Category Archives: Communication

Watership Down [Book Review]

A story about bunnies? It's interesting. Really.

A story about bunnies? It's interesting. Really.

Main Point: We spend our lives in a community of stories. And that is a good thing.

I remember picking up Richard Adams’ Watership Down years ago and quickly setting it down again: not interested in rabbit tales. But under the tutelage of Stanley Hauerwas’ A Community of Character (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981) I recently reread it and found myself fascinated by the role of story in shaping community. Hauerwas used Watership Down to help explore and articulate the role of narrative in social ethics.

 One of the recurring themes in Watership Down was that when security was absent (as is nearly always true for rabbits), stories told in the relative safety of their burrows helped them adjust to a new condition or even just regain courage when all seemed lost. These were stories of clever rabbits who outwitted enemies. The stories told among the rabbits helped solidify plans for the leaders even as they enthralled and soothed the rank and file.

This story about stories is not far from my own experience.  The ups and downs of life take on a fuller perspective over a lifetime of rereading David’s psalms. Hearing David and other psalmists talk about the very points I experience is both satisfying and courage-building. Especially when I see and hear the psalmist come out the other side of those troubles because of being rescued by God.

These are precisely the stories we need to tell each other today—especially in difficult economic times.  Especially in an uncertain world where danger seems to be all around.



The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton [Book Review]

artoftravel09032009Main Point: Travel is less about where you go and more about openness to new experience.

de Botton explores the grand sweep of travel by starting as a tourist in Barbados and ending as a pajama-iclad ”tourist” in his own bedroom in Hammersmith, England. Between those two extremes he touches on why we travel, what we hope to see, and what other well-traveled people have seen in their travels. As always, de Botton follows rabbit trails in his explanatory stories that end up as quite captivating bits of learning on their own right. His chapter on art showed how people considered the Scottish Highlands (or was it the English Lake district?) a kind of wasteland and generally avoided them. That is, until a few paintings and poems appeared and helped the public see what it was that was beautiful about them. Tourism then picked up. De Botton’s point was that often we need help seeing. And seeing things afresh is one of the primary reasons to travel.


What draws someone to busking?

I want to learn more about busking, but here’s one take on it. Here’s another: where busking and social media meet.

Check out the care this artist took for a drawing made of chalk. Windsor, Ontario: Chalk and Chocolate, July, 2009.

Careful artistry on a temporary surface.

Careful artistry on a temporary surface.

Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling [Book Review]

Main Point: Making culture is the work of every Christ-follower. Given that Christ is Lord over all things, He is also Lord over culture.

Andy Crouch says just thinking correctly is not enough. World-view seminars and focused attention on developing a transforming, over-arching vision of God’s Sovereignty over all things are good but don’t go far enough. What’s needed is locomotion to propel that vision out into the world—which is the work of making culture. Crouch makes a convincing point that the total work of our lives can go far toward populating our worlds with cultural artifacts—the very things God has gifted each of us to do. When thinking turns to culture making, an outward-focus vision with the capacity to mold culture is the result. Hiding from culture achieves nothing.

But what’s a cultural artifact? Anything we do that contributes to the culture around us. Our writing. Our painting. Our art. But that’s only the beginning. Whatever work we spend ourt days on becomes a point of contribution to Culture. And each cultural artifact arises out of that vision, whether consciously or unconsciously.

We need also to contribute to culture by making cultural artifacts that reflect the fact of God’s sovereign control over all things.

The chapter on vocation was interesting but felt deficient in that Crouch implied a great joy of effectiveness in the particular place we are to make culture. I’ve not found that to be the case. Then again,  I hope it will be the case.


Is Freelance Writing a Career?

Before you say “Yes. Of course!” (with proper righteous indignation), consider that a career seems to move a person toward increasing levels of responsibility, toward tasks that require more maturity, toward more money (one can dream). Pick any company and follow the career path of say…well…how about a communication specialist? The communication specialist will write, manage projects, take care of details. They do well, so they are promoted to communication manager. In that position, they do some of the same tasks, though in lesser quantities, plus they manage people. They do well and graduate to director. In that position they have no project work, write only memos and emails, sit in meetings discussing what they’re teams are doing, aren’t doing and should be doing. And so a career proceeds until stopped at the individual’s level of incompetence.


This management person who was (possibly) a writer is now not writing at all and is instead directing others who carry out communication tactics. To many that is a satisfying, perfectly reasonable trajectory. And even for those who write or love to create, they can find opportunities in those positions to use their creativity to positively influence others. I’ve known some creative folks who have risen to management positions and done very well at creating imaginative and loyal teams and organizations.


But for others, this career path represents gradual movement away from craft, and away from the heart of what made work fun in the first place. A career presupposes that new skills are developed even as vision widens, which lands a person in a different job. But that is not quite the case for freelance writers. They often entertain dreams of, well, writing. It’s what they want to do. And so a career path for a freelance writer is less about successive positions (especially since freelancing is by definition outside typical corporate structures with their fixed paths) and more about finding work and the work itself.


The work itself is the career path for a freelance writer. Where there is joy in completing the work, where there is curiosity about how communication tools can fit to new situations and how those tools can resolve substantial problems—those are the milestones on the freelance writer’s career path. And over time, the writer finds herself or himself accomplishing a set of tasks with maturity and grace (one can hope). And looking back, the craft that helped accomplish tasks and assignments will have the distinct look of a career.




What Does Bold Look Like?

Maybe it looks like standing up to a bully. Saturday’s StarTribune told of bullying at Oak View Middle School, and how many more kids who witness bullying want to do something about it than actually do something. The article didn’t say it, but surely speaking up–come what may–is an act of boldness. Saying truth boldly empowers others to speak up as well. Bold communication often begets bold communication—but not always.

Take the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, for example. His bold speech had him yelling into the crowds about God’s anger toward people who refused to listen and follow God. After he spoke, the priest, prophets and people seized him and demanded his death (Jeremiah 26:8).

Jeremiah had spoken boldly, carefully saying all God had for him to say. His message—God’s message—was not well-received. But that didn’t bother him, or at least so the reader would notice. In boldness, Jeremiah simply said what God had sent him to say, that they should turn away from not listening. And that they should turn toward following. He also said he would accept what they did to him because of his message. But—know this—that if they killed him for his message innocent blood would be on their hands.

In the case of bullying, if someone speaks up, their words can crystallize what others are thinking and others join in—especially when many say they wish to do something about it, like at Oak View Middle School. For Jeremiah, no one stepped in until they realized there may be a consequence to killing the messenger. That’s when the officials said, “Can we re-think this?” That’s when they suddenly remembered others had delivered the same message (Jer. 26:16ff) without dying.

But speaking up remains an act of boldness. Maybe others will be empowered and come to your rescue. Maybe not. Jeremiah as willing to be bold because he trusted the God behind the message. That’s what I want bold to look like in my life.

Racial Reconciliation Lunches

Check out my most recent article here.