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Interview: Unvirtuous Abbey February 3, 2011

Posted by The Virtual Abbey in prayer practices, Twitter, Unvirtuous Abbey.

Editor’s note: Behold our recent interview with the Unvirtuous Abbey! (@unvirtuousabbey) And no, we did not do this 140 characters at a time.

Unvirtuous Abbey appeared on the Twitter scene after the Virtual Abbey had been tweeting the Daily Office for three years. Coincidence or correlation?
It’s not a coincidence. Isaac Newton said that to every action there’s always an equal and opposite reaction. It’s only natural people would use technology to pray; however, there’s an inherent snark on Twitter that resists piety. What if our prayers to God weren’t so lofty and pious? What if they were more earthly and, dare we say it, sarcastic?

Sarkazmos is Greek for “to tear at flesh,” so there’s some cutting with sarcasm that we try to balance with wit. We try to be gentle with our observations of the world around us, all the while poking fun without hurting anyone in the process.

Not that it’s about numbers – God knows it isn’t for us – but your follower count seems to have grown quickly. To what do you attribute your growth?
That’s been noted before; however, we’ve lost an incredible number of followers, too. Obviously, we gain more than we lose. Scott Stratten (@unmarketing) says, “People will come and go, don’t pay attention to unfollows/follows. You just go be your awesome self now.” And so, we do!

Some believe religion is sacrosanct. We obviously don’t and wondered: What if everyone actually prayed what was on their minds? Our prayer for those whose closest thing to prayer is texting “OMG!” was retweeted a lot. We believe that’s because readers realized we were pointing out how texting “OMG!” has less to do with God and more to do with something else.

People also enjoy irony, such as praying for those who spend countless hours on Farmville and then heat up something for lunch in the microwave. There’s a disconnect.

Sometimes we tweet a song lyric with the words “Jesus said.” A recently popular tweet was, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, a voice from heaven said: “Whoa, oh, oh, sweet child o’ mine. Whoa, oh, oh, oh, sweet love of mine.” Yet, a few followers still wrote and said, “Um, I think that was Guns and Roses?” to which we respond, “Oh, they said it too?”

We receive many back channel notes from people thanking us for providing the Daily Office via social media. What do people thank the Unvirtuous Abbey for offering? Just so you know, our community thanks yours for offering intercessory prayer!
People appreciate us seeing religion through the lens of humor; yet they like us for different reasons. One person said he likes that we actually use stories from the Bible in our tweets. We purposely follow everyone who follows us, and it’s led to some incredible conversations for which we are thankful.

Unvirtuous Abbey is more than just humor. We think we’re bringing together people who need to take some of the power out of religion and add some silly. One person wrote a prayer that said, “For those who read @UnvirtuousAbbey’s tweets/prayers & think: “umm… that’s me…” Lord have mercy.”

Once in a while, we sneak in a serious prayer, and those tend to generate the most responses. At Halloween, we prayed for kids whose stomachs hurt because they ate too much candy, and for those whose bellies hurt because they had no food at all. Another prayer was for those who say “The Lord will provide” as countless suffer because of the effects of violence and disease. We knew Unvirtuous Abbey evolved a bit when Rachel Winter, the campus pastor for First Presbyterian in Auburn, Alabama, quoted us in a sermon on sexuality.

The Virtual Abbey began when one person, Raima Larter (@raimalarter), started tweeting the Daily Office. Now we have a rota (that’s Latin!) of people tweeting prayer. What’s your deal?
What began as one has grown into a Twitter account where people share their prayers and observations of the world, which we often (although not always) retweet. It’s incredible to us people use social media to share these prayers with followers or pray publicly via Unvirtuous Abbey.

The cashier at the grocery store the other day said that she sighs all the time. She asked her doctor about it and she said that it was mini-releases of stress. “Sighs too deep for words.” We think tweets can work the same way.

