Archives For Communication

How fonts are like churches…

Here’s a cool video about font maestros Hoefler and Frere-Jones. It’s a nice look at what goes into the making of a typeface.

I love this quote.

“I thought going into this that it would be very hard to defend the need for new typefaces. They seem like an extravagance. A vanity. What I’ve discovered in practice is that most typefaces don’t work perfectly well with different types of content out in the world, and the need to speak in different ways… I think there’ll always be a need for new typefaces.”

A while back I was posting my way through the design and development of our new church website. You can read those posts here:

Stage 1 of the new site is live. There’s still a bit of work to be done on it – but on the whole the functionality and workability of WordPress makes this significantly more satisfying than the old site.

Stage 2 for us is mostly content related – there are a few kinks still to be ironed out, but there’ll be more stories, more videos… less text.

Anyway. Maybe you’re wondering about using WordPress for a website for your church (or small business) but don’t know where to begin.

I can’t recommend WordPress highly enough for church websites – not only for people who know what they’re doing – but it’s better than the other options out there by far, the specialist church web hosts included… If you’re worried about not being a tech person – there are plenty of people out there who’ll design and support your WordPress site for you. It’s a no brainer. It’s the biggest Content Management System (CMS) in the world. It’s not just for blogging – though it makes having a blog attached to your website easy and natural.

The first step is knowing the difference between wordpress.org and wordpress.com. You want wordpress.org. It’s the software that you use to self host. That’s what you’re doing. It is a little complicated and if you’re a one man band, and the technology is beyond you – then I’d be looking for help at this point. Send me an email. Add me on Facebook. We’ll talk. Or… here’s a better option.

My friend Paul has started a web design and marketing business called Promeate. He specialises in WordPress. And he’s a good guy. He loves Jesus. He loves churches. And he’s keen to help. He wrote this post about the process for setting up a church website.

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We’d both like to help you. I’ll be posting some more bits and pieces in this series in weeks and months to come.

I thought last night’s Q&A was going to be a trainwreck.

The Christian panellist, Christian Democrat MP from New South Wales, Fred Nile, isn’t exactly presented in the media as being moderate and nuanced. Lawrence Krauss went toe-to-toe with John Dickson – one of Australia’s most impressive Christian thinkers, and while it was a bit of an agree fest, Krauss showed he was capable of being winsome and engaging. And he was back. The rest of the panel were window dressing for this fight – former British Anglican Bishop, the openly gay Gene Robinson was on as something like the middle ground between the two, and there were a couple of Australian pollies – Amanda Vanstone and Susan Ryan.

I was worried. I wasn’t going to watch. And then I flicked to the ABC at about 9:45. And caught this interaction…

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, there Fred. I want to ask you when the suicide rate is so high in LGBT teens, when you use such hateful and disgusting language about them, do you not feel – or I think maybe you should – feel slightly responsible for some of this that goes on?

FRED NILE: I must object to that because I will give you $1,000 if you can find anywhere where I have said anything which is hateful or vicious about homosexuals. Okay.

TONY JONES: Okay. I think it is time to move on.

Fred was facing a pretty hostile group of panellists – even the other religious guy was against his clear presentation of the historically orthodox understanding of the gospel. He managed to be relatively gracious, speak of God’s judgment, and keep pointing the conversation back to Jesus.

I missed this bit… according to the transcript.

FRED NILE: Because I take, as my authority, Jesus Christ, the son of God, and also the living word and I believe that God gave to us the written word, the holy Bible and as a Bishop you would know the church for 2,000 years and longer has upheld marriage as it is and has also said that homosexuality is immoral and unnatural and so on. So you are going against the teaching of the church so you should be ashamed to be a Bishop and going against the teaching of the church.

TONY JONES: I’m just going to interrupt because…

FRED NILE: I am agreeing with (the transcript says “referring to”) that atheist over there.

That came after Gene Robinson had played down any meaningful distinction between religions.

GENE ROBINSON: I am actually delighted to respond to that question. It is the experience of the living God in my own life. That is why I stick with it. That is why I believe that the church, the synagogue, the mosque can constantly reform itself because God’s will is being revealed to us over time. We are constantly understanding better God’s will and this is one of those places where we are changing what we have believed for 2 or 3,000 years. I believe that scripture is holy in the sense that it is the story of people who have had an experience with the living God and we read it in order to know where to look in our own lives for an experience of the living God. And so I do believe in it. The Church has got a lot to apologise for but, then again, don’t we all? And I believe that this is the way to discern God’s will and I am thrilled to be a part of that.

I also missed this.

AMANDA VANSTONE: So you can be a nice person your whole life and still not get into heaven?

FRED NILE: That’s right. That’s right.

