Better Questions for Bishop Elections

In my denomination, ELCA Lutheran, the months of May and June include conventions called synod assemblies. Each year a portion of those assemblies include elections of bishops. In 2019, there will be approximately 20 elections across the 65 ELCA synods. Those elections process include questions prepared for the candidates open to serve as a synod bishop. I’ve been watching these questions for several years now, and noticed the similarity as well as the naivety of the Q and A process. This year several organizations with specifically issue oriented focus publicly issued statements that included their own suggestions for questions. As is often the case, these kinds of questions tell us about the one posing the question. As I’ve worked in this call as a bishop for nearly seven years, I’ve now realized that all the questions asked have nothing to do with the actual work one does in this office. Therefore, I came up with my own list of ten questions. In my opinion, these questions more accurately capture the real work of a bishop. (Please note, I’m under no illusion that these will nor should become a part of any synod’s election process. My intention is to try to help people get a more accurate view of what a bishop does, and the qualities he or she must possess to tackle this call)

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Questions for Bishop Elections

1.    Given the fact that an incoming bishop faces multiple constituencies, all pulling for his or her time and energy, how will you choose and prioritize your work knowing that no matter what you choose, you will disappoint some or even many?

2.    Do you like to travel? Do you like meetings? Do you like sitting for long periods of time?

3.    Since all bishops are expected to enter into this office with a vision or plan that will cure the 40-year decline in worship attendance and financial support, how will you handle this expectation when you realize what you are up against?

4.    Do you like conflict? Between people, organizations, factions. Both the petty kind and the significant.

5.    As a bishop, you will use maybe 30% of what you learned while serving as a pastor in this office.  How will you discover the other 70% you need to know?

6.    Where do you get your identity and purpose for life?

7.    Do you know how to take care of yourself? Eat well, exercise, and brush your teeth?  If not, how do you expect to make it through your first term?

8.    Do you like to ask people for money?

9.    How will you handle the fact that some of the friends you now have as colleagues in this synod will soon or someday become the people that seek to undermine you?  In other words, what's your plan for dealing with sabotage?

10.  Someone once said this office is the most rewarding and most challenging call in the church, while another said, it is just relentless.  In light of those statements, how is your stamina?

All the Jobs I’ve Had (and the ones I didn't get) Have Helped me to this Day

All the Jobs I've had through the years, as well as the ones I didn't get, have contributed to my work. I currently serve as bishop of the New England Synod.  Serving as a bishop is a job and a calling that involves conflict management, human resources personnel work, leading meetings, determining direction of an organization, understanding a foundational level of financial budgets, staff supervision, from time to time an opportunity to pray with people and an occasional scheduled or spontaneous engagement in public speaking.  I have often said I do three things. They are a) provide clarity, b) say thank you and c) cause trouble.  The key is knowing when to apply the right tool.

What Jobs have you had?

What Jobs have you had?

What prepared me for this work?  Academic Education, books, conferences, webinars?  Maybe some, but in reality, the following jobs made me for this work.

Assistant for Maintenance – In the summer of 1973, my Junior High School principal offered me a job. Five days a week, 8:30m a.m. till 3:30 p.m.  I rode my bike each and when I showed up he assigned me a job.  The tasks ranged from cleaning windows, painting desks, washing out classrooms, sanding down handrails.  In other words, I did chores that needed to be done but were below the work of the full-time custodian/maintenance guy.  What I learned from this job was the value of work. What I most recall from this summer some 45 years later is that I rode my bike every day to work, and at the age of 13, I discovered freedom and independence.  I also learned how to navigate rush hour traffic.

Ice Scream Scooper for 31 Flavors aka Baskin Robbins – For about one year I worked after school at this store.  The owners of the franchise were two couples who were related to each other.  Two things stand out from this experience. The first involves an attempt by a customer to trick me out of the change I was giving him.  This was a common petty crime in which someone would buy a small item, give you a ten dollar bill, talk a great deal to distract you, and then insist that he gave you a 20 and want the change. I figured the character out quickly and told him he could leave the store.  The other story involves the owners.  When I got hired, the owners issued two uniform shirts, and they deducted $3.75 from your first four paychecks.  If you kept the shirts in good condition, you would be refunded the total of 4 x $3.75 = $15.  When I left that job, the owners insisted that the amount was $10.  I had kept all my pay stubs in a drawer at home, so I went and was able to find my first, second, and fourth pay stub.  Each was showing the $3.75, but I couldn't find the third stub.  When I brought the three pay stubs to demonstrate that they owed me the total of $15 for the good condition returned shirts, the owner said, "Nope, sorry, it was ten dollars, and that missing stub would show it."   I learned a lot about human nature, the power of pettiness, and greed.  Mostly I learned how not to treat employees.  I also discovered that my favorite flavor is Mocha Almond Fudge.

