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Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Tag Archives: culture

For Christians Only

For over 2000 years, the Jesus story has inspired people, spilling over into art, culture, music and many of our institutions, but today’s culture sees it only as part of our history, something to be escaped from, not part of our present to be embraced.

Our job as contemporary Jesus followers is to re-imagine, re-paint, re-compose, re-inspire the next generation by not only describing but displaying the complete and concrete relevance that this story still holds.

It’s time to re-tell the Jesus story in language that today’s ‘post-Christian’, ‘developed west’ can understand as original and vibrant, without allowing it to slip into just another self-help or health & wealth corporate branding message.

The question is how?

The future of our churches is held not just in the hands of the current generation of believers, but also those of the young people who grow up in contact with those believers, be that in our homes, in our youth programmes or just in our neighbourhoods – young people who are exposed to the goodness of Jesus by the things that we do.

One of the problems is that the young people of today are very different to the young people of 30 years ago and vastly different from the young people of 60 years ago.
Not only can this lead to differences of opinion and conflict but, more fundamentally, it gives rise to a completely different perspective and worldview.

Today’s young people are brought up on (sometimes even by) technology. We think nothing of seeing a 2-year-old successfully navigating their way round an iPad, iPhone, ‘cbeebies’ or ‘milkshake’!
The young people of 30 years ago are the ones that watched the workstation become a personal computer and begin its inexorable march into our homes and take its vice-like grip on our lives.
The young people of 60 years ago are mostly still trying to understand which button to press to answer the mobile phone or why the page on the computer screen they were looking at has suddenly disappeared, seemingly for no reason.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many iPad grannies around and plenty of tech-savvy over 70s along with innovative and progressive over 40s, but the mindset of today’s young people, broadly speaking, differs immensely.

I thoroughly recommend Shane Hipps‘ books “The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture” and “Flickering Pixels” if you want to understand the changing face of media, just how much media has shaped our lives and how electronic media is shaping the lives of our young people. I would also recommend Gerard Kelly‘s book “Get a Grip on the Future without Losing Your Hold on the Past” as a really good rounded view of changing cultures.

My point is that if, as followers of Jesus, we don’t adapt and change and constantly re-imagine the way we share the incredible, impactful message of God’s love, our churches will wither and die, not because the underlying message is changing but because the ‘same-old, same-old’ approach that today’s young people view as archaic and irrelevant is inaccessible and uninspiring.

That isn’t to say that today’s young people are not passionate about things, it would be wrong to say that today’s young people are not engaged in or concerned with social justice, poverty relief, overcoming injustice and freeing the oppressed (incidentally all the things that Jesus was passionate about and got killed for, see Luke 4:18-19). These problems are close to many young people’s hearts, only, over many years, they haven’t seen enough of the people in the church(es) going about acting this out significantly.

Today’s young people are less interested in what the people in the church say they believe and more interested in observing how the people in the church behave.

They are interested in seeing people who say they are ‘followers’ of Jesus actually following Jesus, i.e. living in a way that honours him and displays him to others.

“Indeed, a quick glance around this broken world makes it painfully obvious that we don’t need more arguments on behalf of God; we need more people who live as if they are in covenant with Unconditional Love, which is our best definition of God.”
Robin R. Meyers, from ‘Saving Jesus from the Church’

There’s always been a lot of talk in the church (take that to encompass any denomination, sect and community) but there hasn’t always been a lot of action, reaffirming people’s underlying view that the church is often no different from the world – just a place for empty rhetoric and endless flavours of ‘church’ to sample to see if it suits me. It ends up catering for consumer Christians, but we don’t need more consumers:

“This is a world long on options, short on substance, offering an unprecedented array of goods & experiences but little that is rooted in the permanent or meaningful”
(Gerard Kelly – ‘Get a grip on the future without losing hold of your past’)

Unfortunately, churches have, in the past, and probably to some extent now, constantly talked about “God’s coming Kingdom”, “Heaven”, “the Kingdom of God”, “the Kingdom of Heaven” or “eternal life”, however you understand it, whatever you want to call it, unfortunately, there’s not been enough practical demonstration of that concept it has generally all been intellectual exploration.

“Eternal life is not just what we’re waiting for – it is not simply a description of the age to come. It is what we live now, when faith and the resurrection power of Christ are at work in us.”
(Gerard Kelly)

So what are we to do?

Firstly, ground our response in scripture:

Galatians 5:6
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

Start with Loving people, in the way Jesus did, then introduce people to him.

