Voice, Audience & Eavesdropping

Writing about blogging is generally uninteresting and, although I’ve done much of it in the past, I now dismiss thoughts of writing something on the subject as so much navel-gazing and tedium. But my post count hasn’t advanced for a couple of days, making it time to push something, anything, out.

A problem I’m facing as I’m restarting this blog is finding my voice, or more accurately, struggling to define my audience. In the early days, my main audience was church friends. That made things simple: I was talking to people I already knew. Later, as blogging exploded, I interacted with people in the Emerging Church conversation, on both my and others’ blogs.

My interest in the Emerging Church waned as I discovered that its “newness” wasn’t all that new and as I turned to more diverse and nuanced sources for faith & theology. I undertook a Liberal Arts degree, meaning that most of my writing was being done in a more formal, offline context. The blog became a refuge of informality; a place to personally reflect on my learning journey and post silly things.

And then I was done school, with an Honours degree in the Humanities and the absurd notion of becoming a professional web designer with no portfolio, experience, or connections. Surprisingly–and slowly–I succeeded, and this blog, and its audience, withered.

And figuring out this blog’s audience is the point of writing this. I want to know who I’m writing for, and I see that I’ve had a shifting audience all along. First friends, then EC people, then some mixture of myself and all of the above. Now throw in the possibility of some people in the web design/development community, and I have a hodgepodge of I-don’t-know-who-I’m-talking-to.

The solution, dear reader, is obvious. I shouldn’t give a shit about you. This site is for me. It has an audience of one.[ref]Understanding this tempts me to uninstall my Google Analytics stats.[/ref] I’m going to write things that I want to read and, if there happens to be other people who also enjoy eavesdropping on me, great. It’s not that I don’t want people to read what I write–any writer who tells you otherwise is a liar–but I don’t want to get paralyzed by figuring out who my audience is so that I can write things that they’ll like will make them like me.

As a small sign of this, I’ve decided that I’m going to consciously try to stop using the noun blog and the verb blogging in describing this site. This may seem a bit precious, but I’m not writing this for you. I’m writing this for the type of people who, like me, prefer existing nouns like journal or website and verbs such as writing to describe what happens on a website like this. I’m writing this for the types of people who, like me, associate blogging with first drafts hastily published.[ref]I’m not denigrating blogging, which is great, but I don’t publish first drafts any more on this site.[/ref]

I’m also writing as a person who does a crappy job of being a disciple of Jesus but who nevertheless sees everything in life through the lens of that faith. Don’t like it? I don’t always either, but if I’m not writing on topics of faith & theology regularly, I’m not writing for myself. I’d be writing to not offend, which produces only tedious prose.

The big upshot of all of this is that I have a standby comeback when my wife says “nobody will know (or care about) what you’re talking about.”

Politics and the Church

I mostly stay out away from talking about politics on this blog, not because I don’t have a plethora of opinions, but rather because it’s not something I usually want to write about.

I have followed with great interest the presidential primaries of my neighbors to the south, and have been particularly captivated by the remarkable rhetoric of Barack Obama. At the same time, I will always remain skeptical of such lofty rhetoric, even if I really want to believe that he won’t become yet another disappointment. Furthermore, as a Christian, my mission in the world is ultimately something other than electoral politics, even if I might have some distinctly political agendas in (my feeble attempts at) embodying God’s love to the world.

These themes converge in a piece by David Fitch entitled Žižek, Obama and the Emerging Church, in which he exposes the dirty little secret of Christians and politics:

We participate in National politics, its political ideologies of a more just society, even though we deeply suspect the corporate national machine insures nothing will change. We do this because it is much harder to think of the church itself as a legitimate social political force for God’s justice in the world. It is simply a lot less work to support Barak Obama for president than it is to lead our churches into being living communities of righteousness, justice and God’s Mission in the world.

Zing.

Missional Link Love

Brother Maynard has started a meme to post links to under-read and -appreciated emerging/missional church bloggers. Somehow I wound up on the list, who knew?

