Archive - Oct 2014

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October 26th

This Is Voting

I’ve written about David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water" before. Today, a friend shared it again on Facebook, and I stopped and listened to it, and thought about the coming election.

There is just over a week until election day and I am exhausted. I door knock, put out campaign signs, work on mailers, talk with voters, all while trying to care for my family and do my regular job. It is a choice I have made. David Foster Wallace talks about choices in his speech.

The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default-setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way

This is what voting is about. Yes, all the crappy negative campaign ads on television are annoying. The phone calls, and the direct mail, and having a politician walk up your driveway to shake your hand can be annoying. It is easy to get lost the rants online from our partisan friends. We can get caught in thinking it is all about ourselves. Even worse, we can go vote for people based on how well they will defend our petty little lives and biases. Or, we can make a conscious decision.

If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important — if you want to operate on your default-setting — then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying. But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars — compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true: The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.

Think, pay attention, seek compassion and love, and then, get out and vote.

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October 22nd

Social media and the events at GTS

We are interested in hearing your thoughts on the role that social media--specifically blogs, Facebook and Twitter--played in the events that unfolded over the last several weeks at General Theological Seminary. It feels to us as though the Episcopal Church has just been through a new experience and we'd like to try to understand it better.

I am an Episcopalian and a social media professional. I’ve been following the events at General Theological Seminary very closely for the past few weeks, and when I saw the inquiry above, I felt it was time to try and gather some of my thoughts about what has gone on.

A little context: When I was in my twenties, I considered the priesthood or the monastic life, but I never had a clear sense of calling and went into the world of business.

Around 1993, I help set up the first website for the Parish I attended, and then for the Diocese of Connecticut. In 2003, I helped write social media software for Gov. Dean’s Presidential campaign. I was the first person in Connecticut on Twitter, and continue to be an early adopter of digital technology.

Last month, I wrote about The Facebook Daily Office and how social media is changing my prayer life. Soon after, our church had a Vestry retreat, which I wrote in Reimaging Bread. This was a few days after I had heard about the turmoil at General Theological Seminary. I touched on social media and what was happening at General a little bit in that post.

It is worth noting that I heard about it on Facebook, when a friend wrote

I just want to put out there to my fellow Alums that my silence surrounding GTS has not been due to lack of care. I cannot even begin to express how much I care, how deeply I am lamenting, what kinds of thoughts are going around in my head from my oh-so-unique perspective. I have decided to adhere to silence as a discipline,… This week was the time for me to pray.

As a communications professional, I always come back to a couple key ideas, especially around crisis communications: Say as little as possible, and always return to the mission statement.

For me, in this crisis, the statement I applied was:

The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (Book of Common Prayer, pg. 855.)

I also feel that when thinking about social media, Psalm 19:14 is very important

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.

I echoed these themes in an email I sent to a board member, who had posted something on Facebook that was being widely quoted, and appeared to be further enflaming the situation.

I feel compelled to reply. On the professional level, your response appears very unwise. When in a crisis, people involved should say as little as possible publicly, and when they do speak, they should always return to the mission. In this situation, I would return to “The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Was your post helping restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ? Was it helpful in restoring the unity of the professors and board members? You may have intended it to be, but it does not appear that way to an outsider. I also always return to Psalm 19:14 “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.”

Part of the response was

Please know, however, that I did not and would not have ever posted them without permission to do so.

I responded suggesting it was important to “understand that having permission to do something does not make it wise, caring, or Christ-centered”. I also spoke a little bit about the important
“difference between intention and impact, especially when it comes to communications about highly contentious issues.” My may have great intentions, but the impact may be different, even the polar opposite of our intentions.

At our Vestry meeting this week, we had a long discussion about what has happened at General, and how it relates to our Parish, to The Diocese, The Episcopal Church, The Anglican Communion, and to Christendom.

When I worked on Gov. Dean’s campaign, and on political and journalistic efforts online afterwards, the Internet was often compared to the printing press; it will bring about changes to all our institutions on the level of the days of Gutenberg.

What does this mean for religious institutions? Perhaps it would be better for Reformation scholars to comment on this. The printing press made it possible for every person to have access to a Bible. The internet gives every person access to their own pulpit.

What does this mean for church structure and reimagining the church in the 21st century? I’m not sure, but there are a few things of note.

Giving everyone access to a Bible does little if few people know how to read. Giving everyone access to a pulpit does little if few people can preach well.

We are all still learning how to communicate effectively online. I hope the experiences will cause people to look back to the mission statements and to Psalm 19 to find ways of proclaiming an ageless Gospel on new media.

October 8th

Reimagining Bread

On Saturday, I had the honor and privilege in attending what I hope was the First Annual Vestry Retreat of Grace and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Hamden, CT. It was difficult for me to attend. I am running for State Representative, and should be spending every free moment working on the campaign.

Yet I viewed the retreat as an obligation instead of one of several different things I could choose to do on a Saturday in October. As an elected leader of my community, I take the responsibilities that come with it very seriously. I had a responsibility to the members of the Church to attend. I also had a responsibility to take care of myself, and that includes taking time out of our daily grind to focus on underlying key issues.

We often hear about how everything changed on 9/11, how the Internet is changing everything, or many other ways that everything has changed. My thoughts go to Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

The Episcopal Church is being reimagined, recognizing that “We live in an age of networks, yet our churchwide structure has not fully adapted to this organizational paradigm.” My thoughts go to 1 Corinthians 12 and how we, as different parts of the body of Christ are, or should be, networked together.

This reimagining seems to be sending reverberations throughout the church. I have been following the turmoil at General Theological Seminary and have wondered how it relates to the reimagining.

Here in Connecticut, the Diocese is reimaging itself. I went to a diocesan listening tour as part of this process and later wrote about it saying, “It felt disconnected from the real world of suffering, grace, and redemption. It felt too focused on the plans of people, and not enough on God given vision.”

I wonder how much this is the case in the turmoil at General or in the church as a whole.

Yet the vestry retreat was different. We made bread. Literally. The process was interspersed with worship and reflection. We mixed the ingredients. We stopped for prayer and reflection. We kneaded the dough. We stopped for noontime prayer. We baked the bread and discussed various readings. We broke the bread at Communion and shared the Peace.

I thought about when I had visited a Trappist monastery years ago and their simple life of prayers and making bread. I thought of the listening tour and I wished that it could have been more like the retreat.

The appointed Psalm for Sunday was Psalm 19. I thought about verse 14. I’ve often heard it said before a sermon, yet it seems like it needs to be said much more often, on the campaign trail, on Facebook posts, perhaps even in discussions about reimagining the church or dealing with issues at General Theological Seminary.

I adapted it to the twenty first century and posted it on Facebook. “Let the words of my mouth and my posts on social media be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Perhaps there is nothing new and we should learn from the Psalm and from the monks making their bread.

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