in Spirituality and Social Media

Is Twitter the New Town Square? An Introduction to Spirituality and Social Media

Spirituality and Social Media

Gavin RichardsonMeet Gavin Richardson: Youth Minister, servant of the Lord, lover of South Park, Renaissance man. Gavin and I first crossed paths a couple months ago at Podcamp Nashville – where he gave a lecture discussing the topic of Spirituality and Social Media. I was skeptical at first, wondering how the two could go hand in hand – but Gavin ‘opened my mind’ to a whole new world of possibilities and opportunities that modern-day social networking outlets like blogging, facebooking, and twittering could bring to the table of religion and faith. Wanting to learn more, I got in touch with him shortly thereafter, and with that, Gavin graciously offered to enlighten not only me, but the Life Without Pants community. Every Wednesday in April we’ll go deeper into the rabbit hole, examining the concept of Spirituality and Social Media: The two are one in the same at their core – both ‘tools’ used to connect with both individuals and the masses – it seems only logical that the two go hand-in-hand. Ask questions. Engage. Interact. And Enjoy!

Getting to Know Me

Greetings & salutations everyone at Life Without Pants.Thanks to Matt for thinking highly enough about me to join in with you all for the next few weeks exploring how our human spirituality intersects with social media. I am a veteran youth pastor within the united Methodist church who considers himself a social media participatory anthropologist with some hack theologian thrown in there. Before all that I serve a creative God & live life with my great wife Erin, two farting dogs Coe & Crimson, and anticipating ‘pellet’, our first child in the fall. To go any deeper, like “Where are you from?”, encompasses some long stories and you will be rethinking why you asked in a few minutes; so we will leave that stuff alone for now. You can find many of my grand pontifications (or the latest on South Park, the most recent posting as of this writing) at my blog home “Hit the back button to move fwd” or on Twitter @gavoweb. So where to begin?

‘Social Spirituality’ – It’s a return to beginnings

Many people of faith, my christian faith especially, seem to forget how original faith was practiced in the days they nostalgically hold onto. For many years in my youth people would say that you needed to read the bible in its original Hebrew or Greek to understand its real meaning. This was in part because people constantly swore by the King James bible, a middle century english translation that has been around for 400 some years. What people forget in all this, is the insinuation that dwelling on God’s word is about you and your individual experiences. In fact, if you wanted to get back to learning from the early days of your faith, language isn’t the biggest change. You need to go to the town square or the temple (whatever you have) and trade stories about God, your ancestry, prophets, and make sacrifices. Maybe then you’d get lucky that the one sacred book maybe Psalms or Exodus would be brought out for all to hear a reading. You see, technologically, the greatest item to change the way we’ve lived out our faith is not PowerPoint or video, guitars or keytars, Twitter or voting, but that modern 1400’s invention of the printing press.

Yes, you can blame the printing press. It seems silly does it not? But this technological advancement some 600 years ago has done more to reshape our spiritual lives than any technology since then. As mentioned before, if you wanted to hear from a sacred reading you had to go to the community center, which might be the parish church/temple or town square. Now, as print could go into mass production people could afford their own copies of said sacred texts. So now we start to introduce individualism and take away some of the context of living & discerning texts in communities of people. The now premium on individual reading would bring out the emphasis on critical reflection, or a ‘systematic theology.’ This did not start with printed word, but rest assured it was reinforced through the linear practice of reading and writing.

Damn you printing press! So where do we find ourselves now?

I might put forth some of the argument that the rising of social media/web 2.0 and the continued interweavings & collision of people on the Internet could turn a reversal to actual some similar experiences of hearing, conversing, teaching, and living out ones faith expression as was done before the technological advance of the printing press. This could be a perfect partner or a fabulous enemy to faith.

Think about where you meet people now. I might say Twitter & Facebook could be your daily trip to temple or town green to meet people, find out how they are living their lives, and entertain a teaching or question. Blogging could be your Quaker style preaching, listening/reading a message and taking an opportunity to challenge & question. Blogging & video are ways to hear testimonies, stories of faith that you might never have received before because you were at home doing your own study and own reflections.

