Religious communities sometimes have a fraught relationship with technology in general and the internet, smartphones, and “screens” in particular. On the one hand, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc see the power these technologies have to build, grow, and maintain contact with the community and “spread the word”. On the other, technology is often perceived as a cesspool of evil inclinations and a scourge that is destroying families and minds. As IT professionals within our religious communities, we’re often asked to address, and even “fix”, those issues. Last week, Josh Biggley, Keith Townsend, and Leon Adato discussed what was good about being “geeks in the pew”. In this week’s installment, we’ll explore the challenging side of this situation and look at some solutions. Listen or read the transcript below…
Destiny: 00:00 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating, and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We’re not here to preach or teach you our religion. We’re here to explore ways we make our career as it professionals mesh – or at least not conflict – with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.
Leon: 00:24 This is a continuation of the discussion I started last week with Josh Biggley and Keith Townsend on the topic of being ambassadors of it within our religious community. Thank you for coming back to join our conversation.
Leon: 00:37 All right, so we’ve talked about some of the good, we’ve talked about some of the opportunities that being a technologist in our faith community presents us, but what can go wrong? What is wrong with being a person of technology in a land of faith?
Josh: 00:55 Really, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a person of technology in a land of faith. I think that it’s the use of technology. So I like to tell people I’m a recovering video game addict and I love video games. I really struggle with the want to play video games. And by the way, most video games today are crap. It’s just the way that it is. Sorry kids. They are. But the biggest innovations in video games – things like 3D and VR and augmented reality – they come from the porn industry.So Mormonism, they’ve embraced technology. So one of the earliest embraces of Technology was broadcasting what we call general conference, which is a biannual conference. It takes place in Salt Lake City in April and October. And so broadcasting that conference around the world, like when I grew up, our church had one of those monstrous satellite dishes outside, you know, the kind that you’re, the kid in the neighborhood. His Dad used to, you know, get the free porn on. Well, we had one in our church’s yard and we got broadcast from Salt Lake City sent to us. So I think that the challenge with technology isn’t so much that it is technology, the challenge is: what are we willing to accept it being used for in our lives.
Leon: 02:26 Okay. So that’s an interesting take. I guess what I was thinking about is the things that being the technology person, like what goes wrong with that scenario when we enter our church or synagogue or mosque or are our temple. And one of the first things, and this isn’t the worst of it, but one of them is that sometimes we are asked to stand and answer for technology. So, people come up and say, “Twitter’s just for, you know, porn and shit posting, that’s all you ever do.” And you know, I’m stuck there saying, “Well no it’s not.” But I’m also in my head saying, “Well yeah, it kinda is sometimes”
Josh: 03:08 I thought Instagram and Reddit were for porn. Right?
Leon: 03:12 Well, okay, everything could be, but you know, the point is, is that I’m being asked to stand and answer these challenges and that can be, you know, it’s never fun to be on that kind of firing line.
Keith: 03:23 Well, you know, it’s kind of like being a politician. There’s no good politician. One politician has to answer for all politicians. Or you know what we, we all have faiths that have controversies associated with those faiths. So you know, you’re the Christian and you have to answer for 2000 years of the atrocities of Christianity. It’s the same thing in technology. “You know what, Keith, you, you help maintain the internet in some ways. So you are a contributor to these problems.” You know, the fact that the FBI can’t unencrypt this porn traffickers phone is your fault.
Leon: 04:05 Right? I also find that we’re often put in a position where we have to be the bearer of bad news.
Josh: 04:11 Like “the wifi is down”?
Leon: 04:11 No worse than that. I’ve been asked to go help somebody with their computer, only to have to tell them that their spouse is doing… Whatever it is,
Speaker 4: 04:22 At work, if you’ve ever did any type of enterprise stuff at work and you find something illegal like child porn… it’s your responsibility. You are now legally obligated to bring that up. And then for our various faiths…. I had a guy bring me his laptop and said, “you know, what, can you fix this?” And what was wrong with it was they had a bunch of spyware on it. And there’s one surefire way to get spyware on your laptop. And he was a friend, so I had to have a difficult conversation with him. And this is not something that, if he would have took it to best buy or wherever – and he probably does now – but if he would have taken it to Best Buy or the Geek Squad, he would not have been confronted with a difficult conversation. So it puts us in a really tough situation sometimes.
Leon: 05:20 It can be, yeah, it can be hard. And that doesn’t even consider having to be the bearer of bad news that, you know, “you’re just not good at this.” Like “you broke it. You really…” Like, “why would you think that doing this…”, you know, I mean those, those kinds of things too. I also find that there’s a potential, and I think we’re going to dig into this a little bit more later in the episode, but it can create dependency relationships that are not good for us and they’re not good for the people that we’re helping. You know that there’s a feeling of a burden on our part and there’s a feeling of beholden-ness on their part that can develop that is not friendly sometimes.
