Desperately Seeking Something

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This post – a book review of Desperately Seeking Spirituality by Meredith Gould,  along with an author Q&A was all set to go for Monday. Then Orlando happened. The senseless and tragic massacre at the Pulse nightclub was on everyone’s mind, so I postponed this until today. Now I am doing a little rewrite because no matter what, it seems like many of us are desperately seeking something.

91c84649763ac9c3518749992a8937e1In the face of a tragedy some people gravitate towards faith or religion, others decry it. This grows even more complicated when the killer claims that he acted in the name of God. And it grows even more problematic when many mainstream religions overtly or covertly condemn LGBT people. Yesterday I was struck when I watched NBC anchor Lester Holt interview Pulse shooting survivor Joshua McGill, because at the end of the clip, McGill talks about how he prayed with another club patron, one who was badly wounded. This scenario is one of many reasons that I think that the book I’m here to talk about today really essential.

DSS.489x750Prolific author Meredith Gould has once again written a book for the very present moment with her latest work, Desperately Seeking Spirituality, A Field Guide to Practice. (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 136 pp, $16.95)  Not surprisingly, she shows up with just the right words at just the right time.

The book is compact and easy to read, with each chapter interspersed with boxes that are chock full of helpful information and insights. For both the church-goer with a curious mind, and the church avoider who is inquisitive, and everyone in between, this book offers rewards that are both practical and spiritual. In short, many seek the sacred, whether in a traditional church or elsewhere and the author offers refreshing pathways to grace and renewal.

This review is brief and ends with an editorial review that I wrote prior to publication:

The image of a seeker standing before shelves of books looking bewildered can now be replaced with an image of a seeker happily holding a copy of this book. Meredith Gould has written what will certainly be the go-to volume for many; both those who search for a spiritual practice, and those with a practice, but who wish to go wider and deeper. With her trademark brand of experience-based wisdom infused with humor, the author offers readers smart, practical, and refreshing options as they make their spiritual way.

KERN-.GouldHeadshot.500pxAlso for today, Meredith answered a few questions that I prepared so that those of you who are not that familiar with her would gain some insights. As for those of you who, you will enjoy her trademark wit and perception that never dumbs us down, and always leads us deeper.  With that – here is Meredith Gould!

DSS is a different kind of book for you. Was writing this one significantly different from earlier works?
For people who know me because of church communications, I suppose Desperately Seeking Spirituality might seem like a different type of book. For me it’s a return to an early and persistent call.

I started writing about the spirituality of everyday life during the late 1980s, primarily for magazines. I continued exploring the mystical mundane during eight years of blogging and then in my first four books, even in the one about working from a home office! In The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today, published in 2008, my focus shifted to church communications. I had my reasons!

After working as a part-time pastoral associate, I realized just how much we needed to recognize communications ministry as a core ministry. I also discovered Twitter in 2008. In 2011, I created the church social media hashtag (#chsocm) and launched a weekly Twitter-based chat, and the rest is history but not necessarily destiny.

A couple of years ago, I felt a familiar tug to write about spiritual life thanks, in part, to working with churches and clergy.

How – if all – did your own spiritual practices change or grow during your writing of this book?
Desperately Seeking Spirituality is about why and when traditional spiritual practices stop working. I’d been hearing stories about discouragement with traditional spiritual practices from other self-identified spiritual seekers. Oddly comforting. To provide a context for readers, I write about my own spiritual journey and gradual transition from enthusiasm to ennui.

By the time I proposed this book, I’d basically stopped doing formal spiritual practices and was exploring what it meant to actively be spiritual. I zeroed in on five core spiritual practices – willingness, curiosity, empathy, generosity, and delight. Writing about these spiritual practices of being meant I had to get honest about my own commitment to practicing them. And so, each chapter drew me deeper into the practice I was writing about, which was challenging and exhausting in ways I did not anticipate.

I also rediscovered the extent to which writing is spiritual practice that invites me to connect with and surrender to a power greater than myself.

Along those lines, what is your favorite or most enriching spiritual practice?
Curiosity has been my go-to practice for years for all the reasons I list in the chapter. Curiosity slows down reactivity; opens new gateways to wisdom and knowledge; generates enthusiasm for inquiry; and substitutes light for heat. Things go much better internally and externally when instead of acting out of outrage my prayer of first resort is, “Dear God, what’s up with that?”

As for traditional spiritual practices, I always experience anchored transcendence when I chant or walk a labyrinth. I suspect this is because these practices give my body something to do that relaxes my mind enough to open a connection to the Holy Spirit..

