Archives For lists

To the Editor, Prospect Magazine,

Dear sir, it has come to my attention as a citizen of the internet, that your, until recently, esteemed publication has named polemicist Richard Dawkins as number one on your “world thinkers” list for this year.

I understand that this poll is, in essence, well in every sense, a popularity contest, and thus is not really indicative of the intellectual lay of the land… or globe. Even if some 70% of practicing “philosophers” are atheists according to a recent study, Richard Dawkins isn’t even atheism’s top thinker. Alain de Botton, and Lawrence Krauss must surely trump him in the brain stakes. Ricky Gervais tops him in the wit stakes. And Penn Jillette tops him in the making magic appear to happen when he opens his mouth or moves his hands stakes…

Far be it from me, an unpublished writer of an unpopular, by any real measure, blog, to call your judgment into account when it comes to publishing this sort of list after soliciting advice from an expert panel constituted of “the masses” (I understand your survey drew more than “10,000 votes from over 100 countries” in “online polls”) but I just wanted to humbly remind you that this is, after all, the same internet that attempted to send Justin Bieber to North Korea, sent Pit Bull to Alaska, and continues to be enamoured with web polls that present opportunities for Pharyngulation. This feels a lot like one of those events.

You see, dear Prospect, there is a real chance that in proclaiming that the person with a large social media presence is the world’s foremost thinker, in a study that is a result of a poll conducted on the Internet, that you may open yourselves to being considered what the youth of today might call a “numbnuts”… such polls aren’t just open to manipulation, they lend themselves to manipulation, and your analysis of the poll which trumpets the power of social media essentially invites manipulation.

Dawkins, as much more learned people than I – like literary critic Terry Eagleton – would attest, is guilty of a little bit of overreaching when it comes to lambasting his opponents, and underreaching when it comes to, well, thinking… As Eagleton puts it (in the London Review of Books):

“Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be…

…Dawkins holds that the existence or non-existence of God is a scientific hypothesis which is open to rational demonstration. Christianity teaches that to claim that there is a God must be reasonable, but that this is not at all the same thing as faith. Believing in God, whatever Dawkins might think, is not like concluding that aliens or the tooth fairy exist. God is not a celestial super-object or divine UFO, about whose existence we must remain agnostic until all the evidence is in. Theologians do not believe that he is either inside or outside the universe, as Dawkins thinks they do. His transcendence and invisibility are part of what he is, which is not the case with the Loch Ness monster. This is not to say that religious people believe in a black hole, because they also consider that God has revealed himself: not, as Dawkins thinks, in the guise of a cosmic manufacturer even smarter than Dawkins himself (the New Testament has next to nothing to say about God as Creator), but for Christians at least, in the form of a reviled and murdered political criminal. The Jews of the so-called Old Testament had faith in God, but this does not mean that after debating the matter at a number of international conferences they decided to endorse the scientific hypothesis that there existed a supreme architect of the universe – even though, as Genesis reveals, they were of this opinion. They had faith in God in the sense that I have faith in you. They may well have been mistaken in their view; but they were not mistaken because their scientific hypothesis was unsound.”

In Dawkin’s defence – he doesn’t have time to worry about sky fairies, or publishing intellectually credible and honest works – he’s lining his pockets with the proceeds of the angry anti-religious screeds published in the guise of popular science or philosophy books – and as you point out in his bio, appeasing his horde of Twitter disciples with cameo turns on the Simpsons. He is a busy gent. He’s too busy to debate serious opponents, and he’s been far too busy to publish original academic work in a peer reviewed science journal since 1980. You know this. Because your own biography of the world’s leading thinker has almost nothing to say about his capacity as a thinker.

When Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist, coined the term “meme” in The Selfish Gene 37 years ago, he can’t have anticipated its current popularity as a word to describe internet fads. But this is only one of the ways in which he thrives as an intellectual in the internet age. He is also prolific on Twitter, with more than half a million followers—and his success in this poll attests to his popularity online. He uses this platform to attack his old foe, religion, and to promote science and rationalism. Uncompromising as his message may be, he’s not averse to poking fun at himself: in March he made a guest appearance on The Simpsons, lending his voice to a demon version of himself.

How deliciously ironic that in trying to feed an internet culture predicated on the popularity of memes, and the sharability of lists, that you’ve given top billing to this English gentleman and then damned him with faint praise. Is this the biography of a leading intellectual? I’ve bolded the bits that refer to his contributions as a “thinker” rather than as a rabid attack dog operating in an area in which he has only the credibility afforded him by his tribe of minions.

