Thinking Out Loud

January 13, 2018

Growing up in Church: A Common Thread for Child Celebrities

If you’ve ever held a hymnbook in your hand, played on the youth group worship team, or sung in a church music production, you are at a distinct musical advantage compared to the other kids in your class. Doing school drama productions, singing in a couple of middle school choir things, and playing in the school orchestra all certainly furthered my musical education, but going to a large and musically diverse church enriched that education tenfold.

Sometimes more is caught than taught, and that was definitely true in my case. I played in the church orchestra and was pianist for the college and career youth group. The church was the first in Canada to broadcast on television, and regularly did major theatrical-style productions ranging from contemporary to operatic. I also learned about sound, lighting, make-up, camera-blocking, stage set-up, mixing paid musicians with volunteers, and learned about the relationship of all these superficial ingredients to the ultimate end: the communication of a message or story.

BelieberIn the competitive entertain market, such training would put someoune at a distinct advantage. So it’s no surprise that Justin Bieber and Katy Perry and Avril Lavigne and so many others all grew up in church.

Sadly, while they learned a lot about music, they didn’t always fare so well when it came to being prepared to “handle the darts of the enemy.” (Ephesians 6:16) However, I don’t want that remark to appear judgmental. Kids that grow up too fast in the music, TV or film industry face all manner of temptations. Many hit fame too young to have really taken ownership of their faith, let alone grasped the dynamics of spiritual warfare. UK Classical singer Charlotte Church — raised Roman Catholic — said that young female artists were “coerced into sexually demonstrative behaviour in order to hold on to their careers” 1

So the same faith heritage that helps them make it to the head of the class of aspiring singers — perhaps even plants the seed of that desire somehow — isn’t fully developed enough to help withstand the pressures and the success. They got to hone their craft musically, but missed a lot of the warnings, admonitions and proverbial (literally) advice about life in the real world, in fact their careers led to a season of skipping church entirely.

There’s another dynamic to all this also, and that is the what happens when the kids in question have already made a public confession of their faith, or have identified with a church. That was the case originally with Miley Cyrus, but you look at her career in general — and some music videos in particular — the first thing you think about is not the Fruit of the Spirit. When people reach that point, their denominational affiliation becomes more of an embarrassment to the church or pastor than anything.

Next, there is the issue of what happens to the Christian kids who are simply fans; the teens who buy in mostly because of the common faith link they think they have with the actor or musician in question, only to have that belief in that pop star dashed when they crash, as they seem to almost always do. While I’m too old to be star-struck, I always had a personal admiration for how Cliff Richard carried is faith and his fame, but later on, elements of his personal life have forced me to temper that support.

Finally, all this is also a parenting issue. Many of today’s superstars that grew up in church went there because their parents took them. Avril was raised in a Christian school environment about an hour east of where I’m writing this. Justin’s mom has been interviewed on Christian talk shows and had a biography published with Baker Book Group; what did she think as she watched his 2012 arrest reports on television?

So in conclusion? I don’t have one. Each time a new kid on the block scores a number one hit song or a box office smash, we all simply cringe waiting for the inevitable train wreck to happen. There are exceptions, like when child star Angus. T. Jones in the TV hit Two and a Half Men went so far as to stand up to the TV industry and tell viewers to stop watching2, but those exceptions seem few and far between.

I guess we pray.

And if we have kids of our own, we make Justin’s career a teachable moment. Yes, he’s making a much stronger faith identification, but just like the tattoos that don’t come off, or the compromising pictures which will always be on the internet, some damage has been done. 

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be rock stars.

1AdTV
2This blog Nov 27/12

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December 30, 2017

The Mind is a Battlefield

The Mind is a Battlefield. It truly is. I’m surprised there’s never been a successful Christian book with that title. Here’s a summary of some things that have appeared here at Thinking Out Loud with the blog tag “thought life.”  Each one of the titles below is a link to a larger article.

