Archive for November 2012 – Page 2

Do We Need An Internet Sabbath?

As a professional web developer and social media strategist, I spend a huge amount of time online. Whether blogging, connecting on social media, developing websites or conducting research, the internet is an integral part of my daily life. Thanks to my smartphone, I am connected pretty much anywhere I go.

In general, I like things this way. I marvel continually at the power of electronic media to bridge time and geography, allowing me to communicate and maintain relationships with people throughout the world. Never, since the invention of the printing press, has our ability to share information been so dramatically amplified. We are living in a moment of great opportunity.

But these advances in communications have a shadow side. Social media can empower and extend real-life social interactions, but they can just as easily result in a world where most of our life is mediated by glowing screens, our conversations limited to 140 characters or less. At worst, electronic communication can objectify our relationships, cheapening our friendships and fostering one-dimensional conversations. There is a real risk that web and social media, improperly used, can increase alienation rather than deepening connection.

There is a balance to be struck between cyberspace and in-person relationships. For me, it feels important to heavily weight real-life interactions over the connections I build and maintain via electronic media. As important as web and social media is to both my personal and professional life, I view the social web as a supplement to my in-person relationships, not as a substitute for them.

My experience is that spending too much time online actually distances me from reality. When I have someone over to my home for dinner, or spend time walking around downtown with a co-worker, there is a rich mix of dynamics at play: Body language, tone, subtle pauses in the conversation and the felt sense of connection with another living presence. Contrast that with an email. I have nothing to go on but text on a screen.

There is a tipping point beyond which I can easily lose my grip on the real world. After sitting in front of the screen for long enough, it is easy to forget the colorful, complicated, surprising world that I live in. Without fully realizing what is happening, I can become disconnected from my surroundings, from my own body, and from my awareness of God’s presence within me. I risk “losing myself” in the screen.

Particularly because I spend so much time digitally connected for my work, it is important for me to create boundaries for my use of electronic media. For example, I exclude screens from my morning routine. I do not engage with email, social media – anything screened – until after I am through with breakfast and morning devotions. That means the first hour and half of my day is screen-free.

I have also thought about having a cut-off time in the evenings; say, no web after 10:00pm. I have not had as much success implementing this boundary. I am usually on my computer in the hours before bed. Ideally, though, I think it would probably be best if I had at least an hour un-plugged before bed.

One new practice that I have been experimenting with is the idea of internet sabbath – blocking out entire days where I intentionally unplug. Think of it as a “digital detox.” These sabbaths tend to happen organically when I am away at spiritual retreats (usually in a Quaker context). I always notice how much clearer my mind and body feel after a day or two away from the land of constant status updates – and constant work.

Recently, I have been attempting to set aside Sundays as a day of rest from my internet labors. Most Sundays, I have actually pulled it off – not turning on my computer or tablet, and not using my smartphone for anything except unavoidable phone calls and texts. This seems to have a positive effect. Even being able to take one day off each week, to truly disconnect from cyberspace in all its forms, feels healing for me. It gives me the strength to re-engage in a healthy way the other six days of the week.

What do you think about this? Is your relationship with the web a healthy one? How do you maintain balance between the internet and the rest of your life? What role does your professional work play in keeping you plugged in, and where are the places that you might choose to disconnect? Are you in need of an internet sabbath?

Restarting A Quaker Church Plant

Do you remember blowing on Nintendo cartridges? Most folks who are around my age will remember the original NES game system. I spent hours playing Nintendo, and I can still hum pretty much the entire soundtrack from Mario Brothers. As much fun as those games were, the thing I remember best is the physical experience of Nintendo. I remember the feel of the controls and the clap of the plastic hood. Above all, I remember the cartridges.

They did not always work. The longer you owned a Nintendo, the more likely it was you were going to have issues with dust collecting on the sensitive electronics at the opening of the cartridge. If the sensors were not clean, the game was liable to have errors that made it unplayable. Blank, white screens and garbled text were common. In order to get games working right, we often resorted to blowing across the sensors. Most of the time, that did the trick. We re-inserted the game and things worked as they were supposed to.
Though we did not realize it at the time, this process of cartridge cleaning taught an important lesson. In Nintendo and in the rest of life, there are moments that call for blowing on the cartridge and starting over. Sometimes, there is nothing we can do but clean the sensor and restart the game.

