Tag Archives: Discussion

Twitter Killed the Theology Star

We all know that video killed the radio star, but what about social media? Has Twitter killed the theology star?

Theology has rarely been “in style” but social media has opened a door onto the once insular conversations. There was a line between popular and academic theology. Now, with Twitter and blogs, emerging academics write for an audience outside of the “guild.” At the same time, writers of varying degrees jump into blogging and tweeting as a part of their promotional strategy. In the publishing economy, this is becoming more and more essential. One’s followers in social media is seen as market potential.

The clear benefit is that an “ivory tower” discipline can begin to step out of the tower and speak so others may hear. Theologians can begin to hear their work in conversation with so many more people beyond their fellow specialists. Too many books are published for the dozen our so colleagues in the field. Just look at the footnotes and you can see a conversation between a few people. Engaging a wider population helps to stretch our vocabulary and style while at the same time inform our thinking in ways that the traditional format of guild journals and academic publishing has not yet done.

Yet, social media is also creating a bit of a different culture that brings with it a number of problems. First, it creates an air of conversation that is really non-existent without intentional cultivation. Few writers have been able to actually engage an audience and keep the conversation constructive in the process. Instead of conversation, trolls and ideological one-upmanship tend to dominate the threads. As we have seen, a number of news outlets and journals have shut down the comment sections of their webpages for that very reason.

For those emerging into the field by the nature of their formal education or in a desire to cultivate a following to support future projects, the conversations often feel like nothing more than self-referential. In academic forums this is fairly typical. It is not uncommon to sit in a conference presentation and listen to question after question from graduate students that are more about their own interests than about the paper just presented. It is kind of like that scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon’s character calls out a first year grad student for his pompous recitation of the basic syllabus. “So you must be in this class, wait until next year when you read these books and you will change your mind.” Yet, in social media, such dismissiveness is akin to heresy. The democratizing assumptions in Twitter and Facebook are such that any attempt to “pull rank” is quickly labeled as mean or patronizing.

The effect is a kind of conversational throat clearing. The theologian has to defer to the readers and commentators in a way that often dismisses his or her own research and expertise. There is no room in social media for a true expert or trained practitioner. Instead, in the chaos of comments, he or she must constantly acknowledge the critiques of readers who often have only read the basic introductions to any one theological topic.

In other instances, when the commenter does have some expertise in a field, the conversation quickly focuses on that person’s understanding. In face-to-face conversations, the expectation of collegiality pushes towards connections and development. Yet, in social media the conversation often sounds like someone trying to make everyone else’s project look like their own. Of course there are ways to show the interrelationships between different theological arguments, often through questions. But the tactics and rhetoric are such that there are sentences of preface in order to not sound like a troll or a random critic.

I am beginning to wonder if Twitter and Facebook can ever really support the kind of conversation they seem to capitalize on. All we need to do is look at the number of headlines that basically say “Look at what this person said on the internet, how stupid can they be!” Or, skim the Twitter feed and see how many “gotcha” tweets have been posted in the last 30 minutes. The nature of short, pithy, and decontextualized statements the likes of Tweets and Facebook posts is based in the soundbite culture of our media. While substantive discourse can emerge, such conversation has to be filtered through the noise of trolls, snark, and flat out error. In short, the energy expended in filtering our the static quickly outweighs the benefits of the media itself. The end result is a social media “persona” that is just as one-directional (“Here is what I think on this subject”) as traditional publishing has been for centuries. Either respond to all the comments, or don’t. To filter out the dregs of trolls and off-handed remarks runs the risk of looking too self-concerned.

For those in Anabaptists circles, social media gives the feel of community when all that really exists is a connection. We often insert our expectations for high church community where relationships are a significant part of our theology, and assume that these connections give us place to confront or converse. However, community in social media is a rarity, and takes effort to cultivate. Just because you are friends on Facebook or follow someone on Twitter does not give one the capacity to “call out” or for that matter to question. In the end, such questions or comments are just more noise to filter. And when the comment or critique that we think is substantial is filleted with the dregs, it becomes personal or the silence becomes a statement made about the character of the other.