TONY JONES: Just excuse me for one second because…

AMANDA VANSTONE: It is not worth going there.

FRED NILE: Yes.

TONY JONES: …on this table we have two…

FRED NILE: To have eternal life you…

TONY JONES: Excuse me. Excuse me for one minute.

FRED NILE: …have to believe in Jesus Christ as saviour.

TONY JONES: Excuse me for one minute.

FRED NILE: There’s only one way.

Amanda Vanstone came back at him again…

TONY JONES: Just to sort of end this part of the discussion, can I just bring Fred back in here. I mean are you worried if you create an exclusive world where your version of Christianity leaves out people like Gene, that that is actually bad?

FRED NILE: Well, I’m not leaving him out. He is excluding himself. I haven’t left him out. I want him to come in.

TONY JONES: Well, in fact, he’s not excluding himself in the sense that he is a bishop with his own congregation.

FRED NILE: I would like you, at the end of this program, to say, “I believe in what you have just been saying Fred.” I hope he might do that.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: But all the people who also believe in God but from other religions are also excluded, I presume. So basically you’re an atheist about all the other religions. It’s just yours you’re not. Is that correct?

FRED NILE: I leave it to God. He is the judge and he will judge each person.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: So, no, but are they excluded? If you’re not a Christian but you, say, you’re a very faithful Muslim or a faithful Jew, are you excluded?

FRED NILE: I’m just saying God will judge them not me.

TONY JONES: Okay. We’ve got a…

FRED NILE: I know God is a loving God and God will be fair in his dealing with each individual.

And kept pushing that “good enough for God” wheelbarrow all the way up the hill.

AMANDA VANSTONE: I don’t know the details of the second case but they would seem, on what you have said, to be inextricably related. I mean the more you have people saying Muslims want to go and kill everybody, the more you have whipping everyone else up into a frenzy of fear and apprehension and a feeling that they must deal with this. So it goes back to what my granny said: if you lead a good life, you will get into any heaven worth getting into and it follows that you – you know, if I get up to Heaven and St Peters says, ‘Gee, you made a mistake and you went to the Anglican Church and you should have gone to a Catholic one or you should have gone to some other church,” I’m going to be bitterly disappointed because I went to a Christian school and I was taught the need to be a good person and not judge people, as you say, on labels. It doesn’t matter if they are Catholic or Anglican or Muslim or whatever. What matters is whether they are a good and decent person and that is how we should be dealing with each other. And once you start this, “Well, they’re Muslims. They want to kill you,” well, you’re separating it out, you’re getting into us and them and you will have battles, ugly ones, where people will be killed.

How wishy washy and meaningless. She didn’t pull her punches after Tony Jones had rung the bell for the end of the evening’s discussion though, hitting out with this low blow that Fred Nile couldn’t reply to.

AMANDA VANSTONE: Fred. Fred, I think I can help you with one thing at least and that is that any God worth following wants converts not conscripts. So religious people should stop looking to parliaments to conscript people into a belief that they don’t adopt.

That’s bad. It’s not very nice. It’s poor form. According to her view of salvation, she should be a little worried now.

Krauss on Labels

This was another bit that showed the intolerance of the New Atheists and the contrast with Jesus… this was in a discussion of the recent events in England…

FRED NILE:… I follow what Jesus said: love your enemies and that is the central teaching of the Christian faith. It’s not a source of violence against people at all.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Who are the enemies in this case? I just don’t who the enemy are. Are you saying Islam is the enemy? You know, the problem is…

FRED NILE: Well, whoever is attacking you…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Yeah.

FRED NILE: Whoever is attacking you, like in Cairo, burning down the Cathedral, that is your enemy. So you still love them but you try to change that society.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Part of the problem here, and I agree with, of course, what you just said, but we label people and religion is a wonderful way of labelling people and making us versus them. And so we don’t see the people, we see them being Christians or Muslims and we hate them because of that and so that’s another reason why, I think, religion gets in the way because it causes us to stereotype people instead of seeing people as individuals with a common humanity…

Tony Jones interrupts with something meaningless… and Krauss gets back on point…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: The point is that obviously they were driven by hate. My point was that they were not killing that poor young man because they knew him, they knew anything about him. They had already labelled him by a bunch of labels: military, representative of a Christian state that had done supposed atrocities against Islam and that is the kind of labelling that leads people to be able to do these heinous acts because they no longer see people as people but representative of something they hate and that, to me, is one of the real problems of the us versus themness of religious groups that cause other people to no longer be people.

Then he lets this clanger rip. Holy contradiction Batman.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Steve Weinberg, who is a physicist and also an atheist, said that there are good people and there are bad people and good people do good things and bad people do bad things. When good people do bad things, it’s religion.

