Category Archives: Technology

The Discussion of PC(USA) Identity And Musings On An “Ecclesiastical Hackathon”

About a month ago the Moderator of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Heath Rada, issued a “Call to the Church” to rethink what the PC(USA) should look like and in doing so build trust within the church.  This started the wheels in motion for a discussion in the denomination about what the identity of the PC(USA) is now and what it should be. Specifically he said in his remarks:

It became apparent [within a small task force on mission funding] that we all believed a painful situation existed [in the PC(USA)] and for anything significant to be accomplished we must find ways for that trust to be restored. It was felt that our denomination needed to explore these matters in depth and that I should announce a CALL TO THE CHURCH to help in addressing them.

The statement goes on to list five areas of importance, from the church’s changing place in the wider culture to the theological institutions to the urgent need for action. And with that the statement outlines five steps to take but at multiple points emphasizing the need to involve all levels of the church.

In a follow-up article in the Presbyterian Outlook he updates us on the response he has gotten and what next steps might be. While some are a bit further off – specifically part of the preparation for the 222nd General Assembly – other steps were being implemented quickly. This past week we saw the first of those and that is a survey opened up by Research Services to gather input from the full breadth of the PC(USA). You are encouraged to “Join the Conversation” and you have until November 13 to respond on that survey.

Another step is the announcement of two Twitter chats with the Vice-Moderator of the 221st General Assembly, Larissa Kwong Abazia (@LarissaLKA). The first chat begins this afternoon at 6 PM EDT (3 PM PDT) and will use the hashtag #pcusaidentity. The second chat is on Thursday November 12 at 9 PM EST (7 PM MST).

In reading that follow-up article a few things jump out at me. One is that the responses include “groups…wanting to be part of the conversation.” So must a group come forward to be included? Another is that Office of the General Assembly and Research Services will be the ones surveying the church and figuring out how to initiate discussions. It struck me that groups and offices in the national church seem to be headlining what looks like an institutional response. This is no surprise since at one point in the initial Call Moderator Rada wrote:

Again let me state the obvious. Someone has to take a lead. I am asking that the denomination affirm and actively participate in the COGA process which is getting ready to be unveiled and which will undertake the massive task of assessing the church’s will (in accordance with God’s will) concerning who and what we need to be as a denomination.

An interesting article three weeks ago takes a very different approach…

The Presbyterian Outlook published an op-ed piece by Deborah Wright and Jim Kitchens titled “An Open Letter to Moderator Heath Rada: What if . . . we held an ecclesiastical hackathon?

As Presbyterians you have to love the idea, but more on that in a moment.

Their idea is an open call and competition where people form teams of six individuals and come up with their ideas about what the PC(USA) should look like or be doing. As they say:

Game theorists radically believe that the solutions to tough social problems reside in the players. Adaptive Change theorists believe deep challenges of uncharted territories must find solutions in unknown corners. Positive Deviance theorists act on the notion that the village has the answers, if one only looks to the fringes. What if this once – instead of committees and task forces and hired expert consultants – what if . . . we bucked up our Reformed theology and went looking for our unheralded prophets out there, trusting God to provide!

The idea is that a set of “rules and tools” would be issued by the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) and any group of six members of the PC(USA) would have a few months to assemble a team and present a plan, solution, strategy, what ever was being asked for.

A number of theological and polity positives jump out at me here. As the authors emphasize, we are a priesthood of all believers. Why should we let the brains at OGA and PMAB have all the fun with this. The Reformed community should be the specialists at crowd sourcing as we believe decision making and the corresponding mission are to be done at the lowest applicable level and our structure is supposed to allow the most people and those with particular gifts for the situation to be involved.

It is arguable whether groups of six are theologically supported here – seven is a more spiritual number or we could just think of two groups of six making twelve. But in our church history it was the group of the “Six Johns“, led by John Knox, that over four days wrote the Scottish Confession of Faith of 1560. Not exactly a hackathon since they were the only group working on it but still a model of a group of six that worked quickly to produce a product that changed history.

Now looking at this proposal I do cringe a little bit to see that the process is directed by the agencies at the top. They are the existing coordinating bodies after all and in a position to be able to do this so there is a solid rational for this. But let’s think a bit outside the box here.

