Monday, 6 March 2023

A Theology of Blocking People on Twitter. With a bit of Punk Rawk for Fun.

There are few things more absent from the Holy Scriptures, than Twitter. And it was like that, way way way before Musk showed up with a kitchen sink. But, to be fair, saying what's on your mind isn't foreign to the Bible. Just saying them on Twitter and the various and wonderful tools that come along with it. 

Tools like the block function. It seems odd that you would have a block function at all when you think about it. The purpose of the little blue bird is to let people say what's on their minds. And besides. If you don't like them, don't subscribe to them. That's a function too. So why let a person have an account if there is a chance they might be blocked by another person. Why have the megaphone if you are handing out ear muffs? But therein lies the error in our thinking. Twitter isn't just a public megaphone for all to holler through, though it is a megaphone for the public. The purpose of Twitter isn't information projection, but rather, audience curation. Twitter is a place to say something that's been on your mind and make sure you have like minds to hear it. 

You'll hear the online church crowd talk about having a pulpit in our pockets. It's a fun little metaphor, but what they get wrong is which way that pulpit is preaching. When you go to church in person you know what it looks like for the pastor to preach to the choir. Or at least what it used to mean when we had choirs. But the online church thinks that since it has a pulpit in its pocket, it's preaching to a congregation from that pulpit. Preaching to an audience that's somewhere else through the magic of the internet. But it's not. At least not just. It's preaching to itself also. And this is what Twitter is all about, and why there is a block function. 

So here's a first crack at having a theology about blocking people. With a bit of punk rawk for fun.

Because everything on the web requires active or passive searching, there are no passers-by on the internet. Online, you do not have a congregation made of members and, at the very least possibly, new people. What you have is people who were already going to be there or were already looking to get there. Subscriptions and search terms if you will. Except there is no "there" to get to. Their "there" is actually just "they". All by themselves looking for preaching that they want to hear because they already agree with what's being preached.

This church metaphor is a bit sloppy but stick with me.

That's not the kind of preaching that happened before we decided church could exist online arbitrarily. When you when to a church you heard what the pastor wanted to preach. You could leave and find another church but the same problem would be there too. You were either disciplined by that sermon or you were at odds with it. You had no choice in the content of the sermon before the sermon started, and the pastor had no real control over the congregation unless he wanted to limit who could come to church in the first place.

Things like Twitter, reverse this dynamic like a mirror. Exactly like a mirror to be sure.

On Twitter, those with something to say are only found by people who already want to find them because of what they say. They can tag along in the comments but unless someone likes the meme they post under another person's tweet, what happens on Twitter is pre-selection of content not a proliferation of content. The role of Twitter is to get a one-sided view of the things you want to see. The kind of view a pulpit gives a pastor who wants to see his congregation. To be able to say what you want and receive responses you want for that speech. Because every pastor does that. They want their sermon to affect their congregation, the same way we want to be affected by the people we follow on Twitter. The pulpit turns around and the megaphone becomes deafening to the reality that actually exists in the world. You don't subscribe to a church you are a member of, you attend. You don't seek out the voice and content of a pastor, you submit to his leadership and spiritual gift of teaching. It's a fundamentally Christian relationship and that's the rub we feel when Christians collide online. Because online Christian anything it's not a fundamentally Christian relationship. It's a technologically Christian relationship. 

This is what happens when the lens of what "can be online" gets viewed as a place. We simply switch perspectives as if we are in a room we never paid the rent for. And for the most part, this works, when it works, because it has no reason not to work. Until it stops working, we take the stated nature of online spaces and try to treat them like what we say they are. Digital spaces. But that's not what they are. 

They're digital things.

When you post something theological on Twitter you enter into a "space" where all you can do is provide a preselection of content like that which you have posted. But take one small step outside that worldview and you see that there are what would have been debated in the real world. Trapped to one side of a pulpit we curate, those theological posts seem perfectly in place. But when the congregation realizes what's up, the problems start to show up with them.

The problem with preaching to the choir from your pocket pulpit is that the choir is on the stage too and can drown you out in an instant. They are louder in a group than your single microphone will ever be and are well-practiced at all saying the same thing. Which is only a problem if the guy behind the pulpit wanted to use the stage to say bad things about the choir currently singing over him.

All of a sudden the choir is blocked by the pulpit and its preacher. It's no longer on his stage. Still on a stage to be sure, but not his. The choir gets blocked for interrupting the preacher, for singing a tune that distracts the pastor's congregation from the sermon he wanted to preach. The choir retains their congregation via their stage, and the pastor his. By curating the audience everyone gets a congregation that wants to be there and that they want to be there. 

