Category: Technology

Leaving Facebook soon…NOT

UPDATE: I have decided to stay on Facebook and make changes to my security settings. Long story. Thanks for sticking around with me!

For those of you who follow my blog, ChuckWarnock.com, on Facebook, I will be leaving Facebook permanently soon. I am on Instagram @chuckwarnock and hope to find a community of goodwill there. If you would like to continue to subscribe to my blog and sermons, etc, please enter your email address on the home page. Thanks! -Chuck

Losing Our Religion Online

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The more we’re online as a society, the less religious we are.

That’s according to MIT’s Technology Review which features a new study by computer scientist Allen Downey of the Olin College of Engineering. Downey concludes that “Internet use decreases the chance of religious affiliation.”

Downey’s study analyzed statistics from 9,000 respondents to the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey in 2010. In 1990, only about 8 percent of the U.S. population checked the “none” box when asked about their religious affiliation. By 2010, the percentage of “nones” had risen to 18%.

The increase in the religiously-unaffiliated has sparked numerous articles from church thinkers about the reason for this sudden shift. After all, America is and has been among the most religious of all nations worldwide. Evangelicals particularly have increased their profile in the public arena.

However, despite America’s conservative turn, Downey’s data confirms an almost parallel increase in internet usage and lack of religious affiliation.

In 1990, Internet usage was virtually zero. Although the Internet was active, individuals had to access it through portals like AOL or Compuserve. However, in 1994, two factors boosted internet usage. First, new servers were added to increase the traffic capacity of the World Wide Web. Secondly, the Mosaic web browser, the first popular internet interface, facilitated the quick ascent of Internet usage. In 1995, Netscape’s browser added search capability which revolutionized internet surfing. From that point, Internet usage in America climbs dramatically.

Coincidentally, at about that same time, the percentage of the religiously-unaffiliated — the “nones” — also begins to rise in an almost identical arc.

However, as in most studies, Downey identifies more factors in play in the increase of the religiously-unaffilliated than just an increase in Internet usage. Downey concludes that 25% of the rise in “nones” can be explained by a decrease in those who are raised in a religiously-affiliated home. In addition to religious orphans, 5% of the increase in “nones” can be attributed to an increase in the number of college-educated Americans.

Downey’s study contends, however, that the increase in Internet usage explains at least 25% of the increase in the religious “nones.” After adjusting for other factors such as age, rural or urban residence, and socio-economic status, Downey is convinced the data points to Internet usage as the new cause for the drop in religious affiliation.

What does this mean for churches and denominations? I think the study has three implications:

1. It’s not the Internet’s fault. The increase of the “nones” may be one of the unintended consequences of the Internet, but religious institutions should not begin a campaign to demonize Internet usage. After all, Internet access is an essential component of our increasingly digital lives. From email to Twitter to Facebook to search functions, the Internet is our always-on gateway to the world of information.

2. The Internet enables communities of like-minded individuals. Prior to the internet,  atheists and agnostics were a stark minority in typical American communities. Now, however, atheists and agnostics can find supportive communities online. An individual no longer has to believe in God to find social acceptance.

In addition many people identify now as “spiritual, but not religious” — meaning that they see no need of an institutional expression of their personal faith. These individuals would also be classified as “nones.” These spiritual “nones” can now cobble together their own spirituality from websites, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, finding spiritual aphorisms that function as their new inspirational texts.

3. The convergence of Internet usage, religious orphans, and higher education holds clues for religious institutions. The first and most obvious thing this triad of correlations says to me is that religious institutions cannot live in the past technologically, theologically, or educationally if they hope to reach today’s “nones.”

Downey also noted that younger groups reported more “nones” than older groups. That is not a surprising result, as younger adults are more Internet-savvy, better educated, and less likely to be raised in a religious household.

Finally, one interesting footnote to Downey’s findings is this: adding together the 25% of the “nones” who were not brought up in religious homes, to the 5% who are college-educated, and the 25% attributed to the rise in Internet usage, we are still left with about 45% of the increase in “nones” unexplained.

The opportunity for churches and denominations in regard to the unaffiliated might be in figuring out the reason for the other 45%. Rather than railing against the Internet, colleges, or homelife, Christians might be better served to investigate what in our contemporary way of life contributes to loss of faith for about 25-million of our fellow citizens.

Huffington Post Picks Up My Post

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This is undoubtedly my 15 seconds of fame. Huffington Post picked up my article on social media etiquette. Here’s the link —

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chuck-warnock/twitter-etiquette_b_3936172.html

Six Questions To Ask Before You Tweet

20-social-media-iconsBefore social media, a snail mail letter to the editor of your local newspaper was about the only way to make your voice heard. Now Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, WordPress, and Google+ make it easy for anyone to shout out their opinion on any topic, at any time.

