Change Writer

be the change you want to see

Category: Stories (Page 1 of 2)

Stop falling for the allure of News FOMO

Last night I dreamed that I bumped into Nassim Nicholas Taleb in a cafe.

He was sat thinking, recording his ideas via audio note on his mobile phone. Then his phone rang and he spoke to someone in Arabic for a few minutes.

After the phonecall I introduced myself. I told him how inspired I was by his Antifragility concept.

Half way into this dream, a girl in a beret snuck behind the philosopher. She switched his beret, which had been resting on a shelf behind him, with hers.

He didn’t notice the girl but, before she finished sneaking behind his back, I pointed her out to him. He had a twinkle in his eye as he stopped her and reclaimed his hat.

The whole time, he seemed gathered and at ease, in good spirits.

Once the girl was gone, it was like she’d never been there. He finished his conversation with me and went back to his thinking.


I think this dream illustrates my own inner dialogue pretty well. I adore well developed, longform writing and thought: philosophy, theology, fiction. I long to be part of that world. But I have a boundary problem: I let too many of the thoughts of others into my head.

I do this through Twitter, news apps and email. Before I deleted some of my apps, I was also a slave to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Flickr.

For example the BBC app tells me “worry about the Democrat Party leadership contest,” and I do. Even though the outcome of this particular contest will have little or no impact on my life. Even though there’s nothing I can do to change the outcome.

By letting others dictate what I think about I lose control of my mental space.

I lose the opportunity to apply my thinking abilities to the work of crafting ideas that I can be happy with.

The girl who wants to steal my beret and the guy who wants to stop and have a chat have distracted me from my work of thinking.

Unlike the Taleb of my dream, my undisciplined mind falls prey to the many things that vie for my attention.

Now I’m not saying that I want to cloister myself from the world. There will always be diversions, welcome or otherwise, from the path I expect to take.

But there’s a difference between handling everyday intrusions and choosing a lifestyle of distractedness.


There’s a phrase that Paul of Tarsus uses in a letters to his followers: “take captive every thought.”

I think he’s alluding to the fact that we have some influence over what we think about. We have responsibility for taking every thought captive.

But how do we do it? I think it involves looking at each one, examining it and asking “does it belong in my mind?”

We have to cultivate mental space that we own and that reflects our values.

Thinking right is important

We all know that thinking right is important to how we view ourselves and the impact that we make on the world. We’ve all seen the damage that thinking wrong can do to a person’s life.

We’ve known people full of potential but held back by their fears of who others say they are. For some of us, we are those people: always asking ourselves, “who do you think you are?”

If thinking right is so important, why we give so much mental space to others?

After all, those “others” usually don’t have our best interests at heart.

Back to the BBC

All news organisations are in a competition for readers and viewers. Reporting feel good news doesn’t attract readers the way that reporting danger does.

Humans want know what risks are ahead.

Journalists know that a story describing some new risk will be easy to sell to a news agency. Their goal is selling papers, and spreading fear does just that.

Those agencies have apps and Twitter feeds that keep us updated on the Breaking News that we need know about.

At any moment we can be interrupted with the latest notification. The new thing that totally overshadows whatever it was we were just thinking about. Our previous thought relegated to the back burner.

FOMO

If it’s not our just our hunger for knowing about risk that keeps us tuned in. We are also plagued by FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

It’s no fun being the only person who doesn’t know about that latest thing that just happened.

But in this sphere not missing out (NMO) isn’t as satisfying as we expect.

In the real world, when we let FOMO take over, the payback is usually tangible. We go to that party instead of staying home. That means that we have the memories and experiences of that party.

But most of the breaking news that we hear doesn’t offer us a payback. Our day gets distracted because X has happened, but there’s nothing we can do about X.

Sure, we can talk about it. But the outcomes of this particular scenario are out of our hands. Instead of feeling engaged, we end up feeling alienated.

The elites skirmish and play their power games and all we can do is spectate.

