The Art of Illumination

Tuk e vzproizveden list ot Kru... Digital ID: 1551201. New York Public Library

Tuk e v"zproizveden list ot "Krupnishkoto" evangelie (vzh. list 3, 4).Digital ID: 1551201. New York Public Library

I’m reading a book that’s totally awakened me to an art form I previously knew little about.

The book is Graphic Design and Religion: A Call for Renewal, by Daniel Kantor. The art is a historical technique known as illumination.

Illumination is commonly associated with Middle to Renaissance Age religious manuscripts. Considered the most sacred of all documents, these manuscripts were embellished with decorative borders, elaborate initials and detailed illustrations. Because artists created them in gold, silver and other brilliant colors, they appeared illuminated on the animal skin pages.

The Slavic piece shown here, exquisite as it is, is a somewhat muted example (it’s the only image I could find with copyright permissions). Comparatively, works such as de Brailes Hours or Biblia pauperum, two of many listed in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, are much more intense. Imagine the time and discipline that went into creating any of these beautiful works of art!

While illuminations, as an art form, are fascinating, I’m most inspired by the ideals they represent.

Kantor described the illuminators as the finest of artists who remained “lifelong students of their craft” and “eschewed shortcuts that compromised aesthetic integrity.” They chose the most quality materials available to create visuals for a largely illiterate population—visuals that, as much as humanly possible, communicated the divinity of Christ.

Illuminators saw their work as “a ministry worthy of their best efforts,” writes Kantor.

The techniques we use today certainly have changed the way we visually communicate our faith. Graphic design and commercial printing are light-years away from those hand-rendered illuminations. Yet the ideals are still the same. The time we spend training and conceptualizing, the quality of materials we use and the dedication we apply to our work, all reflect the reverence we hold to Christ.

Communicating Christ, after all, is a ministry worthy of our best efforts.

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Twittering for Christ

Last Thursday, the world was Twitterless for a day. Supposedly, we nearly fell apart. What is this Twitter we hear so much about? Is it something we can use for Christ?

Twitter is one of the many forms of social media communication. It’s mini-messaging to subscribers. Or it’s abbreviated blogging to the cyberworld. It’s a free, easy and quick way to get your message out to the masses—140 characters quick, in fact, meaning you can only use up to 140 letters and spaces to write your message, a.k.a. as a tweet.

At first, Twitter may seem kind of stupid. I mean, does the world really care what each of us is doing (the initial question users answer)? But wait. According to The New York Times, 45 million people are “legitimate visitors.” If that’s true, perhaps Twitter’s not such a stupid way to reach the tech savvy crowd in your congregation or the world with your message of Christ.

Here’s how some churches and individuals are Twittering for Christ:

Twitter Prayers: like an old-fashioned prayer chain, only faster

St.Mark’s Lutheran: a church and school announcement board

TheGodSeekers: sharing prayers and Bible verses

LifeisGod: a testimonial of faith

Are you Twittering for Christ? If so, please share with us!

Shame on Google

photo credit Debbi Smirnoff

photo credit Debbi Smirnoff

So it seems Google—that search engine magnate labeled the most powerful brand in the world—doesn’t feel the need to compensate its creative talent.

Last week, The New York Times wrote of Google’s invitation to prominent artists to contribute artwork for its new Google Chrome browser.

Compensation? None.

Understandably, many of these artists felt somewhat hung out to dry. And, admirably, as much as they’d love Google’s exposure, many rejected it with outspoken opinions.

How does that relate to us and our work of communicating Christ?

Certainly, it doesn’t, right? After all, our churches don’t have the multi-billion dollar income of Google’s. Nor do we share its wordly mission. The church is excluded from respecting the work of creatives because, after all, it’s for the Lord, right?

Wrong.

God blesses people with creative talents, of which many use  to earn a living. They study their craft and spend great time developing it. Their work, known as intellectual property, deserves respect. God also commands us to respect our nation’s laws and says,  “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men…” (1 Peter 2:13).

Here are a few things to keep in mind, as we show Christian respect to creatives and our laws.

