The Complete #MediaLit17 Chronicles

This week I have been fortunate to take part in the CODEC Annual Conference MediaLit 2017.

We have covered an array of topics with a variety of speakers with different passions and areas of expertise.

And I have Chronicled my experience of this the whole way through, to intentionally engage with the conference in a digital way. I have really enjoyed doing this and have had some great feedback and responses.

And so, without any further ado, the #MediaLit17 Chronicles


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 1: Introduction

This week, as an Ordinand at Cranmer Hall in Durham, I have the privilege of being able to attend this years CODEC conference ‘MediaLit’.

This looks to be a full on week of lectures, seminars, and presentations looking at how we can engage with theology and digital culture. Some of the themes include: Digital Theology; Communicating Faithfully; Interviews (by the media etc) and Worship; Digital, Culture, Expression; and, Future Casting. These themes are the headings for each day this week.

We will be starting with a session led by Rev Andy Byers now so I better go!

I hope to post some short reflections throughout the week so check back for more, or check out the hashtag #MediaLit17 on Twitter for comments from others.


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 2: Theomedia

Andy Byers has been giving a passionate presentation on the idea of Media and the role it plays in influencing us (with some interesting diagrammatic presentations of the weight of influences across different christian traditions).

He’s written a book, Theomedia, which seems to be the basis of this session.

Theomedia on Amazon

This has been shaped by the various and real pastoral concerns which have arisen from the developing technologies and the fast paced digital culture which ‘changes every month’ — making it hard for our theology to remain relevant.

He highlighted some amusing but serious parental scenarios too. How do we respond when our children ask in the car on the way to the store if they can download Snapchat? Or what about Minecraft?

Theomedia intended to set out to develop a central framework which could adapt to different and ever new scenarios.

The two main arguments are that God Himself Uses Media; God is a god of revelation, after all. If this is the case then there must be a way of developing a theo-logic by which we can understand and use media today.

And, Christians are called to Media Saturation. The primary media which we are to saturate ourselves with is the media of God, and as such we are to be a media for God.

Interesting stuff so far! Next, to explore how this works through the salvation history given in the Bible.


One of the reviews for his book on Amazon says: “This is probably the best book I have read yet on digital media and Christian faith and I commend it to you. It both lays out a theological framework for understanding new media and provides a challenge to each of us to be equipped and saturated by the media of God: TheoMedia.”

#MediaLit17 Chronicles 3: The Digital Revolution

Andy Byers was fantastic, do check out his TheoMedia book . Now we’ve moved on to the Digital Revolution with Tallie Proud — the digital media officer for the Church of England.

Currently hearing an array of interesting stats and figures surrounding social media. Everything ranging from the 93 million selfies taken a day (my contributions can be found here), to the fact that Facebook owns 4 of the top five most downloaded apps; Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Messenger. The fifth is Snapchat.

Generally a positive assessment of the situation, with the ‘power of hashtags’ being celebrated while acknowledging the advertising underbelly that powers social media.

I would be curious to explore Facebook and Twitter’s role as editor/publisher and the issues around suppressing hashtags and so on, especially with Zuckerberg’s increased likelihood of attempting a presidential run in the future.

However, having acknowledged the new digital world which we are immersed within we have to face the reality that it requires businesses and churches to transform how they engage with it in order to keep up.

One of the big problems is that we can only consume a small proportion of all the available content out there. So when it comes to our own content we have to try and be effective and make sure that it’s good. There’s also the balance imposed by the principle of diminishing returns; how much effort goes into quality of an ephemeral piece of content?

Livestreaming is one of the big arenas which is being engaged with. I’ve written about Facebook Live before. The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a significant number of views of various bible studies and trips which has been a great opportunity for the Church of England.

Facebook owns no content, Uber owns no vehicles, AirBnB owns no properties. This is the sharing economy and it’s huge.

Proud has moved on to talk about the Internet of Things, though I’ll admit with a more positive and expectant view of what will happen and be possible than I would personally anticipate.

This is quickly running from wearable tech through to smart tattoos, 360 filming and Virtual Reality. The possibilities of Virtual Reality will be ‘amazing’, we could include those who can’t make it to church services in our services. I write with an underlying sense of hesitation. The age old ethical conundrum of the relationship between ability to perform and morality of actions seems particularly pertinent.

Provoking some interesting conversations in the room around similar issues. What if? How about?

It seems that once a feature is made available, the morality shifts from should we do X to how we do X.

The conversation has now moved onto Artificial Intelligence. This isn’t the future, it’s the present (depending on how you define it I suppose). They can learn more and more about you. This comes into our homes through Amazon Echo with Alexa, and it will grow with the new Google Home .

Overall, an interesting session, if filled more with information about a variety of technologies than any sustained argument.

I personally find the inevitability (and acceptance of that inevitability) somewhat disheartening. It seems like the future was made yesterday and the panopticon reality becomes ever more pervasive — a reality which has been decried morally as ‘a lost cause’.

Kate Bruce ended with a helpful challenge to reflect on how the TheoMedia principles Andy shared with us earlier might help us to engage with this technological reality. Does it have to be dystopian? Or can it be redeemed?


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 4: Tech for Comms

Lunch was pretty tasty and it was lovely to get to know some of the other delegates a bit, and I look forward to getting to know them better throughout the week.

This next session is a bit more practically focused with Ian Britton from Premier Radio. He’s started by demonstrating the quality of interviews it’s possible to produce using nothing more than a mobile phone. One piece of software he recommends is the free Audacity program, which I can testify is quite good as I’ve used it to prepare the pieces I’ve uploaded to Soundcloud.

