Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ministry or vanity?

Robin's post on Blogging as Ministry has raised several questions in my mind. As I commented on Liz's post I am quite clear about my use of Facebook. That is all about taking me out of my often too comfortable isolation, about making connections with my family and renewing connections with friends old and new. But about blogging I'm not so sure. Why do I write a blog? Is this a Quaker blog or just a blog written by a Quaker - and does the distinction matter?

A lot of what I write is about my life - perhaps a rough draft for the spiritual autobiography that I must one day sit down and write. I have the title - which is also the title of this blog - and have published a few fragments so far. But if I am writing ministry here should I keep away from the trivial and always leave 'the day of small things' to Facebook?

As Robin says, for me reading other people's blogs is part of the process of writing and often spurs me into putting my thoughts into words - as it has today. I want to be part of the Quaker conversation, but for me this can also be a problem. I gain a lot from listening to others, but I realise that part of me also wants to be heard. I want to be recognised by the 'proper Quaker bloggers' who choose which posts appear on QuakerQuaker and sometimes I find myself wondering what I have to write to make that happen!

But as in meeting for worship I know that true ministry is given and has nothing to do with conscious striving for effect. I must be true to myself and to my own spiritual journey and write what I cannot avoid writing with no thought of any audience. Because I am a Quaker to the core of my being this is necessarily a Quaker blog. I know that a few people read what I write and I am always happy to read their comments. Perhaps the nearest comparison between what I write here and ministry is that when I rise to speak I have no idea what effect my words may have on those who hear them and do not ask to know. It is enough if I can be faithful.

11 comments:

Heather said...

I've wondered about QuakerQuaker, too ;)

You hit the nail on the head - all you can do is be faithful.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

I struggle with this a bit, too. Sometimes I will write a post at my blog simply to explore an idea... but a lot of the time, I try to have it rise, if not from the same place as vocal ministry, at least from the same depth as good worship sharing.

And it is destructive to that process when I start to (very quietly, as if to hide it even from myself) write what I hope will get me noticed and "Quaker-Quakered". It's even destructive to write what I think a particular regular commenter may want to respond to or think about.

Sometimes I fail to set those vanity concerns aside, and my writing is not as centered as I want it to be. I keep on trying... but, I admit, part of me likes very much the sense of being taken seriously for my words, and is more interested in following the hints of how to get more of that than in following any more spiritual leadings.

I'm afraid I yield to the temptation to Google myself often, and I do watch the stats to see who is reading my blog and in what numbers with much greater interest than I probably ought to.

On the other hand, the sense of having an audience does keep me engaged and interested in this Quaker conversation. I suspect I take things in more deeply because our exchanges are mutual, and because there is response. And that engagement has certainly led, at least for me, to some real growth.

So I keep struggling, trying to get the balance just right.

RichardM said...

Friends ought to be concerned with the possibility that blogging is a matter of stroking one's ego. It is a real concern that has a pretty simple answer: ask weighty Friends who know you what they think.

If the motive is vanity, then they will probably tell you so, diplomatically one hopes. If the motive is not vanity, then they will encourage you to continue blogging.

Blogging is a kind of electronic travelling in the ministry. Traveling in the ministry is subject to the same question: is this a real leading or am I just puffing myself up? In the past Quakers developed mechanisms to aid in this discernment process. Elders would encourage the vocal ministry of those with real leadings, discourage those who were motivated by vanity and provide a mix of encouragement and correction to those with a real leading and a real ego (probably the majority then and now.) When one felt a leading to travel in the ministry, the monthly meeting would be asked to produce a travel minute which would essentially tell those being visited "We know this Friend and he/she is not a nut." A traveling companion was sent with the Friend to listen to his/her ministry and report nutty behvior or ministry that occurred on the visit and the meetings visited were invited to write comments on the travel minute "Friend Smith visited us and did not act like a nut."

