Thursday, November 1, 2012

Shane Hipps, Ryan Bolger vs. Barry Taylor Sketches #BrehmLectures2012

Yesterday the Brehm Center for theology, worship and the arts hosted the annual Brehm Lectures.  I enjoyed the conversation exposing many in the Fuller community for the first time to Marshall McLuhan.  Barry Taylor stirred the pot and kept things moving while deftly deflecting the ever-present first-quarter-Fuller-student question "Are you saying there is no such thing as absolute truth?"

Perhaps most remarkable was Hipps apparent confession that he has built both his advertising and ministry/speaking circuit/writing careers mainly by appropriating McLuhan for audiences that hadn't yet encountered him.  This isn't a jab.  Translators and bridge people are important.  Still it was humorous to watch my theology friends trying to make sense the opaque, zen-riddle like aphorisms.  Don't worry, he made them opaque and poly-valent on purpose.

A final anecdote from a Cameroonian student relating how her attempts at ministry here in the states to a troubled student were frustrated by the student's confession that she couldn't really talk face to face but could only communicate by text with any level of self-disclosure or intimacy.  This made Hipps point (one echoed by Sherry Turkle) about the losses implicit in the unconscious use of these technologies but also prompted an eerily colonial generalization in response from Taylor regarding tribal cultures in Africa and the positive social function of "masks" and "rituals." This felt like an imprecise caricature, and to me, missed the point of the question: namely that the young woman had lost or never learned to speak face to face.  Nonetheless, it was a rich and lively conversation.  I would have liked to hear more riffing from Hipps and Taylor.

As Fuller moves toward moving more and more of its content and education into mediated forms, we would do well to balance the opportunities with the dangers of "over-extended" senses.  I agree with the panel that the global church is at a cross-roads analogous to that faced by the European church in the reformation as we struggle and fail and re-imagine our way into faithfulness in a social world mediated by our technology.

Several people on twitter have wanted to do things with the sketches I did while they were speaking so I'm posting up some higher resolution scans.  I'm using a creative commons license for free sharing with attribution.  This means anyone can share and  make fun things out of them, just link back here if you share them elsewhere and attach my name.


  1. Nice sketches Matt! Yeah, I was indoctrinated into McLuhan about 6 weeks ago in Barry's Theology and Media Culture class so it was interesting to see his work brought into this discussion. I came home last night and read through the tweets and realized that Barry's comments were quite intriguing to me and so I appreciated him stirring up the pot. I agree that it would have been interesting to see him and Shane square off. Bolger had some very interesting points as well; although I agreed more with his overall point, but less with his specifics. I actually think he might've been better for the Preaching in a Visual Age conference because he seemed to be more practical. Aw well...

  2. Avril,
    thanks for the comment. I was pretty frustrated with Bolger's remedial walk through modernity to post-modernity, but the second half of his talk was full of great insights. I have to admit that, despite the fun and provocative presence Shane is, I was a little embarrassed at the pop-psychological concepts he made heavy use of like the right brain / left brain division of labor. The reality of human brains is much more complex. It might work as a metaphor but Shane seemed to mostly rely on stringing together these kinds of things. Not to nit-pick, but there were several pieces to his talk that to me, only seemed to work superficially. Once probed the kind of fell apart. For example his connection of the two column textual image with the two columns of church pews: first, the example he showed wasn't printed, but hand copied, second, printed text doesn't neccesarilly contain two columns. In the moment they give you the feeling of "ah hah" but kind of evaporate if you think about them very much. I should probably give his book a chance before judging him so harshly. That was a hard room to match a talk to.


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