Change Writer

be the change you want to see

Month: August 2015

Parallel Bible: An Interview with Andrew Breitenberg

Parallel Bible is an exciting new experiment that takes an ancient text and anchors it in day to day experiences through crowd-sourced images.

I spoke to co-founder Andrew Breitenberg about the app and their Kickstarter campaign to fund the first printed gospel of Mark in which all of its visual content is sourced by its readers.

HERO

Jonathan: Hi Andrew! Before we get into the deep on Parallel Bible, can you walk us through your back story? What led you up to this point?

Andrew: The path after university started in New York City and wound through Amsterdam and Cape Town and many places along the way for shorter periods. I’ve always had a passion for seeing Scripture come alive in new ways – in Amsterdam my thesis work was a redesign of the gospel of Matthew, and in Cape Town I began spray painting Bible verses in huge letters on public walls (see selahmade.com). My brother and I had always wanted to take a big adventure together which we thought would amount to a month long train ride through India or something. But when the idea for Parallel came to me, I invited him along for the ride and it’s definitely been a bigger adventure than we ever expected…

selah

Tell us about Parallel…

Parallel Bible is a Bible app for iPhone and Android phones – it’s a marriage between social media and Scripture. Think Instagram for the Bible. Create an account, follow friends, post pictures and tag them with verses. With everyone adding images to different verses, what results is a visually-rich Bible, illuminated by images and stories brought by its readers (you!). And more than this, we begin to see a Bible emerge that carries right alongside of it, stories of how it is being applied in people’s lives. A living concordance of the Bible’s work, parallel to the Scripture itself.

parallel bible iphone 6

What was the red thread running between this and your previous work?

Essentially the work has always been about being a voice for the voiceless – so advocacy of some kind – with Parallel it’s amplifying the words of the Bible itself by unveiling where they are taking root in people’s lives. It’s also about organising and ordering – in this case ordering a massive series of images according to this sacred text. And Beauty. Always Beauty.

You’ve spent time living in the Netherlands and South Africa, In what ways did these places influence the progression of this concept?

Let’s see – NL was all about ‘killing my darlings.’ By which I mean – the little ‘preciouses’ – the elements that you treat with a bias because you like them subjectively – they are only clouding the true value of a solution. For example I created a typeface for this project which I loved, but its meant for big sized headlines – not small copy on an app. Letting go of that was hard but has improved the app significantly.

As for SA – Well what can I say – Cape Town is the birth place of this app – I had a studio on the ‘high road’ in Woodstock and watching the mass of human life passing my window all day had a profound effect on me. I think my fixation on the primacy of images has come from seeing people from every part of life walk by that window – and in realising the ability of images to communicate across languages, cultures, classes and denominations.

spread 2

You talk about the format of the Bible remaining unchanged while our culture has undergone countless changes in rapid succession. Could you unpack that idea for us?

I think that the Bible apps we use today are essentially Gutenberg’s 15th century tech pasted onto a screen. We’re still looking at the Bible in terms of black text on a light background. The Bible was not always this way. For centuries it was simply spoken. You only got the Bible by listening, not reading. We feel that Parallel Bible is simply getting at what Jesus has done all along. Speaking in image-pictures. Jesus never wrote a thing down. He never said – hey go read this and you’ll have it sorted. In fact – he would sometimes tell his disciples to ‘speak not’ of what they’d seen or heard. This was about allowing the experience of the thing to simply have its moment, before letting it calcify into words. Parallel Bible is nothing new at all. We see it as a return.

Marshall McLuhan famously said “the medium is the message”. He felt that there is a message implicit not just in what is said, but the medium used to communicate it. How does this play out for PB?

I suppose I got to that in the previous question – it might be worth adding that besides screens, we are putting a social medium to work in the employ of our app as well – personal imagery, shared and commented and liked, friends followed…this new social media reflects well the idea that the Bible is to be lived  – that we are meant to look up from its words and actually DO what it’s talking about.

There’s a tendency in the social media world to curate your own life, so that it appears far better than the real thing ever could. In what ways do you address this with the PB community? How do you ensure that authenticity is valued?

