Pilgrimage: Ancient Practice Now With Some Modern Tensions

(Blogger’s Note: Roni Jackson-Kerr and I became acquainted, interestingly, by way of technology. We connected between her pilgrimage and mine in the fall of 2015 and remain friends. As she nears completion for the Ph.D in Communication, Jackson-Kerr has become a research leader in a field of interest to us both. She’s in the final days of completing her doctoral dissertation examining the role of modern technology as it blends with the ancient practice of pilgrimage. She has titled her work,  An Ancient Practice in the Modern Age: An Examination of the Camino de Santiago and the Impact of Technology on Modern Pilgrimage. Jackson-Kerr is also the founder of the American Pilgrims on Camino Oklahoma Chapter (Okies on Camino). We visited recently to discuss her work in-depth.)

Roni Jackson-Kerr at the iconic Alto de Perdon in the early stretch of the Camino de Santiago near Pamplona.

Q: Historically, there was a time when the practice of pilgrimage was common, then periods when it was not so much the case. Is technology responsible for what we might think of as a resurgence in the practice?

A: Because the type of research that I did for this project was ethnographic, I am unable to make direct assertions regarding causality. What I can say is that the rise of the Internet and the resurgence of the Camino have run largely parallel to one another. The resurgence has occurred for many reasons — one being the significant investment Spain has made in the Camino routes, particularly the Camino Frances, and the promotion of the Camino de Santiago itself. I can say the mere volume of information about the Camino that is now available online has unquestionably made the pilgrimage more visible — a simple Google search for ‘Camino de Santiago’ yields more than twenty million results. Blogs, forums, books (tech is affecting self-publishing and the sheer volume of books available), podcasts, documentary films, TED Talks, YouTube videos, and web series have all flourished in recent years. People are sharing their journeys on social media, inviting those in their social network to come along. The increase in available information and visibility is undoubtedly significant.

Q: Understanding that your research is objective in nature, what do you see is both the best and worst impacts of technology on pilgrimage?

A: (As an aside) No research is wholly objective. There is an element of subjectivity to even the most empirical of studies. Ethnography does not aim to be objective in nature, because it recognizes the futility in such an effort. We cannot escape ourselves as a vehicle for the transmission of information. That said, we do try to maintain reflexivity and recognize the ways in which we might influence our own work.

With that said, what’s interesting to me about this study is the very tension between the positives and negatives of technology on this experience, and the internal tensions caused by that impact. It is not altogether separate from the concerns we have regarding the impact of technology on our lives and ourselves in general.

In many ways, technology is offering many practical benefits to pilgrims. With respect to pack weight alone, it’s remarkable how many functions our modern devices can service — our cell phone can be our camera, our diary, our map, our guidebook, our compass, our connection to the outside world (for better or worse), and much, much more.

Modern technology is also enabling pilgrims to connect with one another before ever stepping foot on the trail and making it easier than ever to maintain those connections after returning home. It’s changing the very manner in which pilgrims engage with one another in space and time. It’s offering pilgrims access to a network of others who understand the gravity of the experience and who can offer support when perhaps those back home cannot, not having experienced the pilgrimage themselves. This is no small fact. The return home particularly can be quite emotionally complex, and having easy access to a support network can be extremely helpful for those navigating the transition home.

The other side of the coin, the one that has drawn the most attention from scholars and lay pilgrims alike, is what technology may be taking away from the pilgrim experience and the pilgrimage itself. There can be no doubt that the Camino is changing, both as a result of modern technology and as a result of the increasing numbers. There is a clear delineation between the sacred nature of pilgrimage and the profane nature of modernity and commercialism, and this almost intuitive delineation is what is causing such distress among those who see pilgrimage as a sacred act. Many pilgrims complain about the commercialism of the Camino, particularly in the post-Sarria stretch. But the truth is, the merchants have always gone where the people are. This was true in medieval times as it is today. Yet, there is an observable distinction between the merchant selling pendants outside the cathedral and posters advertising an albergue stapled to every passing tree. Despite the qualitative distinction, commercialism is still commercialism. The concept of making money off of a sacred experience is uncomfortable and challenges us spiritually, rightly so.

There is also much to be said about technology as distraction. In our daily lives as well as on Camino, our devices are distracting, pulling us away from the immediacy of our experiences and separating us from those in our immediate presence. For an experience as rich as pilgrimage, that distraction can be quite troubling.

We have a lot of reflecting to do on this, as individuals and collectively. Many pilgrims lament the numbers we are seeing on the Camino today, yet we speculate how wonderful the world would be if there were more pilgrims in it. We have much to reconcile within ourselves.

With colleagues at the University of Oklahoma 2017 spring commencement ceremonies.

Q: Have you detected any common personality traits among those who are interested in pilgrimage?

A: I think those who are drawn to pilgrimage are driven toward something “more.” They see life as more than merely the passage of time, but as something to actively pursue. There is a kind of bravery associated with taking on the hero’s journey, jumping off into the unknown (although there is no doubt that technology is significantly diminishing that unknown.) Time spent on pilgrimage forces you to spend time with yourself, away from the demands of everyday life, and it offers no escape from yourself, at least as long as technological access is still mostly limited to cafes and bars (I believe strongly that we will cross a threshold when Internet access is inevitably available everywhere, all the time.) But, for the time being, I would argue that while each pilgrim is unique, there are common yearnings that drive each of us, and it’s perhaps the yearning that is universal, if not a particular personality trait.

Q: Is there any evidence that technology use during pilgrimage detracts from the experience?