Our news cycles are set up to reinforce dissatisfaction and a sense of powerlessness.

Take the power back

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It’s something we each have to weigh up for ourselves.

There are some for whom electronic discipline comes naturally. They know when to turn off their phones and focus on the real world.

And there are others who just don’t see it as an issue. The convenience of constant connection to the shared consciousness far outweighs its drawbacks.

But I’m not in either of those groups. I want to take back my inner space, and I can’t do it without conscious effort.

Maybe I’ll begin by learning to take every thought captive. 

Language Hack 6: Uncomfortable Situations

One way that you can really stretch yourself linguistically is to put yourself in situations that are uncomfortable.

In comfortable situations you usually use vocabulary you know well. Only spending time with friends can leave you relying on their familiarity with with your style of speaking, rather than on your accuracy.

It’s also easy to treat speaking your target language as a performance that you’ve prepared in advance: you’ve chosen the subject, memorised the relevant words, and now you’re demonstrating that knowledge to someone who you feel relaxed in front of.

Making yourself understood by strangers, in higher pressure situations, is a whole different ballgame. Your choice of words and style of communication become really important because the listener doesn’t have relational history to lean into as they try to follow what you’re saying.

Go get rattled

Although I’d practiced this while living in Jordan, I hadn’t really reflected on it’s benefits until I read Nathan Field’s blog post, 20 strategies for becoming a fluent Arabic speaker, a really useful post that he’s currently converting into an ebook. In his post Field says:

the key to really getting good at spoken is making sure a huge portion of your 250 hours take place outside of your comfort zone. You want: To be in situations where you are nervous [and] To be in situations where you are “rattled,” if not embarrassed.

He describes two situations in which car trouble (a blowout and a collision) forced him to speak, and where adrenaline and the ‘muscle memory’ of his studies “took over”:

The Arabic words just came out.  I didn’t think.  I reacted and spoke effectively

Taking up the challenge

Yesterday I put this principle to the test using the other language that I’m learning: Swedish. I’ve recently returned to Sweden, and decided to visit Arbetsförmedlingen, the official body that assists job seekers.

I had an appointment, and decided to use only Swedish during it, even though I knew the person I was meeting probably spoke pretty good English.

Beforehand I was much more nervous than I would have been going into an English-language meeting, but the decision payed off. The two staff members I met with were happy to stick to Swedish, and I understood almost everything they said. There were two moments when I reverted to English because I didn’t know the right word, but we returned to Swedish afterwards.

I left the interview excited and invigorated at what I’d just achieved, and exhausted from the amount of focussing I’d had to do!

Tips for getting uncomfortable

Here are a few of the ideas that Field gives for getting out of comfort zone language practice:

  1.  Take 5 minutes to research terms related to vacuum cleaners or some other device that you need to buy. Then Go into a department store and ask for the pros and cons of the vacuum cleaners they have on stock. Only in Arabic. Preferably with a queue behind you.
  2. Intentionally “get lost” in a neighborhood in the Arabic city you are studying.  Then ask for directions in Arabic back to the spot you know and find your way back home.  If anyone tries to help you in English,  say you are from a country where no one would know the language: Mongolia.
  3. Phone calling – so much of communication is conveyed by body language, seeing each other and that is often a crutch for Arabic students: just call a restaurant to order; call the department store to ask about stuff etc.

Read Nathan Field’s blog here.

 

What Downton Abbey Can Teach Us About The Future

When my wife told me that she wanted to start watching Downton Abbey, I was a little reluctant. Although I enjoy reading the Brontes and Dickens, I’m not usually enthralled by TV period dramas. That said, after sticking with it for a season, I started to enjoy it for several reasons…

Before I get onto them, I want to talk about StrengthsFinder. When I got my results from Gallup’s personality profiling tool, I learned that Futuristic is one of my strongest themes. This means that I’m always looking ahead, and can picture fairly vividly what it might look to take certain turns in life. I gravitate towards ideas about the future, so am more naturally engaged by Sci-fi than by period dramas.

