My day has arrived to be featured on the Religion and Media Blog Tour 2012 with Professor Mark Vitalis Hoffman (website, blog), Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. (More information and a listing of all the tour stops here.) In August, LTSG, in partnership with Luther Seminary, will launch of a new religion and media concentration in its MAR program. Read Mark’s response (and my question to him) below:
Greetings, Adam! Thanks for participating in this blog tour. I spent 10 years at Hope Lutheran in Fargo, and through that connection I picked up on your work with The Project F-M. I’ve been enjoying following your blog for some time now. I’ve been all the more interested reading about your studies at UND in Religious Communication and Digital Life. You posed the following question to me:
When Christians gather for worship, they often refer to their church as “the body of Christ.” In claiming this, they seek to emphasize the communal nature of worship. But one congregation is just that one congregation while the body of Christ is all believers everywhere. How might technology used in worship connect believers across town, across time zones, and even across all time?
My initial thought is that we are already connecting with the body of Christ across time and space without the need of any modern technology at all! Our Scripture, liturgy, prayers, and hymns are all the expressions of a long history of global Christianity in which we participate. I get what you are saying, though, and some of that participation can feel rather minimal when it mainly consists of an occasional song from an African or Central American background. Further, I suspect many Lutherans, for example, feel more connected with the 16th century reformers than they do with the Christians in the Baptist or Presbyterian churches down the street. Worse, I know that many times we don’t have much communion in church with the person in the pew in front of us beyond the sharing of the peace. Can the use of technology in worship do anything about this?
It may be coming sooner than we think, but I’m not ready yet for the kind of thing envisioned by Google’s Project Glass. (Check out the video on that page if you haven’t seen what this is about.) Basically it is a way of continuously connecting the real world with the virtual world. I’m trying to imagine being in worship with a pair of these glasses on. It might be great to have access to the Bible text and check out a cross-reference or pull up the history of a hymn as we are singing it. But do we want to be able to summon everyone’s Facebook status as we look around the sanctuary in order to build greater community?
I just happen to be reading an article by John Fea on “rooted cosmopolitanism.” Though he is reflecting on institutional loyalties and the tendency to equate success with being somewhere else, I like the contrast of encouraging both the rootedness of life within a community and the broad perspective of being a global Christian. There are both technological and non-technological things we can do to increase our sense of connection within the congregation, but I do like the possibilities offered by technology to connect globally. I’ve been an advocate for the Sister Parish organization. Their goal is to promote
inter-cultural and ecumenical understanding by establishing linkages between churches in the United States and faith-based communities in Central America. The linkages are based on direct, person-to-person contact, with delegates living in each other’s homes and sharing each other’s realities.
It’s a wonderful effort and is often a life-changing experience for the participants, but it takes a lot of coordination and money. The person-to-person contact is critical, but this kind of interaction can both be promoted and sustained through technology. I think it would be fantastic to connect with a congregation from somewhere else around the world using something like Skype. (Yes, there are technology challenges, especially in developing regions of the world, but it’s becoming apparent in a place like Africa that smartphones are eventually going to allow everyone access to the Cloud.) To use virtual media to give a face and voice to real Christians around the world would be a helpful corrective to the complacency evident in much of Christianity in the United States. Instead of just praying for or contributing money for those who are hungry, we could actually connect with them. Or we could hear directly about the challenges facing Palestinian Christians or the persecutions experienced by Malaysian Christians or share the joy of the lively and growing communities of faith in Africa. I think it’s possible, and I’d like to think that our biggest problem will be trying to figure out time-zone issues!
And now a question for you and your readers: When you are in worship, are you seeking both a local and global connection? If the connections were only possible through technological media, would it still be real and meaningful?