Thomas Edison Died Last Week, But Light Lives On

With the flip of a switch last week, the last factory in the United States making old style incandescent bulbs – the kind Thomas Edison spent much of the 1870s perfecting – closed down for good.

Like the other factories before it, this GE factory is being phased out in favor of new light technologies which produce more light and less heat and last up to 60 times as long.

On this special occasion, it’s worth pointing out that Marshall McLuhan used to call the the light bulb a “content-less medium.” Unlike cell phones, computers, and radios, light bulbs don’t transmit any data. And yet, the light bulb, as a medium,  radically alters the space into which it is introduced. When a light is turned on in a dark space, it completely transforms the area. What was unknown known, and what was usable becomes usable again. All without words or content.

Of course, we could point out the downsides to electronic light – we never experience darkness, we rarely see the stars, etc. Or we could argue that those trade-offs are worth it for all that light brings us.

But perhaps this historical event should instead be used to revisit the metaphor of “light” found in Scripture. the Bible tells us that Jesus is the light of the world, and that his light is to shine through us, his Body, his Church. As light powerfully affects any environment into which it is introduced, so also should we.

Yet, unlike a light bulb, the Church is not a content-less medium. We are not to change the world – digging wells, healing wounds, and giving hugs – silently. No, we have also been entrusted with a message about the person of Jesus, the one true God and only hope for salvation.

Without that message we are about as good as one of those new fangled LED bulbs is to a person freezing in the middle Antarctica – the light is great, but without heat he’s still gonna die. So the next time you screw in a fancy 60-year light bulb, remember that our calling is both to be the medium and to bring the content.

Responding to Constant Images of Mass Suffering: Haiti, Technology, and Repentance

Haiti and Suffering

Link goes to DTS's Hait Disaster Relief FundSince the horrible earthquake in Haiti, it has been encouraging to see the incredible outpouring of support and mobilization using all available resources and technology. The devastation there is so terrible it is impossible to fathom, and it confirms the faith of Haitian Christians as nothing less than miraculous.

These events also bring up one of the difficulties we face in the media age – our inability as humans to deal with suffering on a worldwide scale. It is hard enough to face the horror of our loved ones dying, but no human can withstand multiplying that emotion 250,000 times.

Media ecologists talk about the difficulty this way. In an oral culture, people form a tightly knit community physically and emotional connected to every event that happens within their tribe. In a print culture, individuals are disconnected by the medium of print which allows us to gain knowledge of suffering while alone decoding the characters on a page. Today, in a visual/digital culture, we are re-connected to those around us via the speed of Internet and we are re-engaged emotionally through the power of images. Yet we are also disconnected because the suffering we see is of those unknown to us and with whom we are not physically present. (for another take, see Tim Challies)

The natural response to being bombarded emotionally (through images) and continuously (through electronic speed) with the totality of human suffering is to simply become numb to it. Certainly, many of us give our money, time, and prayers to help those who are in pain, but without being there we cannot fully engage. I can read about what friends like Rhett Smith, Lars Rood, Tim Schmoyer, and others feel on the ground, but I cannot absorb their experience through web pages and YouTube videos. I admire their courage and resolve, but I feel helpless at the same time.

Haiti and Repentance

Thankfully, I believe there is another response other than becoming numb and cynical or languishing in helplessness. First, we can involve ourselves in such pain by “looking after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). Giving money is not the same as being there, but it is better than doing nothing and it does answer Jesus’ call, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat” (Matt 25:35). Continue reading Responding to Constant Images of Mass Suffering: Haiti, Technology, and Repentance

Have You Ever Wished You Had an “I Give Online” Token?

Last November, Christianity Today asked me to write a short piece that answered the question, “Which new technologies hold the most promise—and the most peril—for use in church ministries?”