But there’s something interesting about Downton: it’s all about change.

After a few episodes I began noticing the overarching narrative: a traditional aristocratic family in the first part of the 20th Century coming to terms with a rapid succession of changes.

Transitioning from Honour to Guilt

Right now I live in the Middle East. The dominant culture here leans towards collectivism and honour much more than the individualism and guilt of my birth culture. People recognise themselves first and foremost as members of a particular group – usually a family or tribe. Even in Europe, Middle Easterners can learn a lot about each others’ history by exchanging last names.

Honour is a big part of collectivism. What one person does affects the standing of the group as a whole, so it’s important to make decisions that honour your family.

The family in Downton Abbey are on the knife edge between collectivism and individualism, and this is incredibly interesting. An example of this from season 5 is when Lady Mary decides to stay at a hotel in Liverpool with her potential fiancé in order to decide if she wants to marry him or not.

In the collectivist mind, this is outrageous. Think of the damage she could do to her family! But Mary is making a decision that she believes is in her interest as an individual.

Of course, because she is still living in an honour culture, her grandmother goes to great strains to cover up Mary’s behaviour, in order that the family, and her future prospects, are not harmed.

Embracing The Other

One of the intriguing things about the Crawley family is that they are continuously faced with opportunities to accept or reject people who are outside of their social sphere, and who others would consider outcasts.

One of the first of these is Tom Branson, the socialist chauffer who wins the heart of Lady Sybil. The family are faced with a choice: lose Sybil, or accept Tom. To begin with they reject Tom and push away their daughter, but over time, and with the untimely death of Lady Sybil, they begin to accept Tom as one of them.

As time goes by, the Crawley family become adept at absorbing people from outside into their family, whether it be ex-convicts working as servants, nouveau riche businessmen, or Lady Rose marrying into a Russian Jewish family.

The Best Educated Are Not Always The Best At Embracing Change

It’s easy to think that society’s elite are the best suited for embracing change. They’ve been to the best schools, had access to the most information, and been exposed to the highest standard of art and culture. However the Downton story shows that these things don’t automatically result in people with open minds.

In reality, Lord Grantham has been raised to maintain a system. His goal is to maintain the honour and reputation of his family, and that means stewarding Downton well. He and his butler, Mr Carson, are kindred spirits. They see the world that was as the way it should be. If possible, they must uphold the old ways and traditions.

But the world is changing and the foundations of the old system are beginning to crumble. The finances of the aristocracy are no longer entrenched. The working and middle classes are asking for more opportunities and exerting themselves politically.

For each character in the series who is intent on maintaining the norm, there is another who embraces change. The Dowager Countess has Mrs Isobel Crawley, Lord Grantham has Tom Branson, Mr Carson has Mrs Hughes. Each of these relationships is a mix of polar opposite attitudes to change, and extreme fondness for one another.

Why is this important to the future?

Each of these themes is important to our world at the moment: Exploring honour culture should help us better understand the challenges refugees face when coming to terms with European society.

As our cities and towns become increasingly multicultural, it’s good to ask ourselves if we will open the door to embrace and include the outsider, even if it means that we may be changed in the process. Check out this small town in Finland that did just that.

And when we see the entrenched elite squirming at the rise of new leaders from more ordinary backgrounds, we can remember that they’re not always the best suited for facing change. We mustn’t fear change just because they do.

Who knows, perhaps the trouble Lord Grantham had with accepting the future is the same that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were expressing at the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn gaining power 🙂

The Psychology of Conflict

It can be so easy to view institutions as unshakeable, fixed perspective, entities. They stand for something that is public and impersonal, something unchangeable.

But what if we looked at organisations more as the sum of their individual parts than as an official whole?

A few weeks ago I was listening to the wonderful Analysis podcast from the BBC. In the podcast they interviewed psychologists who were working with groups long in conflict.

