Is Gentle Wisdom really a Biblioblog?

Nearly two years ago I asked here Should I apply to become a biblioblogger? I really wasn’t sure whether Gentle Wisdom, with its eclectic mix of posts, would qualify as a Biblical Studies blog. But existing bibliobloggers put my name forward, and this blog was duly enrolled. It was briefly in the top 50 biblioblogs in early 2010, and made it back into the rankings in April this year.

BiblioblogThis month a new biblioblog ranking scheme has been introduced, complete with a new logo (right) and a new live online ranking system allowing real time tracking of biblioblogs and individual posts. This last facility is very clever, but also currently very slow. And at the moment in this system Gentle Wisdom is ranked as #3, behind Joel’s and Scott’s blogs but well ahead of Jim West’s (but that may be because Jim has removed the tracking logo from his blog). Even more gratifying to me is that one of my posts is currently well in the lead for “Top 10 Articles This Month”.

But there is an important issue here. That #1 article of the month is WordPress Twenty Eleven: give us back our sidebar!, which is of course nothing to do with biblical studies. Should such posts be counted in the biblioblog rankings? There are two problems I see with any attempts to exclude them.

One is, who is going to decide which posts should count as related to biblical studies? Clearly the Biblioblog Library team cannot vet each post. But could bibliobloggers be trusted to decide which of their own posts qualify?

The second is that in fact few of the popular posts on biblioblogs are actually about biblical studies. Currently only a couple of the top ten posts of the month and a couple of the top ten of the day would strictly qualify, although many are not quite as irrelevant as my post about a WordPress problem.

Let’s face it, not many people read biblical studies posts, at least unless there is some scandal within the field. Those of us who, by design or accidentally, find ourselves high up the biblioblogger ratings do so because we post material of broad interest as well as about biblical studies.

Scott and Joel ask what a biblioblogger is, but they don’t really give answers, beyond a mention of the draft official criteria, which if applied strictly would probably disqualify both of their blogs, and Jim West’s – and mine. But I don’t suppose anyone has the stomach to throw out several of the best known blogs – only to be left with a more genuine biblioblogger like James McGrath topping the daily rankings with a post about Doctor Who!

Does this make the whole ranking system meaningless? Well, I think it means that no one should take it too seriously. But it provides good entertainment for some of us, and helps to keep us informed about biblical studies and to find some community. So I think it is worthwhile. And I thank the team which has worked so hard to get the new system up and running.

Meanwhile can I hold on to my #3 slot, or edge ahead of Scott to #2? We will see. I got off to a good start by being one of the first to add the new tracking code, and soon after that publishing what proved to be a very popular post. Others have the chance to jump in and catch me up. It may be an interesting race, in a not too serious sport.

WordPress not ready to share with Google+

Google+This morning I at last got into the new Google+, and I have been playing around with it. You can find my profile through this shortened URL, courtesy of gplus.to which is offering what Google+ itself should surely have offered.

So far I am not exactly overwhelmed with Google+. It looks rather like a tidied up version of Facebook, not cluttered with all the extra features which have crept into Facebook over the years. But of course that means it can’t do all those extra things, a few of which are useful. Of course they may be added in later, but that could spoil the uncluttered look. The only useful looking new feature is having separate circles of friends, but I haven’t yet worked out quite how that works.

I tried to find out how to link Google+ to Gentle Wisdom. But this was a frustrating experience. First of all, Google’s search engine seems unable to distinguish between “google”, “google+” and “google +1″, and in fact corrects “google+” (including quotes) to “google”. Fail! WordPress.org search replaces “google+” (including quotes) with “google “. I found a lot about how to put a +1 button on a WordPress blog (which I already did several weeks ago), and a theme which allegedly looks like Google+, but nothing about how to link with Google+.

What I want to do is to add Google+ to Sharedaddy, the “+ Share” button at the bottom of each post, but I have not found a way to do so, or even a plugin which mimics it. This would put a link to my post on my Google+ stream, similar to sharing a link on my Facebook wall. I was able to do this manually. This is not the same thing as adding the Google +1 button, which is more like the Facebook “like”.