Instead of discussing a particular technology (as Brad Abare and Mark Keller helpfully did), I said:

I believe that the technology that has the most promise in the church is not the latest thing that comes off the assembly line. Rather, it is the technology—any technology—that church leaders openly discuss with other leaders and with their congregations. Conversely, the technology that is most perilous for a church is the one that leaders immediately adopt without thinking through and addressing how it will subtly reshape our spiritual lives.

I went on to give the example of how a seemingly unimportant technology like online giving is worth thinking through spiritually:

For years my wife and I would spend the final minutes before leaving for church frantically searching for our checkbook. So when our church announced that we could set up automatic draft payments, we jumped at the chance to streamline our life and give more consistently.

After a little while, though, we noticed that our new plan was changing our giving in ways we hadn’t expected. Every week, when the person next to me passed the offering plate, I started to wish secretly that I had an “I give online” token so that he or she would know we were faithfully paying customers. A few months later, when our pastor gave a sermon on the joy of giving, I started wondering if we were missing out on the intimacy with God that can come through repetitive acts of devotion. Instead of worshiping through sacrifice, I seemed to be sacrificing the chance to worship for a little convenience.

Continue reading Have You Ever Wished You Had an “I Give Online” Token?

God Does Not Post to YouTube? Dr. Read Schuchardt on the Morality of Media

A reader named Adam posted a few videos from Wheaton College of Professor Read Schuchardt’s chapel presentation in which he addresses several issues with our media and electronically saturated culture (see his notes for additional quotes from the lectures) . For some background, Dr. Schuchardt is a well known in the Media Ecology Society and is a keen observer of electronic culture, though he himself chooses not to have a TV at home for he and his five kids. Below are two short videos that some great one-liners and observations of media culture.

God Does Not Post to YouTube

Highlights:

  • From Neil Postman, “it’s a strange injunction to include as a part of an ethical system [the commandment against images] unless the author assumed a connection between the forms of human communication and the quality of a culture.”
  • Video screens may condition us to be willing to listen only if we can tolerate looking.
  • We live now in an age that says: “A picture never lies. Seeing is believing.” This is the opposite of faith. This is proof. Faith is the evidence of things not seen.
  • You have to be there. You have to speak in as un-mediated a manner as possible. And you have to do the work of the gospel.

No Attention Span Needed

Highlights:

  • In a world where everything is vying for your attention, nothing has the power to grab you.
  • It’s easy for advertisers to create desires you didn’t have to make you buy products you don’t need with money you haven’t earned to buy impress people you can’t stand.
  • Everyone benefits from this system – except for you.
  • Twitter is addictive, powerful, and entertaining. Since when did addictive, powerful, and entertaining become the measure of goodness, truth, or beauty? The Bible is really only one of those.
  • If we care about what we take into our mouths, we should also care about our media diets – what we take into our minds.
  • Google puffs up, but love builds up.

I found these via Adam’s blog The Second Eclectic, so please go check out his site. It’s full of great observations and comments on media culture.

Shane Hipps is Coming to My Conference: The Electronic Gospel

The Electronic GospelJust kidding. It’s the other way around.

Dallas Theological Seminary‘s Center for Christian Leadership is hosting Shane Hipps, author of Flickering Pixels (my review), for a one day conference in Dallas called The Electronic Gospel: How Technology Shapes Our Faith on February 8th, 2010. Here’s the official description:

A conference about engaging technology with discernment, creativity, and purpose as you articulate the gospel in a digital age … Whether you’re leading a ministry, volunteering in church, or parenting children, this conference will help you navigate the digital age. You’ll be equipped to evaluate technology, discern its effects, and utilize it to communicate the gospel.

In addition to Hipps’s two keynote session, there will be three breakout sessions. I’ll lead one on controlling technology in our daily lives, Scott McClellan of Collide Magazine will lead a session on social media, and Bill Buchanan of Irving Bible Church will lead one on technology in the worship service. Hopefully, it’ll be a fun time to talk about not just how to use technology, but also how it shapes us and its significance to our faith and lives.

Hope to see you there!