Insurance Document Courier – While in college, my friend Roger worked for an Insurance company. His job was to manage its fleet of company-owned cars.  These were big long Oldsmobile, Lincoln, and Cadillacs.  He needed someone to help, but mostly it turned out that what the company needed was a delivery driver.  This was at a time before email and fax machines. My job was to drive all over Los Angeles to pick and deliver documents for this insurance agency.  Think Uber driver of paper, not people.  What did I learn from this job?  One thing, one crucial thing.  Namely, the most important people for any company are the secretarial support staff.  They do all the real work, and if you treat them well, everything goes much smoother.

A & R Rep for CBS Records – This is a job I did not get.  My interview was so bizarre as to involve myself and the other candidate sitting in an office on Wilshire Blvd with a bunch of obnoxious young executives listening to a horrible song.   They claimed this song would be the next big hit.  They also discussed all of the "side benefits" of working in the entertainment industry.  I left that office and thought I'd been in the midst of the most childish group of adults ever.  They never called me back, and it was the best job I didn't get.  I drove back to my summer job as a camp counselor, where I enjoyed working with children who behaved more like adults.  Looking back, I realize this was a transitional moment in my young adult life.  I also learned that sometimes it. Might be proper not to get the job.

Youth Director – All Saint's Lutheran Church was looking for a youth director, and I applied during my first semester of seminary.  The congregation's pastor gave me the freedom to experiment, challenge the suburban culture of comfort, and express my complex theological ideas.  I worked there for two years.  It was my first real exposure to congregational life.  I saw the best and the worst of people. After two years, I was convinced that being a pastor was the last thing I should do with my life.   Two years later, I was ordained and called to serve my first congregation in Brooklyn.  My All Saint's experience taught me the first step in the Journey is the Refusal of the Call…and it's just that, the first step.

Reflections on a Social Media Lenten Fast

Back from the Social Media Lenten Fast

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 It began as an experiment for the season of Lent.  I could sense my growing agitation with Twitter and Facebook.  I had a friend who practiced a Lenten Fast of various technologies throughout the years.  One year he left all television watching, another year he washed dishes by hand instead of the automatic dishwasher.  The purpose was to learn something.  He wasn't particularly religious in his approach. Instead, it was an attempt to see what would shift in his mind.

Then I came across Cal Newport's new book, Digital Minimalism.  He described the intentional manipulation of users of the various Social Media tools, especially Facebook.  In particular, Newport points to the fundamental shift that occurred when Facebook introduced the "Like" button.  What the company discovered was a dramatic increase in screen time.  People were staying on Facebook longer or returning more frequently because they were curious about how many "likes" they received.  Similar to the pavlovian response of mice, we users were being lured into a little drip of dopamine. This feel-good chemical reaction leads all of us to stay on the platform longer and longer times. 

Then it hit me.  Lent is the perfect time for a Fast.  For six weeks I would leave Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  I removed these three social media tools from my iPhone and the links from my laptop browser.

Today, I make the return, but my use will be different.  Here’s a summary of what I learned and how I’ll use these tools going forward.

First, I realized that going Cold Turkey was right for me.  I need a purge, a sort of cleansing.  If I'd attempted some gradual decrease, I don't think I would have noticed any change.

The second discovery centered around the amount of time I had been spending on these social media platforms.  The latest iPhone operating system has a clock that indicates how much time you are spending on your phone.  Here’s how to see what you are doing. What I quickly discovered is that in my first week of my fast, I gained close to two and a half hours.  That’s a stunning revelation. 2.5 hours of my day, was spent on my phone.  Now to be clear, it wasn’t just Facebook & Twitter. I had also removed all of my News Apps, which I had been compulsively checking.  You think, “oh, I’ll just check a few headlines for just a minute.” But, next thing you know, a half hour disappeared from my life.    

