The Digital Monks of @UnvirtuousAbbey

Condense the gospel reading into 140 characters? You must be mad!
That’s probably true, but it’s never stopped us before.

Everyday for the past month @TheJesuitPost has been spinning the daily gospel reading with #GospelTJP.1  #Gospel TJP is a new project with many inspirations and one of the biggest is the community of @UnvirtuousAbbey.  We wanted to get to know the digital monks of @UnvirtuousAbbey a little better and they were kind enough to grant us an interview.

Unvirtuous Abbey - hydrate

TJP: Why did the monks decide to start tweeting?

We noticed that religious people on Twitter were quite serious and formal. And it was quite the opposite from what most people tweet about, such as complaining about a co-worker or how much they need coffee.

What if there were a group of monks specific to Twitter and Facebook that actually prayed about what people were tweeting and posting on Facebook? And what if these monks were slightly sarcastic and made frequent reference to pop culture? Boom! The monks of Unvirtuous Abbey were born!

Something else quickly emerged: people who use social media are in search of alternative forms of community. Christians are the same. They seek to resist empire. They gather together with strangers to sing and pray.  Social media and Christianity are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they complement one another quite well. There’s an inherent snark to Twitter. We decided to promote a Christ who could bear the prayers of those who, in that moment, could use some relief from their job, or from the terrible lunch they just had. Can’t we bring ‘those’ prayers to Jesus too?

Sometimes tweets are like sighs, which are mini-moments of stress relief. And that’s how the Spirit intercedes, with sighs too deep for words.

TJP: How do the digital monks find time for all this digital evangelizing? Is all this social media distracting to their “ora et labora?”

The beautiful thing about Unvirtuous Abbey catching on and finding a voice is that now most prayers are via other contributors from Twitter and Facebook. It’s now truly an “Abbey” of people who are either letting off some steam, or naming what’s truly important to them in that moment. Some of them are very, very funny, while other prayers submitted are devastating painful. We retweet and share as many as we can.

TJP: The monks of Unvirtuous Abbey clearly follow pop culture. Any favorite trends at Unvirtuous Abbey?

There are a lot of self-proclaimed geeks who follow Unvirtuous Abbey. We’ve done some scripture-based Tweets based on “The Big Bang Theory” that went over really well:

TJP: Do you have any idea of where your followers come from?

They come from the disenfranchised within the franchise. There are so many faithful people within ‘church’ who are finding it harder and harder to be associated ‘with’ what [Church] means, in light of abuse and extreme fundamentalism. They want something more. They hold true to the creeds, yet are aware that there are more to be written. They sing songs of faith knowing that the ‘secret chord that David played before the Lord” is elusive. And they are people who are either on their way out of Christianity, or just dipping their toes on the way back in. The monks love them all for that.

There are others outside of the standard Christian circles who follow, too. Atheists and agnostics seem to find a certain sympathy with us. It’s refreshing to see a number of Rabbi’s and Muslims who follow the Twitter account. We also have a large number of the GLBTQ community who find a home with the monks. The Unvirtuous Abbey twitter account has the ability to bridge the gulf not only between faiths, but also between theists and atheists.

TJP: Do people ever get confused with all the pop culture references and the sarcasm?

It’s interesting to place Jesus in the middle of pop culture, don’t you think? But people “get” pop culture, it’s part of our language as a society. And when you place that within the context of scripture, you get:

TJP: Seriously, did you just try to Rick Roll us during an interview?

[long pause, laughter]

TJP: I guess you don’t think its so crazy to condense the gospel in 140 character chunks?

Not at all. Very early in our Twitter incarnation, we asked Fr. James Martin, SJ if he would follow our Twitter account. He said that he would, but that he follows Jesus first and foremost.  The beatitudes are essentially tweets. Jesus said, “For where two or three tweets are together, I am there among them.” Well, it was something like that, right?

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  1. We love sharing the creativity of our followers.  Join the fun and send us your own versions of the gospel summaries.  If you include our Twitter handle @TheJesuitPost and #GospelTJP we’ll see them and retweet our favorites.

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