Monday, August 31, 2009

Belated Anniversary, With Explanations: Why Blog?

As I've mentioned a couple times, this weekend marked the one year anniversary of Resident Theology, and I delayed last week's mini-celebration to this week -- coinciding, to the detriment of my time management, with the beginning of classes for the fall semester at Candler. I originally intended the week-long series' posts to be brief, but now they may simply be a couple of paragraphs (after this one's unprogrammatic length...). I do want to go ahead and do it, though, because part of my hope was to explain a bit about the blog and my intentions with and for it, and to have that as a resource gathered together for anyone who finds their way in these parts.

Originally, I wrote on a couple blogs before I read any. I kept one for my successive summer mission internships in Jinja, Uganda, and Tomsk, Russia, in 2006 and 2007. They were enjoyable both when I was in the field and in between, as an outlet for my experiences and theological wanderings as well as a helpful space in which to interact with friends and mentors who lived in other places.

I was blog-less for about thirteen months, between July 2007 and August 2008. In that time I got married, graduated with my undergraduate degree, moved from Abilene to Atlanta with Katelin, and each of us were accepted to our respective graduate schools. I realized in the summer months leading up to the start of my first fall semester at Candler that I was sorely in need of a theological and literary outlet, and so I decided to get back in the blogging business. I knew nothing of the "theo-blogging" world (and not much more of the "blogosphere" in general), and I assumed I would have a small audience of old friends and fellow-travelers who happened upon the site.

Fast forward a year, and in the past 12 months I have written more than 213,800 words, spread out over 195 posts. Though I haven't blown up records for hits, I've had more than 1,200 unique visitors (something I neither planned nor expected!). I have been linked to by as disparate of sites as TrueHoop -- Henry Abbott's premier NBA blog -- and Br. Tom Murphy's blog devoted to all things Wendell Berry. Two of the three theological blogs I consider to be the best on the internet -- Ben Myers' Faith and Theology and Halden Doerge's Inhabitatio Dei -- now link to Resident Theology, and Richard Beck, the author of the third in that excellent group (Experimental Theology), has graciously commented on a number of posts here at RT. This summer a PhD student introduced himself to me at a conference in Nashville simply by virtue of his having stumbled upon the blog. I am looking forward to befriending Jimmy McCarty in the flesh this fall, because while he is now a first-year PhD student at Emory, we came to know each other first and primarily through mutual respect for and interaction with each other's blogs, all while he finished his MDiv at Claremont in Los Angeles. And just last week, with my friend Patrick I launched a music website over on WordPress, which already has attracted the attention (and participation) of various "legit" music critics and bloggers.

All that to say: From humble beginnings and zero expectations, it has been a fun ride and, even more, an unexpected gift to have received and shared in so much interaction, attention, prolificity, and affirmation in a context so simple (a blog) yet so dangerous (the internet). But the question lingers:

Why blog?

I think of Wendell Berry's prescient warnings, in the 1980s no less, of the latent potency for damage in the superficial neutrality of the computer screen:
A handwritten or typewritten page therefore is usually to some degree a palimpsest; it contains parts and relics of its own history -- erasures, passages crossed out, interlineations -- suggesting that there is something to go back to as well as something to go forward to. The light-text on the computer screen, by contrast, is an artifact typical of what can only be called the industrial present, a present absolute. A computer destroys the sense of historical succession, just as do other forms of mechanization. ...

[I]n using computers writers are flirting with a radical separation of mind and body, the elimination of the work of the body from the work of the mind. The text on the computer screen, and the computer printout too, has a sterile, untouched, factorymade look, like that of a plastic whistle or a new car. The body does not do work like that. The body characterizes everything it touches. What it makes it traces over with the marks of its pulses and breathings, its excitements, hesitations, flaws, and mistakes. On its good work, it leaves the marks of skill, care, and love persisting through hesitations, flaws, and mistakes. And to those of us who love and honor the life of the body in this world, these marks are precious things, necessities of life.

