I was asked to try a “media fast” – no TV, radio, press, internet news or even personal talk about the news – as part of an exploration of “holiness” with our church interns. It did my head in. But there were good things – including a chance to think about why I’m so into media production, what can be good about it, and what God’s been saying to us all for a long time about living a good, faith-filled life in a difficult world. More on my Amateur Theology blog.
We had a really interesting week in our Pip n Jay intern programme, as we invited Hugh Pratt to share about how we can be holy and loving people. We think both holiness and love must go together, as they are both in God’s nature and his purpose for us, but it seems like we often struggle to live like this.
Hugh’s challenge to us was to engage in a ‘media fast’ for a week – no TV, radio, press, internet news or even personal talk about news and current events. This produced a range of reactions, with most of us finding some benefit in the way it made us reflect on how these media are so important to us. Some found more time for building relationships, which we want to carry on doing. Others (myself included) found that relationship building felt inhibited by these boundaries, and that conversations seemed a bit stunted and weird – I find myself looking things up a lot as part of getting thoughts and ideas together. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be part of a challenging culture, although it’s vital to know how to filter and interpret it, and make good choices about what to engage with and what to avoid.
As I’m not just a media consumer but also a producer, I have occasionally encountered Christians who go even further and demonise media as a whole, seeing it as a source of everything wrong with the world. I find it hard to contain all my disagreements with that in a sentence, not least because “the media” isn’t a person or even an organisation. You can’t blame “the media” for anything – blame people if you must, if you can decide whether producers or consumers or at fault. But media are merely containers for people’s ideas, and technology for sharing them. God gave us means of expression and the ability to choose how to do this. God wrote his ten commandments down and asked prophets to record what he said to them. That puts God in the media business. As far as I can tell, that means we can make it work for good.
Dominic Steele is an Australian pastor who founded “Christians in the Media” while working as a radio journalist. Helen and I have been to his church every time we have visited Sydney in the last few years, and we’ve been excited about what we have seen God doing there.
Today I found this talk from Dominic which sums up the difficulty lots of Christians face in lots of workplaces – not just media – and there’s a really important challenge. Who are we relying on, and being seen to rely on, for life? The story of Daniel is an amazing account of how God’s people can do life changing things in difficult circumstances if they are ready to rely on God and give him the credit for what he’s doing.
For reasons you don’t want me to go into, I have to make a Venn diagram. Is Excel going to be any help?
According to Microsoft, yes! It’s easy to create overlapping circles and make them into pretty colours. The video tutorial is voiced by someone who sounds extremely proud of this, and finishes with a chipper “THAT’S how I want my Venn diagram to look!”
Except it’s extremely useless. I don’t know if anyone at Microsoft stopped to consider that Venn diagrams are supposed to mean something, not just look harmonious with your document theme.
For one thing, I need to crunch numbers and get areas and overlaps which are proportional to my data – none of that is mentioned.
It’s not too surprising, given that the example Venn diagram is set up to show all the overlaps between birds and mammals (errr… there isn’t any) and… I’m sorry, I can’t even imagine an invertebrate amphibian mammal bird reptile even if one had ever existed. Which it didn’t.
Microsoft were the company which re-thought the world, brought the cleverest, most useful tools, and made billions in the process. When did it all become about style over function (**cough** Vista)? And if Microsoft no longer get it, who does?
God figures large and central, various X Factor contestants almost as much…
See it close up, and get your own, from Tagxedo.
…since this one, as thought up for a BBC schools music radio programme in 1981.
Although I think 2CR FM (later Heart) in Bournemouth had a studio like this until it closed very recently! Sad to see it wasn’t needed or used for years. It begs the question, what COULD you do with radio if you really wanted to…?
How Do You Build Community With Technology?
February 14, 2011 | posted by Joe Day
How do you utilize technology without taking away from relationship? We???ve found this question intriguing because of the range of responses it creates. While some see opportunity to connect, others get very nervous. Some cite the increase in email, sms, and social networks as the cause of relational disconnection, and they have some good points.
The question is important because these technologies are not going away. Not only that, they are continuing to innovate and improve. In our churches, we???re put in the position of asking ourselves how we???re going to approach technology.
Certainly, there???s a good social use for technology, right? Regardless of the technology, what we???re mainly talking about here is human adaptation to new technology. In other words, the technology itself isn???t inherently good or bad, it???s the way we interact with and utilize it that matters. That is more a question of change than technology.
We all know the early-adopter who embraces technological change. While there???s a range of reasons for this, whether opportunistic curiosity, educational, or to simply grab the early-adopter ???cool??? badge, Pastor Mark says ???the point of technology is not (to be) cool, it is community. If you don???t have real community then technology actually doesn???t help build it.???
Whether you agree with him or not, how do you utilize technology to help community grow closer, deeper, more vibrant?
A really important question – how can technology help build real life relationships and community, and not get in the way?
One really important point in the video excerpt is appropriate use of email and online discussion when there is a sensitive issue or a problem to discuss. Use the technology to fix a time to get together, but don’t try and have the discussion by email.
