Jesus and Outrage Culture: Poking the Beehive (part 2)

In each Outrage Culture event, there is a beginning: a moment when something is said, or done, whether intentionally or not. Someone waves a stick at a beehive, and the bees swarm.

The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) is a famous biblical example of outrage.

Jesus went to the temple courts, and a crowd gathered around him to hear his teaching. This outer court where Jesus stood was a public place for the Scribes to gather their students and teach the Law. People looked on in interest.

In this case, the beginning of the Outrage event was when a woman caught in adultery was dragged in front of Jesus and the hostile crowd. They were ready to expose Jesus and hurl insults at him. Would he forgive this harlot as he had been known to do and break the law? Or would he keep the law and condemn the woman for her sins (and thus lose his reputation as the defender of the people on the margins of society)? The religious bees were swarming.

If you make an incendiary statement you will potentially provoke a swarm: the risk is, the swarm might just fly back on to you. I’m not just talking about intentionally aggressive talk. Sometimes, the 21st century liberal past-time of pointing out the oppression of the subaltern will do it.

For example, in 2015, SBS soccer journalist Scott McIntyre tweeted that Australia’s ANZAC war memorial day was:

  • “a cultification of an imperialist invasion of a foreign nation” and
  • “Wonder if the poorly read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers pause today to consider the horror that all mankind suffered.” And
  • “Innocent children, on the way to school, murdered. Their shadows seared into the concrete of Hiroshima.”

Outrage Culture rarely leads to healthy debate. In this case, following McIntyre’s tweets, the then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull publicly spoke out against him. And he was sacked by SBS for the ‘crime’ of a sort of national blasphemy.

Christians are not afraid to wave our sticks at hives. And we often get into trouble. This has been going on since New Testament times. Remember Paul’s words, ‘Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels’ (2 Timothy 2:23). There are many contemporary examples I could site to demonstrate the ignoring of this instruction.

Just last Monday, on the ABC show Q&A, Lyle Shelton, the CEO of the Australian Christian Lobby, was questioned about the ACL’s recent guest, Eric Metaxes, who has made comments on a number of occasions that the proud Lutheran church in Germany in the 1930s sleepily let the ideology of National Socialism infect their church. In the same way, says Metaxas, the proud mainline church in contemporary America is also asleep, not teaching the Bible, and is letting new secular ideologies such as “issues of sexuality” and Obamacare take over. [You can hear the actual quotes of Shelton and Metaxis here]

I’ve always wondered why people insist on making Hitler Germany comparisons in public; it doesn’t matter what you say, you’re stuffed – you will be stung. I know we should be able to grasp the nuance of an argument, but we don’t. It’s not a mistake to make these kinds of comparisons, however, if you want to provoke a response (I suspect that is the case for Metaxas). Whether you agree with him or not, his excuse is that he recently published a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and so WWII is often the historical context of discussion points in his interviews and speeches.

ACL’s Lyle Shelton did his best to defend Metaxes, but fellow Christian panelist Julie McCrossin described the comments as introducing an “an intensity and a savagery that is not normally part of our pluralistic society” and “brutality.” Very strong words. Perhaps she’s right?

After doing my homework on Metaxas, I came to see that he has been portrayed on Q&A and elsewhere unfairly. Sure, he is an evangelical Christian and a proud Republican, and we might not agree with his views on ethics and public policy, but he is a million miles from being a rightwing crazy. In 2012 he was the keynote speaker at the Washington D.C. prayer breakfast attended by Obama. The Eric Metaxas radio show, broadcast daily across America from the Empire State Building, attracts high profile media guests such as Dick Cavett and Peter Hitchins, and Christian scholars such as Rodney Stark and Craig Keener.  People across the political spectrum appear on his show. There are still some people who believe in freedom of speech in America.

1024px-eric_metaxas_with_barack_obama_and_joe_biden
Vice President Joe Bidon photographing Eric Metaxas and President Barack Obama at the Washington D.C Prayer Breakfast 2012

I wonder if the people protesting out the front of Metaxas’ Melbourne appearance on 27 April 2016 at Scott’s Church were interested in fully understanding his perspective or broad message? I doubt it. Incidentally, there were other right wingers out the front who made the peaceful protest aggressive. I’m sure they weren’t across the details either. The bees have little regard for a rational discussion. As I will discuss in a future post, Outrage Culture is a child of German Romanticism: what we feel matters more than what is true.

You might not be a politically conservative provocateur like Lyle Shelton or Eric Metaxas, but have you ever waved your stick at the beehive? Perhaps you’re a politically liberal agitator, responding to the many and varied gestures and comments that fly across your finely tuned micro-aggression radar? Perhaps you’re a facebook preacher who likes to point out the sins of society to all your ‘friends’?

Just remember that your typed and broadcasted comments are being recorded and noticed. What will people see? What are you expecting will happen? Is this how we strive for the Kingdom of God?

Next post, we will examine how Jesus chose his moments carefully with outrage. We will see how, with the unnamed woman caught in adultery, he kept the bees in the hive.

 

Jesus and Outrage Culture: Introduction (part 1)

Did you know that after Monday 25 April 2016, the Lone Pine Anzac Day Ceremony at Gallipoli will be axed! Federal opposition leader Bill Shorton said this is “sacrilege” to war veterans, deeply disappointing to war widows, and a move which would outrage all Australians.

UN-AUSTRALIAN!

Did you know that earlier this year, Kanye West tweeted that Taylor Swift was a “bitch”. But he has come out and followed that up with a series of other Tweets that say:

“I did not diss Taylor Swift and I’ve never dissed her”

“First thing is I’m an artist and as an artist I will express how I feel with no censorship”

“2nd thing I asked my wife for her blessings and she was cool with it”

“3rd thing I called Taylor and had an hour long convo with her about the line and she thought it was funny and gave her blessings.”

BURN YOUR KANYE WEST ALBUMS!


These two stories have attracted public outrage and angry media attention. And depending on your politics and ‘care factor’, they range in legitimacy from serious to ridiculous.

The media responses to these stories are examples of Outrage Culture at work.

