Exercise Nuts Live Longer; Live Better

YoungerNextYear_10262013Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge.  2007.  Younger Next Year:  Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy–Until You’re 80 and Beyond.  Male and Female editions.  New York:  Workman Publishing.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My annual physical examination yielded a surprising result this month–my cholesterol statistics improved rather markedly.  What had I done differently?  Really only two things:  I ate more fresh vegetables and I added resistance training to my daily exercise.  What did these two things have in common?  They were both recommendations from Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge’s book, Younger Next Year.

Crowley and Lodge make an audacious claim:  over 50 percent of all illness and injuries in the last third of your life can be eliminated by changing your lifestyle (7).  What changes do they recommend?  A big part of their advice is regular, strenuous exercise  including resistance training.  What is regular?  At least six days a week.  What is strenuous?  Exercise able to provide an aerobic effect.  What is resistance training?  They recommend a program of weight lifting.  If you follow their advice, then you can remain like a physically fit, 50 year-old well past the age of 80.

Crowley and Lodge’s claim is credible for two reasons.

First, when I worked as a chaplain intern in 2011 and 2012, I noticed that about half the patients that I visited in the emergency department were there as a consequence of poor lifestyle choices.  Poor choices included things like obesity, drug addiction, sexual adventurism, and so on.  Later, the chief surgeon in the department corrected my estimate and claimed that poor lifestyle choices actually accounted for about three-quarters of the visits to the deparment.

Second, the Washington Post ran an article earlier in the year comparing life-expectancy in two Florida counties.  The first county was populated by exercise nuts and the second county by couch potatoes.  The article reported that the exercise nuts were living healthier and several years longer than the couch potatoes.  This issue caught Congress’ attention (the reason for the article) because the difference in life expectancy rates and health outcomes implied that the exercise nuts were being subsidized by the couch potatoes in federal benefit programs, such as social security and medicare.  Politicians are good at following the money trail!

Crowley is a retired attorney;  Lodge is his physician and an expert in gereatric (old age) medicine.  The one knows how to get your attention;  the other knows how to keep it.

The book is organized into two parts:  taking charge of your body and taking charge of your life.  Part 1–Taking charge of your body–deals with the problem that after age 50 your body begins to athropy.  Exercise helps to maintain  an active metabolism and retain body weight.  In other words, use it or loose it.  Part2–taking charge of your life–focuses on the problem of remaining emotionally active and connected when the natural tendency is to slow down and withdraw.

While many of the topics covered in this book may be found elsewhere, a real surprise comes in the chapter entitled:  The Biology of Strength Training (165).  Being an aerobics kind of guy, I might have skipped this chapter, but that would have been a big mistake.  ***Weight training builds not only strength, but also coordination.***  Both outcomes reduce senior injuries from falls.  More strength means that we have the strength to reverse a fall; better coordination means that we catch ourselves more quickly when we fall.  Because seniors often are hospitalized because of falls, this insight is a big deal.

Younger Next Year is a book that I have gifted to most older members of my family.  More generally, the need for the church to focus on the body as the temple of God’s Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) is long overdue.  Some might be squeamish about the authors’ indelicate comments about senior sexuality, but motor on–the book’s benefits outweigh the cost.

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Graham Shares Gospel; Speaks about Judgment

BillyGraham_10212013Billy Graham.  2013.  The Reason for My Hope:  Salvation.  Nashville:  W. Publishing Group (Thomas Nelson).

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Billy Graham will celebrate his 95th birthday on November 7, 2013 with a new campaign called:  My Hope with Billy Graham (http://bit.ly/1cPVrOx).  Graham’s new book, The Reason for My Hope, was released on October 15th in anticipation of this campaign.  He writes to summarize the Good News that he preached during his ministry (vii).

I have read Graham since I learned to read (http://bit.ly/19pe0Yp) so I was anxious to see his latest book.

Graham organized his book into eight chapters.  The chapter titles are instructive because each chapter is well-named and self-contained.  The titles are:  Rescued for Something, The Great Redemption, Sin is In, The Price of Victory, Where is Jesus?, Defining Christianity in a Designer World, No Hope of Happy Hour in Hell, and He is Coming Back.  Before these eight chapters is an introduction focused on hope and after them is an afterword, Living Life with Hope.  The afterword talks about how to find Christ in six steps and includes a believer’s prayer.

