Analog in an a digital age

Many of us find ourselves drawn to every new Apple product released–they’ve been coming pretty rapidly too. I blush to admit how happy I was when I got this MacBook Air to replace my five year old MacBook with the shorted power connection that made it effectively a desk top. Journalist Gordon Martin harbors no such longing for the new and the speedy. He writes his copy for Vatican Radio using a forty year old type writer, as Stuart Hughes notes at the BBC News Magazine.

In the age of social media and digital diplomacy, Gordon Martin is a resolutely analogue journalist.

“I don’t have a mobile telephone,” he tells me with a slight hint of pride. “I don’t understand a lot of modern gadgetry and I think sometimes gadgets get in the way of clear use of the English language.”

For the Holy See’s reporter in Geneva, replacing his typewriter with a laptop or an iPad would be tantamount to heresy.

After all, if it’s not broken then why fix it?

Is Martin a dinosaur or a visionary, a luddite or a prophet? In the age of Snowden, analog communication is looking significantly more secure than many of the electronic modes of communication we take for granted. As more journalists turn to Twitter and other social media for first person accounts the opportunity for news to become propaganda has increased exponentially.

_72647768_typewriter_464
Martin’s typewriter

More intriguing still is the relationship between technology and the act of writing and of reading. At the end of the day, writing is as much a physical act as it is a mental one. The way words are formed on paper or screen affects the experience of writing. That’s why some writer compose longhand and others use a laptop. Reading is much the same. For some of us, adjusting to a Kindle screen is taking rather longer than many thought possible. Others swear by their iPad or a computer screen.

Mediating these competing claims is difficult. Personally, I find analog considerably less distracting. A paper calendar is tactile in a way that’s just not true of iCal. A paper book has a texture and a smell that can be endearing. And in the end, that has to count for something.

And if you’re interested in an artistic critique of social media, check out this performance by Paul Sharpe of UNCSA:

Goals are no good without this…

Goals are unreachable without a clear structure

Vision. People. Structures.

In ministry (or any other type of leadership) there are three horizons that must simultaneously be monitored: vision, people, and structures.

Vision is the direction and purpose, communally discerned, towards which the church or organization is both pointing and traveling.

People includes both those who are currently members, those who are in leadership, those who may soon be in leadership, and those who are not yet a part of the church.

Structure is the organizational scaffold that unites people with vision.

Structure is often neglected

Structure is often one of the under-valued elements of effective leadership.

Most pastors and church members care that the church be what God has intended it to become. Most pastors and church members love and care for one another, some even care about those who are not yet a part of the fellowship. Structure, however, can be viewed as the stepchild of leadership.

What’s true in organizational leadership is also true in self-leadership. Setting goals, by itself, is not enough to create the change you want to see in your life.

Goals need structural support to become reality

Goals are good, but creating structures that support and propel you toward your goals is even better according to James Clear.

What I’m starting to realize, however, is that when it comes to actually getting things done and making progress in the areas that are important to you, there is a much better way to do things.

So what’s the difference between a goal and a structure? A goal is the desired outcome (the destination, if you will) and the structure is the path to that outcome (the road). Clear provides some helpful examples:

Goals vs Systems

What’s the difference between goals and systems?

If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.

If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.

If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.

If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

Clear poses the question: could you ignore your goals and still achieve the same outcome simply by implementing new structures?

The answer is usually yes.

Case studies

For example, I lost sixty pounds not by dieting (per se) but exercising regularly (I started biking to work three days a week), drinking more water, and eating until I was full (and not beyond).

My goal wasn’t to lose weight as much as to enjoy the experience of being on a bicycle, something I really enjoy.

I’d like to write a book, in fact I’m working on one. Slowly.

On the other hand, in 2013 I wrote 163 blog posts that totaled about 98,000 words.

Clear points out that the average book is 60,000-70,000 words. In other words, I could have written a book in 2013!

I didn’t because I had a structure in place to write blog posts and had the accountability of being visible. I had no structure for writing my book.

Goals are important, but even more important is figuring out what system, process, or structure will enable you to achieve those goals. 

I recommend the article in it’s entirety: read it now.

Five reasons the church should care about the arts

The dominant narrative around evangelicals and the arts is one that pits populist evangelicals as standing in opposition to or judgment upon the arts. Think: Thomas Kincade more than Rembrandt; Jenkins and La Haye, Left Behind more than Tolstoy’s, Anna Karenina.

