Monday, October 31, 2011

The Next Story - conclusions

Final Thoughts

In the epilogue, Challies talks about one area he has been challenged in each of the 6 topics he has covered. It was helpful and instructive to hear how he has made decisions in light of his life, which is prominent online. I’ll leave you to peruse it at your leisure.

However, it’s time for the rubber to hit the road for me. This book has challenged me in every area he covered. I live a lot of my life online, interacting through mediated methods and drowning at times in a sea of information. I like my online life, yet at times feel trapped by it, only too aware how little privacy I retain.

Here are some of the things I have come to realise:
  • I have tended to prefer mediated communication. It’s easier to send an email than to make a phone call. To catch up with someone in person often takes 4-8 weeks to find a free spot in my diary. However, I am more now committed to less mediated forms of communication. I hate texting, so I avoid that already. But now I am trying to call people to talk, rather than emailing. What I have found? Most things are quicker in person or on the phone. Emailing takes a number of bounces back and forth, checking details, clarifying comments, etc. A phone call is often faster, more efficient and I feel I have actually talked to the person properly.
  • I am easily distracted. I check messages when they come in, and my emails and Facebook page regularly – much more regularly that necessary. Not having a paid job means I do not have to be in constant communication with people. Few emails need to be answered within 24 hours, and texts, while seeming urgent, rarely are.
  • I am surrounded by information. I am now unsubscribing to many email lists and am regularly reducing the blogs I read. I hide many people on Facebook. I ensure I don’t get spam texts by not providing my mobile number where possible.
  • I am more aware that when I blog, Facebook, search and email, the data trail I leave behind is potentially permanent. I want to be careful how I speak at all times and what I spend my time doing.
  • I have gotten into the habit of skim-reading the bible. I want to break this quickly and completely. I want to study God’s word in detail, not skim over it because I have already read it so many times before. I am realising this takes real commitment – both of time and energy.

In the end, the biggest change that reading the book has encouraged me to commit to is a break from the online world. I am now trying to commit to 2 days a week with no internet connection.
  • Thursdays because Husband & I have decided to have a regular day off again (no kids)
  • Saturdays because that is really the ‘kids day off’ and I want to be with them more.
At this stage that means that on those days, I check no email, do not log on to Facebook, do not read any blogs and try not to reply to any texts. I try to keep my mobile on silent or away from sight. A few weeks in and I am actually loving it. I feel the pull of the computer, but enjoy the decision to stay away from it. I am already finding it incredibly freeing and it has helped me see what is a distraction and what excesses of information I need to remove from my life.

What about you? What has challenged you in this series?

If you want to keep thinking about some of these things, here are a few ideas:

Radical Womanhood - Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Roll Call

As McCulley begins this chapter, she makes a helpful aside comment. Being a unmarried woman herself, she has had to think about how she can counsel married women, not having experienced it herself. She came to realise personal experience was not what was important.
We do not need the authority of personal experience to counsel one another because the bible is sufficient for this task. But we do need to know the Word. (p75)
This is a helpful reminder for us, whether we are in a position to give counsel or to receive it - it can be tempting to think “I don’t understand, I have nothing to offer”, or “She doesn’t have to live with this issue, how can she instruct me on how to live with it”. We all need to have grace don’t we?

McCulley explains how feminism led many people to believe that there were essentially no differences between men and women, a fact which has been disproved by much scientific study. Women think differently, experience emotions differently and their brains work differently.


Then, she moves to a biblical explanation of the term ‘helper’, or wife - a helper who is equal to her husband, but differed from him and complemented him.

She clearly acknowledges that “many men fall short of the humble, sacrificially loving leadership role. Many women fall short of the humble, encouraging support role too. Just because sin mars a concept does not mean it is beyond gospel redemption.” (p83, my emphasis)

In the end, McCulley concludes:
submission has more to do with our attitude towards this concept than any flawless execution of it (p84)
She will have a disposition to yield to her husband’s guidance and an inclination to follow his leadership. Her final authority is Christ and she will not follow her husband into sin, however she has a spirit of submission (summarised from Piper and Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p61).

What then follows is a helpful discussion of the role of wife with encouragement and correction. For not only are we wives who are submissive, we are also caring sisters towards our imperfect brother who is our husband. And, in that role, we may be an encourager, a gentle rebuker, a counselor and a corrector.


Statistics show women initiate most divorces. This is a legacy of feminism. One of the triumphs claimed by second-wave feminists was introduction of ‘no-fault divorce’. Some critics argue this is the most profound effect of feminism upon our culture:
But divorce - the dissolution of a solemn mutual contract in which your pledge your life, your honor, your name, your commitment, and your future - can be thrust upon you without your consent… The very existence of this sword of Damocles hanging over husband and wife validates the attitude that marriage is temporary and based on self-satisfaction, rather than on commitment and responsibility. (p86, quoting Phyllis Schlafly, Feminist Fantasies, p234-5)
Of course, later research has also shown that those devastated, especially economically, by divorce are women. Wonder if feminists are still quite as proud about no-fault divorce?

McCulley finishes with some practical advice for wives, gleaned from Gary Thomas. If you regularly think negatively about your husband, you are likely to be dissatisfied. If you search for strengths and affirm those, you will build him up in those areas and encourage him. Not only that: we have all married imperfect men. But let’s just remember as well, all husbands have married imperfect wives.

She finishes with this encouragement:
In marriage, it takes a lot of strength of character to be a helpmate as the Bible describes it and not bail on the marriage. But you’re not doing it alone or in your own strength. Never forget the encouragement, correction, submission, honor, respect, and appreciation that you give your husband each day are lavishly supplied by the One who is also your helper! (p90)

Things to think about:
  • How do you feel about the term ‘helper’?
  • Why do you think women initiate most divorces? (extreme circumstances aside)
  • Would it be helpful for you, when thinking of your husband’s imperfections, to remind yourself that he also married an imperfect wife?