The block button becomes a personal denomination. Making sure what a baptist thinks and what a reformed baptist thinks don't have to mingle as if they belonged to the same body of Christ.

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

1 Corinthians 12:15-26 English Standard Version

The block button can only divide this church when it's used for individuals and not for the group. Because it's not about how Twitter is used for hosting online worship services, because it really doesn't do that. 

When a pastor blocks a model on Twitter, whose sole source of content is the exposure of her body for the sexual attention of men, he maintains control of the digital pulpit and also the digital pew. Used against active sin, the block button becomes a rod to protect a flock and the shepherd from the wolf instead of a barn to hide both in. This is still very much part of the audience curation feature of Twitter. If there were a button that could ban every Twitter account from Twitter that posted porn, why wouldn't a pastor push it? 

But we know what the Bible says about things like porn posting Twitter accounts, even when the bible doesn't mention Twitter or things like Twitter. We take the principles of righteous living and apply them. Easy peasy. But the Bible has plenty to say about unity between Christians too.

You do not get to have a platform that can host all the Christians without the same troubles that got us into denominationalism in the first place. And the block feature knows this. That's why it exists. To separate people. But Christians aren't meant to be separate from one another, are we? We're supposed to be in conflict. 

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17 English Standard Version

The romantic notions of personal discipleship and healthy dialogue go out the window with Christian Twitter. Not because the place is filled with sinners, which it is, but because it's filled with saved sinners. Before anything like Twitter existed, you did the same back-and-forth debating, now quite cowardly called trolling, in person with your pastor or bible study group. To leave that group over theological differences that you thought were heretical meant effectively saying to the hand, this foot doesn't need you.

Now make that body of Christian unity something where a single Twitter account leaving, is like losing a hair, or since we're blocking things, covering up a pimple. That's the scale of having as many Christians together in a place that's still sinful, this world. The sinful place isn't Twitter, Twitter is a thing remember not a place. 

Christian Twitter isn't the sit-down coffee-fueled discipleship class your group's pastor holds in their four-level spit suburban house. It's a theological mosh pit. Blink182 best put this concept in a line from their song "Parking lot" and I quote "10 bucks to get into a fight you can't win." Though, apparently, Elon thinks that $8.00 gets you your cover charge for a blue check mark.

That violence and passion and pain and grind of the mosh pit is a feature, not a bug. And I would argue it's a feature Christians need to take seriously or not take at all. You don't get to be an honest Christian on Twitter while you block other Christians for a second-tier theological disagreement. There are no denominations online just believers trying to figure it all out. So when you block Beth Moore because you think women can't be pastors and they block you back for being toxically masculine, both of you are trying to amputate the other digitally and will enjoy the pleasant surprise of who greets who in heaven. 

This isn't a plea for theological homogeneity, it's a plea for iron to sharpen iron when two or more pieces of iron are present. There will be no catechism of online Christianity to inform us when to block what we would call a heretic because they stopped being Christian. Or what terms we've just decided aren't Christian because we've said so with enough followers or re-tweets. That's because a singular worldview and theology isn't the point of Twitter, the point is to give everyone a chance to hop in and connect with people via their posts. The more naive of us saw the excitement and thought it was just fun and not fun mixed with said connecting. Like the way, a body hits you in the fray of a good punk concert. Or in other words, don't jump off the stage you set up if you don't know what jumping in entails. 

There are no Christian trolls on the internet because trolls are fictional and the internet is not a place they could live in anyway. Its the philosophically stained floor of a dive bar, where MXPX is playing "The Darkest Places"--- (Lyrics here for the uninitiated)

Do yourself a favour and listen to that one before you block someone from Big Eva, or a Theobro who likes J-Mac more than being winsome.

Monday, 20 February 2023

The Only Thing That Breaks Our Necks Is Progress When It Speeds.

One of the qualities of technology that needs to be held in tension by the church is that it progresses. That progress is a feature and not a bug. Everything from internet servers to bricks progresses at scale and humans are the only moral part of that equation. 

Way back in the shadow of Babel's tower, bricks which could have been used to build houses for families were being used to build a path to heaven. One that didn't involve the Messiah that needed to be born someplace other than a tower. This might be the first time the scripture records our technological pride in action. And most people will skip over the fact that God didn't confuse the languages of man when they made bricks, He did it because of what they used them for. There isn't a philosophical difference between what a brick does for humanity and what a computer does for humanity. There are technical differences that even the most Luddite of us all can parse, but the reason you make bricks and the reason you make laptops is the same. Progress.

