Lesson 48: Electronic Conversations

Let me first summarize the responses to how the church can foster conversation and then make a few observations about religious use of electronic communication. Conversations with Myron lead me to speak a few words about Islam next week. Then we’ll begin a new course on “Salvation” in October.

Anne welcomed a chance to discuss sermons after the service. I see it operating like the success I’ve had in comparing interpretations of biblical passages. The sermon and the passage serve as springboards for relating the faith to our everyday life. Many of my students say this is what they want- to hear what others think rather than an authorized position. Obviously, some of that comes with using electronic media rather than books.

Bob suggests this would entail developing methods that facilitate people’s sharing. Rita taught me long ago story-telling could be one of these. Stories are infectious, enabling others to tell theirs. Recently I ran across a testimonial-centered practice that used the old religious testimony in a creative manner. These seem natural for the Judaic-Christian traditions that are essentially narrative.

However, I am inclined to think success might have more to do with the moderator’s attitude and the group’s expectations than method. Anne agrees that ground rules encouraging the participation of all by promising “no put-downs” would go a long way.
They encourage comparisons rather than consensus. Perhaps it is time to admit our faith enables us to think and act in uncertain times, trusting God’s guidance and correction. Our religion is always embedded in history with all its messiness. Although Bob’s most recent comment about attempting purely religious understandings is fascinating, I wonder if it too is seeking an unattainable certainty. It might be fun to pursue, but the results might be irrelevant. Christian faith is always embedded in history, so perhaps it is necessary to speak of political positions and particularities.

Take a look at the “gift of reception” in the article Rita sent me from the National Catholic Reporter for some interesting insights in our topic.

Let me end with a few things about electronic communication. Wherever I go, I hear people express Lupe’s concern that the Church learn to use these wisely. My son, Franz, and I have studied religious use of the Internet for decades. Contrary to popular belief, it is very prevalent and appropriate. In 2003 almost a third of all the people who went online used the Internet for a religious purpose. That is more than those who used it to gamble, trade stocks, bank, date, or participate in an auction. Sixty per cent of those used it to research their own faith traditions. I imagine those figures have remained pretty much the same after 7 years.

Our studies encouraged church use of the Internet to facilitate, enhance, and extend her community, but never to replace it. This is especially important when sociologists report we have far more acquaintances and far less friends in this electronic age. The Internet is “narrow-band”, great for transmitting knowledge but very limited in teaching wisdom. My high school group contains experts in sharing information over the Internet. They are hungry, however, to work honestly with others in evaluating the worth of this information. That is hard to do that on the Internet. The binary nature of the tool influences how it is used. It communicates well what the writer is doing, thinking, and feeling, but has great difficulty maintaining a creative dialogue. It is very limited in communicating the nuances, complexity, and messiness of real life. Franz and I often observe that Christian community, like the Sacrament, demands the real presence of people as well as the real presence of Christ.

Relative to this, Anne reported that one of my sons-in-law recently asked the congregation to email their responses to a sermon on prayer life. Hopefully, he will share electronically the responses and encourage further conversation. My experience is my readers prefer to communicate through me rather than with each other. But I am still looking for the interaction Sarah gets with her online courses at Leslie.

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