Tag Archives: social 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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Talking Turkey on Twitter’s Birthday

It’s Twitter’s 8th birthday, and for those among my readers who still don’t use it or see its relevance, today’s headlines may give you a taste of just what all the fuss is about.  Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is in the midst of fighting both a re-election battle and corruption allegations, announced yesterday that Twitter would be banned in his country.  In a move which has brought both domestic and international condemnation, Erdogan obtained judicial authority to block the millions of Twitter users in Turkey from the social media network, describing it as a “menace to society”.

In becoming one of only a handful of countries to attempt to, using Erdogan’s word, “eradicate” Twitter, Turkey has joined a rather unsavory club.  Both the People’s Republic of China and North Korea have been blocking the social media platform for years, and have used tweets by individuals as the basis for imprisonment of those criticizing their regimes.  While tech-savvy users in these countries have found ways to get around the blocks put in place by their respective governments, for the average account holder no doubt the prospect of being prosecuted (or worse) for speaking their mind online has had a chilling effect on their level of Twitter participation.

For those of us who live under less autocratic governments, as part of marking their birthday Twitter released an application which allows you to type in a Twitter user name and see what that account’s very first tweet was.  It’s been great fun sharing first tweets with my Tweeps, i.e. the Twitter users whom I follow and interact with regularly. Here’s my first tweet, showing what a snot I was – was? – at the time I signed up for an account:

Tweet

Although I love using Twitter, I’ll admit there are many things about it that are problematic.  There is a tendency to gang up on those whom one does not agree with, and repeatedly knock them down, rather than just delivering one solid blow to an ignorant tweet and then moving on.  There is smut/foul language galore, although one quickly learns whom not to follow if this becomes a problem.  And there are “troll” accounts, which seem to exist solely for the purpose of trying to attack others.

I expect that these negative aspects of the service are what keep some people from using it. Yet when used well, Twitter can be a tremendous resource for good, particularly because of the succinctness of tweets, at 140 characters or less.  I have seen, first-hand, what is possible via Twitter which no other social media application, including Facebook, is capable of, at least with anything near the same amount of speed, penetration, or effectiveness.

I’ve seen Twitter provide many people with both material and emotional support during those hard moments in life, such as losing a loved one or a job, suffering from an illness, or just plain loneliness.  I’ve also seen Twitter offer practical help on little issues, like trying to find a decent hotel in another city, or figuring out how to fix a software issue.  Twitter is always knitting human relationships more closely together, by bringing those with shared interests but little or no chance of physical proximity into contact, whether it is a group of Tweeps watching and commenting on a sporting event together from all over the country, or discovering you’re not the only survivor from the Planet Krypton.

Eventually, I expect that Turkish people will find a way to express themselves on Twitter again.  Human beings are far more interested in being able to freely communicate their thoughts to one another, than they are in upholding the ideology of a single person or political regime.  Whatever its faults, Twitter has done a great deal of good for a great many people, and so I raise a coffee cup to it this morning and say: Happy Birthday, Twitter.

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Read This Blog – Then Go Read a Book

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are that, like me, you’re reading “stuff” all day long. You glance at the news headlines online and scroll through the blogs you subscribe to; you sift through emails and text messages; you open the mail, read office memos, and so on.  Thanks to these multiple demands on our attention, I suspect many of us who enjoy reading find it difficult to put aside some time to sit down and read a book.

For a bookworm like myself, this is also a practical problem.  When people know that you love books, you tend to receive books as gifts, such as at Christmas or on your birthday.  Similarly, should you find yourself at an event where books are being given away, or where there is a book-signing, you can’t help but pick up a few volumes for yourself.  Within the past six months alone, while I choose not to actually count and tell myself the real number, I would say that I have thus accumulated about two dozen books.

As time passes that stack of unread books, which you have done little more than crack open to have a thumb through, grows ever taller.  Perhaps you hide them away somewhere so you don’t have to look at them, but in the back of your mind you know they are still there, verbally haunting you with a plaintive cry of, “Read me!”  You may even feel guilty about the fact that for months now, these things have been waiting for you to give them a try, while you have wasted countless hours online watching cat videos, arguing about sci-fi movies, or taking quizzes to find out which 90′s pop idol you are (Justin Timberlake, apparently.)

Far be it from me, someone who loves and appreciates what good the internet can do, to tell you to stop using it altogether.  Plenty of good reading material can be found online, and we can use the internet wisely as a tool to expand our knowledge of a subject.  There is also the social aspect of reading something on the internet, which can quickly and easily be shared with our online communities – something that a solitary reader of a book would find it difficult or impossible to do.

Yet that being said, there is nothing quite like settling down on the couch or under the covers with a new book, and savoring the words within it, all by yourself.  Within the pages of a book there is no “share” button to click on, no comments section to scroll through, no ads for unwanted or unpleasant products on the side.  There are only words, which have to stand or fall on their own, depending on how adept the writer is at stringing them together.

The problem remains, however: where do we find the time to have these experiences?

As my readers know, I decided to give up Facebook for Lent, apart from a cursory visit on Sunday mornings just to clear out my inbox and notifications.  Over the past couple of weeks, with that activity out of my life, I have been reading like mad: six books so far.  True, that’s not much of a dent in the stack of unread volumes I need to get through, but it’s a decent start.

The pleasure of quietly reading, with only the scraping sound of a turning page to break the silence, is something too easily drowned out in the noisy assault of media on our senses.  When we are constantly bombarded with visual and audible stimuli, the subtleties of language and the joy of a well-chosen turn of phrase or insightful observation can be utterly lost.  On top of which, I had forgotten that when I pick up a book, I’m reminded that in reading other people’s work, I’m often inspired to pursue my own writing interests.

So now that you’ve read this post, gentle reader, my challenge to you is to go read something else, preferably bound between two covers and printed on paper. Turn off the computer and the television, silence the phone, and spend some time enjoying an activity which today, we too often take for granted among all the bells and whistles of 21st century technology.  For wonderful as that technology is, there really is no substitute anywhere in new media for the experience of quietly paging through a good book.

Detail of "Crackers in Bed" by Norman Rockwell (1921) Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Mass.

Detail of “Crackers in Bed” by Norman Rockwell (1921)
Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Mass.

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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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