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Speaking the language of the bible.

How do you engage with scripture?

I was excited to read on the Bible and Mission blog an article about the Bible and orality – taken from a recent Lausanne World Pulse.

Some higlights:

The word of God is unchangeable, but the manner or method in which it is communicated does change. We celebrate that God has worked intentionally throughout history to bring his word to the peoples of the world utilizing various media formats, including oral communication, scribe and hand written text, the printed page, and digital means.

The Gutenberg Press enabled a print revolution and unprecedented spread of the word of God. Oral means were available prior to Gutenberg, but a scripture literacy revolution was empowered by means of making the full Bible available to every person who could read. We stand today at another seminal point in history in which digital technology makes it possible for every oral learner to engage with God’s word in audio and audio/visual formats.

You can read the original post on the Bible and Mission blog, the Lausanne World Pulse, and find out more about the International Orality Network.

Photo: Mustafa Khayat (CC)

Behavioural economics.

On trying to understand why we are so difficult to understand.

I’ve been enjoying reading and interacting with some of Dan Ariely‘s work. Ariely is a professor at Duke University, and author of Predictably Irrational.

Traditional economics looks to identify trends from which (rational) consumer behaviour can be predicted. Behavioural economics, which includes the science of cognitive psychology, seeks to identify trends based on our often irrational behaviour when it comes to making value judgments and decisions. Perhaps behavioural economics is more realistic in the way it deals with imperfect and illogical human beings. Hence the thought-provoking title of the book.

I suspect that behavioural economics is especially important at times like ours, where new technology disrupts and even shakes the foundations of traditional economics, as markets, business models, distribution channels, ideas of production and consumption, and consumer behaviour, all change and morph as we progress through the information revolution.

As I think about the people I meet, work and interact with on a regular basis, their experience of and engagement with new technology sits somewhere on an incredibly broad spectrum. Surely this has to make traditional models of economics difficult to work with, when society finds itself so fragmented in its experience of the technology that is shaping it beyond what would have been recognisable only 10-20 years ago.

And so I think behavioural economics has a lot to offer in helping us understand human behaviour; when all around us traditional models are challenged, what can we understand about underlying motivations to help us shape the environment is such a way as to meet the various needs of those around us, and develop technology appropriately, as a means to serve.

All the more reason to continue dipping my toe into issues of sociology and cognitive psychology, and bringing the bible to bear on what is revealed to be eternally true about human nature.

Side thought: does traditional science look for order and logic, where psychology looks to understand disorder and imperfection (realism)?

Changing education paradigms.

As I continue to ponder how the university environment is likely to change in the next 5-10 years, in response to the wider changes in technology and culture, I found this video on changing education paradigms incredibly helpful. It takes a look at how we arrived at the education system we have in place today, and asks some interesting questions as it considers some of the flaws of this model. And as a learning tool, I also appreciate the visual interest and creativity given in the way the talk has been animated. Much food for thought.

from print to digital

The communications team of which I am a part, whilst having digital ambitions that are slowly coming to fruition, still mostly operates on the print philosophy we have inherited over the last 10-20 years. Adapting ourselves for the future is something we’ve already done a fair bit of thinking and talking about, dreaming of future possibilities. In about a month’s time – after World Assembly – we are hoping to have some team planning sessions to consider this in more depth, and plan for the next year or two, within a longer-term vision for the team.

There are some great people already thinking about this from a variety of other perspectives, including Clay Shirky considering the effects of the internet on society, and Jeff Jarvis considering technology and the future of journalism.

The following blog post from Jeff Jarvis, on the article and the future of print, includes some great insights on what it means to be ‘digital first’, and some of the potential pitfalls in planning for change. Here are some excerpts:

But first let’s examine what it means to be digital first. It does not mean just putting one’s stories online before the presses roll. In that case, print still dictates the form and rhythm of news: everything in the process of a newsroom is still aimed at fitting round stories into squared holes on pages. That, as Jay Rosen says, is the key skill newsroom residents think they have (and the skill journalism schools prepare them for): the production cycle of print.

Digital first, aggressively implemented, means that digital drives all decisions: how news is covered, in what form, by whom, and when. It dictates that as soon as a journalist knows something, she is prepared to share it with her public. It means that she may share what she knows before she knows everything (there’s a vestige of the old culture, which held that we could know everything … and by deadline to boot) so she can get help from her public to fill in what she doesn’t know. That resets the journalistic relationship to the community, making the news organization a platform first, enabling a community to share its information and inviting the journalist to add value to that process. It means using the most appropriate media to impart information because we are no longer held captive to only one: text. We now use data, audio, video, graphics, search, applications, and wonders not yet imagined. Digital first is the realization that news happens with or without us — it mimics the architecture of the internet, end-to-end — and we must use all the tools available to add value where we can.

