Category Archives: Writing

On Killing Our President

As soon as I saw it, I wanted to comment on this ridiculous Facebook bit:

Dear Lord,
This year you took my favorite actor, Patrick Swayzie (sic). You took my favorite actress, Farah Fawcett. You took my favorite singer, Michael Jackson. I just wanted to let you know, my favorite president is Barack Obama. Amen.

Problem was, when I read it, I literally got sick at my stomach. I took it as a direct threat on our President and our very nation. As a democracy, we have the right to choose our leader and we chose President Obama. I don’t know that I agree with any of The President’s current policies except his environmental ones. Still, even if we don’t agree with the President we simply MUST respect the office. If we don’t honor the Presidency then we have chaos and our national freedom erodes.

Thankfully, a writer friend of mine found the words I didn’t have over here (click). Here is a preview of what she had to say:

My question is this: How is that different from what John Wilkes Booth wanted? How is that different from what Lee Harvey Oswald wanted? Hundreds of cells of Islamic extremists would cheer with jubilation to see this – or any – American president shot in the street.

Lastly, have you ever noticed how former Presidents reference the sitting President as “The President” or “Mr. President”? Have you noticed how the First Lady of the sitting President always references her husband as “Mr. President” or “The President”? This shows the respect the office deserves. It seems to me that if someone like John McCain can find it fit to honor the office that his political enemy holds after beating him out for the position, we should too.

I also like the history lesson Wikipedia offers:

When George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States in 1789, he initially used the style, “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties,” a title elaborated by the Joint Congressional Committee on titles over the course of a month. Critics charged that it smacked of monarchy. Washington consented to the demands of James Madison and the United States House of Representatives that the title be altered to “Mr. President.”

So, why all the fuss? Because our freedom deserves our honor and not our cynicism. You don’t have to like The President, but you do have to live with him.

Each Year I Go Into the Woods

Each Year I Go Into the Woods

A Poem, Quatrain, Ballad or something of the sort by: Jason Reynolds

Each year I go into the woods;
I tell others it is to hunt those deer!
The truth: it is to put my feet where grandfather stood
Find my soul and wrestle my fear.

Sitting on the ground, trying not to be found,
Melting into the solemn autumn, white flag on a big buck’s bottom,
Singular concentration trying not to blink wrong, the birds sing their song;
About the time the crickets cease, the sun’s arising and so is the peace.

The sassy doe with her inquisitive bow and teasing stomp,
Mere feet from me I find pleasure in her attitude;
Earthen air fills my lungs and my heart awakes to nature’s pomp,
The leaves float down to me here where lives all solitude.

My only quarrel is with the squirrels,
The only plight with the breeze that carries my abbreviated sneeze;
Eyes begin to droop until I see that majestic deer stoop,
And it is on again: me against him it is time to win!

Sneaky as can be the allusive antler carrier is a bruiser,
A mystical mammal showing only his face;
I work hard to beat him at his game but I am the loser,
Like my stress he’s disappeared and I am put back in my place.

Hunting is less and less about the actual killing,
More and more it is being with like-minded burley men who seek balance,
As we escape the chaos of life to rediscover it is well worth living.
Nature has no substitute: refreshment is found in the woods alongside man’s silence.

What is Twitter?

What is Twitter you ask? Well, what it is (a status update) can be explained more simply than why it is. You see people Twitter for all kinds of reasons, just like people blog and journal or keep a diary for many unique reasons. Recently I was quizzed by some extended family about why I would want to be an exhibitionist and reveal all my personal information. They pressed that it seemed assumptive to think anyone would care about every detail of my day.

I didn’t take offense to this, as it is a reasonable question. For me, Twittering is a way of leaving artifacts of the days and months that speed by way too fast. I can review my words and remember the mile markers of my life, who I was walking the road with, and what it meant to me at the time. For me, this is reason enough to write 140 characters a few times a day about something only I care about.

Twitter is many things to many people, but to me Twitter is not a marketing platform, it is a journaling system that is more simple than any method ever. I also use it as an easy way to share links, grab news, keep up with my friends, and message people when I want to connect with them. Still, these purposes are all secondary to my desire to easily document the simplest things about my life that I won’t remember 2, 10, 30 years from today.

