The church also has to use new media in ways that highlight the local, the particular, and the personal. For example, on a recent trip across Tennessee, my family and I found ourselves aiming for dinner in Memphis. So we posted a question online—where does one eat with one meal in a great barbeque town? The answer came back—Rendezvous downtown. Now, we could have found it with a Google search—as a famous tourist establishment, Rendezvous would have turned up high on any search engine. But so could a tourist trap with advertising dollars. Instead, I got a word from a friend who pilgrimages to Memphis annually for the music. As a bonus, it turned out we were there on a night when the local minor league baseball team was in town. An unplanned vacation in a great American city culminated with a beautiful night in a stadium nestled into a downtown recommended by a friend on the fly.
On the way home we found ourselves aiming for Knoxville for dinner and a similar query yielded the counsel to eat at Calhoun’s on the Tennessee River. It’s a beautiful spot near the University of Tennessee and opposite the river from a haunting, abandoned hospital. Local, particular, quirky, and glorious. This is the opposite of how to eat in the suburban age, where proximity to the highway and faceless chain restaurants rule. We paid a little more, took more time, but saw two great cities in their glory and ate well.
By contrast, I recently heard a presentation at a conference from a seminary I admire. This man was present in the flesh, but not in relationship. He parachuted in to trumpet the great endeavors of his school, with no knowledge of the graduates of said school sitting right in front of him. To be fair, he’s new. But his presentation could have been done for a group in North Dakota or Afghanistan or Swaziland for all its attention to the local and particular and quirky. The meeting was embodied in one way (we were all in the room together), but abstract and impersonal in every way that mattered. New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary: Tennessee restaurants and the power of the personal