The New Homiletics in a Multimedium World

Rae Whitlock, the black Calvinist Howard Stern, tweeted an article about relative sermon lengths in Catholic, mainline Protestant, and conservative Protestant churches. After the expected response, I then went and actually read the piece, commenting “I like sermons in the 20-25 minute range.” This is in line with the Methodist tradition of “three points, a poem, and a prayer”. Rae brought up his perceived need for lengthiness, saying “Sermons tend (& often need) to be longer in “younger” churches b/c of vast biblical illiteracy. Things take longer to explain.” He has a point, certainly, but like my old history teacher, Donald “Sonny” Renfroe, liked to say: ‘Like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject, short enough to keep it interesting.” Oh my!

I believe that a new homiletics starts with a multimedia approach to the presentation of the Gospel. Plenty of churches are podcasting their sermons, including Grace Central in Columbus, Ohio, where Rae happens to be a ruling elder. Grace Central has a resources page, which as I remember it is partially maintained by Rae. All well and good, but when you go to an individual sermon, such as Greg Blosser’s “An Ordinary Church” from March 28th, you’re given only audio. No text is provided. Multimedia is just that: multiple mediums for communication of information. While I can create a permalink to Greg’s sermon, you can’t read the text. More importantly, you can’t be linked in that text to relevant sources of information: Bible verses explained or merely referenced, allusions to previous sermons, or references to books, film, music, etc. The key here is to provide context.

I’ll provide an example here to expound upon the first point: Rae also tweeted about Will “Duce” Branch’s fall and restoration. In response, I wondered if “[h]is discussion of 1Jn3:6 seems to indicate a worldview consistent with non-perseverance of the saints. Hm.” For reference: 1 John 3:6 states: “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” Rae then provided context: “Unless his theology’s changed in the meantime, he’s (still) a Calvinist. With that in mind, I didn’t pick that up at all…” and Seemed (2 me) more like he was saying that the text suggests ‘those who do this should examine whether or not they’re Christians.'” I then freely admitted that “Perhaps I’m imposing my own worldview. Hic liber est in quo sua quærit dogmata quisque, Invenit et pariter dogmata quisque sua.” You know, “This is the book where everyone seeks his own proper opinion; This is the book where still everyone finds what he seeks.” Indeed. I certainly bring my own worldview about perseverance of the saints, which is definitely a conditional view of the perseverance, because I find too many Scriptural references to ignore, even as some are to be reconciled. Even more, if greater context for 1 John 3:6 is provided, one runs into verse nine: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”

Perhaps it is obvious from the previous paragraph that I believe that references are key to a multimedia approach to a new homiletics. I have taken a conversation that was loosely had over Twitter and joined the pieces in this discussion. David Weinberger would be so proud of me. And this is where I feel that the modern church can make its mark: in a generation that seeks information through multiple mediums, this is an opportunity to satisfy that consumptive need with the spiritual meat our congregations desire [whether they know it or not]. The concern, of course, goes back to what Rae said: this is there for “younger” churches. I presume that he means in age of the congregants, but he could also mean in the age of the congregation as a body. In either case, a solid Scriptural foundation must be laid so the conversation can be reasoned, insightful, and edifying. Sir Francis Bacon wrote five hundred years ago that “[r]eading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” In large part, that’s what I’ve done in writing this entry: I read the links Rae provided, we discussed them, and I drew my own conclusions in writing here.

Haikus are easy / But sometimes they don’t make sense / Refrigerator

Now let us pray. “Dear Lord, please let Rae have a good laugh at this, but also let him draw something from it. Also, let the reading of this idea, which is certainly not fully formed, inspire more discussion and more writing. We want to come to a greater knowledge of how to represent You to a new generation of believers. Amen.”

On Comments, Links, and Raising the Bar of Discourse

Recently, I set up a blog at the main URL for geoF:stop media, LLC. I don’t allow comments there. Why?

  1. Comments have a very low threshold for barriers to entry into discourse. This encourages thoughtless replies. I wanted thoughtful replies to what I’m doing.
  2. I don’t have to handle comment spam. I mean, Akismet pretty well kills comment spam for me these days, but any time I spend fighting comment spam is time I’m not spending being creative [or, well, slacking off].
  3. Relating to #1, I think comments get a lot of me-too-itis, and for the most part, that’s not worth it to me.

Let’s take a case study here on my entry about my iPhone music disappearing and showing up as other. This was a temporary problem for me, but it continues to be a problem for other users. [Whether they’re lusers or people jailbreaking their phones, I don’t know.] But read the comments for the entry: no one is addressing my original post at this point. Google is bringing people to my blog, which is nice and all, but the content that people care about is from other people, not me.