37 years ago he had a good idea. And now he’s a crotchety old man with a megaphone. Here are ten “public intellectuals” with more Twitter followers than Dawkins who you might like to consider for next year’s list. I’ve put stars next to the ones who have been on the Simpsons.

  1. Justin Bieber (approx 39.1 million)*
  2. Lady Gaga (approx 37.3 million)*
  3. Katy Perry (approx 36.5 million)*
  4. Rihanna (approx 29.6 million)
  5. Taylor Swift (approx 27.8 million)
  6. Britney Spears (approx 26.9 million)*
  7. Shakira (approx 20.6 million)
  8. Justin Timberlake (approx 20.2 million)* (in N Sync)
  9. J-Lo (approx 18.2 million)
  10. Kim Kardashian (approx 17.8 million)

I hope this helps. I look forward to reading a more rigorously and well thought out (ie not dumb) approach to identifying “world thinkers” in the future. Unless your link bait strategy was to be very clever and ironic and I’ve missed the joke.

Sincerely,

Nathan

Tips for writing good circulate the Internet like La Niña weather systems, or the flu. There’s a batch around the place now, most of these lists have been collated at The Guardian and at BigHow.com.

Writing Tips Wordle

Image Credit: Wordle of the lists linked above

I’ve had a little look through the advice given, and these, by frequency, are the top ten tips from famous, and usually good, writers. Writers who often contradict each other. Which says something about the quality of such advice. Most of the advice is ridiculously obvious, but there’s nothing wrong with stating the obvious.

I do think there’s something in some of the tips being held in tension – like “just write” and “write to a meticulous plan” – one is more about honing your voice, the other is more about producing something with it. I also think there’s something in most of these for any communicator who uses words.

I tried to capture the essence of most of the advice given when I was collating these. And I’ve ordered this list by frequency, rather than in logical, or chronological, order. The numbers in brackets represent the number of times something came up.

  1. Be Clear. Don’t overwrite.

    Practice clarity of expression and thinking. Short words. The right words. Make adverbs, adjectives, and description functional, not ornamental, but mostly avoid them. Leave out bits people don’t want to read.  Punctuate well. Carry dialogue with said. No frills. Clear sentences. Concrete thought. Edit harshly to achieve this. Make every sentence do something to a character, or for your plot. Write till the sentence/paragraph/page/book is its best, but it’ll never feel good enough. Good ideas often do away with bad. Be prepared to change things. Finish. (46)

  2. Plan and be disciplined.

    Avoid distractions like TV and the Internet. Schedule writing time. Writing is work. Keep going. Try to love it. Know we’re your work is going, go there. Nowhere else. Only include what is necessary. Know your structure and cover it with apt words and phrases. (42)

  3. Edit Hard.

    Write. Pause. Edit. Rewrite. Often. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it. Improve. Pull the trigger on the bad stuff (and cop it when someone else does). Edit at the end, or as you go, but edit well. Be self-critical, trust and care about your reader, don’t waste their time.  (36)

  4. Write from your heart.

    Write about what you know and believe. What you have lived. What you imagine (probe the unknown). Think well. Write powerfully. Write truth. With compassion. Tell a story you care about. Write to engage (yourself first). Then persuade and transform. If it’s fiction – live your story. (33)

  5. Just write.

    Every day.  Anywhere. Write lots. Don’t worry too much about plot or structure. Practice. Start anywhere. Get something down. As it happens. Keep writing. Stop mid sentence/idea and resume the next day knowing where you were going. Finish when you want to continue. (32)

  6. Read widely.

    Read good writing, including poetry. Immerse yourself. Observe structure, figure out how writing works and what works. Borrow good turns of phrase, vocab, etc. From anywhere. But make them yours and avoid cliché and jargon (and most similes and metaphors), bad writing is contagious. (31)

  7. Figure out your style.

    Read your work aloud. Think about rhythm and pace. Care about style. But use it to suit. Ignore rules if need be. Style is about getting you out of the way. Know and be aware of grammar but be prepared to break the rules. Think about your voice, be authentic. (30)

  8. Capture inspiration.

    Ideas and inspiration come from everywhere. Including your feelings. Go to places. Think with your senses. Life is a story. Carry a notebook. Keep a diary. (21)

  9. Know your audience, and yourself.

    Listen to people/readers you respect, but don’t care too much what other people think. The reader is your friend. But don’t write for them or for the “market.” (21)

  10. Characterise well.

    Characters should be necessary, and their necessity obvious. Introduce characters early. Think about psychology and motives. Make characters relatable, and appropriately likeable or unlikeable. Present them consistently so actions and words match character. Make them confront stuff. (17)

There’s something nice about looking back over your old essays and realising that you’ve developed – for me this is true both in terms of my writing, and my thinking.

