Like just about everyone else in my universe of colleagues, Clint Schnekloth (@Schnekloth) is someone I met and now horse around with via social media. In this case, "horsing around" basically means me digging my virtual elbow into his virtual ribs for using complicated big words to discuss theologically complex notions about faith and Clint coming back with a good-natured riposte.
All this generally happens on Facebook where, thanks to Clint, I'm routinely invited to think about church at the meta-level. Now his new book, Mediating Faith: Faith Formation in a Trans-media Era
invites me to do so as well. Because this is neither a fast nor easy read, I asked Clint to unpack it a bit for those of us who are "in the trenches" of church communications. Read on!
Meredith Gould: In which theological tradition do you locate yourself and what, in practical terms, does that mean about how you view the world?
Clint Schnekloth: I tend to think of myself as practicing "open confessionalism" as a Lutheran. This means I consider myself centered and grounded in my tradition, but not bound by it. It’s like a starting place for conversation with those of other faiths rather than a wall separating me from others.
MG: You present some complex concepts, so to make it simple and easy for readers, please define “trans-media” in plain language.
CS: The best example of trans-media is "The Matrix." It started as a movie, but then between the first and third movie, an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) Matrix game was developed. To understand everything happening in the third movie, viewers needed to have some knowledge of the story within the game. Trans-media is where different forms of media layer and mutually influence each other. Meredith, this Q&A is also trans-media, because it's a blog post about a book and we conducted the Q&A via e-mail.
MG: How might your work help close the gap between scholars who are crafting a theology of social media and church communications practitioners who use it “in the trenches”?
CS: I think people in the trenches tend to think of old and new media as in opposition to each other, so they ask, “Some of our people don’t do Facebook, so how do we engage those who aren't migrating to or native to digital social media?”
Although that's an important question, we sometimes forget that everyone in the church still engages with media even if they don’t engage with social media. My book helps practitioners think through how a wide array of media form us in faith. Awareness of media effects can help practitioners approach new media not as being opposition to old media, but layered with it in fruitful ways.
MG: You started the ELCA Clergy group on Facebook in 2011 and do write about changes you’ve observed over the years. Please give readers your headline about what has changed most relative to using a FB group to build and sustain community.
CS: Large Facebook groups like the ELCA Clergy page have an effect in our denomination almost as significant as the denominational structure itself or synods. Sometimes I think of that Facebook group as a seminary or a synod. Recently, I asked everyone active in the group to “like” a post just to see how widespread the engagement. Within a week, there were 1,000 "likes," which meant at least 1,000 of the 9,000 active clergy in our denomination were reading that post.
MG: If someone had time to read only one chapter in Mediating Faith, which one would you want them to read?
CS: I’d encourage preachers to read the first chapter on preaching and neuroscience. I'd encourage laity or anyone interested in the “what’s next” of digital media, to read the chapter on MMORPGs and Second Life. I'd suggest theologians read the sixth chapter on pneumatology. Anyone into the synthesis and creative aspects of the book, should read the last chapter.
MG: What do you hope readers will begin doing—or doing differently – as a result of reading your book? How do your hoped-for outcomes change relative to readership (e.g., clergy, lay leadership, theologians, church communications professionals)?
CS: My biggest hope is that church leaders will take whatever they learn from one medium and apply it to others, and think through how faith is forming in those mediated contexts. For example, I hope clergy will help foster more prayer in social media contexts, or build community in online groups.
I also hope more Christians will think of new media as a potential context for mission, and then go live and share life there.
MG: Anything else?
CS: You ask really good questions. Thanks for engaging the book and #chsocm!