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Stop by and say hello!
The Blogging Church was released two years ago. As you would expect, technology has continued to push online communication in new and fascinating ways. Blogging is no longer the novelty it once was. If you were to tell someone that your church or pastor has a blog, the response would likely be a shrug of the shoulders. That's a good thing, though. It's great to see that blogging has truly become common. There's now a built-in expectation that blogs will be part of how most churches communicate with (and, hopefully, listen to) their communities.
Churches have moved quickly from blogging to podcasting, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. They've gone from offering a MP3 download of the weekend sermon to video streaming to internet campuses. The pace of change and innovation in this area is incredible and it's refreshing to see the church increasingly being a technology innovator instead of imitator.
What isn't incredible or surprising is that the church and technology leaders who were featured in The Blogging Church continue to push the envelope online. If you want to be part of the conversation about what's next, Twitter is the place to be. If you're not part of Twitter yet, you can create a free account in about 30 seconds. It's a fantastic way to connect with others without the pressure of a 500 word blog post.
Here's a list of the Twitter accounts of the many awesome people in the book (you can find me at twitter.com/bb). As expected, they are a wildly diverse and interesting crowd. You can't go wrong with following any of these. Plus, they will quickly introduce you to many other terrific people. Enjoy!
Brad Abare @bradabare
Ben Arment @benarment
Mark Batterson @markbatterson
Mark Driscoll @pastormark
Kevin D. Hendricks @kevindhendricks
Scott Hodge @scotthodge
Andrew Jones @tallskinnykiwi
Guy Kawasaki @guykawasaki
Gary Lamb @garylamb
Julie Leung @julieleung
Merlin Mann @hotdogsladies
Ben McConnell @benmcconnell
Kem Meyer @kemmeyer
Tony Morgan @tonymorganlive
Perry Noble @perrynoble
Robert Scoble @scobleizer
Kathy Sierra @kathysierra
Greg Surratt @gregsurratt
David Weinberger @dweinberger
Josh Williams @jw
Dave Winer @davewiner
Jeremy Wright @jeremywright
Last week, Alamofire debuted our lovely new website. Alamofire, if aren't aware, is where I spend my days making games for all the good little boys and girls in the world. It's basically like Santa's Workshop, except hotter and more t-shirts.
The Internet is now closed. Elvis has left the building.
Is it better to be on top of things or creating things?
Would you rather lose track of time or be up-to-date?
What do you look forward to doing as soon as you finish catching up on everything else?
Almost five years ago, Lane Becker of Adaptive Path wrote something I've never forgotten: "I feel like I make things un-bold for a living now." He was referring to the captivating bold numbers next to our email inbox, RSS reader, voicemail, and on and on. The bold number that shows you how many unread messages you have, how many blog posts are awaiting your attention, how many important conversations you missed because you were having another important conversation.
And our to do lists stand above everything else, measuring our accomplishments in a series of checkmarks.
Sometimes it seems as if we were put here to mark things off a list; not our list, mind you. More often than not, we see the list as filled by everyone but ourselves. We do have a list of our own, a list of unspoken hopes and dreams, but it will have to wait. There is so much else to do.
Is our purpose to take a stream of inputs and information, process them, rate them, tell others about them, and then do it again? If you watch Twitter closely, one of the most commonly celebrated accomplishments is something that our grandparents could never have imagined: "There are zero messages in my inbox!"
Alex Payne, who works at Twitter, calls this processing queues.
A downside of many information architectures is the reduction of data to items in queues that must be manually processed. Though information technology has saved the “knowledge work” generations from a lifetime of manual labor, we have our own assembly lines.
He goes on to list all of the queues he processes in a work day. As amazing as the list is, that's really just part of the story. As soon as you leave work, a whole new set of queues await your attention: Netflix, TiVO, bills, an Amazon wishlist, newspapers and magazines, library holds, home projects, and new music, books, and games. And don't forget the list of friend requests you have waiting for you, each requiring a strange 30-second evaluation of whether you want to add this nice person is worthy to be part of your online world.
Of course, the queues can only be processed after they've been managed. If the paper mentioned a movie you'd like to see, make a mental note to add it to your Netflix queue. Oh, and be sure to prioritize the list before you mail back your next movie. Should the new book a friend told you about be added to your library list, Amazon shopping cart, or wishlist to revisit later? But this assumes you remember the title in the first place. Better add it to your moleskin or field notes, which are old-fashioned queues made of pencil and paper.