In a haze of essay induced insomnia the other night I started writing a list of things that College has made me more sure of, or taught me, that I think will be useful for the rest of my life.

1. The gospel is the lordship of Jesus – This means it first functions corporately, and individual salvation, where Jesus deals with sin, is a result. This effects the way I articulate the gospel. It’s not about me. Or you. It’s about him. I was convinced of this in first year, partly from a “word study” – which is a pretty poor basis for making decisions by itself, but partly because it’s a really cohesive summary of both the Old Testament expectations of a coming king, and the New Testament presentation of Jesus. Individualism is a relatively new animal. The word study – the Greek word we translate as gospel was already used in Roman culture as the word for when a herald announced a new king.

2. The Gospel should be proclaimed with wisdom, grace, winsomeness, clarity – and this means understanding the world around you. – What I love about the wisdom literature, Paul, Augustine, and Luther, is that they provide a model for engaging with the best thinking the world has to offer – and using it, or rejecting it – to proclaim Jesus. They also provide a model for using the best methods available to communicate.

3. Biblical Theology as the key for holding the Bible together and understanding anything – spending time reading German scholars who are either deists, or functional atheists, who bring this presupposition to the Biblical text and emphasise its humanity (which is an important aspect) over its divinity (which is the most important aspect) is depressing. The Bible makes the most sense if you allow for some divinely inspired intertextuality between the 66 books that were put together in our one book. Biblical theology makes doctrine possible.

4. The fundamental hermeneutical importance of purpose – I’m increasingly convinced that each book of the Bible is written for a purpose, or two, or three – otherwise, why write them. Often the purpose is explicit, sometimes it’s clearly implicit, other times its a product of its context which is revealed by other books (like reading Psalms against the history of Israel). Any “big idea” of a passage should somehow relate to the big idea of the book – or you run the risk of communicating something the author isn’t.

5. The book as hermeneutical unit. As a corollary to the last point, this means that if each book is a coherent piece of literature, of varying genres, then you’re expected to, by the second reading, know how the book ends, and appreciate how the particular passage you’re looking at helps the author communicate his purpose. This also assumes that the Bible is meant to be dwelt on and read more than once. This means textuality is the first step before intertextuality – so, for example, the best way to understand what function Matthew is having the Pharisees play early in the gospel is by seeing how they develop by the end of the gospel, not how John treats Nicodemus, or even, necessarily, how the Pharisees were actually perceived in history – though these are important.

6. Mission (making the gospel known to people) is worship, and includes being, saying, and doing. I’m not yet ready to argue that mission=worship, but I’m sure it’s a subset. Most passages where Paul talks about evangelism involve the sacrificial use of one’s gifts to serve the body, and reach others. How we do corporate worship is to be intelligible, and should result in visiting unbelievers converting.

7. Systematic theology is a product of biblical theology – creation and new creation are profoundly important. The Bible is the best method for understanding God’s revelation because it points to how he is revealed in Christ. It teaches us about God. It teaches us about us. It does this best when you figure out how different passages relate to us through Jesus and the narrative of salvation history (how God worked out his plan over time). The new creation is the telos for most aspects of systematic theology, creation supplies us with the tools to figure out the nature of things sans sin. Sin obviously messes things up – so much that it gets its own point below. But understanding what we were meant to be, and how we will be, is important.

8. The incredible significance of the fall – bad theology, bad ethics, a weak understanding of Scripture, and too positive an anthropology (understanding of humanity) flow from playing down the effect of sin. Sin breaks everything. So much that God sent Jesus to die to atone for it to not just move us past our initial anthropology when we are united to him, but move us towards our future anthropology. Sin especially breaks our ability to think, and particularly our ability to know God and ourselves. All the problems in contemporary theology, and in public debate, stem from failing to understand how sin has affected humanity.

9. Ethics is a product of Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, the fall, mission, and eschatology. This is the conclusion of 6, 7, and 8. How we lived is framed by the theological realities, who God is, who Jesus is, who we are, and where we’re going.

10.Integrating ideas is important. I feel like I’ve got a better, more nuanced grasp of things I knew before college, partly because I’ve put time into reading, not just people I agree with, but critically reading people I don’t, and figuring out – with help from brilliant and ministry minded lecturers – how things fit together. I complain a lot about the stress of college, and the workload, but there’s no doubt when I read stuff I wrote a few years ago my thinking has developed – and the beauty of a well thought out college curriculum is that it has developed through integrating multiple streams of thought and data into one or two big ideas. I’m convinced that if you have an anaemic view of one thing, the flow on effect to all other things is more significant than you might think (except Greek). So if your doctrine of Scripture is wonky, everything else is wonky – this is true for most doctrinal points.