The rest of this session is so hands on it would be hard for me to write about with any degree of accuracy — but it’s all helpful stuff!


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 5: Could AI have souls?

The afternoon session concluded after having talked through a variety of different practical solutions for using technology in church or for podcasting and vlogging. Then we transitioned into evening prayer, done via the Church of England app or website. There was also the option to tweet a prayer if wanted during this.

I tweeted this:

We will be doing this throughout the week, but my initial experience was that interacting with the laptop during prayer meant that I didn’t feel as naturally present to prayer as I would normally. I’ll see how it goes during the week.

After dinner our evening session has been to think about whether or not a sentient AI would have a soul or not. This prompted a very interesting discussion, which has been helped by all watching the first episode of Humans.

These conversations were very preliminary, and raised more some of the assumptions which we make in discussing these topics. For instance, we discussed whether or not humans are mind body soul, or whether we are a holistic integrated part which couldn’t easily be divided. The import of this was the question as to what would the nature of an AI’s soul be? Is the soul a metaphysical construct which could spontaneously arise as a reality which is actually present though not materially inherent within the material structure of whatever network an AI would have that would serve as a brain.

There was some discussion as to whether pursuing AI was morally okay given the potential to be making them in ‘our image’ as God made us in his. We also talked around the idea of other sentient non-humans, such as dolphins and, controversially, angels.

The evening was an enjoyable time exploring and pondering on some different topics and ideas, and Humans looks to be a great show — I might have to watch the rest of the series sometime.


Forgot to hit ‘publish’ last night, hence posting this morning! The next theme is ‘Communicating Faithfully’ and the morning sessions will be brought to us by Pete Phillips, director of CODEC.


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 6: Communicating Faith

We’ve opened with the following video:

and used Poll Everywhere to compile one of those word diagrams where the most common word was the largest — and that word was impossible.

This prompted an interesting discussion where people responded in the main positively. It was cool, it was endearing, it was inspirational. However, as I pointed out, at it’s core it’s about not being what you are. It’s not about the ostrich being the fastest and best ostrich it can be, instead it’s about the ostrich not being what it is or, perhaps more accurately, being more than what it naturally is.

Pete Phillips then drew on this parable by Soren Kierkegaard:

“A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with high walls around it. Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk. One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. ‘My fellow travellers on the way of life,’ he would say, ‘can you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence?
I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded and tucked into our sides, as we are content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.
The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. ‘How poetical,’ they thought. ‘How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.’ Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with? Often he reflected on the beauty and the wonder of life outside the barnyard, and the freedom of the skies.
And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher’s message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!”

Kierkegaard used this to talk about the church, but Pete suggested that it might be helpful to think about this in relation to technology too.

This segued nicely into some theology of God as the God who speaks, as the Logos. Before John wrote about the Logos, Plato wrote about thinking and the development of arguments. Socrates said that writing was bad and would be the end of true knowledge. The reluctance to embrace technology is nothing new.

Reading Papers on a Train

Pete the expounded his understanding of the imago deiand how this makes us inherently communicative and relational creatures. This remains true, but technology often seems to shut us off from one another. However Pete thinks that this is nothing new; look at this picture for example. Or think about how easy it is to get lost in a book.

For Pete, all of ‘this is a technological shift which started in the garden of Eden’.

The room then had an interesting conversation around the nature of communication. Is silence communication? If the image of God is relational, does that mean God can’t help himself but speak? Is the difference between thought, spoken and written word one of degree or ontology — for Pete it would seem to be one of degree.

One principle of technology which McLuhun espouses which is relevant here is the idea that developments in technology are always about extending our ability to perform an action. A bike lets us go further, a telephone lets us communicate over further distance etc etc.

This has resulted in a shift in culture of communication. We are in the transitional phase between a top-down hierarchy — one person speaks from a stage or a platform and the others listen — to a more horizontal, interconnected and egalitarian mode of communication — through social media and so on.

Communication, simplistically, works like this diagram. However for it to work effectively there has to be an overlap between the experience of both the Sender and the Receiver. Pete used the example of people speaking in different languages being a non-shared experience which hinders communication. In order to communicate effectively we have to encode our thoughts in language in such a way as to be decoded by the hearer. Last night in our session on Do AI have Souls we had a dis-communication. Pete intended to ask ‘Is God interested in non-human sentient beings, such as AI’ but the way he phrased the question — Do AI have souls? — meant that the systematic theologians in the room, myself included, took the conversation off in a different direction. This was a perfect example of the process of encoding and decoding which happens during our communication.

The underlying principle is that because we’re communicative relating people our words don’t need to contain the perfected meaning (and in fact can’t), but rather need to forge a connection between our common experience in such a way as to promote a dialogue of clarification and explaining. The example given was that of a sermon. A sermon doesn’t need to be completely understood, but should inspire a hearer afterwards to come up and say ‘tell me more’.

As we think about digital communications one of the main questions we need to engage with is the question of the speed of communication. In the rime of Robin Hood (stories) there were roughly two million people in the UK. Now we have over 2.55 million people in Manchester alone and everyone is interconnected via the internet.

In Humans last night we saw that an android responded to a question of overclocking by saying that it could damage or impair their ability to process. Pete wonders if we might experience something similar with the rapid pace of our communications now. This prompted some interesting reflections.

