Dear MMM fans, please accept my apologies for this late post. The past week has been quite stressful for me, experiencing a death in the family and other events that have taken a toll on my physical and emotional health. Your prayers are appreciated.
For Marshall McLuhan Monday, I want to remind you that my talk “Marshall McLuhan for Catholic communicators” was recorded and is available to watch at Peter and Paul Ministries’ website. I’m the first presenter in the video.
If you’ve never ‘met’ the greatest communications theorist ever, Marshall McLuhan, especially if you’re a Catholic in communications, then you’re missing out on a wonderful role model. Although I call him a theorist here, he was truly unclassifiable. He was in a class all his own and remains so.
McLuhan’s Catholic faith has been either ignored, perplexing, or downright enraging to many. I’d like to change that tradition by embracing his Catholicism, and I invite you Catholic media professionals and amateurs to join me.
As many of his biographers and former colleagues (and children) have said, his Catholicism was the very foundation of everything in his life. I’d like to illustrate his faith with several points, gathered from a variety of sources. More to follow in later MMMs.
I was reading [G.K.] Chesterton, and [Christopher] Dawson and [Jacques] Maritain and those people. That’s how I came in.
I had no instruction even from clergy at any time but there was a friend of mine who said, ‘Well, since you don’t believe in Christianity’ – I was an agnostic – he said ‘you could pray to God the Father. So you pray to God the Father and simply ask to be shown.’ And so I did.
And I didn’t know what I was going to be shown, all I said was, ‘Show me,’ and I didn’t ask to be relieved of any problems. I had no problems. I had no belief and no problems.
Well I was shown in a quite amazing way and quite unexpected: I was arguing about religion with a whole group of grad students one night at Wisconsin and one of them said to me suddenly, ‘Why aren’t you a Catholic?’ and I shut up because I didn’t know. Up to that moment, it had never occurred to me that I would ever become a Catholic. But I was suddenly caught. I became a Catholic at once within a few days.
His Faith Life
“It is difficult, actually, to identify him as either a conservative Catholic or as a liberal Catholic.” – Michael W. Higgins
“He was a real, true believer…” – Nina Sutton
“The Eucharist meant a lot to him…He was a daily communicant.” – Michael W. Higgins
“He read the New Testament daily in various languages […] as a way of keeping in touch with a number of languages. […] He would have been amazed and delighted by the books put out in recent years by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, particularly […] the Theology of the Body…” – Eric McLuhan
“He was a lector at Mass at Holy Rosary Parish – he lived in Wychwood Park […] this was his local parish. One of the things which struck me there was his remarkable and quite predictable ability at mispronouncing every name in the English language. This great communications guru would often get the name wrong, mispronounce it, if he was reading the first lesson, he would read the second lesson, thereby driving the priest crazy, or he would read the Gospel, thereby confounding the liturgy for the day. I was always quite struck by this.” – Michael W. Higgins
“He took part in Right to Life demonstrations constantly.” – Michael McLuhan
“We said the Rosary as a family before retiring to bed most nights.” – Eric McLuhan
“He had a direct connection with the Blessed Virgin Mary. He alluded to it very briefly once, almost fearfully, in a please-don’t-laugh-at-me tone. He didn’t say, ‘I knew because the Blessed Virgin Mary told me,’ but was clear from what he said that one of reasons he was sure about certain things was that the Virgin had certified his understanding of them. I have a feeling we have a saint in the wings.” – one of McLuhan’s associates, to biographer Philip Marchand
His Faith & His Work
One of the advantages of being a Catholic is that it confers a complete intellectual freedom to examine any and all phenomena with the absolute assurance of their intelligibility.
One of his most prominent critics of McLuhan was a British intellectual named Jonathan Miller who wrote a little book about McLuhan where he basically said that all of McLuhan’s thoughts amounted to nothing more than a system of lies. A running theme of that book was that McLuhan was not really a serious social scientist – that he was in fact a kind of Catholic apologist and that Catholic social themes were a covert message of McLuhan’s writing and there were a lot of other people who felt the same way. An American intellectual named Thomas Edwards said that a lot of the critiques of McLuhan hearkened back to the anti-Catholicism of the Reformation […] there was this widespread sense that McLuhan and his Catholic colleagues were covertly trying to smuggle in Catholic dogma into media studies. – Jeet Heer
Our world gets louder and louder and louder and LOUDER.