Keith: 06:05 Yeah. I sold the guy, the laptop, so…
Leon: 06:10 oh man.
Keith: 06:11 So… and I think that gets to your point, there’s this obligation and this is not unique to technology. We deal with this. I think the religious part of the relationship, the faith based part of the relationship, makes it that much more difficult because people can either abuse that, or you can feel personally obligated because this person is a fellow member of your congregation, mosque, or whatever, that you’re obligated at a spiritual level to help maintain the system that you gave to them out of the abundance of your, kind of, blessing. You know, how many of us have… like, I literally have a laptop that’s worth a couple of hundred bucks at least that, but that could do some good. And I’m challenged with what do I do with this thing? I can’t give it away because if I give it away, I’ve got to support it.
Leon: 07:03 It’s your… Right, right. Hey, look, you pass within five feet of a computer and you know, it’s your responsibility now. I mean, you just give it a second glance and… Yeah, that’s, that’s exactly it.
Josh: 07:15 So have either one of you had this experience: You walk into your congregation and someone corners you and says, “You know, I’m thinking about buying…” And then fill in whatever technology. A new mesh wireless system, a new laptop, an Ipod for my kid. “Which one do you recommend?”
Keith: 07:36 Oh, yeah, I’ve, I’ve had that and I almost always regretted getting it.
Josh: 07:41 Agreed. Good. I’m glad I’m not the only one who regrets that advice. My goto now is, “uh, I’m sorry, I don’t fix computers. I can’t help. I just don’t know.”
Leon: 07:52 Worse for me, worse than that is that I’m walking in on Shabbat, on the Sabbath. Remember how I said we can’t touch anything, and sabbath is a day for, you know, no work and really focusing on on the holy, on the elevated and things like that. And there’s still a couple of people who either want to talk about ‘that really crazy thing that they did at work’ or they hit you up with, “hey, my iPhone is doing this.” Now that holding the iPhone, they’re not. But what do you think that is? “Oh, I’ll just jump on the psychic friends network now and..” You know, like you are describing an iPhone for the… and again, I go for that, like “it’s Shabbat, I’m not talking about this.” But it happens. The thing that’s most wrong about being the technology person is what it does to us, to us ourselves. Because we’re there. I mean, the whole reason we chose that space and the whole reason that we chose that community is because we wanted to make that our religious home away from home. We wanted to worship, we wanted to pray, we wanted to connect to the spirit, you know, however, however you want to phrase it. And the problem is that sometimes when we’re doing that work, it’s not happy work, it’s uncomfortable work. It’s work where we are really digging deeply and thinking about our behavior or our attitudes. And that’s something that we’re not always really excited to do, but it’s necessary. And having a distraction, having somebody come up to you and say, “Hey Leon, I know that that you’re in the middle of davening (or whatever), but hey, can you just… you know, the Wifi is down. Can you just, you know, kick it in a minute?” And you’re like, “Yes! Please! Give me any reason not to have this conversation with God right now, cause I’m really not up for that. I really don’t want to have it.” I think that that’s the biggest disservice that we do to ourselves. I don’t know if you’ve run into that.
Keith: 09:48 Yeah, I don’t, I don’t limit this just to technology. We don’t have a whole lot of people on staff in my congregation, we give a good portion of what we would probably spend on staffing to missions, contributions, etc. So we’re very volunteer driven, which is great and it works for the most part, but it is a awesome excuse for those who look to be doing well spiritually, to step away from the work of staying well spiritually. So whether you’re doing sound, you’re doing childcare, you’re doing ushering, or counting the contribution, or even the book ministry, it is a good excuse to just not do the work of your faith. And the work of your face is faith is not necessarily running the church or the congregation or the mosque. The work of your faith is developing your relationship with God. And that, I think as technologists, we make that excuse. I remember early on my faith at bringing my pager in because I’d be on call and it would you go off and like, “Oh wow, this is a good reason to step away” knowing that whatever it was could wait. You know, it is a risk that does not limited to technology.
Josh: 11:08 I think this is a challenge and I’m glad to hear you say that Keith, that is transcendent of religious belief. Within Mormonism, all local clergy is lay clergy. So those individuals hold full time jobs in addition to being called as a member of clergy. In fact, all positions in the church are unpaid. And I’ve watched without fail… And even when I acted as a member of clergy, without fail, those members who are in those positions, they stop attending Sunday school. They stop attending their meetings on Sundays aside from the meeting in which they have to preside over because they’re, they’re caught up in being the thing they’ve been asked to be. And it’s everyone though, right? Because everything is volunteer driven. It’s the person who fixes the boilers. It’s the person who does the AV work. It’s the person who is responsible for stocking the supplies for the janitor. It’s everyone and there always seems to be a reason for people to be away from worship. And I don’t know how to break that cycle. Honestly. I don’t. I’ve seen it for 20 years and I’m stuck.
