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Last week, I wrote about Starbucks’ Green Apron Book and asked whether the 5 Principles that Starbucks’ employees are trained to follow might guide the church in its efforts to establish and maintain a presence on social networking platforms. That post prompted some great discussion, not only about social media (in fact, mostly NOT about social media) but about broader topics such as the art of creating experiences, whether other comparisons between Starbucks and the church are valid, and even whether or not they have good coffee. I agree, the jury’s out on that last one, but I’d also argue that people aren’t paying $4 for coffee (a product) – they’re paying for coffee PLUS the experience (or at least, in the case of drive-thru customers, the emotional connection with the brand).

Photo: Randy OHC (Creative Commons license)

Photo: Randy OHC (Creative Commons license)

But it was Jerry’s comment that sparked today’s post: “Let me know when you figure out how to celebrate the Eucharist on the social media.”

There are the mechanics of ‘figuring it out,’ but what I think Jerry was getting at are the bigger questions and issues. Before we launch into a big discussion or debate, what I’d like for you (reader) to help me do is identify the important questions. Let’s start there. Then I think we’ll have a better discussion.

One place to look for the questions is online. Some churches are already celebrating Communion there – evangelicals in multi-site mega-churches experimenting with online church and Communion, yes; but also Methodists and Anglicans, and probably some Presbyterians. Maybe even Disciples!

In reading around  (see the list at the end of this post), here are some of the issues and questions that come up. Some of these don’t apply to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but they’re worth knowing about. These are specifically about Communion, not the broader topic of online church.

  • The need for participation to happen in the context of a physical community (I’m deliberately staying away from using the word ‘real’ here) such as a Sunday morning worship service in a church.
  • The amount of need for control over who can participate (members of that particular church or denomination only? any baptized believer? anyone?)
  • The role of the clergy or celebrants with regard to the sacraments (Do celebrants have to consecrate the elemants? Online, is BYObread-and-juice ok? What about a ‘virtual’ sacrament, like in Second Life?)
  • What is Communion all about in the first place? Is it a ‘love feast’? A memorial? Is Christ present, and if so, how? Is it a means of receiving grace and forgiveness?

Some practical considerations:

  • People who can’t get to church (i.e. homebound, institutionalized, incarcerated, those with disabilities, etc)
  • What happens when public health concerns or natural disasters force people to stay home? My experience with online Communion was with a Disciples congregation dispersed across several states in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Might participating in online church (and Communion) lead someone who otherwise would not go to church to eventually connect with a local congregation? Or does it keep people from coming to a brick-and-mortar church by aiming to replace it?
  • What about those whom the church has hurt? Or those from whom the church has distanced itself?

Theological considerations (beyond those surrounding Communion):

  • In most of the discussions I’ve seen, the predominant theological question seems to be “What is church?”
  • A less-discussed theological topic is “Where is God in this?”

Help me out here….what other questions should be in the mix?

I hope you’ll follow some of these links and read what others have written, and then come back and add your questions:

Rev. Thomas Madron’s site (click on the PDF link to read his paper in favor on online Communion…written from a Methodist perspective but still fairly relevant for Disciples)

Lifechurch.tv – a multi-site evangelical church that also offers an online worship experience, with Communion.

Newsweek’s Belief Watch: “Click in Remembrance of Me?

This post by John Saddington on Church Crunch, about Online Church, which includes several helpful links.

An interesting discussion in ChurchCrunch’s Forums

Audrey Borschel, Disciples of Christ pastor and author

Audrey Borschel, Disciples of Christ pastor and author

Audrey Borschel is an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, and the author of Preaching Prophetically When the News Disturbs: Interpreting the Media (Chalice Press, 2009) During the upcoming General Assembly, she’ll lead a resource group on Saturday, August 1 from 3:45 to 5:15 p.m.

Rebecca Woods, DisciplesWorld news and website editor, spoke with Audrey in late May.

RW: So what will you be talking about during the resource group?

AB: The focus will be on media literacy — helping people to understand how the news is produced, how stories are framed, how biases creep in inadvertently, and what gets left out. We need some tools to understand this, and to get a bigger picture.