Graham’s writing style is distinctive.  As a master of collage, Graham reads the times through highly personal stories of individuals that are like Norman Rockwell paintings that spring to life.  In chapter one, for example, Graham takes us aboard the cruise ship, Costa Concordia, as it runs aground off the Italian coast.  In an age of seemingly miraculous technology, Graham questions how the crew could make such simple mistakes and, having made them, could be so indifferent to the safety of passengers under their care (11).  As the chapter draws to a close, Graham observes:  when we are rescued from something, we also saved for something.  In the words of former president, Ronald Reagan, after the assassination attempt on his life—I believe God spared me for a purpose (12).  Indeed.  We yearn to learn that purpose.

Graham’s  comments about the dark side of postmodern culture are particularly pointed.  Popular music, art, and film are infatuated with evil.  The increasingly frequent occurrence of mass shootings, such as during the 2012  Dark Knight showing in Aurora, Colorado, almost panders to this infatuation (158).  If God was willing to flood the earth in the time of Noah, exactly how can this generation avoid judgment when Christ returns? (168).  In some sense, we are judged by our own indifference.  Graham helps us taste, touch, and see our need for salvation in each of these accounts.

Part of the My Hope with Billy Graham campaign is to teach Christians how to assist seekers in coming to faith.  Graham’s six steps to finding Christ include a series of musts–[you must] Be convinced that you need him, Understand the message of the cross, Count the cost, Confess Jesus Christ as Lord of your life, Be willing for God to change your life, and Desire nourishment from God (170-182).   In the words of the Apostle Paul:  everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13 ESV).

To understand Graham’s success as a writer and as an evangelist, one needs to understand that he was one of the first evangelists to understand how truly to engage the culture and present the Gospel with multi-media.  His use of collage in writing, for example, shares a lot in common with the use of vignettes in a mini-series.  Collage appears simple, but its construction is highly complex.

Graham’s writing is very engaging–The Reason for My Hope is classic Graham.  I look forward to hearing more about it on November 7.

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JOHN 13: Foot Washing

By Stephen W. HiemstraOld_shoes_10192013

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35 ESV).

What does it mean to be a disciple?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs a sign and then explains it.  Here the sign is dramatic—Jesus assumes the role of a slave and washes the feet of the disciples.  He then gives them a commandment:  love one another (v 34).  Both the sign and the commandment are equally dramatic.

John uses the word commandment four times in his Gospel.  In the first two uses, Jesus responds commands from and to God the Father:  but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment– what to say and what to speak.  And I know that his commandment is eternal life (John 12:49-50).  The third and fourth commandments are the same: love one another (v 34 and John 15:12).   Washing feet—an attitude of service—is the sign that goes with the love commandment.  Love is the only commandment in John’s Gospel.

The idea that Jesus commanded us to love one another is not in dispute.  In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus commands us to love God and our neighbor.  On these two statements of love hang the law and the prophets.  In other words, the double love command summarizes the entire Old Testament.  Similar statements can be found in the writings of Paul, James, and Peter.

Still, the foot washing sign raises some interesting comparisons.  For example, Jesus is not the first foot-washer that we meet in John Gospel—that honor goes to Mary in chapter 12.  Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair.  In chapter 12 Judas objects to Mary’s foot washing; in chapter 13 Peter objects.  Was Jesus so impressed with Mary’s service that he required it of his disciples?  Were the disciples so unhappy with the idea of radical servanthood that they betrayed Jesus?

The other interesting comparison is between foot washing and communion.  John’s Gospel is the only Gospel account to discuss foot washing at the last supper and he neglects to mention communion which is the focus of other accounts (Luke 22:13-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).  By contrast, John’s miracle of the feeding of five thousand where Jesus says–I am the bread of life (John 6:35 ESV)—has the sacramental feeling of communion.

Here John appears to have provided us a radical model of discipleship which substitutes a model of discipleship focused on service both in intimate moments (the last supper) and in public moments (the feeding of the five thousand).  This reading suggests that John’s communion is an outsider’s communion (the feeding of the five thousand) rather than an insider’s communion (disciples only) because it fits his model of discipleship better.

