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A Writer’s Guide to Online Etiquette

As a writer, doesn’t it really grill your beef when you comment on someone’s blog and they never reply? Recently, I stumbled upon a writer I find both challenging and insightful. She had begun a series of articles on her website that looked promising. The first piece read with passion and conviction, and though I did not agree with her conclusion entirely, I really appreciated the time she had obviously invested and the boldness she exhibited in taking such a stance on such a controversial matter. So I did what every Blogger would do: I commented on her article. I even hit that little button that asks if I want email notification of future comments. I was genuinely interested in dialogue with this writer.

After several days of not receiving an email with the news that she’d answered me, I returned to her site to find she has posted her second piece. ‘Okay,’ thought I, ‘maybe she legitimately hasn’t had time to respond, right? Give her a second chance.’ Additionally, I was genuinely interested in the progression of the ideas she’d established with the opening piece. So I did what every Reader would do: I read the next piece and, finding myself again appreciating her conviction and fire but not quite agreeing with her approach and resolution, I left a another comment.

Here it is necessary to say: I try very hard to be non-put-off-ish online. It is so, so easy to come across poorly when responding to someone else’s writing – especially online! So I worded my comments to this writer carefully in an effort to engage her and not come off as a random know-it-all who wanted to diss her on her own turf. And after several days of no email, again, I returned to her site to see if I’d missed a reply.

Nope.

This blog is not an attempt to shame the writer. You’ll notice I’ve been vague in describing the circumstances and the only thing I’ve revealed about the writer is that she can be defined as a “she.” This blog, rather, is a reminder to all of us that writing presents the great opportunity of networking, of meeting people who have connected at least on some level (even if they don’t agree) with your words, and – quite frankly – of promoting our work and our selves. I think of C.S. Lewis, one of my few heroes, who wrote (I seem to recall) that he spent the first hour of each day responding to letters from kids who’d read his Narnia series. I doubt many authors today spend much time responding to fans in this manner, but the internet provides a unique opportunity to involve with fans and critics quickly and easily. And while situations and personalities insist there are no steadfast rules on how to exist as a writer in today’s interweb world, I would suggest there are a few key ideas we should all consider when branding ourselves online.

  1. Be Politic. It is true that there are folks out there who will stalk your words and try to make you look bad –trolls, as it were. You are under no obligation to give them voice or to condone their behavior towards yourself or others. However, I’ve seen it happen many times where an individual is labeled a troll simply because he doesn’t agree with someone else and may be less articulate in expressing his views. Call a spade a spade, right? A troll is a troll is a spade is a spade. But don’t assume that someone who disagrees with you is a boogeyman out to ruin your online image.
  2. Be Engaging. Invite others to get involved in the conversation, whether it be individuals who read your writing or individuals who may want to write a response piece. These are good things. Encourage them.
  3. Be Engaged. When someone reads your piece and “likes” it or leaves a comment, respond. A “like” often comes from another writer who happened upon your blog because you’ve used similar tags as them or because they were searching for a piece on a certain topic. Encourage that. Follow their link and even if you cannot “like” anything they’ve written with honesty, you will at least have visited their site and it will encourage them to keep writing and to keep visiting your site. And if they leave a comment, for crying out loud, respond. No reader who wishes to dialogue with you should feel unwelcome (unless you can judicially ascertain him to be a troll). Choosing to ignore reader comments is a good way to stop traffic to your blog – and no, I will not be returning for the third article in the example writer’s series.
  4. Be Gentle. In Beta work, I use what many describe as the Oreo Approach, where the critique and suggestions are sandwiched between two layers of encouragement. When someone does something well in their writing, we need to encourage it. And if you can only find one good thing to say, offer it, give your critique, and then reiterate the praise. Almost every writer I’ve ever read has done at least one thing exceptionally well, if I’m willing to open myself up to their style and tone and habits (we all have writing habits, for better or for worse—mine are em-dashes, ellipses, and parentheses).
  5. Be Humble. Nobody has to read your writing. Nobody has to click a link to your site. Nobody has to share your work with friends and family. Nobody has to comment or like or return for future pieces. Nobody owes you anything. Appreciate each and every person who encourages your writing – whether by liking, linking, commenting…each piece builds your online presence, and that is not something you innately deserve. You are not the bee’s knees. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought.
  6. And finally, Be Confident. You may not be on the cover of “Amazing Bloggers USA” or anything (if you are, congrats—cause I’m pretty sure I just made that up), and you may not be “the bee’s knees.” Nonetheless, you are the only you on the interwebs (hopefully!). You are the only person alive with the perspective, the opinion, the word choice, and the conviction that you bring. Don’t be intimidated by bloggers who have ginormous followings. Just keep going. Keep being you.

