Another shooting. When I first heard of the horrible shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I shook my head and decided to numb myself by turning away from the news.
But the [heart]breaking story was too widely reported for me to completely shut out. Still, I could cope. To me, it was an anonymous tragedy. Like Las Vegas and Orlando and Newtown and too many other places.
It was anonymous until I found out through email that my friend and colleague Cherryl, retired from the Archdiocese of San Antonio, lost her sister-in-law Therese and brother-in-law Richard in the church. Cherryl shared, “It’s been one long panic attack since Sunday and my brain can’t seem to stop looping everything.”
There were many images of the tragedy online and on TV, including the first funerals of the 26 victims… those of Therese and Richard. There were even images of the couple. But none of them captured my attention and touched my heart until I heard that they were part of my friend’s family. In a strange and mysterious… and now emotionally loaded… way, they have become part of my family too. Cherryl wrote on Facebook, “[Therese] and Richard were so much in love with each other. They did everything together and clearly enjoyed each other’s company.” Besides the obvious prompting to pray for the Sutherland Springs community and to renew my own pursuit of non-violence, her post called me to reflect on my own spousal relationship… do we enjoy each other’s company so much that others would notice? Do we savor our moments even more now that we’re reminded how fragile life can be? Will I make a conscious choice to love my spouse no matter what challenges face us, challenges that pale in comparison with the last moments of Therese and Richard?
All of a sudden, an anonymous tragedy in another state became an event that has deepened my perspective on life and love.
All because someone put a face on a very sad story that I wanted to ignore.
At the Catholic Convocation in Orlando, Joseph Cardinal Tobin, CSsr, of Newark, New Jersey, gave an impassioned overview of what we Catholics, as missionary disciples, are called to be for each other.
Before we can be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, however, we need to receive the Story ourselves. Of course there are many ways to do so, but none of them are as powerful done alone as when they are when done in community.
Media: A Communal Event
Books are a prime example. But let me digress first.
When I was a child, television was still in its infancy. One neighborhood may have a lucky home wealthy enough, or driven enough, to purchase a television set. Then the neighbors would all gather around a box the size of a freezer, with a screen the size of a frozen dinner. And of course, a prime time for gathering would be on Saturday evenings, usually around professional wrestling as I recall.
According to Elizabeth Drescher in her book Tweet if you [Heart] Jesus books have a similar history. Instead of being a refuge into which a wearied soul would retreat for some isolated inspiration, education or entertainment, book reading was a communal event:
“Actually, long after the invention of the printing press, until quite late in the nineteenth century, reading was a quintessentially social medium—a communal affair with a group of hearers gathering around a reader to engage a book, letter, newspaper, or other written work. Reading together in this way encouraged not just intellectual or, in the case of religious writing, spiritual understanding, but also enhanced interpersonal relationships that contributed to the shared life of communities and, it would have gone without saying in the Christian world, their churches.”(p. 64)
Like the TV, neighbors would gather around a book to share its content.
Book clubs are still a common method of building community while receiving a story. Often I hear about groups that gather, and barely discuss the book. Their need for connection is so great, that they hardly get to the shared story. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. But there is an online tool that can serve as a repository for thoughts, comments and questions about the reading. Then, when the book club meets, they can choose to unpack those reflections together… or ignore them and just visit. The web-based sharing is available 24/7 and, in fact, has already taken place to some extent before the group meeting.
Padlet is a free and very, very easy way to create a bulletin board for discussion. You simply double click on the board, and post what you want to say or ask. You can also attach a file, take a webcam photo, and/or embed a link to an online video.
Imagine reading a book, with your mobile device in hand (there’s an app for that) or computer in front of you, and post comments or questions as they come to mind. Or share a YouTube video that adds feeling to what you are trying to convey. Imagine watching the bulletin board grow, as well as your sense of online community, as you watch the board become populated with the posts of others. Then, when you gather, you come prepared for a deep and lively discussion. Or not… if you just want to visit. In either case, you have received, and communally unpacked, the story. Now… what Story shall we unpack this time that will help us become better missionary disciples? Hmmmm…
Tim Welch, diocesan consultant for educational technology, shares 10 “Tech Commandments” which help us “reflect on ways that will characterize us as Christian technology users.”
God is with us!
We have been immersed in the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of a holy time when we, once again, ponder the wonders of a God who loves us so much that:
he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. –John 3:16
Our response to this great love is conversion, the continual turning away from self-centeredness, and turning toward the life of other-centeredness that Jesus taught us. This is as true as ever in our age of high technology and social media.
