Tag Archives: old-testament

Of Kings and Kingdoms

So. Kings. Oh my holy freakin …

Silas is King in Shiloh, and his nation is at war. A young farm boy, the youngest of Jesse’s 7 sons, travels to the front, boldly confronts the enemy, and wins the heart and attention of the nation. He becomes pawn and party to the political maneuverings of the royal court, as the king becomes keenly aware that his young hero might be a legitimate threat to his own tottering throne.

Sound familiar? Yup. Kings is a modern day retelling of the story of Saul and David, with all of the sinewy mass and epic personalities of the original. Silas (Saul) is poised and articulate one moment, a snarling dog the next. For fans of Deadwood, Ian McShane brings a similar kind of larger-than-life swagger to this role that made him so perfect as Al Swearengen. David is the hero, the poet, the champion of the common man, but some of the dark tragedy of his broken soul is already poking through. Samuel … oh man, you just have to see it. Samuel is perfect.

It’s not exactly the story of Saul and David. There are changes, some big, some small, enough that it’s not just a retelling. It’s a … I’m not sure. A re-narrating maybe? A re-wrighting? If you know the story well, there’s an added dimension of anticipation to watching the show. You find yourself constantly fitting together the new pieces of the the puzzle with the old familiar story. Who is this character? Oh, that’s Michael, Saul’s daughter. Who will be Saul’s Abner? … ah, there he is.

As I was watching, I thought about the first audience to Homer’s great epic poems. Homer wove together well-known stories, characters that everyone had grown up with, events that everyone could recite from memory: no listener would be caught by surprise when Achilles falls. Yet the telling of it, the recasting, the re-wrighting brought a new vivaciousness to the themes. Because the unfolding events were familiar, at least in broad strokes, the listener is freed up to listen more deeply to the story, to watch the characters (who do not know their own story) march through their fated steps alternately succumbing to and rising above their own fatal flaws.

I think this is a bold thing that NBC is doing, embracing a show like this. It’s a little risky, not because it’s biblical (it barely is, though probably enough to scrape a few good sermon clips). It’s a risk because by retelling an old story, they raise the stakes on the storytelling. They give up the right to hold an audience by serial suspense, the way Lost does, and they push in their chips on a bet that they can capture and keep an audience by the force of sheer storytelling, in the grand Homeric tradition of the word.

I hope the show sticks around. If for no other reason, I can’t wait to see how they handle this scene.

kings-nbc

The Rage of Amos

I’m reading through Amos right now in The Bible Podcast – I don’t think I’ve ever used “Mr. Angry Voice” so much in one sitting than reading through those 9 little chapters. You know that thing that God does where he gives himself different names depending on which aspect of his nature he wants to express? Yeah, in Amos, he calls himself “The God Who Commands Armies”, and he has his rage on, for sure.

Amos almost seems hesitant to be the messenger of such doom. He keeps interjecting the phrase “The Lord God is Speaking”, like you would if you were telling someone about the David Duke’s political platform, and as you got the section on racial purity, you kept saying, “Now, this is HIM speaking, not me! I want no part in this!”

Except that Amos has a brilliant moment of courage, when King Jereboam of Israel and Amaziah the priest accuse him of undermining the social fabric of Israel. They assume that he is a prophet for hire (a courtly profession, like a royal adviser, in the Ancient Near East), and they try tell him to move his business south, to Judah, where they go in for that sort of fundamentalism crap. Amos replies, “You think this was part of my career plan? I was not a prophet by profession – I was a shepherd, and a farmer. God ripped me away from my flocks and fields, and sent me here as his mouthpiece. (7:10-17) God does not bring down his hand of justice without warning. When a lion roars, everyone quakes in fear. God has spoken … who can possibly refuse to prophecy? (3:7-8)” (I pulled that second part out of an earlier section, but I think it’s certainly part of Amos’ same line of thought about his vocation as a prophet).

So, why is God raging? What great sin has Israel committed, for which God is bringing the Assyrians and Babylonians to lead them away with fishhooks in their mouth? The Old Testament gives plenty of reasons, and every prophet that God sent brought them fresh reminders of new ways that they had violated the terms of their lease agreement on the land. In Amos, though, the voice is singular in it’s implication.

the poor

Israel has abandoned her poor.

