Dealing with Media Pollution

Back in 1999, Kalle Lasn wrote about a kind of pollution in his book Culture Jam. He didn't write about environmental hazards or the disturbing noises in industrialized, urban areas. He wrote about media pollution. He wrote about an increase of messages of all kinds, from marketing, news and peer-to-peer communication. The Internet was just finding it's legs. He couldn't have known how much media pollution the Internet would make possible at that point. Yet, Lasn foresaw a saturation point. Too much information for our own good.

I'm increasingly troubled by the chatter. I don't like how my mood is altered by pixels on a screen. I've realized that, too often, I allow media to use me rather than the other way around. It's not as if I want to be uninformed. More than ever I feel compelled to be aware of what's going on and engaged. But I want to be generative not inflammatory, a friend not an antagonist. I'm not sure that the "always on" approach actually produces this.

Some have advocated social media fasts and these are often good. For some people. They do not, though, ensure that control is taken back. One can stay away from social media only to binge out on their return, offering control up to group think by clicks. For me, what I've realized I need is to establish self-control, not fast and binge. A wholesale abandonment of a platform isn't interesting to me. Yet, I need to own my social media engagement, ensure that it remains a tool for my usage. Not the other way around.

What follows are some of the steps I'm taking to curate my media input and deal with media pollution. My hope is by writing this out it will encourage me to stay the course and I hope it provides something helpful to you, the reader.

My phone
I've deleted most social media apps off my phone. I can still post when inspired to do so using the Buffer app. This way, I am free to create but am not subject to distractions I don't need. I left Instagram on my phone, but have turned off all notifications on this and almost all other apps (only text, voicemail and calendar notifications are left on). This way, I check in when I choose to. Not when my phone tells me to.

I've unfollowed nearly everything on Facebook. No, I have not unfriended you or un-liked anything. But I realized that following all these people on Facebook offered a false sense of connection. I even noticed in one situation that I didn't feel the need to be as attentive to a friend in person, because I was all caught up with them through social media. I find that, for me, problematic. It is genuinely because I want to be a better friend that I chose to unfollow. In it's place, I realize that I will need to do better about staying in touch with folks through email, text and letters. It also means I need to be more deliberate about spending time with those who are important to me. And from time to time, I will need to make an effort to go find their social media tools online. But I will be making that choice out of love for that person rather than Facebook telling me to.

Many of us get updates on news and information through Facebook or Twitter. Yet, like our interpersonal connectivity through social media, it often occurs by what we're told to pay attention to rather than seeking out factual information and news. I've decided that, in general, I want something more substantive than Twitter and to curate it myself, not Facebook. We don't have cable TV in our house and I do not subscribe to any newspapers or magazines. I don't plan on getting cable TV but I am considering subscribing to a newspaper. I also recommend Feedly, which I use to follow news websites, and other writers I enjoy reading. But, again, I am able to check in on these when I decide, not when I'm told to. Lastly, I listen to a few news podcasts offering different opinions.

Speaking of podcasts, I've unsubscribed from a number of them. In it's place, I'm finding the library audiobook app, OverDrive to be a fantastic tool for listening to more books on the long drives that are a regular part of my life now. I recently finished What If? written by Randall Munroe and read by Wil Wheaton. So funny!

I have decided not to check social media, even email, before I do a variety of others things each morning. I will look at my phone to review my schedule for the day, check the time and the weather but that's about it. When I do this, it improves my whole day. I've found myself putting my phone on the table at meetings and meals during the day. I'm going to work on leaving my phone at my desk or in my pocket so that I'm less distracted and able to be present to whomever I am with. I also tend not to check social media after 8 or 9pm. Reading before I go to bed seems to help me sleep better. Not on a screen. An old fashioned hardback or paperback. I just finished Destroyer of the Gods by Larry Hurtado and Paul Among the People by Sarah Ruden.

Creating Media
What about my own contribution to media pollution? Am I part of the problem? I've wrestled with this and while I may be wrong, I've decided this is up to you. I write my blog, send out a monthly newsletter and post these things to other social media outlets. I do so for those that have said "yes" to what I have to offer. I am not going to be concerned about those that do not want what I have to offer and I will trust that those that take in what I produce can do their own filtering, or will choose to allow something else do it for then. That's their choice.

This is how I'm taking back control. I'd love to know what you are doing and what you would recommend.

Weekend Listening: Dangers - Those Sad Plebes Down Below

Prepare yourself ...

My Latest Newsletter Went Out

Every month, I send out a personal newsletter via email. It's where I share the stuff I am working on. The latest on what I'm doing at work. The music I'm listening to. Books I'm reading. All in one place. In your inbox.

My monthly newsletter just went out again. You missed it this month. But you can subscribe here and get it next month. I hope you do!

Weekend Listening: Joyce Manor - Last You Heard Of Me

Video: Confessions of a Christian Nation

Came upon this video a little late but it is nonetheless worth sharing. I'm glad to see these leaders saying this and I share their confession.

Found here.

Recruiting Missional Community Developers

If you subscribe to the Episcopal Diocese of Texas' Diolog e-news, you may have noticed an announcement of something we've been working on over the last few months.