Such a good question – we write about this on our website – essentially all we can do is example it and ask for it. But we’re finding that the bulk of our readers understand this intuitively. We have a disconcertingly small percentage of selfies (: and the truth is – when you’re pairing a beautiful landscape from nature with a verse – it’s just not giving the same feeling as when it’s happening purely for likes. It sounds vague – but the general experience around this imagery being posted feels quite vulnerable and real. At this stage it’s probably because there are only thousands of readers on the app – so anyone posting for volume likes is not going to get them in any case… it will be fascinating to see how things develop.

Much has been said online about the tendency of smartphones to act as a distraction from inner growth, family and long form communication. It feels like Parallel is approaching smartphones from a different angle?

YES! We keep joking that we should just make an app that shuts down your phone for 10 minutes at a time. Seriously we are into exploring the idea of slow use – in fact it seems to be the biggest obstacle thus far in our app’s adoption. People generally seem to use their apps in a matter of seconds to check, scroll, swipe and close. We’re talking about spending 5 seconds on each post – at best a minute – looking, reflecting on the passage and story, and writing comments. It’s a paradigm shift for what the screen is capable of offering. And while it’s one of our biggest obstacles, it’s also one of the greatest opportunities.

Who have been your major influencers on this journey?

Well you mention McLuhan – he’s the godfather of social media so that’s obvious. AS regards the Bible we’ve been really inspired by the mentorship of Richard Rohr, a Catholic monk who writes a lot about the shifting milieu of the Bible across time was well as the practise of silence and listening which are deeply important to Bible reading. (Also along these lines we <3 Simone Weil, Thomas Keating). Pierre Teilhard de Chardin writes about the possibilities of collective faith action which applies beautifully to a group of people doing this Bible in this way. And St. Francis – he has inspired us to walk our little path and persevere in what the Lord has called us to do with this project.

And from a design point of view, I am unapologetically Dutch. Create a system and let it play out to all its weirdest and most beautiful conclusions. Don’t arbitrarily edit anything. Have a reason rooted in your vision for any aesthetic changes made. Kill your darlings. Shoot your idea to pieces until it disintegrates or reveals the diamond.

How has the concept been received? Who have been your greatest allies so far?

The concept itself is received well and widely. Our greatest allies are people from the progressive Christian community who are most willing to think outside the box in terms of how we might introduce the Bible to the next generation. Also we have a large community of artists and creatives that have found an outlet for their desire to explore faith and visuality.

Parallel Bible bookshelf

Tell us about your Kickstarter campaign

Our Kickstarter project is to print the Gospel of Mark alongside all the imagery being submitted to it on the app. We see it as giving people a tangible example of what it is we are trying to do on the app. It will be the first community-illuminated Gospel ever made and (we hope) a book that draws people collectively to go and do the very truths that they are reading about.

Finally, what lessons have you learned in the process of creating PB that might be helpful for other people wanting to initiate change?

Patience. Perseverance. Play. Pray. Patience. (Patience.)

 

Join the Parallel Bible community here.

The Upside of ISIS

The Imam and The PastorYou know how sometimes something really horribly grotesque somehow ends up having a positive, unintended byproduct?

Like when you see someone who has faced the worst kinds of abuse find their way out the other side. And they’re not just the same person they started out being. They’re stronger. They somehow turn the utter shit-that-should-never-have-happened situation into something that gives hope to others?

I think something of a similar ilk might be happening in the sphere of East-West relationships. Let me explain…

I think that most of us agree that ISIS/ISIL/داعش (DAESH) is not a good thing.

In fact, if we took a vote, we’d be close to unanimous in saying that they seem, much of the time, to incarnate evil. They behead, kill, rape, drown, burn, shock, force convert and displace people.

It’s very hard to imagine anything good coming from them.

But I’ve noticed a strange byproduct of their unholy rampage: people who didn’t used to talk to each other are starting to.

And it’s not just that they’re talking that’s interesting. It’s what they’re talking about.

There was a time not so long ago when Christians and Muslims didn’t have very much to do with each other. Especially Evangelical Christians.

At best, Christians pretended Muslims didn’t exist. At worst, they regarded Islam with deep suspicion.

In fact, back in the 80s and early 90s, it wouldn’t have been uncommon to come across Christians who, if you got them talking about the subject, would echo the sentiment of what Franklin Graham said just last month:

“We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad…we should stop all immigration of Muslims to the US until this threat with Islam has been settled.”

