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Too much talk? (or initial thoughts about the spirituality of blogging)

27/07/2012
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When I started blogging on 1 January 2010 I set myself a private target of a post a day for 6 months. This was a great way to get into the rhythm and discipline of blogging.  Since then I’ve been more relaxed. I decided a while ago that I would not post just for the sake of posting something. Posts had to come out of ordinary everyday life – from processing ideas, teaching, reflecting on conversations and events with students and friends, engaging with books and then verbalising those thoughts in a hopefully coherent way. And the pleasure in blogging is the conversations with others along the way.

I’ve done very little blogging recently due to more important responsibilities in ‘real life’. And that feels fine. And I have only been glancing at the (fairly small) list of blogs I read in my Google Reader.  And when I do, I’m increasingly feeling there is just too much to keep up with, even within my selected corner of the blogosphere. There is so much talk – a lot of it excellent, but maybe I’m just slow but I can’t process or think about 99% of it in any meaningful way.

Even since I started, I’ve noticed that the speed of blogging has increased. At many popular Christian sites, there is a smaller and smaller ‘window’ to engage in a discussion. Come a day later and it is all over – the conversation has moved on to the next topic.

There is also something of the ‘tyranny of the immediate’ in a lot of Christian blogging. Whether it is the latest big dust up between the Gospel Coalition and its critics, or the latest controversial book by Rob Bell or whoever. I wonder if we are being sucked into mirroring the insatiable appetite of the modern media for controversy by which to gain market share.

This links to something Sean said in the last post about the need deliberately to slow down, to nourish thankfulness and take time to reflect. Yes, I’ve connected with people and learnt tons from reading other blogs and the conversations that go on and will continue to read them – but I wonder if all this voracious talking reflects a very particular type of spirituality? An evangelical spirituality of activism, of individualism, of entrepreneurialism?

Perhaps it is a rule of being a ‘successful’ blog (interesting discussion right there - what is successful Christian blogging?) that you need to be posting at least once every day to gather readers who keeping coming back every day for something ‘new’. And alongside this production, you need to be marketing your site and maximising readers and so on.

But when does such ‘production’ become ‘over-production’? When does blogging become shaped by the dictates of consumer demand – a mirror image of our hyper-consumer market world that produces far too much stuff, most of it thrown away and a lot of it with little or no value?

When is there just too much talking for the sake of talking? And what I wonder are the consequences for those participating?

Here’s a story I like to tell: some years ago a large group of members and staff of an evangelical Christian organisation were away on a 2 day retreat in a very nice hotel. (I guess funding had been sourced from somewhere!). We had an excellent time socially and in discussions, workshops and talks. At the end a Catholic priest who had been invited as an observer shared his thoughts. He said something like this (in a very gracious and gently witty way),

In our tradition when someone goes on retreat they go to experience and listen to God. The first way they do this is to fast. You have not stopped eating all weekend. A second characteristic of a retreat in our tradition is to spend many hours in prayer. You have hardly prayed at all except quickly to give thanks to God at meal times. And a third characteristic is to spend considerable time in silence, listening for what God is saying. You have never stopped talking.

There was silence at that point alright. His words hit home because they were true.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. 27/07/2012 3:33 pm

    It’s the shameless plugging to get more hits that irks me the most. You can read more about that over at my blog at http://www.iamdeclan.blogspot.com

    Seriously though, this is an important post. I’ll be honest, it sort of depresses me sometimes when I see the latest post on the latest controversy from one of the super-bloggers getting 400+ comments, while something genuinely thought-provoking from you or Kevin is greeted by tumble-weeds. But then maybe it’s only on the utter margins of the blogosphere that the most useful and most truthful blogging can be done. At least that’s what I tell myself anyway!

    • 27/07/2012 9:40 pm

      And I recommend the hordes reading here to click that link! you won’t be disappointed!

      It’s more the associated spirituality I had in mind than just size or readership; the democratisation of authority and interpretation for example. And what can feel like a competitive market of opinion.

      One very good and popular blog I enjoy browsing has an ‘advertise’ section describing the site’s stats, audience profile and costs of advertising (which go up as the site becomes more busy) …. Makes me uneasy, though I’m sure good arguments can be made that successful authors make money from books, why not from blogs?