But writing is of the body in yet another way. It is preeminently a walker's art. It can be done on foot and at large. The beauty of its traditional equipment is simplicity. And cheapness. Going off to the woods, I take a pencil and some paper (any paper -- a small note book, an old envelope, a piece of a feed sack), and I am as well equipped for my work as the president of IBM. I am also free, for the time being at least, of everything that IBM is hooked to. My thoughts will not be coming to me from the power structure or the power grid, but from another direction and way entirely. My mind is free to go with my feet.

I know that there are some people, perhaps many ... [for whom] disembodiment is a goal, and they long for the realm of pure mind -- or pure machine; the difference is negligible. Their departure from their bodies, obviously, is much to be desired, but the rest of us had better be warned: they are going to cause a lot of dangerous commotion on their way out. (The Art of the Commonplace [Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2002], pp. 77, 78)
As always, I take Berry's concerns and warnings with utter seriousness: the man is right about so much, and the dangers involved in interminably new technological innovations -- which people constantly claim they need or could never have lived without -- are so clear otherwise, that his fears must be taken seriously.

However, the specter of the computer screen or of writing on a laptop, and the justification of their use, require no elaborate explanation here. We are celebrating an anniversary, after all! Allow me, instead, simply to share, having acknowledged (even if only some) pitfalls and temptations, why I blog, and in fact, why I love blogging.

First, as with most other superfluous practices, we must remember that one should seriously question one's involvement in blogging from the outset if one does not love it. There is much bragadociousness and anger and arrogance and competition in the blogosphere, and so little activity carries what N.T. Wright calls an epistemology of love. But my modus operandi in blogging is all love.

I love blogging because of the connections it makes. I actually participate in serious theological conversations with old friends, new friends, strangers and potential friends all the time.

I love blogging because of the discoveries lying dormant, simply waiting to be found. My favorite living poet (not really, but close) just happens to be one of my brother's best friends, David Ayres, whose poems make any day sweeter when they are read. Also, he will be graduating college this year.

I love blogging because I learn new and enriching things nearly every day. I read x, in response I write y, someone comments z, and so I respond with a 6-part series called xyz -- and then random Divinity student a links to me, and I click over to his blog which is all about b, and I find out he knows my friend c -- who always taught y when I thought x. And then we email about it, all of us.

I love blogging because I love lists. And all good bloggers make good lists, endlessly and not listlessly.

I love blogging because my brain, sometimes, refuses to stop running, and the little beige box on Blogger welcomes every last syllable of my 3,500-word epics.

I love blogging because with an immediacy that is truly revolutionary, I find others whose words speak for me when I cannot find my own, especially in response to events awful, baffling, or literally awesome.

I love blogging because there are no limitations: I have posted movie reviews, short stories, sermons, autobiographical tales, love notes to my wife, poems, scholarly essays, goofy essays, angry missives, thoughtful questions, quotidian fluff, book reviews, lists of best films and albums of the year, and more. I was born with my mouth gaping wide open at the bare and uncensored brilliance of this glorious world, and equally at how many seem to walk right past it without noticing, and blogging is a way of saying -- especially as a Christian -- "Don't you see? That song, and that film, and that book, and that tree, and that other tree, and that man, and that painting, and that poem, and that leaf, and that life, and that song ... it is all the glory of God! Unwrapped and set before and beneath and around us like an ever-present birthday gift, we live in a world of wonders too mighty and too gaudy for our minds, but if only we would look and put words to the silence we might catch a glimpse of what is unspeakably too much for us, yet also meant infinitely for us. Let us take the time needed to do that thing, to look and to watch and to say what comes to mind, and let us all do it together in a whirlwind of happy overwhelmed shouts of joy."

In a word, or more or less, that is why I love blogging; and therefore my reasons, among others, for doing it.

1 comment:

  1. lovely photo of St. Isaac's. I spent most days of my St. Pete sojourn walking past it down the Fontanka to Cafe Idiot, a rare "vegetarian" cafe in Russia (they counted caviar as vegetarian).

    And thanks for sharing poetry each sabbath-i know no better celebration of rest and worship than that.