One further comparison is worth mentioning.  The foot washing incident in Luke 7:36-50 involves an unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with ointment.  In that incident, it is Jesus’ host, a Pharisee, who objects to the foot washing.

Jesus’ lesson on foot washing is a hard teaching–a disciple is one who serves; one who loves.  Left to myself, I object.  Do you?

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Juan 13: Lavado de Pies

Por Stephen W. HiemstraOld_shoes_10192013

Este mandamiento nuevo les doy: que se amen los unos a los otros. Así como yo los he amado, también ustedes deben amarse los unos a los otros. De este modo todos sabrán que son mis discípulos, si se aman los unos a los otros (Juan 13:34-35 NVI).

¿Qué significa ser un discípulo?

En el Evangelio de Juan, Jesús hace una señal y luego lo explica. Aquí el signo es dramática–Jesús asume el papel de un esclavo y lava los pies de los discípulos. A continuación, les da un mandamiento: Ámense los unos a los otros (v 34). Tanto el signo y el mandamiento es igualmente dramática.

Juan usa la palabra mandamiento cuatro veces en su Evangelio. En los dos primeros uso, Jesús responde a los comandos de Dios el Padre: el Padre que me envió me ordenó qué decir y cómo decirlo.  Y sé muy bien que su mandato es vida eterna (Juan 12:49-50). El tercer y cuarto mandamientos son la misma: se amen los unos a los otros (v 34 y Juan 15:12). Lavado de pies—un actitud de servicio es el signo que va con el mandamiento del amor. El amor es el único mandamiento en el Evangelio de Juan.

La idea de que Jesús nos manda a amarnos unos a otros no se discute. En Mateo 22:36-40, Jesús nos manda a amar a Dios y al prójimo. En estas dos declaraciones de amor colgar la ley y los profetas. En otras palabras, el comando doble amor resume todo el Antiguo Testamento. Declaraciones similares se pueden encontrar en los escritos de Pablo, Santiago, y Pedro.

Sin embargo, el signo lavamiento de pies plantea algunas comparaciones interesantes. Por ejemplo, Jesús no es la primera lavador de pies que nos encontramos en Juan Evangelio—ese honor va a María en el capítulo 12. María ungió los pies de Jesús con perfume y le secó los pies con sus cabellos. En el capítulo 12 objetos Judas a lavar los pies de María; en el capítulo 13 Peter objetos. ¿Fue Jesús tan impresionado con el servicio de María que requería de sus discípulos? Fueron los discípulos para descontentos con la idea de la servidumbre radical que traicionó a Jesús?

Otra comparación interesante es entre el lavado de los pies y de la comunión. El Evangelio de Juan es el único relato evangélico para discutir lavado de pies en la última cena y no menciona la comunión, que es el foco de otras cuentas (Lucas 22:13-20, 1 Corintios 11:23-29). En cambio, el milagro de la alimentación de los cinco mil, donde Jesús dice de Juan—Yo soy el pan de vida (Juan 6:35)—tiene el sentimiento de la comunión sacramental.

Aquí Juan se nos han proporcionado un modelo de discipulado radical que sustituye a un modelo de discipulado centrado en el servicio, tanto en los momentos íntimos (la última cena) y en los momentos públicos (la alimentación de los cinco mil). Esta lectura sugiere que la comunión de Juan es la comunión de un extraño (la alimentación de los cinco mil) en lugar de la comunión de un iniciado (sólo discípulos) porque se ajusta a su modelo de discipulado mejor.

Una comparación adicional vale la pena mencionar. El incidente lavado de pies en Lucas 7:36-50 implica una mujer anónima que unge los pies de Jesús con perfume. En ese incidente, es anfitrión de Jesús, un fariseo, que se opone al lavado de los pies.

Lección de Jesús sobre el lavatorio de los pies es una enseñanza difícil—un discípulo es aquel que hace servicio; uno que ama. Izquierda a mí mismo, me opongo. ¿Se opone?

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Savage Teaches Listening; Hears Unheard Stories

Savage_10152013John Savage.  1996.  Listening & Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Being fully present when listening to someone is tough.  It requires setting aside our own egos to hear not only what the person is saying but what is not being said—the backstory.  The backstory is important because language is laconic; tone of voice and body language provide the context. John Savage’s book, Listening and Caring Skills, helps to start down the road of being fully present in listening to your family, friends, and colleagues.