The West is becoming a shame culture where outrage is the weapon for the self-righteous, fuelled by the 24 hour news cycle and the explosive power of social media.

Slate Magazine tracked American outrage for every single day of 2014. And for each case  they gave a rating of “Truly Outrageous” through to “Totally overblown.” Because, let’s face it, some times we get all in a fizz over nothing, whereas on other occasions, outrage is totally justified.

New York Times writer Tim Kreider came up with the very poignant description, “Outrage Porn,” to describe what he sees as our culture’s insatiable search for things to be offended by. He says that we feed off of feeling right and wronged. “Outrage Porn” is like porn in that it aims for a quick thrill at the expense of another anonymous person, without any relationship, accountability or commitment.

One reason Outrage Porn is destructive is because it can escalate into the public shaming and ruining of reputation. Those who are ‘right’ mob together to label and belittle those are ‘wrong’. This is the ironic consequence of the success of the neo-Marxist philosophy of Critical Theory that, as German scholar Max Horkheimer wrote, seeks “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them.” These supposedly liberating doctrines of Critical Theory have been made absolutes in popular culture. So if you are caught mislabeling another’s gender, sexual orientation, race, economic status or religion, you better duck for cover.

I do not have a problem with Critical Theory as such. My PhD was in the field of Postcolonialism – which falls under this general scholastic umbrella. Like most humanities students from Melbourne University in the late ’90s, I also studied other Critical Theory subcategories: Feminism, Queer theory and Cultural Studies; scholars such as Focault, Gramsci and Adorno. What many of us predicted was that this broad field of scholarship which sought to expose the politics of culture and society, would soon become a kind of an absolutist force for social marginalisation. This has already started.

New York Times writer David Brooks has been observing for some time now the emergence of Shame culture on campus. If you don’t hold the right views, you will be publicly shamed. There must be, according to Brooks, a set of absolutes that University students are holding to – where have those values come from?

“Some sort of moral system is coming into place,” Brooks says. “Some new criteria now exist, which people use to define correct and incorrect action.”

In the Atlantic article The Death of Moral Relativism, Jonathan Merritt pondered on this new morality,

America’s new moral code is much different than it was prior to the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s. Instead of being centered on gender roles, family values, respect for institutions and religious piety, it orbits around values like tolerance and inclusion. (This new code has created a paradoxical moment in which all is tolerated except the intolerant and all included except the exclusive.)

Don’t misunderstand me as pining for a return to conservative 1950s values. Rather, for this blog post, I’m simply acknowledging these tectonic cultural changes. And I am suggesting that Outrage Culture is a problem that needs a gospel response.

Outrage and shaming occurs with ease on social media: the angry blog post, the critical tweet, the vicious comment on Facebook. Whatever the method—people try to hurt people. As Relevant Magazine writer Scott Sauls has said, “Sometimes the shaming escalates into a mob, a faux-community that latches on to the negative verdict and piles on.”

We walk around with the messaging of Outrage Culture effecting our world: it pervades our conversations. You might have been talking at work or at a party and had someone give you a death stare for holding the wrong views. You are so liberal! So conservative! So something-phobic! Perhaps you are just wrong according to the outrage machine?

How do we respond to outrage in grace? How did Jesus respond to the outrage directed at him from religious people?

What do we do when we feel outraged? Should we avoid the mob? Should Christians ever dump on others for whatever reason?

What about if you are the target of outrage?

[End of part one]

 

Why It’s ok to Doubt

“It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.” [Dostoyevsky quoted in Harold Victor Martin, Kierkegaard, the Melancholy Dane (1950)]

A key responsibility of a Christian leader and teacher is to present the truth of the gospel with confidence. But if the church leader is honest with themselves, they will know that they too carry serious doubts. How many churches have a healthy culture that allows people to express their doubts?

All Christians will be endangered by doubt and we must realise that this is normal. We will ask ourselves questions about the relevance of our theology, and even the existence of the object of our theology (God). Karl Barth defines doubt as ‘swaying and staggering between Yes and No.’ Doubt may arise from spiritual attack, or church disunity, ongoing secret sins of the theologian and the cognitive dissonance that results, self righteousness, or just a lack of love for other people. Doubt is real, one should have a healthy perspective on it, not entertain it necessarily – have a healthy dash of shame about it – but don’t despair, rather wait while hoping for Jesus to return.

Church leaders must be aware of the damage done in churches that don’t allow space for individuals to externalise or discuss their doubt. There’s nothing that irritates me more than hearing about Christians who have been dismissed by their pious pastor or overly religious congregation members as ‘liberal’ or ‘flakey’ because they admitted to doubting this or that.

The church where I minister, Merri Creek Anglican, seeks to promote honesty in the community about our doubts. Having doubts is not a sign of being a bad Christian. Nor is it a disqualification for ministry. Rather, it’s a sign that you’re a real Human Being living in the ‘now but not yet’ (Romans 8:18-30); it is the reality of worshipping an invisible God. Only in Heaven will faith and doubt be gone, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

It is important, however, in the midst of your doubts, to humbly trust in Jesus. There is a danger, as the Apostle James writes, that we will be “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). The “wave” occurs, when we let the doubts dominate our thoughts.

So how can we manage our doubts? It might sound counterintuitive, but when a person tells a Christian friend that they, for example, doubt the bodily resurrection, or have shifted away from orthodoxy on sexual ethics, or question the teaching of the Apostle Paul, they have more chance of persisting with their faith in the long term than if they kept their doubts private. Externalising doubts enables us to process our thoughts in a supportive Christian context.

On the other hand, when we suppress or hide our doubts, and never speak them out loud to someone in our Christian community, there is a resulting cognitive dissonance. This dissonance is between (1) the mask we put on – which is the confident faith we think we are supposed to show to other people; and (2) the truth behind the mask – the very real doubts we privately harbour about our faith. Thus we experience a deep psychological clash: we are torn up inside, and end up feeling depressed or disillusioned, and have an existential crisis.

