Another Week Ends

So much great stuff sent our way in the past couple days, we just couldn’t […]

David Zahl / 7.2.09

So much great stuff sent our way in the past couple days, we just couldn’t leave town for the holiday without posting some of it:

1. A fascinating article in today’s Washington Post entitled Facebook’s Easy Virtue: ‘Click-Through Activism’ Broad But Fleeting (ht Stamper). A few choice quotes:

“[Iranian student Neda Agha Soltan] showed up in our Twitter feeds, then in our Facebook status updates: “is Neda,” we wrote after our own names. And when people started Facebook groups inspired by her death, we quickly joined them, feeling happy that we’d done something, that we’d contributed. But whether our virtual virtuousness will result in real-world action is unpredictable, and has as much to do with human nature as it does with amassing enough numbers.”

“‘Click-through activism’ is the term used by Chris Csikszentmihályi, the co-director of MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media to describe the participants who might excitedly flit into an online group and then flutter away to something else. In some ways, he says, the ease of the medium ‘reminds me of dispensations the Catholic Church used to give.'”

The article also discusses the fascinating results of an experiment undertaken by a Danish psychologist Anders Colding-Jorgensen, in which he started a Facebook group around a completely fictitious cause to see how many members he could attract. By the end of its first week, his group had 10,000 people:

“What surprised Colding-Jorgensen about people’s behavior on his site was that the group was ‘in no way useful for horizontal discussions.’ Users wanted not to educate themselves or figure out how to save the fountain, but to parade their own feelings of outrage around the cyber-public.”

2. A great little piece in Christianity Today about St Francis of Assissi, “Speak The Gospel: Use Deeds When Necessary” (ht Jeff Hual). The author, who published a biography of St Francis in 2003, maintains that St Francis not only never said the phrase in question (the inversion of the article’s title), but that he was known as much for his preaching as his lifestyle. He writes:

“‘Preach the gospel; use words if necessary’ goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets and Jesus and Paul put on preaching. Of course we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns.”

3. This morning’s NY Times reported on the sudden resignation of Riverside Church’s Rev. Dr. Brad Braxton (ht Caleb Maskell), less than a year after his appointment as rector. Par for the course as far as I can tell, but sad nonetheless. They explain:

“According to dissidents, Dr. Braxton went about [his mandate to bring the church into the 21st century] by bringing elements of evangelical tradition into church services. They said he called on worshipers to come forward and bear witness to their faith, favored the gospel choir over the church’s traditional choir, and preached at times what they considered a Riverside heresy: that Jesus and only Jesus was the way to salvation.

Some members of the congregation may believe that, said Constance Guice-Mills, a member of the church. “But his focus on personal salvation, on the individual, was diametrically opposed to the tradition of Riverside. Here, we believe you achieve salvation by doing social justice. Out in the world. And we have people from all backgrounds. Buddhists.”

4. I’ve been very impressed with the overall quality of the Michael Jackson think pieces published this past week: The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Slate, Salon, Roger Ebert(!), The Village Voice – I recommend them all. But the lady who in my opinion understood Michael most profoundly, who wrote about him with the greatest insight and whose little book On Michael Jackson [read it!] shaped much my thinking about MJ is Margo Jefferson. She wrote his obituary for the Washington Post, and if you only have time for one, go there.

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