Signalling Theory

Thanks to Freakonomics and Planet Money I have become fascinated with signalling theory  recently. Here’s a short definition of signalling theory from wikipedia.

In economics, more precisely in contract theorysignalling (or signalingsee American and British English differences) is the idea that one party (termed the agent) credibly conveys some information about itself to another party (the principal).

Pretty straight forward. I want to learn more about it.

The discussion that I have listened to concerning signalling theory has come from the two aforementioned podcasts. Those podcasts have focused on the fact that we all signal people about ourselves all the time. Things we wear, things we do, etc., etc. signal other concerning what groups we belong to and what we value. It might be easier to spot certain groups’ signalling, but we all signal. For example, it is pretty easy to spot the signalling of conspicuous consumption. The little alligators on the shirt send out a pretty blatant message. So do the DC’s on sunglasses and other things. It isn’t just self-conscious teens and shallow adults who signal. The rest of us just use different signals. While our symbols might not be as easy to spot they are still there. These symbols shout out something and the person wearing them is choosing to wear them because they believe somehow that those clothes and accessories convey some message concerning who they are or who they want to be perceived as. Or consider one of the examples used by Freakonomics concerning the purchase of Prii (according to Toyota this is the plural of Prius). I assume that many of you would guess that Prii sell better in certain demographics and areas. Freakonomics indicates that you would be correct in your guess. The purchase of a Prius says something about the person, or at least the person hopes that it says something about them. SUVs do the same thing, just the message is often the opposite.

I’m not judging here because the reality is that we all signal. There is a reason that many Christians wear T-shirts with Christian slang and messages on them and it isn’t about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with those who do not know Christ. Nope it is signalling the group you belong to. A stupid example from my own life comes from a mission program called World Changers that I used to do every Summer when I was a youth minister. The first year I went to a World Changers project I noticed that the vast majority of people who had been to previous World Changers projects used the same type of hammer. It was an Estwing. They are great hammers but seriously very few teens or adults use a hammer often enough in their daily lives to need a serious quality hammer. Nope. The reason people got Estwing was because it was a signal. “I’ve done this before.” “This isn’t my first project.” “I’m not a noob.” It is really amazing how many messages those hammers were sending and yes I do have an Estwing hammer. Why do you ask. 😉

I’m signalling “Roll Tide Roll” at the moment.

We all signal. There is a reason that you can often tell what a person’s hobbies are just from their looks. Signalling. There is a reason that you can often tell what a person does for a living just by a quick glance. Signalling. Look at a kid and make a quick guess concerning whether he/she goes to public school, private school, alternative school, or is home schooled. Signalling is alive and well there too. Heck, I know people whose signalling is all about what they don’t use or have. The lack of something can be just as much about signalling. Not having something can also tell others you are a part of the in crowd of a certain group. My personal favorite signalling group is the Apple fanboy pastor group. Don’t worry fanboy pastors we know you are cool and can really relate to us because you have Apple products all around. That too is signalling. It is saying “Hey, I belong to this style of pastor.” Anyhow, I don’t have a problem with most signalling. I am actually signalling right now as I type this post. What I have a problem with is our signalling conflicting and control us.

My problem with signalling arises when people don’t consider what they are actually signalling. Actually to be most accurate my problem is when I don’t consider what i am actually signalling. For example, my relationship with Jesus Christ is the overriding priority of my life. I hope and believe that Jesus changes and affects everything I do. What if my signalling is is sending the opposite message. I remember signing the song “Rescue” at a conference when I was truck by the signals coming from the group signing the song. One lyric of the song states “This world has nothing for me,” a great lyric, but it seemed a little odd when I realized that the guy singing the lyric was playing what I was fairly sure was a $6,000 guitar. I send out signals all the time. Do they match with who I really want to be? With whom I have been called, and I am becoming, by Christ? Or is what I am actually signalling most important to me?

I hope that I am always questioning why I do, use, or wear something and I am considering what it signals. I hope you are doing this too.

SIDE NOTE – I only have a cursory knowledge of signalling theory and I would love to read more. If you know of a good book on the subject please let me know.

Be Nice to Marshfield

I started my rounds as the chaplain for my companies in Marshfield early this morning. All went well.

Per my usual I “checked in” at the places I went to via foursquare. I use this because through a combination with IFTT


I am able to have my “check ins” automatically placed into my Google Calendar and this gives me some accountability for where I have been.

Any I went to check in at one of my companies only to discover that it isn’t listed on foursquare yet. No big deal I can correct that. I saw that I could “check in” for the whole city of Marshfield. When I did I discovered that one of the “tips” left for the city was that the roads “suck” and that “the people suck too.” Well that’s nice to know. I am sure Natalie G. will be glad to know that all the people of her hometown suck.

