Program #0103 for Monday, August 1, 2011: Brandon Vogt

August 1, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry

Today’s guest(s): Brandon Vogt, author of the book “The Church and New Media”

Today’s topics: The new book “The Church and New Media”

Summary of today’s show: Brandon Vogt joins Scot to discuss his new book, “The Church and New Media,” which features 12 contributors who write about how the Church can best take advantage of the new communications technologies and the culture of the Internet to spread the Gospel of Christ on the “digital continent”

1st segment: Scot welcomed Brandon to the show. He asked how the idea for the book came about. There are 12 different chapter authors. Scot is impressed that he’s only 25 years old.

Brandon said his whole 24th year of life was devoted to considering the lives of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and St. Therese of Lisieux and how much they accomplished in their short lives. So he felt free to reach for this book.

He’s also considering how much of a revolution in communication we’re having in society and he found that the Church is stuck in the middle of this huge tidal shift. He also noticed a lot of individual Catholics as well as apostolates and ministries using modern technologies very effectively and faithfully. Finally, he noticed that the majority of the Church is doing a poor job, especially compared to Protestants and other religions. We’re about a half decade behind the secular world too.

A lot of people are becoming interested but don’t know where to start. As a 25 year old, he didn’t think he could write expertly on these topics, so he set out to target a number of experts in their fields to write, including Scot Landry, who wrote on new media in the diocese.

Scot said the Church is sometimes accused of being a couple years behind, and so Scot was overjoyed to see someone doing a project like this and Our Sunday Visitor to being involved.

Brandon said OSV was enthusiastically supportive of the idea. The thought it would reach many people. Each of the contributors to the book have a huge social media platform that they can use to promote the book to their readers and followers. He also wanted the book to affect official Church communications structures in parishes and dioceses, and OSV is very well-connected in that realm.

Brandon is a convert to Catholicism and Scot has a theory that the Holy Spirit is working to encourage converts to our faith to help lead us and contribute their passion that led them to the Church.

Brandon has noticed a lot of the most passionate and excited Catholics tend to be converts because every single one of them chose it. They sought it out and wrestled with the reasons not to be Catholic and ultimately chose the Church. Brandon was born and raised Presbyterian and received all the basic instruction, but it never really hit home for him. He never really committed to him. When he went to college in 2004, on the first Sunday at University of Florida in Tallahassee, he decided to choose whatever church was closest to his dorm in order to satisfy his obligation. That one was Methodist and it changed him in a very deep way and discovered the presence of Jesus, a love of Scripture, the presence of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, his girlfriend since high school was Catholic and when they started to discuss marriage after college, they started to talk about what church they should attend.

So he started to research Catholicism and discovered the campus ministry called Brotherhood of Hope, based in Somerville, but with a ministry at the University of Florida. He met with a brother from the order every week for a year to discuss Catholicism. He found Brother Jason was eerily like him: raised Protestant; studying science; joining the same Methodist campus ministry; and exploring Catholicism his senior year in college. He had walked the same path before him.

Brandon went through RCIA and entered the Church at Easter 2008. He even had 30-40 people from the Methodist campus ministry come to the Easter vigil to celebrate his journey.

He’s only been Catholic for three years. Back in May 2011, he was invited as part of a group of 150 bloggers from around the world to go to a special meeting at the Vatican. He was also able to attend the beatification of Pope John Paul II. He found himself wondering how in the world he got to the point of sitting literally on the roof of the Vatican and writing this book.

Jennifer Fulwiler wrote the second chapter of the book in the book on how blogging and the community of Catholic blogs led her from atheism to Catholicism. Cardinal Seán said about her:

It was especially uplifting to read Jennifer Fulwiler’s account in Chapter 2 of how Catholic blogs helped lead her from atheism to the Truth of the Catholic faith through the information and friendships she found as a young mother online. Let us pray that many other “Jennifer Fulwilers” will be led to experience the saving love of Jesus Christ through the Church’s embracing and living on this digital continent.

Scot is inspired how new media allowed Jennifer to encounter a community of Catholics who she would never have encountered otherwise in her daily life. She had started a blog as an atheist challenging Christianity and people came to her blog’s comment boxes and started conversations with her. Those commenters pointed her to good resources countering the arguments made by her atheist friends.

Brandon said the anonymity of the Internet can be a huge boon for someone learning about the faith because they can do so with a stigma or being ostracized. People can explore Catholicism through the safety of anonymous commenting on blogs.

He added that the Internet enables you to find a true representation of what a religion presents itself as. He said it’s common for Protestants to build Catholic straw-men which claim Catholics believe things they don’t really, such as worshipping Mary. Now it’s all available online.

2nd segment: Scot said it was common a few years ago for some people to say that new media and the Internet are a fad, but that’s been proven false.

Brandon said the statistics are overwhelming. Facebook has over 750 million users around the world. Pew Research Center just released a study that Twitter sees 350 billion tweets every day. (Twitter is a 140-character messaging service and a tweet is one message from a user, maybe a quote, a link to an article, a comment on a piece of news.) Brandon said Pope Benedict XVI is one of the most perceptive on new media in the Church, calling it a new digital continent. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third-largest in the world after China and India.

Brandon said on YouTube.com, 2 billions of videos are watched every day and every minute 24 hours of new video is uploaded.

Scot said in the first chapter, Fr. Bob Barron writes that posting his videos on YouTube allow him to interact with secularists.

