SpiritFarmer


Emergency! 2 million people in jeopardy!!
June 11, 2009, 9:14 am
Filed under: culture, media, technology

A recent survey revealed a frightening level of lack of preparation.  As a result, more than 2 million USAmerican households are in danger of losing their television signals.  These are people without a digital converter box for their TV, and won’t be able to receive the over-the-air broadcasts from TV stations.  Have you noticed the frenzy that TV channels are going through to make sure everyone is prepared.  It’s like there’s some impending natural disaster or something. It sure does reveal something about the centrality of our idolatry.  I’m completely and totally guilty of this form of idolatry myself, so I don’t mean to make some elitist, moralist stand here.

Whatever the case, I hope that they do some follow up surveys with these 2 million households.  Something along the lines of tracking increased levels of literacy, quality of family relationships, community involvement, and physical health among those who got left behind in the shift to digital TV.

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What if we started over?

Last week, in an effort to fool myself into thinking that I’m a tech geek (even though I know zero coding languages, don’t know most of the fancy acronyms, and don’t use the tools I have access to very elegantly), I watched the 80 minute video from Google’s I/O Conference, in which they rolled out their latest brainchild, Wave.  The video demonstrates some pretty cool stuff that will be game changing – like integrating e-mail, instant messaging, blogging, Twitter, wikis, collaborative projects, and entertainment.  If you’d like, you can watch it here.

The video stimulated a lot of questions and thoughts in me, particularly about the implications of these technologies, and how they will be used (both well and poorly) by Christians.  But the statement from the video I keep going back to actually happens very early on (at about 5:00 or so).  The lead developer, who is doing the demonstration, is introducing the mentality behind Wave, and says something like this (very paraphrased):

E-mail is by far the most popular form of communication on the internet today.  That’s very interesting, because e-mail is more than four decades old.  With some relatively minor changes, it still functions in much the same way it always has.  But we decided to ask the question, “What if we were to invent e-mail from scratch today?”

In other words, they want to reimagine communication with today’s tools, rather than continually tweaking yesterday’s templates all the time.  The answers they came up with are very cool – at multiple points in the demonstration, the developers in the audience get all giddy and cheer wildly.  Congratulations Google.  I’ll leave it to others to determine whether they truly reinvented e-mail or not.  Whatever the case, they did succeed in integrating today’s tools and rules, and they certainly got a buzz going among a very important constituency.

I think the reason their question of inventing e-mail from scratch stuck out to me is that it’s very similar to a phrase I’ve heard more times than I could count from pastors and church planters – “What would we get if we just stripped down all of our Christian traditions, and went back to the way the early church did things?”  Tons of books and articles have been written, and a lot of “new” models have been offered up.  But I’m left wondering whether that question doesn’t miss the point a bit.  The fact is, Google didn’t go back 40 years and try to rebuild stuff as though nothing had changed.  No, they used the current technologies available to them to try to accomplish some breakthroughs in electronic communication.

When “we” go back to reinvent church, we go back to Acts and Paul’s epistles to try to distill the simplest expressions of what the first century sisters and brothers did.  We try to rebuild church in very simple forms again, with as few changes as possible to the original systems.  We don’t take our contexts into account nearly enough – for example, we don’t consider that Rome’s big technology was its system of roads, whereas our superhighways are virtual and global and information driven.

I’d like to suggest that this way of approaching things is broken for at least two reasons: First, as we can see from the cranky tones of some of Paul’s writing, the early church wasn’t exactly getting it right all the time.  So when we try so hard to emulate the early church, we’re pursing a broken system.  This may be one of the consequences of letting the inerrancy mentality control so much of our attention – “If it’s in the Bible, it’s got to be literally true, and therefore, should be replicated as closely as possible.”  But if that’s what we’re doing, the very best we can hope for is to build a form of church that gives people the opportunity to be greedy, gossipy, sexually immoral, and power hungry.  (Hmmmm, if that’s our standard of measure, maybe we’ve gotten closer to the first century church than we had thought!)

