“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16 (NIV)
I was in the local pub last week. I had to wait on some paperwork and figured I’d whet my whistle and work on responding to some emails while I waited. The pub tender told me that he’d been told I was a blogger. I explained that I’d been blogging for many years and had started podcasting in the past two years. I then got to explain my chapter-a-day model. I wasn’t sure, but I sensed that he might have had the impression that it has something to do with my career. I explained that it wasn’t a commercial thing and that I didn’t make money doing it.
“So, it’s just a hobby kind of thing?” he asked.
Another patron required the pub tender’s attention, and he slipped away. The question, however, continued to resonate within me. As with so many things of the Spirit, the pub tender’s question was loaded. The answer is layered. It is at once simple and mysteriously complex.
“Why do you do it?”
Matthew structured his biography of Jesus around five major discourses, or teachings, of Jesus. The first was the message on the hill in chapters 5-7. Today’s chapter is the second major discourse, in which Jesus’ calling of His twelve disciples and His instructions to them as He send them out to proclaim Jesus’ message.
As I read through the instructions, I was struck, once again, by the humility and austerity that He expected of them…
He told them not to pack any extras. Just the clothes on their back. He told them not to take any money, but to trust God’s provision and the generosity of others. He told them to give away Jesus’ teaching since it had been freely given to them.
Jesus then goes on to prophetically tell The Twelve not to expect the job to be easy.
They’ll be rejected and unwelcomed. They’ll be arrested and taken into custody. They’ll be flogged by God’s own people. They’ll be put on trial by civic authorities. They’ll be betrayed, perhaps by their own family members. Their lives will be threatened.
In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but contrast this with all the televangelists and their personal kingdoms I’ve observed along my life journey. I contrasted it with all of the pastors, authors, teachers, and speakers I know and have met who make a living doing Jesus’ continued work on this earth. I don’t think it’s appropriate to expect that Jesus’ literal and specific instructions to The Twelve should be projected onto every single follower that came after. At the same time, there’s an underlying attitude that I think is always applicable. Things of the Spirit are layered with meaning.
I’m not responsible for others. I am responsible for myself. So, I find myself questioning my own attitude and motivations as the pub tender’s casual question continues to resonate in my soul.
“So, it’s just a hobby kind of thing?” he asked.
Yes, and…there’s so much more to it than that. As Jesus instructed The Twelve in today’s chapter: “You received the Message for free. Give it away for free.”
And so, one weekday and one chapter at a time, I freely scatter seeds of thought and Spirit to the four winds of the worldwide interweb. Perhaps, someday, I’ll find out how some of those seeds germinated, took root, flowered, and bore fruit. In the meantime, I keep doing what I’ve been called and compelled to do.
Here you go, wind…
[cue: clicks “Publish” button]
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Last night Wendy and I enjoyed a lovely date at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant that has become a favorite haunt at the lake. During our dinner conversation, Wendy referenced a couple of conversations we’ve had with people recently in which my blog posts and podcasts were referenced. In each case, I received kind words of gratitude.
Wendy asked me if I was encouraged by this. I was, of course. It’s always heartening to know that some seed I scattered sprouted something worthwhile in another person’s journey. This conversation is always a bit of a two-edged sword for me, and Wendy knows that more than anyone. This is why my Enneagram Eight challenger wife brought it up. She is my most passionate cheerleader and high-fidelity encourager.
Here’s what I’ve observed and learned after fifteen years and some five thousand blog posts. Measuring “success” is such a spiritual, emotional, and mental trap. Part of it is just human nature to want my endeavors to succeed. Part of it is a male thing in which grown men have a trapped little boy inside them perpetually playing King of the Mountain. Part of it, for me, is also being an Enneagram Four who naturally sees myself and my world through the lens of dramatic, angsty pessimism and a brooding sense of failure. Then, add-in the world’s definitions of “success” which is measured in large numbers, viral popularity, notoriety, and income.
By the world’s definition, fifteen years and five thousand blog posts should be generating way more than the 54 visitors to my site yesterday. By the world’s definition, it’s abject failure. So, why do it? I like to think I’m compelled, but sometimes I think I might be a little bit crazy.
Three chapters back I mused about the role of “the crowd” in the final days of Jesus earthly journey. It was Tuesday and the crowds were delighted with Jesus’ teaching. Jesus enemies were afraid of the crowd, and afraid of the threat Jesus would be with the crowd behind Him and siding against them. It’s now early Friday morning and these enemies “stir the crowd” to demand the Roman Governor to crucify Jesus. The Governor is a politician, and “wanting to satisfy the crowd” he goes against his better judgment. He condemns an innocent man to keep his approval number high and keep peace with his political adversaries.