  • Graphic design, illustrations, photography, music and written words are all exclusively owned by their creators, including those posted on the Internet. To use them without permission violates the U.S. Copyright Law. It’s stealing.
  • Fair Use, a section of the copyright law, offers a little leeway. However, it’s very ambiguous and contextual, and churches shouldn’t feel it offers complete exemption from the law. Church Marketing Sucks posted an interesting discussion on how it applies to religious organizations.
  • Professionals work hard to create their craft. Just as a church compensates a plumber or electrician, so should it compensate a professional artist.
  • Many professionals donate projects out of love for God and their church. Pro-bono, however, does not mean “no value, no time or no effort.” Creative work can command $50-150/hr., elsewhere. Respect this work. Respect the professional’s time, just as you would someone you were paying.

An Up-to-Date Website: Accessibility

When it comes to today’s websites, of the Three A’s (Audience, Application, Accessibility), perhaps accessibility is most important. No matter who your audience is or how well you’ve applied good elements, if your website is inaccessible, it serves no purpose.

Accessibility
We hear this word all the time these days. What’s it mean?

Accessibility means making your website accessible, or viewable, to as many people possible, no matter what browser or device they’re using.

The internet isn’t just for computers anymore. According to The Kelsey Group, almost 40 percent of users of mobile devices such as ipods, iphones and Blackberries are using them to access the internet. And you don’t have to live under a rock to know mobile devices are commonplace to anyone under the age of 50.

As Christians, there’s another online presence we should consider: those with disabilities using special browsers to accommodate their needs. Many of our old ways of designing, such as frames and outdated coding, are inaccessible to people using such browsers.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) offers extremely detailed instructions for online accessibility. In reality, this reads a bit like Greek to most of us. Here are a few basics, however, to get you started:

Limit Flash
Flash is fancy. Flash is fun. And nowadays most computers can handle it. But mobile devices and many browsers for visually impaired viewers still cannot. Use Flash as an accessory but never for vital content.

Think scrolling
Mobile device screens utilize lots of vertical scrolling. Now’s the time to get rid of that introductory splash page and your wide width dimensions. If you’re designing specifically for mobile devices, downsize your site to a width of 320 pixels and put your best and most sought after information at the top of the page.

Use semantic code (at least HTML 4.0 Transitional)
Sorry folks, Word, Publisher and FrontPage just don’t cut it. These are not reliable web design programs and the code they deliver do not meet today’s standards. Learn to code. Use a true WYSIWYG program such as Dreamweaver.

Does all this seem too complicated?

Well, sometimes it might just make more sense to consider a professional. Let them do what they’re good at, so you have time to do what you’re good at.

An Up-to-Date Website: Application

Reaching your audience is crucial to keeping your audience. This applies even more to the internet, where our attentions are pulled in so many directions. The second of the three A’s (Audience, Application and Accessibility) shows how a few design and content elements make a huge difference in reaching your audience. While specific audiences require specific applications, there are some commonalities that work for all. Let’s look at those today.

Show, don’t tell
Yes, we’re reading more and more words online these days—on Facebook, blogs and Twitter, that is. When it comes to websites, however, a picture still says more than a thousand words. Don’t tell viewers your church focuses on youth. Instead, show it focuses on youth. Show images of young people on your home page. Use images liberally. Edit your text liberally.

3-click navigation
The same two rules apply today as in the past: Keep navigation simple and use the 3-click rule. Users should be able to go anywhere on your site within three clicks.

Use the right font
San serif fonts, namely Arial and Verdana, have long been the preferred choice for online reading. Without tails at the end of each letter, they present the easiest reading from a computer screen (as opposed to serif fonts which are the easiest to read on a printed page).

But times are-a-changing! We now have Georgia, a serif font developed specifically for the web. This is an easy-to-read screen font and has become very popular in today’s websites, including this blog.

Frequent content updates
The days of putting a website online and never touching it again are over. Viewers now want updates and they want them often. An outdated, old-news website is an absolute no-no. Many designers now create sites with owner content management systems (CMS), thus enabling church personnel to easily update their own information.

So, now you’ve applied design and content elements that reach your audience. Next, we’ll make sure your site is accessible to your audience.

Three Things for an Up-To-Date Website (You do have one, don’t you?)

Asking if you have a website is hopefully a needless question. Being without one is comparable to Jonah refusing to go to Nineveh—if that’s the case, you really should consider life inside a whale for wasting such a God-given opportunity.

