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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).