Thanks for the helpful info Foursquare users.

SIDE NOTE – the image to the right is a screen shot showing the statements. Enjoy.

Grumpy Old Man Rant

This might be a grumpy old man rant (I find I have a few now that drive me nuts) but people walking on the right side of the (i.e. the wrong side of the road for walking) get my goat. You are supposed to walk facing traffic people. It is safer for you and for the drivers. Especially at night. Tonight Pam and I were driving to see the Celebrate Plover fireworks tonight (we quit because of the rain) and there were people in our neighborhood walking on the right/wrong side of the road wearing dark clothes. It was almost impossible to see them. Come on people. Feet on the left, wheels on the right.

I am now finished with my old man rant … At least for now.

The Burger Experiment – Hilltop


Round two of the Burger Experiment took place yesterday. This time Noah and I were joined by Pam who for some reason didn’t eat a burger so she doesn’t really have anything to add to this post. As a family we love Hilltop but for some reason I have never eaten one of their burgers. I usually go for the Chicken Flippers which are fried chicken cook in fish fry batter. Mhmm, good stuff.

The Burger & Fries - the Brew City fries are great.

The burger unfortunately wasn’t as good as the Chicken Flippers. Both and Noah and I were excited about the burger. It looked really good and smelled even better. As soon as my burger arrived I realized that they had forgotten to bring me the mayo I had asked for on my burger. Strike one. While waiting for a little mayo to be brought by the waitress I took the top bun off the burger and discovered that the slice of cheddar cheese I had asked for on the burger wasn’t there. Strike two. On the good side while I waited for my burger to have cheese melted on it I tasted a little of the burger juice left on the plate and it was great. This really got me excited about the burger and I was ready for its return.

So when the burger came back I was ready to eat it. My response? Mhem. Definitely not worth eating again. The patty itself was quite good but the bun is horrendous. Soft and mushy. Strike three! I don’t think they did anything to the bun other pull it out of its bag. Come on people. Toast the bun! This is important. The soggy bun took what would have been a very decent burger and changed it to a waste of my time.

A whole leaf of lettuce? Too busy to cut it?

The garnish isn’t as big of a deal for me but it wasn’t to my taste. They garnished the burger with a leaf of lettuce. One solid leaf. Personally I tore it up and put it back on the burger. Why not slice or tear the lettuce up? I think it is better for the eating experience.
The fries, on the other hand, were the saving grace. Hilltop’s Brew City fries are great. They really are quite tasty. The fries were enough for Noah to rate the overall experience as a 7 1/2. I can’t go that high because the burger was really not very good. We’ll gladly go back to Hilltop again but I will stick with my usual – Chicken Flippers and Brew City fries.

My overall rating – 5 1/2.

Right now the plan for next week is The Point After or Arbuckles. We’ve heard good and bad about both.

Community Quote – Rick McKinley

We are wired for community. Literally. Each of us has a belly button. Some are outies, some are innies, some are pierced. But we all carry this unmistakable sign that shows we were at one time physically connected to our mothers. Life begins for every human in utter dependence on another. But as we grow, our culture slowly sucks us into believing that we will truly be liberated only when we no longer need to depend upon someone else. Yet in our liberation we find oppression – we fight autonomy only to end up lonely, tired, and struggling.
Rick McKinley, Jesus in the Margins: Finding God in the Places We Ignore.

Power & the Church

I might blog more about this later but I thought I would at least put down these 4 ideas. As I have mentioned before I am reading (actually I’ll finish it tonight) Daniel Migliore’s book “The Power of God and the gods of Power” and I am really enjoying it. As you can probably guess from the title the book is about the difference between God’s powers and the other powers. All of us are actors with power and subjects of power. For those of us who are followers of Jesus our relation to how we use power and are affected by the use of power on us should be shaped by our faith in Christ.

One of the things that Migliore discusses is power in the church. He quotes Karl Barth in saying that nature of the life, structure, and preaching of the church should be a reminder and promise “that there is already on earth a community who order is based on that great alteration of the human situation.”1 In other words when those outside view the church they should see an example of the One Whose “power is made perfect in weakness,” rather than an organization that functions with the same power dynamics as any other organization around it. So Migliore asked what the use of power in the church should look like. He suggests these four examples of the the church using power in a manner that points to the kingdom of God.2

  1. It would be a church of participants rather than a church made up of passive observers.
  2. It would be a church in which leadership would be a matter of service rather than prerogative.
  3. It would be a church whose mission centered not on itself but on God’s coming reign inaugurated in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ.
  4. It would be a church that knew it was called to deal differently and noncoercively with the issues of the exercise of power in the community.

