Archive for October, 2008

Gone Fshing

October 18, 2008

My final year of seminary, one of my classes was on the topic of Devotional Writing.  We surveyed various confessional and devotional writers from Augustine onwards through today.  I admire(d) the professor greatly, and though the course was a ton of reading – some of which I actually completed – I took the course anyways.  A relationship the prof had with a former student provided the opportunity for our class to submit some of our own examples of devotional writing for future use in a web site that was going to be launched in the Spring of ’08 – a year away. 

As a perspiring writer, I submitted some of my material.  Didn’t think much of it until early ’08, when I started receiving e-mails reminding me that I was part of the potential contributing community for this site, and seeing if I still wanted to participate.  I corresponded with the guy behind the web site for a bit, trying to ascertain the site’s intent and goals and methodology. 

The idea sounded cool.  An online fishbowl into the life of faith, where people could gather to watch the life of faith lived out through the musings of Christians associated with the site.  Not graphically or via webcams, but just through writings.  The goal was to create a community of both the faithful and curious, where the two could interact and see one another more clearly, like a child might observe a fish in a fishbowl.  I submitted some more of my writings (some of my blog entries, actually), and was informed they were in the editorial queue to be looked over before possibly being utilized. 

The site launched on March 1 of 2008, I think, and within a matter of a couple of days it was clear to me that the site wouldn’t ultimately accomplish it’s goals.  While it might create an online community of the faithful, there was nothing to draw the curious.  Nothing but orthodox writings by earnest Christians, discussions centered around assumptions of the faithful that the curious don’t assume and therefore can’t join into discussion with.  It looked like a site that, at best, would become for however long a period, a new ‘hip’ Christian website. 

But it would never engage the curious.  It would not appear to challenge the faithful to really examine the pithy sayings they wear on their t-shirts or plaster on the bumpers of their cars.  And since these are twin impetuses in my life, I e-mailed the guy my concerns.  He listened politely, but didn’t agree.  He had a vision, and I know what visions are like.  I hoped that I was wrong, but decided to rescind my permission to publish my works.  If and when I begin disseminating my writings more broadly (and actually begin writing in earnest so to have something to distribute!), I want to be careful about where they show up and how they’re used.  As much as I wished this guy and his associates well, it was clear this wasn’t going to be the sort of site that either he or I hoped it would be.  We wished one another well and that was that.

I got a group e-mail a couple of weeks ago from the site’s founder.  The site had been shut down because it didn’t do what they had hoped it would.  There were vague expressions of hope that the site would be tweaked and resurrected someday, but those sorts of hopes don’t seem to come to anything more often than not.  I was sad to get that e-mail.  Sad that a good idea had failed.  Sad that I had been right in my hunches.  Sad that a tiny part of me was doing the I-told-you-so dance inside my head and feeling pretty smug and clever. 

The world needs places where the faithful and the curious can interact and see one another more clearly, like a child watching a fish through a fishbowl.  But that’s a difficult thing to do.  I hope to help facilitate it in some fashion.  Not online, but in flesh and blood and brick and mortar.  And I hope that if and when that opportunity arises, there will be people around to guide me and help me think through it clearly.  Because I don’t want to have to send out an e-mail like I received a couple of weeks ago. 

It would piss me off too much to think of other folks out there – or portions of folks out there – doing the I-told-you-so dance in their heads.  Heaven help me.

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To Friend or Not to Friend?

October 18, 2008

I’ve been on Facebook for about eight months now.  Eight months since I gave up on MySpace as a poor medium for dialoguing with like minded people and set out to see whether or not Facebook fared any better.

Overall, I like Facebook better.  The few applications that I utilize are more interesting and compelling than the ones I didn’t know existed on MySpace.  The cleaner design of Facebook (even the ‘new’ look that everyone is so upset about) appeal to my simple aesthetic tastes far more than the Teen Beat glitziness of MySpace.  And I’ve actually been able to find friends on Facebook.  Old friends.  From high school and college, from the place where I teach part time.  But people that I already knew before joining Facebook.  I just have a way to keep in touch with them now, when in many cases, I would never have reconnected with these folks. 

That’s a gratifying thing for me.  But I haven’t made any new friends through Facebook or applications I utilize there.  Until yesterday.