In an attempt to resolve this dissonance we say to ourselves: “I’m living a lie to my Christian community, I’m pretending to believe what they (supposedly) all believe, I’m in a different theological place to my congregation, I don’t feel like I belong here anymore.” Once we’ve come to this decision, we usually slide out of church gradually, coming less and less, checking out other churches who might affirm my doubts or changing theology. Or perhaps we will find another community that is not ‘church’ but which will accept us.

This could have all been avoided, if only we talked openly about our doubts to someone, in the safety of a loving and humble church community.

Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay writes:

Certainty denies the very essence of faith. It is the impenetrability of life’s mysteries that encourages our leaps of faith not merely into the unknown, but into the unknowable. That’s why doubt is the engine that propels and sustains faith. We believe (in anything) precisely because we doubt. This is the great paradox of faith: we yearn to know but cannot know, so we construct or accept, ready-made from an established institution, a set of beliefs that satisfy our need to make sense of what’s going on. If it’s not religious belief, it might be astrology, the free market, feng shui, superstition, science, a particular psychological or philosophical orientation – Buddhist, Freudian, Jungian, humanist – or a moral code we believe will make for a good life and, by extension, a better world … But if we knew as objective facts the answers that faith supplies, there would be no need for faith. And if faith – that mystical, clouded, elusive yearning – is corrupted by the arrogance of certainty, it ceases to be faith and becomes mere delusion … The religious truth-seeker, the pilgrim, yearns to see with the eye of faith but constantly falters. The plea from the father of a sick child healed by Jesus, quoted in Mark’s gospel, captures the idea perfectly: ‘I believe; help my unbelief’.

So it is perfectly reasonable and healthy to be a believer who acknowledges their doubts. The highly regarded Emeritus Professor of philosophy from Oxford University, Richard Swinburne, explains that the relationship between faith and doubt is about probabilities. Scientists and engineers work in this faith–doubt paradigm: they create a rocket, for example, and send it to the moon, taking a risk with the lives of the astronauts and billions of dollars of tax payer’s money. They do this having faith in their calculations and the quality of work of the engineers: they believe that it will ‘probably’ get to the moon and back without the astronauts being killed.

A similar argument can be made about faith in God. Just as the scientists and engineers believe their rocket will probably work – the believer trusts that their faith will probably work. The scientists and engineers move beyond believing that their theories work, to believing in their theories by building the rocket. Similarly, Swinburne says we need to consider the difference between believing that there is a god verses believing in God. Believing that there is a god is believing that this state of affairs is true – but you might not respond to this belief. Religion goes beyond this because it requires you to believe in something.

Believing in God means trusting and relying on God. This belief directs your actions – you are guided by your God and your religion. If you were an atheist then it would be foolish to let religion guide your life.

But if you were somewhat unsure, but also somewhat persuaded, then you might think to yourself: ‘if Christianity is probably true, and it matters to me to live a good life, a worthwhile risk for me to take is to invest my life in this religion. I can let it guide my life. I will put my trust in the God of the Bible.’ Swinburne says that this is your calculated risk for a better life – the better life of a Christian disciple who worships their creator, serves other people in dependance on God, participates in the Christian community and lives in an other person centred way – not to mention the better life in eternity with God.

So faith and doubt are natural bedfellows. Don’t feel ashamed or worried if you doubt. This is perfectly normal for any believer who is honest with themselves.

An exercise to help you is to write down all your doubts and share one of them with a Christian friend you trust.

Perhaps you could have a service of lament that has an open mic time of public sharing of doubts?

We are God’s Masterpiece

IMG_4248Masterpieces take a really long time to perfect (so I’ve been told). When I visited Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, it astounded me that building and construction, including extra architectural and engineering work, had been ongoing since 1882, and by 2010 was only halfway through. Even smaller scale masterpieces take a long time. The process whereby Monet painted The Japanese Footbridge took several years: he built the bridge, planted the water lilies, and then finally put brush to canvas. Bruce Springsteen took a whole year in the studio for the album Born to Run (plus six months editing the lyrics to the title track).

A consequence of being in relationship with Jesus is that God takes us like a sketch of an artwork, and slowly brings us to perfection. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”  (Ephesians 2:10).  The Greek word for “handiwork” is ποιεμα (poiema), which translates to “work of art, masterpiece, artefact, or poem.” I love the idea that we are God’s masterpiece – his work of art – his poem. The Melbourne biblical scholar Leon Morris aptly stated God’s creative act: “Salvation is creation, recreation, new creation.” 

Realising that we are God’s masterpiece helps us to understand some of the pain and suffering of life. A masterpiece is worked on and worked on, refined, and fine tuned. Some aspects are discarded to push the work closer to perfection.  C.S. Lewis discussed the implications of this in The Problem of Pain:

We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.  Here again we come up against what I have called the “intolerable compliment.” Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life-the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child-he will take endless trouble-and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient.  One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommended for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more but for less.

Know that God is working on you everyday. He is editing the lyrics of your life; He is blending the colours on your canvas; He is chipping away at your stonework.  And this will continue until the end of your life. As you experience these changes, even if they are painful, be inspired by The Divine Artist who is perfecting you into His masterpiece.

Prestige Podcasts and Preaching

‘Podcast The Oxford Dictionary A digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or portable media player, typically available as a series, new instalments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.

Over the past decade, it has become increasingly commonplace for preachers to podcast their sermons: but this has been a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because we now have access to thousands of recordings from some of the most gifted preachers in recent times. Also, if you don’t make it on a particular Sunday, you can stream your pastor into your headphones. And if your pastor is appalling in the pulpit, then at least you can find compensation in somebody else. Of course the downside to all this is that we now have access to thousands of sermon recordings from some of the most gifted preachers in history – which puts a lot of pressure on the rest of us. And if you can’t be bothered going to church on Sunday, don’t worry because you can stay in bed and listen. I think you get my drift. 

But there is another intersection between preaching and podcasts that is worth considering. In the past year, with the surge in popularity of podcasts such as Serial, Pop Culture Happy Hour and StartUp, we have seen the rise of the first golden age of podcasting. As prestige television has competed in production values with the best of cinema, so too the Prestige Podcast (PP) competes with the best of radio, but perhaps actualising something new. Indeed, James Atlas of the New York Times labels the podcast as “A new literary form.”. 

