Showing posts with label synchroblog. Show all posts
Showing posts with label synchroblog. Show all posts

13 May 2013

The problem of pain

CS Lewis wrote two books that may help us to understand pain and suffering. The article includes some quotes from one of the books and then offers some advice for those intending to spend time with a person suffering emotional pain or loss.

A shocked and grieving womanThis month's Synchroblog is on being with those suffering pain.

(The list of links to the Synchroblog contributions is available at the bottom of this post.)

CS Lewis wrote a book entitled 'The Problem of Pain'. In it, Lewis explores pain as it relates to an omnipotent and loving creator.

The book was popular in his lifetime and has since become such a classic that it's still in print and available as an e-book too.

What follows below is a series of quotes from Lewis's book with short comments from me.

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say 'My tooth is aching' than to say “My heart is broken.
CS Lewis was no stranger to pain. Long after writing these words his wife, Joy Davidman, died (just four years after their marriage). He wrote another book about that experience, 'A Grief Observed'. Both books are worth exploring.

Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.
Lewis correctly sees that this is true of all love, both human love and the love of the eternal Father.

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt.
This, I think, is profoundly true. We need to remember this wisdom when we are suffering pain, and we need to remember it even more when we are free from pain.

Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.
This connection between pain and free will is extremely deep. The universe is predicated upon chance events and freedom to act independently. But this freedom is essential and makes love possible. If we are to love we must choose to do so, if we had no choice it wouldn't be love at all.

...when pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.
I think Lewis has this absolutely right, do you?

Helping others in their pain - The synchroblog for May 2013 asks how we might best respond to the pain that others suffer. In particular it asks, 'As followers of Jesus, how are we to respond in such situations?'

The first essential is surely that we must approach every person with unique sympathy. Sym-pathy... the 'sym' part of this word means 'with' and 'pathy' is 'suffering'. If I cannot 'suffer with' you in your pain I have no sympathy. It is better for me to come and cry with you than to come saying, 'Cheer up, put a smile on your face, it could be worse'.

Job didn't need speeches from his friends, he needed them to sit there on the ash heap beside him.

And the idea of leaving the person alone is not a good one either! Just because it's better to be quiet and not attempt to 'fix the problem' doesn't imply that it's best to be absent.

I would suggest that the right way to respond includes being there and that it includes listening. It may well involve offering an arm or a shoulder or a hug. And it may involve simple practical things like making a cup of tea, bringing a meal, looking after a child or a household pet. It probably doesn't include giving advice, being cheerful, or finding distractions.

It does require understanding without necessarily intervening, and it also demands patience and gentleness and the wisdom to speak, be silent, act, or remain inactive in appropriate ways at the right moments. It will not involve cajoling or nagging, theorising or explaining.

All of this sounds complicated and difficult. But the essence is simple, it is to understand without needing to be understood in return.

Prayer is good, but pray for yourself as much as for the other. Pray for insight and for prompting from the Spirit. Be prepared to pray inwardly much more than aloud.

You will help just by being there. But be sensitive and alert for signs that you should leave and return later. Aim to be a blessing, not an additional burden or an irritation.

Carol Kuniholm writes from deep within her heart about this topic, don't miss what she has to say in 'Like a motherless child'.

Questions:

  • Have there been painful times in your own life?
  • Can you draw on those experiences to enrich your sympathy for others?
  • Do you see why your presence and listening might be so helpful?

See also:


Synchroblog links:

15 April 2013

What if ... creation was a myth?

April's Synchroblog asks how we'd be affected if part (or all) of the Bible was myth. I chose to consider the creation accounts in Genesis. Whether these are myth or true history does matter, but perhaps it doesn't matter as much as the division it sometimes causes in the church.

Created or evolved?
This month's Synchroblog invites us to speculate. (Other contributions to this month's Synchroblog are listed at the bottom of this post.)

Here's an extract from the instructions...

