It’s not persecution when someone doesn’t agree with us.
It’s not persecution when someone tells us they don’t want to hear what we have to say.
It’s not persecution when someone doesn’t agree with our religious choices.
It’s not persecution when we encounter the “trials” that everyone else encounters e.g. health, car breaking down, wishing we got paid more.
It’s not persecution when someone does or says something we disagree with even if their intent is to tease us or watch us squirm e.g. using language we don’t like or telling jokes we don’t like.
It’s not persecution when someone asks us to stop preaching at them.
It’s not persecution when someone disagrees with our particular brand of religion.
It’s not persecution when someone disagrees with our particular interpretation of our scriptures.
It’s not persecution when we’re not allowed to preach in the office or sing Jesus songs on the construction site.
It’s not persecution when someone we don’t even know chooses to live their life in a way we disagree with.
It’s not persecution when we stumble across a piece of art that offends us.
It’s not persecution when we’re “forced” to listen to music that offends us in a restaurant or in a public space.
It’s not persecution when someone flips us off on the freeway and we’re sure it’s because we have a WWJD bumper sticker on our car.
It’s not persecution when our neighbor asks us to stop blasting religious music at 9:00p in our backyard.
It’s not persecution when our neighbors ask our entire youth group to no longer park in front of his or her house.
It’s not persecution when our kid is not allowed to wear a t-shirt to school with religious imagery on it.
It’s not persecution when the movie theater in town won’t show the latest, “God’s Not Dead” movie.
The existence of HBO is not persecution.
The building of a mosque in our town is not persecution.
When someone responds to our Facebook post or tweet with criticism, we aren’t being persecuted.
Differences of opinion, possibly.
But, not persecution.
Today’s morning walk was an exercise in listening. As I meditated and prayed, I listened to the world around me. If I’m honest, my morning walks are often consumed by the voices and noise inside my own head. But, today I gained a different appreciation and perspective of the place I live.
There are many ways to listen. Or not listen. When I taught communications labs at the college level we used to refer to active and passive listening. Active listening is engaged. Passive listening means we may or may not be aware of sounds—we hear them but we may not be paying careful attention to them.
Listening skills affect relationship, the way we see the world, engagement with society, safety, enjoyment, processing, remembering details, and understanding. And, they are skills to be sharpened. This is why we have the, “You’re not listening to me!”/ “I heard everything you said!” argument. Experts inside and outside the communications field talk about listening skills in much broader and more definitive terms than just active and passive e.g. appreciative, biased, comprehensive, critical, discriminative, empathetic, enjoyment, ignoring, pretend, pseudo, relational, and selective. When we attach these words to our definition of listening, we start to learn what is needed for mutual understanding.
On my morning walk, as I prayed I asked God to expand my ability to listen to the world around me. My family, my neighbors, my city, my co-workers, my friends. When I got home and showered and headed in to the office, I stayed in that frame of mind. What is the world around me communicating? What do I need to hear?
What do you need to hear?
Plenty of eye candy to look at while walking through our neighborhood–historical buildings, rivers, lakes, lush greenery, woodland creatures, birds, flowers… But I tried something different today on my morning walk. I took notice of the ground. I noticed the change in textures and colors beneath me as I prayed. I put one foot in front of the other and focused on what was directly beneath my feet. The ground became a museum full of extraordinary canvases. What’s beneath your feet on your path today? What stories is the ground telling you?
I had a great conversation over coffee the other day about social networking. My friend recently disengaged from any online activity for a variety of reasons including but not limited to anger, passive-aggressive behavior, meanness, bullying, hurtful sarcasm, name calling, and narcissism.
At times, I’ve thought about disengaging for some of the same reasons. Then I’m reminded of the beautiful, healing, life-giving conversations I have in these platforms and how many of my relationships have been strengthened through social media engagement. So, I press on. Which can be painful at times. Not only because I see all the things my friend pointed out but also because I have been the recipient of some of it.