Who is your favorite disciple?
In John’s Gospel, there is an unnamed disciple who reaches the tomb first. He is simply called “The Beloved Disciple – the one whom Jesus loved.” We’d like to think that Jesus loved him because he made him laugh.

What do you hope for Unvirtuous Abbey?
At first, we just wanted to say things that bothered us about religion. Now, we like the comments from people who obviously share some of our concerns for the world, and like to laugh along the way.

A few people nominated us for a Shorty Award in Religion, which surprised us. Then we noticed the people in first place have professional writers and thousands of followers.

Also, after the great response to our Epiphany postcard offer (which were sent to North America and Europe), we designed Unvirtuous Abbey coffee mugs. A few people said they want UA merchandise, so we have the design, but not a way to implement it…yet. Look for them soon!

Our hope? Let’s just say that we plan to exist as long as there are religious bullies around who threaten people with hell and damnation.

What unexpected blessings have emerged for you as a result of starting Unvirtuous Abbey?
Realizing that at the core of every soul, there’s a desire to be heard and receive a response.

OK, so we’re fishers of compliments. How do you view what we’re doing with @Virtual_Abbey?
What we’ve tried to do is provide a simple reminder for people to pray. We go about it through humor, whereas you go about it in a more serious way.

In the midst of tweets about bad coffee and annoying co-workers comes the call to prayer from your abbey. Though the prayers might not appeal to everyone, neither do ours. Yet, you’ve found a way to build a strong community within a format (i.e., social media) that celebrates the individual rather than the group.

Some crave that sense of being lifted out of their circumstances into something that reminds them that they serve a greater purpose, and your abbey does that for them. Well done.

Gazing Back and Looking Ahead January 1, 2011

Posted by The Virtual Abbey in Announcements, modern monasticism, Twitter.

Interested in getting more involved with the Virtual Abbey community? Contact us via Twitter or by email: info@the virtualabbey.com.

Although we’re moving into our third year on Twitter, it has only been one year since we officially reconstituted ourselves as The Virtual Abbey! Since then, lots has happened.

In my previous post I reviewed the “technical stuff of virtual community.” Here, I want to highlight more personal dimensions of our community. And other than hailing the arrival of #3 Hale, I won’t be putting names to events!

What I do want visitors and observers to know is that like members of any other faith community, we experienced the full range of human events in 2010illnesses; death of loved ones; job changes and job losses; interstate moves.

During times of what seemed to be spiritual weariness, we supported one another via the back channel (i.e., direct messages) of Twitter as well as by email and phone, all of which served to build and strengthen our community.

2010 was the year more of us met IRL (in real life) and discovered how praying the Daily Office together via Twitter made it possible to create durable bonds despite geographical and time zone differences.

Whenever we needed help, we were blessed to have people pitch in by tweeting prayer for a season, providing blog content, helping our transition to another blogging platform (coming soon, like maybe next week!), and advising us about new ways to reach out.

We also had f*u*n, some of which showed up in our public stream during prayer as horsing around and after prayer as fellowship complete with virtual coffee, cookies and clean-up.

And I absolutely cannot let this review end without mentioning how in August, we noted with delight, the arrival of @UnvirtuousAbbey on the Twitter scene.

We were promptly mini-barraged with direct messages, some asking if we’d set up a parallel universe and others asking if we were “offended.” Our answer to both questions was, “no.” Wasn’t it clear that we were already capable of having irreverent fun within our own community?

In reality ─ we neither know nor need to know who runs @UnvirtuousAbbey IRL. What we do know is that bonds of true affection and mutual delight have emerged during the past five months. Again, much of this has happened via the back channel and has not been generally visible. What’s clear to me is that @Virtual_Abbey and @UnvirtuousAbbey share a commitment to engage people in prayer.

There’s more, of course. There always is when community is involved and no doubt about it, the Virtual Abbey is a community. Thanks be to God!

Pax max,

Image: Abbess’ Watch (late 16th c. ) from Antique Pocket Watches


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