Is that a problem? Well, I think that it is, in a way. While I do use Alex King’s Comment License plugin to say, “Hey, I own your comments, thanks,” I have some problems with that, in a way. I use the license to say, “You’re licensing your thoughts to me,” mainly so I can say in kind, “I can police the comments if I choose, fella.” I’m not really doing it to aggregate knowledge. This place is about me spewing out ideas, not so much what you have to say about it.

I want to go back to my first point, though. It’s not so much that I don’t want to own the discourse [which, again, I don’t], but I want a higher level of discourse. What comes to mind is my post about the recording rig I’m using here in early 2010. The following thoughts come to mind:

  1. The initial comments I’m likely to get are “That’s cool” or “That sucks, go get better gear like X” comments. Neither of those are terribly productive.
  2. Future comments are likely to be irrelevant, because my rig is continually changing. That post would’ve looked different six months ago [mainly, I was too stupid to have battery boxes in the rig, plus I didn’t have all the cabling I do now for soundboard patching]. I’ve learned. I will continue to learn, and I will make followups.
  3. I want to encourage discourse on what people do with their own rigs. I don’t want someone describing their budget rig in the comments on my blog—I want them writing their own posts. Is that too hard? With free blogging tools out there like, I don’t think that it’s too much to ask. Why do I want this? The comment box is awfully restrictive [as it has to be to avoid the comment spam problems—again, low thresholds and all that]. I want freedom of discourse.

That said, I’m going to leave the comments open on this post and see what I get. How very meta. 😉

Twitter: The Connective Tissue in the Narrative

In a larger entry about information, Rands writes:

Those frustrated with Twitter are frustrated because they have a belief that a story needs a beginning, middle, and end. And that it should have all of those parts before it’s presented to them. What the hell am I supposed to learn from a tweet? The point of Twitter isn’t knowledge or understanding, it’s merely connective information tissue. It’s small bits of information carefully selected by those you’ve chosen to follow and its value isn’t in what they send, it’s how it fits into the story in your head. There are great stories to be found on Twitter, but you have to do the work.

I tell a narrative with my tweets—the narrative of my life, mainly. I announced my probable bi-polar II diagnosis on Twitter long before I posted it here. [And before I got some great feedback from friends who wanted to tell me that I’m not alone. That made it worth it.] My friends have an idea what’s going on in my life, because I share a goodly chunk of it on Twitter. Jonathan figured out that I had an obsession to eating sushi last week. My tweeps know I’m sick today. [Oddly enough, I didn’t tweet where I went in to work for a couple of hours because I felt I had to do it. It was the right idea, but I’m paying for it now in feeling puny. I’ll live.]

I’ve often said that I don’t know why someone who didn’t know me would read my Twitter. I’m largely the same way with Twitter—I care about the people that I follow, for the most part. I know about my friend Justin’s music school debt, how it creates angst for him and has him in a job he hates because it pays him well enough to get out of that debt. I know that some friends saw a lot of snow today, and some saw none. [And folks know that I saw very little at my house but a lot out by where Stephen and Misty live.]

Now, few of these little blips of information make a whole lot of sense if you don’t have some sense of the larger picture, which is why I write here. Why I share my life online, I’m never 100% sure, but the fact of the matter is that I do it. Part of me thinks that it’s self-expression. Part of me thinks that it’s narcissism. But I find value in it, which is why I’ve done it for almost a decade [!]. But these moments make more sense in the context of friendship, which is why I enjoy it when I go visit Rick and Jessica and don’t have to fill in gaps about what’s been going on with me since they last saw me, or how I’m excited when Mike Terry or Josh Stockment come to visit and roll on up to Nashville [’cause that’s how we do], or when we meet Hubbs in Nashville.

Fundamentally, I find that Twitter is a channel of that narrative, a way of taking your friend’s temperature. What has their eye? [when it comes to links]. What has their ear? [when it comes to music.] What has their ire up? Are they at GEOFCON TWO? Are they happy about something? Have they been in a car wreck? [Happened to two different friends this week. Found out via Twitter both times.] I care about Twitter because I care about people, both those I’ve met and those I’d like to meet.

Libertarian v. Liberal Christianity

It seems to me that, amongst my peer set of evangelical Christians, there are two main groups: the Ron Paul-loving, libertarian types, and the Barack Obama-loving, liberal types.