So, I’m gathering my thoughts. I’m praying. And, I want to start talking about the issues—not to vilify them—but to depower them. Social Networking is not going away. It will keep reinventing itself. And, I believe God wants to redeem every iteration.
I want to start talking about these problems and opportunities more. In order to seek to understand and invite conversation. So that God might better use me. And you.
To invite conversation, the following is from, Follow You, Follow Me. I wrote this in 2012 and I think it’s even more real in 2017.
Not too long ago a friend of mine tweeted “Narcissus does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his.” If you need a brief reminder of Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and died staring at his own reflection. This is where we get the word narcissism that describes an “inordinate fascination with oneself.”
My friend was only partly right. The story of Narcissus is one where he was indeed renown for his beauty. But my friend was on to something very important. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the only reason Narcissus knew he was beautiful is because people defined him as such over and over again. He believed it because people told him it was so and he told himself it was so.
Nemesis was the goddess of revenge and retribution. When someone succumbed to hubris or pride that was an offense to the gods, Nemesis stepped in. It was Nemesis who led Narcissus to the pool knowing that his fascination with himself was a blind spot. A weak spot. A spot that Narcissus was not readily aware of.
In Narcissus’ case, it was his own pride that killed him. A pride he was blind to or at least chose to dismiss. This is also the case with the rest of us.
Bob Dylan’s “License to Kill” indirectly references Narcissus in a poetic and potent way:
Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection he’s fulfilled
True narcissists put themselves and their loved ones at great risk. Studies show (and maybe you have experienced in yourself or loved ones) that narcissists have a greater tendency to become impatient, anxious, angry, depressed, lonely, and violent. Narcissists tend to suck the self-esteem out of those they are in relationship with and seed a dose of despair and alienation in those they allow to be closest to them often resulting in infidelity and terminated relationships.
Narcissists often create their own reality where they feel there are more eyes on them than actually are. They often spiral when they feel they are unable to live up to other people’s expectations of them that may in fact be exaggerated or imagined expectations on their part. Unable to live with their own failures, narcissists often self-destruct and fall prey to all kinds of addictions including drugs, alcohol, and pornography.
Many times, the narcissist will not take responsibility for their own actions believing they are either invincible, or beyond reproach, or that other people are at fault for making them the way they are, or all of the above.
Within every one of us lay the ingredients for the making of a narcissist. A dash of pride, and cup of unchecked spirit, a slice of a lack of accountability and time on our hands are a great start.
The world of Social Networking can be a perfect kitchen for putting these ingredients together if we are not aware of the dangers. But remember, the ingredients exist in many a kitchen because we take the ingredients with us wherever we go. We shouldn’t fear entering this kitchen. It’s not the kitchen’s fault when a meal is poisoned.
Follow You, Follow Me. 2012. Abingdon Press. p125
I’d like to take the time to remember all the friends I’ve lost during this campaign season. The ones who no longer want to converse with me. Because, I obviously support someone other than their candidate.
Wonder never left my side
But she found a place to hide
From time to time surprising me
In the laughter of a child
In the feeling in the air
In the countenance of others
‘Till I glanced upon a face like mine
And once again, Wonder felt smothered
But that was many years ago
I haven’t seen her for ages
She put up with me for quite some time
Through the depression and the rages
Sometimes I think about Wonder
How she’s doing. Where she’s been.
I’ve often thought, “Did we really meet?”
“An imaginary friend?”
Wonder had a friend who goes by the name, “Magic”
Though Magic made herself so scarce
When visited by Tragic
Tragic was never invited
He usually showed up unannounced
He always hung around too long
And laughed even when denounced
Magic always set the table
Back when I was a child
And invited all her friends to come
Beauty made sure the room was styled
They always threw parties for Wonder
Wonder loved a good surprise
Especially many years ago
When she saw through younger eyes
Plenty made sure everyone could come
Though scarcity was left off the list
Scarcity is the party pooper
Slapping Plenty on the wrist
I’ll never forget the full house those nights
The music and the fare
The laughter and the playfulness
All the important ones were there.
