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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas - Here's a Gift

That Santa can be so forgetful sometimes. If you got a brand new Kindle and are suffering from a dearth of books to fill it, you can grab a free one right here. It'll be free until the 29th, so tell all your friends.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Pope is on Twitter and what that means for your weekend

Last week the Pope joined the unwashed masses on Twitter (@pontifex for English speakers). So what does that mean for you?

Right now, not much. After a flurry of posts in the first day, the Pope went radio-silent for a week before jumping on again to drop a couple more thought-bombs on the Twitter-verse. He's tweeted a total of 9 times (as of this writing) and, though he has 1.2 million followers, he only follows 7 people (perfect).

A week ago there was a wide swath of news coverage about the Pope being on Twitter and then things petered out (ha). The same thing can happen easily to you. As the estimable Admiral is so fond of saying, "It's a trap."

Social media isn't a panacea that allows anyone to connect with anyone else. Getting on Twitter or Facebook won't make you better at interacting with young people; it won't increase your ability to relate. Just tweeting (9 times over the course of 7 days), gives a false sense of accomplishment. It's too soon to tell for sure, but it's looking the Benedict XVI is doing what so many on Twitter do: joining and then ignoring the medium.

What social media really offers is a tool that can build relationships and facilitate connections. But the tool must be used to do the work. Relationship doesn't exist without work. Connection doesn't happen without effort. The Pope won't make a difference online if he's not willing to put in the time and energy to post regularly and interact with people. Neither will you.

The Pope's dearth of tweeting isn't surprising, neither is yours. What would really be surprising is if he started connecting with people in a real way and putting in the work to engage individuals in meaningful dialog.

Would it be surprising if you did the same?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Be Careful what you 'Like'

You scroll past it like I do. We mostly ignore the suggestions of Facebook for pages that we might like that have been liked by others. It's a part of the growing advertising push of Facebook as the, now publicly traded, company seeks to increase revenue and please shareholders.

But what if your friends didn't actually like the page? What if a page shows up as liked by you and you didn't like it. What if that page supports ideas diametrically opposed to what you believe? What then?

Well, Bernard Meisler over at ReadWrite has research that very thing and found that it's happening. Not only are people having likes added to their profiles without permission, but those who are deceased are still liking pages from beyond the grave. Something is amiss here.

According to Meisler, Facebook denies that they're doing it and they want it to stop. It's terrible for their business model if fake-likes are being generated because they can't give consistent ad statistics to potential advertisers which undermines the value of any advertisement.

But people are still phantom-liking pages that they've never clicked on, never seen, and sometimes can't even read. So, what's happening.

There's no evidence for this yet, but my best guess is that a rogue app is generating the fake-likes. Apps can be given permission to post on the behalf of a person and that posting could be through liking pages. It's possible that some apps are willingly and maliciously using people to generate fake-likes. It's also possible that an app you trusted was hacked and the ne're-do-wells are slithering in that way.

However it's working, fake-likes are proliferating on Facebook and it can make you look bad. You can protect your image online by regularly checking your actual likes.

  • Go to your Facebook profile (i.e. click your name in the upper right corner of the Facebook website). 
  • Click "Likes" from the navigation bar just under your cover photo. 
  • Look through the list of likes to check that you've added them all. 
    • Hover over the name of a page until the information window pops up. 
    • Hover over the "Liked" button until the dialog menu pops up
    • Click "Unlike" to remove the page from your profile. 
You might also want to deactivate any apps that you've added recently or that you no longer use. 
  • Click the arrow next to your name at the top right of your Facebook page. 
  • Choose "Account Settings."
  • Click "Apps" from the list on the left. 
  • Click the "X" to the right of any app you don't use or don't recognize. 
  • Confirm that you want to delete the app from your page. 
Have you seen any suspicious likes? 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

What's up with Stuff?

There are several different ways to view all the stuff around us, and the way that we view all that stuff has an incredible impact on how we interact with the world and with each other. If, for example, you are a materialist and you think that there is nothing spiritual, then you are likely to put a higher value on life than one who is a spiritualist who denies the value of the physical.


The idea that there are two incompatible realms: matter and spirit. Traditionally, dualism holds that Spirit is good and Matter is bad. This is the case in Neo-Platonism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and many denominations of Christianity that are influenced by Neo-Platonic thought. 


The idea that all things are God and God is all things. Note, this is distinct from the idea that God is in all things. Rather pantheism sees that all things are God/Spirit. There are elements of pantheism in Hinduism, Wicca, and Pagan religions. 


The idea that there is no spiritual, invisible realm. All that exists is what we can see. This is typically the idea held by secular humanists and atheists. 


The idea that both spirit and matter are real and equally valuable. They can both be corrupted or both be good. The world and people are not divided entities, but made up of both the physical and the spiritual. They are not the same, but they are both present and both necessary. Though Christians have often tended toward dualism, Jesus taught holism. 

What do you think about the nature of the world? How does that affect the way you treat people? 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Celebrating Death

You may not be able to tell, but that picture is of me catching Ryan Woods after he swung across a gap on a ropes course at Camp Yamhill. Yesterday we celebrated his life and mourned his death.

One of my first memories of Ryan is from youth group games. I was a college volunteer and he was in high school. We'd play games at a weekly church gathering. Almost invariably, Ryan would look for a way to bend or break the rules. He never saw the rules as confining. Instead, he found ways to work around them to get what he wanted.

At first it frustrated me. I was supposed to keep these kids in line; I was supposed to be an authority. But Ryan's joyful flouting of the rules taught me that people are more important than rules. I'm still trying to move that lesson from my head to my heart.

Ryan kept breaking the rules for the sake of people. You can read his story about life, cancer and death here. It's raw, honest, thoughtful and blunt. People aren't supposed to be that transparent on the internet. But Ryan was and it touched thousands of people.

Yesterday, as I was listening to stories about Ryan, it occurred to me that his powerful affect on people came out of his belief that embracing awkwardness doesn't hurt relationships, it helps them. Of course this is a naive belief; sophisticated people avoid awkwardness at all costs. But his naivete let him touch and bless many people who were invited to embrace the awkwardness with him.

That's hard for me. I don't like being awkward. It terrifies me. I want to be right. I want to be sophisticated, not naive. Being right and sophisticated, however, doesn't do much to help relationships. Naive awkwardness does.

Today I'm celebrating Ryan's life and taking fearful steps toward embracing awkwardness.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Inclusive or Exclusive Dialog

If you're having a conversation on Facebook, you can take steps to make it exclusive or inclusive. Your tone and content have much to do with how your conversations are perceived.

If you want to make sure your conversation is exclusive, use church phrases, quote scripture and write a long post.

Church Phrases
You know the kind. The words that drip of church-speak are phrases that you wouldn't hear in a movie or at coffee shop. They are insider language and keep your dialog from including people who don't speak the same language.

