Monthly Archives: December 2013

So You Still Have a Blog?

Do you have a Facebook? Of course you do. How about a blog? Even if you don’t have a blog, you are reading one right now, so I guess you’re familiar with the concept. How often do you see people post links to other blogs on your Facebook? I’m guessing it happens quite often. Here’s an example of the type of post I see often:

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That’s from a blog written by James Michael Sama. I don’t know all that much about him, except that his posts appear on my Facebook about twice a week. Even a quick look at his blog shows that he has slightly less than ten million hits on his blog. I can also tell by his archives that he started blogging in June 2013. Take a look at my archives over to the right. When did I start blogging? June 2013. How many views do I have on my blog? Not ten million. Not even close!

I suppose I need to give him the credit for that. He has been in feature films and mainstream media far more than I have (which is never, by the way). He also posts far more frequently than I do, and often on topics that are easily readable. Let’s face it, more people want to read about dating, relationships, and current events than they want to read about science, medicine, religion, or whatever else I’m thinking about. His posts are also well written and creative. So I’m not trying to compare authors or blogs here, I’m just telling you about this guy to set up a point I want to make about blogging.

The strangest thing about blogging is how lopsided our interactions are. I get to write things, post them on the internet, and let them stand for all time and eternity. I covered that briefly here. To write a blog, one must believe at a certain level that “I can write something that others will want to read”. This is the opposite of Twitter, where people just assume that everyone wants to hear about what they had for lunch. To write a blog, you have to be able to string together a line of reasoning, assembling your thoughts and shaping it into a post that is interesting enough that people want to click on it and read it. The best (and worst) part of blogging is that anyone can do it.

I have this theory that 42% of all blogs have one post called “I have a blog”. Because starting a blog requires an internet connection and two thumbs, nearly anyone can jump online and make a blog. Historically, this is unprecedented. I can sit in my office and write a post in about an hour. Let’s say a few people put it on their Facebook pages, and it goes viral. Suddenly hundreds of thousands of people have read my post and I get tons of traffic. 100 years ago, there was no way to reach hundreds of thousands of people that easily. Radio, perhaps, but that was harder to access. Newspapers, maybe, but only certain groups of people could actually write in a paper. Anyone can write a blog, and who knows if that post is the next one to go viral?

The downside to the accessibility of blogging, of course, is that anyone can do it. I’ve read some blogs and wondered whether they had ever graduated high school, or even attended one. I followed a blogger for a while who posted once every three weeks, and his/her only content was “I’m sorry I haven’t been posting lately….I’ve been like super busy”.

Blogging is great, especially when authors like Sama go out and reach a huge audience, but I don’t see it lasting. I understand that my little post here is just one tab on your browser, and I have to compete with everything on the internet for your attention. Blog posts take time to read, and require much more effort from you than, say, a YouTube video. It can be difficult to find your way to a blog you really enjoy consistently, while YouTube gives you a recommended playlist based off your preferences, so after you watch a cat video there are 12 more cat videos to watch. My favorite blogs have been those that people referred to me. When I search for blogs, on Google I have much worse success.

I’m not upset that I don’t have ten million views on this blog, since that was never my goal. My goal is to write, and enjoy writing, and talk about what I learn and see during medical school and life. That’s not a good recipe for generating ten million views in six months (unless somehow I was already famous). At the same time, I like it when people enjoy what I write. That’s the whole point of blogging, right? If no one reads your blog, that’s just a diary. While I enjoy Sama, Matt Walsh, and Fat Cyclist, I know that I will never be that kind of blogger. Why? Probably due to my sporadic writing schedule and “no proofreading ever” policy, among other things (like medical school, for instance). If I wanted a million views in the next six months, I am confident I could get them. I just know I wouldn’t have as much fun as I am now, and I’m having lots of fun 🙂

Thanks for reading!

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What I Wish The World Knew About Christians

I was raised in a Christian home, and have grown up involved in Christian churches and ministries. I am intimately familiar with the church, both the good it does and the shortcomings it possesses. Despite my familiarity with the culture of American Christianity, I have always tried to see my life and decisions as they would appear to an outsider looking in. It just so happens that the Christian church today has lots of misconceptions and stereotypes, and I want to talk about them. Here’s five things I wish the world understood about Christians.

1) We Don’t Have All of the Answers

Most often, people will turn to the church in times of trouble. This leads them to ask the hardest questions they will ever face. “Why did _____ have to die?” “Will God heal my mother?” “Why do bad things have to happen?”. These are huge problems that have faced humanity for generations. They call in to question the nature of God, the quality of man, and the course of each persons individual life. Does that sound like the kind of question that will have a succinct answer? These are the kinds of questions that may not ever have a complete answer, and even the most intelligent minds of our generation will continue to wrestle with them. Small wonder people often feel unsatisfied by the answers they receive, once they have troubled to ask. But that’s okay.

