A brief follow-up to the previous post. A research study had a group of people quit Facebook for a season and studied their lives. Spoiler alert: They got happier.
I “unfollowed” about 100 good, smart people this weekend. Allow me to explain.
I joined Twitter back in August of 2008, when the relatively new platform was just beginning to gain traction. That was early enough that I was able to register my own name (@DavidHolland) as my Twitter handle—as opposed to something like @DashingDallasDave77 or such.
Eighteen months earlier I’d also registered my name on another emerging social media platform—one that was big with all the college kids. Facebook.
I’d learned in the Internet boom years that when a new platform rolled out, it’s a good idea to stake a claim to your own name on the platform before someone else grabbed it, just in case the platform took off. I’d discovered that there are a lot of David Hollands in the world (especially in England.)
For example, when Google rolled Gmail out in beta form in 2004, I missed being able to register DavidHolland at gmail dot com as my email address, and ended up having to throw my middle initial in there. Ever since I’ve been getting emails intended for some guy in England and I have no doubt that the David Holland with no middle initial has gotten hundreds, probably thousands, of emails intended for me.
Anyway, I noted last August that I was passing my ten year anniversary on Twitter.
In that decade, Twitter (and Facebook) essentially morphed from a way for friends and family to share where they were and what they were doing into a micro-blogging site for political pundits.
. . . and as a result, Twitter (and Facebook) turned us all into political pundits. We woke up one day and we were all George Will.
Social media, delivered to a device that is constantly in our hands, is addictive. Twitter was my addiction. I have friends and loved ones whose drug of choice is Facebook or Instagram. Neuro-scientists are just now getting a feel for what social media is doing to our brain wiring.
Spoiler alert: It’s not good.
What we know less about is how, in the Obama-Trump era, social media also began to fundamentally warp the fabric of our society. I should also note that Instragram is just as potentially toxic but in different ways for different reasons.
Some platforms fuel rage. Others fuel envy and insecurity. Neither is healthy. But to repeat, Twitter is my drug of choice. And, the only person in the world I can control is me.
And thus I made a decision.
This weekend I ruthlessly culled my Twitter follows with a clear set of criteria in mind. In each case I asked:
“Does this account consistently bring me either joy, laughter, encouragement, wisdom, or useful knowledge of things I enjoy knowing more about?”
Or conversely, “Does this account typically bring me information that makes me want to punch somebody, or at least give them a good and proper tongue lashing to straighten out their thinking?”
If the answer was “yes” to the latter, rather than the former, I unfollowed (or in some cases muted). The “unfollow” did not mean that I didn’t like or admire the person behind the account. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t rooting for them. It didn’t mean I wouldn’t go read that person at length on a blog or in a publication.
It simply meant that I’m now curating my Twitter feed in such a way that I’ll walk away from each session on the platform a happier, wiser, smarter, more hopeful person.
As opposed to a rage-filled, hyper-tensive, pessimist convinced the world is going to hell because it’s filled with horrible people.
What brings me joy is faith, history, science, archeology, maps, space exploration, books, military stuff, sports, and humor. And now my Twitter follows reflect these interests.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not sticking my head in the sand.
It’s not that I don’t believe in staying informed about our nation and world. I was a highly well-informed individual before social media existed and I will continue to be one long after I’ve purged the culture wars out of my timeline.
What I won’t be is a constantly outraged, worried individual.
As I think about it, social media has probably lowered the depth and breadth of my knowledge about what’s going on in the world. On Twitter and Facebook, everything you read is about the one or two stories that constitute the main ingredient in the outrage du jour.
Each new day brings hundreds of people saying and sharing basically the same thing about one or two things. This crowds out other important, but non-sensational events.
So, this morning over coffee, as is my habit, I reached for my phone to pop open Twitter. I did so knowing that what I would find there would most likely bring me joy.
It did. And I thought: Why didn’t I do this long ago.
