Well, this is a lot of fun – done by my son and nephew. It’s amazing what you can do with a camera and some poker chips when you put your mind to it. Enjoy
and that concludes Q’s service for this academic year. Off for a couple of weeks – may be the odd photo posted. But normal service will resume in September.
The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how Q did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health (the rest of this post is automatically generated):
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 130,000 times in 2010. If it were an exhibit at The Louvre Museum, it would take 6 days for that many people to see it.
In 2010, there were 192 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 687 posts. There were 155 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 74mb. That’s about 3 pictures per week.
The busiest day of the year was October 13th with 1,538 views. The most popular post that day was This book made me feel…?? 20 Questions to ask of Novels.
Where did they come from?
The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, wordpress.com, twitter.com, thebluefish.org, and challies.com.
Some visitors came searching, mostly for chat rooms, all that you can’t leave behind, leaning tower of pizza, u2 all that you can’t leave behind, and mark meynell.
Attractions in 2010
These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.
This book made me feel…?? 20 Questions to ask of Novels October 2010
7 comments and 2 Likes on WordPress.com
U2 favourite songs – well why not April 2007
Q Web-Wise October 2007
Amillia the miracle baby – here is a LIFE! February 2007
A few recent U2 poetic favourites May 2008
Well this is all a bit weird. But I’ve been contacted by the lovely people at Wikio to give me a sneak preview of the new November rankings for blogs on literature. And Q has entered the rankings at 14th. Which is a surprise to say the least. Certainly wasn’t aiming for this – but it’s encouraging to know that someone out there is occasionally dropping by.
The Blair autobio was far too chunky for me take on the plane to Albania, last week, so instead I took Clay Shirky’s followup to the wonderful HERE COMES EVERYBODY, from which I’ve posted before. He’s called it Cognitive Surplus, which is perhaps rather an intimidating and opaque title. Nevertheless, he’s still his readable, informative and thought-provoking self. It’s perhaps not as ground-breaking as the first one, which his why i gave it 4 not 5 stars. That good old ‘second album syndrome’, I guess. But it is definitely worth a read for any wanting to understand further how the Internet is shaping our lives and cultures.
The general idea is that for the first time in human history, it is possible to harness and exploit the billions of hours of free/leisure time of people separated by oceans for the greater good – through the internet. Here’s a flavour:
The bundle of concepts tied to the word media is unraveling. We need a new conception for the word, one that dispenses with the connotations of ‘something produced by professionals for consumption by amateurs’.
Here’s mine: media is the connective tissue of society.
… The internet is the first public medium to have post-Gutenberg economics. You don’t need to understand anything about its plumbing to appreciate how different it is from any media in the previous five hundred years. Since all the data is digital (expressed as numbers), there is no such thing as copy anymore. Every piece of data, whether an e-mailed love letter or a boring corporate presentation, is identical to every other version of the same piece of data. (p54)
His approach this time, bizarrely but convincingly enough, is taken from detective work. In a crime case, police look for the means, motive and opportunity. Thus he concludes, “The fusing of means, motive, and opportunity, creates our cognitive surplus out of the raw material of accumulated free time.” (p184) As a result, he is able to get under the skin of why people invest so much time in social media, from the in(s)ane (lolcats) to the inspiring (Ushahidi).
There were lots of gems. Here are a couple to be getting on with
The Prevailing Dangers of Generational Stereotypes
Napster acquired tens of millions of users in less than two years, making it the fastest-growing piece of software of its day. Its astounding success surely said something about the culture, and two conflicting interpretations were advanced in the early 2000s. The first was that young people had all become morally corrupt, willing to flout the sacred conventions of intellectual property. The second was that young people were so imbued with the spirit of sharing that they were happy to engage in the communal opportunity that Napster offered. The first explanation purported to explain why young people were so willing to take, the other why they were so willing to give. Both explanations couldn’t possibly be correct. In fact, neither of them was correct.
One of the weakest notions in the entire pop culture canon is that of innate generational difference, the idea that today’s thirty-somethings are members of a class of people called Generation X while twenty-somethings are part of Generation Y, and that both different innately from each other and from the baby boomers. The conceptual appeal of these labels is enormous, but the idea’s explanatory value is almost worthless, a kind of astrology for decades instead of months.
Generations do differ, but less because people differ than because opportunities do. Human nature changes slowly but includes an incredible range of mechanisms for adapting to our surroundings. (p120)
I love that: astrology for decades instead of months is a brilliant put-down! But Shirky has exposed a dangerous tendency that I see a lot in my circles, not least in preaching…
… the desire to attribute people’s behaviour to innate character rather than to local context runs deep. It runs so deep, in fact, that psychologists have a name for it: the fundamental attribution error. The fundamental attribution is at work when we explain our own behaviour in terms of the constraints on us (‘I didn’t stop to help the stranded driver because I was late for work”) but attribute the same behaviour in others to their character (‘He didn’t stop to help the stranded driver because he’s selfish’). Similarly we fell into the fundamental attribution error when we thought Gen Xers weren’t working hard because they were lazy. …
People in my generation and older often tut-tut about young people’s disclosing so much of their lives on social networks like Facebook, contrasting that behaviour with our own relative virtue in that regard: ‘You exhibitionists! We didn’t behave like that when we were your age!’ This comparison conveniently ignores the fact that we didn’t behave that way because no one offered us the opportunity (and from what I remember of my twenties, I think we would have happily behaved that way if we’d had the chance). (p122)
The rise of music sharing isn’t a social calamity involving general lawlessness; nor is it the dawn of a new age of human kindness. It’s just new opportunities linked to old motives via the right incentives. (p126)
We must all beware of resorting to the Fundamental Attribution Error …
The Unexpected Consequences of Inventing Movable Type
Then, returning to a theme familiar to any who read up on the internet’s social impact, Shirky returns to the effect of the invention in Europe of printing. He points to a factor in Gutenberg’s printing business of which I’d not been aware at all. Not only did he print the bible. He printed indulgences!