The Ten Commandments help us do that. (see Deuteronomy, Chapter 5, at http://www.usccb.org/bible/dt/5:22) They were given to the Israelites in the midst of their desert journey, where God was doing everything possible to save them and convince them how much he loves them. The Ten Commandments provide some concrete direction in entering into that love relationship. It is significant that some of the commandments refer to a right relationship with God, while the others guide us in our relationship with our neighbors. Clearly God not only loves us, but wants us to share that love with each other.
On this Tenth Day of Christmas, it may be helpful to revisit the Ten Commandments through the lens of new developments and technologies. For example, the USCCB has a resource entitled “Ten Commandments for Drivers.” The description reads, “Those who know Jesus Christ are vigilant on the roads. They don’t only think about themselves, and are not always worried about getting to their destination in a great hurry. They see everyone as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God. This is the attitude that characterizes a Christian driver.”
Christmas is a time to see everyone as brothers and sisters again, and God as the loving God of us all. It can be a time, especially if we received new electronic gifts, to review our use of computer/mobile technology through the eyes of a people in communion with God. I offer the following to help us reflect on ways that will characterize us as Christian technology users:
Ten Tech Commandments
Thou shall know that God is present everywhere, even online.
Thou shall use technology to proclaim the Reign of God.
Thou shall pray in your heart, “Oh My God” with love and sincerity whenever you see “OMG”.
Thou shall bookmark a Gospel, or perhaps set www.usccb.org/bible/readings as your home page, and regularly read a passage slowly, deeply, and with reflection.
Thou shall involve spouses and/or parents in online activities like social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.).
Thou shall show respect for others in all online comments.
Thou shall not make up online identities, for God loves YOU.
Thou shall not bully.
Thou shall not look at inappropriate images, but instead spend time consuming media that draws you closer to God.
Thou shall not hack or spam; nor enable others to do so by responding to online messages/email from strangers or using weak passwords.
As I formulated the ‘Tech Ten’, I couldn’t help but think, “Gee, if we but loved God and each other, these would naturally happen. As much as the specifics help give some direction, I really appreciate Jesus’ wisdom when he reminded us to simply but deeply, “…love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself (http://www.usccb.org/bible/matthew/22/).”
I wonder what our faith formation students and Catholic school learners would write if we asked them to offer their own “Ten Commandments for Christian Technology Users.” Or maybe we can ask them to come up with “Beatitudes before Booting Up” as they ponder the Christmas Story.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.
~St. Teresa of Avila
I recently ran across St. Teresa’s prayer as I was reviewing the Diocesan Confirmation materials, in particular the guide for Confirmation candidates and their sponsors. It struck me again how beautifully Teresa’s prayer reminds us of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
It also reminded me of Meredith Gould’s adaptation (video by my friend Cheryl Smith of the Diocese of Syracuse) which calls us to bring our faith and love to that virtual online world which engages so many of us… while at the same time scaring many of us…. or maybe both:
Have you noticed that the online world is not always a gentle, loving place? I become increasingly depressed as I hear news about shootings, terrorism, racial tensions, political ad hominem arguments… and religious polarization. Where is Christ in all of this? As comments abound after an online statement, there are few examples of good listening skills, benefits of the doubt, or affirmations of people who post even if their is disagreement with the content of the post.
One way to side-step the hubbub and keep the Story of Christ’s love in the forefront is the use of graphic images, often with pithy text embedded in or with them.
Besides doing an end-run around paralyzing arguments and conflicts, we can keep asserting the beauty of God’s Reign in proactive, easy to consume images.
The first question is, “What part of God’s Story do I want to share?”
Secondly, “What is the best way to share it?”
I was recently participating in the weekend liturgy at a nursing home. The chapel was filled with mostly seniors who appeared well past retirement age. Many of them were residents in their wheelchairs. The priest offered a statement that struck me in a new way. “The question isn’t what I will live on, it is what I will live for.” It took on a new meaning for me because I was surrounded by people staring in the face of end of life issues… and yet the homilist posed a question that assumed we all had a life that was intrinsically valuable in spite of any infirmity. We still had a call from God to live for God’s Reign, regardless of our present state of health, or perceived ability (or lack thereof). I can hear God saying, “Okay, you are not as young or robust as you were, but you are still my child… my disciple. I have an idea of what you are living for, do you?” One may even add …”who you are living for? This is the story about God I wanted to pose.
So with two photos taken by my friend and colleague, Julie Tschida, I juxtaposed them into one, using Apple’s Keynote (you can also use Microsoft PowerPoint) because it is so easy to combine photos on one slide and the export it as a single graphic (jpg in this case).
