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Thursday, March 31, 2011

More is not Always Better

In reflecting on the amount of media that we have available, Seth Godin said that: "More media is not always better."

But more is the American way, right? We're supposed to have more money, more stuff, more power, more food, more, more, more. It's the core of who we are and what we strive after.

Sometimes I think that the American dream invades our churches. Pshh, "sometimes" I think that? I'm growing more and more convinced that our churches are drowning in a sea of "more." We're constantly looking for more people, more ministries, more donations, more conversions. Our country is afflicted with a disease and our churches are doing nothing to help. In fact, our churches often pull people deeper into the sickness.

The problem is not the church that Jesus started, but rather the way that we've come to interpret his church. We've become so enamored with being relevant to our culture that we succumb. We are conformed to the pattern of this world (Rom. 12.2) so we've lost our ability to speak a transformational word. When the divorce rate, the abortion rate, the adultery rate, the drug abuse rate, the murder rate and just about every other statistical measurement of brokenness reads the same for those in the church and those outside the church, there's something wrong. If the church isn't different than our culture then we don't have anything to offer our culture.

Our world cries out for more and the church echoes the hungry cry. It's time for use to stop. It's time for us to be transformed. Our leader and founder, Jesus was a homeless middle-eastern man who relied on the hospitality of others. What if our churches relied on the hospitality of others? What if we didn't always come in to save people with our fat wallets? What if, sometimes, we needed saving? What if we told people to take their donations for one Sunday, just one, and bless their neighborhoods instead of giving to the church? What if?

How do you think we could give up the need for more?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What is the Internet

Just 17 years ago most people didn't know what the internet was. Today it defines most of what we do on a daily basis. Bryant Gumbel "wasn't prepared to translate" the email address he saw, which clues us in to something important: electronic media is a different language. It takes translation for those not already fluent.

How can you translate electronic media for those who don't speak the language?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Resize Pictures with Fotosizer

My friend Matt pointed to this neat program a couple months ago. It's called Fotosizer and it gives you the ability to quickly resize or recolor a group or folder of images.

Select the images you want to change and then the changes you want to make. Click "Start" and it'll get going while you go get a cup of coffee. Pretty slick indeed.

What software saves you time and effort when editing pictures?

Monday, March 28, 2011

High Contrast Photo Magic

Lifehacker points out a simple trick for achieving high contrast photographic magic. Essentially you make a copy of the Green color channel then overlay that on the original picture. Make it slightly transparent  and you'll get an effect that ups the detail and contrast at the same time. Check out a step-by-step in the video below.

What color channel wizardry do you rely on?

Note: In Paint.NET you'll find this under the "Adjustments" menu then "Color Accent." Make "Duplicate" layer then select the top layer and open the "Color Accent" tool. Crank "Green" to 100 and click "OK." Then click the "Properties" button for the layer and set it to "Overlay" and slide the transparency to about 50%.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Photo Editing Basics: Effects Plugins

Both Paint.NET and Photoshop are super powerful tools for photo editing, partly because there is a seemingly limitless supply of effects that you can use on your pictures. Most of the basic effects are built into the software so you can play with blurring, sharpening or adding lighting effects to any image. But for some of the more specialized effect you might need to find and download the effect as a plugin to your photo editing software.

You can grab Pain.NET plugins here as either a package or individually. Once you've downloaded the plugin you need to install it into Paint.NET (hey, here's a handy tutorial). The simple explanation is that you will extract the contents of the ZIP file to the Extensions folder of your Paint.NET directory.

Photoshop, as a paid program, has a bit more polish to its plugin process. But with that you'll pay for most of the plugins, anywhere from a few bucks to hundreds of dollars. You can browse through the available options at the Adobe Marketplace.

In my experience, Paint.NET needs to have several plugins installed before it has all the features of the stock version of Photoshop, and some of the features of Photoshop may not be available at this point in Paint.NET. However the open source nature of Paint.NET means that developers all over the world are crafting plugins that you can add to your experience for zero monies, versus having to pay for everything in Photoshop.