I’ve spent a lot of time since the 2008 election cycle was well underway thinking about these things. Both groups are for social justice and the being made right of all things. Both groups come at it from the same theological foundation. To my mind, the only fundamental difference is this: whether you think that government, being an institution of man, can be used as a part of the being made right of all things. If you do, you’re probably with me on the Obama side of the debate; if you don’t have that faith in government, you’re probably in the Ron Paul camp.

As much faith as I have in government, I certainly have far more in God. It just seems to me that a belief in government as a positive or a negative is the differentiator here. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’d love to know your thoughts.

The Problem of Pain

So I posted earlier on Facebook that I was listening to Bon Iver, saying: “Bon Iver on the iPhone in the office this morning. Like Pip says: I hate that someone broke his heart like that, but I do love the result.” My friend Jud replied:

Isn’t it such a strange truth that so much beauty can come from pain? Personally, this is to me the most obvious solution to the problem of evil: in some mysterious way, it was actually “the best world possible” for evil to exist for a time.

That’s one of those things that seems both profound and utterly obvious. If nothing else, I guess this goes along with the Linford Detweiler quote, “Sad music … makes me happy.” It probably also drives home why I listen to Elliott Smith, Portishead, Bon Iver, et al … 😉

In Which I Probably Show the Limits of My Understanding of Economics

I’ve been chewing up Michael Lewis’s Panic a few bites at a time over the last few months, but I had a revelation today that shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, really, but I can’t help but post it.

An obvious point about stock market downturns always seems to get lost right after one of them occurs. Stock market losses are not losses to society. They are transfers from one person to another. … What happened to my money? It didn’t simply vanish. It was pocketed by the person who sold me the shares. The suspects, in order of likelihood: a) some Exodus employee; b) a well-connected mutual fund that got in early at the IPO price; or c) a day trader who bought it at $150.

Fundamentally, finance serves to make other things possible: IPOs were there to provide firms capital until they were routinely making money, in exchange for a percentage of future profits [as you ended up with a piece of the company]. Anytime, though, that the pace of the stock market is highly exceeding the growth of the overall economy—probably best expressed in GDP—you’ve got a bubble forming. Why? If market valuations are rising faster than true valuations, you’ve got speculation going on, and folks are likely leveraging to make those plays. How do you make more bets than you can afford? You borrow.

The longer I think about the stock market, the more I like the bond market—if you’re smart enough to appropriately assess risk. I think the full win going forward would be to somehow generate a market for bond risk assessment that is more independent of the financial institutions that currently underpin it. If that becomes reality, and bond rankings come closer to the true levels of risk, the economy should be more stable. Not stable, but more stable.

Conversely, when the stock market is falling faster than GDP, you then follow the other side of Warren Buffett’s maxim: be greedy when others are fearful. A market where capital is leaving faster than the economy is shrinking overall is overreacting to the shrinkage and betting that the shrinkage will continue—but it can overshoot easily.

What the Hell Am I Scared Of?

Lots of things, really. I’m the king of unfinished projects, and Andy Osenga has nailed why:

My hit: I started running to try and do a 5k last year. I actually did it and have lost weight and will lose to Jill Phillips handily in another 5k this Saturday. (3pm at the Nashville Zoo, if you want to watch. Gabe Scott will also be there and will run a marathon in the same amount of time.)

My miss: I’ve never written a novel. Barely even a short story. And why? What’s stopping me?

Well, there are good excuses: I have two kids and a career that takes a lot of time.

And there are bad excuses: I’m tired, I don’t really want to do it anyway.

And then, THEN, there are the reasons: I’m scared and I’m lazy. (Lazy, of course, just means I’m scared again, but of hard work.) I want it to be fun, but when I try it’s not fun. It’s hard. Because I don’t know how to do it.

Practicing guitar was not fun. Playing guitar well is some of the most fun you can have on Earth. Why can’t I take that knowledge and move it to another medium? The Reason.

Hell, I’ve been scared of posting this for nearly two weeks. Why? Well, I’m lazy, plus I’m scared to admit it…

Sending a Message

So Israel is still bombing the hell out of Gaza.

Isn’t it time for the sticks to stop and the carrots to start? Wouldn’t the obvious choice here be sitting down at the peace table with the Palestinian Authority and clearing up things in the West Bank? If Hamas, and not Palestinians, is the enemy, this sends the right message.

Not that I expect this.

Merry Christmas

Forty years ago today, Earth got a sense of how small it was in the Universe.