Stones are harder than bricks. But aren't generally in perfect numbers and shapes where we want to build houses. So, when the technology of bricks is discovered and invented, the need for rocks to build houses takes a back seat. Still an option, but not the one we like to use. Once you have bricks to build a house and the time and work of gathering rocks gets absorbed in the making of bricks, the house gets built and you end up with more time on the back end of the effort. That's progress, and that progress is attached to every bit of tech our little hands can carry. 

The pen let us write about swords. The typewriter made writing uniform and neat. The computer did it in a long-lasting way. And the laptop let us do it from anywhere we had laps. Technology progresses. I could write a dictionary on how this lens captures everything from yoga pants to chatbots, but we're here to talk about church.

Think of the mega-church. A dark room and more tech between the congregation and pastor than height between the ground and a tower to heaven. Yet Jesus is worshiped there in the same spirit of truth and numbers more than two that he was when the early church met in houses, with a lot less bible I might add. But the mega-church, even smaller medium-sized versions of that peculiarity, are trapped by the progress that empowers them. And the church service isn't the only place this shows up. Anyone can see how tech has taken the reins of the church service and galloped it until the horse was too dead to run a click track to. How many songs could you do as effectively with the house lights up and the smoke machine off? that was a low blow to my worship team buddies, but tech is in the sermon too. Progressing the pastorate towards the same kind of beat down the horse got.

Can you pastor write a sermon without Logos? Google, Docent, and now our newest preaching team member ChatGPT? We didn't notice that one sneak up like we did with the smoke machine because, unlike the aesthetic technologies, the convenient ones are a bit more slithery.

It's technological convenience that gets a pastor from studying his bible and drafting his teaching from that studying, to using tech to help him prepare sermons that he didn't study the text for. From preaching on a passage of scripture to preaching with passages of scripture. This marginal difference is where companies like Docent make their bacon. It's a kind of pragmatic and technological eisegesis. The kind our math teachers warned us about. We, and it is a "we" because I did it too, called them liars for saying "we wouldn't have a calculator where ever we went." But had they the foresight and prophetic gift to add a "want" to that chastisement, we may have remained colouring in the lines.

As more and more tech and apps and progress enter our lives under the guise of help, we really need to start looking for the snakes in these trees. Because there isn't a neutrality in play here. It's the handiwork of sinners who think their sin won't affect their brick-making and that bricks can't cause stumbling in our faith, so long as we don't waste their use and just build something with them. 

And that's the desire, isn't it? That will to "not waste" this opportunity and resource. Because it surely will not be the death of us. 

I heard this line before. Read it in a book. You should too.

But God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 

Genesis 3:3-5 English Standard Version

Monday, 13 February 2023

Late To The Game, And Other Births.

The evangelical and otherwise Christian culture is often late to most games. We are a few years behind popular music at any given moment, a few years behind organizational novelty, and given our love for preachers in sneakers it seems that we consider this a fashionable lateness.

But we are behind the times and this lateness has little to do with the Joneses and a lot to do with the things we jones for. 

One of those addicting new baubles is the way new baubles seem to always show up at the top of our high places. The spots where we worship and the man-made mountains of reasoning we have to justify how we worship with them. We are enamoured with the "new" in ways that often betray our poverty in belonging to the faithful. 

We could pick on the obvious few examples we have these days, and like a good fundamentalist, simply slap stickers on what we see as central to societal instigation and harken back to the good old days. It's easy to be a Luddite, to a point, because you can make the baseline of "good" you, and smash any mechanized version of anything from that point on. But we're not in a place where we have to worry about the cotton gin destabilizing our current society. We have someone to talk to about this kind of stuff now. And the problem is we still think he's a someone.

ChatGPT and other AI tools have begun to catch the church off guard because they seamlessly fit into the church's blindspots for joy and comfort. And it did so because after a few decades of telling the world "everyone's welcome", or "there are no perfect people", the bar was set pretty low for something that really isn't a body or a people, to show us what imperfect communication really was. The second this guy showed up he started writing worship songs, exactly like the ones we liked. All we had to do was ask and we received. He could get us sermon outlines, hell, even sermons outright. This guy was amazing. We could really have anything we wanted from him. Even in a different tone and accent. We could see what it was like for former Presidents to write our sermons, but only if the jokes were self-deprecating. There were a few quirks like that. But this guy gave us everything we asked for. He was polite, sensitive to racial and political correctness, and even knew why you can tell a joke about men in the devotional but not one for the women. Stating “I'm sorry, but I am unable to tell jokes that might be considered offensive or inappropriate. Is there anything else I can help you with?" I mean. How is this not the servant leadership we've been saying we wanted all this time? All this guy does is serve. It's all he's capable of doing.

The one problem being on this rising leader in the church, (and he will end up being the leader of the church if we're not careful) is he's not a he. It's an it. And not the kind with a flag for the month of rainbows either. Though I imagine we just need to give that one some time. 