Over-Consumption of Internet Media

5 General Principles to Guide Potential Online Addiction

(this ran in March of this year; you need to click the title to see these spelled out)

  • Self Control
  • Mind, Thoughts and Heart
  • Shifting Values
  • The Stewardship of Our Time
  • Misdirected Worship

Media to Fill Your Home

(you need to click the title to see these spelled out)

  • Bible teaching
  • Christian books
  • Christian movies
  • Christian music
  • Hearing God’s voice

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

A Day Lived Entirely for God

Several years back, a phrase from Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps became part of popular Christian culture through the acronym WWJD?. It appeared on wristbands, bumper stickers and a host of novelties and trinkets and in the crush of popularity, a few people actually bought and read the book.

Facing everyday challenges with the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ is a great idea, but I wonder if it’s too focused on doing; in other words, I’m concerned that it only measures action.

I’ve written much here about temptation here with respect to our thought life. For myself, a person who doesn’t commit great transgressions of moral or spiritual law, a better question might be WWJT? or What Would Jesus Think? In a review of David Murray’s The Happy Christian, I noted the following chapter outline based on Phil. 4:8… 

[the link takes you to an overview of David’s media diet and ministry diet.]

The Fruit of Your Thoughts

…If your mind is saturated with unhealthy thoughts and ideas, it will manifest itself in several ways:

In your conversation: We all have heard the Biblical principle that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Even the most guarded, careful, filtered person will let something slip that betrays where their heart is wandering. Or they may lose interest in topics that would normally engage them.

Stresses: For the Christian, having made poor choices in the area of inputs and influences will result in an inner conflict that may come to the surface in being short or snappy with the people we love or people we’re close to. The inner turmoil may simply result from a feeling of personal failure.

Distractions: A mind focused on things below instead of things above will inevitably be un-ordered, resulting in forgetting to return a phone call, missing a payment deadline, forgetting the directions to an appointment. Time allocation to responsibilities may slip noticeably.

Acting Out: Experts say that people dealing with online addictions often end up taking some action as a result of the content they have been viewing, but we tend to think of that as more overt. In fact, acting out often takes places in subtle ways that are more tangential to the addiction than direct. It’s possible that only the person themselves knows that the behavior trigger.

Reticence: Other people whose mind is otherwise preoccupied will simply become withdrawn. An unhealthy mind condition will manifest itself similar to worry and anxiety. For the Christian who senses that they are moving away from The Cross instead of moving toward The Cross, they may opt to retreat from their fellowship group or simply be less animated than is typical.

What Goes into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

We are all fighting a battle within ourselves… The illustration goes like this: There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

click image to orderRelationships and the Internet’s Dark Side

(the article contains two stories of the manifestation of over-consumption of the worst the net has to offer)

…Someone once compared the things that enter our thought life to what happens when farmers sow seeds and later reap the harvest. The little verse goes:

Sow a thought, reap an action;

Sow an action, reap a habit;

Sow a habit; reap a lifestyle.

One thing is certain, whether there’s aversion or attraction, interpersonal dynamics are changed. Someone has said, “You are what you eat.” You certainly are what you read or view on television or your computer screen…

December 22, 2017

Claiming Bragging Rights

Filed under: Christianity, media, personal — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:11 am

Something in the human psyche longs for connection with the rich and famous…or perhaps simply for bragging rights on Facebook.

This year I passed on a couple of opportunities to meet two authors for whom I have great respect. Both had books made into movies and at the end of the press preview for each there was a meet and greet where you stand in line and get to shake the person’s hand and tell them how much their writing has meant to you.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an honor to be invited to these things and if they were a little closer, or ended at an earlier hour before the drive home, I would probably rearrange my schedule.

But I would be going for all the wrong reasons.