11. Practice makes better – especially with writing. I’ve produced, after culling things back to their word limit, 30,000+ words a semester of essay, that’s 150,000 words so far. My essays now are much easier to read, and their arguments much more cohesive, than in first year, and I’m producing them in significantly less time. Having something that forces you to produce work, and assesses it, is great for honing a craft.

I certainly slept better after thinking about why I was spending so much time on an essay.

*Disclaimer – these thoughts are my own, and not necessarily representative of anything the QTC faculty teaches or believes if they don’t want to teach or believe said things…

Lists of Note is from the guy who brings you the ever brilliant Letters of Note.

Contrary to popular belief, numbered lists have been around for longer than the blogosphere, and indeed for longer than the internet.

These 10 commandments for Con Men are good. A sample:

  • Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con-man his coups).
  • Never look bored.
  • Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.
  • Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.

I also enjoyed:

  1. Fumblerules of Grammar“Late-1979, New York Times columnist William Safire compiled a list of “Fumblerules of Grammar” — rules of writing, all of which are humorously self-contradictory”
  2. Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing“In the early-1930s, as he wrote what would become his first published novel — the hugely influential Tropic of Cancer — Henry Miller wrote a list of 11 commandments, to be followed by himself.”
  3. The rules for the Anti-Flirt Club“In the early-1920s in Washington, D. C., a lady named Alice Reighly founded the Anti-Flirt Club — an organisation “composed of young women and girls who have been embarrassed by men in automobiles and on street corners,” and which aimed to protect such women from future embarrassment.”
  4. Rules for Wives“In 1923, the Legal Aid Society of New York City published some advice to wives in the area, in the form of the following list of rules.” 
  5. How to Write – advertising legend David Ogilvy wrote a letter to his staff. Part encouragement. Part motivational lecture. Part kick up the bum.

The last one strikes me as either being straight out of Mad Men, or a preaching class. So I’ll reproduce it in full.

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing*. Read it three times.

2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6. Check your quotations.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

I like this. Makes me want to go somewhere fun and exotic.

3. Steal soap from your hotel and give it to kids in developing countries as a present. Studies have shown that distributing soap to kids in poor countries saves lives. Travelers are always thinking up things to give to kids that ask for handouts (pencils, erasers, candies) but nothing beats the gift of clean hands. And don’t just collect 1 or 2 from your hotel bathroom. Hit the hallways while the cleaning staff are having a smoke and grab a couple handfuls from the service carts. When you’re saving lives, Go Big.

Cool list. Got any other novel tips for novel places?

Ten thoughts on Righteousness

Lest I wander too far down the path of heresy with my “everything is sin, so stop worrying about it an get on with the job” vibe, I thought I should counter my ten points from last night with ten points on the antithesis to sin – righteousness. This is almost entirely from Romans 6, which I think gives us a great platform from which we can deal with the problem of sin tainting every one of our actions (even the righteous ones). Verse one and two…

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

Some may think, and yet nobody has yet suggested, that Romans 6:11-14 are a natural counter to my position from last night…

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

This is mostly why I’m writing this post. I don’t think we can consider sin without considering the opposite… I think this particular passage, the rest of Romans and the rest of scripture describes this tension. Galatians 5 is another good example of the “battle” going on within.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.

  1. We are not to “live in sin” any longer – we are now, thanks to the Holy Spirit, locked in a battle between our two natures. Our tainted by sin nature and our desire to serve our new master via the Spirit.
  2. Our new nature will lead to righteous actions. Romans 6 again…

    Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

  3. Righteousness comes through faith, but is not limited to faith. Application in sermons, or bad advice, that conflates righteous living with faithful living is a bit unhelpful. There is more to “doing good deeds” than reading your bible. Nobody on the street ever thought “gee, God loves me” because you read your Bible for an extra hour last night.
  4. God is holy. He hates sin. Even if it’s inevitable he wants us not to do it. Both Jesus and Paul use imperative language when describing how we are to live with Jesus as Lord (both with regards to what we are to do, and what we are not to do). This to me suggests that we actually do have to do this stuff. Our good works are never salvific (because, to push my barrow a little further, they are always going to be tainted by our sin). But without good works there is no evidence that we are saved, and good works are what we are to do after salvation (think Ephesians 2, James 2).
  5. There are many things that we are called to do as Christians. Being the “missional” guy I am – I think all of the things we’re called to do are subsets of the need to be making disciples. This does not mean that we should not do social justice type stuff for the sake of proclamation of the gospel. We are not called to be street preachers who have no idea about the people they are speaking to – but to be relational (the analogies for ministry throughout the Bible support this – ie shepherds, family, etc). Proclamation without deeds is dead. While we’re sailing dangerously close to “preach the Bible when necessary use words” territory
  6. We tend to be more “armour of God” than “fruits of the Spirit” in our emphasis on righteousness. We need to be both. It’s no good being equipped with faith and truth if we’re not also demonstrating love, patience and humility.
  7. While I don’t keep a record of my rights and my wrongs (and I don’t think of it like a scorecard) – there would appear to be some Biblical case to be made for God providing extra reward (not just salvation) for righteous living. I think most of these passages are also tied to faithful ministry. Because I believe that all “righteousness” is a subset of ministry (because I believe that all Christians are in “ministry” as part of the one body).
  8. The right things that I do are only done as a result of the work of the Spirit, and are only possible because of the sovereignty of God (he prepares them in advance) – they are never a reason for boasting nor are they anything but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) without the Spirit imbuing them with righteousness (or removing the taint of sin – I don’t think this happens in the action itself, but in how God judges the action).
  9. The right, good, or obedient actions of non-Christians are also produced as a result of God’s grace in the form of common grace. These actions, like our own, have no intrinsic value or merit – the merit is extrinsic only. It comes through God working them out for himself.
  10. I am much more worried about my inability to do righteous things than I am by my inability not to do unrighteous things. I expect that as a result of the Spirit I will do good things, and if I don’t I am disappointed and have doubts. I expect as a result of the flesh to do bad things, and if I do I am not disappointed, I just get on with trying to do right. I think I try to apply 1 Corinthians 10:31 (which I think functions the same both in and out of context) to both my sin and my righteousness. I sin so that God may be glorified in showing mercy, and I do the good deeds prepared for me so that God may be glorified in his goodness.

Simone wrote about a post church conversation last night (in real life) that was a continuation of a couple of posts from Simone and Kutz (part one), (part two). I’ve spent today trying to articulate my position on sin. It’s not like Simone’s (looking to the new creation to resolve sinful desires) nor is it like Kutz’s (looking to the original created order to salvage the good thing that sin twists). I don’t tend to analyse my sin. I find that can be pretty crippling.

