Monday, March 30, 2015

Celebrating a transition to Glory

Today we're reflecting on the life and legacy of Darlene​'s dad, Fredrick W. French, who passed peacefully into glory this morning about 3:30 a.m. in Victorville, CA. He was 95. For many years Fred had been anticipating this homegoing, and we are very grateful that he is now in the arms of the Savior he was so excited about seeing face-to-face.

Fred was a beautiful example to me: of single-minded devotion to Jesus, of care and concern for his family, and of integrity with all with whom he did business. Before he retired he was a valued agent of Allstate insurance, and at one point was celebrated as what they called a "Life Millionnaire" for his life insurance sales.

After he retired and they moved to live full-time in Wrightwood (where they had vacationed for many years), he worked tirelessly with his son-in-law Jerry and other contractor friends to build and sell custom homes in that community. His fingerprints are on many of the beautiful homes in that quaint mountain town.

He also loved (and even composed) sacred music. He kept a tape recorder on the bedstand near where he slept because he would often dream of tunes, and woke to hum them into the recorder for later development. He even produced a tape recording of his songs at one point after "retirement."

Fred led such an interesting life. When he was a teenager growing up poor on a farm in New York he came down with tuberculosis, then incurable, and spent 7 years in a sanitarium. That's where he met Dottie (also a patient). After a cure was developed they were both treated and released, whereupon they married and moved from New York State to California, where they grew their young family, attended evangelistic services and received Christ, and helped start a vital and growing young church. (Darlene had 3 siblings. Her younger sister, Lori, passed away when Darlene was just 17. We will catch up with the other two, her older sister Sharon and older brother Gary, when we travel later this week.)

In his latter years, Fred dictated his fascinating life story to Dottie, who typed it out and passed it along to us. Darlene and I had the privilege of putting it together into a small autobiographical book. I am hoping to upload this soon to Amazon Kindle, so if you are interested in reading it, please let me know and I will keep you posted.

Fred touched many lives and I know many people will be saddened to hear of his passing. Please be in prayer for Dottie (also 95), and the rest of the family as we travel and gather together to celebrate. We do hope you will also rejoice with us in the sure hope promised in Psalm 116:15 — "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints."

Friday, March 27, 2015

Why blog? Reason #1: To connect

This is the seventh and final post in a new series I'm calling "Why blog?" In each day's post in this series, I have examined one or more of the top 10 reasons people (including me) blog ... and what I have learned as a professional blogger and a corporate liaison to bloggers.

Yesterday's post looked at Reasons #3 and #2: To sell books, or to mobilize people for a noble cause. But in answer to the question "Why blog?" today's post examines, David Letterman countdown-style ...

Reason #1: To connect.

If God created spiders to spin webs, and birds to sing, and bees to fertilize flowers and make honey, I believe He created people to communicate. In this, we are a reflection of Himself, for according to the Gospel of John He calls Himself "The Word."

While humans are not unique as communicators in the animal kingdom, for better or for worse we certainly do the most of it, and we do it the most intently. While communication can be holistically considered both sharing our thoughts, as well as listening to and seeking to understand the thoughts of others, most of us do remarkably better at the former than we do at the latter.

But, the beauty of blogging is that it encompasses both, at least to a certain extent. It provides us with a platform for sharing our thoughts with a potentially global audience, and also provides our readers with a mechanism for responding, through the comment functionality that most blogs incorporate.

When I first started my blogger liaison assignment with World Vision, I started by seeking out bloggers whom I felt would care about our cause and who might be open (if I provided the resources) to talking about it. The challenge, of course, was narrowing the field. With millions of blogs out there, many of them blogging at least weekly or even daily, how with a limited amount of time could I go about weeding out the chaff and finding and focusing on the ones with the best potential?

I was excited when, early on, I felt that I had found some good candidates. I read their blogs, enjoyed what I read, interacted with them, and contacted them asking if they might be interested in working with me. One gentleman in particular seemed amenable and I considered him an early win, as he posted some great World Vision content. So he was definitely "on my list."

A number of months later I was pitching him again, and this time he replied with a rather stinging rebuke, basically saying, "You don't read my blog. I'm not your friend. Leave me alone." (My paraphrase.) Naturally, he went off my list. I was taken aback, but as I reflected, I realized I probably deserved his rebuke. With zillions of blogs to sift through and read, I had stopped reading (and interacting with) his on a regular basis. Nonetheless I still treated him as if we had a relationship.

The reality is, those of us who blog want most to be read, and to interact with those who read us. My once-upon-a-time blogging friend was right: I no longer read him, interacted with his blogs, so I had no right to call myself a friend. No real relationship there.