But recently the church, or at least many within it, have begun asking “if we say we are following the teachings of Jesus, and he says ‘love your neighbour’, and even ‘love your enemies’, what should we do about our Muslim neighbours?”

And, at the same time, Muslims have started asking: “if our Holy Qu’ran teaches us to love and respect Christians, how can we practically do that?”

People are setting aside centuries of confusion and misunderstanding and are working together for the sake of peace.

And the thing that has added an urgency of life-or-death to this movement is the work of ISIS.

ISIS, in all their savagery, are polarising people. Some turn to violence (in the West against Muslims, in the East against Christians, Yazidis, Shi’a), but others turn to peace.

If you’re like me, this sounds like very good news.

It puts a smile on my face when I hear about Evangelical megachurch pastors standing up to Franklin Graham because he’s not being Jesus-like towards Muslims.

Not to mention when Muslims help to rebuild burned down churches.

And when I got to visit a mosque in the UK (in a city that has spawned several well-reported ISIS members) and I see Christians and Muslims sitting side-by-side, listening to each other attentively, answering questions in the spirit of peace, I feel optimistic that ISIS’ days are numbered.

So Close

so close

Click.

I sat glued to my screen, hitting refresh, knowing that in 15 minutes time it would all be over.

The last time this happened to me was when we came to the end of our crowd funding campaign last year. We knew that the outcome of the campaign would determine our future: would we be moving to Jordan and studying Arabic after all?  

Click.

This time it was a good friend’s Kickstarter project for a new album they’ve been writing. It was to be their first in 8 years.

Click.

The way Kickstarter works is that you set a financial target, upload a video, share your plans as best you know how, then click ‘start’. Your campaign runs for a specific timeframe, during which you post updates. Friends pledge money towards your project, and you offer rewards for different amounts pledged.

If, at the end of your campaign, you have reached your financial target, you get all the money (minus Kickstarter’s %).

If you don’t reach your target, you get nothing.

Click.

My friend was trying to raise $10,000 for the recording of her album.

1 day before the campaign closed, she had $8,761.

With 2 hours to go, she had reached $8,996

At 50 seconds, she had $9,161.

Click.

And that’s the figure it stopped at.

$839 shy of her target, with $0 to show for it.

I was crushed.

How could the world be so unfair? 

Will this (unquestionably beautiful) album ever see the light of day?

And I got to thinking how often this must happen in the course of each day. People get so close but don’t quite make it across the line. And they end up with nothing to show for it. Nada.

Now I know this friend of mine well enough to know that this little setback isn’t going to stop her making music. In fact, she’ll probably take some valuable lessons from this experience and do something even better with it.

But I’m still a little pissed off with the process.

(Image credit: Tim Norris)

Links: While I’ve Been Away

I thought it might be nice to share some things that have caught my attention during the quiet few months preceding this one. In no particular order, here goes:

Fairphone 2

Fairphone
If you, like me, like the idea of owning a phone that hasn’t been made in the harsh conditions of much of today’s technology, the new Fairphone might be for you.

But before you buy one, you might want to read this: Why I Love the Fairphone — and Why I Won’t Buy One


The Myth of the Ethical Shopper

myth of ethical consumer
This is an eye opening read for those of us who really bought into the early energy of the Fairtrade movement. It’s a challenge to do much more than just buy the right brands…


The Guardian’s series of Short stories

From wonderful writers like Dave Eggers and David Sedaris, and others not called David.


Street Art With a Message of Hope

elSeed
Two artists from different backgrounds have been up to some interesting things recently:

elSeed, a French-Tunisian street artist has been painting quotes in beautiful arabic ‘calligraffiti’, in Europe, America, Africa and the Middle East. Check out his TED talk here.

Andrew Breitenberg, AKA Selah, has been painting messages of hope around Africa for a while, but is currently back home in the States working on The Parallel Bible, check out their Kickstarter for the Book of Mark here.


Build A House

Speaking of Kickstarter campaigns, my good friends Liana and Jason are working on Build a House, their first album in 8 years. Check out their campaign, and pre-order it here.

© 2014-2017 Jonathan Morgan