Tag Archives: caring

Jason Falls is picking on me

Some people write newspaper articles. Some people write essays.

Newspaper articles have 85% of the story in the first paragraph.  If an editor has to cut paragraphs, the bulk of the story is intact.

Essays have 85% of the story spread through roughly 85% of the paragraphs, leaving the remaining 15%, including the point of the essay, for the rest of the paragraphs. Frequently, the point is contained in a pithy statement in the last line, forcing a reader to get to the end, pick up the key, and reread the essay saying “Ah!” and “Now I get it” and “How thoughtfully clever.”

Newspaper articles are written for skimmers and for deductive people.

Essays are written for readers and for inductive people, people who are willing to live long through an experience and then, afterward, say, now I understand.

I write essays.

That’s a perfectly acceptable thing, I think.

And now Jason Falls comes along and picks on me.

“Write good headlines,” he said yesterday.

But that would give away too much of the essay, I reply. It would ruin the clever surprise. I want people to read to the end to understand the story.

But Jason said, “I … subscribe to 350 other blogs and make efficient use of my time by skimming headlines looking for an inviting post.”

And suddenly I realized that he is right.

If I write enigmatic headlines, forcing busy people to read all the way to the end of the essay to get the point, I will keep people from even starting the essay.  If I write generic headlines, I keep my friends from being able to get their friends to read what I write.

As I thought about Jason’s point, I realized that my “8 ways” posts get attention. In fact, of my top ten posts, six of them are “8 ways” posts. Not just because they are list posts, I don’t think, but because I tell you in the headline what is in the post. (Like 8 ways to encourage a friend.)

Ironically, those are some of my best posts. The title reflects clarity in the posts as well.

So I think I’m going to try what Jason says: Take the time to actually craft a headline that might catch a reader’s attention and give a reason to read.

I’m guessing that this one catches his.

what do you expect

garbage cans at ballparkYou are going to talk to some people this week who aren’t completely upbeat.

Some of them are just being cranky. They probably should be scolded.

One of them, however, just finished her first weak of chemo (an intentional typo). One of them found out he was losing his job the day he came back to work after his dad’s funeral, two days before another funeral. One of them has a world that seems to be collapsing on every front. One of them found out her grandson died suddenly. One of them is fighting depression and winning, but life feels very stretched out.

I know. We have every right to expect excellent service. After all, we’re paying for it (unless, of course, it’s free). We have every right to expect people to deliver on their promises, to be consistent, to be perfect, to deliver.

But behind the technology tools, behind the broken doors, behind the apparently carefully built brand, are people, not shiny objects or garbage cans.

We have every responsibility to expect people to be people.


Social media chaplain

Emilio stood in the shower trying to think.

Sometimes it seemed that it was the only place he was able to think.  It was probably the only place he unplugged.

He was struggling with understanding what, exactly, he does.

Emilio is an associate pastor. He has been described as a social media pastor by both Chris Brogan and Jon Swanson. He has, however struggled with that label. In his local congregation, he is a pastor that uses social media. It’s a face-to-face congregation,  different from the online church where Tony Steward is a pastor. Not that one is more community than the other, they are just different setting, different communication tools.

At the same time, Emilio has  number of friends in the social media world, people who aren’t connected at all to his local congregation. They interact often. He writes a daily devotional. He often has people say, “can you pray for me?” He chats about coffee and about life on twitter and elsewhere.

He often has felt a tension about the two worlds. In one, he is clearly a pastor, caring for a flock, connecting them to each other and to God. In the other, there is no clear each other. They don’t gather in the same place at the same time–physical or virtual.

And he struggles with what to call his social media presence. Reading about branding, reading about marketing, reading about expanding influence, all of it sounds fun and compelling and important. Except that it felt somehow uncomfortable. For him.

He shook his head and wiped his face. It was time to quit the struggle. He had to just do what he does, regardless of what it’s called and whether it fits with any categories.

And then it hit him. “I’m a chaplain. I’m a social media chaplain.”

Everyone knows about chaplains. They carry bedpans and assist with surgeries on MASH, but no one mistakes them for competent. Until the mortar rounds explodes and people wonder about surviving. Then Father Mulcahy has some interesting conversations.

Chaplains stand on the sidelines at football games. People look at them, wondering why anyone that unathletic, that uninvolved is wasting valuable bench space. Until there is an injury and a player is abandoned on the sideline, and there is a guy holding an icepack and a guy listening.

Chaplains show up in hospitals and listen to stories. They are the one in the room that isn’t family, that isn’t medical, that isn’t healthcare. They are just there.

Present, listening, available, comforting. That’s a chaplain. Doing it in social media circles, that’s a social media chaplain.

It seemed a workable balance. Pastor in one setting, chaplain in the other. Leading in one setting, waiting in the other. Available always.