In the six weeks of this Social media and other app use Fast for Lent, I figure I gained 105 hours or close to four and a half days.  Yikes! That's a frightening number, and I now realize the claws this thing has in me.  Learning about all this lost time has a significant impact on how I will use my phone going forward, which I'll describe below.

Third, my angst has declined.  Yes, my overall anxiety about life, work, and the world is reduced.  Twitter, in particular, has a way of getting me all tied up in knots.  Partly, that's my fault since I have used it in the past as a venting tool about the state of US American politics.  When you vent online people respond to those provocations with their own equally hostile posts.  But, even beyond that, I find I'm generally more focused on what I believe, what I can control and not control, and generally more at peace with myself. Don't misread this section.  I'm still incredibly frustrated with the state of US American politics, the attacks on constitutional principles and the coarseness of rhetoric particularly by this current occupant of the White House.

So where am I going with my online life?  Here are three changes.

1.    I'll return to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter but my use will be different.  I'll post less frequently, and only from my computer.

2.    The apps are staying off my phone permanently.  I'm turning my phone back into its original purpose: Telephone calls, texting and an iPod for listening to Music, Podcasts and Audio Books. 

3.    I plan to write longer form articles.  I will post these writings on my website, instead of 240 characters or just sharing something written by someone else.  I'll provide links to these blog posts and articles on Social Media.  The goal is to be substantive.

The overall goal here is to use these social media tools, rather than be used by them.  

 

 

Bicycling toward Minimalism

"You are riding to Ohio?  On a bicycle?"  My dentist was almost speechless.  Reversing the typical pattern was fun.  We all know what it's like trying to answer questions while in the reclining chair.

The plan was simple.  Meet my friend Kurt, pack up a tent, a sleeping bag, a change of clothes, an extra inner tube and ride.  He was riding to Minnesota, so I’d join him for the first part.  It was roughly 700 miles from New England to my son’s house in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

I’d done this kind of thing before, but I was sixteen for that ride across the Canadian Rockies.  Now, at 57, and off a bicycle for 25 years, this was going to be different.  But, I was up for the challenge.  I spent a year training, both at the gym, as well as on the roads of my home state in Rhode Island.

I didn’t know it at the time, but these would be the early steps of my introduction to minimalism.

For ten days, we road roughly 70 miles per day, most of it along the Erie Canal Bike Path until it dropped us at the edge of Niagara Falls, where we picked up the roads heading west.  We camped almost every night, except for a hotel stay during a severe thunder and lightning storm.  The days and nights developed into a rhythm that consisted of the basics – riding, eating, and sleeping.  And there was a freedom to the simplicity.  I found there was no time to think about work, no desire to check my Twitter feed, no distractions from the simple push on the pedals.

Six months later I stumbled onto the word, the movement, a book and then a movie.  Minimalism.  Motivated to rediscover what is life when we strip all the crap out of it, my wife and I are on a journey toward simplicity.

Spring-cleaning this year allowed me to let go of half my clothes, shelves of books, and a purge of little used tools.  Next came a garage sale, a commitment to pay off our debts, I even parted with my motorcycle.  Some people felt sorry for me, but with each letting go, I was finding I had less weight around me.  Others were jealous, "how do you do it, I can't let go."

As summer rolls around, I'm outside more on my bike. The simplicity of the machine motivates me.  There are two wheels, hung on a frame, connected by a chain, and powered by me. Rides are not exercising routines, though they are that, they are moving meditations.  There is the rhythm of the breathing, the consistent cadence of rotations, even the interruptions of gears shifting and clanging - again the freedom of simplicity. 

Like many in our consumer-driven culture, I live in the wilderness of temptation constantly.  The acquisition bug is my constant companion.  It even infects my two-wheeled vehicle of simplicity. Magazines and websites to consider another purchase - a new helmet, a new jersey, a new bike, lure me.  I succumb from time to time, but what is different now is an enjoyment of the wrestling match.  In the past, I would buy it. Think about how to pay for it later. Now, the questions of need versus want, thrill versus value, instant gratification versus long term goals.  I look at things differently now.  The internal dialogue is rooted in something more profound, namely a desire to be focused, attentive and grounded.

