Friday, September 07, 2012

Catholic New Media Conference

I'm back!  This grainy photo I snagged from Jennifer's tweet (where it was not at all grainy) is the only visual proof that I was, indeed, at the CNMC. 

I returned from Dallas last Friday night to a vanload of little people (and one big person) excited to see me, which may just be the best feeling in world.  The kids had even made, with the help of my parents (fearless babysitters for the week), a bunch of sweet decorations and signs welcoming me back.  It's always amazing to step away and return to realize that I am loved so very much by the dear people in my home. 

And, the Catholic New Media Conference was great!  Time with friends, meeting new people, hearing from successful and inspiring speakers, and even a little bit of networking.  One of the best parts was actually that a friend from my parish in Denver was there attending the Catholic Marketing Network tradeshow, so I got the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with her.  She's in the midst of discerning a vocation as a consecrated laywoman (!), which is pretty amazing.

There were several things I "took away" from the conference--many of them not necessarily what I expected, and I'm sure I'll share more about that soon--and one thing swirling around in my head is that in spite of the pitfalls and issues with online communication, engaging in relational, authentic online community is worth the time and effort.

Tears sprang to my eyes when an audience member stood up during a Q&A session, and told a woman that her blog was instrumental in his coming into the Catholic Church.

An ordained minister in the (Protestant) Nazarene denomination, who has built a great relationship with Father Roderick through podcasting, spoke of the warm welcome he continues to receive at these conferences in spite of the fact that he is of course not Catholic. 

Someone in a panel discussion described a high school student who devotes 45 minutes each day to going online and answering questions about abortion on sites like, and as a result has deterred countless women from terminating their pregnancies.

Regular people.  Busy people.  Engaging in online interaction and allowing God to use them as He sees fit.

Even (perhaps especially?) amidst our information-rich, technologically-connected age, men and women are craving truth, insight, and genuine relationship.  And in an increasingly post-modern, post-Christian culture, I believe people are hungry for things that resonate on a very deep level.  And they want to see those things lived out.  Not just theological or philosophical or political theories or ideas on a page, but actual in-the-trenches life. 

This is why I believe blogging has found the place it has in society.  This is why we continue day after day, week after week, to follow along with our favorite (and not-so-favorite) bloggers.  This is why we love seeing photos of their homes, hearing about their good and bad days, and learning more about what makes them tick.  This is also why we keep reading, even when they make us insanely furious. 

And, maybe it's just the ever-looming election season that is suddenly upon us, but you don't have to look far to see just how polarized our culture has become.  And I personally would argue that polarization is not in and of itself a bad thing, but that it merely reflects a society which no longer holds many values in common.  And, for some reason, the internet remains one of the few safe places to explore ideas and to see how the other side lives.  I may have been moved when the man told the woman that her blog played a role in his conversion, but I was not surprised.  At all.  Where else would a Protestant have the opportunity to explore the bold and ancient claims of the Roman Catholic Church, without fear of being labeled a papist or idolater?  Where else might a person be able to engage with difficult concepts or explore what it even means to be a Catholic in the present day?

And where else can someone watch a story unfold piece by piece, a story that touches and changes them in some powerful way?

You probably know by now that blogs have played a major role in my own faith journey.  And not because the writers of the 21st century are vastly superior to the writers of old--because it's quite the opposite, actually.  (Doubtful there will ever be another GK Chesterton!)  No, it's not that at all.  Ultimately, I believe it's the relational component, the transparency, the real-life dimension that punctuates each and every blog that stirs hearts and pricks minds.  So-and-so may not be a theological genius, but they make me think.  Or, I love that blogger's perspective.  Or, that writer defines life in such a beautiful way.

Most of all, they have a story.

And it's easy to get hooked on a good one. 

Of course the CNMC was ultimately dedicated to those attempting to tell and reflect Jesus' story, which is for Catholics a story of redemption, mercy, hope, and dignity for all people.  And it is one that must be told in part through new media, because that's where the people are.  I do think it will continue to be a difficult balance, because the computer screen is not where true life is actually lived.  And it will never be a legitimate substitute for true human relationship.  We must be careful not to give undue weight to the present, as if it is more important or relevant than the past.  And I think we also need to remember that it is not the end all, be all and there are certainly large demographics it's NOT reaching. 

Not to mention, I think care needs to be given to the quality of what is being produced.  Just because you can blog/Facebook/tweet something doesn't mean you should, or that you should do so without attention to detail.

But it does serve an important and dare I say integral role in the global conversation on faith, morality, beauty, truth, and life, and that really kind of makes it all worth it.  Relatively few bloggers will ever publish a book or gain a large following for their work, but you can--and must--use whatever platform God has given you to influence the culture for good. 


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