Monumentally Important

gettysburgLast week, my family and I spent the day of the eclipse at Gettysburg National Battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. After looking at the eclipse (through our glasses), we bought a tour CD, hopped in our car, and rode through the battlefield, listening to a dramatization of the events that took place three days in July of 1863.

 I’ve always been a history hack. History intrigues me and can even excite me, but I’ve never really invested as much time in the learning of it to be any good at remembering it all. That isn’t to say that I am a sloppy student of history, I just haven’t really had the kind of margin or bandwidth in my life to fully dive into the pursuit of history the way that I would like. I’m fascinated by it but like so much in my life, it becomes just one of many things I can spend time pursuing.

 Living just outside Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate Capital, just a little over seventy miles from Charlottesville, my mind was whirring as we drove onto the battlefield. With all the talk of removing Confederate monuments in places like Charlottesville and Richmond, and also having read countless articles of everyone and their brother expressing their views of where monuments belong, I was curious to see just how I reacted to what I would experience at Gettysburg.

 As we listened to the narration of this historical battle on our CD as we drove through the battlefield, we stopped at monument after monument. Each state involved in the battle had its own monument to the men whose lives had been lost there and the brave ones who had fought there.

 My mind quickly thought about the events of those three days more than one hundred and fifty years ago and the war that split the nation. While many may claim that the Civil War was about so much more than slavery, slavery continues to be what gets the headlines with that war. While other issues may have been involved and while I understand that wars are far more complicated than to be diluted down to a single issue, it’s hard to say that slavery, at the very least, played a significant role in the war.

 But my mind also thought about Charlottesville and St. Louis and Charleston and so many other cities that have shown that the ideals for which a war was fought have not died with the men on that battlefield but still rear their ugly heads in the twenty first century.

 We came upon a monument, the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, in the midst of the battlefields that had been dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1938. The quotes on the monument were haunting to me.

 “An enduring light to guide us in unity and fellowship.”

 “Peace eternal in a nation united.”

 Were these really true? Cold I honestly say that this was the case?

 Driving through the battlefield and encountering monument after monument, there was one thing that we didn’t encounter: protesters. There was no one shouting hate speech. There were no banners being waved. There was just the silence and solemnity of a former battlefield.

Looking at each of the monuments though, I think they were right where they belonged. They hadn’t been placed in an urban setting with no connection to the war. They were placed in locations that were significant to their meaning and in that context they could be useful and helpful. They could help to educate and teach in that context, pointing future generations not to elevate them or the men they represented, but to remember.

 Funny, when you go to the dictionary to find the definition of “monument,” one of the first definitions you come across is, “something erected in memory of a person, event, etc., as a building, pillar, or statue.” Does that mean that monuments cease to become monuments when they cease to help us remember? Do they still count as monuments when they are erected to give homage and reverence?

 Not far from my home outside Richmond, Virginia, just up I-95 in Woodford, is a shrine to Stonewall Jackson. Now a shrine is a completely different thing than a monument. According to the dictionary, a shrine is, “any place or object hallowed by its history or associations.” Shrines are not monuments and monuments are not shrines.

 So how is it that some of our monuments have become shrines? How have we come to a place where we have somehow separated the meaning and the history  and the context from monuments whose sole purpose was to point us towards those very things?

 I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s as black and white (no pun intended) as some have tried to make it. I don’t think that we can make large sweeping and blanket statements that say, “All monuments are bad and racist.” Nor do I think that we can say, “All monuments are sacred and speak to history regardless of where they are located.

Like so many things, discernment, conversation, and relationship may be required to move past our generalizations and quick fix remedies. When we dwell in generalizations and quick fix remedies, we forgo the efforts required to engage in difficult discussions and conversations. It’s much easier to say, “Tear all the monuments down” than it is to say, “Can we talk about this? Why are they important?”

