Sunday, June 21, 2009

California bound

Well, I had a great time at PodCampOhio 09 yesterday. Now I'm packing my suitcase to head out to CA for two weeks. My 30 year high school reunion is in a week and then I head to Catalina for some good time with my family. Between now and next weekend, I'm hanging out with three of my girlfriends (from three different periods of my life). Can't wait.

I'll have my computer with me so I'll try to update as I can. See you all soon!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wasting time online = good business

Here's the question I get asked: How do you use social media to help your business grow?

Social media is so recent, who knows? On the other hand, an active online presence across all kinds of communication technologies is what enhances any online business. Being a person, not a business, is what it's all about these days. In other words, I think wasting a lot of time online as yourself is the key to helping your business grow devoted, repeat customers.

I've logged thousands and thousands of hours online since 1995, when I first dialed up to connect. I've written hundreds of thousands of words (maybe millions, but I lost count after ten). I've posted my heart, soul, thoughts, secrets (consequently, I have few), mistakes, regrets, questions, answers, help, insight, mistakenly-believed-to-be-insightful-at-the-time remarks, quips, jabs, passions, premature commitments, and the odd overstatement-passed-off-as-fact.

In that time, I've cultivated a vibrant online life that has resulted in more in-person meetings than most skeptics of the virtual world would guess (numerous retreats all over the country with online women friends, BBQs with out of state theological pals, meet ups for concerts, coffees and desserts, drop-ins from both a client and two friends moving from point A to point C and Cincinnati turned out to be point B). I've been invited to and spoken at a conference on the strength of a tweet (twitter). I've walked on a beach with a homeschooling mom and her kids when she heard I was in her neighborhood.

I've made local friends and networked myself into a social media community (recent!), I found fellow Obama campaigners through my online life, I discovered fantasy football and U2 fans and the important world of gay rights issues because I loved the movie "Brokeback Mountain." I've contributed to two books as a result of these passions: Get Up Off Your Knees (about U2) and Beyond Brokeback (about the movie's impact) based on posts I'd written. I wound up in a Scot McKnight book because I posted a lot to his blog. Currently I'm working on two projects: Divine Feminine Version of the Bible and a project called Wikiklesia that is focused on women in ministry. Online relationships made both of these happen.

I've made friends in foreign countries and have a strong following of homeschooling mothers in Australia and New Zealand (I will get there and use my business to pay for it, yes I will!).

When someone says to me that they don't have time for a virtual life, I think: I don't have time not to! My richest, most satisfying personal relationships hands-down have come through writing back and forth online. And even the less personal ones have been a rich source of insight, support, and challenge in ways I don't achieve in person. The power of the written word combined with the significance of self-selecting community has revolutionized relationships.

Still, my business is writing and this post is supposed to be about how social media adds value to business. And everything I said above falls into that category. I don't think there is anything you can do to get people to be interested in your business through a couple of tweets a day or a fan page on Facebook. Who cares? You have to start by being interested in other people. The only way to do that is to talk to them about what they care about. For hours. On end. Even when it has nothing to do with your business.

Brave Writer began because I wasted so much time talking to homeschoolers online. I got to know them, enjoyed them, asked them questions, shared my insights; we became friends. We talked about stupid stuff like favorite snack foods we hid from our children. But we also talked about best methods for tackling spelling.

I learned everything I needed to know about how to make a successful writing program by listening to moms tell me what frustrated them about writing and teaching it to their kids. I paid attention. Then I figured out how to meet that need. I ruminated, researched, tested, shared, gave away my ideas, helped moms with no compensation whatsoever. Slowly, I built a little credibility when my ideas worked.

I was lucky. I didn't have to earn money right away. But that first check for $25.00 told me everything I needed to know. I had no website, I had no business name. Yet my first online class in 2000 was full (25 families). And so was the next one, and every one after that for the first five years, even while I raised my prices to over $100.00 per family in that time. I started with my name, and I was known in homeschooling circles because I had spent so much time hanging out, chatting with homeschoolers.

I've hardly advertised (maybe 8 weeks of a banner ad once). Word of mouth, email lists, discussion forums, blogging, and now, the miracle of twitter have accounted for all my business. Simply being transparent, available, and frequently online has been the key to generating interest in Brave Writer. It helps that the mothers (and some fathers too!) I work with are incredibly generous with their ideas, support, issues and needs. We know each other. In some cases, I've worked with every student of a family with eight kids.