Do you have a favorite part/chapter of this book?
I confess to you and Almighty God that I probably had too much fun writing endnotes. In addition to typical stuff like citations and resources, I add semi-snarkastic commentary thus providing yet another glimpse into my thought process. Readers tell me they rarely other authors’ endnotes but always read mine.

I also loved creating “Know Thyself” questions for contemplation and discussion, and am planning to develop workshops – probably webinars – based on them. I have two favorite content boxes. First is the one about orthopraxytosis, a toxic condition I’ve identified and named. The second introduces readers to “spiritual bypassing,” a defense mechanism that has been characterized as “avoidance and holy drag.”

What’s next for you? Is there another book already in the making?
I should probably stop declaring that whatever book I’m writing is the last one I’ll ever write. Two days after sending the manuscript for Desperately Seeking Spirituality to Liturgical Press and vowing I’d never write another book, I started making notes about the next one.

I’m currently writing that book and the working title is, Transcending Generations: A Field Guide to Collaboration In Church. I’m focusing on issues shared by people of faith regardless of chronological age, lifecycle development, or generational cohort. I’m keen on helping readers remove false barriers between generations while honoring authentic differences. It’s going to be my last book! Kidding. Maybe.

This, not that

Burnout.Quote.TwitterIf you are a regular reader, you know that I am a person of faith, blogging about the intersection of faith, spirituality, and everyday life. You also know that I am a Roman Catholic who also works for the Catholic church both in her day job, and as a freelance writer, and more. While church is alive and vibrant for me and many others, for some church means boring, routine, rigid, rejection and more – even when the call to something greater than oneself exists.

In 1990 I returned to the Church after an 18 year very conscious absence!  When I left church I was DONE and overdone with formal religious practice. To say that my return was reluctant would be understatement. All those years that I was away I frequently felt the pull of church, but I felt the planting of being fine with where I was as a non-belonging member of anything even more strongly. My desire for sacredness and spirituality never left me in those years, but I did not want to be part of any formal practice.

RAp3eT0Many seekers or would be seekers think – I want this, not that – meaning, sacred and spiritual are indeed part of your landscape. Maybe your desire for such things helps to see and understand the world, but there is no context for such things in your life. While I have many arguments about why faith in community is vitally important, I also know that words telling me that would have never sent me back to church. In fact, such words would have had me fleeing at high speeds. Buh-bye! What’s a seeker to do?

DSS.489x750In my day there were few books or resources – maybe zero resources – to help direct anyone not only to spirituality, but to an exploration of spiritual practices. That’s why I was thrilled when Meredith Gould told me about her current writing project, Desperately Seeking Spirituality.(Full disclosure, she’s my dear friend, we are mishpocha. And yes, I offered an editorial review of the book found inside of its cover.)

Next week I will share my review of this book on the blog, along with an interview with Meredith. I hope you will check out my posts, because I really would like to see this book widely read. Not unlike The Nones are Alright by Kaya Oakes, these are important volumes for our times, for the churched, the unchurched, the seekers, searchers, and others. (See my review of that book here.)

Desperately Seeking Spirituality is an important book that I would like to tell you more about, and Meredith is someone I’m pretty sure you will want to get to know.  See you on Monday!

 

I’m not a theologian, but…

Chris%2520Robinson%2520%2526%2520Peter%2520Bergman%252C%2520Vicks%2520ads-8x6Years ago, there were some TV commercials for a cough syrup that became “viral” in the 80’s sense of the word, for the tagline, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” This came to mind as I began work on this post, thinking, “I’m not a theologian, but I play one on social media.” Am I an impostor? Yes, I earned a degree from a theological institution, but to be clear, it is a a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies – not theology. Am I qualified to speak on matters of church?

This is on my mind as a very public war wages on, with me involved in some small way. New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat has been railing on about Pope Francis for quite a while now. Douthat is a Catholic, a convert, and while I am loathe to use this language, is a conservative Catholic. Am I a liberal Catholic? Many might say so, but frankly, I disdain the labels.

One of my social media connections, Dr. Massimo Faggioli, is a theologian, scholar, author, and an expert on Vatican matters. In recent weeks, he and Douthat have been slugging it out on Twitter, culminating in an open letter to the New York Times, penned by Faggioli and esteemed Jesuit, scholar, and author, John O’Malley SJ, and signed by theologians. As you might imagine, this letter has created a social media firestorm. (All of which, this post included, benefits the NYT and Douthat – page views baby, it is all about page views.) The Daily Theology blog published a copy of the letter so that others could have their names added as signers. And yes, it feels a bit awkward for me to look at the post/letter as it exists, to see my own name… and no corresponding institution of higher education listed for me. Dr. Stephen Okey, who posted the letter asked me about what it should say… I could not say either my work or worship parishes, the opinion was my own. And I am a proud alumni of St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, but my degree is not in theology – nor am I a student any longer. In the end, I let it be. As I said, now that feels awkward.