I am interested in discovering what the medium of the PP might reveal about postmodern audiences so as to discover ways of making preaching more effective. These are questions about method and manner and perhaps even about content. Why are Postmoderns devouring PPs? What techniques do the PPs use to reach their audience? What lessons could the preacher learn about speaking into the hearts and minds of their congregation?

What makes a podcast prestige?

A podcast moves into the level of prestige when it does the following:

  • It has a minimum production standard with clear audio and is tightly edited
  • It is carefully researched
  • There is a strong story arc
  • There are presenters with specialist knowledge
  • It offers access to unique information or A-list guests

If you’ve got some of those elements in place, you can position yourself to draw a large audience. For a leading example of PP check out Pop Culture Happy Hour. Here you will find insightful and entertaining discussion about the latest in pop culture from some of America’s best professorial culture writers. Or Josh Horowitz’s Happy Sad Confused, where each week he offers 40 minutes of candid ‘Hollywood insider’ discussion with actors such as Al Pacino, Woody Allen, or Gillian Anderson. Similarly Alec Baldwin’s WNYC show Heres the Thing involves long chats with the like of Julie Andrews, Jerry Seinfeld or Thom Yorke. It’s almost as if you’re listening in to them have a private conversation over coffee.  

The 2014 standout example of PP was Serial, the true crime series investigating a 15-year-old murder case from Baltimore County, Maryland. The show received huge attention from culture watchers because of its popularity – 5 million world-wide downloads per week. The New Yorker described Serial:

Combining the drama of prestige-television-style episodic storytelling, the portability of podcasts, and the reliability of ‘This American Life,’ the show [Serial] has been, perhaps not surprisingly, ranked at No. 1 on iTunes for much of the past couple of weeks.

Linda Holmes from Pop Culture Happy Hour points out that what was strange about Serial is that people were listening to, and publicly discussing it like they have done with television series such as House of Cards, Breaking Bad or Fargo. The difference is: “it’s not fiction!” There is a new obsessiveness: a hunger for quality journalism. Reditt has hundreds of Serial threads where people have pursued their own independent investigations. In a fictional show people might ponder about the characters, but deep down they know that their theories will end nowhere because the writers haven’t got answers. But in true crime journalism, loose threads that seem intriguing end somewhere even if it ends as surprising consequence: this is the allure. We also know Serial is special because it has attracted its own podcasts – podcasts about the podcast; the most prominent being Slates Serial Spoiler Special. So the commentary is becoming a secondary form of entertainment. On 19 November 2014, Pop Culture Happy Hour even did a podcast episode about the Slate podcast that is about the podcast Serial a podcast about a podcast which is about a podcast. Perhaps this is a rediscovery of the aural text? Atlas writes,

The aural/oral revolution won’t mean the end of the book any more than the e-book did. Besides, the “non-text-based” work of literature has a long tradition. “In the history of mankind, words were heard before they were seen,” wrote Albert B. Lord, the author of “The Singer of Tales,” a classic work of scholarship that traced oral literature from Homer through “Beowulf” and the tales, still recited today, of Balkan poets capable of reciting thousands of lines of verse by heart. Progress doesnt always mean going forward.

Meeting a Desire for Intimacy

PPs seem literary because of their power to build intimacy between the listener and the broadcaster. In the case of Serial, for example, the host Sarah Koenig talks through her thought processes as if she is pondering her findings out loud with you personally. One commentator called this ‘show your work journalism.’ This is an impressive illusion because it sounds improvised and slow, whereas, in reality each episode has been strategically crafted and edited. The New Yorker Journalist Sarah Larson wrote: “it sounds like your smart friend is investigating a murder and telling you about it”. This can sometimes venture into voyeurism – a criticism pointed at Serial. A positive spin on this would be to say that podcasts offer a close up view of an ecosystem. In one episode of This American Life, or Death, Sex and Money you can be helicopter-dropped into the world of junior high teenagers, or a family going through a divorce, or a factory worker and his work mates. Australian ABC journalists Leigh Sales and Annabelle Crab recently launched their podcast Chat 10 Looks 3, where they just ramble about whatever is on their mind. What makes it so interesting is that they are some of Australia’s best political commentators talking off-script. You get a sense that you really know them. In the first episode Sales admits to an obsession with musical theatre and then proceeds to sing and play a song on the piano. They make giggly in-jokes with each other, which is ok, because you feel included. Recently they went to see Fifty Shades of Grey just for laughs. As they give you their candid ‘elite college girl’ review over a cup of tea, the whole time you think: ‘these are the same women who ask the hard questions to the politicians on prime time.’ This chemistry is working.

Twelve Reasons We Love PP

I think there are about 12 reasons why PP are finding their audience:

  1. Intimate and personal (see above)
  1. The feeling of authenticity Even when episodes are researched and scripted, like This American Life the presenters are careful to speak in their natural voices. It rarely feels forced or contrived.
  1. Literary style detail As James Atlas commented in the NYT about Startup Listening to Mr Blumberg describe his meeting with the venture capitalist at a sushi restaurant on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles(I love all these details; they remind me of … books), I think: Dude, give him the money.
  1. Niche You can finally find a bunch of nerds who are into Dr. Who as much as you are.
  1. Self-curated You can create your own radio station, where your favourite shows play at the time that is most convenient to you.
  1. Slow but easy You can listen to people talk for hours about one movie. There are no limitations on length.
  1. A high turnover Podcasts don’t require much in the way of complex production work, so it’s easy to produce fast content. 
  1. Reactive The Slates Serial Spoiler Special were ‘dropped’ within a few hours of the latest Serial 
  1. Subversive A reaction to the managed content of the network television and print media. Journalists use podcasts to speak candidly, off script.
  1. Egalitarian An easy access medium where unknowns can compete with elites.
  1. Imaginative A reaction to the over-stimulation of film and television.
  1. Psychological A fascination with learning about, and pondering on, the human condition. See Invisibilia, The Ted Radio Hour, and Death, Sex and Money.