“They sold the innocent for a few pieces of silver, and they traded the needy for a new pair of sandals. They trample on the dirt-covered heads of the poor, they push the destitute away.” (2:7-8)

“Listen, you painted pigs, in Prada and Hermès, living on the coast of Malibu! You oppress the poor; you crush the needy. You whine to your husbands to up the credit limit on your cards, you lunch at Spago and spa at Amadeus, but the time is coming when you will be carried away in a rusted out shopping cart, through the rubble of your gated homes” (4:1-3)

“You hate anyone who speaks the truth to you, anyone who rules justly in your public courts. You levied taxes on the poor, to take away their food and their livelihood, and you used it to build houses of ornate stonework, and vineyards of fine grapes. You will enjoy neither.” (5:10-11)

“Woe to those who live in ease in Zion, to those who feel secure on Mount Samaria … They lie on beds decorated with ivory, the sprawl out on their couches. They eat choice lamb, and the best calves, they sing songs all day, they drink the best wine, and they soothe themselves in fine oils. Israel is in ruins, and they don’t care.” (6:3-6)

It turns out that undermining the social fabric of Israel was exactly what Amos was up to.

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One Thousand Sets of Ears, Pt. 2

Yesterday was story time. Today is the technical study. I thought it might be cool to look at some of the things that helped propel The Bible Podcast forward, presented in no particular order, as a guide to anyone else who might think about launching a podcast.

The Title

This has got to be the single biggest factor in moving the site up through search engine rankings. The name of the site is the name of the podcast is the 3-word description of exactly what it’s all about. If you launch a podcast about how awesome bunny slippers are, and title it “The Mr. T Show”, and host it at www.crazy4u.net/mrtpodshow, people have no idea what it is you’re doing. There are packs of raving bunny slipper fans out there searching Google for a podcast that meets their needs, but all they can tell from your page hit is that you’re a confused, possible psychopathic teenage girl. This doesn’t work to your advantage.

Promote One Distribution Channels

Since the very beginning, The Bible Podcast committed to iTunes as its primary distribution channel. I started with the assumption that most of my listeners wouldn’t be podcast people – they would be people venturing out into the world looking for this specific sort of thing (in the same way that most Addison Road readers aren’t really blog people, they’re people who come to this one specific blog). I assumed that most of our listeners would find our blog either through a Google search, or by flipping open iTunes and using the podcast directory search function. The iTunes search results are weighted in favor of popularity (number of subscribers).

podcast openingArmed with this knowledge, I push iTunes as the sole distribution channel for the podcast. If you look at the first page of the site, you’ll see what I mean. I stole this idea from Scribe Music Show (thanks, Trevor), and about 40% of the first-time visitors go directly to iTunes without ever having to visit the site itself. If they do click through to the website, they’ll see a link to iTunes prominently displayed, should they decide to subscribe. If they poke around the site a bit, they’ll find a “How do I listen?” page which, again, directs them to use iTunes to subscribe.

There are many, many good podcast aggregators out there, like Odeo.com, and the podcast is listen in most of these, but these sites are still, by and large, only used by the Nerd Herd. If you walk up to 100 people on the street and ask them about podcasting, they’ll beat you up and take your iPod away. This is LA, after all. But if you were to do it in someplace nice, like Boise, most people, if they knew anything at all about it, would say, “Oh yeah, that’s the button on my iTunes where I can listen to shows people do.”

By committing early to a distribution channel that would be most popular with my average listener, I made my popularity within iTunes artificially high. Instead of a few hundred subscribers scattered across dozens of distribution channels, I had a few hundred subscribers all listening through iTunes. Within the first 6 months, The Bible Podcast was in the top 4 results for the search term “Bible”, which in iTunes means getting banner placement on the search results page.

OurMedia.org

So, you’ve signed up for a fancy new hosting plan with Jim’s Big House of Web Hosting, and you’ve started to do the math. You realize pretty quickly that by the time you hit 100 daily subscribers, at 20 MB per podcast episode, you’re going to rip through your bandwidth in about 8 seconds. What do you do? Well, don’t host the files! OurMedia.org will host your audio and video files for free, and you can directly link them into your site. In other words, your listeners don’t have to click through to Our Media to listen, the files can be embedded directly into your site. There are two advantages to hosting your files off-site. The first is that you don’t have to pay for as much bandwidth. The second, you will pick up some drive-by traffic from people searching through the Our Media site looking for the things your podcast is about. I get about 20 hits a day from people who searched Our Media for the title of a specific book of the bible, and then following the links over to the podcast site.