Of course this may be because Google has not made it possible. After all, they are reportedly about to replace Blogger, currently the main rival of WordPress, with a new blogging platform integrated with Google+. But Google will never be able to conquer the Facebook and WordPress worlds if it cuts itself off from them, and certainly not by making it hard to share links on its wall.

So will Google+ kill Facebook? At the moment I don’t think it has what it takes. But it could well acquire it in the future, as new features are rolled out. Its biggest challenge is of course the sheer size of the Facebook user base. But, as MySpace discovered, large numbers do not guarantee lasting success. So we will just have to wait and see – and in the meantime make sure our blogs are prepared for it, by offering the same features for Google+ that we do for Facebook.

WordPress Twenty Eleven, here we are

Gentle Wisdom is now running with the new Twenty Eleven theme on self-hosted WordPress 3.2. Well, not precisely. In fact it is using the Twenty Eleven Child with Sidebar Support theme which Chris Aprea kindly released, in response to my comment (which he deleted) on a previous post on his blog. This child theme has almost entirely overcome the issues I had with Twenty Eleven, which I posted about yesterday. I have also customised the header image, and copied across the widgets from the old Twenty Ten, with a few minor changes.

WordPress Twenty Eleven theme demo

The changes Chris made only in the child theme affected the 1000+ posts on this blog, not the pages. I have had to edit my pages manually to select the sidebar theme. But as there are only 18 pages here that has not been a big task.

Thank you, Chris.

One other small issue: in Twenty Eleven borders appear around all my images. I would prefer no borders, unless I specify them. It doesn’t work to include “border=”0″” as an the HTML img attribute. I would also prefer less white space at the top. I guess these would be easy CSS changes. Also at some stage I would like to put the words “Gentle Wisdom thoughts on life from Peter Kirk, a follower of Jesus” on top of the image rather than in a large white space above it, but that would probably be a more difficult change.

If anyone finds a problem with this site as newly set up with Twenty Eleven, please let me know, in a comment or through the contact form.

Meanwhile, as Brian LePort reports, Google is preparing to discontinue its Blogger blogging platform. And about time too, I would say. Most Google products are really good, but Blogger has always been an exception. I moved this blog from Blogger to WordPress in 2007 and have never regretted it. What Google really needs to do is replace Blogger with a high quality product of its own – which it could base on the WordPress open source code. In the article Brian links to the news is in fact only that Google is going to rename Blogger and link it to its new Google+ social network. But there is a link to older news of a major overhaul of Blogger. That would be good, but I am not expecting to move back to any new Google platform in the near future.

 

WordPress Twenty Eleven: give us back our sidebar!

Last night I upgraded my self-hosted WordPress installation to version 3.2, which was officially released yesterday. I like the look of the new version, at least as far as I can tell so far. If anyone notices any strange or different behaviour on this blog which might be caused by this upgrade, or for that matter if it might not, please let me know in a comment or via the contact form.

For anyone who would like to join me in self-hosted WordPress blogging, I can recommend Jeremy Myers’ current series Start Blogging in 5 Simple Steps.

Twenty Eleven theme screenshotI like the look of the Twenty Eleven theme, which is the new default in WordPress 3.2. I would like to update Gentle Wisdom to use it, instead of my current Twenty Ten theme. I would customise the header to keep my current image, but in a rather deeper format so I could use more of the original.

But I discovered a fatal flaw in the Twenty Eleven theme which makes it quite unusable for me: it does not show the sidebar on single posts and pages, but only on the front page.

I repeat: THERE IS NO SIDEBAR ON SINGLE POSTS AND PAGES.

Now why on earth should a theme do that? Well, I suppose some people want a really clean view when they view a single post or page. But most of us bloggers, and that includes anyone wanting to make money from advertising, are using our sidebars to show all kinds of important or interesting things. Currently I have 22 widgets in mine. And we want, or need, these to be visible to all our readers, not just to the minority who read our front page.

Now admittedly some of these widgets could be put in the footer area, which is always displayed. Perhaps I should do that with some of my current widgets. But with many of them there are good reasons for not putting them in the footer. Advertisements and some other material need to be prominent, not at the bottom of the page where they are often not seen.

