DRM, Again

Here’s a short thought, provoked by this post at Jenny’s blog.

When the publication/distribution profiteers paint themselves as the defenders of artists’ rights, they always frame the issue on the royalties of the individual artist, which that artist presumably loses when audiences share books, recordings, and so on. As Doc always reminds us (based on his appreciation of George Lakoff), the framing makes the big difference here.

That frame excludes from our field of deliberation a number of ways that restrictive copyright mechanisms harm not only the interests of acquisitive audiences, but also those of all artists. Most obviously, it’s a good thing for people to be able freely to enjoy the work of artists; though almost all artists, authors, et al., relish income and would like more of it, virtually all whom I know yearn for attention and appreciation also — and we can show that many are willing to trade off potential income for attention.

But that’s only the beginning. Artists (and from now on, I’ll just say “artists” as a shorthand for all who have a producer’s interest in reproducible works) have an interest in the freedom to compose works without anxiety over whether they’ll be inhibited or even prosecuted for transgressing on another’s alleged copyright. Artists have an interest in audiences having the freedom casually to become interested in their work — a freedom that DRM restrictions stifle. Artists have an interest in public goodwill, the sort of positive feelings that highly-restrictive copyright regimens erode (how interested will I be in paintings if I have to pay fifty cents for a two-minute glimpse of “Nude Descending a Staircase”?

Especially since the circumstances of production and reproduction have changed in fundamental ways, we need to reconfigure the ways that the public rewards artists — and the ways that the public experiences and shares artists’ works. That’s not only for the sake of audiences, but even and especially for artists, too.

Practical Consideration

We’re thinking about a redesign of Seabury’s website based on Moveable Type, and the question arises of whether to allow our design to encompass any pages not generated through the MT engine. The rationale for static pages (in the sense of “designed to be static,” not just “generated once at a rebuild rather than constructed on demand”) would be a greater degree of flexibility with regard to layout and content, and perhaps an easier transition from pages built under our present design schema; the downside would be that the MT search function would not be able to search the “static” pages, and that we’d have two modes of preparing data, one of which constitutes a near-total wild card for the page writer.

The more I think about it, the righter Micah’s advice on the topic sounds: All MT, every page. But I still want to think it over, to make sure I’m not missing some important angle.

By the way, I was this close to changing my Disseminary blog over to WordPress, of which I’ve gotten a generally favorable impression from an experimental site — but at the last minute we got MT 3 working over the smoking rubble of the old installation, and I have to say that the new version provides a very helpful approach to handling unwelcome commercial comments. I haven’t settled all the way in yet, but I like the transition so far.

For The Record

I don’t begrudge anyone whom Marqui is sponsoring the opportunity to get paid a few pence. If Mitch or the Lemur or someone started rhapsodizing about the virtues of the new sponsor, I’d size up the tenor of their comments in the contest of what I’ve known about them over the long haul, and decide whether in this case my long-term online friends were shooting straight or shilling — but it’s their prerogative to decide whether to take the money, and theirs to decide what (if anything) they want to say about Marqui (about whose services, as of this writing, I know absolutely nothing except that Marc is consulting with them).

Nothing’s intrinsically sullied by bloggers getting paid. None of us is simon-pure to start with, and good-hearted bloggers with integrity don’t turn into soulless flacks just by receiving a check. Some bloggers sold out ages ago for the price of popularity; some A-listers can’t be spun no matter how much money they’re offered. Some Omega-listers couldn’t be corrupted for any price, and some have no integrity to sell in the first place. Those of us who never act on mixed motives can throw the first stones.

In the meantime, let’s stand down for a moment to see what happens when the cash starts flowing.

Church, Academy, Emergent

I’ve been invited to help out at the opening service of Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler; it’s an honor to share the ministry of those three wonderful colleagues. The thought of their project reminded me that an age or two ago — back before the weblog meltdown — someone called my attention to the discussion of [emergent] church and academy on Jonny Baker’s site. It’s a terrific thread, poking at the sore issue of how we might better prepare people to lead congregations in the contemporary world (of which a subsidiary issue involves the merits of academic training for clergy).

We’ve been through this before, here and here. The issue, however, merits our revisiting at intervals. Before I go on, though, I should admit that I’m both ordained and a card-carrying academic. Anything I say that inclines toward supporting the institutions of church or academy may be overdetermined by my financial vocational interest in the survival of those establishments. Further, I don’t construe most of what follows as a rebuttal of jonnybaker or any of the participants in the discussion there; I’ve been impressed by their generosity and patience in dealing with the topic.

Bearing that in mind, then, I agree with jonnybaker’s commenters that there’s a deep problem besetting theological education and church leadership. Critics typically characterize the problem as an academically-isolated theological magisterium trying to indoctrinate would-be leaders with a practically-useless corpus of ecclesiastical trivia — as opposed to an ideal world in which students learn about how things actually happen, how people come to love Jesus, what kind of spiritual guidance one should offer postmodern might-believers, and so on. There’s enough truth to that characterization to make it durable, but it conceals several pertinent aspects of the problem.

First, I know relatively few theology professors who aren’t at least trying to inculcate their subject areas in ways that would inform pastoral practice. Contrariwise, almost everyone I know in the field struggles yearly to devise better ways to aid students in recognizing the applicability of theology (history, biblical studies, ethics) to the work of mission and ministry. That doesn’t mean any of us succeeds, but at least we’re trying.

Second, the familiar criticism tends to reinforce stereotyped caricatures of theological education more than to resolve the persistent problems that we encounter. Anyone can pick on underfunded, overworked academics for concentrating on the dimension of their work that brings them joy and satisfaction; everyone will benefit more if we eschew demagoguery in favor of imagining possible solutions to the present unsatisfactory state of affairs.