So as I’ve come to look at it all, and will reflecting on during this series of guest posts, how do we hark-en back to the origins of how our faith was practiced with mediums that could never have been conceived of back in the day? (I know my Jesus was pretty amazing, but I don’t think he imagined an Internet. Only His church & the Kingdom of God).

Please drop some questions or critiques. if you have some specific idea that you would like this misfits thoughts on, just ask. Consider this an open forum of discussion.

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Comment

  1. This is a great post. It’s interesting that we tend to think of social media innovations as brand-new ideas, but they’re actually just new technologies that help us get back to really old ways of doing things. Sharing advice. Getting recommendations from people we trust. Spreading the news via word of mouth.

    I love how you’ve applied this idea to “social spirituality,” a format for making sense of our faith through community. My sense is that social media can be a “perfect partner” to faith, as long as we are vigilant about how and when it is used.

    The focus on telling our faith stories is hugely important–we can share stories with more people through these avenues. We just need to remember how important face-to-face interaction is, for demonstrating our faith through action.

  2. This is a great post. It’s interesting that we tend to think of social media innovations as brand-new ideas, but they’re actually just new technologies that help us get back to really old ways of doing things. Sharing advice. Getting recommendations from people we trust. Spreading the news via word of mouth.

    I love how you’ve applied this idea to “social spirituality,” a format for making sense of our faith through community. My sense is that social media can be a “perfect partner” to faith, as long as we are vigilant about how and when it is used.

    The focus on telling our faith stories is hugely important–we can share stories with more people through these avenues. We just need to remember how important face-to-face interaction is, for demonstrating our faith through action.

  3. kristin, you are right on with the continued need for physical interaction. people need their hug and affirmation.

    one thing that has been neat is that i have been writing actual letters to people over Lent. that seems to have done more for uplifting people & encouraging them to get more involved than any email or blog posting i’ve ever done (that i know of). which will lead to some other conversations into this series. your investment in someone is perceived by the tool used.

    good point to say, ‘how & when’ used. you can have ‘too much of a good thing’ or in other words, extremes of a technology tool can turn on you & actually give you an opposite result that you were wanting.

  4. kristin, you are right on with the continued need for physical interaction. people need their hug and affirmation.

    one thing that has been neat is that i have been writing actual letters to people over Lent. that seems to have done more for uplifting people & encouraging them to get more involved than any email or blog posting i’ve ever done (that i know of). which will lead to some other conversations into this series. your investment in someone is perceived by the tool used.

    good point to say, ‘how & when’ used. you can have ‘too much of a good thing’ or in other words, extremes of a technology tool can turn on you & actually give you an opposite result that you were wanting.

  5. I think this is an important point that you make with this post. Most people who attack the Christian faith, whether it be Catholic or Protestant, will attack the hierarchy of religion. In my opinion, what is much more important is the bonds that people form in church and discussions about the bible that come from those bonds. Social media allows for the formation of those bonds with people who we normally wouldn’t meet face to face. This blog post is a great example of just that. I will be looking forward to the next post.

    • Benjamin – you hit the nail right on the head here. The value that social media tools really brings to faith and practicing religion is in being able to establish that intimate connection with people you wouldn’t normally be able to. It adds a ‘human’ aspect to faith – no longer are pastors and preachers seen as unreachable and incommunicable, thanks to blogs and other social media outlets, we’re able to establish a close connection with our spiritual guides.

  6. I think this is an important point that you make with this post. Most people who attack the Christian faith, whether it be Catholic or Protestant, will attack the hierarchy of religion. In my opinion, what is much more important is the bonds that people form in church and discussions about the bible that come from those bonds. Social media allows for the formation of those bonds with people who we normally wouldn’t meet face to face. This blog post is a great example of just that. I will be looking forward to the next post.

    • Benjamin – you hit the nail right on the head here. The value that social media tools really brings to faith and practicing religion is in being able to establish that intimate connection with people you wouldn’t normally be able to. It adds a ‘human’ aspect to faith – no longer are pastors and preachers seen as unreachable and incommunicable, thanks to blogs and other social media outlets, we’re able to establish a close connection with our spiritual guides.