What's your preference?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Photo Editing Basics: Knowledge

One of the problems that most of us (me, this is my problem) have with photo editing is that we don't really know how to take or develop good photos in the first place. There was a whole culture of photographers with a specialized language (contrast, white balance, composition, etc.) that existed before computers and digital cameras came along. Then photo editing software was written by and for photographers and graphic designers so it's very much like learning a new language. When I first sat down with Photoshop I had no earthly idea what most of the things meant. I still don't know what "Gaussian Blur" means, but I know what it does (in general, don't ask me though). Now there are things like a histogram that I can see on my digital camera if I want, but to me it's all just bumpy lines. For people who know about the science-art of photography it means something.

Getting just a bit of knowledge can make a huge difference in your ability to edit photos well. Take a class at the local community college (and it's a great way to meet people in your neighborhood), read a book or go to a photography exhibit. There are some websites that will help you to understand the fundamentals of photography like "Basic Principles of Photography" and "Principles of Photography."

Composition refers to the elements in a picture and where they are in the shot. The rule of thirds is a compositional help for photographers and photo editors.

Contrast is the difference between light and dark, white and black. Higher contrast will generate a starker image, but may remove some of the subtle details. Brightness is the amount of light from zero (black) to 100 percent (white). Brighter pictures may be easier to see, but the colors get washed out if it's too bright.

Practice taking good photos so you can learn what you want to achieve when you edit photos. Remember, it's all digital, so you can't mess it up. Just keep taking pictures and see what happens. The only way to get better with photos is to get some experience. And that experience will come more easily if you take the time to learn the language.

What photography principles do you find the most helpful? What did I get wrong in this post?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Photo Editing Basics: Tools

The tools you use to edit photos give you all sorts of options to interact with what you see on the screen. There are selection tools, move tools, filling tools, drawing tools, shape-making tools and erasing tools. Most of those are pretty common and self-explanatory. Use them on a test image a few times and you'll get the basic idea of how things work. Look at the tool palette to the left from Paint.NET (which is my favorite photo editor).

There are a few specialized tools, however, that need some introduction. The "Magic Wand" tool (fourth row on the left in the picture here) allows you to "magically" select the edges of a shape in the picture you're editing. This works well for shapes with defined edges against a solid-color background, but you can essentially click anywhere on the edge you want to to define and the magic wand will select the whole edge automatically. Remove the shape from the picture by pressing "Ctrl+X" and you can paste the shape into another image or fill in the area where the shape was in the original image.

The "Eye Dropper" or color select tool (five up from the bottom on the right) allows you to get the exact color of any pixel on the screen. Select the tool then click on a spot on the screen. That precise color will now be selected in the color wheel in your photo editing software. So if you wanted to fill in a matching color you could then select the fill tool and know that the color would be just the same as the object you selected. This won't work as well for complex shading where there are several subtle varieties of the same color with different saturation and hue (more on that later). But for brightly lit images with solid colors, the eye dropper does wonders.

Finally the "Clone Stamp" tool is a favorite of photo editors (fourth from the bottom on the left), but often misunderstood or not used at all by amateurs. What it does it sets two points on the screen of equal size the you select the distance apart for them. When you click the exact image under the first region is cloned and stamped on the second region defined by the tool. This is a very cool tool if you want to remove a blemish on a face. Just clone some of the normal skin over the blemished skin and the blemish disappears. Typically you need to zoom in pretty far when you're doing this (using the zoom tool that looks like a magnifying glass) so that the effect won't be obvious when looking at the picture zoomed out.

What tools do you find indispensable when editing pictures?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Photo Editing Basics: Layers

One of the more difficult things to figure out with photo editing software like Photoshop or Paint.NET is the inclusion and manipulation of layers. Layers exist within the photo editing software and give you the ability to transform anything under that layer. Imagine a stack of transparent slides, one on top of the other. If you want to draw a funny mustache on the picture, you actually start drawing on the transparent slide over top of the picture. It's essentially the same process in the higher end photo editing programs. Your background layer is you base and you apply different effects over top of that.

Layers allow you to make one set of edits that are independent of other layers. If you put text on one layer you can then move that text around independently of the other layers. If you have more complex effect like light or shadow set up you can move, delete or intensify the effect independent of other effects on the photo.

It will take a while to get used to editing with layers, but it adds quite a bit of power and functionality to the photo editing experience. Spend some time playing with layers (or watch the video below) to get an idea of how layers work. Get familiar with switching between layers.

Note, that when you save a photo in a layered photo editing software that it will use it's own format so that each layer can be preserved. When you save the image as a JPEG format (which you'll need to do to bring the image into PowerPoint), all the layers will be collapsed and you won't be able to undo anything that you've previously done. So, never save over your original image, but rather create an edit-file so you can always start from scratch. Don't save your edited photo as a JPEG until you're done using the editing software.