A: In many ways, that is impossible to answer, because our experience is our experience. It’s the only one we know, so to speculate on what might have been can become a bit of a fool’s errand. With that said, most pilgrims I spoke with recognized that their online engagement was not without consequence. They realized that time spent blogging or scrolling through Facebook was time not spent talking with other pilgrims, exploring villages, or chatting with locals. Importantly, time spent online is also time not spent simply thinking, being alone with one’s thoughts. When going through an experience as emotionally and spiritually intense as pilgrimage, offering oneself time to contemplate and process the lessons, thoughts, and emotions of that experience is essential. And there is no question that access to our distracting devices offers a barrier to that reflective time.

“Here I saw the entirety of my dissertation; this tension between the sacred and the profane; the tension between modernity and tradition; the tension between convenience and presence. How do we reconcile an ancient practice in the modern world?”

Q: What would you classify as the most significant findings of your research?

A: I think among the most interesting findings are the dialectical tension between our desire for the conveniences of modern technology and our sense that something is being lost as a result of it. One of the clearest demonstrations of this occurred at the 2016 American Pilgrims on Camino Annual Gathering. During one session, representatives from Santiago de Compostela came forth to discuss the many investments that were being made on the CF and in Santiago, including replacing the waymarkers, opening a new pilgrim’s office in Santiago, and “putting wi-fi everywhere.” To be clear, this measure was taken in response to pilgrim demand-pilgrims want the convenience of wi-fi access, even as we lament its problems. The next representative from the Confraternity of Saint James made an announcement about a new albergue opening on the Camino Norte. At the end of her announcement she proclaimed, “There will be NO wi-fi in the albergue. That’s not what the Camino is about.” Here I saw the entirety of my dissertation; this tension between the sacred and the profane; the tension between modernity and tradition; the tension between convenience and presence. How do we reconcile an ancient practice in the modern world?

Q: So from a practical standpoint, someone asks you if they should remain “connected” or disconnect during pilgrimage. How do you answer?

A: This is such a personal decision, and it is not a small one. I find that many people felt that they remained too connected during their journey. The use of our devices has become so reflexive — we do it without even thinking about it. We engage our devices when there is a lull. We’ve become uncomfortable with the mere absence of engagement. To be sure, choosing to disconnect while on pilgrimage requires intentionality and commitment. One pilgrim said to me, “When you’re dealing with addiction, moderation does not work.” And we are addicted to our devices. I believe this is why so many people found themselves regretting the amount of time they spent on and with their devices, because moderation simply did not work. Yet for safety and practicality’s sake, I would not necessarily recommend leaving one’s devices at home. I know pilgrims who did this and for them, being totally disconnected added a layer to their pilgrim experience. However, I also met pilgrims for whom access to their devices provided a level of security or enabled them to take the trip at all. Each pilgrim must make up their own minds about how and if they will engage their devices. The key is to remain committed to the role they wish their technology to play. If it is only for emergencies, then don’t make exceptions. Otherwise the rock will begin to roll downhill and it will gain momentum.

Q: Did your research investigate multiple pilgrimage routes, or primarily the Camino de Santiago? And if more than one route, are findings consistent?

A: For this project, I focused solely on the Camino de Santiago. However, there is evidence to suggest that this phenomenon is in no way unique to this pilgrimage. One out of every three modern travelers is a pilgrim, and technology is undoubtedly affecting pilgrim travel across the board. If you Google “selfies at the Hajj” or “technology and the Kumbh Mela,” you will find that pilgrims across faith traditions are grappling with the profane influence of modernity in their sacred spaces.

Q: Does your research tell us anything about common perceptions or misperceptions regarding pilgrimage?

A: Interestingly, for all those who conducted research prior to the Camino, in an effort to minimize uncertainty and gain a sense of preparedness, most laughingly said that nothing can truly prepare you for the Camino. Yes, you can read up on footwear and footcare and you can study maps and learn how to properly use trekking poles, all of which are valuable, but there will always be unexpected challenges and obstacles, and at some point, you will have to lean on your own fortitude rather than your research. And that is the point of liberation, isn’t it? When we realize that everything we need to move forward is already in us, we don’t have to rely on cell phones or wi-fi or others. We have everything we need all the time.

Q: For many there is a period of societal re-adjustment following pilgrimage. What does your research tell us about this?

A: This is one area in which I see a significant benefit of modern communication technologies. Many pilgrims experience what’s come to be known as “The Camino Blues” after returning home from the pilgrimage. This is largely because recounting what is in many ways an ineffable experience is challenging, and while many people are interested in hearing about the journey, their interest wanes after a while, leaving many pilgrims feeling isolated as they struggle to make sense of the many lessons and experiences that the Camino offered. Today, pilgrims have much greater access to others who can more easily relate to the challenges of re-entry, and anyone with an Internet connection has instantaneous access to pilgrims around the world who can help them sort through some of those feelings as they emotionally and spiritually unpack. Forums such as Ivar’s Forum, CAMIGAS, and the American Pilgrims on Camino forum on Facebook are offering pilgrims greater access to support networks than ever before, and the expansion of local APOC chapters is enabling pilgrims to connect with fellow pilgrims in their own communities as well. All of this has been made possible (or at least made easier) by communication technologies.

Q: It’s a broad question, but did you encounter any common ways the pilgrimage experience effects things like beliefs, values, morals or other qualities that guide us through life?

A: I think the Camino provides many useful tools and lessons for life. The pilgrimage is merely a metaphor for our life journeys, right? We move ever-forward toward the inevitable end, facing many joys, challenges, and heartbreaks along the way. Our bodies slowly deteriorate. We find comfort and support in the beautiful souls who intersect our path (and some who challenge it.) Some walk with us for only a short time, and others become permanently imprinted on the journey.

