Monthly Archives: September 2011

Why something I saw at 6 a.m. on a treadmill at the YMCA made me cry

John Eldredge was the first person to point out to me how the opening scene from The Last of the Mohicans is a beautiful illustration of The Trinity (God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit) in action. Three moving as one. Perfect harmony. No words being spoken – and none being needed. Moving with a singular passion and purpose as part of a larger story and a shared adventure.

But that’s not what made me cry the other day. It was the scene below, where the hero of the story fights in the midst of a life-and-death battle to save the one he loves. He literally fights over, around and through the enemy lines to get to her. And, just when it appears he will be too late, he comes through in the most dramatic manner possible.

Don’t you see it? In so many ways, this is our story.

What brought tears to my eyes is that while I was watching this (on a treadmill at the YMCA at 6 a.m., no less!) I felt the voice of Jesus Christ speaking directly into my heart. I felt Jesus say, “John, this is you. This is your heart that I’m fighting for. And nothing is going to stop me from getting to you!”

Watch the scene below. See the fierce determination the hero has when he sees the one he loves in grave danger. Watch how he fights through hell on earth to get to her and stop the enemy just in the nick of time. Then think about what Jesus Christ says when it comes to how valuable you are to him. Think about what he did 2,000 years ago on that cross. Think about how, even today, he pursues your heart like no other. Jesus will stop at nothing – no matter what the enemy throws at him – to get to us.

Remember too that we are living in a larger story – a beautiful, romantic adventure taking place in the midst of a life and death battle between good and evil. The stakes are real. And they could not be any higher.

And then, if the spirit moves you, shed a tear upon realizing just how much you are loved and pursued by Jesus Christ.

Here is the clip (Please note – It does contain some serious fighting/violence and can be hard to watch):

Why every journalist needs to be on Google+ right now!

TV Reporter Jason DeRusha jumped online to get real-time, "man on the street" reaction via a Google+ Video Hangout

WCCO TV’s Jason DeRusha has long been hailed as a champion of integrating Social Media into his day job as a TV reporter/anchor, and he was at it again the other day, hosting a Google+ Video Hangout to get “man on the street” type reaction from people on the latest series of Facebook updates. He then featured some of our conversation in his 10 pm news story.

I enjoyed participating in the live video chat with several other folks, and couldn’t help but think the entire time, “Man, more journalists need to do this type of thing!” (It was also funny to see everyday people checking in from their everyday environments – almost like a Reality TV show!)

With the pressure constantly on journalists to be real-time reporting and content machines, hosting a Google+ Hangout to discuss a developing story, and then posting the talk online is a nice multimedia supplement to whatever written story goes up on your Website or Blog. It also feeds content for your Facebook, Google+, YouTube and Twitter channels. In addition, it engages your audience, reaching out to readers/viewers and inviting them to become a part of the story. This might lead to some good “Man on the street” video clips and quotes the reporter wasn’t expecting. Or maybe even meeting a valuable new source. And the fact that Google+ Hangouts are limited to only 10 people at a time (yet can be watched live by anyone) lends an air of exclusivity and ups the “cool” factor as well.

As we get more and more hyper-connected to each other, access to anyone and everyone is getting easier and easier. If I’m a journalist looking to stay ahead of the competition and set myself apart from everyone else, I’d be all over Google+ and Hangouts.

Kudos to Jason for – as usual – being the first to jump on the latest and greatest in Social Media technology and tools! Here’s a video of the story he ended up doing that featured myself and a few others:

Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge – Chapter 13: My name is Jesus, not Mr. Christ

Sadly, for too many people, the Christ they know is too religious to love, too distant to experience and too rigid to be a source of life.

(NOTE: This is part of an ongoing, “real-time” review I’m doing on the book. Read my thoughts on some of the previous chapters.)

Chapter 13 of Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus may be the most important passage about Jesus Christ I have ever read.

I feel like jumping up and shouting, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Finally, someone is sharing Jesus with me as he really is. Finally, it feels like I have permission to approach him just as I am (warts and all) and receive the life, love and intimacy he has to offer.

John Eldredge spends this chapter beautifully dismantling what he calls the “religious glaze” that we tend to paint over Jesus. Well-meaning and intended to give Jesus the proper respect and reverence he deserves, this glaze also tends to push him so far away that we never feel worthy or safe when it comes to being intimate with him.

“Addressing God with a coat-and-tie formality you would have never wanted between you and your dad will end up starching the relationship,” Eldredge writes. “[Calling God] ‘Papa’ is what Jesus gave us.”