Keep writing; keep reading; keep smiling!

Pax,

Sar

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Write Me

My perception of the world is shaped by one recurring idea:

We all desire to belong, to be known.

It looks different for each one of us, I’m sure, but time and again I see it play out in the most astonishing (and unexpected) ways. I stumbled upon it this morning at the coffee shop downtown.

I’ve marveled for months at the fellas I write about — how they seem to take a certain pride in the notion that I would want to write about them. Maybe they feel honored. Maybe they feel respected. I don’t know. At times, I am convinced they ham it up just to make it “more interesting” for me. And listen, they are about the funniest bunch I’ve ever met. I love their wit and random tales! But I always find it curious that they try so hard to give me something “good” to write. It’s almost as if they don’t realize that they are ridiculously memorable. It’s almost as if they don’t realize they are amazing men with amazing stories and amazing insight and amazing personalities. Or if they do know it, they have long stopped believing it. I think, in a sense, they are humbled by it (though you wouldn’t know it from listening each Saturday).

I met a couple this morning. It’s not the first time I’ve seen them, not the first time we’ve spoken, and certainly not the first time they’ve made it into my ink. We were introduced this morning, however, and I spent several minutes chatting with them and learning more about them, laughing together over the time their dog managed to get loose and ran into the cafe. As they were preparing to leave, the gal asked me if they had made it into the book — if they get their own chapter. It made me smile and offer assurance that there is, in fact, a place for them.

I don’t know why it surprised me, but it did. Suddenly everyone in the cafe seemed to be attentive to our dialogue, interested in the idea that someone was writing about strangers in a cafe.

And that is where I saw it: In the faces of people whose names I didn’t know but who were now anything but strangers to me, I saw a longing to be known, to be written about, to be remembered, to belong.

If we’re honest with ourselves, I suppose we all experience that yearning. Sometimes we call it legacy. Sometimes we call it belonging. Sometimes we call it remembrance. Sometimes we call it story. Sometimes we call it love. Always, it is a desire to not be forgotten after our bodies fail us. Always, it is a desire to belong with those we’ve shared moments with along our journey. Always, it is a hope that something about our lives, our words, our own individual journeys are worth being preserved — being remembered, being retold to future generations. It reminded me of a lyric from an old song by 4Him:

…and if the Bible had no closing page,

and still was being written to this day…

Oh, I want to be a man that you would write about.

Oh, a thousand years from now, that they would read about.

That is why, I suppose, as children we dream of doing great things. We read story books and imagine that we are the hero or heroin. We hear stories in history class of people who changed the world and we feel a sense of longing. We hear of atrocities and boldly claim that if we’d been there, we never would’ve silently allowed it to happen. We were created for this — for greatness, for changing the world, for making bold moves — all in the name of belonging. As we grow older, our spirits have a tendency to age, also — to become more “rational,” just as if we’d tasted the fruit ourselves and our eyes had been opened to everything that follows the loss of our innocence. It isn’t simply that we lose the purity of not knowing sin or pain or separation; it’s that we lose the reckless confidence and certainty of our identity as God’s beloved children. And so we grow old, and we stop believing that we can — or are meant to — change the world. We stop believing that ours is such an important piece of the puzzle. And we stop investing in one another, because we are too busy with “the real world,” like a 9 to 5, mowing the lawn, and balancing the checkbook.

And too often, we become so consumed with those things that we allow those we love to lay in rest before we even realize how deeply our souls belonged together. I’m not talking about eros — or at least not only eros. I’m also speaking of phileo… and agape. Whether your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, you friends, your neighbors, your teachers, your pastors… you belong with them, and they with you. When we fail to recognize it during a lifetime, the loss is tragic. We are left with regret for so many words left unsaid, or for not having spent more time together. When we do realize it during a lifetime, the loss is as my wise Wicket told me recently, “Oh my dear, I rejoice for my friend!”

I think about those men, that couple, and all the strangers visiting to celebrate their kids graduation from the University — that humbled longing in their eyes and in their tone and in their attention to “the Author,” and the humility shifted. How humbling that anyone — I mean it, anyone — would want me to write about their life. How humbling that anyone would entrust themselves to me, hoping to keep their stories — the ups and downs, the struggles and triumphs — alive. How humbling that anyone would use the words “the Author” to define me. How humbling to realize that when it comes to the written word, people still believe that having their name in print is recognition of having accomplished something in their lives, that it is something to be attained with pride. How humbling to know that they’re counting on me to do justice to their experiences and character.