Johannes Gutenberg’s best-known work was his forty-two line Bible, a spectacularly beautiful example of early printing. But it was neither his first work nor his most voluminous. (He printed fewer than two hundred copies). That honour instead goes to his printing of indulgences.
[Previously indulgences had to be laboriously handwritten but] Gutenberg’s press flooded the market. In the early 1500s John Tetzel, the head pardoner for German territories, would sweep into a town with a collection of already printed indulgences, hawking them with a phrase usually translated as ‘When a coin a coffer rings/ A soul for heaven springs.’ The nakedly commercial aspects of indulgences, among other things, enraged Martin Luther, who in 1517, launched an attack on the Church in the form of his famous Ninety-five Theses. …
The tool that looked like it would strengthen the social structure of the age instead upended it. From the vantage point of 1450, the new technology seemed to do nothing more than offer the existing society a faster and cheaper way to do what it was already doing. By 1550 it had become apparent that the volume of indulgences had debauched their value, creating “indulgence inflation” – further evidence that abundance can be harder fo a society to deal with than scarcity. Similarly the spread of Bibles wasn’t a case of more of the same, but rather of more is different – the number of Bibles produced increased the range of Bibles produces, with cheap Bibles translated into local languages undermining the interpretative monopoly of the clergy, since churchgoers could now hear what the Bible said int heir own language, and literate citizens could read it for themselves, with no priest anywhere near. By the middle of the century, Luther’s Protestant Reformation had taken hold, and the Church’s role as the pan-European economic, cultural, intellectual, and religious force was ending.
This is the paradox of revolution. The bigger the opportunity offered by new tools, the less completely anyone can extrapolate the future from the previous shape of society. So it is today. (pp187-188)
I read recently of one famous English novelist bemoaning the huge threats to the publishing and book-selling industry posed by e-books. This is true. And many jobs, and even a few professions, will disappear. And many of those people will struggle to find equivalent work in the digitalised equivalents of their profession. But with such innovations and revolutions, there’s not a lot we can do about it. For consumers will always go for whatever is easiest, cheapest, most available. After all, who needs manuscript copyists these days, except for very special occasions like certificates etc? There’s no mass market for them. So, I fear, will it be for ‘real’ books, much though I love them (see my rant about e-books last year). Scary perhaps, but inevitable.
Shirky is always worth listening to and looking out for. He always seems to me to talk sense and bring insight – so all in all, a great read.
The British Library has been archiving all kinds of UK websites for 6 years now. It’s an extraordinary project.
Bizarrely enough, they decided to include Q (I filled out a form once when I was there, not imagining for a second that it would lead anywhere). So if Q gives up or something happens to WordPress, then they’ll always be a copy of Q in the BL – unless the British Library goes belly up of course – but that would definitely be the end of civilisation as we know it.
They’re including literally 1000s of blogs so I’m not so deluded as to think this will bring ‘fame, fortune and everything that goes with it’.
But it’s nice to be noticed!
So it’s good to plug the blog of an old friend of mine, Simon Walker, with his Undefended Life blog. He’s written a few books before – including the Undefended Leader series. But this time, instead of a trad printed version of his book, he’s publishing a new chapter every week, over 17 weeks.
This is what he says:
Over the past six months I have written the draft of my new book, The Undefended Life. It’s a substantial text addressing what an undefended life actually looks like. It questions whether the church has fundamentally misread the nature of sin; it looks again at the death of Christ and the centrality of adoption in the Gospel; it re-evaluates the nature of idolatry and the act of repentance and faith. It questions our understanding of personal identity and dismantles the kind of moral reform we associate with the Christian faith. It considers how we can refind a place for St Paul’s difficult language of the flesh/spiritual life. And it proposes that we must radically relook at our theology of God as trinity if we are to rediscover the freedom that God offers us. Overall, it is the most radical, challenging piece of writing I have ever produced.
I am in conversation with a conventional publisher about production of a print version of the book to come out in early 2011. But the publishing world is changing rapidly; authors also need to take different routes to reach their audiences.
I’ve not had the chance to read everything Simon has added to the blog so far. But I know that much of what he has said about leadership is a vital antidote to what I wrote a few days ago about ecclesial autocrats.
I read this over New Year on the strong recommendation from Johnny Baker, and have been mulling on it ever since (and have already quoted from it a number of times). I’m sceptical when a new book gets described as a ‘masterpiece’ (as Cory Doctorow from Boing Boing does on the cover) – but while that is surely hyperbole, there’s no doubting the importance of this book.
For those who’ve seen Aleks Krotoski’s excellent recent BBC2 series, The Virtual Revolution, (and if you didn’t, the dedicated website has tons of good stuff), you’ll be familiar with some of this. But Clay Shirky in this book does for the contemporary web-user what a thermometer does for the frog in gradually boiling water. Our eyes are opened to our environment. I found myself constantly recognising personal experience of web use in what he described; but I’d never been able to analyse it, let alone articulate it, so well. His attention ranges from sites dedicated to finding someone’s lost phone, to political campaigns (although this was written a bit too early for Obama’s campaign), from sharing event photos on Flickr to coalitions protesting child abuse in the Catholic church, from the wonders of grinning flash mobs to the phenomenon that is wikipedia. None of these would be possible without the internet – and they have radically changed, for better and worse, how we find and distribute information, as well as how we relate socially. This is all a given – the issue is how we adjust to this new world.