Here’s a good example — I agreed to be a community blogger for the Indianapolis Star. I’d been doing this for a couple of months, and I noticed one story they ran about recycling. It said that three percent of our stuff in Indianapolis gets recycled, while in other places, it’s 30 percent. They quoted Mother Jones [magazine] and called it a ‘progressive liberal’ magazine. So I went to the source, and I found out they [the Star] were quoting a waste management newsletter that Mother Jones had quoted in full.

RW: So there was a difference between the information the newspaper presented, and how Mother Jones presented it?

AB: Yes. We almost have to be investigative journalists….And then it gets into the definition of ‘political’ — a term that’s misused so much.

Everything is political, if you think about it. The case for Jesus’ ministry was overtly political. He wanted to evoke change among the people and he wanted people to continue that change. In our society — a democratic society — it’s all about this.

RW: Do you find that people in congregations want to hear about things that are perceived as ‘political,’ or do they want to avoid the subject?

AB: As far as people coming to church and what they expect, I’ve heard it both ways. In one congregation I was accused of being too political. I realized that I needed to do more educating. In other places, I’ve found that people really thirst for connecting the world and their faith. They wonder where the nexus is between the faith and culture.

As far as awakening a congregation to social justice issues — it’s not so difficult if people understand that social justice is all over the gospel.

RW: Your book is about preaching. What do you see in today’s preaching that causes you to be concerned?

Complacency and fear. Those are two instances when preachers don’t attend to the task of bringing the scriptures to life, and engaging the people actively — helping them think about the scriptures and the relationship to their way of living.

And a lot of preachers will stay away from the big news stories, even though they intersect really well with the scriptures. On the other hand there are people who are fearless, and if they see that something needs to be said, they’ll go ahead and say it.

RW: Are some clergy worried about the legalities of preaching on social justice issues?

AB: There’s probably some confusion — about the IRS, about the First Amendment — I cover this in a section of the book. Once people know that clergy are free to speak on many subjects and once people know what they can’t do — that should help some of the pastors who would like to preach on justice issues.

RW: Do Disciples have any particular challenges?

AB: One of the challenges, among Disciples, is in identifying the audience. Even though we purport to be pretty progressive, there are many congregations that haven’t had the exposure to a lot of the conversations that others of us have had. Because of that, they don’t have the background to understand some of the material that a preacher who might be an activist would try to convey.

Take Jeremiah Wright. That was obviously an example where a little sound bite caused terrible commotion and harm. My advice is to hear the entire story, and if it’s visual, then hear and watch the entire thing and understand the context. It’s all about context. When I saw [Wright’s] preaching, I could understand [his comments] because I understand the context of black preaching and theology.

The same for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. From the get go, I knew people would cherry pick her ‘wise Latina’ comment about making decisions at the appellate level. But we need to be able to look for context.

RW: Do you think most journalists would prefer a media literate audience? Are there some who perpetuate media illiteracy?

AB: I’m not sure that journalists don’t want people to be media literate. I might question some of the radio personalities or blog commentators who are so biased that they want their point of view to be the dominant one.

But in my book, there’s a chapter about op-ed writers. There is a lot we can learn from op-ed writers when we compose our preaching. The way that some of the commentators use images and structure, cinema, all kinds of things — it’s great. And they want to be understood.

I haven’t really become cynical through this process of learning and teaching media literacy, but I do tend to look at some news stories and wonder, what are the facts, what’s missing, and why are they framing it in this particular way?

RW: What about blogs?

AB: As a blogger, I’m well aware that bloggers are criticized for being inaccurate. Some of them do misuse information. For example, using e-mails as source of information can be misleading.

RW: How did you become interested in media literacy?

AB: When I was doctoral student at the Aquinas Institute of Theology, somehow I had this idea about the intersection between preaching and ‘disturbing’ news, and about doing theological reflection on the news. An advisor hooked me up with someone who had done a lot of work with the news. The framework for my doctoral thesis was media literacy for preachers.

RW: What will people learn by coming to your resource group during General Assembly?