Here’s how you can play: pick a few missionally-minded bloggers that don’t get a lot of attention in the blogosphere (say, under 150 links on technorati’s emerging church list) and add them to the list below. Even better, go to Br. Maynard’s  meme-instigating post, and grab the most recent list from whoever has commented last. And then leave a comment yourself so that others can see and copy your list. I only added two, since this list is getting extensive!

Emerging Church Article

Scot McKnight has written an article for Christianity Today called Five Streams of the Emerging Church. I read a lot about the EC, but I don’t write much because I don’t have much to say (yet). But for anyone who’s heard murmurings about “emerging,” “emergent,” or this Brian McLaren guy, this article is basically a must-read.

One of the biggest difficulties that many Christians have with those in the EC is with their postmodern leanings, yet this is not true of all. Although the term “postmodern” is loaded with ambiguity, we certainly have moved into some kind of postmodern age. And McKnight rightly shows that we have some decisions to make in that context:

Living as a Christian in a postmodern context means different things to different people. Some—to borrow categories I first heard from Doug Pagitt, pastor at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis—will minister to postmoderns, others with postmoderns, and still others as postmoderns.

The vast majority of emerging Christians and churches fit these first two categories. They don’t deny truth, they don’t deny that Jesus Christ is truth, and they don’t deny the Bible is truth.

The third kind of emerging postmodernity attracts all the attention. Some have chosen to minister as postmoderns. That is, they embrace the idea that we cannot know absolute truth, or, at least, that we cannot know truth absolutely. They speak of the end of metanarratives and the importance of social location in shaping one’s view of truth. They frequently express nervousness about propositional truth.

I don’t know about those of you reading this blog, but I find myself more and more resonating with this third category, although I’m certainly aware of the difficulties for proclaiming the Gospel from that viewpoint. What do you think?

Read: Five Streams of the Emerging Church

Brian McLaren, Conversation and Life

Today we had the unexpected honor of having Brian McLaren come to SSU and do a chapel. He gave a short talk about what he’s thinking about and encouraging us to embrace our different calls to serve God in the world. Then we had a lengthy discussion time with some really thought provoking stuff.

Quote of the day: “The most dangerous thing in the world is the USA.” Brian said this in response to a lot of Christian fear-mongering that accuses Islam of being the greatest danger in the world today. He said that the USA has a military budget that’s larger than the next 25 countries combined, 23 of which are US allies. Scary. So, whatever you think about Islam, he’s absolutely right that they’re a drop in the bucket next to the USA.

He also said some terrific things in response to a question from my friend Joel Mason, who asked “Why do Christians who embrace social justice issues and Christians who embrace physical healing not connect with each other very much or very well?” Brian had some terrific things in response to that, and I think that I might even devote a later blog post to unpacking some of that.

Moving from one conversation to another, there’s been some terrific discussion a few posts back between a guy (or gal?) named DH and myself about salvation. Read up and chime in if you are so inclined.

Now, back to work. Some exceedingly boring NT Theology awaits…

Good Thought on Emergent

Some people like to link to good thoughts on other blogs and some people like to subject their readers to the horrors of their own thoughts. I usually choose the latter. However, while reading a book review on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, I came across a nugget of pure gold in the comments. This paragraph summarizes the difficulties in the emerging church’s dance with postmodern thinking:

It seems to me that some in the emergent movement are led astray by those postmodernists who think that a recognition of our finitude and subjectivity means that we must be religious skeptics, bereft of concrete beliefs like those that characterize the Christian story. Since I believe that there can be knowledge with what we might call epistemic humility, I reject the claim that postmodernism entails religious skepticism. It doesn’t. I also know from personal experience that commitment to religious belief, including Christian belief, can coexist (however unhappily) with anxiety, bafflement, sadness, doubt and confusion. I think, however, that some in the emergent movement unwittingly commit themselves to religious skepticism and that, I am convinced, is incompatible with Christian commitment.

All I can say to that is “amen.”