Pre-Interview Planning: Online Interview 2

I will be interviewing Gretchen Grossman-Mobley, the author of the four-and-a-half-star rated book Ring Around the Rosary, through e-mail Saturday, March 28.

The Background

I had been reading Jesus>Religion by Jefferson Bethke after finding his YouTube video by chance. To remain engaged in my reading, I was live-tweeting the text as I came across passages I believed were interesting or relevant to my research. I tweeted a photo of the following paragraph:

I hear a lot of people say that the fear of death and the fear of public speaking are two of the main fears in my generation, but I disagree. I think it’s the fear of silence. We refuse to turn off our computers, turn off our phone, log off Facebook, and just sit in silence, because in those moments we might actually face up to who we really are. We fear silence like it’s an invisible monster, gnawing at us, ripping us open, and showing us our dissatisfaction. Silence is terrifying (Bethke).

I had chosen this passage because I felt that it conveyed an issue I talk about at length in my daily life, be it at work with students or at home with friends.

The tweet was favG-headshotorited and replied to twice; one reply came from @ggretchenmobley, one of my new Twitter followers.

I didn’t recognize the name, so I clicked to her profile in attempt to try and learn a little bit about her. I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued when I saw the following in her bio: “Teacher ~ Mom ~ A sweetheart calls me Oma. Former Nun ~ Traveler to NYC & SF ~ RING AROUND THE ROSARY that reads like a .” When I began my research, I assumed I would have a very easy time finding former churchgoers who no longer practice their religion and/or do not believe in God. However, everyone I had gotten in contact with up to the time Gretchen and I connected had been religious and in the process of strengthening a relationship with God. A former nun would certainly help give scope and perspective to my project.

I clicked through her website immediately, looking for more information about her story and book. This quick digital journey led me to learring-around-rosary-covern that she had entered a convent in 1961 but left five years later. After leaving, she was married, had children, attended college, and became a teacher.

I contacted her to see if I could interview her both through her website and via Twitter, and she replied back almost immediately.

Her book, Ring around the Rosary, is a memoir that begins with her as a child, contemplating what it would mean to become a nun. Then, as a 17 year old, she makes the decision to join the convent.

The Method

Because Gretchen and I have been communicating back and forth already through e-mail, we have elected to conduct our online interview through e-mail, as well. While I am again a bit saddened by the fact that the e-mail form will produce, as Brinkmann and Kvale write in InterViews, “a reflective distance without cues from bodies and spoken language,” Gretchen is a writer, so I have no fear that her responses will contain both “rich and detailed responses” that are the lifeblood of qualitative interviewing (174-5).

The Questions

I plan on starting with ten questions, as pictured in the screenshot below. I am also in the process of reading her memoir, and it is likely that the text itself will answer many questions a raise others.  I am hoping that I will have the opportunity to send additional, follow-up questions via e-mail at that time.

Images courtesy of Gretchen Grossman-Mobley.

 Screenshot (46)

The “Hey, what’s that on your forehead” Day Contradiction

In class this week, we discussed using Twitter as a research tool. I learned of the site Followerwonk, a site that helps you search user profiles and biographies for key words.  I did a quick search for some of the following key words: pastor, priest, Catholicism, and Christianity. The search returned so many results, and I quickly began following users in hopes that I might make some valuable digital connections.

It was then that I stumbled upon the hashtag #ashtag. It took me a minute before I got it, but then I remembered. Ash Wednesday is today. The hashtag includes priests encourage Catholics to attend church services and receive ashes. I get this. Twitter is a great way to reach out to the younger, technology-addicted generation of Catholics who may not be interested in heading to church on a Wednesday. A minute more of scrolling through, and I, much to my surprise, let out a gasp.

Could it be?

Photo credit: Twitter

Was I actually seeing…

FullSizeRender (2)
Photo credit: Twitter @markalves

…ridiculously inappropriate Ash Wednesday-related memes?

Going into this research, I had a vision of the Catholic church. It was traditional. It was stuffy. It was boring.I could sit in mass and easily claim that half the attendees were over 40 and the other half were there being held against their will for a CCD attendance requirement. In between claims, I could fall asleep.