What if we thought about this a bit more as a crowd sourced or grassroots project and tried to find another point to run this from. What if the responsibility were devolved to someplace in the church that is actively doing something like this, such as the 1001 New Worshiping Communities group? Or maybe an existing recognized affiliated body like the NEXT Church group or the Presbyterian Outlook board. Or maybe something completely different like a joint steering group made up of members of the Covenant Network and the Fellowship Community? Or a really radical thought: Just go for it!

The idea would be for groups that wanted to get involved to brainstorm changes and then send it to the next General Assembly from the bottom up. Get your group together and then take the idea to your two or three nearest presbyteries for endorsement as ascending overtures so they will be considered as business in Portland. If this hackathon concept is taken seriously maybe one of the commissioner committees at GA could have the responsibility for reviewing these and helping the Assembly to think in new ways. And remember, the deadline for proposed Book of Order changes is February 19, 2016, and for overtures with financial implications it is April 19, 2016.

So there you have my riff on the hackathon idea. I don’t think this is too far off from the ideas Landon Whitsitt discussed in his book Open Source Church. And remember, the hackathon – or whatever you want to call it – concept has two purposes: One is discussed above as a model for drawing more fully from the wisdom and knowledge of the whole group. The other is to involve more people in seriously visioning and thinking about the problem and empowering them to do something about it so they have ownership of situation. This is not answer a survey or participate in a guided discussion sort of thing. The idea is to empower any interested member to dive into the details, inner working and think about the problem at the deepest levels. Where it may go we don’t know so this certainly could be a “stay tuned” moment for the PC(USA).

Further Thoughts On The Fellowship PC(USA)

Well, I have had a couple of days to reflect on the Fellowship PC(USA) letter, announcement, and white paper.  I have also had a bit of time to reflect on my own reaction and ask if I jumped too quickly.  The answer to that is maybe yes and maybe no.  More on that at the end.  But first, some comments on the white paper and the developments so far.

Time For Something New – A Fellowship PC(USA) white paper

I have now read the white paper referenced in the original letter and for those who have not read it, it is essentially an extended discussion of the same material as the letter.  In fact, the letter is pretty much a condensed version of the white paper with the meeting announcement and the signatures added.

On the side that maybe I did respond too quickly, I was interested to see that the extended discussion in the white paper addresses a couple of the issues I had with the letter.  On the topic of the conflict and decline in the PC(USA) being about more than the homosexuality issue, the white paper contains this paragraph which the letter does not:

Certainly none of these issues are unique to the PCUSA, [sic] but are all part of larger cultural forces. But what is the way forward? Is there a future beyond the decline as yet unseen? Is there a way to avoid endless fights, to regain consensus on the essence of the Christian faith? We see no plan coming from any quarter, leaving a continued drift into obsolescence.

While it does not seem to consider the broad range of issues the mainline/oldline faces, at least it acknowledges the “larger cultural forces” that are in play here.

Likewise, a couple of my other concerns are moderated in the white paper.  Regarding the diversity and inclusively, they say that they are speaking as a group of pastors but explicitly say “We call others of a like mind to envision a new future…”  Regarding the reference to the PC(USA) as “deathly ill” that was a lightning rod in the letter, the phrase is not used in the white paper but instead they say “The PCUSA [sic] is in trouble on many fronts.” (And as you can see the white paper uses my less-preferred acronym PCUSA instead of the PC(USA) used in the letter.) And finally, there is more acknowledgement of similar predecessor organizations and explanation of why a new one:

We recognize that there are still islands of hope across the church, but they do not seem to represent a movement. Many faithful groups and organizations have been devoted to the renewal of the PCUSA, and they have offered valuable ministry for many years. Yet it appears they have simply helped slow down a larger story of decline. Is it time to acknowledge that something in the PCUSA system is dying?


In many ways this [new] association may resemble some of the voluntary organizations of the past (PGF, PFR, etc.) but it is only a way station to something else. It is an intermediate tool to begin to bring together like minded congregations and pastors to begin the work of another future, different than the current PCUSA.

So some of these ideas are more developed in the 3 1/2 page white paper than they are in the 2 page letter.


It was interesting to see how quickly word spread about the original letter on Twitter and the concerns that many people expressed.  This seems to have led to two rapid responses.