Listen to the episode, “Will They Always Hate Us?” here

They carried out experiments to see if they could increase levels of empathy of one side in a conflict towards those on other side. They showed Palestinians fake news articles of an Israeli leader criticising his own government. After reading this news article, they found that the group had greater empathy towards Israelis. They reversed the test, and found that it had the same effect on Israelis.

By observing self criticism, the readers started to see that the unified group that they were used to thinking of a single identity was actually made up of people with many different perspectives. They began seeing people as people, not just a category.

The researchers also questioned the leaders of these conflicting groups about what it would take for them to begin discussing solutions for peace in their region, and the answers they received were fascinating.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the president of The Israeli Government said,

I have nothing to discuss with Hamas until recognise the right of the Jewish people to be here. If they’re ready to recognise that right, then anything is on the table to discuss.

Khaled Mashal, of Hamas asked researchers,

Will they ever apologise for the harm they did our people in 1948, for their dislocation and dispossession?

Many of the answers surprised researchers because they weren’t based on monetary or material restitution, but on showing recognition and respect for the other’s story.

Each side in a conflict has a different history on which their worldview leans. In order for meaningful dialogue to take place, the other side needs to recognise this alternative history.

As I listened to it, rather than hearing an institution at odds with another institution, I heard the voices of people who have been wronged and who need their pain legitimised, recognised, owned up to, so they might move forward into something constructive.

Essentially they were saying time and again something akin to “we need forgiveness.”

Too often in popular society forgiveness is seen as either something easy and insincere or too costly (the Husband forgiving his wife’s murderers the day after she’s killed). But at the core of it there’s something essential to forgiveness that frees both parties to move forward into the present. It’s something divine, the effects of which have the potential to unstick centuries of misunderstanding.

But it also takes daring. It takes leaders who won’t let pride stop them taking the first step.

(Image credit: hjl)

Dear Henning (A Tribute To Henning Mankell)

Dear Henning,

With the news of your death, today is a sad day for many of us.

We devoured your novels, whether the Wallander series, or lesser known works. We revelled in your storytelling, which despite being fictional always felt deeply honest.

We were inspired by your actions, how you consistently spoke up against injustice and tried to do things that would help. Like your theatre in Mozambique, or the memory project for victims of AIDS. You found a way to put your skills and influence to use for the benefit of the poor and voiceless.

We were delighted when you joined a group of activists on a ship headed for Palestine with the desire to break the Israeli embargo on aid.

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But there’s another, more personal reason why I’m going to miss you and your stories.

For me, you were one of my early guides into the world of Swedish culture. Not because of the factual accuracy of the stories – Ystad isn’t the victim of as many murders as your stories would have us believe – but because of the zeitgeist you captured so well. Through Kurt Wallander and his adventures, you beautifully painted the atmosphere of change that exists in modern Sweden. Such change isn’t always clearly spelled out to newcomers like myself.

In the years since World War Two, Sweden has become a haven to those fleeing war and instability in their homelands. That is set to continue. Unsurprisingly, in the face of such change, those who grew up in a very different Sweden have had some adjusting to do. Many have made these adjustments with incredible grace. They’ve chosen to personally embrace the outsider. Others have adjusted more slowly, as if waking up to a whole new world that doesn’t quite feel like their home.

Inspector Wallander guided me into that world and helped me to understand a little of what that conflict must feel like. He gave me a glimpse into how a values driven society comes to terms with its decisions, as they’re worked out in the earthy reality of day-to-day life. And he allowed me the opportunity to mourn the Sweden of my parents-in-law’s youth, a Sweden that is now just a memory.

For all of the above, I’m very grateful.

With much respect,

Jonathan

(Image credit: PalFest)

Stumbling Over My Words

Learning a new language opens a world of opportunities to experience vulnerability, especially if navigating your every day life depends on it.

