Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Winning or Reconciling?

I was almost unable to write this article. Several weeks ago I found myself in a terrifying encounter with a law enforcement officer in Mississippi. The day before the incident I had conducted funeral services for my father-in-law who was a retired Mississippi law enforcement officer. While the family slept the following morning I gathered framed photographs of the recently deceased family patriarch to have them scanned by a local photography shop. As I arrived at the nearby strip mall where the shop was located I was greeted by a rain shower. Wanting to keep the photographs dry, I parked in front of the shop and asked a store employee to help me unload the photos. After we finished and I was in my car getting ready to pull off a police officer stopped next to me and informed me I couldn’t park there. After I told him I was leaving, the police officer began to lecture me about my parking. After quietly listening to his lecture I eventually offered to leave but only received more lecturing. I eventually asked the officer if I was being detained or free to leave, to which I got no initial response. Assumedly frustrated with my questions the officer got out of his car, slammed the door and began yelling at me. I began recording our encounter, asked for his name and badge number and eventually his supervisor. This seemed to enrage him. At this point I rolled up my windows, locked my doors and called 911 requesting assistance. While on the phone with the 911 operator the officer continued yelling at me while repeatedly banging on my car. Eventually the shift supervisor arrived, saw I was recording and helped the officer calm down. Thankfully I left the encounter with my life and only a $41 parking citation. After the fear subsided I became angry and became determined that the officer be held accountable for his behavior. I began reviewing my video recording, researching lawyers, and developing a media strategy to hold this officer and the police department accountable. Un/fortunately in the midst of my brainstorming I began to hear the pesky words of my Middle Eastern Mentor that are recorded in the 18th chapter of Matthew, encouraging his followers to first go to the offending person prior to lodging complaints in a wider forum. So I reluctantly stopped working on my complaint and wrote a personal letter to the officer expressing my willingness to enter a personal or mediated dialogue instead of proceeding with my complaint.  I am still waiting for a reply from the officer but I believe the choice to initially seek dialogue and understanding instead of filing an anger-filled complaint can be instructive for the ways we seek justice in our fractured and fallen world.
The words of my before mentioned mentor should be the moral foundation for the Church’s work of being the conscience and moral guide for movements and communities seeking justice through agitation, legislation, and/or deliberation. Unfortunately the church’s morality has too often focused on the politics of respectability that says if you are a member of certain communities, if you have a criminal record, if you don’t dress right, talk right, act right….you deserve what you get. I submit that the most valuable gifts faith communities can give to justice movements are spaces and resources for reconciliation instead of winning. This small but significant shift towards a reconciled community has profound consequences.
When the Biblical writers mentioned a world where lions and lambs peacefully coexist, I don’t think they believed that God would divinely turn lions in to vegetarians. Rather I believe the lion and lamb symbology represents a world where formerly oppressed and marginalized people live in true community with those responsible for their former oppression and marginalization. I believe the Church and all communities of faith are vital to ensuring our movement towards justice is aimed towards community, where scales are rebalanced, rather than producing a world filled with winners and losers. I am experienced enough to know that some people will misuse and take advantage of our choosing reconciliation and community over vengeance and winning. My Middle Eastern mentor also knew this but still consistently chose the path towards reconciliation and redemption; all the way to the cross. In the same way let us put on the mind and Spirit of Christ as we journey along life’s highway.

All Things To All People?

“For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, NRSV)
 While this section of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church focuses on his liberty from narrowly defined religious constraints, many individuals and congregations seem to have unconsciously repurposed his words as a blueprint of how to serve their local communities. This Swiss Army Knife approach to ministry often results in limited resources being spread too thin, high volunteer burnout and turnover rates, and a tendency to be mediocre at a myriad of tasks. These characteristics can leave individuals and groups feeling defeated as they try to stem the seemingly endless tide of need in their communities.

For a fresh way of looking at ministry, let us again turn to the words of Paul:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, NRSV)
Seeing themselves as part of the larger Body of Christ can give congregations the ability and permission to narrow their ministry focus to areas most compatible with their unique giftedness and passions. For example, congregations that serve communities with high rates of homelessness and limited affordable housing will probably focus more on providing access to basic necessities such as emergency housing, meals, and transportation. However, their congregational counterparts that serve communities where housing access is not a major issue, can expend their energy towards enacting public policies which address the root causes of homelessness.  These two congregations would periodically come together during joint worship services or convention annual gatherings and be reminded of and inform each other’s work. This periodic coming together of the larger Body, would also tamp down the temptation to take on the entirety of the housing crisis alone and enable a keener focus on answering God’s call to service in ways best suited to their unique context and capabilities.

What are the implications for you and your church? While the answer(s) are different for each us, we all can rest in the assurance that, through the power of the Spirit, our individual and collective answering God’s call to service is a vital piece of God’s redemptive plan. I encourage each of you to periodically pause, listen, and (re)discover how you can partner with God, other congregations, and community partners in ways that honor and leverage your uniqueness.