At this point I started questioning myself: How on earth am I going to do this job? I had been told by consultants that it was reasonable to expect that only 1 in 50 blogs I pitched would actually "bite." If I wanted 10 or 20 bloggers to be posting my material each week, I couldn't, of course, be reading and interacting with 500 or 1,000 blogs each week. I'm too slow a reader, this is just one part of my job, and the math just didn't work. (1,000 blogs per week equals 200 blogs per day equals 40 blogs per hour, assuming I'm giving 5 hours per day to the task. I don't think I could read and interact with a tenth that number, let alone 40 per hour.)

Anyway, I haven't yet found the answer to my dilemma. I guess the goal should be to find and focus my efforts on the blogs that have the greatest potential for payback, slowly weeding out all the others. Better a high quality relationship with a smaller group of bloggers than a low quality relationship with a larger group.

I think the largest majority of bloggers out there don't really do it primarily for the pay. They don't do it to get famous, or to establish their expertise in a specific topic, or write and sell books, or to influence and mobilize a large number of people in some noble cause. They may not even do it to gripe, or to inspire. They do it for the most human of reasons: To be read, and to find, interact with, and hopefully connect with other humans during this very short time we are sharing together on this planet!

Thank you for reading through this series on blogging! Please comment and let me know your own reason(s) for blogging, and if they differ from what I've presented. List your blog and I may add it to my list (in the right nav) of blogs I follow. Thanks!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why blog? Reasons #3 and #2: To sell books, or to mobilize people for a noble cause

This is the sixth post in a new series I'm calling "Why blog?" In each post in this series, I examine one or more of the top 10 reasons people (including me) blog ... and what I have learned as a professional blogger and a corporate liaison to bloggers.

Tuesday's post looked at Reason #4: To practice writing. But in answer to the question "Why blog?" today's post examines, David Letterman countdown-style ...

Reason #3: To sell books.

This is akin to reason #4. It may not really deserve to be here, but the reason I included it is because of my boss. She has convinced me to write my autobiography. I tell a lot of stories, some of them more or less true, and she always tells me: "You have THE most interesting stories! You definitely need to write your autobiography. I bet a lot of people would love it."

She may just be buttering me up and trying to get me to work harder (which is something some good bosses do, while others try instead to motivate by yelling and screaming), but I've chosen to take her at her word because that's just how vain a person I am. But then, once I decided that yes, I was going to write my autobiography, the next question was, "How?" And it occurred to me, I was already writing it, sort of, in my blog, which is where I tell a lot of my stories. Because my memory is basically about as holy as swiss cheese, I frequently have to consult my blog to help me remember all the great stories I have told. (Which might explain why some of them seem to grow in wonder the more time elapses between the event and the telling!) And so it seems natural I should use this blog as the basis for my autobiography.

So, if you are reading this, here's one thing you can feel good about today ... you are now reading something for free that someone may someday be foolish enough to pay money for, once it's been published in book form. Congratulations.

Reason #2: To mobilize people for a noble cause.

This really is probably the most admirable reason of all to blog, so I'm going to try for a moment to be serious. In my digital media role with World Vision, I run across a lot of cause-related bloggers. They pick the topic that most concerns them, for whatever reason, and they dedicate their blog to trying to make a difference in the world by motivating people to do something about that topic.

That topic can be fairly narrow. You probably wouldn't write an entire blog focused solely on human trafficking, but I know a number of individuals who have done just that. I admire them for it, and don't doubt that they are moving the needle in some way to change the world for the better by helping eliminate the horror of human trafficking. (By the way, did you know there are more human slaves of all sorts, now, than there were during the height of the West's slave trade in Africa? Appalling. I really hope more people will become human trafficking bloggers.)

In tomorrow's blog, we'll look at the final reason people blog, reason #1 ... Why blog? To connect.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why blog? Reason #4: To practice writing

This is the fifth post in a new series I'm calling "Why blog?" In each day's post in this series, I examine one or more of the top 10 reasons people (including me) blog ... and what I have learned as a professional blogger and a corporate liaison to bloggers.

Saturday's post looked at Reasons #7, #6 and #5: To become famous, to inspire, and sometimes to gripe. But in answer to the question "Why blog?" today's post examines, David Letterman countdown-style ...

Reason #4: To practice writing.

I once knew a person who told everyone she was a writer. I think she told them this to gain their admiration, because, as far as I know, she'd never actually written anything.

Oh, she had good ideas for things she wanted to write, and when I first met her, I was quite impressed when she told me some of her ideas about the pieces she was supposedly writing. The ideas were inspiring and I was eager to read what she had actually written.

But after awhile I came to the realization that she hadn't actually done much (if indeed any) writing to speak of.

In my mind, if you want to actually be a writer, you need to do two things: 1) You need to do a lot of reading. Read good writers and think about why their writing is good, as you're reading them. And 2) You need to actually practice writing. A lot.

