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Online communion?

August 4th, 2010

428501_63909002I was reading recently about a minister who was tweeting a communion service. His idea was to take the church out into the world that knows nothing of church. This idea interests me on two fronts because I’m interested in web things and in taking Jesus (this may include the church) out into a world that knows very little of Jesus. There is a big part of me that is excited about this idea and that wants to support it  – and possibly a year or so ago I would have done – but now I think it’s just plain wrong.

Communion (aka Eucharist, Lord’s supper, etc) is a physical act

I think web people are often so caught up in the excitement and possibilities of the web that they miss the point that it does not include a physical presence. What I mean is that the web just does not provide a means for people to meet physically and never will (even if we ever manage to create an imitation of physical presence). As a Christian I am forced to accept the simple truth that God created a physical world. God didn’t need to do this, we could all have simply been spiritual beings, but God did. This must mean that there is a purpose to being physical. It also means that the physical world is not something we should be trying to avoid or escape from. This is a big subject but hopefully this gives the gist of what I’m trying to say.

Taking communion is a physical thing. Jesus didn’t need to make communion this way, he could simply have said pray to remember me or talk about my sacrifice and remember me but instead he took something that was a physical act and said do this to remember me.

No matter how much we would rather this was different it isn’t.

Of course, we might argue that people on the other end of twitter (or whatever) are physically present and so is the bread and wine that they use to share in the experience but I think this misses the point that although the physical is present in this way it isn’t the same thing – and so on to my next point.

Communion is about people who are physically together

The church has always pressed the point that one person can’t have communion on their own. You have to share that experience with someone else. I’ve already made the point that communion is a physical thing and now I want to make the point that it is not just the bread and wine that are physical but also it is the physical presence of people that is important. When sharing communion physical presence is part of the deal – you can’t remove this from it. If there is no physical presence then you can’t have communion. In exactly the same way I wouldn’t be having communion with my local church if I was at home and took some bread and wine when my local congregation was taking it.

Being on the other end of twitter (or whatever) doesn’t give you this physical presence.

Communion is also about being together and this is just not possible online. We are present with each other in some ways but not in a physical sense – we just can’t be – and we shouldn’t diminish this truth just for the sake of desire.

Communion is a sacrament

A sacrament, of course, is a physical act for making a spiritual truth real that has been given by Jesus for the church to use (to put it very simply).

My last point is that communion is a sacrament and as such is one of the ways that the church expresses itself. Being connected in some form with others on the web is not the same as being a church. There are things about church that you simply can’t replicate online (the physical presence being one of them of course).  We miss the point if we think that simply meeting together (especially virtually) makes a church. I’ve been to plenty of so-called churches that meet physically together and yet are not really a church but that is not an argument for meeting together online and calling ourselves a church.

I also want to make the point that taking communion out in to the world is not really possible. Communion is something that the church does it is not something that we can use to reach out to people who are not Christian. Yes, they can be part of it within a church and it can help to convince people of Christian truth but this is very different from believing we are taking anything out to anyone just because we use modern media to do it.

I suggest anyone who believes that different media is nothing more than a different way to deliver the message explores how media changes a message. An excellent book to read on this is Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps.

You cannot deliver communion through the web any more than you could give people a book with a communion service in it and say they are taking communion if they read it. There is so much more to this sacrament.

Conclusion

I hate to say it but my deliberations must lead me to the conclusion that online communion is wrong. Far from being a great way to reach out to those outside the church it makes the act of communion too simplistic and removes the elements of mystery and commitment that the act of taking communion involves. We just can’t get around the fact that the web is not a physical place and we never will.

I watched a Bruce Willis film a while back called “Surrogates” where someone invented robots that could replace us in the ‘real world’. The point of the film (whether you like the film or not) was well made in that the surrogates were simply not the same as actually being in the physical world yourself (even if it meant growing old and not looking perfect). We are in danger of going down the route of believing that somehow our web presence is better than our real presence. Christians are well placed to challenge this idea – not to collude with it.

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Is the web just for the young?

July 9th, 2010

I was reading something the other day that suggested that all new technology is controlled by the young. They cited the example of text speak and how adults don’t understand that kind of thing. They also cited the usual cry of the technologically challenged that if they were a 12 year old they would be able to do it. I don’t agree with this idea.

It is true that young people like to make up languages so they can talk to each other without adults understanding, but this has always been true (as far as I understand it). It is also true that many (not all) young people understand technology that baffles a lot of adults. However isn’t it also true that young people often fiddle with technology a lot more than adults and that many young people don’t think of the consequences of what they do as much as adults do (that is they are far more confident around technology).

