I built a brand

In 2013, I started Instagramming under the username "@josh.guitars." I created the website "josh.guitars" and "joshguitars.com" shortly thereafter—I bought that domain the day that "dot guitars" went live with all the other new TLDs.

I built a Twitter and Facebook following but didn't like those platforms as much—I was "josh_guitars" there. After a little while, I revised my username to "@joshguitars" (without the dot) on all platforms, to be easier to find.

My following grew quickly as I talked about my life as a professional guitar player, about gear, about my faith, and about what it meant to play the guitar for the church. For the first four years, I loved everything about it. I hustled on social media, building it up by talking to people every single day.

My following grew as I was helped along by larger accounts. My pictures were reposted by all of these gear companies, and smaller companies would then send me products to talk about, and I became friends with other guitarists who had thousands of followers and we all shared each other's content, met up, tagged each other.

If I could freeze 2015 and stay there forever with my Instagram account I'd have been happy. Hanging with Dillan and Josh and Gideon and Matt and Des and Moises and Bryan and Ben, going to conventions and shows, taking pictures, getting free stuff—it was awesome. But the guitar community changed radically over that year.

I noticed a trend among newer Instagramming guitar players that I just despised—it led me to write the post that launched this blog, "More is more to lose." The trend was this need to one-up one another in a toxically consumeristic pursuit of more guitar gear, going into debt to buy gear, and shaming guys who didn't have as much or as fashionable a guitar rig as others.

I saw how, in a small way, I'm to blame for that trend. I fueled it by talking about my own gear, endorsements, and sponsorships instead of talking about things that matter. Moreover, I saw how I was ruining my finances to buy the latest and greatest guitar gadgets that kept me ahead of all the new guys and kept the likes, comments, and follows rolling in.

I was also disappointed in myself that I'd allow that kind of influence over my life. One day, I decided enough was enough. I decided to just leave it all—to delete all of my socials. I did it. It felt so very liberating. I was off of social media completely for about six months and then returned with a private account just so that I could keep up with close friends.

When I pressed 'Delete' on my Instagram account @joshguitars, I had over 6,100 followers. The picture below is from the day I hit 5,600 followers—I was sitting in my car after a photoshoot and happened to have my camera out so I snapped a pic—I think it's the only 'proof' I have now of the account that I had built.

In any other industry—or for some company or publication—6,100 followers is nothing. But for a regular old joe like me, I felt like a celebrity. People were asking my opinion about things. I was invited by a friend to this American Idol event and got recognized backstage by one of the contestants—that was weird. I got recognized in a Starbucks, "Hey! you're JOSHGUITARS!"

JoshGuitars was becoming a brand in a weird way. It was fun at first but then it ate my soul up toward the end. I didn't want the pressure, the greed, the trolling, or the divisive one-upsmanship anymore.

I wanted to set a good example to younger guys. I saw how they felt the need to try to keep up with me, when their top priority should have been learning the guitar before buying all that gear. So my solution, for me and for them and for the community, was to delete myself.

One kind of funny thing I found out in all of this: I didn't want to just deactivate—I wanted to eliminate the temptation to come back. I didn't realize that when you perma-delete your account, after 30 days or so Instagram makes the username available. So I no longer own the @joshguitars username—some random guy grabbed it. But I don't really mind.

I've written at length about my objections to social media in the past. To sum up what I've said before, the influence of all of those follows, comments, and likes starts to change me, and I don't like the me that I become when I'm most active online.

I love being social. I'm a total extrovert—I love being the life of the party, making jokes, meeting people, including people in conversation, and discovering new perspectives. But the moment you hang up a scoreboard and we start measuring our sociality in likes and follows, I become a competitive monster.

I have no regrets about deleting an account with 6,100 followers. Of those 6,100 people, I think about 200 were genuine friends. Of those 200, I had met 120-150 or so in person. Of those 120, I have close, personal friendships with maybe 20 of them. Of those 20, I've talked to 10 on the phone in the last year. So like, having a following isn't that special, right?

But letting go of things is hard. It was easy to hit 'delete' that day, but in recent months, feeling nostalgic about the days when my phone was blowing up, I've wondered if I could start blogging and posting about the guitar again but in some healthier way. I'm not sure that I can.

Nothing worth doing is easy. Jesus said that if your hand is causing you to sin, cut it off. Cutting off the thing that's causing you to sin is very very difficult. My following and the pressure to post regularly and 'up the ante' on my previous posts was causing me to sin so I had to cut it off.

The context of Matthew 5:29 is fascinating. Jesus was speaking to a large group of men and he's talking about sex. He had just finished explaining, "You've always heard it said, 'Do not commit adultery,' but I'm telling you that if you so much as look at a woman with lust in heart, you've already committed adultery."

That's an extreme statement. If I so much as look at her wrong? And that statement would have immediately caused every man in the audience to perk up. 'Cause honestly what has nearly every man in human history done? you know?

Jesus catches their attention and then says something even more extreme to really pound home his point. "If you're having problems keeping your eyes above her neck, maybe you should tear those bad boys out. Get rid of them."

That's what Jesus does—he connects with his audience to say exactly what they needed to hear, exactly how they needed to hear it, to maximize the effectiveness of his teaching in every conceivable way. He's the master teacher.

Take for instance the Samaritan woman he encounters in John 4. He tells her to go and get her husband, to which she replies, "I have no husband." Then Jesus, showing that he already knows her heart, her past, and her intentions, says: "The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true."

