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This article is from PRAXIS Volume 18 Issue 1: Digital Media

We’ve become very accustomed to critiquing films and television shows. “So, did you like the movie?” “Yes, but the actor’s performance was weak.” “No, the book was much better.” We’re very comfortable commenting on everything from the story line to the costumes. We’ll find the holes in the plot or inconsistencies in a character’s behavior. We’ll try to figure out how the amazing special effects were made. Media studies is a discipline in many universities and there are scholars who study the religious content of various forms of media, from film and television to the now pervasive digital world. Scholars also wrestle with the effects that media has on us and on our churches (as Dr. Mary Hess does in this issue of PRAXIS).

We also need to become digital media critics, using many of the same tools as scholars. There’s a meme that attributes the quote, “Don’t believe everything you read online,” to Abraham Lincoln. This is a funny reminder that we should bring careful critical thinking skills to any online search. And as we use electronic media to learn more about our Orthodox Christian Faith, these same skills are also very important. Some things to consider: What is the source of the story and information? When you can Google the answer to any question, knowing who is providing the answer is key. Is it an authoritative source, such as an official church site that relies on scholars and other experts to develop its content, or is it a personal blog? Nothing against blogs; a personal blog from a well-respected scholar is probably fine, but it might not be the “official” answer to your question.

What kinds of sources are used to support the answer to a question? Does the answer try to include a range of sources, from Scripture to Orthodox liturgical texts? It will depend on the question, too. But cherry-picking is a big challenge for all of us—using only one or two ideas or one part of an idea, and dismissing anything contrary, to support what we already want the answer to be to our questions. In my humble opinion, there’s a lot of cherry-picking in online sources. This points to looking at the arguments and conversation about what someone has written. Closer inspection of sources is important. Centuries ago, the iconoclasts looked through the Bible to support the removal of images from the churches. The iconophiles responded with the Bible to refute the iconoclasts and support the presence of icons in the churches. These arguments convinced the Fathers at the Seventh Ecumenical Council to keep icons in the Church, but when we look at the history of that debate, we know that for nearly a generation the Church banned icons and that the Seventh Council almost didn’t happen (iconoclasts almost broke up the meeting).

One can find many articles about separating fact from opinion and the levels of debate and argumentation. Schools work to teach these skills and aptitudes to students from elementary school through university level courses. We can use these same tools when we ask our students to go online to look for an answer to their questions, either on their own or as part of a classroom activity.

Creating Digital Media

When pretty much everyone walks around with movie-making tools on their cell phones, there’s no reason why our parish religious education programs can’t take advantage of these tools to help young people engage their Orthodox Faith more creatively. Many schools are using these technologies in classrooms, but many young people are just doing things on their own. Young people are already pretty good at this! Let’s take advantage of their knowledge and skill and apply it to matters of faith and church life. These are projects that can be done individually but also with groups. Some ideas for you:

  • Record parish events and share them on the parish website. These could range from feast days and festivals to important meetings and celebrations. We can do more than just record something live and share it. By adding music, commentary (subtitles, voice-overs or interviews), you have a short movie.
  • Interview parishioners, founders of the community and long-time members. Their memories could be shared at anniversaries, but also at parish meetings or on parish television screens in the hall. Interview people who are involved with various ministries. Imagine interviewing a Sunday school teacher about the joys of sharing the Orthodox Faith and teaching it to others.
  • Record stories of faith. Let members share their love of the Faith with one another. You could ask, what’s your favorite Bible quote? Who’s your patron saint and what do you know about that saint? Have your subject tell you about an icon.

There are plenty of ways to share these videos. Many parish fellowship halls now have televisions in them for various purposes. Imagine placing these video creations on those televisions for parishioners and visitors to watch. The parish website and social media platforms can expand the audience seeing the dynamic life of a parish. There are also safety and permission issues when you create media. Make sure to obtain permission from people, especially the parents of children, to record and share their images and stories with the wider public, especially if these creations are placed on a parish website. Let people know that you are recording events. Let people see the edited products before you release them. Then, when they are placed online, you might want to block comments to prevent unwanted negative comments or inappropriate sharing.

Rev. Anton C. Vrame, PhD, is director of the Department of Religious Education.

Like what you’re reading? Visit the Religious Education Department to view back issues of PRAXIS and learn how to subscribe. You may also contact the Department of Religious Education by phone at (646) 519–6300 or by email at [email protected].