Apollo VIII Earthrise

It had been a terrible year: The Tet Offensive, the assassination of MLK, and the assassination of RFK. [We wouldn’t know that Nixon would be an unmitigated disaster for a few more years yet.] And up until August of that year, we didn’t think Apollo VIII would be any different than the other warmup flights for the Apollo series; but then the decision was made to have Borman, Lovell, and Anders transit to the moon and orbit.

Can you imagine that mission briefing? “Okay, boys. We’re going to send you [millions, er, ]hundreds of thousands of miles form Earth, right at Christmas, but you can’t go land on that hunk of rock. Have fun and ad astra per aspera.” I’d have been both honored to go and disappointed that I couldn’t go all the way.

Anders, Lovell, and Borman didn’t read American propoganda during their broadcast. They read the first few verses of the KJV translation of Genesis. I think they had it right—this was a moment for all of mankind, not just the American taxpayers who’d footed the bill to send them there. One may quibble that Borman’s move [it was his idea], repeated today, would go over like a lead balloon in this politically correct culture; I would instead argue that Borman was simply being true to himself and his faith.

I urge that you do likewise.

As I won’t be near a computer tomorrow … Merry Christmas from me to you.

On Infrastructure, Google, Keynes, et al.

So Phil Greenspun points to a plan for an electric car infrastructure in Hawaii. Phil also notes that bailing out Detroit isn’t, to date, keeping them from shedding jobs. Rex Hammock jokes about bailing out Google, reference Obama’s address below:

I found myself at dinner on Thursday night with a table full of libertarians, all friends of mine from college who were shocked that I am an Obama supporter. But let me tell you what I think could happen, weaving all those threads together …

President-elect Obama suggested that his public works project would be the largest effort since the Interestate system. When you think of the Interstate, what do you think of? Me, I think of this nation’s very arteries, a circulatory system to help move people and cargo around our beautiful country. Yes, the Interstate system cost around $130B to produce, but … compare that to the financial bailout. You’re nodding your head, right? “We got a lot out of the Interstate system, over decades, and what have we gotten out of this bailout?” Well, we’ll never really know the answer to that question, will we? It’s not a natural experiment by any means—no man is an island, etc.

When I think about the Interstate system, I not only think of arteries, but how we’re wasting space. What about those medians, the rights of way, the easements? If you needed to develop a national infrastructure—say, the laying of fiber optic cables to transmit data over the Internet—wouldn’t that be a perfect place to lay them? Known good land, well-surveyed, easily reachable.

The best spending choices that a government can make are infrastructure that benefits the greatest good. Roads, bridges, et al are great choices for this—so, too, would be developing suitable interstate routes into high-speed rail paths. Kill Amtrak—monocultures are bad!—and provide the opportunities for business to come in. Some folks will choose to develop the high-speed rail business; others will work on the endpoint infrastructure [rental cars, etc.] to allow people last-mile access when they get there.

I’m thinking about going to see UAH play at the Badger Showdown after Christmas. I’d love to drive an electric car, but man, those things don’t get good mileage at all. Now, we could have an infrastructure with rest stops every 25 miles to allow you to swap batteries and keep going, so you could just keep going and not stop to swap, but that’s not a very efficient system for me as an end-user. But if I could drive an electric car from my house to a high-speed railway along I-65, which would carry me all the way to Chicago … well, then, I just have to change trains to get to Madison, then drive another electric car on the far end around town [unless I head to State Street, in which case I should be taking a taxi]. Rather than the crazy amount of gas I’d spend, I could do that trip pretty easily without burning a single bit of fossil fuel [presuming that we weren’t generating electricity in conventional ways].

The way government can pull some crazy dream like this off is in a two-part system: building it out, and then letting people and businesses use it. If you build it, the ecosystem will form around it—just look how commerce in this country flocks to our nation’s highways. Mass transit is the way to go, but it’s so dependent on population density to be fully worthwhile. The highway system, though, already has plowed the ground for these pathways.

Obviously, a system like this takes transition. I’ll tie the Detroit thread in like so: the only way that it makes sense for Washington to give Detroit money is as a consumer. You say to the Big Three, “Hey … we’ll replace the entire government fleet of vehicles, but only with hybrid electric vehicles that meet these specifications.” That would create enough of a marketplace that Detroit could economically retool their factories and retrain their workforces with a guaranteed customer base, driving down costs where these vehicles would be similarly cost-effective for consumers. Hybrids stop being so much about green as they are red, white, and blue.

That said, I don’t expect much of this to happen, but I welcome any investments in infrastructure, as long as it’s done in such a way that you don’t create monolithic producers. That’s another matter entirely…