

A smartphone can be useful. It can be a tool. Heck, it even has a flashlight built into it!

But a smartphone exists and the apps on that smartphone exist to collect data about you. The more data they collect, the more profitable they will become.

Yes, Google will help you figure out where to go, but Google is also collecting data.

Yes, YouTube will help you complete a household project, but it also wants you to watch more videos and will continue to suggest another video, then another video, and then another video. The data and ads begin to flow, and it doesn’t really matter what’s good for you as long as the data and ads flow.

Yes, Instagram can be a fun way to share your life with friends and family who are far away, but at a certain point, does it not become a carefully curated presentation of a self and a life that aren’t real? Is this the kind of “curation” we want to invite into church when it’s already challenging enough for folks to be their authentic selves?

I use all of these tools, but having examined the ways they function and the goals behind their designers, I’m not sure about them being neutral tools anymore. They are all designed with an agenda that does not have your well-being or my well-being in mind. Whether or not they “can” be beneficial is beside the point.

The benefits of smartphones and social media are the bait set up in an attractive trap that is designed to maximize user attention and, that word Christians love to use, engagement.

While I don’t think we should necessarily give up on smartphones or social media altogether, we should use them with our eyes wide open. We should know when the goals of these “tools” run counter to the deeper goals of the Gospel to bring us to a greater awareness of God’s love and to love our neighbors more completely.

Engagement and attention on social media or smartphones doesn’t require virtue, love, or community. These industry goals can defy human well-being, let alone flourishing.

If our goal is to draw near to God and to truly become present in love for our neighbors, we should remember that the makers of the smartphones in our pockets (or hands) won’t benefit if we are sitting in silence before God or embracing our neighbors.

Simple Advice for Christians: Trust Your Instincts

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If a leader is too combative and controlling, there’s a reason for that.

If a spiritual teacher keeps giving you tasks and obligations, you’re not learning spirituality or how to abide in Christ.

If a theology system makes God sound like a monster, then you’re not learning about the God who is love.

If you are fearful of God, then your teachers and guides are in error.

You aren’t crazy. Trust your instincts.

Christianity shouldn’t be a series of inconsistencies and shocking incongruities to be accepted at face value.

There should be mystery and uncertainty when encountering the divine, but if you’re repeatedly running into one red flag after another, you can stop explaining away the obvious problems or treating them as inevitable.

You can stop listening to the leaders who demand the acceptance of inconsistencies.

If a system of theology appears to be controlling, oppressive, and harmful, then trust your instincts.

Ask questions, seek the wisdom of trustworthy women and men with more experience, and explore other traditions and perspectives within the faith. What you find may surprise you.

There’s a good chance that other people have already asked the same questions and raised the same concerns.

My faith has evolved from assenting to a doctrinal checklist to consenting to the loving presence of God without any expectations or demands.

My hands are no longer clutching lists of things to do or inconsistent doctrinal statements that require defending.

When all is well, my hands are open, ready to receive from God.

I’m still angry some days at the Christian machine with its demands, obligations, and hoops to jump through. I forget that God is present, views me as a beloved child, and desires that I share this love with others.

At the very least, I can approach each day with the relief that I’m not crazy, that so many of my instincts about Christianity have led me toward a more loving and generous spiritual practice.

I don’t have to run from questions, doubts, uncertainties, and incongruities. There is a lot that I’m still sorting out and recovering from, but the survival of my faith no longer rests in defending insufficient answers to eternally complex questions.

I can rest in the mysterious presence of God with open hands and a mind that is no longer trying to fit square pegs into round holes.