If you quote scripture, you are automatically excluding anyone who doesn't think the bible is the word of God. That's fine if you want to only have conversations with others who also believe in the bible, but if you want to have dialog with people outside your church context, then avoid leading off with scripture. It takes a faith-commitment to believe that the bible has any meaning beyond an interesting ancient text. Inclusive dialog doesn't ask people to make a faith commitment to be a part of the conversation.

Long Facebook posts are off-putting. I know that I rarely will read a status update that's longer than a few sentences. One or two lines is ideal. The longer your post, the fewer people will read it and fewer still will comment on it. Look at it this way. If you want to have a monologue, go ahead and put up a long post. You'll get to speak your piece, but you may not get much interaction. However, if you want to have a dialog, keep it short and, if possible, ask a question.

However you want to post on Facebook is fine. But if you want to have inclusive conversation, you need to avoid long, scripture-laden, churchy-sounding status updates.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

How to Deal with Election Results on Facebook

One Mike Birbiglia offers, what is probably, the best advice for using social media after this election:
"What I should have said was nothing."
Sure you can delete a status or comment, but people will still see it. Whether you think it's good or bad, when you express your raw emotions online, there's a good chance that it will go poorly.

I think the emotional release of social media might be its most tempting and damaging aspect. We all feel emotions in response to events. We celebrate when we perceive things are good. We grieve when we perceive things are bad. We're angry when we perceive things are unjust. This is good and normal. We're emotional people and our emotions help us to process life.

The problem comes when we don't use emotions as a tool to help us process, but instead just air them in public.

See, if someone makes me mad I can process the emotions in private, vent to my wife, think about what I'm going to say and then go and confront (or not) them. That's typically a healthy way to let emotions be a part of the process of life. They alert us to a need and motivate us to address it. If the need is justice, the anger helps to motivate us to act.

But, emotions by themselves can be damaging when they aren't a part of a process that looks at the purpose and the desired outcome. If you're mad right now, you might not be able to think about what you'd like to change or why you want to make the change. But through the process of talking about it and reflecting (and cooling off), you can figure out those things and make some productive steps.

Facebook, and other social media, tend to remove the processing time and give people the chance to just vent their emotions. What was once a private action is now in public. What was once a preliminary step toward purposeful activity is now the end.

I'm glad that people feel strongly. I want to embrace and use our emotions, not avoid them. But jumping the gun and just cutting loose with emotional outbursts isn't the right answer.

Look at your Facebook feed today. If it's like mine it probably has about equal numbers of people complaining about the election results and celebrating them. Those emotional reactions are natural but, in this case, not helpful.

More than that, the people who jump in to say, "Don't worry" or "God is in control" or "Keep calm and carry on" aren't adding anything either. Instead the din of emotional outbursts is increased. People's emotions are made to seem invalid and everyone feels the need to turn up the volume.

So for today, I'm not going to say anything about the election. That may seem weird because I've been creating some great dialog leading up to the election, but the heightened emotional state right now is antithetical to dialog.

Maybe, before you post that tirade, celebration or pious chastisement you should stop and decide if it would be better to just say nothing.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Winning and Losing Online

It's nearly here. This long campaign season culminates tomorrow in the election. Until now there has only been conflict between the positions. Tomorrow there will be winners and losers.

There aren't many conflicts where ultimate winners and losers are decided. Even when a team loses in sports, there's always the hope for next year or the explanation of how circumstances conspired to cause the defeat. But after the voting tomorrow, there will (most likely) be official, uncontrovertible winners and losers declared.


Remember that if your initiative, referendum or candidate wins on Tuesday that doesn't make you right. It just means you chose to vote the same way that others did. Our political process is about a cycle of dialog and action. We've been through the dialog, now we're approaching the time for action. Winning the election doesn't mean the dialog is over, just paused for a time while action can happen. We'll take up the conversation again, evaluate the action and figure out the best way to move forward. It's what we do. 

But winning the election doesn't make you better than the people who lost. It just puts you on the side of the people who are now empowered to act. 


Remember that if your vote is cast on the losing side Tuesday, that doesn't make you wrong. It just means you chose to vote the way that others did. In the process of dialog and action, now is your time to reflect for further dialog. The people chose a different plan from what you think is right. Now we're going to test that plan in the fire of action. But the dialog isn't over, we're just putting it on hold for a time. We need you to keep the conversation going so we can fairly evaluate our actions.

Losing the election doesn't make you worse than the people who won. It just puts you on the side of the people who are now needed to evaluate.


So many people have poured time and effort in to winning on election day. But what we need is engagement after that. We need all the voices to be a part of the dialog going forward and all the hands to be a part of the action. 

No matter how you voted regarding marriage, we need to you to continue working to make marriages healthy. Work in your community with the people around you to build strong marriages. 

No matter how you voted regarding the President, we need you to continue working to strengthen the economy and help people without jobs. 

No matter how you voted regarding abortion, we need to you to continue working to help prevent unwanted pregnancy and to provide clear, healthy, safe options for women. 

No matter how you voted, no matter who or what wins, we need you to keep working. Your vote isn't the most important thing you can give, your life is. Devote your actions to the issues that you're so passionately campaigning for right now. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Why Facebook is the Best Place for Conversations

With just days until the election, many people are disavowing Facebook as a worthless sink of political fighting that's not worth the time. So many people are espousing politically intransigent views that belittle others that it can seem like Facebook is a wasteland. The volume is so high on the noise that the signal of real conversation is nearly lost.

It seems that Facebook is a terrible place for conversations. My opinion is that Facebook is the best place. Here's why.

Facebook offers a range of thoughts and opinions that are not available in most other formats. The ability to bring together disparate viewpoints in person is difficult on a regular basis, but friend groups online can span the spectrum of political and religious thought.

Facebook gives you a the time to share your thoughts at your pace. When conversing in person, it's easy to let the speed of the dialog short-circuit the thought process. You want to get out your next point, they want to get out their next point and you keep speeding each other up until the actual conversation degrades into the basic issues. But online there's the time to slow down and consider what each person is saying (and delete rash comments before they're sent into the fray).

Facebook lets others see your conversation and benefit from it. There are many people who don't comment on Facebook, but instead read what other people are up to. I've had numerous people tell me, in person, that my online conversations have been encouraging to them. They don't comment, but they read what's said. Your thoughtful, engaging dialog can show more people that it's possible to have civil conversations in this divided time.

What do you think? Is Facebook a good place for deep conversations?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is Civil Discourse Possible?

During this political season, with one week until the election of the next president of the United States, I've had several friends drop off of Facebook altogether. Their stated reason is that the political rancor disgusts them and they don't want to be a part of it.

I've taken the opposite tack. My goal has been to increase my posts about political topics leading up to the election. But, I hope, I'm not adding to the rancor that is so distasteful. I hope I'm providing a place where people can discuss these important topics without having to resort to name-calling, fighting and belittling.

