It's a new year, a new decade, and nearly a new semester. My winter break is churning along toward its end, as I will be returning to Joplin on Saturday. I've enjoyed my break. It's nice to be able to sit around all day with no real concerns, especially after a semester as out of control as the last one. But I'm not very good with being at home for long periods of time. I can only take all the cats so long, and due in part to the three snowfalls we've had since I've been here, I've got a bit of cabin fever. That will be remedied soon, however, and the really exciting part is that I will be heading to New York City on Sunday for a week-long class on urban ministry. I absolutely love big cities, and though I've sort of been through parts of NYC before, I've never been to Manhattan, and I can't wait to eat the pizza, hot dogs from the vendors, and bagels the size of my head. Actually, I guess I just really like food, and I'm ready for something besides the corn dogs from my freezer.
In preparation for this class, I've had to do some reading during my break. The first book I read was called Key Concepts in Urban Studies. Most of it was pretty tedious reading, especially since a lot of it dealt with economic concepts, and all of that just goes over my head. I have enough trouble remembering to pay my credit card bill. The other book I read is called Everyday Theology, edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. This one was thankfully much more enjoyable. It's all about how to gain a better understanding of culture by reading cultural texts and trends, and then how to connect this with theological thought. Most of the book is made up of essays written by different people, each identifying a cultural/text or trend and then explaining it theologically.
As I scanned the table of contents, one chapter that naturally piqued my interest was written by a guy named Justin A. Bailey and called "Welcome to the Blogosphere." Bailey writes a lot of good stuff (as evidenced by the frequent highlighter marks in my book), so I thought I would share some of it with you. He starts out by explaining how blogging became popular over time and how this participatory media has changed the way people receive and interpret news, and that part is all fine and dandy, but when it really gets interesting is when he starts connecting blogging with how we view the church and community. Bailey quotes a guy named Tim Bednar: "The phenomenon of blogging is transforming our expectations of church. Soon this meme--this product of our online spiritual formation--will emerge from our cyberchurch and transform the traditional church" (183).
I really enjoy maintaining this blog. As I've written before, it's at times therapeutic for me, and it forces me to think. If left to my own devices, I would sit on my couch all day every day watching reruns of 90's sitcoms. Instead, I have to remain as sharp as my meager ability allows me to, thinking critically about what I see and hear so that I can formulate an idea into a tidy 5-10 paragraphs. I know how rowdy you all get when I don't post for a couple weeks, so I've got to keep it coming, you know what I mean? And I really do hope that something on here somehow helps you, and I'm always encouraged when someone tells me that it has. I also love reading others' blogs, and it brings my heart joy when my Bloggolution sidebar shows that someone wrote something new. I hope that we all somehow become a little wiser by listening to each other in the life-conversation in this way. But I don't think anything that happens here can be an adequate substitute for what happens in the community of the church, and it's dangerous to think positively of a church shaped by blogs. They're not the same.
People are more apt to be open and honest with the online community than they are with actual people. The internet is a place for nameless, faceless dialogue. It's easier to type words into a textbox than to let them come from your lips. People will confess and discuss all sorts of things online that they wouldn't in the physical world. Why? We live in a world in which people put make-up over their bruises, where they hide its hurts and ills behind a smile and a handshake. Where they open themselves up online but not in our churches. Why? Bailey writes, "[...] we need to admit that one of the reasons why so many have gone online in search of community is that they have not found it in our churches" (184). Ouch. He then cites a comment that was left on a Christian blog:
There is the real world where I live which is broken, messy, scary, profane, filled with risk, sadness, loneliness, sickness, hate, fear, doubt, death, love, hope, mercy, grace, friends, faith and faithlessness....Then there is the church world. I haven't talked to anyone in that world about what is real in many, many years.If these revelations aren't extremely distressing to us as Christians, I don't know what would be. There's something wrong when, as people deal with this "real world," they can't find a real church to surround them. Instead, they bring their crap to the world of pixels and blogs and "I Like" buttons, because that's evidently where they find community. As followers of Jesus, it's our mandate to act like Jesus in tangible ways.
The internet can't do what the church was designed to do. This blog can't give you a ride to the store when your car breaks down. It can't partake in the Lord's Supper with you. It can't sing to God with you. And it can't sit with you at Chick-fil-A and just talk about life with you. That's what we need to be doing in our community of the church--in our bodily, physical, breathing community. We need to be there for one another in real ways, and we need to show that real world where real community can be found, all the while reflecting our very real God. Because ethernet cables and Wi-Fi hotspots can only do so much, but the churc is meant to change the world.
A couple closing thoughts, one somewhat related to the rest of the post, and the other not at all. First, blogs themselves probably aren't as in vogue as they were several years ago. You might remember when everyone and their pet gerbil had a Xanga account. Nowadays, the world of online community is dominated by our common friend Mark Zuckerberg and his website called Facebook. Maybe you've heard of it. Anyways, when I was on the staff of my high school newspaper, I wrote a column about fads (like digital pets, Surge, Tickle-Me Elmo, etc.) In that column, I penned this brilliant prophecy:
I hear a lot about facebook.com these days. At this website, all of these people can put up their picture and some information about themselves, and then other members call them their friends and leave little messages. And this is my question: Why? It seems to me that all it does is allow all of these people who are already your friends in real life come and call themselves your friends on the Internet. This concept is doomed to fail; facebook will soon become just another fad.Whoops.
Second, recently I was reading The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, which was first published in 1678. It's a Christian classic and is an allegorical account of Christian's journey from the City of Destruction to to the Celestial City. In one town, Christian and his traveling companion, Faithful, are mocked, beaten, locked in a cage, and put on trial before the people of the town have Faithful skinned, stoned, stabbed, and burned. What is the name of this town? Vanity Fair. It seems an odd titling choice to me that a women's fashion magazine would name itself after a literary place that imprisons, tortures, and kills Christians.