The bad news is that I didn’t get Chapter 2 done by the time I left for vacation.
The good news is I continue to disprove my fear that I’ll have nothing to say.
Here’s the draft of Chapter 2 so far. I’m about 1/3 through the outline, but I don’t yet have a sense of how many words will come with each chapter section, so I don’t know if I’m looking at 1/3 of the total words in the chapter.
I’m putting this up on the blog with my new iPad, which is proving to be an amazingly distraction free machine to write on (This is the one time I’m grateful that Steve Jobs did not put multitasking on an iDevice… ). I’m not kidding. I sold several things to buy this tablet and you should, too. But I can’t load this on google docs like normal, so you just get the text in the post.
A note on some text formatting. I’m writing in a plain text editor so i have to make up my own code for formatting. ALL CAPS means bold. *Text surrounded by asterisks* indicates italics. When I need to add a citation I indicate it with a ^(carrot followed by text in parentheses).
As always, I’d love feedback.
Chapter 2 – Church as Wikipedia
At some level, the notion of a “Wikipedia Church” makes a lot of sense – even if we’ve never thought of it before.
Wikipedia: The encyclopedia that anyone can edit
Wikicclesia: The church that anyone can edit
It kind of brings a smile to your face doesn’t it? More importantly, it touches on a very real reality facing the church today: Wikipedia is a part of our every day lives.
Each day, over… [stats about Wikipedia usage].
Given this reality, how do we as the church expect to be the least bit appealing to people who increasingly live their lives knowing that they can “Wiki it.” Anyone, anywhere can log on to the internet and edit the world’s largest encyclopedia. Tthey can contribute to the “sum of all human knowledge.” They can offer the gifts of knowledge that they have to the world and generations to come. Yet we expect them to walk into our churches and simply take what’s handed to them and do it the way we say they should? I don’t think so.
Read a blog post, an article or any number of books on “emerging/emergent/emergence Christianity” and you’re likely to find some reference to Wikipedia in the text. It is increasingly becoming a popular metaphor for the way many would like to see the church structure itself and operate, but not a lot of time has been spent on the particulars of it or why it works as well as it does.
LET’S START SOMETHING FOR THE KIDS
Wikipedia didn’t start out as the game-changer that it is. In the beginning it started by playing second fiddle to another online encyclopedia, Nupedia.
According to the “History of Wikipedia” article on the Wikipedia site, Nupedia was viewed by its founders, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, as a serious enterprise. Although it was to be a free, online site, Nupedia, was built on the idea of using contirbutirs who were experts in their content area as well as insisting that each article move through an extensive peer-review process. Wales and Sanger had a mailing list full of interested editors with Sanger acting as Editor in Chief. They even had an intern. Yet the timeline for articles remained slow. In the first year, only 12 articles were produced. They needed a faster way to generate content.
Wikipedia began as a “feeder” for Nupedia. The intention was that articles would be begun on Wikipedia and eventually taken over by the Nupedia project to be cleaned up for inclusion in the “serious” online encyclopedia. The use of the “wiki” (Hawaiian for “quick”) was no accident, as it was seen as the best way to open up the process and get the project moving. Larry Sanger proposed the idea to the Nupedia mailing list:
“No, this is not an indecent proposal. It’s an idea to add a little feature to Nupedia. Jimmy Wales thinks that many people might find the idea objectionable, but I think not. (…) As to Nupedia’s use of a wiki, this is the ULTIMATE “open” and simple format for developing content. We have occasionally bandied about ideas for simpler, more open projects to either replace or supplement Nupedia. It seems to me wikis can be implemented practically instantly, need very little maintenance, and in general are very low-risk. They’re also a potentially great source for content. So there’s little downside, as far as I can determine.“
Nupedia’s editors were not excited about wikis being a part of their project, so Wikipedia was founded as it’s own entity, yet still serving a “feeder” purpose. Wikipedia was founded on January 15, 2001. By February 12, 2001 the project passed 1,000 articles, 10,000 articles by September of that year, 20,000 by its first birthday, and 40,000 by the next August.
Unfortunately, Wales and Sanger began to have severe disagreements about the management style of Wikipedia. Wales favored the open style that has come to define the project, while Sanger favored a more top-down approach (which eventually led him to leave the project and begin another online encyclopedia, Citizendium). This was seen by both men as an intractable difference. Although the goal was ostensibly the same (as Wikipedia would later say it: to ensure that “every person on the planet has free access to the sum of all human knowledge”) there was a sharp difference as to the best way to get there.