If your devotion to God makes the needs of the world seem more distant, you are in danger that you are expressing escapism, not faith.
(Gerard Kelly – ‘Get a grip on the future without losing hold of your past’)

Taking up the challenge of expressing your faith through love and fulfilling God’s purpose for your life means pursuing your neighbour’s wellbeing in the same way you are pursuing your own wellbeing.

Feeding the poor, playing football, leading worship events, putting on plays, creating art, shopping for old folk, campaigning for justice, creating and using wealth, skateboarding, dancing, writing, recording, singing, clubbing… All these can and do have their legitimate place in God’s purposes. They are transformed into a valid re-imagined way of spreading the Jesus story and taking part in God’s mission when they are done in response to God’s word and in obedience to the guidance of his spirit.

There are and will be many expressions and nuances of this new re-painting of Jesus incredible story for our current generation and we must hold them with open hands as we pass on the baton to the next generation.
I encourage you to share your ideas and expressions of new ways to share the living Jesus in the comments section, here are a couple to go along with.

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The TV Remote

eugene-polley-remote(Credit: AP Photo/LG Electronics)

On 22 May 2012, Eugene Polley, the inventor of the TV remote control died.

Eugene Polley(Photo: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/)

I imagine, like myself, not many people knew this man’s name and yet, for all those people who own a television (99% of the US population and Probably a similar amount in th UK, bearing in mind that 84% of britons receive digital TV) the remote control has profoundly and quietly moulded your life and habits.

Back in 1955, we had far less channels to watch, yet now, the constant channel flipping in any household is pretty much taken as normal.

How has it changed us? Well, if you want more, deeper detail on the mechanics, have a look at a previous series on this blog about ‘Message and Media’, however, to put it succinctly; the ability to change TV channel without needing to get up from our comfortable armchair or sofa has, in the words of Zoe Williams, Guardian Columnist, on the today programme on BBC Radio 4 Wednesday 23 May 2012 (feature from 1:41.58), has turned us into ‘attention deficit, sensation seeking watchers’.

Zoe went on to state that the TV remote has changed our behaviour and attitude to television and in response to the new way we view television, the medium itself had altered, programming now panders to impatient people wanting immediate gratification and simple points. We can’t settle on anything any more especially if we don’t like / can’t cope with what we are watching, if it is too challenging, we can flip channels until we can rest on something more comfortable.

Has that affected our spirituality? I imagine so. Not only has the medium of TV become a shaper and non-neutral purveyor of the messages it transmits, but the way we use TV with a remote control has shaped the way TV is delivered and our approach to endlessly seeking something new and fresh, whilst often only being truly content with old and comfortable programmes.

Are we, in our spiritual journeys constantly in search of new and fresh, yet having great difficulty letting go of the old and ‘comfortable’?

Are we having great difficulty in settling on the truths that God has laid out for us and the experiences of that truth which he invites us into? Do we constantly search for something different when we are not entirely comfortable with or are overly challenged with the things that God is laying in front of us?
Do we seek to twist and wrench scripture to our own ideas, asking God to make it a bit more palatable to us, rather than saying “This [the bible] is what is true and if there’s a difference between this and me, I’m the one who has to move”? {Quote From Gerard Kelly}

What influence does TV, the TV remote, and the adaptation of both media to each other and so to us have on your life, your spiritual journey, your relationship with God?

You can answer the question, or hop channels, flip over to another blog! ;P

Message & Media (part 10) – Workshop Summary 3

I believe that culture and the way people receive messages is changing, the trend from the onset of modernity – the age of the printing press – was from an experiential, visual, communal, holistic model to an individualistic, highly rational concept of the gospel. With the continual march into and through post-modernity, we are seeing the trend reverse towards a much more visual, communal, experiential model again.

Personally, I think that’s fine, I believe that some of our methods and thus our message should change as part of God’s ongoing creation, revelation to and relationship with God’s people. That change need not be feared, Jesus himself modelled this same approach.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Matt 9:16-17

Jesus understood the intimate connection of medium and message, container and content.
Jesus came proclaiming a new message, not just new methods, he says “you have heard that it was said… but I tell you…” 10 times in Matthew.

God invites us into the dynamic unfolding of His drama in which He is working to bring the world back into a reconciled relationship with himself. It’s the story of God and God’s people at work in the world, not a set of static propositions or set of ideas to assent to.

Yes, indeed, we need to be careful not to adopt our culture’s methods, norms and goals wholesale, If we do, we can put our light under a bowl and loose our saltiness, regardless that it may have stemmed from a legitimate desire to be relevant and contextual.

