Thinking Out Loud

July 12, 2018

This Technology is all Broken

Filed under: Christianity, technology — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:35 am

Eric Metaxas plays some rather eclectic music coming in and out of commercial breaks on his radio show. A few years ago I heard him play a short excerpt from a song called Ballad of a Teenage Queen by Dickey Lee. Last night I decided I wanted to hear it again, but all YouTube would give me was the Johnny Cash version.

30 different videos, all by Johnny Cash.

Knowing it wouldn’t work I typed in the title again, followed by NOT BY JOHNNY CASH.

Ironically, a few years ago, there was a way of doing that. It consisted of using the minus “-” sign before the thing you did not want in your church results. As in “…teenage queen -Johnny -Cash”.

Google took that functionality away on all their platforms. 

As I was writing this, I had to divert away for a minute to look something up on Christian Book Distributors website.

CBD will only let you type the first three letters of a title or author and then it tries to autofill, completely blocking all subsequent letters you try to type.  It’s fun to keep typing anyway, and watch the screen jump up and down and left to write. You’re not supposed to play this game, and I’d like to thing that some where in their head office near Boston something is sparking on their mainframe. It serves them right.

To get results, you have to manually put the cursor back in the search field and then, as if by magic, it allows you to type the title or author in a second time. 

After all that, it turned out this 2018 book was published by Crossway, which immediately ended my interest in reading it. I have my standards.

The day before, I spent five minutes driving home yelling at my 2014 Ford.

I was trying to call my wife, while driving to someone’s home to pick up a package and the car could not accept my voice commands. After five attempts, with me screaming at it, it said, “Ask me, ‘What can I say?'”

Indeed, what can I say?

The voice commands only work if you completely shut down the air conditioning system and turn off the fan. And it was a hot day and I simply didn’t want to do that. Totally. Useless. Technology.

I don’t know where the microphone is which picks up the voice commands, but it’s clearly in the wrong spot. I sort of knew this, but figured if I yelled loud enough it would work.

Not even close.

What can I say?  


It’s a very short song and it actually tells a story. Enjoy listening.

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March 19, 2018

Cultural Shifts: The End of “Going Shopping”

The Rolling Acres Mall in Akron, OH is an example of a once-bustling center of activity that now sits completely abandoned. (YouTube: Chris Condon)

The impending shutdown of Toys-R-Us announced last week serves as another reminder of how the way we acquire consumer goods has shifted in the internet age. In the process however, I feel something is being lost. Here are a few benefits of loading up the family in the car or van on a shopping excursion.

Exercise – Getting some fresh air, and walking the aisles of the mall or department stores is always to be preferred to just sitting on the couch watching Netflix. I found it also interesting that large homes are now being constructed to fill their respective building lots to the point where there are no backyards. The assumption is that you’re going to do everything indoors. This can’t be healthy.

Delayed Gratification – We raised our kids to expect that a trip to certain stores might result in us leaving empty-handed; carrying neither bags nor boxes. We had little money to spend, but it cost little to look. Sometimes the seeds of desire would be planted that would result in birthday or Christmas gifts, but there was never the sense that we were going to load up shopping carts with everything in sight.

Interactive Purchasing – We could ask questions as the salesperson qualified our needs. Are the extra features used by customers? Are many of these units returned? Is this compatible with another product we already own? Do we really need the extended warranty? (Some sales people were biased on that last one.) It was a process of give-and-take conversation that resulted in a better fit with little need for returns or exchanges.

Supporting Local Business – We knew that at least some of our money stayed in our city. Even with a chain store, if it’s franchised, you’re still supporting the local franchise owner. If it’s completely corporately owned, you’re at least providing local jobs, meaning wages for your immediate neighbors.

Exposure to Wider Range of Products – To get our youngest the set of pencil crayons the teacher had requested we had to walk past the fabric softener, and the set of socket wrenches, and the dog chow, and the snow tires. For the kids, every one of these was a lesson — even if nothing was spoken — in the bigger world and how it works.

