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Adventist Pastor Becomes a Popular Meme


Ask twenty-somethings to talk about Seventh-day Adventists and popular culture, and you’ll likely hear that the Church is pretty out of touch. Millennials in particular, those between 18 and 30 years old, are highly engaged with pop culture–arguably more so than any previous generation. So it may not come as a surprise that a group of young Adventists made one of their pastor friends into a spoof of a popular Internet meme. Memes, for those not of the Socially Awkward Penguin Generation, are ideas, behaviors or other facets of culture that spread socially in a viral way. But in Internet parliance, “meme” is shorthand for a picture, usually funny, with a block of text on it. People take photo templates and share their own variation of the meme theme. Memes that resonate well spread.

Actor-Heartthrob Ryan Gosling became a meme particularly popular with users on the social media site Tumblr. The “Hey Girl” meme features pictures of Gosling with text in which he says especially endearing…but also awkward things to Gosling fangirls, presumably.

When James Murdock, an associate pastor at the Boulder Adventist Church in Colorado, posted a new Facebook profile picture this week, his friends saw similarities with the Ryan Gosling meme and pounced, and he quickly became a “thing.” Murdock says,

The entire “thing” started innocently enough with my good friend and meme mastermind, Jessica-Lynn Constantine sending me a photo via text with the first rendition using the profile picture. Not wanting to keep the laughs that it provided to myself, I posted it to Facebook to give her credit and share with friends. That turned out to be taken as an open invitation to people to create their own versions of the original and the catalyst for the outpouring of creative additions. It all seemed innocent enough at first, but it’s begun to take on an identity all on its own!

Soon, Murdock’s Facebook wall was flooded with memes of himself. Kyle Dever, a student at the Adventist Seminary at Andrews University and Administrative Pastor of ONE Place in Berrien Springs, added the hashtag #BoulderSmoulder, a reference to a line from Disney’s tangled in which the charming hero tries unsuccessfully to turn on the “smolder.” It’s been a bit overwhelming, Murdock says.

In all honesty, it’s become quite a distraction in the past three days. My iPhone battery was drained in a few hours from the notifications, comments, likes, and new posts that Facebook updated on my screen. What began as an ordinary day at the office became a battle to ignore the endless buzzing and binging on my phone. Even now as I write this from the Religious Campus Organizations office on the University of Colorado, Boulder campus, my phone is steadily buzzing on the desk and the notification center on my laptop is stacking endlessly every few seconds.

I have noticed that people are starting to share the entire collection with other people, and the further out the memes go, the more people are puzzled at the Adventist language, but still get a laugh at the over-arching jokes. For me personally it is comical to find that outside of the communities near La Sierra University, Andrews University, and Boulder Church, no one has any idea who the guy in the photo is. I fear meeting someone at a Week of Prayer in some far away place I’ve never visited figuring out they know me from somewhere and me having to explain that they saw me on some Facebook post as a meme. I suppose this could be a good way to break the ice with people who may not have given me the time of day otherwise, but it certainly wasn’t what I thought my reputation would be based upon!

Not wanting his Facebook page to be completely overrun with memes, Murdock moved all the pictures to their own album and let people add to the folder.

I figured that after 48 hours, all the fun that was to be had was in the rear view mirror. So to say thank you to everyone who had participated in the hijinks, I pulled all of the memes I could find from the hashtag #bouldersmoulder, my text messages, Facebook messages, and e-mail inbox to one central location and give everyone credit for their creativity. This has resulted instead in two days of free-for-all additions to the hashtag.

Also, I found that people were upset if I hadn’t posted something that was sent to me privately. This afternoon I got a friendly question from a friend asking whether his was “too much” since it didn’t appear in the album. Turns out he was sending it to my old cell number.

Clearly the memes have taken on a life of their own–one of the pitfalls of relative Internet fame. Murdock admits that the game is a mixed blessing.

Every now and again there are some posts that are bordering on inappropriate. I’m not a big fan of the posts that wander into the explicit or sexist to the point of offending people. So it is cringeworthy to see my face attached to some of the words pasted over the photo. It is difficult to be a youth pastor and be represented by a comment about someone looking good in a Pathfinder uniform. So I hope that it is understood that there is a clear line between what I say and what has been said in my likeness. I assume that the intentions are good, but the execution creeps into the uncomfortable at times.

By the same token, some of memes are opening up conversations about topics that have mostly evaded a younger generation such as women’s ordination, Ellen White, the Sabbath, and Adventist doctrine. In this regard, it is exciting to see some conversations generating that may never have happened if not packaged in something friendlier than the other methods of outreach. I guess we take the good with the bad in this case!

When he’s not busy being Internet famous, Murdock has a lot on his plate in ministry at the Boulder Adventist Church.

Life in Boulder has been fantastic since arriving in January! Working with Senior Pastor Japhet De Oliveira and Associate Pastor for Worship and the Arts Elia King is the kind of experience you dream of when you’re gearing up to graduate. I couldn’t ask for a better pastoral team to work with as I begin the ministerial journey for the Adventist denomination.

As the Associate Pastor for Youth and Young Adults, the Boulder church has kept me busy working on energizing these two groups into sustaining ministries. We are excited to have moved our youth room from a smaller classroom downstairs back into the aptly named Youth Chapel that once housed our early service on Sabbath mornings; Project 5:2. This has allowed for our youth to have access to entirely different atmosphere during Bible studies, vespers, and special events. We are working now to dress out the room to include the features that will enhance our worship and fellowship experiences.

Our young adult program is primarily fed by our proximity to the University of Colorado Boulder and we are beginning to see a relationship between our on campus Adventist Christian Fellowship group and our church grow. We just opened up a classroom downstairs that will host our young adults on Friday nights and Sabbath mornings beginning in December that looks to be a great start to expanding our ministry to the collegiate students.

In addition, we have been given a great opportunity to share in the widely popular improvisational comedy troupe, Monkey Butler, which is based out of Los Angeles. Shortly after my arrival in Boulder, I was introduced to Tim Cress from the LifeSource Adventist Fellowship in Denver who was running a weekly improv workshop out of their chapel on Thursday evenings for the community of Denver. These free improv classes teach skills pertaining to stage performance as well as allow for people of all faith systems to come together in prayer between level one and level two sessions. Because of my background in improv production at La Sierra University with the Red Pill performances on campus, Monkey Butler offered to let us use their trademark at Boulder Church as a sister organization. Together with Denver, we are now one of two Monkey Butler improv locations in the state of Colorado. Because of the popularity of this ministry, we have introduced our local Boulder community not only to our church here on Mapleton Avenue, but also the opportunity to build community in the name of comedy and prayer. The classes were so popular that we have been asked to expand our work to include classes for high schoolers at Vista Ridge Academy in Erie as an after school curriculum in addition to our Wednesday night classes in the Youth Chapel.

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