Arabic writing

Just over a year ago, my wife and I relocated to Jordan in order to learn Arabic. In the future we want to work with Syrian refugees, and we know that speaking the language will open up a world of opportunities to connect with those who are most vulnerable.

We live in an area made up of refugees from different eras. There are the Palestinians who began arriving during the 1940s, the Iraqis who arrived during the 1990s and 2000s, and now the Syrians who arrived here during the last 5 years.

Everything from ordering drinking water, taking a taxi or buying vegetables depends on us finding the right combination of words, tone and pronunciation.

Each day in school, we take classes in formal Arabic grammar (Modern Standard), and the Jordanian spoken dialect (known as Ammiya).

Out of our many experiences of facing vulnerability through language learning, our reading class is the one I find the most humbling (humiliating).

In these classes we take it in turns to read out loud to a group of 8 people, while the teacher corrects mistakes and assists with pronunciation. When we’re finished reading, we summarise what we’ve just read in formal Arabic into spoken Arabic.

During the class I sit there anticipating my next turn to read. I feel tense, I mentally assess the abilities of my fellow students (comparing them with my own). The closer it gets to my turn, the more agitated I get and the less my mind focusses.

It’s exhausting.

The main source of tension during these classes comes from the fact that I really want to be good at reading.

I want to excel at the language and for others to recognise that I am good.

But the pressure to be good hinders my performance.

I so badly want to perform well that I psych myself out and end up stumbling over my words. When the teacher corrects a mistake, instead of absorbing the feedback and jumping right back into the passage, I waver and my mind jumps around the page. I start second guessing and totally lose my flow.

The problem with pretending is that with it comes the fear of being found out.

It requires maintaining a facade of competence, that requires a great deal of energy.

Learning to Let Go

So I’ve decided to work on my vulnerability issue. Instead of pretending that I’m good at reading Arabic, I’m admitting that I find it hard.

I’m accepting the fact that in order for my language to blossom, I need to take myself less seriously.

And I’m trusting that, as Brene Brown discovered in her research on the subject, vulnerability is the pathway to creativity and wholeheartedness.

By giving up worrying about what other people think of my abilities, I might just have the space to begin improving.

(Image credit: Neil Hester)

Sliding the Rolling Wet Hills: an Interview with Dougal Paterson

There are surfers who are happy to keep within the established norms of the sport, and there are those who are driven to experiment, to push the boundaries and to challenge themselves.

Dougal Paterson is a member of the latter group. He’s a big wave surfer, storyteller and photographer based in Kommetjie, a world renowned surf spot on the southern coast of Africa. I spoke with him about his journey, surfing finless, and his two paths to innovation. 

Dougal Paterson big wave

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you start surfing?

I grew up in the landlocked city of Johannesburg. When I was 16 years old I sold my grandmothers old car and ran away from home for a few weeks. The place I ran to was Jeffries Bay which is home to the world’s best right hand wave. I had dreamed of being a surfer since I was the smallest boy. It was during that time that I learned how to slide the rolling wet-hills.

And you now surf big waves?

Surfing big waves always represented to me the pinnacle of the pursuit. To me, riding smaller waves always felt like climbing in the foothills of the Alps, whilst looking at what towered above them. I dreamed of climbing the highest peaks in the far off distance.

I’ve seen your quiver of boards and know that you love to experiment with them. What have been some of your favourite experiments?

Between my wife and I, we have 25 of them. I love boards that are difficult to ride. I’ll intentionally commission a shaper to build me something eclectic that is challenging to ride. After sliding it for a few months, I’ll cut off the tail or change the fin configuration. I have this board that was made in Hawaii for a famous surfer back in ’86. It was in mint condition when I found it in a secondhand store. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! At the time it was probably worth a few thousand dollars to a serious collector. It was something that you’d NEVER normally ride but, to cut a long story short, it’s been thoroughly ridden, snapped and fixed multiple times and now I’ve entirely re-shaped it and all the fins have been removed.

