Here is the question that I find myself asking the “spiritual but not religious” self-procaimed, the vast bland majority of the American religious landscape who perceive themselves to be a unique and interesting minority.
Here’s my question to the “sunset person” the person who finds god in the sunset, the one who is spiritual but not religious and then things suddenly break down and something unfair or tragic happens.
Who are you, (they may ask) the god of sunsets and bunnies and chain emails about sweet friends?
Who are you, cheap god of self satisfaction and isolation?
Who are you, god of the beautiful and the physically fit?
Who are you, god of those who can afford to go on vacation to Hawaii and find you in the sunset?
Who are you, god of the spiritual but not religious, god of the lucky, chief priest of the religion of gratitude.
Who are you and are you even worth knowing?
Who are you, god whom i invent?
Is there, could there be a more interesting God who invented me?
Why do we continue to tell this story
Why do we retell this story from long ago
Of a world so far from us
Of a time so uncivilised
Surely we’re so far removed from the time of this a story that we can walk away from it and never come back
Where is god in this story
Where do we see god in action
Or inaction as it may be
Where families lost children through the brutal actions of the powers that be
Where blood was shed liberally in fear
Where the voiceless suffer
Where hope seems all but lost
Why do we retell this story
Surely we don’t live in a world where it needs to be told anymore
Perhaps we would think ourselves more enlightened
Perhaps we no longer think that our lives could be touched by a story from long ago
A story of a tyrant so afraid of being overthrown that he would kill those who stood in his way
A story of genocide, mass killings of people simply because of their age, their race, their creed
A story where a small number of midwives with the fear of god might stand in between the powers and the vulnerable in a simple, peaceful, beautiful act of disobedience
A story where a mother might be so afraid of her child that she would place them in a small, handmade, makeshift boat and entrusting the child’s life to her god as she watched the boat sail away.
A story where women are both the oppressed and the protester
A story where the children are the voiceless victims of abuse and oppression
A story that reminds us that we often meet our fate as we attempt to avoid it
A story where the hope of a nation lives in the eyes of a child in a boat
If that’s why we continue to retell this story
Because our world isn’t so enlightened
To remind us that even the peaceful disobedience and action of a small number of people can save lives, bring justice
To remind us of the women of the world who, in hope and fear for their children seek the means of a boat to search for freedom
To remind us that children are often the voiceless and ignored in violence and that in the telling of these stories they find a voice, an advocate, an ear
To remind us that, in a time of violence and genocide it was the mothers, the women, the midwives who’s stories need to be heard, who acted as both the oppressed and protester
Perhaps god is in the retelling of this story
A story that needs to be retold
A story that needs to be a part of us
And a story that we hope will
Open our eyes to the violence around us
Open our ears to hear the suffering of he voiceless
Open our hearts to children in strange boats
Give us energy and hope to join in peaceful acts of disobedience
Renew our faith in a god who is on the side of the voiceless & oppressed
So be it.
I’m running a workshop on technology and worship for a few lay leaders this coming weekend. As a part of the gig we’ll be talking about putting together presentations for worship, in particular song lyrics, sermons and readings. What follows is a collection of tips that I’ll be using for the gig, I’ll be putting a few images together to go with the tips and a simpler handout, when I’ve put them together I’ll upload them and add them to this post.
a) Sing the song
Sing the song or read the text through before you put it to the file. This will help you understand where to put line and paragraph breaks, notice where you pause, where you breathe and where the punctuation breaks are, allow this to guide you in putting the presentation together.
Punctuation is not always needed. When singing a song the punctuation is up to your preference, many people intuitively create line or paragraph breaks where punctuation would normally cause a pause or break.
b) Give the text breathing room
More than 5 lines per screen will make the presentation look busy, you’ll find it will be more effective if you spread out the text across several screens rather than cramming them all into one. Give the text breathing room and keep the line limit to a maximum of 4-5 lines per screen.
Break the lines manually, don’t use word wrap, try and avoid “orphan words,” words that take up a line by
can you resize the text a little, or perhaps break the paragraph up differently to avoid the lone word?
I generally allow for a line spacing of 1.2 or 1.3 when creating on-screen presentations, this allows for some space between lines but not enough space to disconnect each of the lines as you read them.
Keep the text to a readable font-size, experiment and decide what’s too large and too small and sit somewhere in between, try somewhere between 32 and 48 points. If you’re in doubt find the youngest and oldest members of your congregation and sit them at the rear of the venue and show them different size text until they can both read them, that should give you a good guide.
d) To Boldly Go
Avoid using CAPS LOCK. CAPS LOCK IN AN EMAIL OR ON SCREEN GIVES PEOPLE THE IMPRESSION THAT THEY ARE BEING YELLED AT, it also hinders people’s ability to read clearly on screen.
