A tumultuous 2022
This has been a big year of discovering my limitations.
Reflections on the last year
What I wrote
What I read
2022 was a year of big changes. One of my biggest offline changes was leaving a company and job I loved to take on a new professional challenge. I went from supporting the needs of a team to being responsible for building and leading multiple teams as head of a new organization in my new company. I learned that I love leading teams. The best part of my job is the responsibility to hire amazing people and to bring out the best in them. I’m learning a lot about how to build complex organizations and how to drive organizational change, and I hope that what I’m learning will also inform how I approach problems in the Church.
On this site and in my social media life, I had the privilege of covering some significant stories, as well as doing deep-dives into important challenges facing the Church and society. On Substack, I examined major scandals in the Church and how to pursue healing and accountability. On social media, I received an flood of engagement (before taking an extended break in the latter part of the year). I suspect 2023 will see more changes, and a lot of processing on how I can have more steady and sustainable engagement with various online platforms.
I’ve now been on Substack for about a year and a half, after roughly ten years on Wordpress. When I moved here, I decided to switch from short frequent blog posts to weekly newsletters and long-form essays, with a minimum word limit of 2000 for each post. I discovered that, contrary to the direction suggested by social media giants, people want this. Since moving to Substack, my subscriber list has grown more than 900%. And my writing doesn’t rely on social media promotion for readership anymore. Now, my largest base of readers are regular subscribers who share what they find helpful here with others. I feel much less tied to social media to promote my writing; in general, I can focus much more on writing and much less on promotion. I hope that other writers see these trends as well.
Of course, I did see an explosion in social media engagement over the course of 2022. Over the last year, I opened up my Instagram account to receive and share stories from Catholics on their experiences with various ministries, groups, and issues. I received hundreds of stories about abuse, harm, and marginalization suffered by NET missionaries. I received the same for graduates of various “Newman Guide” Catholic universities. Once I started opening these conversations, I received request after request for more. Women shared stories of their experiences with NFP. Others asked to talk about FOCUS, antiracism, Fr. Mike Schmidtz’s views on socialism, and a number of other topics.
As more and more people began to engage with my social media accounts, they started to consume more and more of my life. Engaging with 1500 followers on Instagram was manageable for me. Once my account grew beyond that number, I found that managing conversations in the same way was was no longer feasible. I didn’t have the time, energy, or skills for this. I began to exert more boundaries with my account. But, in all honesty, I don’t think that I was able to exert enough boundaries (or the right boundaries) to keep up with the growing and changing engagement.
When it came to addressing tough issues in the Church, I found my limits tested when I shared the story of Joey Gloor’s departure from Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire Ministries. When I first shared the story, I was simply writing about a meeting transcript shared with me by one of the ministry’s employees, outlining allegations of sexual violence against Gloor and the perpetrator-focused response to the misconduct by Bishop Barron. I wasn’t expecting to have multiple women reach out to me to share more stories of abuse by Gloor and misogyny within the ministry. A number of current and former Word on Fire employees reached out to me. Multiple high-profile employees resigned, and The Pillar and The National Catholic Reporter ran subsequent stories. Word on Fire released two public statements accusing me of pursuing a smear and operating off of lies. I ended up writing a series of pieces on the controversy.
I really struggled once I decided to step away from further seeking to address the scandals at Word on Fire. I struggled with the fact that I couldn’t do more for the victim-survivors who reached out to me. A number of stories are still untold. So much more could be said.
The whole experience left me with a great appreciation for actual journalists. (I characterize my work more as “the sharing of stories and providing commentary and analysis,” than true journalism.) I have a much stronger appreciation for the training and standards used by professional journalists, and I’m grateful to the journalist friends I’ve made who have helped me to navigate some of these more challenging stories (as well as those who have taken some of them off my hands). At the same time, I continue to believe in “lower-tier” spaces such as my Substack and social media accounts to allow stories to come to light that may not meet the publication standards of various professional media organizations.
My recorded conversation with a Catholic school teacher who was driven out of her job helped demonstrate the need for a variety of spaces to share tough stories. In the case of this teacher, she was an unmarried Catholic school teacher who became pregnant and was told by the leaders at her Catholic school and parish that they would pay for the remainder of her salary and health insurance for her sick baby, provided that she sign a non-disclosure agreement, hide her baby from her students, leave her job, and agree to never seek legal action against the school. I was able to record an interview with her before she signed the contract, but because of the confidentiality requirements that the Catholic school is enforcing, she can’t talk with reporters to share her story or seek change. My hope is that the strength of her story will help drive change nonetheless, and will encourage women in similar situations to speak up and seek help.
