Dr. Mary Hess
For the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg Blog Tour on Religion & Media, Dr. Mary Hess responds to questions posed by Cyberpilgrim. Please add your voice to the conversation! Click on the “LEAVE A COMMENT” link to post. And see the specific question Dr. Hess would like to hear from you about at the end of this post.
Wow, what excellent questions — and what difficult challenges. Let me start, more generally, by pointing to some wonderful new books that are available right now that I think might be useful for your readers. The first is a short book entitled “A new culture of learning” by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown. This book will perhaps quiet some fears about what it might mean to “flip classrooms” and help kids follow their passions into new learning. The authors of that book perceive enormous potential in these new cultural spaces, but also point to the necessary structure we need to create to support that learning. Your reader is right that learning in isolation is never as rich as learning in community. These new tools can provide new ways to support learning community IF we use them wisely.
The second book I’d point to is Howard Rheingold “Net Smart“. This book is written by a really smart, digitally-connected and fluent educator with a deep sense of how to move forward with wisdom.
The third is Elizabeth Drescher’s “Tweet if you [heart] Jesus“. Elizabeth is keen on helping us to “practice church in the digital reformation.”
Ok, so that’s the “prelude,” now let me get directly to your questions.
n (Q-1) How do I keep up with this world? “It is just the speed and lack of thinking that I hear when I learn what CAN be done.”
Well, I think a great thing to do is read this blog! And that’s not just me trying to be nice. One of the advantages of living in a web 2.0 world is that you can make information find you, instead of having to go out all the time and find it. Keeping up with this world means finding a few ‘informants’ who do the investigation for you, and whose judgments you trust, so that you can get from them what you don’t have the time or skill to do for yourself. Learn how to use RSS feeds and you will save a lot of time and effort. But then, once you’ve done that, make sure that you subscribe to some blogs that will stretch you, that might not be in your comfort zone, even some blogs that you might disagree with! Doing so will make sure that you never lack for for things to think about.
One great set of informants, by the way, are your students themselves. They might not be the best judge of what is most authoritative, but they are often the best scouts of what is new and interesting, and what can be used in powerful new ways to express their faith.
n (Q-2) How do we teach the faith in a world that is more participatory and democratic? – “not the controlled methods” we are used to.
I like the ways in which John Roberto talks about “curating” materials for faith formation. This is another element of what I mean about finding “informants.” John is a great informant, and his online resource is full of useful materials that he has carefully curated.
I think, in addition to finding excellent materials and processes that are multi-sensory, we also need to recognize that God might well be “doing a new thing” and that we should be open to listening carefully for where we can hear/feel/see the Holy Spirit blowing. We need to trust our faith, and recognize that following Jesus may in fact be about letting go of “controlled” or at least “controlling” methods, and learn how, instead, to trust our tradition — and to recognize when there is new life being drawn from it.
“Teaching faith” in these new contexts means focusing on LEARNING. I tried to talk about this in a lecture I gave a couple of years ago, which is available online . What I was trying to do in that lecture was point out that “teaching the Bible” has to begin with helping people understand WHY they should learn the Bible. I think the same thing is true about our faith, particularly those of us who are Catholic. We can’t assume that people have any understanding of why they should learn about the tradition — indeed, in some cases we have to help people move beyond their caricature of the tradition and into the deep bones of it, the ways in which it sustains and shapes our faith (rather than seeing it only as something which constrains or silences us).
Another way to do this – instead of “carefully controlled methods” – is to work on helping people learn how to create in these new media. Producing a digital story, for instance, requires a lot of attention – careful attention – to what you’re trying to convey, to whom you think you’re speaking, and to how you craft your story. These are all great ways to do faith formation in religious education, and they’re fun to do! (check out http://www.storyingfaith.org/ for ideas).
n (Q-3) How do we hire and/or train ministers today in a world that is now a Digital World?
That’s too big a question to answer in a short blog response, but I will say that I think hiring and training ministers is a deeply contextual process – and since the world we live in is mediated, through and through, how can we be contextual without attending to digital media? So we should be asking about their experiences in digital media – what do they like? how do they access information? what do they think is wisdom in these spaces? And so on. And I would be equally wary of anyone who refuses to engage digital environments and anyone who refuses to be critical of such environments. We need to look for people who are able to balance competing commitments, and who are adept at seeking and supporting wisdom.
Finally, a question for readers of this blog:
What makes you most nervous about digital media, and what makes you most excited about its potential?