“An Experiment in Catholic Old Media”

I’m going to write more about the Catholic New Media Conference a bit later, but this is one part of the conference that I just need to give a space of its own.

You know what these conferences are like, right? There’s a thousand people milling about, and after a while one feels lost amid a sea of new faces, but then something stands out. For me, it was a young, tousled-haired man wearing a tee-shirt showing a monstrance and the simple word: ADORE.

“I like that,” I told him.

“Thanks, I made it,” he answered, and we moved with the flow.

But I saw him again the next day wearing another cool tee shirt, nothing so obvious as the first. It bore the legend “Ora et Labora et Zombies” and it looked like this:

Given that Ora et Labora is the Benedictine’s motto, you know I was intrigued. And then the young man slipped me an envelope and scrawled across its face: “An experiment in Catholic old media…”

“When you get a chance,” he said, “perhaps you can look at it?”

Well, I love things that seem like letters in envelopes (we don’t get those anymore, do we?) and the idea of someone promoting “Catholic old media” in the midst of a New Media Conference struck me as too ironic to ignore, so of course I opened it up, immediately! Therein I found a hand-printed serigraph cover sheet — beautifully done — and what appeared to be a personal letter, hand-written on paper deliciously watermarked with the image above and dated 1st Sunday in Lent:

My Darling Ava,

Where are you? I am sinking, from worry into fear. When my phone stopped working at noon on Friday, I decided it was time to bring James out to the Abbey like we discussed…

I was immediately sucked into an epistolary novel with an intriguing premise coupled with one of the most creative marketing ideas of the last ten years: a Zombie Apocalypse laced with Benedictine spirituality and Catholic theology, delivered to my mailbox — not my email — chapter-by-chapter in letter form. This young man, Ryan Charles Trusell is on to something, and I’m completely hooked!

Julie Davis is enchanted, as well, and she had the chance to sit down with Ryan over lunch:

Tom and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Ryan Charles Trusell, the author of these Zombie Letters, yesterday at the CNMC. A more pleasant lunch I have rarely had than eating over-priced box lunches while getting to talk conversion stories, Firefly love, Flannery O’Connor love … I’ve just gotta say that I love someone whose eyes light up telling me about the book binding class just completed and whose contact page has “mail always welcomed” and “emails tolerated” information. He’s not a crank. He just loves beautiful things. What could be more Catholic than that? Go. Visit. Tell him hello … I bet in this case he would welcome an email.

Go find out more about the Zombie Letters (Ora et Labora et Zombies).

Be sure to check out the rest of the site too. A special kind of publishing is being proposed at Labora/Editions with such things as specialized Catholic greeting cards and the imminent launch of a custom design service for invitations and sacramental announcements.

I second all of that. I rarely use the word “special” because it has become all-but-meaningless, but once in a while you meet someone and you think, “ah…he’s one of the people who is meant to refresh the world.” I look forward to receiving his letters and learning more about the fate of Dr. Thomas Schutten and his missing wife, Ava (both Benedictine Oblates) and their tiny son, James, as the Zombies take over. To quote Trusell:

Ora et Labora et Zombies is not a post-apocalyptic book so much as it is an Apocalyptic book. This is a subtle but important distinction. OeLeZ is not about survival in the face of despair but rather about love, borne of community and beset by evil. It is, at its core, a book about Faith.

It’s all of that (and I thoroughly enjoyed the first chapter and look forward to the rest of it) but it’s something more, too: these snail-mailed letters, these beautifully hand-printed covers are a sort of reclamation of something we have lost — a willingness to slow down and to wait for something; the notion that there really is something worth waiting for, anymore; the spiritual uplift that comes when we encounter a beautiful thing, simply done, and a simple thing done beautifully. Trusell is reaching out through the impersonalized ether of the internet and saying, “let’s reclaim a sense of the personal. Look, I’m sending you my story, my artwork.” In an age where people seem so disengaged, so lackadaisical about their work, there is something really heartening about a young fellow so willing to do things carefully, and with such an obvious love of craft.

Did I say “heartening”? It’s downright thrilling. Do check it out. Order a few chapters; I bet you’ll be hooked, too.

About Elizabeth Scalia