Here are some of my thoughts about sin in list form…

  1. I think sin, by definition, is our expression of autonomy. It’s our rejection of God’s rule. It’s disobedience. It’s not meeting God’s standards. I think the last one is the key – if we do something that doesn’t meet God’s perfect and holy standards – as he as described them to us – then we have “sinned”.
  2. I think there are different values to different sins – I know some have interpreted passages to suggest that all sins are equal. I think all sins are equally deserving of condemnation – but I don’t think all sins are equal in badness. There are sins with external victims – these sins require an extra level of repentance because you should, I think, repent to the victim as well as to God, and there are sins that are essentially internal matters for you and God to deal with. Let me give an example, when you commit some form of idolatry, putting something else in God’s position – you are wronging God, but no necessarily other people. But when you murder someone you not only commit an act of disobedience to God, you not only commit an act that effects the victim, you commit an act that has multiple effects for the victims family – you cause them to sin as well – they will no doubt feel malice, they will probably curse God for letting you take their father, husband, or son (or mother, wife, or daughter). You rob these people of a significant other. Some actions carry with them many sins, others do not. All sin is worthy of death and judgment when God, the holy, holy, holy God sits in judgment and judges by his holy, holy, holy standards. The accumulated sin of a lifetime is a pretty massive barrier between us and God.
  3. I think the language of conflict between our new nature and our sinful nature, our flesh and the spirit, our slavery to sin and slavery to righteousness, are all Biblical analogies for the same internal struggle that occurs, and will continue to occur, until the new creation. We’ll never – no matter how mature we become – rid ourselves fully of the taint of sin. Which I think even spreads to our good, righteous and obedient actions.
  4. I think trying to determine whether an action is “sinful” or “Godly” in and of itself is almost a complete waste of time. A conversation sprang up about whether being drunk is a sin the other day. I think it is. I think eating fatty food is probably a sin. I think drinking instant coffee is a sin. I pretty much think that everything we do, stemming from our sinful nature, is a sin. We can eat fatty food for God’s glory, but I tend to think if we’re not eating it specifically for his glory, but rather for our own purposes, then that’s an expression of our autonomy. I’d pretty much say that I think everything we do is tainted by sin. Even the good stuff… even the God stuff. I think this is part of the battle between our sinful natures and our new spirit enhanced natures.
  5. I think it is more helpful to think of sin in terms of nature than actions. Sinful actions are those things we do that are born out of our sinful nature. The Bible certainly spells out that certain actions are sins. Both sins of comission and omission.
  6. Almost all “Godly” actions can be sinful. I’m thinking of the way Jesus talks to the rich young ruler – even keeping the rules isn’t enough. We’re sinful by nature, and we never meet God’s holy standards. We can not possibly do so. We’re wired to sin. I think sinful actions are actions born out of our sinful nature – and I think Godly actions are actions born out of the spirit working within us (and those “good” actions performed by non-Christians are as a result of God’s spirit working throughout humanity in the guise of common grace).
  7. I think even when we are obedient to God we are obedient in an incomplete way – I think this is the picture we see with Israel and its inability to ever meet God’s standards completely. It’s important that we, as God’s people, seek to be obedient. Even if we know we’ll do it generally, but not specifically.
  8. When confronted with a decision our job is to try to discern the obedient, or most obedient option. Some decisions will in fact be decisions between two equally tainted options. An extreme example would be a choice between lying to save the life of one’s child (or an innocent) or giving them up and becoming complicit to whatever happens as a result of your taking the moral high ground. Life is full of impossible decisions, because everything is tainted by sin.
  9. Sin sucks. I hate its effect on the world, on relationships between people, and on myself. I don’t wallow in my sin because I realise it has been paid for in full. I realise it’s inevitable. And I realise we’ve got a job to do. So I’d rather just get on with that job. Without distractions. Without paralysis by analysis. My job is to try to be obedient to God wherever possible – and I think the point at which this obedience is most important is the Great Commission. I think any Godly living is Godly living for the purpose of winning the lost, more than for the sake of redeeming myself (either bringing myself closer to the pre-fall or new creation versions of me).
  10. Because I see sin as an inevitable product of our sinful nature I’m not keeping score as though God is Santa Claus. I’m not wracked with guilt. My debt has been paid. While I am pursuing holy living, maturity and ongoing “sanctification” (though I think technically sanctification is part of the package with justification that occurs at salvation) I don’t do this by dwelling so much on the times I miss the mark, I do this by getting on with the job. I love Luther’s “sin boldly” quote from a letter to a guy named Melanchthon (included below). This translation is slightly different to the one I’d originally heard.

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.

I’ve only got four days of work left. And we’ve only got 10 days left in Townsville. Which is sad – and worthy of much reflection.

But there are some things I’m really looking forward to about life in Brisbane (even though we’ll be living in Student poverty). You should assume that most of these include the addendum “with my hot wife“…

  1. Studying the Bible (and other stuff) with other people at QTC.

  2. Working with Andrew, Simone, Pete and Mel at Clayfield Presbyterian.

  3. Living in Grovely close to my three sisters*, parents and grandma, and next door to the Lyndons.

  4. Playing (outdoor) football with (rather than against) Pete.

  5. Exploring the Brisbane coffee scene and trying out my new roaster (which I still haven’t used because we’ve got so much coffee left over from Stable on the Strand.

* For those who don’t know yet – little sister number 1 just got a job as a dentist in Brisbane (today) having been in Toowoomba. I don’t think she reads my blog – but congrats anyway little sister number 1. It’ll be fun having the whole family together.

People often ask me how I have so much time to blog, or can justify the time I spend doing so.

The truth is, I’m a procrastinator. Right now I have a newsletter to send out and a booking form to build. But there is no deadline pressure. Not for another hour or so. So I need to fill the time with meaninglessness in order to create that pressure. Sure, I have a to do list filled with other meaningless tasks and I could create the deadline pressure by creating a faux deadline. But then I’d finish earlier and have nothing to do.

Steve Kryger has produced a list of 15 tips to help you not to procrastinate, (H/T DaveMiers.com). I’m going to be counterproductive. Here are 15 tips to guide your efforts in procrastination.