Third, some of the critique depends on the premise that we have a decent idea of how to teach the desired pastoral skills during a period of academic training — a premise whose soundness seems to be worth examining. I learned almost all my “practical” craft on the job, and I like it that way, so I’m probably not well-situated to judge various approaches to learning for ministry. Still, I have seen relatively few academically-based courses for the practice of ministry that can demonstrate consistent effectiveness (I say this from the secure vantage point of Seabury, which makes its successful practical ministry program one of its distinctive benefits).

Fourth, and I will probably repeat this till I reach my deathbed, far too many people preparing for ministry know far too little about the church they’re preparing to lead. The church does not, on the whole, demand very much preparation at all compared to the responsibilities its leaders bear and the wisdom and understanding that congregations expect. This isn’t a matter of intellectual elitism; electricians and steel workers undergo extensive training before they reach the most fully-credentialled level of their line of work. If church leaders presume to take on involvement with the souls of trusting congregants, they can jolly well learn a thing or two of what the church has ascertained beneficial for souls (and baneful).

I doubt that formal academic training on the model of the secular academy provides the most propitious venue for theological education. Margaret and I home-school our children, and I’d just as soon home-school seminarians. Reluctant as I am to treat maladaptive cultural formations as simply given, I don’t see a way for churches to back away from institutionalized clergy training. (If someone wants to support an effective alternative, they should by all means let me know.) The urgent issue, then, concerns how academic institutions best instruct and prepare students for ministry in non-academic settings.

A number of suggestions present themselves, but let me just throw out some starters in an unordered list:

  • More thorough pre-seminary catechesis for aspiring church leaders
  • Unashamed academic grounding in elementary levels of church teaching on theology, Scripture, ethics, history, and so on
  • Professors who know and sympathize with the daily work of ministry
  • Professors who know and enjoy the cultural world in which their students move
  • Students who are willing to learn more about the topics of theological education
  • Churches that actually want excellent leaders, and are willing to demonstrate their respect

Part of the difficulty with such notions is the change they would require of everyone involved; it’s just easier to expect little of church leaders, reward mediocrity, allow faculties to pontificate without edifying, and watch as the whole enterprise spins its wheels without any cultural traction.

The thread at jonnybaker’s shows people who care deeply about theology and its implications, though, as they wrestle with imagining how people who share their love for truth and for God’s people can grow in faith and understanding as they also prepare themselves for the peculiar work of helping congregations draw nearer to God. Perhaps we need to imagine and support “emergence” in our theological education along with our congregations.

Whatever that looks like, I can’t bring myself to expect that it involves deliberately forgoing a rich acquaintance with the wisdom of millennia of theological reflection. We are not better servants of God and neighbor for pretending that the Word of God began with us. We can absolutely do better by way of readying ourselves for ministry, and extant institutions tend to mask the shortcomings they impose on us. How do we, then, recuperate from modern dysfunctional models of education for ministry, without trying to erect a complex strcture beginning at the fifth floor, without strong foundations or support members?

I’m sure as can be that I’ve allowed my preservationist impulse to draw me away from a better response — but this is a start anyway.

Top Ten Neighborhoods I Haven’t Been

A flurry of sites have pointed to the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) – 20 Best Neighborhoods in North America, to which I looked hopefully, only to discover that my life has been characterized by a pretty consistent absence from “best neighborhoods” (I’m hoping there isn’t a cause-and-effect relationship at work here). I’ve been to the East Village (#2) in passing, and I think I’ve seen Camden (#4), but I’m mostly a stranger to PPS’s most admirable spots in North America. I can still get acquainted with Oak Park, though, and Josiah aspires to relocate to Northfield.

And let’s not even talk about the best neighborhoods in the world.

Testing. . . One, Two, Three

With generous help from Chris Whipple, I managed to get this blog back online, permalinked and commentable. I uploaded the posts from the last few weeks late last night — I’d only intended to upload one or two, but once I got started it was hard to stop — and now I’m trying MarsEdit’s remote posting feature.

A certain amount of hand-coding is fun and refreshing; it reminds me of how completely I’d come to rely on MarsEdit for entering material in my blog. Now I just have to resuscitate my CSS chops (meager as they ever were) to spruce up the templates to a more Disseminary-looking format again, and we’re off to the races.

Matthean Response

As I warned readers, my response to Stan Hauerwas’s prospective commentary on Matthew addresses not a full-fledged Matthew commantary, but on a passage from his forthcoming books of reflections on the Seven Last Words of Christ, to be entitled The Christ-Shattered Cross. It was a weird exercise, but I gather that it turned out well. Here’s what I said:
Continue reading “Matthean Response”

Looking Backward

It’s hard to believe that we could spend a busy theological-conference weekend without wrapping it up with a visit from Jenna, but I guess that’s one way San Antonio differs from Atlanta. This year, of course, Jeneane wouldn’t have needed to step outside for a breath of, ahem, cigarette smoke. We did think of Jenna when we went up and down in the elevator, though.

We also thought of her, and of Jeneane and George, when we heard that Diva had died. Nothing affects us in quite the same way as an animal friend’s death; I remember that one of the first crises my new neighborhood talked through online was the death of Tom Shugart’s cat. We’ll remember Diva here (though we never met her), and we’ll be thinking of the Sessums. Take care, and bless you, and Diva.

SBL Day Four

I don’t anticipate catching many wifi waves today, so I’ll just say that we’re looking forward to a lovely breakfast with two of our great friends (we’ll send an electronic call-out, Amy), wander around the conference center, perhaps pick up some last-minute books, get together with Jennnifer, and return home to the loving embrace of our wonderful family and friends. And sleep.