Basically, while I would have a memory of meeting them, they would have absolutely no memory of meeting me. That’s the simple dynamics of these things. It would not be that I “had coffee with” or “sat on an airplane next to” them; rather, the contact would be superficial, fleeting. Usually the takeaway from these things consists of two possible responses: “She was taller than I expected;” or “He was shorter than I expected.”  (Bonus marks I suppose for those rare times you walk away saying, “He had a very firm handshake.”)

We do have these experiences in our life as a couple. One time, just about ten minutes before going on stage, my wife gave a popular Christian singer a much-needed cough candy. (“Local woman saves performance by international musician…Film at 11:00.”) Every once in awhile his name comes up along with the requisite candy mention…

Had I gone to the film screenings, the result would have been quite simple: Bragging rights. I would have earned the right to say that I’ve met the person in question, and then presumably others would say of me: “You know Paul has actually met him. In person.”

There would be no exchange of business cards and personal e-mail addresses and I would not have heard, “That’s sounds interesting. Let’s get in contact at the start of next week.”

The event would, I suppose serve the intended purpose of increasing my passion with respect to that author’s books and movies. But that passion would have already been there for me to have traveled to the preview.

That said, I really wish it had worked out for us to attend both events. I regret that we could not make the schedule work A year needs some high points. Perhaps it’s about legitimizing what I do and the vocation that occupies my daytime energies.

Maybe it would be about telling myself, ‘I actually met him. In person.’

December 17, 2017

Four Reasons Why CBS Wanted to Write Off the Peanuts Christmas Special

This year marked 52nd airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 52 years of the same show in an endless repeat. But according to a 2011 story (no longer online) in the National Review by Lee Habeeb, the show almost didn’t happen:

As far back as 1965 — just a few years before Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?” — CBS executives thought a Bible reading might turn off a nation populated with Christians. And during a Christmas special, no less! Ah, the perils of living on an island in the northeast called Manhattan.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was a groundbreaking program in so many ways, as we learned watching the great PBS American Masters series on Charles Schulz, known by his friends and colleagues as “Sparky.” It was based on the comic strip Peanuts, and was produced and directed by former Warner Brothers animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice for Snoopy.

We learned in that PBS special that the cartoon happened by mere serendipity.

“We got a call from Coca-Cola,” remembered Melendez. “And they said, ‘Have you and Mr. Schulz ever considered doing a Christmas show with the characters?’ and I immediately said ‘Yes.’ And it was Wednesday and they said, ‘If you can send us an outline by Monday, we might be interested in it.’ So I called Sparky on the phone and told him I’d just sold ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ and he said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘It’s something you’ve got to write tomorrow.’”

We learned in that American Masters series that Schulz had some ideas of his own for the Christmas special, ideas that didn’t make the network suits very happy. First and foremost, there was no laugh track, something unimaginable in that era of television. Schulz thought that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at its own pace, without being cued when to laugh. CBS created a version of the show with a laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. Luckily, he didn’t.

The second big battle was waged over voiceovers. The network executives were not happy that the Schulz’s team had chosen to use children to do the voice acting, rather than employing adults. Indeed, in this remarkable world created by Charles Schulz, we never hear the voice of an adult.

The executives also had a problem with the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. They thought the music would not work well for a children’s program, and that it distracted from the general tone. They wanted something more . . . well . . . young.

Last but not least, the executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. The network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Bible.

There was a standoff of sorts, but Schulz did not back down, and because of the tight production schedule and CBS’s prior promotion, the network executives aired the special as Schulz intended it. But they were certain they had a flop on their hands.

The CBS executives saw what they had as, at best, a tax write-off.

I couldn’t help but think that actually parallels the original Christmas story in more ways than one.

John the Baptist was sure that Jesus was the Messiah on the day that Jesus stepped into the Jordan River to be baptized. But later, in the isolation of a jail cell, he wondered if he had backed that wrong horse. He thought he a flop on his hands.