He turned off the water, grabbed his towel, looked at the counter. His coffee cup sat there, the second of the morning.

“And chaplains get to drink lots of coffee. It’s perfect.”

sharing delight

Nancy and I got to spend a night at the Potawatomi Inn. If we had to pick a place that is “our” place, that’s it. We’ve been there half a dozen times across the years.

We were sitting at supper Friday night when Nancy saw someone looking toward us. Pam came carrying a gift certificate. A friend had seen where Nancy and I were staying. This friend had called the Inn and had a certificate delivered to us while we were still eating.

Pam, the desk manager who had taken the call came herself. She stood and talked for a minute…and then sat down. We chatted. She listened to us talk about the friendship. She was interested in the idea of someone reaching out that way. She was interested in how much we like the Inn. I think she was surprised enough by the concept that she wanted the event to last a bit longer.

This could be about the generosity of my friend. But it isn’t. At least not about the generosity to us.

In addition to the food for us, the phone call gave Pam an opportunity to be part of a conspiracy of delight. And she rose to the occasion.

How often to you allow other people to carry good news? How often do you build connections of celebrations?

As I was writing, I remembered a time I did this.

Five years ago, I wanted to do something fun for Nancy for our anniversary. I got a picture of the flowers that she had used to decorate for our wedding, a picture of flowers in the backseat of her car. I took it to a florist that I knew. I said, “I would love a basket that has all of these flowers, but I don’t even know what they are called.”

Somehow, that request captured Barbara’s attention. She figured out what the plants were, ordered what she needed, and prepared a basket. As much as Nancy and I enjoyed the flowers, I think we enjoyed Barbara’s response to this project even more.

This week, plan a small gift for a friend or spouse or child. Enlist the help of other people to pull it off. Ask someone who lives in a different state to mail the card for you so the postmark of the anonymous card is completely unexpected. Order a set of cards from someone you met online. Ask your friend’s coworker to make a deliver in the middle of a meeting.

And do it this week, when there are no holidays to make it obligatory.

And then let us know how it turned out.


(And, by the way, thanks for the dinner. And breakfast.)

i forget the audience

Sometimes I forget the audience.

Sometimes when I am thinking about strategy, I forget the people that need to hear.

Sometimes when I am writing an appeal letter, I forget that there are different reasons to give. I forget that there are different reasons that people are on the mailing list.

Sometimes when I am being pragmatic, I forget that there are people who are dreaming.

Sometimes when I am being creative, I forget that some people hear facts best.

Sometimes when I am really busy, I think I even forget Nancy.

And then I look up. And she is there waving.

“This is who I am,” she says.

“This is how I think. This is what I care about. This is where I am.”

And when I am wise, I listen to that voice and I smile at that smile and I wave at that wave.

But there are many audiences that don’t care nearly as much about me as Nancy does. And they aren’t waving hello.

They are waving goodbye.

When we stare at the screen, at the coolness we create, at the wonderful wit of our words, at the intricacy of our designs, let’s not forget what I often forget.

There are people in there.

How is it with your soul

John Wesley started a church.

That’s a very condensed statement, so condensed as to be false.

He, with others, started a movement. They had smaller groups. In the groups, people cared enough to ask each other, “How is it with your soul?”

There is a tendency to lie as we answer that question, to not disclose what is really going on. We can talk about our busyness as if that needs must shape what is happening inside. We can talk about how everything is going well, as if that is what the person wants to hear. We can quickly turn the tables with, “Fine.! How’s yours?”

Or we might actually be honest.

“My soul is as vivid as a black and white photograph of stained glass.” – Ornate, created in detail, capable of incredible faith, but drained.

“My soul is feeling thin, stretched.”

“My soul is thirsty.”

“My soul knows it is loved.”

A doctor, a mechanic, a counselor, a coach…each depend on honest answers to be able to help. And with our arm, with our car, with our relationships, with our business plan, we often find it easy to acknowledge what is not working so that we can get feedback about what could work.

But somehow, with our soul, we’d rather not acknowledge the cracks. We might have to acknowledge the causes. And that could hurt. So we come to an agreement with everyone around us: “I won’t ask if you don’t ask.”

I understand very well. But still, I’m curious.

“How is it with your soul?”


My advent ebook is now available as a downloadable pdf, advent2008, and as a digital book on yudu.

8 ways to celebrate Jon Swanson’s birthday

Yep. Tomorrow, July 10, 2008, is my fiftieth birthday. Last year I had a huge social media birthday. It was really cool. But don’t do it again. Instead, let me suggest what I’d like for my birthday.

1. If you know someone who can’t afford to go out to lunch with your office group, slip them a $10 anonymously. Bring them into community. (If you don’t know someone, send something to the local rescue mission.)

2. If you know someone who is fighting cancer or Alzheimer’s or panic attacks or depression, sit with them, listen to them.