We concluded the session by watching this Church of England Video

(Don’t feel like you need to watch the whole 7 and a half minute video!)

The purpose was to contrast this video with the Samsung Ostrich Advert at the start. One is emotional, inspiring and engaging. The other one is the Church of England.

Humm.


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 7: Communication and the Arts

Time for Lunch now it’s One O’Clock, but first we had a promising session with Jim Craig, who was Chaplains to the Arts in Gateshead and is now Chaplain to Guy’s Campus, Kings College London.

Arts chaplaincy is something which has been explored to an extent by various people as an aspect of their ministry. However Jim was the only full time chaplain to the arts in the Church of England as a pioneer minister. This was filled with it’s own unique challenges — not least ensuring its funding and demonstrating its value.

Jim is open and honest about the difficulties that can face pioneer ministers; pioneer ministry is incredibly valuable, but so do is the support they get to do that ministry.

His own ministry seems to be deeply rooted in his own ‘primordial’ conviction of truth as word and imagery.

The opening slide looked very much like a gallery, fitting in with his work in Gateshead which involved turning part of a church into a gallery which in turn attracted people to it which ordinarily wouldn’t have any connection with the church.

The origins of the word Chaplain apparently stems from the story of St Martin, a soldier who came across a naked beggar and cut off some of his cloak to clothe the man. This painting depicts it, even though it’s not the one which Jim used in his presentation (I couldn’t find that one). The cloak was called a cappella — a little cloak. This was then looked after by a cappellanus, as it was in Latin. In french this became chapelain, leading us to our word chaplain. So a chaplain means a bearer of the little cloak of St Martin; or, as Jim Described it, they are the Keeper of the Cloak of Compassion.

We turned to look at the Apostle Paul and observed that chaplains are to go where the Spirit leads; and that can sometimes be quite unexpected, just as in Act 16:7 — ”…and when they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not permit them”.

Another image which helps us think about chaplaincy is that of triage. Triage is all about getting the injured to the right place for treatment. Just so, chaplaincy isn’t just a stand alone ministry but engages with people where they are and helps assist them get to the Church, and, more importantly, Jesus. The idea of service was implicitly very strong here too. Following this Jim referred to Nouwen’s notion of the Wounded Healer. He shared the quote:

What came together for me in this image was the realisation that the secret of ministry consists of two things; first, the faithful tending of one’s own woundedness, and second, the willingness to move to the aid of another and make the fruits of one’s own woundedness available to others.

One person he encountered during his training in Durham inspired him to take a similar approach; to offer to join in the stories of others rather than to invite them to join in with our story. Several in the room shared some helpful insights born of their own experiences. Rose made a comment which particularly resonated with me.

I realised that we can’t love people professionally. We are called to be human alongside others in their situations.

I asked her about it and it arose out of her experiences of hospital chaplaincy which has led her to reflect on how we find Christ in the Hospital Ward and on her belief that simply being human is our best gift in ministry, and that when we are most human that is when we come closest to the divine.

A couple of times the idea of making space came up. Jim took us back to Genesis and to the creation of the land; the most primordial instance of creating a space safe from the chaos of the waters which covered the world. This metaphor of creating space can be done in the gallery, in conversations on the streets, to actively listen to the people we encounter and let them lead us on their pilgrimage rather than presuming how that should look.

We paused for a brief coffee break before resuming, turning from the chaplaincy element to focus more on the arts themselves.

Jim was remarkably engaging and interesting to listen to when he was talking about how different people engage with art. To engage with imagination is to explore unlearning a perspective, just for a moment, to look at things afresh. Imagination is always responding to an invitation; Jesus’ primary communication was the parables — an invitation to imagination. We can find it hard to do this. Imagination is such a free space that it can be hard to guide people into it because of our tendency to want to be secure, to be in control of whats happening. To Jim Jesus is one part God, one part teacher, one part artist (as aspects of his identity, no christological heresy intended!) — he doesn’t march into a crowd and deliver a lecture. He tells a parable, a story and then people respond and say ‘what was that about then?’ and then he would teach them.

The Gospel in a nutshell is invitation, no coercion.

Jim proceeded to share with us a variety of examples of the kinds of things that they did in Gateshead, ranging from ‘Urban Halos’ to getting street artists to create murals based on the Lindisfarne Gospels when they had them in the area. One of the moments of joy was seeing children use prayer stalls to lean on to draw. The idea that we can open the church up to enable people to engage with their own creativity and that this will help them to feel comfortable in what can seem like an uncomfortable, unfamiliar environment.

One of the interesting observations Jim made was that the churches we have now were decorated and designed in a spirit of sacramental creativity. What, then, can we do in the same spirit today? When artists visited, the first thing they saw was a gift — the gift of space. One of the difficult balances was negotiating the fear of what could be lost by the community which encouraging the optimistic eye for potential from the artists outside of the church community.

I was reminded of having recently watched the Get Down on Netflix when he started talking about graffiti and street art, and the elements of sometimes quite profound truth which can be found in unexpected places. To return to the theme of Andy Byers’s talk about TheoMedia, we must always allow for God to speak truth through the absurd, unexpected and ‘non-churchy’ forms of media.

The session started coming to a close by looking at a portion of this fascinating TEDX Columbus talk by Cindy Foley, it’s worth a watch as we think about what is art?

Teaching art or teaching to think like an artist? | Cindy Foley | TEDxColumbus
“I have been amazed to see how easy it is to get people over the participationgap with compassion”. — Jim

This session has been one of my favourites so far, I think. It has been great to reflect on how creativity can lead to effective communication as we faithfully encounter God and bring that encounter to the people we meet.