In the first centuries of Christianity, Tertullian famously asked (with a bit of rhetorical irony) “what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem.” Maybe it is time to ask a similar question. What does Twitter have to do with Theology? Maybe it hasn’t killed the theology star, but it is importing expectations into the conversation that may not have been there in other media. Maybe social media in general is creating a false sense of community, giving connections the weight of true relationships. This veneer, however, is quickly shattered when someone does not respond as we think they ought. This is not to say that community cannot be encouraged, or even cultivated on-line, but rather such communities are the outliers, and thus the exception that proves the rule. Building relationships through social media takes just as much effort, if not more given the lack of context and non-verbals, as building them in face-to-face conversation.

So then, the irony should be clear. Here I am writing about the pitfalls of social media on a blog that will be shared through Twitter and Facebook. The question, then, is to you: What of theology in the social media landscape?

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Filed under Theology, Uncategorized

Will the Real Yoder Please Stand Up

In Anabaptist land the debates around the legacy of John Howard Yoder are heating up. It seems that every Menno or Neo-Anabaptist blogger is wrestling with what to do with Yoder. Even contemporary writers working with Yoder’s theology have to now offer a kind of apologetic for doing so- (See the appendix to Peter C. Blum’s newest book “For a Church to Come”.) Even Mennonite Church USA has called a committee to assess Yoder’s legacy. Funny, since he died sixteen years ago, and the disciplinary process of his conference had concluded the previous year. Is this a new day of Anabaptist Inquisition?

Up front, I have to say I have no skin in this game. I am not a Yoder scholar, nor have I read much more than a couple of his books. I do find him useful in many regards simply because of his publishing. Other theologians know what I am talking about because Yoder jumped into the wider theological discussions of his time.

Second, there is no excuse for his conduct. Neither his social awkwardness or any theological justification that remains in his unpublished papers can convince me of that. Plainly, and flatly, he clearly abused his power and prestige. Even if a case can be made that some of the encounters were consensual, I still believe them to be in error, not just because of my theology of marriage and sexuality, but because any consent is still clouded by his position of power over others- as a teacher and as a noted scholar in the field. Basically, he held the careers of women in the balance based on his assessment. In ethics lingo, he was in a position of undue influence and he abused that position for his own gain.

Lastly, I mourn with the women still traumatized by Yoder and the continued engagement with his work. I stand with them, both in the call to openly discuss the failings of leadership and the unmasking of continued abuse of women by men in power.

At the same time, I hope that Yoder’s most vocal critics can distinguish their theological disagreements from their distaste for his conduct. As I said in a recent comment on Young Anabaptist Radicals, to mask disagreement with Yoder’s thought and influence with a pious ad hominem is to re-use the women he traumatized for other gains. Though this is not sexual abuse, it is abuse by proxy.

So I am hoping for some honesty to enter the conversation. I wish that all of Yoder’s work were available to assess just how his understanding of sex connects to his other published works. I also wish that people who are critical of his work were honest about the nature of their disagreement. If the frustration is with the ubiquity of his scholarship, then say so. If there are disagreements with the theology he outlined, then name the differences. But please, name the differences rather than resorting to the ad hominem of “and his work should be negated by his conduct.”

As I said in my comment on YAR, Hauerwas and McClendon clearly understood the implications of Yoder’s conduct for his writing. Thus, they coached him to submit to the disciplinary process as a living out of his stated convictions about the church and discipleship. That is not to say that his submission to the conference was a calculated political move, but that only in Anabaptist circles is such harmony between ideas and practice so important.

Other theologians are well known for their behavior. Barth had a long time sexual relationship with his assistant. Tillich is also known for his sexual conduct. Others are known for a clear lack of compassion in general. Yet, to say that “thus their work is questionable” matters very little. I certainly have problems with Barth’s theology and the way it is now an industry in itself. Yet, it is disingenuous and lazy to say his extra-marital relationship negates anything he says.