But is it awkward?

9780814647073Yes – and no. Two other posts, and countless other social media posts regarding this issue bring this into focus. Both examine the questions – must one be credentialed two speak about the church in a public forum? That along with a recent conversation (held on social media, natch) with the church social media-ista of them all (see book on left), my good friend Meredith Gould.  I’ll start with that last one… Meredith and I were discussing theology in another context, and whether or not it was a dusty old way of seeing things. For the record, it is not dusty for me, but as always, Meredith shows me other points of view that lead me to new places. Anyway, her point was brought back to me as I navigated this current matter.

The first of the aforementioned posts is from Catholic author Kaya Oakes, writing at Religion Dispatches. Kaya is herself a lecturer in the college writing program at the University of California at Berkley. Kaya, rightfully so, addresses the question, does one need to be credentialed in order to speak or write about the church and matters theological? Read the post, it is a good one. The other important post is “Why I Signed the Letter” from theologian Katie Grimes at Women in Theology. Katie addresses that perhaps all the blowback about credentials -and privilege too. Also a great read, one that has a number of theologians commenting on how they would have signed that letter instead. Me? I am fine with my first signature, but am grateful for the clarity brought forth by Katie, Kaya, and others.

giphyThis momentary firestorm is important for another reason for me, one that I find incredibly frustrating. Did I say INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING? Sorry, I did not mean to should, but yes, I’m frustrated because of something at large…

Picture this, a New York Times or any other major media outlet for that matter, publishes an op-ed column that is critical of the pope or the church. Oh wait, that has happened, this is but one of a number of examples, or maybe this. (Note, I am not a fan of the first columnist. At. All. The second, it depends.) Perhaps the New York Times is considered anti-Catholic, which I agree it has been over time. What happens? Maybe someone in the hierarchy is critical of the paper, for example, like this. Perhaps the paper even points out some inconsistencies of said cleric.

Is it me, or has there been a real silence around any recent criticism of Pope Francis, the church, the Synod on the Family? Douthat, not for nothing, is remarkably uninformed about church history, theology, doctrine, and typically his writing lacks any context. Yet, does he get criticized by the church proper, as does his colleague Maureen Dowd? If this has happened, I have missed it. Is the New York Times being anti-Catholic when Ross Douthat writes all that he has written lately?

john-henry-newman-quotes-39250That inconsistency is worse than the Douthat thing in and of itself, and I am really struggling. I’m glad that I signed the letter, even if I am not an academic or a theologian. I do believe that the posts from both Oakes and Grimes elucidate the original situation going back to Faggioli and Douthat first going at it. That said, I wish that we would all shut up a bit, me included, (nice to add as I approach a 1000 word count… ugh) and find ways to look at ourselves as church, one Body in Christ.  Anyway, as you consider this long ramble, remember – I am not a theologian, and quite possibly, neither are you. However, we are all members of the big body, and yes – we all must change.

The Meredith Gould on Church Social Media (and book giveaway!)

meredith-gouldRecently I had the chance to interview Meredith Gould, author of numerous books, the most recent being, The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways. I wanted to talk to Meredith about #chsocm, or church social media, and she had some tremendous insights and advice to offer. The woman that I refer to as “the apostle of the internet” has been living at the intersection of faith, communications and technology, long before social media was social media, tireless in her faith. And she always has something to say, generously sharing her gifts and experience with all! (If you don’t believe me, visit her website, or follow Meredith on Twitter.)

Do you want to win a book? Anyone who leaves a comment on any of the blogs where this interview is posted will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of The Social Media Gospel. Rules can be found at the end of the post.

Now for questions – and answers – about the practical and pastoral dimensions of the mission field of @chsocm from Meredith’s point of view.

As a social media minister, I’m often told by others that they “don’t have the time” for social media. The implication seems to be that #chsocm is something for lazy people with nothing better to do. What would you say to this?

After heaving a deep sigh and looking toward heaven, I’d explore this naysayer’s knowledge of what social media is and why it works well for community-building among people of faith.

I’m pretty sure I’d quickly discover that the naysayer doesn’t realize social media is called “social” media because it facilitates conversations that can lead to quality relationships that in turn lead to community.

Probing a bit further, I’d probably discover that the naysayer does not, in fact, understand the amount of commitment and effort it takes to build communities IRL (in real life). And I’d probably also discover that the naysayer is clueless about tools for easily maintaining a credible online presence to build community.