Listening and Caring Skills focuses on preparing pastors for ministry, but the principles apply more generally.  The book starts with an introduction defining the problem and follows with three major sections:  Basic listening skills; hearing the story, and advanced listening skills.

Savage starts by defining the listening problem as closing the gap between what is said and what is heard (17).  This gap can be huge because the speaker desires to communicate feelings, intentions, attitudes, and thoughts.  This internal desire is actually communicated with words, tone of voice, and body language.  Words communicate about 7 percent of the message; tone of voice communicates 38 percent; and the remaining 55 percent is communicated through body language (16).  Focusing on just the words used in written communication leaves out important information needed in making decisions.

Consider the potential for conflict just because of weak communication.  Skyping can communicate words, tone of voice, and some body language.  Telephone conversation can communicate words and tone voice but no body language.  Email communicates only the words—unless you are really good with emoticons!  Clearly, if I use a form of communication that is incomplete, the potential to be misunderstood grows in proportion to what is left out.  Face-to-face communication at least allows a complete set of details to be communicated.

Once we are face to face, communication is technically feasible, but we do not normally engage everyone at the same level.  Savage lists five styles of communication:  direct and open, open but partial, distorted full information, distort and delete information, and only non-verbal communication (15-16).  At best communication is an art:  people lie; people don’t listen’; people run off.  Being fully present is a gift that we give to those who we really care about.  In my experience, people notice immediately when you are really listening.

A lesson worth the price of the book is a technique called fogging which is often used by politicians and lawyers.  In fogging one only answers the part of the question that one agrees with.  The most famous example of fogging occurred in Matthew 22:15-22 when Jesus was baited with the question:  is it lawful to pay taxes…?  If he answers yes, then the Jews will be offended;  if he answers no, then the Romans will be offended.  Instead of answering, Jesus asks to see a coin–everyone agrees on the coin used to pay the tax.  When one fogs, one does not answer the whole question and does not become defensive—even when the question is hostile.  Fogging allows the conversation to continue without becoming emotionally charged.

Savage’s Listening & Caring Skills is a book that I have recommended, given away, taught, and preached about.  Active listening skills are of value in dealing with your children, difficult co-workers, and demanding supervisors.  In the church, pastors can benefit from periodically reviewing Savages principles and teaching them to those in leadership.  It is simply a great book.

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Barnes Interprets Heidelberg; Offers Postmodern Reading

Barnes_10152013M. Craig Barnes.  2012.  Body & Soul:  Reclaiming the Heidelberg Catechism.  Co-published:  Grand Rapids:  Faith Alive and Louisville:  Congregational Ministries Publishing.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

November 15, 2013 is the 450th anniversary of the publishing of the Heidelberg Catechism (HC).  The HC famously begins with this question:  What is your only comfort in life and in death?  The answer is:  That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ (165).  The HC consists of a 129 questions with answers structured in much the same manner.

The HC is straightforward, yet a bit intimating.  Many protestant communicants continue to study it, yet the prospect of being tested on its contents is intimating—and not only for teens.  The appeal of a short book which talks about the theology and origins of the HC is obvious.

Author Craig Barnes (biography at: http://bit.ly/1bUJLgy) is an intriguing candidate to write an introduction to the HC.  Dr. Barnes has a doctor of philosophy in church history and began 2013 as the new president of Princeton Theological Seminary.  He was previously on the faculty of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and senior pastor of a church.  Perhaps most interesting is that he also serves as a professor of pastoral ministry.  Being a professor of pastoral ministry implies that his primary job is to teach aspiring pastors the art of pastoring.   It is interesting that this pastor to pastors has placed a high priority on communicating the details of the HC—I like his priorities.

Body and Soul is organized in six chapters around the structure of the HC itself.  Before the HC discussion is an introduction.  After the discussion is a reproduction of the HC itself and a brief set of notes on the history.  The HC reproduced is the new 1988 translation from the German and Latin complete with the scriptural references that were previously not readily available.  This translation represents collaboration between the Christian Reformed Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Reformed Church in America (163).