I love this too:

“My name is Jesus. That’s pretty straightforward. Not Mr. Christ. We’re the ones who keep inserting respectable gold-leafed expressions such as ‘the Good Lord,’ ‘the Savior,’ ‘the all-glorious One,’ feeling better for offering the reverence but not realizing it is religious talk – not the sort of thing Jesus liked very much. Stained-glass language reflects a view of what Jesus is like; it shapes our perceptions of him and, therefore, our experience of him.”

Eldredge reminds us, “The original writers of the Bible did not use ‘Thee’ and ‘Thou,’ didn’t even use a capital H when referring to ‘him.’ We added these later, as an act of reverence. Along with red ink, to set apart the words of Jesus. But the effect is to create a very false impression, a best-to-keep-our-distance piety. These ways of speaking about Jesus perpetuate distorted views of his personality and keep Jesus at a distance, the polar opposite of the intimacy his entire life was committed to. It makes it hard to love him.”

The examples the author shares in this chapter are remarkable for the pure and unguarded intimacy they provide. The woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. His good friend John resting his head on Jesus’ chest after dinner. Children sitting on his lap. Jesus invites this. He wants this. And last I checked, he doesn’t ask anyone to purify themselves or have it all together before approaching him. Come as you are. Let me love you.

When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple that served as a symbol of the separation between man and God was famously torn in two.

“[Jesus] took that veil and ripped it in two,” Eldredge writes. “So why do we insist on stitching it back up? A whole lot of what passes for worship, sacrament and instruction in Christian circles is sewing lessons – hanging that veil again. Done in the same spirit that says, ‘God is too holy for us to approach.'”

Eldredge brings about another critical point later in the chapter: “Doing things for God is not the same thing as loving God. It is a fact that people most devoted to the work of the Lord actually spend the least amont of time with him. First things first. Love Jesus.”

This makes me think of all the duty and obligation we tend to feel with “serving the Lord” and how our hearts often really aren’t in it for the right reasons. Because our relationship with Jesus isn’t right to begin with. These acts should be springing out of our love for Jesus, not from duty/fear/obligation that “it’s the right thing to do” if you’re a good Christian.

The last (and perhaps best) line that resonated with me was this: “Do not let those religious crows with all their squawking shame you away from this [approaching Jesus just as you are, seeking real intimacy with him] by their false reverence, making you think this diminishes the all-suffiency of God.”

For me, this chapter was very personal. Having been sexually and emotionally abused as a young boy, it is almost impossible for me to let my guard down to the point where I can just come as I am, completely vulnerable and exposed. The shame and fear of rejection is just too massive. So to hear these words, to realize Jesus is approachable and in fact wants me, just as I am, brings tears to my eyes. It gives the little, wounded boy inside me hope. Jesus will not reject me. Jesus will not hurt me. Instead, Jesus will love me, hold me and heal me. He will love me the way I – and every other human being – has craved to be loved since we breathed our first.

Ben Rector: A Case Study in Brilliant use of Social Media

I originally found independent singer/songwriter Ben Rector via NoiseTrade, where musicians give away songs for free – no strings attached – in hopes of building a following. Not only have I enjoyed Ben’s music and proven the NoiseTrade business model true by going out and paying for more of his music on my own, but I’ve also become a huge fan of how brilliantly Ben uses Social Media. His YouTube channel is hilarious, and his latest effort to engage and reward fans surrounding his new album’s release is classic Thank You Economy.

Below is Ben’s video asking fans to help spread the word about the new album, and what they’ll get from him in return. The effort apparently paid off. In less than a week, his album went to #4 overall on iTunes and #1 on the singer/songwriter list. All this without a major record label or promotional effort behind it!

As a bonus here’s one of my favorite Ben Rector songs. If nothing else, follow this guy for his Social Media savvy, because he’s doing a brilliant job!

Question: Are professional credentials overrated? Matt Damon thinks so!

Just how much do you really learn by paying to get that MBA or APR designation? Couldn’t you do the same thing by reading books, studying your craft and learning from professional mentors?

Yes, I know it impresses employers and people in academic settings to have certain letters after your name. But as Matt Damon so eloquently points out (with a cuss word or two thrown in for good measure), can’t you also get the same thing for $1.50 in late fees at your local library?

In my experience, yes. As a print journalism major (remember print journalism?) at the University of St. Thomas, I learned infinitely more from the adjunct profs who were also working full-time at the Star Tribune and Associated Press than I ever did from the “academics” in the department and who only taught straight from the textbooks. Even though these guys only had a BA and little academic glory to their names, their real-world experience and advice could not be gleaned from a textbook. Every day, they came in with real-life examples of how newspapers worked, how reporters and editors did their jobs and (most important to students) what it would take for us to get there.

