Virtual Reality Meets Real Faith
[May 25, 2016] Good News Ministries is on the cusp of a very exciting, new development: Virtual Reality for evangelization and faith growth! Come with me on a ride into the future, which, as it turns out, is a very short distance in front of us.
Our journey starts with the last time you heard a homily during Mass that was sadly lacking in inspiration. You didn’t grow from it. Maybe you are able to put up with this, because you regularly feed your faith using other sources. But imagine (or recall) living where there is no opportunity for other sources (live and in person) that fits your schedule and needs. What does that spiritual hunger feel like? Faith-based learning on the Internet is not enough, right? It’s two-dimensional. God designed us all with a need to interact with community.
What should the role of Good News Ministries be in meeting this need? Is there something more we can do than what we’re already doing well? What might God be calling us to in the near future?
I feel very frustrated when the scriptures at Mass could powerfully minister to people, or evangelize them, or build up their faith, but the opportunity is wasted. Yesterday, Pentecost Sunday, which is an exciting and important Feast Day of the Church year, was just such an opportunity. People are hungry to know: Who is the Holy Spirit? How can we hear him better? Can we live an empowered life like the first disciples who were filled with the Spirit?
Many people have these questions, but they go home from Mass unchanged, because the opportunity to inspire faith growth is wasted. These were my thoughts as I reflected on what God is calling us to develop for the future of Good News Ministries, and then, as if a confirmation of this, my own pastor used the birthday of the Church as an introduction for talking about the need for more donors to support our new church building. The need for donor support is valid and important, but the evangelization opportunity of the Pentecost scriptures was unfortunately completely forgotten. This is truly a shame, because a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit is essential and vitally important for resisting and overcoming the increasingly strong influences of the world’s moral relativism and satanism’s influence that has so many people now believing that good is evil and evil is good.
And what about the homebound? They hunger for a stronger faith, too. And what about those who live in countries where Christianity is such a minority that there is no nearby church? Imagine that hunger!
What’s GNM’s strongest asset? Teaching and growing the faith of adults. GNM fills in the gaps where people’s experiences of their local church and the religious education of their childhood have failed to stimulate faith growth. The daily Good News Reflections fill the gap left by poor homilies. Our recent video course on the Holy Spirit fills in the gap left by parishes that teach little about the Holy Spirit.
The need is so great that we can rightly wonder: What more can we do? Building on what God has already inspired and built in Good News Ministries, we can develop ways to be more effective in our mission. To grow Good News Ministries, we need to (1) reach more people, and (2) reach people more effectively.
We are making good progress in #1 by improving the websites, by calling upon GNM’s most engaged readers to be Ambassadors of Good News, and by using youtube to attract more of the younger adults.
Regarding #2, the most effective way that people learn is by immersive education. GNM provided this in the first years by putting on week-long conferences. The very reason why I became passionately interested in getting involved with Good News Ministries was because I attended Charlie Osburn’s original Good News week-long school of Catholic evangelization in Pensacola, Florida, and I witnessed how this immersive experience changed people’s hearts and lives much more effectively than anything I had ever done as Adult Education Director for my New Jersey parish. Later, when Ralph and I launched GNM of Tampa Bay, we witnessed the same phenomenon: The weeklong events had a much greater impact on people than the parish missions we gave and the weekly courses.
The question is: How can GNM provide that same impact now, using the Internet to reach people regardless of where they live? Can we make it immersive?
Meet the future:
For our purpose, let’s consider Virtual Reality (VR) as an evangelization tool, rather than as a gaming gadget. The 3-dimensional, immersive nature of the experience, although it uses an artificial environment, feels real enough to the user to make a significant difference. And it offers online human interaction much more real than anything we’ve done before, bringing together people from around the world to engage and interact with the instructor and with each other during our courses — regardless of social, economic or geographic disparities. (Want more information about this? See: techcrunch.com/2016/01/23/when-virtual-reality-meets-education/)
In the late 1990s, when the Internet was new and very few parishes understood the value of websites, I designed Virtual Tours of churches. When an “early adopter” priest (or technology committee) asked me to build a website for his parish, my Virtual Tours evangelized by adding scriptures and explanations to photos that began with the front door and took the viewers to the baptismal font, altar, stained glass windows, etc. They even got the attention of the Pew Research Center, which recommended my parish’s site as an example of evangelization.
Please download this TED video by Michael Bodekaer and watch it on your computer, now. As you see what can be done for university students, think of what can be done for the Faith.
Next, download this TED video by journalist and VR pioneer Nonny de la Peña, and watch it to see why immersion education using Virtual Reality is so very effective in changing hearts and minds. Imagine how this can be used to make the world a better place, with Christ leading us.
Today, we can put GNM on the leading edge of using VR technology for faith-based education and online retreats. By researching this now and seeking out early steps that are possible now, we are poised to pioneer it for the Church.
