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Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Went to a Hybrid Open-Source Conference!

I love jazz. No, not because it doesn’t resolve (Blue Like Jazz fans know what I’m talking about) but because, to me, it’s the quintessential iconic example of how the church is supposed to function.

The next time you go to a Jazz concert, pay close attention to the way the musicians interact with each other. It is usually clear who the leader is, but he/she doesn’t hog the show. A tune is played and repeated over and over, so that each musician has a chance to present his or her interpretation of melody. The result is many different angles on the same basic idea, because that basic idea means very different things to each musician. The end result is a combination of the experience and personalities of each artist, and the communication between them. For me, this is what Paul’s talking about when he says:

"He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up." Ephesians 4:10-12

To be a follower of Christ is like being in a jazz band. We all have a part—an instrument, if you will—to play and we should all be allowed to participate by playing our solo parts. It should not be only by “the few, the proud: the pastors” who play every instrument from the pulpit on Sundays.

But what does jazz have to do with a hybrid open-source conference? Well, let me start from the beginning. A dear friend, Charles Lee, was the brain behind this combination of a conference/unconference gathering called the Idea Camp, which from the start had taken a different approach to doing a conference. Charles used every paperless means of communication from word of mouth and conventional landlines to cell phones, email, texting, blogging, Facebook and Twitter (I’m sure I’m missing a few more means) to promote the conference, and boy, was he successful. If I remember correctly, about 500 people attended this two-day conference and over 1200 watched it on their computers via live streaming and it was all for free.

The goal of each workshop in this gathering was to allow for more conversation rather than another classroom approach to a conference. All the speakers like myself acted as facilitators and not talking-heads. We all had 10 minutes to talk about who we were, introduce the class to some challenges facing the church today, and then let the class respond to those challenges for about 45 minutes. If you’ve ever heard me teach, you know this is my style and my cup of tea when it comes to challenging a room full of young and old believers—asking questions and letting everyone play his/her instrument.

With this being my first time involved in such a gathering, I came away with mixed feelings. As I said, I loved the way every modern means of communication was used to promote the conference. It was truly a “green” conference. Even the conference schedule was emailed to everyone’s cell phones and laptops so it didn’t have to be printed on paper, of course, except for the very few that were posted on bulletin boards. But after experiencing this magnificent way of communication, I came away wondering if, with all our latest tools in communication, we’re developing better relationships?

I noticed throughout the various “question and answer” sessions that many people were busy reading and answering email off their laptops, web-surfing, text messaging or twittering—something that I had to learn before attending the conference. I even saw one guy watching the event that was taking place right in front of him on his laptop. Even worse, there were people who would do that as they were trying to have a face-to-face conversation with one another. By the way, no one did that to me—I guess they knew better— but I heard several of my friends complain about it.

I find this type of behavior to be quite dishonoring and self-absorbed. If it is more important to answer an email that can wait till you are out of the conference or retweet a #tweet to another friend who is sitting only a chair away from you because it’s so cool that it can’t wait till the meeting is over, then maybe you should step outside to do your emailing, surfing and retweeting instead of so blatantly ignoring and disrespecting those around you who are trying to tackle the challenges facing them. And please know that I’m not questioning anyone’s ability to multitask.

Today, many of you have several hundred friends on your Facebook and just as many followers on Twitter. I wonder how many of these friends will show up to help you when your car breaks down on the 405 freeway in the middle of rush-hour traffic. Just like our theology, have our relationships become millions of miles wide and a tenth of an inch deep? You know…Shallow? You tell me.
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