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Does the Audience Change the Message?


I expect most of us are familiar with the expression, “The medium is the message” coined by Marshall McLuhan.  The phrase is as old as I am, well ten months older.  At the time it was spoken in reference to the quickly changing face of media and our tendency to focus on the obvious effects and not really look for a deeper level.  I don’t pretend to really understand McLuhan’s message, but I think that it is important to look at our messages, especially as they are becoming more and more public through blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc.

When I prepare a message for any of my usual churches I do so knowing that, for the most part, I will be preaching to a Christian audience with a fairly similar frame of reference to mine.  When I write something for my blog it is different, I have no way of knowing who may read my post so things I wouldn’t normally explain get explanation.  Things that are totally open to the world on the internet need a different filter than comments to my friends and colleagues over lunch.  Awareness of audience is even one of the sections on rubrics for evaluating student writing.

I am working on a service I will be leading at my sister’s church in the Montreal area.  I have led worship at all four of the Presbyterian churches in my area, but this will be my first time preaching out of the province.   I am somewhat familiar with the church as I have worshipped there and sung in the choir on occasion, but I don’t really know it.  I do know that there are several retired ministers and theology professors who attend her church. While I am used to having one or two retired ministers in the congregation for my services at home, they are people with whom I am very familiar and comfortable.  This is not the case for my sister’s church, and who knows what other areas of speciality  I may trip upon in my message?

One service I did on Aboriginal Sunday a while back went well.  At the end I greeted people at the back as usual.  One woman hung back for a bit and when she came up to me said she was debating whether or not to tell me what she really thought.  I asked her to go ahead.  She was not pleased with my message and gave me various reasons mostly related to her perceptions of “special treatment” for First Nations people in our area.  While she had, in part, missed the actual point of the sermon, she needed to talk about the issues it raised for her and I hope that helped her in some way.

So, would I write a different message if I was speaking to the un-churched, the working class, a room full of professors, or atheists?  In the end, all I can do is what I usually do.  I will study the texts carefully, review what other’s have said on the topic,  do some fact checking, and then write what seems to flow.  Hopefully what I say will give people something new to think about, something to inspire them, or something about which to debate.

Invisible already? Removing the cloak


flickr.com/photos/35643800@N05/4703546529

 Harry Potter was ever in the public eye.  Everyone treated him differently because they knew who he was, some better and some worse.  There are many characters in Rowling’s books that barely get noticed at all.  Ron and Hermione get quite a bit of attention, partly reflected, as do his most notable rivals.  We meet Luna Lovegood, but she is far from featured.  But what of all those other Griffindor students, or even more obscure, the Hufflepuffs?  There are far more characters who could use a little bit of visibility in this and in every story.  I don’t mean to suggest that an author try to reveal every character in every book.  There are millions of people out there who would like their invisibility cloaks removed, if only for a few moments.

 

There are many invisible people in the Bible. For instance the mothers of almost all those men named in the seemingly endless lists in Numbers.  The women and children of those 5,000 men who were fed with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish, and those of the 4,ooo fed with 7 loaves and a few small fish were only visible as an afterthought, but not counted in the number of the miracle.  

 

Just as Jesus was in need of invisibility in his early life, he chooses to whisk the cloak off many of the invisible people of his day; women, children, lepers, people with embarrassing health problems, the poor, the humble etc.   He did this in a number of different ways;

  • healing physical problems that were causing the people to be overlooked or even shunned

  •  making a point of speaking with someone

  • sharing a meal with someone

  • calling them by name

  • giving them his time and attention

Jesus drew away the cloak for the children in Matthew 9:14 when the disciples wanted to shoo them away and he told them instead to, “Let the little children come to me.”  He was granting them his time and attention.

 

  He drew the cloak away from the lepers he healed who would otherwise have lived their lives out in isolation.  The man who couldn’t get to the healing waters before others had gotten there first was healed where he had been totally overlooked by everyone else.  The woman who had been considered unclean for years due to constant bleeding was healed and thus allowed back into everyday lives of those whom she loved.

 

There were women to whom Jesus actually spoke, which really wasn’t common in the time.  He spoke to a Samaritan woman at the well despite the stigma of her being Samaritan and having a reputation of being with many men. 