The Fellowship PC(USA) saw a need to respond quickly and the day following the distribution of the letter they put out a one-page FAQ addressing some of the concerns I and others had. Specifically, they address the narrow demographic of the original group (white, male, pastors mostly of larger “tall-steeple” churches).  The response is that this letter was only the beginning of a conversation that they want to broadly include all aspects of the church.  Of course, they get another negative comment from me because in an apparent effort to say that the conversation should include more than clergy they use the phrase “clergy/non-ordained as equal partners.” (Ouch! That hurt this ruling elder.)  This has now been changed to “clergy/laity.”  Sorry, no better. At best this comes off as a technical glitch that in either wording does not include ruling elders as ordained partners in governance with teaching elders (clergy).  At worst, while probably not intended to be so, it strikes me as a Freudian slip or condescending comment that teaching elders are somehow superior to ruling elders in all this.  OK, soapbox mode off.  (And yes, if you think I am being super-sensitive about this one little detail, this GA Junkie is by nature super-sensitive to that one little detail.  Sorry if that bothers you.)

The FAQ also addresses the relationship to the New Wineskins Association of Churches, other renewal groups, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and why their plan is better, different, reasonable, or something like that.

The Fellowship has also updated the letter (the old link is broken) with a revised one that appears to be the same text but has a longer list of signatories that now includes ruling elders and women.  The original seven names are there for the steering committee, but the 28 names for concurring pastors has grown to 95 (including a couple of women) and there is now a category for Concurring Elders, Lay Leaders and Parachurch Leaders with 15 names. (And I suspect that this will be a dynamic document that will be updated as more individuals sign on.)

The Fellowship letter and viral response, possibly influenced by the concurrent meeting of the Middle Governing Bodies Commission, elicited a response from the PC(USA) leadership with a letter on Friday from Moderator Cynthia Bolbach, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons, and GAMC Executive Director Linda Valentine.  This message, titled Future of the church: GA leaders invite all Presbyterians to join in conversation, cites not just the letter but several more conversations going on in the PC(USA) through the MGB Commission, and other task forces.  One of their concluding lines is “We ask that those who would challenge us also join with all of us across the church as we work together to make that happen.”  I also applaud their openness to the whole of the Presbyterian family as they address the letter to “All Presbyterians” and part-way through the letter say “Presbyterians everywhere long for vibrant congregations and communities
of faith, and relationships built upon trust and our common faith in
Jesus Christ.”

I mention this broad-mindedness since these developments have caught the attention of the wider Presbyterian family in the blogosphere and there are comments about it by David Fischler at Reformed Pastor and Benjamin Glaser at Mountains and Magnolias.  Within the PC(USA) ranks there is a nice analysis by Katie Mulligan who has a summary of the demographics of the churches represented by the original signatories.  (Thanks Katie. It was something I started to do, but as the signatory list became a moving target I reorganized my thoughts and it will appear as a slightly different statistical analysis in the future.)

There is also an unofficial response
from the affinity group Voices for Justice.  They reject the viewpoint
the Fellowship letter has of the PC(USA) and urge working together as
one denomination.

A Case Study in Social Media

Probably what interests me the most in all of this is how it played out.  As best as I can tell, this went viral, or as viral as something can go within the denomination, within about five or six hours.  The letter and the Fellowship group itself seem like somewhere we have been before and we will see if it plays out any differently.  How this played on Twitter is something else altogether and  I’m not sure anything like this has spread through the PC(USA) Twitter community in the same way.

So here is the timeline from my perspective (all time PST)(note: items marked * have been added or updated):

  • Feb. 2, 10:46 AM – Fellowship letter hits my email box
  • Feb. 2, 11:32 AM – Tweet from @preslayman announcing their posting of the letter – The first tweet I can find.
  • Feb. 2, 12:32 PM – John Shuck posted his first blog entry, tweeted announcement at 1:25 PM
  • Feb. 2, 3:00 PM – Tweet from @ktday that asks “what do you think of this” – quickly and heavily retweeted; beginning of the flood of tweets
  • Feb. 2, 3:17 PM – @lscanlon of the Outlook puts out a series of tweets reporting the letter
  • Feb. 2, 3:32 PM – My first blog post, I tweeted announcement of it at same time
  • Feb. 2, 7:12 PM – Time stamp on the Outlook article.*
  • Feb. 3, 2:31 PM – First tweet I saw about the Fellowship FAQ, from @CharlotteElia
  • Feb. 4, 8:56 AM – @leahjohnson posts first tweet I found about the PC(USA) leadership response*
  • Feb. 4, 9:01 AM – @Presbyterian official announcement by tweet of the denomination leadership response
  • Feb. 4, 10:10 AM – Katie Mulligan posted her blog article
  • Feb. 4, 11:07 AM – @shuckandjive announces the Voices for Justice response

Now that is what I saw.  Please let me know if you have other important events in this history that should be on the time line.  And I am going to keep researching it myself and it may grow.