Honestly, that’s the way it should be. I only trust in a God I can’t comprehend. While Christians believed that God reveals Himself through the Bible, directly through his appearance on earth, and even through the world He created, that does not translate to a comprehensive knowledge of his ways and thoughts. Thank goodness. Our desire to ask hard questions and to understand our God may be related to our information-age mindset, with answers to everything just a click or two away. If I believe in a thing that I completely comprehend, that “thing” is a really lousy God. If I believe in a God who is all knowing and all powerful, I should expect to be a little bit puzzled every now and then. Being a Christian does NOT mean that you have everything sorted out nicely.

2 ) Christians are People Too

Have you ever been to a church, maybe around Christmas time, and someone there was rude to you? Ever known a Christian that was hypocritical? How about some Christian who lies regularly? Join the club….because that’s everyone. We believe that Christ’s death on the cross has saved us from the punishment of our sins, but that doesn’t preclude us from continuing to sin. Christians are ultimately human, and humans make mistakes. That’s all there is to it. Some people have it in their heads (or get the impression from other Christians) that Christians are “holier than thou”, somehow better people for their faith. I know many Christians that are devout, loving people who live such good lives that I do feel somewhat unworthy, but they are the exception. Truthfully, most Christians struggle with the same issues as the rest of America. The church, at its best, is like a hospital…don’t expect to find a bunch of healthy people there. In fact, if you walk in to a church that actively cares for people in its community, you will find people who fight and struggle against drug addiction, alcoholism, marital troubles, domestic abuse, abusive relationships, and every other vice known to man. Why? Because as people, that’s what we do. Christians and non-Christians alike have the exact same issues.

This applies to Christian ministries as well. When reaching out to others, there are going to be problems. People help others out of the goodness of their hearts and their love for God, but they often offend others out of their own weaknesses and insecurity. Christians have those, too. It doesn’t matter if they are home with their families or volunteering at a shelter for the homeless.

3) We Argue About Retarded Issues

There are so many denominations in the church. How many can you name off the top of your head? Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Christian, Wesleyan…..the list goes on. What are the differences that caused these splits in the church? I have no idea. Why are there six Baptist churches in your town? No clue. All of these denominations of churches, though they might seem to be miles apart in theology, probably agree on 95% or more of their beliefs. Actually, I’ll raise that to 98%. Without diving in to specific comparisons, most of the splits are caused by differences in interpretation of just a few verses or issues. Is baptism required for salvation, or is it an act of devotion? That’s the kind of question that causes a split in churches. Admittedly, all of the different denominations can be a little disorienting.

But wait, it’s worse than that. Churches can split for even more terrible reasons. I know of a church that split because they couldn’t agree on a carpet color for the new worship auditorium they were building. Churches develop factions that follow a specific pastor or worship leader, rather than committing to the church. It’s ridiculous. Why does it happen? See #2 above. Christians are still just people, and people mess up a lot. Leaders in a church are no less immune to the problem than the people they lead. Surely you’ve heard the gossip that goes around when a pastor suddenly quits his job for personal reasons. We think it’s shocking because he was a pastor, but doctors get sick just as often as regular people do.

4) The Bible is Rated “R”

There are lots of misconceptions about the Bible, far more than I could cover in a single post, but I want to point this out for now. The Bible is not  just a rulebook, a series of do’s and don’ts for life. The Bible is not just a book of judgement and damnation. The Bible is also not just a poetic book of prayers and praise. It’s actually a little bit of everything, and you would need an adult or a fake ID to see it’s movie if you were a kid. I could throw out a list of references that would make you blush, or at least double check to make sure you were still reading your Bible. Incest, prostitution, murder, slavery, and explicit sex are all in the Bible. Frequently. I personally have read the Bible cover to cover six times, and done additional reading in it as well. I am still amazed at the things I find in the Bible. I’ve also read big chunks from other religious texts, and still can’t believe what I read in the Bible. If you think the Bible is irrelevant, outdated, or unreliable, I would encourage you to step back and read it, cover to cover. That leads to my final point

5) Christians Have the Best Story

How appropriate that I get to write this a few short weeks from Christmas. I wrote yesterday about stories and how they develop, and I want to look at the beginnings of Christianity as if I were telling you a story. I love beginnings and origins, because I think there is much to be learned by looking at how something came to be. The birth of Christ was prophesied and came to pass. Jesus himself ministered for just three years before being crucified and rising from the dead. Shortly thereafter, he rose into heaven and his apostles founded the Christian church. That’s crazy! A popular preacher has said that for Jesus to have the impact he did, there are only three options. Either He was a Liar, a Lunatic, or Lord. Since he claimed to be God, often and loudly for all to hear, he could have been a fraud, crazy, or telling the truth. A liar would not likely go through the horrific process of crucifixion and death. A lunatic might, but would not have gathered such a following or risen from the dead. He must have been God, the reasoning goes.

