Clickbait Christianity

Many of you know the term “Clickbait” (aka “click bait” or “click-bait”). But for those that don’t, clickbait are web articles that are created to entice “clicking” on them. Typically, the stories are misleading, biased, low-quality or completely bogus. The purpose of these articles is not to inform… at least not to inform with the truth. Rather, they are to pull people in to generate advertising dollars. Websites need thousands of clicks a month to attract advertisers. One time I wrote an article challenging a false prophecy from a traveling speaker visiting the Philippines that a flesh-eating bacteria plague would start in Pangasinan and then grow into a worldwide epidemic. A few weeks later a local news network put on a (later found false) report that supported the prophecy. Within 4 hours of that report, I had over 3,000 hits on my website. Normally, it takes me close to 4 months to get that many hits. Stories, even when false, that draw on the fears of Christians can generate an awful lot of “clicks” on the web. I am glad, however, that my article challenged the story, and ultimately appears to have been correct.

One finds a lot of clickbait on Facebook. At lot of my friends share this stuff. Now, in some cases, it is not their fault. Some clickbait is set up so that when one tries to close the article by clicking on the “X” it is actually interpreting the action as a permission to share on your FB page. That being said, so many intentionally put completely bogus stories on FB. Why do that do it? I am not sure, but here are some thoughts related to this issue at least.

  • Far too many Christians don’t want to take the time to do real research. If there is a report that a crater has formed in a part of the world as a part of divine judgment, it may be difficult to prove it was divine judgment, but it is pretty easy to research whether such a crater actually exists. But far too many don’t take the time.
  • There is still a tendency to take pictures as truth, and written stories on the Web as non-fiction. We live in an age where we should always doubt image evidence. We should also question context. Further, saying that one “read it on the Internet” is like saying one “heard it on the telephone.” The Internet is no more likely to be correct than any other communication device.
  • Many Christians (like most people really) like to shelter themselves with people they agree with and stories that support their beliefs. Some love to repeat any story that shows some religious, or racial, or national or social group in a bad light, regardless of the truthfulness, or even plausibility of the story. Others seem to have a fascination of divine judgment or guessing the end of the world, and repeat related stories with little to no thought to source, reliability, or logic (or repercussions to one’s witness when proven false).
  • Many fall into the situation of the bored cat that was killed by his own curiosity. Stories often titillate, or start with “I was shocked when I discovered…” to say nothing of articles that essentially say that you must read it, or must share it, if you love Jesus or care about others. Of course, in many cases the real reason you must read or share it is to help the site owner’s hit count for revenue purposes.

But is this all harmless? I don’t think so.

  • Some people believe these stories. Many of the stories draw on the baser instincts of Christians… trying to fire up their anger or moral outrage– perpetuate and expand an “US” versus “THEM” attitude. This is hardly a beneficial thing for Christians or the church.
  • I think it perpetuates a felt belief among many secularists that “Christians are so stupid that they will believe most anything.” Admittedly, secularists can be pretty gullible as well, but that hardly negates the bad reputation that it generates. I remember a friend of mine putting a non-sense article on his social media page where he added the comment… “This may not be true… but it should be warning to us.” If it claims to be true, verify it. If it proves untrue, don’t share it.
  • Helping false reports “go viral” supports a cynical industry that should be opposed (at least with disinterest) rather than sponsored.
  • In some cases, of course, this clickbait got dumped on people’s FB page without them knowing. But one really needs to know what is on one’s page. One’s reputation, one’s persona is revealed in what one puts on one’s FB, one’s Twitter, one’s Linkedin and more, People make judgments about others in what they have on their page.

I have to admit that I am cautious about working with people who are not cautious, or are excessively gullible, in what they have on their social media pages. I am sure others judge me in what I put on as well.

Titus 2:10 suggests that we are to adorn the gospel with our words and actions. I Peter 3:15 says that we are to share what believe and hope in, with gentleness and respect. Spreading obvious foolishness certainly does not do this.

A New Revision

missionmusings:

Just updated my book. More info at my other website.

