Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Vocational Choices a Century Apart

Religion Meets 21st Century Media -- Day 3
by John Spangler

Last evening, the Religion Meets 21st Century Media class watched the film Network, which tells the unseemly story about the dramatic origins of Mark Zuckerman's Facebook. It is a work filled with poetic license taken by the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (West Wing fame). Zuckerman created the phenomenon known and identified among fellow students as the major platform for social media. But since it began as a student facebook for the purpose of enhancing "social life," it is filled with cringe inducing portrayals of undergraduate women, ivy league privilege, and for that matter, "dot com" culture.

An hour later, I was encountering media again, this time a PBS American Experience opener on The Abolitionists. In this 150th anniversary year of the great Battle that overtook the seminary grounds, I've been quite interested in aspects of the Civil War that intersected with the anti slavery advocacy and preaching of Gettysburg Seminary founder Samuel Simon Schmucker. Moreover, slavery and abolition represents another current among my present set of project priorities, culminating in the creation of the Seminary Ridge Museum ( ) in the Seminary's historic, oldest building. This museum exhibit includes the 19th century dynamic of the way slavery was tearing the church's apart as it was the nation. The PBS program on the Abolitionists introduced William Lloyd Garrison as a 20 year old young man trying to find a purpose which would give his life's work meaning. Garrison chose Abolitionism, and specifically the publication of an Abolitionist newspaper.

Two young adults, about 20 years of age, finding a purpose that centered on communication platforms. One was driven by the cause of the injustice of slavery, the other by a complicated social revenge. One was threatened by society around him for his radical commitments to eliminated the economic and social structure of slavery. The other was the object of law suits by business partners and competitive fellow students. One was a "Gutenberger," the other a "digital native." 

Garrison stirred the pot in both northern and southern United States, and helped build momentum to end the institution of human enslavement left over from the nation's beginnings and often called its "original sin." Zuckerman created a system of communication that has become instrumental in the liberation movements in China and the Arab spring, as well as an identifiable place where young people spend a lot of digital time. In this class, students, including veteran pastors and seminarians pursuing ordination fill the room with observations, cases and examples in which the social media medium is a place where ministry can and does take place. I wonder what would have happened if William Garrison had the platform of facebook or if Mark Zuckerman had taken on the passion of the cause of ending slavery. That might also make a good movie.  

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