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Provocations and Habits of the Digital World

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Seth Godin called this “five steps to digital hygiene.” I think of it more as five steps to wellbeing in the digital space:

  1. Turn off mail and social media alerts on your phone.
  2. Don't read the comments. Not on your posts or on the posts of other people. Not the reviews and not the trolls.
  3. De-escalate the anger in every email exchange.
  4. Put your phone in the glove compartment while driving.
  5. Spend the most creative hour of your day creating, not responding.

So good.

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‘Suffering and Service,’ Stephen Colbert Interviews Joe Biden (One Year Ago)

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

It’s sobering to think where we were a year ago. Colbert had just started his new gig on The Late Show and he interviewed Joe Biden on his third day. The Verge presented it as something “we won’t soon forget,” but we do forget, and we move on to the next story. Watching it again, this jumped out from the second part of the interview. Joe Biden:

Look, I don’t think any man or woman should run for president unless:

  1. They know exactly why they would want to be president, and
  2. They can look at folks out there and say “I promise you you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy and my passion to do this.”

This is the part that stuck with me, though, even after a year. Colbert:

It’s going to be emotional for a lot of people if you don’t run. Your experience and example of suffering and service is something that would be sorely missed in the race.

The words ‘suffering’ and ‘service’ aren’t being used very often these days to define leadership. Let’s start.

(By the way, if anyone can find Part I, please let me know)

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Icons in Motion

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Interesting film project from the Brehm Center at Fuller Theological:

The piece is intended to engage the theological imagination through words, images, and sounds. Like an icon, participants are encouraged to see through these pictures, giving voice to a concrete reality that is shot through with a deeper resonance.

The first one is called “Flight Into Egypt.” I’m looking forward to seeing others.

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‘Unfollow: How a Prized Daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church Came to Question Its Beliefs’

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Adrian Chen, in a gripping account of fundamentalism and the humanizing influence of Twitter, for the New Yorker:

By the end of the day, Phelps-Roper had more than a thousand followers. She took the incident as an encouraging sign that Westboro’s message was well suited to social media. She loved that Twitter let her talk to large numbers of people without the filter of a journalist. During the next few months, Phelps-Roper spearheaded Westboro’s push into the social-media age, using Twitter to offer a window into life in the church and giving it an air of accessibility.

It was easy for Phelps-Roper to write things on Twitter that made other people cringe. She had been taught the church’s vision of God’s truth since birth. Her grandfather Fred Phelps established the church, in 1955. Megan’s mother was the fifth of Phelps’s thirteen children. Megan’s father, Brent Roper, had joined the church as a teen-ager. Every Sunday, Megan and her ten siblings sat in Westboro’s small wood-paneled church as her grandfather delivered the sermon. Fred Phelps preached a harsh Calvinist doctrine in a resounding Southern drawl. He believed that all people were born depraved, and that only a tiny elect who repented would be saved from Hell. A literalist, Phelps believed that contemporary Christianity, with its emphasis on God’s love, preached a perverted version of the Bible. Phelps denounced other Christians so vehemently that when Phelps-Roper was young she thought “Christian” was another word for evil. Phelps believed that God hated unrepentant sinners. God hated the politicians who were allowing the United States to descend into a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. He hated the celebrities who glorified fornication.

This is the type of story that makes you cringe, but you can’t stop reading. What strikes me is the humanizing effect of relationships with people who are different from you. The catalyst in this case was Twitter.

It’s a long piece, but worth finishing. Here’s one more bit:

As Phelps-Roper continued to tweet, she developed relationships with more people like Hughes. There was a Jewish marketing consultant in Brooklyn who abhorred Westboro’s tactics but supported the church’s right to express its views. There was a young Australian guy who tweeted political jokes that she and her younger sister Grace found hilarious. “It was like I was becoming part of a community,” Phelps-Roper said. By following her opponents’ feeds, she absorbed their thoughts on the world, learned what food they ate, and saw photographs of their babies. “I was beginning to see them as human,” she said. When she read about an earthquake that struck off Canada’s Pacific coast, she sent a concerned tweet to Graham Hughes: “Isn’t this close to you?”

