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Saturday, I participated in a gathering of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut called “Living Local; Joining God”. This is an effort by the Episcopal Church in Connecticut and a few other diocese to explore encountering God with our neighbors. The Episcopal Diocese of Maine describes it this way:
The world has changed. More and more of our neighbors are encountering God in places other than church buildings and services. And more and more, if we want to encounter God with our neighbors, we have to go out into our neighborhoods and see what God is up to.
At one point during the gathering we expressed concerns and I shared my concern that too often people think of their neighborhoods geographically. As a social media professional, I asked people to think about their digital neighborhoods. I asked people to talk about their community of interest neighborhoods and their professional association neighborhoods. My comments appeared to be appreciated and led to a great discussion over lunch.
During lunch, I talked a bit about Marc Prenskey’s great essay, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. I noted that it seemed like almost everyone at the gathering was a digital immigrant, someone who had grown up in a non-digital world but now lived in a digital world. I noted that I often identify as a digital aborigine. If you know where to look, you can find stuff I wrote online from 1982. There may be older stuff still online, but I haven’t found it.
As a digital aborigine, I often talk about living in a digital world, in digital communities and digital neighborhoods. My digital immigrant friends talked about a future that was becoming more and more digital, and often spoke of that as if it were a bad thing. I think some of that may simply be because of them looking at the world from a pre-digital perspective.
Prensky write, “The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first.” I pushed this a bit further and suggested that viewing online relationships as being inferior to face to face relationships may also be part of digital immigrant thinking. I met my wife online. We were married in an online community before we were married in a church. Our relationship is enhanced by both its online and its physical aspects.
Online relationships often lead to face to face relationships. They have advantages for people who have problems communicating face to face, including people on the autism spectrum, or even simply introverts. My fourteen year old daughter has many deep meaningful online relationships. Some have not yet led to face to face interaction, for example because of distance. Others have started off online and have become empowering face to face relationships. We need to be connecting with people online, even if we are digital immigrants or digital introverts.
Another issue that people expressed was the concern about sacred space. I’ve visited physical spaces considered so sacred that you must take off your shoes before entering them. Surely, people suggest, there are places so sacred that digital technology should not come in. I think this is an important point. We need to think about how we view sacred spaces in relationship to digital technology. We also need to think about sacred digital spaces. It is an area I haven’t thought enough about. Like a good digital aborigine, as I wrote this, I did a quick Google search of sacred digital spaces and found various links I’ll explore later:
Intervarsity has MINISTRY IN DIGITAL SPACES with the hashtag #thisisreallife. It reminded me of discussions back in the nineties I had talking about “real life” and “virtual worlds”. I maintained back then, and today, that our interactions in virtual worlds are part of our real lives.
As I explored their website, their digital neighborhood, if you will, I found, Pokemon Go: a modern day well. At the event this morning, when we went out to ‘map the neighborhood’. One of the first things I noted was that the church we were starting out from, like many churches, is a Pokestop. Churches should own this part of their space.
Another article that caught my attention was Thin Places in Digital Spaces written by Kimberly Knight who describes herself as a “Minister of Digital Communities”. It is an article I want to go back and read more closely later and includes this:
We at Extravagance—myself and the other two ministers, Jo Hudson and Lawrence Tanner Richardson—work to create and sustain community through a variety of online ministries, such as live Bible studies on Zoom.us, asynchronous Facebook retreats, and ancient spiritual practices using Livestream.com. We even engage in frequent pastoral care through private messaging on Facebook, email, and text messages.
The discussion about digital sacred spaces is an important one to have.
So, people asked me if I was posting during Social Media Sunday. Yes, I intend to, although as I’ve written elsewhere, I am a little ambivalent about it. It often feels to me like digital immigrants promoting physical spaces instead of living digitally. To use the language of Living Local; Joining God”, it feels a bit developmental instead of transformational. It feels like one of those programs we feel we should be doing to reach the unchurched, instead of something we are doing to transform ourselves and our relationships with our neighbors. It doesn’t feel, to me, at least, especially missional.
Yet it is very important, just like attracting young families with checkbooks to church on Sunday morning is important. I offer these comments as a challenge, to invite people to try on a more missional approach to social media, as well as part of my own search for people who are living and worshiping in digital spaces.
