Tuesday, September 28, 2010

God In America

Every once in awhile, I think of the amazing opportunities Twitter has provided me (See previous post: "Why I Believe In Social").

On this particular evening, Twitter was the reason I stood in the lobby of the Newseum in Washington, D.C. sipping white wine and chatting about religious life in America.

When I checked in, a representative from the partnering Boston Public Radio, WGBH, found my name on the list and said, "Oh, you're one of our Twitter friends! Thanks for the support.") Oh, the wonders a simple retweet will do.

I was at the screening for a new 6-hour PBS series called "God In America". Tonight's screening highlighted three parts of the series, which feature influential historical figures in America's religious identity over the last two hundred years, including Anne Hutchinson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

A brief panel followed the screening, which addressed production, depth of coverage and accuracy. Below is some of the panel's commentary, though I can't recall everyone's name from the panel, so do forgive me:
  • We can't understand history without understanding America's relationship with religion.
  • The focus of this film is more about the public consciousness of religion at certain points in history (i.e. the Civil Rights movement, and the Puritan/Protestant clash).
  • The film uses NYC actors, and even Michael Emerson, who plays "Ben" in the TV show Lost.
  • In the coming years, how will America live with great religious diversity?
  • The generational struggle with liberty is what keeps liberty alive with each generation.
  • One debate is this: Was America founded on Christian principles, or founded on religious liberty?
  • Thomas Jefferson is argued to be one of the "most secular" of the nation's founders.
  • There is a trend in America's history to expand the sacred canopy. With each struggle (i.e. abolishing slavery, accepting Muslim Americans), there develops a great acceptance.
  • There is only so much that can be portrayed in 6 hours. Scholars who contributed to this project, such as Stephen Prothero, admitted that scholars can continue to write, but film requires cuts and edits, which may not allow for full coverage of a particular topic or faith group.
In any case, the film airs October 11, 12, and 13 on PBS. With the mix of historical footage, actors, and expert interviews, it's sure to be anything but a snoozefest!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why I Believe In Social

This post originally appeared on The Bluevine Collective on September 21, 2010.

Whenever someone asks me why I love Twitter, I’m initially at a loss of words (because I don’t know where to start!). But then I quickly recover, and my face lights up.

I love Twitter - among other social networks - because of what it represents. A friend described me, saying, “You like to network, but you go beyond that. You take joy in bringing people together.”

I see social media as one way to do that.

So many recent tech and business articles start out along the same lines: “Social media has drastically changed our culture...blah blah blah.” And that’s true. But I believe the social networks are uniquely placed to develop our spiritual growth. Because I believe - as Marshall McLuhan did - that the medium is the message. What if church was the blog - was the conversation - was the photo gallery - was the podcast?

Pastor Bruce Reyes-Chow is a great example. He’s a technophile, a prolific blogger. In fact, he believes in blogging as a spiritual practice. How ‘bout that? There are so many hands and feet of the church who are using the networks as additional limbs to reach others.

It breaks all boundaries. Social is open. A tweet has the power to spread like fire. A Facebook petition can mobilize and influence key legislation. Just like Gutenberg’s Bible made the Gospel available to peasants - just like the move away from all-Latin Catholic masses - just like Jesus made us a shortcut to get to God - social media gets to the heart of accessibility.

It builds relationships. I’ve formed new (in-person) relationships with folks I wouldn’t have otherwise known. God wants us to be in relationship with one another. Social media serves as an extension of - but certainly not replacement for - those relationships. A recent article from Inside Facebook describes how several different religious communities have developed an online presence that seeks to engage its members where there are most -- online.

It moves us towards authenticity. In the “old days” the Internet used to be a great place to hide out; anonymous identities could reign supreme. Defamation and libel tore across the Interwebs. And while some of that may still occur, online presence is becoming increasingly normalized. There is an expectation towards openness, honesty. If you make an error, you can quickly retract it (most of the time...). Privacy settings are great, but creating many accounts across the web, means authenticity is expected. Disqus is a fantastic example of this. It’s a commenting system that tracks your comments across the web. Friends and family often ask me how to “control” Facebook and limit what certain groups of friends can see. But doesn’t that sort of lose the whole point of social media? Doesn’t Jesus call us to live an authentic life? It’s hard to do that when you’re packing up certain parts of life for only certain people to see. We all need accountability and social media moves us, symbolically, towards that.

It is encouraging. My church’s current series is called “From Garden To City” which is a year-long bible reading plan. and it comes complete with a website that posts the daily reading, and often a blog post from a church leader reflecting on the passage. It’s amazing to wake up in the morning, do my reading, then hop and Twitter and see Pastor Joel tweeting his favorite passage, or my friend JT explaining what he learned from a verse in a Facebook note. Suddenly, the act of reading a bible has become 3-D and interactive. The daily discipline of cracking open the Word is no longer a solitary, linear activity.

All this said, I don’t want to claim that social media should in any way replace traditional forms of worship, or that social media doesn’t have its pitfalls -- it does. Social media can make us proud. It’s turned some everyday folks into Internet celebrities. Some people focus on how many “followers” or “fans” they can achieve. The constant stream of knowledge can be over-stimulating, when what we really need is some peace and quiet.

So balance is key. Like the famous Spiderman quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Some may think it a stretch, but I believe social media can bring me closer to others and even closer to God.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Alpha: Life's Questions

I'll be the first to admit that I always have questions. I wonder about God, and question grace and the meaning of life. It's completely normal, in fact. But most of the time, I don't think we allow ourselves the chance to really ask the questions - and hash it out in a safe environment.

Join me on Monday night at 7 pm for the kick-off to the Alpha Course at Ebenezer's Coffeehouse.

It's free to join, and you get dinner (eh? eh?).

To learn more about Alpha, visit the NCC website, which includes a short promo video.

NCC also has a strong deaf community. The video below features Kari Olney, a prolific blogger and former protege at National Community Church. Below is her promotional video for the Alpha Course.

Got questions? Come to the table and ask.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Perfect Hyperlocal Recipe?

About a year ago, I guest blogged for the Summer 2010 NPR Interns news site ("Jump For Joy Across The Digital Gap"). It was then, newly enveloped in the wonders of Twitter, that I started reading and writing about the shift to hyperlocal news in the midst of so much journalistic upheaval.

I've come across some really great blogs that cover the pop up of hyperlocal news sites and discusses biz models (LostRemote and Newsonomics are great).

Today, in fact, I came across a post from Newsonomics. While it did a great job of covering TBD's launch last month, it also talked about one of the newest sites, The Deseret News, based out of Salt Lake City. What I most enjoyed - it's recipe-like description of what's going to make The Deseret News successful. What does that recipe look like?

Several cups full of daily newspaper and broadcast types.
Teaspoon of Christian Science Monitor.
Teaspoon of Demand Media
Borrow ingredients from 143-year-old Washington Post and 1-month-old TBD

Directions: shred, dice, slice, puree, whir and blend.

Here's what I also found interesting: from a religion reporting perspective, Newsonomics noted that SLC has a high population of Latter Day Saints (duh). But, hey! Great to see a slight resurgence in religion reporting.

I chuckle, though, as Newsonomics writes:

"And it's all something of a blur, especially the view from outside the unique culture of Utah. The deep talk of values and mission is enough to give an old newsie hives, and we'll all have to watch to see how much "news" coverage is skewed by religious beliefs."