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My Favorite Religious Podcasts

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

I love podcasts (not just Serial). I got started on tech podcasts after Steve Jobs announced the iPad in January of 2010. My brother, Seth, encouraged me to watch the keynote, and it immediately plunged me into the world of Apple, design, and tech geekery. Since I listen to a few tech podcasts religiously, I thought it was time also to survey the landscape of religious podcasts. I started at the beginning of the year and have found a handful that I really like.

You’ll notice that I don’t include any solo podcasts in this list. There are a lot of great sermons out there, I’m sure, but I’m more interested in conversations than I am sermons (one exception: I listen to my friend Steven Hovater who preaches at the church at Cedar Lane in Tullahoma, TN). This even rules out a popular podcast like Rob Bell’s (sorry Rob, I still don’t like that name), except for when he’s interviewing folks like Charity Water’s Scott Harrison or Oprah Winfrey.

I’m sure there are gaping holes in this list. I haven’t gone to iTunes and explored the top podcasts in the Religion and Spirituality category. I never searched the top lists in tech either, so I wanted to try without in the Christian podcast world too. My exposure to these has been more organic (or just spurred on by searching for another N. T. Wright podcast guest appearance).

Here are my three favorite shows, three honorable mentions, and a few that I just couldn’t get into. If there are some podcasts you really like, I’d love to hear from you.

Newsworthy with Norsworthy

A quick glance at the backlog of Luke Norsworthy’s podcast and you can see he’s scored some amazing guests on his show. He’s also been doing this for a long time, so the audio quality, his interview skills, and the overall product have gotten consistently better. His sarcasm takes some getting used to, but he knows what he’s talking about, asks great questions, and really sets up his guests consistently to shine. I also like that he does a wrap-up episode at the end of every month, so that there can be some reflection on the month’s episodes.

At first I was only listening to episodes with guests I had heard of. Now I listen to all of them. Luke exposes me to theologians, pastors, and practitioners both academic and popular outside my realm of exposure within my church tradition (the churches of Christ) and my seminary studies (Harding School of Theology). I like that I share a similar background with Luke because he asks his guests the same questions I’m asking.

Some favorite episodes:

The Liturgists

Exploring reality through the lenses of science, art, and faith.

The science, art, and faith trifecta makes for some great conversations. Mike Gungor (of Gungor Music) and Mike McHargue (better known as Science Mike) are your hosts. Most of the episodes consist of both Mikes taking on a specific topic, like creativity, or, the multiverse. Lisa Paino is a semi-regular co-host, and they’ve interviewed other guests such as Peter Enns, Rachel Held Evans, and Kristen and Rob Bell. They’ve put together one knockout special episode, featuring a range of guests in a conversation about LGBTQ.

The show has had a run of just over a year, and it’s been good. I’ve listened to the whole backlog. Their background in evangelical circles leads them to address issues and perspectives that I think are interesting. They mix an interview style with a topical approach. The episodes are artfully crafted and the audio quality is great. They have a progressive bent, but use a healthy, open approach in each conversation. While they don’t represent the full spectrum of atheism, both Mikes have been atheists at one point in their lives, which translates into extra sensitivity and openness to doubt.

Some favorite episodes:

Nomad Podcast

Christian community, mission, and the future of the church.

The Nomad Podcast is the longest running of the three (since early 2009), so it has a tremendous backlog. They hit the pause button in mid-2011 but rebooted just a few months later and have been publishing new episodes once or twice a month since. The hosts, Tim and Dave, are disenfranchised Christians looking for signs of hope. They have a phenomenal host dynamic and seem really to care about people. They’re from the UK, which means they offer a great, European perspective, and have accents that automatically make them both funny and intellectual (to my US-American ears at least). These guys are really fun to listen to.

Each episode starts with a pre-interview, shares the actual interview, and ends with a followup conversation. The introductions and conclusions might be laborious for some of you, but again, the accents keep me coming back. Since they’re based in the U.K., they have a guest list that differs quite a bit from Luke Norsworthy’s. They’ve had Tom Wright on several times (including for their pilot episode), which is awesome. They always ask good questions, going with their general attitude of wanting exposure to a wide set of voices and perspectives (including both women and men). Most of the episodes are interviews, but they also publish some “Nomad Extras” (shorter, solo-reflections on specific topics like the refugee crisis), and seasonal series like “12 Days of Christmas” and “An Interfaith Easter.” There’s something about the premise of the podcast, “looking for signs of hope,” that I like more than “you just came out with a book so I’m going to interview you.”

Some favorite episodes:

Occasional Listens

I’m subscribed to the aforementioned three shows, and will likely listen to a new episode soon after it’s published. The following three I listen to occasionally. I’m not subscribed, but I keep them in my podcast app and check back when I need something new to listen to.

Podcasts I couldn’t get into:

Here are a few podcasts I thought I would like, but for some reason or another I couldn’t quite stick with (read: they’re probably due another listen). Either something about the style, the hosts, or the audio quality rubbed me the wrong way.

Two Cents on Longevity

I worry that these podcasts aren’t sponsored enough. Everything I listen to in the tech world is sponsored and a good business for those who host the podcast. It ensures it’s worth their time to keep making a great podcast. Luke Norsworthy has had a monthly sponsor most months this year. The Liturgists have just launched a Patreon campaign to fund more episodes like the one they put together on LGBTQ. Of all the episodes I’ve listened to of Nomad, they’ve never hinted at trying to make some money, except joking about raising money to interview Christian thinkers and practitioners in the U.S. of A.

I hope that some of these folks can find a sponsorship model that works for them and is sustainable, so they can continue to produce great content. It takes a lot of work to produce a really good show. Their work deserves to be compensated.

Podcast App Pick: Overcast

Overcast.

If you use Apple’s built in podcast app, give Overcast a try. I love its Smart Speed feature (shortens silences), which has saved me 35 hours of listening time so far. I also love the way you can see which podcast episodes people you follow on Twitter recommend.

It’s free, so why not try it?

Favorite non-Religious Podcasts:

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‘Yoder and the Work of Christian Theology’

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Declan Kelly, reflecting on using John Howard Yoder’s contributions in theology without taking into account the type of life Yoder lived:

I approached his work entirely uncritically, and focussed solely on the fact that his exegesis of Scripture was convincing and convicting.

What I did was wrong, with or without the latest information regarding Yoder’s crimes (crimes for which he served no time in prison). To be uncritical is to cease to do the work of Christian theology. In truth, it is to cease to do the work of a Christian. A Christian is not a positive thinker. There should be no one more critical than a Christian, for there was no one more critical than Christ. We learn that from his first instruction as a wandering prophet: Repent! Why and how we do the work of criticism is another question, but there can be no question that it is work which must be done. The uncritical church will not be a “positive” influence in society. It will be a miserable place of secrecy and betrayal, with no hope of truthful communion.

(Via Kevin Hargaden)

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John Mark Hicks’s Three Prayer Requests

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

John Mark Hicks, writing for Wineskins:

(1) Pray for comfort and peace in Paris, but also in Beirut which was bombed the day before, families on the Russian airliner, and for Syria and Iraq where people suffer on a daily basis from the violence of ISIS.

I wonder why we painted our Facebook pages with French colors but not Lebanese or Russian. Perhaps I have some sense–we have a historic alliance with France….and because they are European…or perhaps the events in Paris are closer to home–they certainly are in terms of media coverage.

Whatever may be the case, we pray for France, but we also pray for everyone affected by ISIS’s violence. Perhaps this is a moment to deconstruct our Western centrism and embrace a desire for all human beings to live in peace. Consequently, we pray for all–including Syrians, Russians, and Iraqis–who have, in recent days, experienced the horror of ISIS violence.

Let us serve them as we are able.

I have lingering questions every time social media addresses tragedy with #PrayFor____. I appreciate John Mark’s specificity, as well as the appeal to a tangible action after each request.