He says something extreme and stuns her by demonstrating his intimate knowledge of her past. He then offers her hope when he has her fullest attention. It pays off—this woman with such a shameful past ran back into town to tell everyone about the Messiah that she just met.

Or take for example the rich young man that Jesus encounters in Luke 18. The young man asks, "What do I have to do to be saved?" and Jesus responds, knowing this man loves his possessions far more than he'll ever love God, "Sell everything you have and give to the poor."

Jesus isn't telling all of us to sell everything we have. He's speaking directly to that young man and he's speaking in an extreme, objective manner to shake the man from his pride, arrogance, complacency, and greed.

This is one of Jesus' oratorical tactics—say something crazy to weed out those who can't hang. Say something that only a few people will understand, those who needed to hear it the most. Jesus doesn't care about being popular or seeker-sensitive or politically correct, he's not appealing to the masses. When he teaches, he's speaking to a very specific audience. Sometimes his message is to one specific listener among a crowd of bystanders.

This is why the Bible says that Jesus' message was foolishness to the wise. This is what Jesus meant when he said he came bringing a sword. His message is divisive in that it divides those who can see from those who are blinded to his message. He spoke simply, and in common language for all to understand, but he knew that some people just wouldn't get it.

This is why it says we've got to approach his teachings like a child. A childlike faith, an optimistic curiosity, a sense of wonder—those are needed to interpret Jesus' words. His simple message of love is so simple that anyone looking for religion just won't get it. Anyone looking for philosophically mind-blowing keys to the universe would be disappointed by the unadorned message of Jesus.

Anyone looking at Jesus' words like a Pharisee—mining the words for a list of rules to impose on others, to use in competition with others, to follow diligently to make themselves feel like 'true believers,' validating their perfectionism, or anyone looking for something to claim exclusive access to and build a clubhouse around—those folks just aren't going to understand the simple truths he taught.

I'll give a third example (and this one is my favorite). In Matthew 16, the disciples forget to pack bread for a daytrip. They're afraid Jesus will find out about their mistake. Seemingly randomly, Jesus says, "Beware of the bread of religious people." And the disciples are like, "Oh crap he knows we forgot bread..." This cracks me up.

Jesus had just been teaching a large crowd only two days earlier and when the crowd grew hungry, he fed everyone from just one boy's sack lunch. Now only two days later, the disciples have forgotten this miracle and are wringing their hands over what they'll have to eat. Jesus goes, "Guys. I don't care that you forgot bread, don't you remember I literally just made bread out of thin air a couple days ago?"

Jesus knew they were fixated on their hunger and on the mistake they had made in forgetting bread, but he wanted to teach them a much more important lesson about how the religious establishment (called the Pharisees) often use their religion with bad motives. So, knowing his audience, he said, "Beware of the lies those religious people are feeding you." Only, he said it in such a way as to immediately grab their attention.

Knowing that all his disciples cared about in that moment was bread, Jesus used bread as his metaphor to teach them a much deeper, much more valuable lesson than anything they could have expected. This is why Jesus is a masterful teacher. This is also one of my favorite examples of how consistently stupid the disciples were. It's ridiculous to deify them (Saint Peter, Saint John) like gods. They were stupid men just like you and me.

Side note: If you're fixating on a mistake that you made, like the disciples fixated on their mistake in forgetting to pack a lunch, you should know that Jesus doesn't give a rip about what you did. Jesus wants you to stop thinking about yourself so much. Jesus wants you to learn the deeper lesson.

This is the same Jesus who said, "If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world." Get over your mistake. Ask forgiveness and move on. Chase wisdom—chase the deeper lesson Jesus is teaching you.

Let's go back to Matthew 5, back to tearing our eyes out. Plenty of Christians, in the name of piety or an ascetic sort of idealism, have acted literally on Jesus’ words here. And I guess I admire their devotion? maybe? Origen, for instance, an early Christian theologian, actually castrated himself in the name of piety. But Jesus never asked him to mutilate himself and I’m certainly not joining him—I'm not that religious.

Jesus said "if your eye is causing you to sin tear it out." But he also said, "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light." How can the eye be healthy if you've torn it out? Isn't that contradictory?

What Jesus means in both instances is that what we choose to look at can dramatically affect our minds and our well-being. He means, take drastic steps to ensure that you aren't fixating on harmful things. Christians like to make the same mistake that the disciples made, treating everything so black and white, thinking only about what's right in front of us.

Here's why I think this is such a timely message for us today. I know I've been railing against social media for weeks now, and I get that it's a bit hypocritical for me to preach against it while also still having an Insta account, but I think that we need to think seriously and intentionally about our use of social media and the time we give to it.

I've said it before, I think we're seeing friendships being redefined by scores and streaks, our self-image eroding with every picture-perfect post we compare our own lives to, our society fragmenting and dividing into these polar, isolated echo chambers.

These so-called 'services' have a profound effect on our attention spans, our happiness, our sense of self-worth, and even our sleep! So if your Facebook profile causes you to hate your fellow man, cut it off. Delete it. If your Instagram feed makes you hate yourself, cut it off. Delete it. I think that's what Jesus would teach if he were here today.

I also think Jesus and his disciples would have a hilarious Instagram Story feed. Go read the book of Matthew. Those guys were ridiculous and Jesus gave them such a hard time.