Today the nation marks the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. For some federal and state workers, this means a day off. For many on social media, it means a cue to virtue signal by trotting out a well-known MLK quote. A couple of snippets from the well known, “I Have a Dream” speech will get the most use.
Few Americans outside of academic circles have ever read King at length. We know him almost exclusively in pithy quotes and grainy, black-and-white sound bites. But he was a brilliant, eloquent, persuasive writer. His best-known speeches are really just extensions of his genius as a writer.
His “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is a stunning tour-de-force apologetic for the Civil Rights Movement in the tradition of the great Christian apologists of the second and third centuries. In it, he builds a case, addresses common objections, and appeals to the better angels of the readers’ natures. A taste:
I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
Poetry. In “Birmingham Jail” King reminds me of the early church father Tertullian of North Africa, who wrote repeatedly to the the Roman authorities pleading the case of the oppressed, persecuted, and scapegoated Christians of the Roman Empire. Tertullian famously warned the Romans:
The more we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.
One of Rev. King’s most oft-quoted phrases is some variation of: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (It is sometimes quoted as “the arc of History . . .”) King used this phrase in a 1958 article called “Out of the Long Night” published in The Gospel Messenger—the official publication of The Church of the Brethren.
This quote did not originate with King. In fact, he put the phrase in quote marks in the article to indicate that he was citing a saying that he assumed was already known to the reader. King later repeated the phrase is several speeches. The originator of the saying was a Unitarian abolitionist minister named Theodore Parker, born in 1810.
What MLK quoted was a boiled down version of what Rev. Parker originally wrote:
Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
In both forms, the message rings as true. Doubly so if you’re a student of History. But why? Why has the story of the last 2000 years been one of gradual but consistent upward progress, particular in the West?
The answer, of course, is Christianity . . . or more accurately . . . the presence of the kingdom of God on earth, expanding, unfolding, leavening the cultures of the world like yeast.
The abolition of slavery; the elevation of the status of women in society; respect for private property and the rights of the individual; and the gradual dissolution of class distinctions are all the emerging expressions of the Christ’s emerging kingdom.
It’s tempting and far too easy to focus on what remains to be done. But the kingdom cotinues to expand. The arc still bends toward justice.
I’ll share some thoughts about this shortly.
I’m working from home today and Mrs. H is out of the house, throwing herself headlong into a long list of tasks for me, her work, her family, and for friends. As all who know her will attest, she is a force of nature. Some wonder what her secret is. I know all of her secrets.
In fact, as I sit here on our sofa where we share morning coffee, one of them is visible just to my left. The evidence is visible in the photo above. She is a woman of the Word.
All is just as she left it this morning. And every morning. As she is prone to reminding herself, me, and those she loves:
Wisdom shouts in the streets.
She cries out in the public square.
She calls to the crowds along the main street,
to those gathered in front of the city gate:
Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
and make you wise.
She has heeded, wisdom’s call, this woman of mine. Father, “Reward her for all she has done.” (Proverbs 31:31)
God created family as the most powerful and effective institution on earth for creating and maintaining well-being. It is His richest gift to mankind. (Aside from the gift of His own Son, of course.)
Yes, I know that in our broken, fallen world not everyone experiences the blessings, protections, and benefits that God meant the family structure to provide. Families can be and often are dysfunctional and even toxic. But that doesn’t change the fact that when a family is whole and operating as God designed, it offers the closest thing to heaven we can experience on earth.
Family is the heart of God. Psalm 68:6 speaks of God’s redemptive, restorative nature. The psalmist reminds us that “God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.”
If God had his way, every lonely, isolated person would be in a loving, functional family. That’s because He’s good and kind.
And for that, I’m truly thankful.
Many believers have misinterpreted Jesus’ words in John 18:36, wherein Jesus tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
They take this to mean that Jesus’ Kingdom has no earthly manifestation. In other words, that until His physical return, His kingdom remains exclusively spiritual and therefore invisible.
