Talking to the camera

Have you ever sat down and talked to a camera … just you and an electronic recorder of sight and sound?

cameraIt’s a little weird, but not as unusual as it used to be. Thousands of people regularly record videos of themselves demonstrating life hacks, singing or playing an instrument, or explaining how things are done, and then posting them on YouTube.

I never aspired to having my own YouTube channel, though it’s easy enough to do, but part of my job as the lesson writer for Nurturing Faith involves recording a short video designed to introduce each lesson.

When we first started this enterprise, the idea was for the video to be aimed at Sunday School teachers or Bible study leaders, with me offering some background information and maybe a few tips for approaching the lesson. As time passed, we learned that a fair number of teachers were showing the video to their classes, then facilitating a discussion.

And, since the lesson texts are drawn from the lectionary, I’ve learned that some pastors occasionally watch the videos in hopes of getting some general background or picking up an idea for a sermon on the same text.

That led us to adopt a different approach. Though the content of the videos is largely the same, I’m aware that the audience is broader than we first thought … and that I’m not really just talking to the little camera that I set up periodically, with lights, to form a makeshift studio on our dining room.

Talking to the camera may seem to be a purely digital exercise, but no more so than posting pictures on Facebook or texting with a friend: we may be in a room with nothing but a computer or smartphone, but we’re communicating with real people.

So, as I talk to the camera, I know that it’s really a portal to people. I try to imagine folks who might be watching later on … teachers preparing in their pajamas on Saturday nights, class members all dressed up on Sunday morning, or random folks who Googled a text and wound up on the Nurturing Faith website.

As a result, I don’t think of myself as talking to the camera, but to friends, whether we’ve met in person or not — and the dining room seems a lot less lonesome.

If you’d like to learn more about Nurturing Faith and the Bible study resources we offer through Baptists Today, check it out at You can click on “Adults” to preview a video — I’ll be watching for you!


  1. I think the video idea is great. I did not see a scripture passage index, which I think would facilitate use of the videos when people are dealing with a passage outside the parameters of your lesson schedule. Please consider.

