Thursday, March 14, 2013

Faith in a Digital World

We are living in a digital world. (I feel like I should follow up that line with "and I am a digital girl.")  As people of faith, this really is a brave new world in which to navigate. We have the ability to connect with people we never would have connected with before, in ways that never would have been available before, with materials that we never would have had access to before.

There is an entire "digital culture" that has sprung up with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Reddit...so many chances to engage with this culture. Depending on how we choose to engage, that can either be a positive or a negative. 

Because you see, there's a lot of crap out there that masquerades as Christian spirituality. And now, the crap has even more of a platform by which it can be spread. The kind of stuff that just turns people off from the faith or that paints a picture of Christianity far different from how I'd ever understand it or want to live it...it's all over the place. Here's just a couple of pictures I found on Facebook in the past 10 minutes:
I'd hope my financial decisions might play into the equation somewhat

So if I just keep scrolling and don't hit "like," that means I don't accept Jesus?

And it's not just pictures. Videos, songs with images attached, sermons, video blogs, regular written blogs like this one, thoughts on message boards or on platforms like Twitter...in increasing our opportunity for witness we also increase the opportunity that the message we're sending isn't a good one.

We have been given an incredible amount of power with these relatively new technological tools--the power to create and to communicate that creativity in ways evangelists in an earlier day would have only dreamed of. And in the words of the great evangelical film Spiderman, "With great power comes great responsibility." 

How do we wield that responsibility? When the culture of Christianity engages this digital culture, what message are we sending? Is it a message of hope, of God's love for the world and our love for our neighbor? Are we doing justice, loving kindly, and walking humbly?

For the last 9 years, I've been an active participant on HuskerMax.com, a message board dedicated to discussing Nebraska Football. My "handle" (username) there is LutheranHusker, which I picked as a way to remind myself that whatever I posted, others (rightly or wrongly) were going to associate with the church, and specifically with the Lutheran church. It was both an intentional witness and a way of self-policing what I said. There's a section of the message board called the Cafe', which is where I do most of my actual posting, since there are many others who know MUCH more about the game of football than I do. The Cafe' is for all non-sports related discussion, and over the years, whatever the topic might have been, I've tried to visibly and publicly view that topic through the lens of the cross. There are Christians from all over the faith spectrum on that message board, as well as a number of atheists and at least one self-described religious pagan. I've discovered that if I'm honest about where I'm at, thoughtful about about how I've come to be there, and humble in listening and considering the perspectives of others, that others respond with questions, constructive conversations, and sometimes their own faith stories. That's not something that happens overnight, nor is it something a person can go about doing with the express intention of trying to convert people. It's a function of time because it's built on relationship, and it's a function of authenticity because that too is built on relationship. 

What's interesting is that it's gotten to the point where if some news story on faith comes up, they're wondering what my perspective is going to be. NOT because I have all the answers, but I think more likely because I'm willing to ask the questions. 

Here's one such thread (FYI: they refer to me as "Luth"):

I like to post links to my sermons from time to time there. Last spring in one of my sermons I talked about one of the HuskerMax guys, known as "Pops" on the board. Pops is an atheist biker Vietnam Vet hippie ex-heroin addict who is also one of my favorite people in the universe, even though I've never met him in person. This is a link to the thread where I posted my sermon, which led to some amazing self-disclosure from Pops:

And one more...this thread begins a little more PG-13. It was started by an atheist who goes by Red Phoenix who, while he has a lot of respect for those who take their faith seriously and who treat others with kindness, also enjoys poking at folks. He began with a sort-of offensive synopsis of the Christian story, and I have no doubt he was hoping for shocked indignation as a response. Instead (as I like to do), I treated the thread theologically, and what came out of it was a sometimes off-color but sometimes incredibly profound discussion of life and faith and the Bible and personal history and testimony. It's found here:

I bring all these up not because I'm some be-all/end-all internet ministry guru. Who knows...I've had enough conversations, I've probably been heretical at some point. But the key is that even when folks disagree with me (which they often do), because of the relationship we've built over time they know that I've put thought and faith into what I've said, and in an instant digital culture where both of those things are often lacking, that can be refreshing and transformational.

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