Category Archives: just musing

loose ends

anticipationWhen I come across an untended blog, I often wonder what happened.

In the case of this one, life happened.

A couple years ago, I started writing a five-days a week blog called But I kept writing here. That was for talking about following Jesus. This was for observations about life and social media and randomness. But this is becoming more random, more sporadic. And I am doing so much teaching and talking and shooting, that I don’t have enough energy for making observations about it.

So I’m writing this post to say, “Thanks for being on this part of the ride, but feel free to move along, there’s nothing more to see.”

I’m leaving everything here. There are probably some worthwhile observations in the archives. But I’m officially no longer feeling guilty for not writing anything.

The email version of

The kindle version of

And someday at

With love and gratitude,



Bonhoeffer by Metaxas – my video review

One of my goals for the year is to read new books and talk about  them. This month I read Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (affiliate link).

It’s a long book, but very readable. Metaxas mixes stories from Bonhoeffer’s friends and family with extensive quotes from Bonhoeffer’s own writings. This mix lets us get a picture of his theology and his personality.

Here are my observations in video form.

help with writing

a quiet placeI write all the time. I think I write reasonably well.

So when I read that Chris Brogan was offering weekly emails with blogging topics, I was glad for other people, but I wasn’t sure I was interested.

Then, the other day, Chris gave us all a sample of one of those emails. I sent him a message telling him that it was a waste of time because rather than being able to bounce from twitter to facebook to email to twitter, I found myself writing. I wrote a post to the people who read about how I think about them while writing. I wrote two more posts that build on that one. I started looking at a series of posts for the month of February.

Chris talks, for example, about a post about problems:

Should Something Ever Go Wrong – Imagine giving your customers or readers or friends a post where you explain ahead of time how you wish they’d handle a break from your typical promised experience. … Giving your audience a strong understanding on how to deal with what to do when things don’t go as planned is a powerful opportunity to build a relationship before you need it.

I read that and thought, “What if I wrote about what happens when you run into hypocrites in church? About what happens when the Bible doesn’t make sense? About what happens when prayer doesn’t work?”

I mean, those are the kinds of things people ask me about and yet I haven’t clearly written about them.

And I never would have thought about that series without Chris’ prompts.

The early people to talk about rhetoric, persuasive discourse, talked about the five canons of rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. The first was about finding ideas, about finding new ways to talk about what you already know.

I always skipped over invention.  I never knew what I was missing.

His emails are available by subscription. But try the free one. See if it helps.

It helped me.

Looking under the sink.

closeup of shut-off valve

This is a shut-off valve. It is under the kitchen sink at my parents’ condo.  I looked at it Friday morning. I was trying to decide whether to fix the kitchen faucet.

Fixing the faucet depended on turning off this valve. Because the valve is so badly damaged from previous attempts to turn it with a wrench, I decided to let a plumber replace it.

Why do I show you this picture?

  • Because I used a Kodak Zi8 in closeup mode to take this picture so I could see the problem better and so I could show my dad.
  • Because I think about taking pictures differently now than I used to.
  • Because using pictures to illustrate posts and to show people what is going on around me that happens through flickr and twitpic has changed how I think about using a camera.
  • Because sometimes social media tools may just help someone see under the sink, a place they can’t see anymore.

Sometimes for just one person in the same room. Sometimes for you.

on using video

Sue Murphy wrote today about adding video to our online presence. She deals well with the concerns that it’s too expensive, that it’s too technical and that we don’t like how we look.

She’s right. I realized over the last month that while there is a place for complicated productions, there is also a place for simple pieces that give your readers a sense of your tone of voice, the places you smile, the meaning of your inflection.

This video took some thinking and three takes, but it gives a sense of one way to use video. Thanks Sue.

Sue, of course, wrote the (a) ebook on video: Creating Amazing Video.

8 things to practice.

I was talking with a friend. Sometimes, my friend said, the tone of voice my friend uses causes problems. So I suggested my friend could practice saying things to learn how to moderate tone of voice and to practice being more gentle.

It made me start wondering what kinds of things we could practice, simple things that we do all the time that we could do more effectively, more intentionally. Most of these are things we can practice when no one is around, paying attention to how to do it better when people are around, when we are doing it for real.

1. Your tone of voice.

2. The volume of your voice.

3. Measuring the amount of water and the amount of coffee used every night.

4. Reading books out loud for kids.

5. Drawing stick figures.

6. Listening before speaking.

7. Not telling an “I can top that story” when someone tells a story.

8. Smiling.


Blank slate.

a ream of paperHope had a Christmas list. We gave her a number of things on the list. One of them was a ream of paper.

So we got her a ream of paper. And colored pencils.

And I wrote on the plain wrapping paper this: “Sometimes the best gift is a blank slate.”

As I wrote it, I was thinking about all that Hope is going to print on that paper. She and her roommate will print a semester’s worth of papers, of research, of assignments. I was trying to bring some status to a plain (though necessary) gift.

I quickly realized that I was more right than I thought. Sometimes the best gift we can give to family, to friends, to ourselves, is a blank slate. Free of expectations, of limitations, of blame. A fresh start.

This is the third year I’ll start the new year with a clean Moleskine notebook. A blank slate. A fresh start.

I’m wondering what would happen if we handed our friends a ream of paper, a new package of 3×5 cards, a new whiteboard. What would happen if we meant it.

CR-48 update

chromeA couple days ago, I got a new laptop. Free. It’s the CR-48 Chrome OS laptop, a test platform for the Chrome operating system from Google. I realized that I need to give some updates on what I’m learning and seeing.