Digital first, from a business perspective, means driving the strategy to a digital future, no longer depending on the print crutch. That means creating a likely smaller and more efficient enterprise that can survive, then prosper post-monopoly, post-scarcity in an abundance-based media economy.

Print last. Note that none of us — no, not even I — is saying print dead. Print, at least for a time, still has a place in serving content and advertising. But let’s re-examine that place even as we re-examine the role of the article, the journalist, and the advertisement in digital.

I wonder how you might like to hear from, and engage with, an organisation like IFES in the new digital era. How you might like to share your own stories and interact with others. Please do share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment.

the big picture

What does it mean to have vision? What drives you day by day? Why do you do what you do?

I can’t say that, by nature, I’m a visionary. I’ve never really fully understood visionary types, and confess I’ve been known to find them pretty frustrating to work with at times. Always getting excited by the next ten great ideas, which you fail to get as excited about, because it normally means they’ve already lost interest in those other great ideas they’ve already set you to work on before you’ve had chance to fully implement them…

But for all those frustrations, I do enjoy implementing the ideas born of visionaries. I like the interplay of personalities, the need for one another. The visionary needs the implementer. A completer finisher. And I like turning my hand to new and interesting projects. An implementer needs a visionary and her ideas.

And until recently I’ve been happy to simply be guided by the vision of others.

That was until February, and delivering a presentation on Scripture Engagement in a Digital Age. I loved preparing for that presentation, and the interaction of the participants with the material. I started to sense an internal vision forming. Something that excited me and that I wanted to tell more people about. Something I wanted to devote more time to thinking about, and even pursuing opportunities for further study. Something that was going to start driving the way I thought about my job, my role, the wider implications for the team I am a part of, my place in IFES, and in the church.

That vision centres around technology, sociology, culture and faith.

I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the changes to society and culture in response to technological change, and the implications for faith.

I believe we are currently in the process of major change. Change in response to technology, new media and social networks. Technological change in recent decades that is more profound than we have seen in a couple of centuries.

In the same way the agricultural and industrial revolutions shaped the way we live today, I believe the information revolution will shape and redefine the way we live in the coming years. It is changing the way we read, the way we value information, the way we educate. It is changing the way we remember, and the way we organise ourselves.

I’m fascinated by the influence technological advancements in history have had huge sociological and cultural influence. I want to observe the nature of those changes, and look to predict the nature of change we will face in response to today’s technological advancements. Where are the opportunities? Where is the friction and resistance to change? What should we be rightly cautious of?

I’ll admit to being a technology optimist, and am excited by technological change. I’m looking forward to working with our communications team to consider the implications for us as we plan for the future. And I look forward to interacting with you as I use this blog to consider aloud and interact with you, shaping your thoughts and mine.

What excites you most about technological change? What do we stand to gain?
What are you most fearful of with technological change? What do we stand to lose?

exploiting charlie

Interesting post from Jeff Jarvis about how the media have been handling the Charlie Sheen (non)news in recent weeks.

One way or another, by one definition and diagnosis or another, Charlie Sheen is a sick man. He doesn’t need airtime. He needs couchtime. News people are ill-serving him and the issue of mental illness in this country by putting him on the air as if he were just another source, another celebrity. They are not informing the public. They are exploiting Charlie.

Source: Exploiting Charlie: Buzz Machine, Jeff Jarvis. Do read the whole article.

engage #1

Over a series of ‘engage’ blog posts, I aim to share aspects of my presentation on ‘Scripture Engagement in a Digital Age’, which I first gave at the IFES Bible Study Consultation in Singapore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started the presentation asking four questions:

  • What is the Bible?
  • What do we mean by Scripture Engagement?
  • What technologies and media do you make use of on a daily basis?
  • What are the characteristics of the ‘digital age’?

How would you have answered those questions? Tell us by leaving a comment below.

IFES Bible Study Consultation

So, I’ve been back from Singapore for just over a week now, and thought it was about time I posted some reflections on the event.

I was in Singapore for the IFES Bible Study Consultation, which brought together about 30 people – mostly students and young staff, not all pictured – representing more than 24 countries.

The aim of the consultation was to get a sense of how IFES is doing in the realm of Scripture Engagement – one of the core commitments of the Living Stones vision – and to consider how we can continue to improve in this area over the coming years.

This event was deliberately billed as a consultation – rather than a conference, or training event – to reflect the heart of the process we would be going through: actively listening to one another, as participants representing the 11 IFES regions presented a summary of the reports they had produced to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of Scripture Engagement in their context, before taking time to plan together for the future.

It was a joy to be a part of this process, with a group small enough to get to know one another well, leaving with a real sense of commitment to one another, and a fresh sense of commitment to God’s word and its power to transform lives.

