A Liturgical Luddite I may be, but in a wider church context I am the nearest you will find to a techno-geek. I am unusual, as a priest, or indeed as an English Christian, in that I use Twitter, I write a blog and I manage a Facebook page. I know more priests who don't do any of these things than those who do any, let alone all, of them. In the diocese where I minister, I am fortunate that one of our bishops (+Alan, of blogging fame) led the way for Christian bloggers, and was then an early Twit. It made a difference to me about what may be viewed as 'acceptable', and before the example set by Bp Alan, this social media lark would have existed way out of that circle of acceptability in my mind - quite wrongly.
Increasing time is being spent by people interacting with the world around them by way of computer technology. Once, a computer was a Space-Invaders Box or a mainframe in a large building somewhere. Now, we can hold the capacity of those mainframes, hundreds of times multiplied, literally on the tip of our finger. It seems that more and more of the expression of industrialised humanity is to be found through an electronic device of one sort or another. This has to have an impact on all aspects of life, including its spiritual side.
Instinct would lead many Christians to a perceive technology as 'against' God. Technological advance connects people in many ways yet enables that in a profoundly disconnecting way. I can talk (literally or figuratively) to hundreds of people but without leaving the house, if I so chose. This can be viewed favourably or not, though I am now tending towards the positive these days. I am now in touch with a far wider sphere of people than ever before, and people who edify me and improve my life and aid my thinking in many good ways.
I have been musing this for a while now, and with the aid of Twitter and other 'streams of consciousness' have gathered much about the ways that technology and the implicit theologies of our Christian lives are beginning to fuse meaningfully. At a recent gathering called 'Thinking Digital Conference' (not a thing I attended, but followed its Twitter stream, so the next best thing) I saw a great deal about what the possibilities are for that fusion. There will be another gathering, Open Source at Pentecost Festival 2011 that will attend to this very subject. For this blog post, though, a couple of my own thoughts in splendid isolation:
Distinctiveness of Spirituality - A matter that was covered at TDC was, more or less, the possibility of a 'man space' (though not in any religious sense, but it got me thinking). I think that it is possible to talk about distinctiveness of gender spirituality without falling headlong into the debates on ordination and consecration, and to throw the baby out with the bathwater would be sad. The simple fact is, my experience of loving God is rooted entirely and squarely in my own existence as a male of the species. For well over a decade I have felt a very slight need to apologise for being male in the church and whilst I understand why other balances need to made, feel very strongly that our matriarchal church (which it is, at ground level) has left little space for male spirituality. You have Mother's Onion, World Women's Day of Prayer, WATCH - but I cannot name a group purely for men. We just daren't. This is a sad thing, but one that is increasingly superseded by technology where we can 'App' our lives as we wish. Technology allows us such levels of mutual individuality that we can be who we are without impinging on the rights of others to do the same. I love women, women in the church, women running the show if they wish - but I have never once wanted to give up being a man, or to be proud of the spirituality that I have been given.
Infectiousness of the Gospel - This is very much 'my thing'. I have said here and elsewhere on numerous occasions that Christians are infected with the 'virus' of the Gospel. By any and all means necessary I will communicate that virus as widely as I can, and technology allows that in ways that are still not fully clear. The thing about "mission" that I dislike is how contrived and deliberate it seems to me. It seems, at times, to be exploitative and I don't favour that approach at all. Like a virus, I can no more force a person to become infected of the Gospel that I can of the common cold, with trying among some anti-social behaviours. However, I try to be authentically me (see above for the means), and through blogs, Twitter and Facebook, I seem to attract people to the Gospel without making a specific effort. I yap to all sorts on Twitter under the name @FrDavidCloake, and if I can be normal, fun, humourous, grumpy, angry and all those other things that normal people do under this label, then the world can know that at least this part of the church and its Gospel is not beyond reach in some holy cavern somewhere.
Accessibility - A little while ago I wrote an essay on a very narrow little topic that means nothing to almost anyone except me and the essay marker. However, I experimented with technology and its preparation. I had no books on the subject at hand, and I had no real idea what I needed to say, but the internet grants us all such considerable access to every conceivable theology and theologian. I could cite Augustine of Hippo, other Early Fathers in their native languages. I could access any number of versions of the Bible and commentaries (from all centuries) to match them all. I could translate into languages long lost or translate from them. I could find scholarly works that were written mere months ago. I did the essay, and only got brought up for not using physical books. Defence rests, m'lud. I know that millions of Christians (and non) are delving into the internet to edify their seeker experience. Technology allows people to learn and therefore to teach things that until recently were lost in books only to be found in libraries or vicarages. We can teach our children the Gospel in ways I wouldn't have been able to dream of even a decade ago. Beyond this, and through social media specifically, we can discuss our thoughts with spheres of people and indeed experts from all over the world. I have never for a moment thought that God had wanted all his God-stuff to be a privileged secret for the practitioner minority - and now it never will be again.
In general, technology and social media grant many people a 'way in' to theology, praxis, dialogue and even belief and discipleship. That a priest of limited education but of all faith can write words that mean something to people in Angola (this I know to be a fact), then God has a use for me I hadn't even predicted at ordination. This is the tip of a very large iceberg and I would welcome opinion. However, without technology and social media, God's plan for me would never have found life.