The Nupedia editors could not come to grips with the thought that a credible encyclopedia could be constructed in the wiki style. This rough-shod development process was an affront to the very thing they were trying to create – they wanted to take the best knowledge in the world and make it available to everyone. How could that possible be accomplished with Wikipedia?
Wikipedians, on the other hand, knew that the sum of all human knowledge had to come from somewhere and as long as they could develop a system to harness it, they would be in good shape. By opening the doors for anyone to edit, they know that the combination of the localized knowledge present in thousands – millions – of people would have powerful effect Suffice it to say, that what began as a project intended to benefit Nupedia quickly took on a life of its own and needed to break with its parent.
This brief history of Wikipedia provides us with the first point of comparison to the Open Source Church.
If you are anything like me, you have been a part of a church experience during your youth that was fun and interesting, and in which you felt like you learned a lot and were valued for who you were. Your creativity was called upon and you were encouraged to collaborate with others to a large degree. Yet, once you became an “adult” you began to experience a very different form of church, one which was billed (probably implicitly) as more mature. “This is the way grown ups do church” was the message you got. Are we honestly surprised that many youth leave and do not return?
Similarly, churches decide to “start another worship service” or what-have-you with the idea that this new program will serve as a sort of feeder for the programing and structure that they already have. There is an implicit understanding that this new thing is okay for the kids, but it will not be (cannot be?) the “main thing.” Church boards are okay with offering some new experiences (or new spaces for experiences) in order to attract “young folks” but I believe that many of them harbor a hope that these young folks will someday want to be a part of the church in the same way that they’ve experienced it.
Some of this is arrogance, sure, but some of it is also a very real fear that they “don’t know what to do” for young folks. So they simply decide that they are going to do what they do and do it well. The faith as they’ve experienced it has served them well so they will do all they can to preserve that and pass it on. They develop highly refined institutions and organizational understandings. They are fine with this worship service where people wander around to “prayer stations” (aren’t prayers said together?) or that bible study that meets in a bar(!), but at the end of the day “we all know the way church is done, really.” In short – they act like ostriches (and Nupedia’s editors) and stick their heads in the sand, hoping it will all just go away.
Wikipedia’s origin story suggests to us what the church is in for (and has already experienced, in many cases) when confronted(?) with an open source worldview. Established institutions are quick to do whatever they can in order to ensure their viability (Nupedia’s development was slow and Wikipedia would ensure that it got content up in a timely manner), but they rarely realize that they very thing they are counting on to save them will be the harbingers of their death. There might be a host of reasons for this, but the primary one has to do with structure. Institutions are aware that their current way of doing business is not tenable in the long run, and are astute enough to know that they must commit to some drastically different practices if they want to survive.
Typically, these “new things” are given much wider latitude than the organization would normally employ. In the church, youth programming and worship services are encouraged to employ creativity and to do it with abandon. The thought seems to be that we should do whatever we can to get the kids interested in the faith, to make sure they understand that it is relevant to their life. In the Presbyterian Church (which I am ordained in) our national youth gathering is known to have some of the most creative, powerful worship that most staid Presbyterians have ever experienced. Yet there is a disconnect when they return to their congregations and little to no creativity is involved, and efficiency is the order of the day. Youth are discouraged from participating in worship because, in many cases, the service is simply a weekly puzzle. The pastor and musicians certainly put thought into the service elements, but when was the last time your church sang a hymn in a different spot? Or more/fewer hymns?
My point is not to harp on worship styles, but to point out the larger issue that at one point we create a system that encourages creativity and participation, and then expect those same participants to want to join us in something that is built to be assembled quickly and easily and is, in general, monological. Given the organizational structure of most of our churches, there is so much that is centralized at “the top” (with staff or with a relatively few number of congregational leaders) that in order to accomplish all that a church thinks it needs to accomplish the processes need to be streamlined with as little chuff as possible. Again, when the name of the game is efficiency, taking time to do something “new” puts more stress on those who are paid or charged with being the responsible party and it is resisted. With all that is required, “turnkey” solutions are the name of the game.
When it came down to it, the split between Nupedia and Wikipedia had to do with how and whether the site was curated. The same has been (and will increasingly be) the case for open source churches. Those who resonate deeply with the established institutional form of Christianity will not really know what to do with these newer expressions. Their very existence, in some cases, will be an affront to the very thing that they think they are about. Isn’t the point of Church to be a place where the “Divine Truth” is guarded and passed down from generation to generation? This cannot be accomplished by opening the doors to anyone to contribute. Yes, we want contribution and participation, but there must be a measure of indoctrination first.