So, I have to give credit to the Fellowship leadership, or at least their response team, for being able to turn around a response FAQ in 27 hours.  Nice job also by the denominational leadership for having a comment out in less than 48 hours.

In the realm of social media this is a very interesting development – that in the course of a day or two a topic could gather so much attention that the major parties each feel the need, or pressure, to weigh in on the subject.  And that the originating organization received enough criticism and critique that they so quickly issued a clarification and updated list of names.  In case you don’t think the world of communications has changed you need to take a serious look at how a topic, admittedly a hot one but one of limited interest outside our circle of tech-savvy and enthusiastic participants, has played out in just 48 hours.

And I would note that the PC(USA) is not alone in this.  In my observation of the PCA voting on their Book of Church Order amendments this year, and the ultimate non-concurrence by the presbyteries, social media, especially the blogosphere, played a major role.

So here I am commenting on it 72 hours after it broke.  Was my first response reasonable?  As I comment above, it was on only one piece of the evidence and it took me a couple more days to find time to read the white paper.  But then again, maybe it was.  The situation developed rapidly and having my own rapid response to the letter meant that the initial concerns I raised were among those addressed in the clarification the next day.

Now the big question – is all of this a good thing?  I will leave the ultimate answer up to each of you.  I have, in a bit of a play within a play, personally demonstrated what I see as both the negatives and the positives — my initial response was not as well developed as it could have been but in the reality of the new social media world it helped (I would hope) to propel the conversation forward.  Don’t we live in interesting times…

So where from here?  It will be very interesting to see what further role social media plays in this going forward.  Will this discussion become a topic for more narrowly focused groups who continue their work off-line, or will the new realities force or require this topic to remain viable in the extended social media community of the PC(USA). It will be interesting to see, and I would expect that if this Fellowship initiative is to really propel discussion of the future of the PC(USA) they will need to embrace the reality of the connected church.  I think we need a hashtag.

Church Of Scotland Redesigns Their Web Page

Within the last couple of weeks the Church of Scotland has rolled out a redesigned web site.  It has a simple and clean look with great consistency between pages.  One of the more interesting features is that many of the pages have contact information for relevant individuals right at the bottom of the page rather than in some central directory page.

I have to say a word about navigation because they appear to have put a lot of thought into it.  When you go to the home page you don’t see top nav links for any of the “institution” of the church.  Instead you see topics, especially topics someone not connected to the church might be interested in.  Clicking through to the next level you get to much the same type of thing but now splitting out that topic.  For example, if you click the top nav bar for “Connect” your navigation choices on the left are now “Young Church,” “Emerging Church,” “Rural Church,” etc.  It is not until the next level down that you start to really see program names, such as under “Young Church ” you then get “Clann,” “National Youth Assembly,” and “Cosycoffeehouse.”  You can argue that this is too many clicks to get what you want, but it also struck me that the titles were nice and descriptive allowing you to narrow down what you wanted before you got the cute program names that would only be meaningful to insiders.  Another subtle example of this is that the guides to various liturgical days and seasons are not arranged according to the liturgical calendar but alphabetically.

Along those lines, it also appears clear that the site is primarily focused on those that are not familiar with the church.  The emphasis does not appear to be as much about news, announcements and resources as it is about connecting with the general population, introducing the church to those who are not familiar with it, and talking about its ministries within Scottish society.  Have a look at the “Speak Out ” page, which is about the church speaking out, not as much people speaking back to, or through, the church.   The page begins:

The Church of Scotland plays an important role in Scottish and
international life. It is involved in a range of political, ethical and
social issues and campaigns which affect peoples’ lives, such as human
rights, poverty, climate change, health and education.

It then starts talking about specific ministry initiatives and structure.

For those familiar with the old site, like my regular search for polity or GA details, the new site will probably take some getting used to.  They have a helpful page, the “Help! ” page, to give you some orientation to the new site. Nice touch.  I also found that the navigation links at the bottom reflect the old organization more than the top or side bars do. 

