Tag Archives: new media

Tonight: The Hermit Will Be Televised!

So I have some terrific announcements this morning:

Tonight at 8pm Eastern my friend Brother Rex Anthony Norris will be the guest for the hour on EWTN’s “Journey Home” program.  He’ll be talking about not only how he came into the Church, but also about his life as a Franciscan hermit.  I hope you’ll tune in to watch, or catch the re-air or archived video when they appear.

Oh and for those of you watching the game tonight, it doesn’t start until 9:10pm Eastern: therefore you have plenty of time to watch Brother Rex, and still get your snack and beverage array ready in time for tip-off.

Regular readers know that recently Kevin Lowry, Jon Marc Grodi, and yours truly founded the Friends of Little Portion Hermitage.  We’re trying to establish a permanent hermitage for Brother Rex and his successor hermits up in the Diocese of Portland, Maine.  You may already have bookmarked the FLPH site, where Brother Rex posts brief spiritual reflections daily, and will gladly take your personal prayer requests.  And if you haven’t already done so, please follow us on Twitter or “Like” our Facebook page, because we’re about to add some new materials I think you’ll appreciate as much as we do.

So beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, April 8th, and continuing every Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks, we’ll be featuring guest posts on the FLPH site from some very gracious, generous friends in Catholic media: people whom you probably already read, watch, or listen to on a regular basis.  They want to help us draw greater attention to this project, so we can get a permanent hermitage established.  They’re also speaking to the value of the life of intense prayer that Brother Rex and others in the eremitic life are living out in the life of the Church.

The Catechism explains that since hermits spend so much of their time every day alone in prayer, they’re really powerful prayer warriors for all of us.  “Hidden from the eyes of men, the life of the hermit is a silent preaching of the Lord, to whom he has surrendered his life simply because he is everything to him. Here is a particular call to find in the desert, in the thick of spiritual battle, the glory of the Crucified One,” Catechism of the Catholic Church, #921.

I hope you’ll be watching tonight to see and hear why Brother Rex is such a terrific guy, and in the weeks ahead, that you’ll check out some of the great guest posts we’re going to have to help out this effort!

Franciscan Hermit Brother Rex Anthony Norris

Franciscan Hermit Brother Rex Anthony Norris

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Friends on Earth and Friends Above

Meeting someone in real life whom you’ve been communicating with via social media for ages is something of an odd experience.  It’s not quite like meeting an acquaintance with whom you’ve had an extended, written correspondence via e-mail, even if the messages have been going back and forth for quite a long time.  Social media outlets allow not only for an instantaneous exchange of words and images, but also of reactions: it’s their speed which makes said exchanges seem more like friendly chatter.

Yesterday for example, I got to hang out for an hour with my friend, writer and film critic Steven Greydanus, as he was in Washington recording some television appearances.  Although we’ve been chatting on social media for awhile, this was the first chance we’ve had to sit together and have caffeinated beverages.  As often happens on these occasions, I experienced an initial sensation of adjustment – this is a real person! – followed by very easy conversation.  When you’ve been conversing on social media, most of the preliminaries we human beings tend to go through when we initially meet are already well out of the way.

On the way home afterwards, I thought about how many good people I’ve met through social media over the years.  Cliff way up in Nova Scotia for example, loves the old-time radio shows broadcast online Sunday nights through our local DC public radio station, while Vicki out in Arkansas loves discussing art history and British TV murder mysteries.  And I have superbrethren all over the place, from the US and Canada, to the UK and France, since apparently I’m not the last son of Krypton after all.

However, it’s entirely possible that I may never meet any of these people. Technology has come quite a long way, but we’re still not at the point where Star Trek-style transporters stand in our office buildings, ready to zip us off to wherever we need to go in a cascade of light.  We remain dependent to a large extent upon circumstances, as to whether our online friends from Nevada or Australia are ever going to be passing our way, or whether we are going to find ourselves in their neck of the woods.  And yet as maudlin as that may sound, I don’t think it reduces the genuine good that social media can do, in forming permanent friendships.

There’s a lovely old hymn called “For the Beauty of the Earth”, which in America tends to appear on the hymn boards at Mass around Thanksgiving.  It was written by the English High Church Anglican poet Folliott Sandford Pierpoint in 1864, and is usually sung to the music of the hymn “Dix”, written by the German Evangelical Lutheran composer Conrad Kocher in 1838.  While the hymn’s structure of giving thanks and speaking to the beauties of nature make it a natural choice for singing at Thanksgiving, in Pierpoint’s verses there is a wonderful allusion to human relationships that transcend earthly limits.

In his litany of things to be thankful for, Pierpoint lists, “friends on earth, and friends above,” reminding us of the long-held Christian belief in the “communion of saints”.  That connection among both the living and the dead, as all await the Last Day, is something that helps to bind the Christian community together, even with all our divisions and disputes.  People of faith recognize that human limitations of time and space are no boundaries whatsoever to God, and so in that spirit we can direct our thoughts and prayers to those with us now, including those whom we may never get to know in real life, and also those who have gone before us.