Where Nile went wrong

Nile wasn’t great on the homosexuality question. He was faithful. He tried. He tried to be loving. But he was just outclassed and out of touch on the origins of homosexual orientation. He argued that same sex attraction is a choice because it is changeable – when all that reveals is that change is possible, it says nothing about the origins of the attraction. What was interesting was that Krauss and Robinson had a bit of a disagreement – Robinson, “the gay Gene” (line of the night) suggested same sex attraction is a product of environmental factors that kick in before you’re three, which is consistent with just about everything I’ve read on the topic. Krauss “corrected” him, apparently he’s a biologist now, and there is a gay gene out there. Because some animals are gay. That’ll be news to people who’ve conducted twin studies.

I didn’t love his emphasis on the distinction between the Old Testament and the New Testament – the continuity is greater than the departure, and Jesus affirms the New Testament. It’s hard to present a nuanced account of the narratives of the Old Testament when the dices are loaded like they were in the questions, and when people have pretty strong preconceptions about horrible stories in the Old Testament, as though God affirms what is happening there. Like this exchange. Thanks for your objectivity and literary nuance Tony…

TONY JONES: Just like, in fact, you could take that psalm, which is out of the old testament, which suggests you could dash babies’ heads against rocks as part of a revenge against the Babylonians…

FRED NILE: Well, that’s the point I’m making, that that is no longer relevant in the new testament period. Jesus said that was the old covenant. We’re now under the new covenant.

The answer isn’t that that verse somehow applied literally once upon a time. The answer is to look at genre. Psalms, poetry, aren’t exactly known for being law. The Psalm does not say “you must dash babies’ heads against rocks”… nor is there any evidence that Israel was ever in a position where dashing Babylonian babies against rocks was a possibility. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Psalm is saying that Babylon is really, really, really bad. So bad that people who do things that sound really, really, really, bad to them are commended because they are so bad that such an act is good by comparison. That seems to make more sense of the text than a command to murder babies. Especially in its literary context, and in the narrative context (Israel’s history). Here is the offending verse…

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

This insensitivity to the context of passages in the Old Testament was demonstrated by panellists as well, so Krauss:

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: I am sure we will get to talk more about marriage but I want to go back to the questioner a little bit because it seems to me I actually kind of agree with him a little. I can’t quite understand why you stay in the church. I mean, look, you read the Bible and it’s pretty explicit. You know, there’s that wonderful section, really heart-warming, where Lot is visited by these angels, men and the town’s people want to take him on a raid and he says ‘No, no, rape my daughters instead,’ and, you know, it is one of the wonderful parts of the Bible. And when you read all of this and, you know, you read that men who lay together should be killed and all that, you know you can interpret it all you want but you’re sort of picking and choosing, I think. You decide you want to be a Christian and you throw out the stuff that you don’t like, like I think most Christians do, actually. Throw out the stuff you don’t like, keep the stuff you do. Why not just throw out the whole thing and just be happy and love people and be gay?

Lot’s actions aren’t affirmed in this narrative, you get the sense, if you’re a normal reader, that Lot isn’t held up as a paragon of righteousness here. Description isn’t prescription. This would be like me reading Krauss describing his version of Christian theology and ignoring the context and assuming that’s what he believes…

“People who are loving, caring, good people will go to hell.”

Or perhaps:

“Well, I mean, I actually think the worse crime in the new testament is the crucifixion of Jesus.”

The fuller context of these quotes is more fun than the misquoting game though…

Where Nile got it right – pushing Krauss on Jesus

The best bit of the night, for mine, was how incoherent Krauss looked on Jesus. He lost points a couple of times, and had the twittersphere turning against the snide new atheists with gems like this one…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, let me jump in and say – I mean we’re all pretending Jesus was this great guy but let’s step back and say this guy also seemed to say if you don’t believe in me you know what, you’ll be condemned. You know you won’t get to heaven. You’ll be condemned eternally to pain and worse than the people in Sodom and Gomorrah, just for not believing in me. What kind of God would you – I mean, you know, what kind of love is that? What kind of love…

FRED NILE: That was the…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: People who are loving, caring, good people will go to hell for all eternity for choosing – choosing to have the – to use their brains and I find that just, you know.

Then there was this one…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, I mean, I actually think the worse crime in the new testament is the crucifixion of Jesus. It seems to me amazing that you solve the problems of the world by having someone sacrifice – by having this person violently tortured and sacrificed for the sins of a non-existent forbearer, who made a mistake of taking an apple from a rib-woman. I mean it just doesn’t seem to make sense.

TONY JONES: Okay. All right.

FRED NILE: Jesus was dying for all of our sins. Your sins and my sins and the victim’s sins.