I think the pilgrimage demonstrates to us our own fortitude. It shows us that we are capable of things we never imagined. It teaches us the value of a kind gesture, of service to others, of laughter, and of pain. I have been fortunate to have been in many classrooms in my life, both literal and figurative, but perhaps never one so prevailing as the Camino.

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He Called Me a WHAT?

 

“In the end, everyone can understand themselves only. You are the only one to which you never have to explain what you mean. Everything else is misunderstanding.” ~ Renate Dorrestein

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 9.29.22 AM

An unfortunate New World reality is one that forces modern-day pilgrims to consider a disquieting proposition early on.

You must consider whether you will “plug” or “unplug,” that is whether you will remove yourself from the world of technology during the sacred time of pilgrimage, or whether you will bring it along for the ride. As previously described, it was an evolutionary process for me as I ultimately decided I’d chronicle my journey electronically across Spain for family and friends, and to go so far as to convey what I “felt” as it all transpired.

By and large, it was a good decision. In fact, it was the absolute right decision for me. At certain moments, however, it made things much more difficult than they had to be.

When you make the decision I made to remain connected to people across the world, and to share thoughts, feelings, even philosophies and beliefs in a transparent way, you must also accept that you’ve invited people to disagree with you, call your convictions into question, and even, at times, act a fool. That’s the deal you make, and it’s precisely why I advise just about everyone who goes on pilgrimage to take a serious electronic break. Unplug, for God’s sake. Seriously, and literally.

But if you don’t, it’s even more important to realize how your environment and circumstances can affect your state of mind to make you more vulnerable than normal. It happened to me more than once, and it’s the price you pay.

***

“My byline’s been pooped on more than once. I’m sure of it.”

My mission as a journalist has broadened across 25 years, in part, because of the way the media, itself, has evolved, and, in part, because how I’ve evolved as a person. As a cub newspaper reporter in 1988, I’d write a story one day, and the medium was delivered to the reader’s doorstep the next. Subscribers might read what I’d written over their morning coffee, or they might use it as a fresh liner for the kitty litter box. My byline’s been pooped on more than once. I’m sure of it.

Today, it’s radically different. I can communicate in an instant with thousands of people across the world. It’s a mass communication guy’s dream, but the speed and volume of electronic media make getting noticed and building an audience more difficult than ever.

I still produce the occasional “hard” or “critical” news piece, and really enjoy an interesting personality profile. During the last several years, however, the most significant evolution in my approach to journalism has been in its tone. Today, I write less for money, and more for the pursuit of what I believe is my life’s mission. It’s not an in-your-face message, but those familiar with my style know there’s generally a message about how the good news of the Gospel has changed my life. With that change comes a natural desire to share it, and anything short of that probably wasn’t real change. I like that I can intermingle journalism with ministry for a higher purpose, and not be preachy about it. I can just be myself. Alas, that’s enough.

It’s also a New World reality that my journalistic message, the very thing that’s at the heart of what’s most important to me, creates a greater divide than it once did no matter how subtle it may be. Our “progressivism” takes us in a direction opposite the narrow Way.

On Day 14 en route to San Juan de Ortega, I experienced two things that made me more vulnerable than normal to what otherwise wouldn’t bother me much. The last six miles of that long day were cold, wet and windy, I was really tired, and hadn’t had English-speaking company in a while. And while it normally wouldn’t bother me in the least, all my albergue companions for the night were German and South Korean. As we all enjoyed down time in the common area, they segregated into groups early on, and I felt a little left out.

(Above: A lesson I learned about minority status.)

I’ve experienced minority status abroad more than most U.S., middle-class, middle-aged, white guys, and normally it doesn’t bother me a bit. In fact, I know without a doubt that pushing that comfort zone is good. That night, though, it made me feel pretty lonely, and subsequently, downright irritable. The other pilgrims weren’t being intentionally rude. They were just surrounding themselves with others who were like them – it’s what comes most natural to us all.

So I made social media my company for the night, and it made a bad situation even worse. When you’ve been cold and tired for a long time, and even feeling a bit sorry for yourself, it’s best to keep your emotions in check. I guess I failed that night.

Scrolling though my “news feed” I came across a post by an older gentleman from my hometown who’d shared a video I posted several days earlier after an evening’s stay at a nice hotel in Santo Domingo. The man, who was well familiar with my journalistic style, apparently found some hypocrisy in the idea I’d used a credit card to rejuvenate with nice accommodations while on an ancient Christian pilgrimage. He shared the video and decided he’d describe me to the world as a “pseudo-Christian asshole.” I read it three times thinking I was surely seeing it wrong. Nope. That’s what it said. Pseudo-Christian asshole. Nice. It hurt my feelings more than anything.

I deleted the video from his post, blocked him forevermore from my “friends” list, as well as a few others who found innocent humor in what he’d said. It kept me awake all night, and my reaction to it all was unusually excessive. I realized the following day just how much the peripheral circumstances of the day had affected my good judgment. In retrospect, it was a great Camino lesson.

Pseudo Christian Asshole. I’ve been called worse. I just can’t remember when. Thank goodness that didn’t become my trail name.

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2012 in Review: A Few Favorite Reader Comments

blogger

Today marks my 230th post since taking up residency on WordPress in late January. Lots of great discussion. The posts will be fewer and farther between for the remainder of the year as we take on some new business opportunities thousands of miles away. The interaction with readers has been my highest honor during 2012. Here are some of my favorite reader comments from the year.

And special thanks to the blogging buddies represented in the three visuals below for their steadfast encouragement throughout the year:

www.project-40.com

www.ourcrowdedheart.wordpress.com

www.writingstraight.com

1. Very inspirational post. This is why you’re on my blogroll – in response to this post.project-40-logo12

2. If there were a way to better put this into words, I would, but can’t. So I’ll simply say thank you for writing this and making it available to a somewhat lost soul who’s often given up on healing and who so desperately needed to hear these words today – in response to this post.

