One of my favorite things to do in life is bring together two ideas that seemingly have NOTHING to do with each other – and explore expected parallels. As a former classroom teacher, I love getting people to think in new ways!
As I was heading toward Advent this year, I was talking with my friend James Mills about his job. James spent several years working as a minister (or what he calls “pastoral steward”). Now, he works full-time in the field of technology. As James was describing his job, he said he works on what he called an open-source platform.
“Open-source?” I said. “What’s that?!”
He went on to explain that most of the technology platforms we use on computers (ranging from word processors to social media sites) are called closed-source. This means that the company operating the platform goes to great lengths to hide their design code. By hiding their codes, they prevent regular users from getting into the code and “messing” things up. Companies that used closed source platforms include biggies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.
Many of us have been trained to think that closed source platforms are the ONLY way to go. We assume its good that only the “experts” have access to the code. That’s because we have been trained to think that experts produce the very best product possible. That’s why, we tell ourselves, that it’s okay for them to have exclusive (or proprietary) rights to the content.
“But is a closed-source approach really best?” James asked.
Those like James who work on open-source platforms use a VERY different set of assumptions. They don’t assume that only the “experts” know what’s going on. They believe there are thousands and thousands of gift computer users who have much to contribute to the development of a platform. The best way to produce the very best product isn’t to lock the majority of the world out of the process. The better way is to make the computer codes available to all so that more people can participate in the process – and improve the product.
So what does this conversation about technology have to do with theology – and Christmas?
In many ways, some of the largest and most dominant expressions of Christian community have approached the development of spiritual community like closed-source technology companies. These communities designate some as “experts” (i.e., popes, priests/pastors, Christian educators, theologians, etc.). They are the ones allowed to do theology on behalf of the community. Then they use things like creeds and ecclesiastical rules to tell others what is – and what is NOT – acceptable. They rarely allow regular folks into the process of evaluating and re-forming the tradition.
Sadly, this approach has strongly influenced the general public’s perception of Christianity. Many think that Christianity – by definition – is closed-source. That its primary goal is to use Jesus as the ultimate litmus test to divide people into two camps. No, those camps aren’t Google or Microsoft. Those camps are the “saved” and “not saved”.
I see Christmas very differently, however. I see the Christ-child that came into the world through what had previously been a closed-source (a faith tradition designed exclusively for God’s chosen, the Israelites) and opened things up to the Gentiles as well. The Christ-child set in motion a powerful chain of events that extended God’s unconditional love and grace to all. That’s why the Gospel represents truly Good News. Not just for some people – but for all of creation!
If you would like to check out the conversation I had with James (a powerful theologian as well as technology aficionado), click on the link below. I hope you enjoy this early Christmas gift – as the conversation might give you an opportunity to think about a variety of things in new ways!