#MediaLit17 Chronicles 8: Presentations — Part 1

One of the cool things about this conference is that everyone gets the opportunity to present a reflection on something to do with the interconnection of theology and digital media. Unfortunately they’re too many of us to do it in one group so I’ll only get to see half the presentations, including giving my own (on Thursday in Part 2).

Briefly, we had presentations on:

Who is my Neighbour?

Faith in Film

Making Disciples in the online sphere: is it possible?

  • Internet is the debating chamber of the modern era, such as Twitter
  • The Church has been good at proclamation online.
  • The Great Commission is preach and baptise and make disciples.
  • Twitter and Vlogging strategies
  • Story of Vlogger-Musician Tom Law who found social media robbed joy of life.
  • No: Limits to number of people can connect meaningfully with
  • Yes: People we can’t meet in other ways, boundaries are good, opportunity to model pattern of living

The Role of Media in the Persecuted Church

  • Introduced Elim Churches Satalite TV shows for those in Iran (where 30M have access to Satalite TV and radio where it is illegal).
  • Variety of different programs from Bible studies to children’s shows to help disciple and encourage Christians.
  • We watched a video behind the scenes of one of the Kids shows.
  • Lot’s of material was translated from US/UK materials. Challenge to make relevant to children in an Islamic context.
  • We watched a Testimonial Video which was very moving

This was it for today, but there will be more on Thursday’s slot.

Now it’s time for coffee and then some personal reflection before prayer and dinner followed by An Evening with Kate and Jim.


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 9: An Evening with Jim and Kate

Our evening’s fun and games tonight takes the form of an informal interview/conversation between Jim and Kate. We’re all sat with a pint or a glass of wine and enjoying some snacks and nibbles while the conversation drifts mainly around chaplaincy at Guy’s Campus, King’s College and, later, the role and place of humour in the Church.

I won’t try and capture the essence of the flow of conversation but I will take the opportunity to share some highlights and moments which seem either particularly poignant, interesting or even, heaven forbid, funny!

One thing which was interesting is the balance between recognising a pastoral need in a community, and the community not necessarily knowing how to access that pastoral support. As such the integration of the chaplain or pastoral worker into the situation in such a way that they can actually minister is something which needs to be negotiated, often through forging a relationship with someone to bridge the gap. It’s easy to say, but can be hard to do.

Jim recently did some stand up comedy stuff in a Waterstones in Tottenham Court Road in Waterstones — a bookshop with a bar!

Kate shared her experience of writing a script and doing an open mic with a dog collar. One of the challenges which she has faced of the pressure to be ‘the church’s jester’. The purpose of communicating like this is to connect with people who we are unlikely to connect with at a Church, not to ‘preach to the choir’.

One of her stories was of a time when she was doing a set in a slightly sketchy pub, and, to the audience’s surprise, made people laugh. Afterwards a young man asked for a selfie because, ‘My Dad would never believe that a Vicar would come to our club!’

One person rightly observed that comedy isn’t the preserve of the comedian. The key is banter in the work place for any Christian who wants to connect with others. Doesn’t need to be specific jokes but more a willingness to be open to genuine connection without necessarily having to lead those conversations to issues of faith.

There was a lot more discussed but it would be hard to outline. However, it was a stimulating conversation, and the beer didn’t hurt either!


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 10: Interviewing Theory

Today we kick off with a morning of sessions on being interviewed, either radio or television; presented by Canterbury Diocese’s Director of Communications — Anna Drew. The morning starts with a look at the theoryand then later we will give it a go ourselves.

The first example was the Lord Pearson interview where it ended:

The interview ends like this:

Sopel: Have you read your manifesto?
Lord Pearson: Of course.
Sopel: Really.
Lord Pearson:Yup.
Sopel: You don’t seem very familiar with it.
Lord Pearson: I haven’t remembered it all in great detail. I didn’t come on to talk about this sort of thing.
Taken from the NewStatesman

This is a prime example of giving a bad interview!

One element to be aware of is the disparity between the agenda of the interviewer and your own agenda; how do you get to say what you intend to say when they want you to say what they think will fit their intended narrative.

Posture is also important — particularly for television.

The next example was this interview in 2009 of Lord Mandelson by Andrew Marr:

This was held up as a great interview under pressure, regardless of what you think about his politics. However, the response in the room was more divided. Some felt that he was being insincere and slippery, while others felt that he was being reasonable and calm. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

There was a good conversation surrounding the dynamics of public apologies for mistakes. If you can manage that well, then people are more likely to trust you. But, as one person pointed out, this didn’t work so well for Nick Clegg following the failed tuition fee pledge. Anna explained that it helps to understand the degree to which ownership can be asserted over the mistake.

The messiness of the church is not always easy to manage in communication terms. — Anna Drew

It was fascinating to observe people’s reactions to the interview and the ways in which their own personal preconceptions influenced the way in which they perceived Lord Mandelson’s actions and attitude. Anna helpfully noted that this slick presentation worked very well in 2009 but probably wouldn’t work well in 2017 (at which point someone coughed, “Trump!”)

Anna suggested that there was an interesting clash between Mandelson as a person and in his role in this interview, which shaped his priorities; which he was actually successful in communicating.