Next week: Chapter 5: There’s no place like home

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Next Story - #8

Visibility and Privacy (Chapter 9: Seeing and being seen)

Ironically, we crave both visibility and privacy online.

We leave deliberate traces of our presence online: we comment on a blog, make a twitter update, update a Facebook status, post our own blogs, write emails, etc.

What we might not realise is at the same time, we are leaving digital traces wherever we go:
  • Facebook knows what computer I am using, where I am, and what ads I have seen and whether I have clicked on any of them
  • Mastercard knows where I was when I bought lunch
  • Google knows which blogs I read, and which sites I have visited
  • The bank knows when & where I get money out
  • My mobile phone carrier knows where I am via GPS
We are under constant surveillance. We leave trails of physical evidence wherever we go (but no-one tracks the skin cells and hairs we leave behind). In our digital lives we also leave digital evidence wherever we go, and we are tracked and profiled depending on the data trails we leave behind.

Challies suggests we react in 2 ways:
  1. Be aware of the fact that everything digital is traceable and react accordingly, keeping important information safe
  2. Understand our lives are public in an unprecedented way. Through this we can bring honour to God or dishonour to his name.

When data is sorted, collated and analysed it can show patterns of behaviour and it can be predictive. The more data, the more accurate the profiles can be. Facebook has massive amounts of personal data about our lives – our birthdate, location, likes, religion, tastes, family connections – which are a goldmine for advertisers. Google searches are based on mathematical formula to interact with data to make money. Banks, Facebook, Google etc, make a mathematical model of us, that we can be explained by numbers and data.

We are individuals lovingly made by a creator. But we are learning not to see people as real people made in the image of God, but rather depersonalised data items, statistics, numbers, consumers, etc.

At the same time, our trail of data shows who we are when no-one can see us – the websites we visit, the comments we make, etc. Our searches show our hearts and desires, and they are retained forever. We ask search engines private questions, we look for answers online that we wouldn’t dare ask people.

We need to be diligent living lives marked by what we believe, ensuring we are above reproach at all times.
“Ultimately this visibility serves to remind us that we live all of our lives before the all-seeing eye of the Lord. Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. (Luke 8:17). While we live in the view of mobile phone carriers and internet providers and search engines, we ultimately live before God, the one who sees all and knows all, and who will demand an accounting of every word, every deed, every moment we were given on this earth.” (33:11ff)

Seeing and being seen

While we are concerned about privacy online, at the same time we love to be seen. We are exhibitionists (as evidenced by the millions of YouTube videos and photo sharing websites) and we are voyeurs (watching these videos and reality TV).

Challies asks: “What happened to humility? What happened to respect?”

Where is humility in desiring to be seen and to have the attention? Are we looking for approval from God or attention from others?

Where is the respect when people’s lives are on show and are mocked or used for entertainment? Life becomes marked by disrespect.
“The bible calls us to so much more. It calls us to live with discretion, to live lives marked with humility, with respect for one another, to make little of ourselves so we can make much of Christ.” (42:34ff)

  • Be aware – our devices leave trails. Our lives are in the public eye
  • Develop character – in a world that emphasises entertainment, develop character. Examine your entertainment, and your character. Do you need to reform your entertainment?
  • Examine your trail – Are you trying to clean up your trail? Are you trying to protect yourself or hide your sin?

Things to think about (some based on Challies’ questions):
  • Are there times you like to be seen?
  • What does your data trail say about you? Would you like your spouse, parents, pastor to see it?
  • How have you changed knowing people can see you? Do you realise God can see you all time?
  • Is your character changed by exhibitionist and exploitative entertainment? Do you need to change the entertainment you view?

On Monday - some final thoughts

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Next Story - #7

Truth/Authority (Chapter 8: Here comes everybody)

Truth is at the heart of the divine, and it is an attribute of God that he calls us to imitate. Truth leads to God and error leads to Satan. Therefore, truth matters. We need to be clear and truthful when we speak.

Our knowledge must also be true. We must be careful how we choose the sources of our knowledge and who has authority to declare what is true.

2 examples of truth in a digital age:

1. Wikipedia – an example of truth by consensus

Challies is swift to point out the advantages of the Wiki model:
  • it is often correct
  • it is expansive, bigger in scope than any printed encyclopedia could ever be
  • it relies on more sources
  • it is cheap (relies on volunteer editors, accessed for free)
  • it is responsive, entries can be changed quickly
  • it is convenient (accessible by any internet device)

Yet, it also has significant drawbacks:
  • It ignores human nature (assumes humans are good and will work together)
  • It offers too little review (little quality control)
  • It is too subjective – people can edit their own entries, corporations/politicians can change entries to suit their purposes, etc.
  • It ignores authority (gained by experience, age, knowledge). All people are equal – the 12 year old can edit an entry, as can a distinguished expert in the field.
  • It redefines truth – truth becomes indistinguishable from consensus. It democratises truth.
“Truth is what the majority determines it to be” (28:25).

We must remember that consensus and scripture are often at odds. The vast majority of people do not accept the claims of the Bible or Christ, but that consensus does not mean those claims are not true.

2. Search engines – an example of truth by relevance

Google’s search engines assign importance to various websites, by sites linking to one another and assign levels of trust to various sites. Wikipedia is assigned a very high level of trust, explaining why Wikipedia comes up #1 or #2 in almost all Google searches.

When you use a search engine, is it deciding what is the truest search for you based on relevance, which is all determined by complex mathematical formula.

In the end, the issue is not whether Wiki or search engines are good or evil, but how our technologies are changing our perception of truth. They mediate truth to us. The same thing happened when photos came to be believed over the written word.

