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Following yesterday’s post, I was directed to the cartoon below on the brandinfection website. Maybe it shows a taste of things to come. If we only treat books as a kind of literary wallpaper then we have maybe missed the point. However, as is often the case whether with pixels or print, you end up browsing. If you click on the cartoon you will find the image which actually made me laugh far harder! Some people just don’t get it…

Click to see another great image from

Using books

Whenever the ‘print v pixel’ debate comes around, there is sure to be someone who says ‘you just can’t beat the feel of a book’. I have to say that, despite my love of all things digital – I am inclined to agree. There is something about the touch and smell of a brand new book that you just can’t beat. Equally, there is something about the weight of an old book in your hand which is indescribably pleasing. I have on my shelf a copy of Thomas a Kempis’ great work ‘The imitation of Christ’ printed in 1701. The woodcuts are still bright, and the tooling around the leather work of the cover is still distinct. However, the best thing about it is that if you heft it in your hand, you can feel that the spine has been ever so slightly moulded to the shape of somebody else’s hand over the past 300 years. When I touch that book I touch history.

Artist Alicia Martin clearly has a very tactile relationship with books too. Take a look at her sculpture biografias outside the Casa de America in Madrid. It is not new, but I have only just come across it and I am intrigued. What do you think?

Reflections on #CNMAC11 – number two

As Christians, we are both familiar and comfortable with the imagery of the flock. A flock is a gathering of vulnerable creatures in need of succour and protection from a shepherd. We can trace this image for God’s people way back into the Old Testament, to people like David, Ezekiel and Isaiah.

A herd is a rather different image – a group of wilful beasts controlled by its dominant members. The herd doesn’t get much of an airing in biblical imagery, and we would probably be uncomfortable with its implications of male dominance.

A swarm is a different thing altogether. A swarm may consist of thousands of members, all moving together with astonishing dexterity and beauty. You have only to watch the short video of starlings  exhibiting this kind of behaviour below to see this. For generations the swarm was a mystery to scientists – how could it move as a single unit with no obvious means of co-ordination? To try and understand it, Craig Reynolds built a computer simulation programme called  Boids in 1986. Each element in the swarm was given 3 steering behaviours: separation, alignment and cohesion. Gradually scientists began to imitate the behaviour of the swarm – though fully understanding it is a way off yet.

I mention this because when @JamesPoulter was talking at CNMAC11 about the power of social media for change, I couldn’t help thinking that this was closer to swarming behaviour than it was to flocking or herding. The swarm he was describing was united neither by creed, ethnicity nor even by a single cause – and yet they moved together. How does such a concept fit with our ideas of church, I wonder?

The more I think about it, the more I feel that individual Christians behave in different ways acording to circimstance.

In the Kingdom of God we behave as if in a flock – looking to the shepherd of our souls to nurture us and keep us from danger.

In the church – we occasionally behave as if in a herd, conceding dominance to the noisy ones, whether in official leadership or not.

In the digital church, out there in webland, I wonder whether we behave more like a swarm when the right (or wrong) issue unnerves us?

Comments welcome

…and the intrusion of technology

Tomorrow it is my privilege to attend the Christian New Media Conference in Central London.  The programme is packed, the themes are fascinating, and the speakers are set to stimulate mind and heart. However, if I’m honest the thing I’m looking forward to most is face time. By that I don’t mean the tech-enabled illusion of proximity created by video calls. I mean the pure joy of meeting people face to face with whom I usually correspond by 140-character bursts of text. I want to see the crease around their eyes when they smile, I want to watch their forehead furrow when they think. I want to hear the sound of their voices and maybe even see the splot of coffee they have spilt on their clothes as the conversation gets more animated. In other words, I am looking forward to the mess and wonder of human conversation.

This morning I had a scheduled meeting with the communications director of a charity. The agenda for our conversation was social media communications, and so I had intended to set up my laptop on the table between us. In the end, I did not do so. The computer was needed elsewhere, and in fact it would have spoilt our conversation. We did look things up online – but only after  allowing our imaginations to run free. The computer served only to confirm how things were possible, not whether they were helpful. Sometimes its worth thinking about the geography of conversation, I think – and those time when the angularity of technology can intrude on the round edges of the conversational space.

Meanwhile, I must turn to my computer, and find out how to get there tomorrow…


A lesson in flannelgraph

Yesterday in church somebody kindly approached me with a carrier bag of books they had salvaged from their mother’s house before she moves. There were one or two amongst them which will be useful – not least a dictionary of etymology. However, it is probably the gem below which caught my eye the most. Published in 1959, it presents outlines for 12 flannelgraph talks on everything from strong drink to Christmas celebration. Forget your powerpoint, delete your prezi – its all in here! Not only that, but each talk uses only three shape – a cross, a circle, and a heart, so no complex cutting out of letters is required.

You might have thought that the medium was the most old-fashioned thing here. However, you would be wrong, as this snippet from the ‘script’ on temperance might suggest:

Not quite sure where to start with my discomfort on that! Suffice it to say that the message would be unpalatable even delivered in the most modern medium.

I was just flicking through the pages of this 1950’s gem when news popped through about the astonishing success of the YouVersion Bible App. If you click on the link, you will see it has now been installed over 30 million times worldwide. The message is twenty-one centuries old and more – but people are still clammering for it delivered in the most accessible way. A good message can be obscured by a poor medium, but a poor message will seem unattractive no matter how it is presented.

Not sure I will be using my flannelgraph book on a regular basis. That said, if anyone wants to invent a flannelgraph/ fuzzy felt app…I’ll join the queue!

Step away from the screen!