AB: I’ll be trying to lay the groundwork for why [media literacy] is important. I will be giving some of the tools for media literacy — how to identify pieces of stories, for example. We’ll discuss the different types of news media, so that people see that there’s a variety of print and electronic sources, not only newspapers. I want to make people aware of how they get the news, and how the new sources of news can be intimidating, and sometimes misleading.

They’ll also gain insights that will be helpful not only for preaching but for pastoral care. When we do preaching, we are doing mass pastoral care from the pulpit. If there’s a crisis for the community, preaching on it can be a way to help people understand the relationship between their faith and the events that happen around them. There are great pastoral implications for it.

——

Audrey Borschel’s book, Preaching Prophetically When the News Disturbs, is available through Chalice Press. She will be doing a book signing right after the August 1 Resource Group. Audrey is also a member of The Intersection.

For the past few months, we at DisciplesWorld have been refining our focus. Like many publications, our print circulation has been declining. Visits to our website have increased, but we haven’t really integrated print and web as much as we would like to. With 6 years of publishing the magazine, it was time to ask ourselves, how well are we serving our readers? What are they looking for, and what can we provide for them? After a process of evaluating and re-defining our mission to better reflect what we believe DisciplesWorld is all about, we are now ready to begin rolling out some new projects and telling you about the changes to come.

First, we have a new blog. Publisher and Editor Verity A. Jones, and Managing Editor Sherri Emmons will be talking about these changes, and inviting you into a conversation about them, over at the Between the Lines blog.

Second, we have launched an email newsletter, the DisciplesWorld Dispatch. If you would like to receive it, please click here to sign up. Through the Dispatch, we’ll be able to keep in touch with readers, advertisers, and supporters, and let you know what’s happening with us.

We’ve also launched a new community site called The Intersection. Here, you can engage in discussions with Disciples and others; post blogs, photos, videos, music, and podcasts; create a personal profile; and more. The site is free to join. Even though we created The Intersection, the site belongs to the community of members. We hope you’ll join and help us develop it. The Intersection also has its own Twitter account: @faithmeetslife.

Later this year, we’ll be making some changes to our main site, www.disciplesworld.com, and to our approach to web news. We’ll keep you informed about those changes.  The NewsMuse blog will probably undergo a re-focusing and eventually, a re-launch. For now, I’ll be posting infrequently as much of my time is being spent on getting these new projects off the ground, so if you would like to be a guest blogger, just let me know.

Lastly, while we’ve done a lot of thinking and talking (internally and with some of you) up to this point, we don’t want the conversation to end. So let us know what you think, and what you’d like to see from DisciplesWorld and how you’d like to be involved in making it happen.

I just spent a week in Grand Rapids at the United Church of Christ’s General Synod. I had the opportunity to write for the UCC’s news team and was asked to cover some interesting topics and activities: Rep. John Conyers’ visit to Synod to talk about health care reform, youth mission projects in the community, interviews with several youth who participated in the UCC’s Sacred Conversations on Race, resolutions on the global food crisis and the Accra Confession, and immigration reform.

How should Twitter be used during meetings and conventions? Photo: aflcio2008 (Creative Commons license)

How should Twitter be used during meetings and conventions? Photo: aflcio2008 (Creative Commons license)

I also observed how people were using Twitter during the convention, and how the UCC news staff participated and included Twitter in convention coverage.

Using Twitter during conventions isn’t new. People who are attending will often agree on a hashtag (a word or a combination of letters and numbers preceded by #) to include in meeting-related tweets. This makes their posts easy to find using Twitter’s search feature (type in #gs27 to see all UCC Synod-related tweets). Some Twitter applications allow more sophisticated tracking of hashtags, and alert you when someone Tweets using the hashtag — UC News director Gregg Brekke uses twhirl, and his laptop would beep and display every #gs27 tweet as soon as it appeared on Twitter.

Gregg and the UCC’s communications staff did their own Tweeting from the @gdbrekke and @unitedchurch accounts. They also gave others’ Twitter efforts a boost by retweeting interesting tweets. And Gregg included several Twitter users’ comments in the UCC’s daily, 4-page convention newspaper, in the “Overheard” section.

