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BOOK REVIEW: Navigating the Digital Reformation Mary Jacobs, Jul 21, 2011
By Mary Jacobs Staff Writer
Tweet If You ♥ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation Elizabeth Drescher Morehouse Publishing, 2011 Paperback, 192 pages
Is social media the end of the church, or a new beginning? “Yes,” answers author Elizabeth Drescher in Tweet If You ♥ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation.
Ms. Drescher sees the explosion of social media—Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and blogs—as good news for mainline Protestant churches. There’s a “digital reformation” underway, she posits, and mainline churches—including the United Methodist Church—have an opportunity before them.
“The good news is that the very characteristics that have made mainline Protestants so generally ineffective with broadcast media are actually assets with regard to digital social media, which highlight practices of creative improvisation, participation and distributed authority,” she writes.
Social media allows the church to reach more people than ever before—but it’s a two-way connection, a broad, participatory conversation instead of a sermon delivered to those who listen.
The author devotes many pages to laying out her conceptual framework; readers looking for practical, apply-it-now advice will have to wade through sentences like this one: “Tweet If You ♥ Jesus approaches new media and the Church by situating contemporary religious practice within a historical, cultural, and social narrative and then exploring the implications of this narrative for the life the church in the Digital Reformation.”
Still, the author’s realistic and hopeful analysis of how social media is changing our daily lives is helpful and thought-provoking. Social media isn’t just providing new ways for people to connect; its influence goes even deeper, the author contends, changing our “common understanding of ‘how things are around here.’”
For those who desire to inhabit the spaces of Facebook or Twitter as Christians, Ms. Drescher suggests “listening, attending, connecting and engaging” as spiritual practices of the Digital Reformation.
“People put up pictures and list their interests because they want other people to see how they see themselves and the worlds they inhabit,” she writes. Keeping up with the posts of Facebook friends, or following others on Twitter, are ways to listen. “If you’ve ever said to someone at coffee hour, ‘Tell me a little bit about yourself,’ you know exactly how to do this,” she writes. As a way of “attending” to others, the author mentions two friends who “have elevated the Facebook ‘like’ to a kind of digital practice, making the rounds among friends and waving to them through the day.”
One of the most interesting and practical ideas posed by the author is a Digital Social Rule of Life, a series of routines and “rules of thumb” for how to conduct oneself generously and kindly in the social media space. She throws out a few preliminary possibilities, such as: “To Have a Friend, Be a Friend”—whenever possible, accept people as friends on Facebook, or “follow back” those people who follow you on Twitter. Or “Keep the Church Doors Open”—make your church’s Facebook page a public one, open to the stranger, just as anyone might walk through the doors of the brick-and-mortar church. And “Share the Love, Honestly” by retweeting or reposting quotes, stories and links that you enjoy, with a nod acknowledging the friend who shared them with you.
While the book isn’t a manual on social media skills, the author’s observations on “practicing digital reformation” provide solid food for thought for the Christian walk of anyone who wanders the social media sphere.