I’m not going to review the book here – although I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot. I merely want to highlight a few of the more important points (as they seem to me) …
Inventions and Extinctions
It has become rather a cliché to compare the web’s arrival to the affect of printing on Renaissance Europe. Yet the parallels are many, and often helpful, not least because it took decades before the press’s full impact could be seen and adjusted to. I was very struck by the example of the Abbot of Sponheim,one Johannes Trithemius, who wrote a paper in praise of scribes in 1492 – almost 50 years after the arrival of the press. Whereas for centuries, scribes were integral to the preservation and dissemination of information, despite their laborious work, the press rendered them unnecessary overnight. So the Abbot has to defend the art:
Scribes existed to increase the spread of the written word, but when a better, non-scribal way of accomplishing the same task came along, the Abbot of Sponheim stepped in to argue that preserving the scribes’ way of life was more important than fulfilling their mission by non-scribal means. (p69)
But most tellingly, how does the Abbot spread his ideas? In print! As Shirky notes,
the content of the Abbot’s book praised the scribes, while its printed formed damned them; the medium undermined the message. (p68)
The affect of this new technology was double-edged. As he goes on:
The comparison with the printing press doesn’t suggest that we are entering a bright new future – for a hundred years after it started, the printing press broke more things than it fixed, plunging Europe into a period of intellectual and political chaos that ended only in the 1600s. (p73)
The profession of calligrapher now survives as a purely decorative art; we make a distinction between the general ability to write and the professional ability to write in a calligraphic hand, just as we do between the general ability to drive and the professional ability to drive a race car. That is what is happening today, not just to newspapers or to media in general, but to the global society. (p79)
So what are these global effects?
The ascendancy of the amateur
One of the biggest shifts that Shirky outlines is emergence of the amateur over and above the expert. In many professions, it is now practically impossible to preserve occupational selectivity and authority. An obvious illustration is that of newspapers. “The future presented by the internet is the mass amateurization of publishing and a switch from ‘Why publish this?’ to ‘why not?’” (p60)
Of course that leads to an overwhelming surge of information – it’s impossible to wade through it all (hence the genius and all-pervasive influence of Google). Yet an ironic outcome is that, far from being a failure or a flaw, this increases risk-taking. Publishing (an incredibly expensive activity) has been supplanted:
… the respective costs of filtering versus publishing have reversed. In the traditional world, the cost of publishing anything creates not just an incentive but a requirement to filter the good from the bad in advance. In the open source world, trying something is often cheaper than making a formal decision about whether to try it. (p249)
The principle has been applied to Open Source programme (e.g. Linux) and encyclopedia-writing as in Wikipedia (incidentally, I’d always assumed that the name was a spin on slang ‘wicked’ meaning cool – but ‘wiki’ is in fact Hawaiian for ‘quick’ p111). Organically evolved from 60s hippy idealism in West Coast America, these represent the heart of what many hoped the internet would be at its best. Collaborative, social, generous and above all free. A far cry from the profit motives of a Bill Gates or Steve Jobs – clearly shown in the 2nd episode of Aleks Krotoski’s BBC series. Of course, human nature is such that optimism isn’t enough to make things work, as the founder of eBay discovered, and as I quoted from Shirky a few weeks back.
But I love the simple fact that Wikipedia works. Many decry it as the end of civilisation as we know it – but it is amazing how authoritative it has become (not to mention how up to the minute). And that is not wishful thinking – experts in their fields frequently contribute to it and correct those who get things wrong. And it’s all done when people feel like it and for free! Shirky gets a hole in one on this point:
We are used to a world where little things happen for love and big things happen for money. Love motivates people to bake a cake and money motivates people to make an encyclopaedia. Now, though, we can do big things for love. (p104)
So he internet means that everyone can have a go. Goliaths are perhaps more vulnerable to Davids than ever before. This is both fantastic (it is now much harder than it has ever been for the corrupt and despotic to control others); and terrifying (for, in the hands of the malicious and destructive, such technology is potentially devastating).
Social as never before
As a sociologist, Shirky is interested in how people interact. “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.” (p105) And what the web has enabled unbelievable interaction:
…social tools don’t create collective action – they merely remove obstacles to it. Those obstacles have been so significant and pervasive, however, that as they are being removed, the world is becoming a different place. This is why so many of the significant social changes are based not on the fanciest, newest bit of technology but on simple, easy-to-use tools like email, mobile phones, and websites, because those are the tools most people have access to and, critically, are comfortable using in their daily lives. Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technologies – it happens when society adopts new behaviours. (p159)
This means that it is possible for people to connect with other like-minded people like never before. A site like MeetUp is a case in point. I’ve found this in extraordinary ways myself – people have contacted me through this blog on the basis of the most bizarre searches (and vice-versa) – and yet that has led to very fruitful interaction and conversations. A powerful example of how this can make an exponential difference is Shirky’s comparison between the protests against the coverup of Catholic priests’ child abuse in the 1992 and 2002. Just 10 years changed everything. In 1992, the authorities were able to neutralise the threat. By 2002, the web had created the means by which people could do 2 key things for the first time (p143-148):
- people across a diocese, and indeed the USA, could share information
- people across a diocese, and beyond, could coordinate efforts
Again, this is double-edged – but its power mustn’t be underestimated or ignored. So in the repressive world of Belorussia (anticipating some of the extraordinary events that happened online in Iran last year), amazing things have happened:
…the idea [of the Minsk flash mob of May 2006] was simply that people would show up in Oktyabrskaya Square and eat ice cream. The results were one part ridiculous and three parts depressing; police were waiting in the square and hauled away several of the ice cream eaters, all while being documented in the now-standard pattern as other participants took digital pictures and uploaded them to Flickr, LifeJournal and other online outlets… Images of a repressive Belarus thus spread far beyond the borders of Minsk. Nothing says “police state” like detaining kids for eating ice cream.