Knowledge of truth cannot be democratised, they flow from God the author of truth. “Truth is not what is relevant or what is popular, but what God thinks.” (53:05)
“As Christians we know what is true because we know who is true. We know the source of truth and we have access to him through the words he has given us. We know that consensus and relevance may imitate truth and at times properly reflect what is true but all truth ultimately flows from the one who is truth” (37:50)

At the same time as our idea of truth is changing, so is our perception of authority. Instead of a few experts, we now have many amateurs. We have undermined the authority inherent in knowledge. Now we have crowd sourcing. Book and movie reviews can be written by anyone (including me!). Amateur reporters often have more followers than established political reporters.

What should we do?

Challies suggests we:
  • Ensure our commitment to the Bible – to know what is true from the author of truth
  • Be aware. Google does not speak truth but a mathematical search, Wiki is crowd sourced
  • Celebrate authority – trust traditional sources

Things to think about (some based on Challies’ questions):
  • Do you agree that truth is important? That truth is a key attribute of God and therefore one we must take seriously?
  • How does use of Wiki or Google shape your understanding of what is true?
  • How have you observed the undermining of authority inherent in knowledge? When does this concern you? When doesn't it concern you?

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Next Story - #6

Information (Chapter 7: More is better)

We live among so much information, that we have little time for wisdom.
“Information is not enough. The Christian life is one that is spent in the constant pursuit of wisdom for it is wisdom that allows us to live in a distinctly Christian way.” (3:29ff)
The starting point of wisdom is to know God. We hear little about wisdom, but we hear much about the benefits of information.
“Wisdom combines knowledge with experience to live with virtue. Every day we encounter data, information and knowledge, yet God calls us to live with wisdom (7:21ff).
Distraction (the previous chapter) and information are closely linked, as each distraction (email, text) brings us another nugget of information, making us feel that the distraction was worthwhile. Previously information was filtered – only a certain number of books were published. Now we have no filters – we have a glut of information, blogs, facebook, tweets, etc.

We have endless knowledge about people (where they were born, what they read, where they go), but we don’t truly know people. Hundreds of people are on the edges of our lives, but there are very few with whom we are intimately involved.

Challies then notes two potential problems with information and memory:

1. Outsourcing of memory – we don’t have to know things anymore, just know where to find the information. We think electronic memory is better than the brain. Why memorise the bible when I can look it up in a second?
The discipline of memorising teaches us and helps us to learn, as things enter our hearts. The information becomes knowledge, and then wisdom. “Empty minds will beget empty hearts and empty lives.” (38:50)

2. Eternality of information - Information online lives forever. Any blog, facebook message, photo is still online.

Forgetting is a blessing, a natural functioning of the human brain, it saves us from being owned by our memories. Yet we can reconstruct the most intimate parts of people’s lives by their search engine history, which is all retained online.
“Can a world that never forgets be a world that truly forgives?” (44:08)
Thankfully, our God does forget, he forgives our sin and remembers it no more.

Application – growing in wisdom
  • Get wisdom - Less information may lead to more wisdom. Seek out information that can be turned into useful knowledge and wisdom to live by.
  • Measure the input - Measure the sources of your information: TV, blogs, texts, newspaper, facebook. How much is useful information and how much is just noise?
  • Choose quality over quality - Which are the best sources of information you have? The worst? Cut out the worst ones: hide undiscerning facebook friends, unsubscribe to useless blogs and emails.
  • Simplify - your storage of information, store less.
  • Memorise scripture - it moves God’s words from our minds to our hearts to our hearts.
  • Make it count - Try to only access the information you need for your life and your faith. Move information to knowledge and wisdom.

Things to think about (some based on Challies’ questions):
  • When do you feel most overloaded by information? How might more information lead to less wisdom?
  • How could reduce the information in your life?
  • How have you outsourced your memory? What’s the value? What are the dangers?

On Wednesday: Truth / Authority (Chapter 8: Here comes everybody)

Radical Womanhood - Chapter 3

Chapter 3: Did God really say?

In this chapter McCulley turns to marriage. She looks at feminist views on marriage, then what Scripture has to say, and then turns to the issue of submission (some other issues of marriage are addressed in later chapters).
If you claim men are women’s chief problem, it has a way of dissuading women from marrying men…and vice versa. Therefore, it’s no surprise that feminism profoundly affected marriage rates and longevity - not to mention the definition of marriage. (p53)
The face of feminism for the 1970s was Gloria Steinem, and one of her oft quoted subjects was marriage. She made famous the expression “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’.

As McCulley turns to a scriptural definition of marriage and how feminism has completely affected it, she turns to Andreas K√∂stenberger’s excellent work on the subject: God, Marriage, and Family. He speaks of a timeless battle between God and Satan, and one area where this battle is being fought is marriage and the family. It has been fought before, with chauvinism and polygamy, but now feminism is a major player. Using K√∂stenberger’s argument, McCulley claims:
Spiritual battles are won or lost in the day to day thoughts we harbor. Ideas matter! What we think about the purpose of marriage, the roles in marriage, and the priority of marriage matters, and it matters a great deal to God. (p59)

As daughters of Eve, we need to realize the Serpent is still among us, asking the same questions. “Did God really say…?” You can fill in the blank with your own temptations and thoughts. You may hear questions buzzing in your head about God’s definition of infidelity, motherhood, premarital sex, monogamy, the roles of men and women, the worth of a wife, the function of a family, and so on. These questions have a source - our spiritual Enemy - and an innate amplification system - our sinful hearts. And when the two mix, the results are combustible. (p60)
McCulley goes on to look at submission and Ephesians 5 in detail. I am not going to outline it here, because I would oversimplify it, and my guess is that it’s something you have already looked at before. If not, I suggest you read her work here, and research more via her references.

The next chapter will flesh out in a bit more detail how this type of marriage looks in practice.