But the message of the gospel is bound to shift and change as God’s spirit moves in this world. If we claim the message is unchanging, we risk boasting of a kind of omniscience in which we presume we know the totality of God’s plan and inexaustible mysteries. In that kind of setup, the ongoing work of God through his spirit becomes no more of a ‘dashboard ornament’ – if we presume we have discovered the one, simple and unchanging message for all times and all places. Our posture should be humility and discovery. Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean doggedly holding on to some fixed and permanent idea of right doctrine until our knuckles turn white and our fingers drop off. We should be trying to develop a communal sense of patience to discover the gospel, God’s current plans and works, the courage to name them and the humility to hold them in open hands to allow it to be touched by God’s voice in scripture and the breath of God moving among us.
(Paraphrasing Shane Hipps)

If we continue to remember that we are the best medium and the message, and the way we live our lives, as God lives in us, both individually and corporately as Christ’s body – the Church, then we will be able to deal with the changing media and cultural landscape God’s way.

Message & Media (part 9) – Workshop Summary 2

We are, inexorably and undeniably in the age of electronic culture.

We explored what media choices are now available and drew a ‘Media Web’, exploring briefly the different media and all their links!

With this available ‘Media Web’ in mind, we then looked at some other key questions to ask before we jump in to using any form of media.

Who are we trying to reach?

Do we understand our ‘target audience’?
Remember, people may not use or interact with a media form in the same way you do!
Do we need to find a member of the target audience that shares our passion for the message to advise us on how to best utilise the medium?

Are we, like Jesus finding a way to connect with the people that are searching, the hopeless, the unreached.

If we understand who the message is for what would that do to the way we do things?

Remember, Marketing is not the same as Outreach. But they need to go hand in hand.

At this point in the workshop, there was complete freedom to choose to explore any media type in greater depth and as a kind of case-study for the McLuhan analysis tool, ‘twitter‘ was chosen by the group.

Here’s what the group came up with (for an explanation of how the tool works, have a look at Part 3).

Twitter-Analysis

At The Bethel, we use twitter to publicise the podcast, notify people of what is happening with various activities and provide occasional, possibly even irregular, apposite quotes and bible passages that we feel moved to share. The podcast notifications are set up to be automatically tweeted when the podcast file is uploaded and the rest of it takes very little, if any time or effort. For The Bethel, twitter is a small tool and very low maintenance, it’s used more as a publicity or broadcast medium than a conversational or engagement medium.

Next Post will wrap up the rest of the workshop and then I’ll do a post detailing use of display screen projection as I think it deserves a post of its own.

Message & Media (part 8) – Workshop Summary 1

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will
Romans 12:2

With respect to media there is a very real sense that we can easily be ‘conforming to the patterns of this world’ if we fail to understand our media & media choices.

Media is not just a neutral conduit through which information passes, we have looked at this earlier in the series.
The media changes the message. Or as McLuhan said

“The Media is the Message”

If the media is conflicting or inappropriate to the message, the message changes into something we don’t want it to be or is lost completely.

Our current media landscape is like our cultural landscape it is in a constant state of flux. Always changing, always developing.
How prepared are we to put God’s message into the places where people are now searching, the places that perhaps didn’t exist before?

We then looked into what media forms we currently used as a group, at a personal level and a church level.

I took a moment at this point to emphasize the message that Tim Genders was making in his talks at the wekend, that the most important, oldest, most reliable, most tried & trusted, most effective, best possible media form is YOU (or me – it is the human being).

This is bourne out in Jesus being God’s medium and message.

‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’
John 1:14

So individually and more importantly, corporately as part of the church, as members of Christ’s body, we are now God’s medium and message in the world.

The scriptural vision of the church is one in which individuals exist for the sake of the community and the community exists for Gods mission in the world. God chose the church, in all its various and disparate, both sometimes flawed and sometimes beautiful ways, not just individual Christians as the medium for his ongoing mission.

We are the medium, individually, but, more importantly: corporately. How this looks in reality will vary from congregation to congregation but the experience within our churches should be one of a foretaste of Gods kingdom as we hold faithfully to God’s agenda and try to live his message.

So if what we do doesn’t look like Jesus, it’s not the right message, whatever we are saying. If the whole picture of the medium of us in our churches doesn’t look like Jesus did, it won’t matter what we say or preach, the message is not coming across right, we are living a paradox.

We have the ability as God’s current medium in the world to enhance his message or to undermine it by how we behave.

