Friday, 17 December 2010

'You will love this.' (Classical music and preaching.)

Conductor Ben Zander is convinced that everyone likes classical music - they just don't know it yet. And he's looking for shining eyes. I recognised it as soon as he said: I get the shining eyes thing in a good CBSO concert. 

The video presents some challenges and inspiration to preachers of the Word of God, too, who have not only all Zander mentions, but also the promises of God! A comment on Thabiti's blog when he posted this, from Timothy Reynalds: 
(1) Do I preach the gospel in confident belief that in God’s hands this message is able to awaken any soul to its truth and beauty? Don’t preach to move from 3-4%, but for 100%! What difference will that make to the way I preach to unbelievers?
(2) Do I preach to believers in full confidence that this word and this message should grip them all? What difference will that make to the way I preach?
(3) Do I have too many “impulses”: too much emphasis on lesser points or details, to the detriment of the overarching flow of God’s truth?
Now those are things I need to pray about – and pray for more shining eyes!
 Watch the video: I assure you, it's worth 20 minutes. 

[And yes, I've been around here before, as has Leithart.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Facebook is the bottle

That TIME has named Mark Zuckerberg its 'person of the year' is really immaterial - but after the first couple of pages about him, its article about Facebook is really rather insightful. This man aimed to create an experience of the internet which related to, well, relationships - because he recognised that as humans, who we are is not flexibly recreated at will (e.g. myspace), but connected and relating to others. He is interested in, 'Eliminating desire for all that doesn't really matter.'
Zuckerberg just wanted people to be themselves. On earlier social networks like Friendster and Myspace, identity was malleable and playful, but Facebook was and is different. "We're trying to map out what exists in the world," he says. "In the world, there's trust. I think as humans we fundamentally parse the world through the people and relationships we have around us. So at its core, what we're trying to do is map out all of those trust relationships, which you can call, colloquially, most of the time, friendships."
Facebook sprang from the insight that 'people yearned not to be liberated from their daily lives but to be more deeply embedded in them'. So while google tells us what the best result is to our search based on what most people in the world look at, Zuckerberg suggests we move from the wisdom of many to the wisdom of friends. (I wonder if, as a Jew, he's been reading Proverbs on that one?)
Zuckerberg's vision is that after the Facebookization of the Web, ... wherever you go online, you'll see your friends. On Amazon, you might see your friends' reviews. On YouTube, you might see what your friends watched or see their comments first. Those reviews and comments will be meaningful because you know who wrote them and what your relationship to those authors is. They have a social context. Not that long ago, a post-Google Web was unimaginable, but if there is one, this is what it will look like: a Web reorganized around people. "It's a shift from the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends," say Sandberg. "It doesn't matter if 100,000 people like x. If the three people closest to you like y, you want to see y."
Yet, there's valid critique of this kind of oneness in friendship - not that we want to be a different person to different people, but that naturally we do flex between different relationships. It is right that I relate to my boss in a different way from that in which I relate to my friends. We wouldn't want the flattening of all hierarchy, structure and order - there is a rightness and beauty in everything being in its proper place. So facebook, for all its connectivity and openess, still becomes just one sphere in life. I decide what to post on facebook: being completely real with my friends, family and colleagues, I'll share x with specific friends by email (or facebook message!) which I won't share in my newsfeed, because it may be misunderstood by some.

Facebook runs on a very stiff, crude model of what people are like. It herds everybody — friends, co-workers, romantic partners, that guy who lived on your block but moved away after fifth grade — into the same big room. It smooshes together your work self and your home self, your past self and your present self, into a single generic extruded product. It suspends the natural process by which old friends fall away over time, allowing them to build up endlessly, producing the social equivalent of liver failure. On Facebook, there is one kind of relationship: friendship, and you have it with everybody. You're friends with your spouse, and you're friends with your plumber.
And of course, we move from the realm of 1984 (about which people are so sensitive, when it comes to privacy and information) into a Brave New World:
But there is another danger, which is that instead of feeling forced to share, we won't be able to stop ourselves from sharing — that we will willingly, compulsively violate our own privacy. Relationships on Facebook have a seductive, addictive quality that can erode and even replace real-world relationships. Friendships multiply with gratifying speed, and the emotional stakes stay soothingly low; where there isn't much privacy, there can't be much intimacy either.
So it comes down to one of those standard aspects of maturity - knowing what to say to whom, when. There is a time to share, and a time to be private. A thing you can share with a friend, and thing to share with a colleague. They're not all the same, and that's not necessarily deception: it's a kind of wisdom.
However much more authentic the selves we present on Facebook are than they were in the anonymous Internet wilderness that came before it, they still fall far short of our true selves, and confusing our Facebook profiles with who we really are would be a terrible mistake. We are running our social lives over the Internet, an infrastructure that was not designed for that purpose, and we must be aware of the distortions it creates or we will be distorted by them. The standard cliché for describing viral technology like Facebook has always been, "The genie is out of the bottle." But Facebook inverts that. Now Facebook is the bottle, and we're the genie. How small are we willing to make ourselves to fit inside?
As with any tool, don't reduce life to it, or your life will be reduced to fit. [Read the whole article in TIME.]

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Prefer to hear him roar!

One of the delights of a good novel is that you are welcomed in to a different world: for that short time, to breathe its air, to swim in its sea, and know its people. It is why I always suffered from an inclination to speak like Shakespeare's, Austen's, or (Pope's translation of) Homer's characters, when emerging from their books. The author invites you to see the world through different eyes: such is the power of words well set. 

Some books permeate so deeply that the effect is longer term. I revisited Narnia so much as a child (and teenager, and adult!), and then Malacandra and Perelandra, that our own Silent Planet took different meaning. It is as if a character from those worlds lent me their glasses, and now I see our own in fresh and sometimes strange hues. It is not simply that I love that world, but that I know this world, better. Having breathed that air, I can survive more ably here where the air is thinner.

Which is why I was so sad to read this article, which describes, with evident pity rather than trigger-happiness, how the creators of the recent Narnia films seem to have failed to taste Narnia's air, so found it strange, and have inadvertently replaced it with filtered air pumped in from our silent, twisted world. I'm sure they found it unrealistic - Miraz, Weston, are more like us, so we find the children stay like them rather than being transformed to be like the great Lion, the Son of the Emperor, who is not safe, but is good. 

Of course, Lewis was merely writing under the influence, himself. The influence of the Bible, which paints us into the ultimate reality, and gives us eyes to see and know its Painter. The loss of Narnia's oxygen in the films merely goes to illustrate that we need to draw on what is outside of ourselves to understand this world - not just revert to being true to ourselves. This world, and our hearts, does not have within it what we need to get through it alive. We need to breathe Narnian air*, and then we will find ourselves transformed by it.

Read Narnia Invaded, by Steven Bower.

* I mean, of course, its greater and perfect Idea and source. 

Friday, 10 December 2010

Quote of the day: taking issue with not having an issue

I noticed rather belatedly that the November issue of Themelios is out. It's like an early Christmas present! I used to subscribe, and I confess I like paper copies, but now they've ceased hard copy publication, it's free online here. I usually turn first to Carl Trueman's Minority Report, which in this instance gives us food for thought about polemics: terrible beauty, beauty, and the plain terrible. He points out just how polemical the first Q&A of the Heidelberg catechism was at the time; I've been learning it, meditating on it, and teaching it to our teens in church for a while now, for its pastoral richness, but its polemical nature hadn't occurred to me. Anyway, now pondering our quote of the day, from Trueman: 
If assurance is not an issue, it is likely because you have a sub-biblical view of God’s holiness and a sub-Pauline view of human sin...