3. Unpatriotic, left-wing, democratic garbage – in response to this post.

4. Steve, this is not funny. Obviously, you’re not the man I thought you were – also in response to the post cited in #3 above.

holly michael5. Your bucket list is not just a list. It’s a framework for how you’ll live your life. You’ve inspired me to create my own bucket list – in response to this post.

6. You’re a very blessed man, but I can see that you already know that – in response to this post.

7. Love your boldness,  Steve, but wasn’t the reader whose comment offended you also within his First Amendment rights? Don’t people have the right to say they don’t want to hear what you have to say? – in response to this post.

8. Thanks for this post. It really helped me understand SEO strategies – in response to this post.

9. Thanks for putting into writing what most of us are thinking – in response to this post.rhonda hardisty

10. I don’t like it. I love it. Best blogging advice I’ve seen on the web – in response to this post.

11. Your dad looks like a young Paul Newman in this photo – blues eyes and all – in response to this post.

Tomorrow:

12.21.2012 – What Time Does the World End Because I Have a Plane to Catch That Day. Seriously.

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EL Submissions Guidelines

Our submissions guidelines for Ecuador Living Magazine. Feel free to re-post, or share with anyone who may be interested.

Ecuador Living Magazine

Ecuador Living supports the work of professional bloggers and freelance writers. Some 25 percent of our editorial content for each issue is reserved for emerging writers.

Submissions Guidelines:

  • All first-time contributors should include resume and all appropriate blog/web links with submissions or pitches.
  • Word counts from 500 to 1,250 words are accepted.
  • Original (not previously published stories) are preferred, however, a previously published blog post, or other story may be submitted for consideration. We do not accept stories previously published in other recognized publications.
  • Photos are encouraged with each submission (3 max), and must be high resolution.
  • Original graphic designs may be submitted for consideration.
  • EL accepts both pitches and completed first drafts. Pitches are encouraged. Acceptance is not a guarantee of publication.
  • EL follows the guidelines of the Associated Press Stylebook.Ecuador Living submissions guidelines
  • First submissions are not eligible for professional fee reimbursements, but are measured for reader activity. First-time contributors…

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Ecuador Living…

Coming soon, and we’ve never been more excited.

Ecuador Living Magazine

Magazine about ecuador

Set for launch on March 1, 2013, Ecuador Living is the premier on-line magazine for all-things Ecuador.

Published semi-monthly by Pro-Ecuador Marketing, Ecuador Living is chock-full of  the best journalism in Latin America. Each issue delivers feature profiles on expatriate living, business opportunities, emerging trends, real estate, the latest news in tourism, how-to guides for would-be explorers and much more.

Steve Watkins, publisher of Ecuador Living said he’s excited about launching Ecuador’s first comprehensive on-line publication.

“From concept to creation we’ve put together what’s truly a full-service

publication,” Watkins said. “Readers will enjoy a professionally written, highly visual and informative work featuring some of the top journalists and photojournalists in Latin America. Advertisers have the benefit of direct delivery to more than 30,000 homes based in the U.S. and Canada who have a demonstrated interest in Ecuador. It’s the total package.”

Watkins said Ecuador Livingoffers magazine advertisers…

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Why Are You So Aggressive Toward the Things You Believe are Wrong?

(BLOGGER‘S NOTE: For a writer (at least for me, I should say) there’s no higher honor than reader commentary – good, bad or indifferent – it’s my cocaine. Last night, I threw out a quick Facebook post about my dilemma for choosing today’s blog post, with low expectations for feedback, and was overwhelmed with the response. Allow me this moment to say “thank you” to each of you, and anyone who reads either regularly or sporadically. From my heart, thank you. So … discounting the lady who submitted votes on behalf of her three pets, here’s today’s winner.) ~ steve

***

There it was, tucked away in the in-box, about at subtle as an elephant walking into the room. It came during what was a nearly 24-hour social-media hiatus, and when I returned, it was waiting.

The private, in-box message was a reader response to this Sunday post, one that left me physically, spiritually and emotional drained. Depleted. Spent.

It was one of my anti-religion posts. If you’re a regular, or even occasional reader at this site and don’t have the faintest idea what I mean by anti-religion there’s probably no point in reader further, so go on and have a nice day.

***

The subconscious is an amazing thing, is it not? Hiding back there in the shadow, lurking just behind the soul, prodding a low-grade awareness of certain things we may or may not wish to recall, yet always there.

Know this. When a reader points to a writer the very same thing the subconscious reminds him/herself about – well, it’s revelation.

***

Seeing the name, I opened the in-box message as a priority and quickly came to an attached YouTube video. Less than 10 seconds in, the narrator posed to himself this question:

“Why am I so aggressive toward the things I believe are wrong?”

And so Jay Gunter, a man in many ways my spiritual soul mate, had done it

aggressive behavior

For me, it’s an ongoing exercise to just breath, and relax.

again. Pointing out something he AND my subconscious knew, but bringing it to the surface for my own awareness’ sake.

I’d show you the video here, but it’s much more powerful a bit down the line, so come along, you’ll get it soon.

In the meantime, why am I so aggressive toward the things I believe are wrong?

***

As a writer soliciting public consumption, I’ve been called everything. Unpatriotic, blasphemer, un-American. One reader even called me the blackest white guy he’d ever known.  And because of my style, I consider the latter high praise, for I’ve never wanted to fit into any certain genre.

The question the narrator posed took me back about 10 days, when a man I hadn’t seen in 20 years asked me to meet with him and discuss blogging of all things. He drove 75 miles to ask for some tips on how to get where he wanted to go, and so first I posed the most obvious question:

“Just where is it you want to go?