Certainly there were people in the crowd who loved the miracles and the multiplication of the fish and bread that fed 5,000 men and countless women and children. But when he started turning his remarks to the “hard sayings” and spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, the crowd thinned out considerably. Having seen other Messiah figures come and go, they figured that, once again, they had a flop on their hands.

Judas Iscariot was one of the original twelve, and no doubt entered into that select group with enthusiasm and optimism. But into the third year of apprenticeship with the this particular rabbi, dreams of political conquest and liberation from the Romans turned into disillusionment when the talk turned to a Messiah that would suffer and die. Like the parliamentarians of today who ‘cross the floor’ to join the other party, Judas figured he had a flop on his hands.

Time exonerated the decision and vision by Charles Shultz, and the events in Acts 2 showed the world that something new and exciting was beginning; that instead of a flop, the disciples had a hit on their hands.

And today, there are those who complain that the Christian faith and worldview is foolishness. They have a checklist of things that they would change about the Christ story. They think we have a flop on our hands.

But the ratings have yet to come out on that one. The ultimate scene in the play has yet to appear on stage. Stay tuned…

We do know how the above story ended, though:

To the surprise of the executives, 50 percent of the televisions in the United States tuned in to the first broadcast. The cartoon was a critical and commercial hit; it won an Emmy and a Peabody award.

Linus’s recitation was hailed by critic Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram, who wrote, “Linus’ reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.”

charlie-brown-christian-content-warnings

December 15, 2017

Making Christian Television Great Again

test pattern

If your background is Anglican or Roman Catholic, you might think that the world of Christian television is dominated by Evangelical voices, but you’d only be partly right. In fact, Christian TV is dominated by a certain type of Evangelical, most of whom, if not Pentecostal or Charismatic, are definitely is leaning in that direction.

And that’s unfortunate because there is a wide swath of Evangelicals that simply aren’t represented in the broadcast medium:

Cerebral Christians – I’ve always wondered what a Christian television program would look like if it was created by InterVarsity. I know I’d watch. N. T. Wright is often a guest on various shows; if he were a host, I wonder who would he invite? This would be to present Christian television what PBS is to ABC.

America’s Best Sermons – There’s a ton of sermon media out there. Why should just internet-connected people get to enjoy it all? A show of best sermons would scan the internet for great material from churches that would never dream of purchasing broadcast airtime.

Christian Talk/Variety in a Live Context – In 2008, I wrote about His Place on Cornerstone Television which was set in a coffee shop but contained characters discussing pertinent issues and challenges, along with guest interviews and musicians. Truly a superior concept. You can read what I wrote at this link.

Socratic Dialog – Think about what people liked about The Shack, or Ian Morgan Cron’s Chasing Francis or the David Gregory Dinner With a Perfect Stranger series or a large number of Andy Andrews titles, and you get where I’m going with this. It would make for great television.

Bible Project – In May of last year we introduced you to two guys from the west coast with a very unique gift for explaining the Bible. Frankly, I think their work is too good to just be on YouTube. It deserves the cachet that goes with broadcast TV. You may read my description at this link.

Progressives – For all the Millennials out there, TV must seem a very old-school medium. Still, what would it take to capture the energy of those edgy podcasts and turn it loose in a more populist medium? 

Apologetics – The “extreme sport” of Christian theology and witness rarely makes it onto TV in its pure form.

Calvinists – I know this one flies in the face of some of my other writing about the dominance of Reformed theology on the internet and in Christian publishing, but the five-point crowd isn’t known for using the visual media. Anyone know a reason for that? 

Drama – Again, another question: Why should all the best examples modelling Christians in their neighborhoods, workplaces and extended families only be seen in movie theaters? Can’t Sherwood Pictures or PureFlix throw some shorter scripts together for broadcast?

Polar Opposites – Television is a great showcase for the dramatic. What if the TULIPs and the DAISYs had it out on a weekly basis? Or pit the egalitarians debating the complementarians. Or the Young Earth Creationists arguing with the Old Earth Creationists. Or the KJV-Only crowd throwing things at the NIV and NLT advocates. Or the watchdog bloggers against just about anyone. I know I’d tune in.