Church PR has a very different focus to normal PR practice. The reputation of the church only matters in so far as it serves the mission of the church, but the reputation of the Church doesn’t need to be defended at all costs. Presumably this means that there are situations where the Church has to own its mistakes and failures.

The session moved on to the 9 commandments of interviews

  1. Don’t be rude. Ever.
  2. Don’t lie or guess.
  3. Smile (if appropriate) [Even on the radio!]
  4. Prepare and Practice.
  5. Know: What? When? Where? Why?
  6. Be yourself.
  7. Get Dressed. [To your shoes, will help psychologically].
  8. Speak English. [Not jargon].
  9. Think: What’s the worst that could happen?! [Identify weaknesses and prepare for them]

This last rule was illustrated with this great clip: Baldrick’s Law. Identify what you bullet will be and make sure that you’re as protected as you can be. It’s a humorous but important point, and this will help you remember!

Bridging

  • Give shortest possible answer
  • Bridge: repeat the question and then segue into your topic
  • Give your key message, illustrated by an example
  • “That’s an important point but a more pressing one is…”

Smart Statistics

  • Use pictures, make the number imaginable
  • Eg: Five Football Fields, 9/10 Cats, a population the size of London

Soundbites

  • Strong and stable
  • For the many not the few
  • Hardworking citizens
  • etc

3 is the magic number

  • Using the rule of three is an effective way of communicating
  • Eg: Planes, trains and automobiles; Education, Education, Education

Tell a story!

  • Make it personal
  • Why does it matter?
  • Why does it matter to you?

We then watched this brilliant interview with Richard Ayoade:

#Hillarious yet profound

No one was going to advertise his book but him, so to sell himself he just was himself; and this created an entertaining and engaging interview.

And that brings us to the end of this particular session, though after a break we will return to get some practice doing interviews. So the next post will be this afternoon to do with multimedia liturgy.


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 11: Multimedia Liturgy

Anna Drew’s session was invigorating and good fun! Now we move to another Anna, the articulate Anna Norman-Walker with Fr Simon Randall to explore the concept of Multimedia Liturgy.

Anna’s background comes out of a ministry at Exeter Cathedral.

Exeter Cathedral

Anna’s brief was to do education and outreach based from the Cathedral. The cathedral offers well done liturgy in a more choral style which attracts a particular kind of person. Elsewhere in the city there were churches who were doing great things with more non-liturgical, band led worship which were doing well with younger people. However, Anna’s question was how do we make the most of the more contemplative style of worship? Around the same time they were beginning to think around social justice; building a relationship with a small local mosque, doing some work with homeless people, and trying to develop the education and outreach side of things.

When figuring out the audience which they were addressing they looked at culture and found that these characteristics seemed to encapsulate what they encountered:

  • Experiential — even if we would rather avoid making everything about feelings, we can’t deny the reality of the fullness of our experience. SO when preparing the service they wanted to create an element of flexibility which would prompt people to wonder, positively, ‘what am I in for tonight?’
  • Multi-sensory — Things like flower tributes at the spot of accidents is a relatively new phenomenon, which Diana was a catalyst for. People like to do something tangible. Exeter Cathedral, even as a relatively small one, raises about £22,000 in donations each year in the voluntary donation boxes by tea lights. People find lighting candles incredibly helpful, it enables people to ‘flirt’ with prayer (my word, not Anna’s) if they’re not comfortable with praying or it can lead people into a moment of spiritual significance.
  • Suspicious — People can be wary of things which seem ‘religious’.
  • Global — Didn’t want to be naval gazing but rather to have the same kind of global perspective which is easier than ever to have given our usage of the internet and so on.
  • Networked — Many people would visit the website before they attended the building in person.
  • Vulnerable — they recognise how, particularly millennials, can be unsure of their futures. One person said ‘We know where we come from, but we don’t know where we’re going’. It is this same principle which seems to underlie the strong support Corbyn received from young people.

There was some helpful exploration surrounding the importance of ownership of worship initiatives; mission statements and principles should arise from communities rather than being imposed on them.

Out of this came a description of the Holy Ground worship space at Exeter Cathedral. Worth checking the website out to learn more.

Anna shared a story about a service where they used a video game within worship which enabled people to control the visuals on the screen as part of a reflection on the Holy Spirit going where he will, just as the wind blows where it will.

This Holy Ground initiative grew to the point where Holy Ground became people’s main form of church and so after a while they now do a service called Sunday at 7, where roughly 50 attend and 30 join for the pub after.

An inspiring session!


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 12: Multimedia Liturgical Worship

Yesterday evening we worshipped in the hall, but it had been set up differently with stations and dim lights. On the wall there were two ‘screens’ which played the majority of the media content. There was a table, with cup and bread and covered in blue fairy lights. Around the table, chairs were set out in two rows in a semi circle.

When we walked in, we looked in a mirror with the caption instructing us to remember that we are made in the image of God. While we did this someone took a photo of us.

The service opened with an impressive video showing the development of a baby from conception until late pregnancy while doing a dramatic reading of Psalm 139.

We then had a penitential liturgy, with simple prayers followed by a guided sung response, which presumably works quite well within a Cathedral context. The video background of people’s faces came into focus when the absolution was given in the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

This was followed by a long piece of choral music with a decidedly peculiar video. There was some kind of effect applied to it so that when people moved they left a slight impression behind, giving a drifting almost trippy feel to it. The footage was of some festival with scenes of people dancing and with hands up, and it went on for a fair while. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what purpose this served within the service.

EDIT: Found the video online, watch it and let me know what you think.

