October 20, 2017

I Recommend the Carp On The IM Menu

2005carpI rarely do posts about the site itself, but with a lot of new readers, there are some things that need to be said occasionally.

Every few months, I will get a letter here at the Internet Monk mail room that goes something like this (not a real letter btw, but very close):

Mr. Monk,

I don’t know why I read your web page. I need some encouragement in my faith and after reading what you write, I see no reason to continue being a Christian. You criticize everything and everyone. You find nothing right with the church. You amplify every doubt and objection to where it can’t be ignored and you seem on the verge of abandoning the faith yourself. Who knows how many atheists you’ve created. With all the influence you have in the blogosphere, you’d think you could be at least a little bit encouraging to those of us who are struggling.

Sincerely,

Bruised Reed

I’m not above appreciating this kind of letter and I don’t want to come off that way. “Bruised reeds” are important to me. I love them and feel a special concern and consideration for them. I’m not above criticism, though you’ll easily find people whose blogs will inform you that I’ve never allowed or agreed with a single criticism every offered to me.

I’m not a connoisseur of fan letters and I don’t send the goon squads out from my designated chat rooms to comment-harass and e-mail bomb those who say these sorts of things. Usually, I don’t say anything except send along a note acknowledging the concerns and thanking the person for reading.

Today, however, I want to make a few responses, and as I said, I don’t intend to be carping or snarky.

1) Encouragement comes in various forms. I have classes made up of seniors. Most of them will suffer through bout of senioritis, i.e. they will just stop doing any work and consider passing with any grade acceptable.

I “encourage” them in this situation, and my “encouragement” can take the form of genuine sympathy, personal anecdote, stories about my kids, threats, ranting, cage-rattling, threats to drop them, refusals to do college endorsements, name-calling, humor, absurdity, bribery, gifts and nonsense.

In all, my goal is to get them off the dead zone and back in the game.

This site is like that. You can fault it for not giving you a hug, or defending the resurrection, or answering your questions or lovingly linking to the Baylys or not giving Wendy’s coupons. But the fact is, on one day or another, I’ve done it all. Be gentle. Yell. Cry. Wonder. Muse. Be prophetic.

2) IM is like a restaurant with a menu, but the reason people stop in is the daily special. The daily special may be kicking Osteen or examining prayer books or looking at the Baptist confessions or questioning the emergent agenda. If you don’t like the daily special, you can get the menu (the archives, the search engine) and order something else. But I don’t think it’s really a worthy complaint that on the day you wanted fish we were serving corned beef.

3) Now I’m going to sound really mean, but trust me, I’m not being unkind.

Your fragile condition in evangelicalism or Christianity is not my fault. And it’s not my responsibility to cure it.

I’m not a doctor of the soul. I’m a pamphleteer. I’m a pirate radio DJ. I’m Leonard Cohen meets Kid Rock.

Listen: I’m a lot more likely to knock down your propped up evangelicalism than I am to give you another way to keep it standing. If the parable is “I thank you Lord that I am not as other men: I have all my questions answered” versus “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” then we are going with number 2.

Be careful now: I don’t want to spoil your faith or kick your church experience if it’s working for you. That’s never been my game. But tell me that all of us need to be like you and your church? I’m handing you a loaded mousetrap. Feed us the rhetoric of the church growth movement and say it’s “God blessing” so I need to get on board and you’re going to be given an honorary hand grenade. Pin pulled.

The distinctive place of this blog isn’t anything close to a Ray Ortlund, Jr or similar blogs designed for encouragement. This blog is provocative and oriented toward critical thinking and discussion.

4) I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot recently, but I’m far more interested in a person coming to a position of honesty and integrity than I am in maintaining labels that aren’t working. The choice between a phony Christian profession and honest doubt is not a hard one for me. I deeply disagree with those who say we should not speak of faith until we have answers. It shouldn’t take a lot of consideration to understand the answer may be “there’s no answer for this question.” If I have to go beyond that, I’m going at the expense of my integrity. Nothing good comes of that. It’s quite likely the reason so many people walk away from faith with the feeling they are doing a good thing and becoming more of a whole person.

5) I could send a commenter like the letter writer above to a dozen blogs that have predictable menus, steady posts that don’t vary much in agenda and never venture into edgy areas of doubt or controversy. I’m not in any way wanting to discourage any reader, but Internet Monk isn’t one of those blogs. It’s not highly devotional. It represents a vast number of diverse commenting voices. My writing will tip sacred cows from time to time. What I have to offer you is what you find here. I am not tailoring my writing to the individual needs of readers. I have to be true to my own motivations and a writer’s motivations aren’t always very impressive or pious.

With genuine respect for readers and commenters like the one above, I’d suggest that we sometimes expect far too much of the blogosphere. It’s the reader’s job to discern what blogs will help their own journey as a Christian.

Comments

  1. well Mike,

    not to stroke yer ego anymore but this blog falls under the “iron sharpens iron” category for me. I like challenging the status quo and you *occasionally* do that here 😉

  2. charlie.hr says:

    Come on!

    IM isn’t as edgy as some may think. I think his balanced but also real without stirring to much the pot. As Paul said it, some are in need of meat but they still want to drink milk. It’s your choice, some like it raw, if you don’t, you’ll always have Osteen and Co.

    Peace & Love

  3. iM: Thank you thank you thank you for being provocative and challenging and unrelenting in this blog’s pursuit of God, wherever He might turn up. It is precisely your honesty that keeps me coming back to read.

    — A Future Former Evangelical

  4. “Your fragile condition in evangelicalism or Christianity is not my fault. And it’s not my responsibility to cure it.”

