Church and religion doesn’t have to be stuffy and boring. Several monks prove that. Enter the Unvirtuous Abbey. A bunch of monks give us everything regrettable about Christianity, culture, people, and Facebook but make us laugh at it… in a good way. The Unvirtuous Abbey ministers to people from their Facebook and Twitter page with funny and some serious tweets and updates. Some proclaim them virtuous and others unvirtuous. I took some time to sit down with these humorous monks to see what makes them tick. You be the judge:
You monks have some very funny and very serious prayers on Twitter and Facebook. Where do you receive inspiration?
What’s become evident is how many people have been hurt by religion/church. We wondered, “What if there were unapologetic monks who actually stood up to religious bullies? And what if we threw in a bit of ‘snark’ just to make it fun and interesting?”
Humour has incredible power. Religion has the capacity to be hurtful, and many people have used it was a weapon. It’s fun mashing up cultural references with Jesus. Of course Jesus didn’t have a magic sword, but it’s interesting to put him in that scenario:
Jesus held aloft his magic sword and said, “By the power of Grayskull!” And they spake unto one another, saying, “He has the power.”
The truth is, he does.
Your prayers mention WiFi, beer, fanny packs, Harry Potter, tattoos, and Joel Osteen. Is this what makes the monks “unvirtuous”?
What makes us “unvirtuous” is that we tend to look for God in non-traditional places, where people are finding meaning. We also pray for people with 1st world problems, such as annoying co-workers and how important coffee is to us.
Recently, for a group-building exercise, we attended a U2 concert in what Bono called ‘The town of Monks’! They ended the concert with the song, “40” which, for all intents and purposes, is Psalm 40 set to music. The question U2 asks in the song is, “How long to sing this song?” and the Psalm seems to answer, “Not long. As long as we trust in God.” People were chanting, “How long….”
There were 72,000 people were at that concert Bono said, “God bless you and keep you. God smile on you and gift you. God look you full in the face and make you prosper.” That’s a blessing; it’s what is said at the end of a church service.
That may seem unvirtuous to some, but we suspect Jesus wasn’t standing next to the Christian holding the sign at the entrance to the concert asking if people if they were ready to die. We’re pretty sure Jesus was standing somewhere near the front of the stage.
You have a large audience of the faithful, or not so faithful, what is your reaction to UA’s growth?
A few famous people follow UA, which helps! Atheists love us. Agnostics warmly embrace us. Unitarians seem to understand where we are coming from, and some Christians, apparently, don’t know what to think. Our greatest number of unfollows come from Christians.
But, for those who hang on, there are tweets that resonate, such as:
For those who wear a cross around their neck, but would never stick their neck out to carry someone else’s cross, hear our prayer.
How do so many “Unvirtuous” monks get along?
We all agree that the Arcade Fire is great.
Actress Jeri Ryan has taken notice of the monks. How did this happen?
“I’d prefer not to discuss 7 of 9.” Actually, that’s a funny story. Two weeks after Unvirtuous Abbey was formed, we tweeted Jeri, asking her if she would kindly RT some monks. She had a huge following, and we were trying to get the word out. Afterwards, we felt guilty and deleted the tweet to her. Well, what we didn’t realize is that once things are in the twitter stream, they don’t always disappear. Later that night, there was a RT from her that said, “Done.” She’s an incredibly kind person, with a great sense of humour. Also, watch Body of Proof on ABC!
What fruits of the ministry have you seen from your communique?
We were at a conference in Minneapolis recently when we introduced ourselves to someone who follows us on Twitter as “the monks of Unvirtuous Abbey.” He replied, sceptically, “So what are you trying to accomplish with that?”
We have received messages from people saying that they started going to church again because of the prayers we do, which is great. We also hear from, and are encouraged by, people who Christianity has traditionally excluded.
Let’s be clear and let’s be honest: there is nothing “traditional” about the story of Jesus. Many don’t like Jesus sitting at a table eating a meal with sex trade workers; that he preferred their company seems to elude a lot of church-going Christians. So many try to claim him for their own cause, so we prayed:
Lord, you who raised Lazarus from the dead, we pray for those trying to raise the debt ceiling on the backs of the poor. Amen
But probably the greatest thing is making someone smile or laugh. Sometimes, when prayers come in from people who follow the account, there are gales of laughter at the Abbey!
How does Star Wars and Star Trek play into the monk’s ministry?
Star Wars and Trek both have unlimited cultural references. What else has that? Oh right, The Bible. So, when there is an opportunity to combine the two, it can be a lot of fun. A follower sent this to us, which is a play on Star Wars and the poem “Foot Prints in the Sand.” In the poem, when Jesus was asked why, during the hardest parts of life, were their only one set of footprints, he responds, “It was then that I carried you.”
When asked why there was only one set of foot prints Jesus replied, “The Sand people ride single file to hide their numbers.” - @unvirtuousabbey
When we posted our avatar of Jesus wearing a Starfleet uniform and holding a lightsaber saying, “May the force be with you until I beam you up”, the response was huge. People got it. Star Trek and Star Wars really are at the intersection of science fiction and spirituality.
What is the coolest reply the monks have received?
We get lots of great replies. Recently, after our one –year anniversary, someone sent us this message: “I read you for the numerous laughs, but I’m following you for the nuggets of hope.”
What is the most heart breaking reply?
Those are private.
It seems that the monks tap into everything we know is wrong with church or religion but can’t correct. What is the future hold for the ministry of the monks? Can they change our churches so that we do not take ourselves so seriously?
What does the future hold for Unvirtuous Abbey? One word: engage. We actually pride ourselves on responding to just about every question that comes in. It’s time consuming but worth it. We usually do that on Sunday nights! Our Epiphany Post Cards will be going out again this year, and we randomly send followers coffee mugs.
And now Facebook, Google+, and Twitter abide, but the greatest of these is Twitter. – @unvirtuousabbey
People who follow Jesus should be engaging the culture in meaningful ways in public places; it’s only natural that it would happen on something like Twitter. As Presbyterian minister and author Carol Howard Merritt said, “Social media is an opportunity to engage people. We can now “go to the world” on a laptop or a smart phone.”
We monks really do attempt to take the sting out of religion and replace it with a healthy irreverence; however, as you say, there are very serious prayers as well. Our best prayers are when we try to combine something very serious with a dose of humour. It works well. #TBTG
Any parting words for us?
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” St. Catherine of Sienna, first Christian pyromaniac