In fact, social media might make it too easy for us to let everyone know what we’re thinking at the moment. That may be fine for most folks, but some politicians and celebrities have lived to regret exposing their thoughts, and other things, to public scrutiny. Just ask Anthony Weiner.

Like politicians and celebrities, pastors should exercise some caution with social media, too. Although we’re not running for office, we’re always in the public eye in our own circles of friends, colleagues, and fellow church members.

When I started blogging seven years ago, almost no one in my small town of 1200 people read my blog. For a while I enjoyed my local anonymity because I was able to express opinions on topics I never would have addressed in a Sunday sermon or Wednesday night Bible study.

However, as my local readership increased on my blog, Facebook, and Twitter, I began to rethink my previous reckless “opinionating.” I developed some personal guidelines to regulate my social media posts, tweets, and status updates.

These are six things I consider before I take a public stand on controversial topics:

1. Is this an ethical issue or just a pet peeve?

Like lots of folks, I have an opinion about most things. However, I have discovered I don’t need to weigh in publicly on everything. I now restrict my blog posts to church ministry topics, and my Twitter and Facebook updates to church or ethical topics. Of course, that doesn’t count the times I am just goofing around on social media, but I play that safe, too!

2. Can I influence the situation?

If I can’t have some influence on a situation, I have decided there is not much point in my commenting on it. Therefore, I never write about the latest Federal Reserve Bank efforts to jump start the economy because there is nothing I can say to influence the Fed’s action. You get the point.

3. Have others spoken out who are more credible or qualified than I am?

My example in #2 comes to mind here, too. No one cares what I think about quantitative easing or economic stimulus. Those topics I leave to the experts, the pages of the New York Times, and other esteemed sources. If somebody more credible than I am is addressing the issue, I probably don’t need to add my two cents worth.

4. Do I have something constructive to offer?

When I first started blogging, I quickly fell into what I call “blogger’s syndrome” — posting righteous indignation and scathing opinions eviscerating others who disagreed with me. One day it occurred to me that anyone can rant, but I ought to be offering positive perspectives and solutions. I deleted more than one blog post after coming to that decision. Now I try to offer a positive solution, outlook, or suggestion, and I don’t attack individuals or groups. I know it is a cliche’, but I decided that I would actually be the change I wanted to see. In other words, the way to peace is the way of peace, to paraphrase Thich Nhat Hanh.

5. Am I willing to risk my friends, my reputation, and possibly my job by taking this position?

What do you do when there is an issue so compelling that you must take a public stand? I think then you heed the words of Jesus from Luke 14:28b — “Won’t you first sit down and count the cost…?” If you take a public stand, are you ready to risk your friends, your reputation, and possibly your job as pastor? Sometimes the answer to that question has to be “Yes!” However, most of the time, it’s not. I’m not encouraging cowardice, just awareness that public positions also have personal consequences.

6. What am I personally doing now to change the situation?

Finally, before I write about an issue, I reflect on what I am doing to change that situation. Call this hypocrisy-avoidance, but if I am not willing to “put some skin in the game” as the saying goes, maybe I ought not to comment.

Since developing these questions, I am enjoying blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking more than I used to. I notice that I regret fewer posts, delete fewer tweets, and in the process have increased my readership. If the unexamined life isn’t worth living, according to Socrates, then maybe the unexamined opinion isn’t worth tweeting either.

 

1 + 1,000,000

I crossed two significant (for me) milestones yesterday. First, and most importantly (again, for me), Fuller posted my DMin degree. So, I am now official. As the old joke goes: “My friends call me Chuck; you can call me Dr. Warnock.” Or something like that. Anyway, here it is. The downside is that I still have to wait several weeks for the diploma to be printed, signed and mailed. (Apparently Fuller was not as confident as I was that I would actually graduate!)

Fuller transcript now showing my DMin graduation.

 

The other milestone happened yesterday —  I crossed 1,000,000 page views on this blog! Which means that Debbie has looked at this blog a lot! And maybe a few other folks, too, I hope. I’ve been blogging here since December, 2006. If I figured this correctly, that’s an average of 12,350 or so views per month. Compare that to an average month in which I preach to about 400-500 people total. Of course, I realize that some people spend 3 seconds or less on a blog site, including mine. But still social media enable us to have conversations with lots of folks in lots of places, and most of the time that’s a great thing.

If you’ve been here for awhile, thanks for sticking around. If you’re new, I hope you’ll check in often. In 7 years of blogging, I’ve made my share of mistakes, offended some, encouraged others, and enjoyed the whole experience. Recently I refocused my blog around the theme of my DMin study and dissertation — churches building communities of reconciliation. Reconciliation is like Will Roger’s famous quote about the weather — “Everybody talks about it, but nobody ever does anything about it.” On this blog, from this point forward, I’ll be highlighting how my church and yours can do something about reconciliation. Stick around. Thanks.