Try to imagine that some or all of the Bible narrative is not necessarily true history, but is myth of one sort or another. What sort of effect would that knowledge have on your faith? What effect might it have on the larger church? How would it change you? Would it change you and how you view the world?

Of course, a great deal depends on what part of the Bible I select. Assuming that the visit of the magi to Jesus' birthplace is a myth would make relatively little difference, but assuming that the birth of Jesus is a myth would change things rather dramatically.

I'm going to choose the creation accounts in Genesis. Let's suppose these are myths. How would it change things? I'll follow through with the questions from the Synchroblog. But first, let's have bit of a think about the idea of a myth. What do we mean by 'myth'?

Myths - Perhaps we think of anything mythical or mythological as false. A myth is an invention, imagined creatures in an imagined land - isn't that myth?

Well, no, not necessarily. Imagined creatures in an imagined land are fiction, like 'The Lord of the Rings' or 'The Narnia Chronicles'. Bear in mind that those stories contain a great deal of truth even though they are not true. But myth is more than fiction. To be precise, traditional fiction with a meaning is not a myth but a fable.

We'd do better to think of the Greek legends, the Norse sagas, or the Irish ballads. These are truly mythical. Rather than fiction they are meaningful and explanatory stories based (probably) on real events far back in time before anyone could remember and passed from generation to generation. They have, no doubt, grown considerably in the telling.

So now to the creation accounts in Genesis.

What would be the effect on my faith? - Zero, nada, zilch. There are a number of reasons for this. Perhaps the major one is that I do regard the creation story to be myth. But I'm confident it's myth with a clear purpose. I was trained in biology and for many years worked as a professional biologist. I'm no more inclined to accept the creation stories as history than I am to accept that the Moon is made of cheese.

Let me distinguish between creation and the Biblical accounts of creation. I accept that the Almighty created the universe. It's really hard to think that the universe just is, that it sprang out of nothing all by itself. I am sure that it was somehow caused. It's here because it was intended and spoken into existence.

On the other hand the biblical accounts of how that happened and in what order make little sense to me. What I mean is that they make little sense as history, as an account of the process that took place. As myth, as allegory, as a description of truth, they make perfect sense. The truth is that the Almighty is the ultimate cause of the universe, he is holy, pure and powerful, his original purpose for us is that we would be in community with him, but we are weak, willful and sinful and threw away that opportunity for community.

My opinion that the creation stories are myths doesn't affect my faith in any way. I believe in the Creator, that the universe came into existence because Yahweh spoke, Jesus acted, and the Spirit hovered. The power of the Presence of the three-in-one was enough, a baby universe was born and has flourished ever since. I know that I have a sinful nature, I know that the Son came and by his death paid the price and opened the way for freedom. I know there is a place waiting for me in his kingdom, that my name is written in the Lamb's book of life and on the palm of Papa's hand.

What effect does it have on the wider church? - Now things get more serious. Part of the church thinks it makes little difference whether the creation accounts are factual or mythical. Part of it cares enough to fight a civil war over the issue. And this is a serious problem.

You see, the church that Jesus commanded, 'Love one another as I have loved you', should never, ever be at war with itself. The problem is not that I or anyone else has this or that opinion about the creation stories in Genesis, the problem is that we cannot bear for there to be more than one such opinion.

Some say 'Myth with a message' and others say 'Historical record of real events' and we think that endless argument and dispute is a suitable way to resolve it. Or rather, that our need to be proved 'right' is sometimes stronger than our urge to follow Jesus' command to accept and love.

In a bleeding, dying world we don't have time to fight a civil war. Not only that, we risk bringing the name of Jesus into disrepute. So love one another, love your neighbour, and love your enemy.

In Egypt, the traditional and non-traditional believers are fervently praying together for revival instead of discussing who is right about their many differences of interpretation. If you are an Egyptian and you believe in Jesus you are a brother or a sister. It's that simple. But don't take my word for it - watch the video.

What is the lesson here for us? The issue need not be the creation accounts, it might be ... (fill in the blank for yourself). The church is divided over many, many issues when love should surely conquer all of them.