Some people don't think it's possible to have civil conversations anymore. I disagree (respectfully) and I hope to provide a way for people to interact meaningfully.

In my mind, the root cause of uncivil discourse is the assumption that those who disagree are somehow less-than. Ann Coulter (in)famously tweeted about the president during the final debate. She made the assumption that Mr. Obama is mentally disabled (and she's been publicly reprimanded for it). The difference between Ann Coulter and every other pundit that speaks for either the Left or Right is that Coulter stated bluntly what they all assume: those with opposing viewpoints must be mentally disabled.

The majority of political and religious discourse in the United States has been reduced to that base assumption, and the result is a lack of any civility. Why should you be civil to a mental deficient? Why should you tolerate the views of someone who's stupid? Why should you waste your time listening to someone who's a "retard" (to use Coulter's word)?

The obvious logic is that you shouldn't.

So, we end up labeling people with terms intended to rob them of a voice. They are wackos, nutjobs, Republitards, Demoquacks, the 47%, Romnesiacs, and retards. We label and dismiss.

By labeling people as deficient we dehumanize them. When they are less than human, we no longer have to respect them. If we no longer have to respect them, then we don't have to listen to what they say, we don't have to consider their thoughts, and we don't need to respect their rights.

You know we've done this before. We did it to women. We did it to minorities. We did it to non-land-owners. But we learned to listen to those groups, we gave them a voice in our government and we're better for it. We put into practice the ideals of democracy which assumes that every voice is valuable, even when they disagree.

The difference now is that we're not subjugating a minority with our dehumanizing labels. We're dismissing half of our country. The assumption that half of the people in the country are mentally deficient carries with it the assumption that those people are not worthy of the right to vote.

If you assume that civil discourse is impossible, you also assume that democracy is not possible. For it's in democracy that we celebrate different voices, we value them and benefit from them. In a democracy we assume that we're better for disagreeing. We assume that we are surrounded by mentally capable people with valuable opinions. We assume that working through the issues with debate, dialog and respect will make us all better.

Civil discourse is possible between capable, respectful, thoughtful people. I think that's you, even if you disagree with me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writing Retreat

Last weekend I attended the Wordstock Literary Festival which is the largest literary festival in the Northwest. I went to three writing workshops to give me some ideas on editing and revising my next book.

Now, after a short week of teaching, I'm on a writing retreat to put all of that learning into practice. I don't know what it is about getting away from the regular routine that seems to make work easier, but it really does for me.

I wish I had a house on an island where I could go away and just write, but I'm not so lucky (yet). Instead I'm off to an exotic city south of the border with European flair. If you aren't familiar with this friendly town, you should make a point of visiting the next time you're in the area of Portland.

Yeah, my big retreat is just a few miles away from home, but it makes all the difference. Breaking the old habits and routines gives me a new view, even now as I'm sitting in a rocking chair listening to the city wind down for the day.

So, for this week, I'm going to focus on my book. But don't you worry, I'll be back here soon with vim and vigor to dazzle you all (I hope).

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Communication and Technology

Unless you're face-to-face with someone, all communication uses technology (and one could even argue that language is a type of technology so that would include every form of communication). There is no way to separate the use of technology from the act of communication, but different types of technology demand different strategies for communication to be effective.

Visual Communication

At least one third of people are primarily visual learners (the others are auditory or kinesthetic). So if you skip visual communication, you're leaving out at least 33 percent of your audience. PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi and other slide-based tools give you the opportunity to communicate visually, but they take some time and effort to master. If you use visual communication effectively, it can increase the retention of your message by 6 times, but if you use it poorly, it can actually decrease the retention of your message. 

Online Communication

Communicating online is not the same as other text-based communication. You can't simply substitute an email for a written letter or a blog post for a magazine article. Online communication is faster, more interactive and more democratic than ever before. It takes new skills and thought processes to communicate effectively online. 


Recently Facebook passed 1 billion users and it continues to grow. More and more people are getting their news primarily through social media and important relationship information is often shared first online and then later in public. Facebook is a new world where people go to share, play, gripe and discuss. If it's used well, you can foster conversations between people who would never speak to each other in another forum. If it's used poorly it can reinforce negative stereotypes and further polarize people. 

Facebook is a mission field like none other. 


Keeping a blog or a website is a helpful way to promote ideas and connect with people all around the world, but blogs take discipline, effort and interaction. It's easy to create a blog and sit back waiting for people to jump in, but with the billions of pages on the internet today, it's not likely that people will stumble across you if you don't do the work to seek them out. 

Blogs give you a chance to develop your ideas in longer format than Facebook or Twitter, but they also require more effort to develop a culture of followers who check in and see what you're doing. 


There are times when it's appropriate to promote what you're doing online. If you're running a funding campaign or you're launching a new project and you want to generate excitement, you can promote it online. But there are rules to follow so that your promotion doesn't get lost in the crowd and it doesn't have the opposite effect you're looking for. There's a balance to be struck between getting the word out so people notice and being so annoying the people tune out and ignore you. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

How to Win at Facebook

Just because people can't see you doesn't mean you can be mean.
Many (most) approaches to Facebook result in polarizing positional statements rather than true dialog. I really want to change that. One thing that I'm doing to change the tone of conversations online is to model having good conversations. You can see a recent one here.

If you don't want to take the time to read through all of that post, I'll fill you in on the big ideas that allow me to have a congenial, thoughtful dialog about a divisive issue.

  • Ask questions. Statements don't invite dialog. Questions do. Jesus was a big fan of asking questions and inviting people into dialog. It's a powerful way to invite everyone to share and work through an issue. 
  • Ask real questions. Very often people will make positional statements (I believe x), which doesn't help dialog. But just slapping a question mark at the end of the sentence doesn't make it a real question. It can be a loaded question that doesn't really invite dialog. 
    • Loaded Question: "Why do you think gay marriage is wrong?" 
    • Real Question: "How is marriage understood in the bible?"
  • Get to the root of the issue. Typically fights are about positions that people have taken on an issue. Think of it as the difference between a symptom and a cause. You're trying to get to the root cause instead of just working on the level of symptoms. This will take some work on your part to step back through the thought processes and find the kernel of the debate. 
    • Symptom Question: "Why would you vote/not vote to legalize gay marriage?"
    • Cause Question: "If there's a separation between church and state, should the laws reflect Christian principles?"
  • Listen. You probably have an opinion on the question you're asking (you probably have strong opinions on some of the sample questions I posted here), but that doesn't mean you have to share it right away. You can wait to let others respond before you jump in with your thoughts. As soon as you attempt to answer the question, everyone else will feel like the conversation is over. Sit back and see how the conversation develops. 
  • Play nice. Name calling, belittling, defamation, and all kinds of insults will destroy conversation. But, so will refereeing every little quip and remark. I try to find a balance between holding people to a high standard of personal interaction and letting people freely discuss. In general, I'd say that the line is any statement that explicitly or implicitly devalues the ability of someone to have a valid opinion. Nothing will kill a conversation more quickly than the idea that the opposition is mentally deficient. If that happens, I step in and correct the misapprehension. 
Using this process, I've been able to have thoughtful conversations about abortion, gay marriage, just war, healthcare, the problem of pain, and numerous other topics. I'm better for it, and I think my friends are better for it. 

