More from Chapter 2 – Wikipedia is free content

Vacation took the wind out of my sails a bit, but I’ve done some more work on Chapter 2 this week. Annotations are the same as the previous post.

This is a big chapter. I didn’t realize how important this one was until today. I think that once this chapter is done the work is downhill from there. Let’s hope.

I just hope I’m still on track to hit my November 1 deadline. I know that I’ve got an understanding editor and publisher, but *I* need it to be done by then.

As always: Comment away!


*Wikipedia is Free content*
The third of the Five Pillars reminds us that Wikipedia is a project founded on and reflecting the open source worldview that we discussed in the first chapter. As such, it is established policy that anyone can use, edit, and distribute the content generated by Wikipedia.

“WIKIPEDIA IS FREE CONTENT that anyone can edit and distribute. Respect copyright laws. Since all your contributions are freely licensed to the public, no editor owns any article; all of your contributions can and will be mercilessly edited and redistributed.”

Again, Wikipedia is not a “free for all” or a “free reign” kind of situation. This isn’t anarchy, but open source. If you quote a source (for “verifiability” purposes) make sure and cite it. Open source does not mean that we ignore the structures that came before, it means that when we have the opportunity to do it the way we want we choose to make it more open. Plus, this ensures that users remember that they are a part of an encyclopedia project, not cutting edge research or opinion.

That said, the content generated by Wikipedia will be particular in its rendering and users need to be aware going into it that whatever work is done will more than likely be edited and changed. The work that users do on the site is not for the benefit of any one person, but for the “everyone” that needs access to “the sum of all human knowledge.” Simply putting my heart and soul into an edit is not enough to warrant enshrining that work and freezing it for all eternity If tomorrow something new is discovered on the subject, it should be expected that the article will be changed again. Similarly, a user should expect that the work they do will be freely distributed. One should not do work on Wikipedia expecting to be able to hold it captive and limit access to it. Anyone across the globe can take advantage of the work that anyone else does.

For the most part, no one has a problem with this pillar up to this point. They like the fact that they can edit an article because they, of course, know what they’re talking about. They might have spent a good chunk of their life immersed in a given subject and their contributions are going to be well founded and sensible.

The problem comes when someone else makes an edit who has not spent the amount of time on the subject as the first editor. Why should they get to make that edit? They have not spent nearly the amount of time that I have – they should just sit back and watch for a while to see what kind of information is acceptable on this site and THEN contribute!

I know this feeling intimately, even in my work on open source (ironic, isn’t it?). By the time this book is published I will have spent almost 4 years of my life reading and thinking and constructing and synthesizing all sorts of thoughts and pieces of data and stories on open source and Christianity. I will have put in an incredible amount of time and effort into making sure that this information is presented in a clear and consistent manner. If I do good enough work, I might be able to have someone say about me, at some level, that I could be considered an “expert” in the intersection of these two spheres. But does that entitle me to have the subject locked up and be done with? Not at all.

The moment this book was published it was out of date and some new thought or idea was being generated that will eventually replace it. The moment I posted a draft of sample chapters to my blog, there was a strong possibility that some whipper-snapper who has put maybe 10 minutes of thought into the intersection of open source and Christianity might comment with the most cogent piece of thinking that I – the “expert” – had missed entirely.

I tell you: It’s already happened. I, personally, have already had to fight the feeling of protecting my “baby,” and the work is better for it.

Applying this pillar to the church highlights a tension that those who value a more open source church will have to address. The reality is that there are generations of history behind the idea of preserving the institution of the church, along with its accompanying traditions. The tendencies of this worldview and an open source worldview could not be more different.

We will find this to be especially pronounced in the Mainline church. Unlike their Evangelical counterparts, Mainline churches are not so much conservative in the theology as they are in their structure. Whereas Evangelical churches will tend to emphasize the conservation of theological viewpoints but employ any and all structural models available to communicate them, a Mainline church will typically be much more comfortable with varying theologies yet resistant to various styles (both in structure and implementation).