Making the text bold in songs may make reading the text easier, give it a try and see how it works with your projector in your space. Making the responsive text bold in responsive prayers and perhaps a different colour can help people distinguish between the leader’s words and the responsive section.
It’s also a helpful rule to avoid using either italic or underlining text when projecting on a screen, use italics at a last resort.
e) Align left.
There’s a lot of debate as to if you should align left or centre.
One of the theories is that if you align left it will make reading the text easier for people who have english as a second language, older people and younger people learning to read. Left aligned gives the reader the same starting point at the left of the screen for every line. As a result I suggest aligning left for reasons of literacy rather than design.
If you do choose to align centre then consistency is important, if you choose to align centre for one song during the presentation / service then stick to that as the “norm” for the presentation.
f) Fonts / Typography
There are two main kinds of font: Serif and Sans-Serif.
Serif Font – Fonts with “feet” (Times New Roman, Minion Pro, Baskerville, Georgia, Times)
Serif fonts are usually used in books and, on screen can be used for titles of songs or header titles. As they’re older fonts they carry with them (still) a more authoritative meaning, associated with being elegant, formal, confident.
San-Serif Font – Fonts without “feet” (Arial, Myriad Pro, Helvetica, Lucida Grande, Century Gothic, Gill Sans Bold, Verdana)
Sans in french means “without” so Sans-Serif fonts are fonts without the feet. San-Serif fonts are easier to read on screen and are best used for text that will be read from the screen, use these types of fonts for lyrics, bible readings or text.
While Serif fonts work really well on print, guiding the reader from one word to the next this doesn’t translate to on-screen or projected text. Practically Serif fonts weren’t used on screens due to the fonts not showing up well on computer screens or projectors with many being too thin to read and flickering on the screen, comparatively the San-Serif font was easier to read on computer screens and projector screens. It’s true that while screens and projectors are getting sharper one could argue that these rules do not apply, but I still think it’s good to stick to the old guideline.
Once again, consistency is recommended. Choose three fonts per presentation (per service) and stick with them. If you decide to be consistent in all your presentations then it makes it easier for you to create a template to which you can stick to.
Note that fonts aren’t necessarily on every computer. If you set the presentation up on your own computer using a particular font make sure that the computer you’re using at church also has that font.
*Avoid using the font “Comic Sans” seriously… if you use it you should stop.
It’s a good rule to use light text on dark background.
If you’re using older projectors or if there is a lot of ambient light in the room then try using dark text on a white background.
Some forms of dyslexia are apparently set off by bright backgrounds vs dark text. Be aware that your congregation may experience your presentations differently due to a variety of issues, as such many congregations tend to use bright text on a dark background.
It’s a good thing to also be aware that colours convey meaning, blue traditionally has meant cold/calm while red has meant passionate/angry/warm.
Keep people who are colourblind in mind (which means avoid combinations of reds, greens, browns, oranges and yellows).
Avoid these combinations
- red and black
- green and purple
- light green and yellow
- red and green
- orange and blue
- red and blue
- orange and pink
- brown and grey
- black and white / off white
- black and very light grey / off white
- dark purple and white / off white
- dark blue and white / off white
- black and yellow
- dark blue and yellow
h) Simple is Good – Less is more
Keep presentations simple.
Normal design principles suggest to choose three fonts per presentation, adding many different fonts can cause reading issues with some participants and distract participants. Try choosing one font for headlines, one for normal text and another for the CCLI information. Many churches have made the decision to stick with the same fonts for every song to maintain consistency.
Just because you can create different creative transitions doesn’t mean that you need to, or that you should. Transitions take time, create compatibility issues between computers/programs and cause difficulty in reading text or taking in images. If you use transitions during songs, even a quick fade some people will miss the first line of the verse/chorus because of the time the transition takes to happen.
Remember the focus point is the story, text or the image and not the transition.
i) Using Images / Motion Backgrounds
If you’re using images or motion backgrounds in your worship presentations there are a number of things to consider.
- Images and videos may not have a colour scheme that suits showing text over, remember light over dark or dark over light, this becomes difficult when you’re using images or video.
- Keep images to theme, if you’re talking about the different parts of the body then use images of hands, feet, faces. If your theme is on eating food together then use images of food.
- Use one image per screen, avoid cramming 5 images onto one page of lyrics, it’ll distract people from the lyrics at hand. During one song consider using the same image for every screen.
- If you’re using a motion background ensure it’s not too busy or fast moving as they can distract readers. Some examples of motion backgrounds can be sourced from http://faithinmotion.com.au
- Images translate story, meaning & emotion better than text, use full screen high resolution images during sermons or talks instead of dot points and more text.
j) Copyright Information
Remember to put the appropriate copyright information on your music slides. In this case you can use a different font, colour and size so that the text doesn’t confuse people who are singing the song. Consider putting the copyright text left aligned from the centre of the page.