Pope Benedict XVI has recently spoken on the subject of silence. In fact, his Message for World Communications Day focused on the need for more silence in our media-/noise-/image-/-saturated world. Funny how the Pope has his ‘ear to the ground’ (so to speak) and gets it right so often…
Last month, the Holy Father’s theme made a cameo during Canadian TV show “Strombo” hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos (who went to Catholic school, by the way). His guest was the author of a book I’m currently devouring: Susan Cain’s QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. During the interview, Cain said:
There really is a cultural trend where people are kind of hungering for silence, and for solitude…for more simplicity, because I think that part of people has not been fed.
Watch the full interview (8:40) for some insights into our noisy, extravert-loving, unsatisfied society (and don’t miss Cain’s outstanding book). She also gave a popular TEDtalk.
McLuhan believed that electric media cause a certain identity loss among users. Thus, he said, when electric media debuted, nostalgia came alive in a never-before-seen way. (For hairstyles, ways of speaking, dressing, being entertained, etc.) We’ll touch on this idea – and its significance for Catholic communicators – during Peter and Paul Ministries’ Apostles in New Media Mini-Conference, August 23.
On that note, McLuhan said:
Most people are alive in an earlier time, but you must be alive in our own time. The artist is the man in any field, scientific or humanistic, who grasps the implications of his actions and of new knowledge in his own time. He is the man of integral awareness. McLuhan, M. (1964) Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Sold on a praise and worship compilation called Elevator Music, “You Are Mine” is the product of New Orleans’ alternative rock offspring, Mutemath. Formed in 2003 from the rubble of Contemporary Christian band Earthsuit, Mutemath has “made it” in the rest of music – “secular music” – with its unique, soulful, electric sound.
Fabulous on records and in concert, they continue to inspire me. Enjoy.
I suppose it’s possible to have little faith—the Scriptures even mention it: “O ye of little faith”—it seems to be directed there to people who’ve ‘switched off,’ who just reject the sound and the Word. St. Paul’s remark that “faith comes by hearing” rather than by any visual manifestation suggests how total it is. It was the old philosophers who pointed out that the world of resonance—acoustic space—is a complete sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose margin is nowhere. In the world of faith, you have that experience of being always at the center, and the center is everywhere, and the margins are nowhere. This is the amazing structure of the resonant world of hearing as compared to the visual world, with its sharp boundaries, its rigid points of view, its antagonisms, differences, contrasts, and so on. Whereas the world of faith, with its much greater power to receive and to involve, seems to rule out a lot of these petty differences—petty points of view. (TV Interview with Father Patrick Peyton, 1971)
Breaking ground and taking chances are things Tom Shakely knows all about. Having traveled through all 50 states and beyond, this young descendent of an American Revolutionary militiaman lives in a former convent, where he guides parish staff through the digital continent. I’ve been impressed by him since learning about his creation, Ambo Creative.
Now, he’s launching a training and support service for Catholic pastoral leaders and staff. Is it worth looking into? I’m thrilled that Tom took time to answer my tough questions (well, some of them are) about this new endeavor.
Tom, many of us met you for the first time via The Huffington Post. Before we get into your new project, Pastoral Media Formation, give us a short overview of your “credentials.”
I’ll disclaim right from the start that I have no credentials within the world of the Catholic Church. What I am fortunate to offer, though, is experience in the worlds of traditional radio broadcasting and also print and web journalism.
During my time at Penn State University I spent three years running the campus station from both the programmatic and technical side. I also worked for two years at the defunct Philadelphia Bulletin, which had a 100,000+ readership base, as web editor. Later I was blessed with the opportunity to cover the 2010 Pennsylvania midterms for National Review Online.
I’ve now worked with Catholic communities over the course of the past two years helping them with their web presences, new media efforts, branding and identity, and content strategies. It’s been a fun few years, with a common theme — crafting a compelling and relevant narrative to energize and engage communities.