Originally posted on theostorying:

Well it took a few weeks longer than I had planned, but it is finally done. The new revision of “Theo-storying: Reflection on God, Narrative, and Culture” is finally done and now on-line. I added three more chapters based on comments, and fixed some minor problems. Two chapters added new stories for consideration from a theological perspective. One chapter shows what I call “The Story Wheel” relating stories to culture and change. Probably also created some new problems. However, this will be the last major revision. If I want to make major changes, I will just write a new book. However, that may be awhile since I am working on two books on pastoral care, and one on cultural anthropology. Those have to take priority.

If you are interested, it is available on Amazon Theo-storying

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Reflective Theology in Missions: Part #2

So how might one do Theological Reflection within the context of Missions?

In Pastoral (or Practical) Theology, there are several options:

  • Edward Farley’s “Theologia”
  • David Tracy’s Critical Correlation
  • Whitehead and Whitehead’s Imaginative Interplay
  • Thomas Groome’s Shared Christian Praxis
  • Don Browning’s Practical Moral Reasoning
  • Lonergan’s Transcendental Method
  • Delve, Mitz, and Stewart’s Service Learning
  • Holland & Henroit’s Pastoral Circle
  • Shea’s Narrative Storytelling
  • Killen and deBeer’s Movement Toward Insight

>>>Trokan, J. (1997). Models of Theological Reflection: Theory and Praxis. Journal of Catholic Education, 1 (2). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/ce/vol1/iss2/4.

>>>Pritchard, John (1992)  The Role of Story in Pastoral Theology: a theological examination and critique, Durham theses, Durham University. Available at Durham E-Theses Online:http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/5795/>

I don’t want to grab any specific model, but simply suggest that Christian Missions would improve by theological reflection. I think, ultimately, a form a Shared Action/Reflection would be beneficial. This takes in Groome’s idea in line with the Whiteheads, with a bit of narrative storytelling and correlation tied in. In Cultural Anthropology we often use case studies, but commonly with inadequate theological reflection. It seems to me that the methodology of case studies as pertaining to action/reflection has value. So I am thinking to test this out soon.
1.  Action. It starts with action. Missions is commonly focused more on action rather than reflection. However, there should be no presumption that action in mission comes without presumptions. Action in mission is tied to one’s culture, faith, and personal belief.
2.  Storying. A missions situation, especially a relevant personal one, is turned into a story… either as a verbatim or as a critical incident. It is to be written down with conscious effort to focus on key relevant details and concerns (including feelings). Exact quotes are not necessary, and one should not get lost in the details.
3.  Reflection.  Reflect on the situation from one’s own:
                      -Faith Tradition
                      -Cultural Setting (including cross-cultural setting)
                      -Personal Perspective
4.  Presentation.  Share one’s story with others, in a small group, who are willing to affirm and challenge the reflections of the individual. This stage should not be cut short. It should involve a variety of perspectives and a willingness for honest, and transparent reflections.

5.  Integration and Resolution. The interplay of one’s faith tradition, cultural setting, and personal perspective, along with the challenge of others, should coalesce in some sort of integration. That integration may certainly maintain tensions. That is not wrong, but it should still result in some resolution in thought, and ultimately to action.

6.  Sharing.  Integration is commonly aided by the challenge of sharing, perhaps in a larger group, one’s ultimate theological resolution. (This larger group is not a time for further challenging.)
7.  Action.  And the pattern repeats.
One risk in Action-Reflection, Praxis, that one drifts too far into subjectivity. The anchor of faith tradition (doctrines, Scripture, history) is a key part to the interplay and reflection.

Reflective Theology in Missions: Part #1

The Problem

My family and I had recently come to the Philippines to do mission work. We became a part of a church for practical training. The theology of that church was considerably different that what I was raised in, but that was okay.

I would go to Wednesday Night prayer meeting. There, someone’s uncle had  heart disease and was not expected much longer to live. And then the prayer leader would get up and pray.