For Anabaptists in general, such an ad hominem has dramatic effects. It is inscribed in us from the first days of discipleship that our life and theology are to match. So to resort to the fallacy has tremendous rhetorical implications. Yet, it seems to me that the equally important value for discernment in community should remind us that we are also to discern our personal motivations.

Just as the women who were traumatized find the continued praise and publication of Yoder’s work to open old wounds, I have to assume that the invocation of their trauma for gains other than healing is equally as painful. So, then, just as many are asking for the real Yoder to stand up, and be known, I hope that the real criticisms of his work will be made known. Standing on the back of these women for political, theological, or other gain seems to put them back into the power play that first began at the hands of Yoder.


Filed under Ethics

The Prodigal God and Our Language

Some NuDunkers gathered in a Hangout last week to discuss Prodigal Christianity with David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw. You can catch the recording (with a few technical difficulties caught for your amusement!).

After some hours from the NuDunker hangout I’ll admit I came around. In the midst of it, however, I was not so convinced. Having entered three different graduate schools and taught just a few classes I’ve had to sit through the language games. In some cases there was an official orientation session regarding the expectations for language and in others it was a trial by fire. In each of these cases there was a desire to be both accurate and inclusive with our language for writing and doing theology. In many cases, however, the desire for inclusivity was overpowered by the easier policy choice of outright limiting the use of certain words. So as we began to talk about the role of language and words in Prodigal Christianity, I must admit I was a bit dismayed. There was so much to discuss about the book and I was afraid we were going to turn critical about the words other authors chose without getting the larger contributions of their writing.

So I’ve mused about this on a long car ride to Ohio.

We didn’t do the typical progressive move and ban words in the name of inclusivity. In fact we started to unearth some of the cultural and theological issues of signs, referents, games, and redemption. In the end, I am with Matt who pressed the conversation initially- the issue is not about the words themselves, but a missing range of images, metaphors, and words. The pastoral task- as named by Geoff during the hangout- is indeed the expanding of our bank of images and words to understand the great and often ineffable work of God around us.

Here are some of the (tentative) conclusions that surfaced for me in the course of my drive.

1) The issue is the USE of words, not the words themselves. Part of the use of these words, then, is the context within which it emerges. That was the thesis of my original post on Prodigal Christianity. In the cases of systematic theology, the starting point is the most crucial. So for Geoff and David to start with the Post-Christendom is a significant theological move. It is not tangential, but rather the core to the project itself. That is to say that the descending of the church from its position of cultural power is more faithful to the kenotic, kneeling nature of Christ. Thus, the entire matrix of the Prodigal God redefines the kingdom language itself. It puts such terms to use in favor of self-denial rather than denial or over powering of others.

It strikes me as interesting that for those most informed by the Deconstructionist play with language the impulse is to limit the meanings of words. Rather than press for more clarity or explanations, it seems that the reaction is often that words have a fixed meaning- ie they have baggage that places them in the problematic or banned outright categories. No where is it more clear that words do not mean what we often assume they mean than in the pages of Derrida. There, context and juxtaposition break open new or peripheral connotations- even at times the baggage is what is deconstructed.

2) Our word choice- whether by conscious choice or by range of vocabulary- draws lines. That is inevitable within theological discourse. The liberal move (both conservative and progressive) to set certain terms outside of the theological lexicon is to draw a line in the sand. It should then strike with some irony when those who favor inclusivity in practice champion the “unredeemable” nature of certain words.  It says to those who find meaning and liberation in certain words that they are patriarchal or colonial in their outlook simply because of their vocabulary (and not their practice). This is most problematic for me as I think back to experiences within African American churches where the words we were hung up on are still part of a clear “liberation theology” within which they are frequently used.