Forming genuinely good, mutually beneficial friendships in real life through initial contact on social media is absolutely possible, whatever others may say to the contrary.  Sociologists tell us that online relationships are not real, even if they may feel real; they can be abusive, parasitic, and shallow.  Fortunately, I am not a sociologist, and I’m quite happy to give you many examples from my own life where true friendships have formed through initial online contact.  Such things are not automatic of course, since not everyone you meet through social media is going to become a close, personal friend, but they do actually happen.

Yet even in those relationships that never go beyond social media – someone with whom I share a laugh on Twitter, or whose travel pictures I “like” on Facebook – I find that I can and should still be of service in some capacity.  All of us, whatever our station in life, need other people. We seek words of encouragement, hope for the future, and new, helpful ideas.  We want to laugh, shed a tear, or share our frustrations with the difficulties of this life.  In that regard, dismissing the possibility that anything good can come out of social media, is a bit like questioning whether anything good can come out of Nazareth.

Never discount the fact, gentle reader, that not only may your words, your example, or your prayers have a profound impact on someone else whom you know in real life, but you may also have such an impact on those whom you only know through an online account.

Selfie with Steven Greydanus (Courtesy the latter)

Selfie with Steven Greydanus
(Courtesy the latter)


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Saying Goodbye to Catholic Weekend

It is never easy to make this sort of announcement, but one must do one’s best.

Over the past two years it has been a great honor and privilege for me to work with some truly wonderful people over at the Star Quest Production Network (“SQPN”) on the “Catholic Weekend” show.  For those of my readers who are unfamiliar with it, Catholic Weekend is a videocast/podcast, where a group of Catholic friends get together via Google Hangout and talk about all sorts of topics: the news of the day, what is going on in their lives, etc.  Many times there are also interesting guests who join the show to discuss their own latest adventures and projects.  There is much laughter and teasing, but there is also a lot of love and good will.

However, I recently told my co-hosts and our CEO Father Roderick Vonhögen that I need to step down from co-hosting the show.  This was not an easy decision, but one which was made through careful consideration.  Much as I enjoy hanging out with these great people every week, I need to find some more free time in my own life to figure out where I am heading, on a number of fronts, and took the decision that this was the most practical way for me to do so.  Stepping down from the regular Saturday morning coffee klatch is saddening, quite frankly, but it will allow me a block of time I would not otherwise have, for matters that need my attention.

I want to thank Father Roderick, Jeff Nielsen, and Maria Johnson of SQPN in particular, for agreeing to take a chance on me as an unknown broadcast quantity.  When I joined the show I had no experience of broadcasting whatsoever, having only done public speaking as a lawyer in a courtroom, or as a lector at church.  Whatever abilities I have gained with respect to being able to speak off-the-cuff to an audience, with no prepared opening statement or reading from the Book of Sirach before me, are due in large part to their example and influence.  And the opportunity to address a large group of people at the Catholic New Media Conference in Boston a few months ago was really a privilege and eye-opening for me, not only in terms of personal experience, but also for seeing what wonderful, good people are associated with SQPN.

I must also thank my co-hosts Steve Nelson, Angela Sealana, and Sarah Vabulas for their friendship, support, and humor during my time at Catholic Weekend.  They have been more like siblings than co-workers to me, and I shall miss working with them, as one misses a sibling who moves across the country, not knowing when you will see each other next.  Thank you also to our fearless and patient producers over the past two years, initially Inge Loots and later Lyn Francisco, who were a tremendous help in getting the show going out in one piece, whatever trainwrecks may befall us along the way.  They took the time to make sure that any links I wanted to put in the show notes, in order to support people and things I care about, were accurate and there for our listeners to reference.

And finally I must thank the listeners, who stuck around over the past two years to hear what I might have to say.  A number have also become friends through social media, which means we will still be in touch, even though I am no longer on the show.  And of course, SQPN is a network which encourages the use of new media to make these kinds of connections, so there will be plenty of opportunities to both enjoy their programming and share feedback together in the future.

As to that future, I am not sure what I will do next, but then this is precisely why I need some time for reflection over at the Fortress of Solitude.  It will be odd actually *listening* to Catholic Weekend again, which is something I have not downloaded since I joined the show.  It will also be odd not to be sitting there, laughing with these folks on-air about a well-placed joke, or some silly technical snafu, a/k/a “The Betty Rubble Incident”.

Yet I wish them well, as I know from their very kind messages of support to me that they wish me well also.  As a community of believers, we are never truly separated from one another if we try to live in Christian love.  For His example of love, which guides SQPN and the efforts of those who work on Catholic Weekend, is typified by its constancy and perseverance, no matter what happens.  I have seen it, first-hand, in the people I have worked with on the Catholic Weekend show. And that love is something which I will be taking away with me as I go.  God bless you, kids.



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Thanks to the American Principles Project!

