Inspiration

The past week in taking my “Media and Religion” course I have been challenged, affirmed, and inspired. Seeing other people’s creativity gives me the imaginative framework to think of new ideas  in how to communicate in new ways. While I thought that I would mainly come away from this course knowing more about how to use media for religious purposes, such as teaching, I learned so much more. I saw new ways that people are artistically proclaiming the good news digitally. Digital media isn’t just for teaching, it’s for preaching, evangelism, encouraging and fellowship.

This type of discovery is so important- when we explore new ways to communicating and inspire one another to take these new creative ideas to new levels. So, I’ve included a handful of videos that have inspired me artistically, spiritually, and intellectually. I hope that they inspire you to try new things as you engage in digital media, for the sake of the Church and for the sake of being creative in the ways God has gifted you.

“Woman at the Well” by lalaland481

“The Power of Creativity” by The RSA

“Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” by Jefferson Bethke

“Why I love Religion, and Love Jesus” by Fr. Pontifex


And the program Animoto, an online movie maker. Awesome.

Be inspired. Create. Share.

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Creativity Breeds Creativity

The is my fourth post in a five-part series for my seminary course at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg on Media and Religion.
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I am creative. We are creative.

This is the idea behind Jacie Richmond’s post, “The Start of Something New,” where she talks about the idea of creative products having a lineage– they stretch back to what others have created before them. Jacie writes,

While it is true that knowledge is collective (otherwise we would constantly be re-creating the wheel) we are taught to think that creativity is more individual. The point is to think of something that is drastically different from anything else that has been done. The more different it is, then the more creative it is.  Digital media is causing us to redefine this though with more and more people creating parodies of other work. It is also easier to create something which gives a creative voice to many more people than was previously possible.

When we’ve seen the nine-hundreth “Let It Go” parody we may start to question whether there really is anything creative going on, but I would suggest that these nine hundred parodies are actually indicative of something else going on– creativity breeding creativity.

Let’s be honest, just as Richmond points out, our creations build off of other ideas. A quote I heard a while back that has always stuck with me, “You learn based off what you know.” In other words, we aren’t creating anything completely new because everything we do is based off of building blocks that come from something we know.

Did that just deflate your creativity balloon? Did it make you feel like you aren’t the original Picasso you thought you were? Well, stop worrying, because I don’t think this means we’ve lost that spark that comes when you mould clay with your hands or edit video and align it with audio. What I think this really highlights is how important it is for us to be creative in the first place, so that others can see what is possible.

In class we’ve been watching a ton of videos that show different ways of conveying the message of the gospel through digital media, and each one has given me an expanded framework for thinking through what is possible. It’s not that these ideas and their derivative products limit future creativity because they “got there first”, but that they show us ways for us to be creative in the future. Others give birth to our creativity.

It reminds me of hearing stories about how the election of President Barack Obama, an African American man, gave young African American boys and girls the framework to conceptualize what it might look like for them to be President of the United States someday. A similar idea is how the ordination of Rev. Elizabeth Platz, the first female pastor in a Lutheran church in the United States, paved the way for people to understand what it might look like for women to be ordained in the U.S. Lutheran churches. I, myself, think of at least a few female pastors that have spurred me on to think creatively about how I can be both myself and a pastor in ways that I don’t think I would have dared to imagine without their models. Other people thinking creatively give us the space to think about new ideas, and to create new possibilities from that space.

So while the bajillion music parodies we find all over the web may seen like an indication that creativity as gone to the (lol)cats, perhaps it is a sign that creativity is providing even more fertile ground than ever before. In fact, maybe I’m excited to watch another fifty “Let It Go” parodies and covers because each one takes its creative roots in a new direction.

Most of all, this reminds us of our interconnectivity. In the book Click2Save, Pastors Elizabeth Drescher and Keith Anderson describe the richness of digital media to “connect us more deeply to those we know already, and extended real and meaningful relationship to those we may know only indirectly– only as links in the helixes DNA of the Body of Christ” (177). Creativity does not happen on individual islands, but in a web, connected through ideas, observation, crowdsourcing, sharing, and the Holy Spirit that moves through us all.

In what ways have you created because of others? What creative projects have you done that you are proud of and how have they been inspired from other creative people/projects?

Storytime Over Digital Media

Stories are powerful. They help connect us as people and give us the sense that we know someone that much better because we know a vulnerable and quasi-private part of who they are. As our media methods have changed, so have the ways we tell stories and digital media is a prime example of that.

We have the ability to share our stories in new ways. Blogs, vlogs, tweets, hashtags, Vines, mp3 songs, Snapchats, and Instagrams. Online shared prose and poetry, brief sentences in 140 characters or less, songs, videos, pictures, and digital art. Stories are no longer just written and shared on paper or told orally. And because of these new mediums, there are even more stories being shared.

