Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Personal Reflections on Two Years of Blogging

Ironically enough, the week marking two years here on Resident Theology coincided exactly and, so far, perpetually with a crippling case of blogger's block. I don't say "writer's block" because I have actually been writing a great deal, only not on the blog; and that is not due merely to other responsibilities, but indicates a severe case of not having the energy, resolve, or content to throw up anything on the online canvas here. A strange coincidence worth noting, but in any case, we'll push on.

Upon considered reflection, my "placement" online is a bit odd. In getting into the theo-blogging business, I did not at the time personally know anyone who was doing it, nor did I know of or follow the retinue of excellent blogs populating my current blogroll. Nor still, two years later, do I actually know of a single personal friend who is not a family member that regularly reads the blog. (Explanations, cordially received, usually revolve around the scholarly or technical tone.) And yet, in late August of 2008 I decided to start blogging theologically on a regular basis, and I presently find myself in a richly interconnected network of bloggers and their online abodes, discovering, to my delight and surprise, that I have some kind of a regular readership.

The benefits of blogging, the blessings that have come of it and the unforeseen gifts to have plopped in my lap, are legion. As one who felt like an outsider (and, to be sure, a marked amateur) initially, and still a relative stranger in any normally conceived understanding of friendship or personal interaction, I am startled and grateful to note all the kind links my way from exemplary scholars, students, and bloggers in the theological corner of the internet. One of the many reasons I am excited for both AAR and SBL being in Atlanta this fall is the wonderful opportunity to meet all these people whose reading I have enjoyed, whose engagements I have appreciated, and whose graciousness makes a medium known for its impersonal brutality a happy lodging for pilgrims thinking themselves along the way.

Somehow, in other words, without prior connection or ongoing face-to-face interaction, I have found a place online -- that postmodern height of placelessness itself, chief culprit of inhospitable disembodiment -- and just so have found and expect to continue to find personal surprises and friendships in the process.

Professionally, it has been an enormous boon -- and that, again, prior to any sort of professional career having begun! I published my first article based on a brief blog post expanded into a full piece, by way of contacting an editor through an online call for papers posed on another blog. I am participating in the upcoming Karl Barth Blog Conference, solely based on David Congdon having appreciated my previous interactions with film here on the blog. I will soon be in the process of editing a portion of a blogging scholar's upcoming book, and analogously I have a piece out to a handful of folks I've met through blogs that are looking it over for me in the hopes of submitting it to a journal. I have discovered fellow Yoderians and Jensonians through my thesis meanderings since May who have helped me enormously in my research and whom I have pointed in particular directions as well. And allow me to note once again how utterly bizarre it is to come upon a footnote (37n.1) in Yoder's For the Nations, published in 1997, in which he shares that the essay in question was presented as a lecture per the invitation of one (then dean) Dr. Michael Gorman -- the very same New Testament theologian who inexplicably links to me from his current blog!

But it has not simply been happy connections fostered and professional futures enabled -- the point of my starting Resident Theology was to carve out space for taking time to think the gospel; and just so, the essential components of that practice -- individual and communal -- have obtained.

On the one hand, I have been moved over and over again by the extraordinary quality of theological blogging on offer to reconsider established thoughts, to engage important questions, to entertain questionable notions, to question tenuous doctrines. I have expanded my grammatical, rhetorical, philosophical, and theological landscape. (As a side note, it is telling -- and, so far as I see it, in a positive sense -- that in almost no discernible way do I belong to the "church of Christ" blogging world, though that too has its own cubby hole in the online churchly discourse. I am happy to present myself sufficiently an ecumenical theological blogger!) I have received suggested authors and books whose works -- particularly given my present academic location -- I would not have heard of for years. (Another note: I didn't know Lewis Ayres was Lewis Ayres until after I had already had him for a class on Christian history. Trust me: I would have paid more attention had I known.) I can state for a fact that the only reason I have read, and/or paid serious and sustained attention to, Karl Barth, Robert Jenson, William Stringfellow, J. Kameron Carter, Rowan Williams, Augustine, Nicholas Healy, Arthur McGill, and many others is because someone in a blog post or email referenced or appropriated them and in so doing made me realize they were important thinkers I had to attend to.

And in light of that sentence-ending preposition, it has been a singular gift of this blog to learn how to write. I often tell the story of my first one-page reflection paper for an exegesis course in undergrad, that I had never seen a red mark on a paper of mine in my life until I received that single piece of paper back, looking like it was dripping with blood it was so marked up. My professor, Glenn Pemberton, taught me the essential first lesson that I had no idea how to write -- utterly crushing at the time -- and then proceeded to teach me what I did not know.

Blessedly for its practice and its practitioners, theology is the unending task of what Hauerwas rightly calls "word work": attending to language, to talking and writing, as the medium and performance of truthful speech about God and God's works. Precisely in that spirit, to the extent that I have learned over these last two years to write better and better, I have also been learning, through writing, how to speak about God more and more truthfully. Two years ago I would not have been able to articulate a single coherent thought about the historic nature/grace debate, if only because it was so bewilderingly dense. Recently, however, I was finally able to put my finger, in a single sentence, on what had always troubled me: it's ungospeled, and therefore relatively unbiblical, presuppositions regarding its own terms and the content of the message about the crucified Christ. My entire time working through writing thousands upon thousands of words on this blog -- and simultaneously reading just as many, in print and online -- could be fairly and representatively reduced to the patient process of learning how to respond, and how to do so well, to that all-important question of grace and nature.

In the end, whether I am right or not is not the point. The point is that, through this beguilingly unbridled medium, I have joined the conversation.

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