Called To Act

 Societal priorities are most clearly expressed during times of scarcity. Whether it’s war, famine, or national disaster, unexpected jolts to the system causes us to move past aspirational pretenses and rally around the things we truly value. A recent example of this is the hard choices that were made during our most recent series of snow storms and subfreezing temperatures. Which streets would be plowed? Which would be neglected? Can we afford to open more homeless shelters and warming stations? Can we afford not to?

Whether it was waiting for a snow plow to liberate you from your neighborhood or feeling a pang of sympathy or guilt while driving past a homeless person battling the bitter cold, most of us have thought “there has to be a better way.” Jesus’s words, as recorded in the Gospel of John, allude to this “better way” for which most of us intrinsically yearn.
 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”  (John 14:15-17)
From these words we can deduct two points. The first is that Jesus considered himself an Advocate (one who helps and/or comforts), hence his reference to the coming Holy Spirit as another Advocate. Secondly, we are all called to keep Jesus’s commandments in part by emulating his identifying with and acting on behalf of the marginalized, dispossessed, and oppressed among us. However, the cross reminds us that of the very real cost often required of those seeking to be like Jesus. Thankfully, Easter morning combined with the continued existence of Christ’s Church, vindicates Jesus’ worldview and gives us the faith to follow the way of the cross.

So what does Jesus’ call to advocacy look like in practical terms?  It can be as simple as assisting a neighbor with confusing paperwork, championing policies that help our Hypothermia guests obtain permanent housing, reforming the debt trap of Payday Lending, or restructuring society so student backpack feeding programs are no longer needed. Regardless of where you choose to start, remember that you are not alone. Organizations like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Bread for the World, and the Evangelical Immigration Table have a wealth of resources to help inform and empower your work, regardless of where you passion lies.

Throughout human history God has sent advocates to help implement God’s redemptive plan; the Prophets of old, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and now, you.

What Can We Do? The Problem of Modern Slavery

“How could this ever happen?” This or similar thoughts form when we come across old woodcuts or pictures depicting historical slavery. Sadly, the practice of slavery has yet to be relegated to the history books. According to the most recent Global Slavery Index, nearly 36 million enslaved people exist worldwide; resulting in $150 billion of illicit profits each year.

Greed combined with the lack of political will and/or resources in many countries, help create an environment where human traffickers openly operate with near impunity. However, organizations such as the International Justice Mission, have developed proven anti-human trafficking models that successfully rescue and restore victims while bringing the perpetrators of slavery to justice.

Earlier this week I traveled to Washington, D.C. and joined 250 other people from across the United States in meeting our members of Congress and their staff to voice our support for increased national funding for proven anti-trafficking efforts. Specifically, we asked our elected officials to support the Corker-Lee End Modern Slavery Act of 2015. The act would establish a non-profit grant making body that would over the next seven years seek to raise $1.5 billion (80% of this would come from foreign governments and the private sector) and produce a 50% reduction of modern slavery in targeted areas. Under the act, the U.S. would invest a total of $250 million into the fund via seven $36 million annual payments; equating to $1 each year for each enslaved person. While all the elected officials we met with denounced the scourge of human trafficking, they offered varying levels of support for increased U.S. spending on this issue.

When speaking to his contemporaries about the evils of the transatlantic slave trade, 19th Century abolitionists William Wilberforce is quoted as saying “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” The same is true for us today. As we decide how we will respond to the evil of modern slavery, let us remember the words of Jesus, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40) and act boldly on behalf of the millions of enslaved people around the world. Let us decide now what future generations will think of us as they examine how we responded to the slavery in our midst.

Specific ways you can help combat modern slavery:

Bethlehem and Jerusalem

Sunlight shinning down on Jesus’ empty tomb at the Church
of the Holy Sepulcher
After breakfast, we took a bus to the Church of the Nativity, which is built over the site traditionally held as Jesus’ birthplace. It was amazing to see people from all over the world that traveled so far to catch a glimpse of this sacred space.  Next we traveled to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which houses both Golgotha (crucifixion site) and the now empty tomb Jesus once laid in.  I expected visitors would be moving through the church in quite reverence, contemplating how the events that transpired here had so profoundly affected their lives; this was not the case.  The church was crowed, hot, and filled with people jostling each other to reach the narrow entrances to the historic and sacred sites. Initially, our group was consistently bypassed and pushed aside by others due to our hesitation in joining the fray.  However, after about 20 minutes of being stuck in the same place, most of us rolled up our sleeves, jumped in, and pushed our way to the sites while a few decided with wasn’t worth it and waited outside. During a discussion, later that day, one of my classmates likened our experiences in the church, to life.  Frustrated by seeing others get ahead of us, we sometime succumb to the pressures of the world and behave in less than honorable ways in order to keep up with everyone else.  A counter point to this is Jesus. His refusal to deviate from his beliefs and ideals resulted in ridicule, suffering, and eventually death.  However, his choices were eventually vindicated by both the resurrection and the miraculous birth and continuation of a Church that, at its best, helps inspire and move the world towards wholeness.