What have I left out of this list? What works for you?

Friday, October 05, 2012

How to alienate friends and frustrate people

Yesterday I got into a long conversation on Facebook with several of my friends. At my last check it was up to 75 comments and they spanned the gamut of thoughts on the topic. However, one of the comments was:
"wow...great conversation, totally changed my view point...said no one ever after a facebook debate like this!"
I may be the minority in this, but I have had my view changed, numerous times, by having a conversation (or even a debate) on Facebook. I don't think it's bragging to say that I'm very good at eliciting comments and creating conversation (both online and offline). I have friends who believe wildly different things and they all got together and had a civil discussion about one of the most divisive topics in our current sphere. So, how did I do it?

First, let me point out what is not working that I see on Facebook.

  • Posting scripture quotes and references. Though it's good to share the bible with people, a status update on Facebook probably isn't the best place for it. You will immediately shut down conversation from anyone who might disagree with you. 
  • Posting long status updates. It doesn't matter if it's your devotional thoughts for the day or your opinion on the current political climate or why you think your sports team will beat the other sports team in the upcoming sports match. If it's longer than two lines, it probably won't get much response. 
  • Posting one-sided questions. If your status update takes a side from the outset you probably won't get much discussion. You might get supporters proclaiming their support of your thoughts and opponents proclaiming their opposition, but you won't people exploring the space between support and opposition. 
  • Posting unfair, poorly researched or partisan statements. If your status assumes that half of all people are stupid, then it's probably not going to open up much dialog. Our social-political discussions are often reduced to the statement: "anyone with half-a-brain would think like me." If your base assumption is that opponents can't possess the same mental faculties that you do, then you will never have an open discussion. 
What do you see on Facebook that's just not working? 

I'll let you know how I'm able to have meaningful, transforming, thoughtful and kind Facebook conversations in the next post. 


Thursday, October 04, 2012

There are 1 billion people on Facebook, so why will no one 'like' your status?

I've blogged about Facebook before, but today is a momentous day in the history of social media. Facebook passed one billion users today. That means one out of every seven people in the world is on Facebook. If Facebook was a country it would be the third largest population with over three times the people of the United States.

That's big.

I remember the presidential campaign of 2008. President Obama did a great job of connecting to potential voters through social media and the internet. The other candidates saw that and attempted to replicate his success. It fell flat because they just got online. They didn't actually take the time to engage the medium.

I was presenting to a group of people about how to use technology to communicate well and one older gentleman suggested that he could scan his hand-written notes and email them to people as a way to engage new audiences with technology. Though I applaud his attitude, his tact is a bad one.

Social media isn't an electronic version of another type of communication - it is an unique form of communication. You can't just take other content and recycle it for Facebook (or Twitter or Pinterest or your other social media site). You can't just sign up and wait for the people to come to you. You can't just post things and have conversation happen. It takes work to learn the language and culture of each social media platform so you can communicate well.

I'll offer some tips on how to really connect with people through Facebook on Friday. For right now, what have you learned about communicating online versus other forms of communication?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Spiritual but not Religious

Recently there was a blog on CNN about the idea that being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out answer. And there's been some discussion on the topic from both sides of the belief aisle.

The cop-out side says that SBNR crew either ignores religion, doesn't understand religion or assumes they know better than all the religions.

The SBNR folks would say that they don't want to be associated with the hypocritical institutions of people, or that they don't have a better option to share (i.e. it's not appropriate to have the full, religious conversation).

By the way, the atheist crowd also thinks that SBNR is a cop-out, but from the other perspective. Atheists see the SBNR folks as equating spirituality with the good, ethical parts of being a human being rather than any extra-physical reality.

In some sense, the SBNR statement is as much of a cop-out as any other self-identification. Saying that you're Baptist, Catholic, Baha'i, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, American, or a fan of Harry Potter, just serves as shorthand so neither you nor I need to really process the information.

We have pre-set schemata (call them stereotypes if you want), that give us a way to move on with life instead of having to develop a full character profile for every person we meet. We don't have the mental energy to fully understand the complex ideas that are the core of each person's philosophy. We don't have the time to do much more than give cop-out answers when we first meet people.

The problem arises when we don't do the work to understand the people closest to us, or worse yet, when we don't do the work ourselves. It becomes a cop out when I let "Christian" define me rather than working hard to define myself within that label. It becomes a cop out when I let "Republican" or "Democrat" define my political ideals rather than finding the nuanced individuality that's unique to me.

So you can say that you're SBNR (or Buddhist or Pastafarian or Greek Orthodox), that's cool. I'll fit you into my stereotype of what that means. But if we're friends and I ask you why you wear that label, you'd better be able to give a more nuanced explanation. If you can't, SBNR is just a cop out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dualism is a Natural Beginning

On Monday we talked about why Dualism is such a popular philosophy. Essentially, it's the easiest of the worldviews because it only requires two categories for everything. Even a child can understand the basic tenants of dualism.

And, in a way, that's the point. A child's mind isn't equipped to deal with difficult moral dilemmas. Toddlers need a clear right and wrong in order to develop in a healthy way. Children push boundaries because they want to know what the boundaries are. They crave moral clarity and a dualistic worldview offers that.

As a child develops into adolescence, they should be invited to determine their own standards from a variety of options. This is a relativistic perspective. Adolescents need to practice decision making from a relativistic perspective. The clear boundaries of childhood are dissolving as freedom increases. Adolescents have the mental capacity to engage in relativistic thought.

Adults should move beyond relativism to a principled worldview. It's one where experience, understanding and logic lead to the development of core principles for an individual that can be applied across a wide range of situations. It has the boundaries of the dualistic worldview and the personal responsibility of the relativistic worldview combined.

However, we often will distill our principles into dualism once again, or allow the principles of others to become dualism for us. This is, primarily, because a principled worldview is hard work. It takes rigorous examination, difficult life experience and considerable mental effort to sort through the various options and arrive at a viable principle. We don't want to do the hard work, so we rely on the work of others and trust their experience and examination. Their principles become our dualism.

Though dualism is a natural beginning, it's not a viable end. Extremism relies on dualism, and the best way to combat extremism is to work to move people out of a dualistic perspective and toward a principled worldview.

How have you moved away from dualism?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why is Dualism so Popular?