With there being more stories being shared in new digital ways, it also means that we have the ability to be connected to far more stories than ever before. Whether anonymous stories, like those shared on PostSecret or MyLifeIsAverage, or the smattering of Facebook statuses added by those people you haven’t talked to since High School, we have the ability to listen to the life experiences of more people today than ever before. Our communities expand past our street or even state and span the entire world. We can hear about life in different countries, learn twenty different ways to make cupcakes, and that’s not even beginning to touch on the created stories we hear through sitcoms, television dramas, podcasts, and movies. Our ability to access perspectives and opinions different than ours is unprecedented.

And yet, with a simple click of the mouse to close out a window or continue on to the next YouTube video, we have the ability to digitally walk away from stories that make us uncomfortable or that we don’t agree with. Sure this is possible when we are telling and listening to stories in person, but there are certain cultural conventions that make many of us think twice before standing up to walk out of a crowded lecture because we disagree with a point the speaker said. We don’t want to appear to be rude in person, but there is an ability to ignore when there is a screen-barrier between ourselves and the voice we’d rather not hear. It’s why we can watch the news channel of our choice and only subscribe to blogs that support the political and social opinions we already hold.

At the same time, there is a difference in storytelling when someone is physically vs. digitally present. It’s not a good vs. bad thing, it’s just a thing. I’ve noticed that sometimes the digital media can bring a story to life in moving ways that probably wouldn’t happen in person. And other times when the digital medium just doesn’t convey the same emotion. It’s less about one being better or worse than the other, and more about having the right medium to share your story.

So what are some stories that have been enhanced and made more meaningful to you based on the digital media they chose to use?

Some of my favorites have been:

“A Very Potter Musical” by StarKid
This is a digital media version of in-person storytelling through musical theater, but I think the digital life of this musical has a life of its own.

“The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”
This is a modern adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, set up like a vlog series by the characters. It was developed by Hank Green and Bernie Su, so you know it’s probably pretty good.

A Little Meta and a Few Apps

The is my second post in a five-part series for my seminary course at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg on Media and Religion.
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For my “Religion and Media” course that I’m taking this week at LTSG we’ve been learning about how people use or can use various forms of media to create community and proclaim the Word. As part of this we are reading Click2Save by Elizabeth Drescher and Keith Anderson, and it has had some great insight and guidance on things to keep in mind as you blog and Tweet (among many other forms it addresses). The most challenging? A blog post in 500 words or less. I’m an elaborate writer, brevity is not my strength. But I think there is often wisdom in the art of being succinct.

I have been reflecting on what media I actually use day to day, and while at first I only thought of the obvious ones– calling on the phone, Facebook, Twitter and e-mail, there are many more ways I live digitally. The ones that have been most helpful the past week IMG_3283has been MyFitnessPal, a smartphone app that lets you log the food you eat, your weight, and your exercise habits, and Pinterest, where you can find recipes for healthy foods, among crafts, humor, fashion, and of course everything related to weddings. Between those two forms of media, I have been far more successful with having healthy eating habits than I ever could with more traditional forms of food-based media, like cookbooks. A lot of times we focus on (generalizations) about how digital media may build community or tempt us to not be full-present at physical events, but digital media is helping me to be a better steward of my body.

The popular critique of media, social media in particular, often goes something like this: “Those people are always on their Facebook, they aren’t building real relationships.” Let’s save the debate about what a “real relationship” is for another time, and in the meantime, follow me for a second. While I think that relationships are at the center of our calling as children of the Triune God, I don’t think that something has to be primarily focused on building positive relationships for it to have value for us as Christians. Which is where MyFitnessPall comes in– it helps with stewardship of the body. Apps that track your running routes do the same thing. Sure, there may be ways to add friends and share your progress with others, but the main point of these apps is health. Another app I use quite often is Mint, which lets you track your banking and credit accounts as well as set up a budget. Financial stewardship. Bam. A third app that I used a lot over the summer was the National Geographic Bird app. It became my little hobby and way of enjoying God’s Creation.

Sure, you can make arguments about how physical and financial stewardship or watching birds is relational, but I think that primarily these apps were things that did not necessarily build my relationship with others.

And that’s my point. We often complain about social media or other digital technology because it sometimes gets in the way of building physical face-to-face relationships, as if that is the sole benchmark for whether or not media is useful. But I think we need to expand how we think about media and its usefulness or faithfulness.

What are ways that you engage in media or digital technology that you find worshipful or related to your Christian discipleship in ways other than primarily fostering relationship-building?

Importance of Transparency in Social Media for Pastors and Church Leaders

The first post in a five-part series for my seminary course at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg on Media and Religion.

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No one likes being duped.