Pilate and the chief priests were playing the world’s version King of the Mountain. The Prince of Heaven was showing His followers what the path of success looks like in God’s Kingdom.
Which version of “success” do I really want?
In the quiet this morning, I found myself thinking about two other lessons that I’ve observed about the world’s definition of “success.” First, it’s never enough. It’s a never-ending game of King of the Mountain but the mountain keeps getting higher. The chief priests and religious power brokers were so addicted to their power and influence that they were willing to climb to the pinnacle of conspiracy to commit legally sanctioned murder in order to hold on to it. Second, once the crowd crowns someone with worldly success, the crowd then demands that the person says and does what it dictates. Pilate let the crowd determine his verdict.
Over the past few years, I’ve observed with increasing clarity just how much the crowd fans the flames of public opinion and sways what “successful” people say and do. I find it fascinating how the crowd can lift any obscure individual to the mountain-top of success, and just as quickly push them off popularity cliff.
I submit for your consideration Exhibit A: Jesus, the Christ.
Sunday: The crowd cheers His “triumphant entry” to Jerusalem.
Friday: The crowd screams for His crucifixion.
And so, I’ll continue to scatter my posts and podcasts out into the inter-web in blissful obscurity grateful that 50 or so people stop by on any given day. I’ll continue to follow my spiritual compulsions until the Spirit compels me to stop. I’ll continue to choose to listen to my high-fidelity cheerleader. I’ll continue to tell my human nature, my inner-boy, and my Type Four temperament to chill-out.
Life (without the crowd) is good.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Hey all. I’m going dark for a few weeks. Taking a break from blogging and social media for the next 40 days or so. I’m going to spend some time on a little spiritual journey into the wilderness, where I plan pick up the road to Jerusalem. I’ll be back in late April.
I can always be reached at email@example.com.
It’s been a while since I’ve done any kind of blogging challenge. Just this morning I found out that WikiTree is starting a “52 Photos” challenge, asking members to post a family photo that matches each week’s theme. The theme for week one is “new.” So, here is one of my favorite family photos of all time. This is a photo of my newlywed parents, Dean and Jeanne Vander Well, in their brand new 1958 Chevy convertible. They would sell this pretty baby just a year or so later when they discovered that they had two babies, my twin brothers, on the way.
I quietly reached a milestone in my journey as a blogger yesterday. With my post Time, Distance, and Perspective I have blogged my way through the entire Bible twice. Along with posts that are basically diary entries about me and my family’s life journey, I have been posting my personal thoughts about one chapter of the Bible roughly every weekday for over twelve years.
Along the way I’ve learned some important lessons about blogging. I’d like to share five of them for any aspiring bloggers out there for whom it might be helpful. First, a little background is in order.
In March 2006 I began my blog and called it Wayfarer. A wayfarer is one who is on a journey, and my blogging journey began with only a sketchy sense of where I was headed. You’ve probably never heard of me because twelve years later the number of subscribers and followers to my blog is less than a thousand and the vast majority of those followers are simply other bloggers and businesses following me in hopes that I will follow them back. The actual number of faithful readers I have might be enough for a decent summer picnic and a pick-up game of whiffle ball, but that’s okay. My blog is called Wayfarer because it’s about the journey and there’s much to be learned when you keep trekking for twelve years.
The primary motivation for me starting my blog was simply to have an on-line journal for family and friends to keep tabs on me and the fam. If they want to know what we’re up to, they can simply check out the blog. While Facebook might accomplish the same thing, I control my blog and its content, not the algorithms and social media gatekeepers. I like owning my own little acre of the internet.
It’s also important to know that while I’ve blogged my way through the Bible twice, I don’t consider my blog a religious blog. I don’t represent any church. I’m not out there trying to convince anyone of anything. My “chapter-a-day” posts have their roots in my relationship with my good friend, Kevin. Kevin and I are both followers of Jesus and years before I started my blog we came to an agreement to help each other be better followers. We decided to read one chapter of the Bible every weekday. Because we both had jobs that required a certain amount of windshield time we simply called each other and shared with one another whatever we got out of that day’s chapter.
