Saturday, October 31, 2009

Technology and Our Faith

Thinking about the openness of our faith to many sources, and the way we use technology, I ran across this video of the Rev. Christine Robinson talking about open source technology and our faith, and our faith as an open source faith. Very cool. I think this should be a starting point from which we talk about technology and our faith.



*Note to readers of this blog on facebook: videos may not come through to facebook. To view the original post, go to http://revcyn.blogspot.com.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Manifesto

Episcopal Bishop and well-known theologian John Shelby Spong issued a "Manifesto" last week, in which he said, "I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility."

I admire this stance, and am very glad he has taken it. However, I disagree very much with his reasoning: "I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be."

I very much believe that the arc of the universe bends towards justice, and that this is what the final outcome will be. However, I don't think that victory has already been won. That may sound a little like predestination for some, that the victory will ultimately be for good, but that the battle isn't won. Perhaps there is a little predestination in my faith, in the belief that good will ultimately triumph, even when we're in the midst of the darkest night.

And I think that we're not exactly in the darkest night on this issue any more, it's true. There is a way in which we can see victory more clearly now. But we haven't come so far, in my opinion, that there's only one possible end to all of this.

And while I don't believe most hearts are turned by argument and debate, and a lot of people are so entrenched in their positions that they may never be changed, I do still think there are a lot of individuals out there who can be swayed by a clear understanding of how the scriptures have been used and misused on this issue, what the science is, and a message about "Standing on the Side of Love."

But I suspect there is a difference between what I am called to do, which is to argue with individuals, and what Spong is talking about, where he has been called to be on panels where his view and those of hate are paired as if they are "equal." Does having balanced, unbiased approaches to things mean, for example, that we must balance all good with evil, in order to not be biased?

For example, our Community Forum is done in partnership with the library. The library has to, as part of their mission, present both sides of issues. I have said that while I believe all attendees should be free to express their opinions, I don't believe that all issues have two sides, and I'm not willing for us to give all sides of all issues equal weight, when we, as Unitarian Universalists, have a clear moral stance on an issue. My two main examples of this are that I'm not going to do a forum on the Holocaust and give any weight or any space on the panel to Holocaust deniers. As Spong says, "I do not debate any longer with members of the 'Flat Earth Society' either." And I don't debate with Holocaust deniers, because there is a clear truth that they stand in opposition to for reasons of hate, and to give them equal voice is destructive and harmful. (Just to be clear, no one on our committee has ever suggested that we do a panel discussion with Holocaust deniers--this is just an example.) The other example, however, that I have used in terms of talking about what I am unwilling for us, as a religious body, to do, is hold a forum in which we put gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or questioning (LGBTIQ) people on a panel with those who are going to use words which are insulting, derogatory, or otherwise painful in their descriptions or labeling of LGBTIQ people. We've come close, and I've come close, with talking about panels on same-sex marriage which might include people from both sides of the marriage debate, but so far we haven't done such a panel. And, as I reflect on it, it may be wrong to consider doing a panel. It's one thing to allow everyone in the audience to have their questions and their doubts and their prejudices, and to try to educate, inform, and challenge those assumptions. It's quite another to risk our religious authority by giving a platform for hate.

It is so clear to me that I will not engage in a debate about whether or not the Holocaust exists. It's ridiculous to believe it doesn't, and to even suggest it might be debatable is profoundly wrong. Do I then need to say, along with Spong, "It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people. There is no way that justice for homosexual people can be compromised any longer." I believe the answer is yes, that it is wrong to suggest lend any credence to a perspective that disregards the full humanity of LGBTIQ people by agreeing to debate that question in public forums. And, on the other hand, I think that having such a debate can still open some people's minds. Whereas the population is largely united on belief in the Holocaust, we haven't come that far on issues of LGBTIQ justice yet.

So, I'm torn. I'm thinking about it. Spong says, "I invite others to join me in this public declaration."

Maybe I will soon. Help push me there.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Social Media - Uses in Ministry

Some thoughts on the new social media, as I'm wool-gathering this morning: In the last year and a half, I've started writing/using a blog, Twitter, and Facebook. I've also created a Facebook fan page for my church. Right now these things are all interwoven, and I see each as enhancing my ministry in different ways.

Blogging

My blog is a public site, with no hidden posts, so it's entirely open to the public. My blog is http://revcyn.blogspot.com. That might seem pretty obvious to the people who read it directly from my blog, but I also have the blog posting automatically to the church's Facebook fan page, and people comment on it there more than they do back at the home site. I sometimes also let it post to my personal Facebook page. Since in both places it comes through as Facebook "notes," it's not always apparent to people who read it there that it's really the blog from http://revcyn.blogspot.com. Having the blog post to Facebook has probably tripled its readership at least. Now that the blog comes to the church's Facebook page, I find that many of my church members are reading it and commenting on it, whereas I've had only a couple of comments directly on the blog from church members. The interweaving of the social media, therefore, seems to be what makes each most effective.

How does having a blog serve my ministry? Having a blog is a way for me to write more extensively on issues that concern me as a minister but which are not things either large enough, broad enough, or otherwise appropriate as sermon material. I tend to get more political on the blog than I do in the pulpit. My sermon topics are also often set pretty far in advance, and the blog lets me respond to things quickly that are happening.

