I was asked by a friend recently how I found the time to write so much on the internet. While there are lots of good reasons to blog, the truth is I do so for–initially–selfish reasons.
I love it. It keeps me sane. It helps me think. It keeps me connected to my friends and family from afar.
Following Dr. Bryan Stone’s lectures on Thursday and Friday of last week, we were invited to ask questions. For old time’s sake (and because I had a question), I stepped to the mic and asked Bryan how we (the church, pastors, whomever) can build and maintain Eucharist Community in an increasingly virtual context. Bryan did a good job answering (online communication can supplement human interaction) with respect to the audience before him: a Conference full of people of all ages, but mostly older folks, for whom the prospect of online community is not only foreign, but is an anathema to everything sacred about community. But I think there’s more to be said on the subject.
It’s not that I think virtual interaction takes the place of human connections– nothing can do that. The human, physical, present experience is in itself something holy and something essential for the life of the church. Hear me there. But it is also confined to particular times and places, and in an increasingly mobile world, many of us don’t stay in one place very long. Some of us are foolish enough called to take vows that we will go wherever we are sent, and we know that means we don’t stay in one place for very long.
When I started blogging five years ago, it was for that reason: to maintain connection with a friend who was no longer in my vicinity. I began that personal blog (which I still maintain; if you know me in real life, ask me about it) mostly as a way to interact with her and people with whom I had shared interests. At the time I was in seminary, and there was no shortage of personal relationships, but this was another way to interact and maintain connections with my loved ones. I’m a relational, emotional person (obligatory pause as you all gasp in shock, given my recent behavior), and to lose the connections I’ve worked to hard to build, to be distant from the people I love so much is the hardest part of my calling to an itinerant ministry.
So I blog. And I encourage my friends to blog. And my family. My entire family of origin blogs, as do most of my cousins. It’s a pretty neat thing, in fact, have a family blog network.
And I’ve discovered something. Not only do I get to maintain that little piece of my real-life community, but I get to create a virtual network that, while it’s not perfect or as close as my family is, becomes a community of its own. Through blogging, I’ve met talented authors and downright wonderful church musicians, I’ve connected with a young man in the midst of a personal crisis in the deep south and a young woman recovering from violence in Australia. I’ve had my sermons downloaded by pastors in Texas and cousins in California and parents in Vermont and Massachusetts and a very loyal organist in Connecticut.
It makes the knowledge that I’ll be in this church and (who knows?) perhaps in this Conference for only a relatively short time more bearable.
I also blog because I’m an extrovert (even longer obligatory pause as everyone who knows me cries out, but you’re so quiet and mild-mannered and introspective). It helps me think to write stuff down. Actually, it helps most to talk it out– I never know what I think until i say it. And blogging, unlike paper journalling for me for some reason– is like a conversation. It’s mulling things over aloud, and I feel clearer and better when I’m done.
In the years I’ve been writing, I’ve discovered other reasons to blog. Pete (with the creative and wonderful username) wrote a post a few days ago about why pastors should blog. He, too, mentions the formation and strengthening of community, and the power of relationships. He also speaks of networking, of pooling influence to help change social situations or convey a message. Particular to us people of faith, it’s a way to reach out to others who might not hear the message of love and redemption otherwise– because they are far away or intimidated by prior painful religious experiences or work Sundays or whatever. Particular to us pastor-types, perhaps, I think he and I would agree that blogging helps shatter the illusion that we are the professional Christians and reinforces the truth that we’re human, that (as a friend reminded me this week) we’re all broken, hurting people, holding on to one another.
As our Conference changes boundaries and half of us prepare to take leave of the other half, we are already looking to the internet and its technology to keep us connected in terms of the business and the work of the church we have to do through teleconferencing and the like. But I think we need to also look at ways to use the virtual space around us as a tool to connect us to one another and to help us build and maintain some relationships in this space, even as we build and maintain new ones in the spaces around us (there’s an attempt to do this at the United Methodist social networking site, 7Villages, but for numerous reasons, I think it often misses the mark).
So that’s why I make time to blog, and why I’ve begun to consider it a ministry, even if few (if any– if you’re here give me a wave, people) members of my congregation read this blog (yet). But it reaches out to people in a new way and says, hey, maybe pastor-people are approachable. Maybe church can be for someone like me (I do consider it part of my ministry to be so transparent in my humanness that people can’t help but think, “well if God can use *that*, then maybe God can use me too!). Blogging reaches out to people who share an interest or a faith or a denomination and connects them to one another, encourages them. It reaches out to friends who are too far away to ((hug)) and makes us feel a little closer.
On a day week like this one has been, when I’m taking all the hugs I can get, I’m grateful for that connection.