And finally, what I think made the night worth the price of admission… or what would have if I’d paid to be admitted…

FRED NILE: I would just like to challenge Lawrence that the greatest fact is the fact of Jesus Christ.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: How do you know?

FRED NILE: He is a reality and he came into this world to show us the way of salvation and he said in his own teaching…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Is that because he said he did?

FRED NILE: …”Who do you say that I am?” And so the question you have to ask who was Jesus Christ and what is his meaning – what is his meaning, his life to you and his death? You talked about the crucifixion. What does his death mean for you? And it’s a source of salvation. He died for our sins, the sins of the world.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, you know, when someone tells me they’re God I tend not to believe it. Okay. But, you know…

FRED NILE: But have you studied…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Hold on.

FRED NILE: Are you open-minded enough as a scientist…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: I’m not even sure he was real, to tell you the truth.

FRED NILE: …to study – to study Jesus Christ and to study the new testament?

MULTIPLE SPEAKERS TALK AT ONCE

FRED NILE: Are you open-minded enough, I just…

TONY JONES: Fred. Fred. Fred.

FRED NILE: …would like you to give me…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: When I was a kid…

TONY JONES: Can I just put this to you, the counterpoint: Are you open-minded enough to accept the Muslim position that Mohammed is the greatest man in history?

FRED NILE: I don’t believe he is the greatest man in history in the same way Jesus Christ was. Jesus Christ was the son of God and…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: But that’s because you have decided he is.

FRED NILE: But that’s factual history. You can actually study that.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Factual history?

FRED NILE: There are documents, there are historical documents, that show that. It’s not a myth.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: That show what: that he existed or he is the son of God?

FRED NILE: That he existed and how he was born and so on.

 

A guide to story telling from a video making company

Storytelling is the new communication. In fact. It’s the old communication. These tips are pretty good. If you want to make stories that people are interested in. It’s properly basic stuff. With some nice tips and twists.

Some of these are video specific – which is great if you want to catch up with the present, and communicate into the future – but most of them are generic enough to be slightly relevant to the non-video world.

Here’s a nice coffee “story”…

Coava, a case study of storytelling from stillmotion on Vimeo.

Here’s a paragraph from a book I’m reading about the power of images in the Roman empire. People were pretty much using images of themselves doing cool stuff (cooler than their neighbours) to establish their own brand. Their own significance. Their own place in the great pecking order of life.

The disintegration of Roman society created individual rivalries and insecurity that led to exaggerated forms of self-promotion even among people who had nothing to gain by it. What began as a traditional agonistic spirit among the aristocracy denigrated into frantic displays of wealth and success. But the scope of opportunity for such display was often still rather limited. P. Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, 15

Sounds a lot like now. Except we have Facebook.

Screen Shot 2013-04-30 at 4.04.16 PM
Image: A screenshot from Facebook’s “Timeline” page

Using Facebook to glorify something other than yourself and your curated life is pretty hard. Even the links we share about stuff that we’re passionate about tends to be stuff that tries to make us look good. Check out this TechCrunch article that may as well be titled the hypocrisy of our use of the Internet, but is actually titled “Sex is more popular than Jesus on Google” (for some depressing confirmation – try going to google and watching the autocomplete results for “I’m 10 and” and then adding a number until you get to your 50s, 60s, or 70s…).

The TechCrunch article features this series of snippets from a presentation the guy who made buzzfeed (Jonah Peretti) gave at a conference today.

When you look at google searches, he says perhaps unsurprisingly, “sex is more popular than Jesus on google.” Compare the search terms “diet pills” and “Arab spring,” diet pills win. Obviously, this isn’t what Larry and Sergey had in mind when they started Google.

We use Google to search for secret things, to investigate what other people are saying about our deepest darkest secrets, interests and curiosities. Google Image search is filled with pictures of pets doing hilarious things, while Google search serves up results on the great ocean of porn out there on the Web.

Facebook, on the other hand, is a projection of our social relationships and behavior. Together, they generally represent and are a metaphor for the two ways we use the Internet. On Facebook, the same person who is looking at stories involving nude pics, is also looking at and sharing inspiring stories about victims overcoming disabilities and so on, along with politically-motivated stories.

My goal for the next little while is to practice something like the 80/20 rule – where 80 percent of the stuff I post isn’t about me and how great my coffee life is – but about how thankful I am for Jesus, and how thankful I am for other people. And the other 20 percent of stuff is authentically me – not the curated me. I’ll try to be interesting, and not just reflect on my toast (unless it’s a really cool instagram shot of my toast. No wait. That’s doing it again).

This Tumblr We Never Look Up tracks how technology makes people less present in whatever physical space they’re in.

This study says people who use their phones heaps are more likely to be self-indulged, self-seeking, and racist.