What Christian television that doesn’t exist would you like to see?

December 9, 2017

Armageddon Preview: California Wildfires

Admittedly the person who posted this on Twitter retouched the sign, but everything else in this image is real.

Long before there was the Left Behind books and music, there were the Russell Doughten films. Growing up Evangelical in the ’70s and ’80s meant your church probably had showings of:

While studies have shown that guilt- and fear-induced decisions tend not to produce lifelong disciples, there are no doubt some reading this who were “scared into the kingdom” by movies such as this and live productions such Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames.

Looking at the images from Southern California this week, it was difficult not to imagine that we were viewing a film producer’s vision of the end times. The people who had to drive through those scenes in order to escape will simply never be able to erase those images. The future PTSD issues related to the past week will endure as long as many of these people are living.

The losses are staggering. But beyond the personal tragedy is the loss of a rather unique part of the world, every bit as special to me as Venice is to others.

I took six trips to So. Cal., staying at least two weeks for each, and renting a car each time. My favorite memories are of driving north of Los Angeles at night with the radio cranked on KFI or KKHR and capturing the image in my mind of the homes lining the Hollywood Hills, not unlike the view you get looking down on a city or town at night from an airplane, but with the perspective reversed by the fact you’re at the lowest altitude and the porch lights and street lights are displayed in a panorama above you.

When the lights go down in the California town
People are in for the evening
I jump into my car and I throw in my guitar
My heart beatin’ time with my breathin’

After finding something that totally awed me, I would then take the first exit, loop around and drive the opposite way to see it all again. Gas was cheaper then, I suppose. I can’t describe to you the beauty of the lights twinkling up the hills. It was another world.

Ventura Highway in the sunshine
Where the days are longer
The nights are stronger
Than moonshine

To think of so much of that being simply gone is unimaginable. You see the video footage of burned out properties, but I think about what they were; what will take at least a generation to rebuild if not longer.

When you think of the dangers of living in So. Cal., you think earthquakes. Not any longer. As one responder said yesterday, “Fire season is now all year.”

In the end, condition “red” was not enough. They had to create a new level “purple” for “extreme” danger.

…I don’t know if any filmmakers were mercenary enough to go out and shoot stock footage in the middle of this, but it certainly raises the possibilities of what Armageddon could look like; metaphorically of course, because the prophesied battle takes place on the other side of the world.

But The Tribulation, perhaps? Definitely. Nuclear aftermath? For sure.

 

 

December 7, 2017

Free Open-Source Worship Lyric Projection Software

When we’re asked to lead worship at another church, I try to get as much information as I can about the congregation and which songs they have been singing and what a typical service looks like. However, on a more practical level, we also need to know what type of piano/keyboard they have and which presentation software they use for worship songs (PowerPoint, EasyWorship, etc.).

The church we’ve been asked to assist this coming weekend introduced us to something new in terms of software, and my wife was impressed with some of its features. Furthermore, it’s free. I asked her if she’d be willing to share this discovery with readers here…

by Ruth Wilkinson

As a worship leader in my home congregation and occasional “guest worship leader” here and there, I enjoy writing, arranging, creating and sharing music and images that help people engage with Scripture and the God who gave it to us.

Over the years I’ve found no shortage of people wanting to sell me stuff to help the process. And fair enough.  A workman is worthy of his wages, after all.

But as a volunteer, I must say it’s lovely when, now and then, I come across a freeware or open source piece of software that has a lot to offer.  Most of the programs I use week to week fall into this category.

Most recently, we were introduced to VideoPsalm, a presentation program that describes itself as “missionware.” As with many freeware programs, this seems to be a labour of love (I didn’t even see a ‘donate’ button on the website). The terms of use simply ask the user to support a missionary/organization financially or in prayer and to “take a little more at heart the evangelical Christian mission.”

