My Feedly Doth Overflow

In an interesting turn of events, though it may not be interesting to anyone but me, Christian Blogging has become commonplace. Krista linked to this page, on which she is featured, and I realized that blogs are very much a Thing now.

I know what you’re thinking. “Matthew, blogs are old. This isn’t news. Where the hell have you been?”

Let me take you back in time, dear reader, back when blogs were new. Back before WordPress existed. Back when the Internet began to show signs of what it would become when the Eternal September began, and when AOL and Compuserve and Prodigy became our means of seeing honest to god graphics and pictures and blink tags. I was online around 1998, and have been active in only the way someone from my generation can be, by which I mean we think of being on the Internet as something distinct from, say, breathing, or eating, or going to work. Mine is the last generation to grow up in the United States without the ubiquity of the Internet, when every office wasn’t necessarily connected, and you had to go out of your way to interact with others via the tubes that connect us.

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Starting a small group

Jonny Carter and I met in early December to discuss a small group he was starting. He had felt called for some time to start a group focused on taking an intellectual approach to the Bible and Christianity, and he wanted to create an environment where it was OK to ask big or even dangerous questions and approach them seriously and academically. Excited about the idea, I also began to share my own concept for a small group; I thought that if Jonny was starting one, maybe I could too. As I told him about what I was thinking of doing, he encouraged me greatly and urged me to pursue it.

Our first meeting is this Saturday.

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Welcome to the new Springfield Blogger’s Association

While the meetups have been happening for longer than I have known they existed (Steve mentioned last night that he had been attending them 6 years ago), the more formalized SGFBlogs is relatively new. Built last year by Sarah Jo Austin, it has served as a blogroll and central point of contact for bloggers in the greater Springfield area. We’ve come full-circle: those who wrote online began meeting in pubs, and those offline meetings are turning back into online connections.

What’s new is that Sarah is formalizing it a bit more. Tonight she presented us with a long list of duties she had been handling herself and, what with Mini Austin on the way, she is looking for help. There wasn’t even a moment of consideration: I really enjoy the community and I think it’s a good cause, so I have volunteered to handle web, email, and RSS stuff.

I’ve written before about my values. I want to write, and I want to be published, and ideally I’d make enough money doing all this to make it my full time job, but all of that is secondary to me. The overriding value for me is community. I’m an avowed introvert, but I love the Internet and the freedom it affords, and I like the nature of the relationships we forge through this magical thing.

The truth is, I don’t know anyone locally who is like me. I had a pretty screwed up youth, have developed a fairly specific taste in games and nerdery, and maintain a personality that befuddles most who know me well (including myself). Part of the teaching at church last Sunday was that we shouldn’t spend all our time around people who are just like us, but I don’t feel like I spend any time around people who are just like me.

Except when I’m online. If anyone from PAX is reading this, you know what I’m talking about 😛

The SGFBlogs community is pretty solid, though. They’re friendly, and nice, and we have a love of blogging in common. With some changes being made at the Association, that will become more pronounced as we become more exclusive. Not much more exclusive, but there will be some requirements for being part of the Association. Members will be expected to attend a couple of meetings a year, and will be expected to actually blog. I know that seems silly, but there are a lot of people signed up who don’t. There are some other stipulations, but the main emphasis of it all is to return focus to the community. That’s what we’re here for, and people who aren’t engaged in that aren’t part of it. That’s fine, it will just be a bit more formalized.

Are you a blogger in Springfield or the surrounding area? Check out SGFBlogs and feel free to comment here with any questions you might have. And if you have suggestions or thoughts, let me know! I’m kind of involved with it now, so they might expect me to bring something to the table eventually 😛

First encounter with the Springfield Blogger’s Association

Though I had visited the Springfield Blogger’s Association a couple of years ago with Ryan (it’s crazy to think that much time has passed!), I’ve never made it to another meeting. It seems like I’ve always got something going on Monday nights, or at least I’m exhausted from a hard Monday at work, but I went tonight. Since I no longer have class on Tuesday/Wednesday nights, I didn’t feel as pressured to have Monday night off, and with the topic of discussion this month being statistics and analytics, I thought I might have something to add to the conversation.

It was a great two and a half hours of talk about stats and the means to gather them, how traffic will affect site performance, different content management systems one might use, genealogy, and  food. Talking about it, not eating–we were at Patton Alley Pub, and while they have some great stuff, I settled for just a Bass and the good company.

I enjoyed finally meeting Sarah Jo and Teresa, who I’ve seen on Twitter and elsewhere in the last two years but never met in person, as well as some new people I hope to speak more with in the future such as Nigel. Looking forward to next month’s meeting and some new additions to my RSS feed!

