Thinking Out Loud

April 19, 2021

Some Social Media Tension Could Be Lessened

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:06 pm

During the last few months I’ve watched two very longtime relationships erode; people with whom we’ve enjoyed close fellowship since we moved to our small town over 30 years ago.

Not everyone sees everything the same way. I get that. And I enjoy good and healthy debate, provided the basic premises of debate are followed, one of which is logical argument. If the reasons given for a particular position are worthy of consideration — even if I disagree — I’m willing to entertain the conversation.

I’m also willing to listen to someone if they have a portfolio of concerns, but often someone is like a one-issue candidate; the guy running for mayor but really only cares about expanding the baseball diamond in the park, and when asked about road construction or taxes is simply unable to articulate the issues.

But sometimes that’s more subtle. The issues seem varied, but the common theme is preaching to their social media audience. I suppose there is the unlikely chance they might convert someone to their positions, but it’s rarely seen. Often they think the strength of their viewpoint is going to be measured by the volume of their online posts.

I really want to send this to my friend. But I still value the friendship more than anything. However, if I did, it would look like…

Dear ________;

I see you’re once again posting about the _____________ issue. I see it differently, but I also see the frequency of these posts to be concerning.

Your friends and relatives know where you stand. And you know they don’t necessarily agree with you on this subject. Personally, I would think a reminder maybe once every 2-3 months would be sufficient. Not every other day. Especially when a few of them are stretching to make a point.

On a personal level, I do wonder how many people or organizations you are subscribed to that provides you with the vast number of sources from which you gather the various content items. I think about the time this must involve, time that could be spend taking a walk in the fresh air, or doing something different. Your best friend on social media is the button that says, “Log Out,” and you might want to consider using it more often.

I also worry because this rather huge number of social media sources you follow is creating a giant echo chamber which prevents you from hearing from the other side. If we surround ourselves with people who agree with us on everything, we never experience growth.

Last week I had an insight that helped me to see this differently. I’m wondering how much of this is just done for the (predictable) reactions you get. Being deliberately provocative. Poking the bear. Raising peoples’ blood pressure. Being a troublemaker.

I’m reminded of the boy sitting at the back of the middle school classroom making fart noises because it makes the boys laugh and it makes the girls yell at him to knock it off. Either way he gets a reaction. He gets attention.

I am convinced you’re on the wrong side of history on this subject, but neither of us will be around to see the outcome. We can only estimate based on current trends and statistics. But I wouldn’t want to be known as the _____________ guy. Especially if my position could be construed as simply based on my personal preferences.

I’m not going to block you. Not yet. I still consider you a friend. It is amazing though how out of what I always thoughts were common roots we shared we have diverged along very different paths. We need to strengthen the things that remain instead of working toward division.

Your friend,



January 19, 2021

Politics, Race, Viruses, Immigration: The Illusion Analogy

So what do you see?

Do you see a vase? Or do you see two profiles of people facing each other (and not social distancing)?

It occurred to me last week that this is an analogy to where we find ourselves in a coincidentally black-and-white situation with regard to the issues of the day, be it the U.S. federal election, models of theories of the impact of ethnicity, masking or non-masking, getting vaccinated or remaining an anti-vaxxer, being pro-immigration or anti-immigration, etc.

Things are currently polarized. Like we’ve never seen before.

Fact checking is pointless, because sources are challenged. Is it my truth or your truth? Where might objective truth be found? Social media has become a default news source, so you’re getting most of your information from your brother-in-law’s Facebook post.

Which brings us back to the vase above. The picture — and there are now dozens of variations — is called Rubin’s Vase, attributed to the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin who created it around 1915.

The key to the whole thing is that you can’t see both the vase and the profiles at the same time. At any given millisecond you’re seeing either one or the other. Wikipedia puts it this way: “The visual effect generally presents the viewer with two shape interpretations, each of which is consistent with the retinal image, but only one of which can be maintained at a given moment.”

And this is where the analogy breaks down, because if you’re seeing a vase, or a goblet, or a birdbath; I can then point out the faces to you. You may remain loyal to your initial impression, but you’ll be forced to concede another perspective is possible.