The personal chapter about Bill and Stephanie gives a great example of true forgiveness and a willingness to follow one’s husband.

Some things to think about:
  • About which things are you most likely to ask, “Did God really say…?”

Next week: Chapter 4: Role Call

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Next Story - #5

Distraction (Chapter 6: Turn off and tune in)

(I know this is a long post, probably because I got so much out of it, I just kept making notes!)

Challies observes that “it may well be that the ‘beep’ will be the defining noise of our generation”. The beeps of our phones, our ovens, our email arriving, our fridge left open… our lives are full of beeping devices.

It is increasingly difficult to remain undistracted in this digital age, surrounding by the all the beeping:
“On the one hand we have become somewhat dependent on our devices, after all they bring us great benefits, we are not ready to give them up. But on the other hand, we must honestly face the truth that these devices are prone to draw us away from the important things in life and the people who are closest to us.” (5:08)
All this distraction changes us – we become distracted people, losing the ability to focus.

What is the danger of distraction?
“If we are a distracted society, it stands to reason that we would also be a distracted church. A church with a diminished ability to think deeply, to cultivate concentration, to emphasise slow, deliberate, thoughtful meditation” (6:20ff)

Distraction leads to shallow thinking, which in turn leads to shallow living.
“The challenge is clear: we need to relearn how to think and to discipline ourselves to think deeply, conquering the distractions in our lives so that we might live deeply. We must rediscover how to be truly thoughtful Christians as we seek to live with virtue in the aftermath of the digital explosion. (9:28)

In recent times two perceptions stand out which affect our distraction:

1. A changed understanding of time and space. Digital time encourages us to think in fragments. We see only the immediate and its demands, overwhelmed yet still trying to do more.
Space no longer matters in the sense that it doesn’t matter where people are any more – you call, text or email anywhere. Our communication is disconnected from space and location.

2. Modern virtue of speed and capacity. The idea that fast is always good, that increased capacity is always better. Yet, King Solomon’s life speaks of deliberate learning and slowness, he learnt & memorised many proverbs. Jesus withdrew by himself to pray, even when there was more ‘ministry’ to be done.

Identifying our distraction

So, what do we do? We identify the sources of distraction, realising that for many of us the distractions are not isolated, but pervasive.

1. Shallow thinking
“Our desire for speed and productivity has made it nearly impossible to dedicate time to thought and meditation. Instead we find that we succumb to shallow thinking.” (30:40)

2. Multitasking

We want to do more and do it faster, we feel the need to be efficient. We find that we are in state of continuous partial attention with no time to reflect, contemplate or make thoughtful decisions. We are always on alert – waiting for texts, emails, etc. We are losing the ability to think in a sustained way.

Productivity and efficiency become idols in themselves. But quality and depth suffer, and in fact it is often less efficient. “We willingly sacrifice quality, relationships and our devotion to the ones we love in order to fulfil this twisted mandate.” (35:45)

The bible does not emphasise speed and productivity, but devotion and the motivation of our heart. The virtue is found in doing all things for God’s glory. Our goal is to honour him.
“We need to be Christians who take time to give sustained focus to one thing: the worship of the living God. He does not call us to study his word or to worship him more efficiently. God calls us to read his word meditatively, to give it the time and attention it needs, the attention we need…” (37:32)
I have to come clean on this point – as I listened to this chapter, I was struck by the irony that as I was challenged by the distractions in life and the dubious benefits of multitasking, I was also arranging family photo albums as I listened, jumping back over to the keyboard to type up the helpful points!

3. Skimming
Not only are we losing to ability to think in a sustained way, at the same time we are losing the ability to read and study in a sustained way.

The internet has trained us to skim. Skimming is now the dominant form of reading. Information gathering is more important than comprehension.

This affects how we read the word of God. Christianity is a religion that wants people to use their mind and to think, so we must look to banish distraction so we can meditate on the world of God.
“We must learn to ignore the buzzes, the beeps and the distraction that threaten to drown out serious thought and reflection. We must learn to remain undistracted, to wholeheartedly focus our attention on the things that matter most and to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.” (50:10)

Application: An undistracted life

Discover your distractions first
  • Measure the media in your life – how, where, when – internet, computer access, etc
  • Find the beeps - which are the most distracting? Which habits have you developed to respond to the beeps.
  • Find what dulls your mind rather than sharpening it, what you do when you are bored etc.

Destroy distraction
  • delete and unsubscribe to blogs, emails, etc. We can live with a lot less information.
  • focus on substance – things that focus on Godly character
I am doing this more and more, I follow less blogs and avoid subscribing to email lists. Yet, I continue to read the things that encourage me to grow in godliness and to think critically.

Cultivate concentration – practice
  • Focus – develop interests on fewer things, let quality trump quantity
  • Write about what you learn (yeah, I am right now!). Keep a journal, write letters, etc. By hand, if possible (this is not an option for me, but I wish it was)
  • Seek solitude – digital silence
  • Take a digital fast – turn all off for few days – harder it is to do, the more important it is. Take a few days, then a week or two.
  • Carve out digital free time

Some things to think about (some based on Challies’ questions):
  • How have the beeps in your life grown? Are you more or less distracted? What are the main sources of your distraction?
  • What evidence is in your life that distraction leads to shallow thinking and shallow living?
  • Do you have a device you cannot live without? What is it about it that keeps you so committed?
  • When do you multitask?
  • Describe your reading habits. Do you deeply engage or are you skimming?

He finished with a helpful aside with 7 steps for how to train your children to use technology well. This has been a very long post, so I’ll just list the basics:
  1. Educate – yourself. Learn why children want it, what they want to do with it and what they actually will do with it. What else might it do?
  2. Fence – boundaries around time on device and ways device used.
  3. Mentor – watch and check using well. Instruct, explain.
  4. Supervise – as they use devices. Have them in public places. Use filters, etc.
  5. Review – check what they do.
  6. Trust – as they grow and mature, give greater trust.
  7. Model – as you instruct, model disciplined discernment.