Here's the announcement from yesterday:
Texas Episcopal Service Corps is excited to announce that the Diocese of Texas will be creating two Missional Community Developer positions for two Houston area organizations. Missional communities are sacramental and relational outposts for those who cannot, or will not, go to an established church. These corps members, as developers, will provide coordination for weekly worship and conduct neighborhood awareness, service and engagement activities. The addition of these roles are constructive to Bishop Doyle's vision of creating communities for people to gather and be present with one another in supportive faith. Texas ESC adds these exciting placements to its roster of 2017-2018 service opportunities for young adults, all of which can be found at
We're serious about developing young leaders through missional communities. This is an effort to show that. Applications for the coming year are now being accepted. Please apply and share with young adults you know. We will fill two posts this year, but I could be easily convinced we need more. If you're a leader of a congregation in the city of Houston that is interested in working with a developer, get in touch.

Making Sense of Missional: Further Background

Note: You may want to read this post before what follows.

I couldn't help myself. After what I wrote last week, I simply felt there was more background to be stated. But the Church has been around for a long time, so please forgive my quick dash through what, I believe, the architects of the term "missional" were reacting to through the history of the church up to our current situation.

Further background
From the beginning of the missional conversation, the theologians that would become the architects of missional theology were openly critiquing dominant assumptions about Christendom. They were not, from my vantage point, intending to be seditious or unorthodox. Out of a desire to be faithful and devoted these academics articulated what they did. Nonetheless, they were deliberately challenging commonly held notions.

The critique of missiologists was leveled at the colonizing habit of Anglo-centric Christian traditions. No matter what theology was articulated, actions communicated that mission was intended to take the gospel to places God was not present and that collusion with the state was necessary to conduct such a mission.

This may be a harsh and simplified history of the cross-cultural process through much of Christian history. Nonetheless, it is honest. Much good came from the expansion of the western Church. Yet, that good has to be held in tension, for example, with slavery and often the eradication of ancient cultures and languages, supposedly for the sake of God's mission. Until a few decades ago, this mode of missionary expansion was presumed to be the mission; spread the gospel around the globe. Yet, while an increasing majority of the world was connected to western, "Christian" civilization and culture, western culture itself was beginning to appear less "Christian."

Something was broken.

David Bosch called it a "crisis."

Over the last couple of decades, this missiological critique has evolved accordingly. It's aim has not simply been towards the historic Anglo-centric expansion methods of the western church but contemporary practice as well. With the broad shifts occurring in western culture, globalization was contributing to a changing relationship between western and non-western branches of many Christian traditions. From low-church to high-church traditions, an increasing number of denominations were making attempts to be more equitable in their structure, allowing non-western offices to self-govern and influence the whole. As this has happened, missiology needed to critique not only the past but present practice as well. This has gravitated toward criticism of a particular western church habit: consumerism.

More and more churches of the west were beginning to experience decline. An era of "secularization" began. At the same time, a new phenomenon was catching stride: mega-churches. Not unlike the impact of super stores amidst the strip malls that line our highways, which effected the viability of smaller “mom-n-pop” markets, the mega-church phenomenon of the late twentieth century appears to have had an inverse relationship with traditional western congregations. I'm not attempting to take issue with mega-churches per se. Rather, I am attempting to point out that mega-churches exposed a growing emphasis on what many have referred to as "religious goods and services." Alan Hirsch articulated it this way:
"The problem for the church in this situation is that it is now forced to compete with all the other ideologies and -isms in the marketplace of religions and products for the allegiance of people, and it must do this in a way that mirrors the dynamics of the marketplace - because that is precisely the basis of how people make the countless daily choices in their lives. In the modern and post-modern situation, the church is forced into the role of being little more than a vendor of religious goods and services. And the end-users of the church's services (namely us) easily slip into the role of discerning, individualistic consumers, devouring the religious goods and services offered by the latest and best vendor."
Was the mission of the gospel to develop faith communities, located in varied cultures and contexts, that increasingly looked the same and whose aim was simply more? While this did appear to agree with a post-Constantinian church, European colonizing church and western consumer church, for these missiologists it did not appear to agree with what was envisioned in Acts or Paul's epistles or the early church of the first three centuries. As David Fitch would write, "In short, numbers, on their own say nothing qualitative about what is going on in the church when viewed as the body of Christ."

There is so much more to say about this but now, we have to stop and ask another question: How did these theologians come to these conclusions?

The answer is actually quite simple: through the study of Scripture.

All of us read Scripture with a particular perspective. These missiologists were arguing that through their reading of Scripture, the gospel was the goal, not the church. Further, that the gospel didn't belong to the church, it belonged to God. What is more, an emphasis on more could easily slip into an abandonment of devotion, or more clearly: discipleship.

Next up, I will talk about a missional hermeneutic (or a missional reading of the Bible), which I believe shapes the practices that we've come to call "missional."

Until then, some more reading:

The Christian Imagination by Willie James Jennings
The Cross-Cultural Process of Christian History by Andrew Wallis
The Story of Christianity vol. 1 and vol. 2 by Justo Gonzalez

Weekend Listening: Pile - The World Is Your Motel