The Thessalonians & Social Media

Last Friday (the stunningly beautiful day in Westminster), I was at Church House Westminster for a gathering of church types who have some level of experience/expertise in the field of social media. I’m not entirely sure how I managed to find myself within such a group, given that, unlike my neighbour to one side, I’ve not written a PhD on church websites; or have a Twitter following of nearly 34,000 like the person on my left. However, having now been to two of these meetings, I can say that I’m glad to be there and hope that I manage to contribute something of worth.

[At my first meeting, I distinguished myself for seconding a proposed Easter hashtag on the basis that it was a Take That song. I then leapt to the defence of Take That fans everywhere, insisting that it wasn’t just middle aged women who had a thing for Gary Barlow…]

One of my contributions last week was in response to a question on how we, particularly as Christians, can remain authentic in our online presences. Should we have multiple presences? [A question posed by Vicky Beeching last week, in response to which Rosemary Lain-Priestly has blogged brilliantly.] Is it enough to simply tweet platitudes? [Short answer: no.] Does being ‘authentic’ mean sharing every last detail? [In my opinion: definitely not!] How do those of us in positions of responsibility maintain suitable boundaries? Should everything we post online effectively be evangelistic?

Holy Bible FacebookLiking the Bible helps… (Credit.)

It was as part of a conversation on this last question that I got involved, sharing a tiny bit of a sermon I’d preached over a year ago on the Thessalonians and social media. A couple of people asked me if I’d ever blogged it – and I realised I hadn’t. [I preached it 24 hours before flying to Texas, I guess that probably put it out of my mind. That, and I don’t think I’ve ever blogged a sermon!] Part of the sermon was based on some thoughts I’d shared here on digital discipleship, but that was it. So here, for those who asked, are some of my thoughts (only the ones about social media – the rest was on contextual mission!) on 1 Thessalonians 1. Some of it is a direct copy & paste job from the sermon, so it’s tone isn’t quite blog-like, but you should get the idea…

The first letter to the Thessalonians is effectively a progress report from Paul on how the church had developed since his last visit – and it’s a good one. This small group of Christians was already having a massive impact, as verse 8 tells us:

“The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere.”

Paul didn’t need to ask how the Thessalonians were doing, because he was hearing stories about them from all over the place. In verse 7, the word ‘model’ is used, but it could be better translated from the Greek as ‘imprint’, kind of like stamping your seal into melted wax, or embossing something. The Thessalonians weren’t just acting in a certain way, they were impacting upon the people around them – they were imprinting the gospel upon their lives. Which basically, is where the connection with social media comes in.

The Thessalonians had a massive impact upon Christian communities that were forming fairly close to where they were, geographically. It wasn’t too hard for news of their conversion and their faithfulness to spread to Macedonia and Archaia, but bear in mind that the ideas they were sharing – of Christ and the gospel – were still almost brand new and totally alien to the culture in which they lived. Sharing was a risk, but they did it. For the Thessalonians the mission field was nearby provinces, I’d like to suggest that today, for many of us, it’s the online world of social media. The Thessalonians were counter-cultural in the way in which they turned from pagan idols to God, it’s not difficult to see how raising God above society’s idols of today would be counter-cultural in our own society.

In the UK, there are 7 million regular church goers, yet there are 30 million regular users of Facebook. The possibilities of reaching friends, friends of friends and total strangers via share on Facebook, retweets on Twitter and attention grabbing blogposts are almost endless. When you share something on Facebook or Twitter it’s not just your circle of friends who can see it, it can go viral – as we’ve seen when people’s use of social media has gone wrong. Yes, we need to be careful, but this is also a powerful tool that can be used to do a lot of good.

I’ve been thinking about how we can do both our imitating and our modelling in the world of social networking for a little while now. I love social media – I write a blog, I tweet, I love Facebook a little less, but I can deny that it’s incredibly useful to life. But it’s very easy to make your online life a lot more sanitised than your real, offline life. That photo you’ve detagged? The tweet you posted in error and deleted? The erudite blogposts you spend days composing? Again, when I say ‘you’, I obviously mean ‘me’ – I’ve definitely done all of those things.

What followed were the digital discipleship tips I’d already blogged about – the last of which was ‘be inspirational’. It’s that last point which I think particularly relates to Paul’s commendation to the Thessalonians for the way in which they had imitated Christ and the apostles, and how they were now modelling this for others. The Thessalonians shared their news joyfully, inspiring others – how could you do the same?

I really want to challenge you all on this. If you’re not into social media, that’s ok – consider this a challenge to reach outside of your comfort zone. But if you are, then think about how you use it and your interactions with people there. If we are living lives that are incarnational – imitating Christ and the apostles and aiming to imprint the gospel upon others – what does this look like digitally and in the real world?

If we as Christians are being authentic in our social media presences, then the gospel ought to be ringing out of us in all that we do – whether that’s quoting something spiritually inspiring, behaving in a way that bemuses society, or live-tweeting the Great British Bake Off. The point is, present yourself as you really are – don’t have one account for your Christian followers and one where you share your secular interests. You are one, single person, with a wealth of passions – be honest and authentic in all of them!