As I began my blog I thought it might be cool to simply transfer the chapter-a-day journey Kevin and I had already been on for years from the phone to the internet. “Wouldn’t it be cool,” I thought to myself, “If we had a record of the chapter we read each day and what it made us think about?” That’s where it all started, and I’m still going.
So what have I learned along the journey? Here are my top five lessons:
Your Motive Matters
There are literally millions of blogs on the internet. My blog is on the WordPress platform, and WordPress reports that there are over 500 new sites started on their platform daily with a total of over 76 million sites and 15 billion pages of content.
If your motive for blogging is to get discovered for the talented writer you know you are and to become a famous celebrity blogger then you need to know that you are playing the Powerball of on-line popularity. Your blog is a very small needle in a ginormous global haystack. It’s been said that as many as 95% of bloggers who start a blog abandon it after a short period of time. So, why do it?
There are all sorts of legitimate motives for blogs and sites. Some are built simply to drive traffic and sell ads. Some are businesses trying to make a profit. Some are people trying to build a brand. There’s nothing wrong with any of those motives, but I found that it is important to know what your motive is for starting a blog. You should define “This is why I’m doing this. This is what I’m trying to accomplish.” It helps define what you need to do and how you invest your time and resources.
I’ve also found that a clearly defined motive can keep me going when I occasionally spy the meager handful of views that my brilliant post received and I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?!”
Have Something to Say
I think most people start a blog thinking they have something to say, but sitting down at the keyboard on a regular basis and getting it out can be a daunting experience. Once you get out those three or four posts that you’ve had mulling over in your head for years you find yourself asking, “What now?”
A couple of reasons I’ve been able to keep going for over 12 years goes back to the two motives I outlined when I started. I wanted to create an on-line journal of life, and life doesn’t stop happening. I can blog about our kids and grandson living with us this week as they prepare to live in Scotland. I can blog about the role in the play I’m working on or our latest trip to the lake. I also wanted to record my “chapter-a-day” thoughts. That alone has been a built-in content engine. I read the chapter each week day, and then I write my thoughts.
If you’re thinking about blogging, ask yourself: “What is the engine that’s going to keep giving me fresh content to write about?”
Views and Followers Don’t Correlate to Quality of Content
I read[/caption]I read a humorous article yesterday in Wired magazine about a woman whose young son was obsessed with fans. You know, the rotary blade, move the air kind of fans. Imagine her surprise when she discovered the her son was watching another boy on YouTube doing nothing but talking about fans. His videos talking about fans had hundreds of thousands of views. As does the video of the teen girl in Boise talking about her acne. As does the video of the guy falling off his skateboard.
One of the reasons bloggers fail is that they obsess about their stats. They slip into the comparison trap and fall prey to the injustice of the on-line world. I write a brilliant post about how to better cope with life in hard times and it gets read ten times (eight if you don’t count my wife and mother). Meanwhile, Fan Boy has hundreds of thousands of people listening to him talk about the virtues of the Lasko Model 2527 pedestal fan.
Number of views and followers does not correlate to quality of content. Embrace it.
I’ve written some really good stuff over the years. Yeah, that post about the eleventh chapter of Leviticus? Killer. But, I published into the blogosphere like a sower casting his seed and it died on the vine. So did most of other posts that I wrote. Sometime I hit that “Publish” button feeling like a post is really going to resonate with people…until it doesn’t.
Back in January of 2012 I was on my way home from a week-long business trip to Texas. In the plane I was thinking about all of the great experiences I’d had with my client that week, and it struck me that being a theatre major at Judson College had uniquely prepared me for my job in ways I couldn’t have fathomed at the time. So, I got out my iPad and in twenty minutes I wrote a post: 10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success. When my plane I landed I published it quickly (I didn’t even proof it), and thought no more of it.
Two weeks later that post went viral. That one silly post I’d hastily typed on my iPad brought in over 30,000 views in one day (FYI: reaching a hundred views in one day is a stellar day on my blog). I had comments pouring in from actors and producers in Hollywood and Broadway. At one point I counted more than twenty colleges and universities who have my post linked on their department websites.
You never know what’s going to land.
I can’t count the number of times that I squeamishly hit the “Publish” button thinking that my post was the most worthless piece of schlock ever written, and then later that day I hear from a stranger saying “This was so good! You have no idea how much I needed to read this today.”
No. I didn’t have a clue. I’m just a sower scattering my seed one post at a time.
The Rewards Aren’t Necessarily What You Think
At this point, it might seem as if I’m being really discouraging about this whole blogging business. I certainly hope you discern between realistic and discouraging. There are all sorts of amazing rewards I’ve received from blogging that this Wayfarer would never have discovered had I not embarked on the journey and stuck with it.