The unavoidable implication of this is that the believer should not expect the advance or expansion of Jesus’ kingdom to impact the natural world—including our physical bodies, nature, or earthly institutions.
Consistent with this view, many believers gauge the expansion of His kingdom by one measure alone . . . souls saved.
But is this an accurate understanding of Jesus’ words to Pilate? I don’t think so.
Understanding the words, “My kingdom is not of this world,” hinges on the meaning of the word “of.” I’m convinced that Jesus was saying that His kingdom’s legitimacy and validity did not derive from any earthly source. Rather, the authority and legitimacy of His rule was (and is) rooted in Heaven—a much higher source.
Consider the context. Jesus is being questioned by an earthly ruler, Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the ruler of the prefect of Judea because the Roman Emperor Tiberius designated it so. Pilate’s authority and legitimacy was rooted in the earthly power of the Roman Emperor and the Roman Senate.
In other words, Pilate’s kingdom was of Rome.
Jesus knew this was Pilate’s frame of reference when he asked Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” The implication behind the question is, “If you are the King of the Jews, then some earthly authority must have declared it so.”
Perhaps the Jewish people took a vote. Maybe the Sanhedrin had convened a secret council and determined that Jesus was indeed the rightful heir to David’s throne. Maybe an enemy foreign government was trying to destabilize the eastern edge of the Roman Empire by installing a rival ruler.
With a single phrase, “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus swept away all of these unspoken questions. Meaning, “Yes, I am a king, but not because any earthly legislative body or governmental authority says so. The throne that declares me a king is not anywhere on this planet.”
The words Jesus spoke immediately following this response validate this interpretation:
“If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36)
In other words, “If my kingdom were rooted in earthly authority then earthly people would use earthly force to keep me from being killed.”
Nothing in Jesus’ response should keep us from expecting that the expansion of His rule—seeing His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven—will impact the physical realm here and now.
That physical realm includes your physical body; your family and home; your neighborhood, community, and the entire culture. But we don’t see these impacts if we don’t believe they are legitimate.
In the light of all this, it’s not surprising that an era in which the dominant evangelical theology has marginalized the concept of Jesus’ kingdom to being wholly invisible and largely in the future . . . is the very era in which the earthly institutions such as the arts, academia, the sciences, and government have been overtaken by darkness and godlessness.
The kingdom of Jesus is a present and progressively unfolding reality.
No, it is not of this world, but it is very much in it.
He arose in the dark.
Our familiar Easter sunrise services have trained us to associate the resurrection with sunrise. This is because the discovery of the empty tomb by the women occurs around daybreak. All four gospels record their arrival at the tomb at or just before sunrise on the day after the Sabbath. As Mark describes it, “Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb at the rising of the sun.”
This means they assembled and began their journey to the garden while it was still quite dark. When they arrived, as every Sunday School child can tell you, the tomb was already quite empty.
So, I emphasize this once more. He arose in the dark. There is a large message in this small detail of the resurrection narrative.
We ought not wait for our circumstances to brighten to put our hope in a faithful God. We must not say to God, “Show me some improvement and then I’ll believe in your goodness and mercy.”
No, it is when things seem the most hopeless and grim that we should anchor our faith to the rock of expectancy. It is when it seems “too late” that we must muster words of praise and thanksgiving.
We all recall that Paul and Silas sang a hymn of praise from the depths of a filthy Philippian dungeon, but do we remember when? I summon Acts 16:25 to rise and testify. “At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God . . .”
When did these shackled saints find their song of praise? At midnight! When things seemed the most hopeless! You know the result. “Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s shackles were loosened.”
Oh, dear child of God, do not wait on the dawn to find your shout of confidence in God. Sing your song now, in the middle of your midnight hour, when trouble seems to be pressing in all around you. Anyone can sing a hymn at noon under a clear blue sky. That kind of faith doesn’t alarm principalities and powers.
