The Adventures of ChatRoulette Jesus

Recently I’ve been having some fun using ChatRoulette as a sort of evangelization tool/sociology experiment. For those unfamiliar with the site, ChatRoulette pairs you up with a random stranger in a chat room. If you both have web cams you can even see each other. (Note: Many people take advantage of this function to display highly inappropriate material. Enter ChatRoulette at your own risk.)

Using a piece of software called ManyCam I’ve replaced my image with that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (see above). The fun has been in seeing people’s reactions to Christ appearing on their screens. Most people quickly hit the “next person” button; some people laugh, ask “Really?!” or show a sign of disapproval. Some people smile or even write back messages like “I know!” or “Thanks.” Some just give a thumbs up. One young man actually made the Sign of the Cross and prayed. (As near as I could tell he was sincere.)

It’s been fascinating to see the wide range of reactions and responses — ChatRoulette really offers an interesting cross-section of people. If you’d like to get a sense of the reactions, you can follow the adventures of ChatRoulette Jesus on Twitter under the user name @ChatRTJesus.

Five Reading Picks for the New Year

There has been much written in the past few years about the œdeath of the book.  Certainly with the advent of the Kindle and new ways of conveying writing online we are changing the way we read. But I think it’s premature to write the book’s obituary yet. Instead I think we’ll see a shift in the way books are published “ away from large publishing houses to smaller niches publishers. In addition, print-on-demand solutions will allow anyone to publish a book quickly and cheaply.

To ensure that the book has a few more years of life, I’d like to recommend the following books that I read in the past year:

  • A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter J. Miller, Jr. (1960) “ This Hugo award-winning novel traces 1200 years in the life of a monastic order following a devastating nuclear war. The monks seek to preserve scientific and cultural knowledge against a world that has descended into barbarism.
  • Five Loaves and Two Fish, by Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan (1997) “ Cardinal Van Thuan spent 13 years incarcerated by the Communist government of Vietnam before being exiled in 1991. This book is a series of reflections he prepared for the 1997 World Youth Day. It is a simple, profound and moving reflection on suffering and hope.
  • The Clown of God, by Tomie dePaola (1978) “ dePaola retells and lavishly illustrates the story of a poor beggar boy who finds joy and fame in his juggling “ and surprising blessings as well. Sure to delight old and young alike.
  • Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn (2006) “ This science fiction story follows a 14th century German priest as he seeks to communicate with “ and minister to “ a group of aliens who have crashed in the woods outside his tiny village. The priest must ask: œCan an extraterrestrial be a Christian?  and, œWhere is God when tragedy strikes? 
  • From Slave to Priest: A Biography of the Reverend Augustine Tolton, by Sister Caroline Hemesath (reprinted 2006) “ Sr. Hemesath presents the life of Fr. Tolton, the first African-American priest in the United States, in a series of fictionalized vignettes (a sort of œspeculative biography ) from his youth in Quincy to his ministry and untimely death in Chicago.

Our Religious Rorschach Test

In our house, at the bottom of our main staircase, is a large picture of the Sacred Heart. It was a gift from a member of our parish who is in the regular habit of giving away such pictures (complete with the large, unwieldy frame), presumably even to strangers (since he gave us ours at our first meeting, in the middle of a crowded farmer’s market).

The picture has elicited a wide range of reactions, from bemusement to mild horror to my mother’s comment that “your grandmother would be proud.” When we first got the picture I thought that I would hang it in my office; at this point, however, I think it has found its home as a religious Rorschach test for our visitors.