Yet, what if you come to the church with an open source way of viewing the world? What if your entire life was one in which you experience a collaboration of gifts, skills, and knowledge? What if, most every day, you experienced the coming together of seemingly disparate voices and ideas that resulted in beautiful and tremendously effective and meaningful events/solutions/etc.? What if this was your world and you then walked through the door of most any church where it quickly became apparent that your job was to sit down and shut up – that your job was to listen and be spoon fed what you needed to think and believe? To ask it again: Why is it that I can edit the world’s largest encyclopedia, but I can’t “edit” church?
One cannot overestimate the role that the WIKI had on the trajectory of Wikipedia. Likewise, one cannot over estimate the role that a fluid and dynamic church structure will have on the life of a congregation/regional body/national denomination. The wiki allowed for rapid, responsive collaboration. 2 minutes after an event happens it is reflected on Wikipedia. This kind of infrastructure feeds into the ethos of the project. Rapid collaboration dictated the need for certain ways of being, understanding, and cooperating.
As Marshall McLuhan has famously said: The medium is the message. One can tell more about something based on the delivery vehicle than what is actually delivered. If, week after week, I stand in my pulpit with a clerical collar, large cross and stole around my neck, while wearing an very impressive preaching robe it doesn’t matter that my message is “You too can proclaim the Word of the Lord.” No one is going to believe me because the medium of my particular presence there has told them the truth.
Write this down: If you want to appeal to the “open source generation” (is there such a thing?) you can’t be wedded your current structural understanding. Your bureaucratic committee system will betray your true intentions, and that will repel those whom you hope to attract.. Sorry, but its true.
THE FIVE PILLARS
Probably the most common misconception about Wikipedia specifically, and open source in general, is that it promotes an “anything goes” mentality. Nothing could be further from the truth. An organization without any parameters is no organization. “Open source” does not mean “anarchy.”
More accurately, open source means that the latitude with which users can function is greater. If you are used to an organization that has strict controls on this or that, you might, at first, be thrown by the freedom of an open source environment. But what you will quickly discover is that an open source organization still values some level of structure and clarity regarding intention/purpose.
Wikipedia provides its users with parameters, intention and purpose in the form of “The Five Pillars” which are the fundamental principles of the project.
*Wikipedia is an encyclopedia*
The first of the Five Pillars makes clear why Wikipedia exists:
“Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia and, as a means to that end, an online community of people interested in building a high-quality encyclopedia in a spirit of mutual respect.” ^(Wikpedia:What Wikipedia is not)
Of course, when anyone or any group defines what it IS, implicit in that definition is what it IS NOT. The Wikipedia Community goes a step further, and is very explicit in what it is not. An entire article has been written delineating (seemingly as exhaustively as possible) what the project is not ^(Wikpedia:What Wikipedia is not), but here is a summary from the main article on the Five Pillars:
“WIKIPEDIA IS AN ENCYCLOPEDIA. It incorporates elements of general and specialized encyclopedias, almanacs, and gazetteers. Wikipedia is not a soapbox, an advertising platform, a vanity press, an experiment in anarchy or democracy, an indiscriminate collection of information, or a web directory. It is not a dictionary, newspaper, or a collection of source documents; that kind of content should be contributed instead to the Wikimedia sister projects.” ^(Wikipedia:Five pillars)
It may surprise you to know that Wikipedia’s goal is surprisingly narrow. There are many good things in the world that need doing, but those are not the concern of Wikipedia. If it does not have to do with ensuring that everyone has access to the sum of all human knowledge, then Wikipedia (as an organization) is not going to bother spending energy on it.
To be sure, there are some things that Wikipedia must be concerned with, tangentially, in order to achieve their goal. In a speech to a TED conference, Jimmy Wales noted that their goal means that they must concern themselves with addressing the “digital divide”: that very real, yet immaterial, chasm that separates those in lower social-economic levels from having access to the internet and most other technology. To Wikipedia, the “everyone” who needs to have access to the sum of all human knowledge is EVERYONE. And so, even though working to develop digital access is not precisely developing an encyclopedia, the stated mission requires it.
That said, what does making clear “We are this and nothing” more do for Wikipedia? Simply, it guards against “mission creep,” that real situation many organizations find themselves in where they begin to pursue goals other than the one’s originally stated. To be sure, there is something to be said for revision of a mission, but use of the term “mission creep” implies that this expansion is not a good thing.
