Category Archives: Introspection

Reflecting on 20 Years

It’s been an incredibly busy spring season. I’m just now catching my breath at the end of June. I’ve had a few milestones—including 20 years of business, five years of local news, and a kid graduating high school—that make me a little introspective.

The past two months have included a member drive, a five-year anniversary, a bike safety event, a bike ride, a parade, a mural unveiling, a massive four-day community event, launching a summer contest, a high school graduation, a grad party, the 20th anniversary of my business, and my brain has now shut down so I can’t remember anything else.

Whew. That’s an understatement.

So when I get a moment, I’m reflective. A few thoughts…

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West St. Paul Reader: Five Year Anniversary

Five years ago today I launched West St. Paul Reader with the first-ever post, a recap of a City Council meeting.

That first post really epitomizes the work we do: It’s narrowly focused on what happens in our first-ring suburb. It celebrates what’s happening in the community. It serves as an archive to mark what happened, when, and why. I just spent some time reflecting on that first post five years later.

Reflecting on Five Years

We’re doing a whole five-year anniversary member drive with an audacious goal of 50 members to mark five years by 5/25. But more than flogging a member drive and trying to bring in new members, today I’m trying to reflect on five years of this work.

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Colorful Days

Life has been full lately. In the midst of busy, it’s hard to appreciate the moments. It often feels like near misses when the stars don’t align like the perfect photo.

  • Fall colors came into full bloom and then it snowed.
  • The world bursts into flame and people torch one another for not seeing it the same way.
  • The colors are magnificent, but the day is overcast and gloomy.
  • The “You Are Loved” yard sign in this photo was stolen the night the photo was taken by kids running down the street.

But there is color and art and nature. Even when it’s dreary. Especially when it’s hard.

Circular, rainbow-colored mosaic, fall leaves, and a "You Are Loved" yard sign.

A Tour of Tragedy

This summer during my annual trip to Kansas to spend time with family, I took a trip of my own to Colorado. I have a hard time resisting the mountains, and this year I caved. But I took a detour on the way to out to visit two historical sites. It was a tour of tragedy.

Less than 50 miles apart in Eastern Colorado are the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site and the Granada Relocation Center, known as Camp Amache.

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Crap Week

Last week was a crap week.

Being a writer, I process through writing. But I’ve had a hard time processing this week. I’ve wanted to talk about it, but I’m not sure how. It’s actually made me withdraw from social media (which is probably an OK thing).

But sometimes I’ve learned it’s just easier to get things off your chest, even if you don’t have the right words to say.

So yeah, crap week:

  • Last Monday night, my cousin injured two police officers, killed my uncle, and then took his own life. I traveled to attend my uncle’s funeral, offering what little support I could to my parents, grandparents, cousins, and extended family. It was an emotionally overwhelming few days, and I’m just the out-of-town nephew. My uncle, Tom Madden, was quiet, liked the simple life, and did right by people. He served on the school board for over 20 years, an inspiring example of public service. As his son wrote, “He was always there no matter what.” There’s a lot more to say about Tom, but I just haven’t had the time and space to fully process it.
  • Saturday morning I heard the news that progressive Christian writer Rachel Held Evans had died suddenly after a series of seizures and a medically induced coma. While I didn’t personally know Rachel (though I think we emailed at some point), I’ve read all her books. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again was one of my favorite books so far this year. The Why Christian conference she co-organized was incredibly inspiring to me. Her voice will be deeply missed.
  • In the midst of all that, I heard the news that Tessie Sylvester died. Her story gained national attention in 2017 when her husband died from complications of ALS the same day she was diagnosed with inoperable stage four cancer. She leaves behind two boys and a mountain of caring family. I didn’t directly know Tessie either, but her sister served as the mayor of West St. Paul, and her strength and resolve during this trying time was a sight to behold. After a funeral later this week, there will be a celebration of Tessie’s life at an arcade on Saturday (she said to “make it fun!”). You can support the family through this memorial fund.

So like I said, a crap week.

I don’t know what to say in the face of all that.

I keep coming back to these words from the Book of Common Prayer. They’ve often struck me in a certain way, and I shared them with my mom on Monday night when no one knew whether my uncle was alive or not:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

I’m Committed to Commitment

Last year I read Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life by Jeff Goins and found the section on commitment curious. Jeff was challenging our commitment-averse generation to stick it out when things got tough. When a job becomes difficult or challenging or boring, instead of quitting and moving on to the next thing, Jeff challenged his readers to make a commitment and see it through. His point was that only by sticking through the difficult times would we make it to the rewarding times.

It’s a good lesson, especially these days when it seems like no one can commit to anything. Nobody works for a single employer their entire life anymore, let alone for more than a handful of years. People can’t commit to each other, as our divorce rate shows. We can’t commit in politics, getting tired of our candidates before they’ve even run (how many front runners did the GOP have before the 2012 primaries? Expect more of the same from both parties in 2016). Our athletes can’t commit to a team and our teams can’t commit to a city (unless we build them a shiny new stadium).

I think Jeff makes a good point. But I think I have the opposite problem. Instead of being commitment-averse, I love commitment. I want to marry commitment (and that is just a Barney Stinson line to score a one night stand, I think it fits).

  • I’ve been doing the same job for nearly 10 years. OK, I’m self-employed so that doesn’t really count. But as a freelancer, I’m all about commitment.
  • I’ve been the editor of Church Marketing Sucks since 2004.
  • I’ve been working with iThemes since 2008.
  • Come to think of it, most of my best clients I’ve been working with since the beginning.
  • I’ve been going to the same church since 2001.
  • I’ve been married since 2000.
  • I’ve been blogging since 1998.
  • I’ve been living in the Twin Cities since 1997.

I like commitment. What this probably means is that I like things to stay the same. I like comfort and safety (though not too much—we do have kids after all).

The danger for me, as opposed to bouncing around and never sticking with anything long enough to reap the rewards, is that I’ve got a lot of inertia. I’m wary of new things. I don’t exactly like change. I’m too likely to sit back and get comfortable instead of pushing ahead to forge new ground.

Hopefully I’m combating that the best I can, trying new things and not getting too stuck in my ways.

What about you? How do you feel about commitment?

Crackpot or Genius?

It’s the essential question of life: Crackpot or genius?

So this Ph.D. in economics, Mark White, has this idea that museums could sell shares in their artwork to raise money. It’s this bizarre, crazy idea to somehow monetize the holdings of museums and give them new access to capital without selling everything off. The idea was being discussed because the Detroit Institute of Arts might be desperate enough to try it.

At the end of the article, White has the best quote ever:

Innovators, he points out, are frequently wrong. “I could be a crackpot,” he said, in a telephone call. “But I think I’m a genius.”

Don’t we all? How often do we have these ideas that are either brilliant or horrible? Maybe they’re both, depending on who you ask (one person’s crackpot is another person’s genius). And maybe when you ask. It’s such a great sentiment, acknowledging the reality of ourselves: Yeah, I could be a little nuts. But I prefer to think of myself as brilliant.

And perhaps that’s what separates the crackpots from the geniuses. If you never push your idea, if you never pursue it, if you never put in the hardwork to make it a reality, then you’re just a crackpot. But if you put in the time, the sweat, the energy—then maybe you are a genius.

I could be a crackpot. But I think I’m a genius.