 There are reasons why I think this has happened, but that’s for another post on another day. In the meantime, I’m going to go back and look at those pictures I took on the battlefields of Gettysburg. I’m going to remember the conversations that I had with my children. I’m going to relish hearing them say that all of us are created equal. And I’m going to do my best to help them understand that monuments aren’t shrines. That seems to be monumentally important to me.

Before You Hit Send – A Book Review

Before You Hit SendIn our fast-paced, media-driven, information saturated society, communication is an important part of who we are. Considering how important communication is, one might think that we would work harder at getting better at it, but that’s not the case. When we consider social media, email, and other digital means of communication, we have to work harder at communication considering that there are so many possible opportunities for misunderstanding and misconstrual.

Personally, one of my mantras has always been, “Never send your first email.” I’ve realized the need to check and edit myself before sending things out. My first reaction and response email is usually not fit to be sent out, so I have to step back and think and assess before I send something out to ensure that I am communicating as clearly as possible.

The title alone of Emerson Eggerichs’ latest book “Before You Hit Send” drew me in. I was curious what the “Love and Respect” author would have to say about communication. Having experienced my own mishaps in communication, the subtitle, “Preventing Headache & Heartache,” was even more appealing to me.

While the book title alludes to digital communication, Eggerichs speaks more broadly to communication in various forms, writing and speaking predominantly. Eggerichs tells his reader that there are four questions that need to be asked prior to communicating: Is it true? Is it Kind? Is it necessary? And Is it clear? The book contains only four chapters, one for each of these questions.

Breaking a 200+ page book into four chapters presents one major problem: very long chapters. While I understand Eggerichs rationale in breaking the book up this way, there were enough sub-sections within the chapters that he could have broken them into individual chapters. Since he did not break up the chapters as such, the chapters end up about fifty or sixty pages long each, making it difficult to find good stopping points along the way for those who like to read chapter by chapter.

Each chapter begins with a lengthy Scriptural Meditation on the topic at hand. Eggerichs uses examples, both personal and otherwise, to speak about true speech, kind speech, necessary speech, and clear speech. He takes the reader through some of the typical culprits against each of these topics, listing them out with brief descriptions of each one. Then Eggerichs addresses each of these offenses with possible responses when we encounter those who communicate in the ways that he laid out.

As mentioned earlier, this book is not specifically about email and written communication, but all communication. The information shared by Eggerichs is valuable information for everyone who communicates, which is pretty much all of us. Despite the lengthy chapters, the information in “Before You Hit Send” is organized in such a way that this book can easily act as a resource and handbook on communication. The reader can flip to a section that may be specific to a situation with which they are dealing.

“Before You Hit Send” is a good resource for anyone who wants to be intentional in how they communicate. If we are honest with ourselves, we will probably find ourselves as culprits on some of the lists that Eggerichs shares. Whether we struggle in communicating truthfully, kindly, necessarily, or clearly, this book can help us on the road towards better communication.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Responding to the Tension

welcome to charlottesvilleThe events in Charlottesville last weekend and the continuing turmoil that we are feeling in our country at the state of disarray and disunity may have us a little on edge. Some of us will look at the situation and say that things are not as bad as they appear, while others will look and say that things are far worse than they appear. One thing that we know for sure is that there is a problem and anyone who would deny that is denying reality.

 As human beings, we can do a really good job of pressing down the tensions and conflicts that are trying to rise, we can make it seem as if the problem is not as big of a deal as we might think it is, denying out of fear, out of pride, or out of something else deep within us, sometimes denying it outright altogether. But the problem remains and, in fact, grows more severe the longer we push it down and deny it.

 Some say we have a problem with racism in our country, and I agree. The racial tensions that we have been experiencing in recent days are not new, they have been lying underneath the surface for a lot longer. I choose not to assign blame to a political figure for their sins of commission or sins of omission, because I think that the problem is much deeper, it extends far beyond just one person. While actions and words (or a lack thereof) may have perpetuated and even instigated other actions, the problem lies much deeper than just outward demonstrations. It’s a heart issue.

