social media

When a Dog in a Pink Sweater isn’t Just a Dog in a Pink Sweater… #GaDog

As you may know, I’m a Presbyterian pastor. Every other year Presbyterians get together at a huge homecoming called the General Assembly where we vote on important issues, get together with one another socially and have a big ole Presbyterian Part-ay! (Except, well, maybe it’s not just a party, maybe it’s a serious, serious gathering with important issues to discuss.)

This week our denomination’s website, the PCUSA put up this advertisement to promote the General Assembly which is being held in Detroit, MI.


The text says “Attend the 221st General Assembly” and there’s the logo for the general assembly right on the image. Clearly it wasn’t a mistake that this image, a dog in a pink sweater, was attached to the idea of the General Assembly. Someone noticed and posted the question on Facebook, where I saw it, and posed the same question: Why? Since then there’s been a lot of discussion about the dog (tagged #GaDog on twitter and facebook) and I think this discussion really, really matters. While much could be said about it, I’m going to offer an initial thought for reflection and see where the conversation takes us.

The thought is this: design and branding matters, a lot.  Inadvertently (it seems, though no official comment has been made) whoever put this dog in a pink sweater next to the invitation to the General Assembly “branded it.” The brand for the GA in Detroit is now “Dog in a Pink Sweater.” Some people say “wow, that’s really, funny/bizarre/strange” or “We could have a lot of fun with that!” others say “No, that’s ridiculous and tragic, and it overshadows the REAL brand of the conference, which was supposed to be “Abound in Hope.” My own view is somewhere in the middle. I think there’s a lot of fun to be had with this pink dog. I love the idea of “GaDog for Moderator” as a little lighthearted satire of this whole debacle. The truth is, though, this dog in a pink sweater shows something very obvious about the PCUSA — we don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to branding. 

I’m currently in the design stage for my book on families and faith (yet to be named, that’s another blog post, I promise.) The process of branding the book and finding an image that will represent it is not a process that I engaged upon lightly. In fact, I was very persistent and very vocal that I wanted the best designer I could find to work on it and to really think about it. I know that whatever image is carefully chosen and put on the cover will brand the book forever. If it’s a dog in a pink sweater, I’ll have to live with it, and I know it.

I know that there is an individual (or group of individuals) behind the decision to put the dog in the pink sweater in this image, and my intent is not to make that person (or people) feel stupid. I would like to know a little bit more about the thought process behind it though, because my guess is that the answer is “We didn’t realize what a big deal it would become.” Which is, of course, exactly my point.

Smart Phone Spirituality


As I wrote about a few weeks ago, our smartphones can often deprive us of the ability to live in the present moment. If we want to capture every moment, we’re not able to experience the moment as it unfolds for just us, the audience of one. I think the opposite is also true, as well. Our smartphones can be a tool for fostering spiritual growth. Enter the advent photo challenge. This year our congregation challenged itself to participate in an advent photo challenge whereby we would think of a word that’s associated with advent and post an image related to that word. This isn’t an original idea, there are lots of Instagram challenges out there, and a well known advent photo challenge hosted by the United Methodist Church ( I wanted to challenge our congregation to do its own for a variety of reasons: to foster community among our own congregation, to make our church known to our own friends and family members, and to spread the word in our neighborhood.

I figured that the activity cost us nothing. If it flopped and nobody participated, all we were out is an hour or two of preparation and promotion. If it were to be a success, it had the potential to bring some attention to our congregation and give our congregants a new way to experience their faith. What I wasn’t counting on was how meaningful I would find the activity in my own spiritual journey. This week I’ve found that the “word of the day” hasn’t just been an impetus for finding an image that would work for the challenge, it’s been a word that’s stuck with me the whole day, a word I’ve meditated on and come to experience with greater depth throughout the day.

What would you say if I told you my mom was in the hospital on the “trust” day, or that I received a long awaited notice on the “wait” day or that on the day of “quiet” I had a few minutes to myself to ponder the week behind me? Would you say it was an amazing coincidence? I wouldn’t. I would say that those things were in my mind because of the photo challenge, hour after hour, those words have been with me, and they have allowed me to listen to the voice of the Spirit, guided by those prompts.

It’s been fun, and meaningful, to think about God being present to me each day, in these words and images, and I’ve loved seeing everyone’s contributions as well. It’s not to late to join #NPCADVENT

npcadventps. Yep, life is the word for the 19th and the 23rd, both. There’s a lot to life.

