Reflections by Judy Trautman, following a sermon by T. K. Barger, the religion editor of The Blade, Toledo, OH, and Community Minister, about the effect of media on religion and the power of story.
As editor of NAINews and a Communication Chair for the North American Interfaith Network [NAIN], I have an interest in religious communication and a deep passion for interfaith/multifaith connection.
Dynamic changes in communication technology have certainly affected religion. Although religious folks may be a little slow to adopt new technologies, there is much evidence of media changes that affect how we communicate our faiths, as well as secular realities. Televangelists have been around for a long time, of course. PowerPoint sermons are not uncommon. Almost all religious institutions have local and national websites. But online worship services, streamed sermons, online sacred texts, Second Life virtual pilgrimages, blogs, YouTube channels, Facebook groups / pages, Twitter, and other social media phenomena, smart phone apps which connect to thoughts and prayers for the day– all are signs that rapidly changing media affect our religious landscape.
Many of these media developments have especially changed the way we receive information. Twitter is often the first source of news about major worldwide events. Within minutes the news is in our homes on TV or computer, or in our hands on smart phones.
As our world becomes smaller through the swiftness of travel and the immediacy of communication technology, we certainly see how interconnected we are. Even in secular spheres, such as economics and politics, we readily see how events in one part of the world affect us all. As population explodes, we are also much closer physically to one another. Getting along seems pretty vital to our very survival. Interfaith communication is increasingly important.
In interfaith/multifaith organizations, we realize it isn’t good enough just to learn about each other’s precepts or tenets. Our conversations are so much more than learning how to be politically correct when speaking together. We need to share our personal faith stories as they intersect with the sacred stories of our traditions.
Past NAIN Chair Kay Lindahl has made a life work teaching us how to listen. We do need to learn to actively listen to one another. We also need to learn to speak of our personal faith journeys with the intention of connecting rather than convincing or converting. We can learn from each other’s stories and see how they connect with our own.
Our new technologies are a mixed blessing. On the one hand we can connect with people instantaneously and with a truly global reach. But the lure of instant posting to a wide audience can pre-empt both thoughtful reflection and real relationship. Public figures seem to be constantly apologizing for some embarrassing tweet or Facebook post. And haven’t we all seen couples in a restaurant with one person glued to a cell phone, while the other sits in silence, ignored.
In the end, real communication is not about efficiency and technology [how we convey], but still about substance and content [what we say].
There is a dimension to faith stories – to life itself – in which Reality includes more than the physical and Truth represents more than scientifically replicable facts. All belief systems include an element of numinous mystery, of something larger than self. Faith stories are at the very core level of being. Sharing at this level is intensely intimate and can lead to deep connections.
Many of us experience this intimate sharing in our local interfaith organizations. And those of us who have the opportunity to network with each other through NAIN are able to extend this sharing across North America both through online communications and face-to-face at our yearly gatherings. It is not surprising that we fondly call these gatherings “Connects”.
Next month we will gather in Toronto for NAIN’s 25th birthday. I look forward to renewing connections which have become very important to me. I hope to see you there. If you are unable to attend this year, may we continue to connect online and in spirit.