But in real life, it’s often impossible to get someone to see the contrary position.

Or admit that they see it…

…Interestingly, Wikipedia links to an article on Pareidolia, which is the way we read things into certain stimuli that aren’t really there; “the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or hearing hidden messages in music. Common examples are perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations, the Man in the Moon…”

(Interesting for the purposes of readers here, is that later on the article notes: “There have been many instances of perceptions of religious imagery and themes, especially the faces of religious figures, in ordinary phenomena. Many involve images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary,…”)

If Rubin’s Vase helps us understand polarization of opinion, I would argue that Pareidolia helps us understand conspiracy theories which are, in simple terms, reading something into a situation which isn’t there.


July 13, 2020

Social Media Debaters Often Lack Social Intelligence

Filed under: blogging, Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:45 am

We’ve been friends for a long, long time, and since the advent of the internet, he occasionally weaves in and out of my life. While we opted 30 years ago to start a family in a smaller town, he stayed single in the busy-ness of the city and connected to a variety of churches, causes and concerns that having children or plugging in to local church ministry or owning a business doesn’t always permit.

The events of the past few months meant that for his part, he had a lot more time on his hands, but for us, that did not necessarily follow.

He has been aggressively texting me about the issues of the day, and I have to pause here and say that while new forms of media usually bring with them new ways of sending messages and chats; to my way of thinking, anything over 100 words should be an email, not a text. It keeps it more searchable and easier to isolate individual sentences to which to write replies.

Some of these issues I grasp. Particularly in this debate about critical race theory, I know that we, the Church of Jesus Christ, need to think about the implications of everything we do. As I get older, I know I need to be careful how I frame what I say, and what jokes should be considered off the table. It’s not that political correctness is making these things wrong now, rather it’s a dawning that many of these things were wrong then, but the culture, even the Christian culture didn’t see it that way.

Hence talk of tearing down statues and re-naming streets. There are even people for whom their last name, their family name, has now, in the last few weeks, become a liability.

Think about how that would impact you.

Anyway, my friend texts me about these things and about the intellectual, scholarly and academic debates being waged by experts in the field. It’s hard to tell the players without a program, but I try to note the names and theories. Some of which are above my pay grade.

Because I don’t want to appear indifferent, I will reply, but my ratio of replies to his texts is approximately 1-to-8.

I will also occasionally send him the video links and article links to things he might be interested in. I do this with a entire basket of people. When I was producing Wednesday Connect weekly, I was online for a large number of hours and always saw things I knew would interest key people in my network.

He listens to these — a part of our relationship I cannot say is fully reciprocal, especially when some of his open on-screen showing a time of 1:44:00 — but admits to listening to many at double speed at 2:00 AM. In that case, I worry about his health.

By sending them, I’m feeding the beast, or more politely, perpetuating the conversation.

Two weeks ago, I explained that we had some friends dropping by at 7:00 that we hadn’t seen in person for a long time. While waiting for me to get back to him, he sent me seventeen texts, some of which were quite lengthy.

But then this exchange last week really did it for me. I broke silence and wrote to him.

“…My employee’s husband had to go to the hospital this morning so the day has been turned somewhat upside down…”

And he wrote back.

“I appreciate your concerns of the day, but I’m wondering if the church will survive the next 5 years…”

continuing on.

Couldn’t even leave the first part as its own sentence without launching back into the one-sided debate. (Key word in that sentence is, ‘but.’)

I think he would do well on Reddit. It strikes me as the best place to engage people on certain topics where there is equal passion. Plus you’re interacting with people who want responses.

I suggested this and he wrote,

“Ha! I can’t even convince you. Why should I start a blog?”

Apparently I’m a project.

I need to be converted.

I just don’t understand how someone can discuss the intricasies of Critical Race Theory and yet be indifferent — or even tone deaf — as to where this is landing. He claims he’s the proverbial voice in the wilderness screaming, “Paul, run! The house is on fire;” and my response consists of “Oh, that’s interesting.”

