Social & Political Issues

The evils of blogging?

When people ask me what I do, I never say I write.  It’s a little secret I’ve kept mostly tucked away from those who know me because saying I’m a teacher draws fewer suspicious looks, and it’s easier to stick to the safe conversations.  In fact, if one of my posts hadn’t gone viral a few months ago, I’d still be quite contentedly writing in the shadows without anyone I know but my husband knowing about my words here.  (I even get all-worked-up when he tells people we know that I have a blog.)

It took a long time for me to come to grips with being a writer even though I have been writing nearly my entire life, won writing awards, served as a school newspaper and literary magazine editor and been published in a variety of publications. Somewhere in my adjustment to the adult world, I determined that ‘real adults’ are private, composed, and don’t put their thoughts out there for the world to critique.  As a result, I’ve got all the arguments against writing publicly on a blog down cold:

  • It’s egotistical to put your own thoughts out there.  Who really wants to read all about someone else’s life?
  • Why spend all that time in the virtual world when there are real people out there?
  • Self-promotion and ambition are obnoxious (especially for women).  Why not just live quietly and well without the pursuit of a ‘platform‘?
  • All anyone does is fling words at each other.  Everyone has an opinion and no one really listens to anyone else.

All these reasons make perfect sense to me, and I even agree with them on occasion.  One of my favorite authors, Jan Johnson, has written about how she doesn’t self-promote much as a spiritual discipline.  I totally get and even respect her thinking.  The expectations of self-promotion and slick-marketing tactics for writers in the current publishing market are downright ugly at times.  As a result, you rarely find her books in bookstores or libraries – not many people have heard of her.  It’s a sad reality of voice and power that the squeaky (or pretty or best-packaged or most-connected) wheel really does get the grease, one that tempts my typing fingers toward complete stillness.

However, when I found myself living lonely in the middle of a cornfield in an interracial/intercultural family, I desperately needed to find others in similar situations and started a blog just to remember that I wasn’t really alone.  Over the years, I’ve found a variety of others just like me, and their simple presence in the world gave me courage to live as I was created, even when it was so very different from those around me.

I first found Idelette in Vancouver in the early stages of SheLoves.  Then I found a like-minded TCK in Australia, Kathy in Chicago, and the ever-brilliant Rachel Held Evans in Tennesee.  I also stumbled upon a whole host of intercultural blogs through the DesiLink Blogs and Multicultural Bloggers networks.  Most recently, I’ve been learning from Marilyn in Boston and Christena in Minneapolis and Rachel in Djbouti.  Connecting to this virtual world was like someone entered a very dark room and turned on the light.

So in spite of my hesitancies, I’ve written here sporadically for over six years now, with a short shut down to contemplate if it was worth continuing at all.  (In the midst of processing some intense anger, I wasn’t sure it would be healthy to have access to a public outlet for my voice.) When a friend asked me to write for a new blog discussing women’s issues, a part of me awoke. Reluctantly, I reopened Between Worlds.  While the above critiques still hold regarding the blogging world, since I’ve been writing again, I’ve also discovered some positive surprises about this brave new digital arena.

Similar to Eric Liddell from Chariots of Fire, practicing a craft that I was made for feels purposeful and right.  In short, I feel God’s pleasure when I write.  Liddell’s deeper explanation of his own purpose challenges me when I consider what to do with the skills God has given me:

You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe you’re dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job.

So who am I to say, “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.

His words force me to consider if a part of my ‘race’ might be writing – not for fame or riches or reputation, but for faithfulness.  For others, the race may be caring for a disabled child or researching or single-parenting or song-writing or dancing or coaching.  What more can any of us do ‘in the face of life’s realities’ except run the race we were given as straight as we can?

Brené Brown rocked all of our worlds with her research on vulnerability and shame.  A data driven researcher, she faced a personal breakdown when her data showed that “whole-hearted people” live well because of their ability to be vulnerable.  To be honest, there are more than a few moments when I sit behind the screen with shaking fingers, wondering if I should really hit ‘publish’ (especially the provocative viral post), but as I both share and listen to others, I learn time and again that vulnerability has a healing power.

In addition to vulnerability, I have a firm conviction that gut-level honesty must have a place in the church.  Somewhere along the way, we’ve adjusted the message that Jesus came to heal broken people to expecting perfection to walk through the church doors.  While some may criticize that it’s not attractive to air our dirty laundry, I have found it far more damaging to pretend I’m something that I’m not.  Perhaps my thoughts here aren’t perfect or spiritual or positive enough.  Perhaps there are times when I complain or whine or get too cynical.  If I do, please know that it’s somewhat intentional for the reality is that I am far more dirty-handkerchief than pristine-snowfall.  If mothering’s taught me anything, it’s that nothing comes clean if we simply pretend it’s not dirty.

I must admit that while I’ve never read Thomas Merton’s book No Man is an Island, the title alone haunts me.  I can be quite an independent soul, so that may explain why this phrase is jars me.  Writing in the public sphere forces me to walk boldly in the truth that I am not an island, that I need others to be part of my story.

Finally, one of the most fascinating outcomes of the always-connected technological revolution is the ability to form a collective voice without anyone’s express permission.  While this isn’t always a positive thing, there are times when it’s astoundingly moving.  The collective voice matters because it gives public voice to those who have traditionally not had access to one.  When large groups begin to voice dissent on an issue those in power have conveniently ignored, social norms change.  A few examples include the Arab Spring, the growing protest of patriarchal leadership models in the church, the reframing of stereotypes regarding sexuality, and the growing attention to global injustices like human trafficking and AIDs.