One Million Page Views!

 

Who Do You Trust?

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The epistle reading for today is Colossians 1:15-23. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae contrasting the good news of Jesus with the claims of the first century Roman empire.

In their book Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, authors Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat contend that Colossians contrasts the violence, inhumanity, and corruption of the Roman empire with the new imagination of Christian community centered around Christ.

As a Roman outpost, Colossae participated in the emperor cult which asserted that the emperor was the son of god and the deity around which the universe revolved. The Roman empire was also the undisputed example of political organization and military might. From Rome’s dominance came what was ironically called the Pax Romana — the Roman peace. However, the Roman peace was secured with overwhelming violence against those nations and city-states Roman legions pacified by force.

Paul challenges the ideas of the emperor’s supremacy, the empire’s legitimacy, and the Pax Romana with the assertion that Christ is the image of God, the creator of all things, the sustainer of the universe, the first-born from the dead, the head of a new community called the church, and the true prince of peace.

The point of Paul’s letter to the Colossians was to contrast the misplaced confidence they formerly had in the Roman empire with the new hope they found in Christ. Prior to following Christ as Lord, the Colossians had placed their trust in the Empire for their security, happiness, and fulfillment.

Today millions have misplaced their trust, too. If Paul were writing the letter to the Colossians today, he might contrast the trust we place in power, money, and technology with the supremacy of Christ.

Power is still the currency of international relationships. Mao Zedong said, “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun.” That philosophy is shared by virtually all of the nation-states on the world stage today. While the United States is still the most powerful nation on earth, countries like North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and others project the power they have in order to influence international events. Just as the Roman empire used its military, economic, and political power to shape the course of history, nations continue to be seduced by the promise of power today.

The second member of our illegitimate trinity is money. China is relocating 325-million peasants — rural farmers — into newly-created cities. Why? Because China’s economy, according to the IMF and other economists, doesn’t have enough consumerism. The key to growth in the Chinese economy in the near future, economists say, is creating a new class of consumers who will buy TVs, refrigerators, cell phones, and cars. In a world where one billion people live on less than $1 a day, money is a seductive force, often coupled with power.

However, a new player has entered the arena as a close partner to power and money. Both power and the quest for money are being driven by technology. We now have the technology to instantly deliver books, newspapers, and magazines to personal computers, tablets, or mobile phones. In  2007 Steve Jobs of Apple introduced the iPhone and revolutionized the mobile phone industry. Today over 5 billion cell phones are in service, and 1 billion of those are smart phones.

The NSA surveillance programs leaked by Edward Snowden showed us that the US now possesses and uses advanced technology to track every telephone call, email, and cell phone location everywhere in the world; scan those communications for suspicious links to suspicious characters; track users by location; and, know who everyone everywhere in the world is talking to and what they are talking about.

Technology is our Pax Romana — both the new security savior and cyber weapon in our war to be safe from terrorism. Our trust in technology compels us to give out our credit card information, our personal history, our family and friend connections, the schools we attended, our workplace, our daily routines, even where we eat, shop, and travel. Why? Because we cannot live without the always-on, always-available world at our fingertips. We depend on technology for friendships, for commerce, for security, and even for our faith (yes, there are online churches and faith groups). Increasingly, we give away our own privacy in pursuit of friends, followers, page views, and search rankings.

But power has not brought peace, consumerism has not brought satisfaction, and technology has not brought with it the authentic life we yearn to live.

We have separated our faith from our function as human beings, believing that we, too, can place absolute trust in power, money, and technology. By doing so, we are letting those things shape us.

Paul reminds us that we ought to be shaped by the radical good news that this world system, whether the Roman empire of the first century or the internet of the 21st century, are not the legitimate gods of this world. They are the pretenders, the interlopers, and the pale substitutes for that which is real.

If you want to know God, Paul says, look at Jesus. If you want to know who the creator of the world is look at Jesus. If you want to know who keeps the world turning, look at Jesus. If you want to know who’s in charge of everything, even the things that are not acting according to God’s plan, look at Jesus.

If you want to know where real peace comes from look at Jesus.

Despite the fact that misplaced trust in power, money, and technology are found in every culture on every continent, Paul says the good news about Jesus is also ubiquitous.

The question then becomes: Who do you trust? After all, the Roman empire is no longer a world power, is it?

What I like about ebooks and these ebook readers

From l-r: iPod Touch, Android HTC, Kindle 3, MacBook as readers.