His response was not only transparently profound. It was as if his words had come right out of my own mouth.

“I’m 50 years old now,” he said, “and because of so many life circumstances, I’ve been quiet. If you and I sat across this table from one another even just three years ago, and you offered up an opinion on some topic where I felt the polar opposite, I’d have stayed quiet just for the sake of avoiding confrontation. But I can’t do that any more because I realize it has to come out, and I realize I haven’t been true to myself all this time.”

This guy’s gonna be a good blogger one day. Really good.

I have to be true to myself. It has to come out. I can’t do it any more.

Been there. Done that. Yes.

In response to the question at hand, I suppose this is what I’d say:

I’m so aggressive toward the things I believe are wrong because they’re the very things about which I’m most passionate … and I’ve spent a lot of years suppressing passion. It’s time to be true to myself.

***

why are men so intense

Unfortunately, intensity and aggression are prevalent, even in a friendly golf match with best buddies. You’ve gotta get your game face on, right?

Jay’s comments, and the message in his attached video, put me in an introspective mood, and I set aside a time to consider for myself: Why am I so aggressive toward the things I believe are wrong? I set the time aside because when a wise man offers up such a notion, it’s wise, in turn, to ponder it one’s self.

A bit later, I pulled out pen and paper and wrote down the topics that spark my writer’s aggression and considered all the reasons I believe they are so wrong.

So here’s my list:

1. Chief among them is the very thing we’ve all made of “the church.” Now, you’re about to get the opportunity to click on that video I promised earlier, but first, one of many personal experiences … and it’s one of ONLY many:

I’ve been a member of, or attended just about every denominational church you can imagine. Three years or so ago at the outset of an extended personal depression (yes, I can talk about depression for there’s no shame therein) I joined a non-denominational church. Almost immediately, the skids came off a place that previously seemed really safe.

This is a church most caught up in itself, focused inward, inside four walls. Structural leadership is regarded in high esteem. Elders are elected by the body, the elders, in turn, manipulate the people, and the people back-bite the elders on any given Sunday.

Losing control, the body fired the pastor, created a tri-lateral bureaucracy and spent the next nine months immersed in writing a set of rules and regulations for governance they call the constitution and bylaws. And in the end, they recreated what they originally established 30 years before – a self-governed fiefdom, blinded to genuine outreach.

Those are sharp words, for which I am accountable.

So if that account is self-righteous on my part, it’s mine, and mine only, for which to answer. But such a thing makes it hard to stay quiet, and I necessarily removed myself from the circumstance. I wish they would simply own it, and move on to better days.

As one friend recently, and so aptly put it, the value of most churches today is keeping the sin franchise alive.

If you have five minutes to set aside today, in no other way could it be more well spent than viewing this video. It profoundly captures what we’ve all done to the church.

2. Legislating morality. What a slippery slope. Most of my closest friends maintain strong positions on immigration, same-sex marriage, the death penalty, abortion, etc. For the record, and morally, I agree with them. But I simply do not believe we can legislate morality because it’s forced, enacted absent of love and sends the “minorities” an entirely ineffective message. I’ve learned over time that true heart change comes only from within and we can never impose “goodness” on others. Even if it makes us feel good, it NEVER works for the greater glory, or higher purpose. And so I stand against it, wholeheartedly, but respectfully. That’s a whole different column in the upcoming post list.

3. Racial intolerance. What can I say? It’s prevalent around me and I hate it.

4. Repressing freedom of speech. It’s truly one cause for which I believe every veteran would say he fought. The most aggressive post I ever wrote was one that conjured up a reader’s comment telling me to hush up. It’s one of the few times I’ve completely reacted to such a comment, and I’m not sure if I’m sorry or not about my response.

5. Self-righteousness. This was never more fiendishly prevalent than in the U.S. presidential race that turned into a red-state, blue-state debate over who had the higher morality – and a week later, it still saturates every venue in social media. The debate was good for us in many ways, but it became so personal.

One kind reader offered last night that she took such a strong position in support of Mitt Romney she believed she’d offended some people and reluctantly stopped offering her opinions. I wonder if this piece will offer her any condolence or recompense?

6. Passive-aggressive manipulation. I’m all for aggression, but I loathe passivity. Say it straight up, face-to-face, or don’t say it at all. Don’t be a coward.

7. Cultural superiority complex. Ever been to a foreign country and become frustrated with the way things work there? Have it in mind they are doing things all wrong? The world’s beauty is found in all the ways people do things differently. Right or wrong is all in your mind.

8. Rules. I truly believe Jesus died because he knew we could never follow the rules. I’m self-employed now, and hope never to be corporately employed again. Especially when it comes to managing creative people, I believe it’s the greatest misunderstanding in the corporate world today. Truly creative people can’t follow rules. Mathematically, I’d express it in this way:

Freedom³ x (x) = ∞

In words: Give a creative person, ultimate and unwavering freedom, and there is no limit to their capacity for achievement and success.

9. Hidden agendas. I (and probably you) see it all the time, and it flies in the very face of transparent value.

10. Blasphemy – It’s that which crosses the line of loving your enemy. I’m guilty many times over, and I hate it as much when I do it, as when I see it in others.

image of marathon runner

Perhaps the most intense moment of my life summoning up all the aggression I could muster — Mile 25 of my first marathon – the Memphis St. Jude. At Mile 25, a man poses to himself many questions including, but not limited to: What the Hell am I trying to prove, and to whom am I trying to prove it?