However once it was done we then witnessed a dramatic visual reading from the Gospel of Mathew , the story where Jesus asks the disciples who people say he is, and who they say he is. Peter says that he is the Messiah, the Son of God.

This lead into a video which functioned as a sermon or inspirational talk about being made in the image of God. This was overwhelmingly positive with no element of talking about Jesus or sin, rather we are amazing because God made us to make, designed us to design, and so on.

EDIT: Video found

We then had a contemplative exercise where we each took a different picture of Jesus to respond to. I picked this one. I liked this one because it seems to combine the three elements of the Gospel which I think are so important; the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension.

When we all gathered together again we saw a picture of Jesus on the wall, then it zoomed in and found that the picture of Jesus was made up of the pictures of us. This was quite cool.

We then shared the peace, sang a song and entered a Eucharistic liturgy which in form was a standard Anglican prayer but in language was in places quite vague. This was particularly the case in the post-eucharistic prayer.

I went up and received, but found that I personally was having to pray and say to God: “I will receive because I don’t want to reject the possibility of you in this context, but I’m unsure where you are in this.” I think that it would be fair to say that feelings in the room were varied. Some seemed to get a lot out of it. Some seemed to dislike it. Others, like myself, were unsure and unsettled throughout.

Reflecting on it overnight I think that the use of technology wasn’t the problem, though being the first time experiencing something of this kind I was overly conscious of the technological element (and to clarify, I am very familiar with using screens and videos in worship such as you would find at HTB or Hillsong but this was different), rather it was the style of the content which was jarring. The shakey, blurry effects were disconcerting and distracting. I understand that some people may find it helpful and engaging, and I acknowledge that the Holy Ground service at Exeter Cathedral has a flourishing ministry, but I have found that the use of language has given me much food for thought.

Overall, I’m glad that I attended even if it wasn’t a comfortable experience.


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 13: Real humanity in the virtual world

Day Four, Dr Karen O’Donnell is here to talk to us about digital theology, and will be looking at the Eucharist.

Where are our bodies in digital spaces?

There’s a sense in which when we go online our bodies don’t go with us. Therefore we can feel like the digital world isn’t real.

This can lead to what’s called digital dualism.

This dualism can be particularly discomforting for Christians. If the virtual isn’t real and fake then how can we be incarnation on the internet? Is ‘virtual’ just a euphemism for ‘body-less’?

In this session, Karen wants to argue that we don’t need to go with a dualist view; that digital experience isn’t disembodied and that in today’s world it isn’t really possible to be ‘offline’.

Following in the same vein, though not explicitly identified, as Schleiermacher Karen insists that all theology starts from within our experience, more specifically within our bodily experience. As such all theology is bodily theology.

She then talked about trinitarian theology saying that people talk about the economic and the immanent, but how can we know God in himself? Therefore, consciously follows Karl Rahner’s and then moves one step further to collapse the immanent into the economic, to make the two the same. This fits her view that Trinity is material.

She then moved to talk about the nature of Humanity; We are embodied creatures, not body and soul.

The view which she ends up advocating is that we live in one reality which is both physical and digital, atoms and bytes; using the language of ‘cyborg’. Therefore she would say that we cannot say that our digital experience is disembodied.

We then discussed in groups.

After coffee we watched this next video to introduce the theme of Eucharist and digital.

Obviously this is a silly thing, but it helps us start to engage with the question: Is liturgy performed in digital space authentic? What does authentic mean anyway?

We then considered if someone could participate in the Eucharist as an avatar online? Or what about an extended Eucharist which operated on either the basis of the reserved sacrament or a cognitive effort on the priest to remember the non-physically present bread and wine to bless it from a distance.

Personally, it seems that this document, quoted at one point in Karen’s presentation, speaks a great deal of theological sense:

Similarly, as noted above, the virtual reality of cyberspace has some worrisome implications for religion as well as for other areas of life. Virtual reality is no substitute for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacramental reality of the other sacraments, and shared worship in a flesh-and-blood human community. There are no sacraments on the Internet; and even the religious experiences possible there by the grace of God are insufficient apart from real-world interaction with other persons of faith. Here is another aspect of the Internet that calls for study and reflection. At the same time, pastoral planning should consider how to lead people from cyberspace to true community and how, through teaching and catechesis, the Internet might subsequently be used to sustain and enrich them in their Christian commitment. — Pontifical Council for Social Communications, The Church and Internet.

The whole document is worthy of reading and reflecting upon.

An interesting and slightly controversial session!


This session was based on 
Corporeal Beings in Digital Spaces by Dr Karen O’Donnell


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 14: Entertainment

We turn now to Cranmer Hall’s own Kate Bruce who is leading a session engaging with the Theology of Entertainment.

We started by thinking about those occasions where we have encountered something of God in entertainment and then wondered what the positives of associating with theology and entertainment.

Theology shouldn’t just be solemn and grim, but should engage with the joys and excitements of live.

Entertainment and religion can make risky bedfellows:

  • Cult of celebrity
  • Church as social club
  • Individualism
  • Religion hawked like merchandise
  • Christianity in bed with popular culture may be less able to critique pop culture
  • (The Hillsongisation of the Church?)

Why does the topic of Entertainment matter?

  1. Is there a link between preaching and entertainment?
  2. What is the link between laughter and mission?

There followed an exploration of how comedy functions, and the lovely image of Christianity itself being the divine comedy echoing with the holy laughter of the living saints.