Social Contact – In the late 1960s it was accepted that the shopping mall had become the new town square. It was the place to see and be seen; to run into neighbors and friends and coworkers and fellow-students. In a large city, this included people from a more distant past who, without the benefit of computers in that era, you had completely lost contact with. This was often followed with an agreement to get together soon for more social connection. As a Christian, I found this provided contexts where I could share my faith. (See also the update below*)

The Quest – Granted this is similar to the first point, but sometimes you simply need a destination; a place to go in search of a desired object. To this extent, life is like a movie. You had the need. You drove to the mall. You found a parking spot. You located the store. They had the item in stock. You made the purchase. You couldn’t remember where you had parked! There was story; on a small quest the hero had gone on a mission and returned triumphant.

I know I’ve left some things out, but as shopping becomes something we do sitting at screens and shopping carts become virtual instead of physical I just think we’ve lost something. In the process, we’re directing the profits to nameless, faceless corporations — one in particular comes to mind — but we’re also robbing ourselves of the personal profit that comes with interacting in the wider reality.


Did I leave anything out? Anything else you feel has been lost in the switch to online shopping?

*Update: This was left as a comment by Mark from England shortly after the blog published, but I don’t want any of you to miss it:

People who live alone might not see or speak to anyone for days on end. Visiting the local shops might be the only chance they have to interact with people. Not just people they know who they might meet but a friendly word from a sales assistant, a smile even, might relieve the crippling loneliness that they feel. And hey, who knows, they might make a new friend who might visit them from time to time. Isolation is not our natural state.

Good point, Mark. Where do those people find a replacement for those interactions?

March 17, 2018

Church Directories Build Community

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came

~Theme from Cheers TV-Show

It was a heated congregational meeting that had been called nearly twenty years ago to address the implications of the rapidly growing church going to a two service format on Sunday mornings. The usual pros and cons were being kicked around when a woman at the back stood up and voiced an issue I hadn’t foreseen; “But we won’t all know each other.”

I never thought of that.

This was a church where, heretofore, everybody knew who everybody was. The kind of thing you expect in a rural church environment. Suddenly, that was about to change, and there was apprehension, if not plain fear about the implications of going to church on Sunday morning and not being in command of the first and last names of all the people in the auditorium.

# # #

Some churches have always resolved the identification issue by having a bulletin board at the back with photos of “Our Church Family.” A local church in our area raised the quality standard on this a few years back. When the professional company doing their photo directory was done, the church was presented with a couple of beautiful, framed wall prints showing everyone’s directory photo and name alphabetically. I’m sure it is often referred to, given that church’s size.

Another option is name tags. Besides the risk of the pin-type tearing clothing — many churches opt for the lanyard type — I’ve always felt it reminiscent of the “elder” name tags worn by the Mormon (LDS) missionaries who come knocking at your front door at inopportune times. But some churches thrive on this system, with visitors quickly assigned a quickly-scribbled Sharpie version which, I’m quite sure, would make seeker-friendly advocates like Bill Hybels shudder in horror; although it beats asking visitors to stand up and give their names, a practice I sincerely hope has disappeared by now.

It also raises an issue I don’t have space to get into here: The artificiality of the “turn around shake hands” type of forced fellowship. Or name tags themselves. If you click the image on the name tag at right, it will take you to a blog post on that subject.

Then there are various types of mixers including Newcomers Lunch, where established church leaders get to know recent arrivals; or the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” events where, each quarter, people alternate between being a “host” or being a “guest” at a mystery house with mystery guests. (You can even heat things up by sending the charismatic-leaning, Arminian Smith family over for lunch with the conservative Calvinist Jones family; but who gets the Adams family with their ten children?)

Of course, the organic approach to getting to know people is small groups. You won’t know everyone, but you’ll build deep relationships and strong community with the others in your group. And possibly at that point, knowing everyone’s name won’t be so high a priority.

Which brings us to church directories.

# # #

When my oldest son was about six I showed him an entry in our church’s directory where one couple’s name was listed, but there was no address or phone number. It was easy to see why if you knew that he worked for the RCMP. (U.S. readers: Think FBI.) So I asked him, “Why do you think they don’t have an address?”

