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.

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…

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 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 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:

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 million dollar 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. 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.

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.


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?


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?

How to find balance in your blogging

by Jeff Gissing | @jeffgissing

If you’re a blogger, the chances are that you undulate between regular posting and periods of radio silence (and guilt). Blogging gurus will chastise you for that–it’s not a great way to build a following for your blog. In reality, however, sometimes life just gets in the way. Adam Jeske thinks that’s a good thing. There are things that are more important in life than regular blogging, especially if you’re an established writer and publishing elsewhere. Like most things in life, blogging requires a balance that works in your context and with your goals.

So how do you find balance in your blogging? How much is enough?

The answer to these questions depends on your context. Specifically, I would ask two questions of myself:

  1. What are the values and characteristics that I want to be true of my life?
  2. What is the purpose or the goal of my writing/blogging?

Hopefully you value being a good husband (or wife) and father (or mother) more than being a good blogger or writer. The vocation of writing isn’t unimportant–far from it–it’s just not important in quite the same way as being a husband and father is. If, on reflection, you discern that posting less frequently will allow you to be a better person in other ways, embrace that. But be careful–sloth is often accompanied by noble rhetoric.

It’s important to consider what the purpose of your writing is. Where do you want it to lead? I started blogging because I needed a public space for thinking on things I read or was experiencing. I write to know what I think about something–the act of posting requires me to reach a conclusion (albeit a tentative one). 

I still blog for that reason, but in addition I now write because I can help my readers think through important issues from an evangelical perspective without abandoning their evangelical identity or setting aside their intellect. That’s changed the way that I write and, to some extent, what I write about. Blogging is an extension of my ministry as a pastor in the academy and as a ministry leader in an evangelical organization.

As you think about how often you want to post, consider the two questions above. I think doing so will free you from the tyranny of the urgent.



The danger of blogging

When you think about it, the advent of blogs has been a huge development in the life of our society. I’m no historian of technology, but it seems to me that blogs are the tracts or pamphlets of the 21st century–they provide a wonderful way to unite passion, and ideas with a cheap (free) means of communication.


Blogs have some draw backs too. Because they occupy “virtual space,” there is no (or very little) limit to who or what you interact with on a blog. I can respond to something written by someone I do not know and who is writing in a context quite different from my own. In this sense, blogs create an artificial flatness to interactions and deprive them of the rich texture that can really only come about by knowing something of the writer and her context.

There is also something of a tribalism around bloggers. They run in packs–sometimes more closely resembling a pack of rabid dogs than a herd of placid deer.

Tim Challies provides some insightful reflection on some of the dangers I have outlined above in this post, which is worth a read.

[Repost] Modern sinner-saint: Malcolm Muggeridge

I am on vacation this week and so reposting some older posts that remain relevant. I’ll be back online monday!

One of the most interesting stories of conversion to Christian faith I have ever read is that of Malcolm Muggeridge. Educated at Selwyn College, Cambridge and the son of a Labour MP, Muggeridge spent his early career as a member of the Fabian Socialists. He was hired by the Manchester Guardian to be their correspondent in Moscow. This was, of course, the dream job for a young liberal elite. Unfortuately Muggeridge arrived in the USSR right when Stalin was in the process of consolidating his power: not exactly a worker’s paradise. He observed forced starvation of villages and other crimes against the Imago Dei in man.

This led Muggeridge to reject socialism. He returned to England and began to write for a more conservative newspaper. Over the span of his life, he gradually was seemingly drawn to God and the mystery of faith as the only possible way to deal with the madness of life in the modern world. Eventually he was received into the Catholic Church. Given that for most of his life Mugg drank hard, lived hard, and slept with a lot of women other than his wife, he was frequently lampooned as St. Mugg (rather tongue-in-cheek). Despite the obvious “hypocrisy” of his life (someone has remarked that Muggeridge gave up the sins of the flesh just as the sins of the flesh were about to give him up), his coversion to faith was remarkable and produced a number of very significant works.

I commend Thomas Wolfe’s biography (Malcolm Muggeridge: A Biography) as a good read. I especially also enjoyed Mugg’s work, Jesus: The Man Who Lives in which he traces depictions of Christ down through the received traditiion of the church. Another good book by Mugg is published by the Bruderhof entitled, A Third Testament.

Hitchens on faith

The late Christopher Hitchens

I wrote earlier about my sadness over the death of writer Christopher Hitchens at 62 years of age. A friend, I cannot recall whom, posted this transcript of an interview in which Hitchens proves himself to be an ally of historic Christian orthodoxy.

His interviewer, a retired Unitarian minister, attempts to maneuver Hitchens into a corner and get him to proclaim his acceptance of the sort of progressive Christianity she espouses. Her faith is marked by such vagaries as a belief in “the other” and a desire for the moral improvement of humanity along a utopian trajectory. Surely this sort of faith should warm your heart, Hitch? 

Not exactly.

[Interviewer] The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

[Hitchens] I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Let me go someplace else. When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God—as you might as a matter of fact—as, “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?”

I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning—at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. You’re not going to come to my door trying convince me either. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.

Don’t get me wrong, this argument is not a principled defense of Christian orthodoxy–at least I don’t think it is. It is an incidental defense of Christian orthodoxy, but a defense nonetheless.
It’s possible that he really believes that his interviewer isn’t really a Christian in any meaningful sense of the world (an argument I too would make), but it’s also possible that he believes it necessary to define the term Christian in such a way as to encompass beliefs that he regards as “fraudulent.” I prefer the former.
What do you think?

Why I blog

I write to make sense of life. It’s as simple as that. The format that I most often choose is that of the blog post, most commonly writing here at Two Tasks. Sometimes I write for other blog, but most of the time getting words on a screen here is enough for me.

For some of you this will make absolutely no sense at all. I’m not getting paid to write and surely there are better things to do with my time. You’re right, I’m not getting paid to write but I have found that it’s critical for me to have space to think and express my thinking on a wide variety of things. You may have heard of Marcus Buckingham’s (et al.) work on strengths. His book Now, Discover Your Strengths has been very helpful to me in understanding what I like to do, do well, and derive value and positive energy from–his basic definition of a strength.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder assesses my strengths as follows:

  1. Intellection 
  2. Strategic
  3. Input
  4. Learner
  5. Analytical
Four of these strengths find a creative outlet in writing. Intellection is the quality or strength of being a thinking person. I enjoy the act of thinking and reflecting on a subject. When I don’t have the opportunity to do this regularly, I find myself deflated and fatigued.
Input is a funny little strength. In strengths literature it refers to ability or tendency to collect information. It’s a powerful inquisitiveness that often produces a great deal of information on a variety of subjects. Naturally, a blog is great way to express this strength since there is flexibility about the angle or subjects I approach here. Learner is obviously a related theme. I enjoy learning and in some ways believe it’s one of my main callings–it’s the foundation on which much of the rest of my life and work is built.
As an analytical person, I find blogging a helpful way to think through a subject and to interact with what others have thought or written on the matter. This often finds its genesis in reading something that doesn’t quite add up to me. Writing gives me the chance to think through the why and how of my objection.
Much of my writing is work-related, but I do it before the workday begins. Every morning I get up and get a cup of coffee between 5:15 and 5:30. I sit in my living room and start thinking and writing.Two cups later, I’m usually done and ready to start the breakfast routine with the kids. I find that a productive blogging session sets up the rest of the day quite well.