I should mention that the Our Media servers have been pretty bloaty since the very beginning, and if an episode hasn’t been downloaded in a while, it seems to take forever for the server to actually find it. I eventually switched back over to hosting the audio files myself, instead of using Our Media. Still, I think they were an important part of getting up off the ground.

Content

So, those are some of the early choices that I made with the podcast, that I think contributed to it getting up off the ground. I don’t think they were the biggest factor in the podcast’s success, though. The inescapable truth is that “Content is King”. People come because they want the content. They want to hear the bible read by someone with a clear speaking voice, recorded with good equipment. Everything else is just lipstick, pointing people in the right direction.

I’m curious – anybody else out there in The Roadhouse running a podcast, or thinking of starting one? I’d love to hear your experiences.

One Thousand Sets of Ears

In September of 2005, I started a little side project called The Bible Podcast. The idea is pretty simple. I flip on a microphone, and record myself reading a chapter a day from the bible. Then, I upload it to a website where people can download it and listen. Then, sometimes, other people record themselves reading chapters, and I upload them. The website is www.thebiblepodcast.org, if you want to check it out.

Today, this little side project passed a major milestone. It passed 1,000 daily subscribers – people who set iTunes to go fetch the podcasts every single day. In fact, it pretty much blew right through that number, from 800 or so on Monday, to 900 on Tuesday, and today, I logged on to see this:

1216

I’m a numbers guy. I love seeing the numbers creep higher and higher, and to break them down in as many ways as possible. Things like:

25hits9minutes

get me all fancy up with my bad self. I go to the site and refresh the statistics every few hours to see how much bandwidth people are burning through. In December, the server spit out 300 gigs of data. In January, it’s been burning at a rate of about 30 gigs per day. Matthew 11, which was just posted yesterday, has been downloaded 1500 times.

I know that these kinds of numbers are hardly a blip on the radar for the big dogs in the new media, but in the little world of podcasts about the bible, it’s a pretty big deal.

If you search for the words “Bible” and “Podcast”, the site comes up as #1 on Yahoo, and #3 on Google. It you search the iTunes podcast directory for the word “bible”, it’s the first podcast listed.

Gretchen has a theory about the rapid acceleration of subscribers. She thinks everybody got an iPod for Christmas, and then they made a New Year’s resolution to read the bible more. So, they go poking around in iTunes for a way to get their daily bread in tastee little no-hassle packages, like a Twinkee. I think Gretchen is pretty smart.

So, I’m a numbers guy, but I love reading emails from people who listen. There’s a Catholic priest who lives in the northern most tip of Japan, who sat around listening to the Gospel of John with a family who had just lost their young wife and mother. They just put it on repeat and listened over and over again.

There are students in South America who get together to listen to the podcast, and read along with the text, in order to improve their English. Thing about how scary that is, for just a second. You might be walking through Brazil someday and bump into some kid who speaks English with a Mike Lee accent.

There’s a guy who is fairly agnostic about God, but was curious about the bible, so he subscribed to see what all the fuss was about. His email was hilarious. He just wanted to let me know that he enjoyed it, and concluded by saying, “Please don’t send me any tracts or religious crap.” I was tempted to forward him every Chick tract in one ginormous email, but I restrained myself.

tbp_logoThere are the people who want to argue about the translation that I’m using (New English Translation, pretty good, in my humble opinion), or they take issue with the fact that I let Catholics into the club (sheesh), or they are upset that I’m reading the Bible “Out of Order” (I’m guessing they think the thing was handed down out of Heaven in a neatly stacked set of galleys, ready for publishing). I get an equal number of emails from people who love the bumper music, and can’t stand the bumper music. I smile a little bit, because I think there are people who just love to pick a fight, and they like it even more if they can call it “contending for the faith once delivered”. Mostly, I just hit “delete” on those. Life’s too short.

A few have just floored me. There are people in countries that block access to sites having anything to do with the bible, but they are able to subscribe to a podcast feed. They listen. Two people have approached me about expanding the podcast into other languages that will reach areas where it is dangerous to distribute bibles. One wants to do a version in Farsi, the language spoken in parts of Iran and Afghanistan. Another wants to do a version in Mandarin Chinese. We’re still working through the logistics, but I’m hopeful that this will come together.

So, the Story of God advances. 500 years ago, they burned the bones of those who suggested that the Bible could be read and understood by the common people in their own language. Today, a 12-year-old kid in Taiwan can log on to iTunes, and download it.