Media Bullies

In The Media and “Bullying” Thomas Sowell notes how:

  • Over the last 90 years the media have frequently given disproportionate attention, support, protection and promotion to different groups depending on which was in vogue at that moment in time.
  • The media have at various times favored communists over African Americans, then African Americans over Asian Americans, then women over men, and now gays over everyone else.
  • The current anti-bullying campaigns in various states is focused almost entirely on words against gays, while ignoring serious physical violence being suffered by other groups like Asian Americans.
  • College Campus “speech codes” protect some groups, especially gays, from any words that may hurt their feelings while effectively declaring “open season” on others not in vogue with the media.

My summary: Under the cover of “anti-bullying” crusading, the mainstream media has effectively itself become the biggest bully. And in its deliberate ignoring of serious violence against non-trendy groups it has become the friend of other bullies too.

UPDATE: Juan Williams on a similar theme.


Location, Location, Location

Why is it so hard to work-out or study Hebrew once I’ve sat in my favorite chair? Why is it so easy to forget about the to-do list while waist -deep in the river?  Why do we get more done at the office desk than in our home study? Why is it “easier” to pray in our usual spot than when we’re in a hotel?

Basically our brains have learned to associate certain states of mind and kinds of activity with certain places. We don’t need to command our brains to think or feel a certain way in each location; it just happens through the brain’s previous experience of what to think, feel, and do in these places.

In Setting the scene for a productive day, Elizabeth Saunders makes a good case for leveraging these normal emotional and mental responses to specific places in order to increase productivity. Although everyone’s optimal environment will be different, she lists four elements to consider in setting up a “backdrop for success.”

The right reminders
Have a different location for each different activity (e.g. answering email, reading, writing your novel, etc). “Consistent location changes will prompt you to complete the specified activity with minimal effort.” Saunders has some ideas about how to “change location” even if you are confined to one small working space.

I have a stand-up desk that I use almost exclusively for email. When I stand there now, I’m immediately “in the email zone” and can process mail maybe three times faster than I do in my “sermon prep” chair at my desk.

The right tools
Have the right tools in the right location for the specific task associated with that place so that you can transition effortlessly. If you have to pack and unpack every time you move, or if you are always having to look for things, you’re not going to move.

I used to split my sermon study time between my home office and my Seminary office. But as I kept forgetting to take all the right books or journals home with me, I eventually decided to make my Seminary office my sermon office.

The right distractions
Saunders makes the point that some people function best in monastic silence (me), while others do best with music pounding in their ears (I will never, ever understand that). She then suggests questions to help us determine what distractions to have/not have in each location.

  • How do I function when I’m connected or disconnected to the Internet?
  • Does having certain devices turned on affect my mental state?
  • What kind of activities do I do best when I’m around people?
  • How does my mind respond when I’m completely alone?
  • Can background music or a movie help me focus?
  • Do days at home lead to higher or lower productivity?

I now have a “Do not disturb” sign on my door, and even a blind for the window on my office door. Now, when I slide the sign across and pull down the blind, my brain is immediately “up” for 3-4 hours of solid uninterrupted time in study of the Word.

The right surroundings
Saunders says: “For your most important creative work, having an environment that you relish spending time in makes starting on hard mental work much easier.”

I recently added three comfortable and relaxing chairs to my office study, and it’s transformed the quantity and quality of student interactions and counseling times.

The right time
Saunders doesn’t mention this, but I’ve certainly found that by regularly doing certain things at certain time, my brain finds it much easier to click into gear.

For example, my brain has got into the habit of writing a blog post first thing each day. If I try to do it at any other time, it’s like thinking through treacle; but it sort of flows in the early morning.

Now, where’s that fishing rod?


7 Types of Preacher’s Block (and what to do about them)

Sermon preparation involves creativity. No, the preacher is not creating truth. God did that. But the preacher is creating sentences, phrases, and even structures that will best communicate the truth.

And like all creatives – artists, authors, architects, etc. – preachers encounter creative blocks. They just don’t know where the next thought or sentence is going to come from.

Mark McGuinness has provided a helpful list of 7 types of creative block (summarized below) and also proposes some solutions (visit his blog for those).

1. The mental block.
This is where you get trapped by your own thinking. You’re so locked into a familiar way of looking at the world that you fail to see other options. You make assumptions and approach a problem from a limiting premise. Or maybe your Inner Critic rears its head and stops you thinking straight.

2. The emotional barrier.
Creativity can be intense. It’s not a comfortable pursuit. Faced with the unknown, you may be scared of what you’ll discover or reveal about yourself. Maybe your subject matter is painful, embarrassing or plain weird. Whatever – all of these fears and qualms are just different forms of Resistance, leading to procrastination.

3. Work habits that don’t work.
Maybe there’s no great drama — you’re just trying to work in a way that isn’t compatible with your creative process. You work too early, too late, too long, or not long enough. You try to hard or not hard enough. You don’t have enough downtime or enough stimulation. Or maybe you haven’t set up systems to deal with mundane tasks – email, admin, accounting, etc – so they keep interfering with your real work.

