in Spirituality and Social Media

Spirituality and Social Media: Blogging Towards Enlightenment

Spirituality and Social Media: Blogging Towards Enlightenment

Gavin RichardsonMeet Gavin Richardson: Youth Minister, lover of South Park, Renaissance man. Last week, Gavin introduced us to the relationship between spirituality and social media, and how modern technology is bringing us back to the basics. This week, with the second post in the series, Gavin talks a little about his own roots, and discusses the power blogging can have in bringing people together and in building relationships between pastor and community. Visit Gavin on the web at www.gavoweb.com and follow him on twitter @gavoweb

While you were playing Nintendo, I was designing websites

I have been designing websites since 1998 when I first learned HTML code and script. In those early days creating a website was an interesting venture, from a church perspective (which is a bit behind in most cases), you wanted to get your message out there for the masses to discover. For a church, a progressive website probably consisted of photos or notes from a pastor’s sermon to go along with your worship, time listings, and ministry opportunities. Strangely though, the most visited single page on a church website was (and is) the staff, or more specifically, the pastors bio page. Why?

A number of years later, when blogging came onto the scene I was an early adopting observer. Having heard about them and even read some I remember when my friend Jay Voorhees (what a name) showed me his first blog and how he could post thoughts and people could comment (embedding photos/graphics was still quite a process in those days of blogging). I still watched for quite a few months, and then threw my voice into the blogosphere back in 2004 with the obligatory first ‘I’m here posting‘. I started my blog calling it ‘Hit the Back Button to Move Fwd’ because I was immersed in monastic practices (still am) and felt there was value that could be brought from the past and used to help discern the future shift of post modernism & technology. So I began speaking and, at that time, about 16 people were listening.

A journal for the masses

What’s great about blogging is that in spirit, its journaling software. Journaling has long been considered a spiritual practice. You are able to write down feelings, thoughts, prayers, ideas, rants, and so on. The public nature of this journaling then throws your vulnerability out for the world to see and engage. Two entities in my early days of blogging that captured my imagination and attention were ‘Real Life Preacher’ and the community surrounding the ‘Emergent Church’.

The brilliance of ‘Real Live Preacher‘ is the exact keywords that hit the values of an entire generation of people surrounded and consumed by the transformation of technology. People are brought in by authentic-ism (real), it breaks down the walls of protection put up to hide what one feels is shameful. Being real allow us to see that WE are like THEM. It opens peoples minds to think, “maybe we aren’t weird after all”. The outlet of the blog allows for a conversation and a direct line to the individual person. Conversation can happen and thus this relationship becomes a ‘live’ entity. Intimate connections can and are formed between speaker and community. Preachers generally have answers we seek, so the brilliance of naming, and being a ‘real live preacher’ was/is fascinating to me.

The Emergent Church took on a groundswell voice when it started to use the medium of blogging for church & theological conversations to reshape the evangelical (and eventually mainline/protestant/catholic) churches. People were heard from a global scale, from a tall skinny kiwi, to an alt worship guru, and a denominational deconstructionist, to name a few. The blogging social medium opened a door to share thoughts, frustrations, ideas on church doctrine & practice at a level never before seen. In a great example of ‘the world being flat‘ the Wikipedia page on Emergent Church had listed some 200 blogs as ‘experts’ –  everyone had an opportunity to be heard and part of a larger conversation.

Building relationships + establishing connections, one believer at a time

Back to my, and your, church websites. Why do people visit the pastor’s bio page more often than any other single page? It’s simple, people want to get to know more about them; they want that connection; they want to know the man (or woman) behind the wisdom they receive. Long before blogging made it accessible, people were already looking to establish some connection with a spiritual guide. As with everything, in both faith and business, it comes down to establishing a connection. The development of social media, starting with blogging, now moving to Facebook or Twitter, brings a more authentic glimpse into the life of those spiritual guides to connect with. Our need now is to share our spiritual lives with others. Today, wherever people are, there is an opportunity to connect in conversation and relationship.

Where do you see the relationship between theology and blogging going from here? Gavin makes an amazing point when he says ‘the Internet allows us to open up. It allows us to feel like maybe we aren’t that weird are different, and that maybe in our differences we can find many similarities’. How does the web enable us to be more real and genuine? Is the Internet a good outlet for discussions on faith and religion, or is your faith a more personal experience that need not be shared with the world? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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28 Comments

  1. In my opinion, I believe the proliferation of the Internet on a global scale will be the downfall of theology. I’m slightly biased because I do not believe in one particular religion, but rather a combination of faith and spirituality derived from my own experiences.

