Blogging as ministry
Last April, I was invited to speak on a panel at the Quakers Uniting in Publications annual meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina. Will, Gil and I accepted the invitation. (Others were invited but declined for various reasons, mostly distance.)
This year, I had been asked by the local arrangements committee for the FWCC Section of the Americas annual meeting in Canby, Oregon about possibilities for a convergent Friends interest group. I suggested several other people who are involved in FWCC, but none of us really felt called to that. Then it occurred to me that since the meeting was about half an hour from Newberg, that maybe Gregg and I could lead a discussion on Quaker blogging. Gregg said yes and the arrangements committee said great.
Both times, I think the sessions went well. We each talked a little about our own journeys into blogging, the way blogs made our friendships possible across barriers of geography and theology, and how blogs can be a ministry to writers and readers, and a net benefit to the Religious Society of Friends. Both times, I had the chance to meet new people and to connect in real life with other bloggers and people I’ve heard of but not met before.
Both times we did an exercise I call low-tech blog commenting. We chose short blog posts, printed them out in large type on paper and hung them on the wall next to large sheets of easel paper. The instructions are to go around the room, read the post, write down your reaction, your questions, agreement or disagreement, and then move on to the next one, and then as you move around, to come back and read what others have written and perhaps comment again. This exercise was Chris M.’s idea a few years ago for a workshop he and I led at SFMM. I’ve also done it with the teens at PYM’s Junior Yearly Meeting. It works well as an introduction to blog commenting, except for people with visual disabilities, so a couple of times I or another participant have read the posts and scribed for people who had difficulty with that.
So why do I think blogging is ministry?
For me, the first point is that my blog is an outlet for the essays that were composing themselves in my head. It has offered me a means to improve my writing and editing skills, and a chance to share my theological reflections with others. Unlike most forms of writing, blogs also come with the opportunity for frequent interaction, unlike writing a book, for example, when it may be years before anyone else reads it.
The second point is that Quaker blogs are a source of religious reading material. I still subscribe to a couple of Quaker magazines, but they only come once a month. Every day there are new blog posts on different aspects of spiritual life, and whenever I’m ready they’re there. As Martin Kelley has reminded people, blogs are available every day and at all hours, when you’re stuck at home with little kids or an illness or a physical disability, if you work irregular hours, or when you are too far away from a meeting to attend regularly.
One example for me are Gregg’s sermons. I am dedicated to unprogrammed worship in my spiritual life, but the scholarship and relevance of his carefully prepared messages have been a valued source of devotional reading for me. (An irony of this is that as Gregg has relied more and more on the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the delivery of his messages, he has less and less written material to post. But I don’t hold that against him.)
A third point is that Quaker blogs are part of an ongoing conversation about what is happening in our spiritual lives, including events we go to, books we read, theological questions we wrestle with, and our everyday joys and concerns. They offer a chance to stay in touch with Friends in a substantive way, between conferences, meetings, without travel costs, and often with photos of mutual Friends.
I like to point out how Quaker blogs are different from other blogs, especially political ones. Too often, blog comment streams become very contentious and offensive. I haven’t found that on Quaker blogs. The comments have been honest and respectful, even when they are disagreeing or challenging the author. I think this is in part because each blog is written by a real person. For the most part, Quaker bloggers and commenters use their real names. The Religious Society of Friends is a small world, and the chances are high that you might one day meet the real people behind the blogs. It’s more like talking in some one’s living room, rather than shouting at a protest march.
We also talked about how people can get involved. Someone always mentions QuakerQuaker.org. It’s an easy-to-remember name of a site where you’ll find the latest and best in Quaker blogposts, as chosen by a short but diverse list of people who read widely. There are also archives by category on particular topics. Other features on QQ.org are always changing.
Other tools we recommend are a feed reader, like Bloglines or Google Reader. These are free services that can be a timesaver as well.They offer a way to keep track of as many blogs as you want, without having to go to each one to see if there’s something new each time you want to read them.
Some blogs have a way to subscribe via email, which works well for some people, even if others prefer not to have anything more in their email inbox. I think all the members of my anchor committee subscribe to my blog by email. They don’t read a lot of other blogs, but they want to know when I write something.
If you want to start your own blog, I recommend Blogger.com for a free service that makes it very easy to start a blog. If you can send email, you have the technical skills to use Blogger software. If you are more techy, there are other services that offer more features, but if that describes you, you don’t need me to tell you how to do it.
Quaker blogs have changed my life. As I wrote a couple of years ago, for a blog carnival in honor of Martin Kelley’s birthday, “Quaker blogs opened my eyes to a much wider world of Friends. I had been to Quaker meeting in a few places before that, but Quaker blogs opened windows through walls I didn’t even know I wanted to see through. Through Quaker blogs, I have found common ground, common ideas, common concerns with Friends across vast distances of geography and institutional theology.”
Thank you to all of you who have been part of this journey for ministering to me.
Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]