“Oh Lord! We know you are the great HEALER! And you PROMISED in your WORD, that WHATEVER is asked in YOUR name, you WILL do. We CLAIM this promise, and thank you as we KNOW that you are already DOING it. In Jesus Mighty and Holy Name…. AMEN!”

A couple of weeks later I would come to prayer meeting and learn that that “someone’s uncle” is now dead. I was ready for a thoughtful, and perhaps prayerful, discussion of why this man was not healed even though it had been confidently forecasted that not only was God  going to heal, but that He had allegedly promised to do so. It seemed like a good thing to discuss at a prayer meeting. Instead, after the death of the uncle was announced, another sorrow was raised. Another person’s cousin has 4th stage cancer. And then it was time to pray. And the words would be very similar…

“Oh Lord! We know you that you are all POWERFUL, all KNOWING, and all MERCIFUL! You said in your Word that WHATEVER is asked in YOUR name, you will do. And so we claim this promise and already Thank you for doing as you promised. In Jesus Most Mighty and Holy Name, we ask…. AMEN!”

Not long after, not too shocking, the “another’s cousin” had died, but again no reflection. The same morbid cycle of death and unacknowledged disappointment… of telling God what to do, and God not doing it. Long after I stopped attending there, I wondered why that was. I wasn’t wondering why God did not heal. For every verse that people throw around about God answering prayers, there is an equally strong verse challenging people regarding the hubris of trying to control God. No, what left me in wonder was why they never reflected on how their beliefs appeared to be out of line with reality. I theorized that they did actually reflect but chose not to question their own beliefs. Rather, they questioned the intensity of their faith. Perhaps they thought that God’s failure to do what He “promised” was because their own faith was a wee bit less than a mustard seed. If they laid claim over God’s will with a bit more intensity, expressing less doubt, prayed a little more intensely (like the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, perhaps) God would do it… affirming their own theological perspective.

I found this sad cycle of action without theological reflection to be truly bizarre… UNTIL I realized that I was also non-reflective.

I had been raised up in a faith tradition that was more focused on obedience to God than trying to get God to obey me. The theology I tended to have was closer to the well known dictum that “Prayer does not change God. Prayer changes us.”

Yet I had never reflected theologically on this either. The idea that prayer does not change God did not appear to be in line with either Scripture or reality. I may have been right to be concerned about my former church’s lack of theological reflection, but I wasn’t doing such a great job in this area either.

It wasn’t until about four years after that I started to meditate on this issue, and that led to reflection and study as it pertains to the idea of what it means to pray “In Jesus Name.” It is common in Evangelical circles, to think of “in Jesus Name” as an incantation… magic words that bind God to do our bidding. This misunderstanding has led to a lot of disconnection between theology and practice. Reflection for me led to growth. That is not to say that I have everything all correct now…. reflection is an iterative process since we never reach perfection.

An Answer from Pastoral Care

In Pastoral Care, we would do Case Studies, and in those studies we would have theological reflection and small group interaction. I found it quite useful. It wasn’t until later that I found out that their practice is a form of Praxis Theological Reflection, or Action-Reflection.

There appears to be negative aspects to Action-Reflection, especially when those who practice it are unaware or unsuspicious of their own presuppositions. There is a need for “hermeneutics of suspicion.” However, it does seem like Missions Theology would be improved with a Case Study tied to Action-Reflection and small group interaction.

In Part 2, I will suggest how that might look in Missions Theological Reflection.

Institutional Conversion

Wayne Oates in Psychology of Religion follows a somewhat similar line of thinking as William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience in the context of “Conversion” as a religious concept. Oates notes that conversion can be used in several ways (both inside the Christian realm, and outside).

He notes that there are many different models for what entails conversion. Some see it as an integration of self. Others see it as a transcendental experience. Still others see it as a change of direction. There are more, but that is enough for here. Ultimately, the key point is that it is a 2nd order change. This is using the terminology of Watzlawick. A first order change involves a change of direction within a system. One is using the same worldview, beliefs, and life tools, when doing the change. A second order change involves a change of direction tied to a change of the system. There is a paradigm shift involved… changing worldview, beliefs, attitudes, allegiances, and life tools.