    I believe science will prevail and propagate agnostic lifestyles. Conversely, blogging and its medium provide one more outlet for religious individuals to preach their belief.

    I’m interested to see how it plays out.

    • Mark. How do you see the internet and advancing technology leading to a downfall of theology? I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this. Initially, I would see the exact opposite – as the web allows for new and innovative ways to practice and profess faith and theological beliefs – and it enhances the ways we can share those beliefs with others. Are you saying the Internet will (or is already) having a negative impact on the religion as a whole?

      Thanks for sharing your insight into this – I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

      • I come from the perspective that religion was created by man to control society. I do not believe in God, but I do believe in a higher power/force. You are correct in that theology will live on, and that it is religion that I believe will fade in time partially as a result of the Internet. Theology is history.

        The religions of our world have survived over the many years, passed down from one generation to the next, primarily because such a medium to question and research such stories did not exist. That medium now exists in the form of the Internet.

        Have you ever played the telephone game? A bunch of people sit around a circle and one person tells the person to the right a message. That person passes it along to the next person on their right, and so on. When the message reaches back to the person that originally started it, it rarely represents the original message.

        This affect has helped many stories to prosper over the centuries. Religion is just one of them.

        In time, science will prevail just as it has thousands of times before. And that knowledge will be available to everyone because of the proliferation of the Internet.

        And I would just like to add that I’m a very open minded person. I respect other people’s beliefs, these are my own.

        • Hey Mark. You have a very interesting perspective. It’s hard for me to describe my faith background in a brief comment (I’m working on a post describing my thought process here that will go up in the not-too-distant future) but I still don’t know that I see the proliferation of the web translating in the death of religion. I think interpretations and beliefs may change or shift as people are able to fully research and develop their own theories, but religion will always be a part of people’s lives – I’m not sure that ‘science will prevail’ – do you think eventually everyone will stop believing in God?

          If you don’t believe in God, what sort of higher power/force do you think exists? In short, I think God created us in his image – and we have become more and more imperfect over time. I believe that it is the ultimate goal of man to discover the perfection within themselves, to achieve enlightenment, and reach Nirvana.

          Really interested to hear more of your thoughts – I sense a lot of great discussions between you and I in the future!

          • I don’t see the web necessarily as the root cause; I believe science is the root cause and the web is just a vehicle to spread the knowledge.

            Do I believe in God? No. Am I spiritual? Yes. Do I have a faith? Yes.

            I think nature exists in a higher power. I also believe it’s quite possible that life began somewhere else other than Earth. There’s a whole universe and beyond out there!

            I don’t admit to having the answers, but rather I find it hard to believe what many do in today’s society.

            Religion will die as we know it today. People will start forming their own religions based on truth.

            • Mark – I think you raise a very interesting point in the internet contributing to us, as humans, continuing to evolve and form our own religious ‘truths’ – I can definitely agree with that assessment. I can use myself as an example – I am influenced by experiences, speaking with others who are passionate in their beliefs, reading, studying, and so on. I continually form my own inner-truths. I didn’t make them up, they had to be formed from somewhere within my subconscious. What I have trouble with, is siding with one specific belief. Rather, I take in a lot of different things and, as you said, forming my own ‘truths’. Web 2.0 and beyond will only add to the information processing and interpretation.

              • hi mark & matt, sorry for jumping in so late in the conversation.

                mark, it sounds like you practice theology whether you know it or know. theology, as a science translation is ‘study of god’ which done in any form is valid. some just study more & devote more time, but we all develop our hypothesis, control groups and conclusions.

                i don’t know if i’d agree that science will be the death of religion as we know it. science is not as finite as people hoped for the last few hundred years. i grew up knowing that pluto was a planet. apparently science just decided (using your pass it around story) that it is not within the last few years. both are messy. lets acknowledge that

                if you get a chance, check out a talk by rob bell, called ‘everything is spiritual’ where he gets into string theory, nano molecule, and stuff i must have missed out on in college sciences and his conclusion is essentially ‘yup.’

                one characteristic that the internet will continue to erode is attained knowledge. in the days of oral culture you had a capacity to retain stories and statements told to you. the minute we started reading printed language that skill deteriorated. now, its not what you know, but its if you know where to find an answer. so that will be interesting to see if people who are asked spiritual questions give an ‘i don’t know, but i’m sure its on wikipedia.’

                we shall see

  2. In my opinion, I believe the proliferation of the Internet on a global scale will be the downfall of theology. I’m slightly biased because I do not believe in one particular religion, but rather a combination of faith and spirituality derived from my own experiences.