Among the ways to look at the world, dualism is, perhaps, the most simplistic and most common. I don't believe that correlation is a coincidence.

First, what is dualism? It's a philosophy or belief system with two mutually exclusive parts or ideas. Moral dualism states that there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Metaphysical dualism separates matter and spirit into separate realms. Philosophical dualism sees two essences in the world - like Yin and Yang.

Of all the ways to view the world, dualism is the easiest. It requires the least effort on the part of the individual to figure out. Once you've decided the categories, you just lump everything into one or the other. If something doesn't quite fit a category, you enlarge one of them to encompass it. Eventually your two, mutually exclusive groups categorize all things.

But dualism is a forced reduction of complex ideas, often beyond what they can bear. For example, if you are a metaphysical dualist, then things are only matter or only spirit. How can people exist? They are either pretending to be physical (or trapped in the physical form and yearning to be released) or they are pretending to be spiritual and are only physical. This completely ignores the complex interaction between spirit and body that happens in each person and tends to vilify matter (from a spiritual perspective) or to vilify the spirit (from a materialistic perspective). Only one category in a dualistic worldview can be good, so either matter must be bad or spirit must be bad.

Moral dualism is the basis for conflict and hatred in the world. Thought it's a reductio ad absurdum, moral dualism assumes that everyone and everything are either good or bad. I must be good; therefore, if you disagree with me you are bad. If you are bad, then I'm justified in hating you, as I should hate evil. Since I hate evil, I'm justified in fighting you and killing you.

Then why, oh why, do we continue in dualistic worldviews? What do you think?

Friday, September 21, 2012

What you see affects your moral judgement

Moral judgements are affected by mental images, according to an article published by NPR.

"Emotional responses don't just pop out of nowhere," Greene said. "They have to be triggered by something. And one possibility is that you hear the words describing some event, you picture that event in your mind, and then you respond emotionally to that picture."
That's the key: Some dilemmas produce vivid images in our heads. And we're wired to respond emotionally to pictures. Take away the pictures — the brain goes into rational, calculation mode.

So when a verbal description is visually stimulating - that is, it causes the hearer to imagine the situation - the moral judgement becomes emotionally driven rather than rationally driven. The dilemmas used in the study asked participants to choose if one person died or five people died. In one scenario the participant was asked to flip a switch to make the decision. In the other, they were asked to push someone off a bridge.

The physical description and the activity of pushing someone off a bridge evoked a mental image and an emotional moral response, so the participants refused to kill one person to save five. However, when all it would take is the flip of a switch and the people were not vividly described, participants chose to sacrifice one person to save five.

I believe the application can be expanded beyond picture laden words to the quality of images.

Different images provide varying levels of emotional engagement and will evoke different moral responses. Take, for example, the image at the top of this post. It shows the different legal status of human trafficking around the world. From this perspective things don't look so bad in the US. We're nowhere near as bad Asia, Africa and South America.

But look at these next images which show real people dealing with the horror of human trafficking. The first is a mix of an airline baggage tag and bound female hands. It's stark because it shows a person being imported to the US from Mexico.

What's the difference in your emotional response from the map to this picture?

This last picture is a Vietnamese woman immediately after being rescued from human trafficking. She's bruised, bloody and barely clothed. You can't see her eyes, but her demeanor is one of resignation and defeat. She's been so abused and beaten that she doesn't seem happy to be free from slavery.

What's your emotional reaction to this image?

Which image do you think would be more effective in working to stop human trafficking?

Why do you think we are so driven by emotions when a vivid image is involved?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Why I Don't Need to Prove God Exists

I've been challenged to prove that God exists. I won't try. It's not because I believe God doesn't exist. I very much believe that God exists, that the Bible reveals him, that Jesus is his son, and that God, through the Spirit, dwells with me.

But I can't prove it. I have experience, but no evidence.

There are many, many arguments for the existence of God. I've studied most of them. I like some of them. But I don't really want to use any of them.

Here's why:

  • Incontrovertible truth is based on observation. 
  • God cannot be observed, therefore God cannot be proved incontrovertibly. 
  • Therefore any attempt to prove God's existence will be rejected by those who are predisposed to reject the existence of the unobserved. 
  • So, proofs for the existence of God are mental exercise that reinforces beliefs already held by those already predisposed to believe in God. 
To put it another way, I don't need to prove God exists to people who already believe he exists; I can't prove God exists to those who refuse to believe that God exists. 

Working on proofs for the existence of God may help to strengthen the faith of believers, but it doesn't do anything to affect the non-believer. 

Those who flatly deny the existence of God do so (most often) from the perspective of observation. God cannot be observed, therefore God must not exist (or God's existence is meaningless to the observer).

This, however, presupposes the reliability of the observer and the ability of that observer to reason from his or her observation to the reality of the observed world. The existence of synesthetes shows that our observation isn't tied to the reality of the world we observe. 

Synesthesia is the condition where senses are crossed in some way. Synesthetes may see color when they hear a sound or they might perceive numbers as always having the same shape or connect smells with a touch-like feeling. The synesthete's brain crosses signals from the different senses and conflates the information. The letter 'A' isn't actually red, but a synesthete will perceive it that way. 

The existence of synesthesia goes to prove that the human brain doesn't deal with reality, but the filtered version of reality interpreted by the senses. Your observation may or may not relate to reality. 

Because of this, a strictly empirical worldview (one that rejects any a priori assumptions) is functionally impossible since the most basic assumption of Empiricism is that observation provides a reliable window into the world.

So, me proving that God exists is akin to proving that the world exists. I can't do it, but I can live like it's true. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

How Faith and Reason can Coexist

It's not possible to develop a purely rational philosophy (nor is it possible to have a functional worldview based solely on faith).

I've blogged about Faith and Reason in the past. Recently I've been having a conversation with someone regarding those blogs and the viability of faith in the light of reason. His assertion is that faith is useless and reason is the only true basis for life.

This view is problematic for several reasons, not the least of which is the underlying presupposition that individual observation is a stable foundation. Descartes famously said, "Cogito ergo sum." From this (I think therefore I am) he sought to base an entire worldview. The problem is that thoughts are fickle, mutable things.

Take for example, the experiment in which subjects were fitted with glasses that flipped their vision. The special visors used mirrors to present the wearers with a world that was upside-down. After a few days their brains rotated the image. While wearing the visors the light entered their eyes flipped, but their brains changed the perceived image to make sense of it. When the visors were removed, they would look at the world in the same way we do, but see it flipped (their brains hadn't caught up with the change yet). After a few more days, things were back to normal.

Our brains decide whether what we're seeing works within its various schema. If a schema is violated, the brain may just decide to adjust the observation rather than the schema. Your brain thinks that things should be right-side-up so it will change what you observe to make it so.