The ice cream incident was not an isolated incident. Flash mobs were held to protest the banning of the Belarussian Writers Union (‘show up at the Supreme Court, read books by the writers of the organisation’) and the closing of the newspaper Nasha Niva on the day it was to be shut down (‘Gather in Oktyabrskaya, reading copies of Nasha Niva’). In the fall perhaps the simplest flash mob ever proposed took place: ‘Walk around Oktyabrskaya smiling at one another.’ This action produced the same reaction from the state; attendees reported that the police were using the presence of a pocketknife to try one of the smilers with weapons possession. (p166-7)
Avoiding the Canute syndrome
I could go on. But I’ll simply recommend reading it – or if you don’t have time, watch Shirky’s TED lecture from 2005, added below.
But I’ve been reading this, and others like Shane Hipps’ Flickering Pixels (and am about to read Jesse Rice’s Church of Facebook, Ken Auletta’s Googled and Chris Anderson’s Free) because the web profoundly impacts how we function as the church. But there’s also a pressing issue in that I’m in the process of working on a website ‘philosophy’ for the All Souls site as we undergo a major reevaluation and reconstruction. I may put that up here if it seems appropriate. But let me finish where Shirky does – because this makes the point forcefully that we can’t Canute-like ignore or stop the waves – we need to learn how to live in a world of waves. He uses the illustration of Manutius, a printer in Venice who saw the possibilities of printing by creating the octavo size of page – which meant that for the first time, books could be carried in the pocket.
One lesson from Manutius’s life is that the future belongs to those who take the present for granted…
Like Aldus Manutius, young people are taking better advantage of social tools, extending their capabilities in ways that violate old models, not because they know more useful things than we do, but because they know fewer useful things than we do. I’m old enough to know a lot of things, just from life experience. I know that newspapers are where you get your political news and how you look for a job. I know that music comes from stores. I know that if you want to have a conversation with someone, you call them on the phone. I know that complicated things like software or encyclopaedias have to be created by professionals. In the last fifteen years, I’ve had to unlearn every one of those things and a million others, because those things have stopped being true. (p319-320)
Am thoroughly enjoying Clay Shirky’s HERE COMES EVERYBODY – only half way thru still as I got interrupted by a number of other more urgent reading assignments. Will definitely be posting more on it when done.
But this little excerpt definitely struck a chord with my relentless battle with the inbox. In a section examining the nature of fame (which he neatly sums up as “an imbalance between inbound and outbound attention, more arrows pointing in than out”, p91), he sees obvious parallels with those online who gain notoriety and even fame. He analyses the impossibility of the ‘famous’ relating to all the people who relate to them – and notes this:
A version of this is happening with e-mail – because it is easier to ask a question than to answer it, we get the curious effect of a group of people all able to overwhelm one another by asking, cumulatively, more questions than they can cumulatively answer. As Merlin Mann, a software usability expert, describes the pattern:
Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn’t take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that’s taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can’t handle that one tiny thing. “What ‘pile’? It’s just a pebble!” (Here Comes Everybody, p94)
Horribly true – at times, the inbox feels like a river in spate, swelled by the melting of the winter snows, such is the accumulating pile of pebbles!
But in a separate event this last week, I experienced something that could ONLY have happened in a web-linked world.
Some of you are aware that for 6 months last year, I was working on an historical guide to All Souls Langham Place for tourists and others. The idea was to have something for the hundreds of people who wander in mid-week through the year (the church is next to the BBC and so is included in a number of books like Rough Guide and Lonely Planet). We wanted to make it as glossy and attractive as a Dorling Kindersley guide, which meant that one of the biggest jobs was to find good images.
So naturally, I hunted around in Flickr for a bit – and came across this wonderful early evening shot – looking down on the All Souls Spire and BBC broadcasting house, from the St George’s Heights hotel. I contacted the photographer and asked if we could use it in the book – in exchange for a free copy! He very graciously agreed. It seems that he lives abroad but works occasionally for the BBC, which is why he had taken the pic.
As we were having a reception to launch it formally last Friday, I invited him to come on the offchance, without really expecting him to be able to. But as it happens, he could – and did, and we were able to have a nice but brief chat in real time and space.
Extraordinary. Only by the power of the web. Such a thing would have been barely possible even 5 years ago.
He’s nothing if not forthright.
But Carl Trueman is a scarily close to the bone in this (largely justifiable) rant about the absurdities, conceits and self-promotions prevalent in the Christian blogosphere – not unrelated to the subject of a couple of days ago.
Wince away, fellow bloggers… (HT Julian H)
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the web recently, since reading Shane Hipps’ book and being involved in the EA Digimission day. Am currently in the middle of Clay Shirky’s simply excellent HERE COMES EVERYBODY (thanks to the tipoff from Jonny Baker) and learning lots – one of those books where you keep nodding and going, ‘yes of course, that’s exactly how it is’.