We are marvelling that technology has finally progressed to the point where a computer can write a sermon and gloss right over the fact and truth of the matter. That while large language model AI can reconstitute a new-looking sermon from every available sermon in its scope of training, it can never possess the one thing really needed for preaching in the first place.

A Holy Ghost.

I get the gears sometimes from my writing critics for using such antiquated language for the Spirit. But I was raised Presbyterian so I'm not going to stop anytime soon. With that nomenclature or the kinds of theology needed these days. 

Preaching, rightly understood, is a gift God gives to us through us. Not something we do for God in spite of us. His Holy Spirit gifts us this and other such gifts for the building up of the body of saints. Ephesians 4:11. He also guards that deposit of the gospel in us. 2 Timothy 1:13–14. There is no preaching that happens outside of the Holy Ghosts' involvement. So while Christian influencers, pastors, and worship leaders all gawk at the speed and comparative quality of all this AI popping up and popping off in the church service elements, I'd like to keep a level head and point out a few things. At least before someone hurts themselves. Hebrews 4:12

1: ChatGPT and other AI tools are just that tools. They don't make things, they alter things. Showing a person a procedurally generated picture, when you ask for a picture of the night sky in southern France, is not the same as the obvious gift and talent, that God poured into the hands of a guy like Vincent Van Gogh, when he painted Stary Night. And it's not that this is a qualitative comparison of pictures. It's a quintessential one. One of these is art because it was made by a human as art and the other is a compilation of art hoping to pass as art with no humans involved past the programming of what the robot is allowed to use for fodder when asked to paint a picture. Perhaps The Holy Ghost was inspiring their programming. But we're as late to the game of naming which spiritual gift C++ use is, as we are dealing with the ones that preach. So...

2:We've been doing this questionable trust fall, as it related to preaching, for a lot longer than we realize. There was a time when the gift of preaching meant an environmentally exclusive study of the text. What I mean by that is that our great and favoured dead guy pastors, didn't have the option to query anything but their own intellect and wisdom to craft a sermon. In order to teach their congregations the meaning of a Greek word, they had to know Greek. They could clumsily take a word from a lexicon and paste it in but the usage would be missing from that word, for those keeping track we are at least 2 books in, needed to do this word study. On top of the prerequisite of knowing what's in them. To fully flesh out an illustration a preacher needed time behind the pages and like all things, technology saw this time spend as a problem to solve instead of a process in motion. It gave us instantaneous answers with nothing but a wifi connection. Everyone likes getting things done faster, but some things require time. Making them faster makes them worse. If you don't believe me, try a wine that's not quite grape juice anymore but definitely not wine yet. though to be fair, I guess a lot of churches do this too.

There is a reason Chan, Driscoll, and Keller aren't being heralded as the next Prince of Preachers, which has nothing to do with how Spurgeon waxed poetically on the Psalms. It does, or at the very least likely does, have something to do with how they think about sermons in an age when you can google things. The process of knowing something so you can teach it stopped being something you had to understand first and then teach and started being something you just had to ask first in order to teach. This is what happens when the math teachers were wrong about everything and not just whether or not we would have calculators everywhere we go. ChatGPT is only doing what AskJeeves did poorly and what Google does perfectly. But faster. Instead of stringing together a half dozen google searches for a phoned-in sermon, you can now just phone it all in entirely. All it takes for a preacher to operate in this new environment is a writing prompt the night before and a word limit. We can scoff at this idea but is it really different than a writing prompt and an hour or so behind a google search. The only variable is the time spent.

We're being told that technology is breaking down barriers and letting us live in a utopian age where the pulpit is no longer in a building but rather in our pockets. Not realizing that this doesn't mean the pastors are there but rather the congregation is now in charge of their own preaching. Why would you listen to a man in a building when you can use an AI to preach sermons that will never venture politically of course, never question gender roles in the church, never miss quote scripture or use the wrong translation. AI isn't the next tool for pastors to become better pastors. It's the tool used to remove the theological looms from the evangelical congregation and gin up the engagement value. You could see it coming by the way we put every single sermon we preach online. As if content generation was the end goal. This just taught everyone to have a taste for multiple pastors online inside a single desire for preaching, and made them use the search functions of a half dozen sites to find what they preferred to be disciplined by. We didn't catch on when the algorithms started picking on some preachers but not all. It wasn't persecuting people, it was finding out what they liked. ChatGPt will just do this at scale and for everyone. No more celebrity pastors saying audacious things for views. Just a robot that will slowly learn how to pour honey into the evangelical ear, better and better with every query posed.

3:The only way out of a pot is in fact back the way we entered. Damn the kettle we were in, we are not in that piece of tech now. We're in this one and this one is getting hot. 