To me, the question isn't "How do I use social media to generate business?" but rather, "Who have I connected to today?" Jon used to say that I got paid to give compliments. There's some truth to that. We all need encouragement. If there is one thing I've learned online—most of us are looking for support and reinforcement in our primary commitments. Brave Writer exists to give moms the courage to follow through on their best intentions for writing and language arts, while nurturing their relationships with their kids. Brave Writer provides the resources and support to to get it done. I'm every homeschooling parent's biggest fan and cheerleader. I believe in my committed, devoted, amazing customer/parents. I enjoy them. I learn from them. I like hanging out with them.

To me, that's what it's all about.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

EcclectiCarrie on Marriage and Relationships

Carrie and I go waaaay back online, like to the dark ages before yahoo groups and bulletin boards. We've walked through so many deep waters together, we had to buy scuba suits to hang out. She and I haven't agreed on everything (understatement of the new millenia) yet her friendship (loyal as Paul Newman to Joanne Woodward) has been a challenging and nurturing one for me. She's also been through a few things and somehow, that seems to render any one of us a little more humble, self-aware and compassionate.

So her comments on marriage, health and relationships jumped out at me today (in italics):

I've been thinking about this discussion a lot today and I realized what my answer is. Should we reverence long term marriage? No. That doesn't sound healthy at all. We shouldn't reverence any marriage. What I do think we should do is support and encourage healthy relationships.

I like how you tackled the thorny term "reverence." Well done. When I think about the term, it really does seem that we are elevating the institution (something I criticize in my talk about Religionless Christianity) over the people within the institution.

People are meant to be relational. It's built into us. I don't think many of us can, or want to, escape the desire to belong in some way to another person or group of people: family, community, group of friends, etc. I know we flow in and out of those situation, but losing connections always comes at a cost, even when the relationship(s) has to be, or needs to be, over.

This is a really critical point. It's what drives us to work on our marriages, our relationships with our parents or children, even at times when they stop being within our reach, or good for us. Still, cashing in history shared with your family is an enormously costly choice, as any child of divorce can attest.

Because of the pain of letting go, I think most people hope for long term, committed relationships. In most human societies that includes the family unit and marriage. The history of marriage is probably fascinating, and full or wonderful and terrible things, but right now we'll just accept that it is the "gold standard" when it comes to a committed relationship (at least in modern, western society, which is pretty much all I know). When you add children in the mix, the legality of the institution, at least in theory (and I believe often in practice) does allow some form of safety net for children and mothers (and fathers, too, but usually mothers).

This is an excellent point. I was talking to a friend going through a painful divorce right now about how disillusioned I am about marriage. She quickly reminded me that right now, marriage is saving her. Having made the legal commitment, she is entitled to half of what they've built together over their 25+ years. If they hadn't married, she wouldn't have that legal leverage. In domestic violence literature, women are sometimes cautioned against "living with a man" simply because there is no protection legally should he turn violent or attempt to harm your assets. Marriage does provide (in a backwards kind of way) protection when you are getting out of a longterm relationship.

Maybe it's my E-extrovert personality, but a marriage is what I wanted, and I believe needed, to be content. It's what most people still want. We shouldn't revere it, because then we think the marriage is the only thing worth saving. The people involved become of secondary importance. What we do need is to help, encourage, respect, and support marriages and the people involved. When the relationship isn't healthy, we respect the people and then support them as they work through whatever has to happen.

This was my favorite paragraph.

I'm still a starry-eyed optimist sometimes. I know marriage can work, and that it's an incredible blessing. Working to get there is worth it. But faking it to pretend to be there isn't. I remember how painful that was.

I read once that marriages die two ways: the hot way (arguments, passionate make-up sessions, volatility and drama that eventually exhaust one or both partners) and the cold way (gradual distancing from each other with little connection over time that slowly moves the partners into their own self-protecting cells). Healthy marriages keep an empathic connection alive and avoid the pitfalls of hot and cold.

So no, marriages of any length should not be reverenced. The people involved should be supported and respected. The choice to be married should be respected, the choice not to be should be, too. Perhaps if we knew how to really incorporate our singles in this society, we'd have people who made better choices in relationships because they would already have relational support in community.

