Consider these stats for a moment: 90% of children over five years use the Internet. 96%+ of young adults have joined at least one online social network. Kids aged 9-17 now spend more time using social media than watching TV. Internet, blogs, social networking, and text messaging have profoundly changed our children’s world.
Got parenting heartburn? Well, don’t reach for the antacids just yet — it is still possible to raise saints in this digital age we live. The Des Moines community is blessed to welcome Catholic media expert Brandon Vogt (pronounced “Vaught”) on Wednesday, September 28 as he presents “Your Family and Cyberspace: Raising Saints in the Digital Age” at 7:00 p.m. in the Dowling Catholic High School Auditorium (event sponsored by SJEC Iowa, free registration).
Brandon is a writer and speaker who blogs at The Thin Veil. His new book, The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet reveals the benefits, dangers, and potential of new media. It covers many of today’s most popular digital tools including blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, podcasts, text messaging, and interactive websites. The book aims to help Christians embrace Pope Benedict’s call to “set sail on the digital continent.”
Brandon graciously agreed to participate in our “Q&A;” we are very honored to share his thoughts. Given it’s Friday and there are 7 questions, why not link up with Conversion Diary’s 7 Quick Takes Friday? Admittedly, our Q&A is more 7 than quick, but we think Brandon’s beautiful, insightful, articulate, and quite heartfelt responses will keep you engaged. (By the way, Jennifer Fulwiler, the feminine genius behind Conversion Diary, is a contributing author in Brandon’s book.)
Quick Take 1: By education and trade, you are a mechanical engineer. How did your passion for Catholic new media come about?
First, I’ve been blogging for about five years and as a 25-year old who is entrenched in the world of social media, I’ve seen firsthand the power of these tools. Second, I’ve interacted with a number of others who were using new media and through them saw many examples of how new media can be used both faithfully and effectively. Third, however, when I looked at the Church as a whole I saw that we were about 2-3 years behind most Protestant communities in adopting new media, and a good half-decade behind the secular world.
The book was written to help Catholic new media innovators share their expertise with the rest of the Church, inspiring the whole Body of Christ to boldly step out onto the digital continent.
QT 2: What inspired you to pull together the collective expertise of so many leaders in the Catholic new media field and assemble their thoughts for the book?
I was convinced that a topic so vast and multivalent as new media could never be covered through the pen of just one person. So I asked a number of my friends — priests, bishops, stay-at-home moms, professional bloggers, online advocates, media entrepreneurs, and more — to each contribute a chapter on their particular area of expertise. The result was a symphony. And when it comes to new media, a symphony is much better than a solo.
QT 3: It’s well documented that many Catholics fall away from the Church during their teen and young adult years. What can the Church do to help prevent this from happening or welcome them back home if they do fall away?
In my own experience with young adults, there are many reasons they fall away so I don’t think there is one single solution. Certainly better catechesis would help, especially in the younger years, and we would do well to promote Catholicism’s brilliant apologetic tradition.
But another solution is the parish. The more entrenched young people are in parish life, the stronger they hold their faith. So how do we tighten that connection?
I think new media helps with this in a couple different ways. First, young people are typically the most savviest when it comes to these digital tools, so what better bridge for the Church to reach them? Pastors could invite young people to chair the parish’s Digital Ministry Commission or to teach basic classes on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to parishioners. By inviting them to participate in a parish you also strengthen their ties to the Church and therefore to Christ.
Second, new media allows the Church to connect with distant young adults like never before. Chances are the young person who left the Faith ten years ago is not going to march through the doors of your parish begging to reconnect. Instead, we need to go meet him on his turf. Right now, that’s the realm of new media. We can now interact with distant young people 24/7, 365 days a year through new media, all at no cost. We’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of this power.
At this particular time in history, when young adults are so disconnected to the Church, God has intentionally given us these new media tools in part to reestablish that connection.
QT 4: So what advice do you have for parish staff and volunteers excited and eager to implement social media for their parish but face resistance.
First, study. Understand what the resistance is and what dangers truly lurk within the digital world. But also learn how many of these dangers have already been mitigated. For instance, one of the most common concerns I hear is, “What if someone posts vulgar comments on our Facebook page?” The simple answer is that Facebook, along with every other new media tool, allows you to moderate comments before they go ‘live’. So by assigning a trusted person in your parish to be a moderator, you can essentially eliminate that concern.