Friday Fun with Jesus, dinosaurs and Methodists

Originally, I had an eclectic mix for today’s fun – until a dinner party on Wednesday descended into a feast of Biblically themed internet gem sharing. So I sat, chuckled, took notes and present you with the following…

Firstly, ever wondered if Jesus rode a dinosaur? Here’s what it probably would have looked like:

Under this image on Flickr is the following genius conversation:

Dad, did dinosaurs really exist?

Sure they did, son. The Bible says so. They didn’t call them “dinosaurs” back then, but instead they were known as “leviathans” or “behemoths”.

But, my science teacher says dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. Is that true?

Of course not, son.

Then how old are they?

Well, let’s see. The Bible tells us [from Adam and Eve’s family tree] that the Universe is only a few thousand years old. So dinosaurs had to have lived within the past few thousand years. That’s simple logic, son.

Oh. So that means they were on Noah’s Ark?

Absolutely! The Bible says two of every animal were brought [by God] to the ark. Dinosaurs were animals. So, using your logic again son, dinosaurs had to be on the ark.

Huh. So how come scientists say they’re older than that? and died way before Jesus?

Well, son, they just make that up. Dinosaur bones don’t have labels on them to tell how old they are. In fact, there is no proof whatsoever that the world and its fossil layers are millions of years old. No scientist saw dinosaurs die-

Dad!

No I’m serious. Scientists only find the bones in the here and now, and because many of them are evolutionists, they try to fit the story of the dinosaurs into their view.

That’s sad. But I thought scientists were smart?

Sure, but they don’t know everything. So they have to make stuff up to fit their beliefs. While you and I, we have the facts, straight from the Bible.

I don’t want to be a scientist!

Ha! That’s ok, son. It’s better to be right, than smart. C’mon, wanna learn how to flip burgers like your Dad?

Yeah!

Love it. Personally, my own epiphany regarding creationism came when Phoebe refused to believe Ross’ explanation for fossils (i.e. evolution) in an episode of Friends. My father had to point out that many Christians shared Phoebe’s views and I probably shouldn’t refer to them as idiots quite so readily…
Secondly, something else a tad blasphemous – a brilliant depiction of Jesus telling his disciples what they did wrong. Yes, Jesus’ voice is a little bit creepy, but some of the lines are classic. Listen out for:
“There’s no use trying to hide. I am Jesus and I will find you.”
“As for you Frank, you know what you did, but I’m Jesus and I just can’t repeat it.”
“I forgot your name so you’re off the hook.”

Thirdly, my own contribution to the discussion, which sadly we couldn’t bring up on our phones at that precise moment, but I did have a fun half-hour re-exploring it for the first time in years last night. I mentioned it here about 4 years ago but I think that’s long enough for a repeat plug. The Brick Testament is a pictorial representation of the Bible using Lego characters to quite impressive effect. It’s worth noting from the start that were it not for the creation of Harry Potter and Star Wars Lego sets, this project would have been much harder… Warning: some of it is NSFW, but then so are certain parts of the Bible.

Finally, something a little bit more niche – a rather delightful YouTube video from Garrison Keillor. If you’ve not come across him before, you’ve missed out! Author of the Lake Woebegone books and radio personality, he’s utterly delightful and hilarious. A Methodist friend tweeted a link to this video earlier in the week and I resisted the urge to retweet it so I could share it here first. Methodist friends (and my Dad especially) will love this, even though it’s more about the American church than the British one. [The United Methodist Church in the states is a diverse being – its members include both George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton.]

If you didn’t manage to catch the lyrics fear not – they’re available here. But these were a few of my favourites:

Everyone’s afraid of change. 
Don’t like anything new or strange.
Or we get our underwear in a twist
That’s how it is with a Methodist

We were founded by John Wesley,
Not Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley,
We’re not so hip but we persist
We go on being Methodist

Perhaps the UMC has more in common with the British church than I initially realised? 

Friday Fun from the past

Happy Friday! My brain is a little weary, so let’s head straight into the fun…

Have you ever wondered how historical events might have been documented if social media had existed? Wonder no more – here’s what it would have been like if historical events had had Facebook. My particular favourite is the creation of the world:

Continuing the whole God theme, on Monday morning during college worship I discovered the existence of an educational computer game that helped unsuspecting kids learn memory verses in the 90s. Anyone else indoctrinated via Captain Bible? The concept was a simple one – Captain Bible used Bible verses to defeat his enemies, but those playing the game would have to find them from a database. On reflection, it doesn’t actually sound that fun, but you can try for yourself as downloads are available. Or, you could just watch this guy play it…

We had no such thing in our household. Instead, we had a Learn Biblical Hebrew CD-Rom. My sister can still sing the Hebrew alphabet to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy. I guess that’s a whole other kind of indoctrination?

Computer games involving ancient texts are rather brain testing for a Friday morning, so how about something that’s simply delightful? Like a toddler dancing – with serious moves. Utterly awesome. (It comes right after the stuff about martial arts in the video below.)

