April 26, 2017

Blogosphere Spirituality: An Assessment

ereI’m writing about spirituality these days. Yeah, I know how a lot of you feel about that word. So deal. We’re going to use it.

We’re also going to use another word some of you don’t like: formation. Now that we’re good and grumpy, let’s go for a ride.

I’ve been reflecting on the spiritual formation I’ve received as a result of my participation in the blogosphere. The Christian blogosphere.

What kind of Christian influences are coming into my life through the models of Christian faith I am exposed to in this medium? What is the shape of the spiritual formation I encounter here? Can I distance myself from it enough to make any kind of helpful observations?

I have to admit that the blogosphere is a unique experience to everyone. No one of us, no matter how many similar social networking or communication tools we use, encounters the exact same influences. I’m experiencing this medium from one place and through a unique combination of elements that I choose to read, view and participate in. Your mileage will vary.

But my experience isn’t radically different from most of you who will read this post. You, my readers here at IM and those I am connected to via other mediums, are the ones who will look at these reflections and judge their accuracy from where you are. I offer them not as flawless analysis or an indictment, but as my reflections and inventory of the world where I’ve invested a great deal of my mental and spiritual energies.

Two items before we move through my inventory of what I see in the spirituality of the Christian blogosphere.

First, there is much good to take note of. I experience a great of reflection on the Gospel in this medium. Much of that is good and valuable, though it has certain disconnections and abuses that concern me. I sense a wonderful commitment to the formative aspects of marriage and family life. I see a real appreciation of a variety of Christian causes, especially mercy ministries and missions. This, and more, are real positive spiritual influences for me.

Second, I spend much of my time in the real world, with students, co-workers and family. It is my hope that the blogosphere’s influence is outweighed by the influences I experience in the real world. But I have to be honest. Two years ago my wife pointed out to me the role that listening to Catholic apologetics was having in our marriage. She was right, and that wasn’t the end of it.

In short, there is much in the spirituality of the Christian blogosphere that concerns me. When I reflect on my own developing spirituality, on my relationship to God and others, these elements are an undeniable part of the person I have become.

As I said, your mileage may vary.

1. The Christian blogosphere is overwhelmingly male. It is not only male; it thrives on “maleness” in perspective and voice. For various reasons, some confessional, some not, many of us have a seriously limited exposure to the feminine mind, voice and experience of the Christian journey. In fact, our “maleness” is affirmed in the blogosphere in ways that are useful, and neutral and harmful.

At the BHT, our experience of incorporating and keeping female members could be used by anyone to demonstrate that there’s something seriously male-dominant about the Christian blogosphere. (Probably that women are too involved with actual human beings to spend this much time with computers.)

2. I see little evidence of personal evangelism, either on the medium or reported through the medium. Lots of talk of everything surrounding evangelism, but evidence that those who populate the blogosphere are involved with evangelism is sparse, to say the least.

3. The relationship of Christianity to the various vocations represented in the blogosphere is also rarely discussed. (There are very notable exceptions to this at certain blogs.) I can’t recall more than a handful of discussions that were specific to vocations, business ethics, evangelism in the workplace, vocational missions and so on. The world of work is frequently referenced, but not often related to the faith. Trivial reporting of work activities are common, but how are Christians doing vocation as a Kingdom work.

4. The evidence of ongoing personal spiritual practices in the life of blogosphere participants is also quite sporadic. It’s clear that for many in the blogosphere, the purchasing of consumer goods and the pilgrimage to conferences are a search for a kind of devotional life, but the practice of individual/group prayer, spiritual reading, lectionary reading of scripture and so on is occasional at best. This may be because devotional practices don’t translate to the blogosphere very easily or they are not an easy topic of conversation.

5. Much of the spirituality of the blogosphere amounts to identification with teachers, “teams,” ministries, churches and authors. This is a phenomenon that is easily observed and it takes up a remarkable amount of time and energy in the blogosphere. I believe it is one of the great “false” forms of discipleship, much like consumerism. By identifying with Driscoll or Piper, a person may feel they are the kind of disciple exemplified by that person. But this is clearly not true. How many of Piper’s followers share his approach to personal sanctification? How many of Driscoll’s followers are 100% with him on gender issues?

