The New Media Project conference yesterday was a whirlwind of meeting people I’d heard of and hearing people I’ve read online. The task of thinking theologically about social media, about the ways the project case studies (like The Young Clergy Women Project, which is why I was there) use and think about social media was fascinating and fun. The theological papers from the researchers were great too. That is, if you liked seminary and sometimes miss sitting in classes talking about theories of the atonement and ecclesiological models of the church. Which I did and do.
Though, really, in seminary, I found some of those questions much more overwhelming to assimilate into my life. Maybe I still do, because at the end of six theological papers and two panel responders, my brain was done and I couldn’t think of the story I had wanted to share that summed up the afternoon for me. But now I’ve gotten some really good barbeque and a decent night’s sleep, so here’s what I wanted to say about incarnation and theories of salvation and models of ecclesiology and the whole enterprise.
Jeff was right.
Jeff has long ago given up blogging, and probably has no idea why he started twitching after I hit publish. We lived across the hall from each other in seminary, and spent two years with our families having great dinners and drinks and discussions. Jeff and I saw eye to eye on… um… not much really, other than how to make a really cool fire for the Easter Vigil*. His Golden Spike award for being the most Anglo-Catholic high church student sat on his television, staring through the open doors at my John Calvin low-church student award. But Jeff shaped my seminary education as much as almost anyone else, and here is why: Jeff would wander into our apartment at random points of the day and ask me crazy questions, and then we’d be up to ridiculous hours debating something, and Tripp would just laugh at us. And then crash on Jeff’s couch.
So, back to the New Media conference, and my story about why Jeff was right. On one of those nights – it was already somewhat late – Jeff stormed, more than wandered, into our living room – he’d clearly been having a day – and said, “SUSIE! Have you decided what you think about salvation? Does it come from baptism or do you believe in universal salvation? You have to decide because this stuff matters!”
Yes, Jeff, it does. When we are presented with new tools, new media, new methods to communicate in the church, we have to use them as the church. Which means we need to think about what it means for a people saved by the Incarnation to find community in virtual space. We need to think about how people created in the image of God ought to interact with our own creations. The metaphors and language we use for being the church ought to shape how we are the church on the web.
Here are the six theological essays to get you started or to keep you going, from the New Media Project’s research fellows. The fellows don’t all agree with each other, and I’m not sure that I agree with all of them either. But the discussions and ideas are rich starting points for the work of deciding what we think about salvation and incarnation and social media. Bring your own comfy chair, stiff drink and great dog if you have them – that’s how Jeff would have done it.
*For an indoor smokeless fire, get a heatproof bowl and mix epsom salts with rubbing alcohol. Light a match, drop it in, and ka-blam – the new fire is lit. I recommend practicing a few times, because its just cool.