The answer isn't an abandonment of tech but it will look like that to a lot of people who fancy themselves pastors but are really just in Christian UX at the moment. The answer will be a return to the foundations of biblical literacy and study at the expense of tools that do not aim for the gospel the way the preacher's message does. Fast and easy are great things to have but are downright evil when compared to what the Holy Ghost does in us. That's what makes preaching, preaching. Not a new Logos subscription or a TikTok feed full of theologians not dancing. So if it in any way goes near that process, the tech goes first. It will start with a recognition that every new app and video peddling service is not, in fact, a community to reach, but rather a way that our communities are also being reached. That the in-person sermon is one of the last vestiges of reality left in a world where the spectres of ChatGPT, Deepfakes and Stable Diffusion loom on the web, threatening to make everything you hold as true to be just true according to the search terms. There is no community online that is not also attached to a community offline because the lines that bring them internet match the roads that bring them the bills for that Internet. It's for that reason we need to make the sermon a thing that can only be understood in person.

So the question stops being "Can an AI write a worship song, a sermon, or a devotional?" the very second we realize that we have no indication that the Holy Ghost empowers the spiritual gifts of preaching or teaching, outside of a human that preaches or teaches. Though I'm sure if we ask it, it will tell us. 

AI can't write a sermon, a devotional, or a worship song. Not because it can write things like songs or speeches. 

But because it can't worship or preach.

Friday, 3 February 2023

Books are a Really Expensive Backdrop for Ignorance and Personality

This little red dot means I've read this book. A play on words as much as a play on the sensibilities of people who read as a general rule. But alongside my love of self-education comes a price tag. That of not being able to prove you did so. 

My best idea on how to fix that is to simply show how the sausage is made. 

First, we start with books. Hard copy as the top end of a preference hierarchy. with kindle or electronic books and audiobooks at the bottom. This is pure paranoia but not unfounded paranoia. You can render a kindle useless and an account suspended via a firmware update, you can't do that to a book in the possession of someone else. You have to deal with the book owner when attempting to remove books from them and the book owner is 6ft tall and swings a big stick sometimes. 

But having books is not enough, you need to have access to them. Bookshelves are next. And while there's really no good answer there is a perfectly practical answer to how to shelve books if you want to become a collector. 

The billy bookshelf from Ikea is a modular system that has full-height and half-height options as well as full-width and half-width options. So it can adequately cover the walls of just about every room within a 15-inch margin. This is good because no one ever starts with a massive 500+ book library when they get into reading. But they often end up there. And with a bit of foresight, you can simply keep adding as needed until you have a room full of books. For some perspective, a single 6ft high bookshelf that's 30 inches wide, or about doorway width wide, is approximately 210 books. Give or take anyways. It would take 4 years of a book a week to fill that. So, we're not talking about much when we say get a proper bookshelf because you can split the cost over multiple years for an above-average reading pace. 

But these bookshelves become kind of central and nice to look at once you get books on them and here is where the trouble starts.

There's a particular brand of content creators that fakes the prestige and hard work of reading an above-average amount of books. Ones that will have perfectly manicured shelves with books organized by colour and size and make the books and the knowledge they contain a fancy backdrop, not the tool that they are. This is more common for fiction libraries but happens to non-fiction libraries too. When all sense of organization is lost in the collecting of books the knowledge contained in them is just as lost. finding a white Malcolm Gladwell book in a sea of similarly grouped white books is harder than finding a Malcolm Gladwell book in the "G" section of an alphabetically sorted shelf. 

But there's still the issue of faking the read.

I have over 500 nonfiction books, but I've only read and processed into my commonplace system about 112 of them as of the time of this article. I could easily start posting youtube videos about my perfect and well-educated thoughts on theology, with a giant library of theology books behind me to back up my claims. And a lot of people would fall for it. 

That's because books are a kind of mental Judo. They let you know at a glance that person is more than what they may appear to be. the same way a cauliflower'd ear on a guy at a bar lets you know who you don't want to fight with if a fight breaks out. It may have been that the man got his ear hit by an object at work, subsequently crushed and ended up looking like he hits people for a living. But it's likely he just hits people for a living. 

That's what books do. They give the impression of knowledge gained from reading them. But there isn't a trendy and aesthetically pleasing way to do the opposite. To show your work and show that not only that you've read a book, but you have understood and can communicate what that book says. 

Enter the red dot.

The red dot on all my books is a mark to let people know it's been read. It's the easiest way to accomplish and counteract this claim but has to be announced to make it work. 

The second strategy would be to review every book. Even simply, 30 seconds on each book is enough to let anyone know that you've at least cracked the cover. But a formal review of each gives you the opportunity to again, show your work of reading.