So, I ask you, if you’ve managed to make it to the end of this long blog post, “What sort of transformational digital sacred spaces do you seek, envision, or participate in?”
I’ve always been interested in the underlying narratives of our political process, so an article in Mother Jones, I SPENT 5 YEARS WITH SOME OF TRUMP'S BIGGEST FANS. HERE'S WHAT THEY WON'T TELL YOU. particularly caught my attention. It talks about the Trump supporters narrative:
You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you're being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He's on their side. In fact, isn't he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It's not your government anymore; it's theirs.
If you look at the waiting in line narrative, it is easy to see Obama as the cutter-in-chief and Trump as the person that will stop all this line cutting. It is easy to see Clinton as someone who has already made it through the line, who was born at the front of the line. You can see Sanders as someone who is saying that the line is rigged. If you support BlackLivesMatter, you are very painfully aware of how the line is rigged against black people. If you are white and middle class, seeing the dream slip away, or the possibility of slipping away, the Trump version of the narrative may sound very real. You can also see Stein and Johnson as telling people they are waiting in the wrong line.
It all sort of depends on where you are in the line. Are you a well to do liberal wanting the line to move a little more quickly and fairly for those behind you in line? Are you a conservative a little further back in the line worried about being moved further and further back in the line? Are our part of the dispossessed and disenfranchised for whom the American dream is simply an unattainable dream? Are you someone who has started looking for a different dream?
To a certain extent, I agree with Sanders. The line is rigged. It needs to be fixed. To a certain extent, I agree with Stein and Johnson, it is the wrong line. Yet with any of that, I would be buying into the Trump supporters’ narrative.
Back in 2013, Franklin Graham wrote about America having a heart problem, quoting Ecclesiastes, “The hearts of the children of man are full of evil” and Matthew, “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder”. He then goes on to talk about his opposition to gun control, because it won’t address the heart problem.
I’ve been reading St. Augustine recently, and this is the sort of tortured logic that would have given him palpitation.
Rev. Barber spoke about the heart problem from a different perspective, saying that religion and politics is being used to "camouflage meanness”. When I listen to Graham and the Barber, I hear much more of God’s love in Rev. Barber’s words.
I believe both Graham and Franklin are pointing to a different narrative, one that we heard in the Gospel last week in Luke 16, “You cannot serve God and wealth”. This is where I have a lot of issues with the prosperity Gospel. Yes, God wants to bless all of us abundantly, but that blessing isn’t about material things. It also isn’t something reserved for just the good people, just those who are deserving.
Matthew 5:45 reminds us that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
No, the real narrative of this election is that God calls us, in the words of Micah 6:8 “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”.
Are you going to stand in line along with Trump supporters, squabbling about who gets what? Or are you going to step out of line to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and welcome the stranger in our land? Are you going to serve God or serve wealth? Are you going to walk humbly with God?
The pollsters may not view this as a winning narrative, but I honestly believe that the American dream is based on this loving kindness and that it is deep enough in our psyche that even if we do not use the language of religion, the majority of the people in our country desire Godly compassion more than they desire ill-gotten wealth.
A form of poetry I’ve been very interested in recently is called ‘found poetry’. Here is what I’ve found recently.
The second and sixth stanza are from a political campaign, but I changed one word in the latter stanza for more impact. The first is a comment a friend made about those quotes. The third stanza is from Matthew 20. The fourth is from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and the fifth is from the musical Jesus Christ, Superstar. I end off with putting the question in the form of the questions asked during baptism in the Episcopal Church.
While some people looko at the political quote as a poor political analogy, I think it is really a great analogy for the Christian life.
Eating the skittles
the way of the cross.
“If I had a bowl of skittles
and I told you
just three would kill you.
Would you take a handful?”
“You do not know what you are asking, Jesus replied.
“Are you able to drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We are able,” the brothers answered.
“You will indeed drink My cup,” Jesus said.
“After supper he took the cup of wine;
and when he had given thanks,
he gave it to them, and said,
"Drink this, all of you:
This is my Blood of the new Covenant,
which is shed for you
and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you drink it,
do this for the remembrance of me."
“I will drink Your cup of poison
Nail me to Your cross and break me”
“Let’s end the politically correct agenda
that doesn’t put God first”
“If I had a bowl of skittles
and I told you
just three would kill you.
Would you take a handful?”
“I will, with God's help.”