Hilarity grabbed attention and did what he did best
While Time sat in the corner, content to take a rest
Frivolity sometimes got a stare,
But had something they admired
Generosity passed out gifts
Of that she never tired
All the kids in the neighborhood
Were invited to Wonder’s celebrations
And adults would peek their heads in
In a curious flirtation
The last time I saw Wonder
She was heading off to sea
On a ship called, “Broken Promises”
She didn’t even wave at me
The ship was loaded with Heavy Baggage
And other faces I recognized
So many of Wonder’s friends stuck with her
I shouldn’t be surprised
Somehow I think she was taken captive
She went against her will.
But I didn’t fight for her that day.
That feeling haunts me still.
Sometimes I think of calling up Hope.
I hear she’s still in town.
They say she knows where Wonder went.
And knows how to track her down.
I’ve heard stories that Wonder sometimes comes back
From far across the sea
I’m praying this will be that year
She comes back to visit me
By John Voelz
I’ve been in the habit for the last few years of Facebooking, 10 Great Things That Happened to me Today. Sometimes, I do longer lists. Sometimes I skip a day and catch up with 25 Things. I started this as a discipline for myself–a way to count my blessings. For some time, I was just writing them down for myself. One day, a couple of years ago, I decided to post them in order to influence the tone of social media.
Largely due to these lists, sometimes people will approach me or write me to say they are inspired by the way I see life. I appreciate the encouragement. I enjoy asking them what particular things about what I do inspire them. Usually, I get answers about the freedom and permission I seem to embrace to try new things, invent ideas, go against the grain, not settle for mediocre.
Often times, professional ministry folk will say the same things about how I approach ministry. Maybe because they read my lists or maybe because they’ve read my books or done life with me. To be honest, the “way I see life” and my “approach to ministry” are the same thing to me. I don’t delineate between the two. Life is life. I am a Jesus follower at work or at home. Everything is spiritual.
I was recently telling my wife how strange it sometimes feels that people think I’ve found some secret decoder ring of happiness. At least once a week someone says to me, “I wish I had your life” or something similar. I think I’m a normal guy. Normal problems. Personal and family health issues and worries. Bills. Taxes. Occasional tragedies. Ugly fights from time to time. But, my wife assured me, “Not everyone thinks like you. Not everyone sees things the way you do.” Hmmm.
So, I thought it would be healthy and maybe helpful to record the questions I ask myself each day when I wake up. I don’t literally go through this list. They have become part of me.
Who am I going to meet today?
I love walking in to a restaurant in town and being called by name. There is something magical about being known. I figure other people feel the same. So, I try to meet someone new every day. This requires proactivity. I don’t assume people will walk up and introduce themselves. I have to ask for their names. I have to engage in conversation. I keep a running list of names of people I meet and notes about them. It’s my goal to know every shop owner and employee in every store and restaurant I frequent in my town. Because, these are my people. It’s where I live.
What will I be surprised by today?
I expect that I will experience some kind of wonder in the day. This requires paying attention. Asking questions.
What new experience will I create for myself today?
I walk where my feet take me. I take new routes to and from work. I walk in to stores I have never been in even if it looks like it’s not my flavor or style. I watch movies I’ve never heard of. I try food I never order. I listen to Sirius XM stations I have never heard. I take five minutes to stop at the side of the road and read the historical marker. I walk inside of buildings just because they are there. I take elevators to top floors just because.
What am I going to read today?
Everyday I read something. Anything. Not always the Bible. Every February, I read nothing but Fiction. Fiction February. Wanna join me this year?
What am I going to eat today?
Food is a big deal to me. I don’t eat fast food. I cook a lot. My wife cooks a lot. When we eat out, we aim to try a new restaurant. I seldom eat at chains and when I do, it’s usually because I’m outvoted. So, I make the best of it. Plan your food. It’s a huge part of your life.