His answer was; “They’re homeless.”

I then explained the nature of his job, and the notion of privacy. There are other examples I can think of where families have chosen to opt-out completely from even having their names listed, but in most small and medium-sized churches, a church telephone directory is still considered useful, even though some online people haven’t picked up a phone handset in years; so most people participate.

Directories easily fit into the collection of things listed above (name tags, photo boards, etc.) but offer something else: A means to get in touch, or stay in touch with other people in your church throughout the week. You can call the kid’s teacher to see if he left his Bible in the classroom, ask the worship leader’s wife for the title of the book she mentioned in the lobby, and e-mail the woman who said she had a great recipe for carrot cake. You can see where people live, and the names of their children.

I am convinced that these directories — with or without photos — are in another category altogether, and sincerely believe that, where feasible, every church should have one.

Especially in an age of e-mail.

I know there will be pushback on this — some people will not want their e-mail address published — but I am convinced that we live in an electronic world where not having e-mail is like buying a house and taking down the mailbox. I believe there is potential for abuse, but it is outweighed by the contact that can take place between church family members.

As a business owner who does a monthly e-mail newsletter, I’m always tempted to steal e-mail addresses from directories, but we’ve learned over time that we’re better off initiating contact some other way before pursuing electronic communication. However, one local church meets this problem halfway by giving business owners a back page to list their name, the name of their business, the nature of their business, and business phone and e-mail information.

That same church also has a strong push for people to submit photos. They produce their own directory, and so there isn’t the hesitation associated with commercial photographers trying to sell families additional prints and print packages at inflated prices.

In an environmentally-conscious world, some churches have put their church directory online. A login is necessary so that only members and adherents can access the information, though the same login allows those listed to update their own data.

At the other end of the spectrum, in another church that we are actively involved with, the directory is simply a list of names and phone numbers. No indication of where people live or if they drive a great distance for worship. No opportunity to send an e-mail; which really grates on my wife and I, who use online communication extensively.

The other major liability of their system is that children under eighteen are not listed at all. I’m not sure I can even begin to grasp what kind of message that sends to, for example, the teens in the youth group. (“You’re not really part of our church family.”) It’s an oddity that sticks out all the more if your kids are accustomed to seeing their names in such a publication. The church in question doesn’t really have a large number of children. Coincidence?

# # #

Send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say…

~Lyrics from the Beatles, “When I’m 64”

# # #

In a world where privacy concerns dominate so many discussions, and insurance companies advise churches against anything with the faintest hint of liability, the idea of a church directory may seem like a throwback to a bygone era; however this writer is sold on them. I even keep a few old ones now and then as a sort of yearbook of memories of what the church family looked like in the past. Once in awhile, I discover someone in the church family who only lives a few blocks away, or someone who lives next door to someone with whom I’ve recently shared my faith journey.

I also remain absolutely convinced that creating e-mail community is absolutely essential, especially as various factors seem to add to the isolation people experience. Your church may prefer to do this through Facebook community; but do update the thing now and then, okay? Computer contact is not the same as face-time, but it’s better than nothing. And those with hesitation can always choose to opt-out of listing their online address, but I find that most choose to share their full contact information.

Also, I cannot minimize the role that both standard telephone contact and e-mail contact can play when someone in the church faces an urgent need for prayer.

# # #

If we’re a family, then family members talk to each other, right?

And church isn’t just something we do on Sunday.

# # #

This 2011 piece was included today as a part two to a more recent discussion we had on this topic yesterday.

March 16, 2018

Your Church Family Directory

One of the two churches with which I’m directly involved has a church directory which includes email addresses. The major benefit I see is that it allows people to continue the conversations started on Sundays throughout the week; to initiate contact; or to follow up with friends they haven’t seen in awhile.

The church family phone directory is probably something that will disappear over the next decade because of (a) privacy concerns, and (b) the degree to which the megachurches set the agenda of smaller churches. Nonetheless we thought we’d visit this topic.