Discovering my own fear of hugging

As I wrote this week’s series of posts about hugging, I realized that I have fallen back into that trap of fear and let it keep me from reaching out to others. I have withdrawn physically, afraid to bless others and afraid to let them reach out to me. This is most evident at our church, where I have yet to have any sort of physical contact with most anyone.

We’re still kind of new to the church (though now that I think about it, we’ve been there at least six months), but I feel like we have quickly been drawn into the core of the community, and for this I am truly grateful. We are regularly invited to social events, people greet us on Sunday morning, and we have hosted a number of different dinners and other gatherings at our home. We like the people and they seem to like us. Despite that, I have remained reserved.

I’m afraid of being inappropriate, of people misinterpreting my desire for physical contact, and of being rejected. Regardless, my fear undermines my relationships there, and I always feel as if there is this chasm between me and others, across which I am afraid to reach. I don’t feel like I have truly joined the community yet because of this fear.

I am the sort who confronts his fears, though, so I am going to do my best to rectify this. I want to be more open with people and to encourage them to be open with me. I want to dispel this fear, and to make sure nothing stands in the way of open and honest relationships between me and this family of believers. I want to remove the hypocrisy I see in my life and actions.

If there is anywhere I can be honest and vulnerable, it should be at church. Physical contact is hugely important for me, and avoiding it is like a poison within my spirit. I can’t keep sabotaging myself this way.

So, if I hug you on Sunday, you’ll know why. Feel free to come up and hug me too. And if you’re curious what this is all about, I encourage you to check out the beginning of this series and read through to find out where I’m coming from. Hugging is too important to be afraid of, or to leave undone. It is about time I take my own advice and just get over myself.

First Prayer Walk in GBPN

April and I have been taking a close look at the Springfield Vineyard church recently, and after having attended several Sunday morning services we wanted to learn more about the community. As such, we are attending various church events in a bid to meet people, and last night was the second of those attempts. Though April was sadly unable to join me, I met a number (10, to be exact) of other Vineyard-goers for a prayer walk around our neighbourhood.

I was particularly excited about this because it really is around our neighbourhood. Specifically, we prayed for the Grant Beach Park Neighbourhood, and Grant Beach Park is just outside our back door. It is not just a blessing to me that the Vineyard is serving the community in which I live, but I’m also really excited about [potentially] having the opportunity to join them in further service in the future. April and I, if you aren’t aware, are pretty introverted and quiet people, so we’re hesitant to just go out and meet our neighbours and be unilaterally active. Having a group we can join that is already doing these things is a lot easier.

The prayer walk was really good, but talking afterwards with everyone was even better. I feel like I may have potentially found the community I’ve been looking for for years, right here in my back yard. It’s startling to me and I keep waiting for the hammer to fall, for everything to fall through, but I can’t foresee that at this time. What’s more, when I have had glimpses of this sort of community, they were always in the context of college ministry, which is transient at best. People are in and out, and its ever-evolving nature means that what community can be established is quickly gone. It has to be continually rebuilt, relearned, and reshaped, and there is never enough time.

Most of the people at the Vineyard are here to stay though, and that gives me hope. The girl at whose house we met lives just a few blocks south of us, and another is moving in even closer. Opportunities abound, and I’m thrilled.

In addition to the communal aspects, the prayer walk was humbling as I found myself having a great deal of difficulty listening to God. I always have some trouble with this, but I can usually get to a quiet place, close my eyes, still my mind, and hear God speak. I can’t when walking, and the truth is that I won’t always have the luxury to get away physically. I need to learn how to separate myself from this world spiritually so I can hear God no matter the circumstances, and I think there are people at the Vineyard who can help me with that. The people I walked with seemed to have it down better than me, that’s for sure.

We’re out of town this weekend so we won’t be able to attend church, but next weekend we’ll be bringing food and helping cook at the Church Paintin’, which is something of a dedication of the new church building where a bunch of people will be painting the outside. The best way to get to know people is by serving them, and that’s what we’ll be doing in a couple of weeks. At that point, we’ll have done all the community-based things we can except attending small groups, which April might try (though she hasn’t said anything about it yet). Sadly, I won’t have time for small groups until after I graduate next spring, but I’m already pretty confident about this church. No final decision yet, but I’m pretty darned ready.

Great times tonight, and God’s sovereignty was foremost in my mind. God is good all the time, and all the time God is good. Hallelujah.

Twitter for Community News

Twitter is one of those all-or-nothing phenomena that come around once in a while, so I won’t assume that you necessarily know all about it. Though a lot of people have been talking about Twitter, there is still a sizable portion of the population who have no interaction with social networking or media, let alone this particular site, so let me briefly summarize its services.