One reason for this is the tendency of Mainline churches to record things. EVERYTHING. (My own denomination has as its motto: “Everything Decently and in Order.”) We feel like we have arrived at very good and workable solutions for many of the situations that churches find themselves in, and we have written them down for future generations. This is a great impulse. for a while, I was the chair of the regional committee who made sure that congregations kept their minutes appropriately, and I often told those in charge (the “clerks”) that they were the foundations of the church. “If we didn’t have you,” I would say. “We wouldn’t know the giants upon who’s shoulders we stand.”

But there is a dark side to keeping such good records, isn’t there? Sometimes (often times?!) the movement of the Holy Spirit is restricted because instead of intentionally considering where God would have us go, we simply consult our past. “What do the minutes say?” is a question I have heard often. Again, I do not want to belittle the established institution, but to place it in a context and remind us that we have entered (almost all of us) into a new contactual reality.

Think about “minutes” with me for a second. When you think about a group recording its “minutes” what do you think of physically? I bet all you good Mainliners out there think of a beautiful and meticulously kept book with archival paper that runs the gamut from laser printed pages back to type written pages back to handwritten minutes in the most beautiful penmanship you have ever witnessed. When you look at those pages, you are not only struck by the content of those pages, but by the fact that some faithful soul sat down month after month and wrote them out. If you’re the sentimental type, you might even shed a small tear and thank God for her, commenting about how you could never do that for long before your hand would start to cramp.

Again, when we ask “What do the minutes say?” that is a powerful question that reveals the nature of our tradition. In the era of handwritten minutes, a lot of value was placed on those pages, their correctness, and the truths they contained. The minutes were almost scriptural in their status because they were (for all intents and purposes to a local congregation) the last and final word about what a church felt its call from God was. If those clerks/secretaries were worth their salt, just as much effort was given to the beauty of the page as to their content. To have to cross out a line, I’m sure, would have been insulting. (Almost all of this carried over into the typewritten era, which added the idea that we can be efficient in discerning and recording the truth.)

But now think about the age of Wikipedia and digital record keeping. True, things like the wiki have a feature which will show one previous drafts of things, but (for the most part) when a line is corrected in a digital format the new replaces the old and the old is no more. If I were to replace this sentence as I type it into my laptop it ceases to exist for anyone but me. Only I knew what that sentence said.

I am not now placing any kind of value on this form of recording information or previous forms, but I would like us to recognize that the *technology* we use to live our daily lives has an influence in how we see the world and the way it operates. We might bemoan the fact that a new generation does not value the keeping of records in the same manner that we do, but to say that the church must learn from Wikipedia is actually not just a fun mental experiment. Rather, Wikipedia serves as an example of the kind technology that has informed the lives of an entire generation.

To an “open source Christian,” to be a part of a community in which nothing can be changed is uninteresting at the very least and offensive at worst. The Open Source Church embraces this reality and celebrates it, knowing that, just like eras in the past, God will be able to use the understandings of people in this time and place to accomplish peace, justice and wholeness

2 thoughts on “More from Chapter 2 – Wikipedia is free content

  1. Hi, Landon!

    As in the past, I’ve sent you a copy of the chapter with my picky edits. No sense in inflicting that on the general public! But I have a big-picture question that might interest other folks. Could you apply this pillar (“anyone can edit and redistribute”) more broadly to our understanding of scripture and its interpretation, our ever unfolding theologies, and the development of church as an organization? I wonder if part of what’s going on here is a matter of scale. True, “the church” (I’m using that as a catch-all for scripture/theology/institution) doesn’t change as rapidly as an article in Wikipedia might. On the other hand, change does occur–because folks edit and redistribute. They claim the church’s “stuff” as their own, reflect on it in light of their own experience and understanding, edit it, pass it on … over and over. What do you think?

    • I think you’re right. I would offer that the only difference between what has happened and what I’m proposing is a matter of being honest about the constructive nature of our involvement, not hiding behind “revelation” the way we have up to this point.

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