Chapter 1 is entitled:  The Only Comfort—question 1 (abstracted above).  The chapter starts with three vignettes of people lost in pain—a pastor coming home from a funeral; a firefighter having trouble making ends meet; and a new widower visiting his wife’s grave.  The chapter then proceeds through a number of contemporary problems.  The headings are descriptive:  contemporary anxiety; is religion the answer; an inheritance of faith; help from the sixteenth century; a holy conversation; my only comfort; I belong; to my faithful savior.  Barnes makes a compelling case that the HC is 450 years old but still very applicable to the problems we face today.

Body and Soul is a neat little book. Barnes is an artful story teller who is able to bring amazing historical and theological insights into his presentation of the HC.  Barnes’ stories make his written accessible to a wide audience, much like the Q&A format of the HC itself.

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JOHN 12: Jesus Messiah

By Stephen W. HiemstraCandle_perfume_rose_10172013

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9 ESV).

What kind of Messiah is Jesus?

Messiah is a Hebrew word that means anointed one.  John is the only New Testament author to use it and he equates it with the Greek word, Christ (John 1:41; 4:25).  Three offices were anointed:  prophets, priests, and kings.  Two events in John 12 point specifically to the interpretation that Jesus is a Messianic king:  his anointing by Mary (vv 1-8) and his entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (vv 12-19).  Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet and Jesus’ choice of a donkey to ride into Jerusalem both point to humility—Jesus is a king coming in peace.

It is interesting that both events—the anointing and the entry into Jerusalem—appear in all four Gospel accounts.  But the Gospels disagree on  details of the anointing. John’s account, for example, is the only one to place Lazarus at the event and to name, Mary, as the woman anointing Jesus.  Mark and Matthew have Jesus anointed on the head; Luke and John have Jesus’ feet anointed.

All four Gospels have Jesus anointed by a woman—this is a shocking event for a Jewish king. The expectation is that a king is anointed by a prophet.  For example,  the Prophet Samuel anoints both King Saul and King David (1 Samuel 10:1, 16:13).

John 12 marks a transition from Jesus’ ministry into his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. The ESV translation suggests these divisions:  Mary anoints Jesus at Bethany (vv 1-8), the plot to kill Lazarus (vv 9-10), the triumphal entry (vv 12-19), some Greeks seek Jesus (vv 20-26), the Son of Man must be lifted up (vv 27-36), the unbelief of the people (vv 37-43), and Jesus came to save the world (vv 44-50).

The nature of Jesus’ messianic role clearly divides people in John 12.  Judas Iscariot disagrees with Jesus about the perfume used to anoint Jesus supposedly because of the cost.  But female anointment must also have weighed on his mind (vv 4-8)—Jews had trouble seeing Jesus as messiah.  The crowd that gathered at Bethany is clearly interested as much in Lazarus as in Jesus (v 9).  Lazarus must have  reminded them of 1 Kings 17:23 when Elijah raised a young man from the dead—a comparison suggesting a prophetic messiah.  By contrast, the crowd that gathered the morning waved palm branches and chanted words from Psalm 118:25 (hosanna means save us in Hebrew) suggesting that they expected a kingly messiah (v 13).

The appearance of gentiles (Greeks) in verses 20-26 curiously moves Jesus to remark:  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (v 23).  Jesus frequently mentions sheep in John’s Gospel, but in Matthew’s Gospel he twice says that:  I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24 also 10:6).  As Jesus enters Jerusalem, his mission to the lost sheep of Israel is drawing to a close.

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Juan 12: Jesús Mesías

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra Candle_perfume_rose_10172013

¡Alégrate mucho, hija de Sión! ¡Grita de alegría, hija de Jerusalén! Mira, tu rey viene hacia ti, justo, salvador y humilde. Viene montado en un asno, en un pollino, cría de asna (Zacarias 9:9 NVI).

¿Qué tipo de Mesías es Jesús?

Mesías es una palabra hebrea que significa ungido. Juan es el único autor del Nuevo Testamento para usarlo y lo compara con la palabra griega Cristo (Juan 1:41; 4:25). Tres oficinas fueron ungidos: profetas, sacerdotes, y reyes. Dos acontecimientos en Juan 12 puntos específicamente a la interpretación de que Jesús es un rey mesiánico: la unción de María (vv 1-8) y su entrada en Jerusalén, en la parte posterior de un burro (vv 12-19). María La unción de los pies de Jesús y Jesús ‘la elección de un asno para montar en Jerusalén ambos apuntan a la humildad—Jesús es un rey que viene en paz.

