Over the weekend, I was told several times by several people from different circles with which I interact that I actually have a readership. This was surprising because I spent the weekend hanging out with Asian American evangelical Protestants. Not only do I seem to have readers from there, but I also apparently have Chinese Canadian readers in Vancouver (as well as elsewhere in Canada, I hear), and it sounds like the posts that I wrote about Franklin Graham coming to Vancouver last weekend caused quite a stir.
It turns out, then, that I don’t only have Eastern Catholic, Latin Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox readers; when I release a post out into the world, that is exactly where it goes: into the world.
But one of the questions that seems to have surfaced over the weekend has revolved around why I blog. Apparently, when some readers read, they believe that whatever they are reading, especially when it comes to religion, is imbued with authority. This is quite funny to me because my blog is really my blog – it is a log on the web of my thoughts – and while my spiritual father and bishop sometimes appear to be among my readers, they do not have much control over what I say, and it is often out of personal courtesy that I try not to cause them heart attacks by what I write.
This question, then, has in fact come up before regarding why I write. Indeed, some of the people I used to call my ‘astute readers’ were rather mean to me early on in my blogging career on Patheos. Three minutes after I published my first post, I was called a ‘joke.’ Soon afterward, some who thought I knew nothing about Eastern Catholicism asked me to consider whether I could represent Eastern Catholicism on Patheos (I do not) and one even asked me to stop blogging altogether for fear of the harm that my ignorance was doing to the church (others stepped in and encouraged me otherwise).
As the dust from all that trolling settled, I considered my blogging mandate to be that I was going to blog as a young Eastern Catholic employed by the academy in Asian American studies, and over time, it seemed like people on Catholic and Orthodox Internet either started loving me, got used to me, or just ignored me. In turn, I started having a lot of fun and even started telling the story of how I became Eastern Catholic.
But over the last week, I have found that my Protestant readers still take me seriously even as someone outside their ecclesial house. No doubt I have some secular readers too. Realizing that perhaps I have a lot more ‘authority’ on the blogosphere than I thought – ‘authority’ that I would immediately disavow – it seems like I have some explaining to do before the Protestants start calling me up to see if I want to be hired by their churches (I do not; I am Eastern Catholic).
Because of this, I want to tell the story of how I started blogging and how I started writing the way I do online – intellectually, conversationally, analytically, personally, reflectively, usually all at once and never executed perfectly. I’ll do this in a series of posts over the next week. Maybe that will clear some things up, maybe it will raise some new questions, and maybe it will even be fun to read. As one of my Asian American evangelical friends wrote on social media the other day:
I have a VERY short list of friends who are frontline engagers like Justin, who write originally and prolifically on religion and race…. with public Facebook settings and actually talk to people in the comments. If you ever wondered why we have a “follow” button on Facebook, it is so you can follow public commentators like him.
I don’t know that I can live up to that description – it is flattering and humbling and reminds me of how much I really have to grow in my commitment to public intellectual work – but there is a story behind how all that engagement came to be, and to give away some of it, a lot of it has to do with me taking the study of Hong Kong seriously even before the famous Umbrella Movement.
I’d better not say more before I start from the beginning tomorrow morning.