A Couple Things I’ve Learned

My tenth blog post feels like a real accomplishment.

Not only does it mark the completion of my course, it also represents a significant step in finding my voice as a theologian.

Going into this course, I had two main goals.

I wanted to understand how social media could be used effectively in ministry.  What are the unique ways in which ministry can happen online?

I think that we often, for good reason, focus on violent and abusive behaviours that are so rampant online. It’s easy to link the Internet with it’s potential to do damage.

But I have learned that the Internet has also provided many with a community that has been incredibly supportive, positive, and even life changing.

In An anthropological introduction to YouTube, Michael Wesch shares the story of a man who would act out a variety of entertaining characters on YouTube.  These videos were an outlet for him when he was grieving the death of his infant son. He spoke of the videos as “a form of therapy, a coping mechanism.”  Reflecting on how much YouTube meant to him, he told his audience: “This website, this community, helped bring me life again. And there’s something really special in that.”

It was important for me to learn that sacred spaces can and do exist on the Internet.

If we’re interested in creating or being a part of them, Elizabeth Drescher and Keith Anderson offer some advice in their book Click2Save: “We do that through a ministry presence which incorporates noticing, accepting, and reaching our in kindness and compassion to the others in our midst.”

I also wanted to get better at engaging issues that were important to me from a theological point of view.  How might feminism and theology collide in ways that are interesting to an online audience? 

It often took many hours and several drafts to get my blog posts down to a readable length (i.e. shorter than this one). It’s fairly easy for me to rant on an issue.  It’s much more difficult to make a single concise point.

My blog post on Martin Luther took nearly 10 hours, though it looks like it should have taken 20 minutes.  Why? Because I wrote out every single thing that was on my mind until I got to the heart of the matter.  Then I deleted 80% of it.

Do people know that it was spurred by my reaction to sexually violent and hateful comments left on YouTube videos?  It doesn’t matter… because in the end, that wasn’t the bite sized piece of information that I wished to share.

I’ve learned that blogging isn’t just about getting your well thought-out opinions and superior ideas out there.  It’s about sharing something that might make someone feel something, or do something.  And it’s about reading what other people have to say and seeing how it moves you.

Digital ministry isn’t simply doing the same things in a new way.  It’s a whole new way of relating.  And it’s a privilege to be a part of it.

Works Cited:

Drescher, Elizabeth and Keith Anderson, Click to Save: The Digital Ministry Bible, New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2012.

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Hospitality

I have never experienced hospitality and welcome like I did when I first arrived in Ngaoundéré, Cameroon.  A group of Femmes Pour Christ (Women for Christ) greeted us as we got off the train with smiles, laughter, and songs of welcome as they gathered us into their arms like mother hens.  Then they carried our bags and led us to our homes, doing everything they could to show how glad they were that we had arrived safely.

Did I mention our train was late and they had waited in the hot sun for 8 hours?

Neither did they.

I often think of what it would be like to offer this type of welcome to people that visit the places I regularly attend. I regularly fail to notice the visitors in our midst at seminary.

In the book Click 2 Save, Elizabeth Drescher and Keith Anderson write about hospitality of another sort.

It’s the hospitality that we as ministry leaders and congregations might offer through our online presence. By being active in social media communities we are able to reach out, meet the strangers in our midst, make ourselves available, and find points of connection.  In a sense, we are creating what might be called a “digital narthex.”

Many churches have websites, but these authors point out that people don’t need more information, what they need is relationship.

To this end, they suggest that we get out there and visit people’s pages and blogs, online news sites, and other spaces.  Once there we might leave messages of support, encouragement, a different perspective, and even include links to our organizations Facebook page.

Hospitality is not just a matter of opening your digital door, but of being willing to travel across the digital domain on a regular basis. Digital hospitality depends on reciprocity – taking the kinds of walks, even out of our comfort zones, that Jesus called us to as disciples and which the apostles and saints modeled. (Click to Save, p. 130)

And remember the golden rule: Don’t just promote yourself. Follow people who follow you, friend those who take an interest in your site.

Works Cited:

Drescher, Elizabeth and Keith Anderson, Click to Save: The Digital Ministry Bible, New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2012.

At Least Nothing Is Damaged

As I was getting into the car today the door flung open and I smashed my hand between it and the car next to me.

Even as the pain set in my only thought was: thank goodness my hand was there or I would have dented that car!

It occurred to me that this might be an erroneous way of thinking, but I really was thankful. My hand might bruise, my nail might fall off – but this all seems less painful than having to part with my money to pay for damages to my neighbours car, or having to live with the guilt of not owning up to it.