  • Working exclusively from a browser feels weird. I’m a messy computer desktop kind of guy. I rightclick and save all the time. I don’t know how to do that.
  • I know, of course, that I have to figure out how I’d open some of those files with apps, since the CR-48 only uses apps (not having the applications from another operating system creator). However, Google Docs will convert spreadsheets, jpg files can open in Slideshow, pdf files open fine as well.
  • On the other hand, I have been using gmail and google docs for a long time. I have book chapter drafts, conversations with random twitter friends, forms, and spreadsheets. As a result, I make a good test case for this machine and I am very used to working with documents in the cloud.
  • I haven’t figured out how to get pictures off my Kodak Ki8 camera. Part of the problem is that I’m used to being able to see thumbnails. I’ll keep working,
  • The keyboard is really comfortable. There are some key changes. I never use caplocks, so the shift to a search key in it’s place isn’t a problem. However, not having and pageup and pagedown keys has forced me to learn the keyboard shortcuts. And there are no function keys at all.
  • I’m also discovering that I never use the search button. I just open a new browser tab and start typing what I’m searching for, but that’s one of the things about Chrome OS and Chrome as a browser.  The address bar is actually a search window too.
  • I just discovered Scratchpad today, a notepad application which which will work even when the machine isn’t attached to the internet. When you reconnect, the notes sync with Google docs.
  • I’m guessing that some of the hardware issues (only one USB, no hard drive, no printing except through Google cloud printing which I haven’t set up yet, the weird cursor jumps that happen, I think, because I flex the computer while actually using it on my lap) are because the computer is not a production model. It exist, I believe, to give the OS some realworld experience.
  • I love the fact that bootup takes way less than a minute. It’s amazing.
  • I haven’t tried the 3G capacity of this laptop yet, but will next week.

I have the machine through the pilot program. I applied online, and a couple weeks later the machine showed up. (No email notification, just a cool box.).

I’ll keep you posted as I keep exploring. For now, I’m liking the machine.

Here’s a video of the CR-48 someone else did. Watch that to see what it looks like.

The year in 140 characters.


I was working on my paragraph for our family Christmas letter. It’s always frustrating for me. What do you include? What sounds like bragging? How do you phrase a list?

So I said on twitter,

if our Christmas letter were just 140 characters, it might be easier than several paragraphs. Hmm. What would a 140Christmas letter be like?

My friend Joanna asked for mine. I knew someone would.  When I told her I didn’t know, she said,

well, once you’ve figured it out, it’ll have written itself 🙂

So I started writing. It was wonderful. I had to focus, to condense, to look at themes and major events of the year. And to not worry about who needed to be made happy by what mention.

So here it is:

son married. dog buried. table talks treasured. parents aging. writing continues. loving kids, wife and God more all the time. #140xmasltr

So, if you had to write a Christmas letter in 140 characters, less 10 for the #140xmasltr hashtag (for twitter people), what’s yours?

(you can put it here, but if you are on twitter, put it there too).

A drop in the bucket

(Here’s a guest post from Andrew Swanson)

city sidewalk at night

I was walking down Michigan Avenue and heard a bell ringer. I was past the expensive shops, further down by Grant Park. I’d heard Salvation Army bell ringers all day while walking around.  I’ve heard them my entire life, including my couple-hour stint as one. I just pass them off as another object of the city.

Silver bells. Red buckets. Christmas time. City.

When I looked up, I saw in front of me a man in a wheelchair, bundled up, shaking a McDonald’s cup with change in it. Beyond him, on the opposite corner, was the bell ringer.

My first thought was who should get the change in my pocket? It’s a hypothetical question, of course, considering I have none in my pocket.

I know the Salvation Army is a great organization. I’ve helped them in various ways, from coins and bills dropped into their trademark buckets, to being a volunteer bell ringer for a couple of hours outside of a Walmart in Fort Wayne a few years ago. I know that they help people in many ways. I even helped out in one of the centers on a work trip in Chicago.

The change I’d put in the bucket could go to help people in any number of ways. Or, it could go towards buying a fancy new instrument for the Salvation Army band.

I’ve always been skeptical of charitable organizations. I can, in my mind, imagine that the money is going directly to helping someone, or I can look at the big picture, and imagine my money going any number of places in the organization. Ultimately, it will be helping an organization that is helping people.

On the other hand, I know that my change in the man’s cup will go directly to him. Maybe it will be for him to buy dinner, maybe it will be to buy booze, or maybe it will be for a night in a shelter. Lots of times, people say “oh, don’t give them change, they’ll just buy drugs or alcohol with the money.”

I’ve seen the scams. My wife has seen the same lady in the same spot for the past five years in Chicago, telling the same story about being pregnant and needing money. But I’ve recently come to a realization. I support happiness, and happiness in a way that can’t be defined. To the person begging for change, asking for it for food, but knowing in their mind that they’ll be using it on a bottle of alcohol, they’re searching for happiness. Their definition of happiness. I can scoff and scold and turn my nose up, or I can help them achieve their happiness. And maybe, just maybe, they aren’t using the money in the way we all assume.

There lies the dilemma. Which person gets the change? Where will fifty cents (or a couple bucks) make the most significant human difference? What connection will change me the most?  What connection will change the world the most? Who will be the happiest person in the end?

Sure, I’ll get satisfaction for helping. But too many people get caught up in the results of their concept of helping.  If you’re going to toss some change in a bucket – or a cup – don’t worry yourself with where the money will end up. Just know that it is helping and bringing happiness somewhere down the line.

Andrew Swanson lives in Chicago when he’s not tour manager for a band.

For another look at questions of helping, see Nancy Swanson’s “He said thank you.”