On Monday: Information (Chapter 7: More is better)

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Next Story - #4

Mediation (Chapter 5: Life in the real world)

We live mediated lives. Something is in the middle or between much of our relating, usually a screen. Yet the best relationships are face-to-face. No one longs to Skype a loved one when they could have seen them in person. A text does not communicate like a conversation does.

Challies makes an interesting theological observation that at the beginning of time, Adam and Eve’s relationship with God was unmediated, yet sin stopped that. Since then we needed mediators to speak to God, first priests, and now through Jesus’ death on the cross. At the end of time, our relationships with God will once again be unmediated. We will speak with God and worship him ‘face-to-face’.

Some of the results of a mediated existence include:

1. As our relationships become more mediated, we lose the skills to interpret meaning. When we email or text, there is no tone or body language to read. Interestingly, emails are misunderstood ½ the time.

2. We can break out of our bodies and their limitations, and have a “full life” online. We can have a fluidity of identity, our virtual world identity is just another expression of us, another type of mediated communication.
“In the cyberworld I can be popular. I can be powerful. I can be a somebody. Yet I do it all at the expense of who I really am” (44:08)

3. It has redefined community. We used have relational closeness with people near to us. Now geographic boundaries no longer define us, for digital communities bring people together apart from their bodies. The internet has enabled us to connect over shared interests rather than shared space. We now consider a community what is actually only communication.

4. We are more individualistic. We are more concerned with our interests than those of others. We have less reasons to care for our online communities (without genetics or location tying us together).

5. What about cyber-church? “The virtual church is not the real church” (~54:35). In Acts 2:42-47, the new community of believers lived together, worshipped together, shared together and took care of one another. They were a community built on a shared love for God and one another.
The diversity (of the local church) “gives just a glimpse of what God is doing in the world. He is building a community of people from every nation, tribe and tongue and bringing them together in a family that spans the globe and the ages. Each local church is to be a localised manifestation of what he is doing. The diversity of this mysterious body is a reflection of God’s own love of diversity and his commitment to save men and women from among every people group in the world. In theory and in our hearts we know that Christ is doing all of this, but in practice, many of us prefer to be individual and to surround ourselves with others who are as much like as possible. (1:00:47ff)
Technology encourages us to customise our churches to our individual preferences. We don’t choose our brothers and sisters in Christ, God does. God is choosing a community that is involuntary. In this community we need to learn to love one another, on the basis of our shared kinship in the family of God, rather than perceived compatibility. No mediated church can provide this type of community.

Mediated relationships

What is it about mediation that gives it such strong appeal?
“We’ve lost the big picture. Even Christians have become pragmatic when it comes to communication. We allow what is convenient what may be better or best. We have not thought carefully and deliberately about issues related to mediation.” (~1:09:30)
  • “Mediated communication is easy and safe. As our communication with one another becomes increasingly mediated, communication that involves more of us feels too intimate, too intimidating, too difficult.” (1:10:30ff)
  • Mediated communication requires less focus and time.
  • Mediated communication gives us greater control. We want to keep the control.

So, how do we live?
“We need to see the superiority of face to face communication, and prioritise it above what is mediated. We can not afford to become lazy, to allow pragmatism and convenience and ignorance to define the ways we communicate with one another.” (1:14:45ff)

As Challies says “Let’s not forget our responsibility to be real people in a real world.”

Things to think about (based on Challies’ questions):
  • In what situations do you find you are prone to rely on mediated communication rather than immediate?
  • Do you agree the best relationships we can have are those that are face-to-face? Which face-to-face relationships are you migrating away from? Why?
  • In what ways do you prefer your online self to your offline self?

On Wednesday: Distraction (Chapter 6)

Radical Womanhood - Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Men aren’t the problem

In each chapter McCulley addresses different aspects of women’s lives and how competing definitions of womanhood have shaped them.

In this chapter she shows how feminism came to view men as the chief problem of women, by profiling 3 leading feminists, their attitudes towards men and how their ideas contributed to the rise of feminism.

  1. Elizabeth Cady Stanton embodied the first wave of feminism (mid-late 1800s). She fought for women’s suffrage and marriage reform, in the midst of what seems to have been an unhappy marriage. She was also anti-Christian and had a very patriarchal view of Scripture which impacted her negatively.
  2. Simone de Beauvoir headed up the second wave of feminism in Europe (1920s-1980s). Her book, The Second Sex (1949) is the seminal work of modern feminism. She argued women were imprisoned by the roles of wife, mother and sweetheart. She had a life-long relationship with Jean-Paul Satre that influenced the entire concept of modern marriage – they decided not to marry, but rather have an open, non-monogamous union with complete transparency. McCulley shows how de Beauvoir is a paradox, claiming women were oppressed by men, yet continuing to live in a relationship with a man who seduced women and treated them with contempt.
  3. In the US, the second wave of feminism really arrived by Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique (1963). In it she articulates a feminine dream that suburban housewives try to live up to but cannot and therefore find themselves trapped, bored and depressed. She transformed the women’s movement. Friedan was also unhappily married, although later softened her stance against marriage.
These two waves of feminism are well noted, there is a third wave which started in the 1990’s which many of us have grown up with and our daughters will do so as well. We’ll comeback to that in chapter 7.

Sin is the problem

McCulley acknowledges that Stanton, Beauvoir and Friedan were bright, articulate women. However, she asks “were they good at comprehending their situations?”
There is real tension…the reason is sin. Our sinful actions, thoughts, attitudes, and words are the reasons for the chasm between God and human beings. Sin also separates us from one another… Being male and female is not the problem. In fact, when God created man and women, He called it very good... (p45)

women do have a problem. But it’s not men. It’s sin. Sin warps everything, including the good that God has designed in being a man or a woman. Women sin against men and men sin against women, and everyone sins against God… Sin is the reason men have oppressed women and women have usurped men….

