I’ve been wanting to reflect on blog writing for some time, especially in the wake of reading the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lost Icons: Reflections On Cultural Bereavement, and David Horstkoetter of the blog Flying Farther inspired me finally to do so. Consider this a reply to his post.
It is impossible for me to reflect on blog writing without it simultaneously being a reflection on learning to think theologically. The blog has now been running for two years and we’ve topped 400 posts just recently. In these two years, especially the last one and half, I’ve just begun to read academic theology (see this post for an account of that reading). So though the original contributers and I started right off the bat talking about various theological topics, I had (and still have) no sufficient ability even to think the thoughts ‘properly.’ I’m just an undergrad who reads theology in his spare time.
But that hasn’t stopped me from acquiring ‘opinions’ and having them strongly. (I was just rereading some of Ben Meyer’s old posts and while reading this one was uncannily reminded of myself several times throughout.)
For better or worse, and I can think of few worse ways of learning theology than by reading it by yourself with no teachers and blogging your opinions, this is how it has been for me.
Yet there have been many surprising positives to my experience blogging and it is on account of these that although I’d like to stop for a few years, I would in the end regret it (I think). Before proceeding to explicate these I want to relate my blogging career to something that Rowan Williams made a big point of in his book.
Learning to speak properly and ‘responsibly’ is a very large part of becoming an adult. This learning allows one to negotiate the complex web of relations and responsibilities that accompany adult life. And in this adult world one is expected to be able to be ‘held responsible’ for what they say. This means that part of being a ‘youth’ is being allowed to have ‘irresponsible speech;’ speech where you can play with ideas, words and expressions, where you can be given the space to learn the rules of ‘language games’ with the sort of room needed to grow and play; a youth ought not be held ‘accountable’ for all the things they say.
Not too long ago I stated in my Twitter feed and Facebook status that I have tended to learn by expressing an opinion strongly, encountering the feedback and correction of other people, engaging in ‘argument,’ and finally by reflection, ascertaining whether or not the things that I ‘believed’ and said were in need of correction or augmentation. On another day I proclaimed that I often read old blog posts and realize that I disagree with some of them entirely and some in part.
I am not claiming that I cannot at all be held responsible for the things I’ve said on this blog…in many ways other than the craft of theology I am an adult; nevertheless it has been the case that blogging has been an exercise in speech where I hope and somewhat expect to be given the freedom to say naïve and sometimes foolish things because with respect to such speech I am still very much a child. It has been, in all the best senses of the term, a ‘game.’ A ‘game’ I have very much enjoyed sharing with my many and various interlocuters from whom I’ve learned a great deal.
It is in this learning that blogging has had and continues to have value for me. Over time, both here and on other sites, I’ve picked up many friends and ‘playmates.’ Many of them are PhD students at prestigious universities and some of them are even seasoned pros. What I have lacked in class time from professors and peers I have supplemented with all these. Sometimes I’ve been quite afraid and intimidated because many have done me the favor of ‘taking me seriously;’ that is, even if some of the things I’ve said are crazy, they’ve taken the time to engage me without treating me like an infant. It is my hope that they’ll still give me a couple years of ‘play time’ without expecting me to join the varsity team.
But if I might be so bold I’d like to say that this ‘playful irresponsibility’ is intrinsic to theology blogging and blogging probably ought never to be held to very high standards. There is an ad hoc and unedited nature to blogging, even on some of the better sites. While it may be the case that after an engagement we realize that something profound or challenging was said and learned, as a general rule, it seems dangerous to me to hope for peer reviewed linguistic and academic accuracy even of people capable of such art.
Additionally, blogging has greatly honed my ability to write. My basic grammar, syntax and stylistic skills have increased since I started.
So cheers to all my internet friends and mentors…I am truly grateful for the chance I’ve had to grow up amongst such people and for all the emails, book recommendations, bibliographies and comment threads…To many more!