To Blog or Not to Blog...



Well, it's been a while... Haven't been blogging much for a combination of reasons... First I was quite busy last week in a way I haven't been for months. Then, this week, I have been feeling a bit down again and just haven't had the mental energy for much more than crawling out of bed (just call me yoyo man). And finally, I've been doing a bit of thinking about the motivations for, wisdom and etiquette of blogging, prompted by a couple of events and conversations...
First, a friend of a friend found herself seriously burned by the print media because of a blog she had been writing... no names, as I don't want to play by the same appalling sensationalist rules the papers do... Essentially she'd been writing a blog based on her life against the background of the current economic ills. It had recieved a little attention in the Sunday Times business section last November, but last week the Guardian/Telegraph/Mail and Express (and probably a few others that I haven't read) made her, her blog and her family the focus of their collective mockery and ire. There has been much talk of her being "outed" or "uncovered", but I'm told that the blog was never anonymous in the first place... Why she suddenly became (relatively) big news is hard to understand... There are many who would argue that the blog was in bad taste... But it was self-mocking, didn't make any claims to be anything special, and anyone offended by it didn't have to read it... But as a result of the print media feeding frenzy, and subsequent internet bitchiness, the blog has been taken down... although it has been replaced by a nasty little satirical blog by some anonymous writer claiming to be the original author and having great fun at their expense...

Had I not indirectly known the blogger in question, I wonder whether I would have been happy to add to the collective vitriol, given that their attitudes to many things are a million miles from my own? I hope not, because given that I do know a little of the circumstances I realise the personal impact of such attacks... The author was not advocating child sacrifice or the torturing of puppies... Just engaging in some possibly ill-judged (though not off-colour) humour on a blog read by relatively few people. Neither she, nor her family deserved the derision they recieved, particularly given the right wing political positions taken by many of the papers that were critical of her blog. I hope that the media never have a go at me in such a way, though I'm sure they could, as my world view is equally at odds with theirs, even if in a different direction. But the thing about blogs is, if you put one out there in the public domain, you are opening yourself to criticism by whoever happens to read your stuff... and whether that criticism is justified or not, it is entirely legitimate...

The second event that set me thinking one such things was when a colleague pointed me in the direction of another blog I had been following for a while, but had missed recently due to illness. In the blog various members had been sharing their experiences in a team venture, with different members of the team sharing their perspective each day (again I'm not using names for fear of drawing more attention to this than it is already recieving, but those involved will probably know what I'm referring to straight away). This approach to the blog gave a fairly rounded picture of the whole experience, but then towards the end, one member started to express a viewpoint completely at odds with the others... More negative and, I would say, self-righteous, about the whole thing.

Now a few years ago I found myself at an event which I didn't enjoy very much, and on the pages of this blog I expressed my disatisfaction in technicolour. I had kept things anonymous to avoid hurt, supposedly, but everyone who knew me knew what and who I was talking about, and my blog became one of the most circulated pieces of news in some circles for a while. Then one correspondent rightly pulled me up for expressing my dissatisfaction on the blog without first directly approaching the people in question. In the light of that I took down the relevant postings, apologised to my readers and sent a written apology to the individuals concerned.

I don't know whether the complainant in the team blog I was pointed to last week had aired their concerns in real life too... I hope so... They may well be making valid points but I'm not sure that a team blog is the correct forum to express them without also expressing the ways that they attempted to resolve those issues in real life...

This team blog was in effect a public team journal, and many people, including myself use blogs as a pseudo-journal. But there is a huge difference in writing a journal in a diary locked away safe and sound in your bedside cabinet, or somewhere else, and the semi-public forum of a blog...

Which brings me, finally my own recent blogging...

The few of you who read this blog will have noticed the somewhat introspective nature of some of my output for some months now... This is a function of a number of things... Primarily the fact I've been having difficulties with depression and anxiety recently. I discovered last week, however that a number of people have read these blogs and other updates on facebook and added 2+2 to make 42. Am I leaving the ordained ministry? Am I headed for divorce?