As writers, we often feel as thought our writing is about our own accomplishment. And it is. We take pride in a story well written, because it is ridiculously grueling at times. It is ridiculously painful. We have to kill off words and sentences we may really, really love. We have to choose the most appropriate words and the most appropriate details. We have to determine what part of the story is the part that needs to be remembered. And so we own it. We take pride in finishing a project. When we do finish and we finally see our words in published print, it feels like the first day of Summer Vacation when we were kids. Writing is both gloriously high and gloriously low.

I forget.

I think most writers forget from time to time.

Preserving truths and heroes in print… is not just a way to help others; it is very much a means of affirming to another person — whether the reader of a novel or a man who drinks coffee every Saturday morning and is quoted up and down the margins of your journal — they are not alone; they are not the same as everybody else; they are important; they are worth being remembered or thought of; their piece of the puzzle is necessary; they belong.

You belong, friends. Don’t disbelieve the importance of your life story. Don’t disbelieve the irreplaceable nature of your journey. Don’t shrug off that feeling of destiny, because nobody else in all of creation is able to do the things you are able to do. You don’t have to be the greatest to leave a great legacy. You don’t have to be famous to belong with those who know and love you. If I had all the time in the world, I would write your story — each one of you.

And so with me… you belong. I affirm your story. I validate your legacy. I vow to you, I will preserve as much as I can of your life, because that is my story.

My belonging… is that you belong with me.

 

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The Christian Princess Culture & Books Every Christian Woman Should Read

The Christian Princess Culture*  & Books Every Christian Woman Should Read

It’s sad, but I feel obligated to begin this post with a few disclaimers:

  • Yes, Men and Women are different. Sometimes we struggle with different things;
  • Yes, a Daughter of a King is a Princess, and we should see ourselves as such;
  • No, we don’t only ever have to read books that deal immediately with Christianity and our Faith;
  • Yes, reading fiction can and does benefit us, and we should avoid texts that may undermine our Faith;
  • No, I’m not against Christian Romance;

Now, then.

Books are like pizza. Everyone has their own tastes—genres they enjoy, authors they respect and read easily, topics they find interesting or worthwhile. The idea that every Christian (or every Christian woman) should read the same books seems a bit cookie-cutter to me. Nevertheless, I think this is an important conversation for us to have this morning. Allow me to give you some pretext to the list.

As a general rule, I don’t read books upon recommendation because I am an exquisitely slow reader and I have a ridiculously low “keep my interest” threshold. A sad confession is that I have a great number of books in my library that I’ve started and bookmarked and forgotten somewhere along the way, and so I tend not to get involved with a book unless I can reasonably expect to finish it. Slow readers don’t have time to waste on books they aren’t interested in.

So why would I, having admitted my aversion to book recommendations, expect anyone to consider my own recommendations?

I don’t.

This blog is not about me recommending books to you. It’s not about hoping I can share some life-changing text with you. Books really are like pizza, and I would never tell you that pepperoni is better than a Hawaiian; I would never tell you that hand-tossed is better than deep dish; I would never tell you that red sauce is better than white sauce, or that homemade is better than the local pizzeria, or that square is better than round, or that six slices is better than eight (though it is, because you can actually get more pizza per slice, and who doesn’t want that? If you don’t want more pizza, why are you even reading this?). You are entitled to like and consume the pizza you like.

So what’s the point of this dialogue, if not to recommend books to you?

Rest assured, I will make some recommendations—but not because I think every Christian Woman needs to read all of the books I read.

I’m writing this today because I keep stumbling upon Pinterest lists of books every Christian Woman should read, and I keep finding myself lost somewhere between disappointment and insult. I know, I know—don’t get offended. I guess I will apologize to you now, but… I am offended.

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Listen, I get it: Sub-genres matter. There are books that appeal to women and not to men, and vice versa. There are books for children, books for pastors, books for musicians, books for engineers, books for chefs, books for lawyers, books for health care professionals, books for… seriously, the list could go on indefinitely. For every area of life, there is or can be a sub-genre. We are marketed to, you and me.

As Christians, I wonder why that doesn’t bother us just a little bit? Scripture tells us that there’s no difference between Believers. Remember? Neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free…? That doesn’t mean we are not individuals, but in terms of our Christian edification and identity, none of us are really that different from one another.