I totally agree with this. One interesting discovery of separation is how hard being single is, in this very married culture (particularly in the midwest). I'm not even all the way single, and yet I still feel it. Marriage is a badge of social respectability. Yet even last night, my son told me that one of his friends has parents who have already said they would divorce when their youngest child was finished with high school. This declaration was made when that child was 8 years old. For me, that's an example of thinking marriage itself is the thing, rather than the relationship.

Thanks Carrie.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Long term marriage.... Should we reverence it?

Jon and I are working through some of the deepest waters we've ever faced. I talked to him about whether or not to blog these journeys. He consented... nothing to hide, the motto. We got to talking about our situation - where we are today after about six months of separation (mixed up with some non-separation too). He made a bold statement that echoed something I had just written in an email to a fried: "I'm not impressed with longterm marriages." I blinked and responded, "Me either! I just told a friend that 60 years of marriage doesn't mean much to me, unless that marriage is healthy. I'm all about healthy first marriages or healthy second ones, healthy one year marriages or healthy 60 year ones. But length, by itself, doesn't impress me any more."

I remember last year someone announced on their facebook page that they'd celebrated 24 years of marriage. A commenter wrote: "Good for you, defying the odds." The moment I read it, I thought, "Don't ever let me stay married to beat odds." I don't care about statistics or the status quo or avoiding stigmas. I care about family health, which starts with a healthy marriage.

As Jon and I hashed through the muck, in that early tentative way you have to when separated, he made another startling comment. "I'm so glad divorce is 'no fault' in most of this country and that it's available to everyone. Divorce really may be the best chance for happiness and personal well-being for a lot of people. I wonder if more marriages need to confront their fears and face it down... or get one!" Then he said, "If we can't be happy together, I want us to be happy apart."

It was a moment for me. My parents are divorced. Divorce has loomed as the spectre to avoid in my adult life. Yet in that rigid fear of divorce, neither of us addressed in that radical, no-holds-barred way, the issues that kept our marriage handicapped. We're doing that now. And strangely, neither of us is afraid of divorce any more.

I want to close by sending a shout out to my courageous friends who have contended for healthy lives and have used divorce as the tool for getting there. I admire you.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Tiller, "Operation Rescue" and Bonhoeffer

The Tiller murder has caused the pro-choice movement to legitimately question what the label "pro-life" means. Meanwhile vocal pro-lifers are screaming: "That's not who we are!" But I wonder... because in a cold, calculating logic, killing abortionists makes a kind of sick sense if you believe that abortions kill innocent babies.

I've spent years next door to that kind of conviction and so did Jon... We explored the edges of what it meant to really believe that abortion was murder (similar to how I really believed people were going to hell and couldn't sit home comfortably in America while millions of Muslims were flashing Fastrak passes to hell). I mean, if babies are being killed in the womb through no choice of their own, isn't that... murder? Wouldn't killing an abortionist be "defense of an innocent life"?

Jon and I were active in Operation Rescue back in the late 80s and early 90s. Jon spent Easter weekend (1990) in jail along with 300 Christians for blockading an abortion clinic in downtown Los Angeles. I stood with picketers on the sidelines with a baby in a backpack and a toddler in a stroller. An angry pro-choice woman walked by me, pointed at Johannah in the pack, and said to a friend of hers (so I could hear her), "There's one that should have been aborted."

The protest that weekend was peaceful. Think of "sit-in" and you'll have the right idea. Hundreds of men and women sat down on the steps and across the front of the clinic, singing worship songs, mostly, and praying. We'd been instructed to not shout epithets or to engage in verbal battering or debate. The idea was to follow the lead of Ghandi or MLK Jr. Civil (meaning "with civility" in addition to "civic") disobedience meant we would not create violent conditions of any kind and would receive without retaliation any violence dished out against us.

The protesters were rounded up and arrested, of course. The police used num-chuks to wrench the arms of the OR participants behind their backs, for the cuffing. Jon had a strained wrist for years following.

I still remember going to court for the arraignment. Jon had been front and center on the cover of the Orange County Register with his arms raised in worship in front of a clinic. The court found him guilty of trespassing and let him off for time served (LA County jail for a weekend with 300 others who worshiped God over stale burritos).

