Any Idiot Can Have a Blog

Deacon Greg has shut down comments on his blog, The Deacon’s Bench, for some time as it seems that the comments have gotten out of hand since he moved from blogspot to Beliefnet. I can relate to the following comment:

I’m a deacon, not a referee, with a demanding full-time job and a part-time parish ministry to practice. I don’t have the time to mediate every fight or catechize every stranger who wanders by and wants to know what all the screaming is about.)

Among the deacon’s first words in the mass are “Lord have mercy.” His last are “Go in peace.” As those words frame the celebration of the Eucharist, I want them also to frame my work here.

Indeed blogging can be a full-time job all it’s own. A friend of mine is hoping to do just that in the sports world–another actually does just blog for a living. Comments load up quickly and the nature of the internet is the participants “need” for immediacy. People expect a response to their comments, especially the most rabid amongst us.

Since I started a media ministry (BustedHalo.com) and now have this blog, I have come to wonder if there is a huge difference between being a ministry and being a media outlet based on religion. I’ll make several points here:

1) Ministry takes as its starting point the spiritual well-being of individuals who come to us for spiritual guidance. People entrust priests, religious women, deacons, brothers and lay ministers with their lives. Media does not necessarily do this and if it did it might be quite boring for the average “lurker,” someone who reads a blog but doesn’t necessarily make comments on them.

2) Unless it’s explicitly stated, Blogging and other Media ministry outlets is not equated with catechesis. Meaning that blogs and other media outlets serve to entertain, to engage others in an argument that is happening, or to further some agenda’s point of view in some cases. 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. Blogs take what Rush Limbaugh did for radio and placed that mentality into a new delivery system. Rush states: “I will interpret the news FOR you.” So what blogs do is simply express the entertaining voice of one person (sometimes more). They aren’t usually meant to teach, they are meant to further the OPINION of the blogger and when they do try to teach, they usually fail to cover the fullness of the church’s tradition. In short, any idiot could have a blog and any idiot can comment as well. It doesn’t make them a catechetical expert or even a teacher. Even looking at Deacon Greg’s blog the subtitle lets you know that this is a commentary–”where a Roman Catholic Deacon ponders the world.”

3) Ministry, however, needs to go beyond the mere blog post. In other words, minister’s who use media should hope that they get further comments from their audience and therefore, they have a responsibility to answer those comments, perhaps even off-site. I know this blog often opens a conversation with some of the students here. It has also allowed me to engage more deeply with friends who are struggling with the church and who turn to me as a “public” minister to help them understand the church’s point of view and their own personal struggles. In short, media opens the door for a minister, but it is the minister who needs to go beyond the media forum to further engage the individual. This is a point sorely missed by many who use media but also by those who comment on blogs and it leads me to my last point:

4) Bloggers need to choose how engaged they want to be with their “fans.” For me, I place my students as my priority in terms of interaction. Why? Because that is who I am called to at this time as a minister (as well as my primary means of employment!). I also engage with those who don’t really want to argue a point but who seem to be struggling with their faith. If they are nearby me, I may even invite them further into conversation or spiritual direction, if they are open to that. For some, remaining anonymous is held at a high value and for others my invitation falls on seemingly deaf ears. Sometimes the lost, stay lost.

Still, sometimes blogging leads bloggers to simply try to entertain and to be provocative. Getting the eyeballs to look at a blog or video or website is, in fact, the point–sometimes it’s the end point. Comments allow people to become part of the conversation and in that conversation we might stray from simply presenting the teaching of the church and engage in all sides of the arguments that are out there. That’s what we call entertaining, but it may not include teaching or pastoral care of individuals. That comes later.

Lastly it should be noted that I love Deacon Greg’s blog and I think he does a great job of interacting with his audience. He wrote a great piece once for America about a teacher who read his blog and after being so engaged with it, decided to share with him that he had lost a student that day. He felt like he knew Deacon Greg because he read his blog and viewed him as someone he could trust. So he emailed him looking for pastoral care. I can’t tell you the number of times that has also happened to me over the last 10 years.

In many ways, that’s a great thing…but it also reveals to us ministers something quite sad:

Many people are lonely, scared, alienated and in great need of pastoral care.

And so they reach out to a blogger for pastoral care because they have nobody in their lives that they can trust with their most intimate pastoral questions.

And that is daunting for all of us who spend a lot of our time producing content for blogs, podcasts, videos, etc. I like Deacon Greg’s attitude this week. Keeping the conversations charitable, gives us the all the opportunity to keep that door open–that door that opens us all to meet Christ.

Perhaps even in a blog post.

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  1. There are many reasons that you – and Greg, among others, are my heroes. This post illustrates some of why you (both) are.

  2. Well said, Mike! I find blogging opens a lot of doors. I find myself overwhelmed sometimes with the prayer requests and questions that come in. People are hurting and are in need of pastoral care. Blogging has only further affirmed my belief that people are still in need of others to be present to them and to journey with them. We need human to human contact. I am in favor of using any means to open the door. It is our responsibility as the authors of blogs to be willing to engage with people who are willing to dialogue.

  3. The cross section of blogging and ministry is something I’ve been pondering lately. What does it mean to go to bed at night worried about someone you don’t even know?

    Such strange new territory sharing faith in this way. There is a big flock out there.

    Blog on.

  4. Missy…comment of the week! A friend said to me once that it was kinda sad that someone had no friends or family to reach out to and so they sent a note to someone they don’t know but rather enjoy reading.

    At the same time, isn’t it also a sign of desperate matters? And if so, aren’t we still called to serve them?

  5. I comment very regularly at justoneminute, where there is a lively and close crowd. Last October we lost one beloved member of our little community — he was found dead in his home by one of his IRL friends. Then this March we lost a beloved friend that we knew all along we were going to lose — she had a nasty and incurable cancer.

    So having been to two “online wakes” in the last six months, I think comment sections can be wonderful places of community. A commentless blog is a monologue (monoblog?) — isn’t talking to yourself kind of boring? There really isn’t room for more than a few Instapundits — that niche is filled. Deacon Greg has the occasional interesting thing to say, and I’ll probably stop by for 5-10 minutes once or twice per week.

  6. Faith can be one of those intensely sensitive subjects and I can understand why some people may feel more comfortable asking a faith-related question anonymously or semi-anonymously.

    I am concerned about “God” blogging, however. Too many loose cannons out there, too many oddball blogs that sort of look, feel and sound like they’re somehow “official” in some way. Too many bullies, too many real nutters, too many scary people.

    I’ve just come from a blog, for example, where the author, a relatively new convert, is promoting something he himself doesn’t fully understand and it’s troubling, to say the least. A few commenters — lifelong Catholics — are questioning him and they’re getting the usual response commenters who don’t parrot the blog owner’s beliefs (or those of his or her “regulars). I know for a fact one of his critics is correct about a particularly troubling detail, but I no longer jump into the fray — been there, done that, no thanks. The blogger in question is a classic passive-aggressive and there isn’t any point.

    However, it’s frightening to know that some one may be reading, may get involved in something spiritually unhealthy, something they may get sucked into without real life people knowing about until it’s too late.

    So all the usual caveats apply — it’s the internet — you don’t really know anyone — there are bad people out there who want to harm you. If someone wants too much info, if someone is obviously selling something, either literally or metaphorically, if someone begins to show troubling behavior patterns, etc., best to move on.