But now priests are tweeting. They’re making puns with “ash” and “ass.” They’re responding with sincerity to Twitter profiles that make jokes about the Catholic faith, even if those jokes are in good fun.

Photo credit: Twitter

I feel like I have entered a parallel universe where everything I had learned has suddenly been tossed out the window.

It’s interesting. It’s exciting. It’s refreshing. It makes sense. Social media is a great way to keep a notoriously lethargic, disengaged age group engaged and active.

In the past 12 hours, I became very pro-Catholic Twitter.

Then I went to an Ash Wednesday service at my church. It was packed, which bolstered my enthusiasm. I had to park two blocks away from the church on a side street and cross a main road, giving me more time to muse about what it all meant. I continued thinking that maybe I was wrong all along about people turning away from Catholicism.

The Gospel reading, though, left me confused. I followed along in the Liturgy book with Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 to learn that Jesus told his disciples, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.” The priest’s homily reminded me and my fellow parishioners that these ashes are a symbol to remind us to be less selfless in the coming 40 days in hopes of getting closer with God.

If I am not supposed to take part this in action for others to see, if I am supposed to anoint may head and wash my face, if I am supposed to be less selfless, why are the Twitter priests telling me to post a selfie with my ashes? Why am I being asked to so publicly commemorate my worship actions? It seems to be a contradiction, and it doesn’t make much sense.

Christianity Today posted an interesting article calling into question the piety of the #ashtag. It suggests that a more appropriate way to spread awareness would be personal conversations, a lost art.

It seems as though the Catholic community is trying to be open to the majority but in doing so, it is challenging its own doctrine. I feel like this may be why the Catholic church has remained so deeply rooted in traditional practices–when it tries to reach out and be socially relevant, the results are inherently problematic.

Going forward, I would love to discuss this issue with a priest while conducting my research. I also feel as though it would be an excellent segue into a conversation about making religion more appealing to a young generation and why such a task may or may not be difficult.

But first, let me take an #ashtag.


“Take me to church…”: A Research Proposal

Take me to church.

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies.

I’ll tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife.

Offer me my deathless death.

Good God, let me give you my life.

–Hozier, “Take Me to Church


Both sides of my family are Italian, so it should be no surprise when I say that I am a baptized, confirmed Roman Catholic. My parents attended Catholic school for 13 years. When they had me, I was baptized in the church at three months old. I was confirmed as a member of the church at 14. Every Wednesday after school for seven years, I studied at CCD in my parish’s hall. I attended church every Sunday with an envelope containing two quarters and labeled with my name so that my attendance would be counted for the week in case my catechist decided to check up on us like she so often threatened. I memorized prayers and the books of the Bible to recite diligently before the class.

At 16, I fell asleep in a pew at midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Those memorized prayers and lists drifted out of memory.

After that, I only set foot in church if a family member died. I was surprised to learn in the spring of 2014 that liturgical language had changed back in 2011.

At 25, the only time I mention church in my daily life is when I sing along to the Hozier song in my car on the way to work. That doesn’t really count, either, because he’s not singing about an actual church; he’s singing about a person, and now I’m wondering if my singing constitutes worshiping false idols and somehow makes me a bad person.

A few months ago, I met my boyfriend, and I began seriously considering the idea of church. While I had grown up and let my religious devotion fall by the wayside, he is a practicing Baptist and asked about my religious beliefs and practices several times in the early stages of our relationship. I was more than a little embarrassed by my utter inability to give a complete and thoughtful answer to the question, “What do you believe in?” I’d like to be able to give a better reason as to why I want my future children baptized other than “because that’s what happened to me.”

20120127-205643The more I reflected on my religious experiences, I realized I am not alone. In high school, many of the classmates I was confirmed with switched churches and began attending a new, non-denominational church in the area. More and more, I hear of people converting. I learn of podcasts by hip “megachurches” like Elevation and Hillsong. I thought all this conversion and religious interest was weird in high school because honestly, at 18, no one in my circle with was thinking about God. I’m now wondering if I’m the weird one because I haven’t given the concept any careful consideration.

So, why are my musings on faith driving me to investigate further?

