Saturday, January 11, 2014

The value of silence

I just read an interesting piece on the effects of iPhones on our neurology by Ian H. Robertson:

The big takeaway I took from the article was the need for silence after learning something new. Since I'm still in the religious mindset from class this morning I of course started to think about how this applies to worship settings. The traditional liturgy has times of silence built into it and I'm wondering if this tradition has carried into contemporary services at all. My recollection from the few that I have attended is that there was not much time for silence. This is probably because society seems to be losing its willingness to suffer silence so the designers of new worship liturgies have removed them. The evidence would suggest that this silence is more valuable than we thought.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Why I link to Worldcat

We make choices every day and one of the things that I have learned while at seminary is to try and look at the deeper meaning behind our choices and to really think deeply about our actions. One choice you have to make when blogging involves what to do when mentioning a book. It seems like the norm on the internet is to link to the book's Amazon page. On many levels this makes good sense

  • if someone is reading your blog then there's a very good chance they will know about Amazon
  • they are a trusted seller on the internet
  • it is very rare to find books that aren't listed and available on Amazon
Personally when it comes to books I prefer Barnes and Noble. I still enjoy going to a brick and mortar store to peruse the shelves and I realize the financial realities that they need to also sell books online in order to keep those physical locations open. Because of that I used to link to the pages for books instead of

The more I thought about this practice, however, the more I started to question my motivations. I also gave some thought to the explicit and implicit messages I was sending to whoever clicked on the link I had made. I was certainly endorsing whichever company I linked to and recommending their services to those that trusted me enough to read my words. But what wasn't I saying at the same time? What options were being left out?

Whenever I mention a book title I have now made the choice to link to Worldcat. Worldcat is "the world's largest library catalog" and links to libraries worldwide. Because the website can find your location geographically they can find the libraries closest to you that have the book you are viewing. I feel that linking to this kind of resource sends a different message, and it is one that speaks a message about community and not capitalism. The Library used to be as much the center of community as the church, but many local libraries no longer have the funding they need to stay viable and are closing. One of the reasons they are closing is because people just aren't going to the Library anymore so local municipalities don't feel the need to provide funding. Also, the library doesn't have the opportunity to build relationships with local donors.

If more of us start directing our readers to the local library instead of the huge booksellers, that might change. In my opinion more community is a good thing, more relationship with the others around us is a good thing. And that's why I link to Worldcat.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Hey God

Yesterday we talked about being in relationship with God (it's really been a theme of the entire week, I guess) and the language we use for God came up during the lecture at some point. I was reminded about a woman from Pittsburgh that would sometimes open her prayers by saying "Hey God...". She spoke this unconventional prayer opening once and said that it helped to remind her that she has a deeply personal relationship with God and that she needs to remember that even though God is much greater than her, God is still close to her like an earthly parent. Looking back I think it's wonderful that she had this insight and was also able to share this comfort with the rest of us.

I just read "A Big Heart Open to God" from America and while there were many interesting thoughts there I wanted to highlight Pope Francis' thoughts on art. It's worth seeing who he lifts up as authors and artists and he mentions a particular piece by Mozart, so of course I had to find a performance of it on YouTube. I have listened to three performances of Et Incarnatus Est at this point and have loved each one. Here's the one playing right now:

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Can you Google troth?

I read an interesting blog post on the NYTimes today by Haider Javed Warraich titled When Doctors ‘Google’ Their Patients. As I was reading it I started to wonder what would happen if we replaced doctors with pastors and patients with parishioners. I can imagine that this is happening already in the world already, although I have a feeling that pastors might not be as willing to discuss it as this doctor was. For some reason it seems like an even larger violation of trust in my eyes.

In his book "To know as we are known : a spirituality of education"Parker Palmer talks about truth which comes from relationships and a deeper knowing that we can attain when we really enter into an understanding with a subject. This deep relationship leads to "troth" between the two subjects, which is a covenant that binds the two together. This relationship is possible because God knows us first.