Es interesante que ambos eventos — la unción y la entrada en Jerusalén a aparecer en los cuatro Evangelios. Pero los evangelios no están de acuerdo sobre los detalles de la unción. El relato de Juan, por ejemplo, es la única que coloca a Lázaro en el evento y de nombrar, María, la mujer ungiendo a Jesús. Marcos y Mateo que Jesús ungido en la cabeza, Lucas y Juan tienen los pies de Jesús ungido.

Los cuatro Evangelios tienen Jesús ungido por una mujer, este es un evento impactante para un rey judío. La expectativa es que un rey ungido por el profeta. Por ejemplo , el profeta Samuel unge tanto el rey Saúl y del rey David (1 Samuel 10:1, 16:13).

John 12 marca una transición del ministerio de Jesús en su arresto, juicio, crucifixión y resurrección. La traducción ESV sugiere que estas divisiones: María unge a Jesús en Betania (vv 1-8), el complot para matar a Lázaro (vv 9-10), la entrada triunfal (vv 12-19), algunos griegos buscan a Jesús (vv 20-26), el Hijo del Hombre tiene que ser levantado (vv 27-36), la falta de fe del pueblo (vv. 37-43), y Jesús vino a salvar al mundo (vv 44-50).

La naturaleza del papel mesiánico de Jesús divide claramente a las personas en Juan 12. Judas Iscariote no está de acuerdo con Jesús sobre el perfume usado para ungir a Jesús, supuestamente debido al costo. Pero femenina y unción entierro también deben haber pesado en su mente (vv 4-8) — Judios tenía problemas para ver a Jesús como Mesías. La multitud que se reunió en Betania está claramente interesado tanto en Lázaro de Jesús (v 9). Lázaro debe haberles recordado 1 Reyes 17:23 cuando Elías se levantó un joven de entre los muertos – la comparación, lo que sugiere un Mesías profético. Por el contrario, la multitud que se reunió por la mañana hizo un gesto palmas y cantaba las palabras del Salmo 118:25 (hosanna significa salvarnos en hebreo), lo que sugiere que ellos esperaban un Mesías Rey (v 13) .

La aparición de los gentiles (los griegos) en los versículos 20-26, curiosamente mueve Jesús comenta: Ha llegado la hora de que el Hijo del hombre sea glorificado (v 23). Jesús menciona con frecuencia ovejas en el Evangelio de Juan, pero en el Evangelio de Mateo dice que en dos ocasiones: No fui enviado sino a las ovejas perdidas del pueblo de Israel (Mateo 15:24 también 10:6). Cuando Jesús entra en Jerusalén, su misión a las ovejas perdidas de Israel está llegando a su fin.

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Schaefer Works Twitter; Brings Business Sense

Mark W. Schaefer. 2012.  The Tao of Twitter:  Changing Your Life and Business 140 Characters at a Time.  New York:  McGraw Hill. @markwschaeferSchaefer_book

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I expressed interest in learning how to use social media more effectively, a friend quickly remarked:  whatever you do, don’t start Tweeting!  Probably the hardest part of learning to use Twitter has been to overcome the pre-conception that it’s used primarily by celebrity fans.  Mark Schaefer’s The Tau of Twitter has vanquished pre-conceptions and convinced me that Twitter is a business tool here to stay.

What is Twitter?  Twitter looks like a personalized wire service or  stock market price feed.  The limited space in a Tweet assures that only short messages are transmitted which means that it is easy to view many Tweets quickly.  For news junkies and market watchers, Twitter has to be addictive–it is more than a non-stop pajama party for fifteen year olds.

So what does Schaefer say about it?  The book is organized into seventeen chapters.  The introduction and first two chapters explain how Twitter can be used in business.  Chapter three examines Schaefer’s basic social media strategy (The Tao Explained).  Chapter four explains business benefits.  Chapters five to seven explore Schaefer’s strategy in more detail.  The remainder of the book covers advanced Twitter concepts.