The information that needs to be shown includes:
The song title
Copyright notice, and
Your church’s CCLI license number
In the case of using images/videos, use photos you have taken or sourced through legal means. You can use free stock image sources (eg http://www.freeimages.com or https://www.flickr.com/groups/2196348@N20/ ) or purchase stock images from stock image sites (eg. http://www.istockphoto.com )
k) Sit through your presentation
Sit through some of your presentations from different points in the worship space, ask yourself what makes the text easier to see, what makes the image clearer, can you read the text well from all points of view, does the light in the room affect the way that you can see the screen?
Perhaps you can sit through a few presentations with different layouts with a group of people and ask the same questions.
After sitting through your presentations go back to the computer and make alterations that may make it easier to enter into worship or into your presentation.
Meals that Change Us
I’m curating an all-age service for August 03, the bible reading is Matthew 14:13-21 – one of the stories where Jesus feeds a crowd. As it turns out I think I’ll use this for a couple of all age services this month and see how it goes.
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
I’ve always loved these stories, stories that involve Jesus and food, they bring out the best in people’s imaginations, these stories seem to inspire people to believe in miracles.
For me, the story from Matthew 14 invites me to ask the question “What exactly is a miracle?”
I wonder how the entire crowd of people found themselves without food for the day, it’s certainly odd that an community of people who would have known the local McDonalds would be closed wouldn’t have prepared themselves for the day’s meals to feed themselves, or their children. What doesn’t surprise me is the idea that people would have brought enough for themselves and may be hesitant to share what little they have ensuring that they could care for those in their family.
I wonder what the crowd was thinking as Jesus and his disciples offered up all they had on them, what little it was, the five loaves and two fish.
I wonder if this is where a miracle happened, a real miracle, one that had the crowd searching in their bags for what they had set aside to look after themselves and offering their own supplies to the mix.
Did Jesus’ act inspire people to open up themselves to each other?
In a world today where people are concerned about looking after number one this story invites me to wonder if a miracle looks like Jesus turning 5 loaves and two fish into a meal that more than feeds the entire crowd… Or if a miracle looks like a crowd of people who were invited to participate in one of the meals of the century, (one for the record books you might say) and found out that if they all participated, all shared what they had there would be more than enough for them and enough left over to fill 12 more baskets of food.
Is this what the kingdom of God really looks like?
Everyone giving what they can
Everyone looking after their neighbour
Everyone feeding everyone
Everyone being fed
In a world where those who have rarely share with “the other”…
In a world where we’re all told to look after ourselves first…
In a world that longs for inspiration…
comes this story where Jesus’s actions inspire the community to pull off a beautiful act of communion, participating in the miracle that ensured that everyone was fed. This story reminds us that the act of sharing, even just 5 loaves and 2 fish can be enough to spark a revolution of sharing.
As such I think this meal is more than a miracle, it’s the Kingdom of God amongst us, it’s the stories that Jesus has been sharing over the last few weeks come to life…
The Kingdom of God is like a crowd of people who had nothing but each other, one day they decided to share what little they had and found that they were more than fed, more than cared for, more than nourished and that they had enough to give to others around them.
As such the service I’ll be curating will revolve around three stories.
a) Matthew 14:13-21
b) “Empty Fridge” by Gaetan Doremus
c) “Stone Soup” by Marcia Brown
*Another story that could be used in this setting is “Let’s Eat” by Ana Zamorano and Julie Vivas
As the people arrive I’ll set up the centre of the space with kitchen props, loaves of fresh bread, cans of tuna (no sharp knives).
The first community we’ll be doing this in will be meeting for a shared meal afterwards so I might add some of the delicious smelling food to the table as well.
I’ll also include a single large soup pot and a small mound of stones surrounding it.
Menu (Order of Service)
Story – “Empty Fridge” by Gaetan Doremus
Group Discussion – What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had? What made it memorable?
Response to the Story – I’ll create small cardboard cutouts of the ingredients used by the people in the story to bake their quiche, I’ll invite the group to reflect on the conversation about their memorable meals and to write a prayer of thanks onto one of the cards and add it to the pot in the centre of the room as an act of prayer.
Story – “Stone Soup” by Marcia Brown
Group Discussion – What does real hospitality look like?
Response to the story – I’ll invite the group to take a stone each and to think about a time where they didn’t offer hospitality to another or were refused hospitality and how that made them feel. I’ll invite the group to add a stone to the pot as a promise to find more ways to be hospitable and open their space to another.
Story: Matthew 14:13-21
Reflection – What does a miracle look like?
Response to the story – I’ll break the bread in the centre of the space and invite people to share it amongst the community, to imagine what it might have been like to participate as a part of the crowd during this large meal and what they might have had to offer to the feast if they were given the chance.
