Feb 22, 2012

Our Weekend at the Cottage – a Metaphor for Plagiarism

by Keith Elford

Suppose that I invite you to my cottage for a weekend of relaxation and water sports and when you get there, you find this well appointed lake front summer home set in a picturesque rustic setting.  You enjoy the weekend.  However, you hear several weeks later that I have been arrested.  The wonderful weekend was a sham.  It was not my property.  In fact, I had stalked the owners, observed the patterns of their comings and goings and scheduled “my weekend” with my friends when I knew they were out of the country.

I open with this scenario to concretize the multi-dimensional impacts that are in play when a pastor plagiarizes material and uses it in either written or spoken communication. Plagiarism is not a new phenomenon.  Material from books and commentaries have been plagiarized by previous generations, but the ability to cut and paste wonderful resources made accessible by the internet makes plagiarism very easy and tempting.  And, the internet also makes it very easy for plagiarism to be detected.

What is plagiarism?  The Macmillan dictionary defines it as “the process of taking another person’s work, ideas, or words and using them as if they were your own.”   It’s the last eight words of the definition that need our special attention. The first part of the definition readily implies that other people’s work is available to us.  Often their work is novel, imaginative, gripping, insightful and just what one needs to make a point memorable in the audience’s mind.  It’s not wrong to use their material; in fact, using it is a compliment!  The ethical issues arise when we do not acknowledge something that is not original with us.

What are the ethical issues associated with plagiarism?  Using my opening scenario to concretize the topic, let’s think them through.  (But first, let me admit here that what follows is a summarization of material that I have read online.  Links will be provided below.)

Plagiarism is stealing.  The cottage was not mine to use.  In a premeditated way, I picked it out and decided to find a way to use it without being caught.  While the time frame on the decision to co-opt someone else’s creative work is only minutes compared to the amount of time required to “case” a cottage, the same choices are made.  It’s looking for something to steal and then deciding to do it.

Plagiarism is cheating – others and myself.  If I really want a cottage to share with my friends, I need to experience the healthy pride of ownership that comes from sacrifice and saving.  Plagiarism is finding an easy way to impress others – which is an issue of pride or an unhealthy need for approval or acceptance.  

When I take short cuts by being overly dependent on the work of others, this laziness indicates a lack of self discipline that will ultimately stunt the development of my own giftedness as a communicator. Even worse, if I do not myself read, reflect, enter into, and wrestle often with the story of the scriptures, I do not speak out of the fullness that comes with regular personal encounters with God’s word and my spiritual authority to speak God’s word does not mature.

Plagiarism is deception.  If you had found out that the weekend at the cottage was all a pretentious sham, you’d have some real misgivings about my character and would probably begin to wonder what else in my life is not as it appears.  No one likes to be lied to.  If I plagiarize, it’s sobering to think of the potential for cynicism about me and my ministry when my listeners, using a search engine, find out that “my messages” that were such a blessing were actually stolen off the internet.  Passing off other people’s work as my own is deceit. My listeners are deceived about my actual ability.  What’s more, if I persist and accept their applause for the stolen goods that I’m handing out, self-deception fed by narcissistic pride may take hold of my soul.

Admittedly, the questions of how and when to give credit are not easily answered.  Space does not permit the exploration of those important topics, but there are good discussions on this at the links listed below. 

Just for the record, I promise that I won’t invite you to a cottage that I don’t have permission to use.

For further reading, I would recommend the following helpful articles that are available online without joining online preaching resource sites:

When Do We Cross the Line into Plagiarism? (Collin Hansen, D. A. Carson, Sandy Willson, Tim Keller, Matt Perman, and Glenn Lucke)

Just What is Pulpit Plagiarism? (Ron Forseth) 

Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize – Understanding the necessity of citation and the damage of deceit (Thomas G. Long)

Feb 3, 2012

The Stewardship of Technology

by Mary-Elsie Wolfe

In a popular YouTube video, a bridegroom, much to the surprise of his bride and the minister, stops the wedding to change his Facebook status. 