Oh, I'm no monk, no stoic guru.  I've got my epicurean indulgences, which focus around fruits and vegetables, an excellent grilled salmon and a glass of Chardonnay. But, cooking and meal preparation is replacing the nearby Oyster Bar.  And yes, I'm still a lover of books, but our state library system is a delight and quite the budget help.  Then there is an afternoon espresso, this cyclist's main raison d’etre.  These indulgences now have more value, rather than mindless activities of consumption.

At a younger more idealistic age, I held philosophy of living on less for the good of the planet, but that's all it was - a philosophy. Now, for the first time in my adult life, I'm finally finding an integration of my values and my lifestyle. As I move along this journey of minimalism, it is the beginning of syncing up the ideal and the real that is most satisfying.  I'm finally starting to be the person I've always wanted to be, someone with integrity.

It’s this discovery that provides the greatest reward, and the bicycle is the tool to get me there.

 (Reposted from June 24, 2017)

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The Experience of Writing a Book while Fasting

One of the best decision I made last month was to take a leave of absence from Social Media. This Lenten fast has been the diet I’ve needed, especially since I’m trying to write book. According to my screen time report from my iPhone, I’ve picked up just under 2 hours a day. Most of this time has gone to more productive activities including getting up early to write for one hour a day. The key to this Social Media fast (aka not just no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, but also I removed the apps of various news sources as well) is replacing the time with substantive activities. In addition to writing, I’m now outside more either hiking of biking, plus I’m intentionally reaching out to friends for some face to face time.

The book is coming along slowly, and I’m grateful to all who have made contributions. I received over 116 stories of everyday spirituality. Thank you. The book has chapters with one word titles. Breath, Work, Less, Laugh. They are short chapters and the book when finished will be a quick read, maybe 100 pages. It’s intended to help the average Jill, Joe or Julio discover a deeper truth about everyday life, namely, it’s spiritual. I’m toying with a subtitle of “27 Things you already do that make you the Saint you didn’t want to be.” Clearly, I’ve got work to do.

I’ve finished the first draft and am now in the first round of editing, which essentially means rewriting all the mess of the first draft. It’s a slog. There are days I think it’s worthwhile book, and there are days I’m just completely embarrassed by my work. But, I’m committed so I’ll push on.

Soon, I’ll be announcing an invitation for people who would like to be a part of a launch team. You’ll get a free digital copy of the book and some goodies. I’ll also be asking for input on early drafts of chapters. If this interests you, I can add you to an email list when it all happens. You can email me at Bishop @ NESynod.org

Response to the Trustworthy Servants Draft Document

On March 8, 2019 I sent a communication which included several actions of the Conference of Bishops, including a proposed document "Trustworthy Servants of the People of God." (My initial communication can be viewed here.) 

The Conference of Bishops affirmed this document (Trustworthy Servants...) as a timely replacement and a faithful expression of our calling to serve as Rostered Ministers in this church.  That document can be found here.  

The document is currently in draftform as it goes to the ELCA Church Council for review and possible action.  Until yesterday, March 18, synodical bishops were asked to receive feedback from Rostered Ministers and Layperson in their synods.  Bishops were then to forward that feedback to the Chair of the Conference of Bishops so that a summary report may be submitted to the ELCA Church Council.  

Here is a summary of the feedback I have received:

Findings

I received 27 emails regarding this document: 

·      4 from lay persons

·      17 from pastors

·      2 from deacons

·      2 from individuals in candidacy 

·      2 others who did not identify themselves.  

An additional email was a report from a group conversation.  I also had 3 telephone conversations and 1 individual who left a lengthy voice message.  This totals of 32 points of contact.  

As a reference of comparison........

·      In January my letter regarding “The Wall and the Government Shutdown” received 6 responses.

·      My February request for input regarding “Everyday Spirituality” received 101 responses from laypersons and 6 from rostered leaders during an initial ten-day period.  

Feedback

The feedback I have received can be summarized into three categories. Affirmations, Suggestions, and Criticisms as follows:

Affirmations

1.     The majority of respondents indicated general support of the document while offering suggestions for improvement (see below).   The areas which received the most affirmation was the section on self-care, the part on attending to one's health and fitness as well as the area of personal financial management.

2.     There was support for replacing the older document titled "Visions and Expectations" which was viewed by respondents as "outdated", "having a history of misuse", and "so long no one read it, or only read the sections on sexual conduct."

3.     Six persons articulated an appreciation for the tone of the new document while making suggestions regarding particular language in specific passages. (Note:  All of these suggestions are being passed on to the ELCA Church Council through the Chair of the Conference of Bishops.)

