Today we’re trying something new that I hope will become a regular feature at Christian Web Trends – a “Follow Friday” interview with another blogger. My hope is to introduce you to some other bloggers who’s perspectives and writing I value.
FYI, this interview was done via chat. It’s more interactive than emailing a set of questions. I like it better than a phone or voicechat interview because I don’t have to edit audio or transcribe it and people tend to be more concise when typing rather than speaking answers. I may give video a shot in the future, but chat is a good place to start.
If you’ve been following our series about online church, you know Neal Locke has been very involved in that conversation. I thought he would be an excellent person to chat with and get to know a little better.
Paul Steinbrueck: Neal, thanks for taking the time out to do this interview with me. Let me start out with a real easy question 😉 … who is Neal Locke?
Neal Locke: I thought you said you were starting out with an easy one!
Paul: That’s what the 😉 (wink) was for
Neal: Neal Locke is still trying to figure out who he is…part seminary student, part father and husband…part free-lance web developer…part educator…part home-brewer…and yes, part Neill Loxingly, avatar in Second Life.
Paul: Sounds like you wear a lot of hats.
Neal: Or you could say I wear a lot of identities. Choosing your identity isn’t so bad. We do it in virtual worlds and physical ones.
Paul: True. How many kids and how old?
Neal: My son Grady is 5, and my daughter Abby turns 2 this Sunday. They’re still trying to figure out who they are, too. I hope they take their time, and never quite figure it out all the way
Paul: Very cool. I don’t know that any of us really figures that out all the way.
So are you a half-time web developer and half-time seminary student or how does that work?
Neal: Actually, I’m a full time seminary student. That takes precedence over the web work…of course on a day like today (one technical glitch after another) I have to keep telling myself that in order to believe it.
Paul: Cool! What do you hope to do with your seminary degree?
Neal: I’m not sure yet. I have some ideas though. Right now, my seminary degree (in process) is helping me to lead and develop a community of faith in Second Life. I find more practical uses for my coursework there than anywhere else right now.
Paul: Alright, well I’m definitely going to follow-up and ask you about Second Life in a bit, but before I do, I’d like you to ask you a few more personal questions in a sort of “lightning round” Ready?
Paul: What’s your favorite food?
Neal: Beer. Home-brewed. yes, it’s a food.
Paul: LOL! Best movie you’ve seen or book you’ve read recently?
Neal: Recent book: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. It’s about change.
Movie is harder…poor seminary students with kids don’t get to do that much
Paul: That’s ok, it’s an either or question. If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Neal: If I must be limited to this world, and I can take my wife, I’d love to realize her dream and take her to Ireland. If it’s just me, then back to my childhood home of Belgium.
Paul: Wow, I didn’t know you were from Belgium. When did you move to the US?
Neal: I was born in the US, but spent several years growing up in Belgium, before coming back to the states right before Junior High.
Paul: ah, ok. ok, one more personal question – What’s the craziest true thing about you nobody would believe?
Neal: Well, this is recent. I think I’m actually a closet Calvinist. Shhh..don’t tell my friends.
Paul: LOL! You do know I’m putting this on my blog right? J
Neal: Yeah…it’s ok. I already put it on twitter. I’m not too big on privacy.
Paul: OK, since you survived the lightning round, let’s talk about your blog.
What’s the name of your blog and what’s the URL?
Neal: The name is Mr. Locke’s Classroom — that’s what it started out as in 2003: An experiment in online education when I was a high school English teacher. The URL is http://www.mrlocke.net It has a double meaning. I am the teacher..but it is also my classroom because I am the student.
Paul: Interesting. When you say it was an experiment, what do you mean by that?
Neal: Well, I was part of the very first wave of teachers who incorporated blogs into classroom teaching. Ed Tech magazine did a feature on me and a few others back then. I also helped my students set up blogs, and we all interacted together centered on the texts we were studying. This was back in the early 2000’s when we usually had to explain what a blog actually was first.
Paul: Wow, that’s great. You were quite the early adopter. What sorts of topics do you blog about these days?
Neal: My seminary studies have actually caused a huge decline in my blogging — that and a blog post that got me in a lot of trouble in my first semester at seminary — but when I do blog, it’s usually about technology, copyright issues, open source, folk music, or progressive theology. Or education, sometimes, still.
Paul: Cool! Well, you mentioned Second Life earlier. I know you’re doing a lot of stuff there. Let’s talk about that.
Paul: I guess I didn’t really ask a question there, did I. 😉 Tell me about what you’re doing in Second Life.
Neal: I first checked out Second Life in 2006, and got frustrated, then bored, and then abandoned it until this past summer. This time, when I went back, I had a mission and a purpose. I wanted to gather together a community of Presbyterians (my faith tradition) in Second Life, and see what would happen.
Paul: How have you been going about that and how is it going?
Neal: Well, I found there was already a small presence–a Presbyterian elder in a church in California had created a group called “1st Presbyterian Church of Second Life” and it had a few group members, although they weren’t meeting regularly or doing much at that point. The person who started the group was a “veteran” though and very helpful in teaching me how to get around, and about the culture of virtual worlds.
She helped me set up some gatherings, advertised them in Second Life, and also on facebook and twitter, and a few blogs, and at the end of the summer we had
our first gathering of Presbyterians.
From that, grew a weekly prayer service, a weekly conversation group, and recently a mission project to benefit a “real world” boys school in Oklahoma.
Not to mention a lot of new friends, a deepening sense of community, and some intensely spiritual moments in the presence of God.
Paul: Sounds like you’re pretty excited about the possibilities for Christian community in virtual worlds like Second Life.
Neal: Time and time again, people who come into our community — some of whom are Presbyterian pastors at real world churches — tell me that this is the community where they find the most peace, the most inspiration, and look forward to during the week. There is a real sense, I think, in many virtual worlds that God’s spirit is moving and working in new ways.
Paul: That’s great. Is there a link you can post for people who might want to check that out? And is there a specific time you meet?
Neal: Our Second Life community recently put together a small, developing website, but it has most of the information about who we are and when we meet. It’s http://www.1pcsl.org
We meet for a prayer service based on the Book of Common Worship on Sunday nights at 7pm Pacific / 9 Central / 10 Eastern time. And then Wednesday nights at the same time, we meet for conversation an fellowship.
Paul: Well, I know you’re a busy guy Neal, so thanks for taking the time to do this interview.
Neal: You bet, Paul, thanks for inviting me!
Paul: Thanks also for being a part of the blog discussion we’re doing on online church. You’ve added some great insight. I look forward to continuing that discussion with you.
Neal: And I’m appreciative of you raising the questions with people who might otherwise never have even considered them