Back to APRs, MBAs and PhDs: In some ways, you are really just paying for those three little letters or an institution’s name on a piece of paper as much as you’re paying to get educated. Right?

Because in my experience, you can do it yourself. And save thousands of dollars in the process.

Strike! How to successfully utilize Facebook and Twitter during a Live Event

Make sure your voice is heard - loud and clear - during a Live event!

(Note: If you prefer, I also have this entire post available as a downloadable PDF over my my SlideShare page.)

Background: On June 10, 2010, more than 12,000 Minnesota RNs conducted the largest nursing strike in U.S. history. Below are the strategies we used and (more important) the lessons we learned using Social Media during an emotional, action-packed 24 hours:

  • Dedicate someone full-time the day of the event to monitor, curate and edit content being shared on your Facebook Fan Page. This person should be engaging, responding, commenting and helping users on the page. That means being parked in front of your screen ALL DAY, constantly refreshing the page, sharing new content and updates, answering questions, solving problems, etc.
  • Make sure your Facebook Fan Page settings are such that anyone can easily upload and share their photos/videos without needing approval first. (This is obviously why you also need someone monitoring the page in real-time on your end as well.)
  • Put out encouraging posts throughout the day asking people to take photos and videos on their phones and upload to the Fan page. Make specific asks.
  • Ask your online supporters (in our case, it was other unions, other association members around the state, political allies, etc.) to help Retweet your most compelling content on Twitter, and to do the same on their individual FB pages. You also want to ask these online supporters to point their unique audience(s) to your Facebook fan page and the Twitter feed.
  • On Twitter, create a hash tag that’s easy to remember (in our case, #RNStrike would work fine) and encourage everyone to use it online so you can curate and collect relevant Tweets.
  • Have people in the field (i.e. your staff) who are responsible for feeding you photos/videos/updates in real-time. That means shooting stuff on their mobile phones/iPads/etc. and then e-mailing or texting you the content back at the office so you can compile it and upload it as it comes in. Better yet, if you trust their judgment enough, have them just directly upload and share photos/videos/updates to the FB fan page.
  • Alert the mainstream media ahead of time via press releases/e-mails/etc. that you will be carrying real-time, live updates from people on the front lines via your Facebook page. As a result, the media may end up featuring or even quoting what shows up on your Facebook page (good, bad or ugly). Be ready for that. You can’t control every negative post, and some of them might just show up on the evening news. Journalists are always going to look to balance the story with the opposing viewpoint, especially if it comes from within your own camp. Accept this and move on.
  • Whatever you do, do NOT delete critical posts that show up on your page. Instead respond right away to critics in a calm, reasonable and professional tone. This lends major credibility to your page and lets the online “peanut gallery” watching know that you’re open to constructive dialogue and can agree to disagree in a professional and respectful manner. Remember, not every single one of your members/fans will share the company line as things unfold. Let those people (especially if they are a member of your organization!) have their say, and engage with them. Try to win them over. Try and turn those critics into supporters. Use respect, charm and intelligent dialogue. Don’t browbeat or condemn them. And if all else fails, politely agree to disagree and move on. Nothing backfires on you more quickly than trying to censor or silence critics (especially if they belong to your organization) online.
  • Use Google News and other tools to search for real-time Blog posts and mainstream media coverage the day of the event. Grab those links and share them on your Facebook page. Include some color and context with each posting. For example, you can do a status update like this: “Here’s the latest L.A. Times story posted online regarding today’s strike. Nurses, you are making history!”
  • Install the Facebook UStream App on the left side of your Facebook Fan Page (if you haven’t already) so that people can easily click over and watch live streaming from the picket lines or the event itself. Make sure you put on your UStream channel page a schedule of when/where the live streaming is going to happen so people know when to tune in. (The “upcoming events” you enter on your UStream channel page will automatically show up in the UStream App on your Facebook Fan Page.)
  • Use a tool like HootSuite or TweetDeck to schedule some Tweets in advance that share the URL for the Live Stream or other key events that are happening during the day that you want to point people to online.
  • Buy some Facebook ads in advance of the event. Target the specific communities (you can even do this by zip code!) you’ll be holding the event in. In our case, we’d want to have the ad point to our Facebook Fan Page. We’d also be asking the people in those communities to support their local nurses on the day of the strike.
  • If things are slow, throw out a post now and then asking for people on the picket lines or at the event to share their observations, comments, photos and videos. What’s the mood like on the ground? Has the public been supportive? What type of shoes did you wear today? Any funny stories or conversations you overheard? Any celebrities show up? Media coverage? What’s it like? How are you feeling?
  • Rather than just barfing up content onto your page as fast as you can, try to add some color/perspective/explanation to posts going up. If content is posted from an outside source without any explanation, be the first one to comment on the story. Use that space to add explanation/context/color as needed.
  • Try and build momentum with each post. In our case, we’d want to tell our nurses they are making history and that the whole world is literally watching and wanting to hear their story from the front lines. Then encourage them to share, share, share! We want to build a sense of drama, a sense of urgency, and create what becomes a tidal wave of posts and Tweets about the event/strike. In Social Media, nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd!
  • With Twitter, use HootSuite, TweetDeck or another monitoring tool to track the stream of Tweets connected to your event. Set up a few different ongoing searches using keywords from your event (in our case it would be terms like “Nurses,” “Strike,” etc.) along with the official hash tag (#RNStrike) and variations you think others might use (#NursesStrike, #RNProtest, #MNNurses, etc.)
  • Engage and respond right away on Twitter. When you see cranky Tweets from neighbors complaining about disruption in the area or rude behavior by your people on the ground, apologize on behalf of those people and give an explanation if you can. Include helpful links aimed at solving the problem if it’s applicable. (Maybe alternate traffic maps/routes for that day, for instance.) Don’t ignore critics. Instead, engage them. Try to win them over. And if that doesn’t work, be polite and move on. Remember, the peanut gallery is always watching to see how you handle yourself and represent your organization online!
  • Make sure you RT the best Tweets as things unfold. Especially if those Tweets are coming from a journalist, politician, celebrity or other key influencer. Doing this shows your followers (including those on the ground looking at their cell phones as they participate) just how big of a deal this is.
  • Send the people participating in the upcoming live event an e-mail ahead of time. Include your Facebook URL and a brief pep talk about why it’s so important for them to snap photos and videos and share their thoughts on your page. Also include the Twitter hash tag (like #RNStrike) to include, and make sure you’ve already begun populating that hash tag with some Tweets about the upcoming live event so people get the idea of what it will look like.
  • As you go along, make sure your “Favorite” the best Tweets and keep screen shots of the best Facebook posts from the day. Do the same with videos and photos, because chances are you’re going to want to do an event wrap up/review at some point later on.

