Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Faith, Books & Facebook - The script I really should have used on The Reading Room on Siren 107.3fm

On Sunday 1st of August I was a contributor to the wonderful radio show, The Reading Room, on Siren 107.3fm. It is a fantastic radio show on the first sunday of every month at 10am - 12noon and then repeated on the following Tuesday starting at 7pm.
It is an excellent production by Paul and Jonny on books, reading, literature, writing and all manner of things to do with Books & Writing and has some fantastically good music in it too - I really do recommend it.
Paul foolishly has allowed me to be a regular contributor to it so far and this month I did a rather good job at fumbling live on air! I had a script and should have stuck to it but I didn't, bad me!
Still it's not as bad as it could have been and I hope one day Paul & Jonny will trust me to go back and do some more spots on air - I'll even buy them coffee and spring for syrup ;0)
Anyway here is the script I had, I share it here for your enjoyment and edification *grin*.

During the last month I've been reading a few books that look at the idea of facebook, social networking and how we relate to each other and how faith interacts with these ideas. After all I am all about books, faith and social networking - which despite what some may think is not so sad or so unusual. In fact facebook and yes, even twitter, are excellent communication mediums for sharing about all manner of ideas including faith and not least about books, about writing and can really help contribute to the society of the literate, and this despite what Lynne Truss seemed to be concerned about towards the end of her book - Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

Social networking via the internet, because lets remember that though when we use that phrase these days we seem always to be talking about the internet it is a phrase that also describes something that we can and do undertake offline as well! So anyway Social Networking via the internet has the potential and ability to expand and grow our outlook, our outreach and the communities in which we interact, or that's the theory at least. Now all of this it has to be said sounds like something we used to do in our physical and loca; communities and not least in our faith communities, so hows that working?
Hows the move to virtual, to a disembodied medium over a more phyiscal medium really working in this setting, in the traditional faith setting, thats the question that authors Jesse Rice and Dwight Friedman have both decided to look at in their books.

Jesse Rice's 'The Church of Facebook' published by David C Cook begins by addressing our need for connection with others and then goes on to look at why though facebook and twitter give us a form of connection in the end they just dont fulfill our more basic needs for contact - real contact - despite the length our 'contact' lists may be.
In the book he gives a great synopsis of the history and development of our socially networked internet and talks about how it has grown from our needs and wants, but he also points out how it can be a place of shallow depth and interaction that in some ways rather than satisfying actaully leaves one more empty, or feeling more lonely and isolated and then needing more of it to assuage these feelings - for me this made me think of the addiction cycle and tied in to why we succumb to and talk of facebook addiction etc. This is where the need for real community comes into play, says Rice, real human and physical contact can help fill the lonely spots and here is where faith can play an active and real part, faith should after all be about personal contact, outreach and growth - about more than just touching in through an update, but about real interaction. This is what Community and real connectedness is about.
Having said all this though 'The Church of Facebook' does not dismiss social networking, no instead it sys it can be a positive thing - a way to work and grow our connectedness but only if we move beyond the shallowness of much of the interaction and instead anchor it in the reality of our lives, only if we are honest and open and resist the temptation to hide in urbanity and surface socialisation - only then can there really be a church on facebook.
It is an excellent book and worth looking at even if your not really interested in the faith angle as such because it's looking at the idea of Community more than anything and as the subtitle says, 'How the hyperconnected are redefining community'.

Dwight Friesen's book, 'Thy Kingdom Connected' and published by Baker Books looks at a similar theme, that of networked communities, however this book does come with a bit of a warning because although facebook is mentioned in the subtitle of 'What the church can learn from facebook, the internet and other networks' this book isn't really about facebook or social networking online, thats just a nice marketing play to make the book more appealing to a larger audience! This book is really looking at Network Theory and relating this to how he, Friesen, believes the church should work.
Network theory at it's most basic is the idea that has adherents in many fields of study and holds we are connected in all manner of ways by links, nodes and cluster groups. It's an interesting idea and so is the underlying content of this book, however it's not an easy book to wade through and has a very technical feel to it. Being full of venn and cluster link diagrams doesn't really help as it just adds to the feel of being some sort of science manual. That said though if you want a book that really opens up the idea of the network theory and it's correlation to, connectivity to and implications for the church and what it could be, then this is that book and probably a very good one too as it does have some very interesting idea's of how things could work better and more integrative across the church.

On the whole though, 'The Church of Facebook' does cover much of the same idea and in a way thats much more accessable, fun, practical and that really addresses the reality of our internet, facebook, twitter linked and socially networking lives.

For me with both these books what we are really looking at is why we have moved ourselves online? Thats what we need to look at, to address, why are we so willing to pass up our actual phyiscal community for our online community? Is it just convenience - an anytime easy time thing? probably not given we hook into these things even whilst working or roaming the streets - So how do we address this?
We buy online instead of in our local shops, we email, msn, twitter, text and facebook chat as opposed to over the phone or in the real, why is this? How do we, or even do we want to, become more real in the virtual world? How do we deepen ourselves in and through the disembodied medium so we become more involved in the real community around us? Is social networking really increasing our social lives or is it just in reality shrinking them, it, us?
Something to consider and these books are both good starters in that process.
However I want to mention a third book, 'Googling God' by John Cox and published by Harvest House, and this is because this book is about finding God and how we start that experience, possibly by Googling him (or of course you could even Bing him these days! though we don't advise you use a bong although we understand some have tried using such a tool in some cultures, places and times!). From Googling God this then develops out into eventually a personal experience and relationship. Tihis book is great because it's written in such an engaging and personal way by someone who is of our time, a person whose had experience changing continents, changing lives, going through divorce, heartache and upheaval, who uses modern technology and isnt afraid of sharing the personal experiences of doubt, trauma and pain to get across his message. A person who is willing to share more than just the surface niceties and nonsense, but open up about the life drama's experienced in an open and honest way.
But what I like most about this book is how it feels like a book thats incorporating our internet experience into the very body and feel of it, it reads how googling hopping feels - short interesting on topic sections with jumps to quotes and idea's on a theme, quick flits elsewhere and then back onto the next engaging section. It reads like you are googling God and John Cox and that in iteself is really engaging and shows just how much books, the internet and faith can work together, adapt each other and grow to the better for it - and that is a great thing to witness.

Now remember all these books are available at Unicorn Tree Books, so why not call in to see us and pick up your copy, you can even come back and chat about it with me! or of course you can go to our online shop at or and get a copy there.
So come in and stock up soon - we'll look forward to seeing you, recieving an email from you, chatting on the phone (01522 525557) with you or even facebooking or twittering with you!