In my last email (“Should I Text my Black Friends?”) I wrote about how inviting God into my inner dialogue helps me navigate the cacophony of social media.
While I didn’t know it at the time, that email would be the only piece of writing that I’d publish until now…four months later 😳
I haven’t been able to write because I’ve been burned out — emotionally, spiritually, and creatively.
In case you forgot: I’m Justin, and this is my newsletter exploring the intersection of technology and spiritual faith. I’m able to publish this email thanks to the support of my Bonsai Partners. You can read through the archives or unsubscribe at any time via link in the footer.
You can read more about the burnout in my most recent Bonsai newsletter, but here’s an excerpt:
“There were many contributing factors to my burnout: the grind of leading a small team at a high growth, Silicon Valley startup for the past two years, compounded by the fatigue of navigating a horrendously managed pandemic, compounded by America’s rampant white supremacy and ceaseless disdain for Black life.
But the cherry on top of my Burnout Sundae was a 12 week stretch of work that was so all-consuming it would make a black hole blush. So I took a week off, and for the first time in months had enough mental margin to reflect on how my life has changed in the past six months.”
So after four months of not being able to write this newsletter because I lacked sufficient creative and spiritual energy, I’m finally ready for another year of writing and publishing 🤗
But before I get into what’s in store, I wanted to recap our first year together.
Season 1: A Year in Review
When I started The Valleyist a little over a year ago, I didn’t know exactly what it was going to become. Unlike the other two projects I launched at the same time (Bonsai and Technicolor), my vision for The Valleyist was fuzzy and amorphous.
And because I didn’t know exactly what I’d be writing about or how to describe it beyond “it’s faith and technology, kinda sorta,” I also didn’t know if an audience would exist (to be clear — this is not how I’d recommend starting a creative project 😂).
But fast forward one year and 16 emails later (slightly over one per month!), and The Valleyist has enabled me to publish writing that I’m deeply proud of for its originality, timeliness, and vulnerability.
Here are a few of my favorites:
The Uncanny Valley of Prayer. Like a video call, but worse | by Justin Barber | Medium
Like a video call, but worse
White Christianity and The Murder of Ahmaud Arbery | by Justin Barber | Medium
Despite two white men literally hunting down a black man and murdering him in broad daylight, it took three months, four prosecutors, a…
Email, Algorithms, and the Vulnerable | by Justin Barber | Medium
For a brief moment last year Silicon Valley’s hottest new product was an email app called Superhuman. The email service costs $30/month…
While writing about my faith has certainly been an emotionally risky endeavor, the most vulnerable experience of publishing The Valleyist has been my choice to invite readers to respond to a reflective question at the end of each email in the “Fellow Valleyists” section.
Every time I sent an email my insides would let out a self tortured, anxiety ridden
until I received my first reply (sometimes days later — hence so many h’s).
But there has been at least one reply (often two or three) to every single email I’ve sent!
Responses have come from California, Japan, Singapore, Poland, and Canada, to name a few reader locations. Thank you for matching my vulnerability and treating me with care and respect.
The most fulfilling part of this experience — by far — has been receiving your replies to each email.
Which brings me to the next year of publishing.
Season 2: Thematically similar but more consistent
Now that I know there’s an audience interested in reading a review of Kanye West’s Jesus is King, a comparison of Instagram and Communion, and a tale of an anxiety ridden trip to the grocery store all from one source, I feel like the main way I can improve this newsletter over the next year is by publishing consistently.
Shortly after sheltering-in-place back in April, I sent a Valleyist email about constraints and creativity. At the end of that email I wrote:
“Once the constraints of the pandemic are lifted, how will I see the world differently? What will I be scared of? What new habits will I have? I hope that I’ll incorporate creativity into my life as a spiritual discipline in the same way I regard prayer or reading scripture.”
Creativity as a spiritual discipline.
This concept lodged itself into my heart and mind from the very moment I wrote it – this is a phrase that will be with me for the rest of my life. And I never would have articulated it had it not been for this newsletter, which means this concept would not have existed without you.
So what does the theme of “creativity as a spiritual discipline” mean for Season 2?
For me it means dedicating myself to waking up, turning off my wifi, ignoring my phone, and writing for at least 30 minutes every day. For you it (hopefully) means at least one new, thought-provoking Valleyist in your inbox every month at a predictable time.
I already have several topics lined up for the next few emails that I’m excited to share (some hints of what’s to come: Jeff Bezos, big companies, and big churches, the Coinbase controversy of being a “mission focused company,” and how we use God’s name).
Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for engaging with me this past year as I process the world around me and my role in it.
Here’s to the next year of becoming more creative, more disciplined, and more grateful.
Ok I’m clicking send.
I end each newsletter with a question that’s been placed on my heart after writing. If the question resonates, please reply with your reflections! Anonymized excerpts appear at the top of the next email.
How has your use of technology or expression of spirituality changed since the start of the pandemic?
This month's email was supported by…
JW+TW, thank you for being the very first Bonsai partners. You signed up without hesitation and before I even had anything to show for it! Your interest, understanding, and encouragement have been invaluable since day one. Thanks for showing me what it looks like to approach ideas with imagination and curiosity.