Second, provide example. It’s tough to resist anything when you see success stories. The Church and New Media book is full of them. Point to the many people converted to Catholicism through blogs and websites or the parishioners who are more closely connected to their parish through interacting on social media sites.
Also, consider asking your parish to do a trial run — maybe for a month or two — and see how things pan out. Sometimes the best way to overcome technological resistance is for someone to see the tool in action.
QT 5: As a convert, what advice do you have for Catholics when witnessing to non-Catholics?
My evangelistic motto echoes the title of Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate — Charity in Truth. When we speak to anyone about our faith, we need to present Catholicism’s intelligence, richness, and texture. But we also need to speak in love. Too often I think we shy away from one or the other, rarely balancing the two successfully.
Sometimes when we are compelled to share or defend our faith, we clam up and suppress our real opinions for fear that they will offend or created awkwardness. But we should never hide or be afraid of the Truth. Even the controversial teachings regarding homosexuality, contraception, and abortion need to be delivered with bold and piercing honesty.
But that doesn’t mean we need to be vicious and belittling. Unfortunately, many converts like me who discover the brilliance of Catholicism are eager to share it with their non-Catholic friends in a “HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE THIS?!” sort of way. I understand that, I’ve been there. Often times the message can be truthful, but it can be devoid of love and compassion for the other person, not considering where they are spiritually, intellectually, and socially. And when that happens, the other person is more often insulted than enlightened.
Finally, when we speak with charity and truth, we should also remember that only God can convert hearts. If someone laughs at you or brushes away your arguments, it’s not your fault. You’re only called to “be ready to explain the reason for your hope”. Whatever happens after that is up to God. Knowing that you can’t really “fail” when it comes to evangelization is really liberating and takes away a lot of the anxiety. I’ve had many discussions about Catholicism where I walked away feeling like a bumbling idiot. But I witnessed to my hope as best as I could— I scattered the few seeds I had — and let God plant them in his own way and time.
All of this is especially applicable to the world of new media. There, maybe more than any place, we need charity, truth, and boldness.
QT 6: 100% of the royalties from your book go toward establishing school computer labs throughout the Archdiocese of Mombasa, Kenya as well as training students there with computer literacy skills. How did you develop an interest in this charity?
The computer project is run by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international aid arm of the U.S. Catholic Church. I’ve loved CRS for a long time, but I chose this particular project because of its relationship to the book.
One of the great dangers of new media is that it can potentially increase the so-called ‘digital divide.’ So this effort is kind of a check against that and it’s a beautiful story at the same time. Because the book royalties provide computers and training, The Church and New Media will act as a ticket for many Kenyans to the digital continent. Readers can learn more about the computer lab — and see pictures! — at the Church and New Media webpage.
QT 7: There was a Catholic’s bloggers meeting last May in Rome with Vatican officials. You were one of the 150 international Catholic bloggers selected to attend. What was the #1 thing you gained from your participation in that meeting?
After mingling with bloggers from all over the world and with many Vatican officials, I walked away confident about two things. First, that this new media revolution is a global phenomenon. I met Brazilian bloggers, podcasters from the Philistines, and even an Italian nun who uses social media to great success. So new media isn’t an isolated trend or fad.
But I also left assured that the Vatican was carrying on the mission of Pope John Paul II to “open a dialogue with the world.” One reason new media is so powerful is because it connects the Church with people who would otherwise never interact with her. It opens up a conversation, a discussion that can lead toward truth and conversion.
My generation is typically jaded by pontificators who lecture and broadcast from their soapbox. Instead, young people today instead crave the opportunity to discuss, critique, and converse about content. At the blogger meeting, it was clear that the Vatican understands this and plans to use new media to communicate our Faith through dialogue.
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We hope you enjoyed reading Brandon’s thoughts as much as we did. In fact, we were so impressed that we’ve included a bonus 8th question and answer for you:
BONUS: Your presentation sponsored by SJEC Iowa is soon approaching. Without giving away any secret ingredients or launch codes, what can attendees expect to walk away with?
They’ll discover where the Ark of the Covenant is buried, the date of Christ’s second coming, and the entire meaning of life. That or they’ll learn how to raise saints in the digital age. I’m pretty sure it’ll be one of those two, though…
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Learning how to raise saints is sufficient for us, Brandon! Hope to see you at Dowling Catholic – 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 28. Register free now.