I’m a way better writer than I’ve ever been in my entire life. You know that guy who wrote that it’s not about talent, but about doing something for 10,000 hours? Yeah, blogging thousands of posts across twelve years has improved my writing, my creative flow, and my self-discipline. All I have to do is go back to read one of my early posts (and then fire down a quick shot of Pepto Bismal), and I know how far I’ve come.
I’ve gotten to know some amazing people and have enjoyed sharing the blogging journey with them. A few I’ve even gotten to meet in real life which has been awesome.
While I may not have hundreds and thousands of views of my posts, I’m continually humbled and encouraged when that “I really needed this” comment comes through or is casually mentioned by someone I would never expect. If my motive had to become popular then I would done things way differently.
What were my motives?
I wanted to create an on-line journal and archive of life. Mission accomplished.
“What year did we go to the ballet in Kansas City? Hang on, it’s there in the blog.”
“Oh my goodness, I’d totally forgotten about that time we did the ‘host a murder’ party at the winery!”
I wanted to create an archive of my “chapter-a-day” thoughts. Mission accomplished. All the way through the Bible. Twice.
Someday my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, and perhaps even multiple other generations will be able to read through my daily thoughts and the things I pondered. Who knows what they might find meaningful, and funny, and perhaps even helpful in their own respective life journeys. That’s a reward that can’t be quantified.
So those are just five lessons from twelve years of blogging. Another milestone has been reached, and I’m still going. The journey continues. Who knows where it will take me. One post at a time.
Today is my 10th anniversary blogging. On March 26th, 2006 I set up a free blog in three easy steps and wrote the following simple post:
It’s sunday morning and the house is getting ready for church. Why is it that the whole household can be up, ready and out the door by 8:00 Monday thru Friday, but on Sunday you can’t make it to church on time by 11:00? <sigh> One of life’s little mysteries.
That was the beginning of my journey. Ten years and 3,412 blog posts later, I’m still going. I am not, by most people in the blogosphere’s standards, the definition of success. I haven’t made a fortune. My number of subscribers remains very meager. I have about 240 subscribers through WordPress and a reach that extends to a couple thousand people through Facebook and Twitter. On a typical day my blog gets about 150-200 views.
On this 10th anniversary I’ve been looking back and reflecting on what I’ve learned in my blogging experience. Here are a few thoughts:
Know your motivation. My blog has always had a very simple motivation. I just want to write about my life journey. I want to record my thoughts and experiences on different subjects. I want to share what’s going on with family and friends. As time has gone on I realize that my blog serves as a diary and a record. It will be an accessible archive for children, grandchildren and future generations of my experiences and my heartfelt thoughts. I have come to accept that my blog will never generate tons of subscribers simply because not that many people know me or are interested in my vacation pictures.
Know your content focus. Your motivation determines your content. The vast majority of my posts over the past decade have been my chapter-a-day posts. If I was really trying to establish my blog as an inspirational of devotional blog I would center my blog on those posts and reserve my personal journal, theatre, and photography posts elsewhere. My motivation, however, is for my blog to be a repository of my personal thoughts and experiences. My chapter-a-day posts are simply a record of my thoughts in my own daily quiet time. I’m not trying to preach to anyone or market myself as an author. I’m just sharing my daily, personal thoughts after reading a chapter of the Bible. My blog is a wide-angle lens on my life and it includes all kinds of different posts. A blogging expert would tell me that my wide range limits my audience, but my motivation has never been to build a big audience. I just want to express myself.
Just write. According to a NYTimes article, 95% of blogs are abandoned. I’ve known many who have started a blog, but after a post or two they walk away from it just like the Ab Cruncher they purchased ten years ago and used twice. I would argue that most people stop blogging because they aren’t really motivated, they struggle to know what they want to say. I think many people get discouraged that the world does not beat a path to their URL. Blogging requires a certain amount of fortitude. You’re going to write a lot of crap that no one wants to read. Keep writing. Post regularly. Be content with a few followers. The first six years of my blog I averaged about 15-20 views a day. It’s only in the past few years that it’s grown ten-fold. I’ve come to accept that blogging is about the journey, not the destination.
You never know what’s going to resonate. I have written a lot of really great posts, at least I thought they were profound. Virtually no one reads them. They never “get legs.” Then, I’ll post a random thought hastily typed and with little consideration and it will start to generate all sorts of traffic. I’ve given up trying to judge or prognosticate.
