Virtual Spirituality: Technology as a Means of Spiritual Growth


Virtual Spirituality: Technology as a Means of Spiritual Growth

Sermon given on July 2, 2017 at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN by Daniel Buchanan

Before I say anything I want to say how much of an honor and a blessing to be able to speak to you today. I love this congregation and I consider it a bright chalice in Knoxville, leading people to truth and peace. It gives me great pride to be considered among your numbers and I so grateful to be here in meatspace.

My name is Daniel and I’ve been a nerd since I broke the family computer back in the 7th grade and had to fix it. I spent middle school and highschool tinkering and building computers and playing with computer hardware. I love using technology and I think it empowers people to do more than they could alone. Technology is a tool; how we use it is up to us.

So how can we use technology to further our UU agenda?

I think one thing we can all agree on today is the fact that religion brings people together. It is one of the primary functions of a religious institution to bring people together and form communities. Its one of the things I love SO much about TVUUC, and you folks are who keep me coming back. So how can we use technology to build loving communities and nourish healthy relationships with people?

Social media is the most advanced way we have to communicate.Social media connects us to everyone all at once, at any time. Social media allows us to share pictures, video, and words of encouragement with the world. From anywhere in the world. With only an internet connection, we have access to connect with people from all over the world. We can build communities online with social media, and we should.

We have our tribe in real life, and we have our tribe online. If we can, we stand to gain so much by way of garnering support outside of our immediate sphere of influence. The internet and social media allows us to communicate on such a large scale, we can change things from anywhere!

So how do we do that? Well one way we can make positive change online through social media is by sharing ideas and videos of things we believe. There is no reason not to do this. This is how you can support, literally support, the groups you believe in. By sharing our posts online from TVUUC and from other organizations that do good work and have a positive message for the world, you can be a messenger of goodness and positivity.

Also, another way to get involved on Twitter and Instagram is through Hashtags. This isn’t a technical idea. A hashtag is just a word with a pound sign or number sign in front of it. This establishes a dialogue online. Click the hashtag and you can read everything people have written using that hashtag. In other words, it indexes ideas around words. Try it today, search for hashtag #TVUUC and see what people have been sharing. Better yet, take a picture of the church and the people we love and use that hashtag to share it online. Find new hashtags, new words, and see what’s been said. As with all dialogues, we have to listen first, before we speak. A hashtag is a conversation, so see what’s being said, address others and get involved in the community.

I found a site called UU planet ( and they have a uu hashtag directory.

Another way is by giving reviews. By giving 5 star reviews and “Liking” pages that hold a view you like, you’re able to vote for the values you hold most dear. You’re able to personally join in the voices of people around the world, and in your community, as they support the organizations they love. By the end of the day, I want everyone here to give an honest, 5-star, review of TVUUC on whatever social media they use. Google, Facebook, Yelp, are some of the popular ones.  It will help the church (almost as much as your offering contribution!) That’s right, I’m sure Pastor Buice would kill me, but we need your likes and 5 star reviews as much as we need your financial support.

Okay I’m done spamming.

But seriously, everyone in here has a smart phone. By a show of hands, who here has a smart phone?

Who has a phone that is NOT online?

We have a pocket computer that we’re carrying around that can help spread our church’s message AT ANY TIME! We can get the Facebook app and share our church’s status updates and events out to our UNIQUE circle of friends!

Your mobile phone can help you connect in every way with people in your community. It can help build community in the places you are, with the people you’re with. Mobile devices are a miracle of technology. You have a more powerful computer in your pocket than the one that went to the moon. So let’s use it to spread love in Knoxville and East Tennessee!

Record your thoughts. Record the audio with a sound recorder and share it on Soundcloud. Record the video with your phone’s video camera, which is AMAZING by the way, and share that video on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and every other place that will take it. What you have to say is important to this generation, and to speak it to them, you need to put it where they are. And if you can’t get it there, you need to ask them how to do it. It will open up a dialogue you need to have with a young person. The way to communicate in today’s world.

I want to watch your video. Your friends want to watch your video. You family wants to watch your video. Be who you are, and you’ll attract people like you. Open up, be a person, and tell us what you think. The world needs more honesty and wisdom in this land of fake news and fake people.

Your smartphone is a tool for creation. You can draw pictures on it, whether or not you have a stylus. You can record music and loop it. You can make drum beats. You can play guitar on it with Garageband. You can also play piano and drums on it with Garageband. Make music now. Your heart wants to sing and your phone has a way to do it now.

Take and share more pictures. You know what plant that is. Take a picture of its discerning feature and point it out. People need to know and it is interesting. This generation isn’t shy and being outspoken is a trait that needs to be emulated. There are so many naturalists in this congregation who go out and hike and view nature. Share that with my kids. I want them to see it. Share that with me.

The most advanced way to communicate is with video. Video has a special power that is of presence. The ability to communicate with video is stronger than with any other media. Nothing captures a person like video. And you have the best video recorder in the world on your phone. Turn it on, set it up, and record yourself giving messages to the world. We want to hear what you have to say, and it’s important. Tell us the truth.

So I wanted to end on a futuristic note. I’ve had a chance in the last 5 years to get REALLY into virtual reality. I’ve done VR as basic as slapping an old phone on my head, and I’ve got two of the most advanced VR devices available. AT&T just flew me to Silicon Valley to tell them about VR (like they didn’t already know). Believe me, the irony of a good old east Tennessean traveling to the valley to teach vr was not lost on me!

This technology is here now and it will be the next way folks will communicate, work, and play. Virtual reality is a place where magic can happen. If you can imagine it, you can achieve it, in Virtual Reality. And it has never been so easy to get involved in making simulations and experiences in Virtual Reality that can capture the imagination of so many.

My grandma is one of the most technical people I know. She used to do office work for the theory group at Oak Ridge and was personally responsible for getting the theoretical physicists papers written up. One of my best recent memories of her is watching her paint in light and color in Google Tilt Brush. As she colored the air around her in virtual reality, we watched the colors appear on our TV behind her. She was like a kid again, so happy at this virtual reality painting simulation.

Virtual Reality is a portal into what existence is. What does it mean to experience the world? How close to reality can a simulation be? Can you forget what is real and what is virtual? The line between virtual and actual reality is blurring further by the day. As our digital selves become born and we live more of our life online and plugged in, we are transforming into a virtual Avatar of ourselves.

What is our ideal self? You can build that in VR and be it, even when you’re sick and in bed, or awake and on vacation. That ideal self can become you, to more people than you can meet in real life. You can interact with people around the world, passing pictures back and forth, and traveling to virtual experiences in 360 videos and photography.

My friend Jeris Miller is working on a 360 video of the standing rock protest over the Dakota access pipeline. She went and got into the protest and got some great footage, this is the camera she used. As you can see, its large and unwieldy, but she knew there was an experience there to share.

Virtual Reality is making it possible to have “presence” with people all over the world, from your living room. I build systems that allow you to go on Facebook in VR, play games in VR, watch movies in VR, and the possibilities are growing every day. More and more, people are becoming immersed with virtual worlds and becoming plugged in on a more permanent basis.

Now we can be skeptical of this technology. We can decry its siren song as fleeting and artificial. Or we can embrace the future and become what I believe is the next evolutionary step of humanity: digital lifeforms with electronic consciousness, sharing love and ideas at light speed.

So mote it be.

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