These were hard stories to pursue and advocate for. I struggle with insecurities about whether I could have done more or done better. I struggle with the fact that change is slow, that the arc of history bending towards justice is so damn long.
But the greatest personal pressure I experienced in my online life this year was the dispute on Instagram I’ve written about a couple times. That experience really broke me in a number of ways. The experience itself was a bad one, and it drew me into a negative spiral that I am still working my way out of. Although I don’t believe it was my most important story of the last year, it was the most significant personal experience of my social media life for 2022. I’m still processing why. I’ll write about some of it in the coming year. I have some trepidation about publishing more on the dispute. But because it threw a stark light on a number of issues important to me, in some ways it provides the most direct access to important questions and potential answers. You’ll likely see more reflections on that experience starting next week.
I hope that 2023 is a year of change for me. Because of the ways in which my following has changed and because of the types of conversations I want to foster, I need to change my relationship to social media. (This might involve hiring an “intern” to help run my accounts; let me know if you know anyone who might be interested.) Because of my hope for the future of the Church and my desire not only to tell stories but also to contribute to healing, I want to change the ways in which I pursue hard stories and address harms in the Church. I need to change if I am to keep doing this work, if I am not going to be overtaken by a deluge of cynicism, if I am going to work not only towards the shedding of light but towards the building of better relations. And I need to change if I am gong to stay sane, if I am going to hold onto hope for a better future, if I am going to believe that a good God really does govern the universe. A large part of this change will likely involve exploring the contours of my finitude as just one created person in the world. 2022 has been a big year of discovering my limitations. I hope that 2023 will be a year of coming to respect and appreciate them more fully.
Even with all of the challenges of the last year, I have so much to be grateful for. As challenging as managing my social media presence has been, it’s been a great honor to receive stories from hundreds of people about their deepest hopes and fears when it comes to the Church. I have been able to connect with many psychologists, therapists, academics, stay at home mothers, partners of non-binary persons, community organizers, current and former priests, parish employees, ex-parish employees, NFP practitioners, ex-NFP’ers, and many others as I have tried to sift through the mess that is often the Church today. I have learned so much from so many people. I have received name-calling, personal attacks, and accusations concerning my character, but I have also received countless words of kindness, empathy, support, and encouragement. I spoke earlier this year about how being Catholic often means being among both the worst and the best. I found this very much to be the case over the last year. As hard as the last year has been, I’d like to end these thoughts on a note of gratitude to all of you.
2022: What I wrote
Over the course of 2022, I published more than 160,000 words in nearly 50 posts on this site. This year’s writing saw significant focuses on a number of areas: trauma-related discourse, conversion therapy and ex-gay narratives, institutional abuses in the Church, and race and racism. Expect these areas to continue to show up, and to converge in various ways over the next year. If you’d like to revisit my writings for the last year, or catch up on anything you missed, the posts are listed below in chronological order. I’ve bolded 5 pieces and conversations I’m especially proud of:
The Church sent him to conversion therapy: a recorded conversation with Scott Herr (audio)
Newsletter #12: why we need diversity programs, Courage International, talking with Reconstructing Catholic, and Don’t Look Up
Newsletter #14: the Nazi drawings, original sin and Islamophobia, on lawful Elisabet
Catechesis, policy, and “gender theory” in Milwaukee: an informal commentary
Newsletter #15: eavesdropping on the collapse of “religious liberty,” why the poor don’t save, pray for Ukraine, Charles Baxter’s The Sun Collective
Love thy neighbor: Elizabeth Anscombe, queer identities, and what it means to believe someone (audio)
Newsletter #16: prayers for Ukraine and Tolstoy, Ukrainian choir and liturgy, bad faith and critiques of the Church, and Patriarch Kirill on gay parades
Newsletter #17: angering Catholic twitter, being second choice, sleeping in an airport, and Freud and Aristotle on the non-rational soul
Contra “traditional marriage”: disentangling friendship from the Catholic marital union
Newsletter #18: Orthodox second (and third) marriage, thoughts on academic publishing, God’s nets
Rape, manipulation, and loss of faith at “faithful” Catholic colleges
On the value of professional Catholic communications: a case study
Newsletter #19: Word on Fire, NET, and Gender Identity & Faith
Newsletter #20: hope and the imagination, the genesis of our trans neighbors, and love and friendship
Gay Christian conversations: is it time to leave behind “side A” and “side B”?
