Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How we say it.

Talking to someone not only is about the words we say, but also the way we say it. Conversations hinge on the body language someone exhibits. If someone crosses their arms, the conversation can go from friendly to tense in a flicker of an eye. When we’re tense, what we say in a conversation changes completely.

Communication technology is the same way. What technology we use, shapes what we say. Shane Hipps notes in Flickering Pixels:
Marshall McLuhan, the oracle of the electronic age, reveals the error of this assumption when he says that ‘the medium is the message.’ If the first truth is that our methods change, the message automatically changes along with them. You can’t change methods without changing your message – they’re inseparable.” (25)
The medium by which I communicate with my grandmother changes everything. I send her short e-mails with forty words and usually a silly picture attached; Grandma sends me cards in the mail with a silly news story clipped from the paper. Neither of us writes back. Our phone conversations are longer, we banter, and we discuss everything from family history to theology and politics. These are the same two people, yet what we say changes completely by the mediums we use to communicate with. It is fortunate that this 90 year old grandmother and this 24 year old grandchild have the telephone, otherwise we’d never be able to meet in the middle and hear what the other person has to say. Our ability to communicate vastly improves with finding a technology that works for both of us.

In theology terms, Hipps explains that the medium that we use to talk about God changes the ways in which we communicate about God. The way that the printing press changed Christianity was not only in terms of reading the Bible, but also in the ways that we organized our congregations. He points out pews inside churches, which line people up like letters on a page, are not found in medieval churches (47). The printing press changed everything for Christianity. We changed our ways of thinking about and constructing Christianity because of technology.

He also suggests that the printing press changed the way we understood theology. A sentence is a logical, linear string of characters to produce a whole thought. Therefore, Hipps sees those of us who have been trained in reading and writing think in these logical linear ways. In Hipps understanding, theology became a linear, logical understanding that valued progressive, factual thought over feelings. How we understood God and talked about God, changed because of this technology.

Yet, like the example of communication with my grandmother, communication between God and humanity goes both ways. Hipps describes Flickering Pixels as both the way we communicate about God, and the way that God reaches out to us: “It’s about the way God communicates with us and the way we communicate God to the world” (13-14). God uses different mediums to communicate with humanity. At first it was the temple in Jerusalem, later God used Jesus. Using the Logos passage in John 1, Hipps points to the ways in which the message and the medium were embodied in the same person. Through Jesus, the ideas and words of God, become perfectly communicable. Interestingly, a human, is the ultimate communication technology for God.

Yet some parts of what is communicated remain the same; some parts of each new communication technology build from another communication technology. So when the Jesus medium talks about love, Jesus is using the same message from previous technologies, for example the Prophet Isaiah communication model. My grandmother asks about my eating habits and exercise routine or tells me that she loves me whether it is through phone or card. So while communication mediums do change, some parts of the message, like God loves, doesn’t change.

Unfortunately, there is also the problem of the fourth dimension of technology. This is the fact that technology can sometimes trap us in unexpected ways. Hipps calls this the “underside” of technology. For instance, city walls while providing protection during a siege could also be a trap during the time of a city fire; video surveillance cameras provide identification of those who commit a crime, but also invade the privacy of people (Hipps, 37). The response to the God Communicating Technology also can have flaws that get brought forward with each new technological advantage. Despite God’s use of many different people to communicate, God’s message, that gets regularly forgotten. Deborah, was excluded from the list of Judges in Bible concordances for centuries; Mary Magdalene was excluded from Paul’s list of people who witnessed the risen Christ. Even though well intentioned people do use this medium to talk about God, they in fact sometimes bring in the underside of technology as well.

How we say what we say matters. Not only does how we say it matter, it changes what we say too. So, if a Theology after Google, is a theology that takes rapid technological changes into account, then it also needs to understand the ways in which talk about God will change what we say about God. If we are to take this theology seriously, we need to be extra observant of what precisely it is we are pulling forward from past mediums, looking for both the potential beauty from past mediums, and be aware of the past mistakes.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Did talking about the sermon make you happy?

According to a recent New York Times article, a study suggested that those who regularly took part in deep, thoughtful, and existential conversations were, by both internal and external observation, happier.

Considering that I am thinking a lot about church, the internet, and the church and internet, this article provides an interesting challenge. Do we in fact have these kinds of deeply connecting conversations on the internet? Does the internet give us the opportunity to meet more people that we can have these kinds of conversations? Does its openness make people hesitant and uneasy with “putting themselves out there” and being in these kinds of deep conversation for the whole world to see?

