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