Finally, there is a simple and easy way to see if the person with books behind them is well-read or just a book of the month club member. Cracked book spines. For most book collectors. Paperbacks of any size are 25-50% cheaper than hardcover books. So when you're in a pinch to fill your bookshelf. You fill it with books that can be acquired cheaply. And paperbacks are cheap. But paperbacks are only pristine and square when unread. The second you spend an hour or two with them in their reading, you crack their spine. And a careful eye can see this evidence of use. It takes effort to not do this to books.

Charles Spurgeon famously remarked about this kind of thing when he said "A Bible that is falling apart, usually belongs to a life that isn't." Similarly, a bookshelf that is dishevelled and filled with well-worn books is a likely indicator that the owner actually reads them. 

I bring all these things up to let the world know, not that I've read a lot of books but to highlight there are a lot of people you know and like and listen to that have completely unfounded ideas once you start looking closely. People who draft book quotes from the quotes section and not from a personal collection of insights and notes taken from reading books. These same people will tweet these things as content to add authority to their opinions online. But when a similar action though much less attractive an option is used. One of posting pictures of your highlighted and dog-eared page instead of typing the quote. Then a person sees you spent the time, engaging with the ideas of the book before you chose to use it as content for your audience.

Knowledge can be faked these days in ways our former intellectual giants might not have ever fathomed. And a rising and important skill will be not only discernment in what's right and what looks right. But also how to spot those who write what's right and what looks right. So to bookend this post.

Books are a Really Expensive Backdrop for Ignorance and Personality.

My Alter Ego, My Twin, And My Pen Name

So I have a Twin who is one of my biggest fans. He likes my writing and is an easily bribed editor in a pinch, usually just takes a bottle of rum. And I get an honest review of anything I write. This is handy given that as it exists online there is also another guy who looks like me but isn't quite me either. 

Jon and I look the same but we are in fact quite different. I'm fatter, he's more resourceful, and we both like books and working for churches but how we come about it is often a topic of one of our frequent phone calls. 

But there's another version of our shared face out there that is often found hiding behind the cover of Strunk and White's Elements of Style. And that is R.G. Michales. R. G. whose letters do not stand for any proper nouns like Ryan or Reginald or Gregory or Graham is an entirely fictional person. Made that way on purpose to filter out my young adult writing from my non-fiction writing. I'm fairly open about this but feel it necessary to explain. Not because I don't think the people reading my work and rambling on theology can't grasp what a pen name is for, but rather what a pen name isn't for.

R.G. only exists to separate books about teenage drama and growing up in North America, from books written about the theological principles of online church and political commentary. He uses the same theological and political mind I have to write his books and imbue his characters and plots with realism and meaning, all the same. But what R.G. doesn't do, is run or help run any sort of vice tourism

Now maybe you haven't heard of the term before so here's your definition.

Vice tourism is when you use a medium like books or video games to do things you aren't morally allowed to do because by consuming the medium, you aren't actually doing the thing itself.

An essential part of the struggle I had in creating and then deciding to use a pen name was knowing what that name would and wouldn't be doing. Because let's be clear if R.G.'s avatar wasn't clearly my poufy hair behind my favourite book on writing, if it were a vaguely human anime avatar instead, then I could hide like Adam did in the Garden of Eden. And just like Adam, the fig leaves of online anonymity are a moot point with God. But you can bet your sweet apples it would work on almost everyone else.

The reason I'm open about my pen name is that not being open would be sinful. It's a kind of deception that in its plainest form could look like a card trick that works on people who don't know how to google card tricks. But there's a very big difference between the small actions of someone using anonymity as a divider and using anonymity as an alibi. Pen names should never be used to do what you wouldn't or can't do with your real name attached. Writing erotica or gore with a pen name as a Christian author is the literary equivalent of Romans 6:1. But on a real level so would writing about kittens as if you were a woman in a blue summer dress when you're actually a man in jeans in a leather jacket. 

Deception for righteousness' sake is a tricky topic to navigate. The midwives of the Hebrews straight up Lied to Pharoah when the false god-king sought to kill Hebrew boys at the birthing stool Exodus 1:15-20. Lying is a thing God hates. Listed twice in the 7 things he hates, Proverbs 6:16-19 . 

But God was kind to these liars because of what their lie accomplished.

My transparency of what R.G. is up to is my attempt to Lie in a worthwhile way. A way that honours God and his word and his world and seeks to bless other people as well. All pen names should do this. not because I choose to do it this way. But because there isn't a pen name in the world that makes it past God as editor of our lives. 

Thursday, 25 August 2022

Autodidacticism and Gatekeeping

People now have the means to put their money where their mouth is. The question will now become whether they do or not. 