How to procrastinate while feeling productive

  1. Read some articles about how to do what you’re doing better – Consider this professional development and research. At the same time. Also click through to any other links you find that seem interesting.
  2. Tidy your desk – This one is also on Steve’s list – but I use it to avoid doing the jobs I am avoiding doing. And who knows what you might discover going through your physical inbox and your files. Maybe there’ll be another task that you can procrastinate on.
  3. Write a really long list of things to do to achieve your goal, and then your next four or five goals – Lists just feel so productive. And they make your tasks much more concrete. This helps you to avoid doing them.
  4. Learn how to write your goals in other languages – Constant learning is the best way to avoid constant doing.
  5. Visit Facebook, Twitter and MySpace – Ask your friends how to achieve your goals better. Their advice could save you valuable minutes in the long term.
  6. Participate in community - While you’re on Facebook check out your friend’s photos and comment on their walls. It is all about community.
  7. Have a quick game of Tetris – It really gets the creative juices flowing.
  8. Blog – Write a post about “how to” solve your issue quoting your friends and the articles you read.
  9. Comment elsewhere – Encourage other people to write more stuff that helps you. This is like a self fulfilling prophecy of procrastination. The more stuff there is to read through in order to find what you’re after the less time you need to spend doing stuff. Increase the noise to signal ratio. That way when you find something relevant it’s a real triumph.
  10. Engage with differing ideas – Find something online you disagree with and get in an argument.
  11. Get amongst real people – Walk around the office and play a prank on somebody.
  12. Spend 80% of your time developing efficiencies – This is my own personal 80/20 rule. Everybody loves an 80/20 rule. It justifies spending less time doing stuff.  The more time you spend thinking about how you do work the less time you actually have to spend doing it.
  13. Make sure the job still needs doing – Procrastination is a filter to avoid doing unnecessary tasks. Not doing unnecessary tasks is much more efficient than doing them and finding out they weren’t needed. If nobody has noticed that you haven’t done the thing you were asked to do, it probably didn’t need doing.
  14. Make sure the deadline still stands - Perhaps the job wasn’t as important as it first seemed. If that’s the case put it down the list and start procrastinating about something else.
  15. Delegate – Ask someone else (preferably a known procrastinator) to produce an integral part of your work. Then their lack of progress is a perfect excuse for your lack of progress.

Enjoy. This should provide eight or nine spare hours in the work day.

Bonus tip:  Subscribe to hundreds of blogs (including mine (subscription link)) in Google Reader. And make sure you have no unread posts before you start the day.

  1. My “Twenty creativity insights from the guy behind the “best job in the world” campaign
  2. Rebranding God – a look at the Jesus: All About Life campaign
  3. How to talk to the media without looking/sounding like an idiot
  4. PR lessons to learn from the Cronulla Sharks
  5. Six steps to speaking like Obama

January Listmania

Everybody loves lists. Especially at the end of the year and the end of the decade. I haven’t written any yet. I’m putting together my hottest 100 Townsville experiences in time for Australia Day – because everybody knows that’s the day for hottest 100s.

In the meantime today will be a bunch of lists. And because I’m lazy it will be lists of stuff I’ve featured before. That you may have missed.

A list of lists

I was going to put together a list of good end of year lists as my contribution to the blogosphere – but these guys have already done that. If you want to waste your time reading through reflections of the year that has been then check it out.

It’s pretty comprehensive.

Unlike Jesus, I was actually born on the 25th of December. People often ask me what it’s like having a birthday on Christmas Day. I don’t really know any different – but this XKCD comic prompted a post of reflections of sharing my birthday celebrations with the king of the world.

  1. When I was still really excited by birthdays I felt pretty ripped off about not having a normal birthday. We used to celebrate my birthday a month early (but never celebrated Christmas early). As I grew older the date I celebrated my birthday moved closer and closer to the actual date. In the last couple of years I’ve managed to snag the morning or the afternoon of the 25th.
  2. The combo present never has the same ticket value as two individual presents for each occasion.
  3. Asking someone who celebrates a birthday on Christmas Day if they like their birthday is like asking them if the like their name – except that you can’t change your birthday by deed poll. Like I mentioned up there – I know no different.
  4. Christmas babies are spared the awkwardness of unreciprocated well wishing – when someone says “happy birthday” to me I can always respond “Merry Christmas”.
  5. By the age of five I had heard all the good jokes about sharing a birthday with Jesus. Unless you’ve got something truly original to contribute to the discussion when talking to a Christmas baby over the age of five it’s probably not worth it. Any laughs will be to spare your feelings.

You may, if you’re a regular reader, be wondering what became of my complaints to Cadbury and Jetstar.

Well.

Cadbury sent me a voucher for $5 to spend on Turkish Delight and Jetstar sent me $100 to spend on my next flight.

This complaint letter thing is fun and rewarding.