What will I listen to today?
I collect vinyl. Some of the albums in my stack I have never listened to–they were a gift, I found them cheap, they were recommended, etc. It is a great experience to listen ALL THE WAY through an entire album. Sitting still. I do this as often as possible. When I don’t have time to do that in my day, I at least make sure I am listening to something I have never heard before. Music is a language. It speaks louder, deeper, more eloquently, softer, more convicting, more emotionally, more emotively than any other language. It informs my life.
What am I going to make today?
I make something every day. Period. I design my own thank you notes. I draw. I paint. I build. I craft. I write.
What am I going to imagine today?
I walk with my phone in hand. I take photos of things that inspire me. I talk out loud. And, I speak my thoughts into the recorder app. I collect notebooks. They are full of notes and ideas. Song lyrics. Quips. Jokes. When I think it, I write it down. And, I dig deeper. If I get an idea, I start to flesh it out with bullet points. I may never do it but I will do something. And, daily imagination is where it starts.
Who am I going to encourage today?
Every day, I send someone a note. An email. A card. Doesn’t matter. Everyday, SOMEONE will hear some encouraging words from me. I want to be encouraged. I’m sure they do to. So, it breathes life into my day to take 2 minutes to drop a note.
Where will I spend some personal time today?
On my motorcycle. Spinning vinyl. On a walk. Late at night after everyone’s asleep. I need it. It fuels me.
What conversations will I have today?
I try to have a face-to-face appointment every day. I look for excuses to have them spontaneously. I host vinyl listening parties in my office. I grab a pipe and invite a friend along. I meet folks for coffee. A new conversation with someone everyday (that’s not work related, not to troubleshoot, not conflict resolution) to learn more about them is life giving.
How will I greet nature today?
I go on walks. I sing to the birds. I talk to the cats. I take new trails. I walk at different times of day to literally see things in a different light. I walk in the rain without an umbrella.
How will I play today?
I watch movies. I sing songs loud while walking through the office. I call mandatory meetings and put on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I play board games. I go for drives. I write songs. I write poems. I grab people in the office and take them shopping. I ride a scooter through the office. I hold laugh parties.
What will God say to me today?
Yeah. I’m one of those weirdos. I don’t expect Him to audibly call my name. But, I expect He’ll give me perspective. I expect He is speaking through others and I need to shut up a bit. I expect I’ll learn a lesson.
What will I say to God today?
I believe He’s listening. I think He wants me to talk to Him. So, I do. I tell Him everything. He’s not afraid of my honesty. I laugh with Him. Cry with Him. Yell at Him. Confess to Him. Consult Him. Ask things of Him. Apologize to Him. Ask Him for wisdom. Nothing is off-limits.
What will I say yes to today?
How would you like to go on a drive and meet someone? Yes. How would you like to come to work with me and see what I do? Yes. How would you like to play music for my youth group? Yes. How would you like to come over for dinner? Yes. How would you like to play a few songs for some teenagers? Yes. These are legit questions that have led to some of the most memorable experiences and friendships of my life.
I’ve played music throughout Europe. I’ve spoken at major conventions and conferences. I’ve written books. I’ve gone on joy rides in private helicopters and planes. I’ve been behind the scenes at major corporations. I’ve seen the hidden tunnels and secret passageways of public spaces that no one gets to see. I’ve met CEO’s and Presidents of major companies. I’ve been on national television. I’ve had rock stars stay at my house. I’ve played music on the same stages as some of my heroes. I’ve written theme songs for independent films, book releases, and radio shows. I’ve made wine with vintners and had a beer named after my band. I’ve stayed in European cottages for free. I’ve had wine with the head of the Romanian Prison system. I’ve been front row and backstage at hundreds of concerts for free. I have hung out on the tour busses of major touring acts—talking about life. I could go on.
All of these opportunities came through saying yes to smaller opportunities. Life is waiting for you to say yes.