And a blog is, of course, a great way to practice writing. Think about it: You get feedback (hopefully) from people who read your blogs. If your writing stinks, you'll probably hear a lot of silence, and perhaps not get many, or any comments. (Yes, I realize that's awkward ... it probably explains some things about many of my own blog posts!) If you know how to access analytics on your blog, they'll also tell you that very few people are reading you.

But, if your writing is halfway decent, you'll hopefully get some readers, and possibly even some positive comments/feedback. And hopefully you'll also receive some good, specific and very honest feedback from friends who care about you, about what you can do better in your writing.

How great is that?

In my next blog in this series, we'll look at reasons #3 and #2 ... Why blog? To sell books, or to mobilize people for a noble cause.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why blog? Reasons #7, #6, and #5: To become famous, to inspire ... and sometimes to gripe

This is the fourth post in a new series I'm calling "Why blog?" In each day's post in this series, I examine one or more of the top 10 reasons people (including me) blog ... and what I have learned as a professional blogger and a corporate liaison to bloggers.

My last post looked at Reasons #9 and #8: Because it's there ... and in order to inform, or demonstrate (or establish) expertise. But in answer to the question "Why blog?" today's post examines, David Letterman countdown-style ...

Reason #7: To become famous.

Jorn Barger was an influential
early blogger, but his "Robot
Wisdom" blog no longer posts.
There are a few people who, because of the quality of their blogs or their expertise at whatever they are writing about, and also because of how they've leveraged their blogs to establish their name as a guru in whatever their subject is, have become famous in doing so. More power to 'em.

But, let's be generous and say there may be 1,000 such people out there for whom this is the case. Which doesn't sound like bad odds ... until you go back to what I said about there being hundreds of millions of bloggers. All the sudden, your odds of becoming famous by blogging plummet to at least 1:100,000. Not quite so great. Stick to playing the lottery, it's a lot easier.

I actually can't think of a whole lot of people made famous by their blogs. Matt Walsh is probably one, and I'm not sure he's a good example. (He describes himself as a "blogger, writer, and professional sayer of truths." He's far-right in the rather caustic vein of Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity, and it's possible his fame — he's said to have some 40 million readers, though I wonder about that — comes as much from how "out there" he is as from his actual blogging skill. But I haven't read that much of him so I probably should stop there.)

Reason #6: To inspire.

Okay, this is a very noble, altruistic reason, right? There are bloggers out there who blog simply to uplift the human spirit. They are good writers, and they have the gift of encouragement. They have the ability to paint a vision of the way things should be, and to stimulate us toward that vision. In a world full of preachers, these are the Joyce Meyers, the T. D. Jakes, the John Pipers, or the Joel Osteens of the blogging world.

If you are a very inspiring person, with an uplifting message to share, by all means, please blog! We need you!

Reason #5: To gripe.

I rated this reason ahead of reason #6 (to inspire) simply because I feel more people are using their blogs to gripe than to inspire. There's something in the human spirit that has a need to kvetch. I've even succumbed to some of this myself. For instance, see my blog about the silverware tray on my dishwasher, titled: "Hell needn't be hot -- mere bad engineering will suffice." Yes, I wrote a whole blog post, just to grip about the silverware tray that came with my dishwasher!

And, surprisingly enough, it's actually one of my top 10 most-read posts! Go figure. I'm hoping this is because I tried to inject some humor into the situation when I wrote it, and not because people simply can't believe I'm wasting my time griping about a plastic tray in a dishwasher.

Hmmm ... perhaps "to make people laugh" should be another reason?

In tomorrow's blog, we'll look at reason #4 ... Why blog? To practice writing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Why Blog? Reasons #9 and #8: Because it's there ... and to inform, or to demonstrate (or establish) expertise

Guy Kawasaki, one of  my favorite
bloggers and overall geek hero.
This is the third post in a new series I'm calling "Why blog?" In each day's post in this series, I will look at one or more of the top 10 reasons people (including me) blog ... and what I have learned as a professional blogger and a corporate liaison to bloggers.

The last post in this series looked at Reason #10: To make a buck or get free stuff. But in answer to the question "Why blog?" today's post examines, David Letterman countdown-style ...

Reason #9: Because it's there.

Okay, I admit this sounds like, and probably is, the silliest reason of all. What I had in mind was sort of that same reason that people climb mountains ... simply because it's a challenge. It's something that may be difficult, and if you succeed at doing it, you can look down at all the little people scurrying around like ants below and feel good about what you've achieved.

You can tell your friends, "I've got a blog. I'm a blogger."

