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A challenging glimpse from Russia

Earlier this week I was having a conversation with @jamespoulter about the ‘moral culpability’ brought about by social media. Our connectivity means that ignorance of what is going on in the world is neither bliss nor excuse.

Consider, then,this image tweeted from an anti- Putin demonstration in Moscow one hour ago.If a picture is worth 1000 words – what might they be in this case, I wonder?

Image via @storify

Start small, dream big

As a Pastor it has been my privilege to meet some of the world’s most amazing people. I have held hands with those who pass through the threshold of pain in the shoes of faith. I have prayed with those who face every danger up to and including death in order to preach the Gospel.  I have witnessed time and time again the alchemy of faith which transforms the base metal of suffering into the gold of hope.

On two occasions I have met people with a visionary zeal of New Testament proportions. One of them was Johan Lukasse, then Director of the Belgian Evangelical Mission. The other was Matthew Frost, Chief Executive of Tearfund, whom I met for the first time today. Like Johan Lukasse, this is a man with a loud vision and a soft voice.

Speaking to a room full of bloggers, he shared his vision for transforming the world through the epicentre of the local church. This man is a tweeter’s dream, with sound bites just rolling off the tongue:

  • We want to be authentic and Christ-centred.
  • How do you reach deep enough to touch the human heart?
  • We want to reach 50 million people through 100,000 local churches.
  • We are doing everything we can to challenge the theology of the church.
  • Development is birthed in the local church and earthed in Scripture.
  • Prayer is the most powerful development intervention.


Matthew recounted the story of his visit to a local church project in Uganda, and could barely contain his (slightly impish) joy when he said “they neither thanked me for anything nor asked me for anything”. Maybe seeing the puzzled faces he explained that this was their story, and therefore there was no need to thank him.

The week before Holy Week is hardly the easiest for a local Pastor to take the day out to dream – but I am so glad I did. I come away inspired once again by the power of a small idea to effect big change.

Thank you, Tearfund

The #nowwithwings phenomenon

There has been something of a battle going on across the airwaves on Uk tv tonight. On the one hand there has been the UK version of ‘The Voice‘ – claiming to be a higher end talent contest on account of its concentration of sound rather than looks. On the other there has been the return of a staple – Britain’s Got Talent, with its usual cavalcade of the bizarre, the untalented, and the remarkable. I’m not quite sure which Dennis Egel (pictured below) constitutes.

However, the significant thing about Egel’s act was that during it the producers flashed the hashtag #’nowwithwings’ across the screen. For some time, programme makers have created hashtags to encourage interaction with the programme overall. However, creating a specific hashtag within the programme is a new development. Does it maybe signal that programme-makers are courting the use of the second screen rather than simply tolerating it? Could it be that the small screen needs the smaller screen as never before – and maybe especially when similar programmes are vying for audience share? Few would argue that either of these two programmes are truly great television, but is this bid for interaction an attempt to elevate them to a different kind of viewing where interaction matters more than content?

When I mooted last year that second screen interaction might be appropriate during preaching it provoked a veritable storm of comment. I wonder what people think about this development in viewing?

When social media really is social

In the wake of Budget Day here in the UK, Sister Catherine Wybourne, with her usual deft theological touch, issued a call for a sense of perspective yesterday. She reminded her readers that any economic hardship faced here is as nothing compared to the situation in Greece.

In May 2010 Yorgos Kleivokiotis,  a Greek national living in Dubai, decided to try to do something about it. He founded Up Greek Tourism  to encourage tourists from around the world to visit the country and thereby contribute to the economy.  This year he has been joined by others, and in just 20 days over $20,000 dollars has been raised from people around the world to fund an electronic billboard in Times Square to advertise the campaign.The billboard launches today, and you can see it’s content below.

I love the way the designers have used images of the hundreds who have joined the campaign in order to render the photos. In so doing there is a parable, surely, of the digital collaboration which has brought it about? See what you think..

Connectivity celebrated

Over the next few days newspapers and news sites will be awash with reviews of 2011.  Prominent amongst them will be pundits commentating on the role of social media in organising protest on the one hand, and spreading violence on the other. In both cases the role of social media will probably be exaggerated in the interests of a tidy headline.

Be that as it may, the power of social media to connect human beings and harness their shared aspirations and talents is undeniable. Whether it is The Littlest Star on a local level, or the Cairo protests on a global stage, social media provides a facility for human beings to magnify the impact of their individual actions. Artists Kyosuke Nishida, Brian Li Sui Fong and Dominic Liu wanted to celebrate this as they had seen it demonstrated in the messages of love and support flooding into post-tsunami Japan on Facebook and Twitter. They came up with the poster below, entitled ‘Words can fly’. The artwork is inspired by the Japanese tradition Senbazuri, where 1000 paper cranes are folded to give as a good luck gift to the recipient. In the artwork below, the cranes represent messages of love and support sent after the Tsumani by the people of Montreal to Japan.

Image: wordscanfly

As the birds take flight from the paper, so the words have taken flight from a computer or a phone in one part of the world, and flown to another. I find this to be an overwhelmingly beautiful piece of art. It combines ancient tradition with modern networking, and celebrates the best which the human spirit can offer. You can find out more about it here.

Still thinking about my favourite image of 2011 here on the Preachers’ Blog, but this one definitely comes close.

…what the left click is doing.