The best way to be successful is a single minded focus on what is to be accomplished and to pursue that exclusively. Clarity is an organizations friend. If there is any confusion as to where energy or funds are to be directed then the likelihood of an organization accomplishing *any* of it’s goals decreases dramatically.
Organizations should, first, be very clear about their mission and what they believe is involved in ensure that they accomplish that. Second, they must begin a practice of being vigilant against mission creep. Those responsible for fulfilling that mission should constantly be asking “Is this a part of our mission or not?” If there is even the slightest amount of “justification” that it should be, I suggest doing away with the idea.
So what is the purpose/mission of the Church? If the local congregations/regional associations/national denominations have any hope of being effective in the ministry that God has given us, we must be clear regarding our purpose. I knew one pastor who used to regularly ask church committees some form of “What do we have to offer that is uniquely the ‘church’? That is a great idea, but why should we be the one’s doing that? What makes us different than the average social-service nonprofit?”
The purpose of that line of questioning was to make sure that congregational leaders were thinking about the unique gifts that we have to offer the world *as the church.* In my tradition, we look to what we call “The Great Ends of the Church”, a list of six things that God has specifically called the the church into existence to accomplish:
“The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; provide for the shelter, nuture and spiritual fellowship of the people of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.”
To some, that list might look broad. To some, that list might look too narrow. But that is the list that we Presbyterians go to when we are asked a questions like “What is the purpose of the Church?” Of course, just like Wikipedia, there will be tangential things that have to be asked and attended to if the Church is going to pursue that goal, especially when we start to recognize that the Church exists in many different contexts. What does the promotion of social righteousness look like for a national denomination? A regional association of churches? A local congregation? The answers to those three questions will most certainly look different, but the important thing is that they are answered.
It is my assumption that all variations of the Body of Christ called the Church have some answer to the question “What is the purpose of the Church?” If not, then that is the first step.
*Wikipedia has a neutral point of view*
The second fundamental principle of Wikipedia establishes that Wikipedia advocates for no singular point of view.
“WIKIPEDIA HAS A NEUTRAL POINT OF VIEW. We strive for articles that advocate no single point of view. Sometimes this requires representing multiple points of view, presenting each point of view accurately and in context, and not presenting any point of view as “the truth” or “the best view”. All articles must strive for verifiable accuracy: unreferenced material may be removed, so please provide references. Editors’ personal experiences, interpretations, or opinions do not belong here. That means citing verifiable, authoritative sources, especially on controversial topics and when the subject is a living person. When conflict arises over neutrality, discuss details on the talk page, and follow dispute resolution.” ^(Wikipedia:Five pillars)
This is the pillar which begins to highlight the hesitancy that many people have with Wikipedia: the project is not concerned with getting to “the truth.”
When I speak about this project I inevitably get asked a host of questions based on a person’s perception that Wikipedia is (or can/will be) full of false information. “What can you say about those times when Wikipedia is wrong? What good is an encyclopedia of we can go there to find the truth about something?”
First, let’s acknowledge the very real fear present in these questions: people want to know that the information they are using to live there lives by is reliable. We want to know that we’re not just “making stuff up.” Most of us are not comfortable in an “anything goes” environment. The reason, of course (at least, at some level), is because our lives depend on proper information. An extreme example would be gravity and the formulas used to calculate how gravity acts in our world and what kind of propulsion is needed in order for a plane, etc to overcome its effects long enough for us to be carried through the air. No one wants to live in a world where someone can make that kind of information up, do we? No, we want to live in a world where the science behind gravity is well established and consistently reconfirmed and verified.
But here’s where the situation gets a little sticky: What if we’re not talking about something so “certain” as gravity. What if we’re talking about the city of Kiev in Ukraine? Were you aware that there was a dispute on Wikipedia about the spelling of that name? That, although the common English spelling is *Kiev*, in 1995 the Ukrainian government adopted *Kyiv* as the preferred spelling?
This may seem like a silly argument to you, but I can assure that it is not to the Ukrainians. The “truth” of this matter is tied to national identity and ethnic history. How do you determine where the “truth” lies? I’m certain that, like most anything, one could find “experts” and “non-experts” alike who would testify to the validity of the argument they support. How do we decide? Wikipedia says we don’t. Functioning as Wikipedians, we would do well to remember that it is not our job to make that decision, and here is where the second of the Five Pillars comes into play.
