I hear that the Comms people at Methodist Church House are busy setting up the open review promised in the Council decisions. Toby and Anna have been in meetings all day today but I had a saunter through Church House and managed a brief chat about progress. As usual they have their ears to the ground and are asking the right kind of questions. Watch this space and other Methodist blogs to see when the process kicks off officially.
Meanwhile, ever the enthusiast, Dave Warnock has started his own unofficial review process which he is going to tie into the official Comms review. Dave and Comms are going to make the process as Web 2.0 compatible as possible - in other words interactive, real and progressive. David Faulkner and David Hallam and Richard Hall have made their own contributions to the clammer for positive action.
Of course, what needs to happen for this to be a properly open process is for lots of people to be involved. And I pray that happens. I've signed up to Dave's process and will engage with it - have you and will you?
However, it is increasingly clear for me that the final paper is going to have to appease a number of different constituencies and those constituencies actually have quite a different grasp on reality, on the purpose of social media, even on our understanding of 21st century anthropology.
Let me construct a possible alternative reality based on a few characters:
1. Drew Flaky - pioneer in training, into alternative worship, tech savvy, facebook, left Twitter for her dad to play with, good following on myspace and a flickr spirituality group, exploring how microsoft natal can be combined with Ignatian spirituality. Can't understand what you need guidelines for when the net is so open and why do ministers have to cover up their true emotions anyway - haven't you read "I Avatar" and "Church of Facebook" yet?. Blogs all the time on her inner emotions and angst about the church, and encourages her congregation to share their feelings openly at their Second Life chapel where they regularly hang out (virtually) dressed in swimwear, lounging in deck chairs, drinking Bloody Marys and chewing the fat. She thinks regulations are the whole problem with the church - we are so internalised and repressed. If only we'd be real with one another, the church would be a much happier place, coming of age in fact,init!
2. Dave Newgeek - just your average local preacher cum circuit steward cum secondary school teacher. Enjoys going on Twitter to share his whereabouts with his geeky friends. Not really got facebook - and what's myspace, second life and all that? Is a member of some internet forums where he hangs out with the same kind of people and they all know each other really well. Likes amateur radio. Thinks the church really should have a better website and was pleased to see that his views were backed up by thechurchtimesblog which he stumbled on when searching the internet for 'make the best church website dot com". Thinks that regulations are a really good thing because we don't want people to be hurt by nasty freaks on the web. The church has a really good opportunity to make a big impact for Jesus on the web - haven't you read Kingdom Connected yet, dude?.
3. Frank Andrude - angry Gen X minister, bullied by his church (who think they are bullied by him and that he deserves a bit of his own treatment), member of some egroups and fora where he shares some pastoral concerns with his fellow ministers as well as a good deal of Gen X angst. Sees the internet as a place to vent his anger, to show how much he could change the world if only those prats at the top would stop messing with his world. On facebook but finds himself sneering at all those stupid updates people put on there. Couldn't care less if someone gets angry (or, more importantly, hurt) by one of his posts, after all he is hurting and hurting is part and parcel of his reality. If you can't take the heat get out of the kitchen! Blogging is for wimps - much better to get down the pub and do some proper mission.
4. Betty Pastroll - facebook and twitter and St Pixels are wonderful tools for sharing the grace of the Lord Jesus, only the other day she managed to enter into this really good conversation with a young Gothic girl who needed to know more of the love of Jesus and they are now in regular email conversation sharing verses from the Bible and praying and supporting one another over the internet. Its really important to keep the internet a clean place and Betty makes sure that all her filters are on (Mr Newgeek's twelve year old son who lives next door but one came and helped her set it all up). Betty loves how much access she can get to the Bible and other devotional aids and thinks it is only sensible for members of all the churches to use the internet to tell people how much Jesus loves everyone - What Would Jesus Blog?