Since my church uses a photo directory, I had a thought today that it would be fun to do one where instead of actual photographs, people submitted an avatar, as they do on social media. It would be 100% contrary to the purpose for which photo directories were created in the first place, but definitely fun and colorful.

Full disclosure: I was looking at this picture of two cats when I came up with this, and thinking it might be better than the dated picture of Mrs. W. and myself they’ve been using for the past four years.


Next, there is the issue of people who appear in these directories who have long moved on, hopefully to another church.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a megachurch pastor. We often forget that numerically, he would qualify by today’s standards. The church experienced phenomenal growth. At their size, not to mention the cost of paper, a church directory would have been impossible. But there was a membership roll and people wanted their name kept on it. He wrote,

Let us not keep names on our books when they are only names. Certain of the good old people like to keep them there, and cannot bear to have them removed; but when you do not know where individuals are, nor what they are, how can you count them? They are gone to America, or Australia, or to heaven, but as far as your roll is concerned they are with you still. Is this a right thing? It may not be possible to be absolutely accurate, but let us aim at it… *

I don’t think that everyone I’m aware of actually wants their directory listing to be kept. They’ve possibly changed churches and aren’t giving it a thought. Rather, the fault lies with the church for not noticing their absence. (Having written that, I just got in touch with someone I haven’t seen lately to see how they’re doing.)


I see we’ve covered this topic before. Four years ago, I proposed something different:

How a social media hub is different from a Church directory

I’m writing this in a vacuum, because I haven’t exactly seen done what I am proposing here. I just see a need. So here’s the proposal, and if you have any suggestions or revisions based on experience with a church that’s doing this please leave a comment.

Social media, as we have come to know it, is with us to stay. The platforms will migrate over time, but a generation has grown up communicating on line, and overall, I would say that for the church, this is a good thing. We can start a conversation at a weekend service, and continue it all week. We can learn that people have specific interests, and send them links to articles and channels of interest. It replaces the classic “encouragement notes” or “thinking-of-you cards.”

  • Ideally, a church directory lists every member and adherent. A social media index lists only people who want to share their various social media platforms.
  • A Church directory contains addresses and numbers for mobile phones and land lines.  A social media index has names and locations for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, tumblr, WordPress and YouTube pages.
  • A Church directory often exists in print; a church social media hub exists only online. It’s live, so information may be added or removed at any time.
  • Church publications generally promote the church’s own social media pages. A social media index highlights what the church family is doing online.
  • Church directories are usually only distributed to the people whose names are contained in them. A social media index can just be a page on the church website — “Central Community Church on Social Media” — with no restricted access, because each of the pages concerned are public anyway.
  • Knowing that anyone in your church can access your pages is a wonderful way of keeping yourself accountable for what you write, post or link to. Your social media pages may reflect a personal family focus and other interests and hobbies you have; but ultimately you are aware that fellow church members might drop in at any time, unannounced.
  • Social media is constantly changing. A social media index for your church family needs to be updated on a regular basis, perhaps weekly. If a given platform falls out of use, there can be a decision to delete all links to that platform.
  • If any social media platform from any church member is reported to have questionable content, all their listings would be removed.

If one of the basic problems in the church is that we don’t really know each other, I know of no other way to change that than to be interconnected online. This allows us to get to know each other to a greater degree.


We’ll look more at this topic tomorrow!

*Spurgeon quotation source, click here.

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 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 7, 2017

The Downside of Sermon Podcasts

My name is Paul, and I’m a sermon podcastaholic.* On Sundays I’ve been known to listen to as many as five of them, though that doesn’t happen often. But three is not unusual.

Read Schuchardt, a professor of media ecology at Wheaton College was a recent guest on The Phil Vischer Podcast. He has ten kids, no TV, no cell phone, and no internet. After discussing technology and culture, at the very end of the discussion, Skye Jethani asked Read about the implications for the church with respect to the things they had talked about…

Skye Jethani: The basic economy of why people go to church, or why people have gone to church for five centuries, has changed. Most pastors I talk to about this don’t want to change that model. But they’re angry or upset or frustrated that a generation is now around that doesn’t show up on Sunday.