All of these things are good in and of themselves. The question is a simple one: are the queues a means to an end or an end in itself? Do the lists allow you to do more, read more, enjoy more or are the lists your life's work?
Is the greatest thing we can leave behind an empty inbox?
I've been taking a few baby steps towards writing a novel over the past two months. It's been a very interesting and entertaining process as I know laughably little about it. I've always preferred reading non-fiction and that's what most of my writing has been, whether for school, work, or The Blogging Church (amazingly approaching its 2-year anniversary). What makes it fun to explore is that I'm still at the stage where my happy naivete trumps the reality of the situation. Each day I think, "C'mon, how hard can it be?" :-)
I've had great conversations with friends, as well as Lori and Ben, about some ideas and titles. Everyone has been quite helpful and kind (not sure why that's worth noting, these are high-quality people after all). I also contacted the good people at Jossey-Bass, to let them know what I was exploring and get some advice. They put me in touch with a terrific agent who's extensive blog has been both enlightening and inspirational. I won't bother him until the ideas have evolved well beyond the stage they're in now (and stage is already being generous). What I've written so far is really just different experiments in approach and style, both of which I know next-to-nothing about. In fact, most evenings find me asking Lori to explain the difference between 1st-person and 3rd-person one more time. On the other hand, I have actually written a book before, so that has to be worth something, right? This is what I keep telling myself.
Of course, there's endless advice available on how to write fiction and I've read a bit of the material. There's a lot about finding your voice, which I think I grasp. Most of it is helpful, but I also see over-thinking to be a common (unpublished) writer's flaw. Since I have that tendency already, I want to stay as far from that as possible. In my mind, the goal should be to have a worthwhile story to tell and then to tell it in a ridiculously entertaining way. Keep it simple, you know.
I do know what I want my writing to be like, though. I know how I would love something I write to read, the style, emotion, and energy — Nick Hornby informed by Rob Bell. High Fidelity crossed with Velvet Elvis. C'mon, how hard can it be?
Note: this is the follow-up to an earlier post. You may want to start here.
10. The historical moment
When Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic Convention in 2004, I said it was one of the best speeches I had ever heard. I also knew that I was hearing the first Democrat who I would ever consider voting for. When he decided to run for President 21 months ago, I was excited by the possibility, but knew like most that it was highly unlikely that an African-American with just two years experience as a senator could defeat the Clinton machine and be elected in a time of war. What he has accomplished already is historic, but it is nothing compared to what is to come. When my grandchildren ask me how I voted at this historic moment, I know what I want my answer to be.
9. What it says about America
I want to live in a country where Barack Obama can be elected president. The entire world will look at the United States differently if he wins, yes partly due to his name and race, but also because of the clear contrast he presents to President Bush. We'd like to pretend that our popularity is not important, and obviously our national interest should always come first, but we as a nation are better off when the rest of the world sees us in a positive light and is willing to hear what we have to say.
8. The Republican Party
Political parties regularly rise and fall. Sometimes the best thing that can happen to a party is for it to be truly humbled, to be sent into the wilderness where it can rethink what it stands for and develop a new message for new times (see the Republican Party after Watergate or the current Conservative Party in Britain). The Republican Party deserves to be in the position it is in and could only benefit from starting over again. A quick aside: I don't think any Republican could have won this year and it is a testament to McCain's broad appeal that the race is as close as it is.
7. Personal identification
All of us like to identify with our leaders, but it is rare that average Americans can relate to a president. However, Obama's age, smart, beautiful, professional wife, adorable children, family finances (until recently), and love of writing are all things that make Obama the first candidate I have actually felt a connection with (as funny as that sounds).
The ability to write an eloquent speech and deliver it is a critical skill for a leader. Do speeches make a candidate? Certainly not. As a president, though, the ability to make the case to the country and the world, to inspire, challenge and convince us, is profoundly important. When Obama delivers a State of the Union address, or speaks to the nation from the Oval Office, his skill and eloquence will demand our attention. Speeches are a huge part of who we are, and they are worth doing exceptionally well.