3) Thus, as I said in the hangout, the need for greater intercultural capacity is central to theological conversations. At the recent gathering of the Missio Alliance I found myself doing a lot of “translating”. While I can easily say that some of the vocabulary and even some of the questions were not my own, I was keen on discerning the context for the shared discussion. There were times I disagreed with some of the theological assertions (especially the assertion that our root problems were with the “Hellenization of the Hebrew narrative). However, I heard within the multiple cultures gathered there a desire to reclaim mission as the primary nature of the church.  There is clearly a negative approach to this- they are not speaking my language, not using my words so they must “not get it”. I really appreciated Dana pressing into the conversation by asking, not if the words were the wrong ones, but if there were other theological categories and assumptions at work. That question, to me, gets past the cultural questions and digs into the true distinctions. Also. Laura’s question about ritual and language needs further discussion and I think is a fruitful place for further conversation about the juxtaposition of words and signs.

The final pay off, for me, in the extended discussion of language and vocabulary was to identify the implications for the Incarnation of Christ for the way we understand our words.  To put it in the terms of Prodigal Christianity,  the Prodigality of God of the coming in the flesh, into a particular time and culture forces us to wrestle with the contingencies of language and embodiment. So, in the end, I am with Matt and Geoff, that the pastoral task is key. Our words are malleable and yet, it is always central to the theological (and intercultural) nature of our conversations to expand our vocabulary. Using one set of words to the exclusion of others is to limit our understanding and practice- whether the terms are masculine or feminine, kingdom or explicitly egalitarian.

In the end, this particular Hangout and discussion for the NuDunkers was a fruitful discussion of theological language. While I didn’t foresee that as the aim of the book, this is a good example of how the conversation matters, and that the contributions of those gathered enriches the conversation greatly.


Filed under Book Discussion, NuDunkers

A Spiritual Corrective to Anabaptism

This post is a part of the next NuDunker  conversation. This round we will be looking at Pneumatology, or theologies of the Holy Spirit. The NuDunker Hangout will be Friday February 8th at 11 AM Eastern. You can join the Hangout here https://plus.google.com/events/clb732ip7fr679sg1c682akciq4

If you miss the live discussion, no worries. We will share the link to the recorded conversation. 

Catch the pre-hangout posts from some fellow NuDunkers DanaBrian, and Andy.

In the recent flurry of strategic planning around the Church of the Brethren a phrase has risen to the surface; We speak from our Anabaptist and Radical Pietist roots. Each time this phrase occurs, it is usually in reference to the unique contribution of Brethren theology to the wider Church.

That is well and good, but unless you have a degree in church history or theology it matters very little. Those of our faithful members might have encountered the idea in their early membership classes, but to the wider public shaped by terms such as Mainline, Evangelical, or non-denominational, it says very little.

So we resort to a kind of short hand. “We are one of the historic Peace Churches.” To those who have made a life of witnessing to non-violence this might strike up some memories, but still it is a term for insiders. So we shorten it even more- “We are kinda like the Mennonites.” And with that answer we short circuit any attempt to speak of our unique qualities.

For we are anything but “like the Mennonites.” That is not to dismiss our brothers and sisters of the faith, but to say that the heritage of the Brethren, and the ways we have understood being the church differs. In short, we are back to the two pillars of our past- Anabaptism and Pietism. So what on earth does that mean?

The short, non-academic, answer is that Brethren have done church in between corporate and individual discernment. Two pieces then emerge as central to Brethren thinking- the community on one hand and the individual’s access to the Holy Spirit on the other.

For the 16th century Anabaptists, the radical move was to assume all christians had access to and could understand the scriptures. The simple idea was that, when gathered together, the community of believers discerned together what the text meant. It was a kind of radical democratization of theology based on the shared reading of scripture.