And so, you see, I’m weary. I’m weary of how little we expect of ourselves as Christian Women. I’m weary of being locked into a tiny square labeled “good Christian Woman.” I’m weary of the insinuation that Christian Women need (and want) a softer, fluffier, easier-to-handle type of literature than Christian Men. Social Media in the last few years seems bombarded with ideas and images about Christian Princesses and I think we take too gentle a meaning of it. We think of a Princess as wearing a fine, beautiful dress; of having a soft canopy bed and a unicorn; of being the desire of all the Princes; of being lovely and graceful. None of these are bad (except, I don’t know—not sure it’s necessary to have a canopy bed, but I’m holding fast to the unicorn idea).

Ladies, it’s time we stopped feeding into this narrative.

Every Christian Woman is in a daily struggle to know Christ, just like every Christian Man. Every Christian Woman desires to be made more into His likeness, just like every Christian Man. Every Christian Woman desires the fellowship of the Body, just like every Christian Man. Every Christian Woman deals with guilt and sin and forgiveness and grace, just like every Christian Man. Every Christian Woman longs after the heart of God, just like every Christian Man. And I daresay, every Christian Woman—every Christian Princess—has the responsibility and authority of bearing her Father’s name (just like Christian Men). Every Christian Woman needs to learn the things of her Father’s Kingdom and be devoted to it (just like Christian Men). Every Christian Woman needs to be prepared to “Reign with Christ,” (just like Christian Men). Every Christian Woman needs to find her identity in her King (just like every Christian Man).

Yet, more than 90% of the books listed on those other sites were specific to Women. I would suggest to you that if 90% of your books are geared toward a group that segregates from half of the Body of Believers, you might need to reevaluate your priorities.

Can we dare to believe that our hearts and minds and spirits are equal to Christian Men even in our intellects and reading habits? Different, yes; differently wired, differently focused; but equal.

What about these books?

Sure—this list betrays my own interests, and I do not claim that Every Christian should be reading the books I am reading. I only suggest that it’s time we—as Daughters of a King—start expecting more of ourselves and get a bit more involved in the deeper matters of His Kingdom. You may even be surprised at how much of the message toward the Body deals directly with matters that women tend to struggle with.

 

 

*To my knowledge, no one else has used this expression. Therefore, it is now Intellectual Property. Please reference back to my blog if you would like to continue the conversation using my words.

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Light A Candle

Those of you who follow me on the Facebook know that I encouraged my friends and family to light a candle this weekend in prayer for Christians in Egypt who have cancelled their Easter celebrations to mourn the lives lost in last Sunday’s attacks.

It’s funny how God is sometimes, isn’t it? I spent quite a bit of time searching last night for prayers and hymns I could use as a structured approach to praying for these Christians, but ended a bit frustrated with the lack thereof. And while I know there are verses that speak about how to pray for the persecuted Church — and while I know it is not merely a suggestion but the responsibility of Believers to pray for those enduring persecution for the sake of Christ — I have honestly always struggled with it. There are people I know who are intercessors… And there are people like me. I have to have a list, you know? That’s not to say that my prayer life is rigid. It certainly is not. I am actually quite engaged in my conversations with God, and they often take paths I could not have planned. But I start with a list, partly because there are people and situations I’ve committed to pray for and I don’t want to forget,  and partly because the structure helps me find my voice and hear God’s. It’s like playing the piano, right? Do you have to know how to read music or play scales in order to compose a piece? Of course not. But structure provides freedom.

And so I was on a mission to find a prayer or hymn that I could use as a starting point this weekend, but unfortunately I did not find what I was looking for. I was feeling a bit frustrated with that.

In my morning reading, I’ve gone back to Paul. Today, I read chapters 7 through 9 of Romans, which I always sort of struggle through because Paul is so… Well, that’s for another blog. Anyway, I was reading, and I stumbled onto a beautiful passage we are all familiar with: Romans 8:15-17.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

I’ve always read this and thought of how it relates me to God my Father. Being a daughter of a loving Father is a thing truly sacred to me. But this morning I read these words and realized the incredible bond it creates between us as Believers. We are not merely all sons and daughters; we are all sisters and brothers — a thing we often take for granted.

And just like THAT (I snapped my fingers just there for emphasis, just so you know), I found myself thinking about my family in the context of persecution. What if it was Joel? What if someone bombed his church while he was praying and Joel lost his life? How would I begin to comfort or pray for his wife? For his children? It reminded me of when my sister’s husband died, and how gut-wrenching it was to know how she grieved and not be able to learn her sorrow.