 

We hear reports of Jesus speaking more than once with two sisters Mary, and Martha.  He ate at their home, Mary sat at his feet and listened to his teaching and he even praised her for this choice.  In fact, the names Mary and Martha are mentioned more times in the Bible than those of a some of the disciples.

 

Jesus ate meals with people who were not invisible but infamous.  He ate with tax collectors like Zacchaeus who was reviled by his neighbours. 

 

People will go to great lengths to be noticed.  If you question this then I encourage you to watch some of the “reality” tv shows.  People need love and belonging and would rather get negative attention than no attention.  To get their “ten minutes of fame” some people even commit violent acts which then result in their imprisonment for life.  For a few days, or months though everyone knew their name.

 

Do you remember the old tv show Cheers?  The theme song for that show said, “You wanna be where everybody knows your name.”  We can all do something to remove somebody’s invisibility cloak for a moment.  Follow Jesus’ example.  We may not be able to heal their physical ailments but surely we can make a point of speaking to someone who seems left out.  We can learn people’s names and then using it when you greet them.  Maybe instead of grabbing your lunch or coffee and running you might choose to take the time to sit down with someone to share the meal.

 

 

 Thanks to SarahKristin’sphotostream for the picture of Luna http://www.flickr.com/photos/35643800@N05/with/4703546529/

Who Needs An Invisibility Cloak?


Harry Potter, the now famous young wizard from the books of J.K.Rowling, had a problem.  Because of a scar earned as a young child, anywhere he went he was recognized.  One of his great assets in the series was a gift he received, an invisibility cloak.  With this he and his friends passed unseen into places of great danger and eluded even the most astute of older wizards.

If you follow my blog you will know that I have been musing on the issue of visibility or lack there-of lately.  It would seem that we are either too visible, like Harry, and wish for a break, or we are invisible and receive no notice at all. Today I’m going to focus on the folks who could make good use of Harry’s cloak.


I think that there are two groups of people today who would benefit from a little invisibility.  The first group, with whom I’m not entirely sure I sympathize, would be the people who either are born into famous families or have worked their whole lives in order to be famous.  Once they gain that kind of notoriety, I think many people become victims of their own success.  The constant press presence and public interest wear on them and it is almost impossible to get away and just live their lives.

The second group is those people who become known to be giving and caring.  These people become magnets for people who are struggling in their lives and find it almost impossible to turn anyone away.  Over time, this becomes overwhelming.  They become exhausted both physically and emotionally and at some point become unable to continue giving.  Those who recover from this burnout are those who manage to carve out a time out for themselves, which often involves going away, or turning off the phones, Facebook, and email for periods of time.


Jesus was God incarnate.  The very God who created all that is and was came and lived among us.  If anybody ever needed an invisibility cloak it was him.  Jesus’ cloak came in the form of simple parents, an unremarkable birthplace (unless remarkable for its unsuitability), life as a refugee, and growing up in a fairly rural location.  He didn’t get a high-powered career he trained with his father as a carpenter.  When he began to gather followers he didn’t head to the Temple, he stopped by the fishing villages and picked up more common, invisible men. 

It wasn’t until his ministry took off and was including healings that these cloaks began to slip off, and even then he was still trying to stay off the radar by asking people not to tell about his miraculous works etc.  When Jesus was overwhelmed he went away to a quiet place, often a garden or mountain area, to pray.  If you know someone who really needs an invisibility cloak, help them to get some time away.  They may choose to pray, meditate, or just do something they enjoy, but when they recharge they will be ready to get back to their normal selves.

Post 120: Are We Having Fun Yet?


 

flickr.com/photos/shanepope/2375499336

On Tuesday, June 7 I will have been writing this blog for five months.  Today’s post will be #120 and I got to thinking that I must certainly be repeating myself by now.  If this is the case, I heartily apologize.  I don’t go back in my post list very often and I write what comes to mind on any given day. 