The way I see it, we’re made with lots of ways to manage difficult issues face to face. The brain power devoted to processing what’s happening with a face is immense. In person, we can also see a person’s posture, hear nuances in their voice, judge what kind of eye contact we have, look at a range of non verbal gestures, and do all sorts of things which help us establish whether a person’s words and intentions match up. This helps us build rapport and trust in tricky situations. Email can carry virtually none of this rich communication, only words which we might express or interpret badly, not to mention the difficulties involved when we can’t ask clarifying questions without long delays.
“The City” is a community-building online system for churches developed in the highly tech-friendly city of Seattle. Its focus on face to face community, never settling for online-only “friends”, is something I think has helped it become a leader in its class, and I believe it should be influential outside the church too.
Two posts today on my Amateur Theology blog. One is about how Pip n Jay life is going and how our new vicar-to-be has been asking a really important question – “Who are you?”. The other is about Stuxnet as a picture of things wrong with us, and what God is doing about it – it’s good news, promise.
We’re totally agreed that we’re called to be holy – special, set apart, owned by God. We know that our life is really in Christ, not in our own schemes and efforts to be good (see “Who are we?”). So what is there to debate?
What we need to do, practically, in order to live a holy life is a big question. What makes us sin and need forgiveness is another. We know people who are much more radical than we are in how they deal with this by isolating themselves from bad influences. I am convinced that God works in us to deal with bad influences in various ways so, like Jesus, we can live in a broken and corrupt world without sinning ourselves. In Mark 7, I believe that Jesus’s point is that sin comes from our desire, not from our surroundings or even our consumption (directly).
But Greg was also right to express some alarm if that was our whole teaching, because we also need to be mindful of how our consumption can corrupt us and lead us towards sin.
I think it’s difficult to arrive at an answer about how to live in a holy way purely by regulating our consumption or by assuming we can deal with anything bad which enters our minds.
The problem is that our decision making processes, our very minds, are corrupt and in need of fixing. God wants to do this, and it’s possible because our life is in Christ. We are not consigned to struggle alone, but are being transformed. We’re also not to be self reliant, but to help each other, be open and accountable with one another, and take advantage of other people’s ability to see our blind spots.
During the day, I found an odd example to illustrate – I’m not sure how helpful it is for the non technical people, but here it is anyway – I’d welcome your thoughts!
Stuxnet. A self replicating computer program (technically a worm, not a virus, because it’s self reliant, not part of another program), and probably the cleverest and most damaging one ever made. When it was discovered last July, it shocked experts with the audacity of what it seemed to be designed for, and how subtly it achieved its designers’ aims.It seems that it was designed to make its way into a particular system no-one expected could be infiltrated – Iran’s uranium enrichment machines. When it eventually found its target – the system software which controlled these machines – it embedded new code into the system programming which did three things:
(i) It made the machines work in a way which, rather subtly, damaged the machines (making them spin too fast and slow down abruptly, causing physical damage) and at the same time made the product useless.
(ii) it disguised the fact that this was happening by delivering false feedback to the machine operators, who relied on the screens to tell them everything was fine, as well as to sensors which monitored operations for safety.
(iii) it hid itself, so that in the event of discovery, clear up would be extremely difficult, if not impossible without junking the machines and everything else connected to them. It’s hard to estimate the cost of all of this and, although the machine manufacturers initially denied the could be significant physical damage, they later admitted that this was the case. Iran’s nuclear programme has probably been put back at least three years as a result. What’s the link with holiness? This looks like an example to me of how something can be corrupted by what it takes in, and how that ends up causing damage and spoiling the product (or the fruit God expects us to yield) while at the same time the operator thinks everything is fine, because the corrupted system is outputting lies. If we’re the operators of our body machines, we have to pay attention – not just to what “the screen” says (our conscious thought and non-conscious instinct?) but also check the health of our bodies and the quality of our fruit. But that’s not all… Stuxnet was not discovered by the Iranians, but by computer security experts in Belarus. In other words, it could have gone on working for longer without some outside intervention. The alarm was triggered by people who spotted SOMETHING was going on with certain types of systems, and they worked out that the problem was corrupted programming. The fix – to renew the correct programming. Guarding against future infections is very much non-trivial – now that this kind of attack has been recognised, they can’t simply disconnect machines from each other which need to be connected in order to do a job. No-one was browsing the internet on these machines, but someone, somewhere probably used an infected USB thumb drive somewhere in the building. It’s likely that no matter how careful people are about the environment of an industrial machine, if it needs to connect to anything, it’s vulnerable. The smart thinking is going into how to protect, check and, if necessary, renew the programming. It strikes me that this is only possible if there’s a trusted, secure reference point which we know cannot be corrupted. And that is where there is some good news for us in Jesus. We have a reference for good life, and we’re connected to it – in fact, Jesus should be defining and refining who we are. We can’t do this alone, or even with a set of rules we’ve come up with in our best intentions. We can’t define holiness through our best efforts to regulate our conduct or check our desires – we can still be deceiving ourselves because our minds are corrupt. It has to be a God-driven transformation process, renewing our programming.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
I believe we have a choice – to be defined by Jesus or defiant against Jesus.
