Social media has become part of our language, our way of communicating, and our culture. Even for those who do not Tweet or blog or have a Facebook account, social media still has a presence -- and an impact. As a digital native, A Nun's Life Ministry was founded on the Internet for the online community. That includes not only this website but also being with people in social media and having facility with computers, mobile devices, and more.
One of the great gifts of online ministry is that we can bring our background of theology and of religious life into the conversation with social media, the Internet, and technology. So it has been a great joy and privilege to attend a conference dedicated to looking theologically at social media. The A Nun's Life team is here in San Jose (not far from Apple HQ, I might add) at THEOCOM14 -- awesome, right?? THEOCOM14 is a fabulous intergenerational, international, interdisciplinarian group of theologians and other professionals reflecting on contemporary communication. This year's topic is "Community, Presence, and Authority in a Digital World." We are delighted to re-connect with friends like Dr. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome of Loyola University in New Orleans, Dr. Paul Soukup, SJ, of Santa Clara University, and Helen Osman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Dr. Zsupan-Jerome gave a talk yesterday which is still marinating in my imagination. Her presentation was called, "VIrtual Presence as Real Presence? Sacramental Theology and Digital Culture in Dialogue." First what I love about Dr. Zsupan-Jerome is her beautiful scholarship combined with a pastoral heart. There is a true sense of Saint Anselm's quotable quote about theology as "faith seeking understanding." What struck me most about her presentation was her discussion about how social media and technology can be approached as Idol or as Icon. Reflecting on the work of Dr. Jean-Luc Marion, Dr. Zsupan-Jerome spoke about how an idol (think golden calf) can entirely fill our gaze and what you see is what you get. Our gaze stops at what is right in front of us. An icon (think Ark of the Covenant) points to something more, to something beyond itself. An icon opens our gaze to the Infinite Horizon. (By the way, I should note that any inaccuracies here are mine, not the scholars' mentioned).
How can we approach our devices and interactions on social media and the online world out of a spirit of Icon rather than Idol? How do we allow for what we read or see or hear about another person to "open our gaze to the Infinite Horizon" rather than limit it? One of the ways I try to practice the Icon approach is to always remember that there is a person behind the avatar. Too easily we can anonymize our online experience and make quick judgments about the status updates, Tweets, and pictures that fly across our screen. If we truly want to allow for the Spirit in our interactions, we need to see certainly see and be present to what is there, but to see beyond it as well to the person. Dr. Zsupan-Jerome spoke of a concept we very much try to put into practice every day -- having a presence online for others. That concept and practice is a way to live out the Icon image rather than slipping into the Idol image.
I have a lot more thinking to do on this and as always welcome your thoughts and ideas and questions too! I look forward to more conversations over the next couple days of THEOCOM14! Tune into Twitter and follow #THEOCOM14 for more from the conference participants!
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