The heyday of Operation Rescue resulted in little rescue. I mean, we heard about women who turned back from particular clinics. But that wouldn't have prevented them from seeking out other ones. Over time, the arrests led to longer record sheets and fathers in particular, who had families to feed (usually large ones created without birth control), found it harder and harder to risk their jobs (jail time especially created a tension between convictions and practicalities) in order to stop abortion.

Yet the zealously committed (the ones who really did to their very bones see abortion as the murder of an innocent child) couldn't bear that all this effort resulted in... well, nothing. No changes in legislation, no awakening in the culture, no real shift in values among those who professed to be pro-life (you'd be astonished how many pro-lifers have either had abortions or have paid for them secretly).

The first tentative conversations I heard about murdering abortionists happened over dinner at one of the Operation Rescue leader's homes. Jon and I sat among the large family of kids with our own growing one (there were at least 9 kids among us) and Jeff (staffer) said that clearly the movement needed to escalate. Passive resistance was not effective. There needed to be graphic symbols and social/shaming pressure on abortionists to make them give up their abortion practices. This is when picketing abortionist homes became popular (using those graphic signs of aborted fetuses). But Jeff went further. He said if that didn't work, he could understand the need to take this cause all the way to murder (though quickly added that he didn't yet feel led that way himself).

It was a breath-taking statement followed by breathtaking reality when we heard of the first abortionist murder not many months later. Jon and I were rocked back on our heels. The leadership in OR was quick to distance themselves saying they didn't approve of those tactics.... but really? One of our best friends, an avid pro-lifer and missionary, shared on the QT with us that he felt this act was justified, and used Bonhoeffer to defend the position.

From there, I began to hear the drip drip drip of private, quiet support for these heroes, regardless of how the publicity from the pro-life camp was framed for news media and pro-choicers. Behind the public statements of 'we condemn this activity' was a deeper sense of 'this is what it comes to when you follow Christ' and Bonhoeffer served the purpose of theological support very well.

During my thesis writing, I ran across numerous articles about Bonhoeffer and how he did or didn't relate to the pro-life movement and their choices to oppose what they see as immoral (as evil). Most scholars decried the Bonhoeffer connection (saying that those relying on his example hadn't really bothered to study his theology or to examine his historical context or even his role in the resistance!).

Since Bonhoeffer is my main theological squeeze, I thought I'd share a bit about what I learned and read as a way to off-set this erroneous connection between being "pro-life" in an act of civil disobedience, versus being pro-life in an act of "conspiring to overturn evil in a nation."

First of all, Bonhoeffer's mission to overthrow the Fuhrer was philosophically supported by the similar objectives of a concert of nations in the war effort. Bonhoeffer didn't act as a lone agent of justice, but rather cooperated with a consensus of justice-seeking governments, individuals and organizations bent on ending the evil plot of the Third Reich (a mission created by one individual leading a nation and abusing his power to coerce the extermination of entire races, as well as taking over sovereign nations through acts of war).

Though erroneously called "the culture wars," the debate about abortion is not a war! It isn't even war-like. The right to an abortion is rooted in respect for the individual's ability to exercise choice at the deepest level of personal conviction. The choice to have an abortion is not coerced by a tyrant, but is made within the privacy of an individual woman's heart, in concert with her beliefs, her physician's recommendations and her spiritual/ethical values. To prevent this "choice" is to coerce. Certainly the baby (or fetus - you choose) has no choice and is coerced into birth or death based on that choice (the crux of the debate is really - does the fetus/baby have rights? Not, is it a baby or is it alive?). Still, the question isn't about the abortionist. It's about what individuals believe about conception and pregnancy (which is nothing like the death camps of Nazi Germany!).

Whether or not you agree with abortion, and even if you see the fetus as a baby from conception, abortions are not required of any woman and therefore, it is within the context of freedom that she makes that decision (even if it disagrees with your point of view).

Hitler's Germany coerced Jews to be exterminated, required ordinary citizens to participate in their executions and eliminated the possibility of difference of opinion on the topic of the "Jewish question." There is nothing even remotely similar about the conditions in Germany versus the conditions related to the abortion debate in America today.

Secondly, the enemy in World War 2 was a specific target with tyrannical power. Bonhoeffer didn't get a gun and stalk concentration camp guards. His participation in the assassination plot had to do with cutting off the source of power, not merely targeting local neighbors caught in the program of destruction. Killing prison guards would not have resulted in the end of the war or the death camps.

