“Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media”

As I shared the other day, I’ve written a couple of articles for The Catholic Post’s last print issue.

One that didn’t make it to The Post website was a story about the terrific First Saturday gathering  covered for The Post the First Saturday gathering, “Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media” last month.

What a fun, lovely evening–I for one am so grateful to people like Marie from “Help Them to Heaven” and the First Saturday team, a group of great women, for organizing the event.  I very much enjoyed the real life time with friends, getting to meet some people I didn’t (including one that I taught when I was briefly a high school teacher!), and just having an all-around enjoyable time.

I’m going to share some photos, as well as a version of the print story.  As I mentioned yesterday, most of the photos I took with my husband’s very nice camera all came out looking like cell phone snaps, and I do promise to learn how to use it better before I use it again.  So be forewarned, but I think the smiles and the fun make up for it.

First, some photos:

Here’s Bonnie Engstrom of A Knotted Life and Lisa Schmidt of The Practicing Catholic (one of the evening’s speakers).  As you can see from the sidebar, I truly consider Lisa an honorary member of the Peoria diocese (along with Sister Helena Burns, the other speaker.  Lisa is just lovely in person.

Here is Lisa with Dianna Kennedy of The Kennedy Adventures.  She is one of a group of bloggers from other states who were hoping to make it to the Authentic Friendship talk.  It was kind of like Behold Conference “lite,” since there won’t be a Behold until 2014.  (Never fear–plans are already underway for the 2104 Behold Conference, and I’m delighted to be part of it).  Unfortunately, the weather was icy Friday night into Saturday morning, so the rest were unable to travel.
Again, Dianna is beautiful and so incredibly much fun to be with.  I’m not sure if it’s her southern accent, her spunky one-liners, or her high energy, but she was like a jolt of java to be around.
Dianna had asked before her trip if any of us local ladies were runners and wanted to run with her.  She’s training for a half-marathon, and so I and another local woman (who is also training for a half), made a plan to run Saturday morning on Grandview Drive.  The icy weather forced us to cancel, but I am definitely taking a rain/ice check on that one, since she would be a great running buddy.  The miles would fly by running with this gal.

 

Here are Bonnie and Marie.
I brought my teen daughter to the evening, and both of us were very excited to see Sister Helena Burns again.  I said, “Let me get a photo!” and my teen, in typical teen fashion, said, “Mom!”  So Sister Helena recommended they pose like this:
Because Moms who take photos are so embarrassing.

 

That’s better!  As you can see, teen is still exasperated by her mom.
Here is the dinner before the First Saturday gathering.

 

Dianna Kennedy and Lisa Schmidt
And Lisa Schmidt again with Marie.  Lisa is very photogenic!
There were also various other photos, including several funny ones of Lisa Schmidt and Sister Helena that inspired laughs on Facebook, but I will let Lisa Schmidt incriminate herself with those.

Finally, here is my article about the evening:

Online relationships offer the opportunity for “deep friendships” and evangelization, two new media experts told a group of Catholic women.

“Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media” was the topic of the February 2 program at St. Philomena Church in Peoria.  The talk was sponsored by the “First Saturday” program, a monthly gathering open to women of all parishes, ages and vocations.  According to Marie Meints, a member of the seven-women team from various Peoria-area parishes, First Saturday focus on fellowship and discussion for women seeking to grow in holiness in everyday life.

More than 60 women gathered for the February 2 talk, from around the central Illinois area and beyond.  About half that number gathered for a pre-talk dinner.

Sister Helena Burns, a Daughter of St. Paul, who is based in Chicago, IL, but travels the country speaking about media literacy, “Theology of the Body,” and online topics, spoke on how the Internet is a vital place for Catholics to be and to find friends.

“I was surprised by the deep friendships you can have in 140 characters,” said Sister Helena, referring to the length of Twitter status updates.

Sister Helena explained how Father James Alberione, founder of the Daughters of St. Paul, told his followers to “use the fastest and latest means” to spread the Gospel message.  In the 21st century, blogs, social media such as Facebook, and other online platforms, is the “fastest” means to reach people and foster friendships.

That doesn’t mean doing things perfectly all the time.

“You’ve got to make some mistakes online,” Sister Helena said, and shared times that she had been too hasty, or too trusting, in her online interactions with others.  Making mistakes is part of the learning process.

Sister Helena argued that while in-person communication is preferred because we are “incarnational,” those we interact with online have “real souls and real bodies.”  She quoted from Benedict XVI’s message for the World Communications Day: “The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young.”

Blessed John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” provides a template not just for married love, but every relationship, including and perhaps especially those online, according to Sister Helena.

“We want to be known at our deepest level, and know others at deeper level,” she said. And intimacy with God promotes deeper relationships with others: “The “realer” God becomes to us, the “realer” other people become to us.”

Lisa Schmidt, from Des Moines, Iowa, who blogs at “The Practicing Catholic,” (www.thepracticingcatholic.com), also spoke at the “Authentic Friendship” program.

Schmidt, who lives with her husband and two small children in Des Moines, Iowa, shared how “spiritual friendships” helped her conquer the loneliness that she felt when she left her career in city management in Iowa to stay home with her then infant daughter.

“And I don’t think I’m alone here, pun intended, in experiencing (this loneliness),” Schmidt said.  She revealed how the online world of Catholic “mommy blogs” helped her find like-minded friends and forge friendships based on “who God is calling you to be.”

Schmidt shared that “ambient intimacy,” the term used to describe the connectedness of the digital age, allows people “to keep in touch with a level of intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.”

“Little by little, our spiritual friendships have the power to become apostolic,” said Schmidt. “A spiritual friend will lead you toward Christ, you then help your friends to be reconciled or converted and to grow in the life of the Church, those friends then go forth and do more of the same. Collectively, we evangelize and sanctify the culture in which we live. Could spiritual friendships be the key to the transformation of our culture?”

At the same time online life can be good for the soul, knowing when to “unplug” and connect in real life is critical.  Sister Helena argued that there are three “sacred places and sacred times” we don’t need “screens,” whether televisions, computers or mobile devices: at church, in the bedroom, and the dinner table.

Sister Helena explained a new tradition to promote real-life intimacy called a “phone stack” used by some young people while eating out.  At the beginning of a meal, all leave their phones stacked in the middle of the table.  The first person to reach for his or her phone pays for the meal.

Scripture offers the secret of what’s so great about friendship, both online and in real life experience, Lisa Schmidt argued, quoting from Sirach 6:16.  “A faithful friend is an elixir of life.”

“What’s an elixir?  It’s a life-saving medicine,” said Schmidt.  “Wow, a spiritual friend is like a life-saving medicine?  What a beautiful gift!”