The rewards are not what I thought they’d be. I will confess that I, like most aspiring bloggers, have pipe dreams of my blog becoming wildly popular. I regularly talk myself off that ledge and laugh at myself. I then remind myself of everything I’ve written in this post thus far. The rewards I’ve reaped from my blogging journey are not what I expected, but I consider them to be priceless:
I’ve become a better writer. When I go back and read some of my chapter-a-day posts from the early years I regularly cringe. They were so short. The thoughts are undeveloped. Ugh! The contrast, however, serves to remind me that writing 3,412 posts is going to make me a better writer. I value that.
I’ve met some really great people. From my early blogging mentor, Mike Sansone, to people like Terry, Samantha, Jonathan, Michael, and David. My blog has opened up opportunities at relationships and networking I might otherwise have never had.
I have built an online personal reference source. What year was it that we took that trip to Cooperstown? Do you remember what year we performed Much Ado About Nothing? My blog makes it much easier to find definitive answers. Trivial, perhaps, but I value it.
I’m leaving a legacy. Those most close to me, my family and my friends, will have a record of my life experiences and my thoughts that will live beyond me. I sometimes think of my love of family history and how much I wish I had a journal of my great-great-grandfather to learn what life was like for him, what he thought, and what he felt. Perhaps I will have a great-great grandson or granddaughter who will appreciate my little blog. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to have a positive impact on their lives.
I occasionally make a difference in someone’s day. Every once in a while I’ll get a message or an e-mail saying something like, “Thanks. I needed your post today.” Rarely do I get to know how or why. It’s nice to know, though. I’m grateful when people tell me, and it helps motivate me to keep going.
Thanks to those of you who follow along on this journey. Thanks to those who stop by now and then. Thanks especially to Wendy and Kevin R. who regularly discuss, respond, and encourage. Here’s to the next decade!
On “Remember When Wednesdays” I look back at a post from yesteryear and re-blog one for newer readers. In almost 10 years of blogging I’ve had two blog posts that have gone viral. This was the first and it happened back in August of 2011 when WordPress reblogged this post on their “Freshly Pressed” page.
Speaking of life changes. There is, perhaps, no bigger change in life than the ones you make during adolesence. I recently found my Jr. High and High School I.D.s in an old album. Check out the righteous mullet I had going my Junior year! The only problem was that my hair was so curly when it grew out that I couldn’t get it to hang straight down the way it was supposed to. True story: When my mullet was at its longest I went to the bank one day. I opened the door for an elderly gentleman who was shuffling slowly into the bank at the same time. “Why thank you young lady,” he said to me. I got my hair cut that afternoon and never looked back. C’est la vie.
“You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen….” Ezekiel 2:7a (NIV)
Wendy and I have often conversed about our love of process as it relates to the theatre. As actors, we love the process of character development and scene exploration during the rehearsal period perhaps more than we enjoy performing in front of an audience. Don’t get me wrong. Performances are wonderful and intoxicating, but they are often a very momentary high. In the rehearsal process you grow, you make new connections, you explore new challenges, and delve to new depths in ways that stick with you long after the final curtain falls on a production.
I found it interesting this morning that God tells Ezekiel to speak the words given to him without regard to the results. Ezekiel was not to worry about whether people listened or not. He was not to concern himself with huge Billy Graham style calls for salvation. The only thing Ezekiel was to concern himself with was being faithful in the process of listening and speaking. The results were not his responsibility, nor were they an indicator of success or failure.
These things were rattling around in my head and heart this morning as I prepared to walk up to my office and write this post. I’ll admit that there are days that I question why I write these posts each day. It’s Monday. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night. My morning feels fubar-ed before it ever began. Arrrghhhh. Who cares? I confess that there are days when I feel quite profound and the response is the internet’s equivalent of crickets chirping. Other days I feel like I just puke something on the page in order to hit “Publish” and be done with it and someone, somewhere replies that it was just what they needed to read that day. Go figure. Whether you’re a prophet, a preacher, a poet, a playwright, a blogger, a writer, a songsmith, an actor, a filmmaker, a dancer, et cetera, or et cetera the truth remains: It’s about the process. The results will take care of themselves.
Yesterday I shared the Top 10 viewed posts in 2014, regardless of when the post was published. Today, from the home office in Pella, Iowa, I’d like to share the Top 10 blog posts I published in 2014. Perhaps you missed a few. Enjoy!