Schaefer’s strategy in using social media revolves around three principles:  Targeted Connections, Meaningful Content, and Authentic HelpfulnessTargeted Connections means concentrate on following and be followed by people likely to find your business interesting.  This is just basic networking.  Schaefer talks a lot about his Twitter Tribe—a group of about 200 contacts who share your basic interests.  Meaningful Content means that you introduce information that is both helpful and interesting.  Most professionals today are specialists—talk about your area of expertise.  Authentic Helpfulness means that you express honest interest in what people are doing online.  Just pretend a colleague has walked in your office asking advice and you get the idea.

What makes Schaefer’s discussion interesting is how he mixes business and personal interests.  Several times he reminds the reader that “social media” begins with the word “social” or alternatively “P2P”—person to person.  People want to do business with people that they like being with.  For those of us who are not the life of the party, this whole discussion can be a bit intimidating—life in business causal—but the point is that networking is very personal.  Twitter is not a place to sell, but rather a place to establish relationships.

Schaefer’s The Tao of Twitter makes Twitter more inviting, more accessible for business professionals.  Baby boomers may be shocked to learn that real business gets done in Twitter.  Millennials may discover that business requires a different protocol than Twitter’s social side.  Still, this is not a how to book that will substitute for the help system in Twitter.  Professionals outside of the world of business may also need to tweak Schaefer’s rules of thumb to fit the ethos of their own fields.  Given those caveats, The Tao of Twitter is an authentically helpful book.

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Social Media Enhances Ministry

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sharron Beg
Art by Sharron Beg

The Capital Christian Writers club (www.CapitalChristianWriters.org) meets bi-monthly in Fairfax, VA.  The September meeting focused on creating a blog.  While I came to the meeting to network, I left the meeting convinced that blogging would simplify online ministry.

I also left experiencing a bit of fear.

Yes. I have had a website forever.  Yes. I have different accounts—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn—but I was clueless about how to use these accounts in ministry.  I opened a Facebook account when I started seminary and was invited to join a group online.  I opened a Twitter account just before the PCUSA’s General Assembly last year.  I have no clue how or when I opened the LinkedIn account.  The fear arose because I did not want to become famous online for reasons that only my kids would understand!

So I bought some books and started reading.  First, I set up a free blog on WordPress.com.  Second, I registered a web address to look a bit more sophisticated:  T2Pneuma.net.  This acronym is short for To Deuteron Pneuma or The Second Wind in English.  Third, I matched my Twitter account address to the blog (@T2Pneuma).  And, fourth, I also opened a matching Gmail email account:  T2Pneuma@gmail.com.  The basic idea is to create a simple online identity that can serve as a personal, brand image in cyberspace.

A blog offers several advantages over a website.  The first advantage is that it is requires no programming and automates most features.   My website (www.StephenWHiemstra.net) is built from scratch in Microsoft Word and offers no bells and whistles.  A second advantage is that a blog displays recent articles up front and that allows you to time when articles are posted.  A third advantage is that the blog allows readers to subscribe (or following) to the blog and receive an automatic email when you update the blog.  A final advantage  is that  blog keeps basic statistics on how many people visit the blog and which articles they read.  (My website service also keeps such statistics, but they are kept on a separate website).  Having traffic statistics is a big selling point with publishers.

WordPress.com also makes it easy to link with other social media.  When I post an article to the blog, the blog can automatically generate a small blurb with a link and post it in my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts.  Facebook speaks primarily to your family and close friends; Twitter speaks directly to the under thirty crowd on the cell-phone; LinkedIn speaks into your office crowd presenting an evangelism opportunity not usually open during business hours.

All these features offer hope that I can migrate my email mailing lists to the blog over the coming weeks.

So what is my writing project?  My book is entitled:  A Christian Guide to Spirituality.  It consists of 50 apologetic devotionals focused on the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostle’s Creed.  Learn more by visiting–T2Pneuma.net—and clicking on the menu title called:  Guide.  The book is currently under review and I am looking for a publisher.

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To subscribe to my blog (www.T2Pneuma.net), pull it up in your browser.  At the bottom right corner, you will see a button entitled:  FOLLOW.  Click it and enter your email address in the box.  My blog will send an email to you at that address.  Be sure to confirm that email when it arrives.

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