I read somewhere that it is in fact very easy to modify the Twenty Eleven theme (but presumably only on self-hosted WordPress, not on a WordPress.com hosted blog) to make that sidebar reappear. The problem with that is that, as Twenty Eleven is part of a WordPress 3.2 installation, any modifications will be automatically overwritten whenever WordPress is updated. Anyway, I don’t want to get into editing PHP as I don’t know the language well.

It would be very easy for Matt Mullenweg and his team to upgrade Twenty Eleven with a simple option to retain or remove the sidebar from single posts and pages. It would probably be quite easy for someone with the right skills to write a simple plugin to add this option. With that small addition the Twenty Eleven theme would be so much better. So give us back our sidebar, as an option. Please!

What good does it do when Christians are offended?

US Pledge of AllegianceDale Best has written a guest post, at Kurt Willems’ Pangea Blog, What Good Does It Do When Christians Are Offended?, copied from Dale’s own blog. The specific focus of the post is something I am not so interested in, the wording of the US Pledge of Allegiance. But the real point is much more important: that Christians should not be so quick to take offence.

Dale writes (in part):

I’m one of those Jesus followers who happened to not be offended. Because I don’t think it does any good. …

But how much good does it do? If we call ourselves Christians and we identify ourselves with the One who came and forsook his own rights and his own life and gave himself for others, should instances like removing “Under God” from a pledge really matter?

Jesus spent his time and influence and energy building a Kingdom that transcended anything this world had to offer. The world, essentially, has it’s own way of doing things and it never surprised him that things weren’t right. He came to reconcile those things that weren’t right … through serving and giving his life and ultimately defeating death.

Jesus didn’t come to tell everyone what he was against. He had one mission and that was to usher in His Kingdom to a world that was broken. He showed us love in a way that seemed so counter-cultural. He didn’t waste his time worrying about whether or not his Abba’s rules were posted in the town square. He taught that to be first, you have to be last. And to not expect the world to make it easy for you along the way.

Indeed. This ties up well with what I wrote about Calvin, Preacher of Legalism and about Why Christians should accept gay marriage. As Christians we shouldn’t expect the world to live by our standards, and we certainly shouldn’t take offence when they don’t.

It is right for us to be sad when we see such things, and for them to drive us to prayer. And sometimes it is right to speak out for truth and righteousness. But when instead we take offence and start complaining in a judgmental way, in fact we harm the cause of Christ, in the same way that Calvin did when he presided over a legalistic state in Geneva. This is true whether our offence is over the Pledge of Allegiance, over bad things we see in society, or over what some blogger has written.

How is this harmful? We give outsiders the false idea that Christianity is all about keeping rules and saying the right words. We make them feel condemned rather than loved by God. Instead of attracting them with the true gospel message, we repel them and cause them to reject any Christian faith that they might have. In short, we do great damage to the Kingdom of God.

Addicted to Arguing? How to persuade others

Are you addicted to arguing? Are most Christian bloggers? Am I? Henry Neufeld admits that he might be. But, as I posted a few days ago, the Backfire Effect predicts that we can never win these kinds of arguments. So how can we persuade others to come over to our side on important and controversial issues?

Peter LaarmanHenry links to an essay by Peter Laarman Why Liberal Religious Arguments Fail. This follows a somewhat different approach from McRaney’s article The Backfire Effect but the overall message is the same: it is a waste of time trying to argue others into accepting one’s own position, if those others have already made up their mind on the issue. Laarman focuses on liberal Christians trying to persuade conservative ones to accept for example their stance on homosexuality. But just the same applies to conservatives trying to persuade liberals to accept more traditional or “fundamentalist” positions.

So how do you win others over to your side on such issues? Laarman suggests an answer when he explains how homosexuality is becoming more acceptable in churches, at least within his circle of experience:

Every poll and every wise observer points out that gay-affirming folks have not been winning on account of superior arguments, whether arguments from the Bible or theology or science. They aren’t winning on account of their superior debating skills. They’re winning by being present and visible in faith communities: by coming out in ways that clergy and congregations can’t ignore. Gay people are winning because straight people who love and respect them are coming out right along with them. …

What is the point here? The point is that there IS no point to endless argumentation. Hearts and minds don’t change that way. They change when we share our stories and when we become present in a different way to those whom we wish to influence. The further point is that hearts change before minds do. It rarely works the other way around.

