FYI

There’s so much information. It’s so easy to find. It even feels like we’re trying to hide from information sometimes. For your information, I think we need less information.

Or, at least, we need more perspective and point of view and proposal to go with all this information.

For my information, no thank you. For my consideration, please.

The News

The News is a product of media. Before there were newspapers and radios and televisions and blogs and Substacks, did anyone seek out The News as the commodity we think of when we say “The News?”

It seems like we get what we go looking for when we look for The News. We get outrage and conspiracy or we get dispassionate analysis. I used to think the latter was The News while the former was something else, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. Now I think The News is whatever we want it to be; “mainstream media” and “right-wing media” feel more and more like meaningless terms to describe variations on the same thing: The News.

Television seems to have made The News into something particularly harmful, and I’m thinking more of cable news than your local broadcast station (Sinclair Media, I know). Once companies started programming for round-the-clock content, The News became a commodity that had to be produced constantly, without stop. And once those companies were joined by other companies, The News became a fierce competition for eyeballs and attention requiring screaming analysts and ubiquitous red chirons for “Breaking News.” It’s useful in a rapidly unfolding crisis, perhaps, but as a source for meaningful insight into what you’re going to do today or tomorrow, it’s a major distraction.

What if you dropped cable news from your diet? Would things happen without you knowing, or would your phone make sure you knew anyway?

Edit

Video and audio projects require editing, something that is done poorly by committee, and also something that needs done by someone other than the producer. If the person who shot the video or recorded the audio sends an edit to everyone who was involved, asking for feedback, it’s likely none of them will scrutinize it closely–because everyone else is looking at it too, right?–which makes it likely mistakes will get missed.

For those of us who like working on teams and committees, it’s probably best to make the final edit someone’s job. Designate the task to one person: watch or listen from start to finish and flag anything that needs fixed. It doesn’t have to be the same person’s job every time, but for every project, it needs to be someone’s job.

I’ll go first.

Rigid

If there’s text on the screen for people to read, don’t read it to them.

If a packet of material was distributed ahead of time, don’t read the material at the meeting.

I’ve become rigid about these rules in the meetings and interactions I lead. Rigid is rarely good.

But am I wrong?

Newsletter

I send out a weekly newsletter to youth and parents that lists the schedule for the coming Sunday’s activities and announces upcoming special events and, regularly, features a pastoral note. I’m wondering if it’s worth it.

Almost every week somebody asks me a question that the newsletter already answered. They didn’t read it. They didn’t even get it. This used to irritate me, like I went to all this trouble to share the information in advance, and people couldn’t do the minimum to make use of it. But I’ve accepted by now that we all are besieged with too much electronic communication to make good use of, especially if we have kids. I get multiple emails from Daughter’s school every week, and her cheer team uses an app called Band that pings me with a constant stream of information and updates. Then there are email reminders about doctor and dentist appointments, all mixed in with whatever is hitting my inbox related to me. It is simply too much for people to be expected to manage.

So I’m wondering if there’s a better way than the weekly email. Much of what’s in the newsletter is static from week to week anyway; we’re always meeting before worship at 9:15 and after at 11:15–does that require a weekly reminder email? The only reason to share that is for people who don’t know it, prospective participants, and directing them to a webpage where those times are listed is easier than asking them to sign up for an email newsletter. Same with the event announcements and sign up links: put them on the website and send people there. Don’t clutter up their inboxes and expect them to take meaningful action.

I feel like the weekly newsletter is an anxious product that we make in order to feel more in control of what’s happening in the church and the world right now. The anxiety is well-placed. Change is afoot. Yet it seems certain that the things keeping people from regularly participating in the things we’re working on go well beyond a well-written-and-visually-attractive weekly email. We are in the position people are always in when we’re seeking enrollment in something we think is important, and that is the choice of other people.

That choice can be harmed by insufficient communication. It can be enabled by reliable communication. But it feels like we’re trying to compel participation with a barrage of information, and that’s both ineffective and unhealthy.

So a website with the stuff that is static from week to week and event signups. Email to send people there. Smiles and warm welcomes when they arrive.

Kindle

I have a relationship with my Kindle, not love/hate so much as love/fear: I fear that reading it is damaging my soul by replacing paper and ink with pixels. It’s dramatic, I know.

For two years, though, I’ve used my Kindle for as many school-required texts as are available, and for one big reason that paid off once again on the year-end paper I turned in on Sunday. The highlighting and note-taking capability of a Kindle are widely known and useful enough, but the ability to export all those notes and highlights, to have them show up as a pdf attached in an email, a pdf that you can print and read as a kind of personal Cliff’s Notes–that changes the game.

Yes, one of the things I appreciate most about my e-reader is the ability to convert it to paper.

Start with the Bibliography

I couldn’t get started on a big project with a looming deadline. It was a 20-25 page paper for school. I started with the bibliography. It was mostly finished in about 20 minutes, and now my fingers were moving and my mind was pumping with the things from each source I knew I needed to include in the paper. 24 hours later, the paper was done and turned in, a full day before the deadline.

Start with the bibliography.

Dread

There I responsibilities that need fulfilling sending shots of dread through my chest whenever I think of them. They’re on the calendar or they have an approaching deadline. They feel important. I probably volunteered for them. Still, I can’t get feel anything but impending doom when I think about them, and my mind produces scene after scene of disaster, mostly revolving around the certainty that I won’t be prepared and people are disappointed.

Do you do this?

The only thing I’ve found that relieves this dread is the performance of the responsibility. Take Christmas Eve. My responsibilities for that are clearly defined, and I know them weeks and weeks out. Still, as the day approaches my breathing gets short and my sleep is visited by dreams in which I show up to the wrong church or without my shoes. And this is after 17 years of doing it. Yet in every one of those years, the moment arrives when I have to open my mouth and start speaking, everything slows down and the breathing deepens. It always goes (more or less) well. So why does my brain spend endless days certain that it won’t?

Ask

Asking the people in your church or in your neighborhood or in your family about their ideas and their hopes provides you more than data. Those conversations generate engagement. The act of saying out loud something that’s been stirring in their head or their heart rearranges the board. No, the board was moving before, when you asked and when you listened.

A committee did a “big idea” exercise on Zoom using the annotation function and a screen shared whiteboard. The leader asked and we posted things we’ve thought about but not shared. Now we’ve shared them, things are different. Many of the ideas won’t get done (most), but they’re out there now and needing to be dealt with. That changes the game.

It just needs a leader to ask.