Benediction – Rather than a benediction we’ll share Grace and invite the community to bring out their
Possible Grace from “Blessed Be Our Table” edited by Neil Paynter
Heavenly Father, we thank you for once more providing our daily bread.
Have compassion on those who live in poverty and hunger
and help us to be more willing sharers and bearers of each other’s burdens.
~ Stella Durand
Website: Echo The Story
The new resource “Echo The Story” is a formation focussed series designed to help young people enter the stories of the bible in a way that encourages creativity, imagination, storytelling and discussion. It’s another creative, (almost contemplative) process from the people behind WeAreSparkhouse and Michael Novelli, author of the books “Shaped By The Story” and well worth exploring if you’re looking for a different kind of bible study or small group material.
The resource comes with a dvd, leaders guide and participant sketch book;
The sketchbook is an important part of the resource, moving the program from a traditional question/answer curriculum to a more creative and reflective process. If cost is a huge issue I guess one could take a group through the process without the sketch books, but that would require a lot of preparation where the sketchbook has everything on hand. I think it’s a helpful part of the kit, and worth purchasing for the participants, it provides a take home resource that could assist participants to reflect on the stories week after week..
The Leader’s guide breaks down the process for the resource, instructing the leader not only on how to run each session but also some of the theory behind the resource, setting the scene as to how the process works and why it’s been put together in the way that it has. The guide shows pages of the sketch book to instruct the leader of how to approach the sketch book and it’s use, it also includes the scripted stories that form the “Imagine the story” part of each session. Each session’s guide reminds the leader of the resource’s process, the week’s story and what the participants will be seeing in the sketchbook.
The final part of the kit is the dvd. The dvd has a quick promo piece for the program, a brief and useful breakdown of the program for the presenter and the individual videos for each of the sessions. The short video stories are well produced and simple, but, unlike the Holy Moly or Re:Form resources by WeAreSparkhouse they don’t work separate from the actual resource as they have been included in order to refresh/rewind the previous week’s stories and probably make sense only in that setting.
If you’d like to go into the theory of the process a little deeper then the book “Shaped By The Story” by Michael Novelli explores some theory, practice and imagination that has been used in developing the Echo The Story process. Michael explores storytelling, developing stories and how the bible stories connect with people. The book also breaks down what ends up being the skeleton of the Echo the Story resource, you can see how he’s moved from the book to the resource.
The Scope & Sequence
The first volume of Echo The Story is a 12 part series entering into the story of the bible:
Download: Scope & Sequence Volume 1 (pdf)
- The Promise
- Judges & Kings
- God’s Kingdom
- The Church
The second volume of Echo the Story stretches out the story into 36 sessions allowing a longer process, delving into the narrative of scripture in a deeper way.
Download: Scope & Sequence Volume 2 (pdf)
There are 7 steps in each Echo The Story session.
- Rewind the Story – Animated video that reviews the previous stories and places us at the present story.
- Prepare the Story – Reflection activity to focus people’s minds and prepare them for listening. This activity usually consists of drawing the week’s story symbol. The story symbol is an important part of Michael’s process allowing for participants to connect each symbol with a story, an important mnemonic device that connects people’s imaginations with the story and turns them towards the story.
- Imagine the Story – Listen to a scripted telling of a bible story that allows people space to slow down and listen to a carefully scripted narrative, paraphrased from the scripture.
- Capture What You Notice – Record the things that stood out for you in the story (reminds me of Lectio Divina), providing a quieter imaginative reflection on the story shared.
- Remix the Story – Retell the story in your own creative way, write, sketch, paint, rap, song. The sketch book provides specific activities that spark creativity, interact with scripture, allow dor people’s different learning styles and enables the group and individuals to re-enter and imagine the story. Leaders are invited to re-tell the story with a different voice during this time.
- Connect to Your Story – Share personal insights with the group. The sketch book provides prompts participants to share their own thoughts and observations with each other allowing for a creative reflection with the story as the tether connecting the curiosity and wonder.
Overall I think this is a creative resource allowing groups, to use creativity, imagination and wonder as they delve into the narrative of the bible, making connections with their own lives and story. I’ve recently given the resource to a friend who teaches Christian Education at a Christian school as a means to re-design their scripture class and provide a different way to explore story with their students. I think the process allows for a creative guided workshop that could reshape how some groups reflect on scripture together, at the very least it’s a great starting point that could move ministries towards a more reflective and story-focussed process for their community, well worth the purchase and giving it a go in your ministry with young people.
If you have the chance to use this resource in your own ministry I’d love to hear how you went with it, what you felt were positive and negative aspects of the process and how the young people in your community reacted to the change of process.
Echo The Story – Deepen Your Youth Ministry
Echo The Story – Session 3 Story Videohttp://youtu.be/rUnpQA-WDMI
Title: How To Catch a Star
Title: The Way Back Home
Title: Nog and the Land of Noses