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‘The White Man in That Photo’

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Moving story by Riccardo Gazzaniga, on Olympic racing, race, standing up for what you believe in—and suffering for it:

It’s a historic photo of two men of color. For this reason I never really paid attention to the other man, white, like me, motionless on the second step of the medal podium. I considered him as a random presence, an extra in Carlos and Smith’s moment, or a kind of intruder. Actually, I even thought that that guy – who seemed to be just a simpering Englishman – represented, in his icy immobility, the will to resist the change that Smith and Carlos were invoking in their silent protest. But I was wrong.

If you’re going to read one thing today, make it this. If you prefer, here’s the post in its original Italian.

Fu una gara bellissima, insomma.

After the story garnered so much attention, Riccardo got some pushback, to which he responds on his site (in English). Don’t miss the first comment, by Peter Norman’s nephew. What an amazing story.

(Via Alex Cone.)

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Italo Calvino on Photographed Reality

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Maria Popova over at Brainpickings:

Through the words of one of his characters — a photographer named Antonino — Calvino channels the compulsive nature of our “aesthetic consumerism” and captures our tendency to leave the moment in the act of immortalizing it:

The line between the reality that is photographed because it seems beautiful to us and the reality that seems beautiful because it has been photographed is very narrow… The minute you start saying something, “Ah, how beautiful! We must photograph it!” you are already close to the view of the person who thinks that everything that is not photographed is lost, as if it had never existed, and that therefore, in order really to live, you must photograph as much as you can, and to photograph as much as you can you must either live in the most photographable way possible, or else consider photographable every moment of your life. The first course leads to stupidity; the second to madness.

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Sins That Lead to Greatness

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Thoughtful, repentant piece by Brian Zahnd on Columbus Day:

Would it be too much to ask that we learn to lament the sins that made our greatness possible?

At least realize that we are all so deeply implicated in systemic sin that there are no quick fixes and there is no easy answer to the question of what justice looks like. We are all so deeply implicated that we should be quick to ask for mercy and slow to condemn anyone.

It's worth reading the whole article—he quotes both Columbus and Las Casas.

Every mention of Columbus Day in my Twitter timeline yesterday was critical of it (except for this more parodic slant). I wondered if what I saw was a reflection of a new majority position or simply self-selection based on who I follow. It may be some of both, and is probably the sort of argument where the only people vocal about it take an opposing stance. Still, I think more people are thinking before they launch a “Happy Columbus Day!” into the world.

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Not Just Quality Time—Quantity Matters Too

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Pointed reflections by Frank Bruni, in an op-ed in the NYT:

There’s simply no real substitute for physical presence.

We delude ourselves when we say otherwise, when we invoke and venerate “quality time,” a shopworn phrase with a debatable promise: that we can plan instances of extraordinary candor, plot episodes of exquisite tenderness, engineer intimacy in an appointed hour.

We can try. We can cordon off one meal each day or two afternoons each week and weed them of distractions. We can choose a setting that encourages relaxation and uplift. We can fill it with totems and frippery — a balloon for a child, sparkling wine for a spouse — that signal celebration and create a sense of the sacred.

So it’s not just about a few undistracted minutes. Why?

But people tend not to operate on cue. At least our moods and emotions don’t. We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones. The surest way to see the brightest colors, or the darkest ones, is to be watching and waiting and ready for them.

(Via Craig Mod.)

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NT Wright Speaks in Silicon Valley

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

NT Wright spoke at Google back in June as part of the Talks at Google program. The first half is a lecture by the good professor himself. The second half is a question and answer session with people in the audience.

The context for this talk features two things I love: theology and technology. Along those lines, I liked this bit:

There’s a difference between information and wisdom.

I love that Wright was forced to speak with a different audience in mind. So often he speaks to Christians or others familiar with Christian jargon. The message in this talk was typical for him, but the way he went about it showed he was sensitive to the venue. Really cool.

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Global Population Shifts By the Year 2100

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Ana Swanson at the Washington Post:

The world is expected to add another billion people within the next 15 years, bringing the total global population from 7.3 billion in mid-2015 to 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion by 2100, according to new estimates from the UN.

Currently, 60 percent of the global population lives in Asia, 16 percent in Africa, 10 percent in Europe, 9 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, and only 5 percent in North America and Oceania. China and India are the largest countries in the world, together making up almost 40 percent of the world population.