With us being the medium and the message, it is through relationships that we spread God’s message. That’s the way God did it, if we are to reflect God’s methods, then relationship is the way to use our medium to show God’s message.

Outreach or preaching is best and most effectively carried out through relationship. Real, face-to-face interactions with real people, which can then be carried on and forwarded and maintained through other forms of media or technology.

We briefly looked then at the second most common media form that has shaped the world we live in to date, It has influenced the whole of current society, how we learn, work, live, everything: Print as I expanded in part 4 – ‘Modern Relics’.

The printed page is the ultimate relic of the modern age and the printing press.
It creates the perception, as letters and words follow a sequential pattern on a page that we can be completely logical, rational, sequential, objective. It also reinforces private learning and individualism.

How relevant is print today? In the world of church, in the area of preaching and sharing God’s message. Does the way we are affected by print change the way we view and interact with and share God’s message?

We discussed some very real examples of how print media has been good (Newbury placing an advert in a local circular and having a great response to a kids summer club, and some kids keeping coming afterwards) but also examples of how recent print media has been of little or no value (Handing out foreign language flyers in Bulgaria, with little or no uptake / 20,000 flyer drop in Manchester with a return of [if we are very generous] 0.0015%).

A Quick run through of Print options (add anything in comments if you have more to add to this):

  • Poster / Billboard / A-board – Useful, static info, portable info for events.
  • Invitations – Only really good if personally handed to people you have a relationship with.
  • Newsletter – Could it be electronic or opt-in?
  • Booklets / Pamphlets – Could they be moved to be Web based?
  • Leaflets / Flyers / ‘Bills’ – Very low return on High financial & time investment.

We also touched on making sure that if we move things towards electronic medium, we are careful not to then leave out a generation that are not connected electronically.

I’ll cover the rest of the workshop in the next post, that’s more than enough for this one!

Message & Media (part 7) – Online Resources

Yet another follow-up to the workshop, this post is basically a list of links that provide very interesting reading or short videos on the subject.

Mobile technologies are the future (at least in Africa)

Fernando Gros asks “Is Facebook making us stupid?”, then follows up by commenting on “The Distraction Economy“.

Tiffany St James on “The Social Impact of Technology“.

A fascinating interview with Shane Hipps entitled “Media and Message, Pixels and Faith“. This covers quite a lot of ground, some similar to the workshop.

A review of the possible deleterious effects of social networking Five Most Deadly Side-effects of Social Networking

A recent paper on the use of twitter – “Social interaction via new social media: (How) can interactions on Twitter affect effectual thinking and behavior?

A Killer article on social media – “The Twitter Trap” This is an absolute must read, thanks @benemmens for that one.

There is more out there, if you find anything else, please share it in the comments or email it over to me to include.

Message & Media (part 6) – Further Reading

Following on from the workshop at the weekend which I sincerely hope you found useful, here are a few books that I showed you and I would recommend them as great reads if you want to dig deeper into the understanding and analysis of media, especially within the context of church and outreach. I’ve listed them in order of importance regarding my opinion of how much they speak into this conversation on media and church.

The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church – Shane Hipps (affiliate link)
Get a Grip on the Future without Losing Your Hold on the Past – Gerard Kelly (affiliate link)
Flickering Pixels – Shane Hipps (affiliate link)
Flickering Pixels (Kindle Edition) – Shane Hipps (affiliate link)
Twitturgies – Gerard Kelly (affiliate link)
Six Habits of Highly Connected People – Gerard Kelly (affiliate link)

This next one is a challenging and excellent read, completely in keeping with Tim’s message from the weekend and it’s all about someone who is completely living the message, Shane Claiborne understands totally that he is the media and the message.
Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical – Shane Claiborne (affiliate link)
Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (Kindle Edition) – Shane Claiborne (affiliate link)

I’ll throw this last one in as it has an excellent parable called “Translating the word” that drives at the heart of us being the Message and the Media.
The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales – Peter Rollins (affiliate link)
The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales (Kindle Edition) – Peter Rollins (affiliate link)

I will, over the next week or so, try to summarise some of the thoughts we shared in the workshop and some of the extra things I shared on digital projection / use of slideshows as I felt like there was some excellent input from all of you people and it would be good to record as much as possible for reference.

Hope your fire keeps burning brighter and brighter.

God bless you all and thanks for sharing the hour and a half with me, I enjoyed it and hope you did too.

p.s. if you have any book / other recommendations, other comments etc, please continue to throw them into the pot in the comments section here.

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