6. The spirituality of the blogosphere is primarily expressed in the church’s ministry of preaching. Other aspects of the life of specific faith communities are in the background. To an extent, this is correct by the evangelical model, but it has to be of concern that such a minority of voices in the blogosphere ever report anything from church life other than the theology of a sermon. But the blogsphere promotes a preacher-shaped spirituality, no doubt about it.

7. The deep influence of the culture war model of discipleship is everywhere. In fact, the pervasive presence of political rhetoric and opinion is a constant intrusion into the Christian blogosphere, at times obscuring all other discussions. As in several other things, the meaning seemes to be found mostly in identification, not in participation or practice. This shapes us toward the belief that politcal conviction is the fruit of spiritual growth. I would disagree.

8. There is a deep involvement by those in the blogosphere with media, and this is integrated into their spirituality. This is especially true regarding movies and television, which are the preferred narrative modes as opposed to reading fiction. Issues regarding the secondary and spiritual influences of media are rarely heard. Being “up to date” with the latest media events is mandatory. How does this fit into my spirituality? Are we underestimating its formative effects?

9. One sees very little that is of a really radical nature in the discipleship or community exemplified in the Christian blogosphere. Despite a lot of adjectives suggesting radicalism, the Christian spirituality of the blogosphere appears to be quite conventional, especially in regard to issues of comfort, finances, lifestyle, children, community, mission, etc.

10. I see little evidence that the spirituality of the blogosphere has made Christians more informed about and congenial toward those with whom they disagree or differ. Instead, stereotypes and extreme examples are more easily created and brought into what are often “cut and paste” conversations. There is much to learn from those with whom we differ, but I rarely see any evidence that opposing sides are using the net to learn from one another. It is overwhelmingly about being reinforced in our own positions.

I am more convinced than ever that while any one of us can make the formative experience of the blogosphere far more positive than it is, most of us won’t ever do that. The possibilities for positive formation, mentoring, even devotional practice are amazing. But most of us are trivial people, and the blogosphere presents us with the opportunity to have a universe where we are powerful; where we can shape reality, fight battles, be the hero and the expert. It is an illusion creating medium, and many of us are quite enamored with that aspect of the technology.

I would hope there would be more helpful reflection of “blogosphere spirituality” in the comments. Let me suggest that if you haven’t read the comment moderation section of the F.A.Q., you do so, lest you be surprised at my moderation of a thread that is sure to be controversial.

Comments

  1. Blogosphere, Christian or not:

    -surreal
    -impersonal
    -detached
    -impatient
    -opinionated
    -potentially the antithesis of 1 Corinthians 13

    Knowing this, let the buyer beware; and one may still find it useful for sharing information and ideas.

    Therefore, not to be discarded altogether, and a wise moderator can make it or break it.

    Thanks, Michael.

  2. Michael –

    No doubt blogging fails in many areas. But, in regards to your point #2 about evangelism. By nature, an evangelist is one who is a ‘bearer of good news’. Are we not by our nature of discussing Christ and the things of Christ bearing the good news? Now, I am not saying that blogs are the great tool of the Spirit for bringing people to Christ. Humans talking with humans is the greatest way. But I do suppose we are bearing good news, at least a portion of us, in our blogging.

  3. Personally, I’ve found blogs (especially the last several days) to be a great source for variety in theology. While a home church is complete necessary, and will teach you a lot, I’ve learned a lot about different views that are out there. The last two days have taken me through several passages with an egal. view, the writings of a gay-rights Christian woman, and the Didache (though that one isn’t really outside my beliefs, just what I’m normally exposed to).

    So, if nothing else, its a good way to exchange ideas. And, in terms of my own blog, a good way to get feedback on my own ideas as well. Besides, I’m sure that there are good relationships that form on here at some point 🙂

  4. sue, I definitely agree the optimum is a blend of both: religion the skeleton to which the spiritual muscles are attached.

    Unfortunately, spirituality has become something of a buzzword to mean a sort of pick’n’mix fuzzy concept of deity/deities/spirits/forces/connections to a wider whole. Lots of flab and no structure.

    And I’m on the other side of that coin: the “I don’t bother with all that feel good misty nonsense. These are the rules and this is what you need to know and that’s the end of it” attitude, which is dead as a dry stick. Very badly in need of the living water.

    As regards the blogger gender divide, the ones I read break down about half male, half female (I’ve pruned the list a good bit). And yes, the guys tend, on the whole, to do the whole arguing/apologetics/declaiming bit, while the women write about their faith in the context of their lives and experiences with family, friends, neighbours, co-workers.