Wile E. Coyote never seems to learn, does he? The Roadrunner beats him at his own game every time and inevitably in every episode there will be that famous scene where Wile E. Coyote runs off a cliff, spinning his legs in the air for a few seconds before falling. That doesn’t actually happen in real life, though. I mean, perhaps coyotes pursue roadrunners in the wild, but as for any animal failing their legs, defying the laws of gravity as they are suspended in air for a good few second…well, we know not to try that at home. But the thing is we aren’t upset about these “lies” of sorts because we know it is not meant to be realistic. We expect what we see in cartoons to be beyond our experience; we are willingly suspending our belief. We find joy in the absurd antics of Bugs Bunny or Larry the Cucumber because we understand how cartoons works.

The same goes for one of my favorite tv shows, Once Upon a Time (ABC). It has “real life actors” but it’s a fantasy drama. I expect it to have real people (most of the time), in a physical setting that is more or less similar to what we know or could image, but I also expect there to be magic that defies our laws of gravity/time/space, magical creatures, and an occasional talking puppet. What wouldn’t make sense is if it started acting in ways that did not align with its genre– like if all the characters suddenly broke out into song, or if the characters suddenly started talking into the camera to address the at-home audience. Those things wouldn’t make sense because they don’t fit into what we have come to expect as the reality for this show.

These seem like no-brainer ideas. Of course we don’t expect a mockumentary (think: The Office) to act in the same way as a PBS special on the “Making of Downton Abbey” or the same as a primetime drama like Gray’s Anatomy.

But we aren’t as good at keeping genre in mind as we’d like to think we are. It happens with the Bible, it can happen with books (“I don’t like Harry Potter, it’s so unrealistic”), and it happens a lot with various forms of media.

After all, how many times have we seen someone outraged about the contents from an online satire news website like The Onion? Sometimes we assume (or are led to believe) that certain media are conveying factual truth, when in reality they never intended to in the first place. It’s the difference between watching Looney Tunes and seeing Wile E. Coyote get smashed into a rock wall, only to walk away bouncing like an accordion vs. watching the NBC Nightly News and having Brian Williams tell you, deadpan, that scientists have discovered the necessary flaps-per-minute needed for humans to fly with only their arm, thus creating an economic implosion because of the sudden independence from fossil fuels. While the latter would get my arms in awesome shape for my upcoming wedding, it would both confuse and then disturb us because the nightly news is expected to convey fact (allowing of course for the acknowledgement of the limits of perspective and slant of agenda). When go in with expectations that something is true only to find out that it was not, we’re not happy campers (check out the MTV show Catfish). (The exception to this, for some, is with situations where one is misled for one’s own entertainment, such as with movies that have surprising twists or when one is pranked. Even then, many do not like this plot elements.)

That’s why transparency is important. For many, there is a feeling of violation when we find out that that which we believed to be true is, in fact, not.

How much more important, then, is such transparency when we are dealing with people’s faith lives and their trust in us as pastors? 

As leaders in the church, we hold positions of power because people trust us. They trust us with the intimate details of their lives, both good and bad, and expect us to hold onto these stories with care. When it comes to leading them, the people we serve expect and quite often assume that we are tellers of truth. That’s why stories of clergy abuse (in whatever form) often elicit more of a sense of broken expectations than the story of some random person who does the same thing. Both are seen as wrong and sinful, but as leaders in the church we are expected and assumed to tell the truth. Whether you agree with it or not, we are held to a higher standard.

So what does this mean other than we should be truthful and never knowingly mislead someone into believing something false for the sake of their harm? I think it means that we need to be transparent, especially when it comes to our presence on social media.

We may not get a direct response from folks, but people notice what we post on Facebooks, what we tweet in Twitter, and what we share with them in person. If we, when we represent ourselves and not a larger group or church, are only sharing the good things going on in our lives, what does this say about us? For some, the feeling behind this is that it is the professional response. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your boss seeing, is the normal mantra of anyone posting anything online.

Obviously, there is a need for tact, wisdom, and appropriate boundaries, but we’re human. Not everything in our lives is perfect and to portray it as such– well, I wonder if this is a way of misleading people. Of presenting more of a fictional account when they are assuming/expecting a real person. Could our inability to authentic portray on social media who we are (read: sinners and saints) harm our ability to lead as pastors?

While social media is used in a variety of ways within the life of the Church, I think we need to pay attention to how we, as church leaders, engage with people electronically. There is always the caution for people to reflect on what appropriate boundaries are best kept, not sharing every intimate detail of their life. But being scared of sharing anything, especially that which makes us human (our mistakes), can cause unhealthy expectations of perfection and ultimately lead to a sense of betrayal when people realize the genre they came to believe (non-fiction) is closer in truth to the antics of Wile E. Coyote.