The site structure seems to have changed significantly so that my old links and bookmarks don’t work and there does not appear to be redirection. The extranet site appears to be gone and the information rolled into the main one, such as the Acts of the General Assembly page, making it one unified site.  In my survey of the site it appears that most of the previous material is there somewhere, including some behind a password protected members’ section.  My biggest complaint about the redesign is that there is still no newsfeed, Atom or RSS, for the Kirk’s news stories and nothing that I have found so far promoting social media for the denomination.

The redesign of the web site is probably not a surprise.  Back in late 2009 there was a bit of a dust-up when a design firm let it be known in a trade journal that they were doing work for the Kirk to update their image.  The Kirk was not pleased because it wanted to make this info known on its own terms and tried to retrieve their payment for the services, a claim the courts later denied.  Clearly the Kirk has been conscious of their public image and working on it.

So I look forward to surfing around the new site, getting to know it better, and especially looking for information that has been added.  It is an interesting implementation of a particular emphasis and I hope it gets the intended results for the Kirk.

Web 2.0 And The Internet Are Changing The World — Follow-up

Last week the journal Nature published a news piece, Peer Review: Trial by Twitter , about the changes that social media, blogs and instant communication are having on how science is done, or more specifically, how science is reviewed.  For those thinking about this sort of thing in any realm I would suggest you have a look.

I won’t rehash the history of this, you can check out my earlier post, but here are a couple of the good lines in the new article about how things have changed:

Papers are increasingly being taken apart in blogs, on Twitter and on
other social media within hours rather than years, and in public, rather
than at small conferences or in private conversation.

To many researchers, such rapid response is all to the good, because it
weeds out sloppy work faster. “When some of these things sit around in
the scientific literature for a long time, they can do damage: they can
influence what people work on, they can influence whole fields,” says
[David] Goldstein [director of Duke University’s Center for Human Genome

For many researchers, the pace and tone of this online review can be
intimidating — and can sometimes feel like an attack. How are authors
supposed to respond to critiques coming from all directions? Should they
even respond at all? Or should they confine their replies to the
conventional, more deliberative realm of conferences and journals? “The
speed of communication is ahead of the sheer time needed to think and
get in the lab and work,” said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a postdoctoral fellow
at the NASA Astrobiology Institute in Mountain View, California, and
the lead author on the arsenic paper. Aptly enough, she circulated that
comment as a tweet on Twitter, which is used by many scientists to call
attention to longer articles and blog posts.

and finally

To bring some order to this chaos, it looks as though a new set of
cultural norms will be needed, along with an online infrastructure to
support them.

The article then has a good discussion of where fast, open reviews have been tried as well has whether or not they worked.  It also outlines some interesting ways that social media and Web 2.0 are being integrated into the traditional infrastructure.  I’ll leave it for those interested in this sort of thing to have a closer look.

Web 2.0 And The Internet Are Changing The World — An Example From The Scientific Community

Here is an interesting case study that might be of interest to the Church Virtual/Open Source Church/Wiki Church types out there.  In watching this unfold in my professional life I found some interesting parallels in what happened with the reaction to this scientific discovery and what I think about regarding how the church does theology and polity in a Web 2.0 world.

While I want to focus here on the interaction that took place in the on-line world, let me briefly describe the announced scientific discovery behind this so that you have some context.

Back on December 2 a team of researchers associated with the NASA Astrobiology Institute published an interesting paper in Science magazine and held a press conference hosted by NASA to announce and discuss their results from bacteria they found in Mono Lake, California.  This bacteria appears to, at least partially, substitute arsenic for phosphorus in the chemical building blocks of the cell.  These building blocks could include enzymes and proteins.  There is a good discussion of the science related to this in articles from Wired, Science Daily, and a NASA article.  The abstract, but not the full article, is publicly available from Science. (Those readers in academic or research settings may have institutional access to the full article.) Interestingly, while researching this story I found an article from last Spring in The Times (of London) that has much of the scientific story at that time.  If you are not familiar with the biology and chemistry behind this you might not realize that, if the results hold up, this is a very significant scientific discovery.  At a minimum, they have discovered a life form that can live in an extreme, and normally very toxic, environment.