Indeed. The tactics which very many conservative Christians use to uphold their positions, confrontational arguments tinged with intolerance for their opponents, are completely counter-productive. No wonder they are losing the arguments. Indeed they would probably have lost them already if it weren’t for the similar tactics of confrontation and intolerance from some on the more liberal side – not to mention from militant secularists and atheists, whose approach similarly does more harm than good to their cause.

So, the lesson is clear: if you want to persuade others to take your position, don’t argue with them, but tell them stories that will win over their hearts – or, better still, involve them in those stories.

The Backfire Effect: why you can’t win that argument

Duty Calls (Someone is wrong on the Internet)Why do so many bloggers, myself included, persist in trying to win arguments even when it should be obvious that we are getting nowhere?

I remember this cartoon from some years ago. I was happy to come across it again, shared by a Facebook friend, in a post Why You Can’t Win That Argument on the Internet by Adam Dachis, which links to an article The Backfire Effect by David McRaney.

McRaney’s point is a simple one:

The Misconception: When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.

The Truth: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.

He supports his claims about this Backfire Effect with evidence from a scientific study. Apparently this happens “instinctively and unconsciously”.

This is why hardcore doubters who believe Barack Obama was not born in the United States will never be satisfied with any amount of evidence put forth suggesting otherwise.

When arguments like this happen on the Internet, this is the result:

Most online battles follow a similar pattern, each side launching attacks and pulling evidence from deep inside the web to back up their positions until, out of frustration, one party resorts to an all-out ad hominem nuclear strike. …

What should be evident from the studies on the backfire effect is you can never win an argument online.

Sounds familiar? Dachis summarises the argument as

McRaney points to several studies showing how people are willing to completely ignore scientific proof that their beliefs are wrong.

How much more true this is, whether the proof is scientific or biblical, when the beliefs are part of their Christian faith!

Amazon Affiliate links should now be localised

I have installed the Amazon Affiliate Link Localizer plugin for this WordPress installation. This means that links from Gentle Wisdom to Amazon products should be automatically redirected to each reader’s local Amazon store – but only where the same product is available there.

The popups are still mostly for Amazon.co.uk and so sterling prices will be shown. To see your local product and currency please click the link in the main text. The Gentle Wisdom UK and US stores are unaffected.

I hope this works correctly for each of you my readers. I can’t check it properly without travelling to your countries. Please let me know of any problems.

This should make it easier for you to order your Amazon products through Gentle Wisdom.

US online store now available

The North American version of Gentle Wisdom’s online store is now available. With apologies to my Canadian readers, I am calling this Store (US) as it is an aStore with the US company Amazon.com.

amazon.com logoTo set up this store I first joined the US Amazon Associates Program. So I am now required to add the following to this site:

Gentle Wisdom is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

My readers in Europe would probably prefer to use the UK store, announced in a previous post.

Most of the same products are in both stores. Currently the Anglicised NIV 2011 and Women and Authority: The Key Biblical Texts by Ian Paul are only in the UK store, and The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation by N. T. Wright is available for pre-order only from the US store.

Please browse my new online store

Please have a browse through my online store, which has just gone live. I hope this will be a convenient way for you, my readers, to buy books and other items reviewed, mentioned or quoted at Gentle Wisdom. I have listed both print and Kindle editions of books, where available, in two different store categories. There is a separate category for Bibles, and one for a few other Amazon products relevant to this blog.

The store is an Amazon.co.uk aStore. This means that it is most accessible to my UK readers, although products can be shipped worldwide. I will be working on a parallel store with Amazon.com for my North American readers.

amazon.co.uk logoTo set up this store I first joined the Amazon Associates Programme. So I am now required to add the following to this site:

Gentle Wisdom is a participant in the Amazon Europe S.à r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.

I was surprised how many books and other products I found mentioned here at Gentle Wisdom. I am not endorsing all of these books, not least because I have read only a few of them. Indeed I have included a few books which I fundamentally disagree with.

I have also edited many of the mentions of these books in my past posts to include direct purchase links from Amazon.co.uk. If you hover over the links, you should see more details about the product and its availability.