Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Faith Works 5-11

Faith Works 5-11-13

Jeff Gill


Writing, Reading, and Being Read, Word by Word



Last week we were talking about electronic communication and social media in the life of faith communities.


Answering machines stand largely silent, as voice mail, texts, and those little message boxes on sites like Facebook, let alone tweets are now how we learn someone has gone to the hospital, or even better, than someone came home. It's not all bad, and in fact, it can be pretty good for pastors and others in religious leadership.


Electronic expression is a parallel, but separate shift we're experiencing right now. Reading and writing and sharing of documents, articles, and books themselves is often something that never touches paper.


Many of you, I know, read this column online (and thanks for subscribing online, which also gives you full access to an e-version of the paper layout if you like!). It still amazes me to realize, having written this and another column for Gannett's Media Network of Central Ohio for over a decade, that from my first articles for print in the 70s in junior high to my local paper, to today, I've gone from typewriter to paperless.


And when I say paperless, I mean there's not a physical artifact anymore in four weeks out of five (or more) from idea to outline to final product . . . and if you read this online, then it never hit paper for either of us at any point.


I use Evernote on my Kindle Fire and computers when ideas hit me, or to start my usual sermon note pattern; occasionally if I just have my fairly-dumb phone, I'll text a tweet note with the tag #NTS (Note To Self) which I'll scrape and re-copy later off of Twitter. My draft outlines and close-to-final columns go onto my own laptop and sometimes to Google Drive so I can fiddle with them from some of the other computers I'm on through the week.


Then my editor gets the final version from me by e-mail, marks it up (and fixes errors, thanks!), and zips it off into the Advocate's electronic sausage factory where it gets placed and printed or put out onto the internet under the proud banner of our newspaper. Newspaper: there's an artifact of a word right there.


Does my writing and reflecting on the world, and in my sermons, on the Word, change when it is developed on screens and touchpad's, as opposed to in ink scratches across a legal pad, or tapped one letter at a time onto foolscap wound into a Smith-Corona?


It's hard to imagine that it doesn't. The process of engaging ideas to text has be influenced in some ways by such radical changes in format and technology. Of course, some said this about the typewriter, back when the first novel (I'm told) written on one was the high tech fast-moving story of . . . Huckleberry Finn.


So maybe not.


I can't identify particular ways typing on a computer keyboard causes me to put out different strings of words or to craft certain sorts of images than I did when I was working with a device I had to reach up and actually "Return" at the end of a line (which is why that key on the right, kids, says "Return" – no kidding!). I didn't start using computers regularly on a personal level for word processing until 1999, by which time I'd been writing for quite a while. So I may just still be channeling old manual cosmos habits even while writing in an entirely virtual manner today.


This becomes a concern when folks see, as worship gets to the Scripture reading, lots of others open up a device, see the glow shining up from a screen, and people don't flip pages, but tap to get the right passage as they read along. With the best of intentions, some ask "Is that really Bible reading?"


My answer is "Of course it is." I encourage it. Your smart phone Bible app and e-reader access to the readings for the week mean that you can have your devotional time anywhere, and I don't think – although I'm watching with a certain questioning curiosity – that reading the Word on electronic words scrolling past is any more or less appropriate than if someone showed up in church on Sunday with a scroll under their arm, and when they sat, started opening the thing up and twisting their way across Isaiah with me.


Just don't jab the person next to you with the scroll ends, and we'll all engage with the words, because it's all about how we start to come to an understanding of what it means to understand the Word, the Logos, the Subject himself.


And I think Jesus can speak through our technology just fine.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; you can send him mail and he will read it, but mostly he gets e-mails at, or you can follow @Knapsack on Twitter.