The majority of the blogs in the world may actually fall into this category, I'm not sure. (Hopefully not mine!) And I'm guessing many of them don't blog very consistently. As part of my job, I scan through hundreds of blogs. I frequently run across blogs that haven't had a new post in 2 or 3 years. I think either the blogger died, or didn't have that compelling a reason to start blogging in the first place.

Reason #8: To inform, or to demonstrate (or establish) expertise.

I know, I've lumped a lot into reason #8. Actually, among my favorite bloggers are some news bloggers (like Jonathan Merritt's "On Faith & Culture" blog for Religion News Service) who are very good at providing thought-provoking news and analysis through their blogs. But a lot of people are very good at something very specific, which other people might like to learn how to get good at; and when they are good teachers/communicators, it makes for a winning combination for a blog.

There are a lot of bloggers out there, for instance, who specialize in technology. And people who follow the march of progress in technology, but don't have the time to go to all the conferences or read up on all the latest gizmos, can instead read their favorite tech blogger who can let them in on all their secrets.

Among my favorites in this category include: Guy Kawasaki (who has expanded the scope of his blogging far beyond mere tech); Gizmodo, Huffington Post Tech, Wired, Engadget and TechDirt.

I used to enjoy Robert Scoble but he quit blogging last August, saying "The world has moved on to social media." Hmmm. I think blogging (long form or medium form) is still an important PART of social media! Twitter would be inherently frustrating (at least to me, a writer) if you couldn't use it primarily to point to your medium- or long-form posts.

The blogger may be doing it because they love tech. They may also be doing it to make some money. See #10 above. Others of course may be doing it to establish their name as an expert in a given subject. See reason #7, below. And of course, many of the bloggers, such as the news bloggers, are getting paid for it as a part of their job.

In one more interesting example of a very entertaining blog based on expertise (with a twist of humor) ... you all have probably enjoyed listening to Car Talk on NPR. Did you know they have a blog? It's true. Here it is. I'm not a car guy, per se ... but this is all the more reason to be able to find good info on cars when I need to!

In tomorrow's blog, we'll look at reasons #7, #6 and #5 ... Why blog? To become famous. And to inspire. And sometimes, to gripe.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Why Blog? Reason #10: To make a buck or get free stuff.

In yesterday's post I introduced a new series I'm calling "Why blog?" In each day's post in this series, I will look at one or more of the top 10 reasons people (including me) blog ... and what I have learned as a professional blogger and a corporate liaison to bloggers.

In answer to the question "Why blog?" today's post examines, David Letterman countdown-style ...

Reason #10: To make a buck or get free stuff.

As someone who is fairly new to the field of blogging, I am astounded and amazed how many bloggers out there only blog because it's a way to get free stuff, or to make some money. There are thousands of (primarily women, it seems to me) bloggers who do product or service reviews of various sorts. Many of these go under the rubric of "lifestyle bloggers." In some cases they accept products or services in order to review them, and so their blog accumulates lots of free stuff for them. In others, they actually get paid to blog. Of course this usually only works if you establish a demonstrably large leadership, and for those who do, banner or keyword or sponsor advertising on the blog itself may also serve as a source of income.

One of the best known in this category is actress Gwyneth Paltrow's blog, "Goop." (In 2012, Goop made more than $1.8 million, although the company's expenses reportedly put it in the red.)

When I was in college I started a press association of Christian college newspaper editors, called the ESPA (Evangelical Student Press Association, not to be confused with ESPN!). My reasons in starting it were altruistic ... I wanted to create a fellowship of and help other Christian college newspaper editors. (At the time I was the editor-in-chief of The Chimes, which was the weekly student newspaper at Biola University in La Mirada, California, and later was elected to a seat on student government as publications director.)

But I soon discovered there were other cool perks in having one's own press association. For one thing, I could make and wear (and grant) press passes, which would get me and my friends into concerts and other events. For free! Of course I had to promise to review those events, but that was no problem. I also started getting copies of new books, which the publishers wanted me to review (and to provide my reviews to other newspapers in our association). This was of course a legitimate service which I could provide, so I had a clear conscience in accepting these perks. But these side benefits weren't in my mind when I started the association.

So, I understand where these bloggers are coming from. If I get enough traffic on this blog, I may even some day get a Google AdWords account and start making a little cash on the side. With more than 30,000 readers of my blogs, and having written more than 200 blogs already, it certainly wouldn't hurt to take the muzzle off the ox. So to speak.

But, for me, this will never be my sole motivation for blogging. I've already done the stint as a full-time, professional, freelance writer ... remember that job where you feel like you're doing well if you're making the equivalent of minimum wage for your time? (And no benefits!)

In our next post on this series, we'll look at reasons #9, and #8 ... Why blog? Because it's there. Or else: to inform, or to demonstrate (or establish) expertise.