With apologies to the always amazing Brandon Vogt, the brains behind this year’s installment of Support a Catholic Speaker Month, I’m extending the term “month” to share the following conversation with you. I rushed to “claim” one of my favorite speakers, Elizabeth Scalia. Most of you likely know Elizabeth from her fantastic blog The Anchoress and her leadership of the Catholic channel at Patheos.
While I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth’s writing, I’m perhaps an even bigger admirer of her public speaking. As a speaker myself, I always “study” speakers, hoping to take away a tip or two on delivery along with the content their sharing. The times I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Elizabeth speak have served as master classes on how to effectively deliver content with intelligence, with personality and with heart. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Elizabeth and that you too will have the chance to learn from her sometime soon! LMH
How did you originally become involved in the world of Catholic New Media, and specifically blogging?
I was hanging around political and Catholic forums and discovered I have an opinion on everything and needed an outlet. Seriously, though, those forums were educational. From the Catholic forum I learned how deficient I was in understanding and knowledge of my faith — it inspired me to learn more, read the catechism, the council documents, and the saints with a mindset to self-educate. In the process, a whole world of prayer opened up. You could say I “found” my faith online. The political forum taught me that even if I was deficient, others were even more deficient than I, and that there were a lot of misunderstandings, prejudices and plain old untruths being held by many, in the world, as “realities of the Catholic church.” I found myself learning at the Catholic forum, then sharing what I was learning at the political form, mostly in defense of the faith. And in defending the faith, I realized, yeah…I passionately love my church. At that point, being wholly immersed within the internet, a blog that discussed politics and religions (and baseball, knitting, vocations and whatever) seemed like a natural answer to an inmost call.
What are some of your goals as a Catholic speaker?
I don’t know if I speak with any particular “goal” in mind, other than in making a connection, however small-seeming, in someone else’s understanding — having a positive influence in someone else’s faith experience, solely by letting the Holy Spirit do his thing. So, in that respect, I think my goal is to simply be open enough to make myself a sort of conduit through which the Holy Spirit can move. That sounds so highfalutin’ but I say it with a real sense of humility. To say “it stuns me that the Holy Spirit might work through me” would be one of those “ain’t I great” backward-conceits, because the Holy Spirit can and does use everyone (and sometimes some of the most confounding materials), all the time, to effect the will of God, so there is no sense in saying it’s a surprising or stunning thing. But it is humbling because a conscious act of being open is humbling. I learned very quickly that by myself, I could do nothing, but stepping into the curve of the Holy Spirit and following his lead, brings about remarkable things that — because I know who I am — I understand could not come from my own dim brain.
I recently gave a talk in Myrtle Beach to an assembly of women, and I had prepared my remarks, but once I got to the podium, I felt like the script wasn’t “working” — that I wasn’t reaching this audience, which was comprised of middle-aged and older ladies who really weren’t so familiar with “new media.” I put the prepared remarks aside and shared with them an incident that had happened to me that morning, involving a sewing kit and a traveling emergency, and they related to it and it became a rollicking talk — we all laughed a lot — and yet, somehow, I still managed to make enough points about the value of new media and its impact on faith that afterwards many of the ladies greeted me saying that they were willing to finally stop thinking of the internet as “the devil’s playground” and start reading Catholic sites. It ended up being a very happy talk, and all I could think was, “thank you, Lord, for the opened jacket seam that gave the Holy Spirit an opening in that talk…”
Do you have a favorite type of speaking venue? What are your favorite topics to tackle with groups?
I love speaking to parishes, particularly around the Holy Days, but I also love larger gatherings because they crackle with an energy all their own — so many people of faith, really engaged in that faith; it’s exciting. I have lately spoken a great deal about new media, but what I really love to speak about is prayer and the ways the worldly-world intersects with prayer and vice-versa. I would love to do a whole weekend retreat just familiarizing people with the Divine Office, and encouraging them to take up this most efficacious and world-touching prayer in their private lives. Ideally, I’d love to see parishes add lauds and vespers to their schedules because so many people want it. But first people have to find out they want it!
As a fellow Catholic speaker I have to ask: do you ever get nervous before your talks and if so, how do you handle nerves?
Funnily enough, the two biggest speeches I have ever given, I had no nerves at all. In 2011 when I spoke at the Vatican/Blogger meet-up, it only occurred to me that I should perhaps have something prepared about an hour before I had to leave for the meeting. I jotted down my thoughts and just delivered them, and hadn’t a moment’s nervousness; in fact, it was one of those occasions that occur sometimes, where I just felt like I was precisely where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing, and those are always the best talks. What I am finding, increasingly, is that if I am over-reliant on the “script” I become nervous, and I think that’s because I’ve boxed myself in, and put too much weight on how this narrow thing will “work.” When I simply have a few notes and have prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to guide things, there is no nervousness.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a Catholic speaker?
Wear black. Travel with black clothes. Bring pre-threaded sewing needles. And be genuine. If you have to put on some facade to speak, then to hell with it. Nothing good will come of it. The best speakers are the ones who bring no artifice to the podium. I listen to someone like Brandon Vogt — who is just a natural fount of wise faith leavened with joy — or someone like you or Jennifer Fulwiler, and its the naturalness of the presentation that really delivers the goods.
From the world of speaking to the world of books, tell us about your upcoming and sure to be bestseller, Strange Gods.
Well, that’s very kind, but “sure to be a bestseller…that might require someone like Lisa Hendey pushing it a great deal! The book actually grew out of those internet forums I mentioned earlier, though. It was during the time I spent reading all those passionate threads that I first wondered, “is it possible that Christians can make idols of their ideologies…” and from there, I began finding the whole subject of idols popping up with some regularity in my conscience and in my prayers, and I started to become aware that idolatry is so common to us, such an “everyday” thing, that we don’t even realize we are doing it. Our image of an idol is the golden calf, and so we think, “well, surely we worship God, not some stupid piece of gold…we know better than that!” Well, yeah…we do. But we still put all sorts of strange gods between us and the creator. The book is an attempt to bring that into public awareness and identify what some of those idols are, but the more I look around, the more idols I find, so it’s nothing like a comprehensive list of our modern idols…more an invitation for us to look at our lives and have enough courage and trust to identify our idols for ourselves and then take appropriate action.
Are there any additional thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?
Times are difficult, but they have been difficult before. As the angels and our good popes keep telling us, “do not be afraid.” Just be open.
Copyright 2012 Lisa M. Hendey
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