What tips do you have for editing photos with layers?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hey Dr. Nick! or The Lizard Brain and Public Speaking

Hey everybody! Dr. Nick Morgan is a renowned expert on public speaking who writes for Forbes. In the clip below he shares why you're wrong. About communication, that is. The video is about 10 minutes long and it's worth watching, not only for the informative content, but also to see how he engages a group in a conversational manner while still being the expert up front.

Essentially he points out that we have millions of subconscious neurons for every conscious neuron firing so our subconscious brain is far more active and powerful than our conscious. The application to speaking and presenting is that you can't possibly hope to hold everything in your conscious brain and you have no hope of contradicting what your subconscious brain says with your conscious words. Body language will trump verbal language every time they are in disagreement. That makes our task to align our conscious with our subconscious so that they say the same thing and amplify our message.

How would you do that?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What's with All the Talk about Homosexuality?

Over the last several days I've departed from my normal topic of preaching and using images to talk about this issues regarding homosexuality and the church. You can catch up here (1, 2, 3, 4). It's been a stirring dialog both here and on Facebook. But the truth is that it's not quite the topic for this blog. I took a bit of a field trip. Here's why.

What we talk about is as important . . . no, it's more important than how we speak. For most of the posts on this blog I assume that you know what you're going to preach. That's you're job, and you're the expert at it, so I've been focusing on how to present that message better. How to make the "what" easier to communicate to your people. However in this case I felt compelled to stop talking about "how" for a bit and to focus on "what" for a time. I'm not trying to convince you to believe in any specific way (except to never use bullet points).

What I want to do is to start conversations that we need to have. If you are preaching to a church, there are people with homosexual feelings in your congregation. That's a statistical fact. But our churches tend to project so much hatred and intolerance that they will hide forever rather than have an honest conversation. The same is true for people with depression, addiction and all sorts of sins. They are in your church. You look at them every time you get up to preach. What are you going to say to them? Are you going to speak the love of Jesus or are you going to spew out ignorance that they perceive as hate?

I feel like I've been clear in the previous posts, but let me spell it out for you here. After my study of the relevant passages of scripture, I see that homosexuality is a sexual sin. However it's no worse a sin than greed or slander, and every sin needs light to be removed. Sins will never come to light in an environment of fear, but if you have an environment of non-condemning love then people can feel free to confess their sins and find healing in the body of Christ. Also, I don't think that groups that attempt to "pray the gay away" are effective. Homosexuality doesn't appear to be a choice, but goes much deeper into genetics and core personality. It's wrong of us to ask people to change who they are at a core level. However we can empower them to use who they are for the glory of God within God's kingdom.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Homosexuality and Sex

A part of the reason that the church thinks that homosexuality is such a huge sin is that most of us aren't convinced that sex isn't sinful. We're so influenced by our culture, both secular and Christian, that tells us that sex is sinful, naughty, bad and dirty. But it's also the be-all, end-all experience in human existence. We're given this dichotomous paradoxical view with no healthy way to talk about sex.

I applaud the Simple Marriage blog for talking about things in a open manner. We need more places where we can have open dialog about sex, what it means and what it doesn't mean.

On the side of sex as wrong, the church is afraid to talk about the beauty of sex and the way that it expresses intimate, vulnerable love between two people. We fear that somehow having a conversation about it will make everyone promiscuous or something. These are really awful vestiges of our Puritanical roots that we need to get over if we're going to be God's people in this world. Sex is a creation of God and is beautiful. We need to celebrate it as such. There's an entire book of the bible devoted to the beauty of sex (Song of Solomon, if you don't already know). God wants us to know about sex. But also notice that though sex isn't shied away from in scripture, it's not the center of attention either. One of the books is enough to cover it. Sex is good, but it's not the purpose of life.

On the side that thinks sex is the ultimate goal, we see an endless string of movies that show young men seeking their first sexual conquest so they can prove themselves men indeed. Sex is the object of their quest, the proof of their manliness and the purpose of life. But all along, sex is a joke as well. Dirty jokes abound so that there's no honest conversation about sex, but just a seeking after and joking about the act. Beer ads, TV shows and billboards all spout the message that sex is our ultimate goal, but it's also a joke.