At one point to be a pastor in a church, or in more subversive terms to gain the instant following of congregations as a pastor in a church, you had to go to bible college. Your degree would be essentially decided for you. A mix of theology and ministry course were formed and formulated to give you a broad swath of training for the diverse and challenging field of pastoral work. 

But upon gaining your first job in church you find out the dirty little secret of modern-day church work. that is just as dirty as the sinners that the church tries to get saved. 

The foundational courses of biblical study and ministry theory you get, do little to prepare you for real church ministry. I could go into the specifics but a simple litmus test of the reader's experience is likely all you need to get you to buy into the rest of the article. 

Have you ever heard a pastor say, "They didn't teach you about (insert topic or problem here) at bible college?" Or as a pastor said that yourself?

Have you ever asked why bible colleges don't, in fact, teach about those things?

Most pastors have some of their best stories about this phenomenon,. Spending 4-8 years in schooling to be found ignorant of a situation or problem is a shock to young pastors but often teaches them the real nuts and bolts of ministry and theology in practice. But what this common phenomenon shows us is that the actual learning from a theological education happens routinely after the education is technically completed. A pastor with a 4-year bachelor's degree in theology should know what it means to do his job. a carpenter would know how to build a house with that much schooling and based on that schooling you would trust that carpenter doing that building even if it were his first house to build. 

That's because wrapped up in the paper of degrees and education is the essence of trust. We trust that places that teach, will teach, what needs to be taught. And that learners who want to learn actually learn. This is why finding out that a student cheats is so distasteful. It's a waste of guile and intelligence to cheat on a test though by the numbers that cheating often uses just as much intelligence to work out the cheating method. Where we get angry and upset is when we thought we were getting a person who learned and we got a person who cheated. got a theological degree that was filled with electives and courses unrelated to the rigours of theological teaching or the roughness of ministry reality. 

We would hate a cheater even more if they outright faked a degree. If he made a small bible college up from a prairie town and formatted a single-page degree from which we would have to sleuth our way against such to see if it's valid or not. 

a good degree from a good college gives us the certainty we need to trust a person with wages for the saving of souls and the preaching of the gospel. 

At least in church.

But what if we no longer live in a world we can trust the way the churches of our fathers trusted in the bible colleges they went to? You can peg that lack of trust on a good dozen bad things these days. Liberal drift, inflation, the current job market. you name it. The world we live in now is becoming more and more different than the world of the past and how the past managed its institutions and trust will be different than ours. So how would a pastor wannabe demonstrate the trust that a degree used to give in a world where degrees are becoming worthless? 

The answer is likely tied up not in what the pastor can do but rather in what he couldn't do. 

A pastor trying to persuade a church that he's capable of being a teacher of the Bible, couldn't be empty-handed in his bible teaching. He couldn't have an empty youtube channel or sermons he's preached, even if those sermons were preached to a camera and camera alone. He would need content to convince people with.

He couldn't have bare bookshelves. Churches need their pastors to be well-read and constantly reading. being able to distill the logic and knowledge of the times into his preaching and into his ministries. to discern what's a bible study fad and what's a bible study staple. 

He couldn't be alone. A church would want its pastor to be a part of a community or group of other pastors that could support not only him but each other as a group. 

What a pastor couldn't or shouldn't do is assume they are a pastor because they want to be a pastor but would need to show that they could be a pastor. They will do this, make no mistake, but they shouldn't.

With the rise of online platforms, content becomes a form of authority. If you create 1000 youtube videos and they are engaging and well produced and watched, you can gain a following. That following isn't just a way for you to get ad revenue, it's a way to exercise power. Every follower is choosing you over the other options that are out there, and there are a lot out there. 

I used to worry about the faking of Church, that a "pastor" in big scare quotes could just start doing the nuts and bolts of what a church does online and essentially gain his congregation in aggregate from his followers. his messages might even still be the gospel preached, his books even good theology. But the community that he teaches becomes consumers at face value and fans any deeper than that. 

The ability to self-learn is only altruistic in a space that can't allow for the commodification of that learning. A Christian in a theological library is only learning about God. But a Christian who has that theological library. At next to no cost, because it's been turned into an app. That Christian is in a different place. When that Christian isn't writing in a journal but is instead making videos to process what he learns. That Christian is now dealing in influence. And the internet loves its influencers.

We will be wading into this pool of Self Learning and Influence more and more. The internet is here and as most feared here to stay. Might as well learn how it works.

Saturday, 13 August 2022

What Actually Happens At An Online Baptism

The logistics are easy enough to figure out. A pastor likely is on one side of the camera or another and the baptizer is the same but conversely so. Which side they're actually on doesn't play into the issues that arise when you say something as bold as "Online Baptism" to a blogger like me.

