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About the Author
Keith Anderson is the author of The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World (Morehouse) and a recognized thought leader across mainline denominations on the ways congregations and ministries faithfully minister in a digitally-integrated world. He is a highly regarded speaker on new media and Christian life at conferences, convocations, and consultations.
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REMAPPING OUR WORLDS
How Social Media Have Transformed the Landscape
Social media have remapped the world, pushing beyond all sorts of boundaries — geographic, demographic, and conceptual alike. In this chapter, we look at the new global, social world and the people who inhabit it as background to the upcoming discussion of participation in specific social media platforms from a faith and ministry perspective.
REMAPPING THE WORLD
Even if you happened to be off on a remote, Wi-Fi disabled island vacation in the summer of 2017, by the time you sailed back to reality you would perhaps have caught the news that Facebook had grown to more than two billion monthly users — up dramatically from 750-million-plus users that wowed us when we were writing the first edition. In terms of active users, Facebook eclipses all other social networking communities, with double the number of users of the next most popular platform, Instagram. The continuous growth in Facebook membership and the way in which it has begun to change our view of the world brings to mind the shift in mapmaking in the sixteenth century, after wider global travel and mechanistic, rather than artisan, mapmaking altered the reigning perception of the world.
In the ancient and medieval worlds, a map was less a representation of geopolitical reality than it was an expression of the cultural terrain from the perspective of the mapmaker and his patrons. For example, the famous Hereford Mappa Mundi (or "map of the world") situates Jerusalem in the center, the Garden of Eden at the top (which is east on the map), and a variety of other biblical locales — Noah's ark, the Red Sea, Babylon — along with England, Scotland, and Ireland all out of geographical proportion to Asia. And, of course, medieval mapmakers made sure to indicate the dangerous waters leading to unknown territories where "thar be dragons!"— signaled by detailed illustrations of dragons, sea monsters, and other mythical creatures who stood for those locales we know are somewhere around the bend but whose inhabitants we do not know or understand.
A medieval mappa mundi, then, marked out not national boundaries or natural terrains, but rather spiritual and psychosocial ones — worldviews, we would call them today. They told stories about how people imagined the world and themselves in it in relationship to the Divine creator. Medievalist Lisa Deam, author of A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps (2015), shared with us: "What I get from medieval maps like the Hereford mappa mundi and others is the idea of being grounded morally and spiritually, having a center to anchor us even as the rest of the world is changing."
While we've come to make maps with greater geographical accuracy, we fool ourselves still if we believe that our modern maps reflect any uncomplicated, uncontroversial reality. This is because the nations and the borders we now recognize through the boundaries drawn on modern maps are political ideas rather than geographical facts, the results of negotiated histories and relationships. Ask the people of Tibet where China really is (or vice versa), and you'll come into a swirl of contested history, tradition, and politics. As the saying goes, what you see really does depend on where you stand. Likewise, of course, the lines of longitude and latitude found on some maps don't exist in any physical form. They merely mark a system of vertical and horizontal coordinates used to identify the precise location of any area on the earth for the purposes of navigation and geographical identification.
Though it may be the case that it is far easier to navigate across the globe with a modern, geopolitical map, it is no less the case that such maps also chart a modern worldview, which assumes the idea of separate nation-states and global navigation along gridlines that make the globe into manageable quadrants. Indeed, most modern maps make the assumption that few of us will travel by foot or otherwise on the ground, generally eliminating the challenges of mountains, lakes, and rivers as other than properties of this nation or that state. Modern maps also recenter the spiritual terrain that grounded much of premodern experience. Thus, Lisa Deam contrasts the God-centered medieval mapping practice to contemporary geopolitical mapping and social media practice. "Maps today, and I think social media as well," she says, "encourage us to see ourselves as the center — almost literally as something like a GPS unit where the world is always changing in accordance to where we stand. So, we see it changing around us and we're our own reference points."
But Deam is quick to point out that the shift from medieval, God-centered, narrative maps to modern geopolitical maps is not of course all bad — including in spiritual terms:
Maps today have shown us how to break down more boundaries, to think more globally, and engage more globally. That is something new in human history, and that's a good thing. ... It shows us that God is everywhere, not just in our own carefully bounded units — our own churches, our own denominations, our own cherished beliefs, but that God is truly a global god, who created the whole world.