This weekend we had a visit from Pip n Jay’s new vicar-to-be, Rev Tim Silk. He is facing a really difficult job, taking over a church which spent over forty years under one leader, and the last two years in between leaders, wondering about who and what it is, and what it is meant to do next.
After months of speculation and uncertainty since Tim’s appointment, this was the first time most of us got to see him explain his vision and process for going forward. The big question we can expect to hear a lot is “who are we?”
I think this is genius. Tim has been very clear that he’s not after the job description labels we have been carrying around (that would be “what are we?”) So right away, this sets the expectation that things can change, not because Tim doesn’t respect who we are, but because things are not as important as people. Tim is planning to spend about a year finding out who we are each saying we are, what is in our hearts.
That sounds good, but the best is still to come. Looking further forward, “who are we?” is also the key question for people following Jesus.
A Christian grows in many different ways, and no-one seems to take quite the same path as anyone else – we all have different starting points after all. Christians have love and concern for each other, or at least know that they should even if this is something to improve on, and it’s not uncommon to try and work out how others are getting on in their journey with Jesus.
It is quite typical for people – including church leaders – to make some sort of judgement about this based on activity. A church can be set up to do lots of stuff, and there may be a belief that Christians grow by participating in that activity – from socials to training courses and service opportunities. “What are we doing?” then becomes the key question as we plan for growth.
However, there is compelling research from Willow Creek which shows that high participation in ministry programmes does not correlate well with spiritual growth. Some growth might happen, but it’s not guaranteed by a long way. Increasing activity is not the best gauge of increasing faith or faithfulness. So what is?
“Who are we?” turns out to be a much better question, not just for measuring where we are, but also for defining an aim as we move onward. It is not a Christian’s goal to become proficient at juggling massive numbers of commitments to activities. It is our goal to become more like Christ.
Life can end up being defined by our activities, roles and responsibilities if we are not careful. “I am a discipleship group leader” or “I am a piano player”, for example. Outside of church, “I am a music consultant” also seems pretty good to me. There are obvious potential problems ahead if I lose one of those roles for some reason, perhaps beyond my control. It could lead to me questioning who I am, not just reconsidering what I do – it’s the sort of thing which leads to depression when people lose their jobs.
On the other hand, if everything I do and everything I think I am is secondary to who God says I am in Jesus, that gives me an eternal significance and much greater stability. The caveat is that, to live this fully, I have to be able to accept that anything other than my identity in Christ can change, and that might be painful. But Jesus calls us to this.
“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39).
Jesus adds some good news – living this kind of life is not an isolated or pointless experience, but one which brings God into people’s lives. “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)
Paul writes that we have to consider old life gone and new life in Jesus – “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
This has amazing, everlasting consequences for us – defeating the power of death itself – “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4); “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
Are we truly living in Christ? That is the BIG question. In order to do so, I need to be defined by him, not by my own plans, roles and ambitions. Jesus tells me that I am accepted, secure and forgiven, a member of God’s family and heir to his eternal kingdom. (Best summary ever – from Freedom In Christ)
I’m not really sure why I would want to defy that and go my own way – I probably like my own ideas a bit too much! I might also be confusing the love God has for who we are (who he has made us to be) with the things I call love, which might only be for what people do for me.
What I do know is that I want to love more like Jesus, and be defined by his love for me.
(I made the mosaic image at a day conference called “Imaging God” in June 2009 at Saint Stephens Church, Bristol – the main source image is a sculpture of Jesus at St Peter’s Eastern Hill, Melbourne, photo cc licensed by flickr.com user mugley)
How classy does this ad look to you? How smooth and sophisticated?
Let’s see where it goes wrong. First – the image itself. Who is this for? As the radio station it’s promoting is aimed at women, I’m going to guess that’s the target for the ad too. Not lusty blokes, but women who, the station would hope, will identify with the image and want something of the experience portrayed. Laid back, relaxed, smooth, indulgent, not a care in the world.
Now put that image where outdoor ads tend to be displayed. In this case, sticking out from under a bridge. The kind of place you wouldn’t hang around late at night. It’s not an ideal fit for the image, is it?
Add a bit of particularly unfortunate placement. Where is the woman in this ad? What does that suggest she might be doing, or what might be happening to her? Don’t blame me if that thought disturbs you, it’s your imagination at this point. It would be working just as hard without your conscious awareness if we hadn’t asked the questions.
So maybe this is one bad example. But I’m hard pushed to think of a context where this ad would work. It’s a cut off half body, for goodness sake – your mind is always going to fill in the blanks. Even if the placement were perfect, in beautiful isolation and a splendid, pristine, relaxing environment (the kind of place no-one sees ad hoardings), it’s still not that good an image. It’s impersonal and devoid of identifiable character, the opposite of good radio for their target audience.
The station owners are Celador, by the way, creators of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Next time… (insert your own “phone a friend” / “ask the audience” related joke here.)