Twitter in Plain English is a video I thought I would share for all you who haven’t experienced Twitter but are dabbling with the idea of creating an account. This will give you the basics, but feel free to ask questions in a comment if you have some.

Twitter in Plain English from leelefever on Vimeo.

A New Job and Neighborhood

Word is starting to get out a bit that I have resigned my position with Stonebriar Community Church this week and accepted a position with the 30th largest church in the US. We wanted to let all of you know this as early in the process as possible, but also had some details to work out before I could make things official. I have been away from consistent blogging for awhile so that I could get this life decision made.

Where is this?

Christ Fellowship in West Palm Beach, Florida offered me a CIO type role that was just too awesome to not consider. After a rapid, yet extensive interview process, Ashley and I came to the same conclusion as Christ Fellowship that God had created an amazing fit between what they need in a technology leader and what God has made me to do. I will initially manage a department of 6-8 folks doing everything from programming to helpdesk to data warehousing. The team is pretty junior, but very talented none the less. Really a good group to be able to mentor.

What will you be doing, exactly?

For some of the more technology challenged readers, I will try to boil this down for you. I will manage a team of people who keep the email working, the files storing, the computers healthy, the data safe, the website updated, the member contact information reportable, the videos playing, the telephones working, etc.

In addition to these regular Church IT duties, I will be helping the church navigate the technology waters to a place of understanding how technology can be leveraged to improve the way they do the Christian life together. Whether this is through a better website that connects people with each other, systems that help improve the discipleship of church members, or an intranet for better communication within the staff, the goal of the position will be to partner with the other executives to champion technology projects that are sponsored internally. I am a change agent for technology within a church who already loves change and technology. What could be more fun?

Are You Moving?

Well yes we are. Believe it or not, God’s call on our life in this case was so strong it is making us give up our Texas residence. Leaving our friends, family, and this great State of Texas (Long live the Republic) were about the only downsides of this ministry move. We are seriously grieving moving to the beach. Some of our friends are just laughing in our pitiful faces and saying, “There are a lot worse places to serve the Lord. It could be Africa or a Peanut Farm!” Thank you Jesus it isn’t both! And they are right, West Palm Beach is about the most affluent place you can be a church worker. Living in constant good weather and around nice things shouldn’t be such a pain. We just love what we have here. We are comfortable. We are fully supported.
Some scripture came to mind in this that haunted us a bit:

Mathew 16: 24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.

Mark 1: 16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17“Come, follow me,” Jesus said. 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

When is this happening?

My last day of work at Stonebriar is August 10th and my first day of work with Christ Fellowship is August 13th. I will work remotely for three weeks. We will move over Labor Day weekend, with my first day on site being September 3rd. “There is a lot left to do” is an understatement of understatements.

With this having happened this week, I have heaps more to say about this, but it will have to wait cause I am out of time for today. We’ll write more soon.

Family Values – Obedience

As we wait on our family values list to be created by interested participants, we thought we would kick things off with the family value “obedience“. Obedience is an important value because it deals with a child’s’ physical safety and their understanding of God. There are times when the consequences of disobedience are not just inconvenient, but deadly. Sin is death, yes, but so can be an untimely sprint across the parking lot.

If we aren’t careful with the way we describe and enforce obedience, we can become rule-focused rather than character-focused. The kids could have a hard time connecting obedience to anything other than the removal of privileges or an appropriately-delivered spanking. Beaver Cleaver getting “yelled at” comes to mind.

The Obedience We Want

What we want to see is the child understanding that a heart of obedience extends and honors relationship. Obedience is not something we always do blindly, but when there exists a relationship with love, this can also be a part of the equation. A “leap of faith” can be an obedient response to God asking us to do something that doesn’t make complete sense. And there will be times that obeying daddy isn’t completely understood.

None the less, obedience is critical to safety and our understanding that God has not compelled himself to remove consequences when we do not obey him. The old testament and the new testament provide plenty of examples of God allowing someone to experience destruction as a result of their disobedience. We do reap what we sow, don’t we?