Having just bought a new Blackberry and equipped it with Twitterberry, I came to General Synod ready to Tweet myself (@rebeccawoods). Previously, whenever I went to an event, the sheer difficulty of tweeting from my old mobile phone limited me to a few Tweets per day.  Posting anything from a non-qwerty keyboard was a pain, and I couldn’t see if anyone replied to me, sent me a direct message, or retweeted anything I’d posted until I got back to a computer with internet access. It almost wasn’t worth the trouble.

This time, having upgraded, I had to contemplate new questions about using Twitter during an event:

How much to Tweet? Normally, I post 2-6 times a day. This is what those who follow me are accustomed to.  I might be able to get away with a slightly higher volume during the convention, but not much.  I’ve unfollowed folks who post too much, and to me, more than 10 times a day (15 if you’re really interesting) is too much.

What to Tweet? Few people following me are from the UCC, and many don’t know anything about it. So I began by letting people know what I was doing: going to cover the United Church of Christ’s General Synod. I think I included a link to the UCC’s Synod site, in case someone wanted to check it out (I hope I included a link — if not, that was a missed opportunity).  I also tried to tweet about things that might be of interest to others: getting to meet Conyers and journalist Ray Suarez, links to articles, etc. Not too much insider stuff, although some of it was unavoidable.

What not to Tweet? There were some great speeches and sermons, but I only posted one line from one speech. I probably could have done more. Often, in my opinion, those don’t translate well.  There’s just something about being there. Same with worship. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with tweeting during worship, per se, it’s just a question of whether you immerse yourself in doing it, or take a step back and tweet about it. It also connects with others who are there, experiencing it with you…but not so much with those who are on the outside. I also chose not to tweet during discussions or interviews, or to pass along the myriad comments I overheard in bars and restaurants. The most fascinating part, to me, was reading what people posted during business sessions and particularly, discussion of resolutions. A protest broke out after one vote, and I was in the newsroom watching the proceedings on closed circuit TV. The cameras, of course, didn’t show the action. But people in the convention hall were tweeting about it!

What are your experiences with Twitter and conventions or meetings? Do you have any rules or advice?

Here are a few links:

From Chris Brogan, social media expert extraordinaire, 27 Things to do Before a Conference. [Some of these might seem like overkill for a meeting like General Synod or the Disciples’ upcoming General Assembly]

From Mari Smith, Ten Ways to Tweet from Live Events [scroll down past the stuff that is related to the Social Media Summit

To see how a conference becomes a year-round community, log on to Twitter [if you have an account] and search #sxsw.

I’m in Grand Rapids, Mich. for the United Church of Christ’s General Synod. I’ll be here for the whole Synod, which officially opens Friday and ends June 30. On Thursday I spent the day covering a pre-Synod consultation on immigration.

The event included great speakers, immigrants who shared their stories, and community organizers including keynote speaker Norma Chavez-Peterson of Justice Overcoming Boundaries and Baldemar Velasquez, known for his work with FLOC, organizing farm laborers.

But the best quote of the day came from Dave Ostendorf, who said that liberal Christians tend to be “resolutionary” instead of “revolutionary.” He and others called for people of faith to go beyond passing resolutions and having church meetings to actually taking ministry outside of church walls and into the community to get things done, engaging systems and structures to get at the root causes of social problems.

One thing I appreciated about the day’s event is that those in attendance seem to understand the intricacies of justice work. They talked about the unintended consequences of the efforts of well-meaning Christians; they distinguish between feel-good, drive-by charity work and actually listening to, honoring, and empowering people who are oppressed so that they can shape their own futures with dignity. Those are nuances that you sometimes don’t hear when it comes to church mission and outreach.

In light of Ostendorf’s remark, I couldn’t help but think about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In about a month, the General Assembly will vote on whether to stop being a “resolutionary’ church. The idea is to replace sometimes-controversial Sense-of-the-Assembly resolutions (and a couple of other types of resolutions) with a dialogue process: Calls for Action.