    I believe science will prevail and propagate agnostic lifestyles. Conversely, blogging and its medium provide one more outlet for religious individuals to preach their belief.

    I’m interested to see how it plays out.

    • Mark. How do you see the internet and advancing technology leading to a downfall of theology? I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this. Initially, I would see the exact opposite – as the web allows for new and innovative ways to practice and profess faith and theological beliefs – and it enhances the ways we can share those beliefs with others. Are you saying the Internet will (or is already) having a negative impact on the religion as a whole?

      Thanks for sharing your insight into this – I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

      • I come from the perspective that religion was created by man to control society. I do not believe in God, but I do believe in a higher power/force. You are correct in that theology will live on, and that it is religion that I believe will fade in time partially as a result of the Internet. Theology is history.

        The religions of our world have survived over the many years, passed down from one generation to the next, primarily because such a medium to question and research such stories did not exist. That medium now exists in the form of the Internet.

        Have you ever played the telephone game? A bunch of people sit around a circle and one person tells the person to the right a message. That person passes it along to the next person on their right, and so on. When the message reaches back to the person that originally started it, it rarely represents the original message.

        This affect has helped many stories to prosper over the centuries. Religion is just one of them.

        In time, science will prevail just as it has thousands of times before. And that knowledge will be available to everyone because of the proliferation of the Internet.

        And I would just like to add that I’m a very open minded person. I respect other people’s beliefs, these are my own.

        • Hey Mark. You have a very interesting perspective. It’s hard for me to describe my faith background in a brief comment (I’m working on a post describing my thought process here that will go up in the not-too-distant future) but I still don’t know that I see the proliferation of the web translating in the death of religion. I think interpretations and beliefs may change or shift as people are able to fully research and develop their own theories, but religion will always be a part of people’s lives – I’m not sure that ‘science will prevail’ – do you think eventually everyone will stop believing in God?

          If you don’t believe in God, what sort of higher power/force do you think exists? In short, I think God created us in his image – and we have become more and more imperfect over time. I believe that it is the ultimate goal of man to discover the perfection within themselves, to achieve enlightenment, and reach Nirvana.

          Really interested to hear more of your thoughts – I sense a lot of great discussions between you and I in the future!

          • I don’t see the web necessarily as the root cause; I believe science is the root cause and the web is just a vehicle to spread the knowledge.

            Do I believe in God? No. Am I spiritual? Yes. Do I have a faith? Yes.

            I think nature exists in a higher power. I also believe it’s quite possible that life began somewhere else other than Earth. There’s a whole universe and beyond out there!

            I don’t admit to having the answers, but rather I find it hard to believe what many do in today’s society.

            Religion will die as we know it today. People will start forming their own religions based on truth.

            • Mark – I think you raise a very interesting point in the internet contributing to us, as humans, continuing to evolve and form our own religious ‘truths’ – I can definitely agree with that assessment. I can use myself as an example – I am influenced by experiences, speaking with others who are passionate in their beliefs, reading, studying, and so on. I continually form my own inner-truths. I didn’t make them up, they had to be formed from somewhere within my subconscious. What I have trouble with, is siding with one specific belief. Rather, I take in a lot of different things and, as you said, forming my own ‘truths’. Web 2.0 and beyond will only add to the information processing and interpretation.

              • hi mark & matt, sorry for jumping in so late in the conversation.

                mark, it sounds like you practice theology whether you know it or know. theology, as a science translation is ‘study of god’ which done in any form is valid. some just study more & devote more time, but we all develop our hypothesis, control groups and conclusions.

                i don’t know if i’d agree that science will be the death of religion as we know it. science is not as finite as people hoped for the last few hundred years. i grew up knowing that pluto was a planet. apparently science just decided (using your pass it around story) that it is not within the last few years. both are messy. lets acknowledge that

                if you get a chance, check out a talk by rob bell, called ‘everything is spiritual’ where he gets into string theory, nano molecule, and stuff i must have missed out on in college sciences and his conclusion is essentially ‘yup.’

                one characteristic that the internet will continue to erode is attained knowledge. in the days of oral culture you had a capacity to retain stories and statements told to you. the minute we started reading printed language that skill deteriorated. now, its not what you know, but its if you know where to find an answer. so that will be interesting to see if people who are asked spiritual questions give an ‘i don’t know, but i’m sure its on wikipedia.’

                we shall see

  3. I believe that the internet is an incredible resource…an outstanding outlet for discussions on faith and religion.

    Up until very recent years, religion was in a way a one way street. You go to church and a ministor, priest, rabbi, or what have you speaks to the congregation as they sit in silence. It was a lecture based format in which the congregation would come and have no response.