Suggestions

1.     Two persons indicated they had wished the document included more of an emphasis on the "missional" or "evangelistic" nature of the office of pastor.  They offered language which would affirm the congregation as an agent of change in society for the sake of the gospel.  

2.     Another person felt the document needed more emphasis on the external life of the office of the pastor.  They appreciated the section on Creation Care but perceived it as an "add on."  Their suggestion was for a more robust emphasis on the pastor as a public theologian or public church leader. 

3.     Several people made suggestions to improve the language of sections that seemed to lack clarity or used phrases that confused what they believed was the intent. These detailed suggestions have been forwarded.

4.     I also received feedback regarding the unique attributes of deacons (Office of Word and Service)

5.     Three persons offered extensive notes with line by line questions/comments/suggestions. (Note:  I have tried to capture some of what they offered here but will also forward these more extensive writings in their entirety with my report.)

Criticisms

1.     The primary area of criticism was regarding the process.  The feedback was divided equally among those who wanted particular groups involved in the shaping of the document, and those who felt the timeline was too short for feedback.

2.     The second area of criticism was regarding expectations of marriage as a prerequisite of cohabitation. The criticism was mostly, though not exclusively, out of concerns for the financial impact for persons living together because of the cost of living effects, pension or tax-related matters. The other area highlighted was the impact this expectation puts on single persons navigating a contemporary social life.   It has been suggested that lines 265b-266 and 276-277a be omitted.  (Note: The challenge with this proposal is that it conflicts with our ELCA Social Statement on Human Sexuality.  A few persons indicated that revisiting that Social statement would be their preference.)

3.     Some emails articulated the position that the entire document was without merit and a new process should be undertaken.  

4.     Several points of criticism or concern indicated a suspicion that this document would be used as a disciplinary document especially against people in the LGBTQ+ community.  It was also highlighted that the documents release shortly following the decision by the United Methodist Church to exclude LGBTQ persons from ordained ministry contributed to some hard feelings.

As stated previously, the next step in the process is for each synodical bishop to file a report of the feedback he/she has received.  I will send this summary, along with some of the more detailed documents of affirmations, suggestions, and criticisms to the Chair of the Conference of Bishops.   

The document, “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God”, along with the feedback received from each of the synodical bishops will be forwarded to the ELCA Church Council for consideration at its April 2019 meeting.  

Thank you to all who participated in this process of feedback.  Your writings were thoughtful and reflected your care and concern for this church.

 

Sincerely in Christ 

Bishop James Hazelwood

New England Synod – ELCA

 

Update # 2 - The Social Media Fast and the New Zealand Mosque Attack

I’m no a full two and a half weeks into my fast from Social Media. A few random thoughts:

  1. The fact that Facebook, You Tube etc were used as vehicles of communication around the Terror attack at a Mosque in New Zealand is indicative of how far we have come from the early days of social media. What was originally a platform for sharing of news about ones friends, has now moved to a forum for the spread of hate speech (I signed up for Facebook in 2007 to view photos and updates of my son’s year abroad in Argentina). This most recent and tragic event, is yet another example of how antisocial Media tools are being weaponized to spread vicious lies and horrific hate speech.*

  2. I genuinely wonder about it’s overall value in my life.

  3. For the most part I’m not missing Facebook, Twitter, etc. Though I admit the photo based Social media platform Instagram is the one forum I am most tempted to engage.

  4. Because I’ve removed all the apps from my phone, my screen time usage is down 50%.

  5. The extra time I now have means I’m engaging in more reading and more writing.

While I’m still planning to return to some modified and lightened use of Social Media when this fast is concluded on Easter Sunday, I currently am harboring even deeper suspicions of what positive use it may have in my work and personal life.

*To be clear, I have not watched any of the online videos but read about this in the Boston Globe.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

Sebastian Junger, New England native and bestselling author of The Perfect Storm, has penned a fascinating quick read in Tribe. The book explores the way in which modern US American society is structured in an inhospitable manner. He uses both Native American Indian encounters with white europeans in the 1700’s as well as returning veterans from recent wars to drive home his point. This book weaves in some new perspectives that most people who read this blog would not normally encounter. That alone makes it worth the read. Want to understand why men are not in our congregations? Want to get a glimpse into evolutionary forces that help explain genuine community? Want to understand how the legalism on both the left and the right are tearing a part culture, society and democracy? This book will force you to reexamine some of your foundational beliefs. But, I’d only read it if you want that challenge as it’s not for those who wish to continue in a kind of reaffirmation echo chamber.

