Shuck and Jive

Friday, November 21, 2008

Why I Blog

Carolyn Caldwell, the Instructional Technology Administrator at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, e-mailed me the other day. She wrote that she is teaching a class called "Practices and Skills to Support a Parish Ministry." She said she had been reading Shuck and Jive for about a year. She asked:
Would you be willing to write a short answer to why you blog and what do you get out of it personally and professionally so that I could share this with my students? You could always post an answer on the blog if you might be willing to share your experiences with seminarians others than ours.
How could any self-respecting blogger who hides in the open pass up that opportunity?

I began this blog in August 2006 as a personal reflection. I was feeling depressed about the state of the world. That coupled with a move to a new location after an ambiguous experience in my last church had me feeling melancholy. I needed an outlet. I had also been going through some changes in my thinking about faith and theology. What kind of theological reflection is required for a planet in peril? It is a personal blog. The masthead covers that:

A Presbyterian minister blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.
I also wanted to get the word out about our great congregation, even as I do not want or claim to speak for them. I do blog about my church on occasion (never anything negative). I blog about things that we are doing. I blog about church members if it is positive and public news. Few church members ever comment, but many/most? read it at least once in a while. It is a fantastic outreach tool. In fact, better than I anticipated. People have joined our church because of it. Some people have probably left because of it, too. In those cases, it is not really the blog but the fact that the minister and/or the direction of the church isn't their cup of sweet tea.

There was an unwritten rule that I might have learned in seminary. Clergy should withhold their opinions. We are guarded. We are not open with our theological views, questions, doubts, and inconsistencies. I never liked that rule. Of course, if we give our opinions, we should respect the opinions of others. I try to do that. I have found that people need "permission" to think differently than how they are supposed to think. If a clergy person can model honesty and openness to at least some degree we empower others to do the same.

More than personal opinions are at work here. I really feel that this blog is one way in which I can reflect and at times get passionate about what I think is the Gospel. Even though I can be silly, snarky, and screedal on occasion, the Gospel (as I understand it) is the focus. The blog allows me to say things in ways that cannot be said from the pulpit or in a class. It has been of great personal help to put my thoughts out there, receive feedback, and read the views of others.

When I completed my PIF (Personal Information Form) that led to my call at Elizabethton, I answered the question about the most important theological issue in this way:

I am 42. My nephew, Hunter, is one. The most important theological question is what will the world be like when Hunter is 42?
It is crunch time for humanity. Climate change is our grim reaper. Ecological and economic justice is the heart and soul of the Gospel at this point in time. What will it take for us to get our house (Earth) in order? I don't pretend to have the answer, but we need to be asking that question every day in every area of life. What are we doing now for our descendants 20, 30, and 40 years from now?

Forgive me for being rude, but the church has its head up a dark place. We continue to take "no action" on issues critical to our planet's well-being. The church has so many resources--money, history, influence, people--yet we are fighting over church buildings! So I use the blog to talk about issues in the denomination.

I use the blog to talk about local things in my area (East Tennessee). Many people read it who are not in the church. It has been helpful to connect with others who are working for social justice in Elizabethton and the Tri-Cities (Johnson City, Kingsport, Bristol). I am also the blogger and webpage keeper for PFLAG Tri-Cities. I think our web presence has been helpful to the success of that organization.

Our church secretary, Snad, also blogs. There is a new twist. What are the theological implications of a blogging church secretary? I met Snad at a peace rally she organized for a ragtag group called Concerned Tennessee Citizens. She fits in well with our little club of bandits. Snad said of me that I hide in the open.

There are risks to blogging. Anything you write on the internet can and will be used against you. These things can bite you if you are looking for a position or are considering a run for president. I am all over the internet. That is a fact of life and it won't be changed even if I were to stop blogging today. Any illusions of becoming a respectable, suit-wearing, tall steeple pastor are long gone. I am happy with that. Appalachia is home. I have planted my stake here and plan to be with this church through thick and thin for as long as they will have me. I am fortunate to be with an exceptional group of people both in the church and in the larger community.

I suppose since seminarians will be reading this, I should say something about that. I have no advice. I don't know if it is right or wrong to blog. The technology wasn't available when I was in seminary. Had it been available I don't know if I would have blogged at that time or not. I do know that finally after 16 years of ministry I think I have something to say. I wouldn't have had anything to say if I hadn't experienced the great joys and great disappointments of parish ministry.

Blogging friend and colleague, Carol Howard Merritt, blogs at Tribal Church (a blog named for her important book). She posted about blogging preachers and received a number of good comments expressing a variety of views. Check it.

Carolyn also asked me to take a look at Sermons from Caldwell Chapel. I have added it to the sidebar. Here you can read and hear sermons from faculty at LPTS.

So, seminarians at LPTS (and elsewhere), there you have it. If you feel up to being on the internet (you can always use a fake name) please comment. I would enjoy hearing your opinions. It has been a while since seminary and things have changed a great deal I am sure.

Christ be with you in your studies and in your quest to live the gospel.


  1. John,

    What a great post. And thanks for the plug!

    I am grateful for your honest, insightful presence on the web. It's inspiring to read what you're up to, and I always love your dancing Jesus news!

  2. John,

    I teach with Carolyn, thanks for your comments about why you blog --

    Interesting reading. AGM

  3. Carol--Thank you! I look forward to discussing your book!

    Angela--Welcome and thanks for the comment! We live in interesting times.

    Dr.--That Jesus. Sometimes he is just a silly baby.

  4. Hi John...I am one of those seminary students who really has never blogged. I can see the allure and I do often visit a wonderful Episcopal blog (I am Episcopalian)called Great comments, wonderful sermons and lectionary notes. I normally do not post a comment. I am always wary because it it such a public this will be a great adventure for me. Thank you for your insightful comments. Michele

  5. Hey Michele,

    Thanks! I think you are wise to be wary. This blogging thing is still new and untested in terms of its longterm effects. I am pleased that you commented here, though : )

    Thanks for the link to Sarahlaughed. I will check it out!

  6. Looks like a great way to get feedback. Do you ever talk about ideas you would like to try in your congregation to see what the response would be? For pastors who are gifted with words it is a sure way to use a few before getting home to a spouse whose quota has been used up.

  7. Welcome Cynthia!

    Do you ever talk about ideas you would like to try in your congregation to see what the response would be?

    That is a good idea. I don't think I have used my blog that way, although many do, especially the revgalblogpal group.

    That said, I have gained a lot of ideas from blogging, the comments I have received, and by reading other blogs.

  8. "There was an unwritten rule that I might have learned in seminary. Clergy should withhold their opinions. We are guarded. We are not open with our theological views, questions, doubts, and inconsistencies. I never liked that rule."


    I'm a student in the P & S class at LPTS too - I started blogging almost a year ago but haven't been very active lately. This class is motivating me to rethink that as a spiritual discipline.

  9. Thanks for the comment, MB! I have found it to truly be a spiritual discipline!

  10. John,

    I am a student at LPTS. Thank you so much for this blog. I am now seeing the difference as how blogging can change and transform a community at large.

  11. I am also in the P&S class and I have done alittle blogging before inregards to trips and such but nothing on a more consitant scale. Your blog has been inspiring to read . thanks

  12. JF and Monica!

    Thank you for the nice comments. All the best to you in your class!

  13. Right or wrong seminarians are reading, blogging, and linking to you.