    There’s one woman on my list who’s a qualified theologian (The Ironic Catholic) and she describes what she does as: “This blog is not out to save the world. Jesus Christ already did that, thanks.

    What I do:
    Gentle satire.
    Intrepid fake news reporting.
    “Strange but true” notices.
    Oddly delightful pictures and videos about Christian — especially Catholic Christian — culture.
    Bad theological jokes.
    And the occasional blow-out rant against Christian mediocrity.”

    So yes – definitely different approaches by the men and women 🙂

  5. To echo something you touched on, but in different words… My pastor says that he doesn’t have an internet presence because “It creates a false bravado”. I think he’s right.

  6. sue kephart says:

    Martha,

    I think we need to correct the buzz word (spirituality). We are spiritual beings having a human life on this earth. Spirituality is not about feelings fuzzy or otherwise. It is who we really are as eternal beings. Everything else will someday be gone. Body, possessions, reputation, our ego and yes, even blogs on the internet!!

    So we need to pay attention to our eternal part.

  7. Most evangelical blogs I read are pretty strident and non-inclusive. If you don’t agree with their viewpoint they shut you down. This one is a pleasant exception.

  8. iMonk:

    Overall, my participation in the Christian blogosphere (or a subset of it, at least) has been positive and beneficial, but some things bug me that I haven’t really been able to put my finger on. All your observations appear to be spot on.

    Would that we took some of the principles we claim to embrace—the grace and glory of God, for example—really to heart, and showed it more consistently in our online conduct!

  9. You have a blog, Martha? Prithee what is the address? Hide not thy lamp under a basket.

  10. Curtis, if I gave you the impression that I blog on religion (apart from hanging around other people’s blogs and getting into rows) then I’m sorry.

    I meant that I have a list of favourites I read, and there seems to be an even gender balance on the list. I’ve stopped reading the ones that were more disputatious, let us say, and most of those tended to be guys. Sorry, gentlemen, but that’s the unfortunate truth. Though I do read “Whispers in the Loggia” for the insider gossip on Church affairs 😉

    The women bloggers I read seem to have a humourous and/or quirky view; for example, Jen of “Conversion Diary” – read her posts on scorpions. Trust me: I was never so glad to live in Ireland, where the most ferocious insect you’ll encounter is a wasp.

  11. The blogosphere is like alcohol: My mother used to say that getting drunk is like making you more of what you really are: The truly jovial guy gets more jovial, etc etc.

    Thus crackpots get more crackpotty online, TR’s get more TR, etc. Note though that where people hide their personalities under some glossy veneer, this will often come off when their online.

    Thus what happens online is just a more intense version of what is.

  12. Thanks for this, commenting as a female blogger who writes a fairly personal blog ( theological reflections). I recieve a number of e-mails from folk who have searching questions, and try to answer honsetly. I see it as gentle evangelism.

  13. Martha, yes, the “What I do” misled me. I am in the same situation, except that I do have a blog, but it only exists to satiate my family’s addiction to baby pictures.

    I also enjoy numerous female bloggers, including Jenn’s fine blog. I also have a soft spot for female religious bloggers (especially Dominicans). I actually had this blog categorized as “Religious” for a while until I realized (months later) that Michael was not a monastic at all, Internet or otherwise. I also enjoy a few “picture blogs”, like The Crescat, also by a woman, although an atypically cantankerous one.

  14. cermak_rd says:

    One of the advantages of the blogosphere is that the outsiders can look in on different groups. It isn’t easy for a non-Christian to get a viewpoint on Christianity in the real world. In the blogosphere, it’s a lot easier for divergent groups to at least monitor each other if not interact.

  15. Martha, thanks for mentioning the blogs written by women that you frequent. I found them and they do look good. I got a kick out of the byline on http://www.ironiccatholic.com/. She writes, “(Just like G. K. Chesterton, without the insight, style, humor, or talent.)”

    And I did find the article about scorpions written by Jen on the other blog:
    http://www.conversiondiary.com/2008/06/hospitality-in-my-home.html
    Funny!

    I find that “religious” blogs more frequented by men tend to have more arguing about what this word means or what that man said that they disagree with. And they say “strawman” a lot! Of course, this is a great generalization and not true of all men. I enjoy this blog because: I learn things; I like Michael’s writing; I like some of the commenters, especially the ones that use humor, like you, Martha!