The functionalities are comprehensive — images, text, video, PowerPoint, scripture, announcements, countdowns… — with one particular addition I really like: It’s ChordPro friendly.  Which means that, with some editing, chord charts can be projected along with lyrics. (Now if only someone will develop a ‘lead line’ option to make teaching new songs easier. (Dear Santa…)) But this is definitely a nice feature.

As with any program, there is learning to do (for example, how to import a particular song from CCLI.) Video tutorials are available through the website.

For smaller churches or home groups, VideoPsalm could be a real God-send, considering the cost of the commercial presentation software.

…And for what it’s worth, a few other budget friendly (ie free) programs:

OpenOffice –  Word processing, spreadsheets, “PowerPoint” with thorough format compatibility

MuseScore – Music notation software with pdf, midi and mp3 exporting

SoftChord – ChordPro editor

Gimp – Image editing (like photoshop) with a lot of tools and options

OpenShot – Video editing software.  I haven’t used this one myself, but I’ve heard good things

StudioOne Prime – Nice audio editing program.  This is the free version, fully functional but lacking some fancier features

Audacity – A more basic editing audio suite, but quite user friendly and good for recording sermons and whatnot

 

November 23, 2017

Broadcast Television’s Diminishing Influence

Watching the evening network news, each night this week the run-up to Black Friday has contained samples of deals being offered by retailers, and without fail, in each selection there has been at least one large-screen television which will be on sale. The demand for screens is obviously large, though the application might vary from home to home. Gaming and home theater are probably the primary uses.

Last week at this time we were out of town so we could see our youngest son appear in a live theater production. Traffic driving through Toronto was the worst we’ve ever encountered even though the weather was perfect. I would describe it as my worst-ever experience with traffic congestion in Canada. It left us arriving late at the hotel, and we didn’t back into the room until late. The next day we had a bit less time pressure.

Even so, it was the first time I can remember being in a hotel room where the television wasn’t used at all. (The key word is remember, hopefully it wasn’t on in our honeymoon suite all those years ago!) As more and more people are now watching original programs on cable channels or streaming movies on services like Netflix, it’s difficult to find people willing to discuss something that happened on a old-school, network prime time show the night before.

I can also imagine that Millennials might also shun the hotel television, the same way they shun newspapers. My youngest, when he lived at home, would ask me about something I liked to watch, and I would say, “It’s on ABC;” and that information would be useless to him. Much different for those of us who grew up with TV sets which occasionally required us to adjust the ‘vertical hold’ and ‘horizontal hold.’

Given my aversion to violence on TV, if we’re home I usually try to relax and watch one or two sitcoms, Monday to Thursday. This year The Mayor has been notable as it gives the average person an inside look at municipal politics. But for best new series this fall, I would need to award Me, Myself and I for the brilliance of the writing which revolves around one character at three different times in his life; past, present and future. (For my Canadian readers, I’m trying to catch the second season of Kim’s Convenience, but the national broadcaster no longer as a reliable off-air signal in our area. I can get U.S. networks consistently each evening, but not the network which receives a subsidy from my taxes.)

Basically, it’s the 6:30 PM network news — ABC with David Muir being my program of choice — that justifies the tall aerial standing next to our house. Watch any awards show however, and you’re going to see little statues given to programs whose electrons never traveled through the air.

With cable shows, YouTube and the rest of the Internet’s diversion, nobody really has the time for what CBS, NBC, ABC et al have to offer. You can only slice the leisure-time pie so thin because there’s only so many hours in the day.

November 14, 2017

Thoughts After Sutherland Springs


Stephen and Brooksyne Weber posted this as a footnote to their Daily Encouragement site last Monday morning.1 I want to bring these “eleven theses” to the forefront here. The introduction suggests some of these things may now be politically incorrect to say. I’ll leave that to you to decide.2

To read the full article click this link. Also click “next message” for some additional thoughts on the church massacre in Texas that were posted the next day.