5. Chad Ittional - can't really see why people would want to write a blog and put up all that personal stuff on the web. Is clearly quite a reserved person, spiritual and meditative - an introvert who often has to play at being the extrovert. And as for the invasion of worship with technology - what has powerpoint to do with the liturgy? Loving, caring, but realises the need to place protection around the weak and threatened and to alert people to the danger which loose talking can do. Much better to spend time in a disciple group sharing our sins in band than typing in front of computer anyway. There are so many dangers here - dragons indeed!
Please note that these portraits are fictions! They are not real people and if they appear to be like anyone you know, I'm sorry, I tried to make them as unrealistic as possible! In fact, I really hope you see different parts of yourself in each person?
Notice there are no ages attached. I was talking to someone about this post earlier today and they suggested that what I was talking about was generational. I don't think it is. It's true that younger people are more prone to understand and make use of technology. I am amazed at the stuff some younger people share on facebook and msn. I mean, it's not bad, isn't dangerous, fits well within safeguarding recommendations - just personal stuff which I wouldn't share openly, wouldn't go to that level. On the other hand, there are other young people who wouldn't use social media to reveal anything about themselves and indeed keep themselves well off the web. And the same split goes for all the ages - middle, advanced, silver surfers... It might be something to do with our adoption of the digital world. Tapscott talks about digital natives, digital immigrants and digital exiles. If you wanted to categorise the people you might say Drew is the digital native; Dave, Frank and Betty digital immigrants; and Chad the digital exile. But it's more than that - it's also about levels of openness to the society in which we live and how indigenised we are and how much we perceive the church as imbedded within culture or set against culture - all part of the glorious gospel/culture debate but also in different perceptions of humanity itself. Do we see the Church as a closed group set apart from the world or a group immersed in the world and engaged with that world where much worse things happen than people writing dodgy things on blogs.
There's more to it than that of course. Blogging and the immediacy of the internet is changing the way we are human beings - we are becoming homo digitalis! An inside out kind of humanity, a radically equal and tyrannically exclusivist humanity (see Dawkins and his merry men), a humanity which revels in technology so much that the technology has become invisible, a humanity which is closer to the virtual than to our neighbours, where the real and the virtual have so much and so little in common. Homo sapiens, saps, pre-digitals who rely on stored knowledge in their heads rather than wikis, can't get digis and the digis wonder whether saps were around with the dinosaurs. Of course, the saps have all the power - they've been running the church/world for ages. A few digi-saps 'have gotten' into the corridors of power and are mixing things up and encouraging more digis to come on board. But for the time being, the conversations reflect a different mentality to the new humanity. Instead of interactivity, of wikinomics, of transparency, of openness, of Web 2.0, of googlopolies and webeconomy of 'We Think" and "Everyone's Coming", we focus on management theory and hierarchy and guidelines and controls.
Digis, of course, have always been accused of being unorthodox, heretics, outsiders, without warrant and control. They put all manner of things all over the place and hurt so many people and if only we could wave a piece of paper in their faces everything would be OK. On the other hand, digis might be prophets of a new reality and prophets always find it difficult to make their home at home. But the fact is that most digis are good, grace-filled people trying to make their way with Jesus in an increasingly hostile world - just like the best of the saps. And among both saps and digis there are the hurt and the hurting - those that need to be protected from themselves and from others. There are the tormentors and the stupidly blunt! The harshest of Franks, without any doubt, need to be shown how to live with a lot more grace, not least since they make life almost intolerable for both Chads and Drews. Chads want to clamp down on them with legislation while Drew cannot engage even more with the digital world because Frank has made everyone so anxious about the whole thing.
But the point is that those kind of people are everywhere in every culture and part of the grace that good saps, digis and digisaps need to show is in calming them and sharing grace with them and hearing what they have to say and helping them to say in it in such a better way.
That's why I applaud the Methodist Council for making the values-based argument as the main public face of the Social Media guidelines. Because I continue to believe that it is values we need to change - hearts that need to be converted. We need to focus less on law and more on grace or we've lost the plot of the gospel! And if there are people who persist to hurt, to malign, to commit libel or slander or simply act in an inhumane way - then Matthew 18 gives a good approach and it is modelled in our own complaints and discipline process. But grace and conversion and gospel and listening first please.