Reports today, not surprisingly, have revealed that technology can be the thief of time. We have all known that for some time, of course. However, the report highlights particularly that it can be the thief of family time.  Experts are concerned that all too often a computer or games console becomes a ‘digital nanny’ , charged with occupying the children whilst the parents run to keep up on the acquisitive treadmill. Unfavourable comparisons have been drawn with Spain and Sweden – where greater emphasis is placed on family time in general, and outdoor physical activity in particular.

None of this is in any way surprising. However, it is also worth pointing out, I think, that the technological geniuses of the future will probably be those who have started young. A balanced approach to technology and the time young people spend in front of a screen may well help future generations to put technology at the service of healthier lifestyles. Its not a screen ban, but a screen discipline which is needed. Parents need to be modelling how to live with technology, since living without it is not an option.

I wonder how young the people behind the Swedish experiment below were when they started?

…the Bible between us

Just recently I came across an ingenious scheme by a group of A level French students faced with the daunting task of reading a French novel. Rather than struggling through the whole thing alone, they have turned it into a shared experience through social media. This is how it works. They have divided the book up into groups of eight pages. Each day each student reads their allocated eight pages, writes a plot summary of them, and then posts a Facebook message with the summary and thereby passes on the virtual baton to the next reader. Nobody gets too overwhelmed, the book gets read, and social media time serves an academic as well as a social purpose. Brilliant!

Now – how many times have you heard Christians say that reading the whole Bible is too much of a daunting task? Even when many sign up to a scheme such as “Bible in a year” where we draw mutual encouragement from knowing others are doing it – the journey can still be tough. Sometimes even reading a longer Bible book can seem like a big ask. What if we were to take a leaf out of these French students’ book, though? What might it look like with a worked example?

  • Homegroup agrees to read the book of Job between them.
  • Each day each member reads one chapter of the book.
  • On completing their reading they summarise the thrust of their chapter in no more than 100 words
  • They post their summary on Facebook, thereby passing the reading baton on to the next person
  • By the time the task is complete, the homegroup have read Job between them, and have a ‘personalised’ summary of the book.
  • Each reader will know ‘their’ particular chapters than ever before, through having had to summarise them
Of course the scheme is not without drawbacks. If the person in the queue ahead of you is late back from work,or otherwise delayed – it may be late in the day before the baton comes to you.However, in the intimate context of a homegroup where people know each other well, such things can surely be tolerated?
Biblefresh is all about opening up the Bible with as much creativity, imagination and commitment as we can. Anyone for a faithbook Bible adventure?

Ideas worth sharing?

Over the months there have been many different creatures in the pulpit on this blog – including a fish, a magpie, a heffalump and others. Today it is the turn of the TED. I’m referring not to a cuddly toy, but to Technology, Entertainment and Design, home of the TEDtalks. A TED talk is an 18-minute presentation by an expert who feels passionately about their subject, and believes that they have an ‘idea worth sharing’.

I have come late to the TED party, having been directed there earlier today by Phil Prior’s excellent blog post. In that post Phil asks the question as to why there are not more preachers and theologians  represented amongst TED’s ranks. There could be many reasons  for that, some of which I list below:

  • Our expertise is of interest to Christian ‘consumers’ but not to others
  • Accustomed as we are to communicating in a non-competitive environment, we have lost our creative communicative edge
  • We would struggle to fill 18 minutes in a compelling way
  • We would struggle to restrict ourselves to 18 minutes in a focused way
  • Assuming our audience’s good will, we presume too much on their tolerance
I believe that whilst some of those things may be partially true, none of them are wholly true.  Preachers should be amongst the most motivated, focused and dedicated communicators in the world. Not only that, but the church has now garnered over twenty centuries of experience in communicating across racial, generational and cultural divides. We do have something to say.
There are many description of our fundamental message as Christian communicators, but “an idea worth sharing” isn’t a bad place to start.


… scepticism

Earlier this week  I handed an expensive computer and an equally expensive software package over to a complete stranger in order for him to repair the computer and install the software.  We had never met before, and I only knew him by his screen name, since we had only met on Twitter. Ours was not a business arrangement as such, since this was an IT professional doing some repair work in his own time for ‘pocket money’, as he described it. We parted with nothing but an exchange of phone numbers and Twitter names as proof of our encounter.

The computer is back now, new software installed and well on the way to being used again.

Of course, this could all have turned out very differently. I might have misread things entirely, and waved goodbye to computer and software in a moment of spectacularly misjudged folly. I believe, though, in the power of community. Like other on-line communities such as Ebay, Twitter is built on trust. I met my computer doctor through a friend’s recommendation, and now will pass on that recommendation in similar vein. The relationships we build on-line are just that – relationships. There are many differences between them and their off-line equivalent, but some important similarities too.Trust, openness and honesty count for a great deal. Feedback is the lifeblood of the on-line world, without which it cannot function.

Maybe what clinched it for me in this on-line turned off-line encounter was the moment when my computer helper said to me that he was glad he had moved to our town because it was a “real community”. In a day when social media is occasionally demonised as a tool in the hands of society’s most destructive people, let’s not forget those moments when it serves as a tool for positive community engagement.

Looking around

Jack- in- the- pulpit is a woodland flower native to North America, where the ‘pulpit’ protects the central shaft of male & female flowers. Also known in French as the ‘petit precheur’ (little preacher), or as the bog onion!

Image: CreativeCommons

One of many rocks around the world known as ‘pulpit rock’ on account of its shape. This one is at Portland Bill in England.

Image: CreativeCommons

The pulpit, or pulpit rail, on the bow of a sailing boat. Named after its similarity to its church cousin.


The word ‘pulpit’ in Polish refers to the desktop on your computer. Food for thought for those involved in ‘digital church’, surely?

Whatever kind of pulpit you use today -may you use it well and bring blessing to others.

Richard Littledale

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