5. Being smart is a good thing
How strange that it's left to the Democratic Party to make the case for exceptionalism (see The Incredibles). Obama is a very smart man who has surrounded himself with accomplished advisors. He is open to ideas from different sources and has proven himself to be thoughtful and careful in his thinking, almost to a fault. His primary debate flaw was been his insistence on being careful in his word choices and exploring every nuance of an issue.
Intelligence is not the same as wisdom or good judgment, but nor is it the character flaw that the Republican Party seems to think it is. David Brooks wrote an, um, incredible piece on this exact subject.
4. One America
From his initial speech in Boston four years ago to this endless race, Obama has reached out to all parts of the country. I believe he has great respect for our nation as a whole and all political persuasions within it (more so than many of his supporters actually). He has spoken about the role of faith in politics better than most Republicans and attended a Rick Warren forum long before he was a candidate for president. I believe he truly wants to unite us a country and has resisted endless opportunities in the campaign to exploit our differences. I'm not so naive to think a new political era is coming, but I believe we can and will do better.
3. The campaign
Obama has run a phenomenal campaign and proven to be a truly impressive candidate. A campaign is no substitute for substantial political experience, but it reveals a lot about a person and his or her management style. Bill Clinton's chaotic campaign filled with emotional highs and lows, hints of scandal, and the relentless pursuit of every vote hinted at the early years of his presidency. Bush's campaign showed his tunnel focus and lack of openness. Hillary's campaign problems were traced back to her lack of decisiveness and tolerance of infighting. McCain's campaign has also been chaotic, constantly reaching for a new message or line of attack and lacking a consistent theme or underlying philosophy. His White House would likely be similar.
Obama's campaign, on the other hand, has been more impressive than any I've seen, especially during the primaries. It has been incredibly consistent, largely mistake free, and innovative in its fundraising and use of the web. Its success is one of the most remarkable achievements of modern politics and it speaks to what kind of leader Obama will be.
The campaign has also shown Obama to be a steady force, driven and consistent. He speaks often of never getting too high or low based on polls or the state of the campaign and the past two years have proven that to be the case. He has generally avoided pandering to one group or another (except for a leftward turn during the primaries). Instead of Bill Clinton's somewhat desperate need for approval, Obama seems remarkably self-assured and comfortable with who he is. These are the characteristics I want in a president.
1. When I turn on the television on January 20, 2009 to watch the inauguration, who do I want to see?
Even when I was closest to voting for Senator McCain, this question made me think twice because I knew in my heart what the answer was.
I want Senator Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States.
Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States.
And I'm going to vote for him.
My decision to choose Senator Obama could fairly be described as more bandwagon than profile in courage at this point, with the election just two weeks away and Obama's victory almost assured. I remember how strange it was for Al Gore to endorse Obama after the Democratic primary was over. Though some polls show the race tightening as it often does in the last weeks, Obama has a firm lead in the electoral college and more than enough money to keep the pressure on all the way to election day. I expect his get-out-the-vote effort will also dwarf what the Republican Party can deliver, so without a major mistake, revelation, or foreign policy crisis, the presidency is his.
So, why write anything at all? For two reasons, really. First, because I believe I owe it to you. To write as much about politics as I have over the past two years and then take a pass on the ultimate political question would be disingenuous. Second, I owe it to my family, especially Ben. We've shared so many political conversations over the past two years and watched an inordinate amount of Road to the White House episodes featuring obscure candidates in the homes of Iowans, not to mention a truly endless number of debates. It's important for kids to see politics as more than just an entertaining game. Besides, he keeps asking me, "So, have you decided who you're going to vote for yet?"
This has been a difficult decision to make. Though the campaign has been a disappointment, it has featured my two favorite candidates from the primaries. I thought both deserved a full hearing, including the debates. I respect each of them enormously and have been a supporter of John McCain's since he ran in 2000. Perhaps Obama supporters could at least concede that we would be much better off if he had beaten George Bush 8 years ago.
I have always been a conservative, but have generally considered myself an independent since the Reagan years. I have never voted for a Democrat for president (and please don't ask about my vote for Perot in 1992). The current candidates have regularly frustrated and disappointed me during the campaign, but there are no perfect candidates and I don't personally believe in staying home on election day or casting a protest vote for a third party candidate. I've come to this decision like most everyone else, by reading about the candidates, watching them perform, evaluating their decisions and how they make them, and discussing the election with fair-minded people.