The day doesn’t begin at dawn. It begins at midnight. Likewise, that is when God’s resurrection power comes. Tombs open in the middle of the night. Graves burst open in the middle of the night. Jesus comes walking on the waves in the middle of the night with a message for you and me. It is that very one He spoke to Jairus who had just absorbed the news that his daughter had died, “Do not fear. Only believe . . .”
Don’t be afraid of the dark.
Several years ago our youngest daughter, half a world away at college, was feeling overwhelmed because she was over-committing. She was suffering badly from “nice person’s disease,” a genetic malady she inherited from both parents. She felt compelled to say “yes” to every request and opportunity that came her way.
I just came across a “cheat sheet” I created for her at that time. (I recently learned that she still carries it around to this day.)
I found it to be a good reminder for me, today. Perhaps you’ll find it helpful, too.
- Forgive me but I just can’t commit to that. I’m working on keeping my priorities straight and I’m hearing my Dad’s voice in my head right now saying, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” But thank you for the opportunity.
- Hey, you know I love you like a brother/sister, but that’s just not something I can commit to right now. I hope you’ll understand.
- Thank you so much for thinking about me. But God has been dealing with me strongly about over-committing lately. I’m going to have to pass.
- Wow, I’m so blessed by the invitation. But I’m working really hard on not spreading my self too thin. I’m going to have to decline. Please forgive me.
- That sounds so fun, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass. I’m so sorry. I hope you’ll give me an opportunity on the next one.
- I’m flattered that you want me, but for personal reasons I’m not in a situation where I can take this on. Can we talk again if my circumstances change?
- I’m so sorry, but I just can’t. The reasons are complicated but I hope you’ll believe me when I say I really wish I could.
- Thank you so much for asking. Sadly, I just can’t. I wish I could!
- This week is not a good time for me as I’m in the middle of XYZ. How about next week?
- I’d love to do that but I can’t. Mr. Schedule and Mr. Budget both said “no.” They’re very cranky.
- I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m having to make some very hard choices about my time right now. It’s painful but I’m going to have to say no.
When You’re Being Pressured to Change Your “No” to a “Yes”
- I was just reading what Jesus said about “letting your yes be yes, and your no be no.” I’m sorry, this really is a “no.” But I hope you’ll not be mad at me.
- Seriously, I’d love to participate. But I can’t. And if I let myself be pressured into it I’ll just feel guilty the whole time and be resentful later when I’m paying the price.
- I know you don’t mean to pressure me or make me feel bad, but I really need you to trust me right now when I tell you I can’t.
- I can tell this means a lot to you, but I’m going to disappoint you here. But I love you.
- That’s an interesting perspective. But that’s not the way I see it.
- That’s not been true in my experience.
- I’m not so sure about that.
- (This is the “feel, felt, found” method) I can understand why you’d feel that way. I’ve felt the same way in the past. But here’ what I’ve found . . .
- I just don’t see that the same way as you. But to each his own!
- You think? Huh! Interesting!
Mrs. H and I are suffering from Full Heart Syndrome here on this morning after Christmas Day. The last few days have been rich and sweet. In fact, the whole year gifted us with things for which we are profoundly grateful.
2017 was a year of four milestones.
April brought our first grandchildren into our lives. That’s right—plural—as our oldest and her sweet husband blessed us, and the world, with twin girls.
Meet Instagram stars, Cora Lee and Winnie Ruth. Many immediately remarked that they resembled yours truly. It’s possible. But I’ve discovered that when you’re bald and doughy, there is a sense in which nearly all newborns resemble you.
In any event, I can say without fear of contradiction that they are the cutest little things on the planet.
If we can get the names to stick, Mrs. H and I will be “Gigi and Pop.” Of course you never know. I’ve observed that the adorable mispronunciation that comes out of a todder’s mouth often becomes the moniker that endures for the rest of your grandparenting career. So it’s very much a theoretical possiblity that we will end up as “Gaggy and Poop.” These are the risks you take in life.