Well, this story went “viral,” if you will pardon the expression.  The press conference was streamed and, having been tipped off by a colleague that it was “going to be interesting,” I followed along and heard the news and the discussion.  There was plenty of coverage of the event across the news spectrum ( for example PC Mag, The Boston Globe, The Telegraph, just to name a few in addition to those above)  as well as the blogosphere (e.g. WeirdWarp, The Curious Wavefunction ).

Now, previous controversial discoveries raised a bit of professional chatter as well as some brief media attention and then usually disappeared from the radar to all except those who really cared.  (an example in a moment)  This announcement took a different path — five days later a widely publicized critique also went viral.  The original critique by Rosie Redfield appeared on her blog as a way, as she puts it, to clarify her thinking.  This was picked up by Slate and then spread to other blogs and developed a life of its own with one asking if this was a NASA publicity stunt and another wondering if this is “flim-flam.”  In short, the new Web 2.0 allowed for scientists to “wonder out loud” to both their colleagues and the public and media at large as well as providing a platform for the general public to discuss and weigh in on a discovery which was not necessarily in their realm of expertise.

Speaking of “not in your realm of expertise” let me comment briefly on my professional view.  As I suggest above the results are interesting.  A number of years ago I was a bit player in some research on the tufa towers in Mono Lake so the environment is not completely unknown to me.  It is a weird and wonderful place but the habitat harsh.  Anything that survives there will be interesting.  To me these bacteria are clearly a good subject to understand better.  On the other hand… I am strongly persuaded by the arguments of the critics and find the most radical conclusions about the arsenic substituting for phosphorus lacking the strong support I would look for regarding such a revolutionary conclusion.  To invoke Carl Sagan’s second best known quote: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

In short, what has happened here is that a tantalizing and potentially extraordinary discovery has been extracted from the “traditional” scientific process and is now “owned” by the greater on-line community through the ability to distribute the information to the whole world in real time and for the on-line community to be able to interact with it.

Whether you think that is a good thing or not we must accept that it is the new reality of our society.  If you want to make an announcement of an extraordinary discovery to the world, be prepared to have anyone out there weigh in, not just your colleagues in the small academic fishbowl of your discipline.

Consider two previous extraordinary announcements.  Back in 1989 there was a claim that nuclear fusion could be accomplished on a lab bench at low temperatures – the so-called “cold fusion.”  Because the experiment was simple and the researchers published their experimental setup, physicists everywhere were trying to reproduce it, all without success.  But what happened is that the theory did not go away but a few people continued looking at the possibility even if the original experiment was not verified. (article in Wired, Wall Street Journal

Another similar, and NASA connected, discovery was the announcement in 1996 of possible life preserved in a meteorite that originated from Mars.  The publication of this finding was also accompanied by a NASA news conference and picked up by the press.  But with a unique sample and without the web it left the skeptics in the general public without a forum for discussion or criticism.  Now, with time, the scientific community sees better explanations for what was seen in the original meteorite study, but like cold fusion a much lower profile search still continues. (Good backgr
ound info

Returning to the arsenic life debate, the topic was hot enough that there was a panel discussion at the American Geophysical Union meeting regarding, not the science, but the course the reaction had taken.  This was live streamed and I enjoyed watching and tweeting my thoughts as the discussion progressed.  However, if you are looking for other Twitter messages check out the hashtag #arseniclife and the tweets by Alexandra Witze, @alexwitze, a contributing editor to Science News.  Her coverage was very good.  Some of her more thought provoking tweets about the process (names in front are the speakers on the panel – listing available from the panel moderator’s blog):

Steele: Everyone has a voice now. Is this how science will be self
correcting on a much quicker timescale?

Petit: Information is good, and messy. The more we have, the more it
flows and more robust society is

Steele: Scientists shd have more responsibility to understand effect of
what they say to public.

Harris: Does refusing to engage in conversation ever help one’s case?
(Not that this happened here.)

Oremland: I think not engaging hurt us. Gave us appearance of being

Petit: Peer review worked fine. It put out a hypothesis that’s being
chewed on pretty hard.

Steele: If you stick to peer review process are you being elitist?

Sperling: there is a time needed to get things right. Blogosphere will
claim it’s about conversation, but they want scoop #arseniclife

Oremland: Point is about human response to things without time for

One final detail on this – while the researchers would have preferred to have responded in the traditional “comment and reply” format, the nature of the response in the blogosphere did persuade them to publish a non-traditional reply to the criticism that had been distributed.