But if we stop being “resolutionary,” we’re still far from revolutionary, and sometimes, a revolution — a turning-upside-down of things — is in order. While resolutions should not be  confused with actions,  I wonder if now we’ll fall into the trap of mistaking conversation for action. To be fair, the Calls for Action open a better space for dialogue than the 12, 24, or in a few cases, 48 minutes of floor debate. But at the end of the day, will anyone urge us to take it a step further?

How, as church, can we Disciples go from resolutionary to revolutionary, instead of going from resolutionary to…a bunch of nice Christians who can proudly say that we all get along? I hope we can find a way.

Social Monday: Secrets of powerful blogging

By Christian Piatt

It seems like everyone’s blogging lately, and those who aren’t often feel left out of the loop and bewildered about the whole “blogging thing.”

Well, if it makes you feel any better, lots of people who are blogging are pretty close to clueless too. So here are a handful of tips to help you make more out of your blogging experience.

Know your purpose: Sometimes people blog simply as a glorified diary to jot down personal thoughts to share with friends and family. Others, however, are expecting the world to flock to their blog once it’s set up, and then wonder why they’re getting little or no traffic. So before you even start, try to define why you’re doing this. Is it to educate people about something on which you’re an expert? Is it to get them to visit your website, or maybe purchase something? Maybe you’re using it to build community. Whatever it is, know this from the outset and let this guide your content.

Know your audience: This is another one where people can often get tripped up. Just getting lots of traffic on your blog doesn’t mean it’s effective. You need to make sure you have in mind who you’re writing for, and where they can be found. Once you know this, your blog work will become more effective.

Select a blog host: Once you’ve done your initial homework, it’s time to pick where you’re going to host your blog. There are plenty of free hosting sites, but make sure the one you choose allows for keyword search (described more below), and has the capability to be integrated into your website if you have one (also explained more below). The most common hosts are WordPress, Blogger, Blogspot, LiveJournal and others. But more important than its popularity is whether or not the blog host can do what you need it to do.

If all you want is to create something for a select group, such as a church group, family or specific circle of friends, you’re pretty well set. However, if your goal is to draw in new readers, growing traffic from people you may not even know, read on…

Blog Search Engines: Sites such as Technorati, Blogsearch, Digg and Google Blog Search can help raise the “searchability” of your blog posts. This means that people searching online for the kind of content you are generating may stumble across you. There are plenty more search tools like this, but you want to make sure you’re in the big ones so the most people have the best chance of finding you.

Keywords or Tags: Any blog host worth using will offer the ability for you to add tags to each post. These are the key words people should use to find your post. For me, I always include my first and last name as well since, as an author, I want my name to be high in all search engines when they look for me. Make sure your tags are fairly common words, and avoid using words you think may grab some attention, but that actually have nothing to do with your content.

Active Links: Like in this post, you’ll want to offer direct links to things online to which you refer so readers can jump right to them. Folks get annoyed in the blogosphere if you talk about a resource, and then don’t give them the link right to it. Become a sort of portal of information, and readers will return to find out what else you have to say. This also doesn’t hurt your searchability, or Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Integrate into your website: This is where I’m a bit of a hypocrite, because although I recommend adding your blog to your website so people can directly read it from your main page, I have yet to do this myself! This can greatly enhance SEO for your site, and it also make for more of a one-stop shop for people to find all they want to know about you or your organization in one place. As an alternative, at least make sure you have direct links to your blog from your website, or even RSS feeds (Real Simple Subscription) so people can track your post activity.

Feeds: If you’re on Facebook or other social networking sites, look into the ability to add a feed to your page. This just means that you tell the site where to find your blog. Once you set up a feed, each new post will automatically show up on your Facebook page. For you authors, you can also add a feed to any book page on Amazon by you. Check out Amazon’s profile features for more on this.

Regular, reliable content: Last but not least, make sure you’re giving readers what they want and expect, when they expect it. Think about if you got your newspaper at different times every day, or if you opened it to find a new layout every time you tried to read it. Familiarity and predictability help lead to faithful readers, so keep this in mind when asking yourself, “is this blog-worthy?”