Because of our unhealthy way of talking about sex we don't have a healthy way to talk about sexual dysfunction or sexual sin. Married couples all over have huge problems in the bedroom, and most of them aren't fixed by a little blue pill. Sexual problems are all over the place, primarily because we don't have a safe place to talk about them. So too with sexual sin. Look at all the pastors that are found with pornography addictions or get caught in an affair with a member of the church. We don't have healthy, safe ways to talk about sin and temptation, so sexual sin is pushed under the surface only to bubble to the top at the most inappropriate times.

In this climate, is it any wonder that we can't have an honest, productive conversation about homosexuality?

How could we foster a climate of conversation?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Homosexuality and Bias

I've been writing lately about homosexuality and the church, Jesus and the bible because of a post that my friend Mark Adams made asking for conversation about these important issues. I've been blessed and challenged by this conversation to examine what I believe and why I believe it. I left off the conversation yesterday with a discussion of bias. Essentially the way we approach the bible is due to the biases we bring to it. The main biases of the homosexual community are that God wants us to be happy and that romantic relationships make us happy.

I want to interact with that bias a bit based on what Jesus has said and the world we live in. Jesus has never told us that we get to be happy or that God wants us to be happy. In fact he tells us that it's good to be poor, hungry, mourning and persecuted (Matt. 5). Happiness doesn't show up on his radar when he tells us that we need to die, take up our cross and follow him (Mark 8.34-5). It seems more in line with American values than Jesus' values to say that God wants us to be happy: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." (Declaration of Independence) That's nearly the opposite of what Jesus calls his followers to: death, persecution and mourning.

My brother was born with a mental handicap that leaves him with the mind of a child in the body of an adult. He's just smart enough to know that he's not as smart as other people. Sometimes I can see the frustration in his eyes. He was born that way. Why would God make him that way if he can't ever be happy? What of the people born with even worse disabilities? If the chief end of life is to be happy, what do you say to the person born with no legs that only wants to run and jump? They will never be happy, according to the standards of the homosexual bias, does that mean that God doesn't love them?

What if God would rather that we be free, whole people rather than happy? He could make us all happy, automatons blissfully going through our lives with no free will and no pain. But for some reason he chose to give us freedom. The only good thing I can figure could come from our free will is the ability to love. To choose to love with doubt and questions fully intact. But because of our free will this world is horribly broken. Every human being has chosen against love, and our world is falling apart. Sickness, disease, deformity and pain are all symptoms of a broken world. God doesn't want us to be ignorantly blissful in our pigpen of a world. He wants us to be healed and whole so we can love him and each other from a place of health and beauty. We work to mend our broken world to help more people find wholeness and freedom. What if God wants to show us how to love our neighbors and what if that takes pain? What if we aren't called to be happy?

Is this a fair critique? What have I missed? Where am I wrong?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Homosexuality and the Bible

Adam and Steve in the Garden of Eden
I've been taking the last few posts on this blog to respond to a question raised by my friend Mark Adams about how the church can move forward on the homosexual issue. This issues is too important to not discuss in an open and honest manner.

When reading the bible we all have our biases that affect how we read and interpret scripture. The bias of a patriarchal society allowed some people to read the bible as teaching the subjugation of women. The bias of being slave owners allowed some people to read the bible as being in favor of slavery. As our biases change, so too does our reading and understanding of what the bible says. First it's important to look honestly at our biases and see how they're affecting our reading of God's word.

The typical Christian bias is that homosexuality is a sin and that the bible teaches against homosexual relations in a strong manner (though we saw that there are only just a few passages on the topic). It's no wonder that when we come to the bible that we see a condemnation of homosexuality if that's exactly what we expect to find there before we open the book. If we aren't willing to move the conversation to the level of bias we won't be able to move forward. What if the standard Christian bias is wrong? That's exactly the question that we're asking homosexual Christians to consider.

In conversations that I've had with homosexual people and people who interpret the bible to say that homosexuality isn't a sin I think I've identified a couple biases that inform their interpretation of scripture. Please note, this is my opinion based on personal conversations, I welcome corrections and critique. The first bias has to do with happiness. The essential argument is that God must want us to be happy and that romantic relationships are key to happiness. The second bias is that homosexuality is an innate trait rather than a chosen behavior.