Not even our senses can provide us a firm foundation for observation from which to reason. We must accept (on faith) that what we're observing bears some approximation to reality. Even if we make no other assumptions about the world or what we observe, we are forced to make the first assumption that our senses are trustworthy and our minds are giving us a valid representation of the world.

Luckily we weren't made to live solely from reason (or solely from faith). They compliment and amplify each other (even as they tear each other apart).

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Hiatus and a Dearth of Words

I took three weeks off from this blog. Some of it was on purpose to finish my Kickstarter (thank you for your generous help) and some of it just happened.

Almost immediately after the Kickstarter campaign ended, I started teaching 9th grade bible at a local Christian school. Now, every morning, I'm talking about Jesus with a room full of 14 year old people. When I get home from that and sit down at my computer to write - I just don't have the words.

I've even sat at the Facebook status box and found I have nothing to say. It's odd for someone who thrives on words to suddenly not have them available to share. I've been reflecting on it and here's what I think.

  • We each have a certain number of words to use per day (this isn't new to me, others have said it before) and I suddenly shifted my words from written to spoken when I started teaching. 
  • But we move words as if they're weights. Our limit is based on our strength and skill. With practice and determination, we can increase our word-limit. 
  • My words are pulled not pushed. That means I have to think about what I say, let the words build up inside me, and then I share them. My words are pulled by my passions and the needs of others. It's not as if I have to say anything. If I don't feel like I have something to contribute, I'm fine being silent. 
I'll have more words soon. I'm working on my word-strength, daily.

What do you do when the words run out?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Everybody's Getting Excited!

It's the last hours (20 as I write this) of my Kickstarter campaign. So I'm using popular memes to spread the word. Like this one of a girl excited to get books. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Guest Blog

Today the action is over at The Write Chris blog where you too can learn how to run a Kickstarter campaign. Pop over there and let me know what you think.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Power of Vulnerability

Just over two years ago, Brene Brown gave a TED talk in Houston. Since then it's been viewed 5.6 million times.

I had to watch it again today. With my Kickstarter campaign about to finish, I needed the reminder that vulnerability is courage in action, that openness to failure is the pursuit of success, that hope, joy and triumph are most poignantly felt when we're vulnerable to fear, pain and loss.

My focus on failure isn't, in any way, a desire for failure, but a challenge to failure. I won't be cowed into submission by the threat of losing. I won't be stymied by the possibility of pain. I won't be held back by the phantoms of failure.

I name the cost, laugh at it and begin.

Don't mistake me. I fully intend to succeed. I won't give up. I won't stop. I won't quit. But I will never bow in the face of potential failure. No matter the odds.

Nor will I stop when the actuality of failure happens. I've failed many times in my life. I've looked like a fool. I've stumbled and fallen. But I will always get up.

Thank you for walking with me. When one of us stumbles, the others can offer support. Together we defy failure through our courageous vulnerability.

“The two most powerful words when we're in struggle: me too.” — BrenĂ© Brown

Struggle with me. Click here. Pledge your support. When it's your turn, let me know. I'll be there for you. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I'm reduced to begging, I suppose

On August 22nd I will either succeed or fail at my Kickstarter campaign.

I'm raising money to cover the costs of editing, design and publishing so that I can produce a top-notch book outside the realm of traditional publishing.

Right now I'm at 36% of my funding goal of $7,000. That money will go to pay for professional editing, copy editing, cover design, typographic design, music composition, music recording and to print and ship the books.

That means I need $4,479 in pledges between now and next Wednesday morning (at 7:22am) to be successful. That's $640 a day.

But, to put it another way, I just need $25 from each person who looks at this blog today.

In return for being awesome, you'll get loot. Copies of the book, music, art, signed copies, companion children's books and much more. Seriously, check it out.

So, here's the begging part.

Please help me achieve my goal. Your support has been thrilling, amazing, wonderful and awesome. Now I'm just asking for a few dollars so I can put out a high-quality book for you to enjoy.

Just click here, then click on the green button on the right. Give what you can. Anything is appreciated. I'll get your rewards to you as soon as possible.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

"Envision the Gospel" - from The Gospel Advocate vol. 152

The following article originally appeared in The Gospel Advocate in September 2010. I have edited it slightly for the blog context. 

Envision  the Gospel
Have you heard the phrase “Death by PowerPoint” recently? Basically it refers to the overwhelming boredom that can be caused by a terrible PowerPoint presentation shared by a poor presenter. Then it gets worse when you show up at church on Sunday and the preacher fires up his laptop to show something so similar to what you saw on Friday that you feel like you never left.

Some preachers “solve” this problem by refusing to use PowerPoint. Dr. David Fleer has said that he doesn’t use or teach the use of PowerPoint to his preaching students. He has seen “Death by PowerPoint” kill too many sermons and Dr. Fleer doesn’t think that PowerPoint should be used in preaching at all. Unfortunately that’s like saying that you should never use a microwave because people often cook bad food with a microwave.

God Created our Brains
It’s not the tool that’s the problem. The problem is that our brains can’t deal with that much information all at once. We will end up paying attention to only one source of words at a time – so, either the PowerPoint slides get ignored or the preacher does. In the book Beyond Bullet Points author Cliff Atkinson points to research proving that when we see the same information that we’re hearing our retention and application actually decreases. In other words, when a preacher reads the information that is on the PowerPoint slide the church retains less of what he says.

Other research (found in the book Brain Rules by John Medina M.D.) shows a huge increase in retention and application of information when there is separate, visual communication that compliments the words of the speaker. That means that if a preacher projects a picture that supports what he’s saying  the church will be able to retain much more of the sermon content (only 10% is retained with just speaking but an astounding 65% is retained with the combination of speech and images).

Another reason that preachers avoid using PowerPoint is the time it will take to learn the skills. It’s not simple to put together a good presentation. It takes time and effort to find the pictures and make it all line up with the sermon. But just a little math will show that the effort is well worth it. If a preacher is about average, he will preach a thirty minute sermon and will take about ten hours to prepare for that sermon. If he only speaks in the sermon, the church will retain about three minutes of what he said (10%). That works out to about two-hundred minutes of study for every one minute of sermon retained by the church.

However, if that preacher were to use images that complimented and connected with what he was saying, the retention would jump to nineteen and a half minutes of his thirty minute sermon (65%). Even if it took an extra five hours to prepare for that sermon with images, he would still have a huge increase in the benefit for the church and the efficiency of his time. That would work out to about forty-five minutes of study for every one minute of sermon retention. What other way could a preacher increase the value of his study fourfold? It’s not just about being efficient, however, the preacher speaks the Gospel. Faithfulness is more important than efficiency.

How Did Jesus Preach
God is the one who made our brains. The research is just pointing to the creative work of the one who made us all. God made us to be visual people who learn and apply things to our lives based on what we see and hear. Jesus never used a projector or showed a PowerPoint presentation (he also never used a microphone or a Bible), but he was masterful at using images to make his message memorable.