 

Despite the fact that my teenage daughter gives me a hard time for doing so, I did a little checking on the stats for curlingupwithGod.  In those five months there have been 9,800 visits to my site, many undoubtedly directed by a search for something which led them to me erroneously.  The Footprints poem seems to be the most common search term which directs people here.  I have no way of knowing whether these people actually stop and read something or just scan quickly for the lyrics and then head on their way.  On my busiest day I had 245 visits which was really exciting!   I have been thrilled to have people write me notes occasionally and with those and my responses I have 77 comments.

 

Every time I write a post I have the option of tagging which may lead people to the post.  I didn’t do much of this at first, but have discovered how important it can be.   WordPress keeps track of the most common tags and makes them available to choose rather than writing them in each time.  I thought the list was pretty interesting.  When I see it, the words I have used the most are actually in a bigger font.

 

Bible blog bully change choices choir Christianity church cross details distractions Easter evangelism Facebook faith fashion forgiveness God help Holy Spirit improvement Jesus justice kindness leadership Lectionary Lent love music prayer preaching problems promise quiet reflection sin song stress students survival teachers The Message//Remix:Solo time Twitter worry

 

Back to the title question, are we having fun yet?  I know that I am enjoying the writing and any associated thinking and reflecting that is associated with that activity.  Some days I will have several images or comments pop into my head which lead to posts and I have to type them in before I lose them.  So far my feedback has been good and I’m assuming that for every person who goes to the trouble of writing a comment there are several who at least smile and nod at some point in their reading and that is great.

 

See you at 250 🙂

Lent Ends: Do We Take Up Our Habits Again?


 

Today was Good Friday.  Depending on the way you view the liturgical calendar Lent either ended last night or tomorrow, the day before Easter.  This leads to my quandary of the day…do I go back on Facebook and Twitter? 

 

If you count Sundays, I have not logged on to my FB and Twitter accounts now for 45 or 46 days.  In some way I didn’t really miss it.  I didn’t feel tempted to log on.  I took them off my home page list on my browsers and my BlackBerry and I guess the old out-of-sight out-of-mind thing works.  On the other hand I had many bouts of feeling isolated which I can only attribute to that lack of interaction which comes from at least keeping up with the doings of my friends. 

 

Did I make use of the time I saved and the loss of distraction throughout Lent in order to spend more time in prayer, study and reflection on God?  I did a really good job of it for a while at least.  I did, as I planned, spend more time reading books and doing cross word puzzles.  I completed my on-line course and prepared two services.  I’m really glad I decided to make this sacrifice and it is really hard to believe it has really been so long. 

 

How did you make out?  Did you give something up for Lent?  However we spent Lent, Sunday morning it is time to celebrate the risen Christ.  Sing songs! Shout hosannas! Give thanks that God has given this amazing free gift to all of us!

 

Half-way: How Goes The Fast?


If you have been following my blog for a while you may recall that I made the decision to give up the distractions of Face Book and Twitter for Lent.  Last Sunday was the third Sunday of Lent, two more Lenten Sundays and we will be at Passion Week beginning with Palm Sunday. We are basically half-way to Easter and can begin to see the end of our fasts (not all fasts involve food and many people don’t give something up for Lent at all).  I thought it was a good time to touch base.


I didn’t realize before that the primary use of my Black Berry was checking FB and Twitter, but I can go days without recharging it now.  It isn’t very draining to check my email and blog stats and after that is done there isn’t any other reason to have the screen on.


So, has this change in my habit made a difference in the amount of time I have my focus on God?  Yes and no.


I have done pretty well at keeping up with Bible reading and reflections and blog postings.  I had time and focus for preparing a couple of services I led recently and for the course on church polity which I am taking. Less time with social-media distractions has led to more time spent on the crossword puzzle book I got for Christmas several years ago and more time spent hanging out with my kids watching TV.  I’m not sure they are thrilled, but I need the social contact.


I am an extrovert in many ways.  I gain my energy and strength from contact with other people, although I can be very quickly drained by negative contact.  While I am with people at work all day, when I leave I only have one or two built-in social activities in my week.  I now realize to what extent I have come to rely on social media to give me that feeling of connection with others.  I have not yet concluded whether or not this is a good thing.


More quiet time has also given me time to run things over (and over) in my head.  This is almost always a negative thing.  One might think it was good, as solutions might be found that way, but it doesn’t tend to work that way for me.  I am more likely to find solutions in discussion while in my head I just run around in circles.

