I am Writing a Book on Technology and Spirituality in One Month

I just had an experience that prompted me to shift my writing priorities and finish a book on Technology and Spirituality this month called Digitized: How Technology Shapes Us and What We Can Do About It. I”m truly honored to give keynotes and invited presentations to teachers, policymakers, school leaders and executives, boards, and many other people/groups. This speaking literally takes me around the world with trips last year to Australia, Hong Kong and Italy; and upcoming trips to Slovakia and Italy.

Yet, on Thursday of last week, there was something incredible about giving a presentation on the Spiritual Implications of Technology at the Athanatos Arts and Apologetics Conference. It was a small but wonderfully thoughtful group for this first year, and I pray that Dr. Anthony Horvath, the coordinator, considers it for a second year, as I will certainly help promote it.

Great Group

Here is what I loved about my one day at the event. First, it was well-organized and Tony brought in some truly thoughtful and talented speakers and performers representing music, film and literature…not to mention other area. It was so much fun to interact with this small group of thinkers, artists, authors, and difference makers; all of who do not shy away from the wonderfully messy world of grappling with the intersection of faith and life in the contemporary world.


Second, it was authentic and high quality without having that sort of aloof or overly polished feel that I often experience at the large events where I keynote. I can get into those massive conferences with 50-foot screens and flashy lights, but it is also refreshing to interact with just as thoughtful and informed people under a tent in the middle of a North Wisconsin field with an impending thunderstorm demanding time on the stage. In fact, the storm did get on the stage, even musing out loud about blowing away the main tent. People just jumped into action, helped hold down the poles, and continued the conversation. In fact, I had a great chat with an old friend holding a wooden pole that kept coming out of place. You don’t get that sort of action at SXSWEdu, the Education Innovation Summit, or the annual ISTE event. In fact, I contend that the storm, while taking us off schedule a bit, made the event that much better. Maybe we should check with the big guy about scheduling that as a regular part of future versions of the festival. 


Third, it reconnected me with my love of apologetics, a Christian perspective on the humanities, presuppositional and literary apologetics, and more. It challenged me to think about how I can create more time in my life and writing for some of these topics. I have no intention of abandoning what I consider to be my calling to exploring the intersection of education and entrepreneurship, futures in education, and challenging all of us to further explore the possibilities for life and learning in a connected world. It is just that part of my personal story and convictions about life in a connected world is a deeply spiritual one, and this event reminded me not to let go of that, to think out loud (and on screen/paper) about that. As a mentor and friend once told me. “We learn too late their our convictions matter.” 

I realize that I have colleagues and collaborators across a wide spectrum of beliefs, contexts and worldviews. I love that exchange and value these many relationships. I learn so much from this diverse group, and we have many ideas in common. I also realize that what I will write about the spiritual dimension of life in the contemporary world will not resonate with some of you, just as not all of my articles do right now. I just think it is great that we’ve all built connections that don’t break us into little ideological clans. There is something important about crossing borders, engaging in rich and lively conversation, and sharing a mutual interest in the pursuit of truth and wisdom for this age.

The Book

Finally, and very practically, this event was the push I need for me to move one of my “future writing projects” to the “write this now and get it out to the world” list, namely a topic that I’ve shared on for over a decade: Spirituality and Technology, certainly coming from my distinctly Lutheran/Christian vantage point. As such, I am going to set the goal of trying to get as close as possible as having a full draft of this book done by the end of August. That means about 40,000 – 50,000 words on that book in less than a month. Of course, I have several speaking appointments this coming month (including a week international trip) and full days of work to balance, but I think this is a reasonable goal. I basically need to average 2500 words a day to hit this goal, but I love and know the topic well, so it is within the realm of possibility. Worst case, I make much more progress than I did in the last decade, and I finish it up this fall. I’m going to go with the working title of Digitized: How Technology Shapes Us and What We can Do About It.

MOOCs and the Future of Open Online Religious Education

If you scan the list of MOOCS at Canvas.net, Coursera, EdX, and similar places; chances are that you will see science, technology, education, and even a variety of humanities courses. So far, I have not noticed many theology MOOCs, although I have seen a few religious studies ones. With that in mind, I just saw the news that Dallas Theological Seminary is offering a MOOC that focuses upon a study of the Book of Matthew. To the best of my knowledge, that was the first such MOOC (or so I thought). I decided to test that assumption with a simple Google search and that was all it took to prove me wrong. Below is the short list of MOOCS and new events that I’ve surfaced so far.

  • Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary – How to Read and Study the Bible MOOC
  • A MOOC Seminary? – This is not a MOOC, but it is an interesting article where the author muses about the future of seminary education.
  • Christian Colleges Try Massive Open Online Courses – The interesting thing about this article is that is doesn’t actually give any list of MOOCs at Christian colleges, but it the author wrote it back in 2012, so it at least demonstrates that people were thinking about the idea.
  • Ligonier Connect – A MOOC on the Prophets & Poets was launched in May, 2013.
  • Crown Online offered a MOOC on the New Testament during July and August of 2013.

