Thursday, January 17, 2013

Come Together: A Divided Online Church

He one holy roller....
Souls are many and diverse, precisely because in heaven there is harmony in variety.
                - Blessed James Alberione

Msgr. Charles Pope from the Archdiocese of Washington wrote a poignant article this week that reflected on painful divisions in the Church that become evident in online interactions.

He writes: The Church needs two wings and one heart to fly. Thank God for the diverse passions and actions of many in the Church on many and different fronts ... I’ll tell you what, perhaps the most discouraging thing about being a blogger and being out there is not the scorn of the secular. It is the death by a thousand cuts executed by some (thank God not most) fellow believers who nit-pick, and object that something I say is not said just they way they want it said. 

Ain't it the truth.

Any Catholic blogger out there can definitely relate to this. I recently received a comment on a post that accused me of being a "modernist" for writing that we are all sinners, and encouraging forgiveness! Of course the comments on my blog are generally kind and rather tame compared to what some bloggers get.

But based on Msgr. Pope's insightful article, and my reflections on experiences I have had online, here are some ideas for how to create a better environment online and in our churches:

1. Remove the Personal Imprimatur Glasses:  We often put on our own personal "imprimatur" glasses when we read online. Rather than reading with an open mind, we read with an eye for error or an eye for what aspects of the post we can critique in the comments. Are we concerned we will be subtly drawn into erroneous thinking if we are not constantly on guard? I think most of us will admit we are not that soft-headed and that is not the actual concern. Deep down, if we are honest with ourselves, when we see something that clashes with our understanding of the truth, our "righteous anger" has more to do with our desire to be right than it does anything else.

2.  The Church is Like the Beatles...: A good band needs a John to write insightful lyrics, a Paul to harmonize, a George to lead with guitar and a Ringo to play drums, (and add levity). The Body of Christ needs everyone, even the people with wacky ideas, (sometimes especially the people with wacky ideas). We are a family. Everyone is invited, everyone is welcome and we are never going to agree on everything. That is why we have the hierarchy, and thank God that we do. Not everyone is going to love the hierarchy, just like not everyone is going to like Grandpa George, but that does not mean that they are not part of the family. (I know this is not a perfect analogy but you get the point right?)

3. Stop Fighting Over Liturgy, Just Do It: If there is anyone who is sensitive to liturgical abuse, it is me. I lived in the Bay Area for five years and endured some pretty questionable liturgical practices. Believe me, I understand. But how about rather than talking about it, writing about it, and arguing about it, what if we just did liturgy and did it well? How much do articles harrumphing about the right way to do things help prevent liturgical abuse and how much do they simply raise blood pressure and bring people's attention away from the Mass the next time they see people holding hands during the Our Father? I tend to think the latter is much more prevalent. And if this is correct, we end up wastefully expending energy that is better spent doing good liturgy, (we also could choose to focus our creative energy on other things that are in dire need of our attention - can anyone say the New Evangelization?)

4. Behave Online like Your Mother is Watching: (And she is, from heaven!) Anonymity online makes us think we have free license to rant, be nit-picky, rude and generally be a bad example to others. But how often do non-Catholics or non-Christians see our internal bickering and wonder what good our faith does for us? Instead of giving into our immediate feelings, what if we paused, got up, walked around, said a prayer and sat down again (perhaps even hours later) with the intention to write something that is inspired by God, not our human reactions?


Moving beyond polarization is not just about cleaning house in the Church, it is about attracting others to the Church. Who wants to join a family that is constantly bickering? Sometimes we get so caught up in the leaves that we lose sight of the forest. The forest is that we are a family, like or not, our baptism makes us that. The forest is that Jesus is at the center of our faith, not anything that divides us.

Here's some inspiration, (ok this song is pretty unrelated, except the title, but I think the Beatles are appropriate any time any place):


Petro said...

Thank you, Sister. This is beautiful.

Pam Manners said...

Sr. Theresa,

As a fellow blogger, I'm so sorry to hear that you've received some crummy, negative feedback, esp. from those who should know better & who should be encouraging you, cheering you on. Sounds like what should be that great cloud of witnesses is more like a black storm could instead. I for one totally enjoy reading your blog posts, even if there is something I don't agree with (not often). You are SUCH a breath of fresh air -- open, honest, transparent. I grew up with such a skewed view of nuns (and yes, I went to Catholic school for many years) and whenever I read your posts, I think to myself, 'Wow, I wish we had nuns like Sr. Theresa when I was young!' You are a delight, and I look forward to reading your posts.

Keep writing, keep moving forward, and shake the dust of the naysayers and whiners off your feet!

Grace & peace,
Pam Manners

Pam Manners said...

Oops -- that should read 'black storm cloud.' But I'm sure you knew that. :)

Sr. Lorraine said...

Some good ideas here, Theresa, thanks for bringing them out.
St. Thomas is a great model here because while he loved to debate ideas, he always stuck to the issues and didn't insult people.

As long as they're done in charity, I think that having robust debates is a great thing. Debating was a major method of teaching in the Middle Ages; many of St Thomas' writings were the fruit of these disputations.

The internet is a little like the wild West, and I think people like Msgr. Pope, good as they are, just have to grow a thick skin and get used to being criticized if they're going to be on the internet. It's the nature of the beast. Some of the saints, like Jerome, wrote very caustic letters. Jerome wrote to Augustine, "I am not so foolish as to think myself injured if you have different views from mine. But if you attack my writings with knockout blows. . . then by that conduct friendship is indeed injured and the bonds of intimacy are broken." And they had to wait a long time to get letters. Imagine if they had been on the internet! And St Cyril wrote some real zingers to Nestorius.

tagnes said...

Thanks Petro! And Pam, I am glad that I can give you a taste of what most nuns are like - at least the ones I know!

Sr. Lorraine, you are right thick skin is definitely a necessity in the blogging world. I actually went into my post and toned down my melodrama based on your comment. I have very little to complain about actually. The people who comment on my blog are generally wonderful. I was really speaking more about other bloggers. I rarely read comments and when I do, I almost always come away depressed. What people say is rarely constructive criticism and is rather simply critical. I would read comments more often if they were combative but useful dialogue along the lines of St Jerome and St Augustine!

Anonymous said...

Well said Sr Theresa,
1) also, when it comes down to it, important as our faith / doctrine is (and must make effort to defend it, and sometimes, robustly) in the Good Samaritan it was the orthodox man of faith who walked on by, but the heretic (the Good Samaritan) helped the beggar in the ditch. And in St Paul's famous Corinthians 13, "you can have faith to move mountains, know all secrets, but if you have no love, it's all useless" (or words to the effect).
2) where i come from (UK), anti-religion / anti-Christianity / anti-Catholicism is rife. We just can't afford to argue / fight (as oppose to debate / discuss) amognst ourselves.

Anabelle @ Written by the Finger of God said...

Sister, I found you through Ignitum. I'm your newest subscriber. I love this post. You nailed everything down. I'm going over your past posts and look forward to receiving more in my inbox.

tagnes said...

Amen Ed, we can't afford it.

Welcome Anabelle, I am glad that you found me!


Sr. Theresa

roberta lavin said...

This is beautifully written. Thank you for the effort to promote civility.