“A new study showed that young adults who text more than 100 times a day tend to be more interested in wealth, vanity and less so in leading a virtuous life.

Led by psychology professors Paul Trapnell and Lisa Sinclair, the University of Winnipeg study suggested that students who text that much are 30 percent less likely to value living an “ethical, principled life,” compared to those who texted 50 times or less a day. The study also showed that heavy texters exhibited higher levels of ethnic prejudice.

Researcher gleaned their findings from 2,300 freshman psychology students who took online surveys about their goals in life, personality traits and how much they texted. Around 30 percent reported texting 200 or more times a day, while 12 percent indicated they texted more than 300 times a day.”

And this technological evolution is potentially rewiring our brains. That study says people are becoming, like, more superficial and stuff.

“The study aimed to test the “shallowing hypothesis” that Nicholas Carr discusses in his book “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.” The hypothesis suggests that relentless texters and heavy users of Twitter are more superficial because the platforms encourage rapid and brief interactions that promote shallow thought.

“The values and traits most closely associated with texting frequency are surprisingly consistent with Carr’s conjecture that new information and social media technologies may be displacing and discouraging reflective thought.”

There’s another book that says we’re all, well, at least the males of the species, becoming man-children because of these changes.

“This new kind of addictive arousal traps users into an expanded present hedonistic time zone. Past and future are distant and remote, as the present moment expands to dominate everything. And that present is totally dynamic, with images changing constantly. Boys’ brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way to demand change, novelty, excitement and constant stimulation.”

This is mostly due to porn – which does terrible and damaging things to the brain – but the writer of the book quoted in this blog post, also points the finger at the dreaded spectre of video games.

“That means they are becoming totally out of sync in traditional school classes, which are analog, static and interactively passive. Academics are based on applying past lessons to future problems, on planning, on delaying gratifications, on work coming before play, on long-term goal setting.”

Lots of people see the negatives associated with these social changes (and again – there are only negatives associated with the porn industry and what it does to those who fall into its clutches). And there are negatives – if people look at their devices and never connect with real people. That’s certainly not been my experience of social media and its impact on my real world social interactions… sometimes I think someone should study the average age of people who write negative studies about young people.

But are people less connected and more selfish? I don’t know if this is a properly basic understanding of the social web. Even when the web goes wrong – and it did horribly in the aftermath of the Boston Bombings as Reddit went on a terrorist hunt – it goes wrong socially. It goes wrong because it brings people together in new ways. It harnesses the mob mentality. Texting is the same – it can appeal to our baser natures and amplify our capacity for sinfulness. Sure. But you don’t need smart phones and university studies to know that young people are vacuous and vain. In the main. Consider Narcissus. Facebook is the modern day version of the mirrored pool.

Are we failing to grow up? Or are the young people of today forced to confront less affordable housing than ever before because of the avarice of the generations above them. This will cause inevitable social change. So will new technology.

Sooner or later, as Christians, we’ve got to start thinking about how we get people thinking about Jesus when they’re staring at their iThings and playing games. If that’s where people are spending all their time “doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (like the marketplace in Acts 17:21), then we, like Paul, should see that as an opportunity for cultural critique and gospel engagement – not simply hand-wringing and condemnation. Imagine if Luther had condemned the printing press – because people reading and writing pamphlets wouldn’t be talking to other people. Or people ignoring Paul because he wrote them letters rather than being present…

Dickens and Dostoevsky

This is a great article on a meeting of two literary giants. Here’s a cool quote from Dostoevsky about how Dickens created relatable characters.

“All the good simple people in his novels, Little Nell, even the holy simpletons like Barnaby Rudge, are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity toward those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life. ‘Only two people?’ I asked.”

Although it’s actually about a long running hoax that has made the rounds through newspapers, biographies, and the Internet, for a few years. It’s a long read that gets weirder as it goes – but is a reminder that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on the web. The guy behind the rumour has published books, submitted articles, and submitted scathing reviews of his own work to different journals under a string of different names – and was undone by plagiarising some of his own bizarre adult fiction (there are a few paragraphs of said fiction included in the article so be warned). The quote above could very much be about himself.

Oh look. Nostalgia…

This is how Microsoft chooses to sell new technology. It’s nice. But Apple looks to the future…

On Paul and Cicero

You may have noticed things are a little quieter than normal here… there are various reasons for that. The big one is that we’re in the throes of moving house (we have to find a new rental before next weekend). Robyn and I are both also working on our Masters projects. Which are pretty time consuming.

I’m not sure how much the Internet wants to read my thoughts as they develop (I’m pretty excited – but I realise pouring over classical texts looking for relatively obscure parallels to bundle together isn’t everybody’s cup of tea). So I’ll try to keep project related posts to a minimum…

But here are some cool bits about the connection between Paul and Cicero that I’m trying to establish… from James May’s “Cicero and His Life” in Companion to Cicero: Oratory and Rhetoric.