Ring Around the Rosie in Real Time…

My older son, Clayton, loves to play “Ring Around the Rosie.” It’s the “all fall down” part he loves (of course!) In recent days, I’ve distracted him from many-a-meltdown by saying “Want to play ring around the Rosie?” The answer is always a resounding YES! Today, while I was folding laundry on the other side of my room, my back to the boys, Clayton had convinced his younger brother, Samuel, to play it with him. This is a minor miracle, as Clayton’s usual interactions with Sam often involve shoving, tears, and cries of “MY TURN!” They’re little, and they’re still learning how to play together. But there they were, so sweetly playing ring around the rosie together. “All fall DOWN!” My first instinct, for better or worse, was this: Get the cell phone! Record it! This is so precious! Everyone needs to see!” But the phone was far away, and I knew that if I walked across the room the game would be broken up and the moment would be over. Instead I just sat there and enjoyed it, vowing to take a mental note. It was a holy moment. Holy because it was a moment of peace between two brothers who are still a bit too rough most of the time, holy because of their sweet, sweet voices, but also holy because it was just me, watching it, unencumbered by the preoccupation of capturing it and sharing it. It’s so tempting to try and capture every little moment on the phone to share, to remember, to have forever, but I wonder sometimes if I’m not cheating myself of these holy moments by trying to save it all and share it all. There’s a beauty in letting life unfold before your eyes knowing that this moment will never be replayed again and trusting that you’ve seen all you need to see and you’ve captured all you need to capture. It’s enough, sometimes.


For Further Reading: Are Millennials Falling Out of Love with Technology? 

Musings on Social Media Sharing for a Saturday Morning

Last night a friend from High School posted about some spices she had bought. Since I love to cook, I checked out the site she recommended. The site is something I wouldn’t have found on my own, and it a site I will absolutely be patronizing. The spices are in bulk, they are inexpensive, they have a money-back guarantee, and they are free to ship.  Social Media win: You like this site, I trust your opinion, I check it out, decide for myself, everybody enjoys deliciously spiced food.

Another example of social media working well: This week I had a video to take out of a website for a sermon. I tried to do it myself, I googled some instructions. I followed the instructions. I failed. I posted it and asked for help, and within an hour, one of my former youth group kids (who is now not a Jr. High kid who likes Ruby Red Mountain Dew, but rather an adult living and working and changing the world in Silicon Valley, I believe — man I’m old) picked it up, converted it and sent it back to me. Social Media Win.

The above two examples represent my overall experience with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linked-In, etc. Overall, they have brought me around to people I may have not stayed in touch with and have expanded my network of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in ways that make life better, and happier.

But to every yin there is a yang, no? In addition to being a place where everyone’s words live on forever, Social Media is teeming with misinformation that is more easily accepted by me (and others) because it is shared by our “friends.” To be clear: I, on a daily basis, have to be on guard to make sure I remember this. For example, this morning, an acquaintance posted a link to a picture with a caption about a [political figure] who allegedly made a [political statement] about a [political issue]  (shocker!) There were dozens of likes and a robust debate in the comment section. I was about to weigh in on the debate, but I did what I often do: I googled the story to get more information about what this real person allegedly said. Turns out it was absolutely false. A total lie. Not just an opinion I disagreed with, the person never actually said that anywhere in recorded history. I almost wasted time on a debate about, essentially, a fairytale.

So, call it a personal soapbox, a public service, or anything else you like, I’m going to close with 6 handy dandy tips for responsible social media use.

  • Remember that as a social media user, the things you post have influence on your friends. If you’re going to be the originator of a post, do a little background on it first. Some things to look for: When was this written? Who created this content? Is this an urban legend? (For Urban Legends, check out )
  • Be wary of “stories” that are listed as really long captions under pictures (as opposed to links to actual news stories). They are almost always exaggerations of actual events and stories.
  • Google. Google, my friends. It takes less than one minute to do a google search on a story you suspect might not be true.
  • Don’t hurry to be the first to share. Often the dust has to settle before the global community can fact check something, see if it’s true. How often, in large and small matters do we find that there is a huge social media share-fest of misinformation that everyone has to come back and retract. Just… sit on it a minute.
  • Gently call out misleading information. I like to link to a reputable source (I often use that gives more information.
  • Block / remove contacts who repeatedly share misleading or untrue information.

Certainly there is much more we could talk about on this topic, eh? I’ll sign off for now. What do you think?

For further reading: What You Don’t Know About Your Digital Legacy (Thanks to Matt Brennan for linking to this article.)