Implications for Preaching

I have drawn out nine implications for preaching:

  1. Authenticity The best PPs have a strong tone of authenticity. In the same way, it goes without saying that if you want to reach postmoderns you need to be authentic, real, honest and transparent. Young urban Australians have a permanent authenticity detector on at all times. Don’t try and be something that you are not. Admit your limitations and struggles. Find your genuine passion.

The paradox for preachers is that on the one hand preaching is a performance — in that you have to project or amplify the emotion and narrative of the Bible — but on the other hand you must be genuinely feeling those emotions and not-performative. The first twenty years is the hardest

  1. Intimacy Closely linked to the previous point about authenticity, it is important to try and cultivate a style of preaching that builds intimacy with the congregation. Authenticity that leads to intimacy comes about from being candid – not ‘over-sharing’ your darkest secrets – but letting people into your thought processes. Intimacy also comes from having a genuine affection for the congregation: relating to them as brothers and sisters rather than in a ‘father knows best’ classroom mode.

 Also, (this is not new but it is worth reminding), in the same way that Serial reveled in their ‘show-your-work-journalism’, so too can preachers develop intimacy with their congregation by walking them through their thought processes and interpretive steps. And in the process, teach the congregation how to read the Bible for themselves. Part of the magic, however, is to do what Sarah Koenig from Serial also did, which was to ponder a few paths with the listener, not just the path: “perhaps this is what it means? Or it could mean this?”

  1. Close Proximity to the source It’s not enough to regurgitate the Bible commentaries or ‘borrow’ heavily from other preachers. You need to do your homework, dig deep, and then refine it to be your material. While you are not required to be an expert on everything, you can’t get away with waffle or being sloppy (misquoting statistics, googling quotes without knowing the context, poor exegesis).

I love the illustrations and concepts that come from Tim Keller, but I learned a while ago that there is something sloppy about regurgitating Keller. If I want to borrow from Keller, far better to go back to his sources (which he usually references). What you soon learn is that Keller is borrowing from the likes of Kuyper, Calvin, Luther or Augustine. Likewise, reading Charles Taylor’s Secular Age or C.S. Lewis’ complete works and drawing my own conclusions is far better than simply echoing Keller’s quotes.

  1. Imaginative content Preaching should be accessible and engaging: it should have application that is clear and achievable. The points should be memorable: convicting the comfortable and soothing the discouraged. Sometimes, through poor preparation, or a boring delivery, preachers send an unnecessarily angry tone or judgmental message. As Bonhoeffer wrote, “So many people come to church with a genuine desire to hear what we have to say, yet they are always going back home with the uncomfortable feeling that we are making it too difficult for them to come to Jesus.”

In the 2000s many preachers went through a phase of connecting with the visual based culture of their younger congregations by tarting up their message with glossy projections and video content (hello Rob Bell). But now that we are over-saturated with visual content (sitting on the couch of an evening with three or four screens) nobody in your church is turned on by your big screen and your six-thousand ansi lumens HD projector anymore.

The rise of the PP suggests that congregations might be hungry for a simpler, but more imaginative sermon without visual special effects. Simple rule: spend less time on your Powerpoint and cheesy videos and more time on making your text and delivery more vivid.

  1. The contracted spring principal Most preachers and teachers know that when you suggest to congregations to read something, that there will only be one or two who will. The saying “too long, didn’t read” is symptomatic of a culture that is reading less but this doesn’t mean they don’t want the knowledge. If they could plug their brain in and download War and Peace they would. TED talks are popular because you can surf around niche themes and in ten minutes quickly download a condensed and refined parcel of content. Now at your dinner parties you can converse knowingly on diverse topics such as nanotechnology, jazz improvisation or advocating for the virtues of democracy in Islamic youth culture.

Preachers need to work out ways of delivering content as a ‘contracted spring.’ Perhaps this involves providing links to other easy and slow teaching content? There are some great free Bible and Theology lecture series from the Reformed Theological Seminary on iTunesU. As well as a growing garden of delights on youtube, you just need to know where to look. Here are some ‘discipleship gold’ examples on youtube:

  1. Drama Ira Glass and his team at This American Life have become expert story tellers. See my post on Ira Glass and Homiletics. Preachers should not only grow as storytellers, but also develop as scriptwriters. The whole sermon is a narrative — not just the illustrations. It is crucial that you learn how to use tension and release, surprise, contrast, pace, varying intensity, emotion, humour and pathos.

Don’t mistake depth of content with seriousness of tone. Humour doesn’t necessarily equal shallowness. PPs have shown us that we have an appetite for exploring the depths of human condition. Preachers must use dramatic devices such as narrative arc and character development to achieve this dramatic effect.

  1. Leverage off your peculiarities Staff at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National were surprised when they released the suite of their shows as podcasts, seriously underestimating how popular they would be around the world. These shows covered themes such as philosophy, literature, spirituality, and politics and they soon discovered that there was a demand for high quality niche audio content.

Not enough preachers discover their niche personality and material. I have a particular set of interests which include: 1960s and 70s music, art, the films of Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese, and New York… For a long time I hid my hobbies from the congregation because I assumed they weren’t interested. But as soon as I did let them in, they engaged more with my preaching, even if they weren’t particularly interested in the niche cultural idea itself. (Disclaimer: this all has to be managed with a fair amount of self-awareness. There’s nothing worse than a preacher who can’t stop talking about his favourite football team every week, or who references the Matrix in every sermon. Know your audience.) Perhaps the power of niche is that it is another way of thinking about authenticity?

John August and Craig Mazin, the experienced Hollywood scriptwriters who host the Scriptnotes podcast, argue that while scriptwriting consultants will push scriptwriters to conform to their so-called ‘special rules’ of scriptwriting, it is the outlier scripts, those that are ‘out-of-the-box’ and break the rules, that get noticed.

The same goes for preaching. It is safe to say, if harnessed well, your peculiarities should help build your unique voice as a preacher.