Pornography Is Not Just About Lust:
The Emotional Power of Images

Why?

Internet PornographyI will skip the statistics about how many pastors struggle with pornography, how early boys are exposed to their first pornographic image, and how destructive it has become to young women. Most of us are painfully aware of these stats, but it’s still hard to understand why this epidemic is happening.

Is pornography simply lust gone wild? Is it so prevalent merely because the Internet brings it into our homes in a way that was never possible before? Why do so many Christian men who would never dream of going to a strip club or soliciting a prostitute trapped in pornography?

I want to suggest that a big part of the story has to do with the power of the images as a technology.

Continue reading Pornography Is Not Just About Lust:
The Emotional Power of Images

Dostoevsky’s 1984 Saved Him from Our Brave New World

1984 vs. Brave New World

In the introduction to Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman contrasts the worries about future technology by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Though much has been made about the totalitarian government depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Postman highlights how Orwell and Huxley’s contrasting worries play out in information and importance. While Orwell worried that good information would be hidden by a scary government, Huxley worried good information would be hidden in a pile of insignificance.

Postman’s words were recently amazingly illustrated by Stuart McMillen. Here is one of the panels

Orwell-Information

Huxley Informatino

Continue reading Dostoevsky’s 1984 Saved Him from Our Brave New World

Being Conformed into the Avatar of Christ: Social Networks & Identify Formation

The following was written as a guest post for my friend Robert Johnson who runs the wonderful site www.practicingtheology.com

My Big Confession

Flight of the Conchords: New Zealand's 4th most popular ...On my facebook profile, my favorite TV shows are A-Team and Airwolf because they are hilarious 80s references, Battlestar Galactica because it’s practically required for geek cred, and Arrested Development and Flight of the Concords because they are cool shows that cool people know about.

But I have a confession to make – I only saw like one video clip of Flight of the Concords, and I’m not sure I really got why it was so funny. Please, please don’t tell anyone!

Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about why facebook is evil and dumbhow to use facebook biblically, or why I quit facebook. Instead, I’m in how engaging in social networking – whether it’s biblically, atheistically, muslimically, or whatever – shapes the way we look at ourselves and the way we see those around us. Continue reading Being Conformed into the Avatar of Christ: Social Networks & Identify Formation

Online Questions for Offline Churches: Is Communion Just A Cracker?

Communion: the bread and the wine Whenever new church models, technologies, and techniques come along there are some who embrace them and some who question them. For me, it has been interesting to see how some of the questions about the “new” are equally valid to ask about the “old.”

In “Online Questions for Offline Churches.” I’ll look at some of the questions raised about recent high tech church models and how they reflect back on the churches who choose not to partake in the new models.

In this post, we’ll jump right into the online communion question which was covered by Newsweek last fall. Continue reading Online Questions for Offline Churches: Is Communion Just A Cracker?

Trouble Memorizing Scripture? Scientists say, “Turn Off Your Computer and Go Outside”

Narrow is the path that leads to righteousness The Scriptures tell us we are to mediate on the words of the Bible “day and night” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:1-2). This requires that we care for our minds and make ourselves aware of how our technology and environment affects our ability to focus on the Scriptures. A few recent studies indicate that being constantly connected to technology impairs our minds, affecting this aspect of spirituality.

  1. A study from the University of Michigan says that going outside and spending a few moments with nature – you know, that thing we’re supposed to take care of (Gen 2:15) – can improve your focus, memory, and attention.
  2. At the same time, scientists also say that city life can dull our thinking. “After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control.” This study also suggests that nature can improve the brain’s ability to think.
  3. Earlier last year, Nicholas Carr asked the question, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” which suggested that our brains are adapting to searching rather than knowing. We can know process lots of little pieces of information, but not large blocks. (The Bible is a large block).

Computers are a blast and necessary in our day, but if we want to grow spiritually, the scientists seem to be saying that we should spend a little less time with our creations and a little more time with God’s.