Monday, May 30, 2011


One of the more common approaches to technology involves pointing out the various ways in which it (mis)shapes our humanity. There are many iterations of this approach and anyone involved in discussions of technology and culture knows the argument well: technology consistently draws us away from each other and in turn, away from ourselves; we must be ever mindful of the ways that our gadgets affect us, which is to say that there are myriad ways that we are negatively affected by technology. Here is one recent example of this approach to technology though there are, to be sure, many more.

This particular approach is not uncommon for many Christians, as our community remains ever attracted to condemnations of 'the world.' My critique of this approach can be summed up in two points. The first is that the category of 'technology' presumed by this approach is often too narrow. Proponents fail to account for a broader sense of technology that can include the many ways in which we interact with creation. For example, clearly cell phones are technology but so are ballpoint pens, doors, and books. (See Bruno Latour)

The second point of critique is intimately related to the first and is what I'm more interested in today, namely that an approach to technology which focuses on its adverse effects on our humanity fails to account for our immensely complicated relationship with technology, even with that evil communications technology that many decry again and again.

The example I have for my second point is mud. Out of almost nowhere, many of my facebook friends--from different areas of my life and with no connection except through me in most cases--began posting pictures of or anticipatory statuses about extreme obstacle courses, usually involving large amounts of mud. I had certainly heard of these mud-runs before but not to the degree as in the past few months. My own brother and sister-in-law just completedTough Mudder. The 'objectives' of the course appear to be pushing one's physical and emotional limits, strengthening and starting friendships, and attaining a sense of personal accomplishment. I would offer that part of it is just reminding yourself about the joys of being alive and of the wonder of bodiliness.

I offer mud, therefore, as a helpful example for seeing the complex relationship we have with technology. When someone completes a mud-run, pictures are posted and stories are shared on facebook and twitter. Others become inspired, jealous, competitive, and do their own crazy obstacle courses. Pushing through the mud reminds us of our humanity but the moment was facilitated in large part by the technology. Technology is not external to us in a way that we can name it and then accept or deny it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Try, Try Again

Behold yet another attempt to keep a record of my reflections. The thinking behind this particular iteration of journaling/blogging is to provide a space for reflections on theology and culture.

The name comes from an idea I had at the beginning of last semester when our American Catholic cultural studies class was doing some research exercises in visual and material culture. Tasked with analyzing the windows of the campus chapel, I was struck by stained glass as a metaphor for theological reflection on culture.

Stained glass stands between the Church and the world. The walls of the Church were purposely taken or left out in places to accommodate beauty that would stand between it and all that surrounds it. Stained glass windows are received most fully in their beauty by standing outside of the Church, yet the right amount of light within can offer its beauty to the world. Stained glass itself, however, is not only part of the world but a product of it. It is testament to the goodness of creation and the ability of creation to transmit the glory of God. Theological reflection on culture, the stained glass of the Church, both reflects and affirms the truth within the walls of the Church. It also stands precariously on the edge between the boundaries of both Church and world, nature and grace, human and divine-- the work of human hands put to the glory of God.