Do I have hesitations? More than I can count. There are many different directions an Obama presidency might take. His inexperience could cause significant problems, particularly in foreign affairs. I do not have anything positive to say about the current Democratic congress, and the possibility that they will push endless bad legislation past a young president is an uncomfortable prospect. He may raise taxes, regulate the economy and restrict trade to such a degree that the economy is made far worse. His judicial appointments may be aggressively liberal instead of sensible centrists.
Here's what it comes down to though. First, the reality is that John McCain is far from a principled conservative. On many of these issues, he's adopted positions (or at least arguments) similar to Obama's. On many others, it's clear that there is no guiding philosophy behind where he stands on a particular issue.
Second, you make your choice for president based on the man. We have no idea what the future will hold or what issues a president will have to face. We can only choose who we want to sit in the Oval Office and make decisions on behalf of the country. Who has the necessary character, temperament, and wisdom? Who can be trusted to listen to others and respect the opposition?
I think John McCain is a very good man who would make a good president and be a significant improvement over President Bush. However, I believe that Barack Obama is the best candidate at this moment in our history.
In the next post, I'll share why.
Note: I actually wrote this without reading or watching any commentary on the debate (yes, not even twitter). I have no idea how it is being spun by either side or what conventional wisdom says about the impact on the race. In other words, this could be entirely off-base, but it's my honest thoughts on what I saw before someone else tells me what I saw.
If only presidential debates were like sporting events. A game has a simple scoring system and when it's over, no one disputes who the winner was. Debates aren't quite so simple.
Success in a debate is determined by performance, but performance within the context of the current state of the race and the expectations for the candidate. Here's how I see the race.
The polls generally show the race tied, with a 2-3% edge to Obama nationally (within the poll's margin of error) and a slightly bigger lead in the electoral college totals. It should not be forgotten that it is truly stunning that the race is this close. After 8 years in the White House and with an extremely unpopular president, a Republican candidate starts at a significant disadvantage. Combine that with the incredible 18 months that Senator Obama has had, the enthusiasm and money he has generated, and the desire for change in the country, and McCain should be trailing by 10 points.
Though the race is close, the momentum is on Obama's side. The economic crisis reinforces his strengths and McCain's weaknesses. Others have said that this is Obama's election to lose and I would agree. I believe that a clear majority of the country wants him to be the next president, but enough have hesitations and see a possible alternative in McCain to keep it close. They're really looking for an excuse to rule out McCain and he almost gave them one this week.
So, the undecided voters tuning in tonight wanted Obama to convince them that he's ready to be president, particularly command-in-chief. They don't want to feel like they're taking a risk by voting for him. McCain, on the other hand, needed to remind people why they were attracted to him in the first place, and reassure them that he's up to the job and as determined to bring about change as he claims.
The Obama campaign had insisted that the first debate be on foreign policy, preferring to finish strong, but that was not without uncertainty. Sometimes the first debate proves to be the most important one, and with the incredible buildup this week, this debate may attract the largest audience of the three.
Under these circumstances, I believe that it was a better evening for McCain. Both candidates accomplished most of what they set out to do and Obama certainly came across as smart, confident and ready to be president. This can only help his numbers.
However, McCain was the more aggressive of the two and managed to score a number of points without coming across as terribly negative. The campaign clearly had developed a theme and he was effective in touching on it again and again, "Senator Obama doesn't understand.." The best lines of argument reinforce perceptions and polls show that the greatest hesitation voters have about Obama is his foreign policy and national security knowledge and experience.
McCain also managed to distance himself effectively from the Bush Administration and Obama failed to make the case by complimenting McCain at times for his independence and also largely agreeing with him on certain issues. I'm sure Obama will be much more successful in this during the debates on domestic issues.
The beginning of the debate focused on the bailout package and the economy. McCain somehow managed to focus the entire segment on earmarks and pork barrel spending, which was a remarkable achievement. This was the one moment where I could imagine Democratic voters missing Senator Clinton. She would not have let McCain get away with that and probably would've scored the soundbite of the debate by pointing out his lack of solutions.
After each debate, the number of undecideds will drop. In this case, I believe that McCain stopped Obama's momentum for now and helped change the story from the past 10 days. The pause will be brief, though, as many more storylines are waiting to be written.
