Tag Archives: M. Rex Miller

God Goes to Podcamp

Looking around the room, I saw a lot of smart phones, iPads, laptops, as well as salon haircuts, and expensive eye glasses with predominately black frames.  I picked out grungy geeks, staid state employees, hip local media moguls, and a few old dudes like me among the crowd. One stunning young woman arrived, wearing tight black leggings and a short black jacket. Her stiletto boots with open toes showed off her bright red pedicure. She carried an equally beautiful baby on one hip.

I sat down at a table with two young web design entrepreneurs from Iowa. College students and high school buddies, they had made the nine hour drive to spend the day at of all places, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.

The event, sponsored by my local public library, is the brain child of librarian, David Lee King, who is definitely nothing like Miss Mabel Hrencher, who presided at the check out counter in the library of my childhood. PodCamp Topeka, billed as the “best unconference in the Midwest” is “Topeka’s annual low-cost unconference focused on social media, podcasting, audio and video production, and the web. Our goal? To learn about social media from social media experts, to network with fellow bloggers, podcasters & social media creators … and to have a blast!”  Which, as far as I am concerned, we did. Though I skipped the Tweet-Up event at a local bar at the end of the day in order to walk my dog, I left thinking, “Wow! Topeka, Kansas just keeps getting better and better.”

I purchased a new TV remote a month ago after my dog, Elijah, ate most of my old one. The new remote still sits in its box, because I can’t figure out how to get the darn thing to work. So how did I come to be sitting among tech cool, social media movers and shakers, learning tricks for emerging web technology? What was I, a hermit, solitary type, who needs large, sustained doses of silence, and thinks about God a lot, doing here? What could the keynote speaker, social media guru, Patrick O’Keefe, owner of I Froggy Network , have to say of interest to me? The last Froggy I had heard of “went a’courtin’” years ago.

Why did I go? Simple. The event was all about communication,  joining together, communion. This, you may recall, was a particular concern for Jesus. In the intimate moment in the gospel of John, where we listen in on Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, we overhear Jesus’ deep yearning that somehow, someway his followers might taste and enjoy the communion and oneness he shared with the Creator, whom he called Father. “Please let them be one, as we are one, not just kind of one, but completely, perfectly one. And Father,  I don’t want just these here, my disciples, to be part of this joining together, I want also those, who believe in me through my followers’ words about me, to be one with us. (John 17: 20-22, paraphrase)

Part of the nature of the Holy One and those created in God’s image and likeness is the ability to communicate – to extend oneself out of oneself in order to interact in some meaningful way with another. An infant expresses his needs and learns trust, as his caregivers respond to his cries with comfort and nurture. Hopefully, the infant learns that when he expresses a need, someone beyond him will respond with kindness. The child experiences the deep satisfaction and relief of being heard, and understood. If for some reason its need is not met, if the infant is unable to successfully connect, to attach to another, and get his or her needs met, the baby may waste away and develop a host of difficulties in communing with others.

Communication forms the basis of human community and a reflection, for the believer, of the Trinitarian nature of God. Theologian Miraslov Volf in a recent article in Christian Century writes:

If the One God is utterly unique and beyond number, why do Christians speak of divine triunity? Christians believe the word [God’s communication] was made flesh in Jesus Christ. From this belief it follows that the one utterly unique God who is beyond all counting, is internally differentiated as the Speaker, the Word and the Breath.

We live in the midst of the praised and condemned transition from print and broadcast communication to digital communication. This is one more passage in the long journey that began at the campfire, where we gathered to hear the hunters tell us the story of how they stalked and killed our supper. We have now arrived at the blog, podcast, and webinar to tell our stories of conquest and to instruct others in monetizing, ROI (return of investment), and how to put supper on the table. According to M. Rex Miller, author of The Millennium Matrix, the movements from oral communication, to print media, broadcast, and digital media have each brought about sweeping changes in how we believe, how we know, how we live together, how we see beauty, and how we work and trade. Our institutional structures, our architecture, our religions, our art, our self understanding, even our brains have been conditioned by how we communicate.

