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Friday, January 24, 2014

Listening

I recently wrote an article about my experience writing Like Mind, my first novel. The whole idea of the article was about the collaboration of storytelling that exists between authors and their audience.
We readers and writers must work together. It’s our art form, not just the writers’ alone. Together you and I make something that neither of us could make on our own. Together we tell stories.
That same dynamic is at work in all public speaking, especially in preaching. You don't simply speak words into the void and have them fall on unsuspecting ears. Rather you work together with a community of God's people to discern God's word and work in his world.

If I, as a preacher, am not listening to the church and the word, I've failed at my task.

That's a bold statement, so bold that I'm not sure I'm willing to apply it to anyone but myself. But it fully applies to me. I cannot, in good conscience, speak to God's people without listening to them.

I've preached at churches as a guest speaker before. That's been fun, and a good experience, but I'm still trying to discern what it is that the community is saying and what they need to hear.

I suppose I see my role as a translator. I listen to both God and his people and I try to mediate the conversation while at the same time getting out of the way. I can't help either side of the dialog if I don't listen attentively.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why to (Not) Trust Authority

One thing about preaching -- and presenting in general -- that is tending to put people off more and more is the idea that the preacher is in the position of power and the whole audience must listen to this person in authority. Most young people aren't huge fans of positional authority figures. Those are the people that have authority because of their position: the principal or the boss or the preacher.

I live in this weird space between the millennial distrust of authority and earlier generations' inherent trust in authority. I like being able to bridge the gap, but I don't fully understand either side.

The trust of authority is a trust in the system that gave that authority. Essentially it says that the system that made someone a boss or a teacher or a preacher must have sufficient checks and balances to prevent bad or unqualified people from getting into authority and promoting good and qualified people into the best positions for them. While there are exceptions to the rule, in general, that rule tends to hold (or so authority-trusters think).

The distrust of authority is the distrust of the system. The exceptions that litter the landscape prove that the checks and balances are not working and that the organization has failed to promote the right people into positions of authority. At its furthest extent, this distrust of authority assumes that if a person has been put into authority by the broken system then they are deserving of distrust until proven otherwise.

So what options exist? How can those who distrust positional authority and those who trust positional authority come together on anything?

At this point it's incumbent on the person in authority to show that the position isn't the source of their authority -- to both those that offer and withhold trust. One can't simply take the position of teacher or boss or even preacher and assume that everyone will accept that authority. Established or relational authority requires both submission and connection.

First the person in authority needs to demonstrate that they are submissive to an authority that is other than themselves. That is to say that they need to align with those under their authority as one who is also under authority. The boss is responsible to corporate just like her employees are. The teacher is responsible to the principal, just like his students are. The preacher is responsible to a higher authority as well.

Preachers must submit to scripture and to the community. Everyone in the church is in it together. They all must be obedient to the bible, they all must learn to be disciples and they all must make disciples. If the preacher -- or any other member in the church -- decides that they aren't under that authority, then they lose all credibility.

Second the person in authority needs to show a connection to those who are supposed to follow. The distrust of positional authority is rooted in the idea that organizations will abuse people to achieve their own ends. The only way to overcome this mistrust is through personal relationship, personal connection, and over time.

Are you in a position of authority? How do you facilitate connection and submission?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Google Image Search by License

I'm a fan of using Google Image Search to find pictures for my PowerPoint presentations. But there are legal limits to what I can use -- defined by the license on the photo -- so I need to be careful. For a long time Google just slapped a generic warning on the search results that alerted you to copyright issues. Caveat Emptor, or something like that.

Bing -- Microsoft's most recent search engine attempt to dethrone Google -- has had the ability to search images and filter the results by license since December, but now you can do the same thing in Google.

When you do an image search in Google you can filter the results by clicking on the "Search Tools" button above the results. From there you can filter by image size, color, type, time and now license type.

If you aren't getting paid for the use of the image you can use the least restrictive license type: Labeled for Reuse. From there the restrictions add up, you can have something labeled for reuse with modification, for commercial reuse or for commercial reuse with modification.

So if you want to edit a photo to use in selling your next book, you'll need the images licensed for commercial reuse with modification, but if you're giving a presentation at a non-profit and you don't plan to edit the picture you can use the images licensed for reuse.

Here are some other presentation resources that might be helpful.

Friday, September 13, 2013

What is Happening in the Churches of Christ?

This is a PowerPoint presentation I put together to help explain what's happening in the Churches of Christ based on Joe Beam's article in Grace Centered Magazine.

Let me know what you think. Is he right? Where do you see yourself on this spectrum? What do you see in the future?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Win a copy of my novel

Reviewers are saying it's:
"Superb" "Quick [and] fun" "Snarky Adventure" "Super Fun!" "Fast pace, great humor and romance" and "Not...terrible...actually pretty good." 


