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Thursday, December 15, 2011

caroling with the neighborhood

In the past eight days, two significant neighborhood encounters occurred. Both could easily have slipped by unnoticed, but I think the persistent focus on being the church outside the walls has sharpened my eyesight a little.

The second encounter (read the first here) came last night at our annual caroling event in the neighborhood.  We've been doing this for a number of years (eight?), usually going a different direction each year in the neighborhoods right around our church.

This year, something significant happened.  We had two different families from the neighborhood show up and join us for dinner and caroling.  I'm not sure how or where they heard about when we were going - in one case, a grandparent couple invited their out of town daughter and young grandkids to join us.  They said that the kids had never been a part of caroling and they wanted them to have the experience.  In another case a mom from down the street brought her two young daughters.  And they jumped in with us - part of the "Good Shepherd family" caroling to our (and their own) neighbors.

What stood out to me is their willingness to come do something as "out there" as walking in the dark with a big group of strangers, knocking on doors, and singing... again, I think that this was made possible, or at least easier, by the time we've spent out in these same neighborhoods.  We used to be relatively unknown to these neighbors.  Now we are not only safe to associate with, but desirable companions in carrying music (and Good News!) to our mutual neighbors.  As I said in the previous post, I'm not sure we even know all the significance of this encounter, but I'm pretty sure it is significant!

Here's a video clip of us singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas!"

eating with the neighborhood

In the past eight days, two significant neighborhood encounters occurred.  Both could easily have slipped by unnoticed, but I think the persistent focus on being the church outside the walls has sharpened my eyesight a little.

The first encounter came eight days ago on a Wednesday.  That morning we got a call in the office from a neighbor who had seen on our church sign that we had a Wednesday night dinner and wondered if he could come get some food for himself and his sick wife, who was housebound.  I think he thought we were offering meals for sale - he asked a question along those lines.  But the person taking the call said it was a potluck, and neighbors visiting were not expected to bring food, and he should just come on and join us.  Well, sure enough, he came that night.  We invited him to sit and eat with us before taking the plate home to his wife, but he wanted to get back to her.  So we visited in a line for a few minutes.  He lived nearby and simply noticed our sign.

What stood out to me is that he would venture inside a church full of people he didn't know to accept food that was "family meal" style.  I don't think this would have happened even two or three years ago.  I think that we have been spending so much time out in our neighborhood, including HIS immediate neighborhood, that he perceived us as safe, friendly, and helpful - worth calling and visiting to help out his wife.  It was a subtle interaction, and I don't think we have yet grasped the significance of it; but I'm pretty sure it was significant in our growth as a church for the neighborhood.

Friday, December 09, 2011

the filter bubble: the invisible self-idolatry of the internet

This is a fascinating and disturbing TED Talk on the ways that Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and many other online sites sort and individualize our "personal internet experience" with the mostly invisible (to us) result of only showing us what we WANT to see rather than what we NEED to see.

Not only do we only see what is let INTO our "filter bubble"; we don't get to see what is filtered out.

On the video, the speaker shows two different friends' simultaneous Google search results on "Egypt" during the revolution there.  One friend's results were full of news and politics and revolution; the other got nothing related to it.

We used to have human editors serving as gatekeepers to public information.  Now we have programs (algorithms) that feed us back ourselves.  Additionally, these programs don't have the kind of embedded ethics that human editors did.

What are we missing when we can't see beyond our individual horizon?

We lose a sense of public life and civic responsibility - and we need some controls over what gets through and what doesn't

We need programming (algorithms) not just keyed to relevance, but to things that are uncomfortable, challenging, and important.

I challenge you to watch and comment about what you think we are missing or losing and how we can address these problems through changed habits, different programming, a rediscovery of ethics and public good, etc...   Share your thoughts! 

Update: on my FB post linking to this article, I received an excellent comment from Grant Sutphin, who is a Presbyterian pastor in Statesville, NC.  Here is a part of his post I'd like to share and then respond to:

I think you're principally promoting the presenting issue of this talk rather than its conclusions, but I feel I should point this out:

Internet companies are just that: companies. They are market-driven entities that will make whatever decisions maximize their market-determined value to their shareholders. Imploring corporations to be altruistic and have at their core a desire toward building a more perfect society is a distraction from what we as pastors know to be the real issue.

It is the individual who proves a steady disdain toward world events in their internet-behavior who determines how the Google algorithm will then lead them in the future away from news stories. Pariser's own newsfeed begins to weed out conservative opinion not randomly but after he's clicked exclusively on progressive articles for a period of time. He might want to read the conservative headlines, but it would seem he doesn't need to look any deeper by clicking the links. If he did, the algorithm would continue to promote them.

Sin will always draw the individual away from community, away from otherness, away from confrontation. The sin isn't in the corporation, it's in the people, and that's where you have to go (Christ before you and beside you) to get it out. Regulating internet companies so they more readily show content unrelated to previous searches won't solve the strong desire we have toward alienation. We should never believe that a more altruistic Google or Yahoo will cure us of this.
I responded:
I agree, which is probably why I focused more on the presenting issue than the speaker's solution. I don't think pleading with corporations to employ ethic-coding programmers is the solution (or reasonable in any way). The speaker also notes that while he holds up human newspaper editors up as capable of gate-keeping, they were historically no better - also serving the needs of their employers.

My intent was to note the problem - our tendency towards self-preoccupation, made significantly easier and more accessible by the Internet. It's not unlike what having Star Trek like food replicators in the home might do for the gluttonous among us. (Lord, help us!) We are all the more in trouble when we allow technology to feed and enable our sin.

You rightly point us towards what is needed - a spiritual remedy for sin and bent towards sinning.

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