Facebook

My facebook page is not open to the general public. A lot of ministers do different things here, but I've gone with a policy of "friending" members of my church, but not friending members of other UU churches, unless they are someone who I have a personal (not solely virtual) connection with as a friend from before I became a minister, or, in a few cases, because they serve in some other district or denominational offices where I find it handy to be in connection with them on Facebook. (I also generally have a rule of not friending people who I don't know personally in real life.) It's hard, once you open the doors, to have hard and fast rules here. But I have started doing some things like moving UUs who I am Facebook friends with who are not members of my congregation, or personal friends or relatives, into a category where what they will see from me on Facebook is those Twitter posts that I put through to Facebook, and little else. My logic is that my Twitter site, like my blog, is a public site that anyone can view.

My Facebook account is a place where I do connect to family and friends, but I also have a lot of church members and colleagues I connect to there. So I post fairly regularly to Facebook, and I'll get a little personal about things that are going on with me, posting about my family and how I'm feeling that day, but I try to remember that while I do limit my audience there somewhat, it's still a pretty public place.

Since I have so many people as Facebook friends, however, if you happen to read this, please know that I may not see all of your posts. It would take me too long each day to scroll through everything everyone puts out there, even after I've told it to hide all your Mafia Wars information and the quizzes you've taken. I can't see, let alone respond, to everything that's put out on Facebook. If you really want me to know something, tell me more directly. Putting something out on Facebook is like saying something at a crowded party--you can't assume everyone present heard you say it, yet you shouldn't say anything you don't want repeated to everyone.

Church Facebook Fan Page

My church is on Facebook with a fan page, as well. It's an "unofficial" page of the church, so that the church doesn't accept any direct responsibility for its content. I'm an admin on the page, as well as a few other church members. Right now, "fans" of the page can post comments on the posts on the wall, and becoming a fan the page is open to anyone, so it's a very public page. If that starts becoming problematic, we'll reassess how the permissions for the page are set. The nice thing about a Facebook page, as opposed to a group, is that the status updates come through on people's "newsfeed."

I use the church's facebook page about weekly to post short reminders about events at the church. I hope that this is helping to keep people informed about what's going on at church. There are some people who follow the church's Facebook page who are very irregular church attenders, and some who have never attended, so I hope the Facebook page is letting them know about events they might be interested in that they might not otherwise hear about if they don't open their newsletter.

Twitter

I twitter at http://twitter.com/revcyn. Well, that is to say, I occasionally twitter. I often go weeks without posting directly to Twitter. But I have the church's Facebook page automatically posting all its posts to Twitter, as well, so there's fairly regular information on the Twitter account about what's going on at the church. I've thought about just setting up a Twitter account for the church, rather than for myself, but I would have to use another e-mail address for it, so that seems to be difficult to do at the moment. My Twitter account is an open, unlocked account that anyone can subscribe to. Right now it has 56 followers, but I haven't reviewed the list recently to kick out the followers who seem to follow whatever Twitter accounts they can find to promote products or pornography. I do kick those off my followers list periodically.

I haven't found Twitter to be all that useful a medium, with only a few exceptions. I did not attend the UUA's General Assembly this year, but I did watch a lot of it through the live broadcasts. While I did this, I kept Twitter open and followed and posted comments with the appropriate # sign, and this helped me to feel like I was really there at GA. For the first time, I really saw what the use of a Twitter account could be. On the other hand, there were times it was a little like flying blind, as I did find that I responded to comments of other Twitterers without hearing the original content they were Twittering about at least once. I'll also use Twitter occasionally to post on more ministry or UU-related topics that are not long enough for blog posts, but that I want to say more publicly than on Facebook.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Peace Prize

So Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, and arguments broke out immediately across America. The comments that made me the saddest today were from Rush Limbaugh: "And with this 'award' the elites of the world are urging Obama, THE MAN OF PEACE, to not do the surge in Afghanistan, not take action against Iran and its nuclear program and to basically continue his intentions to emasculate the United States."

As I've thought about this over the day, listening to different takes on the issue, what it comes down to for me is something a colleague said, which reminded me that Obama is creating a paradigm shift in America and in the world, and that this is putting us on a path towards peace. No, peace isn't achieved yet; that's not the point.

Part of what this paradigm shift is about is getting the American people to wake up to our role in creating a world of peace--individually. Here's some of Obama's words from his acceptance speech:
I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.
and:
this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women and all Americans want to build
and:
these challenges can be met, so long as it's recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.
and:
This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration; it's about the courageous efforts of people around the world.
This isn't merely rhetoric. It's a major paradigm shift. And it's one I struggled against in deciding to ultimately vote for Obama. I thought he was pushing responsibility away and avoiding making promises with his language about how it takes all of us. Over time, however, I came to see that he was really creating a new vision about how we do things in this country, one that just might pull us back to some of the values that were great about America, such as civic engagement, and at the same time pull us into a future which is embracing new values, such as environmental responsibility, global citizenship, and diversity. I began to see that in talking about how we would do this together he wasn't advocating responsibility, he was claiming leadership, and I had to let myself be led.

Obama accepted the award as a call to action. My greatest hope is that we can all accept the award, as a country, and try to live up to its call.