According to Beverly Macy in the Huffington Post earlier this week, many companies have a confused and contradictory social media strategy. After citing a particularly glaring example she states that ‘the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.‘ At this point I was already wondering whether the same might be said of churches. However, any lingering doubt I might have had was dispelled by her three key points: urgency, opportunity and competition.

We have an urgent message, an unparalleled opportunity to spread it, and the competition is as fierce as it ever was in the marketplace of ideas and ideologies. This is why the work of Big Bible in general and its digidisciple programme in particular matter so much. As 2011 nears its end, I would like to express my gratitude to the creative and thoughtful minds behind the digidisciple programme. We are not virtual disciples, because our commitment is real. However, we are disciples in the truest sense – those who are defined by their commitment to the one they follow and their desire to learn from him.

I have always felt that the roadsign below typifies what discipleship is all about. It is a shared journey, where the younger ones benefit from the wisdom and experience of the other. At the same time the older and wiser ones can benefit from the vigour and courage of the younger ones.  The road of digital discipleship beckons for 2012 – you coming?

Image: Creative Commons

Confessions of a blogger

If you’ve ever watched any medical drama, from Emergency Ward 10 to ER, you’ll know that ‘flatlining’ is a serious issue. The term refers to that moment when the patient’s heart monitor switches from a steady bleep with a rising and falling trace to a single monotone bleep…and a flatline trace.

I am on holiday just now in a lovely old cottage in the Welsh hills with an internet signal about as steady as the stock market. I am posting this today, but may be unable to do so on other days. Whatever will I do if the trace below turns flat? Many of the things we do online are based on a system of rewards for clicks. A click here brings up a graphic there, a “like” on this site brings a “like” on that and so on. This is one of the things which makes our time online enjoyable. However, they can be quite addictive too. It can be a short step from monitoring our stats, to stressing about them. What should be read as a thermometer becomes instead a heart monitor – a vital sign of online life. (See this other post) When the trace turns flat, we start checking ourselves for signs of digital health.

For the time being, I shall leave my worries about the trace to one side. I’m sure they’ll look after themselves, and in the meantime I’ll concentrate more on the horizon outside – which is far from flat, and all the more lovely because of it.

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

Reflections on #CNMAC11 – number one

If you ever read comics as a child, you will know that speech bubbles have smooth edges, like this:

A thought bubble, on the other hand, has fuzzy edges, and looks like this: The secret, it would seem, is in the fuzzy edges.

Earlier this year, in the most popular post this blog has ever seen, I wrote about the possibility of tweeting in church, and maybe even of running a Twitterfall during a sermon. On Saturday, at the Christian New Media Conference, I got to see what that might look like. The thing is, despite my earlier post on Twitter as a speech bubble symphony, in fact this was more like an exchange of thought bubbles, with their fuzzy edges. Scrolling down the screens was everything from incisive parries with the speaker’s argument to updates on the rugby, and comment’s on the speaker’s attire! In short – we were made privy to the exchange of thought which accompanied the act of speech in the room.

When I went a little later to a seminar hosted the altogether lovely Sister Catherine Wybourne, she introduced it by assuring us that there would be no such gimmicks as the Twitterfall to be seen. In all truth, I am glad, as my Twitter thought stream would have run something like this (click for larger view) :

Such ramblings would, I fear, have interrupted the flow of what was  a profoundly spiritual and intensely practical session about Christian presence on the Web. Sister Catherine introduced the seminar with the description of its participants as ‘you and me and Christ making a third’. To add my unnconnected thoughts to the party would have been one too many.

In plenary sessions (which would equate to a church service, in many ways) the thought exchange accompanying the word exchange was enriching and enlightening. In smaller settings it was intrusive.

I wonder why?

Not yet

Last night Mark Zuckerberg, the face of Facebook declared that: ‘The Internet shouldn’t just be a place to gather information and connect with friends’  So far, so predictable.  ‘It should also be where you preserve… the most important memories of your life.’ Some of us might want to argue that particular point, since we feel our most precious memories are preserved in less technical and publicly accessible forms.  However, these were really only the opening bars of the fanfare to Facebook’s shiny new innovation: Timeline. Watch the promotional video below and you will see how it graphically charts the course of a person’s life. Not only that, but it allows the insertion of photographs and memories from the dark ages when Facebook didn’t exist! Presumably, it also allows people to ‘neaten up’ their story should they so desire.

There is no doubting that this will be popular. When I looked at it seventeen hours ago it had received 315 hits – that number has now exceeded 3 million.  People love to ‘see’ their lives and those of other people, through still and animated images.  We are graphically wired, so that images stimulate both intellect and emotion.

So, how should I feel today then – on the brink of publishing a book of words about words? Are they old hat? Will they become the betamax to Timeline’s blu-ray?  Will they look like a shaky black and white television playing next to a plasma screen?  Surely not. We are speaking creatures, and in the end we will always rely on words to articulate the graphic cornucopia of images around about us. The excerpt below comes from the introduction to Who Needs Words, describing a snatch of a graffiti seen from a train window. The only picture I have of the graffiti is in my head – but its definitely there on my personal timeline.

There on a wall next to the railway, between vandalised warehouses and soot-blackened houses, was a single word sprayed on the bricks:Compassion? I couldn’t quite work out whether the word was an ironic contrast with its location, a plea for action, or a cynical dismissal. It continued to trouble me throughout the journey and has lingered with me ever since. Do our words articulate our environment or sit awkwardly in the midst of it, I wonder? Do they add to our understanding of the world and of each other – or are they just so much noise? 

Richard Littledale

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