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Trustworthy Servants of the People of God

Dear Pastors, Deacons and Members of Congregations of the New England Synod,

Last week I attended the Conference of Bishops in Chicago. The Conference meets twice per year to hear reports, to network and to discuss matters relevant to the life of the church.  Among the many issues we reviewed, (including a full day retreat focusing on congregational vitality), were two documents that I wish to bring to your attention.

The first is a Pastoral Messagein which the Conference of Bishops acknowledges the hurt and pain caused by the uneven and inequitable ways in which the document “Vision and Expectations” have been applied to the LGBTQIA+ community and others.  In my view, this message is our attempt to articulate our regret and grief over the ways in which V&E was used.  That Pastoral Message can be found at this link.

The second is a document entitled "Trustworthy Servants of the People of God."  We spent considerable time reviewing this document, which, if adopted by the ELCA Church Council, would replace “Vision & Expectations”.  As Bishops, we affirm "Trustworthy Servants"as a timely replacement and a faithful expression of our calling to serve as Rostered Ministers in this church.  That document can be found here.

You will note that this document is in a draft form as it goes from the Conference of Bishops to the ELCA Church Council. Let me be clear in explaining that while the Conference has initiated this replacement document, it is only the Church Council, as the legislative body, who has the authority to adopt this document.  In the period between now and March 18, synodical bishops will collect feedback regarding the substance of this draft.  As we gather feedback, should we see cause for a major revision, we will advise the ELCA Church Council.  I invite you to offer your feedback to me at Bishop@nesynod.org

As I have begun conversations with some of you regarding these documents, I want you to know that I am seeking ways for us to have a meaningful and helpful dialogue about these documents.  More broadly, I think a substantive conversation about some of the topics "Trustworthy Servants" addresses is worthy of our attention.  For instance:

-      Line 2- "Every church has hopes and expectations for its leaders." In an era, where leaders in business, government, sports, and other organizations are routinely revealed to be sorely lacking in their conduct, what does it mean for a church to have hopes and expectations for its leaders?

-      Line 19- What does it mean to be a blessing as a leader "advocating against all the ways that racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of prejudice and injustice limit participation and harm individuals, communities and the whole body of Christ."?

-      Line 24- through 63 are the tasks of Ministers in this church.  As you review them.... What strikes you?  What needs re-reminding? How do the people you serve respond to these tasks which are a part of our calling?

-      The document encourages faithfulness and trustworthiness in a number of areas: Health & Self Care (158), Relationships & Friendships (183), Family Life (196), Finances & Intellectual Property (205), Communications (222) Human Sexuality & Gender (231), Sexual Conduct & Speech (238), Marriage (273), Creation (290).  As you read all of these sections...... What challenges you?  What resonates? What confounds you?

As we engage this draft document, I ask us to be the thoughtful and prayerful leaders I know us to be.  As we talk with one another, I encourage us to engage using vehicles of communication that bring out the best in us.  I also believe there is wisdom to be gained from conversations that include the breadth of our synod.  People in the pews should be engaged as well as pastors and deacons.  

This may be time for a broad discussion on leadership in general.  As I have always maintained, congregations and ministries serve the Kingdom of God when pastor/deacon and people are bothengaged and exercising leadership.  I commend this document as an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue.

 

Sincerely in Christ,

 

Bishop James Hazelwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update # 1 on My Lenten Social Media Fast

Last week, on Facebook and Twitter I announced that I would begin my Lenten Fast early. The initial plan was for me to make this a Lenten discipline, but I couldn’t wait, so I started a week early. The primary impetus has been my reading of Cal Newport’s fine book Digital Minimalism. What Newport describes in the early chapters was so sobering, that it literally scared me away from not only Facebook and Twitter, but also much of my habitual phone use. Since last week, or was it two weeks ago, I’ve not only been off Social Media, but I’ve removed those and many other apps from my phone. I realized it wasn’t just my obsessive use of Twitter, it was my checking various News apps, the stock market, sports scores & news. The final blow came when my Apple phone screen use app reported that I was on my phone an average of 3 hours per day.