How would it change me? - If I'm willing to avoid the divisions outlined above, then would my understanding of the mechanics of creation make any difference to me? I don't think so. Whichever way I view the creation accounts I can believe Jesus and follow him. I have a new and fuller life in him now. I have eternity in his presence. I can love my brothers and sisters fully and freely and allow them to understand creation in whatever way they see fit.

The nature of creation is only an issue if I allow it to become one in my own heart. The universe exists! The Almighty brought it into being and holds it in existence. Without him it would all vanish. What more do I really need to know?

Would it change you and how you view the world? - This is an 'over to you' question, is it not? How do you stand on this matter? And whatever you may believe, are you willing to allow it to separate you from your brothers and sisters in Jesus?

Questions:

  • How do you, personally, deal with conflicts of understanding?
  • Is truth more important than accepting one another? Always? Sometimes? Never?
  • For you, is being right essential or just 'nice to have'?

See also:


Synchroblog links:

11 March 2013

The gun of self defence?

How do you comment on American gun law if you are not American? On the whole I think it may be best if you don't, so instead here is something gun-related, in a way. Hopefully it will amuse but also provoke thought, though not necessarily pertaining to guns.

Armoured Roman legionaries
March's Synchroblog is on the subject of guns, specifically how we think and act as followers of Jesus.

There's a list of all the contributions at the bottom of this article. Here's the opening statement from the Synchroblog website...

Like many hot political topics, the issue of gun control is a big one for Christians. People are all over the place on the issue–from passionate pacifists to dedicated NRA members.

Well, I don't know about that. You see I live in the United Kingdom where we have very strict gun control. Except in Northern Ireland, even the police are not allowed to carry arms, never mind the general public. Yes, the police do have stocks of arms and ammunition but they cannot take them onto the streets except in cases of an emergency such as an armed siege, a shooting incident, or a terrorist attack.

Opinion in the UK - Gun laws are not hotly debated here. Public opinion is strongly against the possession of firearms. The annual rate of death by shooting is 0.07 per 100 000 of the population, about forty times lower than in the USA. Police deaths by gunshot are also extremely rare.

So if I'm asked whether gun control works I'd have to say, 'Yes, it does'. At any rate it does for us in Britain. I'm simply not qualified to enter the US debate, but I do enjoy posting on the synchroblog. So in amongst all your serious discussions on gun control I have decided to have a little fun. I hope you'll forgive me because it is a serious matter, I realise that (and I will read the other synchroblog contributions). But hey, it's good to lighten up a little sometimes.

Even if I felt it was acceptable to give an uninvited foreign opinion (and I don't), what could I add to the debate? Nothing, really. You guys will have to work it out for yourselves, I'm not going to comment. Of course, if the presidential system doesn't work out for you there's always the possibility of inviting the Queen to take you back as her subjects. Then you'd have to hand in your weapons.

The full armour - But, I had a thought. How would it be if we looked at the full armour of Elohim and added a gun - just experimentally? What would that look like?

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the vestplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of the Almighty, and the gun of self defence. (Ephesians 6:14-17, NSDV)

NSDV? Oh, sorry, that's the New Self Defence Version of the Holy Bible. It's not widely available so I quoted from it for you. It's mostly quite similar to the NIV (UK) version.

So let's do a Bible study.

Useful and defensive - Note that the belt and the footwear are purely for practical purposes. The belt represents truth and just as truth supports useful arguments, so the belt also supports useful devices. It's a veritable military tool-belt for holding all sorts of special equipment - night sight goggles, radio, ammo for the gun of self defence, that sort of thing.

The vestplate and the helmet are defensive and fixed. In other words they are worn and don't need to be held. Naturally it will be a bulletproof vestplate, that is very important.

The shield is also defensive but is strapped to the forearm so that it can be readily positioned between you and any incoming flaming arrows. It doesn't need to be bulletproof, just flaming arrowproof.

