Thursday, May 9, 2013

NuDunkers: Welcome to the conversation

So this "NuDunker" thing has been going on for almost seven months now; the first blog posts coming out in late October of last year. We've conducted, to date, three live discussions on G+ Hangouts (the one from last week w/ David Fitch & Geoff Holsclaw being viewable here on YouTube), and a raft of blog posts have accompanied each one. In the process we've picked up two more interested Brethren folks who want to be part of this - what we've insisted upon from the beginning - conversation.

In light of the passage of time, a few new faces, some other interested parties, as well as some confusion and misunderstandings, it seems like a good time to reflect on the experience so far, the process we've used, what tweaks can be made, and how to proceed from here.

This is going to be a long post, so before jumping in I'll just summarize a few points about NuDunkers:
  • NuDunkers is, first of all, an ongoing conversation
  • Its emerging structure: Open/public, social media-based, semi-monthly, topical
  • The typical flow: A topic is identified, dates discussed for a live discussion, blog posts are up the week before, the live discussion happens, then follow-up posts are made - Wash, rinse, repeat
  • Pitch and tone of conversation: Seminary-level and academic/theological, but with the intention of being welcoming to the whole church. Topics emerge from ministerial contexts, get discussed in this fashion, and hopefully inspire/enlighten/equip for practical ministry.
  • You want in? We want this to be a centered-set kind of thing, allowing for various levels of commitment and participation; from voyeurs/lurkers all the way to welcoming more folks in the "circle of hosts" who plan and conduct the activities around various discussion topics.
I'll present the longer reflections in a kind of socratic way, with questions posed and some thoughts provided in response. I've vetted these reflections through e-mail discussion with the others who've been close to the center of this conversation: Andrew Hamilton, Dana Cassell, Joshua Brockway, Laura Stone, and Matt McKimmy. There will inevitably be some of my own "stuff" below, but I've tried to speak for the group as well (always tricky).

What is NuDunkers again?

From our new Google+ community page (more on that below):
NuDunkers is a group of scholarly-minded folks in the Anabaptist+Radical Pietist tradition of the Church of the Brethren. While scholarly-minded, we are not all academics, yet we seek to have respectful, intellectually rigorous, and stimulating conversations around topics that arise from our various ministry contexts within the church. It is that body that we seek to edify by our work.
There are a few signals we want to put out there, and probably the most important one is that this is a nerdy group. The folks who coalesced around this thing that eventually got named - somewhat tongue-in-cheekishly - "NuDunkers" were interested in having public conversations about various topics related to the Christian faith, and in an explicitly scholarly/intellectual/academic way.

In the same breath, though, we've wanted to have these smarty-pants conversations in such a way that non-nerds can participate and benefit. So sometimes the language we use will be a bit bewildering to non-seminary-educated folks. But we're willing to risk that, because the church and the academy need each other. The folks close to the center of the conversation all have MDivs, MAs, and some are working on PhDs - and we need to hear from work-a-day Christians with less education that all this fancy book learnin' needs to be toned down a bit or distilled for normal folks. Yes, we need to hear that, so please tell us!

At the same time, we're convinced that normal work-a-day Christians also "need" a bit of that fancy book learnin'. Not everyone needs to go to seminary (or can even afford to anymore, sheesh!) - but that's precisely why we're doing this NuDunker thing the way we're doing it: Normal folks can peek into some contemporary issues and literature that Christian academics are working on.

We're also quick to point out that each of us more nerdy types are engaged in concrete/practical ministry in our various contexts. Sure I'm a huge nerd, but I'm living, worshiping, and serving in a little farm town in Iowa. Realities "on the ground" matter a great deal for me. They always bubble up and stimulate my critical thinking and conversations like these, and the fruits of that more abstract/intellectual exercise always work themselves back out into the blood, sweat, and tears of ministry and daily discipleship in Christ's body. All the other folks in this NuDunkers conversation can say the same. Perhaps you can, too?

On traditions and denominations: We've named Church of the Brethren so far because that's the denomination that everyone involved in NuDunkers is a part of in some formal way (membership, ordination, employer, etc.). But this is a group committed to ecumenism in a range of senses. We've named the traditions from which the CoB sprang - Anabaptism and Radical Pietism - so there can be some non-CoB conversation partners there. I consider myself an "anonymous Mennonite" from my theological & peacebuilding education, have been deeply influenced by a Roman Catholic political theologian, and have had ministry experience in Presbyterian and United Methodist contexts - so I bring all that to the table. Andy teaches in an Ashland Brethren/Brethren Church setting, so there's that dimension. We also try to circumvent the progressive/conservative trap that's ensnared nearly all of American Christianity, including the Church of the Brethren - yet we each carry sympathies and anxieties that arise out of/in reaction to those camps. Hence the commitment to respectful dialogue.

Finally, it should be made clear that NuDunkers is a social media thing. Everything we have done so far and will do for the foreseeable future has been conducted online: e-mails, blogs, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Facebook, etc. Part of what we're doing is trying to subvert the disembodying tendencies of these digital media and the devices they ride on. Our virtual conversations are usually accompanied by prayer, and they should always be sending us back into the local, relational worlds of our ministry contexts and neighborhoods. We're seeking to model and embody substance in a digital world that's almost entirely predicated on the logic of consumerism and entertainment.

Great, so that's a bit on what this thing is. Now, if you're still interested...

How do I become a part of the NuDunker conversation?

This is an evolving process, but we want it to be simple whatever form it takes. As stated above, this is a social media thing, so if you want to be a part of the conversation, a good place to start is the newly-created G+ community page. This will be the "hub" to the other virtual arenas where conversation plays out. So if you're on Twitter, you'll find most of us there: @bgumm, @brockcassian, @danabgirl@hamstewy@mattmckimmy (and stick the #NuDunker hashtag in your favorite Twitter app). Or our blogs: Authenticity, Collationes, Hermes Table, the patchwork pietist, Stumbling into Abundance, (and you're already on mine!). Or friend us on Facebook.

True to social media, there is no one place but many places (and times) where conversation happens, and we're all not always in every single one. It's an as-you-like environment of "likes," follows, tweets and re-tweets, +1s, blog comments, peppered with the occasional live conversation on G+ hangouts, which is itself layered between the folks on the live video chat and the folks watching it live and commenting via text comments, which then get fed back into the video chat.

So once you've got a few of those connections made, and catch a few conversational threads, you're now a part of the conversation. Welcome!

Ok, got that. Now what?

This is the part that's still taking shape. Previously, the small "circle of hosts" conducted e-mail conversations to choose the next discussion topic and begin planning the schedule of activities. As a small group, we just kept doing this over e-mail. But with NuDunkers beginning to make its way into the world, we now recognize that it's probably good to move some of that deliberation out into more open virtual spaces. Hence the creation of the G+ community page (and why I keep linking to it).

With that page we'll start trying to be more elicitive from the broader circle of interested folks as to what  topics are chosen, what activities accompany each topic, and the schedule for those. All along, folks there are welcome to question, comment, encourage, and ask for more involvement if there's interest and capacity.

I'm going to leave things here for now, because 1) the post is already too long, and 2) of the evolving state of things. Much like the whole thing started, we'll try out this new G+ community page and see how our more open deliberations work out, and how our attempt goes at being more transparent and welcoming as the circle of hosts.

I also invite that circle of hosts to add additional thoughts below, and welcome any other questions, comments, and suggestions. Thanks, folks! We're hoping this NuDunker thing can be a blessing to Brethren life and thought.

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