My Favorite TED Talk of All-Time

“I’m a storyteller. And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about
what I like to call ‘the danger of the single story.'” – Chimamanda Adichie

The power of telling stories is, perhaps, the most powerful cultural tool that exists in the world. We each tell stories about ourselves, often we tell stories to ourselves. Each of these stories shape our identity in small ways. Watch her TED Talk below.

What strikes me about this talk is Adichie’s addressing of what she calls the single story. The single story is something that separates us from what we believe to be lower than us, or different from us. These stereotypes can carry quite negative connotations and often serve to diminish the dignity of the person or people being judged. Adichie’s talk is peppered with examples of how this plagues so many different aspects of our lives. It really put things in perspective.

As she talked about her childhood experiences with reading something so literally foreign to her experience, it was clear just how impressionable we are as children. Our first encounter with something — whether it be literature, sports or a specific person — is so vital to how we interact with our surroundings. These first impressions become our stepping stones and from there we build our own opinions and thoughts on a particular subject. The books that Ms. Adichie wrote when she was younger, while I’m sure they were wonderfully written, were missing something: her. They were missing her vitally important experience.

These stories were missing the voice of her authentic experience as a human being. 

I’m so glad she brought up the question of who creates the single story. The ones with power are always the ones who control what story is being told. Ever since the expansion of accessibility to media, what once was black and white is now a peculiar shade of grey.

Once these singular stories are created they begin to define a culture and people. As she said, it’s not that stereotypes are untrue, but that they are incomplete. By not knowing the full extent of something we generalize, assume, and judge. Our minds become blinded forever by single stories. They manifest themselves within foreign cultures and in minds that are either too afraid or ignorant to find out the other side of a story. To create a single story is easy and, quite frankly, the church is awful good at it. To break down the walls is even harder.

One of my goals, as a pastor, is to question, push, and prod the single story of a purely benevolent view of the institution of Christianity. My hope is that we can move into a space where there are multiple stories and experiences that are all honored in the conversation, and aren’t cast aside in favor of the single, limited story.

Maybe our focus shouldn’t be to abolish these single stories, but to add to them. When we do, we allow them to blossom and flourish into the full story they truly contain.

Once we can do this, our own understanding of the world will be more complete and with this, as Adichie concludes, comes peace.


Susan Cain on the Power of Introverts

There was a great TED talk I stumbled upon, and subsequently a great book I began reading, about a new wave of study into introversion — the often referenced and disdained disposition that is most often confused with shyness or social awkwardness. Susan Cain is on a crusade to debunk these myths and create a new way of viewing introverts in light of what they contribute, not what they lack. She makes some great points in the talk and her book is an in-depth look at our American culture which, according to Cain, has come to view the overly-social extrovert personality type as the preferred norm. Check out the TED talk below. Check out her book. They’re both wonderful.

What stuck out to you in her presentation? What new insights did you gain? If you enjoyed this presentation, I would highly recommend picking up her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking


The Close Relationship of Grey Poupon and the Modern Church

Malcolm Gladwell has a great TED Talk out right now that talks about mustard. For a very long time, mustard lovers didn’t have a lot of variety to choose from. The basic choice was either French’s or Gulden’s, basic yellow mustards. Mustard seeds, turmeric, and a little paprika was all you needed to make mustard.  Until the early 1980’s. Then came Grey Poupon. Darker mustard seeds, white wine. Different than the other two. But the marketing campaign is what set it apart.

They packaged the mustard in a tiny glass jar and charged $4.00 more than any other mustard at the time. And those commercials! We’ve all seen the commercial (or perhaps the Wayne’s World parody) where the Rolls Royce pulls up alongside the other Rolls Royce and one extraordinarily wealthy man asks another if he has any Grey Poupon. And then sales of Grey Poupon skyrocketed. Completely through the roof.

So if we’re a little dense, we might say that the take-home lesson for a church or business is that people want to pay more than they do for some condiments because they taste better and are different than the others. And somehow that might inspire them to be different as well.

I don’t think that’s necessarily right. I think it’s about identity.

Those Grey Poupon commercials, and really everything about that marketing campaign, forced consumers to ask the question, “What kind of mustard consumer am I?” Am I one who is content and satisfied with the ordinary French’s? Or do I want to be sophisticated like these men in their Rolls Royce’s? Because the economy was good and people were still reaching for that American Dream, they bought Grey Poupon in order to reinforce that they were the kind of sophisticated people who would buy Grey Poupon.

Believe it or not, this relates directly to the church.

The key question that is currently at the center of the “seeker” church is “What kind of Christian am I?” and then trying to find an appropriate representation of that in the community. Am I the kind of Christian that wants a message of social justice? Am I the kind of Christian that wants a coffeehouse in my church? Am I the kind of person that wants a strong musical presence in worship? The list goes on and on. Because choosing a church community is fundamentally a question of identity.

What kind of church are you choosing? What ministry are you helping create? Whether or not it has any affiliation with a church is rather inconsequential. What environment are you creating by the way you assemble your identity? These are interesting and important questions that will say a lot as we move forward into a time of increasingly blurred lines of our own identity.


More Programs Aren’t the Answer

Earlier today I watched a mind-blowing TED talk by Simon Sinek (which you can find here) about how our brains work in controlling our actions. It’s an absolutely fascinating video and I hope you’ll watch it. The main thing he talked about was a group of three circles (as you can see on the left) labeled why, how, and what. He says most generic companies advertise by moving from the outside of the circle in, by telling you what you can buy and how it will make your life better. But they seldom explore the question of why. He says on the contrary, innovative companies that provide great leadership in their field work from the inside of the circle out. He uses the example of Apple.

Apple advertises by starting with challenging the status quo (why you should by our product). They believe in thinking differently. They challenge the status quo by making sleek, user-friendly products (how they challenge the status quo). We also make great computers (what they actually make). They end their commercial with what their product is. They move explicitly outward in this circle and it makes us want one all the more.

One of the big things Simon hammers home in his talk is that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

So let’s look at the church — particularly the youth parts of the church. The programmatic model of youth ministry seeks to answer the “what” question first. “Here’s what we do.” If we’re lucky, it moves into a how and a why. But a relational and theological look at youth ministry begins in the huge, messy, stubborn questions of why.

  • Why are we here?
  • Why is there something instead of nothing?
  • Why do I live the life that I do?

Then it seeks to assemble a how do we minister to each other that honors these deep questions about God and existence. Finally, we end with a ‘what’. With the what do we do about it? What is to be done?

Ministry that starts with questions of “what” will never get past the how into the why. And that’s where the real questions are. It’s only in the theological and existential questions of why that we can encounter the people we do ministry with in all their imperfections. It may just be the only way forward.


p.s. I didn’t even go into Simon’s stuff on brain chemistry and why this is such an appealing model. It’s fascinating, but it just didn’t seem to fit. Check out the video for more on that.

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