I want to thank everyone at the American Principles Project for the opportunity to live-tweet for them last night at their annual Red, White, and Blue Gala here in the Nation’s Capital.  I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, running into old friends and meeting new ones, and was impressed by the organization and flow of the evening.  Everything was very well planned-out, from the media table and press arrangements that APP staffers ran, to the excellent food and beverages at the Mayflower Hotel, to the beautifully designed signage and programs by Ampersand.  And those in attendance got to hear engaging, challenging speeches from Senator Rand Paul, talk-show host Michael Reagan, and APP’s Chairman Sean Fieler and President Frank Cannon, among others, who each gave us some ideas for the future to think seriously about.

From a practical standpoint, I was glad to see that APP’s Twitter account picked up a couple of dozen new followers as I tweeted throughout the evening.  Live-tweeting from an event can work to your advantage, if you want to attract attention to what you are working on.  I learned when I live-tweeted the Media Research Center Gala here in DC a couple of months ago, and also from tweeting at the Catholic New Media Conference in Boston, that there is a snowball effect when you get several people interested in following your event on Twitter, whether they themselves are attending or not.  If you can get them and others re-tweeting and discussing what you are talking about at your function, particularly if the hashtag “sticks”, then as more people enter into the conversation, the possibility of adding additional followers becomes more likely.

In any case, my thanks again to APP, both for the opportunity to help them get their message out to their followers old and new, and for putting together a terrific evening!

Last night's cocktail hour at the American Principles Project Gala

Last night’s cocktail hour at the American Principles Project Gala

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Thanks for All the Fish: Some Reflections on Podcasting

This Saturday we recorded our 200th episode of the Catholic Weekend show on SQPN, featuring clips of memorable moments from the show over the last four years.  You can watch the recording of the episode, or download the podcast by following this link.  We recorded the episode on a rather large Google Hangout featuring all of our regulars and our CEO Father Roderick, as well as several guests who have been on the show before; we also played audio feedback and read email feedback from a number of our listeners.  And of course, we laughed a lot.

It also gave me a chance to reflect on podcasting itself, now that I have been involved in it for nearly two years.  I won’t pretend to be an expert in journalism or broadcasting, but I hope I have learned a little bit from my experience so far.  And I think podcasting can be seen as a hearkening to the past, a radical departure from the present, and a promise for the future.

Podcasting speaks to the past, first of all, in that it reminds us of the early days of radio programming, with people setting up radio stations in their basements.  They talked about whatever interested them, played whatever music they liked, and oftentimes never knew how many people were really listening, but still kept trying to hold true to good standards of quality and content.  However podcasting can also at times remind one a bit of community access programming on cable, which still exists in a number of places, including here in D.C.  I remember during law school, I was fascinated by a local community cable show in South Bend run by a couple of teenagers, who filmed very complex adventure stories which seemed to have no point or resolution whatsoever.  It was not great art, but it was certainly different.

Podcasting is also a radical departure from the present pre-packaged, pre-determined type of media we have become so used to consuming.  For example, a news program owned by an entertainment conglomerate will just so happen to find nice things to say in their reporting about a new film being produced by that entertainment company, even if it is not very good at all.  They will also run advertisements with tie-ins to products related to some other aspect of that film or another product from that media empire, or by one of its affiliate companies or major shareholders.  And of course, most of us never really stop to think about these things, or analyze the relationships between the various content providers and advertisers.

Another, related reason as to why podcast discussions of events are often so much more interesting than what one hears or watches in today’s media environment, i.e. why there are fewer lengthy discussions and more curt sound bytes, is that those who put out the content we see on the major networks and the 24-hour-news channels have ad revenues to think about, and a short window of time in which to make their sales.  By contrast, as most podcasters will tell you, you are not going to become wealthy putting out a podcast.  In fact, in most cases you won’t even be able to make any money off of it all, whether for yourself or for anyone else.

However there is that question of promise, because today’s podcaster, doing something they love in their spare time, may find their career taking quite a new turn.  Recently a friend of mine who has been podcasting for quite awhile on a historical-business subject he loves, suddenly found himself negotiating a book deal from a major international publishing house; they had become aware of his work through his podcast.  What is particularly interesting about this step up in visibility is how it creates not only a larger audience for his work, but it also adds him to an increasing pool of new talent which more people can dip into when they are seeking information.  There are many smart, talented, and interesting people we might not otherwise have heard of, who are passionate about the subjects they follow, and who are getting their chance to become known to more and more people through podcasting.

Not everyone should be podcasting of course, any more than everyone should be blogging: some people are better writers than they are speakers, or vice versa.  Some people are not good at either activity, and are happy to be content consumers rather than content generators.  However I can say from my own experience of doing both, there is a spontaneity to podcasting that I quite enjoy for its uncertainty.  It’s a bit like putting on a play or even arguing in court, where even if you think you know what your part is and what is going to happen, you can never be completely certain that everything is going to go to script.

However much longer I am permitted to be on the Catholic Weekend show then, I want to say to both SQPN and all the listeners, to quote one of our co-hosts quoting another: thanks for all the fish!


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