On the movies of Clint Eastwood, by The New Yorker:

“Mass culture is a machine for showing desire,” Roland Barthesnwrote. It’s also a machine for expressing resentment, a frustrationnof desire. Harry Callahan is lonely, hard, intolerant. Eastwood became npopular, in part, because he allowed people to dream that they couldnbe effective without being nice.

What does our mass culture desire today? Winning arguments and passingnjudgment according to cable news and reality television…

Legally we have free speech, but in reality, it’s anything but free. Our
public communication is captive to sin and it cannot free itself, even
on the web—which is touted as the most democratic system of
communication invented. But by human nature, our communication always
bends towards evil.

Sound dramatic?

When anonymous feedback is allowed on heavily visited sites, it doesn’t
take long for the racism, bigotry and
Hitler references to
appear—buried just beneath the main article. More subltly: a church’s
commitment to articulate a particular moral belief might end up
alienating those most in need of its support. In other words, we
invariably fail to communicate perfectly. The multiplication of tools
for communicating online doesn’t reduce the risk, it increases the risk
that we fail to live up to our name—at a larger scale. Let’s be honest
about this…

Our gift, then is editing, moderation, and most importantly:

We can use the growing resources of electronic communication to bring
the gospel message to many who have not heard. But we need to
investigate the message and the medium. Because this isn’t about
producing electronic tracts. That would be called spam. This is about
real connections that draw us to real relationships that, put
together, represent God’s work in this particular place, in this
particular time.

We can’t pretend the Internet doesn’t exist. It does; at least for those
people living in developing nations. We also can’t assume that
Christians have a monopoly on this new medium, as we did with past
technological advances. We don’t. And thank God that Christendom is
over. But between naiveté and arrogance, Christians are called to engage
these new electronic tools and work that they may be used justly and

We may even have something to say about how our new tools should be used
for the better. But first we need to learn what it all this means for
doing ministry—the same ministry that the church has always done.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did
not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no
fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the
net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they
cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were
so many fish.

John 21:4-6

Internet full of fish

It was inevitable that the single most profound technological revolution
of the 20th century would eventually be mentioned in conversation with
the Christian Gospel. It’s a meeting of a Christian’s most urgent
communication—the good news of Jesus Christ—with this century’s most
advanced medium—the Internet.

Like the Gutenberg revolution, though, the advancement of the Internet
is not simply by degree over traditional media, but rather by radical
change to the way Western society works, plays, and even thinks.

Strictly speaking, as a medium, the Internet cannot ensure value. Those
things that are most important to us are still contained in the
message—wherever that message may be found. In the quoted verse, the
disciples have a net. Sure, it’s not an internet, but I trust you’ll
forgive the wordplay. The net alone, though, was not enough to catch
fish. The disciples followed Jesus to fill their net with fish.

Where are the fish?

As our recent generations of disciples have begun using the Internet,
they’ve also discovered disappointment. Despite its increasing ubiquity
in our society, the net does not provide all the fish it promises. Many
churches have invested in the Internet with hopes that it will provide
new relationships and a generation of members that has been missing from
their pews. Instead of nets full of fish, many churches find their
Internet presence dwindling and lifeless. Our web sites may even be
diligently maintained, but what fish are we finding?

What are we called to do with our Internet?

Jesus called the disciples in the boat ‘children.’ After reading any
number of anonymous ‘comments’ on a public site like YouTube, you’ll
probably agree the label still fits. Like any new technology, the
Internet has multiplied the ways in which we communicate, but it has by
no means taught us how to communicate better. As it becomes harder and
harder for us to avoid the Internet, we are more and more called to work
on communicating authentically in this new medium. We have a lot to
learn. Before we cast our new nets to the sea, let’s think about using
them responsibly. Let’s listen for direction.

“You will find some.”

If we put our faith in our new net alone, we will be disappointed.
Without centering our work in the Gospel, the energy we put into making
our place on the Internet will be wasted. The promise of an online
church, free of walls and limitations is empty and dangerous. The last
thing we need is a virtual church. But for those who humbly take up
their nets, listening for the voice of Jesus, the promise is there, “you
will find some.” We will know we’ve learned to use our new technology
appropriately when our nets are full of fish.

And then our real work begins.