And then the second question became, do we have these conversations in the church? Does coffee hour, bible study, or the sermon give us not only a sense of community, but a place of illuminating conversations where we can enter into meaningful theological discussions that leave each other enlightened and enriched? At the heart of Christianity are stories about God and Jesus and the ways in which meaning erupted into the world. Does our church give us the opportunity to meet people that we can have these kinds of deep, meaningful eruptions and the language with which to be able to talk about them? Does the church provide safe-places to be able to enter into these kinds of conversations?

For me, deep conversations are about finding meaning with another person. They are important, blessed events. Therefore it is a challenge to both the church medium and the internet medium that in order to provide happiness, they need to provide ways for people to dive into deep, careful, thoughtful conversation. And it is a challenge to suggest that we need to think of new radical ways that these mediums can be happiness-inducing by supporting voices and making opportunity for difficult, but ultimately meaningful conversations.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sexuality 2.0: A Challenge

First of all this post is not just about homosexuality, although we do touch upon that some. In fact, it seems that the “question of homosexuality and the church” is perhaps even a distraction away from the heart of the matter: Christians don’t know how to talk about any kind of sexuality.

But before we can talk about sexuality, we need to talk about bodies. And bodies are a point of complication for Christians. We divide our bodies from our spirit. Our bodies are flawed, needing to be conquered by the spirit, needing to be overcome by a will stronger than what we say. Christians privilege the will, the mind, and reason over our bodies. It’s an unequal dualism.
Everyone has a body, but not every body is created equal. Some bodies are reduced to what we simply see; some bodies are not even visible at all:
The Latina body is a particular body that is invisible, even when radicalized and sexualized, it’s invisible.
With these bodies, both visible and invisible, we are told how we fit into our society.
These actions are even more prefabricated when discussing sexuality. We have heteronormative, monogamous, and married sexuality. Yet even this solid absolutely model gets frayed at the edges, frayed by practice.

So perhaps a Sexuality After Google, is a sexuality 2.0. It is something that changes the way that we relate and explore to our bodies.

Sexuality 1.0

Sexuality 2.0




Gender Queer



Prefabricated Narratives for Sexuality

Constructed Narratives



Instead of understanding sexuality as a stable identity (I am gay, I am straight), then perhaps we can understand sexuality as a fluid, creative identification. Our identity is not told to us, but something we can borrow from, perform, and narrate. Our sexuality is not a permanent category to fit into, but instead part of our stories from which change, grow and elaborate over time.
Then perhaps if we understand sexuality this way, we won’t be Christians that “Need the gays (gaze)” We won’t be a church that uses homosexuality as a litmus test, but instead allow us to have a conversation about sexuality ALL sexual identifications can discuss this beautiful, ambiguous, and powerful experience.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Saints and Sages, not Religious Professionals"

Brian McLaren skyped in to our class last week to talk about his new book "A New Kind of Christianity" (and which we all reviewed various chapters, including my post here.) At the end of the chat, our TA asked him if he Brian would like to offer us any advice.

He told us "The world is looking for saints and sages, not religious professionals."

And then he followed that up with this story, which I will quickly paraphrase to the best of my ability:

McLaren is good friends with his next door neighbor and their relationship has grown and blossomed so that he became close to his neighbor's family as well as his neighbor. His next door neighbor’s father grew ill and was dying and the neighbor asked McLaren to come visit his father in the hospital. One day as McLaren was walking to his car, he just got a strong urge to go see his neighbor’s father at the hospital. He sat there in the hospital praying and holding the father's hand. He left to go to the parking lot and before he made it to the car, his neighbor called. The neighbor’s father had passed away.

The world is looking for saints and sages and not religious professionals.

And I knew in an instant that YES! I wanted to do this. His story reminded me of countless other stories of mine, which, while not as dramatic, were places that I felt like I was doing ministry. These were not United Methodists, but still people who needed love. And I loved doing it. I love being with these people. As I heard that story, visions of how I could keep doing that, just that and be fulfilled, happy and joyful for the rest of my life.

Of course just as soon as these grand visions flashed through my mind, I immediately ran into a stop sign. "But how would I eat?" I asked myself. I don't want or need a paycheck for fancy things, in fact I am quite comfortable with the fact that my chosen profession won't lead to a lot of extraneous bonuses, but I rather like the idea of having a roof over my head, food on the table, and hot water for a shower. These visions of ministry --- I'm not sure if they would ever translate into these three essentials for my life.

I think that this internal conflict may be a microcosmic example of the macrocosmic problem with the mainline churches of today. I think we really, really want to be out there and being the holy people the world is looking for, but are worried about what we think are the essentials. We do want to do this, but we also want a church to meet, to pay our pastors, and Bibles in the pews.

So this is what I'm sitting with. How do we have an ecclesiology and an imagination that allows us to be both? Is it possible? I dearly wish and hope so.