I know the easy thing is to blame the candidates and campaigns for the silly and disappointing turns during election season. I do it myself and am as frustrated as anyone. It angers me to see small issues (many a decade old) made into defining moments and a few out-of-context words treated as a window into someone's soul. I hate the ridiculous ads that stretch the truth to a laughable degree and yet are framed as if the very survival of our nation and planet is at stake. I fight to tune out the campaign spinsters parroting the company line ad nauseum, casting every act by the opposition as a craven, dishonest, predictable, desperate and possibly illegal maneuver.
There's not much we can do about the candidates, but we can change how we talk and write about politics. The first step is to change how we consume political news. Find sources that are somewhat neutral or seek out quality commentary from the other side. If your sources are nothing other than Daily Kos and The Huffington Post or Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, your views will be as limited as the very people you dislike so much.
At some point, though, we have to take responsibility for the tone of politics. Even though our discourse is largely a reflection of what we hear from the parties and the media, why should we descend to that level? Why can't we do better? If you are fed up with how politics is practiced, let's start changing how we practice politics.
The candidate you support is motivated by political calculation and a desire to win just like his opponent. He has compromised when he shouldn't have, ducked when he should have stood up, and made many mistakes (and will continue to do so). Like all national politicians, he is a flawed man surrounded by flawed advisors. The nation's problems will not be solved by his election, but he can and hopefully will makes things better, improve the political process, and appeal to our better natures.
The candidate you oppose is not stupid, senile, dangerous, different, or corrupt. He loves this country and has served it most of his life. He will defend our nation with honor and always do what he thinks is in the best interest of America. He does not deserve to be mocked, belittled, or hated. The snide and snarky only serve to make intelligent debate between reasonable people impossible, while escalating the smack talk arms race.
There are endless arguments to be made for and against each of these candidates on the issues, but why do we have to demonize and deify them in the process?
One of my favorite West Wing moments is when Ainsley, Hayes, a Republican lawyer, is offered a job in the Democratic White House. Her first reaction is no, but she changes her mind at the last minute. Here's what happens when she meets her Republican friends at a bar, who believe she has turned down the offer. The parties are irrelevant, but the point is anything but:
Friend: Tell me about the look on [Chief of Staff] McGarry's face. I wanted you to say it to his face...I wanted to see...
Other Friend: I hate these people
Friend: Did you meet anyone there who isn't worthless?
Ainsley Hayes: Don't say that.
Friend: Did you meet anyone there who has...
Ainsley Hayes: I said, don't say that.
Say they're smug and superior. Say their approach to public policy makes you wanna tear your hair out. Say they like high taxes and spending your money. Say they want to take your guns and open your borders. But don't call them worthless.
At least don't do it in front of me.
The people that I have met have been extraordinarily qualified. Their intent is good. Their commitment is true. They are righteous. And they are patriots.
And I'm their lawyer.
I just finished reading The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry that Defined a Generation by Steven Gillon. It is the best political book I have read in a long time. If you are interested in recent history and how Washington works, I can't recommend it enough.
The book tells the story of how Clinton and Gingrich rose to power. It touches again and again on how similar the two men were personally, despite their political differences. The core of the book is the story of how the two became more and more reliant on one another to accomplish big goals. They grew to respect their opponent and spoke and met frequently. And in 1996, fresh from recent successes and with a booming economy and tax surpluses, they worked behind-the-scenes (and against the wishes of their staffs or without their knowledge) to form a new coalition that reached across party lines and appealed to the center of the country. This coalition was to first tackle the problems in social security, followed by Medicare and Medicaid. Tragically, the Lewinsky scandal broke a month before this was to be set in motion at the State of the Union. Both men were forced to abandon any signs of cooperation as the impeachment battle began.
What is truly fascinating, and equally sad, is how little interest there is in Washington to accomplish anything. The focus is almost entirely on gaining and maintaining power, and scoring political points against the other party at every opportunity. The Democratic leaders in the House and Senate did not want Clinton to work the Republican congress to pass anything - it would deprive them of campaign issues. Similarly, the right of the Republican Party was actually very frustrated with Gingrich's cooperation with Clinton, and insisted that he fight him every step of the way rather than compromise. And because so many congressional districts have been drawn in such a way as to eliminate competition, few congressman have any incentive to moderate their views.
I promise you will learn a great deal from this book and enjoy the experience.