The technology is already available; the future is here! Envision the possibilities for faith-based learning, watching the video on this VR company’s page: eonreality.com/education/
Google has produced a very affordable VR headset: google.com/get/cardboard/. It turns your smart phone into a Virtual Reality theater.
With just Google Cardboard and a smartphone, the people we serve you can travel to Good News Ministries’ retreat house from faraway places, immerse themselves in our courses, and experience community along with real faith growth. To see how this works, read this: googleblog.blogspot.com/2016/01/unfolding-virtual-journey-cardboard.html
Technology experts who study social trends are giving evidence that the next social network site to become THE online social gathering place will be a virtual reality site.
Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have recently begun vying for the top spot in VR space. Last November, vTime was launched, a Virtual Reality social networking site that can be accessed on every device: laptops, gaming consoles, smartphones and tablets, as long as users have access to a smartphone-mounted VR headset such as Google Cardboard. Users who don’t have a VR headset can join in conversations in vTime using a webcam.
Facebook now has “Oculus“, a VR platform that has been getting a boost thanks to Samsung’s Gear VR headset selling to more than 1 million users already. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has a hefty dose of VR in the company’s 10-year roadmap. He says, “One reason VR is important is we’re working on new social experiences. VR can be the most social platform.”
Imagine what Good News Ministries can accomplish as one of the first (perhaps THE first) developers of VR faith-education apps and videos for the Catholic Church. See what’s already available in apps that use Google Cardboard. What might we develop for Catholic schools, parishes, etc.?
L. Michelle Salvant, an evangelical Protestant, has launched Mission:VR and says, “The ultimate goal … is to create a virtual environment and subsequent app that contains innovative Christian programming for children and adults… with a goal of having people experience ‘The Life’ of Christ through the lives of people, in real time. We are also developing a “Virtual Environment”… or Mission:VR Clubhouse to serve as a really cool, safe space for children to learn about God and applying their Faith in everyday life. The goal is for the clubhouse to become the new Sunday-School hangout spot for the next generation.” She has made an ebook that includes recommendations for VR apps, including the “Great Bible App” for kids and even adults to visually experience some stories from the Bible.
If you have a VR headset, download into your smart phone GNM’s first VR scenes! (To see what you download, use an app that plays VR photos. For Google Cardboard, install the Cardboard Camera app. Other apps are also available that work with Cardboard and other headsets.)
You can also view them right here! Move all around and zoom in: After starting the player below, click the three dots that appear in the upper right corner, and then the question mark, to find out how.
We are actively using my back yard as a Virtual Reality Retreat Center (as of June 17, 2016).
For years, futurists have been predicting the use of immersive virtual reality headsets as an instructional tool, and in the past year, this is starting to become a reality with the emergence of affordable head-mounted displays (HMDs). HMDs sold about 140,000 units in 2015 and are expected to sell about 1.43 million units in 2016 and 6.31 million units in 2017. Please read: insights.samsung.com/2016/04/20/immersive-virtual-reality-the-next-frontier-for-education/
Here’s more info for the geeks among us: http://immersiveeducation.org/vr
And for the fun of it, let’s look a little further into the future, where holograms are integrated into Virtual Reality classrooms! Watch this TED video by Alex Kipman.
Now, check this out: You can make a VR visit to the Holy Land on Jerusalem.com, and you don’t need a headset. You only need a computer browser with a flash plugin (cell phones cannot handle it), and your computer probably already has it or else you can add it when you visit the site. When you start the tour, you can choose to have “autopilot” on or off; choose “off” so you can control the experience. Use your mouse to look up, down, and all around. Listen; your virtual tour guide explains how to look around and “walk” through. The guide will also explain various points of interest.
So, the next time you hear a homily during Mass that is sadly lacking in inspiration, consider it a reminder from Jesus of the exciting future in online faith education that is fast approaching. The next time you encounter someone who is lacking real faith, consider it an opportunity to awaken in them an awareness of what — and Who — they are hungry for, and then point them to where they can immerse themselves in God’s presence.
You are invited now to join the discussion and help Good News Ministries pioneer the use of Virtual Reality for Retreats and Courses!
- If you have any skills that might help, contact me — we are building a team that includes script-writers, videographers, video editors, 3-D graphic artists, narrators, testers and reviewers, etc.
- If you believe in the evangelizing power of Virtual Reality and would like to support it financially, contact me.
- If you know how to search and apply for grants that will underwrite GNM’s VR development, contact me.
- If you design apps, if you’d like to be one of our developers, see developers.google.com/cardboard. And then contact me.
- If you simply want to see what progress is being made in this exciting pioneer work, subscribe to our Virtual Reality Community. Join the newest way to build your faith! Find out when new Virtual Reality experiences are added to the Good News Ministries website. We will also send you occasional news and celebrations about our Virtual Reality ministry.
Contact me now to get involved![July 21, 2016] We have launched our Virtual Reality website! It’s CatholicVR.net
In Christ’s smile,
Good News Ministries