The perils OF online pastors
EA linked an interesting article recently on its site – Tim Keller is not your pastor. It quotes Redeemer’s sermon download page which says
Redeemer’s primary method of evangelism has always been through the planting of gospel-centered churches. The Free Sermon Resource is not intended as a “broadcast ministry” which would create “virtual” members listening from home, rather than getting involved in their local congregations.Instead, we hope that this will serve as a “resource” for the broader movement of the gospel in the world: both as an evangelistic tool to share with our inquiring friends, neighbors and co-workers, and as a way of sharing our core principles, or “DNA,” to assist in the planting and nurturing of gospel-centered churches around the world – many of them in places difficult to reach via traditional means. Please enjoy listening and sharing the good news!
All of which makes a very important point and one that I completely agree with (as I suspect would, for example, Shane Hipps).
It got me thinking about how we should regard such ‘resources’. The problem with audio or even videos of sermons is that they can kid us into thinking we’re part of the church experience – when we’re far from it. They miss the sheer particularity of the sermons preached and indeed services they’re part of. It reminded me of the fact that Martyn Lloyd-Jones frowned on those taking notes during sermons, as if they were merely lectures to be revised at some later stage (or not, as was more usually the case). Instead, hearers were to be conscious of the sermon event as a divine event, and be expectant for what God might say to them. As someone involved in preaching regularly, I always find things change in what I say (even if only subtly) as a result of encounters/experiences en route to the service starting, and through things that happen during the service. But once it’s recorded, it’s set in stone. If it’s a divine event at all (and I do know that it can be), it’s a past one (albeit one with some, even great, relevance later).
There are other, more obvious problems. There is potentially an unhelpful take-it-or-leave-it atmosphere with downloaded talks. Ignoring challenges that are heard on an online talk is much easier to justify than when it’s live. Or we can slip into a consumer culture. Or, as we’ve discovered amongst a number at All Souls, a particular online guru gets discovered and everything they produce gets devoured, to the exclusion of anyone else – and thus they measure everything and everyone by this one voice, including what goes on in the local church here. This can also ignore the very particularity of their ministries of these gurus (quite apart from the fact that they can answer questions and make clarifications offline). Such papal tendencies are not helpful!
Finally, the online pastor’s ministry is dislocated from daily life – which is something that the New Testament is VERY concerned about. Being part of a community life makes that harder. There is simply no way to test integrity online (or on TV for that matter – e.g. the grimness that is much TV evangelism). Of course, this is hardly the fault of the person whose talks get put online necessarily – it’s just a reminder of yet another difference between real and virtual church life.
But this is not to deny that online ministry has its place, not least in the ways Redeemer mentions. Far from it. Not a week goes by without our All Souls resources centre getting emails from people in far-flung places thankful for teaching that is impossible to get in their contexts, for whatever reason.
So would a solution be partly one of simply rethinking our categories? I read many books and certainly have my favourite writers (of whom Keller is one). But in no sense am I tempted to consider them my pastors (or at least, not in anything other than a metaphorical sense). No genuine relationship (as we normally understand them) is involved in owning, reading or engaging with with their books – it is virtual and strangely one-sided – they spoke (sometimes long ago), I engage. Just like online sermons – there’s no encounter at the door (and as a preacher I’ve had some weird ones!), nor can the preacher respond to immediate context or provocations. So, how about thinking of mp3s and books in the same way? Useful resources – sometimes even profoundly life-changing resources – but not necessarily more; and like books, they can inform and shape my community life and involvement.
The perils FOR online pastors
The flipside is of course what it does for those who minister in this way. I’ll never forget one wise friend who passed on this wise adage:
A congregation’s greatest danger is to place their pastor on a pedestal; a pastor’s greatest danger is to want to be there.
So, so true. There is a thin line between wanting people to enjoy one’s gospel discoveries and wanting to bolster one’s reputation, fame and fandom through vigorous self-promotion. A VERY thin line! And one of which I’m all too conscious as a blogger. So let me be blunt for a mo… There are a handful of blogs out there (not mentioning any names!) which I’ve stopped following, simply because every time they post they are simply linking to their latest public utterance. Quite apart from the fact that I simply don’t have time for all the (no-doubt inspiring) messages floating about in cyberspace, in my cynicism, I rather question the point. Fine for the occasional plug (I know – I do that!). And to be fair, some perhaps have the best of motives in that they are doing this primarily for members of their congregations in case they’ve missed out. Perhaps. Fine – but i’m not a member of their church, so it’s not for me. I much prefer blogs that engage and do things which you can’t really do in a talk or with whatever else is out there online.
Otherwise, the trap I can fall into is to be more concerned about the number of virtual fans listening to me than the heavenly Audience of One (which is of course a danger for ANY speaking/writing ministry – though the proliferation of recordings makes it even harder). I’m grateful therefore for Pam, our All Souls Resources manager who refuses to say who is downloading what when from our archive. To know would lead to either ego-massage or ego-deflation, neither of which is helpful in the slightest.
I love the internet and its liberating potential. That includes online talks, many of which I avidly download. But avoid its perils – see what it offers as primarily an extension of older forms of resource NOT as primarily an extension of community life.
Bet this is first as Christmas presents go: a link to my reviews.
Well, here is a new Q page – links to all reviews and reflections in one place. Deep joy.