Pastoral Media Formation is a subscription service for Catholic pastoral leaders designed to train, equip, and support them in their efforts to foster community, witness, and evangelize in new ways. It’s a continuing curriculum meant to help subscribers with specific solutions. It’s launching this month for any Catholic pastoral leader — pastor, lay staff person, nonprofit director, mission worker — looking to approach new and social media intentionally as a means to strengthen their communities.
What inspired you to start Pastoral Media Formation? Why is it needed?
Americans in the “mission” constituency are not reading printed fliers, and I think the Church is struggling deeply with this global digital shift. We’re still largely doing the same things (print bulletins), posting them digitally and thinking of our work as complete. It’s critical we learn and share strategies and tactics in a purposeful way.
How do you expect to address the wide variety of tech / media skill and knowledge levels amongst your subscribers?
Pastoral Media Formation offers something for everyone in that not every subscriber utilizes every aspect of the service. Some do, most don’t. The weekly memo is enough for some, and others value the weekly webcast or the special interviews.
You’ll offer personal phone calls to subscribers each week. Why did you decide to include this feature?
We all need prompting. We all need friends whispering in our ear. We all need encouragement. Direct follow-up calls are one means to “whisper in the ear” of subscribers, and ensure that solutions are working for them, and that they’re executing on their content strategies.
Many in Catholic ministry circles prefer unpaid (free) services, eg. volunteers. Why is Pastoral Media Formation a paid service? Do you expect this will be a difficult sell?
One of the earliest pieces of advice I received from a priest in my new media work was that “people pay for what they value.” This isn’t to say that “free” isn’t great, but that for pastoral leaders at the parish, nonprofit, and mission level, there’s an increasing awareness that we won’t succeed in our efforts to strengthen our Church and spread the Gospel message if we do so in a haphazard way. An intentional approach to new media and content strategy is needed for real impact in the New Evangelization. I think younger priests and leaders grasp this, and that true community is tremendously difficult with volunteer web committees and occasional status updates.
How do you expect to deliver quality content to Pastoral Media Formation subscribers week after week? From which sources, individuals, etc. are you drawing the content?
Pastoral Media Formation is a cross-disciplinary curriculum, meaning that much of the content is informed by the lessons of secular efforts in content strategy, marketing efforts, and new and social media. The lessons of the world outside the Church can inform our approaches within, and this also helps us avoid some of the insularity that many intra-Church efforts risk, where we’re speaking to the converted rather than being genuinely equipped to convert. But the simplest and most obvious answer is that you’ll have to subscribe to find out.
How is Pastoral Media Formation uniquely Catholic?
It’s very easy for talk about new media and evangelization to become speculative and tactics-driven, devolving into talk about Twitter hashtags or social media buttons. Quality content will find its audience. The Gospel is quality content. The lives of our Catholic shepherds and living saints are a powerful witness. Pastoral Media Formation isn’t an exercise in jargon or geekery, but about using new media and technology to share our human story, the same as we ever have.
Do you have any ultimate aspirations or dreams for Pastoral Media Formation?
There are no grand visions. If pastoral leaders can be better equipped even in a small way each week to foster community, witness, and evangelize, then I hope the cumulative effect can be positive.
Brandon Vogt and Matt Warner and many others in our Church have been visionaries for new media and voices for hope, but there’s still too little room within the institutional church both in dioceses and parishes for faithful and optimistic new media leaders. The Diocese of Springfield is an innovator in creating such roles, but the sooner others can replicate this and create room within the Church for new faces and new voices, the more dynamic and successful our missionary and ministry efforts will become.
Thanks for your time and sharing, Tom. Your words have a needed urgency in them.
Thank you, Angela! You are a guiding light for all of us working in new media.
Readers, what do you think…
Would your parish leaders be willing to try a service like this?
Ever been to a Protestant (especially evangelical) Christian worship service? These days, more and more preachers are using catchy titles and graphics to drum up anticipation for the coming weeks of their sermon series.
Their staff’s graciousness gives us CreationSwap, where those used graphics are donated for other Christians’ use.
In fact, you can do a lot here…
Locate & download free images
Purchase high-quality graphics
Find inspiration from fellow Christian artists
Contact – or hire – Christian graphic designers/artists
Stay tuned for more great resources like this one! Where do you find your images?