Defining Obedience

One of the most obedient set of children we have ever seen are the kids of J.J. Barto. I believe his kids respond out of their love for the parents and a whole understanding of the definition and value of obedience. I can tell you first hand, his kids stop what they are doing and come running with any call of their name. They don’t have to be asked more than once. J.J. and Charlotte don’t remember exactly where they found this, but their whole family can recite it at any moment:

Obedience is doing what has been asked or ordered all the way, right away, with a good attitude.

J.J. affirmed this definition works in a recent email to us:

This has held up very well for us over the past 5 1/2 years with both our children and us.

Family Value Modeling

And that brings up a good clarifying point. What is required of our children should be required of us as well, right? If we want the kids to live out these family values, we must submit our own selves to them and model them. We need to be faithful to obey God and defer our preference to those who love us (our spouse, our teachers, our mentors) in front of our children. While this deferment isn’t exactly obedience, it shows our own willingness to submit ourselves to others gladly.

Over the last month we have been using a variant of the definition J.J. provided. Our definition for the girls has been:

“To obey means to do the right thing, the first time, with a good attitude.”

Our idea was to abstract out the “asked or ordered” portion such that there is an understanding that Biblical truths, government laws, and complementary family values must be obeyed even without an explicit ask. We also wanted to include an aspect of our belief that there is absolute truth/right. Now that we look at it though, it seems we have dropped the “all the way” portion. Complete obedience is indeed a critical component of obeying.

Another variant of these same definitions that our friend Reagan Swank mentioned once could be the original (source yet unknown but it sounds like Babywise): “Obey all the way, right away, and with a happy heart”.

The “happy heart” part might be a little unrealistic? When we obey God, it isn’t always bringing glad tidings and with a smile on our face. As we said above, the hearts condition is critical to obedience, but I am not sure it can be instituted or enforced.

What About Your Obedience?

What about you. How are you defining and talking about obedience within your family? Should obedience be a family value? It is up to every parent to implement the obedience process with those who are caretakers of their kids, but what works for you? Can you think of a time where the value of obedience was made clear to you through specific language, a metaphor, or an event?

Discovering Family Values

With our recent time in the hospital came some moments of down-time that really made me wonder what I value. In fact, not only what I value, but what we as a family value. Ashley and I had spent much time considering the question and verbalizing to one another what we believe and what we want to instill in our children. But are we getting through to the little ones with our family values? Are we taking every opportunity to model them for our kids?

The Problem with Family Values

Family values don’t seem to stick as well as they used to. All around are families who seem divided about what they believe. Even within Ashley and my extended family, we don’t see broad agreement about how to raise children and what the children’s character should be. “Family rules” have no basis when there is not an articulated set of values that provide the foundation. Getting uncles and grandmothers and babysitters to enforce the family values is even harder when they are not easily conveyed or transferred.

Family Values Permanence

So I began to ponder the opportunity of putting some of these values down in writing. It seemed like an imposing task. Family values, in many ways, are about the character we want and the character God has. They are tough concepts to wrestle with, but even tougher to put into language a child can understand. So, I began making a list of the family values Ashley and I have discussed that would be possible candidates to put in writing.

Always one who would rather not reinvent the wheel, it occurred to me maybe some other families had already walked this road and I could adapt what they had written. As I talked with five great men to which I am no peer, none of them had written down their family values. They all had them. They all deeply desired to imbed them within their families. None of them had written them down. Thinking five are better than one, I talked with my wife about taking our family values discussion to the internet and including our family and friends. She reluctantly agreed.

Family Values Proposal

Family values should take on a unique and personal flare for each individual family. The implementation is unique and thus the final set of values should be unique. But the core values are similar, and I propose that we work on this project together, using the comment system on this site as our discussion method. We’ll take a value at a time and discuss it thoroughly. Comments on each value will close after two weeks. Each family can then take what is useful and discard the rest. Together we are much wiser, no? So, please, help us all by sharing your perspective. Ponder these things alongside us. Pray through it with us. Blog about it if you have a blog. Ask your parents and advisers what they think.

Who is Invited to the Discussion?

