scholarship that matters 800-328-4648 • fortresspress.com
NEW RELEASE FEBRUARY 2014
Publisher: Fortress Press
List Price: $29.00
Page Count: 126
Subjects: Christian Ministry and Preaching
FP: Congratulations on the publication of your book, Mediating Faith. Tell us about the journey that inspired this work. What was your motivation for writing it? What did you hope to achieve?
CS: I first became curious about faith formation and social media when I started exploring how bible study or other traditional types of formation processes in church life might take place in digitally-mediated contexts. It was clear to me, even from the very early days of Facebook (the early days when people my age were not allowed on Facebook) that formation was happening. The way we interact with each other shapes us in important ways. At about the same time, I became interested in a sub-field of cultural studies which is sometimes called media ecology. One of the leading lights in this field was the relatively famous Marshall McLuhan. I started devouring his works and others in the field. Eventually, my motivation for writing the book became the simple desire to bring the field of media ecology more directly into conversation with the conversation about faith formation in religious communities. What I wanted to achieve was simple to express, but difficult to practice: I wanted to raise our collective awareness of the effects of transitions to new media on the ways we are formed in faith. In addition, I wanted to awaken readers to the wide variety of ways, and the wide variety of media, through which formation happens, as well as some of the challenges and opportunities of these mediated environments.
FP: A quick search on Amazon will show that books on social media usage for congregations are plentiful. How does this book differ from other works on social media and the church?
CS: There are a lot of great books on the topic you mention, and I recommend them often, including Meredith Gould's The Social Media Gospel and Keith Anderson and Elizabeth Drescher's Click 2 Save and Craig Detweiler's iGods and Pete Ward's stuff on liquid church, to name just a few. I consider the authors of those books friends and partners in ministry. My book differs in that it isn't a "how-to" work per se, but instead looks phenomenologically at media effects. You could say it’s the philosophical cousin to more practical books on social media usage in the church. I analyze a lot of examples of ministry in mediated contexts (like MMORPGs, the catechumenate, Facebook, and more), but the focus is on trans-media effects. I am especially intrigued by how media form our brains neurologically, and how to think about the work of the Spirit in relationship new media.
FP: Which portion of the book was most challenging to write and why?
CS: I think the last chapter was the most challenging to write, because proposals on how to move forward are difficult when the media landscape is changing so quickly. There would be a risk of making recommendations, or describing realities, that would be passé even by the time of publication. It's also hard to predict the future when the future is coming so quickly towards us . . . and imagineering is always hard work, period. But I enjoyed lining out the three main proposals on beauty, sociality, and eschatology in that chapter, because I think they'll be fruitful for practitioners and theologians.
FP: In discussing beauty as grace you say that media that are graceful and beautiful in their composition result in new forms and practices of social justice. How does this come about?
CS: I'll give you an example I was just discussing with John Nunes today. John is the former President of Lutheran World Relief and now on faculty at Valparaiso University. The two of us had never met in person, but met in social media. In the social media context, our friendship has flourished and grown. I plan to be up at an event with him at Valparaiso the first part of February for a book signing. Both of us have many, many new friends now via social media, only some of whom we have ever met in person . . . but these friendships are deep and supportive. We find joy and camaraderie together. In some instances, we literally save each other's lives. Since I think friendship, real friendship, is a beautiful thing, the fact that some forms of new media open space for deep friendship, is simply outstanding. The fact that we can then in our friendship and networking bring about social justice and social change—that's even more incredible. Social media influence has leverage, and it makes a difference in the real world. How organizations like LWR raise money and awareness, or the new ways we all network, are examples of that.
FP: Should readers expect to find practical tips about how to engage new media for the congregation in these pages? If so, can you give us an example? If not, what should they expect to find instead?
CS: That's a great question. Yes, I think they can expect to find some practical tips, especially in story form. There's a whole chapter that describes the catechumenate, and how to implement it in congregational life. There are tips on how to do ministry in gaming environments, and the opening chapter on the effects of preaching on the brain of preachers will be especially interesting to the practically minded. On the other hand, this book is focused even more on helping us think clearly and well on our practices. So in that sense it is a meta-book on new media and congregational life.
FP: How would you respond to those churches who not only aren’t curious about new media forms but are in fact actively concerned about their impact?
CS: They're right to raise certain concerns. I identify and analyze many of those in the second chapter of the book on the neo-Luddites’ legitimate laments. However, I don't think fear or anxiety should ever drive our ministry, and I think many of the concerns people raise arise out of fear of the new, rather than faithful and joyous exploration of it. So I'd also say, "Hey, just play around some more. You might find some things in new media that are pretty amazing."
FP: You talk about how trans-media and especially social media bring about the flattening of society. How does flattening encourage and reconstruct the concept of a Christian life together?
CS: Because of social media, I have direct and immediate access to leaders in the church I didn't have access to ten years ago. I can have a Twitter conversation with bishops. I can immediately get to know and communicate with the author of a book I just read. I can message the CEO of Augsburg Fortress and hear back from her yet the same day. Similarly, parishioners in my congregation can post a note in our Facebook group and organize a book study of Nadia Bolz-Weber's Pastrix, and they don't have to go through me or any committee. They just post the invite, people respond, and away they go. This is flattening that widens access and creates many new kinds of community and life together. The flattening also encourages us to think that we really are all in this together. We're brothers and sisters together on a journey, and we have access to each other through these mediated contexts.
FP: What is the one thing you hope readers walk away having grasped after reading?
CS: That media layers rather than replaces, and that awareness of how this works can give us new insights into the leading of God's Spirit in a trans-media era. I'd also, if I am allowed to have one other thing, like readers to realize there is a big mission field immediately accessible to them, and it's on their computer, in their social network. You don't even have to leave home to be a missionary. Just create an avatar on Second Life.
FP: You are a pastor as well as a well-known blogger and social media personality. How has your own experience with new media informed your ministry? How has it informed this book?
CS: A lot of my connections for ministry in the local context take place via social media, for one. Almost everyone (though not absolutely everyone) who is active in our congregational life is also on Facebook or at least e-mail. We connect in those environments frequently. However, those digitally mediated connections enhance and strengthen our face-to-face congregational ministry. So I organize our catechumenate using Facebook groups and messaging, but all in the service of preparing for the next Sunday night meal and study. New media has also widened the scope of what I attend to. I know clergy and church leaders from all over because of new media that I wouldn't have known as well or at all in a previous era. This is neither better nor worse than previous eras, just different. I happen to enjoy it.
FP: The world of social media, and our interactions with it, is changing fast. What are you most curious or confused about as you look at the landscape in 2014?
CS: Can church take place completely on-line? Will transitions to new media mean that how we all connect, and how we all are connected, will change so dramatically in the next few years that we have to think completely differently about social interaction? I don't know for sure, but I think possibly yes. I'm most curious about fostering some forms of Christian faith formation that take place exclusively in digitally mediated environments. I also wonder, is anything ever going to be bigger than Facebook? Or will the shift we see among youth and young adults towards micro-communities shatter and transform Facebook as we know it? Facebook is very aware of this—just see what they did with Instagram and messaging this year . . . but it remains to be seen what that transition will look like.