 The problem is racism, yes, and the problem is a heart problem, yes, but I would actually go a step further to boldly say that it is actually a sin problem. It’s one that extends far beyond our country to our world, for anytime that we deny that God created us as anything less than equal, we are being disobedient and denying that ALL of us have been created in the image of God.

 Many may disagree with me. Those who don’t espouse to any religious beliefs may think that’s a bit strong, but I think that we could all still agree that it is a moral and ethical issue. There is a cancer that runs deeper than signs and protests, deeper than freedom of speech or expressing opinions, and far deeper than the foundations of the monuments that are in question at this time.

 God’s people, the Israelites, would set up stones at the place where God had done something significant in their lives. They stood as monuments to all that God had brought them through. I am sure that the sight of those stones would bring back a flood of memories, some good, some bad. The words of Joshua to the Israelites in Joshua 4 resound to me, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.'”

It’s interesting, because Joshua didn’t tell them to tell future generations what the stones meant to them, but what had happened there. There was no interpretation necessary. But the stones were not there because the stones were important, the stones were there because what had happened was important and they never wanted to forget.

I think we’ve forgotten. I think we’ve forgotten what happened here and I think that some of us have forgotten to tell our stories. We’ve elevated a movement or a person or even a bunch of stones, and we’ve forgotten what was behind them and we’ve forgotten to tell our stories.

There will always be extremists, and extremists always get the press. But the rest of us who live in the tension between extremes have a choice. We can either ignore those extremes in hopes that they go away, or we can make our voices louder, choosing to tell the stories of why we’re here. We may not always agree, we may have differing opinions, but if our end goal is to tell truthful stories, I honestly think that some of those differences and disagreements will begin to fall away.

I sat in my office this morning sad. I was sad and even scared that I had three children who had been brought into the world to face these kinds of things. But beyond my sadness and my fear, I could see hope. I could see hope in knowing that I had the opportunity to lift up a different monument for my children, not one forged in stone and steel, but one that was written on their hearts. I have the opportunity to tell them the stories, not to promote a movement or an agenda, but to promote us living according to how we were created, in the image of the One who created us.

Dispelling the Rumors

real artists don't starveIt seems that there has been a myth that has been perpetuated in our culture and many cultures. That myth is that real artists starve. In order to truly be successful as an artist, you need to have suffered for your art and struggled. Jeff Goins would disagree.

In his latest book, “Real Artists Don’t Starve,” Jeff Goins begins to tackle this myth one false claim after another. He begins to deconstruct the myth by offering the alternative to the myths that have been falsely embraced. Each chapter in the book tackles these twelve myths one at a time. Starving artists believe they are born, thriving artists know you become one. Starving artists work alone, thriving artists collaborate. Starving artists strive for originality, thriving artists steal from their influences. The starving artists work in private, the thriving artists practice in public.

Goin’s use of story is one of the most compelling things about this book. Using stories from George Lucas to Steve Jobs, Dr. Dre to Michelangelo, and John Lasseter to Sam Phillips, Goins tells stories of people who emphasize his points about real artists in this book. These people took risks, owned their work, fought hard, and eventually came out on top. The examples that Goins uses are stories of grit, hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that begin unraveling and busting this myth.

“Real Artists Don’t Starve” calls for a New Renaissance to take place. Goins urges his reader to build a life that allows them to keep creating. Find ways to get your art out there. Take time to enhance it, grow it, refine it. Find communities in which you can share your art and have others share with you. Look to those who have influenced you and incorporate those influences into what you do.

All of Goins’ advice is sound. He not only uses the stories of other people, but he uses his own as well. He shares about his experience of gaining confidence in his abilities and his skills to achieve the status that he has today as a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur. Part of that rise included failures but it also included influences and patrons, those who believed in his abilities so that he could believe in them himself.

If you have struggled with your career and have avoided your passion because you were afraid you would starve, give “Real Artists Don’t Starve” a chance. It may just give you the encouragement you need and propel you to make some choices in your life that will bust the myth that real artists starve.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)