As a movement, feminism arose because women were being sinned against. I think that is a fair argument. But feminism also arose because women were sinning in response. That’s a classic human problem: Sinners tend to sin in response to being sinned against. (p46-7)

After each chapter, McCulley includes a personal story of a woman who has worked through the issue she has presented. They add a personal touch to each issue and help us to see a way forward as the gospel impacts people’s lives.

Some things to think about:
  • Do you agree with McCulley’s assessment that men are not the problem, but rather sin is?
  • What do you think of McCulley’s statement that feminism arose as a sinful response to a sinful problem?

Next week: Chapter 3: Did God really say?

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Next Story - #3

Now we move into Part 2 of The Next Story where Challies unpacks six ways life, churches and society have been changed by digital technology.

These 6 ways are in the areas of:
  • communication
  • mediation
  • distraction
  • information
  • truth & authority
  • visibility and privacy
I will do one post on each. WARNING for skim readers: it's worth trying to read the whole post. Some will be long, but there are good things to think about in each. If you can stick with it, I think you'll find it worthwhile.

You will find I have summarised each chapter. At the end of the series I will come back and draw some threads together, and share how this has made me think about technology and my interactions with it.

So, on to communication.

Communication (Chapter 4: Speaking, Truthing, Loving, Living)

In the past, much of our behaviour was modified because we knew people were watching us (neighbours, colleagues, family) and what we did. Challies notes that one of the greatest challenges of the digital explosion is that we now spend much of our lives beyond accountability though visibility. No-one sees what we look at, where we give our attention, and how much time we spend doing so.

Communication is a key part of life

We live in a world of constant, pervasive communication.
If it’s true that we can tell about a culture by what it’s people carry all the time, then the fact that there is a cellphone in nearly every pocket tells how much we value communication. (17:37)
Something is becoming an idol can be when it takes an inordinate amount of time and attention, and when we feel less than complete without it. The need to be in constant communication resembles a form of addiction: our inability to turn off the phone, feeling withdrawal without Facebook updates, the need to reply to texts immediately, etc.

Some of the idols we may have are related to communication:
  • Idol of productivity – the need to feel productive, answering work emails all the time, etc
  • Idol of significance - the number of Facebook friends, followers on Twitter, subscribers on our blog becomes a measure of our success. Popularity becomes something that can be measured.
  • Idol of information – as if it the key to a good life is to have more information, more news, etc.
  • Idol of communication itself – we love the the constant flow of words and information.

The decline of face to face

Many people engage online to a depth they cannot maintain in person.
In some contexts, digital communication has become the more natural form of communication. It feels easier, safer and more efficient than talking face to face. (29:55)
Do you find it’s easier to text than call someone? I often do. As time goes on, I am trying to call before email and email before text, but it’s a challenge.

Taming the tongue

Taming the tongue is even harder is this age of constant communication (hence my previous post!)

We must control our communication, be slow to speak (James 1:19) and tame our tongues. We want our conversation to be seasoned with salt (Col 4:6). All of this is especially relevant in our digital communication. Our tongues (and our typed words) show our hearts. (Matt 15:18)
The caution that marks our speech must also mark our texting, our emailing, our commenting, our blogging and our tweeting. The fact that we communicate at all should cause us to stop and consider every word. The fact that we communicate so often today and do so before so great an audience should cause us to tremble. As we communicate all day we give ourselves unending opportunity to sin with our words. (39:55ff)

Speaking, Truthing, Loving

Just as there is risk, there is great opportunity. It can be for evil and for good. So, Challies says: let’s take up the challenge to speak the truth in love. (Eph 4:15)

As Christians we have more reason to speak than anyone else. We speak because God has spoken. We are the speaking followers of the speaking God. We must continue to seek the truth of God, growing in our knowing of Him. At we speak of the truth of God, we must also speak of the love of God.
“Truth and love are the twin pillars that should uphold all of our communication” (56:44ff)
Some suggestions from Challies:
  • Be visible, no anonymity. Live a visible life. God sees everything.
  • Be accountable. Let friends/family know what you are doing online. Ask someone to watch your blog or Facebook status, and give them permission to ask you about what you are saying.
  • Be real. Don’t fabricate an identity that is different from your real-world identity.
  • Be mature. Commit to what God tells us to do and turn from what he tells us to avoid. Commit to bible reading and prayer, serving others, living in community.
  • Always distrust yourself. Check your motives. Be slow to speak. Think before you post. Consider your response to an antagonistic email.

Things to think about (based on Challies’ questions):
  • How much of your digital life is lived visibly?
  • What kinds of boundaries have you placed on your communication? Are you in constant communication?
  • Is your communication low in quality but high in quantity?
  • How could you communicate less in order to communicate better?
  • How can we intentionally use words in ways that really matter?

On Monday: Mediation (Chapter 5)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Next Story - #2

For this post, I have covered both Chapters 2 and 3.

Chapter 2: Understanding Technology

Interesting chapter, but I only made a few notes.

Challies observes how technology interacts with society. Firstly, technology is ecological – it transforms society, rather than just adding to it.

But more than that: technology is also biological, our brains change in response to technology. People raised on books have markedly different brains from those raised on images and digital technology.

This made me ponder how much we need to continue to teach our children how to interact with the written printed word, yet also to interact with digital images and technology –so they can interact appropriately with both.

Chapter 3: A Digital History

This fascinating chapter covered the history of technology. Not from computers or phones as you might think, but much further back where for hundreds of years, the fastest any news could travel in the world was as fast as a horse could run.