Depending on my mood, I might ask questions like, “How much time do you think it takes to develop any ministry and then get people actively involved?” Next, I’d ask, “If you had a tool that could speed up that process, why wouldn’t you want to learn how to use it?” I might also ask, “What’s really doing on? What worries you about social media?”

If I were completely fed-up with the naysayer’s resistance, negativity, and lack of coachability, I might ask, “Are you always so uncharitable toward people who are developing new ways to preach, teach, and live the Gospel?”

Nah, I wouldn’t say that.

I’d say, “Don’t want to use social media? Then, don’t but please don’t prevent others from sharing the Gospel with these tools.”

Many of us who are active in social media ministry see this as an offering of hospitality. How can worship communities use social media as a way of welcome? OK, that is a big question… let me rephrase it by asking, what are the top 2 or 3 best practices of social media hospitality?

Great question! I’m going to mention three best practices because I love the number three, for reasons that should be obvious!

1) For your church website and e-newsletter: Don’t just post social media icons/buttons. Include “teaser copy” that’s a call to action like, “continue the conversation at:” or “build community at:” or “join us in between Sundays at:” And please don’t bury information about these ways to connect in your website or e-newsletter footer.

2) When setting up social media platforms: Make sure that images, color palette, font, description and other forms of “branding” is consistent across platforms. While this might seem like a picky technical issue, this level of coherence conveys stability, integrity, and clarity. More hospitable!

3) While using social media platforms: Be inviting and gracious to newcomers; generous with regular visitors. Know when to use email or pick up the phone to reach out when online communication is devolving in clarity or tone.

Many parishes or dioceses fear social media because they see a potential for something nefarious, worrying that it might compromise safety, especially for the young. What are some assurances against this, as you see it?

We’re now experienced enough with digital to understand the vital importance of privacy and protection, especially for youth and other vulnerable populations. Every social media platform offers rigorous ways to lock down accounts for more privacy. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to be getting help or taking time to learn how to set up privacy functions.

In addition, I encourage churches at the local and diocesan levels to either create or adapt existing guidelines for social media use. I include a detailed appendix about this (Appendix B: Yes You Need a Social Media Policy) in The Social Media Gospel as well as examples. Trust me, adapting an existing policy (even from churches in other denominations) is way more efficient than making one up from scratch.

Bigger issue that’s too big to get into here: “privacy” vs. “secrecy.” Church has gotten into a whole lot of avoidable trouble and scandal by confusing “privacy” with “secrecy.” I discuss this in more detail in my earlier book about church communications ministry, The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today.

Along those lines, how do you counter the old trope that says social media is really for “young people”?

I’d reach for high quality dark chocolate and let that flow into my system before suggesting a visit to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Data collected by the Pew Research Center puts that erroneous assumption to rest. Lately, when anyone asks how to find something online, I send them to this link.

Contest rules: Anyone who enters a comment on any of the blogs where this post appears will be entered into a drawing. The deadline for comments is Friday, July 26, 2013 at 8pm Eastern Time. The winner will be contacted for address and shipping information.   The winner will be contacted for address and shipping information.

Preach the Gospel at All Times, If Necessary Use Twitter

SocialMediaGospelI first encountered Meredith Gould in 2007, in the comment boxes at Fr. Austin Fleming’s blog, A Concord Pastor Comments. Call it profiling, but I was pretty sure that Meredith was Jewish, yet she appeared to be Catholic. I am a Catholic with many Jewish relatives and friends so I was curious indeed. Could Meredith be mishpoca? My inner Gladys Kravitz got to work, which helped me learn more about Meredith, and to get to know her.

Over the years I have come to know that there is no better guide to the world of church social media, or #ChSocM, than Meredith Gould. Wise, funny, insightful, determined, and filled with a deep faith, she has traversed the internet like a digital Saint Paul. Instead of places like Troas, Samothrace, Neapolis, and Philippi, her digital journey carries her Twitterfeed around the world at a dizzying pace.

This is why I have always called Meredith the “apostle of the internet,” and now she has a new book that offers one of the best foundations for any person or faith community interested in using social media. The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways was recently published by Liturgical Press. Tomorrow I will be posting an interview with Meredith, which will also offer the opportunity for one reader to win a copy of the book. I had the privilege of reading an advance copy and providing a blurb for the publisher, so I have worked with the book for awhile now, and it is a great resource.

Until tomorrow, go have a look at her website, her personal blog, her church social media blog, or follow her on Twitter. If you can’t wait to win the book, go get a copy, or copies, for you and your worship community now.  Here is a video introduction for you:

Here and there, this and that

That's me on the left... wait, on the right. Well - both! Some photo trickery for you.

