At the Catholic Convocation in Orlando, Joseph Cardinal Tobin, CSsr, of Newark, New Jersey, gave an impassioned overview of what we Catholics, as missionary disciples, are called to be for each other.
Before we can be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, however, we need to receive the Story ourselves. Of course there are many ways to do so, but none of them are as powerful done alone as when they are when done in community.
Books are a prime example. But let me digress first.
When I was a child, television was still in its infancy. One neighborhood may have a lucky home wealthy enough, or driven enough, to purchase a television set. Then the neighbors would all gather around a box the size of a freezer, with a screen the size of a frozen dinner. And of course, a prime time for gathering would be on Saturday evenings, usually around professional wrestling as I recall.
According to Elizabeth Drescher in her book Tweet if you [Heart] Jesus books have a similar history. Instead of being a refuge into which a wearied soul would retreat for some isolated inspiration, education or entertainment, book reading was a communal event:
“Actually, long after the invention of the printing press, until quite late in the nineteenth century, reading was a quintessentially social medium—a communal affair with a group of hearers gathering around a reader to engage a book, letter, newspaper, or other written work. Reading together in this way encouraged not just intellectual or, in the case of religious writing, spiritual understanding, but also enhanced interpersonal relationships that contributed to the shared life of communities and, it would have gone without saying in the Christian world, their churches.”(p. 64)
Like the TV, neighbors would gather around a book to share its content.
Book clubs are still a common method of building community while receiving a story. Often I hear about groups that gather, and barely discuss the book. Their need for connection is so great, that they hardly get to the shared story. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. But there is an online tool that can serve as a repository for thoughts, comments and questions about the reading. Then, when the book club meets, they can choose to unpack those reflections together… or ignore them and just visit. The web-based sharing is available 24/7 and, in fact, has already taken place to some extent before the group meeting.
Dan Pierson’s eCatechist blog for missionary disciples engaged in faith formation offers one example of such an effort. There is a ‘book read’ on Gerard Baubach’s The Way of Catechesis: Exploring Our History, Renewing Our Ministry. You can buy the book on Dan’s site, and then join the discussion using Padlet [https://padlet.com].
Padlet is a free and very, very easy way to create a bulletin board for discussion. You simply double click on the board, and post what you want to say or ask. You can also attach a file, take a webcam photo, and/or embed a link to an online video.
Imagine reading a book, with your mobile device in hand (there’s an app for that) or computer in front of you, and post comments or questions as they come to mind. Or share a YouTube video that adds feeling to what you are trying to convey. Imagine watching the bulletin board grow, as well as your sense of online community, as you watch the board become populated with the posts of others. Then, when you gather, you come prepared for a deep and lively discussion. Or not… if you just want to visit. In either case, you have received, and communally unpacked, the story. Now… what Story shall we unpack this time that will help us become better missionary disciples? Hmmmm…