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Victor Udoewa

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Invisible Children: A Better Story About Faith and Science

Posted: 04/18/2012 3:46 pm

I want to take a break from the usual does-science-contradict-faith controversies and look at the intersection of faith and science in another way ... from the perspective of the Kony 2012 campaign.

I've been studying and researching faith for a few years now, and though I am not sure I know anything more than when I started, I have learned that one definition of faith implies that something is not as it should be. In other words, faith inherently houses a sense of absence or waiting or longing for a situation, climate, circumstance to be changed. Faith then, to differentiate from belief, becomes a way of living in the world that is in contradistinction to the current state, situation, or reality. It is not simply marginal protest that cries against an issue without an alternative; no, such protest is easily dismissed and often needed to maintain the status quo. Rather, it is a lived alternative that in some ways works to bring about the reality clutched by faith and in other ways is already realized through the faithful living of such subcommunities.

Regardless of the many criticisms laid against the Kony 2012 campaign, I want to point out that Invisible Children seems to me to be just such a "faith-fueled" organization because it has what Walter Brueggemann calls "prophetic imagination." Invisible Children is prophetic because it envisions an alternate reality which does not yet exist -- the capture of Joseph Kony and the complete dissolution of the LRA. It uses imagination because, with both obvious and super-subtle forces of acculturation today, it is harder than ever before to cause and create a change to a faith-fueled vision of "things as they should be." As Walter Brueggemann notes, the old confrontational model rarely affects change today. In this way, it is not enough to prophetically envision an alternate reality, for one must also imaginatively create ways to reach and enact that reality in such a technology-based and interconnected world.

And this is where science and faith and prophetic imagination have come together in one of Invisible Children's initiatives. In living as though Joseph Kony should be behind bars, Invisible Children has creatively used scientific technologies of crowdsourcing and crowdmapping geographic information in order to bring about the capture of Kony and the LRA. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a greatly expanding topic in science and technology and includes the use of crowdsourcing information for digital mapmaking as well as crowdsourcing validation and verification of the very map data initially crowdsourced. For example, using Facebook and Twitter posts from people on the ground, a company like GeoCommons can be used after a hurricane hits a nuclear power plant during a children's school festival to create a map centered on the route of the hurricane. The route could be overlaid with a map of all primary schools in the area that were participating, overlaid with a map of all functioning hospitals with pediatric services in a 100 mile radius, overlaid with a map of the highest areas of active radiation, for instance.

Invisible Children, sourcing information from the UN and NGOs, has created the LRA Crisis Tracker, a public, real-time mapping platform that collects and publishes data mapping the LRA's movements and actions including sightings, looting, injuries, abductions and civilian deaths. This tracker works in coordination with Invisible Children's Early Warning Radio Network and has given greater visibility to the LRA's movements, warning people and communities of the LRA's advances and showing the world that, though the LRA has fewer soldiers, it is still active in countries neighboring Uganda.

This is a perfect example of faith and science working together. Invisible Children has prophetically pictured a different reality, living as if it were true, working to cause it to be true, and creatively using science and technology to bring about this alternate story. Invisible Children's faith, infused with prophetic imagination, not only causes the organization to live towards a different story, but has clearly invited others to join in living just such a better story.

 
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