Sunday, September 30, 2012


I'm a web developer.  Been doing it (as for some reason I always like to say) since before Coca-Cola (or anybody else) had a public website; the first sites I worked on were internal corporate ones.  The company policy manual online, for instance - and then signing up for yearly benefits, or changing or adjusting them.  That was big-time back then - very advanced stuff.  We coded in Notepad in those days!  And we liked it!  (Well, actually, we didn't; it was a total pain in the you-know-what....)

The organization I first worked for was divided into groups according to specialty:  back-end coders; front-end coders (that's me); graphic artists; UI experts (that stands for "user interface"); writers (AKA "content specialists"); salespeople; etc.  I'm still mostly front-end, although have absorbed skills from all of the above specialities.  I'm the person who actually puts all the other stuff together and presents it to the user; I've found, over time, BTW, that this skill set requires your right brain and your left brain to have about the same amount of influence.

I'm working on a church website now; this particular parish uses a particular church-database software and I have to work within certain constraints.  One of these is that content is organized in "channels"; the church purchases so-many-channels for such-and-such a price.  "Channels" are sort of "landing pages" - pages that act as central hubs to link to other information.  At first I thought this was not such a great thing; I'm used to total freedom in organizing content, and to the "section" concept, with sub-menus and sub-sub-menus, and etc.  One of the important things I've learned about websites is that people feel much, much happier when they can locate themselves easily within the site - and find other content easily, too.  So I tend to use - over-use, maybe - lots of menus and headers and breadcrumbs, so that people understand right away how the site is organized and so that it will make cognitive sense to them - and not lead to them feeling lost or wondering how to find things.

I was worried about "Channels."  You can't really do the sub-menu and sub-sub-menu thing with Channels; Channels point to "articles," which are mostly stand-alone bits of information.  (Well, you can do sub-menus - but you mostly have to do it by hand; not so much fun, really, these days.  And most people aren't going to bother; the other point of the software is that it's designed so that total non-techies can use it.  Most people simply won't have the time and/or patience to be making menus by hand, and cutting and pasting them into the pages.  So 1996, anyway, that.)  And, of course, having only so many channels meant that I had to be efficient, and make a lot happen with much less freedom than I'm used to.

What I found was interesting, though; it turns out that "Channels" may actually be a stroke of genius - and may more accurately reflect what the church is actually about.   A "Channel" allows you to organize content by "topic" - but it also allows to you link to stuff that may seem to belong to other "Channels" - and it turns out, amazingly, that life in the church really is like this.  Everything points to everything else; church life is an integrated experience.  I think integration may be its main purpose, in fact.

An example:  you may have a "Kids" channel, and a "Worship" channel, and a "Music" channel - as well as an "Events" channel and an "Education" channel.  Well, you'll certainly want to point to "Music" from the "Kids" channel; you'll want parents to know about the great things that being part of the choir can do for their children.  Likewise, you'll want to point to "Music" from the "Events" channel - and from the Worship channel, when you want people to know about All Saints' Evensong.  Stuff that gets categorized as "Education" can also be located under "Worship" - and vice-versa.  You'll want the "I'm New" channel to have links to articles in the "Service" channel and the "Education" channel and the "Events" channel and the "Groups" channel; people who are new often get hooked in by joining small groups or service groups.

If you're posting the daily prayers - well, you'll need to point to the Feast Day information, too.   One thing completes the other; one thing is incomplete without the other.

I was surprised to find, as I worked, that there's practically nothing in the life of the church that doesn't point to something else.  One thing flows very naturally into another; there really aren't any "sections" in the life of the church (even though you do have to organize your content somehow!).

And that, it seems to me, is the whole point of the thing:  integration.

Take it from a web developer.


aredstatemystic said...

Well said.

I learned liturgy as a teenage pianist at a small Lutheran Church (ELCA). For a month before the first service, the Pastor and I ran through the Eucharist several times. Knowing my baptist background, he even provided me a sheet with all the biblical references in the liturgy. It was really helpful.

I remember in one of these sessions he said something like this: "Your playing aids in our singing. Our singing aids in our comprehension of the words. Our comprehension of the words aids our faith. Our faith points us to the cross of Christ." I remember how that blew my mind!

Everything is in service to something else. I'm even growing more convinced with my Nihilist tendencies lately that there are no such things as "sections" in the human heart. As you say, it's all about integration!

bls said...

I think people forget, often, that religion was everything at one time: psychology, social organization, law, social services, therapy, philosophy, entertainment, etc., etc.

So, pretty naturally, religion addressed and integrated the entirety of human experience. And the church continued to evolve that way; that is its underlying structure. You can see this clearly in the Book of Common Prayer; it's a coherent system that integrates the lifelong human experience into a whole. And that's what the Sacraments do; it's what they're for: integration.

I'm all for modern understandings of psychology, sociology, therapy, etc., of course, too - and fully support adding their contributions to this whole, as well. But I think it would pay us to always remember that there's really a structure underneath everything, and that it all works together for our benefit, to help us live.

(The Lutherans seem to understand this much better than we do, I think! And I think that's because Lutherans haven't forgotten what trouble human beings can get themselves into, and how much help we often need....)