Posts Tagged ‘technology’

I love the movie Chef (2014). It tells the story of chef Carl Casper, a workaholic who must re-invent himself after he has a public meltdown over a bad review. Carl is not a likeable character at the start. He’s incredibly flawed. His poor communication skills have led to a strained relationship with his son and likely the reason for his divorce. Those flaws get amplified in the events leading to his meltdown. We don’t like him and I’m not sure we’re supposed to. But we see that his friends like him and his staff respects him, so he can’t be all bad. That’s enough for us to root for his redemption, even as we’re not sure why he deserves it.


Ultimately, I think this movie is about communication. How do we communicate what’s important to us? How do we communicate with who is important to us?


Carl’s communication at the beginning of the movie is terrible. He ducks his son and backs out of promises to spend time. Even when he’s physically with him, his mind often seems elsewhere. While we don’t know for certain, it feels likely that this same distance led to his divorce. Communication at work is not much better. Carl has a good relationship with his staff, but has clear miscommunication with his boss, which eventually leads Carl getting fired.


It’s not until midway through the movie that we finally see a turn. In this fantastically weird scene Carl’s ex-wife’s ex-husband (played wonderfully by Robert Downey Jr) talks circles around Carl and no one, neither Carl nor the audience, ever seems to truly understand where the conversation is going. Perhaps at this point Carl finally starts to realize what poor communication feels like from the other side. His bewilderment, and ours, is almost palpable. From that moment on, his communication improves. Whether it’s from this experience or simply the change in scenery, Carl starts to communicate more clearly and transform into a character we can root for.


I love how Chef illustrates technology throughout the movie. We see little animated blue birds flying off into the air whenever tweets are sent and shared. A cute reminder that once the message is out there, it takes on a life of its own. The use of Twitter throughout the movie helps drive home how fraught our communication has become with the growth of technology. Without visual or aural cues, or even space to formulate full thoughts, it’s become increasingly easy to misunderstand people or misrepresent oneself.


That’s not to say that Twitter is all bad. Carl’s son Percy uses it within the food truck business to help Carl reinvent himself. Percy’s engagement with the tool is the most mature, ironic as he is the youngest cast member by far. However through Percy we see how technology can be used to foster communication between people. His “one second video” experiment finally helps Carl see in a fresh way the value of their relationship and leads to a new avenue of communication between them.


Follow Carl’s journey we’re left at the end to ponder if our own use of technology is helping or hindering our communication. Are we paying attention or missing out on relationships right in front of us? Are we connecting deeper or staying at a surface level? Are we using the tool or is the tool using us?


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This week I went hunting for the first time. (Technically we’re actually out of season for hunting raccoons, so we only ran the dogs, but I’m still counting it). I was surprised how much technology we used. We had special lights with two settings: one for walking and one for looking up into the trees. The dogs were fitted with tracking collars that link to a smartphone app so we knew which direction they were and how far away. The app even changes when the dog has treed a raccoon!


However, even with the all technology, some things don’t change. Several times we turned off our lights and let the dogs chase the scent. Standing there in the woods, looking up at the stars and listening to the barks, I felt as though I could have been standing there two hundred years ago.


We stood at the intersection of the old and the new. The technology changed what we could do, making it easier to move through the woods and find the dogs. The app helped me better understand what the more seasoned hunters knew instinctively from the pitch and rhythm of the barks. But at the end of the night, we’re doing the same thing hunters have done for generations: trusting the dogs. They smell, chase, bark and (if you’re lucky) tree. What happens in the woods is entirely up to them. Technology changes what we can do, but when you get down to the basics, it’s the same as it’s always been.


As a pastor, I can’t help see a connection to church. We use a lot of new things in church: microphones, screens, instruments (even organs were new at one point!). However, when you get down to the very basics, church hasn’t changed. We’re still the gathered community, praising God, hearing the Word, and then sent out into the world to live our faith. Technology changes how we share our message, but the message is what it’s always been.


What’s something in your life that’s a mix of old and new? Something that looks different today but at its heart is the same? Where have you stood at that intersection?

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I watched Apple’s Keynote address this afternoon. I’ll admit, partly because I wanted to geek out over the new tech, but also because I wanted to see how Apple presented their new stuff. In my opinion, Apple is better than any other company at generating excitement around their products. Plus their products have come to define this current generation. Even if you don’t use Apple products, I bet you use something designed to compete with Apple.