When Jesus is teaching his disciples in Luke 20 he asks for a denarius (vs. 24) and he uses the coin that people saw every day to drive home his message about giving to God. Later he points to a poor widow approaching the collection place for the temple treasury (Luke 21:2) and the image of her two small coins following the wealth of those ahead was a powerful teaching tool. The image of woman willing to sacrifice everything for her love of God is dramatically portrayed with two coins. Just after that Jesus points his disciples’ eyes to the temple behind the widow (vs. 6) and tells them that it will be torn down. They were sitting in the shadow of the greatest building in Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish faith, and the pride of Israel. They were staring at the home of God on earth, and Jesus told them that it would be destroyed.

Jesus also used bread, fish, children, and a withered fig tree to vividly drive home his message. He knew what we are now learning: images cement the message. Even a casual perusal of the Bible will show that there are images described on nearly every page. Even Paul used metaphors like the body of Christ, the body as a temple, Christian life as a race to be run, and the fruit of the Spirit. For us to continue to preach the message of Jesus we need to preach like Jesus did – with vivid, compelling imagery.

Preach the Gospel
Notice that Jesus often let the images speak for themselves. When he is referring to the denarius, he asks people to identify the image on the coin. Jesus isn’t about spoon feeding the message to people, but challenging them to think through for themselves. When his disciples ask him about his use of parables he answers that the stories obscure the meaning for those who are not willing to listen (Matthew 13:10-17).

It may seem counterintuitive for a teacher to make the lesson more difficult to understand, but Jesus wasn’t interested in conveying knowledge, rather he was interested in transforming lives. In fact, he deliberately taught things that would alienate the uncommitted and test the commitment of his disciples (John 6:66-69). Reading a list of bullet points from a PowerPoint slide or from an outline on the pulpit does nothing to convict or transform the lives of the church. Jesus’ preaching was a challenge to all who heard it.

One way that images could challenge the church is to project a picture of the person who was standing at the intersection with the sign on the way to the building. Many of the members passed him; most probably ignored him. Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45).

Jesus used emotion to convey his message. Because he is creator (Colossians 1:16), he knows that our brains will retain more information when that information is tied to emotion. Though the research is just starting to show this to be true, Jesus already knew. He knew that images convey more information than words alone – a picture is truly worth a thousand words. Images can evoke joy – think of the sailor kissing the girl in Times Square at the end of World War II. Images can bypass words – a baby laughing will bring a smile to every face in the room. Images can allow each person to feel the message for themselves – a picture of a child with a father will evoke vastly different feelings in each person who sees it depending on how they view their own father.

PowerPoint may not be the only way to use images to preach the Gospel. Jesus never used a computer, that is true, but Jesus never had access to a computer. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if your church decides to use a projector and a computer to aid the preacher. You won’t convert more people or keep the younger generation from leaving by installing thousands of dollars worth of technology. A computer is not the answer to the problem.

The problem is that preaching often lacks vivid, emotion-laden imagery that connects people to the Gospel and challenges them to hear the words of Jesus. Some preachers are fantastic story tellers that can paint a picture with their words (Dr. Fleer, for example). However, for those preachers that are not, their churches are suffering. Their message is falling short – not because of a lack of study or effort on their part, but because there are no images to hold the message together.

Envision the Gospel
Technology is not good or bad, it’s a tool, a tool that can be used to preach the Good News of Jesus, if we are willing to give it a chance. Just like any tool, however, preachers need to learn to use it well. If your church does decide to use projection, or if you have in the past, it is imperative that your preacher learns to use the tools he has to preach the eternal message of Jesus.

Too few resources exist to help churches employ projection well for preaching. Sure, a lot of churches have moved to projecting their songs and announcements, but most preachers have had zero instruction on the use of PowerPoint or similar tools. It’s not reasonable to expect that someone would give a good sermon without first learning how to preach, and it is just as unreasonable to expect a preacher to use PowerPoint well without first learning how to use it.

Secular books such as the previously mentioned Beyond Bullet Points and Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte are great resources for learning how to pair an image with a message. There is as much art as science involved in finding the right image and showing it in the right way at the right time. The church has a lot to learn about using images well, and the current experts are in the professional world.

Richard Jensen wrote a book entitled Envisioning the Word: The Use of Visual Images in Preaching that explains the history of images within the church and has some recommendations for how to use images in preaching. The book is really about laying a theological groundwork for using images rather than any practical advice on how to do so.

If we are to continue to preach the Gospel to all creation (Mark 16:16), we need train preachers to preach like Jesus preached. We need to recognize the way God created our brains to process information and to connect emotions with vivid images. The message of the Gospel is too important for us to let the world take the lead in this form of communication. It is time for our preachers to preach vivid, Christ-like sermons that capture the hearts of men. It is time for us to learn how to envision the Gospel.

Atkinson, Cliff. Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft® Office PowerPoint® 2007 to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Press, 2008.
Duarte, Nancy. Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2008.
Jensen, Richard A. Envisioning the Word: The Use of Visual Images in Preaching. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press, 2005.
Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press, 2008.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Powerful Points or PowerPoitnless?

Today I happened across the syllabus for Sermon Development and Delivery at my alma mater, Harding School of Theology in which my friend and former professor Dr. Bland offers one article on the use of PowerPoint in preaching. The article he chose is "PowerPointless" by Debra Dean Murphy in The Christian Century. 

I took a quick read of the article. It's good. It makes some excellent points (that I've made myself) about how PowerPoint can be a detriment to worship and preaching. Murphy starts off by quoting Edward Tufte: "Power corrupts, PowerPoint corrupts absolutely." I think that Tufte brings up needed critiques of, what he calls, "the PowerPoint cognitive style" which is a reduction of ideas to bullet points on a slide. That style of "death by PowerPoint" needs to be rooted out from every classroom, conference room and pulpit. It leads to less understanding of the material by both the presenter and the audience.

So, Murphy is right when she says, "To use PowerPoint in worship is to unwittingly set up a competition between what's projected on the screen and the human voice doing the preaching, praying or singing." When PowerPoint is used in a text-based format, peppering the audience with pithy bullet points that attempt to reduce the irreducible, it is absolutely a competition between voice and screen.

However, Murphy either has never experienced or chooses to ignore the combination of images with speech. Copious neurological research underscores the fact that when the human voice is paired with complimentary images, retention and comprehension of the material rise dramatically.
"If information is presented orally, people remember about 10 percent, tested 72 hours after exposure. That figure goes up to 65 percent if you add a picture."
That's a serious increase, and it's nearly impossible without PowerPoint. You could make your sermon 6.5 times more effective by adding a few pictures. That doesn't seem pointless to me.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Why I'm Willing to Fail (Big)

You could say that Oscar Pistorius failed. He's a gold medalist in his event, but he went to the 2012 Olympics in London and didn't qualify for the finals in the 400m.

