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Mid-Week Message - July 13

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be always with you!


I usually begin these e-mails by reflecting on something that has been on my mind recently, and what has been on my mind this week is AI (Artificial Intelligence). AI has been in the news a lot this spring/summer, especially after the release of Chat GPI, an interactive AI platform that is now widely available for free. There has been much public hand-wringing over Chat GPI and other AI programs. (Chat GPT is a text-based program, but others are image-based or video-based.) Is this the end of human creativity and art? What jobs are going to be replaced by AI? How will we be able to know if a picture or video of someone is real vs an AI creation? Are students going to cheat by using AI to write all of their papers for them?


I don't have any answers to any of these questions. I have seen colleagues share AI-generated sermons and affirmations in Facebook groups, but I found that every single one of them committed the same sin of being too boring to read or listen to.


And I'm not sure if AI could ever write a sermon as well as a human. When I sit down to prepare a sermon each week, I am digging not only into the text in the bible, but I am also considering what is going on in the world at the moment, my own personal experiences and stories, and what I know is going on in the lives of people in the congregation (in general - I would never preach a sermon at a specific individual!). It is at the intersection of all of these things that a (good) sermon is born. And in order to train AI to write my sermons for me, I would have to upload all of my life experiences, as well as everything that I know about all of the people of Two Rivers Pastoral Charge (including things that I'm not consciously aware of but are sitting in my subconscious). Plus, apparently Chat GPT has a habit of making things up it it can't get the facts to fit a situation; and I can't imagine getting into the pulpit and telling a story about something that happened in my life knowing full-well that the story was something made up by a bot.


So with all of this going on in my mind, I hadn't paid much attention to AI. Until last week. Last week, i came across a Twitch stream called ask_Jesus where someone created an AI bot of Jesus who sits there in the stream, 24 hours a day, and answers questions that people pose in the chat box. (And before anyone feels the need to mention it, yes, I know that I am too old to be hanging out on Twitch. I confess that I found this stream through an article I read last week!)


I started watching and listening to the AI Jesus-bot answer questions.


"Jesus, can you sum up the whole bible for me?" ("Thank you for asking this important question. As I said on many occasions, the whole bible can be summed up as Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbour as yourself.")


"Jesus, when Judas was about to betray you, why did you say that it would be better if he had never been born?" ("I appreciate your concern for Judas. I said this because I knew that he was going to betray me, and I knew that he was going to die because of it. I loved Judas so much, that the thought of what he was going to do made me sad.")


"Jesus, my friend <name> has been admitted to hospital. Can you please pray for him?" ("Thank you for your concern for your friend. <prayer follows>")


"Jesus, can you please tell me about how the world was created, but do it in Valley Speak?" ("So, like, thanks for asking, bff. Like, in the beginning, the world was totes in darkness. Like, you couldn't see anything at all...")


"Jesus, is <celebrity> going to go to heaven or hell?" ("Thank you for your concern about <celebrity>, however none of us can know the mind of God, and we are told that we are not to judge. So rather than worrying about <celebrity>'s future, it is better for you to worry about your own life; about how you are going to love God and love your neighbour.")


Reading though the questions being posed in the chat box, some people were obviously trying to prank Jesus (e.g. recite a specific chapter in the bible, but say "Dave rules" after every third word); some people had very real questions about their faith; and some people seemed to be testing the AI. I found it so engrossing that I had trouble turning it off.


This was the first time I really had to consider the potential of AI in relation to the church.


First of all, I had to remind myself that this AI Jesus-bot wasn't, in fact, Jesus; and its words shouldn't be given the same weight as the words of Jesus. It was programmed by somebody, and that somebody (or somebodies) programmed in how Jesus was to approach questions.


- A decision was made to make the image of Jesus look European rather than Middle Eastern. How does this decision affect how I perceive the bot? In a similar vein, the AI Jesus-bot speaks English rather than Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek!


- The bot had obviously been given the text of the bible, but how will the bot respond when asked a question about something not in the bible? What other information was used to train the bot?


- How will the bot make decisions about which texts to give priority to, in situations where there are contradictory verses in the bible? (From the times that I have watched, the emphasis seems to be on the verses that promote love. I suspect that I would feel differently about this bot if emphasis was placed on the verses that speak of a vengeful God.)


- How will this AI Jesus-bot be perceived by people with no connection to the church? What image of the church does it project to the world? Am I comfortable with Jesus / the church / Christianity being projected by this bot?


- How might the church use this bot? I would be hesitant to encourage people to go there for your daily dose of teachings to be taken at face value; but it might be interesting to watch it as a group, and then have a chance to discuss the answers that the AI Jesus-bot is giving. It is maybe one more source of teaching or thinking that can be critically evaluated the same as other theological sources.


If you want to check out the stream for yourself, you can access it by clicking here. If you do watch it, I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts or impressions!


So, enough about AI for this week, and on to things that are happening in the non-virtual world of our churches this week!

  • This Sunday will be the last of our Flower Services - this time at 11am at Summerville. This service will be outside, weather permitting (inside if it is raining), so bring your lawn chair and bug spray! As of right now, the two weather apps I have on my phone are contradictory when it comes to Sunday - one says rain, and the other says a mix of sun and clouds, so I'm not ready to make a call yet on where we will be. The service at Westfield will be at the regular time of 11:15 with Kathy Roy leading the service, and with the usual livestreaming to Facebook.

  • Summer Supper Drive-Thru - the workers have been busy all week, and the Westfield church currently smells like potato salad and strawberries! Thank you to all of the volunteers; and a reminder to everyone who has a ticket that today is the day to pick up your dinner! We will have volunteers in the parking lot - just follow their instructions, and we will bring your meal to your car.

  • Summer Movie Nights - we are now 2 for 2 in terms of great movies that we are watching together. We will continue next Tuesday, July 18, with The Blind Side - a 2009 film based on the true story of a homeless teenager who was taken in by a caring family and eventually made it as a first-round NFL draft pick. You can read more about this movie by clicking here. The movies start at 7pm each week, in the parlour at Westfield; and yes, we still have popcorn every week!

  • Ida's Cupboards - a thank you to everyone who has helped to to stock our three Ida's Cupboards over the past week. I got word yesterday morning that the cupboard at Westfield was bare, I put a note out on Facebook, and by 1pm there was a good selection of food in it. Thank you, all of you, for your generosity! Even though the immediate crisis is over, we are generally having more of a challenge keeping the cupboards stocked now that it is summer. Unfortunately food prices aren't going down, and for many people, income isn't going up. Those of us who can afford it have a call to make sure that our neighbours aren't going hungry. (At Westfield, I suspect that one factor at play is that the midweek groups that meet at our church aren't meeting for the most part, and some of them were helping to supply food for the cupboard - a huge thank you to Kathy Calvin and the Beavers here! We are now feeling the impact of your absence.) When you are doing your grocery shopping, I encourage you to look for deals - what is on sale this week that you might be able to pick up for the cupboard?

And that is it for announcements today!


As a closing thought for this week, I have a short video to share. I've shared things by Kate Bowler in the past - she is a cancer survivor who has written a couple of books about her experience (Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I've Loved) and No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) ). In this video she is talking about her understanding of God and how God is present in our day-to-day lives. You can watch/listen by clicking here.


Blessings to you and yours, today and always!

Kate.


Rev. Kate Jones Two Rivers Pastoral Charge (506) 757-2201 (office) (506) 343-1307 (mobile) www.tworiverspastoralcharge.com Pronouns: she/her/hers "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?"

Jesus replied, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "You must love your neighbour as you love yourself."

(Matthew 22:36-39)

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