For more tips/lessons learned, I’ve also created these resources:

Cartoon Characters and Christianity (Pat Robertson edition)

I couldn’t agree more with this statement from a recent Opinion piece in Christianity Today: “Sadly, many of our neighbors assume that when they hear the parade of cartoon characters we allow to speak for us, that they are hearing the gospel. They assume that when they see the giggling evangelist on the television screen, that they see Jesus. They assume that when they see the stadium political rallies to “take back America for Christ,” that they see Jesus. But Jesus isn’t there.”

That’s why reading Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus by John Eldredge comes at a perfect time for me. Here is a book I can point to when I want to show people around me who the real Jesus is. And I understand John when he says this book partly came out of a place in him that is so sick and tired of seeing religious leaders continuing to pervert and distort the reality of who Jesus really is and what he really stands for in order to advance their own personal agendas and campaigns.

UPDATE: Great news! I just found out from John’s publisher that I’ll be allowed to give away 5 copies of the book here on my Blog! Stay tuned for details.

Also, in case you missed it, I’ve been reviewing Beautiful Outlaw chapter-by-chapter here on my Blog the past few weeks.

The time in 2006 when I thought Derek Webb had gone insane, got thrown in jail or both

When I saw this, I thought Derek Webb had gone bonkers!

I’ll never forget when I first heard of the URL http://www.FreeDerekWebb.com. I thought my favorite controversial Christian musician had finally pushed the Modern Day Pharisees (MDP) too far and gotten himself locked up. I imagined the MDPs could take it no more thanks to songs like this, and had managed to throw Derek into some sort of prison where Christian dissidents like Don Miller and John Eldredge would also be held. As such, I figured the “Free Derek Webb” URL was designed to call attention to his plight.

Of course, that was not the case. But when I learned the true reason for the URL, I still thought Webb had gone crazy. I mean, this was 2006. Sites like NoiseTrade didn’t exist. Musicians didn’t just give away brand new studio albums for free.

But Derek Webb was doing exactly that! What a nut job.

As a huge fan of his, I was delighted to take advantage of Derek’s mental state and snag a free digital copy of his latest release. And of course (this is where Derek Webb proves he’s not insane) I ran out and became a brand evangelist, e-mailing (Facebook and Twitter weren’t mainstream then – remember, this was 2006!) all my friends and telling them about this amazing deal.