Second, we’re not being honest about what we’re trying to do.  We’re not even trying very hard to go all the way back.  We take a vast amount of theological, historical, and cultural baggage with us when we look back.  Even people who read authors like N.T. Wright in order to understand the first century Palestinian context stop too short.  When I hear people saying they want to do church the way the early church did it, they don’t really mean they intend to strip down their evangelical systematic theology, their Western wealth and (white) power, their Protestant Reformation, their Christendom power, their Augustinian conceptions . . . they just want the pragmatics of meeting in peoples’ houses and sharing possessions and giving money away to those in need.  The idealism is commendable in some ways, but it’s mostly just that – idealism, and an artificial idealism at that.*

I would like to suggest that if we really want to get back to basics in the way we embody the bride of Christ, we do so more honestly.  When Pentecost took place, and the church was both born and unleashed in a series of radical events, they were creating something truly new, without a template.  They had a religious memory and heritage, which they honored in many ways, but they also knew the rules had changed.  We, too, have a religious memory and heritage – some of which can rightly be honored.  But if we’re going to do/be church the way they did it back then, we’ve got to be creative enough and courageous enough to know when to break the rules of our day, and take some risks.  In our fear of abandoning “orthodoxy,” I think the vast majority of us lack the courage to break those rules.  We’re so beholden to our denominations, our subculture, our seminaries, and (once again) our power that we chicken out.

So what do you think?  Am I wrong that most of us haven’t tried very hard to go all the way back?  Am I unfair in my assessments?  This post if fairly off the cuff (though it’s taken me quite a long time to write it).  Please tell me if you disagree – I’d like to tease out my own thinking on this some more, so I’m not looking for a fight.

*I’ve not read Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity, but from what I understand, he deals with a lot of the stuff that’s been layered onto “church” over the years.  I also understand that he’s squarely on the idealistic side.  If I’m wrong on this, please let me know – I just felt the need to note that I’m not trying to either plagiarize him or take cheap shots at him.



Dissertate This! pt. 2

Here’s my second post taking a trip through the dissertation that kept me busy over the past few years.  In my previous post, I talked about the rapid spread of Christianity in the global South and East, even at the same time as there has been a noted downturn in Christian practice here in the Western world.  While asking questions about what “we” in the West can learn from our sisters and brothers in other contexts, I thought it was also important to address one of the essential realities of our time – globalization.  <PAUSE: I just got THE biggest guilty pleasure inserting that link for globalization – the link is to Wikipedia.  Citing Wikipedia as a source in academia is a major no-no, so I had to do it here for kicks>

Thomas Friedman brought the topic of globalization to the masses in his book The World is Flat, talking about how technology and commerce have brought everyone in the world closer together than they ever have been before.  An obvious example of this is the call centers in India that process many of our customer service phone calls in the U.S., but it goes much farther than that.  Friedman does a good job at helping people connect the dollars they spend with the people who produced the products being purchased.

Friedman is a pretty big proponent of globalization and the benefits it brings.  The rise of a middle class in China and India are often cited as the up-side to all of this.   However, there’s another side of the story.  Globalization also brings about some pretty dark things that we don’t often hear about.  The global economy is operated on the strength of a large number of transnational corporations – note that I didn’t say “international” or even “multi-national.”  Transnational corporations are multi-national, but they are frequently able to avoid being overly-identified with any single nation of origin, for the purpose of not complicating trade treaties.  Some are so big and economically powerful that they are “bigger” than many countries in the developing world.  This means that if a small, struggling nation has some natural resources that one of these corporations wants, the company has a major advantage when it comes to negotiations.  The country desperately needs the money and jobs the company will provide, so they give in to extremely low pay, poor worker conditions, environmental devastation, etc., all with very little retribution if the corporation violates any of its terms of agreement.

Tons of books are written on the complexities of globalization, so trust me, there’s no way I’m going to do justice to it here.  But there are some dynamics to living in a globalized world that are positive and some are negative.  Being concerned with Christian movements, my concern is to accept the reality of our situation – globalization isn’t going to go away, and the Church is in a position to utilize the positive aspects of it, and speak and act boldly to blunt the negative impacts wherever we are able.

I’m not sure what I’ll get into next time, but I’ll probably start by framing things up from a church-historical point of view.  One quick note for those who commented on my previous dissertation postings – I am will to make a .pdf of my dissertation available by request, but I have some last minute minor edits to clean up this week before it goes off for printing and binding.  Once I’ve got that final version locked down, I’ll put it out.



Global Missional Leadership

I had the pleasure of enjoying a couple of hours at the SeaTac airport this morning with Jason Clark, who had a layover between his flights from Portland to LAX (I know, the route doesn’t make sense, but since those flights made our little meetup possible, I’m not complaining).  Jason is a pastor from London, and a point-person in the Emergent UK conversation.  He’s also a graduate of the George Fox Seminary program that I’m set to finish up (tomorrow morning!!!).