That just leaves us with the sword and the gun. They are offensive in nature and therefore fundamentally different from the defensive items we've considered so far.

Offensive? - The sword is the sword of the Spirit. That is to say it is the sword of the Spirit of Christ. Notice that it is only good for close work. You need to be close enough to the enemy to love them. The Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit) provides an extraordinary advantage in close combat. He is capable of disarming the opposition by cutting them down with love, joy and peace, also patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control and self defence. No. Hang on. Let me check my notes...

Oh yes, that's it. Self control is from the Spirit, but not self defence. Sorry, slight slip on my part. I was a little ahead of myself.

And so we come to the gun of self defence. Notice that all of the other parts of the armour, including the sword, are provided by the kingdom for your personal use. As soldiers of Christ you may (and should) take advantage of all of them, they are free of charge, part of the standard kit, and guaranteed to work when needed. Using these you will be kept safe and enabled to advance ever further against the enemy - even if he uses flaming arrows.

But the gun of self defence you must provide yourself. It wasn't available two thousand years ago when the armour was designed and issued. But now many believers have found that defending themselves with this long distance weapon enables them to make a lot of noise, and never need to bring the sword of the Spirit into play.

Some problems - There do seem to be some disadvantages, however. For a start, it's incredibly easy to shoot yourself in the foot. (A safety catch is provided. Use it!) And some have said that self defence is wrong, that instead we should let Papa defend us. Another common issue is getting a flaming arrow in the chest while busy reloading the gun of self defence. The bulletproof vestplate can't stop those, you need to hold the shield of faith in the right place to be safe from flaming arrows. It's tricky to manouvre the shield while rummaging for ammo and loading the gun.

Some kingdom soldiers are beginning to abandon the gun of self defence again and they do actually seem to be doing better that way. Some have even taken to going the extra mile when asked. Some have been experimenting with blessing the people that oppose them. And a few have been seen offering their shirt when only their cloak had been demanded. It's a bit odd. Could it be said to be a cloak and dagger form of warfare? No, I suppose it can't really, can it? It's more cloak and shirt warfare.

See the questions below for some thoughts on self defence and the church.

Questions:

  • Forget the gun, what about self defence? Has there been too much self and too much defence in church life?
  • How might less of me and more vulnerability to others transform church?
  • And how might less of me and more vulnerability transform sharing the good news?
  • Are there things you could do in your own life that would be like putting down the gun of self defence and depending only on the other items of armour?

See also:


Synchroblog links:

07 February 2013

Best of both

We take a look at the risks and likely benefits of platonic friendships between men and women. How acceptable is it for believers to have close friends of the opposite sex? And even if it's acceptable, how useful is it? Perhaps the benefits outweigh the difficulties, at least sometimes.

Childhood friends
This post is part of the February Synchroblog 'Cross Gender Friendships'. Links to all the contributions are listed at the end of this post.

Cross-gender relationships of any kind (except for romantic love and marriage) have long been regarded as 'dodgy' in church circles. There is, of course, the potential for inappropriate romantic feelings to develop and that's something to be aware of, but is that risk a valid reason to avoid such friendships altogether? I think not.

Platonic friendships have long been regarded as not only possible, but potentially valuable. If we avoid them out of fear or anxiety are we missing an important aspect of human social interaction?

I have a wide circle of male and female acquaintances of all ages as well as a smaller number of close friends, again both men and women. Some of my close friends live nearby and we meet more or less regularly. Some live far away and we meet very rarely.

Rather than try to analyse this topic I'm just going to share some personal experiences and observations. Read on and see what you think.

Relationship, energy and danger - I'll begin by telling you that I am a man (in case you haven't already worked that out). I generally find friendships with women go deeper than those with men. For one thing women tend to be more relational and less superficial. Let me point out right away that I'm generalising here - there are plenty of exceptions to what sounds like a general rule. It's no such thing. Don't be fooled for a moment!