A few other people must have, too, because more than 80,000 people downloaded the free album.

I’m sure many were already fans like myself, but think of how many more thousands of people discovered Derek Webb’s music for the first time as a result.

Sure, he missed out on some easy/fast money by giving away 80,000 copies of “Mockingbird,” but he got great publicity/market exposure, and (more important) he did something Gary Vaynerchuk preaches all the time – Derek Webb began building lifetime customer value.

If you downloaded “Mockingbird” for free in 2006, and fell in love with this new musician Derek Webb, I’m betting you bought at least 1 or 2 of his other albums at some point in the future. Derek gave up a huge chunk of money in the short term, but over the long term he gained (potentially) tens of thousands of new fans, and (most important) made them fans for life.

UPDATE: Derek just posted a response on Twitter about this whole episode and its impact on his career:

And with Webb’s current fans like me, a free album download just endeared him all the more to us, and also jacked us up even more than usual to be his brand evangelists, telling everyone how great he was and why they should download his free album.

As great a musician as Derek Webb is, I think he’s an even better marketer. He proved all the way back in 2006 that he understood the power of Social Media and “Word of Mouse” before such a thing even existed. He does an amazing job in 2011 using sites like Twitter to connect with his fans in meaningful and lasting ways. And he constantly pushes the envelope for what’s coming next with sites like NoiseTrade, which people like me use all the time to download free music from new artists. And, funny, if I really like an artist I find for free on NoiseTrade, I always end up going back and buying more of his or her songs because I like the music so much.

Glad to know Derek Webb is not insane or in Christian jail. The music (and PR/Marketing) world would be  much less exciting without him.

Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge – Buy the book for Chapter 7 alone!

Jesus' three years of public ministry are one long intervention. That's why he acts the way he does.

(NOTE: This is part of an ongoing, “real-time” review I’m doing on the book. You can also read my thoughts on Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3, and Chapter 5.)

I just finished Chapter 7 (Disruptive Honesty) of Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus and walked away convinced the price of the book is worth this chapter alone. It is a beautiful, remarkable exposition on the honesty of Jesus.

I love this line:

“Remember, Jesus is not strolling through the Israeli countryside offering poetry readings. He is on a mission to rescue a people who are so utterly deceived most of them don’t even want to be rescued.”

John Eldredge explores the courage it takes and the costs it extracts to love like Jesus. To be honest with ourselves and others. And why most (if not all) of us don’t live that way. It’s just too painful. It costs us too much. It’s easier to walk away.

But, thank God, “you can count on Jesus to tell you the truth in the best possible way for you to hear it.”

And this is the line that changes my entire view of Jesus Christ and Christianity:

“What would it be like to have someone in your life who knows you intimately, loves you regardless, and is willing to be completely honest with you?”

Yes, Jesus is honest with us. He points out the truths that nobody else in our lives will. But he doesn’t just walk away afterward. As Eldredge notes: “Truth and grace. Anytime, every time Jesus pulls the rug out from under us, he extends his hand to lift us to a place of refuge.”

I also love Eldredge pointing out the fact that so many Christians want to soften, explain away or even flat out deny Jesus’s claim of exclusivity when it comes to heaven.

Jesus says very clearly – and repeatedly – in the Bible that he is the only way to heaven.

“No other leader of the world’s religions makes such an audacious claim,” Eldredge writes. “It is a line in the sand that has caused many Christians embarrassment (particularly those trying to win acceptance in our ‘all roads lead to Rome’ postmodern world).”

I also like this truth from the author: “The spirit of our day is soft acceptance of everything – except deep conviction in anything.”

But remember what I just wrote earlier – Jesus doesn’t share these hard truths and then walk away, saying “Good luck” over his shoulder as he leaves us behind. Rather, he reaches out his hand, ready to lovingly guide us away from a future in hell and instead into the eternity of heaven.

I love this man! He sees me as I really am, warts and all, and loves me anyway. Jesus doesn’t wait until I have it all together to spend time with me and support me and be seen in public with me. He’s scandalous that way, isn’t he?

Jesus, thank you. Thank you for telling me the truth in exactly the way I need to hear it. Thank you even more for not walking away from me, rejecting me or shaming me once you’ve exposed my deepest wounds, hurts and habits. Thank you for instead reaching out, offering me your hand and your heart. For staying by my side no matter how long it takes.

Your love – what else is there on this earth or in this life that I could possible compare it to?

Words to Live By

“You determine a man’s greatness by what it takes to discourage him.” – Rick Warren

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