Is my life any better because of those 3 hours of news, sports, and Facebook? NO!

What’s different now? The most notable change is a sense of relief. I attribute this to my lack of an online presence of Facebook. I realized that what was once an enjoyable tool for engaging in conversation with friends, had devolved to a cauldron of opinions, and sharing of blog posts that were designed to amp up ones response. Yes, there were mixed in photos of children and an occasional original writing that had some thoughtfulness, but those were much less common. For me, the simple knowledge that I don’t HAVE TO engage is a relief.

The second change is more challenging. My phone use is down, but it still lingers in my mind. I use my phone for texting and for calls, but I also still find myself obsessively picking it up when I have no real reason to do so. I’m trying to navigate this, as well as ask myself, what’s going on inside my brain that seeks some kind of chemical reward, stimulation, etc that I get from my phone.

Cal Newport’s book is beyond excellent. It will be one of my top books of 2019, and his suggestions regarding alternative activities such as solitude, walking, writing are in the tradition of Thoreau and others. Now that I’m regaining upwards of 3 hours per day, I’ll have more time to engage those activities. I’ll be back here with more updates through the season of Lent.

Self-Doubt

From Steven Pressfield excellent little book The War of Art.

Self-doubt can be an ally.  This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration.  It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it.  If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), "Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?  Am I really a _________?" chances are you are.

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident.  The real one is scared to death.

Preparing for my Lenten Fast...Join me?


Lent starts in a few weeks…..What to do for Lent this year? I'm considering a fast - Not of food, but Facebook, and Twitter and Instagram. That's my unholy trinity. Why? Candidly, I think it's eating away at my brain and my soul. Yes, in the same way, an addict needs just a little bit more. I now find myself strangely fixated and frustrated at the same time.

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the one hand, I want to go and see what you are all doing, how my grandkids are growing up and what interesting, trivial or significant ministries are happening in and around our synod. On the other hand, there's a lot of …well, nothing. Political drama and virtue casting, bad photos of indoor painting projects and whiny complaints about clothes not fitting or airport security personnel misbehaving. Plus, do you care that I was at St. John's by the Gas Station last Sunday, and that my sermon, bombed. (It did, but it wasn't at St. John's, it was at St. Bartholomew's by the Donut shop)

Mostly, I'm wondering about what's happening to me. I find myself chasing the bird, the squirrel and bell that Pavlov is ringing. My attention span is decreasing. My ability to focus on reading something of substance or listening to a friend is in decline. Cal Newport authored a book called Deep Work. Yup, you don't even need to read the book. You know just from the title that it's about the real need in our current cultural context for us to focus. He argues that what we need now more than ever is the capacity to pay attention and dive deep into our work. That work could be child rearing, parent attending, or report writing. It could also be plumbing, surgery, and cooking…all three of these tasks need focus to be done well. After all, no one wants a distracted surgeon operating on your (fill in the blank). Newport's new book Digital Minimalism is just out, but I don't have time to read it, cause I'm spending time coining a catchy twitter post.

So, I'm preparing for a Forty Day Fast. Ash Wednesday to Easter 2019 I'll be living without the Social Media world that defines our age. I may miss the chatter about some upheaval in a church institution, or controversy of a politician. You'll miss out on my quirky humor, photos of grandsons, and my political outrage. I'm confident you'll survive. What will I learn? What will I miss? Hmmm, I'll let you know on the other side.

P.S. To be clear. Yes, I'll still use the internet. Yes, I'll continue to correspond via email and text. It's just Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Starting March 6, Ash Wednesday through Easter April 21.

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Everyday Spirituality

I'm writing a book on Everyday Spirituality, and I'm looking for examples of God showing up in people's lives, in the ordinary, commonplace parts of our lives.  Interested?

Where and when have you seen God?

- at the grocery store
- on a vacation
- while spending money
- around the cafeteria
- over coffee
- in the hospital
- on the soccer field

If you've got a story, (even a weird one) I'm interested in hearing about it.  It just might end up in a book, and it might help other people realize that God shows up in unexpected ways and in unexpected people and places. We can do this anonymously if you prefer. 

Let me know.  Just send an email with your story.  It doesn't need to be perfectly written, cause this is just a first draft. 

Send me an email at bishop @ nesynod.org or use the contact form on this website