TRAVEL DIARY – A Bloggers' Dinner

TRAVEL DIARY – A Bloggers' Dinner November 13, 2006
BA PlaneWell, I made it – at least as far as Toronto. I had an eager sense of anticipation as I got off the plane. As I met my now dear friend, Andrew Fountain, it was amazing to me to realize how true it is that being a Christian makes you part of one big family of God. For those of us like Andrew and I, who are also part of newfrontiers, that sense of family is strengthened still further. When we meet, we realize that we all share the same spiritual DNA!

In what seemed like a blur, we were seated in a Keg Steakhouse with two other great blogging buddies – Tim Challies and Paul Martin. There is lots that I could say about the dinner we had together. The first thing is that, in fact, the whole thing was an internet date. Only Paul and Andrew had known each other first in real life – all the other relationships had been formed online. It was a real advertisement for internet “dating” – at least as far as friendships go.

We all shared so much – a love for the Lord, a basically reformed Baptist position (albeit with Andrew and I having a bit of a bonus add-on in the form of a charismatic theology!) and were all part of relatively young churches, none of which had a building they owned between them. Paul and Tim’s church is practically a house church!

tim challies The other nice thing was the way in which Tim managed to dispel all those myths about him being quiet, reserved, and never smiling. I have photographic evidence that he smiles, and I can assure you that he spoke at least as much as any of the rest of us.

We avoided the whole “Stop saying that I read it on your blog!” by pretending that none of us actually reads the other one’s blog at all!

Tim and Andrew broke off into technobabble at one point. In fact, for a moment I thought that they were both speaking in tongues as they discussed the intricacies of the databases that can power websites.

I then chipped in with a few comments about how to be a friend of Google – in particular my bugbear that we should all try and remember (I often forget this myself!) that when we link to other webpages we should try and use appropriate keywords. So, for example, if I wanted to link to Tim’s most recent post (and I do!) I should write something like this:

Tim Challies has updated and republished his post ironically enough on the updating and publishing of old Christian hymns.

Rather than what we all (including me!) tend to do, which is this:

Tim Challies has updated and republished his post ironically enough on the updating and publishing of old Christian hymns.

Google already knows that Tim’s site includes information about himself – the first example signals to Google that it might want to consider that page as a resource on Christian hymns, too. I have checked and right now Tim’s site is nowhere to be found on a search for the phrase “Christian hymns” – it may be that my link alone will change all that once Google indexes this post. What is certain is that if just a few good blogs were to link to him like that, his page would definitely end up appearing in the top ten for such a search.

I want even more people to find Tim’s site than already do – don’t you?

Anyway, back to our dinner. I banned any theological debates as I felt that it would be unfair to me having just got off a transatlantic flight, but that didn’t stop us from a few gentle digs at the areas about which we do disagree. More than that, though, we had a lot of fun and laughter. For example, the waiter took a photo of all of us (which I will share at the end of this post and whilst doing so told us to “look like we like each other and sit closer together” – to which the inevitable “not like we like each other too much!” and “not TOO close!” were the instant retorts and at the time seemed as hilarious as they were predictable with a bunch of us guys eating dinner together.

I had a great time, and I was left with a sense that as great as online friendships can be, it is no substitute for meeting face-to-face and seeing the whites of each other’s eyes, the smile as a slightly cheeky point is made, and feeling the warmth of the friendship and respect mutually held.

We discussed how perceptions can be distorted online. Certainly Tim and Paul were a whole lot funnier than I imagined them to be (at least until our crazy email exchange over arranging this dinner!) I also gave the specific example of Phil Johnson, who I also met a while back. I am sure Phil won’t mind me sharing that here. In person, and in his audio messages, his genuine warmth, respect for those with whom he disagrees, and general nice-guy nature is abundantly apparent. Sometimes online, our personalities don’t always come across as we want them to, and we can surprise ourselves by the way we are perceived.

Every now and then Phil will say something that, if said face-to-face, the twinkle in his eye would have given the appropriate context to it. I hate to admit it, but there is then a peculiar fascination in watching the wave of indignant reaction that sometimes hits certain corners of the blogosphere after Phil writes something which at the time I guess he had no idea would offend anyone. The wave of anguish is then almost inevitably followed by a genuinely puzzled Phil trying to figure which part of his comment caused the reaction The trouble is that the whole thing is not as funny as all that, as every blogger knows he could be next – and indeed has probably been there himself – I know I have been, and probably will be in the future.

I am not sure that there is any reliable way we can guard against being taken the wrong way from time to time as we write. So for every time in the future some unguarded un-nuanced comment I make here on my blog will offend someone, I apologise up front! I am afraid a few “smileys” definitely cannot take the place of all the non-verbal communication we miss when we read the written word.

What happened last night over a dinner near the Toronto airport was a precious thing – it involved a strengthening of trust. If a relationship is like a bridge, then our bridges were reinforced last night. For me, once a connection has been made face-to-face, it makes electronic communication much more enjoyable and, I guess, even safer in a funny kind of way.

Tim, Andrew, and Paul . . . thanks for a great evening. Thanks for being brothers fighting
together on the same side. I commit to never seeing any of you as the enemy as we go about this blogging business and possibly even interact and disagree publicly. You guys have my permission to critique me privately or online.

I pray now that, together with many other bloggers, we will always find ourselves in this online world to be “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” which was “once for all delivered to the saints.” (Philippians 1:27, Jude 1:3)

Tim Challies and Paul Martin have both posted about our dinner. I just want to point out, that if my memory is correct, it was the Holy Spirit and not cessationism as such that I brought up, but it was only in passing and I could be wrong!

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