Keith: 12:22 So, we haven’t talked about, maybe it’s a great topic for another day, but we have this hero syndrome in IT and this is just another way to feed that disfunction of, “yeah, I’m the hero that saved the day and my job is so important within worship that I have to do” it or that it takes away from my own worship.
Leon: 12:48 Right? So you feed the martyr syndrome and you feed the importance and that really negative feedback loop, like you said of the mouse that gets the cookie. But it’s doing the wrong thing. Like all those things fed into it. And the other thing is that you get the positive-negative loop of feeling put upon. “Ugh, can’t anyone fix the AV this time? I’m always the one who has to do that!” But also the self importance, but also the “look, no one else can do it. I really am the hero.” And meanwhile other people are feeling… You’re possibly leading other people to feel jealousy or resentment towards you, which you should never be that stumbling block in front of somebody else. So it just can lead to all these horrible outcomes. And I think we’ve been dancing around it, but where I’d like to wrap up, where I want to go next and finish out with is “how do we manage those boundaries?” So the first thing is, you were both very clear. This is not just for it folks. This is for anybody who is doing any sort of volunteer job within our faith organization. You know, childcare is a great example, Keith, that you brought up that “I would love to be praying but baby’s got to get changed. You know, someone’s got to watch the kids and I never get to pray or maybe once all everyone goes and picks up their babies. Now I can have a few minutes in a quiet room by myself.”Bbut do I take it for myself? Is that really the right way? Is that… So that’s the first thing is it’s not just for it people. But the other thing Keith, you brought up before we started recording was that it’s not just for faith groups.
Keith: 14:31 Yeah. This is something that any organization, there’s a volunteer driven that doesn’t have enough x, will lean on a resource as much as possible because the organization needs the resources cause they’re resource limited. So we can be United way or and girls club. My wife worked for boys and Girls Club for a couple of years, and the amount of just extra they get out of those – even the employees and volunteers. It was to the point, and we’re going to get to this, it was to the point where you wore those resources out, that they stopped contributing their talents to that organization.
Leon: 15:15 Got It. Okay. So Keith, as CTO advisor, as somebody who does this professionally, I am going to lean on your expertise just a little bit – hopefully not abusively and ask what, what are your thoughts on how we can set proper boundaries? And we’ll keep it with our faith community, but we understand that I will say right now I am horrible at setting boundaries in general. Josh is nodding. So if you don’t know, we have video going along with this that we don’t record, but so we can see each other’s faces. And as I’m saying, “I’m horrible at setting boundaries.” Josh, he’s just nodding so much that the camera’s blurring as he’s doing it. So Keith, what is some of your suggestions on ways that we can both give back to our faith communities, but not so much that it becomes these negatives?
Keith: 16:08 So this is one of those things that, when we all look at the basis of our faith, all our faith are based on love. So that’s a given. And then there’s other commonalities across our faith, which is 1) to have faith. And oddly enough, this is the area that we don’t recognize that we’re allowed to be challenged on. There’s always always going to be too much in our face. If we’re not relying on God, then something is wrong somewhere. You know, if, if, if we’re the only one that can do it or solve it, then there’s, you know, we’re putting faith in the wrong place. So there’s, you know, kind of that fundamental piece of our individual relationships with God. Whatever higher being you have in your faith is that we have to give… in Christianity we are always saying “we have to give God something to bless.” Well, if we’re doing it all, how are we giving God something to bless? So that’s where I started. So if the babies have to be changed, if the food has to be prepped, the Wifi has to be fixed – but you’re putting all of that in front of your own personal relationship with God, your families relationship with God, or you’re… whatever priority your faith dictates you give to your, uh, “big boss” who ultimately I call “God”. Then that’s where you know your boundaries is kind of out of whack. You have to, again, in a Christianity focus, you have to put God to the test, allow things to go haywire as you go for prayer. Maybe during that period of time, other people realize, “Oh wow, I didn’t know… I didn’t even realize that that was a problem.” When I advise people in the secular world, and just my regular job, if senior management… if you never allow senior management to know that there’s a problem, you don’t give them the opportunity to fix the problem. So if you’re always trying to mask and hide the problem with any fish and band aids, you know what? You’re going to get a result that’s not what you want,
Leon: 18:36 You’re not giving someone else a chance to step up if you’re constantly rushing in there. I ike that a lot because, if you think you’re the one who’s doing it all, there’s a attitude adjustment – or in a slightly different context in Judaism, you’re commanded to give tzdedakah, which people translate as “charity.” It really means “justice”, literally means justice, and you’re commanded… It’s one of things you’re commanded to do. But the texts are very clear. Like, “you think *you’re* giving that money? Oh, is that what you think? No, no. See THAT? I gave you that money to give, right? Yeah. Please do not think that you are supporting this person, that you are helping this person. You are doing nothing. I will make sure they’re okay. I’m just letting you participate so you can feel good about it.” And the same thing, you know, “you think that’s your skills, that it’s all on your shoulders? No, no, no. I’m so sorry. But you know, it’s going to be there long after you’re gone and someone else will be doing it. It’s okay.” To that end, I get pulled into a lot at my synagogue, doing some tech work, and I’ve started refusing to just do the work unless there’s somebody else who was assigned as a project manager on an activity. I don’t necessarily need one, but I need someone else to be the “one face.” I need somebody else to gather the requirements, to just say, “yes, do that now.” I’ll give them, “here’s, here’s the five things that need to get done. Here’s my time estimate that it will take me to do it.” But you’re going to have to be the one who gets approval, who deals with people who say, “I don’t like that color. I want it to be more green” or whatever. And the result is that the person who’s project managing me right now actually is learning to be a web designer. And he started to do some of it on his own. And so now there’s two of us. And so that’s okay. So I’m kind of proud of myself. I have done that.