"Not so far as I am aware," would be my answer on both counts...
Why so public about it? Well, it is partly because I DO use the blog as a pseudo-journal... Working out some of my thoughts on screen. I don't have the personal discipline to write a purely personal journal (ironically it seems self-indulgent to me) and I appreciate the (small) audience of people who from time to time act as encouragers, as well as checks and balances (as in the episode mentioned above). In the same way I'm not self-disciplined enough to go to the gym or for a swim on my own regularly over a sustained period, but need others like my football mates to make me take time to exercise. Also, part of my particular condition has been a reluctance to articulate my problems (except under the guise of self-deprecating humour), lest I be seen as "weak" (and for other reasons), so I've had to be relatively public about admitting my needs recently... first with a few colleagues, then my leaders and subsequently my congregation... So, dear readers, please consider yourself in the loop now... Although reading back over the posts between May and October, anyone who didn't spot the signs of depression probably needs professional help themselves!

Is it appropriate for anyone to be exposing themselves in such a way? Particularly a Christian leader? Well the more I've read around the subject in scripture the more I'm convinced that God is more likely to work through my weaknesses than my strengths!

But again and again I came back to the question as to whether a blog is a healthy way to air any of these things. And, anyway, is blogging not just an exercise in vanity publishing without the expense of producing a book? This post has sat on my desktop for a week now, and in my darkest days this week I have seriously thought about taking down the entire blog. However, I've given it a reprieve and will continue for the time being. As for those of you who don't like the fact that I've been so navel-gazing recently, then, repspectfully, don't read it... or unfriend me on facebook to prevent you seeing syndication there... For those who have seen what I've written and got in touch one way or another to express concern or support, thank you.

Meanwhile I'm waiting for the day when the Methodist Recorder does a hatchet job on me! Then I'll have really broken through!

Comments

Jonny said…
...to blog!

Thanks for this
Nick said…
Thanks David for your honesty in today's blog...may the journey before you also include more blogging.
Donald K said…
Thanks for this reflection, David. To be honest I'm a bit torn on your question. 'To blog or not to blog...' Not for myself. I don't, and don't see myself starting. For one thing I can't think what I would blog about

I recognise the problems of vulnerability and the temptation to instant, unreflective reaction which this medium can encourage. When I encounter blogs as I'm looking for other stuff they would often benefit from a bit more thought.

But 'Virtual Methodist' is different. You've stimulated and challenged me in your postings, and I'd miss them, even though I don't understand you taste in music never mind appreciate it!
Mr. Moo said…
I'm reminded that Donald English encouraged us a while back to engage in 'vulnerable availability'. That phrase has stuck with me ever since - when I'm tempted to put on a show in order to protect my office and/or institution, it nudges me towards humility and reality.

Your vulnerability might indeed be abused at some point in the future, but your blogging provides us with helpful insights not only into your own thought-processes and soul, but also to the kingdom-calling of all God's people.

I have appreciated Virtual Methodist for quite a while and would miss your contributions on faith and life. In particular, you have shown integrity in realising when you've gone too far, and modelled appropriate relationship reconciliation.

So, thank you David. I doubt if there are any ministers, in particular, who haven't queried their own mental health at one point or another. Sharing your experiences helps to reduce the stigma and encourages me and all your readers to pay attention to our wellbeing.

Blog on...
thanks for these comments, they, and others over on fb have been both encouraging and challenging.
Hi David again...this morning I was reading Marva Dawn and it reminded me of your post yeasterday. Marva talks about our 'Glittering Images'. The things in ministy that we hide behind because we think they make us shine. She believes that we are tempted to hide behind these 'Glittering Images'because that is were we earn peoples approval. She writes, "We would rather not acknowledge our broken selves, our selves with problems, with secret faults we would very much prefer everybody not to know."

She then goes on to write, "The only way we can have the courage to live without a glittering image is if we thoroughl recognise that everything we do well as a pastoral servant of the Church is entirely empowered by grace. Then we don't need a glittering image, for it will be the authority of God and God's mercy that works through us."

Thanks again for sharing your story yesterday, it helped me further with my reflecting today.

Nick

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