It’s true that evangelicals have a mixed history when it comes to valuing the arts. Thankfully there is some movement towards engaging and valuing the contribution the arts make to the creation of both a good life and a good society. One example is the organization, Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA). CIVA explores the relationship between the arts and the Christian faith. I’m fortunate to know several people associated with this organization including its Executive Director, Cam Anderson.

The evangelical church must make significant progress in valuing and embracing the arts as well as artists. This is the case both because the arts are inherently valuable (they’re valuable because of what they are) and because the arts play a critical role in the formation of culture.
ArtsHome

Here are five reasons that why the evangelical movement needs to take seriously God’s call to be stewards and supporters of the arts:

  1. Art is an echo of God’s creativity and an expression of our nature as image-bearers. We create because our creator has endowed us with the ability to do so. We are, as Tolkien pointed out, sub-creators. Our creativity is contingent upon and flow from God’s creativity.
  2. Art engages our imagination, our primary faculty. In a technological age, it’s tempting to believe that rationality is our primary faculty. As G. K. Chesterton observed, “The only truly rational men are all in insane asylums” (that’s a paraphrase). His point is that being human means more than being rational. C. S. Lewis observed, “Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.”
  3. Art reflects and interprets our present moment–it helps us to see ourselves. Art is the product of reflection upon our moment. Artists generally create in response to something that they perceive either in their own life or in the life of the community or nation. Reading art can help us to see our collective self through the eyes of another–an immense gift.
  4. Art communicates truth in a way that surpasses rationality. Rationality was king in the modern era. Today it will increasingly be important to communicate truth through forms that are adequate to the task and that also by-pass the epistemological uncertainty of our post-modern society. It’s very difficult–although perhaps not impossible–to argue that a piece of art is “untrue.” 
  5. Art expresses possibilities for the future. The arts can also help us to imagine what the future could be like. The arts often critique, but they are also able to communicate a positive vision for the future.

Let this be a call to the evangelical movement to value the arts as much, if not more than, we have traditionally valued things like missions–art is, in its own way, an extension both of discipleship and of mission.

Five questions to ask before starting a project

We all want to do things with excellence–in our work, in our relationships, in life. I don’t think any of us is really interested in getting by with the minimum of effort and the minimum return. We may be doing it, but if that’s the case I’m also pretty sure that somewhere deep inside we feel pretty bad about it and would like to change.

20120920-144004.jpg

In his book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, Michael Hyatt gives five questions that each of us should ask as we start a project or evaluate an on-going project.

As I thought about these questions, it occurred to me that these questions are helpful for a number of different parts of life–home, work, church. In other words, answering these questions honestly will help us reframe our life and work in a way that will provide greater clarity for us and enrich those around us.

When you’re evaluating a project, ask these questions (p.13):

1. What is the product or experience I want to create or transform into a wow?
2. How will the customer or prospect feel as a result of this experience? (i.e., outcome)
3. What specific expectations does the typical customer bring to this experience?
4. What does failing to meet customers’ expectations for this experience look like?
5. What does exceeding customers’ expectations for this experience look like?

Hyatt gives the concrete example of an client waiting in the reception area of an office building. This is a very tangible experience of first impressions–investing in this experience could pay large dividends in good will toward the company, and make someone’s day rather than ruin it.

Like most things, working effectively and strategically is the product of focus and a good deal of intention. Asking these questions is a good place to start in improving a project your currently involved in or as you contemplate starting a new initiative.

Which books changed your life?

What was your Hortensius? What one (or more) books had a significant influence on you early in your life?

20120906-101547.jpg

In Confessions Augustine recounts a significant juncture in his spiritual journey. He writes,

“…I came to a book by Cicero, whose eloquence, if not his thoughts, is admired by all. But this book of his contains an exhortation to philosophy: it is called the Hortensius. It was this book that changed my outlook, that changed my prayers and turned them to you, O Lord, and made my aspirations and desires other than they had been…..” (3.4.7)

For Augustine, Hortensius kindled within him a desire for “the immortality conferred by philosophy.” It was a turning point because he desired to read that book for it’s own value rather than as a means to increase his rhetorical ability. This shift was, according to Augustine, the beginning of his return to God.

Is there a book like that in your own life? A book whose influence changed the course of your life and made you different than you otherwise might have been?