Anyone holding a evangelical Christian world-view. That is the short answer. This isn’t a forum for crafting new beliefs or debating political agendas. This is about honing in on the core of a given family value and finding a way to articulate it in a solid, timeless way that our kids can adopt. Ashley and I are inviting all of our family to contribute. After all, if they are going to live with the family values we chose, they should have a healthy opportunity to debate them. Feel free to invite your family to this discussion as well. We’ll all learn from one another. This is the invite we are sending out in a few moments:

Family and Friends,

Ashley and I are putting our family values into writing. As we shared with others our desire to solidify our values in terms our children can understand, it seems many families have yet to do this. Most everyone indicates it is a worthwhile endeavor and that they would do well to have their family values written out as well.

Since the values Ashley and I choose for our immediate family impact our relationships with you all, as well as the way we will ask that you interact with our children, we want to invite you to participate in the drafting of these. You are also free to use this discussion as a starting point for putting your own family values in writing.

We’ll be considering each value on our blog and request your participation as you are able. Read and comment on the values related discussions here: Thanks in advance for your partnering with us in creating something that will help us develop character in ourselves and our children.

Warmest regards,

Ashley and Jason Reynolds

Family Values Resources

No, it has not eluded us there are heaps of resources out there on “Family Values”. Books galore. Programs explored. Our approach here is not a rejection of those resources. We may borrow from the Proverbs, books, videos, wives tales, or from other copyrighted works. Everything is fair game since this is for personal use. In fact, the process we will follow on the blog is a bit like the bonus projects that accompany Family Life’s Raising Children of Faith. When you do use or reference other resources, I would ask that you cite the reference.

List-o-Family Value

After talking with Dave about this project, he agreed to jump in and provide his list of family values worth consideration. So I have merged his list with my own. Add your own values in the comments. Ashley and I will post a compiled list and trim it back for these discussions:

  • Accountability
  • Cleanliness
  • Commitment
  • Communication
  • Compassion
  • Contentment
  • Conviction
  • Cooperation
  • Courage
  • Determination
  • Discipline
  • Endurance
  • Fairness
  • Faith
  • Forgiveness
  • Friendship
  • Generosity
  • Gratitude
  • Honesty
  • Honor
  • Hope
  • Humility
  • Individuality
  • Initiative
  • Integrity
  • Joy
  • Kindness
  • Knowledge
  • Learning
  • Love
  • Loyal
  • Morally Pure
  • Obedience
  • Openness
  • Patience
  • Peace
  • Personal Excellence
  • Resourcefulness
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Safety First
  • Self-Control
  • Selflessness
  • Service
  • Trust
  • Uniqueness
  • Wisdom

YAPHP – Yet Another Paris Hilton Post

I can’t believe I am stooping this low, but I NEED to say something about Paris Hilton. Everyone else is. So, here is YAPHP (Yet Another Paris Hilton Post).

I don’t know her personally (who would have guessed) or as intimately as others (I hear there are a lot who do) and in fact can say I have no idea what this trial is about. I don’t know a single fact about the trial and why people are supposing she will be convicted (if she hasn’t been already) of whatever she has done. I have less interest in this than I did in the tragic death of that other porn star a few months ago. None the less, Paris Hilton is causing people to write some really creative things. I had to share this encouragement for white people to riot with included allusion to the Rodney King incident. I hope it doesn’t come to pass, but this funny article is worth a read if you like cynical humor:

In a few hours little Paris Hilton will go back to court wherein it will be decided whether she must return to prison for the remainder of her sentence. If she gets to go home because it’s just too scary for her then we should all calmly stop what we are doing and make our way to Beverly Hills and in fine Los Angeles tradition riot openly in the streets.

Once there please do your best to gather tools that can make fire. Considering the location and terrain this likely means bashing in car windows so as to retrieve lighters. If none can be found then use the lighter installed in the automobile itself, they can be found in all make of cars from Ferrari to Aston Martin. Once fire has been discovered start looking for things that are compatible with fire.

