September 23, 2014

Internet Monk Table Manners

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Whenever two people come together and their behavior affects one another, you have etiquette.

- Emily Post

* * *

Welcome to Internet Monk. This blog, started by Michael Spencer many moons ago, began as a way for Michael to write and express his thoughts about religion, culture, politics, and his own journey, which would take him through the post-evangelical wilderness toward a Jesus-shaped spirituality.

At a certain point, he began to allow comments on the blog. In the early days, one had to subscribe to the site in order to comment. It was like a private club.

Then he decided to open up Internet Monk and it became a public discussion site. However, Michael did not tolerate fools gladly, and he enforced a strict moderation policy. You can still see what his approach was on the FAQ/Rules page of IM.

When I first started participating at IM, I contributed comments that Mike deleted. That hurt because I thought I was saying something that pertained to the post. Didn’t matter. If Michael didn’t like a comment or thought it failed to advance the discussion, he would scratch it without explanation or apology. Those who became oppositional might find themselves on the banned commenters list (yes, there is one).

When Michael became sick and asked me to keep the blog going, there were days when he would email me, instructing me to cut off discussion on a certain post because he thought the conversation had run its course.

And then Michael graciously asked Jeff Dunn and me to carry on Internet Monk. It was soon apparent that I had a lot to learn about moderating a daily blog. On that same FAQ page and on a previous post, you can also see the updated policy that I, Chaplain Mike, wrote back in 2010.

I never have been as tough as Michael Spencer was when it comes to moderating this blog. There are a few reasons for that. First, there is a practical reason. My work schedule is different than his was. Whereas he had time after teaching classes to follow the conversation and moderate, I have a job that requires me to work all day and sometimes into the evening. There are extended times when I can barely follow the discussion at all, and on the days I can, it happens in bits and pieces as I travel from place to place with a primary focus on my work. And guess what? I go to bed at night. Whether it’s good or not, I’m not glued to Internet Monk 24/7.

Second, I think the blog itself has continued to expand into a broader discussion that allows for more diversity of opinion and interaction. We are also dealing with different issues than Michael faced. For example, he went through a period when he was trying to process his thoughts as his wife was becoming a Roman Catholic. As he wrote about Roman Catholicism and his own Reformation convictions, he engaged both Calvinist readers who considered Rome an apostate institution and Catholics who were bent on converting him too. Michael sometimes felt like he was refereeing the Reformation all over again. Stricter moderation was essential.

Third, though Michael and I share a lot in common, we do not share the same personality. In person he was shy, but on IM he could be direct, even gruff. His approach was honed in classrooms where he was regularly confronted with challenges from non-Christians. He lived and worked in an intentional Christian community set in the rugged hills of Kentucky and was schooled among the Southern Baptists.

And now it’s hospice chaplain Mike who is the lead writer on this blog and the one who oversees the comments. My vocation calls me day in and day out to be a listener and not to judge. My role on the hospice team is to be a calming presence, a pastoral companion with a listening ear, a soothing voice, a gentle touch. Do you think it’s possible that I might approach moderating comments with a different style?

For all these reasons, Internet Monk is more on the honor system now than it was in years past. Unless I warn you ahead of time, I do not actively moderate daily discussions in the sense that I regularly edit or delete comments. Of course I try to keep track of the conversation to make sure nothing gets out of hand. Occasionally someone will complain that his or her comment didn’t show up and I try to track it down and restore it (BTW — this will happen less frequently now that we are using a more reliable web host). But I am not in the habit of keeping a heavy hand on the conversation.

TheSimpsons2With this in mind, I think it would be wise to review a few “table manners” for participating in the discussions here at Internet Monk:

  • Know that you are welcome here. We invite a variety of opinions and perspectives. Disagreement won’t cause you to lose your place at the table — good conversation should be challenging and stretching.
  • Be respectful of others. Lively conversation and passionate opinion is one thing. Disrespect and rudeness is another. Please remember the difference and don’t cross the line.
  • Be concise and clear in your comments. The fact is, long comments aren’t as effective. Yes, some people need to work through their thoughts, so we’ll be understanding. But remember that the conversation will improve as we clarify our communication. If you need to make an article-length comment, it might be better to post it on your blog and send us a link.
  • Stay on topic. Remember, at this table we choose the topic (unless it’s an open thread). The occasional side conversation or rabbit trail is okay, but the form doesn’t lend itself to multiple discussions at the same time. That’s where the “table” analogy breaks down.
  • Don’t dominate the discussion. As in most conversations, some participants will be more talkative than others. That’s natural and to be expected. If you are more verbose, that’s okay. Just be courteous enough to recognize your tendency, and leave space for others.
  • Please listen. A conversation is not just about saying what you want, it’s about give and take. You might want to read the post or that person’s comment again before you fire off a passionate response. If there’s a type of comment I’m prone to moderate it is one that gives evidence of someone who is hellbent to make a point without any consideration of what others are saying.
  • All good things come to an end. On occasion, the moderator may determine that the conversation has reached a place where we should stop. For one reason or another. Please respect that decision. As my pastor friend used to say, “To be continued…” We’ll live to talk again another day.

Oh, and one more practical piece of advice: using links in your comment increases the chances it will be held for moderation by the site itself. That’s the way the system is set up. It protects us against spam.

* * *

We get thousands of visitors to Internet Monk every day. Only a small percentage comment. We are committed to trying to make the discussion among the few as interesting, challenging, and helpful as the pieces we post, so that the many who read will be encouraged and find that they may want to join us at the table too.

Thank you for your participation day after day.

Here ends the instruction. Let’s eat.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this, CM. It’s a continuous learning process for all of us, I think.

  2. “Be respectful of others. Lively conversation and passionate opinion is one thing. Disrespect and rudeness is another. Please remember the difference and don’t cross the line.”

    Does that pertain to just towards others who are commenting, or does it also pertain to those who may be the subject (directly or indirectly) of the main post?

    There seems to be some rather harsh comments towards certain figures and subjects.

    • The nature of a blog is that we sometimes express strong opinions about subjects, even using writing styles such as rants and prophetic ridicule. Michael wrote about the role of the critic and we occasionally take up that role. If you think we’re being unfair or cruel, tell us.

      But what we’re talking about here today is the way we converse with each other as fellow commenters.

      If people don’t like what we write, they will stop reading. But if people don’t behave in the comments, it’s the moderator’s job to deal with it.

  3. It’s hard to run a blog like this. I know.

    Fair and balanced? Never will everyone agree.

    You do your best and keep moving forward.

  4. There are times when subjects here are taken very much to heart by me. In regard to ekklesia there seem to be many people who are moving toward a site like this as being that type of fellowship. Of course there are body language impressions that can’t be accounted for on the net. But I think a word like forebearance, which is used throughout our New Testament, aptly applies to ekklesia. Chaplain Mike’s ending words of “Let’s eat” to this post is one of those things taken to heart by me, as church being much more a table fellowship than a lecture hall. And I think those who have continued on with this site have been faithful table waiters.

    • Christiane says:

      I also loved how Chaplain Mike ended this post.
      It captures and enhances the ‘spirit’ of Imonk’s history and tone. It respects diversity, and civility, and most of all, it respects the spirit of ‘the welcome table’ where Michael Spencer invited us to come in and to be a part of the gathering.

  5. cermak_rd says:

    Thanks, Chaplain Mike for this post. It’s always good to restate the rules and in this place, they’re pretty casual.

    I don’t think there’s a lot of viewpoint discrimination in moderating here. I’ve certainly made my share of comments and clearly, as a former Christian, my viewpoint is not on the same page as most others here. Certainly it’s about 180 degree at odds with CM.

    I’m curious, when you do choose to moderate a poster, do you send feedback to the poster (via the supplied email addy)? Perhaps if folks knew why they were moderated, it would improve their ability to converse at the table. I realize, however, that this would take a lot of time to do it in all cases, but perhaps if you could occasionally send feedback to moderated posters (e.g. that’s not a post that’s an essay; you had 21 out of the first 24 comments; your language was coarse and incendiary…) it might be helpful.

    • Yes, I have communicated with commenters via email. I will continue to do so if I feel the need to make a personal appeal to someone in private.

      Secondly, from this point on, if I decide to delete a post, I will not remove the whole entry but will replace the offensive comment with a note such as:

      “Comment deleted. Inappropriate. CM”

      I hope that will help keep things clearer for people.

      • CM – I think that works very well. They use much the same wording at The Wartburg Watch, when they delete a comment, which is very rarely.