We met to conspire about a brand new program that Jason is developing with George Fox – a Doctor of Ministry in Global Missional Leadership.  It is geared toward reflective theological practice within a global context.  There are a number of things that excite me about this new program.  First, it isn’t “global” in name only – in addition to the course content and readings, there are three face-to-face learning experiences, which will take place in locations in Africa, Europe, and Asia.  These will be held in partnerships with seminaries in these locations.  That is great, because we need increasing global interaction with theologians and practitioners in order to learn from each other.  Second, it is both theologically and practically oriented – often practitioners get so caught up in the day-to-day behaviors of ministry that they aren’t theologically focused; and often theologians get so caught up in the academics that they fail to express their work in practical ways.  Third, it is integrative and open source – an online learning community is already being developed, which can be utilized by GML students, and non-students alike (go check it out, and jump on board!).  Seminary education is in need of change, and this represents a significant step toward accessibility and cultural contextualization.

It looks like I’m going to have an opportunity to work with this program, which is a big deal to me.  The topic of my dissertation (which I’ll begin blogging very soon)  is a very good fit, and it represents a good “next step” for me, now that I’m done with my own school program.  I’m defnitely looking forward to seeing how things develop.



Long overdue update
January 28, 2009, 8:09 am
Filed under: blogging, family, friends, mac, San Diego, school, technology, twitter

Well, it’s been riculously long since I’ve written a real post about anything – in particular anything that’s going on in my world.  I do intend to get back on the blogging wagon, but I think it may take a little while to catch up.  This is because I want to be thoughtful about how I do this.  I’ve noticed that since Twitter came into my life, a lot of the short, quick take things I used to blog are now ending up there instead of here.  That’s fine, but there’s a hidden implication – when I do blog something, it tends to be several paragraphs in length, and a lot of blog readers just don’t have the patience for that.  So, I’m going to work on posting mainly short items, with an occasional longer treatment of something if I feel like drilling down.

By way of categorizing things that have happened in my personal world since I last really wrote an update:

– Michelle and I went to San Diego for Christmas.  Saw lots of family and friends.

– Shortly after the Christmas holiday break, I completed a draft of my doctoral dissertation for review by my academic advisor.  I await feedback and editing requests, but the big beast of a project is largely complete.

– Shortly after I turned in said dissertation draft, my trusty laptop, which had been giving me many fits for the previous few months finally crashed on me enough times that I went and bought a new computer.  Much to the delight of many of my friends, and the chagrin of other friends, I bought a MacBook, and not another PC.  Whatever.

– Since I don’t have a dissertation keeping me busy, I’ve taken on some projects around the house that have been perpetually on the back burner.

– I’ve been scheduling out some inter::mission teach-ins.  Really excited about a few of them that are on deck.

– Michelle and I are trying to prepare ourselves for several weeks of a higher-maintenance-than-usual life with a dog.  Tomorrow, we take Maui in for the doggy version of an ACL surgery.  She’ll be in a puppy cast for like six weeks, and then we’ll have to rehab her for another six weeks.  Did I mention that our house has stairs?  Should be lovely.

– Since I’m trying to get a fresh start, I popped a new WordPress theme on here.  I’ve spent very little time, and intend to do a bit more, editing blogroll links, widgets, etc.  I’ll try to make the thing look and function better for those of you who still visit the site, rather read through a feedreader.

O.k., so there are some other items as well, but this post is already breaking the “short items” blog post rule.  To those of you who have regularly checked in despite the lack of updates, my apologies and my thanks.  You both mean a lot to me.



A Twitter Post on my Blog
October 2, 2008, 6:25 am
Filed under: blogging, technology, twitter

I used to post a lot more short quips on my blog, but now I use Twitter.  Now all my blog posts feel REALLY long to me.  I don’t like that.*

*With the exception of the sentence you’re reading now, the text of this post complies with Twitter’s 140 character limit.



My high tech bathroom
August 28, 2008, 7:27 pm
Filed under: home improvement, technology

O.k., I said I wasn’t going to talk about the bathroom project anymore.  But I was playing with Microsoft’s new toy, Photosynth, and put a synth together of the new bathroom.  I took 42 pictures, loaded them up, and now you can see a 360 peek into last week’s work.  To view this, you’ll need to download Photosynth, but it’s pretty easy.  Once you’ve done that, you can click here to view my bathroom.  Of course, on the main page of Photosynth, you can also check out the Taj Mahal, which is infinitely more interesting.  But I put my little synth together in about 15 minutes, including the time taking the photos.