  2. Me again. Yes, I can imagine for a mntuie that there is no God. Not that that is an argument per se that what you are saying is correct, but yes, I can do that to at least try and understand where you are coming from. If there were no God, then I would say that undoubtedly some people had inflicted needless, even great, pain and violence on other people for nothing. Yes. But I still wouldn’t feel that religion had been as much of an issue as you think it has been.Of course, one of my main questions is whether we can imagine any truth that people wouldn’t fight over? The fact that something has brought about violence doesn’t prove that the thing is evil or untruthful .it just shows that man is broken and often doesn’t know how to deal with that truth, doesn’t know how to live up to his own best intentions. But also, sometimes wars are necessary, to be completely frank. Putting religion aside for a mntuie, I think that we can talk about necessary wars like WWII (which ended the Nazi occupation of Europe) or the American Civil War (which ended an extremist vision of states’ rights that allowed slavery to exist).So even imagining for a second that God doesn’t exist and religion is an intellectual mistake, I think we still need to ask ourselves about the nature of certain instances of religious violence. I’ll take your examples. As for the Crusades, I honestly see painfully little difference between them and WWII. Let’s not forget that the Muslims conducted the most astonishing military conquest in the history of the world, violently putting Eastern Asia, the Fertile Crescent, Northern Africa, and much of Europe (right through to Spain) under their control in less than 300 years, brutally pillaging villages and forcing conversions to Islam. It’s staggering it was just like the Nazi blitzkrieg, as unprovoked and as malicious. It just took a little longer. So the Crusades were first launched to defend Europe and the Holy Land against this conquest, to keep the Muslims essentially from fulfilling their plans for world domination. Sure, religion was involved, but that’s because religion was not just an ideology but a political force back then. It’s just silly to claim that Europe had no right to defend itself silly, unless you also believe that the Allied forces should have let Hitler occupy all of Europe with the reasoning that all the pain and violence of warfare would just have been so unnecessary.Interesting sidenote: the Catholic Church actually invented the first modern peace movement, the first nonviolent resistance, doing its utmost to end the culture of war which ran rampant among secular warlords across the continent by encouraging trans-European prayer practices and rewriting feudal constitutions. But when the Muslims were knocking on Europe’s back door (i.e., Spain, which they had completely taken over), people had no choice but to retaliate. It is true that near the end of the Crusades, several wars of pure political persecution were launched by the Church. Those were shameful. But we have to be frank; at that time, the Church had weakened and had begun to be used by the kings of Europe (especially France) as a political tool. A good argument for the separation of church and state, and a disgraceful period for the Church, but the heart of these late Crusades was NOT religious sentiment, and beneath every one of these religious Crusades was a whole number of well-documented political calculations.As far as religions go, Islam is probably the worst. That is a very un-PC thing to say, but frankly, I think they have a far bloodier history than any other religion in the world. Maybe maybe your thesis can be rooted in an analysis of the Muslim world. But still, it’s very complex. I think that the Arab-Israeli conflict is like a modern-day Crusade: you have one religion which is based on violent imperialism, whose secular goals are completely intertwined with its religious ones, menacing another one which is almost entirely non-violent. But the reason there’s kickback is because the Jews, who are for all intents and purposes an ETHNIC group in Israel, just want one little square of land to themselves. They offered to give half of it to the Palestinians, but the Palestinians wanted all of it .hence the mess they’re in now. Religion has a role to play, but it is far inferior to that of other regional interests. And to quote Terry Eagleton again, funny how everyone pounces on religion for causing problems in the Muslim world, whereas no one talks at all about the role of POVERTY in the whole thing. Dawkins quite rightly detests fundamentalists; but as far as I know his anti-religious diatribes have never been matched in his work by a critique of the global capitalism that generates the hatred, anxiety, insecurity and sense of humiliation that breed fundamentalism. Instead, as the obtuse media chatter has it, it’s all down to religion. In other words, we would have far more success making the Muslim world friendlier if we stopped attacking their religion and actually poured some money into these regions. I am thinking about a study done by the NYT on suicide bombers in Iraq two years ago. Nearly everyone that the embedded journalists interviewed, all of the kamikaze recruits, didn’t even attend religious services; they were bribed into the movement by Al-Qaida chiefs who promised to give their families money if they died in the anti-American jihad. To blame the whole thing on religion is too simple.Your other examples: I think post-911 USA is a bad example, since actually, the Americans were ASTONISHINGLY restrained after that event apart from maybe a generally mistrusting sentiment, there were no deaths, attacks, riots, or protests launched against the Muslim-American community at all. And actually, I do deny that religion is at the heart of the Irish thing, and so do all the historians who comment on it. Just read them: Ireland is all about British imperial rule vs Irish nationalists. Look at the IRA, for instance. They are the Irish REPUBLICAN Army, not the Irish Catholic Army. The fact that the two sides divide down religious lines is expressive of, but not the cause of, the division between Irish culture and British culture. It would be like saying the American Civil War was started over accents, since all the people in the Northern states had Northern accents and all the people in the Southern states had southern accents.Finally, you mention societies that used human sacrifice. Well, we Catholics call them pagans for a reason. And so sure, I agree that that was terrible, but look, the Democratic party platform proudly advocates killing babies and the Republican party doesn’t care if you waterboard people and electrocute their penises as long as they have Al- at the front of their last names .so have we really come so far in secular society?Again, I am not arguing that violence has never been perpetuated in the name of religion or by religious bodies. To give one example you didn’t even mention, I think the Inquisition is a particularly awful moment in the Church’s past (although even that is often mis-interpreted). But here is the thing. I think that a lot of the evil done in its name would have happened anyway if religion hadn’t existed just look at my list of genocides from a few posts back. On the other hand, I think that religion inspires a lot of people to good. And I am not just talking about Catholic charities and stuff like that, because of course, people would do those kinds of good deeds if religion didn’t exist, just like they’d do bad deeds if it didn’t exist. No, I am talking more about specific individuals whom religion helps to find hope and meaning in the world and in their own lives. How many mass murderers really, really sick people have ever managed to find peace (if they find peace at all) without religion? There’s not much in this world that can descend into their dark depths certainly not membership in the Democratic party or a solid understanding of the principles of Darwinian evolution and yet miraculously, Christ seems to do just that. How many Jews were able to keep their faith in humanity alive during the Holocaust simply because they could pray, and how many people suffer their own, less publicized ordeals or loneliness or whatever, and can only get by because their church or religious community gives them hope? I myself know several, several. And I am one of their number.Yes, there are people who do not choose God, at least not explicitly, and seem to live moral, hopeful lives. There is much to be said about that, but I have already written too much. And yes, why God would allow evil in the world is a good question to ask, but I’m sure you recognize that philosophers have literally written whole libraries on the subject ? The existence of evil may be a good personal reason for you not to be able to accept the existence of God I can respect that. But it is not such a philosophical slam dunk that you have any reason to think the non-existence of God should be completely, totally obvious to everyone.In the end, I think that God is not a conclusion, but a choice. I think all of us have several good reasons to believe, and several good reasons not to. Which side we go towards is the result of an act of faith. So I do welcome your invitation to me to try to imagine that God doesn’t exist. That is something I need to do often, to keep myself open-minded and to make sure that I am making an authentic choice. I just hope that you do the same exercise imagine, from time to time, that there is a God, and see if my arguments or other Christians’ arguments make sense under those conditions rather than considering the question solved forever just because you’ve been thinking about it your entire life .And finally, if you have trouble believing in miracles, here’s one: I’m done writing! Love,Nick

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