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following Jesus, the Word made flesh
October 31st, 2007

Quote of the Day: Martin Luther on Blogging

“The multitude of blogs is a great evil. There is no measure or limit to this fever for writing; everyone must be an author; some out of vanity to acquire celebrity and raise up a name; others for the sake of lucre and gain.”

Substitute the word “books” for “blogs” above, and yes, Luther did say this (according to this source, Table Talk, No. 911: i don’t have access to a copy to check). It’s amusing how these tendencies persist, despite changes in the medium.

(Quote from this Publisher’s Weekly response to an interesting but pessimistic New Yorker article on digitizing libraries: thanks to colleague Bill Nienhuis for pointing out the New Yorker article, which is well worth reading.)

October 30th, 2007

YouVersion and Bible 2.0

YouVersion is a new on-line Bible reading application, recently out into public Beta and sporting a Web 2.0-style interface. There have been a spate of these sites over the last few years (ever since that Web2.0 thing started catching on: i got on board with the meme back in January 2006). What features turn an on-line Bible application into Bible 2.0? You start with texts you can read online, navigate through, and search. But the key differentiators are additional features like

  • User-generated content (comments, links, photos, etc.) attached to verses
  • “tags” (brief user-supplied annotations, in the style of del.icio.us) that let you label verses in ways that are meaningful to you (and that also often support discovery by others)
  • Other kinds of ratings (like stars, votes, etc.) so you can indicate your interest in a passage and others can see the accumlation of that interest across readers

A number of Bible 2.0 applications have emerged over the last few years

  • ebible.com has searchable bookmarks so you can see what others are saying about specific verses
  • The NeXtBible at bible.org has some interesting integration of study tools (names, cross-references), though without social bookmarking it doesn’t really count as Bible 2.0
  • There are a number of Bible sites under Ning, a tool which aims to make it easy to create highly-personalized social network sites. Most seem to be very small communities, not full-featured tools, though.
  • xpound.org seems to have fallen into the dead pool (Blogos post here), but in its day also tried to offer many of these features

(and of course lots of other sites that simply provide readable Bible texts on-line: i’ve left them out if they don’t include features like tagging and community aggregation.)

Things i like about YouVersion:

  • There’s a vertical line alongside the text whose shade of gray indicates how many other people have commented on or tagged a passage. That provides a nice visual indicator that’s not too intrusive.
  • There’s a good selection of translations

Things i don’t like so much (keep in mind this is a beta, so these will hopefully improve):

  • While i can see the promise of features like tags and personal comments on verses, none of the sites i’ve seen so far (including YouVersion) have enough contributions yet over enough different verses to make the aggregate very useful.
  • The interface for starring or tagging them took me a while to figure out, and doesn’t seem very intuitive.
  • Why is KJV the default version? This is a pet peeve of mine (donning asbestos underwear) … there’s just no excuse today for someone who actually wants to understand the Bible to use this archaic translation. People, the English language (not to mention our manuscript knowledge) has changed in the last 400 years! If you’ve got issues about the manuscripts or the style, please, at least use the New KJV. My own recommendation: if you want to study (on this site), use the ESV: if you just want to casually read (according to their blog, i see they’re close to providing the Contemporary English Version, my current favorite among dynamic equivalence translations).

(Hat tip to DJ at http://digital.leadnet.org, which is where i heard about YouVersion)

October 19th, 2007

How (not) to Write A Sunday School Lesson

Suppose your pastor asked you to lead a Sunday School class studying some passage (just to make it concrete, i’ll pick one: Malachi 1:1-5), and asked you to create a curriculum for the class. What would you do?

(Go ahead and think about it … that’s okay, take your time, i’ll wait … )

My guess is you’d do one or more of the following:

  • Carefully study the passage in question yourself (i hope you’d do that!), maybe making some notes
  • Read a few commentaries to learn more about the passage, and maybe the background of the book
  • Look around for any existing study guides, or check out SermonCentral.com (which in this case would give you 49 sermons to steal learn from)
  • Think of some questions to to get people to think about the passage, what it means, and how to apply it
  • Write out some observations on the passage, some questions, and maybe some resources for further study

(You’d probably be clever enough to do a few other things as well.)

Here’s what you probably wouldn’t do:

  • Define what is to be learned, through
    • Needs analysis: what is the problem, and how do we solve it? (in general, i.e. why hold Sunday School at all?)
    • Task analysis: what is the job or content?
    • Instructional analysis: what must be learned?
  • Specify how learning will occur (design an approach) through questions like
    • What are the objectives?
    • How will we know if the objectives are met?
    • What instructional strategy will achieve the objectives?
    • What media and methods are most effective?
  • Develop instructional materials by
    • deciding what they’ll say
    • evaluating the look and sound of media
    • evaluating whether the materials meet quality standards, and whether the students will learn from them
    • seeing if the materials can be improved
  • Teach the class (implementation)
  • Determine the impact of the instruction by asking questions like
    • Have we solved the problem?
    • What is the impact?
    • What needs to change?