  1. Speaking to Needs One reason podcasts are popular is because they are a form of self curated and convenient content. In the same way, preachers would do well to allow the congregation to shape the content of the preaching series. This ensures that you are connecting the story of the Bible to the story of your congregation. Do a survey for preaching topics or Bible books to cover. You could also have question time. Don’t monopolise the pulpit, bring in other voices in an attempt to speak to reach people.
  1. Group think Flowing on from the previous point, PPs also make good use of engaging with their audience through social media. If you can promote ‘group think’ by including other voices from within the congregation in your preaching, then this will increase engagement. If you need a powerful real life example of something, then getting someone up from the congregation to share their story is a powerful This American Life style approach.

I also like to ring up congregation members to get their thoughts on a passage. Remember Jesus said to his disciples: “But you are not to be called Rabbi for you have one teacher” (Matthew 23:8). This is a good way of humbly submitting yourself to Jesus and the community while still holding the responsibility of pastor and teacher.

Thanks to Peter Corney, Erica Hammence, Kim Beales, John Cavanough and Elizabeth Culhane at the Melbourne Faith and Culture club for their thoughts for this article.

The Ministry Priorities of John Stott (according to Tim Keller)

Here, Tim Keller speaks at the American memorial service for the 20th century statesman of the Church of England, John Stott. Keller encourages us to imitate the faith of Stott, and makes six observations:

1) He was convicted by his Kingdom vision
2) Cautioned by his cultural learning curve
3) Chastened by his leadership controversies
4) Instructed by his great innovations

  • Reinvented expository preaching
  • Invented the modern center city church (parochial evangelism, evangelistic services, faith and work integration, concern for the poor, balance of word and deed, good theology, evangelism)
  • Used institutions and organisations to put evangelical anglicans on the map
  • Forced evangelicals to deal with social justice issues

5) He created modern evangelicalism (separated it from fundamentalism) – he epitomised the middle space – brought the scholarship to where it was acceptable. He was prophetic from the centre.
6) He is now in glory

Avoiding ‘Bait and Switch’ Mission

What about Bait and Switch?

One of the big concerns that many urban Christians will have with mission, is the problem of the perception of being someone’s friend just so you can then Bible bash them: this is sometimes called ‘bait and switch’.

Christians have a bad reputation for running events that just seem like a bit of fun, and then surprising everyone at the end with “well guys, we’ve been playing a fun game of footy today, and did you know that being a Jesus follower is a bit like playing footy, if you know the rules, then you can be free to kick the goals of life!” We must not see people as gullible ‘conversion targets’.

If you have a congregation of people who are sensitive about authenticity, transparency and community, then you are less likely to succumb to ‘bait and switch’ tactics.

Lauren Vasquez in Relevant Magazine wrote,

Jesus did not minister this way. He had a strong sense of purpose, but He never had an agenda. He loved people where they were, and this is what drew them to Him, not being lured in on a pretext. Wouldn’t it be great if the Church were known for loving people without an ulterior motive, the way Jesus did? He related to people naturally, honestly, with tremendous love. And He wants to impart this love to us.

In His last recorded prayer before his arrest, Jesus prayed, “Righteous Father, … I have made you known to them [the apostles], and will continue to make you known, in order that the love you have for me with may be in them, and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:25-26). We show that Christ is “in us” when we see nonbelievers as people, not as projects, and love them for themselves. Only through love without an agenda will we build a relationship that earns us an audience to share Christ.

Just to make sure you don’t run a ‘bait and switch’ mission strategy there are three things you can do:

  1. Let your mission be an outflow of your love for God. Don’t do mission as a religious person trying to get a conversion score, but as a person who is excited about your faith so much that you want to tell others. This enthusiasm is a fruit of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts.
  2. Let your mission be an outflow of your love for people. The life of the missionary disciple of Jesus, is a life of sacrificial love. It will be messy and difficult. That’s what we have been called to.
  3. Always be upfront about being a Christian or the church. That way people won’t get a surprise.

Should Christians believe in Freedom of Speech?

i am charlieSince the recent terror attack in Paris I’ve had a few people ask me about what I think about Charlie Hebdo and especially about freedom of speech. It intrigues me that only about a year ago, the Urban Left in Australia were (in the most part) rallying against the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Attorney General George Brandis’ Freedom of Speech (repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014. The consequence of Abbott and Brandis’ amendment would be that people would have more freedom to say what they think, and not be at risk of litigation from others who might be offended. Advocates for this change were even willing to say that people should have the right to be bigots if they want.

And now, less than a year after Abbott took the Bill off the table, many of the same people who opposed it have been holding up signs saying ‘I am Charlie’ (code for)’ I am for freedom of speech.’

In response to this contradiction of values, former Liberal Party Minister Amanda Vanstone wrote an insightful piece in The Age on January 19, arguing:

For those who don’t think much beyond a level that might appear to be, shall we say, deeply shallow, the inconsistency may not have risen to surface consciousness.

The outpouring of apparent support for free speech around the world has warmed the hearts of many. Is it really support? Or is it, and I think this is more likely, just another example of today’s de rigueur team sport of conspicuous compassion. Put more bluntly, it may be just a very elegant way of saying, “Look at me, I am a thinking, caring person”.

It is one of those “costs so little, feels so good” sort of things people can say or do. Charlie Hebdo has poked fun and caused offence indiscriminately for years. “Je suis Charlie” placards support their right to do just that.

And I think Vanstone nails it when she concluded that,

Sadly, all too many recognise a disaster of any type as an opportunity to improve their own position. Be there, look concerned, improve your image. It can be sickening to hear the modulated voices of concern.

I agree that there is fine line between the virtue of public displays of solidarity in justice causes, and mere self-promotion. I remember in my undergraduate years some of my fellow students who joined in with the trips up north to protest against the Jabiluka Uranium Mine: going in part for the cause, and in part for the girls. So whether one cries “We are the 99%” or “#iwillridewithyou” we need to check the genuineness, and consequence, of participating in these popular protests. Not that I expect that anyone can have completely pure motivations, but it is striking (as in the case of the Australian participation in the Charlie Hebdo protests) when our espoused values can be the exact opposite of our private values. We want acceptance in the tribe so much that we are willing to betray our own consciences. (I guess it is possible that some may be against unrestrained freedom of speech while wanting to show solidarity for their fellow community who died from terror violence. But that does not seem to be the essence of the ‘I am Charlie’ movement.)

I have found this contradiction of values to sometimes be the case with regards to secular people’s publicly espoused values about faith. I have had people tell me at the start of a conversation that they are an atheist, then some time later they acknowledge that really what they are is spiritual but not religious. Then another half an hour goes by and they reveal that they in fact pray and have had their children baptised. Without the evidence to back up my claim, my hunch is that more secular people than we expect will publicly identify as atheist/not-religious (because that’s a key qualifier for the secular urban majority like being socially liberal) but privately they dabble with the notion of a God who they can petition.

It is easy to be sloppy when it comes to the formation of our values. For the Christian, however, this should not be the case. We do not have a silent God or an obscure faith, rather we have a God who reveals mysteries (Daniel 2:29) and he is given us the Bible so that we can have everything that we need for salvation (2 Timothy 3:16).

Should Christians be in favour of Free Speech?
So let’s return to Charlie Hebdo and the issue of free speech? Should Christians be in favour of free speech? To tell you the truth, I think a Christian can be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ and sit on either side of the debate. But as I begin to discuss this, you will see just how complex this all is: complex issues interlocking with other complex issues.

Part of me wants to be in favour of free speech, because it’s a nice ideal, and the preacher in me doesn’t like the idea of others telling me what I can and can’t say. And I do believe that I should be able to return the favour to others: let them express their views. Therefore, like all minority groups will say, if freedom of speech is to be tampered with, let it not be so that I can’t express my views! (This is a problem we are going to have keep in view).

There are, then, several problems to consider. And the biggest problem lies in the concept of ‘freedom.’ Neo-classical liberalism, which emerged in the late Nineteenth Century, promotes the idea that human freedom comes from being unrestrained, and, therefore, government interference in the lives of the people should be minimised. Thus, freedom of speech is one of those freedoms that the neo-classical liberal wants to vehemently protect.

Christians, on the other hand, believe that the foundation of neo-classical-liberalism is false. Christians believe that true freedom comes not from being unrestrained to make one’s own decisions but from life in the Triune God.

  1. Freedom is a gift from Jesus:
    • ‘So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’ (John 8:36)
  2. Jesus’ gift to those who believe is the freedom that comes from receiving forgiveness of sins and being set free from the burden of the law:
    • ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’ (Galatians 5:1).
    • ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.’ (Romans 8:1-4)
  3. Once forgiven and saved, Christians then receive the freedom that comes from having the Holy Spirit dwell in them:
    • ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ (2 Corinthians 3:7)
  4. Therefore, freedom comes from the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
    • ‘To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
  5. The disciple who has received salvation, then can go on experiencing the freedom that comes living out the gospel applied – which is especially about being obedient to God and being other person centred:
    • ‘You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.’ (Galatians 5:13)
  6. Ultimately, freedom in Christ is the destiny of the whole universe:
    • ‘For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.’ (Romans 8:20-21)

The Christian may or may not believe in free speech, that’s up to them to decide. Either way true freedom does not come from having free speech or from having boundaries around speech. Rather, true freedom for the Christian, as indicated above, has the ‘content’ which is the Gospel. In this content, Jesus has given us examples for how to apply the gospel to our lives.

In Matthew 7:12 Jesus said, ‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.’ This means just as I would want others to give me the right to talk about my faith publicly, so should I want that right for other groups – even those who oppose me. Just as I would want those critical of my faith to still maintain respect and graciousness in our public and private words, so should I have respect and graciousness towards those with whom I disagree. This is what it means to have an open and charitable dialogue with the no religion tribes about Jesus. In fact, if Jesus is my example, those whom I can be most aggressively critical towards are my own people (Matthew 12:34); but even then, the disciple of Jesus must never incite persecution or violence.

If you keep looking at the content of the Gospel, high at the top of the list of priorities is the Christian’s responsibility to be an ambassador for the Kingdom of God, promoting love and justice in society. Christians must stand up and show Christlike (Good Samaritan) love to persecuted people (Luke 10:25-37; John 7:53-8:11).

Given this is the case, I can understand why a Christian might want to place restrictions on free speech. We want to protect those on the margins and have a society where minority groups are not verbally abused and where people don’t stir up hatred against each other.

However, if we don’t want the freedom of speech laws to hamper our ability to speak publicly about our faith, we are going to have to work hard at learning to speak about those challenging issues that relate to persecuted minority groups (such as other religions and sexual minorities) in a way that is faithful to the gospel, challenging and also gracious and loving. Unfortunately, enough damage has been done in our history so that we have a bad reputation in the broader society for being ungracious rather than having speech ‘seasoned with salt’ (Colossians 4:6).

Freedoms should consider the cultural history
Complete Freedom of Speech might work in some societies, but not in every context. Societies don’t exist in cultural and historical vacuums. Germany, for example, has their horrific historical context of the holocaust: so their legal concept of Volksverhetzung (laws against the incitement of hatred against segments of society) makes sense. Similarly, with Australia’s history of persecution and violence towards the Aborigines, it is understandable (in light of Andrew Bolt’s racial vilification court case) why so many Australians were anxious about the proposed changes to the Freedom of Speech laws.

Don’t think that, however, that I’m necessarily arguing against the Christian’s choice to be in favour of free speech. If that is what you choose then go ahead! But as you do, make sure you apply the Gospel faithfully to your life. Don’t wrongly believe this is how you will find true freedom. Keep your focus on standing up for those in society who are persecuted – over and above protecting your ‘right’ to free speech (an American right not an Australian right – while we have some rights in Australia as protected by law, we don’t actually have a Bill of Rights yet, and we certainly don’t have a law that ensures complete freedom of speech in that neo-classical-liberal sense).