Going forward it will be interesting to see how quickly these claims are verified or contradicted.  It will also be interesting to see how quickly the viral nature of this news dissipates.

Regarding what this means for any organization and it’s interaction with modern society and culture I encourage you ponder this case study and come to your own conclusions and lessons.  Having reflected on this for almost a month now, let me share a few things that come to mind.

1) The easier access to information and the ability to discuss it has changed society.  Just as Luther’s German Bible and the Authorized Version of the English Bible put God’s word in the language of the people, the Internet now puts all manner of information at our finger tips.

2) But maybe this information is too easily available.  As the final tweets suggest “there is a time needed to get things right” and time is needed for reflection.  Do we get information too fast to be able to put it in context and reflect on the meaning?  Do we get too much information to be able to process it properly?
3) What is the responsibility of those of us with formal training in these areas to others who are trying to figure out what is means?  How do we communicate if what we view as being responsible is viewed by the general population as being elitist?

4) What have 8-second sound bites, a 24/7 news cycle, and 140 character messages done to our ability to communicate and discuss complex or deep concepts?  Are we looking too quickly for the bullet point or the executive summary with out looking for what is behind it or how it fits into a bigger picture?

Anyway, those are questions that come to mind for me.  Your mileage may vary.  But have fun with it.

Thoughts On Twitter And Its Theological And Ecclesiastical Implications

“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
Blaise Pascal, (1623-1662) Lettres provinciales

OK, I’ll admit it, I am addicted to Twitter. (  That does not mean that I like it, only that I see its usefulness.

I started out thinking of it like this cartoon from last Sunday ( and to some degree still do.

(Other humorous references to Twitter include God tweeting creation and the twitter/knitting ban

I became addicted during the massive Station Fire and then was monitoring Twitter for the Sheep Fire. For up-to-date info it is great.

Another example is the coverage of the ordination examination for Lisa Larges at the San Francisco Presbytery #sfpby meeting last night.

Twitter provides a medium for distributed and mass reporting of developing news in real time as well as receiving it on mobile devices.

And that, for my purposes, is the real value of Twitter – that information and links about developing situations can be quickly distributed.

Professionally it is great for rapid notification about earthquakes. Now with three major earthquake sequences my feed has been very active.

What probably bugs me the most about Twitter is that the information then gets redistributed, or Re-Tweeted (RT) as they say in the medium.

RT’s serve a purpose because each RT spreads the important or interesting information to a new group of followers.

But when I am filtering a topic and a particularly popular post is RT’ed by a lot of people all the RT’s can quickly overwhelm the screen.

You end up with only a little signal in all the noise.  (My view of it.)

I have found it both impressive and frustrating the amount of information you can place in a carefully crafted 140 character message.

It is long enough to convey significant information, particularly if you include a link, but short enough to inhibit nuanced discussion.

More than once I have been frustrated that my Twitter comments have been misinterpreted because of the limits on fully developing an idea.

Sometimes 140 characters is just not enough- The ability to Tweet the essence of the Athanasian Creed being an exception

However, I can appreciate the value of widely broadcasting your ideas and the potential for immediate feedback.

In general, for serious theological discussions, I have trouble finding usefulness in exchanging information in 140 character packets.

But in the case of Twitter the medium has become the message, as Marshall McLuhan would say. It is the democratization of info distribution.

Anyone with an Internet connection can send news to anyone else in the world-no corporate news filter, only the 140 character limit.

(BTW-In case you missed it in the midst of the other two big anniversaries, the Internet also just turned 40

So, in a connectional church, does this mass interconnectedness of individuals change the hierarchical connections of our institution?

We are carrying to the logical conclusion the shift we have seen in the PC(USA) for the last several decades-we find identity around ideas.

In the “modern era” we have organized and advocated around affinity groups, but not strictly governed around them.

The 17th synod proposal would change that.

(And of course the caveats: previous splits created such affinity governing bodies;

The PC(USA) already has language non-geographic presbyteries, a form of affinity group;

And some may argue that certain geographic presbyteries have a strong affinity nature to them already.)

It strikes me that the increase in affinity groups was helped by many technological advances in communications and travel, not just Twitter.

But in this shift we are not becoming congregational in nature, although demographers say the church in general is becoming individualistic.