Finally, something that could send you into a spiral of YouTube distraction – so don’t say I haven’t warned you! While on holiday with Americans, I heard of a satirical TV show that I doubt will ever grace British screens because it’s so reliant upon an understanding of Portland, Oregon. For those not in the know, the city is one with a reputation of a bohemian, granola-loving, organic-obsessed, jewellery-making population. As explained in one clip, it’s as if it never quite emerged from the 1990s. It came up in conversation after I’d mentioned the danger of putting a DVD on and pressing ‘play all episodes’ – someone mentioned a Portlandia episode in which a couple do just that with Battlestar Galactica and end up losing their jobs and trying to create a final, final episode:

There’s a wealth of clips online that are a joy to watch – especially one in which a couple quiz their waitress about the origin of their chicken and end up going on a little road trip. It’s all quite, quite beautiful. Portland may now have gone up several notches on my ‘list of US cities to visit’ – although it was already quite high, perhaps because at heart I am a jewellery-making, 90s-loving, geek…

Parodied and Candied Friday Fun

My first piece of fun for you this morning will only be fun if…
(a) You’re Christian/have some appreciation of the faith
(b) Are familiar with Sir Mix-a-lot’s classic track Baby Got Back
(c) Aren’t my friend on Facebook, as I already shared this there

I love a good parody and this is excellent – the true sign of quality is in the details. This contains so much that’s true that it’s genuinely awesome, while at the same time cringeworthy. Favourite lines include:
“Bless me, bless me, teach me about John Wesley”
“Ladies? Ladies? You wanna save people from Hades?”

Oh, and the fact that koinonia gets a mention, along with Bill Hybels and it’s mention that “if you’re Catholic there’s even more” [books in the Bible that is]. Fabulously it also disses paperback Bibles, which is one of my mother’s biggest bugbears about ‘evangelicals’ (as a result I have a large paperback NRSV which is her favourite translation but in my binding of choice…).

After that, you made need something calming and sweet – how about a silent video showing you how to make sweets that look like sushi? Sounds bizarre I know (and, as I hate fish I don’t usually go near sushi) but it’s strangely hypnotic. I also love that only in Japan would you get sweets that are this complicated – here ours are of a far more immediate nature. Even those hideous candy burgers only require the minimum of assembly.

I don’t know a lot about sushi, but I do know that the detail is incredible! I want one…

Take That Theology

It’s amazing how Christians will try and shoehorn their faith into everything, or everything into their faith. [Apologies, massive generalisation there, but it does happen.] How suddenly, theology can be applied to a wide spectrum of life – have you ever seen theologians getting excited about The Matrix? It’s really quite terrifying. Of course, we Christians believe that God is in everything, but sometimes I think we take a little too far. [Incidentally, if you’re hoping for a post on the religious themed Glee shown this week, it will happen – soon.]

Years ago, I made what some (ok, one person) labelled as an ‘inspired connection’ between the rules of boyband formation and 1 Corinthians 12 – a rare moment of blogging theological connection. This morning, I made another such connection, which I felt should be shared.

By means of introduction, I feel I should explain the thought process behind this connection. While walking from the station to the office this morning, I pondered a piece of writing I’m currently working on in which I’m trying to reflect (theologically) on the way my student small group mirrors Acts [don’t ask, it’s doing my head in]. Then my mind leapt to other theological reflections I’ve done and the boyband thing came to mind and I thought about how it applied to Boyzone and Westlife and how it didn’t work for Take That. Thus, I came to ponder on what Biblical connection you might be able to make to illustrate that particularly band’s story…

Clearly, it has to be the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32).

Gary – et al – are abandoned at home while Robbie goes off on his own to make his fortune. It’s not easy at first, but eventually he becomes a big success and Angels becomes one of the most popular songs to play at funerals. EMI pay him millions of pounds to make more albums and he’s rich beyond his wildest dreams. Addictions come and go, as do women, but awards are continually bestowed upon him.

But eventually the songs stop reaching #1 and his fascination with aliens over-takes his interest in music. He watches as his former bandmates reunite and produce hugely successful albums and sell-out tours. After much thought, he swallows his pride and meets up with them in LA. They have fun and a year later he’s back in the band, on a #1 album and in a sell-out tour.

But is everyone happy? Is Mark the resentful older brother who’s disappointed that with Robbie back he’ll no longer be second choice for lead vocals? Will Shine be the Babe of the new Take That (i.e. Mark’s only decent track)? What about Jason and Howard – will they simply return to being the two guys whose names you can’t remember dancing around at the back? And what of Gary, dear old Gary? I rather think he might be the father of the analogy, cheering along the reunification – who has slaved away for years, writing great songs and keeping the band together (well, since 2005) – telling the others not be churlish and to welcome the prodigal son back into the Take That fold.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ve thought about this a little too much. Am I a tad over excited that I’ll finally get to see them in the flesh in July? (Quite possibly.) Is my brain over-worked from endless form filling in? (Most definitely.) Can you ever have too much theology? (Absolutely.)