  6. As I read your post today, i am reminded by what I don’t know. For example, the time and energy that one takes to keep the “machinery” well oiled and the never-ending tasks called preventive maintenance (called PM’s in the business). Thank you for your servant-hood. I come from a Wesleyan perspective. I wondered if some come from that dynamic that contribute occasionally? I am challenged by the daily posts.

    • I’m more of a Wesleyan “free will” kinda person, too, but I know that how I see God is not exactly perfect, right, or true. I love reading other perspectives, as I know they’ll shape truth for me a little bit better. Good thing we believe in, worship, and serve a God who doesn’t demand that we see Him perfectly, and that He sent Jesus to cover our faults and failings.

  7. From my observation comments have been pretty mellow for the most part. Not much trolling… I tend to be guilty of rabbit-holing at times… will try to keep that to a minimum – also rants too….

    • We all have days where we make beds under bridges, go off on tangents or never-ending screeds. The point is to apologize when it happens and remain vigilant when it hasn’t recently :)

  8. I help run a coffee shop ministry at my church. Because we want it to be a place where any and all can come and feel welcome, including the agnostic and atheist, we posted a “Code of Conduct for Conversation” poster on the wall. Similar stuff to CM has posted. What I’ve been amazed at is how quickly people move off the code of conduct, either in trying to defend a position or being offended by a position. Even when people are “listening,” they’re usually using that time to form a comeback rebuttal in their head.

    I’ve found most iMonk banter to be quite civil and respectful, with a few exceptions. I’ve been other places where discussion has become emotionally charged and then nasty really fast.

  9. David Cornwell says:

    As I see it, one of the problems we all face when having a conversation is the refusal on one or both parties to the conversation to acknowledge the legitimacy of another point of view. Therefore the readiness to pronounce against the other party, sometimes in extreme terms. Some of the issues the church now faces are not easy, and are the some of the most divisive in history. All sides need to take time to breath, slow down, talk, and pray. Throwing scripture verses back and forth like artillery shells accomplishes nothing. Some of these issues may take many years to resolve, even partially.

    We need to take time to get know those with which we have disagreements. And we need to pray for the unity of the church.

    • There is a rather good book on the topic of trying to remember we are Christians even if we celebrate communion differently – Disunity in Christ: Uncovering The Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart by Christina Cleveland. She offers practical advice on listening in conversations when we would rather react. I tried it the other night at a women’s gathering entitled “Biblical Womanhood.” The title pushed buttons from my fundi days, and I was nervous. It helped keep me focused on listening instead of being automatically critical.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      ->”Throwing scripture verses back and forth like artillery shells…”

      Wonderful metaphor. Though Matthew 17:3 would suggest you’re wrong.

      (j/k. I have no idea what Matthew 17:3 says.)

    • David,
      Hearing your voice as you walk through those remarkable woods of yours is a main reason I enjoy coming here. Your wisdom is a steadying anchor to a guy like me who tends to veer off on the tangents CM has to put up with, and I am sure a calming presence for others as well. We can all learn better table manners from you.

  10. A very good reminder post, CM. Thank you so much for this ministery you do — after hours and unpaid! I love this site.

  11. Mike, I liked your compare/contrast of yourself and Spencer. It helped refresh my memory as to iM’s history and why we’re all here. You could probably assume, but I would like to tell you straight out that iM is very appreciated in my own little world. Peace.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      +1. The contrast/comparison between who founded this place and who is currently steward of it was a refreshing reminder of iMonk’s history.

  12. Thank you for the admonition. Love lurking here and gaining lots of insight. Just like at the family dinner table, after instructions for proper decorum have been lovingly and carefully repeated, beautiful manners are on display, courtesy and thoughtfulness abound, showing that it can be done. But then, one day, one look, one word, one action is misconstrued, motives ascribed, feelings projected and the fray begins all over again. Sigh…… Keep up the good work CM! God bless us all!

  13. Robert F says:

    “Here ends the instruction. Let’s eat.”

    And what shall we drink?

  14. Just yesterday I posted a short piece on my blog on dealing with differing opinions, and I ended with suggesting we just go out for a coffee and chat. After reading this, I have to say (modestly, of course) that great minds think alike.
    For those who are interested it is found at eaglecam5.wordpress.com