Two final notes on aggressiveness:

“Now, there’s one thing you men will be able to say when you get back home. And you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you, ‘What did you do in the Great World War II?’, you won’t have to say, ‘Well, I shoveled shit in Louisiana.'” ~ George C. Scott as General George S. Patton speaking to the  Third Army in the movie, “Patton”

  • Ever watched a young boy play? His spiritual DNA causes him to turn fingers into guns, sticks into swords and dirt clods into grenades. He’s built to fight and defend honor. Young boys aspire to become the likes of cowboys, police officers and astronauts, seeking a life full of adventure. No young boy dreams of living in a van down by the river.
  • Much of our confusion comes from misunderstanding the character of Jesus and the whole “meek” thing. It’s a whole different topic for an entirely different day, but research it yourself. Jesus was anything but a passive, man who stood on the sidelines.

***

I have no idea what dialogue this may bring. I say only this.

Raise up the brave warrior within you my friends, and bring it.

You’ve been great. I’ll be here all night.

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A Biblical Business Model: And I’m Not a Religious Wack-Job

“It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.” ~ Tom Brokaw 

I know of nothing more exciting than launching a new business. Taking it from absolutely nothing – to something.

There’s also nothing more challenging. I’m in the midst of my third go-around in a new business launch and among all things, it’s a time-consuming, moving target that brings out the best and worst in me.

***

About a year ago, and during a time when I was fully invested in finding a literary agent (a notion I’ve long since abandoned for the brave new world of self publishing), I came across a candidate with whom I felt a kinship connection.

He was the first and only agent who shared a tangible method for writing abook of ezekiel and effective business models successful book, and his counsel came from the Bible‘s book of Ezekiel, Chapter 37, otherwise known as the parable of the Valley of the Dry Bones.

Read Chapter 37’s conclusion:

“So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on the slain, that they may come to life.'” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”

And no, I’m not a religious wack-job as one former colleague once mis-characterized me.

I’m a businessman who happens to believe there’s a spiritual element to sometimes successful entrepreneurship.business model for PRO ecuador marketing

The agent’s lesson was this: One way to write a great book is to: assemble the bones (academically formalize your ideas); put flesh on the bones (tell great stories that support your ideas); and breathe life into the bones (give the reader added-value to help him/her understand their own application moving forward after they’ve read your book.)

I adopted the theory immediately in book writing, and almost everything I’ve done since.

***

Today, Dana and I are 35 days out from wheels down in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador, where we’ll launch a new marketing agency and an expatriate guide service for adventurers exploring the Ecuadorian Pacific coast. You can see our new business cards in the right sidebar.

And we started at ground-zero.

***

Here’s what we had to do to:

GATHERING THE BONES

OUR VISION:
Connecting Ecuador to the WORLD through honest business practices, mutually beneficial relationships, and alliances that collectively benefit from an ever-increasing awareness of all that Ecuador has to offer.
connecting ecuador to the world
  • Create Mission, Vision and Purpose statements to better understand our business culture and self-understanding of what we’d do, how we’d do it and how it would be designed to make a difference for the greater good.
  • And primarily, in developing a business framework, we identified effective, affordable resources that would maximize our time, money and productivity to create excellent client services and products. Among them, but, but not exclusive of them are:
  1. http://www.godaddy.com for domain research and support
  2. http://www.wix.com for website development
  3. Obviously, I’m a big fan/supporter of http://www.wordpress.com for communication
  4. http://www.mailchimp.com for email marketing campaigns and newsletter templates
  5. http://www.internationallivingmagazine for research and relationship building
  6. http://www.consumerbase.com for target market email addresses and email distribution
  7. http://www.pageturnerpro.com for creating virtual, online magazines.
  8. And a plethora of relationships we’ve developed with fellow bloggers and expatriates around the world.

PUTTING FLESH ON THE BONES

  • Hands-on conceptualizing and execution for an effective social media platform
  • Hands-on branding (graphic design, logos, message, theme, consistency, etc.)
  • Hands-on content marketing development
  • Hands-on web design
  • Hands-on social media marketing and researching what’s free and what’s not
  • Hands on partnership and relationship building ( a dying art)
  • BTW – This is a pretty “hands-on” ordeal.

BREATHING LIFE INTO THE BONES

  • Launching new blogs, websites and other methods of communication. Timing is EVERYTHING
  • Creating real and tangible added value in our services
  • Interacting (as a real person, not a voice mail or text message) with potential clients
  • Bouncing ideas off those who have been there, done that
  • Creating the proper expression to clients, and everyone else how truly passionate and excited we are about what we’re about to dobest business practices

Bones.

Flesh.

Breath.

Ezekiel got it right.

The model’s working, and for that, we give thanks.

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Unexpectedly Self Employed: 10 Pros – 10 Cons

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” ~ Truman Capote

I’m 46 years old, and for the third time in 24 years I find myself in the wide-open world of self employment. Though it’d been on the radar screen for 18 months or so, it didn’t come about exactly as I’d planned, but it’s all good because my subconscious was mentally preparing for life’s next exciting move anyway. It’s all because the owners at my previous place of employment “…decided to make a change in direction.”

i.e., “Your fired.”

Again, it’s all good.

This go-around will be the decider. In the previous two immersions into the world of the self employed my record is one and one.  This time’s for the championship, and each morning I wake up early, adrenaline flowing, ready to get back in the game.

For those of you who blog, I’m happy to share this important reality: During the last 10 months, I’ve spent 3 to 4 hours a day blogging in my spare time. If it hadn’t been for that, I’m not sure I’d be in a position to take on a brave new world in the communications market. Blogging’s opened up countless partnerships, alliances, relationships and learning experiences that are simply invaluable. In the beginning, I had no idea where it was all going, but the blogosphere’s definitely led to something more significant and meaningful in my life.

e.g.- One of the most surprising, and rewarding opportunties came from a sister blog I set up some time ago – one designed for personal reasons only – that chronicled an adventure Dana and I set out on last April. Over the months, it’s connected us to dozens of others in the expat world, and now I’ve been given the opportunity to write for International Living magazine on a regular basis. See www.internationallivingmagazine.com. It’s a huge blessing and thrilling opportunity.