As we consider the impact of the ever-expanding world of social media and digital connectedness, we can either decry the shallowness, running the other way with the luddites or we can engage and push it to dig deeper.  Perhaps there’s some value in both responses to the megabytes, but for those of us wading in their fray, let’s lead the way with a few extra shovels.

Further Reading

Restoration & Reconciliation, Spiritual Formation

Remembering the human in the age of digital mud-slinging

remember the human

“Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.” – Albus Dumbledore

I knew a man once who grew up watching his alcoholic father beat the life out of his mother.  A friend whispered to me that, as a little boy, he would run to her house in tears to hide, afraid of his own home.  Over the years, the violence hardened him.  By the time I knew him, he was no different than his father, filled only with rage and alcohol. Sadly, I watched his children repeat his boyhood story of hiding their tears in neighbors’ homes.

Before I learned about the pain of his childhood, it was easy to label this man idiot and asshole and abuser.  While his rage scared me, I also knew different.  Though he appeared a violent and ruthless man, I could not help but also see a teary, scared little boy hiding from his father in a neighbor’s house.  This one fact changed the way I thought about, prayed for, and responded to him.

Sometimes, I muse that there are corners of the North American church that reflect the life of an alcoholic like this man.  We come from so many places and perspectives and experiences.  We have different needs and hurts and hopes and dreams that shape how we understand The Story God left for us.  For some, the Bible has proved no better than an abusive father, having been used to beat us down and send us hiding in neighbor’s houses, tears streaming down our hearts.  For others, it has been the authority of life, a testament to be revered,  followed-to-a-T and never challenged.  Still for others, it has been a life-changing, restorative and hope-filled new way.

As I participate in the conversation emerging in our digitized world, I’ve observed that social media has become a great venue for our alcoholic traits to rear their ugly heads.  From the safety of our computer screens, we rant and rage, accuse and deny, promise and fail, stereotype and namecall.

Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 1 haunt me every time I smugly disdain or praise the public voices who I find either ridiculous or brilliant.  We might as well just substitute new names for our Big Fight: “One of you says, “I follow John Piper”; another, “I follow Rob Bell”; another, “I follow Joyce Meyer”; still another, “I follow Jesus.”

His words haunt me primarily because I do this very thing. Paul is talking about me.

[Gulp.]

I recover quickly from my conviction because, let’s face it, folks: some people are wrong.

There are racist people out there, people who are prejudiced and mean-spirited and divisive, all in the name of Jesus.  There are people who preach that following Jesus will make you rich.  There are people who put on a good show just for the money and the fame, using Jesus like a trick-or-treat costume to reach the ranks of the kid-with-the-most-candy.  There are people who preach a beautiful grace from the pulpit but can’t manage to apply an ounce of it to one single person in their life.

I judge them, flinging my mental rants at them because I don’t want them messing up the life-giving message of the gospel that Jesus came to save us at our worst.

The very-sticky-problem is that the very people I deem ‘wrong’ may well think the same of me.  So we polarize, mudsling, stake our ground, call for schisms, and tweet and post our disagreements with furor.  It is perhaps one of the most complexly sad sights of the American protestant church today.

swirl

One of the most potent lessons that living between worlds has taught me is that people have many sides.  As I’ve lived among both rural and urban poor,  wealthy coastal elites, perseverant immigrants, powerful politicians, awe-inspiring performers, stodgy academics, consumeristic metropolitans, shallow surbanites and simple minded small-town folk, I’ve rarely seen any of them live up completely to the stereotype their namecallers hold them to.  The media shouts that red-states-hate-blue states and vice versa, but the story that we’re slower to remember is that everyone – regardless of ideology – loves, wants to love or be loved.

In the age of opinions becoming digital sound bytes, it has become far too easy to fling our anger at each other and forget that we are humans, not screens.  “The person-who-disagrees-with-me deserves my wrath because he is WRONG,” we chant.

I get it.  I’ve been on the receiving end of threatening phone calls, of bigoted teenagers in pick-up-trucks, of name-calling and assumption making.  It wounds.  It infuriates. It keeps me awake at night.  It sends me running to my neighbor’s house in tears. But as much as my gut reacts otherwise, it is not the way of Jesus, even when “they” are wrong.  

Father, forgive them, he said as they took his very life.  Seventy times seven, he’d told his followers.

Turn the other cheek.

If someone wants your shirt, give him your coat as well.

I nearly walked away from Jesus once, but one of the primary things that drew me back was learning more about the ‘other way’ of which Jesus speaks.

Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.  

Don’t do your righteous acts for others to see.

If possible, live peaceably with all men.  

swirl

Whenever I hear people from one region of the country disparage the ‘crazies’ in another region, I find myself getting strangely defensive regarding traits that drive me equally crazy, You don’t understand, I want to explain. They’re more than just red and blue, conservative and liberal.  They’re humans, just like you. In the words of my witty Grandpa John, “Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time.”

We are one in the spirit, we like to sing but struggle to live.  I recently heard Michelle Bloom, a singer-songwriter, point out how we often overlook the words at the end of the second verse, We will work with each other, we will work side by side. And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.

As we navigate this topsy turvy path of our new digital world, let’s practice a new way of talking to and about each other as we stumble along the path toward unity.  When we remember the human behind the screen, we echo the very words of Jesus as we seek to protect every man’s dignity.  While this does not mean we will all come to the same conclusions, it does mean that we commit to walk alongside one another in our humanity with respect for the God-given dignity of all our fellow sojourners, not just the ones with whom we agree.

Further Reading