I have something of a shepherd's heart and like to encourage and build up. So I get a lot of energy from conversations and relationships where I can listen and respond, but very little from talking about football or fishing. I find women are more likely to engage in ways I can relate to.

Turning to the dangers of relationships becoming more than platonic in nature, in my experience I can honestly say this has never been an issue. It seems to me that most women are quite unwilling to allow a friendship to develop unless and until they are sure it will not go in an inappropriate direction.

What I have valued most in cross-gender friendship has been the opportunity to learn and grow in understanding and mutual respect. I've had many rich conversations on a host of topics, the benefit of peaceful and thoughtful insight, shared appreciation of music and literature and the natural world, and a great deal of wisdom and sound advice.

A balanced life - I am blessed by good balance in my friends. Here's a diary of my current week; it's as good an example as any.

  • On Monday mornings I meet with Paul for coffee, a chat, and some Bible study. We are currently working through John's gospel together.
  • On Monday evenings I meet Sean at his house to chat, read the Bible, pray, and listen. We watched a DVD of Victor Choudhrie.
  • On Tuesday I meet my friend Chris for a coffee in town and we'll talk and pray about a house of prayer for St Neots and the area around. He is very keen on following up the Ffald-y-Brenin approach to local prayer and blessing.
  • Later on Tuesday I met Megan for coffee and a chat at Caffe Nero's.
  • In the evening Donna* and I joined her Open Door Small Group in a nearby village. We ate a meal together and spent time in prayer and praise and discussion.
  • On Wednesdays I usually meet with Roger, but not this week. We are working through 'Freedom in Christ' together. 
  • At lunchtime on Wednesday I visited Jody to catch up and hear news about the meetings she and Peter host at their home every week.
  • On Thursday evenings Jim, Sean and I usually meet to chat and pray.

That's a grand total of four men and two women (*Donna is my wife) that I have spent one on one time with this week. All of them are friends, all are valued, all bring something special and unique to my life. In addition there'll be others, men and women that I will meet singly or in groups, and others that I'll contact by email, text, phone or on Google+. They are all special and they all contribute something valuable and irreplaceable.

What I'd miss - I would miss any of these people if they were removed from my life. Without them I would not be me. Or at least I would be a different me, a poorer me. What would life be without the richness of community? Our communities are not islands, they overlap in significant ways. Important lines of communication go out joining communities into a single, huge, world-wide network.

I can hardly imagine what life would be like if I had only male friends. It would be greatly impoverished. My advice to anyone without cross-gender friends is to be wise and careful, but to certainly consider broadening your range of friends. A friend cannot be manufactured artificially. But as friendships develop naturally around shared interests and ideas, don't say 'No' merely on the basis of gender. Far more important is to hear what the Spirit of Christ is telling you. Pray about it and be guided by what he shows you.

Another observation that I can share is that, in friendship as in marriage, the different approaches of men and women to so many things in life are complementary and have a counterbalancing effect. We have to pay attention to one another to benefit from this; we have to listen and watch and learn. But friends are usually pretty good at doing that and do it very naturally.

Here's one final point. Amongst my closest friends have been two married couples. Perhaps this is where the greatest freedom in friendship may be found. In my experience there can be no closer togetherness than a group of four or six consisting of happily married couples. As in any kind of friendship there will sometimes be fallings out and misunderstandings, disappointments and confusions. But there's real joy in it too. If such a thing happens in your life it may turn out to be truly blessed, and very, very special.


Questions:

  • Have you limited your friendships due to a fear of disapproval by others?
  • Jesus related well with both men and women. Did he follow the social norms of his day?
  • Can you leave a comment to share your own experiences of cross-gender friendships?

See also:


Synchroblog links:

08 January 2013

A light on the path

It's important that we serve the community around us, this is how we show people in the world that they are loved. The basis for that loving service is that Christ first loved me, but beyond that he also goes with me and shows me who to speak to, who to bless, and how and when to do it.

A light on the pathJanuary's Synchroblog invitation reads in part as follows.

