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Today’s post comes from Doug Jackson. Professor Jackson is a bona fide man of letters and a teacher of spiritual formation. He also blogs. He’s not the kind of expert that touts his CV. Rather, he’s a man acquainted with his humanity in a way the endears you to him right off, and a wisdom that can change you.
Blogging as Spiritual Journal
“For I am the sort of man,” Augustine once declared, “who writes because he has made progress, and who makes progress – by writing.”
Christian bloggers should rework Jane Austen’s dictum, “Write what you know,” and state it as follows: Write until you know. If we understand blogging as a process of self-discovery and even of self-formation, we may tread this track with greater gratitude and greater care.
Gratitude and care: Keeping an internal diary has long been seen as a spiritual discipline, from Augustine’s Confessions to Wesley’s journals to Mother Teresa’s recently published papers. The Internet tweaks this ancient practice by offering the perilous privilege of publication.
I say privilege because blogging encourages journaling by offering the incitement of instant readership. Journaling has never been one of my own spiritual practices because I am too much of a writer (or perhaps too little of a Christian) to stand the sound of one keyboard clattering. Writers write to be read, and while perhaps saints do not, most writers are at best saints-in-process. Tradition tells us that Abba John the Dwarf, at Abba Pambo’s direction, watered a stick every day for three years until it burst forth in fruit. I, however, simply will not chase the dead stick of writing if there is not a carrot of being read dangling somewhere on the end of it. George Bernanos’ country priest begins his Diary with the promise that after twelve months he will use it for kindling; by the end of the first chapter he amends it to “I’ll stuff it all away in a drawer to re-read it later with a clear mind.”
So blogging offers an incredible privilege: Writers who in the very recent past would have no outlet for their work can now find instant publication – and instant motivation. Anne Lamott notes the value of this kind of work:
I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do – the act of writing – turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.
But the privilege comes laced with peril: the deadly sin of wrath.
Blogs are self-edited and self-published. I can say whatever I want. Blogs are also released to cyber-space: I can’t unsay anything, even if I want to. This makes a blog a great place to get angry, but a poor place to repent. When I played football we often drilled using foam shields known as “air bags.” I noticed that guys who avoided physical contact at all costs suddenly went Jack Lambert on us during these sessions. We dubbed such selective warriors “Air Bag All Americans.” A blog can be a playground for Air Bag Martyrs who speak boldly from the behind the bunker of their firewalls.
But wrath is a deadly sin for a reason. Jesus equated insults with murder. People often ask me, “Does that mean calling someone a jerk is just as bad as killing him?” My standard reply is, “Not to him.”
Which is largely the point and takes us back to blogging as self-discovery: My anger may or may not harm my targets (with a readership like mine, probably not), but it tells me something about me. “The pleasure of anger,” explains C. S. Lewis, “the gnawing attraction which makes one return again and again to its theme — lies, I believe, in the fact that one feels entirely righteous oneself only when one is angry.
Then the other person is pure black, and you are pure white.” Ranting blogs probably reveal very little about my airbag victims, but they should tell me something about the state of my own soul.
And then there’s the temptation of attention: Wrath translates to readership because everyone loves the vicarious thrill of an Internet takedown. If we write to be read, we must take care lest we automatically write what people like to read. Donald Kaul once closed a review of Robert James Waller’s chick-lit romance “The Bridges of Madison County” by admitting, “I still don’t know what Waller has, but if I thought it was contagious, I’d kiss him.” If cyber-sneering and digital drive-by’s mean viral results, we’re too quick to kiss – well, whatever needs kissing.
Harry Farra’s “Little Monk” begins keeping a journal early in his vows, and later finds it to be “a valuable record of a soul tamed by God.” Toward the close of the book, he abandons the volume to the care of a young woman. She shares it with her wayward son who finds that it changes his heart. Perhaps that should be the goal of the believing blogger: the charism of being overheard. An old joke says, “Live in such a way that you would not be afraid to sell your parrot to the town gossip.” I would amend it to: Blog in such a way that you would not fear to have your words read by a seeking soul in danger, one whom you may never meet.
I write these words as one more unknown note in the mighty symphony (or cacophony) of the blogosphere. My URL does not appear on big-time blog rolls. No one has contacted me to offer a book deal. Christian universities do not invite me to speak. But I don’t think I need the caffeine of fame (though, quite honestly, I’ll take it if it comes); what I need is the liturgy of writing. And who knows – maybe that is what someone who reads my blog needs as well.•
After twenty-five years as a pastor, Doug Jackson finally made it to Tarshish as an assistant professor in the Logsdon Seminary program of the South Texas School of Christian Studies in Corpus Christi, where he teaches spiritual formation, pastoral ministry, and Greek. In addition to his teaching, Doug writes “Sermoneutics,” a weekly devotional and sermon-starter blog based on the Revised Common Lectionary: http://sermoneutics2.blogspot.com/.