This is a somewhat discursive talk, advancing points through questions such as:

What is the relationship between entertainment and mission? And Discipleship?

Are certain forms of entertainment more/less appropriate for a disciple and how do we discern which is which?

What are the ethical edges arising for a Christian living in a culture of entertainment?

Kate’s engaging style of presentation is almost as much the point as what she’s saying. The form of her presentation is conversational, banterous and articulate; looking around the room many people have smiles on their faces.

The content moves from a story about singing a song in an old people’s home to wrestling with Tertullian and Augustine who lived in Carthage, 150 years apart, which she describes as the 4th century Las Vegas. She guides us through their yearning for God and the inadequacy of the world to satisfy us while balancing an acknowledgement that beauty is wonderful, as best identified in this passage from Augustine’s confessions

What numberless things, made by divers arts and manufactures, both in our apparel, shoes, vessels, and every kind of work, in pictures, too, and sundry images, and these going far beyond necessary and moderate use and holy signification, have men added for the enthralment of the eyes; following outwardly what they make, forsaking inwardly Him by whom they were made, yea, and destroying that which they themselves were made! But I, O my God and my Joy, do hence also sing a hymn unto Thee, and offer a sacrifice of praise unto my Sanctifier, because those beautiful patterns, which through the medium of men’s souls are conveyed into their artistic hands, emanate from that Beauty which is above our souls, which my soul sigheth after day and night. — Source

More questions!

Does (entertainment) open or close our hearts to compassion?

Does it help us to see through the eyes of another and open the door to vicarious understanding of the other?

Does it evoke the laughter of derision and spite or the laughter of shared understanding and recognition?

Does it help our vulnerability or deed our fantasies of power?

Lift our eyes beyond the mundane?

Show reverence for humanity?

Name injustice?

We then looked at how the idea of play feeds into entertainment in such a way as to help form bonds among people, this idea comes from Huizinga and Gadamer’s works.

There’s something inherently playful about the nature of God, look at the Parables! There is a playfulness about the parables which is deeply and profoundly serious.

We then got to watch a video of one of Kate’s comedy sets, which unfortunately isn’t on YouTube so I can’t share it here! So here’s a picture! It was an amusing set starting from being a self-proclaimed vicar-in-knickers through several humorous anecdotes of scenarios from getting ordained through to a retreat at a convent.

We then had an opportunity to discuss what worked and didn’t work. One of thing things which was positive was the way in which the humour was able to subvert and challenge people’s preconceptions of what a vicar is and how they should be. One question was what is the long term impact? Have people been able to connect with it and engaged with church further?

Someone raised the element of authenticity; through communicating in this way Kate was communicating first and foremost as a human being and then and a vicar. The impact of that might go unseen but could be significant.

Another asked about how to incorporate elements of testimony as material to work with into a comedy routine.

It seems that there is also a peculiar relationship to the truth. All comedians enhance and work with their stories, but when those stories become the basis of a sense of connection and fellowship that could pose some interesting questions.

Overall an enjoyable and perhaps surprisingly profound session.


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 15: Presentations — Part 2

We come to the second slot of presentations!

Briefly, we had presentations on:

Consuming and responding to the Media:

  • Given that Jeremy Corbyn did better than expected, is it fair to say that the power of the media is finally over?
  • Heard about the recent terror attacks through social media.
  • The Church of England often responds with some kind of prayer
  • We watched this:
  • and got to share our responses to it.
  • The crowd-sourced new media is more honest, it isn’t presented through the spin of the Mainstream Media — a response

We Need to Talk about Al Jazeera …

  • Dealing with the situation to do with Qatar
  • Is a satellite television station
  • Impact of Printing Press
  • 2010 — Twitter Revolution, Arab Spring
  • Where is God in these things?
  • “The Revolution will be Tweeted”
  • How do we manage our political bias in how people view us on Twitter?

Positive potential of impact of Media in the Church

  • We watched this, and to be honest the passion and enthusiasm was celebrating this video so watch it and see what you think.

Testimony in Social Media

  • Luke 8:39
  • Matthew 5:16
  • Instagram Posts — is it helpful or cheesy?
  • What is and isn’t helpful to share?
  • What is our intent? To build a presence? Or glorify God?
  • Short videos sharing what God has been doing today/recently, the quality of the video is secondary/actually helps with authenticity
  • Alpha Testimony — HTB high quality production
  • Is it helpful to share testimonies online? Would you and how would you share testimonies on social media yourself.

Reddit and the Church

These were all great presentations!


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 16: “Hacking Church”

We went to the pub and spoke to a couple of local Methodists who operate intentionally with a “hacking mindset” to approach church life and engage with mission.

This was a great and long conversation, and given the nature of it I’d struggle to adequately represent the whole conversation but I have three highlights:

  1. Use curiousity and experimentation to problem solve and don’t be afraid of using the intuition and perspective of young people
  2. Giving things away for free without strings attached will bless people in ways you might not expect — such as the Christmas Angel initiative: @knittedangels on twitter.
  3. Our priority should always be to facilitate people on their journey to engage with God; even if that means bending, stretching, and (occasionally) breaking “the rules”.

A thought provoking evening, including an energetic dialogue on reaffirmation of baptismal vows by full immersion!

Now onto the final morning of #MediaLit17 tomorrow!


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 17: Flinging Stars into Space

And…. here we are! The final morning!

We are kicking off with the enigmatically entitled ‘Flinging Stars into Space’ with Pete Phillips.

