Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why Do I Blog?: a personal reflection

I blog because I need to...

That's the best explanation I can come up with... When friends tell me, "I read your blog...," contrary to popular belief, my first reaction is not usually a feeling of flattery or vocational satisfaction, but of self-consciousness and embarrassment. However subtle or fleeting it may be, I immediately get a feeling of discomfort. So, in essence, this blog does not exist for me as an exercise of vanity. I don't do it for recognition or self-promotion. That does not mean that I am acting hypocritically when I do promote my blog to others on the internet. Though it may be counter-intuitive in some ways, I still regard the internet as a locus of anonymity--in other words, when I promote myself on the internet, it's not my self that is being promoted; an extension of myself, perhaps, but nevertheless I am struck with a sense of surprise whenever someone actually associates me with the things I write here--perhaps precisely because they are authentic and personal. And then I am self-conscious because I am aware that the number of people who take interest in the same things I do is a small one at best, so the probability that they found my thoughts interesting is low.

So if not for vanity and self-promotion, then is this blog about contributing? Is it about advancing the theological, political, or whatever other conversation it may be touching?

Maybe some of my posts are planted in the soil of contribution. Maybe sometimes I write because I think I can add some alternative perspective or solution to some problem. Perhaps sometimes I recommend a book or a movie because I think it will benefit someone else's journey. But most of the content here just isn't about changing people's minds or contributing to their process - I'm not quite that pretentious (though, I suppose I've opened myself to the accusation). People who get into blogging for that purpose, in my experience, tend to burn-out quickly. They discover that nobody's really reading (or at least fewer than their fantastic expectations had projected) or they discover that their partners in discussion aren't consistent enough for them to have any sustained influence on a conversation. They quickly realize, with few exceptions (one such exception is what Tripp Fuller is doing at Homebrewed Christianity), that blogs are not adequate mediums for constructive theological or political dialogue  They're more often the objects of a fleeting and even an apathetic audience. I think that if I were writing this blog for the purpose of influence, I'd be too discouraged to have kept it up as long as I have. I hope I'm not being too cynical about the dialogue which takes place in the "blogosphere." It's just that, besides those few exceptions, the conversations that people have through blogs - if any - are usually more constructive to the blog's author than to anyone else "out there."

Is it a learning tool, then? A tool for the personal formation of the author?

This is my traditional answer to the question. I did, in fact, start the blog when I was a Freshman at Azusa Pacific University, just getting started in my theological formation. It was a way for me to process and internalize the things I was learning - many of them being quite novel and revolutionary to me at the time. And it's true that ever since its conception this blog has been an important (if not indispensable) tool for my journey of spiritual and intellectual formation. But that's hardly the best explanation for why I keep doing it. It's not as though I sit down to blog because of some pedagogical strategy I've constructed. My personal formation may be the product, but I don't think it's the source. Again, if it was just a strategic learning tool, I don't think I'd have kept it up this long and I don't think the content would be the same.

If not for self-promotion, influence, or learning; then why keep a blog?

For me, the best answer is simply that I've gotta do it. It's just something I need to do. Its quality is much less utilitarian than it is ontological... it is a mode of being. It is a cultural form of my personal expression that has become more or less intrinsic to who I am. Does that mean I'd have a mental breakdown if the whole internet crashed tomorrow? I hope not. I'm sure I'd grieve with the rest of the world which has become so dependent on the internet for various reasons. But I am sure that this mode of my being would simply take a different form, it would find new avenues for expression.

I think that's the best reason to blog fr any extended period of time... perhaps that's the best reason to do anything - not out of a sense of obligation (though I do post, now and then, out of such a sense) but out of a sense of yearning. It's being - not doing and not duty - that sustains any practice. I think that's the only way I've been able to keep the blog around and consistent for as long as I have. If I had done it for any other reason I'm not sure I'd have lasted... indeed lasting has never been a question.

There is a connection to vocation here - especially ministry - that's worth mentioning: for our work to be sustainable, for it to last, it must come from the location of our being, from who we are, not from a location of obligation or moralism. It must not foremost be something we work to sustain, but something which sustains us. There is a word for this kind of sustenance, this kind of intrinsic need - we call it joy. If we do not take joy in what we do, then we will not be long for the journey.

2 comments:

Jeremiah Knabe said...

Wes,
You're beginning to sound very Princetony... ;-) I like it. Anyway, thanks for writing this. I've been thinking of starting something like a blog and your sharing has brought clarity to my thought process. Thanks for sharing. I hope things are well. We miss you out here. I hope to connect soon!

Wesley Ellis said...

Jeremiah,
I'm sounding "Princetony," huh? I guess I'll choose to take that as a compliment ;)
Things are going pretty well out here. We love it, actually. And I am pretty much in my element. It's a challenge, indeed, but I did somehow manage to pull off all A's last semester. This semester is likely to be an even greater challenge with Dr. Bowlin, Dr. Taylor, and Dr. Graham... I'll be busy.

We miss you guys and think of you often. Let's connect soon, ok?