I then went to one of my favorite free tools, the Motivator at Big Huge Labs, and created the motivational poster. When uploaded to Facebook, Twitter, or other online environment, you can tell a story, create a ponderment, or assert an opinion that can be consumed by the careful reader or casual scanner alike. The point is to creative a positive culture online, a culture into which we bring the compassion, good and blessings of Christ because “Christ Has No Online Presence But Yours.”
You can argue with an arguer, fight a fighter, and even kill a killer… but what do you do with a lover?
My apologies to the author of that insightful assertion. If I could remember who it was, I would not only give proper credit, I would ask if s/he minded if I added, “What do you do with a storyteller?”
As the election draws near, the political process is becoming more caustic, filled with arguers, fighters, and even killers. As religious factions continue to harden their hearts toward each other, the God of Love seems to get lost in heated arguments. And as people of different races enter into a renewed tension, our American melting pot seems to be moving toward a boiling pot.
What would happen if we put a moratorium on argumentation and personal attacks in our public discourse and told only stories?
Just before she breathed her last breath, her face lit up and practically glowed.
It reminded me of a 16 year old in a parish where I worked. She was dying of a lung disease. Those present at her death shared the story of how she sat up, looked at herself, particularly her arms, and said, “Isn’t it beautiful?” as if she were admiring a heavenly gown. She lay back and passed away.
I am also reminded of the last words of Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and a man accustomed to some of the greatest wonders and beauty humans can create. He said, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”
Surely one could dispute the interpretation of the stories, or the existence of an afterlife, or a particular image of life after death… but these stories offer a chance to pause and ponder what comes next in our life’s journey instead of entering into a heated debate.
In our media driven culture, creating a story delivery system is easier than ever, and can reach more people than ever. To have our stories get heard amid the din of Internet chatter, we need to learn a tool or two, give ourselves permission and time to play and practice, and then share the stories that touch our hearts.
After all, Jesus told stories that still touch our hearts.
A tool to explore
One tool to explore is Adobe’s Spark Video, formerly called Adobe Voice. Sign up for a free account using your computer or the iPad/iPhone App, gather some photos, choose an adobe theme and maybe some background music, and tell a story. Or maybe start with a story and a prayer. Gather your friends or family, take some photos of preparing and eating your next meal, and tell the story of love around the table in photos as the Prayer Before Meals tell the story of gratitude. It would be one way to share faith and love, and who can argue with that?
This Spark video was created in minutes. I added the voice, chose photos from Adobe’s copyright safe curations, and uploaded one I adapted from Morguefile, another copyright safe place to find photos.
In a masterful essay on the power of story, Dr. David and Erin Walsh wrote: “Whoever tells the stories defines the Culture.” (http://tinyurl.com/ff-walsh)
I think immediately of stories that are cast broadly through television and the Internet. What stories are defining our culture? What stories are people hearing about the Roman Catholic Church? What stories are they not hearing? After all, basic public relations class teaches, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.”
And just as importantly, what are the stories that are not broadcast, but are still shared to effectively define our Catholic culture? And how are they shared?
A youth minister once shared the story of running into one of his former youth group members. The former member shared that she gained so much from him during his time at the parish. He wanted to know what he said that was so life-changing so he could keep doing it in his ministry.
“Was it when I taught [such and such]?” he asked.
“No,” she replied.
“Well, how about when we studied [such and such]?”
“No, no, no!” she laughed.
“Well, what was it then?”
“It was how much you loved your wife.”
That story reminds me of the ministry of Pope Francis as told through television, radio, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube… you get the idea. Although he has many words to share, it’s the stories of what he is doing that captures the imagination of so many and, I believe, defines our Catholic culture.
We have a story to tell. The Reign of God is here and also coming, and we disciples of Christ are called to learn about it, proclaim it, and make it present. If we echo stories about what we and other people do to make God’s Reign real, it shapes our culture.
I’m not a great storyteller, but I can find and share online stories that are captivating enough to define our culture. I’m not a gifted creator of media, but I can find tools that help us tell little mini-stories of our experience as disciples to help define our culture. These tools can create something from a simple photo, maybe with a little text on it (think meme) to something a that takes a little more time and talent. I love this story of faith and where God’s love is found, by Wendy J. Francisco:
God and Dog Video
My hope is that my contributions to this blog space will share stories, and tools for storytelling, to help us, as a Catholic Community, continue telling our Story well.
We have a story to tell! And we have a culture to define!