For the record – my thinking is that Paul borrowed from Cicero in his critique of the sort of oratory that was popular in Corinth – particularly in heavily emphasising ethos to the point of embodying his message.

There are a few connections between Paul and Cicero – Paul was a Roman citizen from Tarsus – one of the big three cities for a rhetorical education. Cicero was governor of Tarsus for a year (well – Cilicia, the province that Tarsus is the capital city of), around the time that he wrote a couple of his more famous rhetorical handbooks. I read one tangent in one article somewhere that suggested Paul’s grand daddy may even have received his Roman citizenship for helping Cicero in a military campaign. Here are some details about Cicero in Tarsus…

But in March of 51 B.C., much to his dismay, he was sent as proconsul to the large province of Cilicia in Asia Minor. Upon his arrival, he found matters, both civil and military, in much disarray. He set about restoring order, fixing reasonable interest rates, and fighting extortion. Faced with the threat of a possible invasion by the Parthians, he shored up his military forces and undertook a small campaign against the hill-tribes of Mt. Amanus. After a siege of 46 days, he captured the stronghold, and was granted a supplicatio (a public thanksgiving) by the Senate. Although he long cherished hopes for a triumph, these were never realized.

 

There are some cool connections with how Paul describes his approach to public speaking and some stuff Cicero commends (eg a weak entry when your topic is substantial and overwhelming), but none more than the idea that to be truly persuasive a speaker should not just believe in their cause, but embody it.

Both men – Cicero, and Paul – were essentially speaking against the Roman empire and the sweeping, blasphemous claims of the emperors who believed they were gods on earth. So there’s a connection there too. Both were martyred for their opposition to the empire.

Both arguably made ethos a much more substantial aspect of persuasion than it had been, or than it was considered by opponents who would do and say anything for status. Here’s a quote from Cicero on ethos and persuasion (De oratore 2.182)…

“Well then, the character, the customs, the deeds, and the life, both of those who do the pleading and of those on whose behalf they plead, make a very important contribution to winning a case. These should be approved of, and the corresponding elements in the opponents should meet with disapproval, and the minds of the audience should, as much as possible, be won over to feel goodwill toward the orator as well as toward his client. Now people’s minds are won over by a man’s prestige, his accomplishments, and the reputation he has acquired by his way of life. “

Here’s a bit from May on how Cicero embodied his position – even to the point of suffering…

“In stark contrast stands the character of Cicero the patriot, true and unfailing, ready and willing to put his life on the line for the survival of the state—in fact, he is in a way the symbol, even the literal embodiment of the Republic. Nearly twenty years after his consulship, Cicero finds himself once again leading the Senate and the state in the midst of an internal crisis. Two decades earlier, he had fashioned himself as the imperator togatus (the civilian commander ), the pacis alumnus (the nursling of peace), who would go to any length—including voluntary exile—to save the state without recourse to arms. Now, on the contrary, he presents himself as the princeps sumendorum sagorum, ‘the leader in the putting on of military cloaks,”

For Cicero the pursuit of the Republic meant fashioning, and refashioning the understanding of his character as he rose through the ranks – always making sure his life matched his message as a visual.

Paul takes this principle, and adapts it to the unchanging message of sacrifice and the deliberate giving up of status for others that is part of speaking about the crucified King.

Here’s some key bits from 2 Corinthians, where I reckon Paul hammers this cross-shaped ethos thing.

Chapter 4

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from Godand not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.

Chapter 5

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again

18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Chapter 11

“Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiledand have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 

Cicero was an impressive guy. He wanted people to follow him – imitate him – and be equally impressive. He was an incredible communicator. Paul was, in my mind, more impressive (while, paradoxically, being deliberately unimpressive) – and he called people to follow a more impressive guy. Jesus. His communication, from a PR point of view, has been much more impressive than Cicero’s. Cicero’s campaign basically died with him – Paul’s has lasted two thousand years, and essentially changed the Roman Empire for the better.

Watch this.

Content is king. Story telling is essential. Letting go of control and enabling other people to authentically tell your story is the ultimate goal.

Now imagine what our communication of the gospel would be like if we were as enthusiastic about Jesus as Coke drinkers are about Coke.

It’s interesting to see how much “ethos” they mix into their marketing with their “Live Positively” project.

Screen Shot 2013-03-23 at 11.49.25 AM

This is kind of what I’m arguing we should be doing in my research project.

At QTC, in the preaching subject, people are asked to write a magazine styled thing as part of their portfolio. A couple of people have asked me if I have useful tips. One person last year. One person this year.

I said yes. I thought I might put them here. I’ll even check with the lecturer to see if they’re helpful.