Apple has built a business around convincing people that their products will make their lives better. You can’t do that without exceptional communication. Simply put, when it comes to communication, Apple connects with people. So anyone interested in communicating effectively should pay attention to what Apple is doing.

Here are some things I noticed.

Repetition: Tim Cook had a phrase for each tech that he repeated multiple times. “The iPhone 6 and 6+ are best iPhones we’ve ever made.” “The Apple Watch is most personal and intimate tech we’ve ever made.” “Apple Pay is fast, easy, and secure.” Each time he spoke, he came back to this simple idea. He didn’t want you to leave without hearing and remembering that idea. If you took away nothing else, you were taking away those key ideas.

Multiple speakers: Tim Cook did not dominate the stage. This one surprised me. I assumed that as the CEO he would be the guy. Cook did talk about each of the reveals, but he also invited others on stage to share more, either in person or through video clips. He let those most familiar with the products share the details. This was not a one-man show.

Presentation of Information: Apple was always willing to share the technical specs of the devices. We heard about screen sizes and battery life. We got in-depth looks at camera lenses. But you didn’t have to be an engineer to follow the talks, because after going through the specs, the presenters told you why they mattered. They never got too stuck in megapixels or beveled edges because they could always say “here is what this means for you.”

Length: As someone who talks for a living, I was very curious to see how long the presentations were. I’ve heard a lot about how technology is reducing our collective attention spans and so the days of 20 minute (or longer) sermons are gone because people can’t pay attention. And, sure enough, no one talked for 20 minutes uninterrupted. There were plenty of video clips to keep these moving plus the aforementioned string of speakers. However, the keynote event lasted 2 hours with minimal audience participation and the audience was clearly engaged throughout. So that leaves the question unanswered I think. Certainly technology has changed how we engage information but as to whether it has changed our attention span, I’m less sure. 

So that’s what I noticed from the Keynote. What stood out to you?

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I was having lunch with three Pfeiffer professors on Monday and our conversation turned to their students.  The professors remarked that their students are no longer impressed by their teachers the way these professors were in awe of their teachers growing up.  Their students, they said, know that people have limited knowledge.  Through technology (namely the Internet) they have access to more information than any single person could possibly hold.

And they said something I found fascinating.

Students don’t need information; they have that at their fingertips with technology.  What they need to learn is how to process.

What if that’s true for worship as well?  Has technology changed fundamentally the role of a sermon?

The model for sermons used to be about imparting knowledge.  “Here is what this text means.  This is what the author(s) originally meant.  This word in the original Hebrew / Greek means…”  And there’s a place for that.  But is that what’s really needed in the church today?  Are people sitting in the pews looking for facts?  Is that the best a sermon can do?

Being the good 21st century Methodist that I am, I looked at Rev Adam Hamilton.  Rev Hamilton is one of the best modern voices for Wesleyan thought / theology / preaching that I know.  And I think he’s done a fair amount of thinking about stuff like this.

When he talks about preaching (especially to a group of preachers) he lays out two ways of creating sermons.

  1. Start with text.  Examine it, exegete (fancy preaching word for “interpret”) it, and apply it to life.
  2. Start with life or the world.  Examine it, exegete it, and apply the Bible to it.

This divide can be (roughly) seen in modern preaching between lectionary preaching and topical or series preaching.  The lectionary is a three year cycle of suggested texts for every Sunday and major Christian holiday, designed to introduce a congregation to a range of texts.  Series preaching is often designed by the pastor or worship team and can range from topics as wide as parenting or sex to the nature of good & evil.

Rev Hamilton does not hide the fact that he thinks churches do better with series preaching as opposed to the lectionary.  That’s a discussion for another time.  But it strikes me that the series model (#2) fits better with this sense of needing to know how to process rather than needing to know information.  Now Rev Hamilton certainly teaches in his sermons.  But the focus always seems to return to “here’s how to live in the world.”

And when we look at the Christian faith, that’s the kind of processing we need, isn’t it?  We hope that our faith informs how we live in the world. Is that more of what people want?  Is that more of what people need?

Now there are those who are quick to complain about the changes technology brings to our lives.  I try not to be one of them, because technology happens whether we like it or not.  And while this change may not be seen in every generation, I am willing to bet that it is more widespread that just the current student generation.  Technology affects all of us.  My parents are on Facebook.  My wife’s grandparents use e-mail.  This isn’t a change just happening within the younger generation(s).

So what do you think?  Is what makes a “good sermon” shifting?  Is the need a sermon fills moving in a new direction?  And if so, how should churches adapt?

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