Count Your Words

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We now interrupt your regularly scheduled blog posts to bring you something random about word counts.  .  .

Or not so random.

It is no secret that I have read more discussions online the last month than the sum of all discussions before it.  The topics I have been reading and discussing have demanded such attention.  These are important conversations and deserve careful dialog.

However, as I have engaged in these fierce conversations I have noticed hours were wasted on reading superfluous words.  These words were not necessarily angry or hostile.  They were just unnecessary.

Several people publicly posted emails they had sent to College Trustees.  These emails were so long it would take ten minutes to read one of them.  While I perused them I realized there was no need for 3/4s of the words.  I would bet most of the trustees didn’t read past the first paragraph.

I have also read a fair share of blogs that did not exercise the same caution.  I gave up about halfway through, not because the post was long but because it meandered carelessly so that any conclusion was lost in useless stories and prepositional phrases threatening run-on sentences.

Then there are those pesky comments that take up the length of my screen.  Some commenters end up posting four comments in a row, thereby filling four whole screen lengths.  After reading the first comment I quickly realized the person did not know what they were saying, or at least were not saying it very well.

It reminded me of the advice of a seminary professor who said, “If you don’t have it clear and concise on paper, you don’t have it clear in your head.”

It also reminds me of a great Proverb a friend posted.  It is Proverbs 10:19, “In the multitude of words sin is not absent; But he that holds his tongue is wise.”

Now I know not every person who comments online (or even runs a blog) has taken a writing class but I want to make a law requiring them too.  It is in writing classes that you learn your first drafts are complete crap (see Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird”).  The only way to overcome your lousy first draft is to write a second draft.

In the 1st draft you just write everything you think down on paper.  Then, contrary to popular belief, you do not hit send or enter or post.  Instead you go back through what you wrote and delete everything that does not add to your conclusion.  I do this (albeit imperfectly) when I write emails, sermons, blog posts and when I comment on Facebook.  I usually end up deleting a good half of the words I wrote, although sometimes it is closer to 75%.

But doing that is not enough for me.  I also have set important guidelines for word counts.  If it is an email I only use 100 words.  A quick-thought blog like this one, is 800 words.  A more heady post is 1200.  A sermon is five pages single spaced.

This is the only way to guarantee my conclusions are not lost amid a myriad of words.  And it is a great way to exercise humility.  It is also the best way to show respect to your readers and conversation partners.

So I would recommend others do the same, if only so that I can keep up with our important debates in half the time!

After all, brevity is better and for the record this post was 582 words.

Hashtagging My Activism And Ice Dumping It All Away

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I am not a cause-y person. To be sure, I get passionate about stuff, even overly passionate at times, but I often feel like passion gets in the way of compassion and I would rather have a soft heart than a loud voice.

Or maybe I just burned out in college. I went to a wonderful private Christian university where I spent some of the best years of my life. Like most college aged students we were all about causes. You name the cause, we supported it wholeheartedly. We watched “Invisible Children” documentaries (before they went mainstream), dug wells in Africa, built houses in Mexico, took offerings for people in the community and played Bingo at retirement homes.

Also, like most college aged students, we were incredibly noncommittal. So we had a “cause of the month” where a big crisis captured our attention. Every single one was, “the most important tragedy of our time” until the next month came along with another tragedy. Then that one became the most important before we had done one lick of good for the last cause.

So I am not cause-y. I care a lot about a lot of things but uniting passion to my compassion isn’t my thing.

I bring this all up because last week ALS became our “cause of the week” where we either gave money to ALS research or dumped ice on our heads. I have a sneaking suspicion most people did both since ALS has received millions of dollars and YouTube is still full of people pouring ice on their heads.

Of course every time we come up with something new and fun to do someone has to be the killjoy who reminds us we aren’t actually helping ALS out by dumping ice on our heads. These are the same people who reminded us we didn’t actually become more like Jesus by wearing a bracelet, don’t actually have compassion for cancer victims by wearing a pink ribbon and don’t actually encourage people to vote for our politician by putting their bumper stickers on a car.

These people are right of course, except that they are not. These gimmicks all worked, even the WWJD bracelets. They all increased awareness for their cause and with that awareness came (and still comes) a great amount of money that has done a lot of good.

These critics don’t think silliness and compassion can co-exist but I think they are wrong. In fact, the ice bucket challenge went viral the same week that we mourned the loss of Robin Williams, who though being quite silly, is still heralded as having great compassion. In my own life the silliest people have the biggest hearts. The people willing to dump a bucket of ice over their heads for laughs are the ones willing to cry with the hurt and broken, suffer alongside cancer victims and give money to any who will ask.

I have learned as a pastor that to be successful (whatever that word means) I must put up with or even enjoy the inherent silliness of people. The reality is we live in a world where we spend billions of dollars to watch over-padded athletes toss around an awkward shaped ball. In that same world computer programmers spend hundreds of hours writing a story and developing mechanics to create a video game that millions will spend 100 hours of their lives to conquer. We run 26.1 miles for fun and that last tenth of a mile makes it all the more ridiculous as if 26 miles wasn’t long enough. We pay hundreds of dollars to see people stand in an auditorium and tell jokes or play music. And at home we are even more silly, playing card games with ridiculous rules (slap the 8s!) and then get mad when someone breaks the rules because breaking the rules of a card game are like breaking the 10 commandments!  We spend $10 a person (another $10 on popcorn) to see a movie whose entire plot is watching things blow up.  We even play charades, a game so dumb it consists of people miming household objects to each other.  All of this merely cracks the surface of our absurdity because if you cross country lines you will see similar silliness at work in the rest of the world.

It is all to be celebrated and enjoyed because I am quite certain that the New Creation will consist of nothing but such folly. We will tell jokes and play innocent pranks and pour into theaters to see which Angel is “The Last Comic Standing.” We will play games and have dances and we will certainly sing wonderful songs.

But this side of eternity our silliness should sometimes have a point. So if wearing a pink badge or dumping ice on your head is a way to raise money and awareness for those suffering under debilitating diseases, we are all the more merry and all the better for it.