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A Pilgrim’s 21st Century Progress

You remember your Bunyan, don’t you? In ‘A Pilgrim’s Progress’, written in 1678, Christian is on a journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.  His path takes him through the Slough of Despond,  the Hill of Difficulty, the House Beautiful, the Valley of Humiliation, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity Fair, the Doubting Castle, and the Delectable Mountains. He also meets characters like Evangelist, Faithful, Hopeful, Discretion, Prudence and the Shining Ones, as well as Flatterer, Hypocrisy, Ignorance, Formalist, Timorous, Mistrust, Talkative, Giant Despair and of course Atheist, who help or hinder him on his way. Here is a map of his journey.

I have been thinking about pilgrimage in general recently, and my own journey in cyberspace, which I set out on in November 2010 with the launching of the Lay Anglicana website, followed in April by the blog. I am certainly aiming in what I hope is the general direction of the Celestial City, in that I am convinced the Church would be a better place if the powers that be worked in partnership with the laity – would ‘equal but different’ be pushing my luck? But of course I may be wrong. I cannot prove to you, or even to myself, that what I am trying to do is the will of God. Straight away, then, I am in the Doubting Castle, and trying to ignore the cautious but undoubtedly well-meant warnings of Timorous.

Hopeful takes me on one side and  points out that several people (who do look like genuine people of God) have encouraged me along the way. If I am wrong in thinking this is the way to the Celestial City, then they are wrong as well. Just as I am beginning to perk up, however, Mistrust ‘kindly’ points out that they may be Flatterers. But then why would flatterers bother to flatter me – there is absolutely nothing I can do for them. Well, apart from flattering them in return, I suppose. The Slough of Despond and Giant Despair lie in wait for the unwary, like Scylla and Charybdis, and the path that lies between is called Difficult. You’re telling me! First of all, you have to  understand the machinery (and machinations?) of the Church of England. Then you have to push your personality to its most extravert extreme in order to get your message out there.

And then you have to understand the dark arts of Social Media. Although I have met many Shining Ones along the way who have tried to help me, they usually speak like oracles, so that, for those beset by Ignorance, some interpretation is needed : they too are to be found on the Hill of Difficulty.  But I have been lucky, like Christian, to have found many helpful companions and Talkative twitterers along the way: they rally me when my spirits are low, share my jubilation when another obstacle is overcome, laugh with me over some of life’s absurdities, occasionally remind me of the need for Prudence, and teach me much that I need to learn. Even my Atheist is a Christian gentleman, though he might argue with the description.

There is one more problem, though, and it was anticipated by Bunyan. It is tempting to try and measure one’s progress along the way, like every child on a car journey who has whined ‘Are we there yet?’ I can see that we are indeed not there yet, but I would dearly love to know whether I am making any progress. ‘Easily done’, say some of the experts, ‘you need to check your tally on the social media metric sites.’ A month or two ago, I conducted a little experiment, checking the names of some illustrious fellow-pilgrims against these tables of success. The measurements varied considerably from site to site. And now, my Mentor has pointed out that these sites give unwonted encouragement to those un-Christian gentlemen, Pride, Arrogancy, Self-conceit and Worldly-glory, in whose company one will never succeed in walking through the Valley of Humility, as must all Christian pilgrims:

  Christian: He told me indeed that he saw you go by, but I wish you had called at the house, for they would have shewed you so many Rarities, that you would scarce have forgot them to the day of your death. But pray tell me, Did you meet nobody in the Valley of Humility?

Faith: Yes, I met with one Discontent, who would willingly have persuaded me to go back again with him; his reason was, for that the Valley was altogether without honour. He told me moreover, that there to go was the way to disobey all my friends, as Pride, Arrogancy, Self-conceit, Worldly – glory, with others, who he knew, as he said, would be very much offended, if I made such a Fool of myself as to wade through this Valley.

Christian: Well, and how did you answer him?

Faith: I told him, That although all these that he had named might claim kindred of me, and that rightly, (for indeed they were my Relations according to the flesh) yet since I became a Pilgrim they have disowned me, as I also have rejected them; and therefore they were to me now no more than if they had never been of my lineage. I told him moreover, that as to this Valley, he had quite misrepresented the thing; for before Honour is Humility, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Therefore said I, I had rather go through this Valley to the honour that was so accounted by the wisest, than chose the way which he esteemed most worthy our affections.

The story, as we know, ended happily for Christian. Let us hope that it ends equally happily for those who would emulate him in the twenty-first century.









The engravings of the map and Christian’s entry at the Wicket Gate are taken from a 1778 edition of the book, reproduced in Wikipedia.

The conversation between Christian and Faith takes place in the fifth chapter of the first part of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’

7 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

I hadn’t thought of a journey through Social Media and the Facebook and Twitter (now google+). Empires of Evil or Empires of Good? as a pilgrimage.

But on reflection my journey starting with i-church in September 2008 was and remains a bit of a pilgrimage. It helped me walk the path of meeting other Christians (and Atheists) and people from a wide range of backgrounds sharing journeys, not dissimilar, but unique to them.

Recognising the power of social media to influence has been taken to the ultimate degree of a ‘Hit Parade’ or ‘Celebrity List’ as @revpamsmith pointed out yesterday on the Bigbible project blog.