There is growing evidence that homosexuality is, at least partly, controlled by genes. Numerous people have gone through gay-cure programs such as Exodus International. And while there is a good deal of debate about the "success" of such program (Exodus won't even comment on the topic), there are many who come out feeling hurt by the process of rejecting who they have been their entire lives. I couldn't choose to be heterosexual, I just am. It follows that homosexuals can't make the choice either.

The first bias of homosexual theology essentially says that God wants us to be happy. Here's where I think the conversation needs to focus. Does God really want us to be happy? Is our happiness inextricably tied to our ability to love whomever we want?

I'll keep discussing this point tomorrow. What do you think?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Homosexuality and the Church

Continuing the conversation from yesterday about Jesus and the homosexual community, I want to think a bit today about what the church needs to do. If we're going to have this conversation, it needs to be based in what the bible says. A conversation can't happen when we're shouting at each other. I learned this from Carroll Osburn in his book: Women in the Church: Reclaiming the Ideal, which looks at the different sides of the issue of women in the church in a fair and reasonable manner. Essentially the conversation can't happen between the extremists. People holding signs saying that God hates homosexual people are not likely to do anything but shout, and the radical, vociferous minority of the homosexual community won't listen or respond coherently either.

We need to have an honest, theological and scriptural discussion not an argument. Stanley Grenz has a highly recommended book that presents different biblical interpretations and lands on the idea that the church ought to be: Welcoming but Not Affirming. In it he lays out both sides of the issue and looks at the scriptural underpinnings of the debate.

The reality is that there is a dearth of scriptural teaching on this point. We have all of four passages in the bible that mention it at all: Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:26-27. Some would also cite the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as a condemnation of homosexuality since the men of the city wanted to have sex with the angels visiting Lot. However Genesis 19 isn't clear about the reason for the destruction of the city. 

Leviticus is the most clear about what the actual act being prohibited. It only covers male homosexual acts, however and doesn't condemn all homosexuality. Some would argue that this is due to the patriarchal society which sees women as unnecessary of mention. There is thought that the homosexual practice being prohibited is not a loving, consentual relationship, but rather cultic practices that relate to the worship of the Canaanite gods. Similar to tattoos and beard trimming that were both outlawed in Leviticus for what appears to be the purpose of keeping the Israelites from idol worship. Christians have dismissed the teaching about beard trimming, by and large, and many Christians don't see a problem with tattoos. The same reasoning could be used to dismiss the commands about homosexuality in Leviticus.

In 1 Corinthians we see a list of things that will exclude people from the kingdom of heaven, one of which is being a "homosexual offender." This could be taken to mean anyone who has homosexual relations, but within gay theology they argue that this is actually in reference to homosexual pedophilia which was common in Roman and Greek culture where an older man would take a young boy as a lover.  Their argument is that Paul is outlawing, not the relationship between two adults, but the dominant relationship of a man over a boy as sinful.

Romans gives us the only teaching about female homosexuality in the bible. To me, this is the most difficult one to dismiss, as it is fairly clearly talking about both men and women and apparently adult relationships. It takes more exegetical gymnastics to get around this passage. You could say that Paul is discussing temple prostitutes again. Or it could be a discussion of the ways in which sex and rape were used to exert dominance over weaker people and to fill them with shame, pointing out that everyone is shamed by such acts.

I think that's the basis for a biblical discussion. I believe that the bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, but it is in no way a greater sin than others. Paul lumps it in with being drunk, greedy or a slanderer. Truth be told, Christians slander homosexuals regularly. It's time to stop slandering and start conversing so that we can understand each other.

What do you think?

(Note: book links earn me a small commission on any purchases).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Homosexuality and Jesus

My friend Mark Adams posted a thoughtful blog on how churches can move forward on the gay issue. You should read his post, it's well worth your time. He made four main points:

  1. The church needs to reclaim an understanding of what it means to be a "redemptive community." 
  2. We need to teach about how to live a Christ reflecting life more than we need to condemn wrong living. 
  3. We need to think about how the "weakness" of homosexual attraction can be a strength in the kingdom of God.  
  4. We need to develop a high value for single people in the church and ministry.
I want to look at the issue from a different perspective in the context of what Mark has already said so well.