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Like Mind by James T. Wood

Like Mind

by James T. Wood

Giveaway ends September 27, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Faithful Unbelief

In Mark 9:24 a distraught father, at the end of his rope, cried out his final plea to a God who had failed him: “I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”

That father was in the midst of a crisis of faith. He had tried everything he could think of to heal his son, but nothing worked. He’d even come to Jesus’ disciples who were supposed to be able to do things that no one else could do. When they failed too it seemed like the end for this ever hoping, yet hopeless father.

Then Jesus walked up. He started to dig into what was going on and learned of the disciples’ failure. He made it clear that anything is possible for one who believes.

That statement is life and death.

When faith is easy, it’s a joy to know that God is on your side. It adds to strength to consider that God makes anything possible. When the blessings are flowing, faith flows with them.

But when faith is hard, the idea that anything being possible for those who believe feels like another boot to the back keeping you down. It’s just another indication of how hopeless you really are. If you could simply have enough faith, God would provide. So the failure is yours, not God’s. It’s your lack of faith. Your disbelief. Your failure. Your death.

But that desperate father wouldn’t give up. Even though faith was hard for him and he was filled with unbelief, he didn’t see just two options.

We live in an either/or world that likes to divide things into neat piles. It is either this or that. It’s either here or there. It’s either conservative or liberal. It’s either science or faith. It’s either logical or emotional. It’s either faith or unbelief.

The father refused to be bounded by either/or. He claimed both faith and unbelief. He scattered the neat piles and destroyed the divisions. So Jesus smote him. Smote him good.

No, Jesus loved him.

It’s almost like a Kobayashi Maru, the fictional test for Starfleet officers in the Star Trek universe. It’s a no-win situation. No matter what option you choose in the test it turns out badly. It’s designed as a test of character to determine how potential officers react to real-life no-win situations.

Captain Kirk didn’t accept the rules. He denied that there could be a no-win situation so he found another way. He reprogrammed the test.

The desperate father didn’t accept that there could be an either/or situation. He wanted both/and. And Jesus gave it to him. Happily.

Jesus healed the boy. The father’s son was well. The faithful unbelief of the father was rewarded.

The idea of faithful unbelief isn’t often explored. We usually read the bible from an either/or perspective. Either people are faithful or they are unbelievers. We don’t usually have categories for the both/and, for the faithful unbelievers.

Yet that happens all the time. Faithful unbelief is something that everyone deals with, if they’re honest. Death, loss, divorce, sickness, bankruptcy, unemployment: doubt-causers. For the desperate father it was the incurable sickness of his son. For others it might be years of unemployment. Or mental illness that won’t flee from medicine and therapy. Or a relationship that is so broken mending it seems impossible. Or a death that comes suddenly and leaves broken hearts in its wake.

Doubt-causers will strike every life. Guaranteed.

So what do you do? How do you cope? How do you process through a doubt-causer in a faithful way?

What does Faithful Unbelief look like?

Join us for thirteen conversations exploring faith, doubt, questions, answers, and how to have faithful unbelief.

  1. Being Uncertainly Certain
    1. Why what we think we know isn’t always what we know.
  2. Cognitive Dissonance
    1. The power and danger of thinking two different things at the same time.
  3. The Cycle of Learning
    1. How our reason, experience and emotions combine to create knowledge
  4. Asking Questions
    1. Exploring the different motivations for asking questions.
  5. Asking Logical Questions
    1. A brief overview of logic, its questions and potential answers.
  6. Asking Emotional Questions
    1. How feelings spur questions that logic may not be able to answer and what to do about it.  
  7. Searching for Answers
    1. Ways to begin processing questions: study, conversation, experience, journaling, meditation, counseling, etc.
  8. Searching for Meaning
    1. Touching on the difference between answers and meaning and what each one can offer.
  9. Discovering Truth
    1. How will you know when you know what you know?
  10. Big T Truth versus Little T Truth.
    1. How finding your truth may or may not have anything to do with Truth.
  11. Change
    1. How to use both feelings and actions to create change, and why you should do it.
  12. Cognitive Consonance
    1. Re-aligning your brain to a new reality is painful and rewarding.
  13. Re-Engage the Questions
    1. The cycle of faithful unbelief continues. Learn how to keep the process going in a healthy way.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Last Mile

The term "The Last Mile" came from the push to get phone lines to every person in the United States. The real problem, and the most expensive part of the process, was getting the line the last mile down the road to the houses of people.

It was easy to start the process. The first few miles were close to the phone company and a natural extension of what was already happening. But the farther from the phone company, the more spread out the people became.

Still, getting to the towns wasn't terribly difficult. There were highways that led to most of those. What was the real issue was that last mile from the towns to each person's home.

I struggle with the last mile in almost every project I do. I want to hurry up and start things, but I don't want to finish them. The minute details. The endless polishing. The last, lonely, long mile of it.

But the last mile is the difference between a professional and an amateur.

It's easy enough for anyone to start something, but to go through all the thankless effort of finishing well is the mark of a true professional.

My first published book wasn't professional. People read it because, I think, the content outshone the flaws.

But instead of rushing out my next book. I'm forcing myself to walk the last mile. To re-read what I wrote and others have read.

I really don't want to do this. That's why I must.

How do you deal with the last mile in your work?