3.29.2009

Blogging as ministry

This is a report on my presentation with Gregg Koskela at FWCC in Oregon last week and with Will Taber and Gil Skidmore at QUIP last year.

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.

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16 Comments:

Anonymous Alyssa N. said...

Thanks, Robin. I enjoyed the workshop. Some questions: how long does it usually take you to compose a blog post? Do you write it in another program (e.g., Word) and then paste it in? Just wondering about some of the logistical aspects of blogging....

3/29/2009 5:07 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

"I think all the members of my anchor committee subscribe to my blog by email." I really don't understand that - it strains my credulity. There is no mechanism provided on your site or on other Blogger sites, to subscribe to posts by email (you can subscribe to comments on a particular post).

This is one of the things I don't like about Blogger blogs. The only evident way to keep up with them that I can find (other than Bloglines, which I find not very convenient) is to check back from time to time to see if anything new has been posted. This is very cumbersome, and results in many people who would like to read new posts not reading them.

I like WordPress, which does provide for email notification of new posts. The tech challenged can use it at WordPress.com, which is very simple, and the more Web sophisticated can get the software at WordPress.org, and put it on their own sites.

3/29/2009 5:18 PM  
Blogger Johan said...

I wish I could have been there! I really appreciate that you've been willing to think out loud about this form of ministry over the years. And you're right about the general lack of contention and abrasiveness on our Quaker blogs. This makes us more willing to post tentative or unfinished ideas; those who follow up don't intend to trump us, they just add angles we might not have thought of or given enough weight to. The current discussion on my blog about "Are Quakers Protestant?" is a good example. (Right now I'm trying to think about whether there's a legitimate link between "salvation by faith" and "convincement," but I'm not responsible for proposing the final word, just my next word.)

3/29/2009 5:22 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Alyssa, I'm glad you were there. My blog posts take anywhere from 15 minutes to six months to compose. More like an hour usually. I usually write on paper first, then I type into Word for editing and then paste into blogger to add the hyperlinks etc.

Bill, on the sidebar of my blog, near the top, is a section that says Subscribe to Robin's Blog. There's a box to type in your email address. It's processed through Feedburner, and it delivers my posts via email to anyone who wants them. There's a couple dozen people who have done that. I wouldn't lie to you about something like this.

Johan, I'm sorry we didn't get to do more than just wave and say hi in Canby. But it was a good meeting. Gregg Koskela, who also wrote about the session on his blog, also pointed to the discussion of the Atonement on my blog recently as an example of people expressing very different understandings in a helpful way. (It's in the comment stream of my review of the A New Kind of Christian trilogy.)

3/29/2009 5:49 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

Robin, I guess that only shows up on certain configurations. I have a very common configuration, but that doesn't show up for me on your blog or any other Blogger blog. I guess it must be a bug in the Blogger software.

3/29/2009 5:54 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

Just to add that I use Windows XP, and no subscribe option shows up in the sidebar using either Firefox or Internet Explorer (which have 90% or more of the browser market between them). That's got to mean the majority of Web users don't have that option with Blogger.

3/29/2009 6:01 PM  
Blogger Gil S said...

Thanks so much for doing this Robin and for mentioning QUIP too. I'm just about to come over to the US for this year's QUIP conference and the blogging conversation continues.

On a technical note I use Windows XP and Internet explorer on a notebook and I can see your email signup quite clearly just under your picture on the right hand sidebar.

I am quite happy using Blogger and have also found that I save a lot of time using Bloglines - thanks for introducing me to that!

3/29/2009 6:31 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

I put "subscribe" in the search box in the Blogger ribbon on top of the blog to see whether I could find a subscribe option. Nothing happened for a couple of minutes, then a subscribe section showed up on the blog where you said it should be and the Blogger ribbon disappeared.

How many people would know that they should do that? It's weird software. They need to fix it so the user doesn't need to go through those contortions, which are nowhere explained.

3/29/2009 6:43 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

Furthermore, that seems to be a one-time, one blog option. Now that I've done it, the subscribe option has disappeared again.

I tried this same trick on another Blogger blog, and I didn't get a subscribe box but a message that "No posts match your query." So even this trick seems to be unique to your blog.

3/29/2009 6:46 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Gil, I'm just sorry that I didn't manage to finish this post last year after the QUIP conference, when I started it. So this is a post that took 11 months to write. Fortunately, by now I had other things to add to it.

Bill, I don't know what the issue is between your computer and Blogger. The email sign up is not a Blogger feature, it's a specific element of my blog that I inserted in my own sidebar. I'm sorry to hear that it doesn't work for you. I hope your attempt to sign up via email will work better.

3/29/2009 7:10 PM  
Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Hate to take up so much space with a technical matter, but the subscription box is not showing up for me, either, and I'm quite surprised as I have a similar subscription through email box configured, not for my Quaker blog, but for my classroom blogs. (So parents can stay up to date on assignments for their kids--a lot of families in the hilltowns where I teach only have dialup, and a classroom blog without a subscription option would be pretty inaccessible.)

I'm startled that I don't see your box; I do see mine in this browser when I visited it just now. So perhaps its an on again/off again Blogger technology issue?

I keep meaning to get up to speed with Wordpress, which I think has a little more of a learning curve, but seems to be a bit more stable and customizable as a platform. Like you, I sometimes encourage people to take up blogging, and I should really get a bit more conversant with all that's out there!

Oh, well, not until summer rolls around.

Let me just close with a "me too" on how much I enjoyed this post. I'd love to be in a workshop on Quaker blogging with you!

3/29/2009 7:22 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Cat, I'm glad you liked the post.

Okay, I have a new insight about the subscription box. It only appears on the homepage of my blog, not on the pages that are for a specific post. If you click on the header, or otherwise go to the main page, you will find the subscription option. If you come to the blog from a link to the specific page, you won't see it. This is true for all the elements that I have added to my sidebar beyond the basic Blogger features. I don't yet know how to fix that, but I hope this helps.

3/29/2009 9:42 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Sorry I'm late to this post. As I was reading the comments I was thinking "it's just that it's on the homepage and they're all reading an individual post." Common confusion that can happen on any kind of blogging platform using any browser.

Thanks for posting this Robin, great stuff. I've been recovering old emails lately and have had a blast looking up people to re-read the first correspondences. Pretty much everyone has found some old post via a Google search and wants to talk about it. Being publicly accessible and searchable has allowed this blogging to bring unlikely people together. Would you, me, Wess, Gregg, even know each other if it weren't for Google searches and follow-up correspondences and meetings? That's been one of the most amazing part of the Quaker blog experience for me!

3/30/2009 9:46 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Ah Martin, I'm just glad I figured it out before you had to point it out to me. I have to get over my self-image as a Luddite, it's just not honest anymore.

And no, I would in no way know you, Wess, Gregg, Liz, or any of a hundred people or so who I have connected with via blogs. My life is much richer this way, and what I can offer to my local community is richer. The blogosphere hasn't replaced my monthly meeting; it has expanded our collective knowledge in useful ways. Thank God, seriously.

3/30/2009 11:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin,

Thank you for this post. I'm a bit late finding it, but I really appreciate it. I keep thinking about our dinner conversation about blogging as ministry. I hope you are well.

In peace, Emily

5/26/2009 9:08 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Emily, welcome! One benefit of blogging is that it is constantly updated, the other is that it is consistently archived.

5/26/2009 10:26 PM  

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