Scandal, the abuse crisis, and unmarried pregnant women in Catholic schools
Catholic priest: you can keep your job if you get married next month (audio)
Newsletter #21: celebrity conversions, sexism and its perpetrators, and James Heaney on “gender identity”
Racism, reconstruction, and the end of a Catholic Instagram account
Newsletter #22: God and the Queen’s power, the Church’s conspiracy of silence, and Discourse on Colonialism
On Hidden Mercy: a conversation with Michael O’Loughlin (audio)
Newsletter #23: October 4th, abuse and marginalization is a team sport, to be Catholic is to be the best and the worst, gender complementarity and Marx’s commodities
Christian influencers beware: sharing trauma triggers trauma
Newsletter #24: victim and victimizer, trauma sharing and apologies, How to do Nothing and switching my Twitter to private
Newsletter #25: the Club Q shooting and Christian persecution, the rhetoric of violence and the habit of allyship, discussing tragedy at work, Thanksgiving is complicated, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Wasn’t)
Newsletter #26: from centralization to federation in social media, Substack chat, the age of social media is ending
Newsletter #26: a season of piety (and a podcast), philosophy majors in middle management, on “reintegrative therapy”
What I read in 2022
The last year was a great year for reading. My favorite works were those shared in my monthly writing workshop. They included a young adult summer camp novel, the story of a monkey that makes its way to Minnesota a small town, and many many poems. I hope that one day you all will be able to buy copies at your local bookstore. But of the books I read that are currently published, here is the list and where I’d recommend them..
For the love of beauty:
The Best American Poetry 2021 (wasn’t my favorite of the Best American Poetry collections, but it had some great poems in it nonetheless)
The Gospels: A New Translation by Sarah Ruden (Ruden is just wonderful; you should also read Paul Among the Peoples, and I just started The Face of Water)
Grown Ups by Marie Aubert (very short, I hated the way some of the characters interacted and found them at times incredibly unlikeable, but still would recommend)
Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong (also for your LGBTQ+ and antiracist bookshelves)
Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart (also for the love of beauty)
Gender Identity and Faith: Clinical Postures, Tools, and Case Studies for Client-Centered Care by Mark Yarhouse and Julia Sadusky (a must-read for ministry, mental health, and medical professionals)
Tenderness: A Gay Christian’s Guide to Unlearning Rejection and Experiencing God’s Extravagant Love by Eve Tushnet (currently the best book out there for “side b” gay Catholics)
For your antiracist bookshelf:
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So (also LGBTQ+, and for the love of beauty)
Black Natural Law by Vincent Lloyd (one of my favorites in this space)
Discourse on Colonialism by Aimé Césaire (also for the love of beauty)
Beyond Racial Division: A Unifying Alternative to Colorblindness and Antiracism by George Yancy (I found him a bit naive at times, but he makes great points and is very worth engaging with)
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People who Love Books and Want to Write Them by Francine Prose (this book brought me so much joy, and inspired me as a writer)
Wonderlands: Essays on the Life of Literature by Charles Baxter (couldn’t recommend highly enough, as well as his most recent novel The Sun Collective and his short story and other essay collections that have influenced my ideas in a number of areas)
If you want to start changing yourself:
Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life by Luke Burgis (an accessible introduction to Girard as well, and a book I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks)
Us: How Moving Relationships Beyond You and Me Creates More Love, Passion and Understanding by Terrence Real (I’d recommend this for most couples)
The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society by Henri Nouwen (I thought the first half was ok and the second half was great)
How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (as I’ve been struggling with my relationship to social media, this was exactly the book I needed)
Freud by Jonathan Lear (I’ve come back to the ideas Lear shares in this book over and over and over again)
Euthydemus by Plato (I need to read more Plato)
A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost (Jost is actually a pretty interesting person)
HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Change Management (down the road I’ll write something on how Catholic dioceses need to study this book)
In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy by Frédéric Martel (some dismiss this as a bunch of gossip, but the interviews were largely recorded interviews with Vatican staff and officials…)