That said, what makes a good website for today’s online presence? Think three A’s:  Audience, Application and Accessibility.

Audience

Identifying your audience is a crucial first step. It determines the look of your site and the message you want to convey. But let’s back up: In order to identify your audience, you must also identify your goals. Here are some possibilities:

Church promotion
If your goal is to promote your church, to whom are you targeting the promotion? Potential new members from the community? Families? Professionals? Tourists passing through? Your website style and content should match that of your audience and their needs.

Member communication
Is your primary goal to unify your membership? Nurture their faith? Increase their awareness of what’s happening at church? If so, who are your members? What are their ages, their careers, interests and life situations? For mechanical purposes, what are their online capabilities? Are they tech savvy? Do they have high speed internet?

Outreach
Now, more than ever, the internet offers the widest, quickest access to the greatest masses. Is spreading the gospel is one of your website goals? If so, the world is your audience and you must assume zero faith knowledge. No shop talk allowed!

That’s it for now. Next we’ll look at applying design and content elements to reach your audience.

Press Release: They Don’t Call it Free Press for Nothing

O.K. I admit I’m a bit ambiguous in my use of “free press.”

Journalistically, the term “free press” refers to the uncensored freedom our constitution offers American media. For our church purposes, this term carries an additional reference: a wonderful opportunity to publicize our message of Christ.

For free. As in no cost.

A press release is free publicity

Direct selling expert Jeffrey Dobkin says a well-written press release is “the most valuable single page in all of marketing” (or, in our case, mission outreach). A press release is a document sent to media editors who, if they find it interesting, will publish it or decide to further report on it. For free.

You can send press releases to newspapers, magazines, radio, T.V. and now online publications. There are even online press release services that help distribute your news for you.

Of course, there’s a catch: You have to write it right

Editors receive a gazillion press releases each day. They have a ton of reading to do and not much time to do it. If you write your press release right, it will not only get read, it will also get published.

Match your media
Make sure there’s a connection between you and the media. If you’re publicizing your church’s elderly day care, send a release to your local newspaper or AARP Magazine. The Onion newspaper would not be a good choice.

Contact the editor
After selecting a media, contact its editor and ask how you should send your release. Hard copy? Email? Addressed to whom? This is a good time to put in a quick plug: “I’m Joe, from Trinity Ministries, and I’d like to send a press release on our exciting Hispanic outreach program. Who should I send it to and in what format?”

Remember, editors are busy people. Get straight to the point. And call after the media has been sent to publication, such as the afternoon if it’s a daily newspaper.

Press Release format
Google press release template and you’ll come up with hundreds of helpful guidelines. They’re basically all the same and I’ve posted one here. Of course, since you’ve already spoken with the editor, you’ll know if he or she has particular preferences. Customize your release to meet those preferences.

Use the Inverted Pyramid
Another journalism term here. But, hey, when in Rome…

Think of your document as an upside down triangle, with the wide base on top narrowing down to a point at the bottom. The broad base represents your opening paragraph and your most newsworthy information. The point at the bottom represents the last paragraph and the least newsworthy. In other words, if the newspaper needs to cut out the last paragraph for lack of space, make sure everything the public needs to know is in the first paragraph.

Note: This style of writing may be absolutely opposite what you learned in school, particularly if you’re a pastor. Remember, think journalism.

Absolutely NO passive voice!
The media is about action. Write in an active voice. Use strong action verbs. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check this out.

Five W’s and an H
Who, where, what, when, why and how? These are journalistic questions you have to answer. Is your church sponsoring an overseas missionary? Tell who she is. Where is she going? When will she go? What mission work will she do? How will she do it? Why?

Why? Because of Jesus
The public media hardly seems a receptive tool for spreading the gospel of Christ. If you come on too preachy, you’ll likely never make it off the editor’s desk. Jesus was often subtle in his manner of teaching. We can be subtle too.

“Building a new school during tough economic times is a challenge,” says John Jones, principal of Abiding Word School. “However, we know God has a plan and we trust it will be a good one.”

Imagine how the Holy Spirit can use a quote as simple as this to work miracles in the hearts of thousands. Talk about free press!