The 18th century Pietists, however, applied the democratization principle not to scripture but the Holy Spirit. In other words, the community was not the arbiter of the presence of God’s Spirit. Rather, each person by nature of his or her confession of faith and baptism, was gifted with the Holy Spirit. This has traditionally been articulated in the phrase “respect for conscience”. Here, the community is to recognize the wisdom of collective discernment but refrain from forcing it on others whose conscious attention to the Holy Spirit says otherwise.

Through time, this emphasis on access to the Spirit has propelled Brethren into places our more sectarian Anabaptist sisters and brothers were want to explore. The most notable piece has been the Brethren involvement in the ecumenical movement. While we have not jumped in with both feet, we have been in the room from the beginning. More strict Anabaptists, even among the Brethren, have balked at the sense of compromise involved in the ecumenical process. More Piestist Brethren, however, have been quick to reply that the Spirit is often alive in places beyond our own understanding. The effect has been a kind of Mainline-ization of the Brethren. By the 1960’s the Brethren soon began to look more and more like their Methodist cousins.

My sense is that Pietism is the appropriate corrective to our more sectarian impulses. Attention to the workings of the Spirit is a constant practice among the Brethren. We don’t just assume that when the community of believers gather the direct output is the complete and established understanding of God’s will. Rather, we gather frequently, asking one another questions raised in the context of living out our faith. It is a constant means of testing what we have come to understand out on our own. Often this means that what the community has said in one place or one time is represented to the church for further discernment.

That is the root of our rejection of the creedalism (not creeds, but the settling of one question for all time). Attention to God’s workings, in scripture, among the church, and out in the world forces us to regularly ask; “Is this how we understand God to act?” This frequent discernment propels us back into the world- living out our faith, experiencing God’s ever present actions, and seeking out what God is doing beyond our sectarian confines.

Most often the correctives inherent in holding Anabaptism and Pietism together in one tradition has more recently been about choosing sides. There are those who grab onto a strong sense of community bounds articulated in Anabaptism while others reach far into the ways of Spiritualism implicit in Pietism. Yet, I think the two are best held together. Our theology of the Holy Spirit reminds us that, while the community is the context for discernment of the Spirit’s work, it is not the arbiter of God. Rather, the Spirit works around, through, and in spite of our churchiness. To be sure though, Anabaptism reigns in our Spiritualism with the reminder that we are to test what we have come to understand in daily living with the understanding of the community. It is not just I who know God, but we. And a rich Anabaptist and Pietist synthesis says that what we each experience is made complete in the project of shared discernment of the actions of the Holy Spirit.


Filed under NuDunkers

Digital Discernment

Not too long ago Apple ran into the negative side of the digital revolution they themselves have fueled.  Soon after releasing their long anticipated new phone, consumers soon struggled with their new gadget.  The PR problem soon escalated when Consumer Reports confirmed the problems.  Apple, known for its tight-lipped protocols, barely acknowledged the reports.  That is until the problem reached their own cyber-community at apple.com.  Soon it became clear that any mention of the phone’s problems in the support forum were being deleted.  In the print age such Machiavellian practice would have gone unnoticed, but the internet has a way of revealing even the deepest secrets.

In chapters 5 and 6 of Groundswell Li and Bernoff help describe how Apple has so misunderstood its own digital medium.  Basically they have forgotten that people use internet.  The remedy for such amnesia is simple: Active Listening. In a marketing culture, such a shift is significant, but fundamental to navigating the groundswell effect (125).  For those of us in the Church today, this may seem like old news.

Or is it?  Terms like marketing, brand management, and even spin control may not be in our vocabulary, or have much theological grounding, but they have made their way into our thinking.  The latest press coverage of the Vatican’s handling of the sex abuse allegations reveals just how much PR defines how we as the Church interact with society.

Li and Bernhoff make it clear in chapters 5 and 6 that the groundswell has changed how organizations, denominational or corporate, interact with the public.  The Vatican and Apple exhibit a control or management approach while Li and Bernhoff talk about listening and response.  It is striking that, given the critique of digital isolation on the internet,  such a listening posture assumes that people are on the other side of the wire.  This is evident throughout the language of listening, responding, and community throughout the book.  The groundswell asks us to interact with our public, not to act funnels of information and resources.