(Yes, that was an ambush.) The preceding outline (taken nearly verbatim from the introductory chapter of Making Instructional Design Decisions, by Barbara Seels and Zita Glasgow) describes “the generic instructional design model”. In a nutshell, instructional design is about deliberately planning and developing learning materials to meet objectives.
So here’s my point: why don’t we (you and me alike) think about learning and Sunday School like this?

Some bad answers:

  • Sunday school is a spiritual thing, and whether anybody learns anything is all up to the Holy Spirit [perhaps true in some ultimate sense, but it’s a cop-out: you wouldn’t be happy if your pastor used this rationale rather than preparing sermons]
  • This is a secular model of instruction [why should the Devil have all the effective approaches to learning?*]
  • Hey, people don’t come to Sunday School to learn, they come for the cookies and fellowship! [then how will you teach them to obey what Jesus commanded (Matt 28:19-20)?]
  • Nobody will remember this lesson by the end of the football game this afternoon anyway [maybe that’s because we don’t take learning and curriculum seriously]

and some more reasonable (but still unsatisfactory) answers:

  • Our own experience provides (limited) models for how Sunday School works, and we unconsciously adopt them [time for new wineskins! (Luke 5:37-38)]
  • Thinking about these questions is hard, time-consuming, and sometimes requires expertise we don’t have [fair enough: maybe somebody else should be helping to create the curriculum, and we should definitely be sharing things that work well.]
  • Hey, i’m just trying to help out because the pastor asked me, i’m no Bible scholar![it’s good that you’re honest, but don’t you want to serve your family as best you can? (Col 3:23-24)]
  • I’d gladly work on curriculum to accomplish our objectives, if i could just figure out what they are.

I’ve only scratched the surface here, and raised a lot more questions than i’ve answered. But this last psuedo-answer — what are our objectives? — seems like the heart of the matter, and i think there’s plenty of room for the church to take its mandate of Christian discipleship and education much more seriously. The starting point (for further study after today’s class) is analysis: what is the problem Sunday School is attempting to solve, and why do we want people to go there in the first place? I don’t think easy answers like “growing in knowledge of the Word” go nearly far enough.

* Larry Norman notwithstanding, Luther never uttered the famous line “why should the Devil have all the good music?”. That quote apparently came from a sermon by English preacher Rowland Hill in 1844 (see Bartlett’s Quotations: it was actually “good tunes”). What Luther did say, however, while in a similar spirit, was also relevant to the topic at hand:

I am not of the opinion that all arts are to be cast down and destroyed on account of the Gospel, as some fanatics protest. On the other hand, I would gladly see all arts, especially music, in the service of Him who has given and created them. I therefore pray that every pious Christian would be pleased with this [the use of music in the service of the gospel] and lend his help if God has given him like or greater gifts. As it is, the world is too lax and indifferent about teaching and training the young for us to abet this trend. [Luther’s Works: American Edition, vol. 53:316, cited here: emphasis mine]

October 13th, 2007

OpenBible.Info and the Long Zoom

Following on my Powers of Ten Day post, OpenBible.info posts about the Long Zoom which, somewhat to my embarrassment, takes one of my abstracts for the upcoming Bible Technology Conference and runs with it. The embarrassment comes because the post goes much farther than i’ve had a chance to (and says a lot of things better than i can).
I hope to get my own post on the topic out soon: but in the meantime, i want to both point to and briefly comment on this one.

The post correctly credits Steven Johnson’s NY Times article with the phrase “Long Zoom.” I first came across it listening to his talk at the Long Now Seminar (MP3), which (zooming farther back) i started following after reading Stewart Brand’s Clock of the Long Now (i was tickled to get a comment on my post from the man himself). If anybody ought to have the Big Picture and a Long Now, it should be the Church, and at this stage in my life i find myself searching for them more and more. So i’m keenly interested in visualizations that bring more of this perspective to studying the Bible.

I hadn’t seen OpenBible’s Bible Word Locator yet (oops), but, along with the Bible Book Browser, these tools for visualization and navigation start to give a sense of what it might be possible if we could easily move from macro to micros views of Scripture. More about this to come …

October 10th, 2007

Happy Powers Of Ten Day

It’s been 30 years since since Charles and Ray Eames made their brief movie “Powers of Ten”, illustrating what it would be like to zoom out and in from the perspective we normally enjoy to ones at the cosmic and microscopic levels.
Today, applications like Google Earth (and Hollywood spy movies) have made the “Long Zoom” familiar to many of us: but the Eames’ film was one of the earliest attempts to depict this kind of thinking. The Eames Office suggests each October 10th as an opportunity to think about both the Big and Small Picture (literally).
I’ve been thinking for a while now about how to bring Long Zoom perspective to visualization and navigation of the Bible: i’ll be giving a talk about this at Bible Tech 2008. In the meanwhile, Happy Power of Ten Day!
View the movie Powers of Ten: