One day when Jesus was teaching in an over crowded home a network of guys forced Jesus to friend them by using technology to lower a member of their network down through the roof. Seeing the faith of this network, Jesus treated them like neighbors and full of justice, mercy, and humility, Jesus healed the man.
This story found in Mark 2 and Luke 5 illustrates the five key traits of Networked religion as defined by Campbell and Garner in their book, Networked Theology.
Online communities encourage new ways of gatherings. This comes with new behaviors. People join online communities for different reasons. In this story, there is the community that is being formed around listening to Jesus teach and there is another community of four men trying to get their friend healed. The Pharisees present also represent another community. Just like online communities today that are formed for various reasons, each of the communities in Mark 2 and Luke 5 are being formed with different values, goals, and behaviors. The four men decide to do something unorthodox and use technology, a rope and a mat, to gain access to Jesus. This is a picture of Networked religion today because there are many people who have heard of Jesus and his teachings, but when they look for him they can’t gain access to him either because of the religious teachers of our day or because there is a sense that Jesus is already surrounded by people and there is no more room. New media and a Networked religion can have the same effect of having some friends dig out a roof and lower a person to be in the presence of Jesus.
Just like internet users who “often draw from multiple sources as they seek to create and present self-assembled spiritual identities online” (68), the person lowered from the roof is blurring the “public and private boundaries” (57) with the loud and clear status update for all to see that he is a paralytic. This is publicized privacy at its best! No doubt some would have known this paralyzed man because he might have been a beggar to make ends meet. However, diseases are mostly private matters and can make up a large part of our identities. This man’s four-person network realize that with Jesus “spiritual identity formation is seen as a continuous process” (70) and the act of lowering through a roof as a way to be in the presence of Jesus is a dynamic opportunity “for self-expression of belief and lifestyle, presenting identity as a process of performance” (70). Like online communities today, this story highlights the individual who received forgiveness while acknowledging reliance on a group. It’s a remix or mash-up of a typical biblical healing story.
Today religious rituals like prayer and Bible study are being transformed online. Just like people are creating new environments for religious devotion online, the network in this story are “mimicking” and “modifying” (71) forms of religious devotion the best way they can. They simply didn’t fit in the house. There was no room for them in the inn! Like the dynamic nature of network interactions and information online, they decided to take a “pic-’n’-mix approach” (71) and use technology to move past the gatekeepers and be healed. This approach is like current convergent practices mixing the secular and the sacred and creating rituals and practices that are definitely “outside traditional structures” (72).
The fluid nature of religion and internet creates a struggle between “traditional religious leaders and what can be seen as a new breed of religious authorities appearing online” (73). This same thing happened after the healing event in the home via the roof. The teachers and the Pharisees question who Jesus is that he would forgive sins. As traditional religious leaders, they are the gatekeepers of who can connect with God and who can not. Jesus is changing all this. The old way is linear, fixed, sequential (50) and the new way allows for multiple possibilities like forgiveness and healing even when it was impossible to gain access at first. Here we see a human act of faith so evidenced that Jesus forgives and heals, made possible by information ecology (35). Technology served this network and man well. And Jesus is making it clear that temple authority is shifting.
Multisite reality is the description of the ways “in which online practices are informed by wider beliefs as users integrate and seek to connect their online and offline patterns of life” (75). As God’s perfect Bitmoji become flesh, Jesus is changing the reality of the site on earth where heaven and earth intersect. In Jesus, a new reality of Kingdom and presence is launched. Jesus becomes the temple. In His profile, Jesus is creating a networked kingdom (13). Perhaps being lowered from a roof to be close to Jesus pushes Paul Hiebert’s categories of bounded and centered sets to their obvious networked next step. Instead of moving toward Jesus or away from Jesus as defined by traditional space, climbing a roof and being lowered on a mat feels a lot like an online community to me.
I spent most of last weekend and this week defending a coworker who made a poor choice in the classroom. Her lapse of judgment was SnapChat-ed by one her students to everyone in his story. One person in his network screen shotted part of it and sent the image to an international media outlet. The biased news agency created a mostly alternative factual news story and posted it on their website. Within 8 hours, local social media groups had formed an online lynch mob causing the teacher to fear for her safety. As her advocate I’ve had to negotiate my faith and practice in this digital culture. Thankfully people like Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner are exploring ways for me to do that.