I’m sorry. These issues matter. Especially right now. And I do watch some of the videos and just completed the 6-part sermon series at The Meeting House with some diversions to Greg Boyd’s church, since it’s located in Minneapolis, where the whole George Floyd thing happened. Boyd’s sermons immediately following were extremely powerful.

But my friend would probably find things in them with which to disagree.

How people respond to these events is going to be somewhat personal; somewhat subjective. As long as they are aiming for a Jesus-focused response, we need to give them space in which to do just that.


March 13, 2017

For the Smart People in the Room

Filed under: Christianity, relationships — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:21 am

You’re considered a smart person. You

  • are a quick study
  • have an encyclopedic knowledge on a variety of subjects
  • know how to think and articulate things logically
  • rarely find yourself at a loss for words

So many times you find yourself in conversations with people who may not share your gifts and understanding of different things. Here’s what I want to share with you today:

Your gifts and knowledge are only as good as your ability to present them in ways that the common person can understand them


your only barometer of how well you are getting through is to make high levels of eye contact with the listener and look for signs of recognition.

If you’re getting through, you can then move on to the next point, or know you can continue but communicating at a higher level. If you’re not, don’t be afraid to say,

  • “Are you with me?”
  • “Are you tracking with that?”
  • “Have I lost you?”
  • “That’s not too confusing, is it?”

But if that’s the axiom, here’s the corollary: Sometimes you find yourself in conversation with someone who

  • is simply better educated
  • has a much more specialized knowledge of or training in the subject at hand
  • has progressed to an aspect of the topic that is above your pay grade
  • processes things more quickly than you and therefore talks faster

Certainly at times like that humility sets in. And smart people need that to take place in their lives from time to time.1 In those situations:

A truly smart person won’t continue the conversation beyond the point where they’ve lost the plot


it’s okay to ask the person to backtrack so you can regroup your forces and continue.

Faking it — pretending you understand — is a terrible choice. In those moments don’t be afraid to say,

  • “Can we go back to the previous point so I can see how we just got to where we are?”
  • “What’s the ‘…for Dummies‘ version of how you would say that?”
  • “What is the 25-words-or-less take-away of what you’re saying?”
  • “I’m hearing you but I’m missing the nuances of that particular argument/distinction.”

Rarely if ever are our interactions a conversation of equals.2 Wisdom will dictate that you do all that is in your power to level the playing field as much as possible.

1 A really smart person won’t begin a sentence with “And;” but that’s another discussion.
2 Sometimes you have to ask yourself why you’re in the conversation to begin with. Jesus talked about casting pearls before swine. Are you simply trying to look intelligent to someone, or feign intelligence to someone else? Talking over someone’s head, or allowing someone to talk over yours for an extended period is just a waste of time. Wisdom lies in knowing when to proceed and when to bail and cut your losses.

May 18, 2013

How to Disagree with a Blog Post

Filed under: issues, Uncategorized, writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:45 am

So we’re still getting great numbers of page views at James MacDonald Preaches on Finances on Easter Sunday, and not a small number of comments, especially for this blog.  Some of you haven’t been back there since it appeared, but I later added an update to clarify some of the comments I got both on and off the blog:

Update 4/4/13

Basically what you’re seeing in the comments section is four possible responses:

  • Supportive (objectively) — People who feel J. MacD. was within his rights to preach this topic on Easter Sunday because it was a legitimate message even for “Holy Week.”
  • Supportive (subjectively) — People who rally around J.MacD. as their pastor or shepherd and want to defend him.
  • Opposed (subjectively) — People who choose to criticize J. MacD. on whatever grounds or based on whatever leadership criteria, or choose to examine this particular topic in light of other information about James and/or HBC.
  • Opposed (objectively) — People who — regardless of whether or not they liked the message — feel the topic was inappropriate for Easter Sunday. 

It was the two objective type of comments we were hoping for.

I don’t want to people to comment on the particular issue here — you should do that at the original post — but I was intrigued with a graphic I found at Wikipedia. From the days of letter writers responding to newspaper editorials to modern forums and blogs, writing tends to follow this hierarchy:


Blog at