Consider a trivial example. Suppose you were driving in your car from your home to the beach (assuming you live close enough to a beach to drive to it). Then suppose that the normal routes to the beach were destroyed by a landslide, or an earthquake, or volcanic eruption (living in the Philippines, these are reasonable possibilities). A first order change would be to look into alternative roads that one could take to get to the beach. There is change but the goal and method are ultimately unchanged. A second order change may involve a change of destination… like visiting a hot spring instead. Of course, sometimes it is unclear whether changes are first order or second order. If one decides still to go to the beach, but to float there in a hot air balloon, is that a first order change (because the destination is unchanged) or a second order change (because there was a radical change in process)?

Seeing religious conversion as a 2nd order change leads to two categories: genuine Faith Conversion versus Institutional Conversion.

Institutional Conversion is an act that is identified as involving conversion within a religious community. As such, it is a rite of some sort… whether it be highly formalized or not.

Different groups, and I am using Christian groups here, may have a different rites that they identify as conversion. Some may include:

  • Baptism
  • Saying the “Sinner’s Prayer”
  • Public confession of faith
  • “Walking the aisle”
  • Church membership
  • An ecstatic experience, such as “speaking in tongues”

There are problems with linking Institutional Conversion with Faith Conversion.

  1. There is commonly a poor apparent correlation between Faith and Institutional Conversions. A sizable percentage of people that go through one of the above rites never show demonstration of a change of heart, life, action.
  2. It leads to doubts of genuine conversion built off of  denominational differences. One group doubts another is saved because he did not do baptism, or did not do it “right,” or did not formally say the sinner’s prayer, or didn’t have an ecstatic experience.
  3. Putting points 1 and 2 together, there is a tendency to be judgmental, based on poor standards. As such people are identified as having a faith conversion who did not, and other people are identified as not having such a conversion, who actually had.
  4. Ultimately, an over-reliance on Institutional Conversion to identify Faith Conversion leads to, at least on a practical level, a “Works-based” conversion or salvation.

In the Bible, conversion is tied to terms like believe, confess, turning away, and following. For some people, this is a problem because it suggests a works-based salvation/conversion. However, identifying faith conversion as a 2nd order change, the issue clears up, I believe. Faith conversion is a genuine change of life that starts from the inside. Institutional conversion (that does not involve Faith Conversion) is an outward “work” without an inner 2nd order change. We convert (are saved) genuinely from the inside out, not the outside in, or outside alone. But one should, be concerned, when a person says they have had a faith conversion, but there is no clear 2nd order change in their life. Of course, ultimately, God is the only truly reliable judge in this.

This is not to say that institutional conversion is bad. It has a function… within the institution. But one should be cautious about confusing it with a genuine faith conversion.

<Perhaps I should have given warning before, but I am describing conversion in terms that does not identify God as the initiator, guide, and empower-er of real faith conversion. I am not seeking to take God out of it, but to look at it from the human perspective. For a more God/Christ-focused view, that is a different post.>

The Lamb and the Unacknowledged Self

Originally posted on theostorying:

One of the truly great parables in the Bible is the “Parable of the Ewe Lamb” in II Samuel 12

Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took…

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Reflections on Meaning, Philemon and Turning 50

Okay, I am turning 50 in about a month. Half century. Statistically speaking, I should be well beyond the half-way point in my life. At least I hope so. I worked awfully hard for 50 years. It would be rather depressing to think that I am not even half- done yet.

It kind of gets me to pause and reflect. I never really had a “Mid-life Crisis,”… unless one counts quitting my job at age 38, selling our house, and moving with my family to the other side of the world to embrace the unknown in missions work. But 50 seems like a good time to think things through. If I break up my life into 25 year segments:

0-24 Key word is “Growth.” Learning, doing stupid stuff, learning some more, and hoping that in so doing, I grow up.

25-49. Key word is “Success.” Trying to succeed in vocation, trying to succeed in family life, trying to succeed in education, and trying to succeed in ministry.