What is an unconference? you may wonder. According to Wikipedia, “an unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered on a theme or purpose. The term ‘unconference’ has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as high fees and sponsored presentations.” An unconference moves away from a top down, gathering of authorities, experts, and hierarchical structures. Power in the form of information and know-how is no longer controlled by Miss Mabel Hrencher with her tight grip on your library card.

We, along with the Holy One yearn to know and be known, to receive another and to be received, to see and be seen. We find deep satisfaction in that moment of mutual apprehension: the yes! the nod, the I-get-you-baby. We seem to never tire of the joy of recognition, affirmation, acceptance, and to be heard and understood. “Hey, Mom, watch. See how I do this! Dad, look at me!”

The glance of another is a blessing beyond words, the bestowal of understanding is a gift of great price. During a break at the Podcamp, the hip young mom came toward me down the hall. I stopped and told her, “You are just beautiful.” She smiled and her baby looked at me and crowed.

At Podcamp most of us contained our look-at-me tendencies, but they were not far below the surface. The longing to enter into the sweet and deeply satisfying experience of communion runs like a subtext of desire through many human interactions. The man, who came for the fall check up of my furnace, the day after the midterm elections, visited with me a bit about politics and the state of the nation. At one point I said, “It sounds like you have thought deeply about these things.” The earnest, intelligent fellow perked up and talked for another half hour. Somebody cared.

It takes so little in the dance of communication – a comment, response, the slightest gesture of recognition, the click of the Like button. We possess great power to enlarge one another or to diminish and demean.

Prayer, as I understand it, is communication with the Holy One, an exchange in which we speak and listen ourselves into ever fuller being and carry with us our whole community into that fullness.  We reach beyond ourselves and our essential isolation to enter another’s reality, and in that moment of communion, however momentary, virtual or real, is the opportunity for expansion, mutual exchange, and transformation.

A warning: death is involved in such communion. Life changing communication requires a dying to self and an opening out in trust to the other. I die to my personal exclusivity as an authority or expert, as I reach out to the collective, communal wisdom of my brothers and sisters. I find I am dying all the time, as I bump up against my perceptions, opinions, and personal critiques of those around me, only to discover just how dead wrong I am and how much more is going on in the realm of the Spirit, than I am aware of, or which I discount in my arrogance.

There is no room for a cozy “me and Jesus” theology in such communion. Theologian Miroslav Volf explains,

Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communion. One cannot, however, have a self-enclosed communion with the Triune God- a “foursome,” as it were– for the Christian God is not a private deity. Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God. Hence one and the same act of faith places a person into a new relationship both with God and with all others who stand in communion with God. After our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity

The words, love, forgiveness, God, and Jesus were not mentioned at the unconference. Those young men at my table might have moved if they knew I was an ordained minister, not a popular profession in many circles. There was some bowing before the God of Technology. However, there was also an awareness of boundaries, rules, and internet etiquette:  Act nice, or you will be deleted.

Some final words from M. Rex Miller:

The internet is fundamentally about connecting with people of common interest, facilitating person-to-person conversations, collaboration, assistance, and collective learning. The internet inverts the power curve away from centralized control and content to distributed power and member-generated content. The internet is about the exponential value of networks, the power of conversation, and liberation from past obstacles of time, location, gender, age, ethnicity, disability, and tradition.(The Millennium Matrix, p 205)

Though Christ, in whom St. Paul tells us there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, is not mentioned in this description, digital communication offers, for those with eyes to see, a mortal and incomplete reflection of the image of  self-giving communion we find in the Trinity. The heart of digital communication sounds a lot like like church to me. That’s why I went to PodCamp.

As for God, I figure the Almighty, having created the people who made it, must love digital communication, and is surely showing up in black leggings toting her son at every Podcamp she can.

