Thursday, May 25, 2006

Thinking Royal in an MP3 World

I am so twentieth-century. It’s pitiful.

In school I was the proverbial AV-kid. PA’s and 16 mm projectors were my beat. My Dad was a steely-eyed missile-man who was of the thousands helped put a man on the moon. On Saturdays, he would bring me to work and let me play with oscilloscopes. I know, or at least once knew, two dead computer languages—typed on punch-cards. My Mother was librarian whose “media-specialty” was books.

I was a geek before geeks were cool but I have to face facts: I see in kodachrome, I imagine in ink, and I talk telephonically. I think in terms of press-runs and bulk mailings. Oh, I e-mail—in fact, I’d be lost without it! And I am a more-than-proficient user of Microsoft Word, even Publisher (yuk) and Outlook. I can use Dreamweaver without breaking things. I bought my first Mac in 1984. I prefer Firefox, Thunderbird, and Open Office. I will probably return to the Mac World, which I left somewhere around System 8, very soon. I can use a digital camera and burn a CD with the best of them. But truth be told, I am not that far removed from Royal typewriters, 35mm slides and Gestetners—in my thinking anyway. It may have a mouse, but deep down inside, I know my computer is really a very talented type writer.

Here is the sad truth: I can tune twin SU carburetors on my MG but forget to retrieve my voice-mail because there isn’t a little lightbulb that blinks at me. It’s all there…patiently waiting for me in cyberspace. And I can’t bear to let go of that old, indestructible black Western Electric phone in my office. There it sits, lifeless and silent, on the shelf right below a handmade model of the HMS Bounty. In my mind, I think in terms of switches that click, breakers that pop, gears that turn other gears, pipes that move fluid and hoses that do wonderful things with vacuums and air pressure.

Just don’t call me a luddite. I am not opposed to new technology. In fact, I love to use any new gadget and toy whenever I can. I don’t get the paper version of New York Times anymore because I pay to have it come to my laptop. There is much more news fit to print electronically. I read all the current major Anglican blogs and websites. There are at least two magazines that I subscribe to that are only found on the internet. The internet has changed how I study the Bible and do research for sermons, too.

But I still like my Daily Office book. I still like to wind the mantle clock everyday. I still love the intimacy of brush to paint to wood when I write an icon. If my handwriting were better, I’d probably prefer a fountain pen. In my heart of hearts I am a very analog kind of guy.

I suspect that like a lot of late Boomers, who grew up with tubes and now live with microporcessors, we feel the changes in technology--and therefore of how to think about the world--deep inside in a way that my son and daughter do not.

(My son lives and breathes computers. He can think in code and not just in one language. My daughter, who is perhaps more typical, thinks of her computers, PDAs, iPods, and more as appliances. She no more understands it than she does an automatic transmission, but she expects that it will "go.")

This came crashing home to me when I tried to start a blog. A ‘blog’ is shorthand for a Web log. It is a way that people can self-publish anything from opinions to poetry and stray observations. I started three: two for the church and one for me. The one I started for me immediately ran into trouble.

First, I don’t post enough. Monthly is fine for newspapers but it is a good way to lose one’s cyber audience. Even weekly is too slow. Daily is the norm for these things—and the really hot blogs update two or three times a day if not more. I can’t think like my gig with the Morning Call…once every six weeks (and still my editor has to bug me!). To be a good blogger, one has to write and post all the time!

The other thing that got me was the instant feedback. I thought I was ready for this. I’ve written religious columns regularly for secular newspapers for over a decade and a half. Inevitably I will get the occasional brickbat or unsigned letter telling me in meticulous detail how I might get to heaven. What I was not prepared for was the immediacy and the rawness. I mean, the names that other people who claim to be Christian can commit to writing as long as it’s email or a web-post is bad-enough, but the speed is a little unnerving, too.

But still I try. I am going to revive my blog this week so that I can be in the habit of writing at least once a day for public consumption in time for General Convention. I love to write, and it is has long ago become part of my rule of life: pray, read some scripture and journal some. Preaching and writing are a basic part of being a priest for me, so I am engaging scripture and other people’s writings and thoughts all the time. I can bounce my ideas off what they always bounce off of: the Daily Office, the newspaper, and the ways that the Gospel encounters the culture. The discipline of blogging is not all that different. Instead of sitting on a shelf, its out there on the internet for all the world to read…or not.

There are many people, not just young people either but people of my generation and older as well, who are coming to church, coming to faith in Jesus and living out their spiritual journeys on-line. Many spiritual seekers won’t walk into our doors but do check out our ancient (1996) website. The same Holy Spirit that called me into the Big Oak Box (as I lovingly call our beautiful hand-carved pulpit) also calls me to proclaim and interpret the Gospel in whatever way people will use.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came rushing in like the wind, and the followers of Jesus starting talking in languages everyone could understand. The Holy Spirit still moves that way. God speaks in the language people understand in ways accessible to them: film, music videos, the internet, MP3s, blogs, web-casts, and e-mails. The Gospel story is the same. The urgency to bring saving, transforming Good News to all people has not changed. We Christians are being called to be adept and flexible in how we say it.

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