Here are my six tips for writing a complaint letter that gets read…

  1. Establish a connection with the company – tell them that you’re familiar with the product you’re complaining about. Being a regular customer who is sold on the brand will give you credibility with the reader – and make them want to help you out.
  2. Find the right person to contact – for the Cadbury one I phoned Cadbury rather than using an anonymous web form, for the Jetstar one I emailed it directly to the Customer Service manager as well as posting it. The more senior the person you address the letter to the better.
  3. Give good details – tell the reader exactly what your experience was from start to finish. Set the scene. Help them to pinpoint the nature of your complaint.
  4. Use the right tone – be polite – don’t complain about rudeness by being rude. Try using humour – it’ll make your letter different to the hundreds of other letters they receive. Be memorable.
  5. Have a call to action – give the company some recourse – let them know what you expect in return for your letter. Do you want a reply detailing what went wrong and what they’ll do to fix it? Do you want a refund? You won’t get exactly what you want without asking for it.
  6. Be contactable – give good details for follow up – you won’t get free stuff if the company doesn’t know where to send things.

Those are the things I do – how ’bout you? What are your tips for writing complaint letters that bear fruit.

Sometimes I like to think that I could give up writing about, or talking about, atheism. But that would mean ignoring a bunch of interesting things on the Internet.

I’m drawn to some posts like a moth to a flame. Perhaps it’s because I like argument. Perhaps it’s because I like truth. Each of these points below is probably worthy of several individual posts. But I’m going to condense them for the sake of not boring people who are here for other reasons.

Every time I read an atheist blog I leave feeling frustrated. Mostly because they make the same spurious and generally misinformed claims they accuse Christians (and other theists) of making against them.

While I’m sure many of these claims are true in the experience of the people making them – that doesn’t mean they’re inherently true.

Here goes.

  1. Reading the whole Bible will not necessitate the rejection of God
    I read this one all the time. The latest instance was on this post Contrary to the popular belief held by atheists my life would be a lot easier if I wasn’t convinced God existed. It is in fact possible to read the Bible and gain a deeper appreciation of God. That’s why people go to Bible College and end up in Christian ministry.If an atheist wants to critique the Bible there’s plenty of more rational things they might say. It is possible that the God pictured in the Bible might look like a God you don’t want to worship – assuming you get stuck on the things that happen in the Old Testament. But the Bible does not contain contradictions that make “reasonable” people reject it.I suspect we all approach the Bible with a particular philosophical bias and this is likely to be confirmed.

  2. The Bible was not put together by a bunch of power hungry men seeking to serve their own interests…
    Nor was it consistently reinterpreted and retranslated over time in order to suit agendas. Any such translations have been weeded out and current translations used by major denominations are based on the interpretations of panels of experts in the original languages.If an atheist wants to realistically critique the men who framed the core doctrines of Christianity or picked the books in the Canon the worst that can be said about them was that they were deeply deluded and sort to present a consistent case for their beliefs. To suggest ulterior motives is a gross misrepresentation of any historical facts based entirely on prejudice.If, on the other hand, an atheist wants to make smug dismissals of the text based on their own assumptions that’s fine. But don’t expect your assertion to be accepted as convincing evidence by those of us who have read the Bible…

    I agree that you don’t need to read the entire Bible to know that it is a cobbled together mishmash of myths, biased history, and poetry from an ancient nomadic people that didn’t know much about the universe.

  3. Suggesting that the Bible should be understood in context is not “wiggling” on the Christian’s behalf.
    Nor is it dishonest. It’s the way Christians, orthodox, Bible believing Christians, have been doing things since the early days. Believing that the Bible should be understood in its context is not a new idea. Nor is it “liberal”. In fact, it’s the way Jesus approached the Bible (when quoting the Old Testament).Disagreement over interpretation does not contradict anything the Bible says (in fact the Bible predicts it). Questions of textual interpretation are not simple and it’s likely that there will be some disagreement. If you pull random verses out of their context and present them (or a series of similarly plucked verses) as your proof text it is analogous to a Christian suggesting that Hitler’s eugenics program is the natural outworking of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

    Christians will continue to claim that I’m taking it out of context, misinterpreting it, or just outright lying. I have seen this happen over and over again with Bible-savvy atheists who were in debates. These people are so made up in their mind that no amount of reason will work.

  4. Christians shouldn’t keep pushing the Bible as though it’s evidence for God
    Why not? If God exists (which Christians believe) then the Bible seems like a natural way for evidence to be provided across multiple generations. This sort of thinking misses the point of Christianity completely. 

  5. Every position atheists take on the Bible is a result of faith, bias and what they’ve been taught
    This by itself does not invalidate their beliefs. That’s how we all come to conclusions and decisions. But to dismiss Christian interpretations of bits of the Bible on the basis of indoctrination while blithely dismissing the whole thing as a fairytale is to create false dichotomy. Just because someone has been “brainwashed” it doesn’t mean what they believe is wrong. And just because someone claims to come at something in an open minded fashion using their own rules of engagement doesn’t make their conclusions correct.