This is no less true in maps of the evolving digital world, where social networking sites have allowed people to cross all sorts of boundaries, setting aside traditional and/or political notions of nation, ethnicity, class, ideology, and so on — including religion. Hence China's tight control of social networking participation that could introduce ideas into the culture that might challenge or override the official narrative. While China holds a remarkable advantage in terms of global capital and geographically located population, a new mapping of the world that highlights the population of just the Facebook social networking community tells a very different story. The black areas on the map below are where Facebook is the dominant digital social network. Notably, with the exception of Greenland, where Twitter and icebergs reign, the areas not covered by Facebook are the territories of more repressive regimes in which the networked, relational sharing and cocreating of new knowledge is seen by government leaders as a threat. The remarkable fact is that if the population of people who participate on Facebook across the globe were a nation, that country would be the most populous — ahead of China and India, and having more than five times the population of the United States. What's more, if territory where Facebook dominates were ceded to this new digital nation, it would have as much land mass as North and South America combined, with Africa thrown in for good measure, making it the largest national territory in the world.
Of course, Facebook doesn't exist geopolitically (yet), but a map of the world drawn on the basis of social media participation surely opens a whole new worldview — one in which modern constructions of national identity that are often grounded in religious identity are thrown into flux. This blurring of boundaries that for generations we believed were fixed spills out of the online world into physical reality, where people increasingly question cultural constructions of things like gender, race, sexual identity, class, social status, and vocation. We live in a world that is now characterized by the confluence of ideas, collaboration among those separated by time and distance, and the convergence of written, visual, and auditory media across a less and less ideologically and geopolitically partitioned global landscape.
The world that is revealed by this new, digitally integrated social reality is less globalist — having to do with expanding economic, financial, technological, and political relationships of exchange across borders — and more cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitanism, which has come in for much criticism by rightwing nationalists in the current political environment, is not a matter of giving up distinctive elements of regional, national, ethnic, religious, or cultural identity otherwise. Indeed, the valuing of such distinctiveness is at the center of a cosmopolitan outlook. The cosmopolitan sees all humans as part of diverse but interconnected commons within which our distinctive differences add value to the whole.
In contrast to this, globalization is largely about the sale and consumption of material and cultural products further afield. One can be robustly global — traveling to far-flung places for vacations, enjoying Indian food in London or Balinese dance in Los Angeles — and also be profoundly parochial in the sense of the interpersonal relationships and associated ethical commitments one maintains. The globalist often seeks to extract material and cultural goods from international locales in order to enrich his own homeland. Or, he aims to transform another country into a version of his own, overwriting local customs, languages, values, and other cultural practices with new markets in which his products will be attractive. This is the colonializing impulse that lingers in modern globalization, including its religious expressions. Cosmopolitanism, however, is about relationships. It is a practice centered on curiosity about and concern for other people — people who are often very different. It is a matter of considering what must be done to form meaningful, respectful, compassionate relationships with others. Cosmopolitanism's mode of exchange is narrative: it thrives on the sharing of stories that illuminate the lived experience of others and enrich our capacity to understand, appreciate, and, ultimately, to love.
The good news for Christians is that cosmopolitanism is totally in our wheelhouse. When Paul tells the nascent Christian community in Galatia, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female," he is expressing the framework of this cosmopolitan outlook for Christians. We can be in relationship with Gentiles, Paul tells the Galatians, who do not practice Jewish dietary customs or undergo circumcision. We do not require, or even desire, that others give up their distinctive cultural practices and characteristics to become part of "ours" because there is no "ours" and "theirs" in Christ.
What this means at a minimum is that, despite our local, sometimes parochial, orientations, we always conduct our ministries in a digitally integrated, cosmopolitan context that extends far beyond the expanse of the Christian colonializing impulse of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries — certainly well beyond the doors of our increasingly empty churches, beyond the territories marked out by our various denominations, and beyond even the boundaries of Christianity itself. What's more, the political and economic power that funded Christian colonialism has shifted in the new digitally integrated world order, giving everyone with access to a computer, a laptop, or a lowly smartphone the opportunity to enter, reshape, and even dominate conversations about faith in everyday life. Thus, whether or not we choose to bring our ministries actively into the world reshaped by social media, citizens of that world always have the opportunity to draw us into it by sharing commentary, images, and other content about us and our churches or organizations.