For those of us who aren’t surfers, what are fins, and how is surfing without them different from standard methods?

Surfboard finsFins on a surfboard have the same combined function as a car’s steering wheel, brakes and engine. Fins provide control, direction and forward thrust. As soon as you take the fins out of your surfboard you loose both the ability to generate speed and steer. Riding without fins has close parallels to sitting inside a shopping trolley as it finds its own line down the hill, whilst using nothing but your body weight to try and direct it. The steeper the hill or the larger the wave, the more horrifying the experience.

What inspired you to try it?

One of my highest values is authentic creativity. For me, people who take their own line will always be my greatest source of inspiration. There is a 57 year Australian surfer called Derek Hynd. 9 years ago he took the fins out of his board whilst working on a film project with a friend of his. He liked the drifting-sliding sensation so much that he never put them back in. Derek is now globally acknowledged as one of our liquid-pursuits truest innovators. More importantly however, he is easily one of the most aesthetically pleasing surfers to watch. I first saw Derek spinning and gliding at Jeffries Bay 6 years ago and over time became convinced that a part of my future was also finless.

What kind of reactions have you received from the rest of the surfing community?

Ha! They think I’m crazy, like Derek. A lot of people ask “are you trying to be like that Derek Hynd guy?” To which my answer is “yes.” After spending many hours in conversation with him, I became convinced that it would be possible to ride big waves finless too. For three nights after leaving Derek I dreamed the whole night through that I was watching him surf. On the fourth night, suddenly it was me surfing whilst he watched. At first everything was wrong and I couldn’t figure it out, but then, in an instant I felt a sensation of understanding rush through my body (I can still imagine it now). Suddenly it made sense to me. Surfing finless only worked if you surfed opposite to how you surf with fins. It was counter intuitive. I stopped trying to push against the wave like I normally would by using the fins to create resistance. Instead I began to rather flow with the wave. In a very real sense, I became a part of the wave. When I awoke I went back home and immediately hacked up the collectors piece that I mentioned earlier. I reshaped the bottom contours and removed the fins. I then proceeded to ride the board in most difficult waves that my courage would allow. It continues to be equal parts horrifying and deeply liberating.

Does creativity and experimentation play a big role in your life when you’re not in the ocean?

Dougal portraitYes. Unequivocally YES! As a misguided kid I accessed my spirituality by taking LSD and initiating adventures into the cathedrals of nature. The object for me was always to find new ways of looking at the world and communicating that with those who were on that journey with me. Now the redeemed version of that looks like someone who is constantly gathering big wave surfers together to go on wave-chasing expeditions. It looks like a husband and Dad who is relentlessly working out ways to include his family, and other families, in spiritually uplifting community environments. It sounds like I’m an amazing and inspiring guy to be around the whole time but, in reality, I can be extremely agitative and fractious in that role too. I struggle in the flatlands of life. I thrive on the adrenaline of the peaks and valleys.

And for those reading who want to initiate change, or experiment in their own field, what advice would you have? How do you motivate yourself to keep leaning into the path of creativity?

True-Innovation is a deeply personal journey. It’s impossible to access True-Innovation until you begin attaching value to your own ideas. Like I said above, we all want change but in reality change can be very fractious and painful. Sustaining change is the hardest task of all. I always assumed that for deep and lasting change to happen, you had to have a complete break down of the vehicle that wasn’t getting you where you knew you could go. However, I am beginning to understand that there is another higher way to access True-Innovation. It’s the access point that we all know is possible, if only because we wish it for our children. This access point is the door called curiosity. Be brave enough to nourish your curiosity and you will leave the world a better place.

Dougal runs regular storytelling nights in Cape Town’s Southern Peninsula. You can also find him online at dougalpaterson.com and on Instagram.  

(Image credit: Gustavo Veríssimo (fins image), all other images provided by Dougal).

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.

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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)

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© 2014-2017 Jonathan Morgan