Around their six-month birthday, the little ladies got to attend their first formal affiar—the wedding of their auntie Olivia. This was the second major milestone event in our 2017. As I explained in a previous post, our youngest was married a few weeks ago, in October—our third and final chickadee to leave the nest.
Speaking of nests . . . In the midst of that celebration, we learned the wonderful news that our middle daughter, who was married the previous October, was expecting as well. This was milestone three. (See my previous post about this blessing.)
Over the last few days we had the opporunity to have all four households together under one roof. This is no small blessing, of course, as our sons-in-law have wonderful extended families of their own who want and deserve to have some time with them as well.
Thus we were delighted and grateful, here on our first Christmas with three married daughters and two girly grands, to observe our cherished traditions together. And particularly happy to have Tracy’s mom with us to savor the history-making, memory-making milestone.
We spent a good chunk of Christmas day watching old home movies so the sons-in-law could see how cute their brides were when they were little. For a couple of decades I, like many dads of the 90s, viewed every major family gathering and church/school event with one eye through the tiny viewfinder of a bulky camcorder. But it was worth it to be able to preserve those moments for days like yesterday.
Lots of lights begin to come on when you grow up and get married. Even more pop on when you have kids of your own (or are about to). You can find yourself viewing well-remembered events through a new lens. So, as the happy ghosts of Christmases 20-years-past danced across our television screen yesterday, Mrs. H and I enjoyed watching the girls see themselves (and their parents) with new, adult eyes and grown up understanding.
What I believe they saw and heard on those videos were two people who adore and respect each other, doing their best to love well the children God had placed in their care.
They saw a mother who went to extraordinary lengths to create a home filled with beauty, warmth, order, harmony, and delight. A woman who transformed every place we landed into a cozy little echo of the garden of Eden on earth. Who made every day a party, and every party a grand affair.
They saw two people striving, as best they knew how, to teach them gratitude and selflessness and generosity and empathy. To help them feel both safe and courageous. To instill in them confidence, character, and compassion.
Most of all, to initiate them into the most vital mysteries of all:
- That God is.
- That He is good.
- That He unfailingly rewards those who seek Him by allowing Himself to be found.
- That we’re all born broken, flawed, and in desperate need of a Savior.
- And that such a Savior—the wonderful Jesus—ever stands at the door knocking; ready to come in and feast with all who will simply open to Him.
All these thoughts and many others swirled in my mind as Mrs. H and I crawled into bed last night. We talked of how precious the last few days had been to us. And of how quickly this just-completed chapter of our lives seemed to pass. How is it possible that many of those events we watched on video transpired 25 years ago?
In that moment last night, I looked across the bed at my God-given life’s companion and spoke the truth my heart was holding:
“Honey, I’ve adored every day of it. I have absolutely loved living this adventure with you more than I can express, and wouldn’t trade a single minute of it. I’ve loved being your husband. I’ve loved being their dad.”
Hand to heaven, it’s the truth. From the “I do” to the “It’s a girl” (three times) to the “Sir, I want to marry your daughter” (three times) . . . every thread of it is pure gold to me, and I have no regrets. Certainly not about the husband-father aspect of my life and choices.
Our fourth milestone came just a few days ago as we celelbrated our 30th wedding anniversary.
Of course, this adventure isn’t over. As I’ve noted previously, life is a play in three acts. Act 1 is Birth to Marriage. Mrs. H and I have just completed Act 2—Marriage to Empty Nest.
The curtain has just risen on Act 3.
I have some specific hopes for this next leg of the voyage. I believe days of impact, influence, and legacy-building lie in the decades ahead. Days of teaching and writing and mentoring. They will be good days. But if it all ended today, I’d be okay. I’d head home with a heart filled with gratitude for the abundance of gifts already received. And for the legacy already in motion.