Monday, April 12, 2010

Blogging


A colleague of mine gave me a photocopied article from last week's Radio Times (which I don't seem to be able to find on Google) about Nick Baines, the Anglican Bishop of Croydon who is a blogger. The piece was entitled Why I am an e-vangelist. My colleague was in two minds whether or not to give this to me: he is a bit perplexed by the blogging phenomenon and is yet to be convinced of its value. About six months ago, a mutual colleague noted with some distaste but anyone can know what you're thinking.

Bishop Nick comments I am still amazed that so many people engage online with the things that interest me. When I started blogging, I decided that it was pointless to play it safe or simply propagate the usual stuff to the usual suspects....I wanted to be "out there", engaging in public debates about the world, politics, the arts, the media, ethics and theology. Now this motivation is also mine. This blog started as a learning journal to chart my experiences through the training process to ordination: those aspirations are still to be found expressed in the various sections on the side bar, but the blog developed beyond that in small incremental stages. I think I have explored those processes as much as I am able at the moment, particularly as the formal training process finished and the rich seem of weekly training and occasional residentials can no longer be mined. In common with a number of friends in the blogosphere, there have been times of reappraisal: why am I still doing this? What is the function of this blog? Who is my target audience?

Reading Bishop Nick's article has helped me to see things more clearly. My starting point is an insatiable curiosity about the world and the way people are. At the heart of Christianity is the understanding that God has opted into the world and not exempted himself from it: that Christian living means engaging in at every level with and for that world. That would certainly echo my own feelings. I am interested in the wider world, and not just when it impacts on matters of faith, although that is a particular concern of mine. I enjoy posting on my secular life as a high school teacher, on random items of humour and on things I read, on the music I listen to and participate in as a member of a prestigious choral society, on things I discover on the INTERNET and on what I watch on T.V. or see in films. I'm quite eclectic.

I enjoy the process of dialogue - mainly - and I feel that I have found my own blogging voice, but I can certainly identify with Bishop Nick when he says This means I've had to grow a thick skin. The glory and agony of blogging - which I see as the first word in a conversation, not the final word of judgement - is that anyone is free to to argue with me, question me, ridicule me or be abusive. Well, with the exception of the last one perhaps which I don't enjoy, but folk mainly save that sort of unpleasantness for commenting about me on their own blogs rather than to me directly on this one. I do keep an open comment section and delete very few comments - other than those which occasionally appear in Chinese script - provided they don't go against the protocol I have left on the side bar. I do, however, delete comments which attempt to hijack my blog. This is my blog and I choose the topics and I set its agenda.

Dialogue is important and while I do have a religious world view and positions on any number of issues, I have often found myself challenged by the comments and ideas of others: challenged to go away and think or read; challenged to be clearer about how I express things; challenged to justify the statements I have made and so on. While that isn't always comfortable It has been a process that has contributed to spiritual growth.

Bishop Nick notes, I don't know most of the people who comment on my blog - some I hope never to know, others I might like to befriend. That is true for me too, although less so perhaps as he receives about five thousand hits a day and I get about twenty five which translate to half a dozen comments if I'm lucky. Nevertheless, what has also contributed to both my spiritual growth and my sense of personal well-being have been the ongoing support I have experienced from a group of people who have encouraged me and pointed me in various directions - some of whom I have even managed to meet. Yes, like Bishop Nick I have encountered my fair share of unpleasant characters out there and I don't miss them at all although I certainly shan't forget some of them easily. I haven't shied away from taking the dabate to their sites on occasion and have found myself banned more than once, but I feel that I have maintained my integrity and have not resorted to the sort of unpleasantness they all too often display, therefore maintianing something of a phyric moral high-ground.

I have often wondered why Christians fall out so easily. To quote Bishop Nick again, I don't regard it as a bad thing for any leader to think openly, change his mind when appropriate, apologise when he gets it wrong (in substance or in tone), or to be unafraid to be thought inadequate. I hope I reflect that position in my own blogging and am often taken by surprise when others hold a more robust view of the rightness of their cause and therefore the wrongness of any other viewpoint. We live in a culture in which politicians and others feel compelled to appear watertight in their consistency and always incontroveribly "right", but I think there is a place for a different model of "learning leadership". Christian leaders should be unafraid to to offer an alternative model of what I often call a "confident humility". I hope that is my model too, although sometimes the outward model follows a quite different inward rant.

On a couple of occasions people have told me I have a prophetic ministry. Now a prophet is someone who speaks God's word to his or her generation and that's a bit grandiose for what I do. What I do, more often than not, is to seek to redress a balance in the way that particular issues are presented: too often there is a perception that a particular stance is the "orthodox" position for Christians to take - or there are those who would like to assert so - and very often I find myself not holding that position at all - indeed often quite the reverse. What are my options then? Well, to challenge; to put that alternative perspective and to argue it through. It's down to the Holy Spirit after that.

I have engaged with people on religion in general and Christianity in particular; on hermeneutics, the inerrancy and authority of scripture; issues of human sexuality, climate change, women's ministry, the role of Islam in the West, and the feeling I have that amongst First World Christians there is a sense of entitlement akin to special pleading. I have even dipped my toes into the vexed issues of American politics.

An area of challenge relates to the athiests in the blogosphere, particularly those who represent perfectly what their prejudices tell them is the preserve of religious people. I would add into that bloggers from the religious and/or political right who express fundamentalism and an unswayable confidence in their own unargued-for-assumptions about the the world and human meaning. This frequently leads to clashes, but the robustness of these is, if not always enlightening - usually entertaining.

I don't see myself as an e-vangelist like Bishop Nick: it has never been my intention to use this medium as a means of outreach as such, although I do recognise that for some people it may turn out to be that. I am, however, very aware that there are those out there who, for whatever reason, do not have a Christian community they feel they can belong to just now. I know of people who use a variety of blogs in combination as their on-line spiritual community and if I can contribute to building someone up in that way I feel that I have done some good. In that respect I take my blog stats with a pinch of salt. Not everyone who visits here comments but I have identified a number of long term, regular visitors. There must be something that draws them back.

When I look at my stats what I find interesting are the topics I have posted in the past which people still use search engines to find: the Syrophoenecian woman; the I AMs of John's Gospel; Myers-Briggs, personality types and preaching; Thomas the Doubter; hermeneutics and sola scriptura; Off to Whitby and Our Big Day Out seem to be very popular and enduring.

The blogosphere isn't for the fainthearted. But what's the point of simply talking to those who agree with you, when you could be arguing your way to a better understanding of God, the world and people (as well as yourself) "out there" in the rough new world of instant media?