    Sure, there were situations such as “Sunday school,” and schooling outside of the traditional service…but also up until recent years (and even still occurring in MANY faiths, communities and facets), the people attending or learning could not ‘question’ the authority. They were to blindly follow whatever is being said by the leader (priest/minister/rabbi), without any question or doubt.

    Nowadays, people are becoming much more open and willing to question authority, and I believe many more people are realizing these days that questioning actually leaders to greater growth and internal evolution, and ‘connection to the spirit,’ so to speak.

    Even more so, having the medium of the internet and blogging allows the dissemination of many, many, many ideas, perspectives, and viewpoints from throughout the world.

    See, if you were in a ‘Sunday school class,’ or even a ‘service,’ … and let’s say that in that community they were in fact open to ideas of differening opinion…Just the fact that they are all from the same geographical location means that despite the differences in opinion and ideas they have, there will still be a limit to their perspective.

    Have you ever been witness to how someone from Southern California can have extremely alternative views on things than someone from Northern California? Same thing East Coast to the West Coast…And same thing even more from the U.S. to China (And don’t get me started on dem Aliens out there in space!!!! …. Jk!)

    Now that we have the medium of the internet in which faiths, cultures, and communities of all variation are able to come together, we are being witness to a new age in humanity. Literally. The development of the world wide web has brought about an entirely new age that is so phenomenal and amazing for us to witness. You talk about Generation Y, and we’re right in the midst of it! This new age is allowing us to debate and share ideas…question each others faiths and religions…question each others perspectives…and when we do it from a place of love and understanding, we are able to grow and learn and develop in ways that humanity has not seen before!

    Just 10 years ago the amount of discussion that a buddhist, a muslim, a christian, and a Jew now have online instantaneously would have been unheard of! Sure, there were people from each of the faiths that were open to each others ideas and concepts…but would you find them going to eachothers congregation? Would you find a muslim going to a jewish temple? Or a christian going to a mosque? I don’t think so!!

    Now though we are closer than ever. Closer than ever before. We are witness to a new age in humanity, and in its very essence, a spiritual evolution (even for those that don’t realize it’s spiritual) that is bringing all of humanity, all of the faiths, all of the religions, all of the communities, all of the people…Together.

    –Sean Patrick Simpson
    **The Mindset Apprentice
    Twitter ID @vpsean

    • sean, not all religions were/are a one way street. the quaker faith is well known for having discussion/arguments with the preacher of a message after the message had been shared. certainly the evangelical & mainline christian faith is shaped by the written word and saint paul’s linear process of salvation and so you see these sanctuaries that, from a aerial viewpoint, look amazingly like a printed page (the pews being sentences in perfect lines, etc.

      good thoughts

  4. I believe that the internet is an incredible resource…an outstanding outlet for discussions on faith and religion.

    Up until very recent years, religion was in a way a one way street. You go to church and a ministor, priest, rabbi, or what have you speaks to the congregation as they sit in silence. It was a lecture based format in which the congregation would come and have no response.

    Sure, there were situations such as “Sunday school,” and schooling outside of the traditional service…but also up until recent years (and even still occurring in MANY faiths, communities and facets), the people attending or learning could not ‘question’ the authority. They were to blindly follow whatever is being said by the leader (priest/minister/rabbi), without any question or doubt.

    Nowadays, people are becoming much more open and willing to question authority, and I believe many more people are realizing these days that questioning actually leaders to greater growth and internal evolution, and ‘connection to the spirit,’ so to speak.

    Even more so, having the medium of the internet and blogging allows the dissemination of many, many, many ideas, perspectives, and viewpoints from throughout the world.

    See, if you were in a ‘Sunday school class,’ or even a ‘service,’ … and let’s say that in that community they were in fact open to ideas of differening opinion…Just the fact that they are all from the same geographical location means that despite the differences in opinion and ideas they have, there will still be a limit to their perspective.

    Have you ever been witness to how someone from Southern California can have extremely alternative views on things than someone from Northern California? Same thing East Coast to the West Coast…And same thing even more from the U.S. to China (And don’t get me started on dem Aliens out there in space!!!! …. Jk!)

    Now that we have the medium of the internet in which faiths, cultures, and communities of all variation are able to come together, we are being witness to a new age in humanity. Literally. The development of the world wide web has brought about an entirely new age that is so phenomenal and amazing for us to witness. You talk about Generation Y, and we’re right in the midst of it! This new age is allowing us to debate and share ideas…question each others faiths and religions…question each others perspectives…and when we do it from a place of love and understanding, we are able to grow and learn and develop in ways that humanity has not seen before!