I think I have a vague sense of occurs at some of the new, more popular churches I keep hearing, but I would like to explore how their practices compare to their Roman Catholic counterparts and whether I’d still be attending Mass regularly if my parish adopted some modern or alternative elements

This is going to be a challenge. Catholic guilt is real. I am afraid of finding out or saying something that will offend my faith and my very Italian, Catholic family. I’m also worried that this going to feel like I am “cheating” on the church I was confirmed into. This is a necessary challenge, though, because I feel compelled to evaluate my own experiences. I hope to be able to articulate why millennials, myself included, seem to be turning away from the highly traditional Catholic church. I wonder if there is anything to be uncovered that can draw my generation back.

I am excited by the possibility of completing this research because it will enable cover170x170me to explore many archives for information. I plan to examine paper archives, such as church bulletins and liturgical readings from churches. I also see myself working to overcome my fear of reaching out to and talking with new people by exploring living archives and potentially interviewing priests from local Catholic parishes and pastors from other church denominations. I can incorporate experiential archives by attending a variety of services at different churches in the community to compare my experiences as well as take note of spaces, populations, and attitudes. This may also introduce me to other living archives with whom I could conduct interviews and understand other religious journeys outside of my own. I also believe I can incorporate electronic audio and visual archives by using podcasts, webcasts, images, and websites.

Because this topic is deeply rooted in my individual experience and local community, at this time, I am planning on writing either a personal experience essay about reconnecting with and studying my faith or a feature article about how different churches compare for members of my generation. I feel as though this will help other my peers relate to the topic and possibly make enough connections to myself and my own discoveries that they also become invested in and curious about my findings. I also think because I will be using my research to compare how my personal experience through this spiritual journey relates to that of my generation, I will be able to propose or introduce trends would be interesting for others to consider.

In searching for publications that may be interested in such a piece include U.S. Catholic, a print and online magazine that considers both queries and unsolicited submissions. Their accepted submission categories include both feature articles and essays about social issues, spirituality, daily Catholic life, opinions, and suggestions of new ways for dealing with old subjects of interest to Catholics. A second print and online magazine I could submit my final work to is First Things, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education with the mission in advancing a religiously informed public. In my search for publishers, I also scoured the Internet and came across an online magazine titled Relevant; I am particularly interested in this publication because in addition to articles, they present a great deal of web-based content, including videos and podcasts. Relevant is also a platform specifically directed at Christian twenty- and thirtysomethings, which I believe connects best with my personal experience and researched age group.Screenshot (33)

More specifically, Relevant’s mission reads, “We try to publish ideas that break stereotypes, challenge the status quo and spur a generation to know God more—and change the world while they’re at it. We want to engage our generation in a deeper conversation about faith, challenging worldviews and causing people to see God outside the box they’ve put Him in. Encountering God changes things.” I feel like this directly correlates to the kind of research I would like to conduct and could, therefore, be more than just a potential place of publication; it could also be an archive I examine very closely during my research process.

One of the challenges submitting to these publications will be writing an essay or article that is less than 2,000 words, as that is the maximum limit of two of the three. The other has a maximum limit of 1,200 words. I have already found so many avenues to explore that I am not sure how I can so succinctly come to any conclusions about this expansive topic.

I am also considering the possibility of submitting to online publications like Thought Catalog and Bustle because, while they are not faith-based publications, they are publications targeting the population I am researching, and a quick search through their archives for the keyword “religion” turned up countless articles about religion and our twentysomething culture.

Other religious publications I researched as possible publishers for a piece of this nature, such as Conscience, The Lookout, and Purpose. However, through my research, I discovered that these publications focus on either distinctly political issues or encouragement for living a life of faithful discipleship. I feel as though these would not be the best place to submit the writing I am planning because it is more an exploratory and reflective piece rather than a ministry piece. During my brainstorming phase, I also considered composing a short fiction piece, though as I looked for publications I could submit my work to, many of the publications with religious interests did not accept fiction or poetry.

Depending on the types of discoveries I make, I will keep the idea of writing a fiction or creative piece in the back of my mind. For now, as previously stated, I plan to focus on researching for an article or personal experience essay because I am most interested in learning, about other faiths, about my faith, about my beliefs, about myself as a writer, and, ultimately, about myself as a human.