In those moments, the grief can be so heavy and so real and so suffocating. Our faith echoes deep in the corners of our spirits, “it is well with my soul,” but the trauma and emotion can be so overwhelming that many times we simply don’t know what to do with ourselves… we don’t know how to pray… we don’t know how to worship… we can find ourselves in a sort of spiritual shock where everything seems surreal.

The men and women of the Coptic Church who are in mourning this weekend are not just brothers and sisters in title; they are our brothers and sisters in spirit. Their persecution should break our hearts. We share the same Spirit with them.

And so it makes sense to me today. Perhaps I do need the structure at times. But perhaps structure and words don’t even matter right now. Perhaps the way to stand with our Coptic family is simply to grieve, to cry, to hold them as dear to our hearts as our closest brother or friend, to light that candle as a symbol to the world that there is no darkness on the face of this Earth or its spiritual realm that can prevail over the light of Christ we carry.

People wonder why I’m so in love with Christmas music, how I can listen to it year-round. I suppose it’s because the are songs like this one…

Light a candle

Light the dark

Light the world

Light a heart or two

Light a candle for me

I’ll light a candle for you

Join me, won’t you? Mourn with those who mourn this weekend. Light a candle for the Coptic Christians, our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, nieces and nephews, whose hearts are heavy. And if you do, hit me up with the hashtag #lightacandle

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Something More Sure

In my Bible reading, I always love coming back to Peter’s letters. They are not lengthy, and yet they are packed with words of wisdom, of love, of hope, of warning, of courage, and even a couple of mysteries. I absolutely love coming back to them.

The other day, I read this short passage.

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For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitness of his majesty.

17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”

18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…

2Peter 1:16-19, ESV

(emphasis my own)

Peter makes a great case here for his testimony (and that of the others). He says, ‘look, guys, I was there with Jesus; I saw it with my own eyes; I heard it with my own ears!’ Peter didn’t craft a story that would engage followers; he told of his own experiences and what he witnessed firsthand.

As a side note, what do you suppose that was like? If you had heard that voice Peter speaks of, would your first inclination be to say, “Wow! I heard the voice of God!” Mine wouldn’t. My first inclination, I think, would be more like, “Did that just happen?” And listen, Peter was a bit of a doubter himself. He struggled with proclaiming the truth he had witnessed. Remember, this is the man who denied knowing Christ–three times. Yet in spite of his doubt, Peter has now gotten to a point in his life where he is not ashamed to speak of the miraculous things he has been witness to in his experience with Jesus.

And so here we see Peter, giving us three proofs:

  1. We were there;
  2. We saw it with our own eyes;
  3. We heard it with our own ears.

And while I think it is bad form to question another person’s experience, Peter tells us there’s more.

“We have something more sure,” he writes. More sure than being present when Jesus was revealed as the beloved Son of the Father? More sure than seeing it with your eyes? More sure than hearing it with your ears? Yes, Peter says–more sure. What can possibly be more certain than these first-hand experiences?

The word of prophecy.

Now look, I am not about to tell you that something someone once called prophetic about your life is more trustworthy than your own experiences. If someone tells you they have a prophetic word for your life, I would encourage you to listen, then to carefully consider it with prayer, with study, and with the guidance of your pastor. Not everyone who speaks, speaks truth. But not everyone who speaks, speaks untruths, either. But Peter wasn’t talking about prophecy as something he could use as a trump card. He wasn’t going to “prophesy” something just for added weight to his testimony. He was speaking about the prophetic word about the Messiah, about who Jesus is.

I’ve been pondering this for a few days now in light of some things in my life and in the lives of those close to me. There are several things happening lately that have discouraged the hearts of those I love, leaving them with a sense that they’ve misunderstood God’s plans and purposes for their lives. I, myself, had a situation a couple of years back where I was certain I had understood God’s plan, and then I stumbled down a seemingly endless hill like Buttercup throwing herself after a Dread Pirate. I spent months wrestling with God, asking Him how I could have gotten things so wrong.

But this is exactly what Peter is telling us: Experiences can be mistaken and misunderstood and even disbelieved; we have something more certain–the Scriptures.

When life has thrown you for a loop and you find yourself questioning whether you’ve misheard God’s voice, remember the experiences–yes; but more, hold firmly to the prophetic word (the Scriptures), to the revelation of Jesus in the Bible. When your heart and your mind don’t know what’s what anymore, trust in who He says He is. He is more sure than any experience or feeling or inclination to which you can attest.

Pax,

Sarah

 

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