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Done with Great Things and Big Things

leafSeptember is stepping over the doorsill. A change is in the air. Futurist M. Rex Miller (The Millennium Matrix – Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church) writes about the revolution in communication brought by digital media. Digital media, both expresses a desire for, and makes possible authenticity, community, connection and something simpler and more intimate. “New sensibilities are rising. The connected nature of digital communications has already created a shift back to community:  to more open and connected neighborhoods, town centers, and urban revitalization, as well as smaller, more human-sized services that go along with them.” (p. 120)

Miller makes some startling claims about the successful growth model used in our society and mega churches. “We are beginning to realize that much of our churches’ emphasis on growth has produced the spiritual cousin of suburban tract homes, strip mining, and fast-food franchising. Unfortunately, many hungry churches are still buying into the fast-growth premise and promise without fully understanding the side effects.” Miller cites two of these side effects: “Rapid member turnover and staff burnout within many such churches keeps them forever having to replenish their congregations and leadership core.” This successful growth model has come with a price: a lack of relational cohesion. (p. 121)

In my work as a spiritual director with clergy and church leaders, I see many people trying to cope with the negative side effects of the growth model with its exhausting emphasis on numbers, productivity, and efficiency.

Near the end of the nineteenth century American psychologist and philosopher, William James, wacorn_sproutas also sniffing a change in the air, when he declared, “I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride.”

I find in James’ words a prescient and powerful description of the yet to be invented world wide web.

In the spring of 1978, I stepped over the door sill to a new way of living and made a choice for the tiny molecular forces over the great institutions and big success. With only a vague sense of what the consequences might be, I took the less traveled road of a life of prayer and attention to the things of God. As I walked to the parking lot of Glen Oaks Community College, where I worked as an administrator, I was absorbed by an acute sense of my own seeming insatiable need for importance, for making a name for myself. I was weighed down by a restless dissatisfaction, the urgency to figure it all out, and get my life right. Mostly I was just so sick of myself and my whining. Out of that moment of personal honesty and weariness, I heard a call to ministry. I know. It sounds weird. A voice, which sure didn’t seem to be my mine, said, “Be a minister.” I was a church drop-out. I had never considered such a vocation before.

road-to-Ra-bbit-Ridge-web-vYet I turned my back on great plans and big success and set off on a path of downward mobility. I confess that I am still not entirely converted. I am easily diverted by hype, glamour, and the allure of various definitions of success. Like my puppy on a walk, I get distracted by some new smell and go off the path to investigate. Before long I have forgotten my original intent and have become lost in the tantalizing tastes and odors of the swirl of big things, big tasks, and big impressions.

Ministry of course I soon discovered is not immune to big success. In fact we frequently get off the path and fall down before various idols – our organs, our windows, our buildings, our music department, our youth program, our pastor, our mission, our doctrines….

Here is William James again, writing to his friend H.G. Wells: “The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess Success – that – with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word ‘success’ – is our national disease.” 

Early in September on the threshold of a new season in the digital age convergence of William James, M. Rex Miller, and my own story I find a synergy of hope and resonance. May some pieces come together for you this season too.

 Here is a prayer, an inoculation, if you will, against our national disease:

Oh, my God in heaven, save me from significance. Yank me by my collar from snuffling and slobbering before the bitch goddess, success. Help me to have more faith in things I cannot see, than things I can measure and bank and drive around town in. Teach me to trust those tiny bursts of energy jumping from person to person as slivers of grace, kindness, wisdom, and cheerfulness. Deliver me from my own insufferable self importance. Oh Indestructible Goodness, lie me down in the soft green pastures of humility, where I can spy your kingdom come, grinning and creeping through the crannies of the world.  Amen

sanctuary-tree-tiny1

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I Want It and I Want It Now!

Speeding trafficFeeling overwhelmed by the speed of life? M. Rex Miller, (The Millennium Matrix – Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church) identifies seven qualities to describe the dynamics of our present world. He lists the qualities, which are inherent in digital age media, as interconnection, complexity, acceleration, intangibility, convergence, immediacy, and unpredictability. These seven qualities, largely absent from the Biblical world, are directly affecting the life of our churches and the life of our souls.