    This one line was worth coming here today. Oh but how I can relate to this one in my little corner of the world

  5. There were several blogs and websites that made me come close to losing my faith a few years ago. Yours wasn’t one. If fact, dude, you’re the antidote. Just keep on doin’ what you’re doin’.

  6. My question is, why are there atheists reading this blog? What do they get out of it? Or is the intent to disabuse some of us of our superstitions?

    • Hi. Former atheist– current Catholic, socialist, feminist, laundry list of other things characteristically seen as undesirable in evangelical eyes either in reality or in outside, public perception.

      People generally like to be in dialogue. If I feel I’ve been under attack my whole life from a certain political-ideological-sociological structure, and I find its representation somewhere as something much less non-threatening, I’m going to latch onto it. So I can finally begin to understand it as it should be understood… especially if it’s a religious point of view and all the political-ideological-sociological stuff should in theory be extraneous. It gives me a backdrop to compare the false system against the true system, on it’s own terms. It gives me weaponry against the false system. Being in dialogue with the true system helps make right any past ills and nullify resentments.

      People basically want to like, respect, and understand each other.

      Just my take. I’m sure responses will be disparate.

    • *shrug*

      Possibly the same reason some of us read atheist blogs? Occasionally I do dip into some of ’em – the rational ones (and there are some sincere atheists who do want to think about why the crazy nuts believe in the voices in their heads) are refreshing, though there are waaay more of the “we is all sooo much cleverer and better and nicer and smarter than them smelly fanatics who are coming after us with the torches and the pitchforks and the oww oww ouch” kinds who want to huddle together to reinforce their sense of mutual paranoia (we’re seen as a threat to the Christianist theocracy! that’s why we’re so important!) and self-aggrandisement (I gave up religion because I’m so much brainier than my family/friends/workmates, so why can’t they see I’m so much better than they are?)

      But yeah – maybe the atheists like to see half-way reasonable discussion of the crazy stuff?

    • Baruch Spinoza wrote “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.” While I cannot claim to be as good at that as he was, he does provide a good model for attempts to interact with others who believe differently than you. Here, I find someone who explains more about why he believes what he believes and helps me understand a way of thinking I have very little experience with.

      I’m here to understand, not to argue. If I wanted that, I’d hang out at uncommon descent and rightly call them a bunch of lying, ignorant jerks. But that doesn’t actually accomplish anything. And this is one of the few blogs relating to religion one way or another that doesn’t have an air of smugness about it. (Both the believers and the non-believers excell at this.)

  7. OK, I’ll rise to the bait, since this is one that continually troubles me. I personally find the “your fragile condition….” bit a bit over the top, but I think I can understand what generates it. We have admonitions in I Cor 8, in Rom 14, &c. to be very circumspect wrt those brothers whose faith may not be that mature. I probably tend to err on the conservative side there, because airing my opinions (and I do mean ‘opinions’ here – not matters of faith or doctrine) in front of some people I know would not be expedient (a good KJV term).

    Which is the background for the ‘continual troubling’ above. How do I keep from becoming (almost literally) holier than thou relative to a good number of my brothers and sisters? How can I best begin to broach some of these opinions with those would currently consider them anathema? Should I be so presumptuous as to try to ‘educate’ my brothers and sisters? Am I being presumptuous in thinking that I might negatively affect their faith? Lots of other ankle-biters, but I hink you get the drift….

    • So why is every blog in the blogosphere supposed to be on alert not to “negatively” affect those ready to be offended and stating openly they want to be propped up? Blogs are a consumer medium. Every blog isn’t for every one.

    • Hey, bic,
      I also struggle with the kind of questions you raise in your last paragraph. I don’t think they apply so much to this blogsite (I”m cool with it like it is), but your questions are certainly relevant when it comes to our relationships within our own church fellowships. And as a leader, I really worry about doing damage to someone else’s faith. For example: Should I defend my old earth views against those in my church who hold to a young earth view of creation? Do I try to avoid the topic altogether? And what do I do if pressed to give my views on this issue? I’m not really sure what the “right” course of action would be.
      However, there are some things I have definitely learned to avoid, and one of those is to fall into the delusion that I’m some kind of especially enlightened or intellectual Christian whose mission is to stamp out ignorance and narrow thinking in my church family. God has pulled the rug out from under me in that respect more than once. As far as “hot topics”, my advice is that if a matter of possible division or controversy is not central to the Gospel, then don’t broach it with anyone unless they broach it with you first — and then proceed with a mixture prayerful caution and honesty. And if you find a few fellow believers with whom you can converse freely and without fear regarding controversial issues and real doubts you may be struggling with, then nurture those relationships and count yourself blessed. Overall, I recommend a game plan of developing loving, Christ-centered relationships that are strong enough to weather differing opinions, interpretations, and points of view.

    • bic: nice post, but……apples and oranges comparison: it would be a different case altogether if Bruised Reed was somehow a captive audience, say standing shoulder to shoulder with MONK on the elevator, or at the factory workroom/breakroom mutually shared. This blog is more like a library or CD case where you can pick and choose what you find edifying. This does not excuse MONK, or me, from using discernment in our speech, but if somene loathes Greg R’s posts,and if I’m abiding by the blog’s protocols, then I’d say maybe they need to find ‘greener pastures’. Again, there is no hidden agenda here, people pretty much know ‘what’s on the menu’. If it ain’t yer flavor……well, there are jillions of other buffer lines open, it’s just plain whiney to hold some folks captive to MY PERSONAL OFFENSE.

  8. Gifted and Talented Psychic Medium in Nyc. Jesse The Messenger is here to help. Call now an appointment. 917-733-3107
    If you have questions, I have answers.