3. If you know someone who locked up for something they didn’t do–or even something they did–send them a note. If you can, visit them. Talk to them. The people I know who have been on “ankle bracelets” could use someone being kind.

4. There are people who go shopping at Goodwill and Salvation Army. They can’t afford more than the $2 for a pair of slacks. So pack a bag and drop it off.

5. Sometimes people get to demand your time (bosses in particular). Throw one of those people off-balance by offering to help on the next part of the project.

6. Shake hands with someone who no one else will touch. Or at least look them in the eye and talk to them.

7. Tell God that you can’t figure everything out yourself.

8. Find a little kid–a niece, a neighbor, your own–and listen for how they talk about what they believe. Listen to their trust.

That’s it. Do one of those things for me. Tell them Jon sent you.

(It will be easier to explain an internet friend than explain that Jesus said these things, too.)

The least

I ate breakfast this morning with a new friend. We were talking about adult Sunday school classes. For those who remember Sunday school as a kids thing, there are still many churches that have something for adults as well. In many churches, groups of adults, often with age or family stage in common, meet for a hour once a week. Some of this time is spent on eating and chatting, some of this time is spent talking about personal needs and asking other people to pray, and some of this time is spent in teaching. The latter is usually about the Bible or about a book that talks about how Christians ought to live.

For many people, particularly those in churches with more than a couple hundred in attendance, these times act as a church within the church. It is a place for getting to know other people in a setting other than the combined worship time. There usually is some tension between time teaching and time praying and time talking, since there is only an hour, but many people in these classes or groups identify as much with this group as with the larger worship gathering.

Sometimes these groups are together for decades. While this can be helpful, it also becomes a challenge to stay fresh and supportive as people  move through life changes (no nest, full nest, empty nest, care for children AND parents, job changes, retirement, illnesses, death). Some groups meet the challenge, some groups struggle.

In my conversation this morning, my friend said that sometimes people mention to him that people get overlooked in illness. We both acknowledged that part of the problem is that people don’t always tell others when they are sick. People don’t always know how much to expect from others. People don’t want to be a burden to others.

Then I realized that what he said sounded really familiar.

Jesus, in celebrating some people, said, “I was sick and you looked after me.”  And here are people saying, “I was sick and you didn’t look after me.”

At the time, Jesus was talking about a sorting process, a time of deciding who followed Him and who didn’t. He said he would take care of the people who took care of him. And then he listed the ways that people took care of him: they clothed him and fed him and visited him in prison and took care of him when he was sick.

These people were clueless. They had never seen him. Some of them, I’m sure, had spent their whole lives looking for him. More than anything, these seekers, these followers, wanted to actually see Jesus. That would have removed all doubt from their hearts. They would have been absolutely convinced that they were doing something that mattered, that they were doing the right thing.

In the meantime, of course, these people had been active. When they heard a knock on the door, they answered it with expectation of seeing Jesus (because he talked about knocking on the door). When they opened it, it was just Eddie, asking for a sandwich. So they gave him a sandwich and told him about thinking it might be Jesus. Eddie looked at them oddly, but ate the sandwich.

They got a phone call about someone being ill. They went, hoping that maybe Jesus (or maybe a preacher at least) would show up and do a miracle. When they got there, there wasn’t a miracle, just aunt Helen, unable to get out of bed, and cousin Mable who couldn’t lift Helen on account of a bad hip. So, while they were waiting for Jesus, they went ahead and helped Mable changed the sheets and talked about how sometimes he heals bodies and sometimes hearts.

They went down to the lockup to tell people how awful crime was, because they figured that Christians should protest. But they discovered that they knew the kid being taken to lockup and realized how scared he looked, so they laid down their sign and picked up the phone and called the kid’s mom to offer support and then helped.

And all these people who figured that they had missed Jesus discovered that they were being His hands and feet and arms AND discovered that helping Eddie and Helen and Mable and  the kid counted.

So my friend and I talked about how Jesus said that whatever was done for the least was done for Him.

And I realized that, forget the least, we at times ignore the most. We overlook the people that are closest to us as well as the least. We struggle to simply send a card, let alone call, let alone visit, let alone care for.

Or, more accurately, I overlook.

It is no wonder that there are bunches of people who have brushed up against “church” and have decided that it is irrelevant. After all, if a pastor, who is paid to care, struggles with getting around to caring for the least (or even the most)… and if the rules against running in church are more enforced that the calling to care…and if we pour energy into entertainment more than into serving…then maybe church is irrelevant you’ll accept my apology and let me try again.

It is the least….


On another note…

A couple weeks ago I showed some pictures of people and situations from my life. One of those people was Marcos Botas, a former Marine, a volunteer chaplain, a shoe repair guy, a friend. Marcos spent time talking to us about vets, and talking to vets about Jesus. He died today in his sleep.