Some weeks back, a writer working on a book project dropped me an email and asked if I could help answer the following question:
“In your opinion, what are the ‘ten commandments’ that Catholic bloggers should keep in mind while pressing on in their digital mission?”
Well. It was an idea I found instantly both appealing and horrifying. Appealing, because all of us bloggers should have a code of some sort that we live with. Horrifying, because I realized that, whatever guidelines I would draw up, they are ones that I probably consistently break.
Nonetheless, I do think there are a few high ideals worth striving for. Here they are, in no particular order.
I. Remember that you are a Catholic first and a blogger second. Aim high. Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors, and no matter how much you dislike a person or an idea or a bishop or some seemingly inane liturgical practice that you are convinced is heretical, offer first and foremost your prayers and mercy. Conduct yourself in the blogosphere in a way that announces the gospel and heralds the Good News. Leave the mudslinging and name-calling and ad hominem noise to others. We’re better than that.
II. Ask yourself periodically: WWJB? What Would Jesus Blog? It’s intriguing to think about what sort of social network the Prince of Peace and King of Kings might run. It can help us set a standard for content and, well, behavior in the blogosphere, too. What if we all tried to be Christ at the keyboard? What if we all tried to bring him into the digital continent, like missionaries?
III. Keep an open mind to the many ways there are of Being Catholic. Not everyone loves the Latin Mass. Not everyone adores strumming guitars and liturgical dance. But both do enliven and enrich a good many people. Even if you disagree with a style of worship, or a spiritual discipline, respect our differences. There’s no telling how many souls have been saved or hearts touched by styles of worship that might make you, personally, cringe. The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways. Truly.
IV. Avoid combox squabbles. Here, there be dragons! Inevitably, two or three people get into screaming matches about small matters, turning them into big ones, and the rhetoric quickly goes from room temperature to certifiably hellish. I think we should tolerate some disagreement, but only insofar as it sheds light, not heat. When things get out of control, turn on the gardening hose and turn off the comments.
V. If you’re wondering if you should comment, don’t. When in doubt, keep quiet. Remember Mary, who chose the better part by sitting and listening. Often, that can be more illuminating. Not everyone needs to know what you think about every little catechetical twist, spat, disagreement or feud.
VII. As Bishop Christopher Coyne noted recently: take the high road. When the opportunity presents itself, and you find yourself getting into some strong disagreements, sometimes it’s best to just turn the other cheek. Before you unsheathe your knife, walk away. There’s nothing to be gained by trying to leave a wound, even if you think the person deserves it. As the good bishop also pointed out in his homily, it might be fruitful to ask, “Is this building up or tearing down?” If you aren’t building up the Body of Christ, you need to rethink your approach.
VIII. Pray. Before any post, any comment, any reaction, take a moment and take a deep breath and offer a quick prayer for heavenly intercession and guidance. The act of blogging can really be a kind of prayer, if we work at it. And: I think we should.
IX. No matter what you may want to think, strive always to believe the best of others. That’s a good way to live life anyway, but especially in the blogosphere. Leave your cynicism at the door. Raise your expectations of those reading and commenting, and presume they have the best of intentions. Maybe they don’t. But it won’t hurt anyone if you believe that they do. Who knows? Such thinking might even be contagious.
X. Finally, you can take this to the bank: always remember that we are all sinners. We are broken. Every one of us bears some frailty, some weakness, some wound. That affects what we write, how we think, and very often, how we treat others. Sometimes, the crank on the other side of the screen just got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. Other times, he’s had a fight with his wife or a feud with his pastor or just got some news from the lab that he really didn’t want to hear. A lot of us have Issues that cloud our thinking and muddle our mindsets.
Ultimately, we’re all works in progress. That includes priests, deacons, laity, bloggers – and people who come up with “10 Commandment” lists.