Digital culture is a fast-growing part of 21tst century Christianity. While I don’t write about it much on this blog, I have studied cyber-spirituality and the role of digital culture in Christianity for almost sixteen years, giving an occasional invited presentation on my work to groups of pastors, theologians, and theological educators; sometimes putting together an article on the subject.  I’ve also done some consulting about online learning for seminaries and faith-based colleges.

Setting up camp in the digital world and leveraging distance (and now online) learning has a long tradition in religious education. In fact, if we were to study first century Christianity, one could make a strong case that distance (or at least blended) learning played an important role in the education and outreach of that era. It may be no surprise then, that online learning is a growing part of seminary education and the education of many Christian colleges.  Liberty University Online, for example, has over 60,000 online students, many studying theology and religious education.

What about the open online learning movement?  That also goes back to early experiments in the 1990s.  In fact, one of my colleagues, Dr. Harald Tomesch, was offering free (and some for a fee) online live Bible and theological lessons using an early live audio chat tool in the 1990s. Similarly, I’ve met dozens of others before the 21st century who leveraged synchronous and asynchronous online tools for free and open religious education.  We can add to that the many seminaries and Christian colleges that invited online self-directed learners to follow lectures through iTunes U and YouTube, not to mention the myriad of pastors who record and distribute their sermons via video podcasts, vodcasts, or some other form of video sharing.

It is worth noting, however, that most (but not all) of these open religious education efforts focused upon real-time tools or audio/video-recordings that gave dominance to the leader/speaker/presenter/authority. I point that out to note that this is likely the focus of the MOOCs in the list above as well. This is just an educated guess, but the first Christian MOOCs are primarily content distribution, with less emphasis upon designs that promote instructor-learner, and learner-learner interaction. I suspect that these early efforts have yet to maximize the power of current instructional design research and the full creative spectrum of the broader open learning movement; including things like project-based, game-based, peer-to-peer, guided practice, or rich feedback channels that allow students to check their understanding and check their progress. This is happening in some traditional online courses, but not as much with the early open learning movements that I’ve seen so far (If you know of some examples, please share them as a comment to this post.).

As religious organization begin to better understand the affordances (and limitations) of massive open online learning, I expect to see them start to build more significant open online learning experiences, MOOCs (as well as small open courses) that truly engage the learners, build online community, leave room for learner autonomy and personalization, capitalize upon social media and the read/write web, provide room for peer-to-peer learning, and leave room for the messiness that often comes with deep and “sticky” learning. This will not be comfortable for many or popular with others, as there is a high priority upon correct teaching. And yet, I am convinced that this the only way to get at deep learning.  Once this happens, then perhaps we can come up with a new acronym.  How about MOORE (Massively Open Online Religious Education)?






Why is Everyone Searching the Web for Information about the Laodicean Church?

butterflyAbout once a month, I spend time at Google Analytics, Google Trends, and Blog Pulse; getting a feel for the search and blog trends in the digital world. I pay special attention to the trends related to “education” and “religion.” So, as I was looking at fastest growing keyword trends in religion over the last thirty days, I was surprised to see that “Laodicean” was listed as the fastest growing religious search term.

For those of you are are more in tune with current events, you may already know the answer to this riddle. I was clueless. What was happening? Laodicea, or at least the Christian church in Laodicia, is famous for a mention in the book of Revelation in the Christian Scriptures. There, the church is critiqued as being “neither hot nor cold”, for being a lukewarm church. Why are people so fascinated with this town right now?

I started to wonder, “Is there still a Laodicea today that might be in the news? Hopefully there wasn’t some sort of terrorist attack or natural disaster.” Of course, this town does not even exist today. Upon typing “Laodicea” into Google, it was clear that I was going the wrong direction. I typed the exact term that is listed as popular this month, not “Laodicea”, but “Laodicean.” Lo and behold, the curtain was opened and standing on the stage was 13-year-old Kavya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas.

What else occurred in the past month? My search took me to a May 28, 2009 article entitled, “‘Laodicean’ launches Kansas Teen to Spelling Bee Victory.” There you have it. A bright young lady wins the national Spelling Bee on the word “Laodicean” and the web lights up with people around the US looking up a word that otherwise hardly gets mentioned. All of the sudden, rarely visited web sites about the church in Laodicea are getting a ton of visitors. Who knows how many people might have ended up on random web sites that talk about God’s dissatisfaction when people are neither hot nor cold, about the dangers of spiritual complacency.

This might just be some strange social media equivalent of the Butterfly Effect. Could it be a that a butterfly flapping wings on one side of the planet can result in a chain reaction of events that cause a Tsunami on the other side of the planet? That is how the question is framed regarding the Butterfly Effect. Only, in the digital world, I propose that we change it from the Butterfly Effect to the Spelling Bee Effect. Could it be that a girl spelling a word correctly in Kansas can turn dusty web pages about 2000 year old towns into Las Vegas-style action-packed social hot spots? The answer appears to be Y–E–S.

And how about the irony of a church known for being neither hot nor cold turning into the hottest (at least fastest growing) religious topic on the web for the past month?