Here are ten tips for writing a magazine style article. From the top.

1. Write an effervescent heading that won’t fall flat in just five easy steps. Your heading should be descriptive, but not in a boring way. Pick a fun adjective that is a little jarring, add something that contains a value proposition. Juxtaposition can be fun. So can interesting metaphors or imagery.

2. Write a catchy hook. Make it your lede. Unravel the string so your reader follows it. A lede is your first paragraph. A catchy hook is an angle that makes someone want to read the whole thing. I’d say a magazine article is slightly different to a news article. You don’t want to put fluff in your lede in a news article – you want the who, what, where, when, why, and how – I’d say a magazine article does the heavy lifting in the second paragraph and aims to entertain and continue the headline’s value proposition in the first paragraph. This hook becomes something very much like your “big idea” – it should tie the story together. The conclusion should solve the dilemma or answer the question the hook presents. So should everything else in the article. Each paragraph should be the natural next bit of the story – unless you throw in a really interesting tangent (you can get away with this a little better in magazines than anywhere else – but it has to be really interesting).

3. Find some compelling talent. Stories about people are the best. Stories about people you want to read about are the best of the best. Find something interesting to say about an interesting topic using an interesting person and you’re away. Or find a new way to say something old and boring.

4. A picture is worth a thousand words. 

5. Use “featured” quotes to highlight your main points for readers who scan. 

Featured quotes look something like this.

They stand out from the text around them. Especially if you:

put them in bold italics.

6. Writing a magazine article is a lot like preaching if you are following the ten preaching tips from QTC (that is why this is in the subject) – use interesting words. Don’t be afraid to be a little more expressive than a newspaper writer – but don’t use more words than necessary. Be concise and clear – but interesting. Also – one difference is that print articles, by the nature of having been to a printing press, printed, and distributed, are always talking about past events so are always in the past tense (unlike sermons preached QTC style).

7. Mix up the sentence length a bit. I remember reading a Fairfax Newspapers style guide once upon a time that suggested the average sentence in a newspaper article should be 25 words, because a sentence also functions as a paragraph. This isn’t (always) true in a magazine. A sentence is. Within a paragraph.

8. Read other magazine articles. Find a style you like. Copy it. I love the writing on Grantland.

9. Buy lots of books on writing style and editing. Even if you don’t read them you’ll feel better about yourself. I have eight.

10. Start a blog. Practice writing things that you find interesting. Find your voice, sound like you – figuring out what you like, and how you should write, are important steps – but they’ll leave you sounding like a monotonous automaton if you don’t move to trying to apply those tips in the real world. Try to move to writing about things other people might find interesting to. Get famous. Send me money.

Pixar’s storytelling tips

Every time this gets reposted somewhere I think “I really should add that to the virtual filing cabinet that is my blog”… This time I had the will, and the headspace… so here are some great storytelling tips that have helped Pixar produce blockbuster after blockbuster.


Image Credit: Aerogramme Studio

They were tweeted to the world by a Pixar staffer. They’re part fun, part principled, part practical, part imaginative, part geared to get your creative juices flowing after writer’s block…

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

These have been all over the web – but I got them here this time.

The power of video on the interwebs…

Mike Godwin, the man behind Godwin’s Law, has given a nice little interview regarding his eponymous dictum

These bits are my favourite.

On why he coined the law in the first place…

“The thing it seemed to me worth doing was to prevent the Holocaust from turning into a cliché, or into a handy arrow in someone’s rhetorical quiver. I was entering into the online world pretty deeply in the eighties, and I was offended by how glibly these comparisons came up — almost invariably inappropriately. My feeling was that the more people got into this habit, the less likely that people remembered the historical context of all this. And as you know, one of the injunctions of Holocaust historians is that we must never forget, we have to remember. And I just thought, Well, I’m going to do a little experiment and see if I could make people remember.”

On his daughter’s use of the law…

…There was a point where my daughter, who is about to turn 20, when she was in her early teens, she thought it was a hoot when she was mad at me to compare me to Hitler. She’d look at me with a very mischievous look and say, “You know, you’re acting just like Hitler.”

And this important bit…

Do you ever come across Nazi comparisons in discussions of American politics that you find legitimate?
You know … sure. American history has its own flirtations with fascism and racism and militarism, and people have believed in any and all of these things, so with certain individuals it has to come up from time to time. So it’s not the case that the comparison is never valid. It’s just that, when you make the comparison, think through what you’re saying, because there’s a lot of baggage there, and if you’re going to invoke a historical period with that much baggage you better be ready to carry it.

Facebook is changing. Again.