When pastors enter a relationship with members of their congregation there should be intent to build those relationships to the point of gaining this kind of troth. Part of this relationship should include an honesty and openness on both sides which I think should mean we don't have to Google in order to know. Dr. Warraich is saying the same thing about the doctor patient relationship, I think. Doctors should be speaking with their patients and asking the right kinds of questions and patients should be answering truthfully and not holding anything back. This is the only way that trust can be gained between both parties and truth can be learned which leads to troth.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Webcam video from January 7, 2014 9:49 PM

In light of today's discussion I made a Vlog post instead of a blog post today.

Monday, January 06, 2014

What's on the front page?

One of our readings for the MAR Keynote course is from Heidi A. Campbell, titled Understanding the Relationship between Religion Online and Offline in a Networked Society. The article is quite long and covers a wide range of other literature (the references section is eight pages long!) but gives an interesting look at some of the differences and similarities between how religion is practiced both offline and online. Dr. Campbell lays out five central traits of what she terms "networked religion:" networked community, stored identity, shifting authority, convergent practice, and multisite reality.

The section that I found most interesting was on shifting authority and in particular there is one passage that I wanted to lift up for thought: "It is recognized that the structure of web sites and discussion forums offers a platform of influence often not available to users offline, as they become interpreters of religious belief and culture online." (page 11). This made me pause and consider how the structure our a church's website may relate to what that church is trying to say and to whom it is saying it. This topic is also discussed in the Click 2 Save book that I mentioned yesterday.

When my church first started to talk about setting up a website I encouraged that those involved with the design be very intentional about the entire thing. Unfortunately there was very little interest in being involved and I ended up putting together the site myself quickly. The result is a very basic site with quite limited functionality. My initial intention was to provide the information that I thought was most pertinent to people that are searching the web for churches to visit, so I included our address and when we worship. Since that first debut I have added a nicer cover photo and we now have archived recordings of sermons, so the audience may have widened to include parishioners that couldn't attend and want to listen to the message, but for the most part there really isn't much content there.

In light of this I'm now wondering what a fresh pair of eyes sees when they view our website. If the major thing we are presenting is where and when we meet, what does that say about our message? Does it say anything about us at all?

Sunday, January 05, 2014

MAR Keynote Course - getting things started

Despite my best intentions I have not made any blog posts since last January when they were required for my 21st Century Media and Religion course. My one solace is that most of my classmates also haven't been updating their blogs, so that does help a little.

One of the reasons that I haven't been posting is my personal struggles with my online brand. In their book Click2Save Elizabeth Drescher and Keith Anderson speak to this. One of the things they talk about is how your online presence is going to be a mix of your personal and professional lives but I'm still not comfortable with that entirely. Part of me has avoided blogging on technology topics here because I'm not sure what the audience will be (I have posted on technology topics on other forums like, but then I also don't put effort into blogging religious topics because frankly most of my efforts on that front go into class work.

Regardless, here I am taking another course that requires blogging so at least for another week things will be active in this space again. Perhaps this time I'll get more into the habit of blogging and will also become more comfortable with a mixing of my technological and theological selves. I'm hoping that this course will lead me to resources that will help with that process. I can already see that there is a lot of discussion happening in the area of media and religion but so far I have not been plugged into the right people and places where those discussions are happening.

We have already been exposed to a few people that I'm sure I'll want to read more from, including one of our professors Dr. Mary Hess. I just finished reading her paper titled "Mirror Neurons, The Development Of Empathy, And Digital Story Telling" in which she briefly discussed the differences between sympathy and empathy and urges that as Christians we should prefer empathy. I found this interesting in light of recent news that Facebook is testing a "Sympathize" button. If Facebook were to provide a function to sympathize with others how would we approach that from a Christian perspective? Are the subtleties between sympathy and empathy too little to urge Facebook to provide different functionality? Would the majority of Christians put enough distinction between the words to justify the need? Incidentally, Mark Zuckerberg is reportedly an atheist, so would he even care if Christians urge a distinction?

These are interesting questions that I'm hoping to develop the tools to help try and answer.