I started thinking of other times I have unconsciously risked harming people over things.  There was the time I dropped a knife and tried to cushion its fall on my new hardwood floors by stopping it with my foot.  And the times I avoided hugging clients because I knew they had bed bugs in their homes and I didn’t want them in mine.

It’s easy to value possessions over people, but I’d sure like to stop it.

Practice Being Impulsive!

There’s something about improv that has always frightened and impressed me.

It’s amazing what people can come up with on the spot, with no time to analyze what would be the smartest or funniest or most helpful thing to say.

I’ve always preferred acting in plays, where there is time to practice over and over again.  This explains why when it comes to ministry I’m comfortable preaching a sermon but I get anxious when asked to say an impromptu table grace.

In her book, Engaging Technology in Theological Education, Mary Hess uses the analogy of preparing to perform a play to describe how we might work toward having the biblical witness at the heart of our teaching and learning.

She describes learning the character and the script as just the first step.
We learn the biblical stories and characters, get to know the background, and gain insight on what the story is saying.

Next comes practice performing.
We move from knowing the stories to knowing how to share them, from knowing what is being asked of us, to knowing how to begin living into such a way of life.

Then the script must be enacted in multiple contexts.
We know that we can only fully understand in as wide a circle of learners as possible.

Finally, we must begin to improvise.
Once the stories are at the heart of our story, they exist so deeply within us that we can live and share them, even as the context around us shifts and changes.

The Christian church has an old, old story to tell in a radically different time than when it was written.

As we find ourselves engaging in ministry through social media and in various online communities, we are like improv actors seeking to share our stories in new and exciting ways.

It’s still a little frightening.

It’s also entirely impressive when it’s done well.

Works Cited:

Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can’t Leave Behind.Mary E. Hess. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2005.

What Would Jesus Do?

I’ve found myself thinking a lot this week about those bracelets that were a fad in the 90’s. The idea was that wearing WWJD around your wrist would remind you that you can stop for a moment and think about the action you’re about to take, then decide what Jesus would do and follow that example.

In an after-school special sort of way (those were also popular in the 90’s) you would then invite the socially awkward kid to your birthday party, or extend unwarranted forgiveness to the bully, or ask the person sitting alone on the bleachers if they wanted to dance.

Yet in the last few days this acronym has come to mind in the most odd situations, leading me to ask some different questions…

What would Jesus do upon returning home exhausted after a full day of discussing theology?  Would he eat a whole bag of chips, washing it down with Captain and Cherry Coke?

What would Jesus do if he was really, really excited about something? Would he dance in front of the mirror singing ridiculous songs?

And my favorite WWJD moment of the week:

What would Jesus do if he was a woman in 2013? Would he automatically shave his armpits without even thinking about it?

So, it turns out that my WWJD experience hasn’t led me to make better decisions, but I will admit 2 things: It’s very tempting to think that Jesus would make the same decisions I do. And there’s a whole lot about Jesus that I simply can’t know.

Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A (Select) Start

I’ll never forget that sequence.  It was the secret to getting additional lives at the start of the Nintendo game Contra, and the only way my brother and I could finish the whole game in a weekend.

Fast-forward 25 years… last month I memorized Luther’s Small Catechism for a mid-term exam.  I’ve long forgotten it.

In A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown demonstrate how play is the basis for cultivating imagination and innovation.  “Where imaginations play, learning happens.”

They describe our current time as an “information economy” where expertise is less about having a stockpile of facts at our disposal and more about knowing where to find information and how to determine if the source is reliable.

I can think of half a dozen places where I could quickly and easily find Luther’s Small Catechism if I need to, and approximately zero situations in which I would wish I had it memorized.

The Nintendo sequence on the other hand – that was memorized through practice and out of a strong desire to master the task at hand.

Before anyone gets too worried about this pastor-to-be valuing an 80’s Nintendo game over the Small Catechism, let me add one more thing.  There actually are a few parts that I still have committed to memory.  They are the parts that I have recited my whole life in worship and the parts that I have applied to my life in practical ways.

If you’re interested in exploring a new framework for teaching and learning, this is a great place to begin.

Thomas, Douglas and John Seely Brown, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating Imagination for a World of Constant Change, 2011.

Have you Her’d?

A good friend of mine in seminary gets hymn’d out quite a bit.

It’s a condition brought on by excessive exposure to traditional hymns without an adequate balance or acknowledgment of alternative music forms.

I have a high tolerance for hymns and quite enjoy them, so I don’t feel her exact pain.

But I can commiserate.

Afterall, I get Him’d out all the time.

You know the condition… it’s brought on by excessive exposure to male language for God without an adequate balance or acknowledgment of alternative images.

My friend has a high tolerance for Hims and is quite comfortable with the imagery, so she doesn’t feel my exact pain.

But she can commiserate.

And sometimes, that’s all we need.