Christian Piatt is the author of MySpace to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation, and Lost: A Search for Meaning, and he is a columnist for various newspapers, magazines and websites on the topics of theology and popular culture. He is the co-founder of Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Amy. For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com.

Disciples of Christ minister Steve Kindle

Disciples of Christ minister Steve Kindle

If you’re ever reporting on gay marriage, Steve Kindle is someone you’d want to interview. Kindle (a Disciples of Christ minister, and a straight man) is a vocal advocate for gay marriage and other lgbt issues. DisciplesWorld wrote about him when he appeared in Daniel Karslake’s 2007 Sundance film on Christianity and homosexuality, “For the Bible Tells Me So”, and we interviewed him again after California voters passed Proposition 8 last November.

Like most people who have an opinion on the subject, Kindle took note when Carrie Prejean, Miss California, voiced her opposition to gay marriage.  But what really got him going wasn’t the subsequent revelation that she had posed for revealing photos. It was her association with the National Organization for Marriage (the same folks who brought you the thunder-and-lightning ad campaign called “The Gathering Storm”)

Kindle methodically takes on the NOM’s Q&A format — their “talking points” approach to getting people riled up about the supposed threat  of gay marriage. He describes the NOM’s effort this way: “I have never discovered a more ill-informed, logic challenged, subject changing, straw man creating attempt at defending a position since the efforts of the holocaust deniers.” And then he sets out to take them apart.

Each day for about the past week, Kindle has taken on one point from the NOM and systematically debunked it. You have to admire the sheer bulldog-like quality of his approach. The guy knows what he’s talking about, and he’s not going to let go.

Photo: Foxtongue (Creative Commons license)

Photo: Foxtongue (Creative Commons license)

One of the best things about blogging (especially when it’s Friday and you’re a little tired of writing) is that you can read other people’s blogs and link to what you find. Here are a few interesting posts for your afternoon or weekend reading:

Danny Bradfield over at the Field of Dandelions blog posted this great photo in Earth Day. His blog’s got a new look. While you’re there, read about his recent adventures as a judge for the school’s science fair.

What do Disciples of Christ, the Vineyard churches, Mormons, Frank Viola and the house church movement, and the Orthodox Church have in common? They’ve all grown, to some extent, out of “restorationist” principles – the idea of restoring the New Testament church. Blogging from Bridgeport wonders if the New Testament church needs restoring, after all? He makes an interesting point – go read his post on the quest for the New Testament church, and comment.

Bob Cornwall rarely lets a day go by without updating his Ponderings on a Faith Journey blog, and he’s always got something interesting to say. This week, he’s written twice about the use of torture as an interrogation tactic. I especially like this post, though, about interpreting the Koran.

Going back to last month, The Ageing Xperience writes about the donation of organs – and various other items – to a church, and what kinds of obligations and issues this occasionally creates, even if the donor’s intentions are good. Anyone who’s a pastor or has served on a church’s board or as a trustee can probably relate.

In closing, from Nathan Day Wilson’s blog, a word from Thoreau. As much as social media has opened up the floodgates of self-expression, there are others out there (on the internet, yes, and in “real life”) whose songs go unnoticed. May we listen well, and may we help others to make their lives sing.

By Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is an author and new church planter in Pueblo Colorado with his wife, Amy. His podcast can be found on iTunes, or by visiting his website at www.christianpiatt.com.

When I first heard of podcasting, I thought it was pretty cool. Immediately, I went online and set up free subscriptions for way more of my favorite shows than I can reasonably listen to, but as a junkie for free information, I couldn’t pass it up!

How great would it be, I thought, if I could do my own podcast? But surely it’s way too complicated and time-consuming to manage myself, right? I had received a book on podcasting a while back, but I was too intimidated to get started. For months, it remained no more than a good idea in the back of my mind.

Then, because of a series of curious circumstances, I ended up with a credit of a couple hundred bucks at my local music store, which is a dangerous thing. I wandered the aisles for a while and came across a cabinet of digital recorders. The price tags ranged from $200 to $350 bucks, and given my experience with digital recording gear, I assumed these were mediocre gadgets at best.