Introduction to Twitter (skip if you feel so compelled)

Twitter is a one-to-many messaging service confined to 140 characters, the same length as text messages sent from cell phones. People can follow you without your approval (unlike Facebook and Myspace, which require you to accept their “friendship”), which is part of what makes Twitter so good for marketing and communication. It’s easy to connect and requires little maintenance, and when you post a message, it shows up on the page of all your followers.

By the way, I specifically use the word “follow” because that is what Twitter uses. On launch, I have heard that it originally used “friends,” but later changed that because, honestly, who are they kidding? We’re not friends on Twitter, we just follow each other’s updates.

Twitter Search for News

I’ve employed Twitter Search a couple of times in the past to find out what was going on with a particular event, and the instant feedback it provides from other people is really… interesting. I can’t go so far as to say that it is always helpful, though.

Sometimes it is helpful, like last week when I was getting storm updates on the six tornados that were in our area. I didn’t have a TV available, and Twitter is way more responsive and fast than the news websites. In fact, if you can find a local reporter (as I did), you can get updates straight from the source as they roll in. I have also used Twitter to find out about Google outages, mail interruptions, and other major issues.

There are two negative aspects to this, though.

Fact-checking

When you are seeing news updates as they happen, you’re really getting information that hasn’t been verified or clarified. A good example of this from last week was the Twitter message, “OTC closed for the day” from @donwyatt. A few minutes later, he posted a clarification that it wasn’t their main campus, but a different one. I saw this throughout the day where something dramatic would be posted, and then later clarified because things weren’t quite as they seemed. “Roof collapsed, students trapped inside,” is technically accurate, but portrays the situation as somewhat different than it might actually be. ((The roof did collapse, for instance, and I think three students suffered minor injuries, but the rest were fine.))

Moreover, it’s hard to believe everything you see. I wanted up-to-the-second facts about the tornados, but I had trouble trusting everything I was reading on Twitter. Most of these people weren’t professionals, and even for the ones who were, they were just repeating what other people were calling in to the news room. What good is the news if it’s not trustworthy?

Limited scope

I don’t consider my town “small,” per se. I’ve been in small towns, and Springfield with its population of around 170,000 isn’t them. That being said, throughout the storm yesterday, I could only find about 5 people writing online about the storm, and one was a weather service bot. What’s more, if the issue at hand isn’t a major one that affects a lot of people, you won’t find anything. Combining a relatively minor event (say, a single car accident) with a small population of updaters and you’re unlikely to see anything on Twitter.

The problem with relying on Twitter for news is that Twitter users are a very, very small portion of the population. What’s more, they represent a different demographic than most people. Those who use Twitter extensively are still early adopters, in my opinion. This isn’t a service that has gone mainstream the way Facebook or Myspace has. It is being used by a lot of companies, a lot of news agencies, and a lot of writers and nerds, but I’m pretty sure my nieces and their friends aren’t on Twitter.

This means that you’re only going to get a certain take on events, a certain perspective, and you are most certainly not going to hear everythin. Due to not having many people posting, not that much can be covered. A news agency receiving calls and then posting them is one thing, and that’s helpful, but it’s still just a small cross-section of the community.

Full of potential

All that being said, it really made me wonder what else we could be using Twitter for. I really wished my neighbours used it and we had an agreed-upon hash tag ((A hash tag is attached to Twitter messages about a particular topic. You make these up as you go. The idea is that this creates a unique tag for which people can search to make filtering Twitter and finding updates on a specific topic easier. The hash tag for Springfield is #SGF, the same as our airport.)) so I could find out what was happening at home while I was stuck at work. The potential for community connections and up-to-the-second information sharing is huge.

Neighbourhood watches, announcing events, traffic issues, etc… there’s so much this could be used for, and that’s because it is such a simple service. It is simple enough to be applied in a wide variety of areas, but that’s only if you can get a lot of people to sign on and work together. If not everyone is using the Springfield hash tag, I have no way of finding their messages about Springfield. Similarly, if none of my neighbours use Twitter, I can’t search from work to see what’s happening in my home community.

In Conclusion

I hope it catches on more, but in the end, I use Twitter because I enjoy it and find it helpful. I’m not ready to become an evangelist for the service, and I’m certainly not going to go door-to-door trying to get people to sign up.

And while I will keep using it for news, I also recognize that I need to go back the next day and find out what actually happened. Short messages like those employed by Twitter are often referred to as “alerts,” and that’s just what they are. They let me know something is going on, and maybe a bit about it, but that’s never the whole story. It’s helpful, but only as a pointer. We still need to follow that lead and find the truth.