Yesterday, for the first time, I accepted a friend request (which allows each person, if the friend request is approved, to view the personal data in your Facebook profile) from someone in the application I utilize most – Minekey (formerly iThink, which is far and away a better name, but copyright laws and yahda yahda yahda).  I’ve had requests before, but if there’s something I’ve learned in my brief forays into social networking and my many, many years online in general (15+ years, woohoo!), it’s that people like to collect ‘friends’.  I don’t, but a lot of people do.

More than that, some people desire to become ‘friends’ without knowing anything about me at all, other than that we happen to see an issue the same way.  Experience has taught me that these folks are enthusiastic initially, but quickly there’s nothing to talk about, and the relationship withers until when you see their icon in your friends list, you just kick yourself for adding them, and wonder how to gracefully ‘de-friend’ them.  Virtual friendships rarely last.  There just aren’t enough compelling connection points.  At least that’s been my experience. 

But yesterday I received a friend request from a gentleman who seems to think similarly to me on the matters that matter most in life.  The one and only person I’ve met in this Minekey application that consistently is able to offer insightful, clarifying, intellectual responses in discussions.  Though I’ve received friend requests based on this app before, I’ve never accepted them.  I’ve always politely declined and enthusiastically encouraged them to interact with me more on Minekey before we became Facebook friends.  But this time, I accepted.  I hope this time is different.  I hope that there will be enough similarity of perspective and ability and inclination and whatever else, that I’ll end up making a new friend – or being made a new friend of someone else, or better yet, both.  I don’t make friends easily, and it would be nice to have a new one.

You Had a Dream

October 11, 2008

You had a dream.

Not a particularly inspiring beginning for a memorable speech.  Past tense – already done with in one form or another.  Second person is usually not nearly as intriguing as the tantalizing promise of a first-person revelation. 

And yet the fact remains, you had a dream.  And as much as our culture likes to talk in terms of following your bliss and pursuing your dreams and just doing it and whatever other pithy and inane sound bites people will adopt as a life motto, the simple fact is that not everybody’s dream can happen.  The more sobering fact is that quite often, for my dream to become a reality, someone else’s dream has to die.  Reality has only so much space to it, so much room to write and sketch and develop.  And if my dream is to have the space to do so, your dream probably can not.  Or at least someone’s dream can not.

It’s hard to sell t-shirts or much of anything else on the premise that in seeking to make our dream a reality we have to – usually unintentionally and unknowingly – crush the dreams of other people in our community.  That vacant lot that you dream of turning into a community dog park?  Somebody else dreamed of turning it into a community garden.  One dream is fulfilled, another is not.  That dream you had of renovating that abandoned building into a children’s center?  Someone else had dreamed of turning it into a day facility for seniors, or the developmentally delayed.  One dream is fulfilled, another is not.

The matter of dream fulfillment seems largely to be a matter of opportunity as well.  Some dreams can be fulfilled mroe easily because resources are aligned properly.  There’s money in the bank.  There’s someone who wants to donate or sell a piece of real estate.  There’s critical mass.  Other dreams seem to wither for lack of those same resources.  Some dreams have to remain dreams longer because not all of the proper resources are available.  Other dreams have the opportunity to develop – or to fail – because some of the resources are available, but perhaps not all of them.

It is incredibly, painfully frustrating to watch your dream wither.  It’s almost as painful to watch someone else’s wither.  To look them in the eye and apologize that while their dream is beautiful and lovely and important and even potentially achievable, you can’t assist them in it – may actually even be hindering or damaging it – because the resource you possess, which would make their dream that much closer to reality, is needed to facilitate your own dream.  And that even though your own dream may seem weak and tenuous compared to theirs, it remains the dream you have been given, and you can’t see any way forward but to at least try and realize it.

Dreams are beautiful and wonderful gifts.  Glorious bubbles that waft and drift in our lives, dancing and enticing.  Perhaps they’re more like kites, attached to us by gossamer strands that hardly seem enough to link us.  It’s lovely to think of the sky full of those kites, full of those dreams dancing and pulling and seeking to soar higher and swoop more dramatically.  But that string is manja – deadly sharp – and some kites are cut down in the process of allowing others to soar.