This includes: car interiors, piles of clothes, driftwood, toy poodle fur (attached or not is up to you), designer clothes … [Read More of the Original Entry]

From Bubble Graphs to Mind Maps

Bubble Graphs

I can honestly say there are almost no learning techniques from Jr. High that I have carried forward through my short academic life into business. However, there is one gift that a now nameless, faceless teacher once gave me. That gift was the ability to put my thoughts on paper first, and then dork with them and refine them. She (I think it was a “she”) called them “Bubble Graphs”, but the point was to brainstorm about a topic for a speech, a paper, or an argument and document things. Then go back and do the organization and structuring of those thoughts, with a final output being an outline.

Those of you who have conversed with me for more than a few moments know that my brain multi-threads pretty well when thinking, speaking, and typing. It doesn’t do so well with multi-tasking actual work, but it is highly optimized for thinking. This becomes problematic when my environment puts certain constraints on me, like for instance time, energy, and sleep. So, in time I developed a method of getting my rapid, fluid thoughts out of my brain and onto one of these “Bubble Graphs”.

I started using them in Junior High in Extemporaneous Speaking contests, and then used them at Baylor on almost every paper I wrote and every speech I gave as a Speech Communications major. This approach even helped when I entered the business world as I created Powerpoints, training documentation, technology proposals, project plans, and conducted audits of companies. For me, it was simply the best way to get the unstructured data that flowed rampantly in my brain onto paper, and then decide how the concepts were related, what was worth keeping, and how the final deliverable would be structured. I now know this method to be the same as a concept map.

Mind Maps

About four years ago I stumbled on some software that would allow me to do “mind mapping”. The differences between a mind map and a concept map are subtle. Basically a mind map tends to be more structured in format and there is typically no direct grouping of concepts other than by what the structure and hierarchy of the mind map document provides. That said, the process for creating a mind map and a concept are essentially the same.

Mind mapping software enables a person or persons to quickly document ideas on a screen with almost no technical difficulties that would hamper the creative process. And yet, these ideas can be restructured very speedily by simply dragging and dropping an idea underneath another idea. This creates a very agile approach to document individual or group ideation, whether it be mission statements, business plan outlines, venture capital pitches, or things as abstract as meal recipe organization. It can even help with brainstorming about lengthy blog posts (see my mind map for this post below).

FreeMind Mind Mapping Software

After trying many different mind mapping software products over the last four years, I have finally settled on one that I can’t get enough of. FreeMind is the tool I have recommended recently to a number of other internet professionals. Regardless of the varying ways they think, they almost always come back and say “the more I use this, the more I use this”. Once you really “get” this process and this kind of tool, you begin to find heaps of other ways in which it will help you.

I recently used FreeMind on a consulting engagement where I was asked to make recommendations about how to turn their business around. I took notes of each stakeholder conversation in individual text documents, but then used the mind map to tie all the concepts, problem spaces, and solutions together. This aided me in understanding a large, complex problem at a single glance. It came in handy when it was time to draft the deliverable document of my recommendations.

Also, recently, I used FreeMind on a 150+ page web project to develop the navigation scheme (Information Architecture) that will easily expand in the future to more than 500 pages. The two freelance designers I was working with were able to collaborate on my work by simply opening my file and changing things up. On this same large project, 15 of us used FreeMind during a series of meetings to create a massive mind map that profiles our eight core audience member types. We included each of those profiles characteristics, needs, and the many ways we felt we could meet their needs based on what resources we have available to our organization. This was an invaluable tool in not only understanding our audience, but in helping us as a team to decide which of the 8 types of people coming to our website would be our core focus, which would be of secondary focus, and who we would try to serve as we could.

Why I Love FreeMind

  • Free to use(yep, it’s open source)
  • Cross platform
  • Scalable for very large maps
  • Easily installed and updated
  • Has numerous export options (images, PDFs, outlines in various file types)
  • Built with Java and XML

There seems to exist a little online community around the FreeMind software, which is maybe best illustrated in this online list of mind maps that you can explore for ideas on how to do your own. I am especially fond of this start on Calvinist “Sects”.

Mind Map for This Blog Post

FreeMind Mind Map

How to design News & Events pages for Churches?

We are in the middle of a new web project where I work as Web Ministry Coordinator. We are completely overhauling our site design and information architecture with the help of Chris Merritt and Nathan Smith. Of the many things we are trying to do, including creating a staff blog on the church site, rolling a News & Events page is top on our list.