Jesus spent a huge amount of his time and effort in ministry reaching to the marginalized and showing them love. Take the Samaritans for example, they were a people that were hated by the Jews and rejected from any Jewish functions so they had to find a place to worship God on their own. The Jews blasted the Samaritans for being sinful half-breeds who couldn't know God because of the way that they were born. There was no place for the Samaritans in the Jewish world, so the Samaritans created their own world parallel to, but separate from the Jewish world. Jesus rejected this separation and showed grace and love to the Samaritans. He even used the despised people as examples of right living on numerous occasions.

You probably already see the analogy I'm making. Today the homosexual community is hated by Christians and rejected from any Christian functions so they've found ways to connect to God on their own, including the creation of a Gay Church. Christians deride homosexual people for being sinners and unable to connect with God, even though there is strong evidence that they are born with homosexual feelings. There is no place for homosexuals in the Christian world so they've created their own world and society. 

What would Jesus do today? Would he call us to the marginalized again? Would he call us to see examples of right living in the homosexual community? 

Notice that Jesus never condoned sin. When he was talking with the Samaritan woman he didn't tell her that her lifestyle was good, but he treated her with respect and dignity that no one else would offer. We can, and must be people of love that show respect and dignity to everyone of God's children. Gay, straight, black, white, male or female. God loves them all with tenderness and compassion and his love is no less due to anyone's sins. 

What do you think? 

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Photo Editing Software Roundup

Photo editing software is going to be necessary at some point. You'll need to crop, remove red-eye or completely transform an image. The level you get into things is really up to you, but you need to have some tools at your fingertips.

Many thanks to Lifehacker for their useful Hive Five series that gave me a list of the five best image editing tools and the five best online image editing tools.

Desktop software:

Adobe has a slew of photo editing tools that have become the standard in the image editing industry. Photoshop has even become a verb to denote editing an image. The $700-$1000 price tag means that only professionals are going to use the high end software. The next level down is Lightroom which is about $300 and offers all the photo organizing and editing tools that most people will need. Lightroom is focused on giving photographers a way to mess with the pictures they've taken rather than the full on graphic design done in Photoshop. The most stripped down version is Photoshop Elements for $99 which offers great resources and tools (and probably more than most people will ever need). Think of it as what the full Photoshop was three or four years ago.

In the Free Open Source Software (FOSS) camp are GIMP and Paint.NET, which is what I use by the way, I use it because it's free and because it has most everything that I could ever want. I was able to make the graphic header for this blog with Paint.NET and there are a lot of other options available. Basically the difference between Paint.NET and Photoshop is that you'll have to do a lot of things manually in the FOSS that are automated in the Photoshop family. How much are you willing to pay for convenience?

Google offers the Picasa photo organizing software that also has quite a bit of editing power baked in. Just like you can click "I'm Feeling Lucky" when searching with Google, you can click it in Picasa and the software will automatically crank out the adjustments to the image that it thinks are best. If you have a huge database of images with people in them, Picasa has a handy face recognition feature that is fairly accurate. This is also free.

Online Tools:

There are several online image editing tools that allow you to upload your image to their website, edit it and then download the finished product. Most of them share similar features, what sets them apart is the speed of the software. Lifehacker prefers Aviary, but there's also Pixlr, and SumoPaint to consider. If you want to use the Adobe software they now have an online version of Photoshop. Finally, when I need to edit photos online I use Picnik because I like the interface and because you can install it as an app in Google Chrome.

Update: Unfortunately, Google is closing the doors on Picnik, effective April 19, 2012. It's probably a good idea to start learning another online application, if Picnik has become your go-to online photo editor.

What tools are your favorite?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Photo Editing within PowerPoint

Insert Picture
Within PowerPoint there are some basic photo editing tools that you can use to save yourself time and effort. If you don't need to open up a new program to make the changes you need, it'll be that much faster to complete your presentation. First you need to insert the image using the "Insert" feature.

Once you've got that picture all nice and cozy in your PowerPoint slide you can start to manipulate and edit the image to be where you want it and to look like you want it. The software automatically switches you to the "Picture Tools" tab when you insert or click on a picture.

Within the "Pictures Tools" tab you have quite a few options like cropping the image, adding different effects to the picture, resizing the picture or moving the image around on the slide. One set of commands that I use quite a bit are the alignment commands in the upper right. Click on the "Align" button then click "Align Center" to put your picture exactly between left and right. Click "Align" again then click "Align Middle" to put the image directly between the top and bottom. Now it's perfectly centered on the slide.