At Capitol Hill Friends, we have been noticing dust in our system for some time now. Despite a serious and energetic effort over a period of three years, Capitol Hill Friends has not gained the critical mass it needs to ignite a self-sustaining congregation. We have gotten quite good at putting on a weekly event that nurtures those who attend, but we have failed to develop an expanding circle of community.

After an extended period of prayer and corporate discernment, we feel that our present model is no longer an adequate container for the work that God is calling us to do in our city. We sense that our most faithful move at this point is to take a step back and re-evaluate of our entire way of operating as a community. It is time to take the cartridge out and blow on it.
We have been meeting in roughly the same format for almost three years now: We have gathered for Bible reading, singing, worship and a potluck meal. These meetings have generally been very deep, spiritually, and have provided a lot of nurture to those who have come. Yet, the core group of CHF has not substantially changed in the last two years. Probably for a variety of reasons, we have not grown in the way that we need to in order to be a sustainable community.
It feels clear that our present model is not working. The lack of growth over the last few years is equivalent to the White Screen of Death on the old Nintendo. It is time to pull out the cartridge and restart the system. The big question is, what does it look like for Capitol Hill Friends to restart?
Here is what we know right now: The last regular meeting of Capitol Hill Friends for 2012 will be this Sunday, November 4th. For the rest of November and December, the members of Capitol Hill Friends will be doing some intensive visioning and strategizing for the next phase of our life together as a community. We will be doing a lot of praying, and we will continue to listen together to how the Holy Spirit wants to guide and shape us as a community of disciples.
We have a great awareness right now of our deep need for Christ’s life and power in our midst, and we are asking God to clarify our calling, vision and structure as a fellowship. Who are we called to serve? What are we called to teach, and how are we called to teach it? What structures are we called to adopt in order to facilitate the spiritual, emotional and physical thriving of our community, and of the city where we live as a whole? With great awareness of our own weakness and failings, we are seeking God’s way forward for us.

In many ways, the past three years has been a course in what not to do. For my own part, I see that there is a lot of dust on my own sensors – all the illusions that I live in; all the denial that I indulge in. I desperately need the Holy Spirit to blow away the dust so that I can see clearly, and be a faithful vessel of Christ’s love and justice. I have learned a lot in the past three years, both about myself and about some of the realities of organizing a new Christian fellowship in Washington, DC. In many ways, the past three years have been “Seminary: Part 2.” This second dose of ministerial education, though, has been entirely focused on practice, and sometimes the theory has gotten in the way.

Moving forward, I hope to find out what it means for us to be a community of Christian practitioners. What does it mean to practice our faith in ways that tangibly bless the communities where we live? All the teaching in the world is of little use if we are not learning how to live as Christ’s body in the world.
As we continue to engage in this process of discernment, we do have some clarity about how God is calling us to reorganize our meeting format in the coming year. Beginning in January, Capitol Hill Friends plans to adopt a new model that we hope will encourage the development of more bonded community and deeper spiritual practice. Our new format will feature two main components: A weekly small group, and a monthly gathering.
The small group will be a place where each of us can be nurtured in our walk with Jesus, and get equipped for the work that Christ is calling each of us to. This group will be a fellowship for nurturing the spiritual gifts of each person, and developing our capacity to share the good news of Jesus with others in our communities. We will seek to make this an intimate space, where each individual can feel safe bringing their full selves and find support for the journey that Jesus is calling each of us into.
Our monthly gatherings will be creative and energetic programs that engage people from a wide variety of backgrounds and invites them to experience the power of Christ’s living presence in our midst. Each month’s program will be different, and we hope to invite outside presenters to lead our time together. We hope that these monthly gatherings will be a time of edification for our broader community – including Quakers from other Meetings in the area; Christians from other churches; seekers without a faith community; and secular people who are curious about encountering a spiritual faith that is directly dependent on God’s power.
We still have a lot of discernment to do, but these are the basic contours of what our restart looks like: Creating a space for our broader community to creatively explore spiritual teaching and worship, while at the same time nurturing the ongoing development of a smaller core that wants to be part of a mutually supportive community, rooted in Jesus Christ.

As we embark on this next stage of our journey together, please pray for us. If you are living in the DC area, consider whether the small group or our monthly gatherings might be a place for you to plug in and get the support you need for your walk in faith.

Holy Spirit, come blow on us. Clear away all the dust that holds us back from growing in you.