But those numbers won’t stay that way for long.

It’s all about Africa.

The UN’s projections for Africa are pretty mind-blowing. Africa is expected to more than double its population by 2100. Africa currently accounts for 16 percent of the global population. The UN expects that proportion to rise to 25 percent in 2050 and 49 percent by 2100.

These are astounding predictions. The charts that accompany the article help grasp the magnitude of the population shifts we‘re talking about. And though the year 2100 looks like an impossible date written out, it suddenly doesn’t sound too far off.

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Rachel Held Evans With a 10-Question Rant About Boys’ and Girls’ Toys

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Speaking of the CBMW argument against Target, Rachel Held Evans asks them ten questions about their position. The questions are more provocative and rhetorical than designed to start a conversation, but numbers three and four get to the point I was making:

3) You say, “The Bible teaches that men are wired by God to protect and to pursue…” Where? Where does the Bible say this?

4) You say, “The Bible teaches that…women, on the other hand, are wired by God to nurture and be pursued…” Where? Where does the Bible say this?

It’s worth visiting the post if only for the video that kicks it off. Hilarious.

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Hemingway: Know Everything

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Good collection of Hemingway quotes by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings:

In an observation particularly applicable to the sensationalist faux-grandeur of web journalism, Hemingway admonishes against the cult of the epic:

Mysticism implies a mystery and there are many mysteries; but incompetence is not one of them; nor is overwritten journalism made literature by the injection of a false epic quality. Remember this too: all bad writers are in love with the epic.

On novels infused with “intellectual musings”:

No matter how good a phrase or a simile he may have if he puts it in where it is not absolutely necessary and irreplaceable he is spoiling his work for egotism. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over. For a writer to put his own intellectual musings, which he might sell for a low price as essays, into the mouths of artificially constructed characters which are more remunerative when issued as people in a novel is good economics, perhaps, but does not make literature. People in a novel, not skillfully constructed characters, must be projected from the writer’s assimilated experience, from his knowledge, from his head, from his heart and from all there is of him. If he ever has luck as well as seriousness and gets them out entire they will have more than one dimension and they will last a long time.

On the necessity and process of acquiring knowledge:

A good writer should know as near everything as possible. Naturally he will not. A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge. There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.

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‘The Pixar Theory of Labor’

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

To live is to work is to live.

James Douglas, writing for The Awl:

It is in the nature of modern capitalism that corporations, especially ones of a certain size and influence, glaze a veneer of enlightenment over a brutal, instrumental value system. This is why Facebook and Google go on worldwide fishing expeditions for new users, but frame it publicly as bringing the internet and opportunity to the developing world; it’s why Whole Foods tells its customers they’re helping to save the planet by buying organically farmed produce, but often neglects to specify how far that produce has been shipped. Pixar has created a stable of films for children that is founded on narratives of self-actualization—of characters branching out, embracing freedom, hitting personal goals, and living their best lives. But this self-actualization is almost exclusively expressed in terms of labor, resulting in a filmography that consistently conflates individual flourishing with the embrace of unremitting work.

Interesting lens through which to understand Pixar movies.

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African Cities Urbanizing at China-Speed

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Quartz Africa:

It’s easy to see China’s footprint in Africa. On the outskirts of Nairobi, a new highway built by a Chinese firm is crowded with bumper-to-bumper traffic, many of the cars set on tires imported from China. The landscape is dotted with construction sites and, every so often, the logo of another Chinese construction firm. Across the continent, Chinese companies are building highways, railways, sports stadiums, mass housing complexes, and sometimes entire cities.

But China isn’t just providing the manpower to fuel quickly urbanizing African cities. It is exporting its own version of urbanization, creating cities and economic zones that look remarkably similar to Chinese ones. Journalist Michiel Hulsof, based in Amsterdam, and architect Daan Roggeven in Shanghai, began visiting the continent in 2013 to document and investigate whether China’s model of urbanism can work in Africa.

Great interview. Fascinating photos. It's not the typical Africa narrative, which is why it must be told. This is the reality for hundreds of millions of people on the African continent.

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