I have some extremely exciting news that I've been keeping under wraps for some time, and this morning it finally came out. At 9:00am ET, I launched StrangeNotions.com, a major evangelistic project which was two years in the making.
Strange Notions is designed to be the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists. One implicit goal is to bring non-Catholics to faith, especially followers of the so-called New Atheism. As a 'digital Areopagus', the site includes intelligent articles, compelling video, and rich discussion throughout its comment boxes.
(If you can't see the video above, click here.)
Strange Notions gets its name from St. Paul's speech at the Areopagus in Acts 17:16-34. There he proclaimed the Resurrection to the intellectual elite of the ancient world, who responded by saying, "you bring some strange notions to our ears; we should like to know what these things mean." StrangeNotions.com helps those asking the same thing today. Open-minded atheists will encounter reasonable arguments for God and his Church, maybe for the first time in their lives, and like St. Paul's listeners they’ll leave intrigued by these strange notions.
I've gathered several top Catholic minds to contribute to the site. Right now we have over 30 on board, including Dr. Peter Kreeft, Dr. Edward Feser, Fr. Robert Barron, Fr. Robert Spitzer, Dr. Benjamin Wiker, Dr. Christopher Kaczor, Dr. Kevin Vost, Christopher West, Jimmy Akin, Jennifer Fulwiler, Marc Barnes, Leah Libresco, Stacy Trascanos, Mark Shea, Carl Olson, and many more. The project has also received several great endorsements including these:
"Brandon Vogt is at the cutting edge of using the Internet and social media as a tool for evangelization...I believe that his latest endeavor, StrangeNotions.com, is an excellent example.”
— Bishop Christopher Coyne, Archdiocese of Indianapolis
"Brandon Vogt brings his energy, enthusiasm, and prodigious intellectual gifts to the Catholic conversation and demonstrates how social media can be used effectively to advance the mission of the Gospel."
— Fr. Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries
This site is timely for several reasons:
- On May 12 the Catholic Church around the world will celebrate World Communications Day. Pope Benedict XVI, shortly before he stepped down, composed this year's official message which he titled, "Social Networks: Portals of Truth and Faith: New Spaces for Evangelization." This project embodies that theme as it uses social networks as "new spaces" to evangelize.
- Over the last ten years, the number of self-identified atheists in America has increased 500%. They're one of the country's fastest growing religious groups yet almost no Catholics engage them. Strange Notions is a frontier project in this needed effort.
- In the midst of the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization, this is a creative example of using "new ardor, new methods, and new expressions" to evangelize.
Any way that you could cover the site, either with a blog post, an interview, or by sharing the video trailer would be a huge help.
If you have any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And please tell me what you think in the comment boxes!
Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing Sr. Maria Suso, O.P., a member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the order is one of fastest growing in the country. They began in 1997 with just four sisters and now (humbly) boast more than 115 women.
Two years ago, Oprah Winfrey featured the sisters on her show and they captivated viewers with their bubbling, contagious joy. Just a few weeks ago, they returned to the airwaves to compete in the "The American Bible Challenge", a popular new trivia series. In the first episode, the sisters squared off against two teams and emerged victorious, launching them into the semi-final round tonight at 9:00pm ET/8:00pm CT on the Game Show Network. I've seen a sneak peak of tonight's episode and let me tell you: you don't want to miss it. If the sisters win tonight, they move on to the finals where they could win a $100,000 prize.
Sr. Maria Suso is one of the three sisters competing on the show and also a dear friend from back in college, where even then she was known for her joy and holiness. After the sisters' early victory in "The American Bible Challenge", we sat down to discuss her experiences on the show, the relationship between Catholics and the Bible, and how we all can acquire more joy.
Watch or download our interview below:
2:01 - What was the most challenging part of the trivia show?
2:33 - How did being a religious sister prepare you for the game show?
3:37 - How do shows like this change the misperception that Catholics don't know the Bible?
5:31 - Why is joy so important to the spiritual life?
6:54 - How can we find joy?
8:23 - How did you hone those spoon-flipping skills?
Q: How did being a religious sister prepare you for the game show?
Well, our daily life as sisters is very much a preparation for this kind of activity, as unusual as it might be. When we wake up in the morning we start right away with the Office of Readings, which is part of the Liturgy of the Hours, which Catholics all over the world pray everyday, especially priests and religious. That has long passages of Scripture that we really dive into.
Throughout the day we also pray the Psalms and other parts of Scripture, and of course have daily Mass. We also have a half-hour of meditation every morning, and most of the sisters will frequently use Scripture for that meditation.
Check out the Sisters of Mary website, SistersOfMary.org and be sure to like their excellent Facebook page.
Did you catch the sisters on the "American Bible Challenge"?
For most Catholics this is both exciting and terrifying. We know this technology is powerful. And we know that we should be using it. But much of the Church is simply afraid to dive in. They're wary of the dangers, they don't know where to start, and they're unsure how to move forward.
That's why Matt Warner, Josh Simmons, and I created the Digital Church Conference, a one-day guide to the digital continent. Through several talks, interactive demos, and panel discussions, we teach people everything they need to know, from perfecting their website, to building social networks, to evangelizing online.
On Wednesday, we're putting on our third Digital Church Conference, this time for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati (more details here). But we'd love to take it to every diocese in the country, including your own. The Church badly needs help in this area of extraordinary potential.
So can you please help spread the word? Pass this message on to your pastor, parish staff, diocese, communication director, or your bishop. Share the video on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog. We'd also love to do a guest post or interview on your website. We'd be grateful for any help you can give.
PS. If you ever need graphics, logos, websites, or video trailers for a project, I highly recommend Cory Heimann at Likable Art. Cory designed the video trailer above. As you can see, he's phenomenally talented. He's also strongly Catholic. Check out his past work and then reach him at email@example.com.
In today's video commentary, Fr. Robert Barron explains why confusion about the three cardinal virtues often explains why people dislike religion:
"I think one reason why religion is often seen in a negative light today is that people misunderstand dramatically what we mean by faith, hope, and love. The distortion of those three has led to all kinds of problems."