New Year’s Resolutions are usually somewhat self-serving. But is there a way you can serve others in 2013? Are there homeless people in your community? Maybe you could bring some food to them on a regular basis this year. Are there single mothers? How about coming alongside them to babysit their kids while they go shopping, or maybe you could change the oil in their car or mow their lawn. Do you know any alcoholics or addicts? What can you do to show them love and care this year? Are there elderly shut-ins in your neighborhood? How about running errands for them or going over to their place to play cards, read to them, or just talk?

Serving others - Works of service are important. We are here to serve one another, to serve those around us and to serve the Messiah first and foremost. The people around me can only know that they are loved if they are loved. So yes, I do want to serve the community where I live during the coming year.

But I believe the basis for service is critically important, so rather than resolve here and now what my service will be I plan to write about the basis for serving and how we can consider that and respond to it.

A New Year's resolution by any other name is still a New Year's resolution. And if I resolve to do something, it had better be the right something! All of the suggestions in the Synchroblog notes are great, but doing good things is not sufficient as an end in itself. So what should be the foundation?

Love - The immediate foundation is, I believe, love. If I don't have love, then my actions will be empty at best, or merely for show at worst. I need to step in to help when I see weakness, helplessness, hunger, thirst, injustice, sickness, imprisonment. My heart needs to go out on a daily, even an hourly, basis so that I will respond out of love as and when I witness the need. Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 again. Whatever I do without love is void.

Obedience - But there is something else, a deeper foundation that underpins even acts of love. And that is obedience. Love and obedience are intertwined. I will meet the needs I see because I love the needy. And I will obey Jesus because I love him. I love him because he first loved me.

So he is the source, and the effect he works is in me and through me. First to love him and obey him, secondly to love those around me and serve them. So we really do need to consider obedience as well as love. If I am to serve those around me most effectively I need to love them but I also need to hear what Jesus is saying to me through his Spirit and act obediently. Not only that, but Jesus prepares the way for us. He leads us to people he has already made ready.

Obedience is a moment by moment affair. The Spirit whispers quietly to me, 'This is the way, walk in it. Go here, do that, speak to that person trusting that I will give you the words as you need them, go to such and such a place where someone needs your help. Sit here, watch, and see what I will show you.'

Now, I'm not saying it always works that way for me - but sometimes it does. When I am listening and trusting it always does.

Know Jesus and listen - So I encourage everyone, get to know Jesus if you don't already. He is Love, Peace, Power, Life, the Way, Light in the darkness. Believing in him is a good start but it's not enough - know him, walk with him, speak to him, listen to him. It's what his first followers did, and you can too.

Learn to focus more on listening than on speaking. We are told we should pray every day and read the Bible every day; and they are great habits to have. But above all, before even prayer and reading, listen. Be attentive. Be still and quiet and hear what the Spirit of Christ is saying to you. And obey him.

And then you will have the best and most helpful opportunities to serve those around you. Guided in the moment in all you do and say by the One who can shine real light on your path.

So if we resolve anything in this new year of 2013, let's resolve to know him, pay attention to him, hear him and obey him in all we do. And to do it more fully than in any previous year. Will you join me in that resolution?

Practical details - But the synchroblog asked for specifics.

For the January 2013 synchroblog, we invite you to share some of the tangible needs in your neighborhood or community you will seek to meet this year. Be concrete. Where, when, how, and to whom will you be the hands and feet of Jesus? As you think and write about this, it will not only encourage you to follow Jesus into the world this year, but will also provide the rest of us with some suggestions for how we can serve others in our own communities.

I don't yet know, in detail. But one thing I feel he is already urging me to do is print off a bunch of my photos in a reasonable size, perhaps A5, and sit in the market square with a spare chair beside me offering them free to anyone who will sit, choose a photo, and tell me what they see in it. I must get those photos organised right away!