We as Brethren appear to do a lot of listening, but how much do we actually engage our fellow brothers and sisters?  By sharing information we often think we are communicating, but in our groundswell culture publicity and marketing are akin to shouting in someone’s face.  As Li and Bernoff write; “The transition from shouting to conversation will challenge your marketing department” (125).  The primary posture then, is one of active listening.

The Quakers help us, as people of faith, live into this new posture through the practice of a Clearness Committee.  This model of shared discernment is a terrific model for engaging the groundswell.  Rather than managing the conversation, the clearness model puts the community in the position of asking questions before making declarations.  Two things emerge as the questions and responses flow.  First, the other is acknowledged and affirmed.  His or her perspective and ideas are valued.  Second, the hierarchy implicit in a management model disappears in favor of collaboration, of a common search for understanding.  As Elizabeth Drescher commented in her article on simple living: ” Maybe we’re practicing a new mode of engagement that the apparent simplicity of Amish life allows us– and perhaps them– to more safely envision.”

Questions for our consideration

How do we listen to the groundswell?

In what ways are we already listening?  How are we responding, from a management perspective or as a Clearness Committee?

What are some ways we can engage the people already talking about the Church of the Brethren in the groundswell?

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Testing the Deep End

My family gathers every other year in Michigan for a family reunion.  This is often a vacation of sorts for my extended family.  One day is usually set aside for a visit to Lake Michigan for running the sand dunes and swimming.  If you haven’t experienced Lake Michigan in August, beware it’s not as warm as it sounds.  Each of us have developed our own strategies for entering the water.  There is the jump right in approach: Start running about 30 yards from the water’s edge, building up enough speed that once you are in the water there is no turning back.  Some chose the slow and agonizing approach: Walk directly into the water, rather slowly with the body straight as a board without any joint movement.  This one usually entails at least two restarts.  The last variation often takes the form of simple and hesitant touching of the water, usually a toe with the rest of the body showing the clear hesitance in its steep angle away from the water.  Those who chose the toe approach usually get in the water just in time to pack up for the day, if at all.

I imagine that many of us resonate with these approaches to the lake.  What is more, I have the feeling that these responses can also describe our approach to the Groundswell- running in without abandon, resistantly wading, or just testing without any desire for commitment.  Though Li and Bernoff see immersion in the Groundswell as inevitable, they helpfully provide us with tools to make the plunge happen on our terms.  In other words, they are not the crazy uncle calling from the deep end; “Come on in, the water’s fine!”

At the risk of oversimplification, two words seem to me to capture the insights of these two chapters- Study and Strategize.  These two actions provide the tools to make sure our immersion goes smoothly.


Though market analysis is a common practice today, in both secular corporations and ecclesial communities, studies of the Groundswell are significantly more complicated.  Not only are there age demographics to observe, but in each traditional category it is essential to understand what the constituents are doing with social media.  Thus, Li and Bernoff outline six approaches to new media (41-45).  This ladder of participation helps reveal what is happening in social media platforms.  The interesting thing is that the percentages fluctuate depending on the age demographic in question.  To make our study even more complex, in some cases percentages of a demographic overlap.  Simply put, a Joiner can also be a Collector by adding tags to different sites.

What is striking about the data gathered in this kind of study is that participation ranges.  As an example, the blog for the Young Adult Forum has around 70 views when a new post is published.  On any given post, however, we are lucky to have more than two comments.

In order to facilitate such a study, Forester has provided a tool for navigating this complex sets of data.


Unlike in the past, strategy comes second.  It used to be possible to construct a plan or vision, do the demographics and then implement the plan.  Advertising then took the burden of convincing the demographic that such a product was useful or needed.  Now, Li and Bernoff warn us that people come first.  That is the study element of the third chapter.  In chapter four, they further drive this point home in their acronym for planning: POST, People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology(67-68).  By placing People first, it is essential to ask what the constituency is ready for.