4. Personal problems.
Creativity demands focus — and it’s hard to concentrate if you’re getting divorced/ dealing with toddlers/battling an addiction/falling out with your best friend/grieving someone special/moving house/locked in a dispute with a neighbor.

5. Poverty.
I’m not just talking about money, although a lack of cash is a perennial problem for creatives. You could also be time-poor, knowledge-poor, have a threadbare network, or be short of equipment or other things you need to get the job done.

6. Overwhelm.
Sometimes a block comes from having too much, not too little. You’ve taken on too many commitments, you have too many great ideas, or you’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of incoming demands and information. You feel paralyzed by options and obligations, or simply knackered from working too hard for too long.

7. Communication breakdown.
Creative blocks can happen between people as well as between the ears…Sometimes you get blocked by phantoms — merely imagining your work being booed by audiences and mauled by the critics…after years of plugging away at your art with a miniscule audience, you wonder why you bother.

Once you’ve read McGuiness’s solutions, add and prioritize this one:  Two knees on the floor, and two hands in the air.

And if you’re still stuck, then watch this! (Email/RSS readers click here).

I’m sure there are other preacher’s secrets to the “white screen syndrome.” What’s worked for you?


God’s Face

A couple of weeks ago a friend asked me to do some Puritan Pods on how to preach Christ from Old Testament passages that were not obviously Christ-centered. So, bravely rising to the challenge, here are a few minutes of my thoughts on how to preach Christ from 2 Chronicles 7v14 :

If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

I don’t usually write out a full manuscript, but here’s what you might call a 75% manuscript (the main substance of my sermon) and here is my summary note, that I re-read a few times just before preaching.

Email and RSS readers may have to click through here to view the video.


“The person to your right is a liar…and to the left…”

“Okay, now I don’t want to alarm anybody in this room, but it’s just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar. Also, the person to your left is a liar. Also the person sitting in your very seat is a liar. We’re all liars”

“What I’m going to do today is show you what the research says about why we’re all liars, how you can become a lie-spotter, and why you might want to go the extra mile and go from lie-spotting to truth-seeking, and ultimately to trust-building.”

A fairly dramatic sermon introduction, don’t you think?!

Actually, that’s the way Pamela Meyer introduced her TED talk, “How to spot a liar.” (But there’s certainly plenty of sermon material here!)

Meyer provides some frightening stats (e.g. on any given day we’re lied to from 10 to 200 times;  strangers lie to each other tree times in the first ten minutes of meeting, etc.) that powerfully illustrate our our corrupt human nature that starts lying as soon as we are born (Ps. 58:3). So prevalent is lying that Meyer says we live in a “post-truth society.” However, she wants to re-build truth and trust by training people to become lie-spotters (good luck with that!). Here are her tips.

  • Liars like to distance themselves from the subject. Taking Bill Clinton as an example, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” has the two giveaways of “that woman” and ”did not” (instead of the more informal “didn’t”)
  • Liars use qualifying language, like “to tell you the truth.”
  • Repeating the question before answering it dishonestly is a common indicator of a lie.
  • Liars look you in the eyes too much.
  • Liars don’t fidget, but rather freeze their upper body.
  • Liars will fake smiles.
  • Liars like to offer lots of details.
  • Liars are more likely to suggest strict punishments for the “real culprit.”
  • Liars are terrible at telling their stories backwards.
  • Liars will often point their feet towards an exit.
  • Liars will often put barrier objects between themselves and the person asking them about their lie.

In a world so full of lies, isn’t it wonderful that the Christian can pick up the one book in the world that is total truth, and find the One who alone can say, “I am the truth.”


New Positions Available at Puritan Seminary

Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary is receiving applications for the following positions:

Dean of Students and Spiritual Formation (full-time)
Description: This person oversees the development of the students outside the classroom, ensures a holistic integration of his studies into his life, and encourages healthy spiritual growth and development, promoting a culture of piety and spirituality in community.

Responsibilities:  Provide counseling, advice, mentoring, and conflict intervention for the students. Lead orientation. Serve as chaplain, including organizing prayer time and chapel schedule. Supervise internships and speaking engagements, coordinating with churches, nursing homes, prisons, etc., developing procedures and policies relative to student activities, including the updating and implementation of the student handbook, coordinating graduation and the food bank, etc.

Technology Director (full-time)
Description: This person plans, oversees, and executes the digital operations of the seminary in the areas of website, network, library, long distance learning, and public relations of the seminary.

Responsibilities:  Devise an overall IT framework that promotes PRTS’s mission using cutting-edge technology. Maintaining and growing the IT infrastructure, connectivity, hardware, software, applications, and data centers, planning for timely IT investments and procuring them. Assist the Distance Learning Director in delivery of course materials using the latest technology.

For the Technology Director position, only applications from US citizens or legal US resident aliens may be considered.

Salary for both posts commensurate with experience and qualifications

Send resume and letter of intent to Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, 2965 Leonard Street NE, Grand Rapids, MI, 49525 or henk.kleyn@puritanseminary.org for the attention of Mr. Henk Kleyn by January 2, 2012.