Yesterday, I logged into my “back end” blog stuff to edit something and noticed–purely by chance–that I’ve written 499 blog posts. Ever.
499…. That means that this, right here, is my 500th blog post. **Cue fireworks and champagne and fancy outfits!**
Actually. Cue coffee in a local dive, a morning of people-watching (my favorite) and rain-day hair. That’s what I’m rocking for this momentous occasion.
7 years ago, I got a free WordPress account and started messing around. I had no editor, no larger network, no real intention. I thought I was starting an online forum where my church might get to know our community (and vice versa). I lived in a sprawling Phoenix suburb where everything was surrounded by concrete walls, people stayed inside all summer, and nobody knew their neighbors. I started a “Who Is My Neighbor” conversation on a local network… which yielded exactly nothing.
Well, not nothing. Just not what I was aiming for. And isn’t that always the way?
I wrote in fits and starts those first few years. Mostly because I had a baby (and then another) while also pastoring a church. Over time I found that, rather than drawing people directly to the church, I was equipping the members of my church with a language of faith–with which they could, by extension, engage the community. In that regard, this blog was one small part of many that allowed a small, struggling congregation to transform itself into a vital serving community.
I serve in a different church and context now–and write for a broader audience– but those earlier trends still ring true. Online forums give people of faith a place to process the world–through the lens of scripture, Spirt, and maybe a healthy dose of snark, lest we take ourselves too seriously– and that act of engaging the world together makes us stronger. Whether we are talking about the local church, the Church universal, or the growing “spiritual but not religious” crowd that still seeks to transform the world–we are better together.
Seven years and 500 posts later, I’ve learned some things. For instance: I write best when caffeinated. Fueled by coffee and the Holy Spirit. But beyond those little personal truths, I’ve learned some broader things about faith, writing, and the Church’s changing voice in the world. Things like:
- Writing is not enough. Saying what’s true is easier from behind a screen than from behind a pulpit. Or IRL. The perceived anonymity of the internet is dangerous. This is a safe place, relatively speaking. I can tune out people who push back, or with whom I disagree. I can create my own sacred space of like-minded people. Which is fun, but way too easy. I’ve had to push myself to practice what I preach: to engage local legislators, to challenge leaders within my own denomination, and to get out and meet my neighbors in the real world. I don’t always do that as faithfully as I should, because the discipline of writing is far easier than the risk of relationship. Maybe that’s because
- Writing is like exercise–the more you do it, the easier it gets. I think back to my fits-and-starts days, and remember what torture it was to eek out a few paragraphs once every couple of weeks (or months). But writing 2 to 3 posts weekly creates a self-perpetuating momentum. I find it far more painful to NOT write, when I am in this rhythm; some days, I wake up with a post burning a hole in my brain, and I cannot function until I’ve gotten it out. I share this as encouragement for those of you trying to get started and struggling for those first words. Start somewhere. You don’t need a plan or an end-game. “Butt in chair,” as Anne Lamott says. The rest will come.
- The Church is changing. Finally, and for the better. 7 years into blogging (and 15 years into ministry), I see less moral posturing, and more hands-in-dirt, hearts-engaged ministry. We still have miles to go– but I am encouraged, every day, by stories of faith communities learning to be present where-they-live, instead of focusing on some far-off heaven and dwelling on the letter of ancient law. This will be our salvation: if we can learn to show up for our neighbors, with or without the Bible in our hand. Because
- The world is hungry for authentic voice. Not just from the Church, but from politicians, local leaders, authors and musicians…even from our own friends and families. We are exhausted of perfectly-pedicured-profiles. We are tired of our own manufactured personas, and those other people try to sell us. People want their faith, especially, to be a little less precious and “inspirational.” I’ve learned that I get a lot farther–in writing, in preaching, in life in general–when I show up as my whole and messy self; smart mouth and all. Granted, that means I occasionally offend people. Sometimes because I’ve crossed a line, and sometimes because people are prudish and ZERO FUN. But I’ve got to be me or die. I’m much healthier, and my ministry much more effective, when I am real. And truly, I don’t know how else to be. And in this messy, authentic world,
- People are hungry for connection. I don’t know if the attraction/addiction to social media has created this phenomenon, or just drawn attention to it… Either way, much of our lives are designed for convenience or autonomy (drive-thru windows, garage door openers, auto-pay, and online classes, just to name a few); but the need for human connection is more important than ever. We need to know that we are not alone in our faith, we are not alone in our doubt, and we are not alone in the desire for a better, more just world. Online communities do not meet this need entirely; but hopefully conversations begun here evolve into lived realities, beyond just words on a screen.
- A good blog is the voice of the community. I just say what we’re already talking about. I just name what we’re already noticing/thinking about/struggling with in faith, culture, politics, family, etc. What I express here is part of real-world conversations with real people. When I write, I aim to embody the voice of many: a voice for peace, equality, creativity, and other good things we claim as shared Progressive Christian values. [Also–I love when I get comments from trolls, and I can’t even–and one of YOU blessed readers responds with exactly what I would have said…] We are all in this. It has never been just my words on a screen.
- Stats are not everything…but also, they’re not nothing. Take worship attendance… By no means do numbers tell the whole story of a church. But numbers provide one of many indicators of effectiveness; numbers help us to know when we’ve struck a chord, when we’ve answered a need, when we’re meeting people in the right places… The same is true of blogging. The occasional “Big” post lets me know that I’ve hit on something people want to talk about. Sometimes all you have to do, as a writer, is ride those waves until they land you someplace good.
And you know what? That someplace good is almost never the place you set out for.
That said… Here are 7 of the “biggest” posts from the last 7 years. To give you a glimpse of what you’ve helped create, and what kind of conversation you are giving life to, out there in the world. Peace and love, and THANK YOU for reading. Virtual fireworks and champagne for all!