This is the second part in a series of posts about why I blog with no authority. The first post is here.
When I first started blogging around 2007, I had no sense of what a ‘public sphere’ was, although I write much the same way: my posts are too long, have too much jargon, are not very pastoral.
The difference is that around the time I discovered social media and the world of blogging, I was actually discerning a call to ordained ministry within the Anglican Communion. Because of this, part of the purposes of my posts were indeed to instruct and even to try out a bit of authority.
In fact, you could say that I even had a bit of an authoritarian streak back then. It is a bit embarrassing to admit that at the time, I was also what they call a ‘New Calvinist,’ so I wrote an awful lot about the sovereignty of God and ‘biblical manhood,’ mostly on Facebook notes but sometimes also on a blog that I had presciently titled ‘Chinglican Communion’ (for reasons that I will become apparent in subsequent posts). I even had the gall to send a long treatise on ‘modesty’ to a girl that I liked; for some reason, I never got a reply. For this reason, I have very much enjoyed the writings of my Catholic feminist colleagues Rebecca Bratten Weiss, Mary Pezzulo, and Eating Peaches on modesty last year.
Unfortunately, many of these posts have been lost, including the long and very misogynistic treatise on modesty, which is truly unfortunate because it would make for some great blackmail and would truly establish my street cred in being able to make fun of New Calvinism, gender complementarianism, and evangelical authoritarianism as a former insider deep in the belly of the beast, even though all of these things are not part of my ecclesial house anymore. I used to have them saved on my computer, but my hard drive literally melted when I was in Hong Kong in 2012 (more on this in a future post), and they have been lost for ages of ages, as far as I am concerned.
Indeed, what is truly unfortunate is that I also lost the posts from around the time that I was making a turn out of New Calvinism. By 2008, I had realized that not only had my New Calvinism basically destroyed my ability to relate to the people to whom I was ministering (which meant that for reasons I will not elaborate here, I found myself off the Anglican ordination track, and for very good reason – I was terrible), but also that trying to live within the closed system of sovereignty and prescribed social roles prescribed by New Calvinism had virtually destroyed my prayer life (I am sure that some New Calvinists pray, but I was not among them). Around this time, I started taking some classes at Vancouver’s Regent College on histories of Christian spirituality; I had, of course, been taking some of the biblical foundations courses while I was an intern, but now I let loose with the spiritual theology stuff. It was in these classes where I first encountered the works of Metropolitan John of Pergamon, Benedict XVI, René Girard, and Hans Frei. I also rediscovered Hans Urs von Balthasar (who for reasons that will take another post in itself, I had encountered much earlier) and learned about his collaboration with theologians associated with the nouvelle théologie which laid some of the theological foundation of Vatican II: Jean Danielou, Henri de Lubac SJ, Yves Congar OP, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Hans Küng, Joseph Ratzinger, and others. I wrote a paper in one of those courses on why people nowadays should care that Arius was a heretic, mostly relying on Rowan Williams’s analysis; little did I know that this was all probably the Holy Spirit setting me up to become Orthodox-in-communion-with-Rome. This was all very important to me because as diverse as all of these characters are, the one thing that seemed to focus their work was what de Lubac called le surnaturel, an understanding that what we know as reality is actually the natural order enveloped by a plane of divine grace such that we actually live in the suspension between nature and grace. It was in such Catholic theology – by which I include the Byzantine tradition as I researched Arius, Alexander, Athanasius, and the Cappadocians – that I finally broke with New Calvinism as a system because – in evangelical terms – I finally did not have a religion, but a personal relationship with Jesus Christ: this stuff made me pray again.
In posts from around this time, I wrote a lot about C.S. Lewis and Narnia, and to this day, I still like some of those posts, especially one in which I connected the scene in Prince Caspian movie that embellishes Lucy calling the River God to battle against the Telmarines with the ecstasy of St Teresa of Avila. Alas, they are gone, but if someone finds them on the deep, dark web, I won’t mind, even if some of them are a bit embarrassing. If I remember them correctly, I think they actually show me turning out of a very hard sort of Protestantism into an openness toward what might be called the ‘supernatural,’ which makes sense because I was reading a lot of Zizioulas, de Lubac, Balthasar, and Williams at this time. I even used to procrastinate during this time by reading C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, especially That Hideous Strength, and I even told my doctoral supervisor about it; for some odd reason, he approved, probably because we were the two geographers in the whole discipline who were ploughing through Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory and Taylor’s Secular Age that semester and getting ourselves all worked up about the supernatural in geography, resulting eventually in a publication that I am actually proud of titled ‘grounded theologies’ in Progress in Human Geography.
What I mean by not having a sense of the public sphere, though, is that I did not really write for my readers. Sometimes I wrote just to express myself, and at other times, I wrote to instruct; the latter reason was because I was indeed discerning a call to ordained ministry, until I was not. I say this because a youth pastor in Vancouver knocked me over the last weekend for writing what he considered pastorally irresponsible things about Franklin Graham (no pastor, for example, would ever use ‘blackmail’ to describe how they feel, at least not in public), and as much as the application of his pastoral standards to me irked me as a layperson, I have to admit that I remember the feeling all too well. That being said, I still remain particularly proud of one very unpastoral piece I wrote around this time flogging Campus for Christ on my campus for hosting the ‘Great Porn Debate’ between porn star Ron Jeremy and an evangelical apologist about whether pornography is good or not; if my memory serves me correctly, I think I was so dismayed at how badly the evangelical guy lost rhetorically that I said that Ron Jeremy had ‘creamed’ him.
I think I’ll call this early phase of my blogging a sort of ‘private’ mode of blogging, a time from around 2007 to 2011 when I thought it was my responsibility to both instruct my audience as well as to control who they were. This all came to a climax while I was conducting my doctoral field work in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2011. I was reading a book on the BART (the Bay Area Rapid Transit) when someone called me a ‘chink.’ I didn’t realize it for a while, but eventually, as he kept on calling me a ‘chink’ and raising my voice, I simply walked away. At that time, I had started an anonymous blog titled ‘Religion Ethnicity Wired’ as an effort to blog about religion happenings in a sort of academic way, and when I got back to where I was staying, I punched out a post titled ‘I Was Called a Chink on BART’ that tried to sort through that experience intellectually – I used Hannah Arendt and Judith Butler to theorize it all, if you want to know. I then sent it to Angry Asian Man, who is in fact an alumnus of the Asian American Studies Program at Northwestern University where I now teach. From there, the post was widely read, but I got a lot of hate in the comments for failing to punch out the guy who called me a chink instead of retreating to another train car (which is what I did) and then intellectualizing the whole experience. In the ultimate stroke of trying to control my audience, I pulled the post off the web and basically shut down the whole blog.
This is what I got for trying to blog authoritatively, then: I think I got scared. I think I also did not believe in the public sphere. I think I almost gave up on blogging then. I have also since lost all my posts from around this time. It’s too bad, because now that I look back on it, I might actually like a lot of them still.