Wikipedia is not the vehicle through which to present cutting edge research, or wax on about your new theory on Ukrainian linguistics. Wikipedia is the place where all available information is brought to bear on the topic and a group of people who care about it (presumably because of some connection to, and knowledge of, the subject) sift through it and make some sense out of it. Because there is some discrepancy about the topic, editors have to make sure and cite *VERIFIABLE* sources for the edits they make. I may not like the edit you make, but if you can establish that there is at least a credible basis by which you made it I cannot categorically revert the change. If I feel strongly enough about the change I can begin a discussion on it in hopes of changing enough minds that would allow me to make the edit I want.
This approach is referred to in the Wikipedia community as “verifiability, not truth.” Remember, the stated goal of Wikipedia is to ensure access to the SUM of all human knowledge, not merely the pieces that a small group of people think is best. As long as I can validate that what I am contributing is established and credible, then I am free to contribute it.
This also means that there might be seemingly competing pieces of information which find themselves side by side in Wikipedia. As we explored in Chapter 1, the open source worldview that informs this kind of structure holds that there are many contextual realities we each inhabit. Yours and mine will most certainly be different, but because we both have a valid basis on which to make our claims we will need to learn to how to live with it. The English version of Wikipedia currently notes that the city in Ukraine is “Kiev or Kjiv.” Both claims are present because both can be verified.
To say that applying this line of thought to the Church gives some people fits is an understatement. If you think that messing with someone’s understanding of gravity or the spelling of Kiev/Kyiv makes them feel a little nervous and crazy wait, until you suggest that their theology might be treated in the same way.
Again, let’s acknowledge the fear present in this thought: our faith is a very real thing that is literally a matter of life and death for many people. At some level, if our faith were not important, we would not waste our time on this question. Just as with Wikipedia, we aren’t interested in an “anything goes” kind of environment. We want to know that the thing we are giving our life to is trustworthy and reliable. We want to know that when we come to know “the truth that will set us free” that we can count on that being the case.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor and author of *Salvation on the Small Screen*, likes to say it this way: we want to know that what we’re involved in “is more than five minutes old.” ^(Godcomplexradio.com) Let’s give ourselves some credit and say that, at our best, we are not arrogant people who think we can do this thing called the Christian life any old way we want. Especially those of us in confessional forms of the faith, it would be the *height* of arrogance to assume that we can say anything without being in conversation with what has come before us or currently around us.
The problem that we find ourselves in, however, is that there is much less agreement about certain aspects of our collective faith than there is about gravity. Besides the statement that “Jesus Christ is Lord” I’m honestly not aware of a piece of Christian thought that doesn’t more resemble the Kiev/Kjiv discussion.
What an open source church asserts is that there is not really a legitimate chance that we are going to be able to truly know the “truth” and we shouldn’t try. Given the revealed nature of most versions of the Christian faith, I think we might feel comfortable enough to say that “the truth” *has* been revealed to us in Jesus Christ, but our previous discussion of context also makes plain to us that your experience (and subsequent explanation) of it might radically differ from mine.
So where does that leave us? What kind of church do we have at that point? If we are to try and view the church as similar to Wikipedia what does it mean to assert that the Church has a “neutral point of view”? I think it means two things:
1) The church is not the place to “experiment” with theology or practice. Now, this might be oft putting to some, but this is not to say that other practices cannot be explored nor that theological exploration is not done. This is only to say that, when it comes the church, what we’re doing is passing on something equivalent to the “verifiable” information the Wikipedia is interested in.
The Open Source Church will never say “We have the Truth” but it will say “Here is what we have found to be reliable over many times and places.” It’s not “Believe this or you go to Hell” but “If you want the Abundant Life, here’s what we have found to be helpful.”
Of course, the *fun* occurs when you and I begin discussing what exactly has been reliable over the ages. More often than not, we will find that we do not list the same things, which leads to the second point…
2) There will be space in the Open Source Church for different understandings to exist side by side. A classic example is the understandings of atonement, or how and why Jesus’s death and resurrection is the basis of our salvation. Some would say that God was paying the Devil a ransom, while others would say that Jesus was taking the punishment that we should have had to endure for violating God’s laws. Still others say that Jesus’ death set us free from being bound to ourselves.
Which one is the “Truth”? From an open source viewpoint, they all are and they all will exist side by side int he church. We, of course, must demonstrate how these understandings and other practices are reliably conforming us to the image of Christ, but once that bar is past its just like “Kiev/Kjiv.”