To coincide with EA’s Slipstream co-ordinated blogathon for Easter, here are a few random bullets on Jesus’ Resurrection. And because i feel in the mood for some alliteration, here is some alliteration…
The attractions of accepting it
One could mention a zillion things – but here a few of the big ones:
- JESUS: Jesus is who he claimed to be – it’s one thing to claim to be sent from God (anyone can do that, as history has proved); it’s quite another to predict the circumstances of one’s death AND then resurrection (cf. Mark 8:34-38, 9:31, 10:32-34). By the same token, it endorses his fulfilment of OT expectation (cf. 1 Cor 15:4)
- DEATH: Death is not the end – he has beaten death at its own game. Therefore he goes through death in order, for example, to prepare a place in the Father’s house for his people. (John 14:1-6)
- FALL: The serpent will be crushed (cf. Gen 3:15, Rom 16:20, Rev 20:10) so that the effects of the fall are completely reversed. That is why Rev 21-22 speaks of a heavenly garden city in Jerusalem where there will be eternal access to the Tree of Life (Rev 22:1-5)
- RELIGION: Because of the resurrection, we discover that physical temples and religious shrines are no longer necessary. Jesus IS the Temple - i.e. the meeting place with God. The resurrection endorses his credentials as the greatest mediating point between God and humanity. (cf. John 2:19 & Acts 17:24-25)
- JUSTICE: The world is not hopeless because evil doesn’t get away with murder. There will be a reckoning, and that is profoundly GOOD news. See Paul’s sermon in Acts 17, where he argues that the resurrection demonstrates ultimate authority and right to be the judge. (cf. Acts 17:31)
- TRAILS BLAZED: Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection, a metaphor from the world of farming and harvests. The firstfruits indicates the quality of the rest of the year’s crop – and would be dedicated to God. Jesus is the first, the trailblazer, the pioneer – and all who follow and trust in him, will revel in the fact of being part of the great resurrection harvest. (1 Cor 15:20, 23)
- GRIEF: The resurrection doesn’t remove human grief – it is only the super-spiritual who pretend that it does. Paul for one would have been deeply affected had his dear friend, the Philippian Epaphroditus, have died (cf. Phil 2:27). But what the resurrection does do is profoundly to CHANGE grief for those who have died in the Lord – hence his encouragements to the Thessalonian Christians (cf. 1 Thes 4:13).
This is a poem which Garry Williams quoted this week at New Word Alive 2 in his seminar on the English Puritan emigrant to America, Anne Bradstreet. (Tim Chester blogged the seminar). She wrote a number of remarkable poems. This one was written after her 3 year old granddaughter had died:
With troubled heart and trembling hand I write,
The Heavens have chang’d to sorrow my delight.
How oft with disappointment have I met,
When I on fading things my hopes have set?…
Farewel dear child, thou ne’re shall come to me,
But yet a while, and I shall go to thee;
Mean time my throbbing heart’s chear’d up with this
Thou with thy Saviour art in endless bliss.
The barriers to believing it
- Scientific Materialism: the supernatural simply doesn’t exist. Remember Dawkins damning, patronising remarks at the close of his debate with John Lennox (after Lennox had hurriedly concluded with his confidence in God on the basis of Jesus’ resurrection):
Yes, well that concluding bit rather gives the game away, doesn’t it? All that stuff about science and physics, and the complications of physics and things, what it really comes down to is the resurrection of Jesus. There is a fundamental incompatibility between the sophisticated scientist which we hear part of the time from John Lennox – and it’s impressive and we are interested in the argument about multiverses and things, and then having produced some sort of a case for a deistic god perhaps, some god that the great physicist who adjusted the laws and constants of the universe – that’s all very grand and wonderful, and then suddenly we come down to the resurrection of Jesus. It’s so petty, it’s so trivial, it’s so local, it’s so earth-bound, it’s so unworthy of the universe.
- Deism: there is a divine creator, but he’s moved on. He has little or nothing to do with his universe now, and certainly wouldn’t have any interest in intervening within it.
- Presumption: dead people don’t rise therefore Jesus didn’t rise.
- Platonism (of sorts): the material world is evil and the spiritual is, well, spiritual. So Jesus couldn’t have risen with a heavenly body because why would God want to have a body anyway? Though of course, that would probably have ruled out the Incarnation as well…
The consequences of the con
But just suppose that the resurrection DIDN’T happen. Suppose it’s all one big con. Where would we be without the resurrection of Jesus? Well, the interesting thing is that the Apostle Paul was himself acutely aware of the fall-out if the resurrection was not true. He was quite upfront about it – for the entire Christian gospel is at stake here. He spells out a number of consequences in 1 Corinthians 15: 12-18 (for fun, here adapted from Eugene Peterson’s The Message), namely:
- Our message (of the resurrection) is essentially just a matter of smoke and mirrors
- We (the messengers of that resurrection) are ourselves just groping in the dark, lost and hopeless.
- We Christians are a pretty sorry lot because all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years but not for eternity. We might enjoy the delusion of being forgiven but we really are not.
But Paul didn’t think it was a con – and nor do I. At the very least, there is evidence the points in this direction.
Yes, I realise that was a pretty contrived heading – it’s pretty late as I write this. And indeed, loads of different folks spell out the evidence for the resurrection. It did happen in history. Here are the main bullet points. For detail, check out Frank Morrison’s Who Moved The Stone? And N T Wright’s Who Was Jesus?
- The Cross: perhaps he didn’t die or just swooned? But then, crucifixion was pretty barbaric and Roman soldiers would be unlikely to make mistakes in doing their duty. What motive could they possibly have for letting him be substituted or endure only half-measures?
- The Empty Tomb: otherwise, it would been a synch for the Roman/Jewish authorities to have produced the body. It was the very thing they most feared (hence what was probably the only guarded tomb in Jerusalem!) (cf. Matt 28:11-15). It couldn’t have been the wrong tomb (body would have been produced; right tomb would have been quickly identified) Why else was no tomb ever venerated by anybody?