While I like that line of thinking, I have another for your consideration. Let’s pretend you wanted to start a religion. If your name is Bob, you want to found Bobism. You would have to go through certain stages in order to get people to believe that your religion was legit, and thus would demonstrate certain signs to history. You would likely need longer than three years. You would need to recruit followers and weaken your enemies (preferably recruiting prominent, skilled, influential people to be your followers). You would need incentives for your followers and recruits, and a way to organize them and grow more powerful. As Bob, you of course, would need to control all of this, so that Bobism stayed pure to your beliefs as Bob.

By this thinking, I begin to see problems with religions that demonstrate these signs as they grew. Islam, for example, spread by the sword. Killing enemies is a good recruiting tool. I am also dubious of religions that establish one man in a position of prominence, power, or comfort. Mohammed did this while establishing Islam, as did Joesph Smith when he received his revelations and founded the Mormon church.

The beginnings of Christianity look nothing like this. A central leader who claims to be God Himself, rather than his prophet or assistant, is killed only three years after beginning his ministry. His followers, who were by no means impressive people with status, don’t run for cover and ask for their old jobs back(actually they do hide for a few days). Instead, even in the face of oppression by the government, they spread themselves all over the known world, many of them jailed repeatedly and killed violently. That’s quite a story. What did the first apostles have to gain by sharing the story of Jesus? What did they see that drove them to jail and torture? That’s what makes the beginnings of Christianity a story worth telling.

Feel free to leave a comment below, or send it directly to my face at sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

Thanks for reading

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The Anatomy of a Story

I  love stories. Ultimately, life is best expressed as a story. As long as people have gathered together, we have related to each other by telling stories. Our stories make us unique and form part of our personality and worldview.

But have you ever tried to create a story? I mean a real story, like a book or movie, even a short story written for a composition class in school. Have you ever created individual characters and let them live out their own little stories inside of your fictional world?

That’s one of the things I have been trying to do lately, specifically hoping to one day finish a novel of my own. I missed out completely on NaNoWriMo, thanks to medical school anatomy during November. I still wrote and brainstormed and thought about my book, even if only a little bit of it got written down.

So how is a story made? In my mind, I want to frame the whole story from beginning to end, then go in and fill in the details as a write. I want to “construct” the story, and then build it methodically. NaNoWriMo gave me a different idea, however. If I had completed NaNoWriMo, my story would be nurtured. I would start writing with a vague outline and ideas, then watch the story grow as I wrote it. To stick with the growth analogy, the story could then be trimmed and revised after it was fully grown in order to reach its final shape.

However it’s written, I have gained a lot of respect for great storytellers over the last few months as I labor on my silly little book. It took Tolkien something like two decades to finish The Lord of the Rings and have it completely published, but in that time he created a complete universe (including languages and cultures for multiple races) and set his story in his world. I have always enjoyed reading Tom Clancy’s thrillers, which were well known for being meticulously researched and technical, which made the stories more believable and enjoyable. I am slowly reading my way through the Game of Thrones books right now, and I can’t imagine how long it would take to create a sound plot that involves a huge cast of characters and multiple kingdoms (even though his main plot twist is to kill main characters every other chapter).

We each get to write our own story for our life, as well. I had a unique opportunity when I moved halfway across the country in the middle of high school. Because I had gone to school with the same people since kindergarten, I feel like I had acquired enough “labels” in my early high school years. You know how high school students can be. Halfway through high school I moved 1500 miles away and started at a completely different school. It was during that summer I realized that I could be whoever I wanted to be, as no one in this new city knew me at all. While I could have been anybody, I did some growing and maturing and just became myself (which is an entirely different story).

This brings me to my last point about stories, specifically our own stories about our pasts. I’m not convinced it’s the contents of our stories that matter, but the way we see and interpret them. I had a psychology professor tell me once that after every disaster, there are victims and there are survivors. After a hurricane (I’m pretty sure it was a hurricane), some people will have their lives shattered and never be the same. Others treat it like a setback and press on. I’m not sure what her point was after that, but I’m using that story to illustrate my point. There are people who are products of their environment, and there are people who overcome their circumstances and rise to greatness. I think the difference is in the way they told the story of their life.

Thanks for reading.

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