Fr. Barron has posted more than 200 videos on YouTube and received more than 1 million views. His organization has done some research and found the most likely viewer is a 20-something male who has no religious background. Fr Barron asks where else he could have an audience of such young men.

Fr. Barron writes about the YouTube heresies, cataloging what he encounters in comments on his videos: A skewed understanding of who God is; a mythical being; all religions are the same; and Religion’s relationships on science and on violence

Fr. Barron said we need to understand the environment in which we’re participating.

Marcel Lejeune is one of the campus ministers at Texas A&M, one of the largest Catholic campus ministries. He writes in the third chapter about connecting to young adults. New media turns out to be the ideal way to connect with the missing demographic in the Church.

He also writes about their innovative method of connecting with a very transient group of people, college students, using Flocknote.

Flocknote allows people only to receive information that they want in the forms they want: email, Facebook, text messaging. Flocknote is a product created by another book contributor, Matthew Warner, who writes about new media in the parish.

Texas A&M’s Catholic campus ministry average eight students entering the priesthood and religious life as well as the thousands who return to parishes as laypeople who have strong formation.

3rd segment:The second section of the book talks about how new media is used in formation. Mark Shea writes about the dangers and benefits of blogs. Fr. Dwight Longenecker writes about what’s really important and the danger of online apologetics:

…I am not convinced that many souls are won by argument. It is famously said about apologetics that you can win an argument and lose a soul. The apologetics on my blog are woven into a much bigger picture of Catholicism. I want the reader to glimpse the power and the glory of the Catholic Church, but I also want them to glimpse the humanity and humor of being Catholic. In other words, I want them to glimpse the art of being Catholic — not just the argument for being Catholic.

Scot said it’s true of all ministry, not just new media. Brandon would nuance it by saying that there are some people are indeed looking for arguments for the Catholic Church. But it is true that arguing for the sake being right never wins anyone into the loving, accepting, inclusive world of the Church. When you’re vitriolic and angry, it doesn’t convey the love of Christ. Fr. Longenecker writes with humor and reverence, charity and truth.

Brandon said blogging is a medium made for current events and commenting on what’s going on the world. He notes that blogging is egalitarian so that everyone online can have the same voice as, no matter where they are or their economic background. It allows people who to break news and for people to gather around and talk about it. What bloggers like Mark Shea and Fr. Longenecker do is bring the Church into the story, to bring the Church’s teaching to bear and allow a conversation to take place.

Scot writes in Chapter 7 about new media in the diocese, especially what we do in the Archdiocese of Boston. He believes that what we have in Boston is as great as anywhere. He said CatholicTV.com is the best place anywhere to view Catholic video content. The Pilot’s website has won awards. Our diocesan website, BostonCatholic.org, is widely recognized for being a great website, especially in its faith formation content.

Brandon said it’s obvious to him that the Archdiocese of Boston is a model for dioceses across the world in new media, including smartphone apps and other initiatives.

In the next chapter, Matt Warner shared what parishes can do in new media. He has his hands on the pulse of online Catholicism and he’s very practical. He’s the founder of Flocknote. He’s also looked at what’s working and not working in parish websites. For example, a parish looking to use these social media tools, start a blog, revamp a website and want to connect with people not attending church, this chapter provides many answers.

New media builds community and these chapters, including Lisa Hendey’s chapter, recognize this.

Scot said Matthew encourages parishes to form a qualified digital communications council and that’s also a way for young people to get involved in the parish. These are the people who know how to reach the people aren’t in the parish right now. The ideal member of the council would be college graduates looking to get involved in the Church and these people would also be the future leaders of the parish.

Brandon said this is his generation and he sees the problems and tensions on both sides. The young adult demographic is the most difficult to reach and yet the most engaged in new media. New media is a movement of God to give us these tools at a specific time in Church history. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have said the same. By inviting young people to participate in the structure of the church, you’re connecting them to the structure of the Church. Also, many young men and women who come to religious vocations say that their vocations began with being involved with the parish in a way like this.

Brandon ends his introduction by saying the Church is not just the institutional Church, but is every Catholic. Will the Church remain silent in the digital sphere?

The world is waiting and listening in the virtual sphere. Will the Church remain silent, or will her voice be proclaimed from the rooftops (and the laptops)? Will she plunge the message of Christ into Facebook feeds, blog posts, podcasts, and text messages, or will she be digitally impotent?

Brandon said new media is already being harnessed for all kinds of purposes, some of it inimical to the Church and her message. The Church needs to begin to use this tool. The printing press was used to undermine the Church because the Church did not at first see the utility of the press to spread her message.

Scot mentioned Lisa Hendey’s chapter on her website at CatholicMom.com, a community of Catholic moms sharing their lives with one another. Tom Peters of American Papist, writing about how new media can encourage Catholic activism.

Brandon said CatholicMom.com is a digital front porch for moms around the world to discuss what it means to be a Catholic mom today for moms who might not otherwise have a way to connect with other Catholic moms they can relate to. Many of the moms find themselves feel isolated without other Catholic moms with the same values and outlook.

Tom Peters writes about how new media can be used to promote the Catholic social teaching of the Church. In his blog, he rallies his readers to take action on political or social issues in the news. They call representatives and other leaders, send letters, and make a real impact.

In the final chapter, Sean Carney, founder of 40 Days for Life, the world’s largest pro-life movement, where thousands of people pray for an end to abortion. They were able to organize this movement globally using new media.

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