Josh: 20:39 I’m just worried that there’s two Leon’s in the world now.
Leon: 20:41 No, no, that would be that. That’s not a good thing.
Josh: 20:44 Okay. Okay. All right. Yeah.
Keith: 20:45 Technically my middle name is Leon, so there’s that.
Leon: 20:48 oh well, gee, I didn’t even know that. Wow. So only special people can have that name. So what else, what are some other ways that we can set boundaries in our communities so that we can be a whole person?
Josh: 21:05 You know, I liked the idea of listening to the people that love us. Whether that’s your spouse, your significant other, your children, your parents, your friends. Look to them, the people who are authentic in their love for you. And this keys off of what you were talking about, Keith, our expression of our faith, our expression of our beliefs is really about love. People will not take advantage of us if they truly love us. And if they see us being taken advantage of, they will help us to establish boundaries. My wife is really good at coming down in my work and saying, “Hey, look, you need to make sure you come upstairs for lunch.” Or “you need to come upstairs at the end of your workday and not push that eight to half, nine hour day into a nine and a half, 10, 11, 12 hour day.” She can set those same boundaries when it comes to me in my faith community, right? “Hey, it’s okay that you volunteered x number of hours this week in our faith community, but we still need you to be present as spouse, as father, as you know, whether they view me as patriarch or someday, when my older and my children have children, as grandparents, which I know both of you have that privilege. We just need to listen to our families and I think that that will help us set those boundaries because we’re listening.
Keith: 22:29 Yeah. I tweeted something out earlier today. You want to give some perspective on this. If you have young kids, have someone ask them what do they think daddy’s or mommy’s priority is? Not just in general but when you’re in church or in service, like what’s their priority in service, like what’s important to them? And kids are extremely observant and they will let you know if the priority is, “oh, he’s really, really into the audio-visual. Like if the answer is anything other than being active and participating in service, then that’s great… And Joshua, the other thing I’d like to piggyback on a comment you made is my wife is very good at protecting my boundaries. She has got the, well, this is probably why I don’t get asked to do AV stuff, uh, tech stuff anymore by people. She just tells people “No. You’ll never get it back. Like if you give him your laptop, you’ll be there for six, seven months, but you will not… he just doesn’t have the time to do it. So let’s protect the friendship and do not get him your technology.”
Speaker 2: 23:37 That’s fantastic. I, uh, I’ve said for a long time as a parent and even as a grandparent, one of the best techniques you use is to walk slowly. Meaning if you hear your kids in the other room and they were arguing over who gets to sit on that chair or who gets to change the channel or whatever, the slower you walk, the more likely they are to figure it out before you get there. And any problem they can solve for themselves (without violence) is a better situation than you solving it for them. And I think the same thing with as a technologist that when people say, “hey, can’t you come over and help me, you know, fix my router,” or whatever you can say, “yeah, I, I’ll probably get there in… I don’t know, three, four weeks? I think I can carve out some time. It’s just really busy at the office now…” And then “oh no, I need, I need a little faster than that.” So walking slowly, I think, works in both cases. And in your case, Keith, it sounds like your wife has helped you to walk slower than you might otherwise.
Keith: 24:33 Looking back, I’m like, “oh, that explains a lot.”
Leon: 24:36 So that’s why she is Mrs CTOAdviser.
Keith: 24:38 That is why she’s Mrs CTOAdvisor.
Doug: 24:40 Thanks for making time for us this week. To hear more of Technically Religious visit our website, https://technicallyreligious.com, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions and connect to us on social media.
Josh: 24:54 A Jew, a Christian, and a Mormon, walk into a mosque
Keith: 24:57 and none of them knew how to fix the router.