Steve and Dana Watkins, owners of PRO Ecuador Marketing and Ecuador Guided ToursOn January 2, Dana and I will launch two new businesses abroad in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. The web had already opened up an opportunity to freelance some social media management gigs, and now we’re ready to formalize it all into a more focused umbrella of targeted opportunities. I’m now thrilled to focus 100 percent of our efforts toward the work we most love.

professional marketing agencies in Ecuador

PRO Ecuador Marketing is a comprehensive marketing company that will manage ad campaigns (new and traditional media) for tourism-related industries along the emerging Ecuadorian coast. Its website is currently under development.

Ecuador Guided Tours www.ecuadorguidedtours.com is a full expat service assisting travelers and potential expat explorers looking for new opportunities along the Ecuadorian Pacific Coast. It’s an idea we had almost immediately after we spent two weeks exploring Ecuador on our own, and found no formal services to guide us in a way that would make the most of our time and money.

Full expat service agency for travelers and expats looking for real estate in Ecuador.

It’s an exciting thing to get back into the world of self employment. I’ve been thinking about all the pros and cons, and these are my thoughts so far:

CONS

1. Aside from the work itself, there’s a lot to learn, especially when you own a business that operates both from the U.S., and a foreign country. Different rules apply in both places, and it’s easy to see how a business owner could make serious, consequential mistakes in the complexity of it all. A legal, yet advantageous tax strategy is foremost on the list.

2. In the past, I’ve had the luxury of hiring really smart co-workers who compliment one another’s skills and talents. At least for now, it’s just Dana and me, and I’ll miss the synergy that comes from a small group of really smart people.

3. Also missing from the group dynamic is the luxury of specialization. Previously, I’ve been able to pass on the more technical work to people MUCH smarter than me, but now I’m required to be more tech-savvy than I ever imagined because I simply can’t afford (at this point) to hire highly specialized co-workers.

4. Because the business world is radically different than it was just three years ago, and because technology changes at the speed of light on any given day, there’s a ton of prelimary work that must be managed to properly launch a new business. There are business cards to print, websites to develop, social media distribution tools to create and link together, ad campaign strategies and much more. Our situation is all the more challenging because our communication methods must be effective in two very distinct cultures. I’d be totally lying if I didn’t say it’s all a lot of fun though.

5. It’s a given that income will fluctuate from month to month. That requires a lot of thought with regard to current debt obligations and the cost of necessary future investments.

6. Balance is critical. I’m old enough now to know my strengths and weakness. One weakness is the tendency to immerse myself in work, but experience tells me that’s a double-edged sword. I’m working hard to learn proper self-scheduling. It’s just not possible to monitor email 24 hours a day.

7. In our “spare time,”  Dana and I must become fluent in Latin American Spanish. Those six years of college Spanish were a long time ago, and today, I’m a gringo defined.

8. Today, we’re 38 days out from wheels up to from Memphis to Atlanta-Quito-Manta-Puerto Cayo. The checklist for things to do moves two steps ahead of us every time we take a single step forward.

9. I’ve always enjoyed responding to other bloggers’ requests for coaching or critique. It’s sort of my way of giving back. Now, I’m required to be much more selective in who I can help and whether it will be free or not.

10. There are rare moments when I’m scared. I never want anyone to see it, so there’s a mask to put on from time to time.

“A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.” ~ my banker

PROS

1. It gives me the opportunity to thank God for second and third chances. I’ve been praying the Prayer of Jabez for three weeks now, and it often brings a tear to my eye, because I believe those prayers have been answered in such an overwhelmingly unexpected way.

2. I’d by lying if I didn’t tell you it’s the most exciting time in my life.

3. The perks! Unlimited vacation, knocking off at 3 p.m., coming in late. Ha! I know I’ll never really do those things.

4. Never again (I pray) will I be subject to the whims of a pre-maturely elevated, 30-something whipper-snapper who thinks he’s got the world by the tail and has it all figured out.

5. For those us who have certain personality types … I’m a High D, ENFJ, there’s no substitute for sailing your own ship.

6. Pursuing a vision (whatever it may be) is the most fulfilling thing I know.

7. Technology makes the global business world smaller and smaller every day. Dana and I love the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with people in other cultures. A few months ago, I met a Peruvian lawyer and French-trained chef. His name was Caesar. When he first introduced himself, he said, “I’m a citizen of the world,” and it sent chills up my spine.

8. At 46, I’ve made a TON of mistakes in both my business and personal life. Lessons learned the hard way, yet invaluable. With a little luck, I’ll see those issues looming ahead this time, and take the appropriate detours.

9. Four years ago, I had a “great idea” for a business where I intended to be the sole proprietor – all me – and I went to visit several banker friends soliciting a loan to get the business going for a year or so. On my last visit to my last resort, this is what one banker told me: “A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.” He wanted me to solicit investors – to go out and sell others on my idea, and rather than take on the full risk of investment and the potential full rewards – to share both the risk and those rewards. I ignored his advice and the idea flopped in three months. Sidebar – I didn’t get the loan…  This time, that’s my philosophy going in because it’s quite true: A LITTLE BIT OF SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHING.

10. Honestly, I’ve never been more alive.

What Pro/Con experiences have you enjoyed in the world of self employment, or what advice would you have for others considering a new adventure?