I don’t really have time to write my thoughts on each of these right now (I have to change the alternator in Fred, run, map out replacing an outside step, and prepare to go see the Mid-State Sisters of Skate with Noah tonight) but I will say two things. First, I was and am amazed by these four statements considering power in the church. When I read them all I could think was “Dang It!” Second, I think Tapestry would rate pretty good based on those four statements. The key is to make sure we always do. That will take trust and discipline.

SIDE NOTE – Yep I just found a WP plugin that will footnote things for me. I am a big fan of footnotes. Especially content notes. I love content footnotes. I probably should have footnoted this side note. That would have been fun.

  1. Karl Barth, “The Strange New World within the Bible,” in The Word of God and the Word of Man, 28-50. []
  2. Migliore, The Power of God and the gods of Power, 69. []

3 Backpacks


A few weeks ago I wrote about OGIO replacing the backpack that Pam and the boys gave me a few years ago. The zipper was faulty on it and thankfully the the backpack had a lifetime warranty. OGIO was really great about the whole process and they just wanted a certain tag and a logo cut off of the bag. So once I received the replacement bag I thought I would have the other bag fixed for another member of the family. You see Pam, Adam, and Noah all wanted my previous backpack and they were already clamoring for either the new or fixed backpack.

If you doubt me concerning them wanting my backpacks just look at what Pam just tweeted.

Today things became a little more interesting. I pulled into the driveway around lunch and saw a package on our front porch. When I opened it I found inside a new backpack sent to me from the North American Mission Board SEND campaign. Guess what type of bag it was? If you guessed the exact same type of bag as my old OGIO backpack you would be right. Same brand, same model, different color. Woohoo! Thanks NAMB.

Now I just need a 4th cool OGIO backpack to suddenly show up in my life and I will have the whole family covered for the cost of one Father’s Day present several years ago. I love it when a plan comes together … or in this case the plan is just being lucky. I love that too.

SIDE NOTE – I am presently reading Daniel Migliore’s book “The Power of God and the gods of Power” and it is amazing. I read “The Power of God” back during my Masters of Divinity and so enjoyed it that I read everything I could find from Migliore. A few years ago he did a thorough revision of “The Power of God” for this book and it is really good. The only problem with it is that I find myself wanting to highlight and tweet too much of the book. For example:

Good stuff.

What's the Outcome of Your Preaching?

One of the things I love about being married to Pam is that I get to see things in her educational / professional world that relate to the world of ministry.

We were walking around our neighborhood yesterday and she told me about a style of speech pathology therapy that drives her nuts. You see in therapy you determine outcomes that you believe the patient needs to reach as a part of their recovery. Some times those outcomes, while not bad outcomes in and of themselves, have nothing to do with the patient’s actual life.

Duck silhouettes are a great thing to know if your are a duck hunter. Not so much if your a CPA.

For example, let’s consider a patient who has had a stroke and can no longer sign her name. Some therapists might list one of the patient’s outcomes as helping the patient to re-learn the cursive alphabet to enable her to write. The problem is that being able to write the alphabet isn’t the same as being able to sign you name. The patient could easily be able to learn to write the entire alphabet and still not be able to sign her name. The outcome that the therapist is aiming for doesn’t help the person even if the outcome is achieved. Or for another example let’s imagine a patient who is having identifying issues. Perhaps the therapist picks an outcome of being able to identify silhouettes. Identifying silhouettes is great if the patient is a duck hunter and the silhouettes are of birds but not much use otherwise. Admittedly I am not a speech pathologist and so my examples aren’t very good. Hopefully you still get the point – some outcomes that are aimed for are actually pretty useless.

So while Pam and I were walking and talking I kept thinking about aiming at useless outcomes during sermons. What is the outcome that I am hoping will happen as a result of the message? When I was studying preaching in seminary (I guess I am still doing so) this aim was called the “central idea of the sermon” or CIT.  The CIT is basically “what should change or be done as a result of this sermon (both giving it and hearing it)?” It’s the desired outcome of the message. It is important for the message to have a target and it is also important that what the sermon is aiming for actually matters to a person’s faith.