People have physical needs, but they also have emotional needs and spiritual needs. Perhaps this will be an opportunity to reach hungry and lost hearts. Chris Duffett does things like this to great effect and you'll find abundant ideas on his website.

My wife is keen to find a community project of some kind to help people in practical ways and I might join her in that. She's a member of Open Door, a local New Frontiers church. It's likely the initiative will come through Open Door.

In the past I've helped a variety of people in little ways but was specifically led into each situation. Kid's camps; a couple, both seriously ill, with children at home and needing help with gardening; a couple suffering serious physical abuse from young people in the area; a friend needing company and occasional practical help; a conversation with a stranger on a train; serving Christmas dinner to lonely people.

I'm expecting more of the same in the year ahead - I just can't tell you what it will be yet!

Questions:

  • What do you find to be the most effective ways of listening, spiritually?
  • Is it better to do nothing, to do something unguided, or to do what you are told?
  • Do you agree with me that action and obedience are both rooted in love?

See also:


Other posts in this synchroblog:

14 November 2012

Blog post links and questions

There are a variety of ways to make blog articles more useful and interesting. These include the addition of a question section and a links section. Questions stimulate thought and discussion. Links make an article part of a wider network on a particular theme.

Typical 'Questions' and 'See also'
I've begun regularly adding 'Questions' and 'See also' sections at the end of blog posts. Both are intended to make the articles more useful.

An invitation to respond - I've noticed how some other bloggers include open questions at the end of their articles and it's been really helpful.

For one thing it encourages me to think for myself when I've finished reading. It's so easy to read something and then move straight on, but the questions interrupt that automatic urge to see what's next and instead provoke me to think through the implications of what has been written.

Sometimes I leave a comment purely because one of the questions has helped me to agree or disagree with something the author has written, or has taken me beyond what is mentioned in the article.

A list of links - I've also noticed 'See also' sections in some blogs, but this seems less widespread than the inclusion of questions. However, from now on my intention is to provide links in the 'See also' section for every post.

Some bloggers only post links to their own articles, but I'm going to try to link to other blogs and websites too. Expect to find links to other relevant blog articles, Wikipedia articles for topic overviews, recent articles from news organisations, and other stuff that seems relevant from time to time. For completeness the list always includes the links provided in the main body of the blog post.

It's my hope that readers will use the links to explore a trail from one blog post to another, not just within my own blog but much more widely.

I encourage other bloggers to pick up this idea and run with it. If enough of us engage in this rich linking all our blog articles will act as entry points into the wider discussion. It would be very helpful to our readers and it would also bind us into a wide and deep community of writers, commentators and commenters. Along with chain blogs and synchroblogs it would help us transcend the boundaries of individual blogging.

Organic Wine - Some time ago I set up an area on this site called 'Organic Wine'. It has its own tab below the banner. The idea was that this would list links to specific topics that are important to me, specifically around the subject of church in general and organic church in particular.

I haven't kept this up-to-date recently and I hope that the lists of links in articles will be a more flexible way of achieving the same end - linking to relevant material elsewhere in the blogosphere.

We'll see how it goes. If, over a period of time, the new linking arrangement seems successful I may freeze the 'Organic Wine' feature permanently and eventually take the dedicated tab away.

Previous, Next and Index - I have always added these links to the top and bottom of articles where they're part of a series. These links always refer to other posts on 'Journeys of heart and mind'.

When I write a series on a particular theme it's particularly useful for readers to be able to skip to the previous and next articles in the series. It's also useful to see a list of the entire series on a single page (the index). Doing it this way also means the series does not need to be continuous, I can intersperse stand-alone articles that have nothing to do with the series.

To see this in action, here's a list of the series index pages on this blog.

Questions:

  • Do you find the 'Questions' section useful? How? Why?
  • Do you find the 'See also' section useful? How? Why?
  • Do you think I should continue with 'Organic Wine' or not?
  • If you're a blogger, do you think you might begin cross-linking in a similar way?
  • Are there other ways we could make blog articles more useful to our readers?

See also:

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