It is only after studying the people that we could even begin to establish Objectives.  What is it we want to accomplish with our first toe in the water?  From their corporate marketing perspective, Li and Bernoff name five kinds of activities corporations take on in social media; Listening, Talking, Energizing, Supporting, and Embracing.  Each of these actions consistently echo the relationality of social media.  For our work as a denomination, the last two categories seem most promising, especially given the perceived isolation of many pastors and congregations.

Questions for our consideration:

What does our membership look like in terms of social media use?

We have a number of surveys in process, and talk a lot about the life of the denomination.  What are some ways we can begin supporting and embracing our membership?

Where would you place yourself on the ladder (Creator, Critic, Collector, Joiner, Spectator, Inactive)?  Are there parts of the ladder that make you nervous?


Filed under Book Discussion

Defining the Groundswell

Even a new pastor is quick to learn that congregational business often doesn’t end after the closing prayer.  The conversation just moves to the parking lot.  So it should not surprise us when Li and Bernoff warn that “your company’s customers are talking about your brand right now on MySpace, probably in ways you haven’t approved.” (8)  Yet, given the rapid growth of social networking and the internet, its easy to miss the fact that the conversation has moved from the parking lot to cyberspace.  It may not have worried us a few years ago as people sent emails to one another praising or panning the Church of the Brethren, it should give us pause today.  Now, given the public nature of social media and the ability to disseminate opinion and resources so publicly, we must account for this new wave of interaction.

So then, what are we facing in this second generation of the internet, Web 2.0.  Li and Bernoff are pretty clear that “power” or energy in this new digital age is at the bottom, at the grassroots.  They have coined the term “Groundswell” to help make this new life visible.  Groundswell, in their parlance, is “a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.” (9)  Note that the phenomenon is not about advertising or brand management, but rather utility.  People locate, download, and use the content of the internet for their own purposes to serve their own needs.  No amount of advertising can sway such use.  Think of Facebook.  How many billboards or commercials have you seen for Facebook in the last week?

As good Brethren we probably bristle a bit at all the business lingo involved in this conversation.  Brand, image management are all words and concepts with speak of commerce and seem not to be translatable to Church-speak.  Yet, if we look closer, I think we can see that these very concepts have impacted our way of understanding the denomination.  Though we avoid the ideas of persuasion, it seems to me that we do have a kind of trickle down perspective to our work.  We produce and distribute resources for consumption by our constituents, much as our corporate counterparts do in the secular market place.

It is striking to me that despite the commerce jargon, the Groundwell perspective is more akin to our relational theology.  This is clear when as Li and Bernoff note that it is more important to “concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies.” (18)  In other words, its not about Facebook or Convio, but what those platforms can do for the higher strategy of building relationships, relationships between CoB membership themselves and between the members and ourselves as denominational ministers.  A technology or platform is not judged by its corporate payoffs, but by its utility in building relationships.  “If it’s designed well, people will use it.  They’ll tell their friends to use it.  They’ll conduct commerce, or read the news, or start a popular movement, or make loans to each other, or whatever the site is designed to facilitate.” (13)

So then, how are we understand the uses of our technologies?  In other words, what are people doing in the Groundswell?  In chapter 2 we finally get a view on what is happening in the grassroots of the internet.  In essence people are creating content, connecting and collaborating with others, reacting to and organizing other media.  We must ask if the platform enable connections, effortless to sign up, shift power to people, community contribute content to sustain it, is it open to invite partnership. (36-37)

Questions for our consideration:

What are your initial reactions to this way of understanding social networking?

What struck you as you read these first two chapters?

Are there some notes of caution to keep in mind?

What would have to change in the way you as a denominational minister interact with social media given the Groundswell perspective?


Filed under Book Discussion