Gave a lecture on “Social Media & Christianity” at Ernescliff College (Toronto)

Last night I gave a guest lecture at Ernescliff College, a residence and community for men in Toronto. It’s run by the Opus Dei, a Catholic lay apostolate (evangelical organisation) started by St. Josemaria Escriva. I had never had any experience with the Opus Dei – the only Catholic lay apostolate that I have been involved with is the Cursillo Movement.

It was a bad night for driving, so it took me over 90 minutes to get into Toronto from Hamilton, so I got there a little late – they had already begun their period of daily meditation and prayer, to which they had invited me. I slipped into the room a little late and was treated to a very thoughtful meditation on the unity of Christian churches from Father Cris Graas, Ernescliff’s chaplain. After that we had dinner and conversation about the good works that Ernescliff’s students are doing in the world. During dinner, I conversed with Anthony Schratz, Ernescliff’s director, and assistant director, Chuma Chukwulozie and learned of their youth program, how daily life works at Ernescliff – all in all, how these dedicated, kind people were having an hopeful impact on Toronto’s youth.

Once dinner was done, I gave my talk, on “Social Media: An Opportunity for Christian Evangelism or A Pitfall?” It was an exploration of the relationship of social media to Christian practice. Also, the “re-presentational” nature of social media poses a serious possibility for people to lose their humanity in the haze of images, videos, stories and status updates that make up the flickering shadows of the world of on-line communication. I talked about how social media, like Christianity, is about storytelling – but how this can be a place to lose yourself as well.

After the talk, we had a long question period and a very lively discussion. Many of the people in attendance brought up great examples from popular culture, YouTube, philosophy and scripture. It was a very savvy crowd. After that, they gave me a very generous thank you gift – a beautiful bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, and I drove home, full of thoughts.

I thought about how having an orderly, principled life is so important to feeling like a whole person. I thought about how living in a warm community, where you know the others around you have willingly accepted a set of principles breeds a feeling of trust and ease that is hard to replicate. I thought about how daily, structured learning, meditation and prayer in community gives life depth and texture. We live such lonely, secular, individualistic lives – it feels almost strange to feel the support and invitation of community where you are accepted and asked to participate and strive to grow and improve yourself. I wonder if this sense of a structured “community of learning” where people eat, read, meditate, discuss and live together is somehow necessary to a full college or university experience. Something to ponder…

All in all – a wonderful evening. Many thanks to the folks at Ernescliff College for inviting me and listening to my talk.

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