The railways, followed by the telegram, the telephone and then the internet markedly changed the way information, news and data are communication and transferred.

He makes a fascinating comparison between a person bornpre-1980s and one born after. One born prior to 1980s is a digital immigrant they were “born and spent some of life pre-internet and pre-digital world” – you recall mailing letters, being out of touch because the phone was only connected at home, using printed encyclopedias,etc. You view a life offline very differently to an online life.

One born after 1980 is a digital native. You may see no distinction between line offline and life online. You can perhaps never recall a life without mobile phones. You may prefer digital interactions to personal interactions. A mobile phone is a part of who you are and you feel lost without it.

The internet dwarfs even the printing press in its impact on human culture, in its rate of adoption, in its immediate impact… (Chapter 3: 38:20).

Part 2 of the book (from ch 4 onwards) unpacks six ways life, churches and society have been changed by digital technology.

He finishes this chapter with a section called “Talk to your technology”. We should ask questions of technology, here are some he suggests:

1. Why were you created?
For military use? For hospital use? Mobile phones were created for business men in their travel, so it should not surprise us that it makes us always contactable. We often adapt it to fit our lives beyond what it was created for. A wise consumer will realise a technology has unintended consequences.

2. What is the problem to which you are the solution and whose problem is it?
It may be a solution to something that we would never consider a problem. (who knew it was bad to be out of touch with so many people? eg Facebook). Note also, it is may not be our problem at all. The new technology may just serve to raise the manufacturer’s profit margin.

3. What new problems will you bring?
Or who may be harmed by the technology? Perhaps our family, by overloading ourselves by the distraction of work or our mobile/laptop.

4. What are you doing to my heart?
We need to evaluate technology with this question. Is this device an idol? Do I want to be the first who owns it? Why do I really want it? Does it increase the power or control for another idol? Constant communication? Desire to find more things on sale?

Why do I really want this device? There are perhaps good and bad reasons.

This is my moment to fess up. I have been coveting an iPhone for a very long time. I could give you many good reasons why I want one: the ability to have music with a phone for safety while I run, the photo capability, a gaming device for the kids(doubtful whether that’s a good reason!). However, I also want one because everyone else has one. I’m jealous. For a person who spends less than $10 a month on calls, I don’t need an iPhone. It’s been helpful to analyse my heart on this one.

Which technology do you have or want that you need to ask these questions of?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Next Story - #1

The Next Story, Tim Challies
Chapter 1: Discerning Technology

Technology is a creative ability given to us by God. There is good in it. However, like anything good, it can also be used for evil.

“It is not the technology itself that is good or evil, it is the human application of that technology” (Ch 1) eg. the same technology that can operate on babies in utero, can also be used to abort them.

Challies suggests 3 key ideas:
  1. Technology is a good God-given gift
  2. Like everything, technology is subject to the curse. Often our technologies become idols and compound our sinful rebellion.
  3. It is the human application of technology that helps us to determine if is used to honour God or further human sin. We must assess its intended use, our use of it and thinking about these purposes in light of Scripture.

He goes on to talk about how technology often becomes an idol, or an enabler of our idolatry. We can idolise the technology itself – always wanting the latest and greatest thing. Or, more often, the technology enables our idolatry. If we idolise pleasure and the human body – technology provides readily available pornography to help us. If we long for more possessions, the ease of online shopping and auctions feed that desire.

Can technology itself be an idol for you, or does it enable other idolatry in your life?

He introduces the idea of ‘mythic’ technology. Once technology becomes ‘mythic’, it is presumed always to have existed and to be essential. These days, for most people, the mobile phone has become mythic technology. Many young people cannot conceive of life without a mobile phone, and as far as they are concerned, everyone has always had one.

His warning is: once a technology become mythic, we no longer ask critical questions of it. We assume we have to adapt and change to include this technology into our lives,rather than asking – do we need it, is it necessary, what does it help and what does it make worse?

Which technology is mythic for you? Mobile phone? Facebook? Permanent internet connection?

Radical Womanhood - Chapter 1

Please note this series was originally on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives.

Chapter 1 – Dented Femininity

Carolyn McCulley starts by explaining her own personal story – from a strong feminist voice which started in her university years (early 20s) and how it was challenged, as were all parts of her life, by her conviction of her own personal sin and her acceptance of Jesus Christ as her Saviour and Lord at 30.

This is not a foreign story to many of us, whether or not we were brought up in Christian homes, or were converted as children or adults, all women today bear marks of growing up in a world dominated by feminism.

A real conviction of personal sin changed McCulley forever:
I didn’t need to reconcile my pantheon of inner goddesses. I needed to repent of my sin.

As do men.

The kicker is that feminism is partially right. Men do sin. They can diminish women’s accomplishments and limit women’s freedoms for self-centred reason. Some men sexually assault women. Some men abuse their wives and children. Many men degrade women through pornography. Feminism didn’t rise up because of fabricated offences… (p26-27)
However, she says – this is a book for women. The men can challenge each other. Her concern is what we women have absorbed from our culture about being women.
Feminism (like most other “isms”) points a finger at other people for the problems of life. But I learned that other people are not the real problem. Our sinful nature (James 4:1-3), spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12), and the lure of this present world (1 John 2:15-17) are our real problems. (p27)

Some things to think about:
  • How affected do you think you are by feminism?
  • Do you tend to think that men are the problem, or do you agree that sin really is the problem?

Next week: Chapter 2: Men aren’t the problem

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Miscellaneous Musings

Another Saturday with another few miscellaneous musings, this might become a regular feature!