Controvesial statement to start with while expressing a love of technology: I no longer wear an apple watch because it is a dead technology.

For Pete, the digital is all about what it means to be human.

We’re looking at the future.

Ex Machina is a film based on the Turing Test and we watched the trailer

While it’s all about robots, the centre piece of the film is actually primarily about the relationship between the two men working on the turing test. Here and in TV series like Westwing robots are treated as less than humans. We objectify them and make them our tools.

This is the first approach, making robots humanlike. The other is to make humans more robotlike — to hack themselves and add technology to ourselves. Apparently in Switzerland you can get an operation to replace your hand with a robotic hand. People implant different devices into their arms. One man had cameras put in his eyes. Pete knows a diabetic who has a device implanted in their hip to monitor their blood sugar and maintain their insulin. The idea of having robot helper for the elderly will likely not happen — we will surveil them via their devices and cameras to check their okay; a high tech ‘grandpa monitor’. Medical Surveillance is a huge and live ethical question at the moment.

Great clip, worth watching twice and then again next week.

Pete then turned to the question of looking at how we engage with spirituality and digital culture, with particular emphasis on the disciplines which we need to implement — we need a Christian voice in this sphere of life.

One of the key things to do when it comes to engaging with ‘future casting’ is to explore a variety of different views. To this end Pete passionately encouraged us to read several sci-fi authors, especially women. One of these was All the birds in the Sky.

Another example which actually doesn’t follow the technological progressiveism we might expect from science-fiction is Walk Away by Cory Doctorow. There were several other books mentioned which covered themes from AI to nature to space to fascism and liberty and so on. Many tech writers write about tech, but the best sci-fi works capture the experience, the feeling and the reality of the relationships. Apparently in Walk Away there is a section talking about different water pools in a sauna which focuses on the sensations rather than the technology which heated or cooled the water and so on.

A common theme is a sense of anxiety about what will happen in the future.

Humanity is moving on and on and we need to ask what we want to do with Tech? We want to shape tech in such a way that it is shaped by us. Do we value human lives enough to make sure that technology doesn’t lead to gated communities of wealth becoming removed from those who don’t have it — as represented well in Elysium (trailer not played in the session). This led into an interesting conversation surrounding the value of human life, with the acknowledgement that social media and technology is increasingly commodifying human beings.

Dr Robot, the Amazon Prime show, was also featured as a disturbing insight into the advance of technology in culture.

We have a choice.

We could go off grid; withdraw from the relentless advance of technology.

Or,

We could stay on grid; and engage with technology constructively. Can we take our values and use and shape technology in the way we think is good. For instance, solar panels on church roofs as a way of helping the environment and providing our own power.

The next place that companies and technology wants to be is inside us.

Medical and recreational technology assisting and enhancing our experiences of life.

We moved on to the digital dualism which was discussed yesterday, the photoshopped selfies and so on.

What is great about digital culture is that it challenges us all over again on how to be properly human.

Pete then encouraged us with the following vision:

An equally inspirational and intimidating assessment of the future and the possibilities of engaging with the future of not just technology but of humanity itself.


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 18: Digital Vocation

Our penultimate session is with the Rev Dr Joshua Mann and he wants to get us thinking about how we can plug in with some of the things of the last week into our sense of calling.

Vocation: an area of life to which God has called you to throw your energy

Digital Vocation is a bit of a misnomer, but it’s a helpful title. How can you use digital media (more, better, etc) in order to be more effective in fulfilling your vocation? Better might actually mean how do we avoid unhelpful forms of technology?

Technology is not Neutral

The medium is the message in a very real sense when it comes to the technological.

In the picture to the left you can see a ‘tube map’ of the roman road system. We reflected on how might the road as technology help the Romans? We noticed that it would help people who are on the network but what about those who aren’t on the network? There’s an economic disparity between the rural and the city, particularly with regard to infrastructure. There’s questions of capacity, and direct and indirect benefit to different people.

Cultivation and Kingdom

The idea of nurturing ourselves, our society and our world through technology. One challenge to this is how we handle climate change and the place of technology in the world within the context of God’s sovereignty. The language of cultivation isn’t just pruning and weeding, maintaining. Rather it’s the idea of creative agency, creating as we are created.

Sometimes it seems that the Mattean version of some stories are more well known so Josh read from Luke 12:

But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

By thinking about the idea of cultivation and kingdom, the hope is to challenge us to think about how we can answer the questions posed by technology for our own sense of God’s calling in our lives.

It’s now time for Coffee before we return for our final session, dramatically titled: Digital Destinies.


#MediaLit17 Chronicles 19: Digital Destinies

The final session, before the concluding devotions, is reflecting on the whole week. Karen has tweeted out a storify collection of the #MediaLit17 tweets on Twitter.

We spent some time discussing in groups our reflections on the week.

One group observed that it’s important we operate with discernment and a desire for balance.

This was a pleasant time of conversation and reflection, before we then shifted into our closing devotions — Led by Kate Bruce.

This was done as an analogue session and revealed a pleasantly surprising sense of fellowship and personal growth, which made an already great conference feel much more meaningful.


The end of #MediaLit17

I’m glad to have had the opportunity to be able to participate within this conference and I’ve particularly enjoyed the process of writing the blog on each of the sessions. I hope that reading and reflecting on this collection or the individual posts has been interesting and I’d love to hear what you think on any of the topics covered!

Every Blessing, 
Samuel S. Thorp

Follow me on Twitter @SamuelSThorp