I want it. I want it now. And by gum, I’m gonna get it!
Let’s look at one of Miller’s qualities, immediacy.  “The time it takes us to absorb and adjust to digitally paced activities grows ever shorter. As the interval between question and answer, request and fulfillment, grows narrower, we are asked to respond to the world with an immediacy similar to that required by fighter pilots in combat… where high speeds require the F16 fighter to master a different set of rules for decision making.” Miller quotes Colonel John Boyd as he asks the question, “How do we function in an environment where reality leaves us little or no time for reflection but ‘changes ceaselessly, unfolding in an irregular, disorderly, unpredictable manner,’ despite our vain attempts to ensure the contrary?”

The disembodied voice at the drive-through chirps, “Which of our twenty four different topping combinations for your pizza would you like today? If you order in the next five seconds you may get your choice of a quart sized cooler, air freshener, or five dollars off your drink order. What would you like for dessert today? We have eight new shake flavors and are offering a special on our smoothies. If you buy two you get one free. Would you like to try our hot apple pie? Oh, sorry we know longer carry hamburgers.”

The quality of immediacy precludes a contemplative, thoughtful approach to our experience and our desires. The lapse between awareness of a desire and its fulfillment is potentially much briefer. Does twenty four hour access to the global market begin to render delayed gratification and patience obsolete? If I want or need something- a conversation, some information, a consumer good or service, a  relationship, something to eat – I want it fast. I want it now. And very often I can get it.

Digital immediacy leaves little or no breathing space between desire and fulfillment, event and response. We do not have time to absorb, savor and reflect upon our experience. To consider broader implications and what God might be saying to us will only hold up the line and irritate the person waiting behind us. We  find ourselves continually reacting to, being manipulated by, or attempting to protect and shelter ourselves from the immediacy of our environment.

Are we to mindlessly adjust to this reality, as a lobster in a slowly warming pot of water, and hence be transformed by it into somebody’s supper? Do we need to learn like the fighter pilot how to respond with greater precision and accuracy to ceaseless rapid change? Or do we have something to bring to the immediate digital age from the tradition of reflection, thoughtful consideration, and listening? Might people of faith draw on a different resource than a fighter pilot’s highly tuned nervous system and hyper responsive physical abilities?

An Antidote for Immediacy
An ancient spiritual practice can restore your balance and perspective. Wisdom from a deeper, truer source than the twenty four news cycle can shape our lives. The examen was developed and taught by St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order. In recent years the examen has found popularity among people of many faiths. In its simplest form it consists of a daily examination of your experience, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s presence and activity in your day.  The examen is based on the assumption that God speaks to us through our deepest feelings and yearnings, or consolations and desolations. Consolations are things that satisfy and unite us with others, God, and creation in love, hope, and peace. Desolations are negative feelings – anxiety, fear, despair, anger, which tend to isolate us from ourselves, others, and God.

Here are some questions for your examen as presented in my favorite book on the subject, Sleeping with Bread – Holding What Gives You Life, by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Michael Linn.

For what moment today am I most grateful?CB022113
For what moment today am I least grateful?

There are many other ways to ask the same questions:
When did I give and receive the most love today?
When did I give and receive the least love today?

When did I feel most alive today?
When did I most feel life draining out of me?

When was I happiest today?
When was I saddest?

What was today’s high point?
What was today’s low point?

This exercise pulls us out of the sucking vortex of immediacy to notice and name our internal reality. What is giving me life and joy? What is diminishing my peace and serenity?  Instead of knee jerk reactions to the demands of immediacy, we stop to consider what is moving us closer to  the way of God, and what seems to be drawing us away from the qualities of holiness. We begin to see a thread, a direction for our lives, and a sense of God’s activity and call to us.

The Immediacy of God
The digital age did not invent immediacy. That rapid connection between thought and fulfillment, need and satisfaction is a quality of the divine. Scripture describes God as accessible, present, alive, and more immediate than the air we breathe. Wisdom 7:24 captures this immediacy of God with the words: Wisdom is quicker to move than any motion; she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things.
Mulberry Tree
The examen, practiced over time, connects us with a Divine Immediacy more compelling, and satisfying than the life sucking immediacy of our digital age. It gives us direction for our life choices and gentles us into conforming with the will of God. In Divine Immediacy we discover the spacious and timeless grace of the present moment, in which we receive all we need. Right here. Right now.  

 

The Ignatian Daily Examen

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