No, unfortunately I did not become a Jedi knight (unlike Father Roderick, who is holding a lightsaber!).
I finally obtained (note that I did not beg or steal, but borrowed…from halfway across the country!) a copy of Geekpriest: Confessions of a New Media Pioneer, by Father Roderick Vonhögen. I’ve been eagerly anticipating reading Father Roderick’s book for ages (yes, that’s since a whole two years ago when the book was first published by Servant Press/Franciscan Media). One drawback of eager anticipation is that it is easily disappointed. Not only was I not disappointed, but I was fully engaged and tremendously satisfied by this remarkable book.
Most Catholics who work in digital and social media are probably familiar with Father Roderick Vonhögen, the founder of the Star Quest Production Network (SQPN), which uses the media for religious information, evangelization, catechesis, formation, and education. Personally, I first “discovered” Father Roderick through a friend recommending his podcasts, and I continue to listen today. (One of my guilty pleasures is listening to his “Secrets of…” podcasts that explore some of my favorite stories–TV, films, and books.)
I wonder how many of us have actually read this book? A marvelous blend of personal anecdotes and insights on using new media, Geekpriest is delightfully informal and accessible. Anyone who works in Catholic media will enjoy, be inspired by, and learn from this treasure.
Read This Book! (or, My Favorite Parts)
The only way to do justice to this book is to read it in its entirety. However, I’d like to highlight a few of my favorite parts and insights that Father Roderick offers in the hopes of convincing you to read it. Also, all of the keys to communication that Father Roderick points out are actually carried out in his book. (Father truly “practices what he preaches.”) Chapter 1 is my favorite chapter because there he tells the story of his first experience as a new media pioneer (with Star Wars, no less!) and then outlines what he learned from his first foray into the internet as the “Star Wars priest.”
Here are a few of my favorite of Father Roderick’s communication principles, summarized in my own words:
- engage with and make a personal connection with your audience; put yourself in their place and begin with the common ground you share, something that you are passionate about
- use more than words: use stories, visuals, deeper content—whatever it takes to connect with whomever you wish to communicate
- communicate within community: make your communication interactive, build a network, and communicate collaboratively; others’ expertise and insight will enrich both you and and what you communicate
- use the “seeds of the Gospel” and longings of the human heart expressed in today’s culture to create a connection with the Gospel itself, and use that connection, that common ground, to evangelize
Throughout the rest of the book, it was both a delight and inspiring to see how Father Roderick carried out these and the other “key principles” that he highlights.
Read the Rest of This Book! (or, More Favorite Parts)
Chapter 2 is very much Fr. Roderick’s personal journey to faith and his vocation as a priest, paired with his discovery and comparison of sanctity and superheroes (a comparison I’ve made when talking to kids in a classroom). The “Superhero Checklist” is not just a good checklist for vocational discernment (which I will highlight on my discernment blog), but also for how we live out our vocations.
Another of my favorite chapters is the Disneyland chapter, as Fr. Roderick dispels the Disney myth that we are the knights in shining armor (because, of course, it is Christ who is the Savior, not us!), and how he slowly and painfully learned balance in his priestly ministry. His “Disney examination of conscience” is a great way to introduce kids to the examination of conscience. His respect for the mythology of fairy tales and other forms of storytelling as ways which can help us to see with new eyes enlivens the entire chapter.
Chapter 4 tells the story of Father Roderick’s first podcast, and also the 5 “I’s” of Communication that he learned in a course on radio that he took at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and still uses today. They are invaluable for any form of communication—including conversations!
Discover the Rest of Geekpriest for Yourself…
The rest of the chapters follow the same pattern: a fascinating personal story from Father’s life, followed by life-lessons and in many cases, communication- or ministry-lessons. The entire book is so engaging and so personal in tone, that at the end of each chapter, I simply felt that I’d had a great conversation with Father Roderick and wanted to keep on reading. It’s one of the quickest nonfiction reads I’ve ever read, and I’ve already gone back and re-read it a second time…and I will re-read my favorite parts once more before I return my copy shortly.
A final note: if all communicators knew and practiced these principles of communication, boring religious media would cease to exist.