Inscription at Golgotha; crucifixion site

Guess American football is big in Jerusalem

On rooftop with Nazareth in the background

Everyone has to eat

Bell tower at the Church of the Nativity

Pilgrims waiting to enter site of Jesus’ birth

Scarred guard tower at wall separating the 
West Bank and Israel

Near namesakes of so many churches

Final Day of Digging

Pottery shards from the time of Abraham.
After living on an Israeli kibbutz for two weeks, we traveled south to begin a two and a half day visit of holy sites in Bethlehem and Jerusalem and also meet with individuals working to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Once in Jerusalem, we picked up an Israeli tour guide who helped us navigate our way to the Western Wall (remains of the Israelite Temple that was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.). Once there, we were able to write and leave prayers in the wall as part of the weekly Jewish Shabbat worship service.  Afterwards, we headed to Bethlehem for the night. Fortunately, there was room at the inn. 

Sleep quarters for a couple participating in the dig.

Carved rock that anchored doorpost of a temple or other 
important facility.
Me posing with Dr. Philippe Guillaume after our final dig.  
We quickly became jacks of all trades; digging trenches, 
clearing caves, and doing whatever else needed to be done.
Camel resting next to the gas station we 
stopped at on our way to Jerusalem  
Jezreel Valley slightly before sunrise. The sight we saw as we set up our worksites each morning. 

Members of the 2015 Jezreel Expedition, near the Spring of Jezreel 

Nazareth and Galilee

Taking a break in front of the Sea of Galilee

We stopped digging early, twice in the past week, so the group could spend the afternoon traveling to significant biblical and/or archeological sites in northern Israel.  First we visited Nazareth, home to the largest Arab population in Israel.  Most of the city residents are Christian but Nazareth is also home to a small but vibrant Muslim community. The focal point of our visit was the Church/ Basilica of the Annunciation, believed to be the site where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus.  Beneath the church is a small grotto that contains what many Christians believe is remains of Mary’s childhood home.  While there, we attended a portion of the mass/worship service, which was conducted entirely in Arabic.

Later in the week we journeyed to Galilee, to retrace some of Jesus’ steps as recorded in the Gospels.  On the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, we visited Tabgha, the traditionally accepted site where Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:13-21).  In Tabgha, we stopped by the Church of the Multiplication, which was built over an ancient mosaic of the fish and loaves next to a large rock.   A combination of location and local tradition has led biblical scholars to believe that Jesus stood on or near this rock while blessing the fish and loaves prior to the miraculous multiplication.  Leaving the church, we passed the Mount of Beatitudes where it is believed Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.  The natural amphitheater formed by the hills sloping to sea help give life to the image of Jesus speaking to and teaching the multitudes.  Finally, we stopped at a local beach and waded and/or swam in the Sea of Galilee. A few tried walking on the water but it didn’t go so well. While many of the other sites we visited where in approximate and sometimes disputed locations, there is widespread agreement that this is the same body of water where Jesus and his followers fished, taught, and retreated to for solace.

We’re getting close to the end of our Archeology adventure. Before we return to the U.S., we’ll spend a few days touring the Jerusalem area and immersing ourselves in the local culture. 

Stone in the Church of the Multiplication, marked with a fish and loaves mosaic by the early Christians to commemorate Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes.

Christ Icon at the Church of the Multiplication    
Coming ashore after a stroll in the Sea of Galilee

Panoramic view from the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Modern shepherd, wearing hoodie and backpack, leading his flock across a bridge.

Finding Our Stride

Neolithic flint blade found in excavation trench.
Over the past few days, we’ve become more acclimated to the local food, weather, and work routine.  Muscle soreness has decreased but joints, feeling neglected, are starting to voice their displeasure.  Despite the protests, most of us have been able to press on with slight pharmaceutical enhancements.  We continue to find pottery, tools, and artifacts from multiple time periods.  One of our more interesting finds has been what appears to be a Neolithic mud brick and stone wall partially coated with plaster.  In the afternoons we read the pottery from the previous day; deciding if it will be sent to specialist for further evaluation or reburied at the dig site at the end of the season.  The objects selected for reburial are the ancient equivalent of a Starbucks cup; plentiful and we’ve learned all we can from similar items.  Reburial preserves these more common pieces for use by future generations, who may have access to more sophisticated tools and methods.  On a lighter note, we may have material for the Indiana Jones reboot! While digging, a crop duster buzzed us several times and while clearing out a cave tomb, we found multiple cranky scorpions and a few skull fragments with geometrical patterns carved into them.  Next update will be about our visits to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee.
Ancient mortar used to grind grains and spices.

Pottery ready for evaluation by staff experts.
Entrance to the mountain tomb (The Scorpions’ Lair).

Hot, Tired, and Sore

Digging an excavation trench on the outskirts of the dig site.  
These trenches help probe the range of the living areas and
 help determine where future digs will occur. 
Mount Gilboa in the distant right. This is the area where Saul 
and Jonathan died according to 1 Samuel 31.
108 degrees today. Novelty of archeology starting to wear off.  This isn’t Indiana Jones! Our team unearthed pottery shards, flint blades and grinding stones from Neolithic and Bronze Ages; most of which were used by communities well before the time of Abraham.   Washed pottery in nearby Spring of Jezreel that has help sustain millions throughout history.  Let me know if you have any specific questions.

What our dig sight looked like before we cleared the weeds
and started digging.