Overall I would say that I’m doing ok with Lent this year.  I’m not totally focused on the spiritual realm, but then meals need to be cooked and work done.  I’m not sure if I will go back to my social media sites as much after Easter.  It has been interesting to note that with no Twitter presence other than one post to announce my blog each day, I have been gaining followers in the past couple weeks.  Maybe it is true that less is more?

Turning It Off For Lent


   

  • Lent begins tomorrow and I am going to be off facebook until Easter. If you need to get in touch with me send me an email. 

    Earlier today I put the above note up on my Facebook page to let my friends know that I would be “away” from FB until after Easter.  I then removed FB, Twitter and Goodreads from my home page tabs.  I got this idea from a blog I read yesterday about Lent at http://denimdevotion.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/its-coming/  I have tried fasting for Lent in the past but I ended up getting sick so I am leery of doing that again.  I liked this idea.

     

    I’m obviously not eliminating computers altogether from my life for the time between tomorrow and Easter.  I use my computer every day for work, for teaching, recording grades, recording attendance, etc.  I am also taking an online course right now so I will need to be online and on the computer  for that, and for doing my blog.

     

    The point of “giving something up for Lent” is to move the focus from whatever clutter usually takes it and on to the word of God, and the life and ministry of Jesus.  Of all the things that take my attention I think the computer, and especially social media, are the biggest.  I even read the Bible online now.  So I’ll dig out my real paper Bible, my pens and pencils, my books to read, and even my crossword puzzle books for the next five weeks.

     

    Have you considered a change in focus for your Lenten season this year?  When I was younger I remember kids saying they were giving up things like spinach (which they didn’t eat anyway) and thinking that it was a silly idea.  So what distracts you?  Don’t look for something that will make you suffer, that isn’t the point.  Don’t choose something that will make it impossible to do your job or meet commitments that you need to meet.   You may want to choose a little extravagance like that daily Starbucks coffee and put the money you save in your church offering plate or give it to a charity.

In the end, whether or not you give up something for the season, I pray that you have a blessed season of preparation for Holy Week!

The Blinking Cursor: Need To Write And Can’t Get Started


http://www.flickr.com/photos/shanepope/2375499336/sizes/m/in/photostream/

I am leading worship at our church this Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday in the liturgical calendar, and I’m not really ready.  To be honest, other than the bulletin material which was due Tuesday and having read the text and thought about it some, I’m totally unprepared. So there sits that blinking cursor at the start of a Word document.  The trick is to get that first word or sentence typed in, even if we may erase it soon after in favour of a better turn of phrase, or a more valid point.  Once started in the actual writing something will be on the page and you can go on from there.

As for my sermon for this week, I was pretty sure I was going to focus on the location of Moses’ and Jesus/apostles interactions with God.  You know, “location, location, location!”  Why did all these things happen at the top of mountains?  Were these mountains like the Rockies or the Himalayas or more like the Appalachian Mountains in New Brunswick which look more like hills?  Are we still supposed to be going to the mountains, and where are they?

A couple of days ago a friend of mine who is a United Church minister was on Facebook looking for brainstorming ideas for Transfiguration Sunday.  It was interesting to see the ideas that came in. The focus was largely on the transfiguration itself, what it would be like etc.  My friend is planning to focus on the fact that you are never the same after, when you come down off the mountain.  There followed, for me, a period of second-guessing.  Afterall, my idea was quite a different focus from those of others who are ordained…you get the drift I’m sure.

No one will know for sure what I will say until Sunday morning, and you would all be most welcome to come (St. James Presbyterian, 1991 Hanwell Rd, Fredericton, N.B. Canada).  I do think I will go with my first instinct though, however it may end up.  Historically, people felt they needed to go to high places to get closer to God.  The Mesopotamians worshiped at ziggurats, man-made mountains, Mount Olympus is the mount of the Gods in Greece.  The thing is, things changed forever when God entered into our world as a human child.  Figuratively speaking, he came down the mountain to us and remains with us through the Holy Spirit.  We don’t need to go to a high place in order to experience the glory of God, we may need a quiet place, or for some of us a worship space, but God has come down to us once and for all!