    Just 10 years ago the amount of discussion that a buddhist, a muslim, a christian, and a Jew now have online instantaneously would have been unheard of! Sure, there were people from each of the faiths that were open to each others ideas and concepts…but would you find them going to eachothers congregation? Would you find a muslim going to a jewish temple? Or a christian going to a mosque? I don’t think so!!

    Now though we are closer than ever. Closer than ever before. We are witness to a new age in humanity, and in its very essence, a spiritual evolution (even for those that don’t realize it’s spiritual) that is bringing all of humanity, all of the faiths, all of the religions, all of the communities, all of the people…Together.

    –Sean Patrick Simpson
    **The Mindset Apprentice
    Twitter ID @vpsean

    • sean, not all religions were/are a one way street. the quaker faith is well known for having discussion/arguments with the preacher of a message after the message had been shared. certainly the evangelical & mainline christian faith is shaped by the written word and saint paul’s linear process of salvation and so you see these sanctuaries that, from a aerial viewpoint, look amazingly like a printed page (the pews being sentences in perfect lines, etc.

      good thoughts

  5. Thanks Gavin, for a post that’s both informative and thought-provoking.

    I think what you said here is key, and it’s at the heart of the main reason I blog at all:

    “People are brought in by authentic-ism (real), it breaks down the walls of protection put up to hide what one feels is shameful. Being real allow us to see that WE are like THEM. It opens peoples minds to think, ‘maybe we aren’t weird after all’. The outlet of the blog allows for a conversation and a direct line to the individual person.”

    What I find ironic, is that in some ways, I feel I can be more authentic on my blog than in person. And I think the same is true for my readers. Many of them share really personal struggles and questions that they might feel too guarded to share if we were to sit down and have a cup of coffee (at least until we got to know one another better). I don’t think people are hiding behind their computers–I think it allows them to feel safe about being vulnerable, which is something pastors should be open and available to.

    • Hey Kristin – thanks so much for sharing your thoughts (and I apologize for not following up sooner) – Isn’t it weird that we are able to feel more ‘authentic’ and real when we write online than with face-to-face interaction. Why do you think that is?

      In a religious sense – I think the web provides those who would typically feel judged a sense of anonymity that can be extremely comforting. It also lets people know that there are others out there going through the same things they are. And, by establishing a connection with a pastor or spiritual leader online first, it establishes an added level of comfort which can open up the door for ‘real life’ interaction.

    • you are right on the safety piece kristin. the lack of physical proximity and assuming someone is in a comfortable environment (ie. their home) gives some comfort to throw out there. to add, there is this odd perspective that if you put it out there into the wide open public, its yours and you control it. people might re-purpose which can feel a violation, but its not a surprise to you. where as if it was some deep secret that someone unearthed you are dealing with it in a complete reactionary framework.

  6. Thanks Gavin, for a post that’s both informative and thought-provoking.

    I think what you said here is key, and it’s at the heart of the main reason I blog at all:

    “People are brought in by authentic-ism (real), it breaks down the walls of protection put up to hide what one feels is shameful. Being real allow us to see that WE are like THEM. It opens peoples minds to think, ‘maybe we aren’t weird after all’. The outlet of the blog allows for a conversation and a direct line to the individual person.”

    What I find ironic, is that in some ways, I feel I can be more authentic on my blog than in person. And I think the same is true for my readers. Many of them share really personal struggles and questions that they might feel too guarded to share if we were to sit down and have a cup of coffee (at least until we got to know one another better). I don’t think people are hiding behind their computers–I think it allows them to feel safe about being vulnerable, which is something pastors should be open and available to.

    • Hey Kristin – thanks so much for sharing your thoughts (and I apologize for not following up sooner) – Isn’t it weird that we are able to feel more ‘authentic’ and real when we write online than with face-to-face interaction. Why do you think that is?

      In a religious sense – I think the web provides those who would typically feel judged a sense of anonymity that can be extremely comforting. It also lets people know that there are others out there going through the same things they are. And, by establishing a connection with a pastor or spiritual leader online first, it establishes an added level of comfort which can open up the door for ‘real life’ interaction.

    • you are right on the safety piece kristin. the lack of physical proximity and assuming someone is in a comfortable environment (ie. their home) gives some comfort to throw out there. to add, there is this odd perspective that if you put it out there into the wide open public, its yours and you control it. people might re-purpose which can feel a violation, but its not a surprise to you. where as if it was some deep secret that someone unearthed you are dealing with it in a complete reactionary framework.