I have a 14 year old and a 12 year old and a 10 year old and a 7 year old living in my house and I know and awful lot more about technology and how to use it than they do. This is because I have to deal with it every day and they don’t. I fully admit that I’m not adept with a mobile phone but then I hardly every use one, if I did I would be know how to use it.

This brings me back to the web. Of course there are some things that suit the younger web user rather than the older one but that doesn’t mean that older people are less able to make use of the web. Young people do drive certain ideas and technology forwards as they use it more but this doesn’t mean that they have control over the technology.

In my experience the web is open to all both young and old. There are plenty of older web users that are involved in the development of its new tools and new directions. It is something of an outdated cliche to suggest that young people are the only ones who know about technology and the sooner we can get over this idea the better.

So the next time you are tempted to excuse your ignorance of something technical because you are not young please think again.

Thoughts

Web site values

June 8th, 2010

15614272What are the values of your web site? This may seem like a bit of nonsense asking what values a web site has but bear with me a while. A web site is the public face of an organization or an individual. As the public face it should reflect the values of the people/person behind it. There are several reasons (especially for Christians) as to why this might be important.

1. Other content on your site

If you allow others to post content on your web site (maybe adding comments or even contributing articles) do you make sure that they reflect the values of your web site? If you don’t have your values clearly defined how will you know if they do? Do you offer any guidelines to writers as to what content is acceptable? Do you proofread things to make sure people are sticking to the codes?

2. Adverts from third parties

You might have a site that will display adverts from other people, this is becoming particularly important with the popularity of things like syndicated adverts that you can display on your site for some income. Do these adverts always reflect the values of your web site? It is easy to persuade yourself that it doesn’t matter because you are not in control of them but anything that appears on your site says something about the site itself. Have you even considered if it is appropriate to have adverts on your site in the first place?

3. Your own content

It helps a web site user if the content of a web site is always in line with its values. It is hard to trust the content of a site that always seems to changing what it is about and what its values are.

4. You represent Christianity

Do you think about who you are representing with your web site? Like it or not people will judge Jesus and Christianity on the basis of what you web site says. If you proclaim yourself a Christian and then use your blog to attack every one you disagree with you are reflecting badly on Christianity.

Understand your values

There are many good reasons for understanding your own values and these reasons are just the same for a web site. You need to appreciate that your site is viewable by many people and whatever you say on your sight should reflect the values you hold. I’m not suggesting you should stop expressing yourself but simply that understanding your own values and the values of the organisation you represent are important.

Why not take some time to reflect on your values?

Thoughts

Do we drive the web or does the web drive us?

March 19th, 2010

14493687We all like to think that we are in control of things and the web might seem an ideal way to push the world in the direction we would like the world to go – even if we can only push a little. Yet, perhaps things aren’t so easy as all that.

Read more…

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Online conferencing and worship

February 19th, 2010

I’ve been reading about a study that was taken about people listening to speeches via video conferencing. When people are removed from direct contact with a speaker (this was in a public speaking context where the main speaker was broadcast to other locations) where they don’t think the speaker can see, or even hear, them they react very differently than if they were in the room with the speaker.

In the room with the speaker people pay more attention and tend to react more positively to the speaker, whereas those who are not in direct often move around, get cups of coffee, have conversations with others, react with noises to bits they don’t like (sighing, tutting, negative comments).

I think that has implications for trying to get worship on to the Internet. We are mistaken if we think that people are going to be paying as much attention to a sermon, say, or singing, or prayers. The removed nature of the experience will create a different response in the listeners.

I think this also raises important questions about virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life) and how effective they can be as a way to communicate the gospel. The different kind of relationship that such places create complicates things.

I am becoming more and more convinced myself that the Internet can only ever be seen as a tool in mission and evangelism. There will always be a need for face to face relationship building and that the web is simply the tool that will help that to happen.

Relationships seem to be the prime way that people become Christians and although online relationships can be formed they will never replace the kind of relationship that physically meeting creates.

Thoughts

Where do people find out about Christianity?

February 17th, 2010

I was listening to a TV programme the other day about Islamic terrorism and it focussed in on the Internet and how it was used to radicalize young Muslims. I was struck by a comment made by one of the young men. It ran along the lines of saying that his parents would never talk about their faith with him and so where else was he going to go for information?

I was struck by this because it seems to me that Christians are in the same boat here. Parents often find it difficult to talk about Christianity with their children and so children will increasingly look for information about Jesus on the Internet.