Look over at the left hand side and you'll see the bulk of the photo editing options within PowerPoint. Here you can tweak the brightness, contrast and color of the image. Use the "Compress Pictures" button once you're done editing to reduce the size of your presentation. Use "Change Picture" to find a completely different image. Click "Reset Picture" to clear off all the changes you've made and start editing from scratch.

Click on "Brightness" or "Contrast" and you'll see a series of options either greater or less than zero percent with zero being normal. Hover your mouse over any of the options to preview what the picture will look like. This is mildly helpful, but I find that I rarely use this feature. The "Recolor" option however has come in handy a few times.

Click "Recolor" and you'll see several different color options for your image. If you hover your mouse over them you'll see the name and a preview of what it will do to your picture. The "Washout" option is great for producing a watermark effect with an image behind text. Use the "Sepia" and "Black and White" options for an older, more classic look to your slides.

One of the most useful tools is down there at the bottom of the "Recolor" menu that opens up: "Set Transparent Color." With this you can click a color in your image and it will be transparent so you can essentially have a cutout of an image to use with other images or with text on your slide. This will only work for solid colors, but if you have a good stock photo against a background of a solid color it's very useful.

What PowerPoint photo editing Kung Fu do you know?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Great presentations are about telling a great story. But if you aren't telling a great story with your life, your presentation will have a tough time catching people's attention. Check out Don Miller's book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story about telling a better story with your whole life. It's had a huge impact on me.

What story are you telling? from Rhetorik Creative on Vimeo.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Is Controversy Healthy?

Controversy drives our news cycle. It gets one story to the top of the news feed and keeps other stories from being seen at all. At the end of this month, Rob Bell is releasing his next book, entitled Love Wins
 where he looks at the end fate of people. The problem is that the promotional material is highly controversial. This has caused some people like, John Piper, to bid him farewell from Christianity. There's no doubt that the controversy will sell books, but it also pits Christians against each other in bitter fights. I'm not sure that the controversy is very healthy, even if it does sell books.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

I Might be Wrong

After years of careful study and reflection, I finally admitted that I was wrong. It was tough, but eventually I became convinced that it was best to just change rather than continue to fight against what I know to be incorrect.

My process involved a thorough study of the bible and biblical interpretation including the traditional interpretations alongside the original language and historical setting. I talked with lots of people and reflected throughout the process. I prayed for wisdom and kept reading the bible to look for what God is trying to say through scripture. In the end I became convinced that what I had always thought was actually wrong and that the bible was teaching something different.

I'm avoiding the specific topic (partly because this has happened several times on different issues), because I don't want to derail the conversation by getting into the details of a certain doctrine. What's more important, I think, is to have an attitude of submission to scripture where we recognize that what God teaches through the bible is greater than our opinions or traditions, and if God is teaching something through scripture that contradicts what I've always believed, then my beliefs need to change. It's painful. I don't like it. But in the end it's better for me and it's better for the people of God to actually let the word of God be our authority.

When have you admitted to being wrong? How did you go through the process?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Sermons that Feed People

I heard a great story from Bob Logan, founder of CoachNet.

He shared about a time when he was preaching at a church and after the sermon someone came up to him and said: "Your sermons don't feed me."

Bob stopped for a moment, then replied: "Thank you for having the courage to come up to me and share that. I really appreciate the bravery it takes to come up and share with me that you still need someone to spoon feed you the Scriptures after 20 years of being in church. That really takes a lot of courage to admit. If you'd like I'd be happy to help you learn to feed yourself."

Talk about holy confrontation! It's biblical (Heb. 5.12-14), it's loving and it's blunt. I love it.

It's also causing me to reorganize my thoughts about what constitutes a good sermon and how I should challenge and teach Christians.

How do you respond when someone says that the sermon doesn't feed them?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Photo Editing - March

During the month of March we're going to look at photo editing. Editing pictures is a huge category that could take far more than a month to cover given the short, blog format. In order to be effective at using visuals as you communicate, you don't need to be an expert at editing images, but you do need to know some basics.

I'm thinking of a weekly category something like:
Week 1 - Basic retouching (crop, brightness and contrast)
Wee 2 - Basic editing (cut and paste, lighting effects, text effects)
Week 3 - Advanced editing (merging pictures, full transformation stuff)
Week 4 - Special tools (photo mosaic, panoramas, etc.)

To help me get my bearings and provide the best content this month, I'd love to know what questions you have about editing photos.