1.  There's a great article by Lionel Windsor on the Briefing blog about forming helpful habits:
“Oh no,” you might be thinking, “not another article telling me to read the Bible and pray more!” No, that’s not what this article is about. What would be the point? You already know you should read the Bible and pray more. If you’re like me, your problem isn’t knowing it, it’s doing it. And that’s a real problem, isn’t it? So this is an article to help you understand yourself a bit more, and to give you a few ideas about how to go about actually getting into these habits.
He has good good tips to help those of us who want to form good habits, but find it hard.   Practical, commonsense and worthwhile looking at.

2.  This week's DVD was The Social Network.  We are finally managing to work our way through a long list of 'want to see' movies!

This Academy Award and Golden Globe Winner tells the story of the beginning of Facebook, from the perspective of two major lawsuits against it's creator, Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg).  As a movie it's fantastic: great screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (of The West Wing fame), great soundtrack, engaging story and interesting to watch. 

As a comment on society, people's greed and some of the billionaires the internet has produced: not so flattering.  Made me even less sure I want to remain on Facebook, which has been an ongoing issue for me for some time.  Good thing I am already thinking about the online life with The Next Story series.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Rector's Wife

The Rector's Wife, Joanna Trollope

I devoured this book in a few days and finished it feeling completely overwhelmed.

Anna Bouverie is the rector's wife, mother and general parish dogsbody. When her husband, Peter, gets passed over for a promotion to archdeacon and sinks into a depression, she revolts. Sick of struggling to always make ends meet and the ongoing bullying of her daughter in school, Anna gets a job at the local supermarket to the horror of her husband and disgust of her parishioners. As she and her husband drift further apart, other men begin to show an interest.

It fascinated me on two levels:
1. I could completely understand her entire life. We do not minister in rural England, but it rang true on many, many levels: life in ministry, the continuous nature of pastoral support, the church structures, etc. While I do not live the life Anna lived, I could imagine it completely and the portrayal was frighteningly real. I also know some women whose lives mirror this even more closely that they would probably like to admit.

2. At the same time, on another level, it was completely alien. Anna was not converted. She (and her husband) had no concept of God's grace or glory. No real sense of service and absolutely no joy. His job is his job, even though it impinges quite significantly (and annoyingly) on her life. I am very thankful that while I could understand it it is nothing like my personal experience.

At the end the only word that truly summed it up for me was 'devastating'. It's a devastatingly harsh portrayal of ministry, parish life and people.

* To see another review see Rachael's on in tandem. She summarises the main issues very well.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Next Story

The Next Story, Tim Challies

As I mentioned a month ago, I have been listening to a audio book by Tim Challies called The Next Story. Subtitled Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion, he explains how and why our society has become reliant on digital technology, what it means for our lives, and how it impacts on Christian faith.

It has been a fascinating read (or listen!).

So much so that I am going to dedicate a series of posts to it, to raise some issues and think about them. If you read this blog, you are an online person who probably uses much of the digital technology that is available today from Facebook & Twitter to iPods, iPhones and iPads; from eBay to blogger; from mobile phones to laptops to xBox. But do you think about the role of technology at all from a Christian perspective? Do you even know how to do so?
What does theology have to do with technology? More than you might think... We are looking for that sweet spot where our use of technology is not just thoughtful and informed, but it is informed by the bible, by an understanding of God’s purpose for technology. In that place of thoughtful technological discernment we live in light of what we know to be true about technology, what we know to be true about ourselves and what we know to be true about the God who made us. (Introduction, 16:30*).
There are a number of ways Christians can deal with technology:
  1. Embrace it – enthusiastically and unthinkingly. Yet this lacks discernment.
  2. Strict separation – see all digital as dangerous enemy. Yet this is not realistic.
  3. Be a discerning Christian
A Christian looks carefully at the new realities, ways and evaluates them and educates himself, thinking deeply about the potential consequences and effects of using a particular technology. Through it all, even as he is using a specific technology, he disciplines himself to be discerning, to embrace what can be embraced and to reject what needs to be rejected… he relies on the Holy Spirit who speaks his wisdom through the bible to learn how he can live with virtue in this new digital world. (19:30)
The rest of the book provides a history of technology, how it has changed the world and how as Christians we can think about and evaluate the benefits and risks for our Christian growth and maturity in technology.

Some things to think about:
  • Do you embrace technological advances? Are you one of the first to get the new latest gadget? What risks do you face with this?
  • Do you shun technology? Avoid it wherever possible? What are the risks with this?
  • Do you stop to think about what a new technology might do both to advance the kingdom of God and to stifle it?

* Sorry, can’t tell you page numbers, just time on the audio chapter!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bible Passage

I continue to use the Explore bible reading notes by The Good Book Company.

I found today's so helpful, I thought I'd share a snippet.

1 Thess 1:9b-10:
They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. 
We can overcomplicate the Christian life.  In some ways it's very simple.

We turn.
We serve.
We wait.
Turning. Serving. Waiting.  See how all three go together.  But some try to serve without having turned.  Others are waiting, not too bothered about serving.  Which of the three do you find the hardest?
And which idols to you find it hardest to turn from?

Monday, October 3, 2011

New book series - Radical Womanhood

Please note this series was originally on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives.

Here at in tandem we are starting a new book series. We’ve looked at some practical ministry books, some books about marriage and some about Christian living. We thought it was time we looked at a book about women and feminism.

What do you think when you hear the word ‘feminist’? Do you embrace it? Run from it? Like to pick and choose parts of it? Do you understand why feminism arose and have any idea how to respond to it? Do you really even know what it is?

Next Monday, we will start working through Radical Womanhood, by Carolyn McCulley. Subtitled: Feminine faith in a feminist world, she challenges us to think through feminism, the impact it has had on the world and ourselves and how as Christian women we might respond to it.

Why don’t you join in?

If you would like to read the first chapter online, do so here. If you would like an introduction to the book by watching a 4-min video overview of feminist history by Carolyn McCulley - do so via this link.