But it seems to me that the Church needs to tread the path of this Pilgrimage through Social Media. At the moment, they are being half-hearted. Setting up twitter accounts and issuing podcasts from the ABC is reactive, not proactive.

Mission and Evangelism needs to take account of the breadth and spread of the new technology and the instant communications to billions and to work out the ‘New Theology for the Cyberage’ needed to particpate as leaders and servants.

i-church was ground breaking in conception and implementation. It has evolved and continues to maintain a listening presence on the internet, listening being the key word. Unless the church listens and learns about the use of new technologies it will remain in the slow lane on its pilgrimage.

02 August 2011 06:40
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, UKViewer. I would describe your path to ordination (DV) as a pilgrimage, in addition to the pilgrimage that you are on in the company of all Christians.

I too am on the same pilgrimage as all other Christians, but am also trying to change the world (well, part of the way the Church of England sees itself). So in this sense I set out very deliberately on a specific pilgrimage, and am trying to use all possible means to this end, such as social media, without falling into the trap of regarding people I meet through social media as a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. Because I find no difficulty in visualising real people at the other end of the PC, this is one mistake I do not feel I am making, but the Rev Pam Smith (my Mentor in the passage above, as you guessed) is right to point out the danger.

The Church too will need to bear this in mind. Let us hope that the Church improves its communication skills through the use of social media; it will then need to remember that the people it is communicating with are an end in themelves, not just a means to improve the attendance statistics.

02 August 2011 11:34
Revsimmy said...

Interesting post, Laura. In many ways I think the Pilgrimage “through social media” as you describe here simply reflects our journey through human life. The things Bunyan mentions will be present wherever humans and “human nature” are present which is why it can be applied to social media.

While I agree with UKViewer that the Church of England as an institution is being half-heartedly reactive, there is more to it than that, and there is another side to the coin. The church, as represented by many individuals including those regularly contributing here and elsewhere, is rather more proactive than the institution as a whole. As UKV says, podcasts and Twitter accounts do not necessarily make us social media savvy.

Where there is more to this is that social media enable a different type of culture to take root. The medium itself is more than simply an electronic version of more traditional print and broadcast media. It does, and enables, different things. The medium and the culture are in a symbiotic relationship – social media are the products of particular ways of thinking, but develop new ways of thinking and acting as people interact with them. this makes it hard for institutions to recognise what is going on, but individuals within them (and outside) will “get it” and move forward. The institutions need to encourage those who are interacting to be creative and not to duck the implications.

02 August 2011 11:43
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for this thoughtful comment, Revsimmy.

I am sure you are right that individuals in the Church are more proactive than the institution as a whole – as someone also said to me, we just have to gather enough straw, well not to break the camel’s back but get the message through that it might be better to adapt to changed circumstances.

I do think the Church is in a particularly difficult position in 2011, with an ossified structure. I well remember the 1970s, which was an era of often painful change for many institutions. Many others resisted change, on the grounds that they were exempt. Of those that did so, many then had to change nevertheless, and the associated pain was all the greater for the delay. The Church has been willing to change its services, and to allow for initiatives such as Fresh Expressions. But methods for choosing new bishops, for example, are as Trollopian as ever! The Episcopal Church actually elects its bishops, with all on the electoral roll allowed to vote: it would be almost unimaginable for us to adopt that in the CofE, yet maybe it would be no bad thing?

02 August 2011 11:58
Revsimmy said...

I agree with you about delay increasing the pain of change; and when it does come, the change is often too little, too late, as in the case of updating our language and forms of liturgy. I think that those who were hoping that Common Worship would herald a long period of stability and “no change” are fooling themselves because the English language is constantly changing in its patterns of use.

TEC has the “advantage” that it is not an established church, and therefore others have less vested interest in how it makes its decisions. I agree that our own methods and structures are overdue for an extensive overhaul, but I am rather less happy than some appear to be about emulating TEC. We need more transparency in the procedures and far more involvement of non-clerics in the process. I am worried about whether going for the type of balloting you suggest would lead us to some of the worse aspects of the adversarial politics we have on both sides of the Atlantic where soundbites and media image count for so much, and where people vote along “party” lines. I rather fear that this is beginning to happen already. I believe that the episcopacy needs to reflect a range of gifts and personalities.

This is not, however, to say that we should not be looking for a more democratic approach. There is, after all, a good biblical precedent in the choosing of Stephen and six others to be deacons in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles – and it wasn’t long before at least some of them began exceeding their original brief.

02 August 2011 14:31
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for this. I admit I don’t know how the balloting works in TEC and I can see scope indeed for it to descend into ordinary politics. But there is already a degree of ‘party politics’, e.g. in our diocese which is currently looking for a new bishop. There is a feeling, I think, that as the previous one was Evangelical, we should have someone verging on Anglo-Catholic next time round. Others say that the Evangelicals are now numerically stronger so they should not necessarily have to take it in turns in this manner. I do not know what the committee will decide, just reporting on the talk around the appointment!

02 August 2011 17:44

[…] just those signed up to this project) of becoming too competitive and falling prey, as I suggested elsewhere, to Bunyan’s snares of  ‘pride, arrogancy, self-conceit and worldly-glory’. She […]

04 August 2011 09:43

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