A nervous giggle ripples through the crowd. But, in a weaker moment, have we all not been enslaved by technology? How many windows are simultaneously open on our computers?  Skype, MS net, Facebook, e-mail, chat might all be available while we are catching the latest episode of Big Bang, texting on our iPhone, and doing research on the net.

A CBC documentary talks about a “biochemical payoff” which means we become addicted to the emotional buzz of something “new.” We need that buzz! We even cultivate characteristics that are disconnected from consequences and other aspects of whole personhood – an aspect of addiction.  Leading neurologist, Gary Small, claims that at least 10% of youth meet the clinical definition of addiction to technology.  We blog, we click, we chat – all so quickly – that we start disassociating ourselves from the consequences.  We remove ourselves from the filters that we would normally use in three dimensional relationships, that is, non-social-networking relationships. Meeting House Pastor, Bruxy Cavey says “We cultivate the non-filtered, quick reacting, impulsive ‘me’ that characterizes the ‘virtual me.’”

Cavey reminds us that disembodying the physical world from the spiritual world is actually Gnostic heresy.  Christian, Hebraic, and Jewish thinking affirm that we are whole people and what we do physically affects us in other realms. So, we want to be careful not to unwire our minds in unhealthy ways.  1 Thes 5:8 urges us to have sober minds, minds that connect us to the consequences and actions of our physical beings.  In his series on technology, Bruxy coined the phrase, “the more we live virtually – the more we virtually live.”

In the book of Galatians, Paul says, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…”  God paid a high price for us, so that we are not enslaved to this world (1 Cor. ).

Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows, provides evidence that our minds are changing because of the influx of technology.  Carr claims that the technologies we use, find, store, and share can literally reroute our neural pathways.  He builds a case that technology carries an intellectual ethic, which is a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. Carr says:

The printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption--and now the Net is remaking us in its own image.
In whose image has God created us?  Researchers tell us that because of technology, our brains have been changing.  This was the case even in 400 BC.  Socrates felt strongly that if writing became the norm, people would lose their ability to memorize.  And they did!  En masse, we lost certain memory skills when we started writing; but, we gained others.  With every new technology our minds have changed and adapted, from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press to clocks…

As much as we think we are good multi-taskers, the CBC documentary on technology corrects our self-deception.  We have a perception that we are getting more done; however, partial attention to many things actually shrinks the brain and causes memory loss.  When we switch tasks, our brain has to shut down to start a new task so it is actually taking us longer to do anything.

In one study, a clown on a unicycle rides through a university court.  Sixty percent of people listening to music noticed the clown.  Only 25% of people on their cell phones noticed the clown.  Seventy-five percent of people on cell phones missed a clown on a unicycle circulating in their personal space!  This is called “intentional blindness”.  Researchers tell us we are destroying our central resource.  We are destroying our ability to focus. 

God asked the question of his people through Isaiah – ‘Why are my people enslaved again?... they become fair game for anyone and have no one to protect them and take them back home…”  That`s why we have each other in the body of Christ. The body of believers gently helps us stay in check with each other, away from technology, and to recalibrate with God`s word.  Christ has set us free from the yoke of slavery.

Christian thinker, Henri Nouwen, speaks in a published journal about finding that break from a form of “buzz.”  He writes:

… I realized that I was caught in a web of strange paradoxes.  While complaining about too many demands, I felt uneasy when none were made.  While speaking about the burden of letter writing, an empty mailbox made me sad.  While fretting about tiring lecture tours, I felt disappointed when there were no invitations. While speaking nostalgically about an empty desk, I feared the day on which that would come true.  In short: while desiring to be alone, I was frightened of being left alone.  The more I became aware of these paradoxes, the more I started to see how much I had indeed fallen in love with my own compulsions and illusions, and how much I needed to step back…

How are we going to step back, disengage, and become aware of those things that may be enslaving us?  This just might be one of those things requiring us to be counter cultural. This just might be one of those things putting us in the 25% of those who notice.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, according to The Message, “Just because something is technically legal doesn't mean that it's spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I'd be a slave to my whims.”  1 Corinthians 6:12

The question one reviewer on the CBC documentary asks at the close of his article is a good one: “Can we manage the technology around us or will we let it manage us?”