Seek the Peace of the City
In the early chapters of Daniel we read of Daniel taking the advice of the prophet Jeremiah who told the Jews in exile to embed themselves in the Babylonian community and to build their lives there (Jeremiah 29). Most of all, they should seek the peace and prosperity of the city (Jeremiah 29:7) which is the very thing Daniel did when he stepped up to interpret the King’s dream and thereby save his fellow public servants from being killed (regardless of the fact that they were pagan magicians and sorcerers). While Daniel should be an inspiration for us, he is only a shadow of Jesus, who would come about 500 years later to be the true saviour of the world. Jesus not only brought peace to the city, He brings peace to the whole world, for He is the Prince of Peace. Defend freedom of speech or not, either way, seek the peace of the city – don’t be an inciter of hatred – rather protect the lives of minorities – for that is the Jesus way.

We don’t need to be sloppy with the formation of our values. We also don’t need to be confused about where our freedom lies. We have Jesus and his Gospel which brings true freedom. Whatever our views on freedom of speech are, let us pursue consistency (rather than inconsistency) of values by drawing them out of the Gospel. Let us imitate Daniel and seek the peace and prosperity of our city. And let us imitate Jesus: the personification of divine grace, as we interact in our complex world.

Responding to Secular Extremists

What is ‘Secular Extremism’? Scattered amongst the recent commentary around the intersection of religion and society you will no doubt have heard the voice of a small but noisy movement of ‘Secular Extremists.’ These are fundamentalists whose doctrine romanticises The Enlightenment. Their primary agenda is to marginalise and silence the influence of all major religions on society: everyone from the Pope to local synagogues and mosques – and youth pastors. Key strategies for this campaign of marginalisation include: 1. using ‘professional academics’ who claim to be able to expose the intellectual flaws in religion; 2. humiliation and public bullying using cynical comedians; and 3. scare campaigns about the hidden missionary agenda of religions in public society. Their ultimate goal is to turn the public against religion, and they are making some limited progress. Just last week, columnist for crikey.com.au, Helen Razer, wrote an insightful piece about a recent television talk show panel that included the actor Ben Affleck, controversial American neo-atheist-comedian Bill Maher and one of the High Priests of neo-atheism, Sam Harris. During the discussion, in an attempt to attack Islam, Harris banged on about the virtue of the Enlightenment – reason over religion. Razer points out, however, that in fact, if you think about recent times, the main bodies that are rejecting the findings of ‘good science’ are not so much Isalm, Christianity or any particular religion but are, in fact, governments:

The western failure to act on the overwhelming findings of science is due far less to The God Delusion than it is to the exigencies of a global market, itself a descendent of Harris and Dawkins’ beloved Age of Reason. And the western decision to act, again and again, in Iraq has a fair bit to do with the market as well.

Razer explains that Harris’ big problem is that he wants to replay the ideological war between religion and science that took place during the Enlightenment, and then blame religion for every evil and injustice in the world. But,

when he revives this melodrama by placing himself in opposition to the dumbest fundamentalists he can find and casting them as the Pope, or when Dawkins compares his own fearless inquiry to that of Charles Darwin, he is no longer a freethinker. He is a hopeless, arrogant ideologue who tells us falsehoods about the sites of real power. And he is also a mystic.

Razer’s closing comments are poignant and cutting (emphasis mine):

And no, teapot, I’m not just saying, as others have, that ‘atheists are just as fanatical as religious fundamentalists’. I am saying, in fact, that they are more fanatical because they have evolved such a complex delusion where the methodical doubt they claim to champion is itself impossible. If you convince yourself that you are a champion of pure reason and that reason itself always moves from the laboratory of the individual mind into the world without creating conflict, well, you probably need to go away and learn how to think.

If you watch the discussion you’ll see that what they were promoting was hate speech against Islam disguised as confident intellectual insightfulness. Ben Affleck tried to come to the rescue by calling them out as no different to the other middle-aged-white-racists that are a blight on American society. Unfortunately, while Affleck had good intention, his heated emotions didn’t necessarily help to progress the conversation. For a stronger response watch this example of the American academic Reza Aslan exposing Bill Maher and these CNN presenters as promoting lies about Islam. How should we respond to Secular Extremism? The temptation is to respond to Secular Extremists defensively and to sink to their level. However, I have come up with three simple guidelines:

  • Nuanced Arguments: Secular Extremists might use reductionistic arguments, for example: ‘religion causes war.’  It would be easy to respond by saying ‘what about the murderous atheist-communist-dictatorships of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot?’ Don’t respond to simplistic arguments with a simplistic argument. The better and truer response is that historians know that causation in world history is highly complex and should not be reduced to one throw away scapegoat. Neither religion nor atheism is the simple ‘cause’ of war.
  • Accuracy: Learn your facts. When you talk about other people, make sure you know what you are talking about. As Razer pointed out in her article, Secular Extremists like Richard Dawkins, love to take the eccentric worst example of a Christian loony, and then say that all Christians are the same. Don’t do the same thing. (See the Reza Aslan video mentioned earlier)
  • Cool headed: When applying my second guideline – remember most Atheists are not Secular Extremists. In general, most atheists will be reasonable and respectful of other people’s beliefs. This recent article in The Saturday Paper, which examines Allain de Botton’s School of Life in Melbourne, shows a community of Moderate Atheists at work.

Even as a Christian minister, when I talk to people about my faith I find it daunting: I feel the reality that I am part of a minority. Most Christians I know have this experience. The point for us is not to win any culture war, as such, but to be able to speak in such a way so that others can hear and experience the life changing message of Jesus. Christians are ‘ambassadors for Christ’, and so we have to be careful about what we say and how we say it. People may or may not hear the gospel at first, but they will certainly make a surface assessment of it based on our behaviour.

 

Learning Homiletics From Non-preachers: Ira Glass

One of America’s great contemporary storytellers is the hip NPR announcer Ira Glass who is the host of America’s highest podcasted radio show, This American Life.   In the clip below Glass gives some great insight into how to craft an engaging story.

He shows how to take an uninteresting anecdote and to make it gripping by drawing out ‘the universal something.’ Storytelling, in his opinion, is about building empathy. Enjoy!