Spirituality and the Internet
I haven't kept close tabs on the whole Rob Bell situation, but I think the situation itself raises many important questions. I think we have to start asking ourselves about the nature of marketing in relation to Christian publishing and ministry. I think we need to ask about the nature of blogs and church discipline (in the sense of whether churches should step in when bloggers show themselves to be full of anger, pride and envy). I think we need to meditate long and hard on the nature of Christian discourse. And, ultimately, I think we need to think about spiritual formation and the blogging world.
I blog on three different blogs. This one is the most personal to me, another is more academic, and another addresses issues in relation to pop evangelical culture, church and theology. With the other two blogs, I have a tendency to want to react quickly to things streaking across the internet. In the age of blogs there is a sense that the sooner you can jump on something the better the reward will be (more traffic, etc.). Unfortunately, this often leads to reactions that are much more fleshly than anything else. In light of our spiritual formation, this can be helpful fodder for our soul care. The desire to enter into a conversation on the internet, a conversation that doesn't need you, didn't ask you, and probably won't notice you all that much is an interesting desire. It is a desire to pay attention to. Am I seeking to make myself something? Am I hoping to be valued? Am I envious, and is my reaction to what I see a desire to assert my will to undermine another brother or sister in Christ for the sake of building myself up?
As medium's like Twitter and Facebook become features of our day to day lives, I can't help but wonder how it effects our thought processes. It is no secret that the forms by which we communicate and express ourselves becomes the very forms we think in. Authors tend to think in outline or proposal forms, bloggers tend to think about blogging their experiences, as well as painters, musicians, soldiers, etc., all have modes by which they process reality. In this sense, I wonder if the mode of Twitter and Facebook status updates run directly contrary to the Gospel? These modes thrive on insignificance. They can certainly be used for much more than that, but at their best they relay cliches, meaningless information and endless updating on general life activities (e.g. I am brushing my teeth). They are purposely limited to terse and often undeveloped thoughts - so what if this forms how we process the Gospel?
It is not that this is somehow bad in itself. Don't get me wrong, I'm not down on social networking as a concept - but what if we start thinking in this mode? I can't help but notice that bad "Christiany" forwards have rapidly turned into bad "Christiany" Tweets - and suddenly I experience a barrage of poorly thought through superficial tid-bits that are supposed to...well, I'm not sure what they are supposed to do. It seems to me that this kind of medium provides further temptation where American evangelicals are already most tempted - to a Christianity that lacks depth, thoughtfulness and discernment. Am I overstating this, or should we be really concerned about the use of certain mediums as hallmarks of our existence?
Jamin has been posting some quotes from Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche International, so I thought I would highlight two videos of his which are available for downloading on the internet. He was speaking for a faith and leadership deal at Duke. The videos are short snippets and you have to view them with QuickTime player. The videos (with many others) can be downloaded here.
Vanier, as Jamin suggests, is very much a prophet of our age. In a time where unbelieving businessmen are likely sources for Christian leadership, Vanier simply asserts that Christian leadership is simply helping someone become like Jesus.
When Jamin and I started Metamorpha.com, we were well aware of the limitation of the internet for spiritual formation, but didn't want to neglect the importance of the medium and its place in the growth of individuals and the church. This blog, likewise, seeks to serve the church by offering a forum for discussion on the subject, as well as the various theological, practical, existential, etc., issues inherent to it.
How do you think the various technologies currently available to us can serve the spiritual formation conversation? Have you explored, in your own life or in the church, ways to utilize technology for this end? One thought I had recently, as I've been seeing more e-books (like Amazon's Kindle which recently had an upgrade), is that these could be used for those of us who like to use things like Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours, but don't want to carry it around with us wherever we go. I've wondered about similar formats that could be used on cell-phones, where these devices could serve, in part, to help us develop healthy rhythms in the midst of our busy lives (using some of those things that make our lives more hectic for more redemptive purposes).
Other than that, I often find technology to be useful for productivity but not so for re-collecting one's heart to God in Christ by the inward working of his Spirit. Any ideas out there on how we could use technologies for this end?
The Barna Group posted an article on its website in May of this year which discusses the ambiguity among churchgoers and church leaders of what it means to be spiritually mature. It would certainly be worth a look at the article as a whole before interacting with the below quote. However, I thought I would share the quote below, which strikes at the challenge pastors have in defining what it means to be spiritually mature.
"The research among pastors highlighted several inter-related challenges. First, while nearly nine out of 10 pastors said that a lack of spiritual maturity is the most significant or one of the largest problems facing the nation, a minority of pastors believe that spiritual immaturity is a problem in their church. A second challenge is that only a minority of churches has a written statement expressing the outcomes they are looking for in spiritually mature people. A third challenge is that pastors often favor activities over perspectives in their definitions of spiritual maturity. Their metrics for people’s spirituality include the practice of spiritual disciplines (19%), involvement in church activities (15%), witnessing to others (15%), having a relationship with Jesus (14%), having concern for others (14%), applying the Bible to life (12%), being willing to grow spiritually (12%), and having knowledge of Scripture (9%)."
Bill Mounce has posted a class on spiritual formation by John Coe on his website biblicaltraining.org (click here to see the class). I have already noticed some posts concerning the lectures in the blogosphere see here. For those of you who don't know, John Coe is a good friend and is the chair of the Institute for Spiritual Formation at Talbot School of Theology. John is, in my humble opinion, the most well-rounded and informed thinker speaking into the spiritual formation conversation today. He is well worth the time to listen to, and I'm sure these lectures will be a real blessing. Here is the class description:
"The Christian life is not fundamentally about being a moral person, obeying a set of principles, or doing spiritual disciplines. The Christian life is about opening our heart to a relationship with the living God. As we depend on the indwelling Spirit and experience abiding in Christ, we will learn an obedience that comes without the burden of guilt and shame."
For those of you who don't know, biblicaltraining.org is a website run by Bill Mounce, the conservative pastor/Bible scholar. For anyone who learned Greek in seminary, you probably had to use what became known simply as "Mounce," which is the standard introduction to New Testament Greek. Mounce sent out an email about the new classes on the website, and had this to say about John Coe's class: "Of all the classes that we have been able to publish, I am the most excited about this one."
Over at Inhabitatio Dei, Halden led a discussion on sexuality and humanness. In what seems like an important statement, he claims:
"Let us be absolutely clear on this point. If Christ is truly the fullness and definition of authentic humanity, we must say categorically that marriage, sex, and parenthood tell us nothing whatsoever of ultimate significance about humanness. If marriage, sex, and parenthood are somehow the fullness of humanity we are forced to say that Christ, far from being the true human as the Christian tradition proclaims, was in fact, sub-human. To grant sexuality any sort of ultimacy with respect to the definition of humanness is to deny that Jesus is the true human being."
In other words, if Jesus is the fullness of humanity, which seems relatively uncontroversial, then marriage, sex and parenthood tell us nothing about the depth of our humanness. Importantly, this does not deny the importance of these things, but only states that having or not having them as a part of your life doesn't change your "humanness." When I was reading through this post, I couldn't help but think about how central these things are to Christian spirituality. As Protestants, this is important. Just as marriage could be seen as the culmination of humanness, so celibacy has been seen as the prerequisite for spiritual depth. We want to deny this in every way (I assume).