On July 7th I thought it had finally happened—the long foretold Zombie Apocalypse. On that day people were walking around my neighborhood, and even my church, shuffling their feet, eyes cast down at their smartphones, turning around aimlessly in circles and pointing at seemingly nothing.
Before I could pack up my zombie survival kit and head out of town, I learned that it was, in fact, the day after the release of the new app PokémonGo, an augmented reality smartphone game that has become the highest grossing game in the App Store just three weeks since release. In the app, like in the original Pokémon game (which was played with trading cards back in the day), players discover, collect, and train Pokémon characters with names like Aerodactyl, Pikachu, Jigglypuff, and Squirtle. But today, instead of acquiring cards to obtain different characters, players search for them all around the globe, using the PokémonGo app and their smartphone cameras. And just in case the chase alone isn’t fun enough, players can send their Pokémon characters into battle at Poké Gyms and swing by PokéStops to stock up on virtual game supplies.
Many churches have discovered that they are now home to Pokémon creatures, Stops, and Gyms. (Our music director, who has scoured every inch of our church property, reports that our own church is home to a Poké Gym and two PokéStops.) Over the last few weeks, churches have been trying to figure out how to both provide hospitality to Pokémon gamers and set limits on technology use during worship. So, ministry leaders and faith communities may be drawn into this new, digitally-integrated craze. We kind of can’t not pay attention.
While you’re waiting for entranced PokémonGo players to amble across the churchyard, there are some other web and media platforms that you might also want to be paying attention to this summer. I’ve looked up from my PokémonGo just long enough to share a few suggestions:
The Princeton IYM blog is neither just about youth ministry, nor just for youth ministers. The writers are ministry practitioners who address a wide range of topics that are of interest and concern to their colleagues and faith communities—including social media, disability, sports on Sundays, mission trips, and more. The IYM blog has been valuable to me as a pastor, not only for its insights about ministering to young people in our community, but also for the ways in which it helps youths, adults, and me faithfully engage technology and culture.
In my pastoral ministry, I have seen how people are desperate for guidance about balancing and navigating their digitally-integrated lives—from managing their kids’ screen time, to trying to unplug from always-on work lives. Ministry leaders, with our often 24/7/365, on-call lives, can find digital Sabbaths especially difficult to pull off. If that sounds familiar, then the Note to Self podcast and its host, Manoush Zomorodi, are here for you. This “tech show about being human” looks at our complicated relationship to technology and invites listeners into digital practices that help them engage technology thoughtfully and preserve their humanity. For a quick introduction, you can watch the video of Manoush’s keynote talk from this year’s e-Formation conference at Virginia Theological Seminary.
The Bible Project is a crowdfunded, animated video series created by Tim Mackie and Jon Collins. Each five-minute video includes beautiful animation that provides an accessible description of either a book of the Bible or one of its themes. The narration is often conversational, bringing something of a Radio Lab feel to the videos. Because the videos are funded by donations, they are made available at no cost. They are great resources to use in parish educational settings, and to put on your website or social media platforms to introduce people to the Bible. If five minutes is too long for your attention span, you might also check out Jim Kast-Keat’s 30 Second Bible.
Author of the books Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey also blogs, compellingly and beautifully, about faith in everyday life. One of my favorite recent posts is entitled “Rice Krispies: My Spiritual Awakening,” in which she says, “God is present in the ordinary and the regular and the uncelebrated in a way that I never could have fathomed when I thought God’s best was only either on stage or in a pulpit or a mountaintop or an arena or far away.” If you’re looking for some good reflective reading this summer, check it out.
Summer is a good time to get some perspective, and there’s no better way than to laugh at yourself. The brainchild of Adam Ford, The Babylon Bee is basically like The Onion but for the church. It’s full of spoofs and satire that church leaders will appreciate, including articles such as “KJV-Only Church Still Staunch Defender Of Early Web Design Principles,” (real Christians only use HTML!) and “God Hoping Facebook Post Reaches Sufficient Number Of Likes So He Can Heal Sick Child.” It’s a refreshing change from ministry leaders and institutions that can take themselves way too seriously.
The Ringer, a website and podcast network about sports, culture, technology, and politics, is Bill Simmons’ (late of ESPN) most recent media endeavor. Hosted on the popular blogging platform Medium, The Ringer even includes some religion articles, like The New Tech Evangelists’ piece about how churches are live streaming with Facebook Live. While I enjoy the content of The Ringer and read it almost daily, I also follow it to see how social media-savvy figures like Simmons and his staff writers leverage social media technologies to generate engaging content and curate a community of listeners and readers. Oh, and don’t miss one of my favorite podcast moments: Bill’s conversation on karma versus chance and spirituality or sports (or maybe it’s simply about peeling back the layers of the pathos of Boston sports fandom).
Happy reading, listening, and watching this summer … Oh wait, I see a Bulbasaur in the narthex. Gotta go!