Killing abortionists is like killing a prison camp guard. It doesn't actually eliminate what a pro-life person sees as evil. It may stop abortions that day, but it doesn't change the nature of the laws, or address the reasons that abortion exists. To identify with Bonhoeffer's theological convictions means to wrestle through the complexity of what the topic is, rather than glossing over differences and justifying the murder of individuals acting in freedom.

For the record, I am pro-life. That does mean all life: including the lives of doctors who provide abortions as well as the young women who are overcome with the deepest of agony in making such a difficult decision as well as the babies (that's what I call them) in utero. Bonhoeffer's admonition to future generations was to wrestle through the ethical dilemmas of our time and to take full responsibility for our actions in shaping history. Killing a few abortionists over a thirty year period has more in common with vigilante justice than deeply explored ethical dilemmas and risk taking action for the common good.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The path to authenticity

is paved with lies, betrayals and broken hearts. Harsh words, but I'm not even talking about the people who do that stuff to us. I'm talking about the lying, betraying and breaking of hearts we do to ourselves. It seems like an inordinate number of my friends are in relationship crisis right now (like attracts like), so I'm thinking about what it means to be healthy, authentic, rightside up in all of our lives.

Awhile back I realized that I spent a good deal of my time lying. Oh, I'm not the kind of person who would lie about something like, "Did you leave the milk out to spoil?" I'd say, "Why yes I did. Sorry." I'm talking about this other kind of lying where a person you're afraid of says, "I expect this of you" and you go along with it, not because you want to or believe in it, but to appease that person, to stay on someone's good side. I'm talking about lies like, "I"m happy for you" when really, your heart is being ripped into tiny pieces and you're pretending to be brave when you really want to put dead rabbits in their mail boxes. I mean the lies where you protect or hide part of yourself chronically, secretly.

When you get into the habit of lying, you even start to believe you're telling the truth. You convince yourself that you do want to be inconvenienced, that you're a generous person offering care and support (not that you're a weak person who has no boundaries). It gets even more complicated when you mix in some positive results. You compromise on one issue (because all relationships require compromise, so we're told) and believe you did it out of sincerity and a desire to be loving, when in fact you were hoping to buy some kind of "free from abuse" pass instead.

Compromise birthed from a desire to avoid being punished is not love. It's not even compromise - it's capitulation. Love, in healthy relationships, is genuinely recognizing someone else's needs/likes/habits/desires are different from yours, and that you can celebrate and support those choices, even while possibly not embracing them for yourself. Love is not giving up what you need or violating your conscience or hiding your true self as a way to keep the peace, to paper over differences, to keep the sex good, to preserve the intact family, to avoid ruining your public reputation, to outrun criticism.

Authenticity has such a ring to it, though, doesn't it? Like, who doesn't want to be known as "authentic" or "genuine"? Still, it takes a lot of work once you're in a relationship to preserve your "self." I remember Mira Kirschenbaum wrote that you live a lifestyle, not a relationship. The relationship is a support to a life, not the other way around. When you find that your lifestyle, your life's investments and interests, your values and aspirations, your habits and intentions don't match up to your mate's, the strain to the relationship can be profound.

In a healthy space, those differences are not up for negotiation. They need to be looked at squarely, then taken seriously. If you have a significant overlap in basic outlook and lifestyle, the finer points can be negotiated from the point of view of how to help your mate get what he or she wants out of life even if it isn't what you want. That can't happen if one is a controller, or if what you love/like fundamentally clashes with the value/belief system of the other person.

What I notice in me is that relational peace has been such a driving concern of my life, I've not known where I begin and end. My yearning to extend grace (believing it would be reciprocally extended to me) has led me into lying to myself, betraying some of my deepest felt convictions, and even to heartbreak (not attending to myself well enough for the sake of what I thought was love). I'm noticing even in my friends going through this same kind of sifting... authenticity at first looks like showing up in your own life. Then you can begin the hard work of saying what it is you need and want because you start to know what that is. Expressing that to a partner after years of "going along" takes so much time. It can't be worked out in a few weeks or conversations or therapy sessions. Sometimes it can't be worked out. But it has to happen in order for love to be real.

It's hard to know what you really want when coming out of the fog of appeasement. It seems to me that the first tentative steps to authenticity sound more like: "Not that, not that, not that..."