  16. A really good original post with much to think about.

    I have tried to make my blog more how I feel and what I have done, above what I think.

    It does grate that some bloggers seem to skim read other bloggers they disagree with, ignore everything of possible value, and then link to and debunk the things they disagree with. It is almost like some have appointed themselves internet police and once they find who they disagree with they go back again and again to show just how much they disagree.

    I would rather know what someone is doing, how they feel and what makes them think like that. I know I can learn heaps from people I would hold differing theological and ecclesiological views from, and blogs are a very good way of stepping beyond the battlements of Churches and theological standpoints, if only people are willing, daring and gracious enough to do so.

  17. One of the things that I’ve noticed in the blogosphere and social networking sites is that we’ve all become armchair experts. We feel that everyone is entitled to our opinions.

    Oddly enough, I also feel as though all these various ways to connect makes us less communicative. I know that there are some things that, while they may be things that others wrestle with, I won’t write about for fear of who at my church may read it and judge me. In fact, the term social networking is somewhat laughable, because I’m not sure that we’ve really become more social or if we’ve just become more surfacey under the guise of being social. Hence, little is done in the way of serious discipleship and evangelism because we stay just on the surface.

  18. In my opinion I find that we are offered a defining moment “To Choose” a helpful and compassionate blogsphere of intelligences, learnable information, as well as having a passion to engage in defing and pure problematic issues confronting the church~and their integrity’s at stake. I find that blogging gives a person the comfort and silence of meditations on heading-on problem areas; thus offeringmany to correspond which enlightens healing, or articsitic ideas for conflict resolutions. Therefore, this idea presents an area of expertise (at times) for addressing areas of promenient concern~but, with an openness to suggestions and affirmation from ALL OF GOD’S SAINTS….these are times when we least expect it that His Holy Spirit offers…..offers…..offers a window in to avenues to take–making churches more dynamtic in their true affects in public relations. When we pretend for all certain terms to mask these issues behind closed doors of a group perse’ of 12….I sum it up like this…..Jesus talked with more than a small group—as well , He actually came public with it. The good or the not so good behaved—-etc. (Leadership for all that it IS WORTH!) Small meetings destroy–sometimes obsticling around gross truths….and than, allow the epitiomy of “one lie” to downtrodden and oppress the weak even more…..Not worth it….no. Lest we have our armour on….meaning having Faith in Gods’ Righteous Control…..in the end~whether through blog inspirations of the real silence of truth….comes the healing and widely recognized church of health bodies…..or keep reading for blog affirmation~perhaps Gods decided this type of road. Nothing kept “Secret”….embracing all the Saints with meaning…..large group affilments directly out front—front row as Jesus would probably have done. Church transformation is a Grand Choice….but, making it REAL….not just talked about is the deep desired Secret of Gods….rather than……closet type prayer…..
    One of my favorite inspirational passages and blessing for great men of worthiness is found none the less in the descrete nobleness of abliging characters to follow suite as for Christ~but a healthy church/body of fellow worshipers entrusting in 2 Timothy 2. High standards or not….competition in writings some fall upon….but, it is like a gathering up messy mud and helping to heal certain types of leaderships….So glad we can be …. a Praise God for providing not only a pretty fountain…..but…..men with integrity even when they fail! Big Diff!!!! “Rahab”

  19. ….small add on…..Sometimes we find that blogging ‘can help assist the church’ where needed when all else fails perhaps , and even the smallest of eye contacts can rattle a great mans cage with nervousnesses….this meaning~some prayers perhaps needed, or direction of visions complete and neccessary for great change–or adorning the pleasentries of great musics shared.. as well the arts abilites…..all come into play that truthfully some of these “Prominient High Scaled Couragous Leaders” need small promptings from friends too move forward, or even to back away if needed….If THEY ARE WISE and loving , and have great discernment abilities….as Dr. Andy Stanley suggested today through his sermon …..they remian with a keen spirit of the “Whole World Engagements” instead…..this would be good….and shows forth his aggressive and passionatenesses , but a worthy man/men with straight foots forward up and onward~as God blesses each one of those steps!…..yep…..yep-yep One hand washes the other sometimes…..<3

    pedals, rose pedals Rahab

  20. What you say is why I stopped writing my church blog. I found that I had nothing to say to the context as it existed, and what I did have to say was better suiting to my other blog, Leading Questions.