Back then one of the functions of the society as a whole was to discern those with a real gift of ministry and not be mislead by those who merely had a talent for stringing words together.

QuakerQuaker is taking on this function for our electronic ministry. It is that small team that decides whether a blog post is appropriate or not. I trust they try their best to distinguish between posts which are well-written pieces of ego trumpeting from those that are humbly Spirit-led. A few bloggers will ask that their monthly meetings provide the kind of accountability to the corporate body that was a traditional part of Quaker tradition but this seems to be rare. Instead the QuakerQuaker team has assumed that role.

Gil S said...

Thanks so much for your comments Heather and Cat. It's good to know that I am not alone in this struggle.

Richard thanks for your viewpoint. I do know the history of travelling in the ministry and recorded ministers and you may consider my knuckles metaphorically rapped! Do you see your own blogging as ministry or as another form of communication?

I hope that one of the distinctive features of Quaker blogs is that they can be places to explore our weaknesses and shortcomings with an expectation of receiving encouragement as well as chastisement

RichardM said...

Gil,

I wasn't meaning to rap your knuckles. I was just trying to say that getting an objective opinion from people whose judgement you trust is a much better way of determining if one's motive is vanity or not. Modern Quakers are more inclined to try to use introspection for this, but I don't think its the best way.

After I was blogging for a while I took this to our YM Ministers, Elders and Overseerers to let them know and to invite them to read the blog and to monitor it for me. So far they have encouraged me to continue. If I got mostly negative feedback from them I'd stop blogging. This way I don't have to do any soul-searching about this. I just trust their judgement. By the way these are people I know and trust. Negative comments from stangers on-line I take much less seriously.

As for whether I consider my blogging ministry, I haven't used that term in my own thinking because I don't think of myself as a minister. I started with a vague sense that I had something to say to the wider Quaker world but my impressions about my own blogging has been changing during the years I have been doing this. Now I rather doubt that I have something to say to the wider Quaker world but only a few insights that may be of value to individual Friends here and there.

Liz Opp said...

Gil... and Heather and Cat and others--

I'm so glad you ask the question or offer the musing about just how does a post get tagged for QuakerQuaker.

I've already started considering my own post in answer to that question, despite the original guidelines about what the "contributing editors" are (were?) to consider.

(I'm not sure those guidelines are still available and I've asked Martin where (or if) I might find them.)

Anyway, I'm sorry some of you have felt overlooked. I know I wasn't personally able to keep up with the explosion of blogs in recent years and I would say things have only gotten more challenging...

That said, given what's been shared here and my own questions about how I spend my online time, I'm hoping to do things a bit differently, including getting back to reading more blogs more regularly!

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Liz Opp said...

The guidelines that are on QuakerQuaker for how contributing editors are to consider whether or not to tag a blog post can be found on the site as a note.

Hope this helps demystify what otherwise is a fairly invisible (and ever-evolving) process.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Liz Opp said...

[A few days later...]

Gil,

I have just finished a post that speaks to my experience as a contributing editor of QQ. You can read it here.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Queery said...

I do think it is healthy for us to be conscious and conscientious about our motives, I also think that we are human beings who are complex. Sometimes the motive IS both, and I think it is even more important to be clear and walk carefully when this is true.

I find that often questions of polarity "is it a or b" are often only part of the question-- the beginning part, often it is more complicated: "is it a, b, c, or d. all of the above" or "is it a, b,c,d, or e. all of the above and MORE".

I find it is important to ask and answer these questions, but not be immobilized by them.

Heather said...

Gil, there is an award for you on my Doodles blog... (heathersdoodles.blogspot.com)

Ganeida said...

Interesting take. To put something of a spanner in the works I blog as a way of minimising the isolation of geography. Other Christians are rare, other Friends non~existent. This is my way of reaching out, sharing, connecting so I am far less concerned about how *Quaker* I am than in sharing. Thus I don't have an overly *Quaker* blog but I still operate from a Quaker base.