- The Appearances: incl 500+ at one time (1Cor 15:6) – therefore, can’t be hallucinatory? If it had been, it would still require some sort of ‘supernatural’ explanation.
- The Early Church: for the church to have come into existence out of the embers of the crushed and fearful faith of the first disciples (cf. John 20:19-23), something must have happened! How else did they endure persecution? Why else change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday?
Well, on cue to celebrate Quaerentia breaking through the 100,000 surfing hits barrier, my son Joshua has achieved a first for our family: a surfer who actually stands up.
We’re in Cape Town for Christmas, staying with Rachel’s sister Lucy and her family – and Josh achieved the not so much impossible as unexpected by this little triumph.
Having crossed this virtual Rubicon, regular readers can look forward to some very exciting things coming to this space in 2009:
- a brand new look to Quaerentia!!
- lots more random posts!!
- the start of an irregular Quaerentia Podcast!!
And this is not to forget U2′s new album - NO LINE ON THE HORIZON - coming out on 2nd March 2009.
WHAT A GREAT YEAR IT WILL BE…
Having said that one of the values of blogs is that they can be like treasure maps to give pointers to the morass that is the internet. So here be launched the more or less monthly Quaerentia Treasure Map.
- 6 wise words for Freshers – from Ed Goode’s DELIGHTED.
- 6 tips for living with singleness – from Ros Clarke’s CONVERSATIONAL THEOLOGY
- 10 Commandments for Bloggers – c/o the Evangelical Alliance.
- On iTunesU – RTS has made available FOR FREE some excellent lectures. Lots of treasure here but I’m working through ‘Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World‘ by the double act of the late great Ed Clowney and Tim Keller. Fantastic stuff.
- Palestinian Mosab Hassan Yousef, the Son of one of Hamas founders becomes Christian: an extraordinary story.
- Atlas of the Real World – some fascinating maps based on a range of data other than geography.
- Amazing photos showing what’s involved to the the Space Shuttle ready for a flight
- George Orwell’s ‘Ironic Poem about Prostitution‘
- How to hide an aircraft factory from the air
- Get your head around this photo.
- Quite fun National Flag site: we are multicolored (including make your own).
- Some mad animal hybrids
- This is old news (last July) – but have been meaning to link to this unfortunate story: woman runner-up in one horse race.
- The Front Fell Off – this is old now and has been doing the rounds – but it had me in stitches: an Australian version of Bird & Fortune.
Yesterday, I was involved in a great day organised by Krish Kandiah at the Evangelical Alliance, called GodBlogs. Fantastic – and great fun to meet other bloggers face to face. Krish asked me to give an introductory overview to blogging so i simply tried to put blogging into some sort of historical perspective. One or two asked for my notes, so here is a potted summary of what i said.
HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE CHRISTIAN BLOGOSPHERE
The Urge to Blog: it’s older than you think
The Internet is just a baby. To think that at university, I actually wrote my essays by hand. Can you believe such deprivation? But let’s not forget: the desire to communicate is as old as we are. The only fundamental difference is the medium. Of course that medium affects the message to some extent – we mustn’t be naive about that. And the relative ease that the medium affords us will affect the amount of care that goes into what is said. Hopefully. Perhaps blogging is almost too easy. Before you know it, and before you’ve edited yourself properly – it’s out there.
But in the history of communication, each new medium has provided access to a wider audience for a wider range of communicators. Take printing. In the Middle Ages, books were hand-written, and therefore a luxury, (as was being able to read them). Along comes printing, and suddenly, middle classes with their new-found wealth could afford books and the time to learn to read them. More significantly, pamphlets and books could be widely distributed, disseminating knowledge far beyond the walls of the medieval monastery.
So before printing came to the west, you might have preached a sermon in your local church or university. It would be heard by a handful, and they might talk about it – all by word of mouth. But after printing, Martin Luther could be speaking in a lecture room in Wittenberg – and within weeks, his talk would be translated, printed and distributed – with the result that a few English Christians would find themselves in a pub in Cambridge discussing what he’d said. There is no doubt that printing was a major factor in the spread of the Reformation.
And the internet, and in particular blogging, is just another development in that chain. The only primary difference is that, instead of weeks for your message to extend beyond your locality, it now just takes seconds.
Every medium is of course flawed in some way, and every medium deprives some (so blogs are available only to those online). But what the internet and blogging have done is to democratise speaking and listening more than ever before. Christians are usually way behind the pack when it comes to new media – which is a real shame. Perhaps if we saw blogs in particular as simply a contemporary expression of older forms of communication, I suspect that many our suspicions would be eased. So here is a non-exhaustive and impressionistic list of categories. Of course, one of the beauties and curses of the internet is that nothing particular conforms to anything else – so there is huge overlap. But I guess that if bloggers are methodical and deliberate about their blogging (which many are not!), then they need to decide which of these (or other) categories best suits their style…
The Urge to Blog: it comes in all shapes and sizes
- The Op.-Ed.
An Op-Ed (or opinion editorial – we tend to call them leaders or columns in the UK) was an American journalistic invention, designed to allow senior journalists to voice their opinions, rather than simply report the news. Of course we’re all aware that unbiased reporting is very hard to find, but the great thing about the Op-Ed is that it has no pretence to impartiality. It presents a reflection or argument, designed to stimulate, provoke and challenge. And there are Christian blogs which do this, taking a stimulus from current affairs, national debates or Church events and bringing a Christian perspective to it (especially if that’s being overlooked by the media).
