I’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.