Read Schuchardt: Yeah, I’ve had this conversation with various pastors. One of the things I say is, “Look if value really is a function of scarcity, why are you giving away your weekly sermons for free on the internet which is just an invitation to not come?” Why not just say, “It’s live, it’s here, it’s one day of the week only. You’ve got to be there to get it.”

Skye: It’s the same reason your students won’t read a book.

Read: In other words, if you’ll camp out all night to get those tickets to see that concert of that one singer live…

Skye: Don’t you think that it’s because most pastors know they’re not that good?

Read: No, I think it’s because they are sincerely trying to help further and spread their message and also reach their elderly and shut-ins out of Christian love and concern. But they don’t realize that it’s also simultaneously under cutting the over-all “Why would I go there?”

Skye: Yeah, but when I talk to a young person, they might admire their pastor, think they’re great, whatever. But they also realize, “Well, I’m going to listen to these other five celebrity pastors because they’re so entertaining.” And the average pastor, as faithful and good and doctrinally sound as they may be are not as entertaining. So they’re competing in this media environment in which they can’t really compete.

Read: Yeah, but as soon as you say ‘entertainment’, that’s not a focus on Scripture. That’s a focus on television.

Honestly, I hadn’t thought about that. The words, “If value is really is a function of scarcity…” leave me asking if we’ve devalued sermons and preaching by making them ubiquitous.

There had been some earlier discussion about how modern Evangelical church now consists of simply singing some songs and listening to the sermon. Little or nothing else. There is no particular compelling need to be physically present for this if you can buy or download the worship team’s album and listen to the messages at home.

I reminded my wife, who was getting ready to lead worship on Sunday** how important it is for her to continue to provide the interactive worship elements that she always incorporates in her part of the service. I thought of another area pastor who always includes a weekly discussion question where people break up into groups of 2-4 people. Or maybe you still are in a smaller church that takes prayer requests, or at least as a “pastoral prayer” for needs in the congregation and the community.

Absent those elements, you’re left with just the sermon and, like the man said, you’re giving “an invitation not to come.”


*We prefer the term sermon junkie.
**She also typed today’s interview transcript for me.

August 20, 2017

Google Now Provides the Information instead of Referring

Like many of you, I couldn’t help but notice that increasingly, Google was giving me the answers I was looking for right on their results page, without my needing to make a second click. Appreciating the convenience I didn’t really pay much attention to this, until publishing and media watcher Tim Underwood linked to a piece at Mashable titled, Google is Eating the Open Internet.

The rather opened my eyes to the present situation: Instead of being a site which refers you to people who have the answers, Google is now seen as provider of those answers.

But the affect on the websites from which the information is culled — the creatives and researchers who do the actual work — is devastating. Example:

…Brian Warner, founder and CEO of CelebrityWorthNet.com, understands perhaps more than anybody the power of Google’s wall-building.

Warner started to notice the content from his site appearing directly on search results pages in 2012. Two years later, he got an email from Google asking to scrape all of his data, which he turned down. Another two years after that, Google did it anyway, and the impact was catastrophic.

“It was extremely painful, it was extremely devastating,” Warner said. “We got to a point where our traffic was down 85 percent from a year or two earlier.”

Search for the net worth of any celebrity at random today—let’s say, James Earl Jones—and you’ll get the number ($45 million) and a short biographical blurb pulled from CelebrityNetWorth.com with credit and a link…

And later, the broader application:

…There’s also a steady stream of more subtle indications of Google’s inward pull appearing every day—features like on-site hotel booking, restaurant menus, spa appointment tools, and dropdown recipes to name just a few.

These tweaks might sound minor, but Google’s position as the web’s central nervous system means they can have a big impact on smaller businesses that orbit it.

In the long run, though, there seems to be a pretty glaring hole in this plan. That is, as Google likes to reassure wary publishers, it’s not in the content business.

The company ultimately relies on reference sites like Wikipedia, IMDB, Fandango, and the CIA World Fact Book to compile and update the information it uses.