Some highlights include:

  • seeing the enthusiasm of participants as they heard stories and examples of ministry in other parts of the world;
  • hearing stories of best practice, and learning from one another about what has enabled certain aspects of ministry to grow and flourish in particular parts of the world;
  • to reflect on the many different ways students are engaging with scripture, and a growing sense of (and desire for) community – locally, nationally, regionally, and internationally – “…we depend on our global affinity as a movement.”;
  • worshipping together, as a diverse group of God’s people – and joining the local church on Sunday at St Andrew’s Cathedral (one of their many services each week);
  • the creative groups that considered scripture engagement in the following realms: personal Bible study, IT and new media, scripture and non-text-based learning, scripture in evangelism (using non-popular texts), and training.

There was an expectation that the consultation would come up with ‘something new’ as a product of the consultation. In fact the real result is, I think, a real demonstration of the current trends in student ministry, and society more generally. The participants left with a sense of something new, not because of something they created together at the consultation, but rather from taking away something new that they have seen working in another context: the process itself facilitated a ‘ministry exchange’, where ideas, creativity, community and generosity flowed in abundance as we learned together. I’m excited about how this might be further facilitated beyond the consultation, and there was a resounding call for a greater facilitation of the resources that can be found around the IFES world.

Each of the participants was encouraged to think about what they would be taking away from the consultation personally, what they could feed back to their IFES Regional Secretary, and what was important for IFES internationally. Please pray for each participant as they return to their context, and in particular for the conversations they will be having with leaders.

For myself, the event was personally significant. I was asked to present on the subject of ‘Scripture Engagement in a Digital Age’, and both in the process of preparing for the presentation, and in the course of the consultation, I become increasingly convinced that this is a subject worthy of further study. I am excited by the times we are living in, and by the opportunities the ‘digital revolution’ provides, so long as we are able to understand the times well, and respond appropriately. Please pray for me, too, as I consider how I can give more time to this subject, and work with others to see this thinking applied not only to my role, but possibly even in other areas of IFES ministry.

And a final word of thanks must go to FES Singapore, and all the staff that made us feel so welcome (even though we must have caused more than a little inconvenience to them); you have truly taught us what hospitality looks like.

changing communication

If technology and communication are two areas that interest you, I can highly recommend reading or listening to Jeff Jarvis. Author of What Would Google Do?, Jeff blogs about media and news at buzzmachine.com, and is a regular contributor on the This Week in Google podcast. He is associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program and the new business models for news project at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. He also writes a new media column for The Guardian.

I find his thinking critical, fair, and very helpful. Whilst I am not certain of his perspective on faith, his insights do also help me think about technology and communication from a Christian perspective; reviewing the impact of technology on journalism, communication and society, leads me to think further about the impact on faith and church.

In a recent post, Jeff refers to a “group of Danish academics [who] say we are passing through the other side of what they wonderfully call the Gutenberg Parenthesis, leaving the structured, serial, permanent, authored, controlled era of text and returning, perhaps, to what came before the press: a time when communication and content cross, when process dominates product, when knowledge is distributed by people passing it around, when we remix it along the way, when we are more oral and aural.”

Being involved in a communications team that happily embraces new media, this sort of thinking excites me, but I’m also aware of some of the fear it propagates within the Christian community. I think some of this is caused by confusing the timeless and unchanging truth of the Gospel, with the means and media used to communicate it. Christians, particularly in the West, are often ‘booky’ people, and feel a little threatened by new media and its malleable nature. More on this in another post…

Jarvis goes on to recognise that “technology brings change; change brings fear and retrenchment. Gutenberg scholar Elizabeth Eisenstein reminds us that for 50 years after the invention of the press, we continued to put old wine in this new cask, replicating scribal fonts, content, and models. That’s what’s happening now: We are trying to fit our old world into the new one that is emerging. We’re assuming the old way is the right way.” I’m pleased to know many forward-thinking and tech-savvy Christians for whom this isn’t true, but as well as those who fear technology, there are also some who embrace technology to do the same old things in a slightly different way; something Christians have been notoriously bad at in recent decades, with questionable ‘Christian’ fiction, film and music.

(There are however, some success stories to be celebrated; not least Mars Hill Church in Seattle for the creative way they use design and new media to make their sermon content available online, embracing a wide variety of creative gifts to further the reach and impact of their resources.)

There is an argument that new media is shallow and distracting, with twitter being used as a case for ‘short attention span’ syndrome. Jarvis continues, quoting an earlier post: “Maybe the issue isn’t that we’re too distracted to read but that reading can finally catch up with how our brains really work.”

I’ll leave you with some of Jarvis’ questions that I will be considering as I prepare for the IFES Bible Study Consultation.

So is this new generation distracted or advanced? How can they best learn? How can they teach? What tools can we use today besides books? What new opportunities do all their tools present? That’s what educators should be asking. That’s the discussion I’d like to see start.

How are you using technology to improve what you do? Do you know of others that are making good use of technology in new and creative ways?