I’m hooked on books, and now I’m really hooked on ebooks.  Here’s what I like about ebooks over print:

  • Instant delivery. I see a book, and in seconds I’m reading it.  I find this amazing.  I recently found the only book on reverence on Amazon in ebook format on a Saturday night, and had it instantly.  Yes, I should plan ahead, but ebooks do make it easier when you don’t!
  • Cheaper price. Ebooks are usually cheaper, although there is a vast old-guard publishing conspiracy to change this.
  • Greener than print. I know ebook servers use electricity and it is not a pollution-free format.  However, ebooks have to be greener than print because you eliminate cutting trees, making paper, running presses, buying and fueling delivery trucks, etc.
  • Portability. I can carry my entire digital library with me.  This I like because in any format, I like my books and I like to have them with me.  (I realize this is a little OCD, but it is a fairly harmless case.)
  • Searchability. This is really big for me.  I often remember a quote or illustration, but not where I read it.  Searching an ebook, or an entire library, is a preacher’s salvation (not literally, of course) during sermon prep.
  • Storage. My bookshelves are running over.  With ebooks, my library is limited by my device’s memory.  Kindle is up to 3500 titles on one device, which is about twice what I have in print books.
  • Access and preservation. You can’t lose an ebook.  I guess you can lose your reader.  However, if you do, you just download all your titles again.  No more damaged books, lost books, loaned books that don’t return, and no more books lost on the shelf (which has happened more than once to me).
  • Technology. Everything in print is going digital, and everything digital is going mobile.

Okay, at this point I have to disclose that I have accounts with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KOBO (Borders), Sony, and the Adobe reader platform which can take Google books.  However, I now use mostly Amazon’s Kindle format.  I’ve found it the easiest, least cumbersome, and most consistent of all the formats.  I realize that Amazon has a proprietary platform, but so does Apple with iTunes, which I also use.  But Amazon did wireless ebook readers first, and I think they do them best, with some caveats.

I have four devices that function as e-readers:

  • A 13″ MacBook which has the Kindle for Mac on it.
  • An iPod Touch with Kindle for iPhone/iPod app.
  • An Android phone (HTC Hero, which I don’t like but it’s a long story) with the Android Kindle app.
  • A wifi Kindle 3, which I just got this week.

I do use all four devices as e-readers, depending upon where I am mostly.  So, let’s take a quick run-down of each one with its pros and cons:

  • Kindle 3. I bought the Kindle 3 even though I have other devices because the Kindle has capabilities Amazon has not made functional on other platforms.  The pros of the Kindle 3 are:  You can search a book or your entire Kindle library for a keyword or phrase; plus, you can print your notes and highlights.  These two functions are worth the price ($139/wifi) because I am using the device as a research tool.  Another plus is that it’s a decent reader, but frankly I prefer the backlit screens of my iPod, mac, and phone.  On the con side, the Kindle is frustrating slow and clumsy when navigating with the directional key, or accessing menus.  Once you’re used to a touch device (iPod, Android phone), the Kindle seems outdated.
  • MacBook. The MacBook Amazon app is limited, but useful for reading when your lappy is all you’ve got.  Pros:  Bigger screen (all the Amazon apps and devices allow you to adjust the print size), so I can sit back in my desk chair and read with the mac on my desk.  I probably use this the least, but I do use it.  Cons:  You cannot underline, make notes, or do anything other than bookmark a page.  However, the mac app will display previous bookmarks, notes, and highlights.
  • Android HTC Hero. I had to get this phone because AT&T is taking over Alltel (my current carrier) and my Blackberry died.  I will eventually replace with an iPhone, but for now I get to try out an Android phone, although it is not the best available.  Pros:  The Kindle app works, and as a reader I like the Android screen size, although I like the iPod size more because it is slightly larger.  Cons:  Same as with the mac app, you can’t highlight, make notes, or do any annotation other than bookmarking a page.
  • iPod Touch. I bought the iPod Touch in February because I wanted an e-reader I could carry in my pocket.  The iPod Touch fills that bill nicely, and is the best device of the 4 I have for reading.  Pros:  You can highlight (although the touch is dodgy sometimes), make notes, and bookmark.  The highlights and notes made on the iPod (this also applies to the iPhone) show up on the mac.  Initially I also loaded the B&N app, but it kept crashing while the Amazon app just worked.  (B&N has now fixed that issue, but their ebooks tend to be more expensive, and their selection less extensive than Amazon).  Cons:  the touch highlighting is sometimes jiggy, but I have almost mastered the technique, I think.

I do not have an iPad as a reader for two reasons:  1) we don’t have AT&T yet, so I could not get the broadband version; 2) price.  Actually, there is a 3rd reason:  I think the iPad is too heavy to use as an e-reader for very long.  But that’s just my opinion.

If I were limited to only one e-reading device, I would stay with my first choice, the iPod Touch.  (As soon as I can get an iPhone, I’ll retire my iPod Touch for backup or home use).

What are you doing in the digital book and reader world?  Do you find it useful in ministry, and if so, why and how.