That's surely what they would have said if Usain Bolt had failed to qualify for his event final (instead of winning a second straight Olympic gold medal).

The difference is that Pistorius is a double-amputee. He's been without legs since he was 11 months old. His previous gold medals were in the Paralympic games. With his race, he became the first amputee to participate in the Olympics. Ever.

So, how is that failing? He moved himself forward. He achieved a goal that he's been striving for. He learned about himself, about competition and about what it takes to succeed. All by losing.

Right now I'm half-way through a Kickstarter campaign. I'm 50% of the way done, but only 29% of the way funded. What if I fail?

What if? I'll still have learned a lot about myself. I'll have shared my story with hundreds of people. I'll have learned about the publishing and fundraising industries. All by failing.

I'm not trying to fail. Neither was Pistorius. We both want to win. But we're not afraid of losing.

I won't quit. I won't give up on this project. I'll fight to win until the last second. I think the story is that good and you need to read it. So why don't you start now?

Are you willing to fail big?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Review - The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

In his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr examines neuroplasticity and the internet. His conclusion is that our continued used of the internet and connected technology is making us shallow, vapid thinkers who lack the ability to think deeply.

In some ways he's right. But mostly I think he's wrong.

It's absolutely true that our brains change in response to the tools we use. Carr explores reams of research, stories, quotes and history pointing to that indisputable fact. Monkey brains incorporate rocks held in hands as extensions of their bodies. So too do humans consider our tools as extensions of our abilities. When we hold a hammer, as Carr points out, our brains see the hammer as a part of our hand, but our brains also limit the function of our hammer-hands to pounding and pulling nails.

So, it follows that when we use the internet as a tool, our brains see it as an extension of our minds as well as a limiting factor to how our minds can work. Our synapses shift in response, our brains rewire and we become what we do.

Up to that point, I follow Carr wholeheartedly. He's illuminating an important aspect of how we use the internet. We cannot afford to miss this point.

If you aren't familiar with neuroplasticity, the history of communication or the beginnings of information technology, then Carr provides a thoughtful, thorough examination. His tone is conversationally academic (his copious endnotes point out all the work he did) and his discursives add humanity and depth to the overarching story.

If, however, you were expecting a book that speaks to the very people that the title addresses, you'll be sadly disappointed. Carr writes his stand against the vapidity of the internet with long, slowly developed chapters that eke out the information. It seems his intent is to force readers to slow down and dive deeply into reading just to prove his point. He effectively alienates the very people who most need to hear his message.

Carr also makes the classic mistake of futurists. He projects a straight line based on current trends. In the 1950s the trend was toward more efficient, cheaper food. The straight-line projection from that was food-pills. Yet today we have organic food, slow food and local food movements. The straight-line projection of Socrates, which Carr discusses, is that writing will erode human memory. It didn't happen with script, nor with print, but Carr expects that it will happen with the internet.

The fallacy is that humanity continues on a straight line path. It's never happened. We ebb and flow, sociologically, technologically, philosophically and neurologically. Our brains are being shaped by the tools we use. We are changing due to the internet. But we change our tools based on our brains. It's not a one-way transaction. We started with large rocks that we could use to pound things. Those rock changed our brains. But then we changed the rocks by tying them to a stick. The process of intertwined evolution has continued and will continue in the future. Not in a straight line, but in a spiral.

We are, without a doubt, being shaped by our time on the internet. But we are also shaping the internet, creating it to be a better tool. Making spaces of depth, thought, interaction and reflect. We're also using the tools of technology to connect in real life, away from the internet. We're changing our tools as much as our tools are changing us.

What does the future hold? I don't know, but you can be sure it's not on a straight-line from where we are now.

(Note: if you buy the book through the links on this page, I earn a small commission).

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why I'm Writing About Celtic Spirituality

I'm writing about the spirituality of the Celtic people for the same reason that a group of monks built a monastery on an inhospitable island miles off the west coast of Ireland.
Which means both for the challenge of it and the necessity of it. 
I feel compelled to write about the experience of traveling to Skellig Michael. It changed me. And even now, two years removed from the event, I still can't put into words exactly what that means. We boarded a fishing boat, early in the morning, and motored out to the island. It's visible off the coast, from the town of Portmagee, but in the distance it looks like a barren rock. It's sister, lesser Skellig, is just that. It's a shard of stone slicing through the Atlantic and covered in sea birds. 
But Skellig Michael has a few places to walk and stand. Enough that, 1400 years ago, monks paddled out there to make a home. We don't know why they went, but today it remains one of the most well preserved monasteries of its kind. We arrived at a modern concrete landing where we could unload, but soon we were ascending flat, stone steps to the summit of the island. No hand rail, no even spacing, just steps for a thousand feet. 
When we stepped into the monk's garden, the raging sea wind calmed. The noise stilled and we found peace. It's a trick of the island, the wind blows over the top and that spot is sheltered. But that threshold was more than physical. 
The Celts talk of thin places - those places where the fey, the fairie world, is nearly visible. The Christians took the idea and spoke of those places where heaven and earth touched. For me, Skellig Michael was such a place. I wandered the ruins, not with ghosts, but with friends, guides eager to show me a different life. 
Too soon we had to leave. Our boat was heading back to shore. I would have stayed there for a week. So, I've written a novel that draws on Celtic themes. My main character, Peek, goes to Skellig Michael (that's not what it's called), in the first chapter. He gets to explore the thin places that I had to leave behind. But, he too is drawn away. He can't stay there always, just like I couldn't. Thin places give us a refuge, a retreat. But they also demand that we go forth.  

Read more and pre-order the book here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why I Waste Time Writing Stories

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Ireland and trained at Oxford, but one of the most valuable lessons he learned came from the far north. It was in his love and pursuit of Norse legend (then in the Greek and Irish mythology), that he learned how to sway the world.

Lewis wrote academic, logical, thoughtful books. Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain and The Great Divorce are all excellent. His well-reasoned approach fit nicely in the culture of scholarship. But that's not why he's so well loved today.

It's the stories.

"Jack" Lewis created a new world for us to explore. Narnia invited us to think, play and wonder at talking animals, white witches and the struggle between good and evil. It's in this fresh, vibrant world that Lewis was able to speak truth that bypassed logic and engaged our hearts.

Story does that. It's always done that. That's why our mythic tales are so powerful and repeated. There are only a few basic plots in all of fiction, but we don't get tired of them. It's because we use them to explore ourselves and our world. We play in another realm to learn more about our own.

In some small way, that's what I'm doing with my novel World Song. It's one of the most common plots - a young boy leaves home, where he's neglected and abused, to find his power and destiny is greater than he'd ever imagined.

But within that story I'm working to explore faith, reason, traditionalism and the basis of all our beliefs.

Sometimes we need to escape our world so we can see it more clearly.