That’s me on the left… wait, on the right. Well – both! Some photo trickery for you.

Once again days go by and posts do not go up. It is a pattern, and while posting itself may not be consistent, this pattern sure is! Last week found me awash in meeting deadlines. Procrastination is a particular gift of mine, and it is a gift that stands tall in my life. This week won’t be that different – I guess no week is that different for me!

imagesMore about the writing that I have been working on in a moment, but first things first… Last week a truly wonderful book was published, and I cannot recommend it to you highly enough. The Social Media Gospel, Sharing the Good News in New Ways by Meredith Gould is now available! A full review will follow, but for now, hear me when I say that this is a great book. It was an honor to have been asked to read an early copy and to provide what is commonly known as a book blurb to the publisher, so I have known about this work for some time. I am thrilled that the book is finally out, and in such an attractive volume. What – you want an ebook? Of course that is available, too! Order either version up right here. Parishes or groups wanting to embark on social media ministry should consider bulk orders; contact the publisher for further info.

There is no one who knows more about faith and social media than the woman whom I have called, “the apostle of the internet.” Meredith Gould is tireless in her promotion of #chsocm, aka, church social media. Go check out that #chosm link, or better yet, put that Twitter hashtag to good use by checking it out, and using it as well.

Along those same lines, I attended a great workshop from Friday to Saturday, which dovetails quite nicely with the book. It was a tremendous blessing to return to the (greatly refurbished) peaceful and prayerful place of respite and retreat known as St. Mary’s on the Lake. What? You live in the area and you have not been there? Oh, you *must* go! St. Mary’s is the summer home of the Paulist Fathers who are based in New York City.

There is a special place in my heart for the Paulists who “seek to meet the contemporary culture on its own terms, to present the Gospel message in ways that are compelling but not diluted, so that the fullness of the Catholic faith may lead others to find Christ’s deep peace and ‘unreachable quietness.’ Paulists do not condemn culture, nor do they try to conform the Gospel to it. Rather, we preach the Gospel in new ways and in new forms, so that the deep spiritual longings of the culture might find fulfillment in Jesus Christ. To this end, Paulists use printing presses, movie cameras, and the Internet to give voice to the words of Christ – the Word Himself – to a new generation of Americans.” 

Larry Rice, CSP proudly holding up his copy of The Social Media Gospel by Meredith Gould!

Larry Rice, CSP proudly holding up his copy of The Social Media Gospel by Meredith Gould!

Sorry, that was long but so necessary to understand this great order of priests. You can find out more about them by visiting their website. They may be best known to a generation of younger Catholics and other spiritual seekers at Busted Halo.

The workshop was lead by Larry Rice, CSP. Father Larry was previously unknown to me, but got a big thumbs up from people who are both familiar with the Paulists and the power of church social media, my dear friends, Mike Hayes and Paul Snatchko.  It was indeed a great workshop and we all learned and shared a lot in a short time. I don’t know how I did not know Father Larry before, but I know him now and am grateful for that!

By the way, if you can get yourself up to St. Mary’s on the Lake for a visit, I urge you to do so. Come on people, gather your parishes, your worship communities, your small faith sharing groups, or others with whom you gather in prayer – all are welcome! People of all faiths are invited to St. Mary’s on the Lake. You will find great natural beauty, peace, a quiet corner of Lake George, so please consider a visit.

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The accommodations are freshly painted and the common spaces are upgraded. As for the food… What can I possibly say? Best. Food. Ever. Seriously – if you do not believe me, go and find out for yourself. Site manager Ethan Allen has such a tremendous spirit of hospitality that you will feel gathered up in welcome the minute you drive up. And the man can cook – it is truly heavenly food!

So all of this has kept me busy along with some writing assignments for offline matters. I am also gearing up to take the helm at one of my favorite blogs, Catholic Sensibility, next week. Todd is going on retreat, and he must really need one if he hands the keys over to me. Honestly – what a privilege to write in this esteemed spot, easily one of my favorite blogs in all of #chsocm. I will somehow do for Catholic Sensibility what I can’t do for myself, and that is to post every day. Let’s see how that goes. (I have been preparing, so watch out world!) Todd is going on what sounds like an amazing retreat at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, a place that I dream of visiting.  Anyway, I will cross post whatever I publish at Catholic Sensibility, so stay tuned.

That’s all the news from here for now, more to follow! Thanks for reading. Why don’t you use the comments to tell us about what you’ve been up to? Stats tell me that a lot of you are out there reading, so if you want to speak up, I would love to hear from you!