If Google continues to choke these sites out, what incentive will there be for new ones to come along? …   (emphasis added)

   Then early this morning I caught up with my Saturday print edition of The Toronto Star and columnist Heather Mallick was saying the exact same things about Facebook in a piece titled, Like it or not, Facebook Owns You. For her it gets personal:

…We donate to the Guardian to keep it free for everyone, but remember that we do this because former editor Alan Rusbridger made the numbers clear. In 2016, Facebook “sucked up $27 million (U.S.) of the newspaper’s projected ad revenue that year.”

Facebook was the interlocutor, the middleman who slipped between readers and journalists and siphoned off the money. When I step onto the thing for even a moment, I make money for Zuckerberg. I work for him, not the Toronto Star.

I wouldn’t mind being followed for weeks by ads for the hand vacuum (designed in England, made in Malaysia, which is why I despise Dyson) I ordered five minutes ago from an online retailer with no discernible connection to Facebook.

But I do mind that my salary was effectively lower this year because Facebook knew this, its targeting having destroyed the print and online ads on which the Star itself relied.

I take a dim view. With less money, I’ll buy fewer things advertised on Facebook, but it doesn’t care. It’s in the business of attention, not retailing. Its hands are clean.

Of course they’re not. They’re loaded with lucre, and they’re taunting people individually and en masse, damaging quality of life and eating freedom. You are owned…

For my Christian readership at this page, this is important. Obtaining the “answers” or “results” one is looking for without clicking through to see the full context of the page from which the mighty search engine derived them could be devastating, especially as the field of material offered grows to include things of religious or theological interest. At best, all of our online sites are somewhat subjective, including this one.

But I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.

 

March 20, 2017

Over-Consumption of Internet Media

Whether it’s Facebook or internet pørn, it’s really easy to spend sections of your day staring at your device, be it phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. There are general principles from scripture I think we do well to remember; these can give us guidance regardless of which type of addiction you’re dealing with.

5 General Principles to Guide Potential Online Addiction

click image to orderSelf-Control

It’s one of the fruit of the Spirit so it deserved to be listed first. We each have this in varying degrees, though some have noticeably less than others, and all of us have times when we wish we’d exercised more. At the slightest impulse that you’ve spent to long on Facebook (or whatever) you need to close the browser and walk away from the screen. (Translations use either temperance or self-control when listing these fruit in Galatians 5, but the Wycliffe uses continence, the opposite of which is…well you know.) (See what I mean? Better self control would have left that alone!)

Mind, Thoughts and Heart

As we’ve written a number of posts here concerning out thought life, let’s just say that it is so important to guard our minds, guard our thoughts and thereby guard and protect our hearts. (See especially this post and the section dealing with our media diet.) We’re told in scripture to take captive the stray thoughts which can do damage. Previous generations contended with this in terms of television and theater. We have such a greater barrage of ideas and philosophies being thrown at us online.

The Stewardship of Our Time

In an increasingly hectic world, time is a precious commodity. We’re given 24 hours each day, no more, no less; and what we do with those is a large measure of our character. (For my article on “redeeming the time,” read this post at C201.) A good measure of this is to realize the things that you might have done, could have done, or should have done in the time you spent on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… or worse.

Shifting Values

Without getting into specific social issues that face us currently, all of us have felt the pressure to capitulate to the larger culture, or even to the values shift happening in the capital-C Church. Isaiah 5:20 (NLT) reads, “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” I can honestly say I have felt the pressure to change my mind on some issues because of internet exposure. On some of the issues, I think readers here would be comfortable, but on others I have realized the need for a reset and re-calibration. Be careful to know why if you sense your worldview shifting.

Misdirected Worship

This may seem a little strong for some readers here, but the things that occupy our time online are really the things we ascribe worth to, and that’s the heart of the word worship. I mentioned internet pørn at the outset, and it’s easy to think terms of people spending hours staring at photographic images, but even those cute cat videos could amount to a case as described in Romans 1:25 (NLT): “…So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself who is worthy of eternal praise!”


David Murray’s outline on media consumption from the book The Happy Christian.

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