I wonder if often the hoped for outcomes of our messages don’t really matter much to anyone’s faith. This doesn’t mean that the aim is bad in and of itself, just that it isn’t appropriate at the time or context for the people hearing the message. Remember the silhouettes of the ducks? Well, I as wrote earlier, they are great are great if you are a duck hunter. Not so much otherwise. What if, like the silhouettes, the aim of the sermon isn’t pertinent to the congregant’s lives? For example, what if I am focusing on the congregation understanding the political and societal aspects of the Ancient Near East because I think it is cool, but such info doesn’t really help the members of the church live out their faith in 21st century America. They might have more biblical knowledge as a result of such information but not really more biblical faith. Or what if all I ever preach about are aims that don’t relate to the congregation’s context? What if I am constantly preaching about Christ overcoming to a group of people who are pretty much living the good life and probably need to instead be reminded of Jesus’ call to sacrifice as a part of following Him? What if I am focused on people understanding the different words for love that Jesus uses when he “reinstates” Peter but I don’t shoot for them actually understanding loving someone in their own lives who has betrayed them? Is the sermon useless if the outcomes I am hoping for are useless? I don’t think so because people are still directed to God’s word and God’s word doesn’t “return back void.” Still I don’t think the message is as effective as it could be if its aimed for outcomes are trivial and useless.

The outcomes I am aiming for during a sermon are important and part of that importance is how it changes our lives. I want to preach for changed lives. My own and others. I want powerful outcomes to be a part of my messages.

Surprised by Hope

Surprised by Hope

It has been a few years since I have read N.T. Wright‘s “Surprised by Hope.” It is an excellent read (I think most things by Wright are) and a great bargain at $1.99 for the ebook. Amazon and Google have it for that price and I would assume Barnes & Noble does too. I love finding great books at great prices. The sad thing is that unfortunately I often find them after they are no longer on sale.

1st Week at 1st Baptist

Every year Washington Elementary refinished the gym floor and Tapestry needs to move for a week. This year they are actually changing the lines, which is apparently much more difficult than refinishing the floor. Instead of just being gone for one week we will elsewhere for three weeks. Usually during our absence we do a picnic/worship gathering at Iverson Park. Three weeks was a little long for Iverson and a little chancy with the weather. So I asked First Baptist Church in Stevens Point if we could meet there for a couple of weeks. They were gracious enough to say yes.

So here are my thoughts from the first time that Tapestry has ever met in a building specifically designed for church use.

  • First, I am amazingly thankful for 1st Baptist. They were very generous to let us meet there. I asked about paying rent and they said “no need” (don’t worry I have made sure they have been renumerated in another manner). Thanks 1st Baptist.
  • Second, I am very thankful for the understanding nature of Tapestry. We usually have really talented individuals leading our music. Jodi, Eric, Joel, and Drew are amazing. I love our music and I know other people do too. Last night was the “perfect storm” of not being able to find someone to lead our music. This means that it fell to me. I am the last chancemusic leader. This is because, while I can lead, I am not very comfortable doing so and I am not very good. So how does Tapestry respond? Oh they sing louder than normal so that Idon’t feel like I am leading alone. It went from “man, I hate doing this” to “man, I love singing with these people.” Thanks threads. You guys are awesome. Even so I’m still readyfor Jodi, Joel, and Eric to be back.
  • Third, pews? Really? I know at one time pews were a great step forward. At one time everything in a church building was a step forward that solved a problem that needed to be addressed. Therefore, at one time pews were progressive. Now though I really hate pews. I didn’t realize it till starting Tapestry. Before I had always thought that chairs were a nice alternative every now and then, but now I just really hate pews. Actually I had considered meeting in the gym at 1st Baptist simply because there would be no pews. I thought it would be funny to move from a school gym to a church gym. The Leadership Team said “lets go with the the sanctuary and we did. Good call because the sanctuary has AC and it was needed in that old uninsulated building. Still, those pews!?!?!?
  • Fourth, Tapestry is pretty techie and non-techie at the same time. We use technology on a regular basis but it is never the certain of focus. What does this mean for 1st Baptist? Well it isn’t a very technologically friendly site. No grounded outlets for a start and very few outlets in general for another thing. Also the sound system? Well it just couldn’t handle what we usually do. It couldn”t even handle Drew’s bass. So we went pretty low key. I don’t think anyone noticed. Because while we typically have the scripture for the message on its own interactive website and use videos, document projectors, people using tablets and smart phones during the message, etc., etc., those things are never the focus of what we do. They are just tools. We use them when they are helpful and skip them when they aren’t. Last night’s “powerful” illustration for the sermon was a bottle of Diet Coke. You don’t get much more low-tech than that.
  • Finally, if we ever get a building (and folks that is a really big IF because I for one am happy renting Washington for a very long time) I hope we still have some setup and tear down that is necessary for each week. I love the fact that each week after church people are working together and most importantly talking together while we clean up. People don’t just rush away from Tapestry unless there is something very important that they have to go to. I hope that is always a part of who we are and I, for one, am willing to setup and tear down chairs for the rest of my life if that is necessary for those conversations and laughter to take place.

That’s it for my thoughts on the first week of meeting at 1st Baptist Church. Remember folks we meet there again this week.

SIDE NOTE – also remember we are providing the meal at Place of Peace this Thursday.