Saturday, May 1, 2010

The insurmountable limits of blogging

Lately, in my neck of the Catholic blogosphere, there has been some healthy reflection going on about blogging; about what it is, what it isn't, etc. This kind of reflection is not only healthy, but necessary for anyone who starts driving her/his family truckster down the information super highway, especially anyone who blogs as a Catholic Christian. This reflection started when Deacon Greg disabled the comments feature over on the Deacon's Bench because some commentors were just going nuts, in the words of Deacon Greg himself: "I never intended The Deacon's Bench to become a place for knees in the groin and brass knuckles to the jaw. God knows, I also never thought it would turn into a place for escalating violence, where one commenter pulls out a knife, until another whips out a pistol. Lively debate is one thing. Relentless, merciless hate is something else."

Deacon Greg's post prompted a rather thought-provoking post by Mike Hayes, of Busted Halo, on his personal blog Googling God- Any Idiot Can Have a Blog. Many of us who blog daily, or nearly daily, can relate to this. I have been blogging almost daily since late July 2006. There are certainly times when I resemble Mike's remark. I know that there are a few out there who think that's true everytime I post something. Hence, I adhere to the axiom that the person who has no detractors is a person who has never stood for anything.

One of Mike's insights that can easily be overlooked in this very worthwhile post is this: "Bloggers need to choose how engaged they want to be with their 'fans'." In other words, a blogger, like any writer, has to find her/his voice, as it were, his/her M.O. Frankly, I don't see the people who regularly read my blog as "fans," but as readers, many of whom are friends. I do not want fans. As I have stated before, this site does not have nor will it ever have a site meter. It will never feature ads. I maintain no metrics or stats as to how many people visit this cyber space. I will never be enticed to move my blog somewhere else. I am happy to write for other venues, to contribute and collaborate other places, to allow this blog to be linked to, quoted, etc., but, unlike just about everything else in my life, this endeavor is uniquely mine for better or for worse. Consequently, I am solely responsible for what appears here, including moderating comments. All of the Catholic bloggers I know write for different reasons, which is healthy and good as long as we write in the service of communion, the diakonia of koinonia.

I honestly don't think you can call yourself a Catholic blogger and not have a way of being personally accountable (see Integrity Notes at lower right side of this site). I certainly look to my readers to hold me accountable and not to be passive aggressive about it (i.e., don't take your complaints to somebody else before taking them up with me directly, which is the only Christian way to behave see- Matt. 18:15-17). On several occasions I have been corrected by readers. I am grateful for this. In other words, I want to be able to state my piece without worrying about being shut down and I want to be corrected, either as to errors I make in matters of fact, or when I am being unfair, uncharitable, or just plain annoying. The blogging model that I really like is the one used by Peter Hitchens on his Daily Mail blog, as one who cut his teeth as a young adult in the philosophy graduate seminar, a bit o' the old rough and tumble does not bother me as long as it remains reasonable and doesn't get personal.

Another insight of Mike's is that "Usually, blogs are told from a specific point of view, namely the blogger’s–which could mean they come from a certain place on a variety of spectrums and therefore don’t really express the fullness of any one tradition." As is my wont, I will ratchet this up a notch: blogs always represent a specific point-of-view. Writing from a point-of-view, your point-of-view, is inescapable, as anyone who has ever read Gadamer's Truth and Method knows, which neither disputes the objective, or inter-subjective, nature of truth, nor puts forth a weird kind of solipsism. This true to the point that to think otherwise is to engage in self-deception. While it is true that everyone has an opinion, it is equally true that not all opinions are equal. Hand-in-hand with this, at least for Catholic bloggers, is that you don't express or exhaust the fullness of our 2,000 year tradition in single post, or even across several posts. On a good day, to quote Msgr. Giussani, we are able to open up "a newness", which "always opens up the road within the old words." Besides, if you do not wish to express your point-of-view, then blogging becomes an exercise in saying nothing in 1,000 words or more, which is great only if you're auditioning for a job in public relations.

There are things about which I simply report the news, as with episcopal retirements and appointments in the United States, but my overall point and purpose is to express my point-of-view on matters that I deem worthy of comment. This sounds more than a little imperial, but it is just to state a fact that is true not only of all bloggers, but all writers. After all, you can't write about everything! So, everyone who blogs makes choices about content. I strive for original content. I want my readers to read something they can't find anywhere else, but I would never want to be the sole source of information, which is why I provide so many links. As a preacher I try to do the same thing. I write every homily myself, for better or for worse. I don't recycle homilies, though, given that you can't preach everything in any one week's readings, I may take something from a previous homily and develop it more. I then rely on the Holy Spirit to do something with the words I prayerfully manage to string together. I approach blogging in much the same way, which goes a great distance towards explaining why many of my posts have a homletic quality. I suppose that makes me something of a not-fit-for-primetime-Catholic-editorialist. So, don't look for me on the opinion page of your diocesan newspaper anytime soon, or in my diocesan newspaper for that matter!

Blogging for me goes through discernible phases that are determined by what is happening in my life and in the world. My blog gives me a space to connect the dots. Additionally, I like to highlight aspects of Catholic thought that I think are frequently overlooked, or even denied. Admittedly, there is a fine line between consciousness-raising and rabble rousing, especially when you're rabble, like me. Looking at my posts over this past week or so, I have written about economic and political issues in a rather straight-forward and admittedly one-sided manner in an attempt to be provocative. Given the utter lack of reader response, both here on my blog and on Facebook, I understand that my views on these matters are not likely shared by many people, if for no other reason than I tend to be pretty impassioned about the gross immorality of the type exhibited by those at the highest levels of Goldman Sachs and to having little patience or tolerance for people who use threats to try and silence others, even when those others produce art that I often find personally offensive, if at times extremely funny (like love, imo, humor covers a multitude of sins). I also get that others simply aren't as worked up about these things as I am. I certainly wouldn't say that those who don't share my views are stupid or that those who don't get as worked up as I do over things are apathetic. I fully grasp that it may well mean that they are simply more prudent. It is often self-evident that Deacon Scott (Yes, I just went all Jimmy Kimmel imitating Karl Malone by referring to myself in the third person) rushes in where angels fear to tread, which only proves Mike's thesis that any idiot can, indeed, have a blog!

St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us

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