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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Welcome to international visitors.

This blog has a device which indicates the parts of the world which recent visitors may hail from. At this time among the last 100 visits we have had guests from China, the Phillipines, Cyprus, Austria, Hungary, Brazil, Argentina, Britian, Jamaica, Australia, and the Carribean Islands. All though no doubt many of these are just "passing through" for all I know, it excites me to have any contact at all with folks from around the world. I honestly hope you find something useful to you here.

At this time, I am leading an adult study group on the history of the Christian Missionary Movement in the world. We are about to finish up the 19th century, the great missionary century for Protestant missions. We have already looked at the 16th century, the great missionary century of Jesuit missions and the day of great missionary expansion through Russia and into North America by the Orthodox church. We are taking a friendly approach to all the great Christian traditions and trying to learn from the mistakes of the past in order to form equitable mission strategy and practices. As a part of a congregation of a local church, we are trying to do our part as a sending organization to learn to think critically but act faithfully.

It is difficult on a format like this to demonstrate one's willingness to appreciate the local culture and positive goods each tribe of humanity has to offer. And I am especially handicaped by the usual American arrogance of knowing only English (I do know a little Spanish and Hebrew, but otherwise only Koine Greek). At least, anyone who has the skill to play on the internet partakes somewhat of its common salad bar style culture and that the skill requirement to enter into the Internet world is relatively low. Still, with the arrival of the Internet, the world is digitally divided into the "haves" and "have nots" -- large portions of the population of the world are without access to educational and employment opportunities. To reach out and form contacts with internationals via the Internet amounts still to a default "silk strategy". (I teach a course on the ethics of technology and cyberspace which is exceedingly helpful in raising moral sensetivity to the ethical concerns of the Internet as well as the ethical concerns of missions.)

Another problem with missions via internet is that true missionary activity and non-violent evangelism depends on being able to identify and stand shoulder to shoulder with the host culture in their own struggles as far as it is ethically possible to do so. Through patience and friendship and common cause, the host culture is in a position to appreciate a point of view through appreciating those who hold it. However, the Internet makes such identification systematically dificult. On the one hand, it involves constant tradeoffs between intimacy on the one hand and security on the other. One cannot risk disclosing oneself to another without simultaneously disclosing oneself to a million faceless and some even hostile contacts. A Christian's faith may lead him to make extraordinary risks but such risks should still be carefully calculated. One of the proven dangers of blogging is that one comes to know too much too fast about a person. Therefore, the important first step is to secure anonymity in the begining and release from that gradually through prudent disclosures.

But on the other hand, since it is so easy to inadvertantly or intentionally misrepresent oneself on the Internet, no one can think that they have a reliable picture of the character of the poster or blogger from their Internet presence. According to Aristotle, true friendship is based on the ability of each person to perceive the character and virtue of the other, but the remoteness of the representation of ourselves and the fact that such a representation is so much under our control rather than secured by fixed and reliable associations, makes all such presentations significantly ineffective. So even setting aside the common occurance of hypocracy by Christians, it may just as well be the case that you don't ever really get to meet true Christians on the 'net.

Still, it is possible to make too much of this. We feel confident in other print media that we can glean something of the character of the source. For example, we would not likely want to say that we know nothing of the real Dickens or the real Doestyevsky from reading their works. In a certain sense we are confronted with a dilemma of faith whenever we face the internet, the great disinformazia highway. It is a risk whether or not and to what extent we put any credit in material on the 'net. The dilemma of faith a 'net source is analogous to the dilemma of faith in Christ. Walker Percy described the gospel as being like a message in a bottle. By this he meant the Christianity was not knowledge in the scientific sense but more like news (evangelion = good news), more specificly like someone stranded on an island getting a message in a bottle that a ship is coming to rescue him. If a stranded person were to receive such a message, he would be faced with the dilemma of beliving it and getting his hopes up which would do him a lot of good by increasing his chances for survival, but at the same time risking the possibility that he might be wrong, that he might be believing something false, and that he will be disapointed later, or not believe the message, and thus not risk being in error but also remaining unhealthily discouraged about his prospects.

The Internet with all of its information/disinformation is one huge message in a bottle. The same medium brings us both treasures of useful information as well as piles of unmitigated rubbish. We make decisions almost tacitly about what to accept and what to reject on the internet. It would be interesting to compare our belief policies on different occasions to see if they are all consistent and whether there isn't a general set of criteria thatwe rely on to decide whether to accept what we read. How would reading the New Testament say be affected by that criteria?

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