Church news and events are usually a big focus for church web sites, but this focus is spread out throughout the site. At most church sites, you might get a calendar page with detail of upcoming events. We really want to create something which can compete with the major news outlets, but deals with hyper-local content specific to our church, it’s people, and the local community of 30,000 folks.

We want to include local news, church news, announcements, upcoming events, calendar events for the week, blog entry teasers, birth announcements, death announcements (which we will either name “Grieving the Loss” or “In Memoriam”), prayer requests, and service opportunities. The idea is to create a page that people might save as their home page in their browser, or at least use as a reference point within our site for everything new happening at and around the church.

The challenges when you start trying to design for this page are huge. Somehow it has to fit within the regular church site design (which should accommodate sparse content also), but still work for a news page where the user may scroll three pages. I am still not completely satisfied with the result we plan to launch in April, but this December blog post by Luke Stevens about online news design has been really helpful for me to get my brain around the concept and the design challenges. It is also neat to see how various news sites from around the world approach the problems (eye candy included at the link above).

Why Netflix Gets It and Blockbuster Does Not

So I attempted to cancel my subscription a few moments ago because of a bad experience, and had to fill out a survey to get it done. There was a comment field where they asked “How Can We Improve? Would you mind taking a minute to explain why you’ve decided to cancel your account?” So, I was willing to help out and wrote the following in my very sick state (the flu or a cold maybe). Upon submission of the survey, a form error was returned on the comment field which reads: “Please type in 255 characters or less for your comments.”

Apparently, Blockbuster doesn’t want all of my comments or a true discussion with their would-be customers. So, I am posting this to my blog for the world to see and adding the link to the comment field in the subscription cancellation field (I doubt they will read it). The first amendment has never been so sweet, has it?

Basically, you guys don’t understand the value of a life-time customer. I went into the store as a Netflix customer who was having a lonely weekend, with not enough movies to entertain me. The wife and I had decided to rent three movies. I saw your TV ad earlier in the day, which communicated to me that I could sign-up for your service and pick up/drop off movies either in the store or online. So, I went to the store to sign up and get three movies.

The high-school aged kid that was there communicated that I would even get a third-movie free tonight with a special coupon they had there. So, I signed up while in the store with him by my side. Filled out the preferences, all my account info (which you already had because I have been a customer for over 10 years), and entered my credit card detals.

I then took my three movies to the counter, where the kid gave me a total of $9.94. I said, “What are you talking about…. I just put in my credit card information in for the monthly service, now I am ready for my movies”. He informed me that the service was only for movies that come through the mail… and that when I return movies at the store that I receive through the mail, then I can get coupons for movies through the store while I wait for more movies to arrive through the mail. I was shocked and confused. I simply said, “But *I am* waiting for my movies to come through the mail”. All he was empowered to do was blink I think, cause he didn’t even call over the manager.

Not being one to quit easily, I communicated that part of the reason I had signed up in store and was willing to move away from Netflix was because it seemed like I could get get the benefit today of Netflix plus in-store pickup. He could not clearly communicate to me the reason why picking up a movie in-store is different than getting it through the mail. From my perspective, I signed up for a Blockbuster service that allowed me to have X number of movies out at any given time, and return in store or via the mail. All I wanted was three movies so I could snuggle up with my wife.

So, Blockbuster, If you really want me as a life-time customer, give me the benefit of what I have paid for NOW. Keep the details of your inventory system, your cost centers, your work-flow, your finances, etc. out of my way and out of sight. Customers don’t care about your pain and are apt to forget you if your pain in getting products to market gets in our way… which is why I am sitting home with the flu today, unwilling to drive down the street and rent from blockbuster.

Thankfully my single Netflix movie came last night… and guess what, they sent it to me when my list was empty, anticipating the type of movie I would enjoy. And it looks like they got it right. They understand that to keep a customer you have to lower the barriers that get in the way of the customer relationship. Blockbuster, you could learn a lesson there.

Now, to all you other companies out there, if you care for me as the customer and want me to evangelize your products, you will empower me to do so as early as you can… with no hassle or waiting, or uninformed high-school kids.

Netflix Gift Certificate I Can Send to Friends