Now, this could mean that we engage social media defensively — finding ways to ferret out negative perceptions of our leaders, denominations, churches, and other organizations. Indeed, a cottage industry of sorts has grown up around this kind of "reputation management," serving mainly corporations, politicians, and celebrities by searching for and attempting to erase negative comments, reviews, images, and the like. But this isn't the only way, nor, we would argue, the best way, to engage the digitally expanded world. We see digitally connected cosmopolitan networks as profound opportunities to reverse Christian parochialism and colonialism by enabling us to more fully enter into conversation, relationship, and common action that doesn't override the gifts of one culture with those of another, but which gathers the best of all of us into the Christian project of kingdom-making.
In a sense, this makes every church a global relief agency, every congregant an active agent of God's love and compassion in the wider world. This work is no longer the narrow purview of church-sponsored NGOs, who collect money from churches to distribute around the globe on behalf of believers. It is a collective, collaborative, cosmopolitan project to which we are all called. In the digital world, this gathering of globally distributed participants in loosely organized communities is called "crowdsourcing," a practice that ignores the traditional boundaries of geography, status, gender, race, class, and so on to draw on the practical wisdom of everyone with an interest in helping to solve a problem, disseminate ideas, or collaborate on projects related to shared interests. Crowdsourcing — or what is referred to as crowdfunding when it has to do specifically with financial projects — is used to support the microfinancing of small businesses around the globe whose owners would never qualify for traditional financing (as through the microlending sites Kiva and MicroPlace). Other crowdfunding sites like CrowdRise, GoFundMe, Indiegogo, and Kickstarter cultivate direct giving that does not require repayment.
As the director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary, Adam J. Copeland has explained, "Typical stewardship campaigns focus only on congregation members as givers, but the internet allows for anyone and everyone to give. Part of the appeal of crowdfunding for congregations lies in its potential to expand pools of potential givers. Potentially, at least." Copeland offers examples of monks at the New Camalodi Hermitage in Big Sur, California, whose increasingly sophisticated social media presence has enabled them to crowdfund projects to address the effects of fires, flooding, and mudslides on the roads and building at their breathtaking retreat center. A less urgent, but no less important, crowdfunding campaign by the Community Church of Christ in San Jose, California, raised more than $2,000 on GoFundMe to support the development of a community garden. Copeland points out that crowdfunding does more than allow churches to raise money. It can also help to test ideas for future projects by seeing how close they come to meeting stated goals. Maybe the idea for a labyrinth in your churchyard seems like it would be a great way to connect spiritually with the surrounding community. An Indiegogo campaign that surpasses your target for funding the building of the labyrinth is a great affirmation of that instinct. But if you miss the mark financially, that's good data, too. The value goes well beyond meeting financial needs. It puts communities in relationships with people with common interests who might not otherwise encounter one another.
But crowdsourcing is more often not so focused and goal-directed. When you participate in social media networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like as someone who is open and articulate about her or his faith, you are, in effect, crowdsourcing Christianity, crowdsourcing the church. You are extending the love of Christ both within and beyond the boundaries of your local community and, more than that, inviting others to share their faith and their lives with you and your community. If you're like most people on social media platforms, everyone in your network is not exactly the same in terms of faith perspective and other interests and affiliations. Your presence as a member of a Christian community offers various expressions of witness, hospitality, and advocacy that does more than the best sermon might hope to accomplish because it unfolds in the context of relationships that already have some meaning, some shared context. Whether or not social media ministry translates into more "pledging units," you are vastly expanding the reach of the faith in the world. Take Diana Wheeler, a deacon in Episcopal Diocese of California, who ministers extensively in the LGBTQ community in San Francisco. Every Thursday, she posts a prayer appeal on her Facebook feed, inviting a diverse crowd of witnesses to join together in practices of prayerful praise, lament, compassion, and hope. Even people who are not a part of the specific communities to whom she ministers will see her posts and the moving responses to them. She allows a complex collage of networks to witness Christian ministry at its most engaged and compassionate. (Mother Diane's ministry is discussed further in chapter 4.)
Excerpted from "Click2Save Reboot"
Copyright © 2018 Keith Anderson and Elizabeth Drescher.
Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Mary Hess vii
A Second Edition of Acknowledgments ix
Introduction to the Second Edition: Digital Reboot xi
Introduction: Digital Pilgrimage 1
1 Remapping Our Worlds 15
How Social Media Have Changed the Landscape
2 A The Real Presence 37
Developing a Unique, Authentic Voice for Digital Ministry
3 I Love to Tell the Story 65
Social Media Platforms
4 Practicing the Arts of Digital Ministry 149
Conclusion: Digital Incarnation 212
Additional Resources for Digitally Integrated Ministry 218