+ here is the outline for my dmin. written statement +
Christian Spirituality has always been expressed in tension between community and individualism. On the one hand, every person claiming to be a Christian must recognize the familial and incorporative nature of the teachings of Jesus, while at the same time internalizing those teachings individually. One venue to facilitate this tension may be the World Wide Web. Though most popular among adolescents and business people, the internet has become a technological test tube for virtual community and personal expression. Whether caught in degenerative habits or social dialogue, the internet is now a mainstay of our culture, and is often the very venue the church has forgotten. It is the singles’ bar where individual experience and community expression meet.
Section two will focus on the ministry problem itself and demonstrate that the internet is a valid medium for testing this hypothesis, based on external data and outside sources, and that the dichotomy between individual expression and community life holds especially in the context of a postmodern worldview.
This, of course, raises the question as to why we have chosen to focus on the internet as a potential solution to this problem – briefly, because of the vast disconnection between new media and evangelicalism – and so section three will explore other potential solutions to the problematic tension between these two. Specifically, the notion of a charismatic contemplative liturgy will be engaged, as well as a model for church life that is based on convenience and intensity. While noble, we feel as if these two other models are too subjective to quantify.
In section four, we present materials ranging from computing sciences to multiple-intelligence theory to Christian spirituality in a postmodern world in order to substantiate our proposed solution to the ministry problem. This shows that there are legitimate forms of community occurring online, some of which have never even been recognized or validated by the Church, and that an online experience of faith simultaneously values the individual’s preferences and learning styles, and draws them into a conversation with other believers in prayer and worship.
In section five, we will show that the praystation module provides a practical solution to the ministry problem. We will present primary data and source materials, including testimonials and the stats from a working prototype, that will demonstrate the sense of community and personal encounter that occurs with the module.
Despite the success of the praystation module, it is my firm conviction that this area of study will need to persist in an effort to revalue the individuality of contemplatives amidst the global church expression of corporate worship gatherings. In the new world Church can string us together without becoming a noose.
My readers will be people interested in the development of communal spirituality in cyberspace, as well as my dissertation readers and advisors. These will include clergy and lay leaders, spiritualists, people of many faith backgrounds, and spiritual seekers – academic or clerical – with an interest in leading and experiencing the divine. The internet poses unique challenges for spiritual/communal interaction, most notably the absence of a tactile conversation, yet supplies people with a highly connective medium representative of their experience-based culture free from the constrainst of space and time. The non-locality and timefree basis of internet relationships, though often criticised, could be see to operate much the same way as the early Christian epistles, also written non-locally and still fostering community. Admittedly, Paul knew many people in those communities either prior to, during, or shortly after writing his epistles; but, one might argue that his letters held those communities together and shaped them more than his personal presence, often limited by space and time. Furthermore, one might argue that the epistles’ effectiveness in creating communities have not been limited to the 1stC, but are still creating community in the world today.
Here I believe the users will be primarily laypeople and high-end web users, gamers and interactives for example, though that is not to disclude the aforementioned group from probable repeat useage. The weakness and strength of the web interface is both its popular/widespread useage and its popular/uncritical useage.
Section 02: The problem
Topic: I am studying Cyber Spirituality.
Research question: how new media can be used as a venue for creating a spiritual community
Research problem: in order to identify matricies for spiritual formation and connection that are community driven and personally expressed
Practical problem: so that spiritually interested people can experience a sense of spiritual growth, learn more about prayer and contemplation in relationship with the divine, and find greater meaning and enjoyment through new media.
Section 03: Other Proposed Solutions
1. other websites that serve primarily as conveyers of spirituality and information, such as faithatwork.org.nz or ginkworld.net
2. other websites that serve as experience providers, such as vurch.com or churchoffools.com
3. other websites that serve as connecting points, such as myspacw.com or flickr.com
Section 04: The Thesis
Although typically relegated to entertainment and informational use within the church, due largely to the user fascination with play over development, I propose that the internet, free from the boundaries of space and time, can bring disconnected people together in new forms of spiritual discipline, in the tradition of lectio divina, the daily office, devotional reading, personal prayer, and contemplation of the divine.
1. because the internet is a viable medium for community
a. community does not have to be local
i. the epistles created community in Paul’s absence
ii. we experience community with God despite the absence of face-to-face connection
iii. we experience community via telephone and other telecommunication mediums
b. the internet is already establishing communities
i. community is the word of choice for connecting software
4. online gaming
5. massive multi-player online role playing games
6. instant messaging
7. text messaging [SMS]
WARRANT: people use various mediums to connect to one another over space and time.
2. because the internet is a viable medium for spiritual expression
a. technology and spirituality are not mutually exclusive
b. while spirituality is internally and personally resonant, it can be expressed through a variety of mediums
c. the validity of the internet in this way is recognized by the majority of world religions and sects thereof
3. because the internet is an open-source, creative environment
a. anyone with internet access can participate
b. the ideas of all participants are free to be explored at the leisure of other participants, hence there is little of the coercion that often pollutes church-related community
c. creativity is given priority and art redeemed as a means of expression and retention of participants [i.e. people go back to cool websites. Art invites interaction, which therefore creates community; therefore art creates community by virtue of attraction].
WARRANT: factors such as authoritarian leadership, coercion, and institutional gatekeeping - to name a few - in certain contexts inhibit community by prioritizing rules and controls over relationships and shared experiences,
4. because spiritual disciplines are not exhaustive
a. new spiritual practices have been developed throughout history
b. there is no biblical or historical ban on the development of spiritual disicplines
c. the disicplines themselves are a means to an end – spiritual connection.
WARRANT: we are all spiritual beings with a need to connect spiritually.
WARRANT: especially in north american evangelical churches, prayer and bible reading are the two main disciplines promoted from the pupit. This limits the access of people who tend to be non-verbal, non-linguistic learners to access spirituality in a personally meaningul and engaging manner consistent with their learning styles and multiple intelligence[s].
5. because the internet is free from the constraints of organized religion to such a degree that spiritual interest can be pursued without institutional gatekeeping
a. users are free to belong before they believe
b. it is truly a seeker environment, consistent with Jesus’ urgings in the gospel to “come and see”
WARRANT: many, many people want to experience spirituality.
Section 05: The Project
My project will be a web based experiential prayer module entitled the praystation, a first in the field of human transcendence technology. It places users in contact with images and environments of spiritual discipline and formation. The basic design idea is a blend of chat rooms, online game play, and VJ software. Using the praystation, people will be able to pray, share experiences, learn, and discover spirituality together through visual art, online chat, meaning [archiving] and generosity [emailing and sharing experiences].