Transitioning in A Global Information Age: Questions For Church Traditions

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As a follow up to my reflections on Quaker Heritage Day I wanted to post a list of Questions I’ve been thinking about, many of which came because our travels to the north and many because of what I have been studying over the past quarter.

The Church in the Global Information Age

My PhD advisor, Ryan Bolger, has an article coming out next month discussing how culture is shifting and how this shift will effect the church.  The web and other technologies, along with a new emphasis mobility all help to downplay the importance of physical location and instead favor the idea of “shared space.”  Right now we are sharing the space of my website, even if you’re in another country reading this!

In other words, shared space can happen over a cell phone, the internet, television and more.  Further, we are seeing things like social networks help fill in the gaps for human relationships.  Now we can be friends without always having to be in physical proximity to one another other, we can interactions that keep us connected with what’s happening in our lives, see pictures, videos, listen to music all from our respective places.

Shared Space, Physical Locations and the Mission of the Church

This shift from physical to shared space is something many people are writing about, including social theorists like Slovoj Zizek whom I’ve really been enjoying lately (I just finished On Belief), and I think it’s going to be an important topic for the church to consider as well.  This new set of questions will help to shape the mission of the church in the coming generations.  I admit that many of these questions are difficult to understand, scary to think about, and for some may just be a little too much.  But,in any case, we know that a majority of people, especially young ones, can be found on the web almost all the time, we are always connected to each other in someway, and this alone raises new questions about the church, practices and how we live our faith in light of this.

In times past we would hire an anthropologist to study a given location such as Pasadena to find out who the people are and what their culture is, but in today’s world that anthropologist would also have to be versed in popular culture, the web, and the effects of globalization on a small community.  There is no one influential culture anymore, there are many cultures influencing all of us, and it’s being done through a variety of outlets.

And as a future missiologist I wonder what all this has to do with the shape of mission for the church?  Do we outright reject these trends, pull away, tuck tail and run or do we engage these changes and look for where God might be in all this?  How can we help bring about the transformation that only comes from the  Kingdom of God?

And so with that short background, here are some questions I’ve been pondering.

A Few Questions About Quakerism, and Transitions in a New World

  • Where are there signs of life and renewal in the Friends church? What are some of the creative ideas for worship, new kinds of practices and innovative theology that we’ve encountered over the past few years?  Does it have to be the same ol’ same ol’ or are we really willing to break the mold and see our orthodoxy in unorthodox ways?
  • One thing Chris M brought up was how blogging is a form of ‘vocal ministry,’ (similar to a traveling evangelist or preacher).  Are we willing to let go of our preconceived notions about technology and what vocal ministry is enough to not say “yeah but…?”  Will blogging and other forms of interaction in our global information age be allowed to be fully expressive of our life of faith?
  • Does the Quaker tradition have the resources within it to re-think it’s theology in ways that will make room for the continued separation between physical location and shared space we see by way of the virtual world, global media and mobility that rules people’s lives?
  • Can we have clearness committees, meetings, worship, and fellowship without sharing physical space?
  • What does it mean to live out our Christian witness in this kind of world?  Will we continue with some of our tradition to retreat from all this? Or will we follow others who are finding ways of transforming the world by being a part of it?
  • What will it look like to practice Quakerism over long distance and on the web?  What does it look to do peacemaking, hospitality, simplicity, silence and more with these new mediums?

These are some of the questions I’ve already been thinking about and think that they’re important to begin considering more seriously.

Here are some other posts where I have touched on these topics:

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