The newsfeed is getting more compelling. It’s getting a facelift. The dross is being cut, and that mostly means that pages will suffer because people’s profiles will trump them. Very few people (I’d say “nobody”) join Facebook because they want to follow brands.

Fresh Feeds

Such is the way of Facebook.

They have no business model if they can’t entice people to spend money on advertising, and if they can’t keep users interested and on the site. They’re already losing out to other sites because they’re a little more boring than your average social media platform.

The key to success on Facebook is being interesting. Getting people talking about your brand.

Facebook has this thing called “EdgeRank” – it’s an algorithm they use to decide what gets into newsfeeds and what gets edited out. You’ll see stuff you want to see because Facebook tracks who you interact with, and tracks what other people are interacting with. This doesn’t seem to be changing in the new newsfeed – pictures, check-ins, and video get interacted with (shared, liked, and commented on) more than text. The changes are emphasising what is already popular.

This means, if you’re running a page, there’s more value in multimedia content than text updates.

But the key for pages is as it always has been – producing good content.

I feel like I’ve said this all before. Because I have.

What do these changes mean for your church?

We’ve been thinking about how we use social media as a church as part of thinking about how we use the web. Here’s our Facebook page.

We’re interested in sharing stories, and sharing this sort of multimedia content – at the moment, we’re especially interested in sharing videos.

The key, as far as I’m concerned, to succeeding on social media – and in most PR – is getting other people endorsing your product, talking about you, and pushing your agenda. I’m convinced almost nobody listens to anything that sounds “corporate” or like advertising. But people do listen to other people. Especially other people they trust. The real power and value of social media is in people talking about and sharing things.

Our strategy is to get other people sharing the content we’re created. People who are bought into the idea of using Facebook for Jesus.

These changes mean this is even more important than ever. Because as a page you need people who come to your page, without being hooked, in order to share the content you’re producing.

It works. We’re in pretty early days of our strategy of asking people to share our content (offline as well as online), and it seems to be working. Here are some stats from recent posts on our church page. We were starting from a relatively low base in terms of sharing and views per post, and we have less Facebook likers than we’d like.

On the 31st of December – our last post for last year – a link to our podcast (coincidentally, one I preached) scored 152 “organic” views on Facebook – that’s 152 views where the link made it into the newsfeed of people who already like the page, or where people came to the page.

A month later, on the 30th of January, we posted a promo poster thing to announce the launch of our new 4:30 service, it was shared 10 times, but only liked twice – it scored 141 organic views, and 4 “viral views” – where people saw it beyond the “organic” process, because it showed up in their newsfeed when a friend shared it.

We posted another post card type picture for our big term 1 teaching series “Got Questions” – it was shared 37 times, liked 10 times, but was only seen by 213 people.

We started sharing our vodcast instead of a podcast – and the numbers began a steady increase. A video of our podcast on Hell was viewed 503 times, 356 of those times were “viral”…

A video post featuring a friend of mine from our church wondering if the Bible was anti-gay was shared by 8 people and scored 684 “viral” views. Then, last week, a young woman from our church anonymously shared her testimony as a story on our page, which was shared 6 times and scored 50+ likes and was seen by 1500 “viral” viewers, and 300 organic viewers.

In the same time this was happening – a business I do some social media consulting for spent $200 on advertising on Facebook to reach about 21,000 people a day during the 6 day campaign, and increase likes on the page by 145 people (in a targeted demographic based on a location).

We could start paying for advertising for church – but because I’m a PR type not an advertising type – I’m biased towards not paying and trying to get people talking about our product – the good news about Jesus. I think this fits with our message too. It’s a person-driven message and anybody who becomes a follower of Jesus has their own story of transformation to share. That covers our “content”…

One of the other big markers for communicators/advertisers is the ability to “convert” messages into results. A “conversion” for us, online, is getting someone to church in the real world, or seeing someone come to know Jesus. When it comes to conversations with our friends – the real power of social media rests in the ability of Christians to engage in gospel conversation online that they take offline.

I think our non-paid model is a good long term strategy. It’s a better fit with who we are and what we’re on about.

Getting people to like and share our content has seen our reach on Facebook increase by a multiple of seven. The only way Facebook is going to work for your page – if you’re not going to pay to promote it – in the long term is by encouraging real people to share your content and to discuss it with each other on social media.

If your social media isn’t “social” you’re doing it wrong.

We have a pretty great story to tell. And telling real stories of real transformation – especially our own stories of transformation, offered by Jesus – like the story the girl from Creek Road shared – is something that can work in just about any platform. Social media or otherwise.

The Facebook newsfeed changes mean we need to think about how we’re sharing our message – the media types we use – so pictures and images are in, and text is mostly out. But the method and content is the same – we’re ambassadors for Jesus sharing the good news about what he means for us and can mean for others.

2 Cor 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”