And the best op.-ed. blogs are those that bring a wealth of other knowledge and background to a subject. When I was at university it was said that one of the differences between someone who gets a high 2:1 and who gets a 1st, is that while the 2:1 person really knows their subject, the 1st is able to see links and make connections in the most unexpected way. One fascinating blog does this: a cross between theology and politics – it’s pretty outrageous sometimes, and definitely opinionated: Cranmer. This is an anonymous blogger (and there issues about that) who takes on the name of the great Reformation Archbishop of Canterbury – rather hubristic thing to do I guess! But this blog is nothing if not opinionated, which is the whole point.
- The Commonplace Book
The idea of a commonplace book is centuries-old, especially loved by poets and writers. It is a bit like a verbal version of an artist’s sketchbook. A writer would notice something or hear a pithy line or pick up an unusual argument and jot it down in his book. And sometimes, over the years, these have been published. A few years ago, I was given one by George Lyttleton, a schoolmaster and the father of late, great Jazz man and comedian Humphrey Lyttleton.
The great joy of commonplace books is their randomness – because life is random and you never know what lies around the corner. The Lyttleton one is full of delights and oddities – and ranges from the absurd (like quotes from actual letters written to the Pensions Office) to the erudite (like poems in classical Greek). And that’s how it should be. So a commonplace blog collects everything from the absurd to the quite interesting via the important, with random thoughts and perspectives thrown in. It is a place to collect all those thoughts you get in the shower – good ideas which deserve a hearing – but which don’t have any other more conventional place of expression. There are lots of blogs like that and it’s certainly one of the things I aspire to.
And Christian blogs do this especially when they pass on interesting quotes from books they’ve read or sermons they’ve heard. This is something for example that Adrian Warnock does (amongst many other things) in his blog.
- The Treasure Map
This is one of the most helpful types of blog for regular surfers, since we can feel paralysed by our online choice – and it is impossible to know where to look. Google is great – if you have some idea what to look for. But how do you know where to look for something that you don’t know is there?
So there are a number of blogs that do this (I’ve a number in my RSS reader precisely for this reason): Dave Bish often does on his Blue Fish Project, offering interesting downloads from some of his heroes. Another aspect of this is book & film reviews – and I certainly hope with my reviews to excite people to read things they wouldn’t otherwise touch. Gavin McGrath also often has great and stimulating reviews.
Another more topical version of this is the Faith Central blog that Libby Purves has at The Times – useful for links to various religious things going on in the news and around the world; although I do get a bit frustrated because there seems to be more stories about unfaith than faith! But perhaps that’s just my own hangup.
- The Fanzine
This is the sort of blog that is designed to keep the fan base happy: we all have our heroes – and its great when heroes try to keep in touch with their base. And it seems that ministries are no different. The problem is that there are some blogs out there that are either self-promotion exercises or hero-promotion exercises. Which is fine – especially if you want to find treasure from that particular source. It’s helpful to have it all bunched in one place. But I do sometimes wonder about the wisdom in simply posting about every sermon you ever preach – simply because most of us don’t have the time to download everything on offer. But there is certainly value in informing people of specific things of interest that you have done.
As regular readers know, I’m an obsessive U2 fan, much to the derision of my so-called friends. But one of my favourite fanzine blogs is U2 sermons. It was started to accompany a book of sermons using U2 songs – but has gone on for years since and is full of interesting stuff.
I guess under this heading you could also include the blogs to keep ministry supporters up to speed – especially helpful if you are on the mission field for example. And when we lived in Uganda we had a website which did this, and looking back, it would have been much easier with a blog. There are difficulties; and I do sometimes fear for those who use their blog as a full newsletter, especially when they put all kinds of news about their children and ministries. A blog is just that little bit too public.
- The Pastor’s Study
Abraham Piper, who is John Piper’s son, wrote this fascinating post about why pastor’s should blog. I’ve posted on it before – it’s full of fascinating insights and is a great challenge. And also makes me feel much more justified in being a blogging pastor – so that’s ok then.
But a pastor’s blog allows church members to share in some of the thought processes that go behind their ministry and preaching. That will hopefully enrich their understanding both of the Bible and their pastor, and it will make their pastors seem less remote and cut off. Again it is partly what I aspire to. One great new arrival into the blogosphere is an old friend of mine, Mike Kendall, a pastor in St Neots. He writes regularly on his blog For What It’s Worth engaging with what he’s preaching on and reading. A real encouragement!
- The Scholar’s Tutorial
This gives access to the usually more remote experts. It is great when those who have a profound grasp of a subject, provide access to their understanding to those wider than their immediate circle (such as a seminary). I have a few in my RSS reader – but don’t read them very much because they are often too involved or exhaustive for a cursory glance. But every now and then these will grab me and I’ll want to read more. [Incidentally - and i know i break these rules too often - a good blog post should be more like an After Eight than a 3 course meal; a 3 course meal takes time but is a real treat when you do it; too many After Eights and you feel the effects, but just one or two and you've tasted perfection!] So under this category you have David Field, lecturer at Oak Hill or Al Mohler and Ben Witherington in the States.
So that’s my little list. There are undoubtedly many more – and perhaps you can think of some for yourself. Please do add them in comments. From the discussions at the GodBlogs day yesterday, these 3 were suggested:
- Reportage: eg from conferences and events (such as Lambeth or the ELF)
- Agony Aunt/Uncle: providing a forum for people to ask questions and find support
- Network Resource Sharing: designed for people with particular common interests etc