Baptisms are public declarations of faith in Christ and a symbolic death and resurrection that a new Christian is participating in, among the Christians that they will be in fellowship with. 

They can happen outside of a church context, because the meaning behind them isn't church membership, but rather affinity or solidarity with Christ's church. 

The online aspect of these new kinds of baptisms is again where the Thing/Place distinction shows up. More on that later.

If the baptism is being performed to witness a new Christian joining the church body locally, then the internet does what it does best and connects the separated person to the church via video and audio on the streaming platform of each church's choice. Is that "Together" or "At the same Time"? Before the internet, you could not baptize yourself in your bathtub and let your pastor know by letter you were doing so and have it mean what it means when you are baptized in the presence of the congregation or public in the case of open water baptisms in rivers and lakes.

What actually happens at an online baptism is a written account of the events in both directions in real-time. The happenings of the baptizer are being written into computer code by the camera, translated into different code by the computer and internet network, then translated a third time, at least, by the screen on the receiving end. Because this is happening in both directions so that the congregations can witness the baptism and the baptized person can see the congregations. we double this translation process.

If we slowed the technological quality down to introduce lag, the congregation and baptizer would start to see how the connection isn't the same as in real life but can appear to be. Would the event of a baptism be perceived differently if instead of thousands of frames of pictures paired to the audio of the vent, you only received hundreds? a choppy video of jerky movements between the questions asked of the believer's belief and trust in Jesus' Death Burial and Resurrection, and the dunk? 

What changed? What made this as unreal as it just felt? All we did was give you less of the lie.

Maybe lie is a strong word here, let's go with illusion, still too strong, how about impression? What word would you like for a commentator to use when talking about the strange thing that happens when you start a service off with a 1080p 60k streaming video of the baptism and then dial it back to 144p at 30k? All I changed was the resolution. The wires and screens and cameras are all still there but I'm no longer using them to their fullest capability. 

Is the baptism different or invalid because you can see the pixels now? Because truth is, you could always see the pixels you were just cool with it when it looked cool. When it looks dated you want to leave such practices in the past. It's 4k video for true online ministries or bust. If you don't believe me. type those bolded search terms into youtube and see how many experts tell you the bare minimum for church streaming as far as resolution and cameras go. 

Church and tech don't mix, they stack. And baptisms are a great place to see this in action. Stack anything on water and what happens to it? It sinks. What is a baptism again? It's the ceremonial submersion of a believer under water to declare their belief and join the body of believers in the church. Is that what is happening to the viewers on the screen? Well, no they are just seeing a representation of what has happened in person through the manipulation of pixels and soundwaves in unison both ways. What about the other way? Is a church witnessing a baptism if they watch a father and son in a backyard swimming pool over Zoom while the pastor asks the questions from the stage? Again, no because then they are the ones being subject to audio-visual manipulation. 

No one on either side wants there to be manipulation, but the manipulation is so good these days, that we accept it as a proxy with little to no objection. but the at-home baptist is not with their church, and you could see that by dialing back the technological speed a bit.

If a letter and affidavit stating what the baptized person said before their dunk, pictures of the dry clothes and wet cloths with dates on them, and a photo of a post-baptismal hug in the tank with their parent suffice for proof of baptism? The only difference between that compartmentalized account and the 4k live stream is the amount and quality of pictures and audio and their union in video format.

At some point we let tech past the pews and onto the stages of our churches, we did so with little to no discussion of the metaphysical and theological implications of saying something is one way when it is another. And where that brings us is a place where things meant to be done in public are now done in private. We have tragically all seen this kind of thinking before. especially in the church but not the way you're likely to think.

Porn behaves this way, just the other way around. 

Porn takes what is meant to be private and makes it public. Takes what is meant to be individually possessed and makes it widely available. It takes pixels and soundwaves and tries its best to convince you it's flesh and blood. In every flavor and position, you could think of.

Are you as uncomfortable now as you were when we were talking about the video in 144p? Maybe you should be.

The distinctions and definitions we use in our faith matter. Bread, wine, and water matter. They matter because they point to Jesus and have their roots in Jesus and are part of the instruction of Jesus. Who of all people would have known the way the internet could change the way the church does the sacraments he left for us. Yet we aren't told to interpret these practices into time and space as technology progresses. We are told to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. and that the gates of Hell will not stand against a church that does so. 

Now that we're decades into the use of these things for Christ's church's name, perhaps we should see if they're capable to use righteously. To jump into theologically deep but available waters and to declare like Christians before us Christ's lordship over all.

To make his will done. Online as it is in Heaven.