Thursday, June 17, 2010

Glo and the Word

That I have the title "Pastor" means that I am a fat tasty demographic target for products and services targeted to Jesus people. Whenever a new Vacation Bible School or seminar or Big Venue Revival comes churning out of the factories of AmeriChrist, Inc., I'm on their list to get a heads up. Promotional materials and glossy brochures show up on my desk regularly.

Most I just ignore and drop into my recycling bin, from whence they are removed, transported to an industrial facility, pulped, reconstituted into paper, sold, printed upon, and transported back to my mail box, from where they are put right back into the recycling. It's sorta like the Circle of Life, only with less blood and considerably less purpose.

Sometimes, though, a new Jesus product strikes my eye. That thing is the new Glo Bible. What is striking about this AmeriChrist offering is just how intensely awesome the buzz around it is. It isn't just appearing in my in-box. I've read articles about it in the Washington Post. Fast Company, the ne plus ultra outlet of corporate hipness, featured it. It's a big deal, by any product standard.

The purpose of the Glo Bible is, according to its creators, to make the Bible accessible to a generation that doesn't like paper. Or, for that matter, anything that is just text. It's computer-based and "multimedia," meaning the text is supplemented by a vast array of images and videos, all in HD. Having reviewed their extensive promotional material, I have both positive and negative reactions.

First, the positive. Glo has a crazy awesome interface. It's as slickity slick as they come. It seems intuitive, elegantly designed, and bustin' chock full of shiny shiny goodness. Seamless transitions between menus and texts are brilliantly presented and animated. Videos and images and walkthroughs are seriously purty. The whole package glistens and sparkles. I've used online Bibles and computer based Bible software packages since the dawn of the computer era, and this is far and away the most impressive eye candy e-Bible I've yet seen. Of course, you need a high-end computer to run it, but we Jesus people are always willing to plunk down another 1,500 bucks to really explore God's Word.

But it ain't just a pretty face. It's an NIV, meaning the translation has integrity. It's got what appear to be lay-accessible but well-crafted study guides. It's got a vast array of "helps," including the capacity to pitch out scriptures that match your mood for the day. It tracks everything you read, every response you have, charting your spiritual progress. It feels very practical. Very efficient.

Now, to the flip side. Honestly, something about it feels spiritually off. In one of the elegantly produced promo videos, a soothing, non-threatening woman's voice describes the intuitive navigation through Glo. It is, she hums, so very easy to explore content in the product. The words "exploring content in the product" just...well...they stick in my craw.

I know, I know. They're just trying to sound corporate-cutting-edge. Very professional. Very businesslike. Very competent. But that sort of terminology has pretty much nothing to do with the way that the Bible needs to be experienced if we're using it the way it is intended. The Bible is a collection of ancient stories that illuminate our experience of God. They are a sacred narrative, a story in which we participate and through which we are transformed. When we begin to think of our interactions with those texts as interactions with "content" and "product," something is badly wrong.

I also struggle with the way in which Glo is structured. It is what it promises to be. It's a Bible that is radically in step with our culture. Finding the heart of Christ in the Bible is like being changed by the hearing of a story told by a master storyteller. You have to learn to sit still. To listen. To reflect. To think.

But Glo encourages flitting across the surface of the text, reading a verse here that responds to a key-word, and then looking at a picture, and then watching a bit of video, and then flitting back again to another verse. While it could be a useful tool in the hands of the spiritually mature, it panders to low-attention span Christianity. Rather than encouraging patience, and developing a mindset that is open to taking time with a text, it could easily serve up more of the churning, endlessly distracted, click-and-scroll busyness that is the enemy of contemplation and reflection and spiritual growth.

Glo is, without question, what we want. But I am not at all sure it is what we need.

Should you get Glo? Maybe. It's certainly an amazing product, made by some really creative people. It is certainly cool. It might be fun to play with. Assuming, of course, you don't use a Mac, 'cause it ain't Mac compatible.

Ah well. Guess I'm out of luck.


  1. Your rundown of the recycling process reminded me of Soylent Green, one of my all time favorite post-apocalyptic flicks.

    "Soylent Green is promotional materials and glossy brochures!"

    One thing that always pops up into my 'technique' polluted brain whenever I see newfangled products such as this; is it really necessary? Do we need streamlined efficiency in our study time? Are we that in dire need of entertainment that we need to be entertained or 'captivated' by an HD rendered version of Holy writ? Wild.

    Short attention span Evangelicalism strikes again.

  2. All of that and only one translation? Once again, the evangelicals draw attention to the form but not the substance of the scriptures.

    That's not my cup of tea at all.

  3. @ Jodie: To be fair, the NIV is only the primary/default translation. The product does include others.

  4. Good,

    I'm not happy with the NIV. Too right wing Evangelical politicized in some areas, too 'modernized' in others. The Psalms were butchered. They read like Freudian diaries in places. Lost are the cadences and poetic structures of the Hebrew and Greek.

    The marketing blitz that has put the NIV and its translations and commentaries from English into other languages is extraordinary. But when you translate first into English and then into a second language, all kinds of important nuances get lost.

    Somebody really is making a lot of money with the NIV

  5. @ Jodie: That's likely true. Then again, the free online Bibles tend to be NIVs...and the NRSV still has significant copyright barriers around it. My own alma mater (UVA) was forced to take a free searchable version down.

    I strongly prefer the NRSV, both for cadence and its interpretive choices. But I find the NIV perfectly usable. Maybe I'm just easy. ;)