Turns out that digital recording technology has come a long way both in quality and affordability. Next thing you know, I’m on my way home with a little portable unit, complete with built-in microphones, cables and headphones. At home, I did a few test runs, speaking and playing into the recorder, amazed at the quality of this little machine that ran off of four AA batteries.

Maybe this podcast thing is not such a crazy idea after all.

I got online and found links to Audacity, a free audio mixing software program. Surely, I figured, this thing is lame. I mean, who can get anything decent out of some freeware? But the more reviews of it I read, the more convinced I became that it could at least handle my basic needs.

Next, I’d need a host site – somewhere to put my podcasts online so people could find and play them. Again, after some browsing, I found Podbean, one of many podcast “hosts” who offer free basic packages to get you started. Like others, they charge for premium services and extra memory storage, but I could get started and see if this podcasting thing was right for me without signing up for some pricey membership.

As a fan of National Public Radio, I had a fantasy of making my podcast sound like “This American Life,” so I’d need some sound clips to break up the narrative. I found more than I could use in three lifetimes at FreeLoops.com and The Freesound Project.

Outfitted with all the necessary gear, now I needed some interesting content. I started by narrating a few chapters from my newest book project, followed by a memoir-style account of my own faith journey and some spoken word clips. But what about ministry? Could I use podcasting to get the word out about our church on a local scale, or maybe nationally? That’s when I put together the “Big Fat Jesus Head” series I did with my wife.

I was getting some decent traffic from friends and people I told about my new project on Facebook, but I wondered if there was another way to get my work in front of people who liked podcasts, but who might not know who I was. That’s when I learned about Podcatchers, which are online services that serve as a clearinghouse and search tool for the thousands of podcasts out there.

In a few months, I’ve gone from this podcasting thing being an intriguing but daunting idea to having almost 600 hits on my first handful of episodes. Even better, when people search my name on search engines, the podcast is yet another thing that pops up. My literary agent was thrilled too, because that book project she was promoting for me found a foot in the door when a publisher showed interest in listening to the first few chapters online.

Next steps include recording Amy’s sermons, archiving personal stories from members of our church, concerts and interviews with other activists, artists and various people of interest. Aside from being a great tool for non-readers to get your message, there’s something deeply personal about hearing someone’s story or message in their own voice.

Now that I got it going, I have to wonder why it took me so long to come around. Turns out even we tech-heads have our hang-ups about new technology. But like anything else, it’s just a new tool at my disposal and, once I learned how to use it properly, became another avenue for personal expression, publicity and connection with people regardless of place or time.

Even better, it’s broadening our circle of people who hopefully will get some benefit from the ministries we’re doing here in Pueblo. If what Amy preached about Sunday can help someone in Nebraska a month from now, it just extends the life and scope of our ministry.

If you ask me, that’s technology at its best.

To sign up for Christian’s E-newsletter, “Faith Portals,” visit www.christianpiatt.com, or email him at cpiatt@christianpiatt.com.

What would Jesus do if he was at his favorite Mexican restaurant, enjoying a Taco Salad and catching up on some reading, and overheard a couple sitting nearby trying to convince a young man to join a nefarious pyramid scheme (as opposed to, say, a benevolent pyramid scheme?)  Well, I don’t know what Jesus would do, but now I know what Disciples blogger Dan Mayes did. I’ll let him tell you.

Katherine Willis Pershey, over at any day a beautiful change, admits an aversion to hipness, both in the church, and in the fabric store.

Mad God Woman shares a link to another great blog, Stuff Christians Like. It’s not just a one-off list; each item of “Stuff” has its own blog posting. And he’s up to #495: Wondering if We’re Worth Anything.  Another great posting there compares different Bible versions to G.I. Joe characters (still works even if you don’t know your characters). Another recent posts from the Mad God Woman: Mitres of Fire, Hazards of Habit, about one of the major mistakes pastors make. Rock on, preacher lady.

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