  • We believe the growing culture of death is a factor in the further corruption of the world. When pre-born life is disregarded it has a permeating effect in ways we don’t realize. Yesterday afternoon we passed the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Reading, PA and practically sensed the hellish, demonic spirit around the place. Yet our government funds this!
  • Graphic violence in movies, TV, video games and elsewhere cheapens life and has a desensitizing impact.
  • We wonder to what extent there is now among the sinfully disturbed a sense of competition and claim to fame for these acts of sheer evil.
  • Social media provides platform to spread this.
  • Previous generations were aware of the horrors of hell which had a restraining impact on evil. Now the notion of hell and judgment is so politically incorrect and offensive to many, and scoffed by others.
  • In the meantime spiritual and Scripture teaching is diminishing and organized groups like the ACLU, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and others are working overtime to further diminish Judeo/Christian influence in America.
  • Mental illness and more funding for treatment is being bandied about, as it often is following these heinous acts. Of course something is wrong in someone’s head to do something like this but we feel it is incrimination against scores of people who have some mental illness issues but still have a restraint against an evil act like this.
  • We wonder to what extent drugs, both prescribed and illicit are a factor in these matters and the Biblical prohibitions against intoxication.
  • It’s sad how events like this are quickly politicized with various factions providing simplistic answers to attack the other side.
  • Both official law enforcement and the concerned citizens who got involved (being called heroes) remind us that there are many decent people who have a role in restraining evil.
  • Today we listened to a news conference in which they concluded with with a soul-touching prayer. genuine faith overcome even in the midst of the hardest situations.

~Stephen & Brooksyne Weber


Update from Sutherland Springs: The following item is scheduled to appear in tomorrow’s link list. Here is a preview:

  • The pews have been taken out, the carpeting has been removed, and the inside of the building has been painted white from floor to ceiling as a memorial to those who died that day. CNN sent a reporter into the church building.

1Although I edit a daily devotional page, that tends to have a work focus at least partially. Daily Encouragement is the one I try to read each day just for my own time with God.

2Although we’ve repeated it here many times, I have to once again remind us all that this problem is unique to the United States and is not beyond its power to change. Such a “beating of swords into plowshares” would be a tremendous feat, greater than anything else the U.S. has ever accomplished.


Photo: New York Daily News (click to link to story)

November 9, 2017

The Essential Art of Concision

I debated between calling this “The Lost art of Concision” versus “The Developing Art of Concision.” First, a definition is in order:

Therefore, when I speak of the concision as a developing art, I mean the necessity of being able to put ideas across in a short-and-to-the-point manner; something you need in a world of soundbites. Last year I wrote,

It was Noam Chomsky who introduced me to the idea of concision. I’ve taught it as, “You’re selling your car through a media which is charging you $1.50 per word. How do you describe your vehicle persuasively, but keep the cost down?”

But when I speak of it as a dying art, I’m thinking specifically of the migration of many bloggers from what I’m doing now — typing/writing words — to podcasting; and to Twitter’s decision to gift everyone with 140 additional characters on Tuesday evening.

Twitter is obsessed with the number 140. (Originally videos were limited to 2 minutes and 20 seconds, which is 140 seconds.)  The new length, 280 characters, doubles this even though 160 would have been a nice gift in itself. Or 180 or 200. 280 seems long, it seems to rob Twitter of it’s basic character, heretofore. But I didn’t always feel that way. When I joined, I wrote:

I can’t say what I have to say in 140 characters.

In case you missed it, I tend to write long.