  2. 27/07/2012 6:28 pm

    I much prefer blogs that share worthwhile articles and post less often. It’s obvious when a blogger stops caring about blessing his audience and is posting just to put things up, or get clicks. Instead of having thought-provoking content, they just comment on what someone else has posted. Or they start only focusing on what’s popular, and use hot-button terms in their titles to attract clicks.

    The Twitter world especially feels like a crowd of kids all poking each other and saying “made you look!” “made you look!” The whole point is getting attention, not sharing something of worth.

    • 27/07/2012 9:20 pm

      Greetings Lois and welcome. I think that’s an excellent way to describe authentic blogging – caring about and wishing to bless others. I’m sure the readership does not have to be small to do this but perhaps it becomes more difficult and complex the bigger and faster the site becomes.

  3. 28/07/2012 4:34 pm

    I love the quote from the Catholic priest at the bottom. I was raised Catholic and although I left the RCC for evangelical churches in my early 20s, I am glad that I have been able to take some of that Catholic sensibility with me. I know that as a blogger, it is too easy for my own identity and sense of worth to get tied up in page views and subscribers rather than in Christ. Many times I can’t write and it’s a bit alarming how hard it can be to just trust that it’s OK. I feel like if I’m not writing, everything I’ve worked to build will disappear. Which is foolish on so many levels. If my work is done, it is done. If it was God’s intent for one person to be touched or changed by something and nothing more, then so be it. I can’t say it’s about God and then use my writing to make myself feel OK.
    “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” ~ Luke 14:11
    Thanks for the post. I decided a long time ago not to chase the latest controversy or the big names or the scandals. I also decided to refrain from using my blog for criticism as much as possible. This post is a good reminder about why.

    • 28/07/2012 10:34 pm

      Hi Rebecca and welcome. Thanks for your honesty; really helpful comments. I guess what you describe about identity & self worth can happen all too easily in any form of ministry – if it becomes an ego trip we’ve missed the point. every blessings in your writing.

  4. 28/07/2012 11:57 pm

    I was thinking about that whole ‘the medium is the message’ idea this week, which always makes me feel a bit uneasy as a Christian.
    Maybe as Christians we’ve become like our electronic devices and reflect the way they work, flitting from one idea to the next, being disruptive and distracted? A
    nd blogging doesn’t really engage my whole body, I mainly use my eyes and brain, with some finger tapping. Like my sense of smell isn’t engaged and much of body isn’t employed. I don’t really understand Gnosticism, but I think there might be something about ‘being online’ that means we escaping our bodies and only dealing with minds…..

    As for successful blogs many of the best ones I’ve read (like this one) don’t have much in the way of comments….but are good.

  5. 29/07/2012 9:30 pm

    generous words and a very interesting angle. I love blogging and enjoy reading and learning from other’s blogs – there is always so much to learn. But you are right – life is made to be embodied and enfleshed, so the electronic world needs to be kept in check

  6. 07/08/2012 9:15 am

    Patrick, it seems funny in a way how much writing is done in our evangelical circles when you think we are following a teacher who never wrote a single book but he managed to change History.
    Personally, though I like to be aware of different matters of discussion among evangelicals, at the same time I have chosen not to dwell too much on them, because I know that it will change in a couple of months! Somebody or something else will be the subject of discussion. I think in our fast moving society we need to be aware that we are being shaped all the time and challenge to rethink how to live within our it. Jesus used the term “seed” to describe the Kingdom of God. I have been meditating on this in the last couple,of weeks. We plant a seed, we water it, nourish it and we wait, and wait, there is nothing we can do about the speed of growing nor what it is going to look like, it is beyond our control. A healthy plant is one with roots that go deep and I believe that is what we need. Not that we don’t write or read any blogs, but that we discern what we are going to read and allow it to go deep, so it can lead us to a deeper understanding of God, of ourselves and of the world around us.

  7. 07/08/2012 2:54 pm

    Thanks Ana and happy gardening post IBI ! And that’s one of the blessings of blogging – glad we can keep talking here.

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