(Steve Watkins is a professional journalist and blogger, and a contributor to International Living Magazine. For more information, see his “about me” page @ http://wp.me/P2bjEC-7:  or contact him at stevewatkins71@yahoo.com.)

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What would a “Blog-You-Mentary” look like?

I’ve developed a web domain hording habit.

It’s just another quirk in the day-to-day life of an OCD wanna-be-make-a-difference-in-the-world blogger-dreamer, I suppose.

The wife says she prefers $9.99 domain buying to sitting at a black jack table, and so I’ve embraced the habit with her endorsement. Inevitably, it takes our bank account to the brink each and every month.

For years, my personal email at stevewatkins71@yahoo.com has carried a quotable tagline from anthropologist Margaret Meade I first discovered after watching a Nickelback video titled, “If Everyone Cared.” The video’s last few seconds fade to Meade’s quote:

“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

It’s become something of a mantra for me because of its simple truth.

A couple of years later, I was further inspired by an award-winning documentary titled: “Playing for Change: Peace through Music,” and another great video that beautifully promoted its cause.

If you do nothing else for yourself today, please give this a watch, and be inspired. Talk about a magnificent collaboration…

Since discovering the blogging world and becoming an active participant a year or so ago, I’ve adopted the following beliefs about its potential:

  • The blogosphere makes the world much smaller.
  • It’s a great place to discover unbelievable talent.
  • Possibilities for world-changing collaboration are everywhere.
  • We’ve yet to conceive just how powerful this tool may become.

Some domains I’ve purchased are simply for future fun: i.e., www.BBQNazi.com; others are for promotion of future creative works: i.e. www.LightWins.com. In the grand scheme, they’re small ideas with which I’ll have a little fun and occupy some creative time.

But what of the bigger picture? There’s not a day goes by when I don’t wonder about a bigger blog impact and how it might be achieved.

I’m convinced the core of the human spirit is relational. Our most divine of inspiration comes from others.

Forget the presidential debates, Justin Beiber‘s last tweet, or the latest-greatest iPhone. Did you happen to catch the most amazing three hours in recent human history yesterday when Felix Baumgartner compelled the world to dream once again? That’s a story worth telling.

***

I have an ever-growing relationship with the support departments at www.godaddy.com and www.wix.com. For the record, they’re two of the most efficient and helpful support departments I’ve encountered. Real professionals, they are.

Last Friday, I called in to buy yet another domain: www.BlogYouMentary.com.

“This is really good. What are you going to do with it?” the support specialist asked as we went through the standard domain-buying gyrations.

“I’m not sure yet,” I responded, “but I like it too.”

So there it is: http://www.BlogYouMentary.com…

I’m wondering:

  • What exactly does a “blogyoumentary” look like?
  • What form does it take?
  • Is it a solo project, or one to be taken on collaboratively with other bloggers who have a desire to change the world … and, if so, who might be interested?
  • How could it be used for the greater good?

Endless possibilities, I think.

Wondering what you think…

What does a “blogyoumentary” look like, and where does it go from here?

I sincerely welcome your comments, questions and thoughts, and even a “reblog,” if you deem the question worthy.

~ steve

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Six Blog Post “Leads” That Will Lose Me in a Second

“Literature is the art of writing something that will be read  twice; journalism what will be grasped at once.” ~ Cyril  Connolly

LEAD (OR LEDE) –

A lead paragraph in literature refers to the opening paragraph of an article, essay, news story or book chapter. Often called just “the lead,” it writing for blogsusually occurs together with the headline or title. It precedes the main body of the article, and it gives the reader the main idea of the story. In the journalism industry, particularly in the United States the term is sometimes spelled lede. “Lede” refers to one or two sentences, not multiple paragraphs. Journalistic leads emphasize grabbing the attention of the reader. In journalism, the failure to mention the most important, interesting or attention-grabbing elements of a story in the first paragraph is sometimes called “burying the lead.”

***

It’s a product of having come from the “old school” world of journalism, I suppose.

While pursuing an undergraduate degree in journalism, I was required to take an entire 18-week course on writing leads.

A beautifully crafted lead is a work of art. A substandard lead tarnishes every word that follows. Your lead is a “make or break” deal. Readers make an unconscious decision whether he will read on, or click off, after the first 30 words.

Here, I’ve written six leads that will lose me in a second. Some were published on WordPress today.

***

1. “Hello people! Haven’t blogged in awhile because I’ve been busy up to my neck. I finally started working on Friday and it has been “fun” if I can call it that. My boss is absolutely the nicest man ever, my colleagues are equally awesome, there’s free wifi! What more can a sister ask for? Well along with the job came more  work.” (Well hello right back at you!!!!! I’ve been wondering where you were!!! You’ve been busy? Really!!!  That’s awesome. I have no idea what this post is trying to say.)

2. “If your (sic) wondering where I’ve been lately, life’s just been to (sic) busy to be on the blog.” (With two fundamental grammatical errors, and ending with a string of three consecutive prepositional phrases, I pass on this one quickly.)

3. “Here’s a collection of musings, rants and ramblings from the last week.” (I don’t have time for ramblings; if you’re going to rant, please do it without telling me so, because I’ll be much more inclined to read; and I have no idea what a ‘musing’ is.)

4. “The hubs and I had the most awesome lunch today!” (I’m thrilled you and ‘theBlogging tips hubs’ enjoyed your fare and that you were so compelled to end with a slammer, but I refer you to the author of this book, whose sentiments I could not share more.)

5. “Needless to say, I was scared to death, but when reality set in, I knew we’d make the best of it.” (Congratulations on setting the world record for most cliche’s in a single sentence.)

6. “Another week of me being semi-lazy…” (I actually found this one in my reader today. Oh, how it compels me to read more…)

Want more readers?

Write good leads.

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