Consider the PC(USA) list of Advocacy Groups – Is that the direction governance in the PC(USA) is headed?

Churches in the mainline seem to have these groups – I’m not aware of other branches having this many groups.

(For differences in technology use by ethnic churches consider this article on web sites.)

Now I don’t attribute all this to Twitter, but it is the latest in the technologies that allow us to organize well on this granular scale.

I don’t know what this means for the future – friends tell me twitter is here to stay but they said that about usenet.

But the trend of technology has been to empower the individual (blogs, self-publishing) and to facilitate social networking.

I can only believe that the trend to communicate, coordinate, and organize outside of our current connectional structure will continue.

So maybe the question is not “Are we connectional?” but “In what ways are we being connectional?” and how that impacts our governance.

Oh ya, in case you are interested I do tweet occasionally as ga_junkie.

And if you did not figure it out, each of the lines in this post is 140 characters or less and therefore can be tweeted.

Technology has made the last minute even later

My posts to this blog have been a bit further apart this fall since I have been putting extra time into teaching.  And being a typical college professor, I’m not immune from waiting until the last minute on things.  Yesterday was the final exam for my class.  Exam was at 11:30 a.m.  I did a review of the test when I got into the office, started sending the one color figure to the color printer, and caught up on a bit of reading knowing that I had plenty of time to copy off the bulk of the exam.  What I did not count on was one of the department’s copiers being out of service.  When I started coping and discovered this at least I had just enough time to get it copied, assembled, and over to the exam room.  Barely.  Because of my taking technology for granted I was a bit rushed at the end, to say the least.

The effect of depending on technology and waiting until the last minute was even more pronounced today.  Next week is the biggest professional meeting of the year in my field.  I’m not going but part of my job is to help others get ready by helping them print out their poster presentations on a large format printer.  This used to be done as individual 8 1/2 x 11 pages with your text and figures tacked up on a bulletin board.  Now with large format printers you put it all on one 4′ x 6′  poster.  It makes setup and take down a lot easier at the meeting.

Well, because of the high percentage of the faculty and students in the department that go to the meeting we set up a schedule to use the printer.  When the schedule gets posted the latest times on Friday afternoon are the first ones to get claimed.  But there is now an alternative that allows you to put off the work even longer…  There is now a printing service at the meeting so if you have the cash you can wait even longer and get your poster printed just minutes before your session begins.  Not much more last minute than that.  I have had two other faculty members tell me today that they are not ready yet and someone else can have their printer times because they will print it at the meeting.

Coming in the middle of the Advent season I have thought of at least a dozen ways this could be a parable for our spiritual lives.  I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure some of these out for themselves.

But the other thing that this got me thinking about is technology in the church and how it has contributed to “instantaneous polity.”  For example, creating a Facebook group for your church — do you just do it, or run it by the session first.  Streaming or podcasting sermons — do you just do it, or is there some type of quality or content review to be sure it is appropriate for a world-wide audience.  Those of us that blog GA — I did the live blogging thing but afterwords I was pondering some questions of “what really did happen there?” because at the time my fingers were trying to keep up with the speaker’s comments and I was not always processing and analyzing as I went along.  And what about committee reports — with e-mail and word processors we are frequently putting the reports off to the last minute and reviewing and submitting them right before the meeting, because we can.

I have not been a big one for the “technology sabbath,” if for no other reason than Sunday afternoons are sometimes one of the few “empty” spots in my calendar, so I fill it up.  But my concern was raised recently when a medical study showed that children that grow up playing video games develop different neural pathways in their brains than those of us who did not grow up with video games.  Sorry, I have not found a link to that study yet, but I will point out that this week another study came out showing that video games help seniors keep their minds sharp.  Positives and negatives to any technology.

Anyway, some musings on the current trends in human response to technology.  I have made a commitment to continue the low level of blogging for the rest of December so that I can get some other reading done, spend time with family and not just in the same room as them, and think a bit about things.  See you next time.

PC Ireland Church Technology Camp Follow-up

About two months ago I posted about a summer camp the Presbyterian Church in Ireland holds for youth who are interested in technology.  Well, that camp happened last week and if you want a report on their activities you can check out the entries by Alan in Belfast, one of the organizers/leaders of the camp.  He currently has two posts, one about Day One, and another with some more of their Creative Activities.