I guess we should learn:

  1. that children want to know – they want to know about all kinds of stuff
  2. that children will increasingly turn to the Internet for answers
  3. that parents often don’t know themselves (this is either through ignorance or not wanting to know)
  4. that people of any faith need to wake up to the fact that this is happening – that the prime sources for young people learning about something is from the Internet and if the Internet is full of bad stuff then this is what they will believe
  5. that we should encourage Christian young people in their Internet use (they often discover new sites through friends and so the more Christian friends know about good sites the better) – not discourage them

It’s time to get on the Internet!

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Pray for the Internet

February 1st, 2010

9953929Do you ever pray for the Internet? Is this important area something that ever finds its way on to any prayer list? My experience is that it doesn’t – at least not in any church service I’ve ever been to (of course there are an awful lot of services I don’t get to so perhaps someone has prayed for it somewhere).

Here is a list of things you could pray about some time connected with the Internet:

  • People who use it every day – that God would use the Internet to bring them closer to God.
  • People who use the Internet to feed their addictions – that God would release them from the addiction and heal them.
  • For those who are trying to help the addicted through the Internet – that God would guide them and give them wisdom.
  • Christian webmasters/webservants/etc. – that God would give them the inspiration and the gifts they need to do their jobs
  • Christian web designers and developers – that God would use their gifts for His glory
  • Governments – that they would help the Internet to grow and be a resource for all
  • Christian leaders – that they would use the Internet for God’s glory
  • Christian web sites – that they would reach out to many who are seeking
  • Those who are seeking – that they would be lead to the right web sites and find Jesus in those sites
  • Charity web sites – that they would inspire people to be generous in helping others

I’m sure you could add a few yourselves.

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Does the Internet influence thinking?

January 27th, 2010

This is one of those questions that interests me, especially as a Christian web master. What influence does the Internet have? I read somewhere that what we read has a great influence on the way we think. This was put down to spending more time thinking about something when we read it that we would spend if we saw it on T.V. for instance.

The Obama political campaign to get elected used the Internet extensively and many credit this use with his election.

In fact it is hard to find any research that would refute the Influence of the Internet to change the way people think.

Given this simple fact I think we then have to ask: who is providing the material for the Internet?

In general such people are technically savvy and keen to try new things. They tend to be the people who want to spend nearly all of their time in front of a computer. I guess if we are using generalisations then we might say they were Geeks.

From what I understand there is a slightly higher level of liberal beliefs and atheism within this group of people. Don’t misunderstand anything I’m saying as being political here.

But Christians should take note that the people who contribute most to the Internet (and therefore are able to have a greater influence through it) are not going to be promoting (in general) things that are positive about Christian beliefs and values.

Where does that leave us? Well, I think it must be a challenge to Christians. We must not set ourselves up with our only little online spaces and never venture outside them. It is very important that Christians engage with others online and in the kind of places that people more generally congregate.

Thoughts

The ludicrous case of the lost links

January 21st, 2010

Do you ever visit web sites only to find that the page you wanted is missing? It happens when web masters (web slaves – or whatever you want to call them) either move a page so the site is less cluttered or because a page is now so out of date that a new one is required. If you change from a static site to a dynamic site (html to php or something) then you will inevitably mess up every link that existed prior to the change. Sometimes, of course, the link was never right in the first place.

So there are a couple of things it is wise to do to avoid such problems:

1) Be careful with your links and do your best to make sure they work – perhaps have a rolling program of checking your links (there is software that will do this and if you sign up for Google webmaster tools you get a report on duff links but my experience is that they are never perfect).

2) Set up a special 404 page. You can see the one I have made for this web site here (opens in new window). It is just a very simple page and you could put in a lot more detail (make sure you use absolute URLs though – e.g. full web address to any images etc. There are various ways of setting your site to use these pages and most good hosting companies will have a way to enable this to happen. Here is a way to do it if you are looking for the technical stuff (opens in new window).

So, there are ways around the problem and it pays to put in that little bit of extra effort to help your visitors.

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Web site resolutions

January 14th, 2010

What are your plans for your web site over the coming year?

This is a very important question to ask and you should think carefully about your answers. It is the nature of the Internet that things change quickly and often, however the basics of what makes a good web site remain the same: good content, clean design, easy navigation.

Why not take some time to think about what you intend to do with your site and make a plan for doing it. If nothing else I would recommend committing yourself to doing some work on your content.

Thoughts