I’m one of the original twelve. (No, not apostles.) I’ve been blogging here for the past five years. And I am quickly approaching retirement. This is my second to last blog, after which I will yield my place among The Twelve to someone with a fresh voice.
As I near this end, I face questions that I’ve asked myself all along: Why blog? What makes a successful blog? Does anyone care other than a few faithful readers? (I researched that second question last night for the first time. Doing so sooner might have benefited all of us.)
As an academic, I am trained to write with precision, nuance, thoroughness, and complexity. I am trained to research a question from multiple angles, alongside unexpected dialogue partners, and over time. I try to anticipate critique in order to present my perspective with greater faithfulness and congruence. I’m good at conceptual clarity and bringing big ideas from disparate fields into fruitful dialogue in order to yield new ideas. I suck when it comes to witty titles and pithy phrases that turn would-be readers into loyal ones.
So I’ve repeatedly asked myself, “Why do I blog?!” Especially Wednesday nights when I’m figuring out what to say this time. One of my professors once sarcastically commented about a fellow colleague: “he publishes a book for every interesting thought he has.” The implication was two-fold: every interesting thought isn’t worthy of public airing; allowing ideas to percolate over long periods of time yields better results in the end. The latter may be debatable, but it reflects my own predisposition and education.
In my M.Div. and Ph.D. programs, I was taken with the work of Karl Barth, in no small part because he communicated the multiplicity of theological truth with the kind of care, length, depth, nuance, and complexity that his subject matter called for.
Saying something culturally meaningful, theologically precise, personally revealing, edgy enough to eek through the cacophony of social commentary, and in approximately 800 words, well, let’s just say I’m not trained for that. And I sometimes wonder about the wisdom of it.
I did write at least one successful blog over the past five years, if by success, we mean wide readership. First the Washington Post and then Duke Divinity School republished it. As an aside, only the latter included some remuneration. To be precise, it opened the door to write other pieces for a modest honorarium. I bring this up because, according to last night’s research, one of the reasons to blog is that it can yield income. Hmmm . . . certainly for business and perhaps for a few theologians agile enough to know how to market themselves and their ideas. But not so much for the rest of us.
I am glad that the Post published that one blog. Not surprisingly, they changed the title a bit to make it edgier. I suspect my theological point wasn’t heard as fully because the provocative title and newly inserted photo drowned out the nuance below. I wrote a follow up blog, but Post readers likely didn’t see it.
Theology matters. It is spiritual medicine. It can heal. It can wound. It can build up or tear down. I hope my blogs, over all, contributed more to healing than wounding, more to justice than injustice, more to peace than fragmentation.
This brings me to one of the ways blogging has formed me spiritually. It has pushed me to risk vulnerability and accept finitude. In most blogs that really mattered to me, there was always more to say. Intellectual potholes remained, and I knew it. The choice was clear: say something that was good enough or say nothing at all. I chose the former over and over but not without some angst.
Because of this, I think I am less bothered by the question in the title: What happens to all the blogs that no one reads? A recent NPR segment took up this same question about online videos. 400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute! Randomly numbered, most of them disappear like needles in a virtual haystack. (Or perhaps they are sent to an island of misfit videos, blogs, and tweets where their loneliness dissipates in the presence of rejected others.)
In any case, I hope some of my blogs experience that same fate. If someone looks hard enough and uncovers one of them, perhaps by the mysterious work of the Spirit a phrase or line or big idea will become generative for them in spite of me.
Now I think I am talking about human living and Christian faith as much as blogging. I will leave it at that, because there’s not enough space or time to say anymore.