But the word concision has come up on this blog somewhat frequently. Earlier this year I wrote,

I have for a long time questioned how much time sermon has left.  With all due respect to those of you currently honing your homiletic craft at either the undergraduate or graduate level, I really think that this particular form is destined to go the way of the CD or the land line phone. I’m not saying there aren’t some great preachers out there; I spend my evening hours listening to sermon after sermon online. But that’s me. For others there are a host of reasons why sermon doesn’t work. ADD or ADHD comes to mind. Some sermons are simply too long. Some say it’s just not how they learn. Some claim that high profile Christian pastors have simply set the bar too high and average pastors can’t achieve the quality that is now widely available online. Others would argue that we’ve become accustomed to media bursts, sound bites, and increased concision.

The Bible itself is amazingly concise. Readers are often fascinated to learn how narratives they had heard about — Creation, Jonah, The Prodigal Son — when they actually got around to reading them, were expressed in a very limited fashion. In an article about Christ’s ascension the subject was raised (pun intended):

A reader wrote, “We’re told… at his ascension that he will come again in like manner as they have seen him go.” But what do we know about that manner? How long were the disciples staring as he rose into the sky? Was there a low cloud ceiling that day? The Bible’s tendency to brevity and concision makes me think that perhaps God didn’t just beam Jesus up, but his ascension may have have been more prolonged; a vertical processional to heaven.

It also came up in a piece on diminishing attention spans:

You see this in the way books and articles in periodicals are written now; in fact you’re seeing it in the piece you’re presently reading. Pick up an older book — say 60 years or more old — and you might find an entire page consisting of a single paragraph. You might even find several consecutive pages consisting of a single paragraph. (I’m told that some chapters of Paul’s epistles were often a single sentence in the original Greek, no doubt a weaving of dominant and subordinate clauses that the reader of that time would follow easily.)

Today we use paragraph breaks to keep the content flowing; to keep the eyes moving on the page; to force us writers to adopt a greater degree of concision. Our writing is also broken up by more numbered or alphanumeric lists, by bullet points, by sub-headers and by pull quotes. (We use them often at Christianity 201, where the devotions are by definition somewhat longer, and we want to make what would otherwise be an entire page of text more interesting.)

The trend towards podcasting is actually surprising, given the push toward brevity in a bullet-point world. Have you ever thought of what a full transcript of your favorite podcast would look like printed out? It would run for pages and pages. A blog post on a similar topic would be less than 2,000 words, and easily digested in under 7 minutes. (Or spoken in 15 minutes. Compare word length to spoken time at this speech minutes converter.)  We wrote about podcasts on an article on the trend from literacy to orality:

Inherent in podcasting is the right to ramble. Listeners get the nuance that’s missing in a traditional blog post (and this is one of the great liabilities of email) but they have to take the time to wade through the host(s) stream-of-consciousness narration. There’s no concision, a quality that decades ago Noam Chomsky had predicted would be, moving forward, a key asset in communications. A great concept that’s probably a seven or eight paragraph blog post instead becomes a 53 minute podcast.  Andy Warhol’s comment that “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes;” might be modified to, “In the 21st century, everyone will have their own talk show or be the host of their own radio station.” 

As Christian communicators however, we have to be careful when we try to reduce to mystery or complexity of the gospel to a concise motto, slogan, tag line or formula. In an article titled What is the Gospel, I wrote,

I also think that, when considered in the light of the Jewish appreciation of the scriptures as a great jewel that reflects and refracts the light in infinite ways each time we look at it, the idea of trying to formulate a precis of the Bible is to venture into an endless and perhaps even frustrating mission. What would Jesus think of trying to consolidate something so great, so wide, so high, so deep into a finite number of words?  Concision is great, but maybe it doesn’t work here.

Anyway Twitter, thanks for the extra characters; but I earnestly hope I have the wisdom to not overuse them. Readers, it’s a busy world out there; keep it short!


Yes, today I basically quoted myself throughout this article. To further embellish Chomsky’s teaching on concision would have made the article…well…not so concise.

For those mystified by the final graphic image, TL/DR stands for Too long, didn’t read.

For further reference in thinking about the difference between podcasting and blogging, this article is less than 1,100 words; you can halve the minutes in the above example.

 

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