I don’t think I completely met my goal with my first “quadranscentennial “ I haven’t really met EITHER goal with my second quadranscentennial, either. But life is too messy to package up so neatly. Nevertheless, I think I do have a key word for the next 25 years.

50-74. Key word is “Meaning.”

So, what do I mean with “meaning.” At one time I would have chosen the word “legacy.” However, legacy is a “success” term, and that was for the middle of my life, not now. Meaning for me is to live a life that has relevance beyond my own personal goals and own personal ambitions. There is a bit of transcendance in this concept. Arguably, the term “meaning” implies that there is an Ultimate Reality beyond ourselves, beyond the reality that we perceive around us.

I would like to apply this idea for meaning to two important aspects of my life: Paperwork and People.

I am NOT a people person. For those who know me, that is no surprise. My Taylor Johson test basically said that I am a “jerk.” Oh… not in so many words. But much of my plot was opposite of what the TJ said was normative and “healthy.” For years, that was okay with me. As an officer in the Navy, that wasn’t a problem. An awfully lot of people in the Navy are sociologically maladjusted. Then I worked as a mechanical design engineer for a major defense contractor. I did not need a lot of social skills for that either.Most of the time, I could sit in my semi-cubicle at my computer terminal doing AutoCAD with headphones on listening to Old Time Radio programs (never been much for listening to music). Every 90 minutes or so, I would stand up, rub my eyes, and wander into the land of humans. There I would route paperwork, check on manufacturing, or inspection, or testing, or more paperwork. I may not be so good with people, but I am pretty good, generally, with paperwork.

And that kind of worked for me. Strangely, perhaps in an act of divine humor, I went into Christian missions. I brought the same skills of my first 25 years and half of the second 25 to missions. To some extent that wasn’t a problem at first. I started out in a seminary environment overseas, and I am good in school. Then I became a cofounder of a medical mission NGO. Later, cofounded two other NGOs, and got my Doctor of Theology. None of this has panned out to “monetary success” but it still looks half decent on a resume’.

But in recent years, I have come to a rather startling (for me at least) conclusion. I realized that much of the most important memories for me are ones involving the people who I have deeply impacted (in a positive way I hope) and those who have likewise impacted me. Go figure… So for me, the attempt to find meaning in my next 25 years will be in seeking to develop relationships that have positive impact, that edify, that are sources of joy, pride, frustration, hope, and Christian love.

It could be argued that meaning is built on God, and God alone. I fully agree with the first part of that. Meaning is grounded on God. But God alone? God has made us both social beings and finite beings. The finiteness drives the necessity to interact socially. But tied to that is an innate need to connect with others… be it family, church, friends, coworkers, or others. So when I speak of meaning, I am not negating God, but seeing what areas in the life God has made me still lack adequate meaning.

I don’t feel alone in this. Read the later writings of St. Paul. The letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon are very relational. It is like the fire to preach and churchplant had settled down, and Paul was focused on encouraging others and being encouraged by others. Especially read Philemon. The book tends to be ignored, except for those interested in slavery. But read it as a letter in terms of relationships. I don’t always like Paul. I mean, he was great man of faith, and a missionary. He was only surpassed in New Testament writing by St. Luke. But sometimes Paul comes off as a bit too driven by task. We see this with his fighting with Barnabbas over John Mark, and his insulting Peter over who he chose to eat with. But by the time, Paul wrote Philemon, there seems to be a change. Relationships now are more key than getting the task done.

So does this mean I have to become who I am not? In some ways “yes.” That is, I need to become who I am meant to become. That will mean actively trying to build relationships over building projects and programs. But I can also leverage who I presently am in this as well. I may be a paperwork person… but that is not all bad. People need encouragement in both writing and in words. Students need a professor who takes the time to read what they write, and take a personal interest to develop the talents that God has given them. They need acknowledgement. They need structures and support to help them achieve their dreams. Paperwork is not a substitute for dealing with people, but paper (both the plant-based, and electronic kind) can build, and impact, relationships.

Just like Paul did in his letter to Philemon.