Deacon Greg has shut down comments on his blog, The Deacon’s Bench, for some time as it seems that the comments have gotten out of hand since he moved from blogspot to Beliefnet. I can relate to the following comment:
I’m a deacon, not a referee, with a demanding full-time job and a part-time parish ministry to practice. I don’t have the time to mediate every fight or catechize every stranger who wanders by and wants to know what all the screaming is about.)
Among the deacon’s first words in the mass are “Lord have mercy.” His last are “Go in peace.” As those words frame the celebration of the Eucharist, I want them also to frame my work here.
Indeed blogging can be a full-time job all it’s own. A friend of mine is hoping to do just that in the sports world–another actually does just blog for a living. Comments load up quickly and the nature of the internet is the participants “need” for immediacy. People expect a response to their comments, especially the most rabid amongst us.
Since I started a media ministry (BustedHalo.com) and now have this blog, I have come to wonder if there is a huge difference between being a ministry and being a media outlet based on religion. I’ll make several points here:
1) Ministry takes as its starting point the spiritual well-being of individuals who come to us for spiritual guidance. People entrust priests, religious women, deacons, brothers and lay ministers with their lives. Media does not necessarily do this and if it did it might be quite boring for the average “lurker,” someone who reads a blog but doesn’t necessarily make comments on them.
2) Unless it’s explicitly stated, Blogging and other Media ministry outlets is not equated with catechesis. Meaning that blogs and other media outlets serve to entertain, to engage others in an argument that is happening, or to further some agenda’s point of view in some cases. Usually, blogs are told from a specific point of view, namely the blogger’s–which could mean they come from a certain place on a variety of spectrums and therefore don’t really express the fullness of any one tradition. Blogs take what Rush Limbaugh did for radio and placed that mentality into a new delivery system. Rush states: “I will interpret the news FOR you.” So what blogs do is simply express the entertaining voice of one person (sometimes more). They aren’t usually meant to teach, they are meant to further the OPINION of the blogger and when they do try to teach, they usually fail to cover the fullness of the church’s tradition. In short, any idiot could have a blog and any idiot can comment as well. It doesn’t make them a catechetical expert or even a teacher. Even looking at Deacon Greg’s blog the subtitle lets you know that this is a commentary–“where a Roman Catholic Deacon ponders the world.”
3) Ministry, however, needs to go beyond the mere blog post. In other words, minister’s who use media should hope that they get further comments from their audience and therefore, they have a responsibility to answer those comments, perhaps even off-site. I know this blog often opens a conversation with some of the students here. It has also allowed me to engage more deeply with friends who are struggling with the church and who turn to me as a “public” minister to help them understand the church’s point of view and their own personal struggles. In short, media opens the door for a minister, but it is the minister who needs to go beyond the media forum to further engage the individual. This is a point sorely missed by many who use media but also by those who comment on blogs and it leads me to my last point:
4) Bloggers need to choose how engaged they want to be with their “fans.” For me, I place my students as my priority in terms of interaction. Why? Because that is who I am called to at this time as a minister (as well as my primary means of employment!). I also engage with those who don’t really want to argue a point but who seem to be struggling with their faith. If they are nearby me, I may even invite them further into conversation or spiritual direction, if they are open to that. For some, remaining anonymous is held at a high value and for others my invitation falls on seemingly deaf ears. Sometimes the lost, stay lost.
Still, sometimes blogging leads bloggers to simply try to entertain and to be provocative. Getting the eyeballs to look at a blog or video or website is, in fact, the point–sometimes it’s the end point. Comments allow people to become part of the conversation and in that conversation we might stray from simply presenting the teaching of the church and engage in all sides of the arguments that are out there. That’s what we call entertaining, but it may not include teaching or pastoral care of individuals. That comes later.
Lastly it should be noted that I love Deacon Greg’s blog and I think he does a great job of interacting with his audience. He wrote a great piece once for America about a teacher who read his blog and after being so engaged with it, decided to share with him that he had lost a student that day. He felt like he knew Deacon Greg because he read his blog and viewed him as someone he could trust. So he emailed him looking for pastoral care. I can’t tell you the number of times that has also happened to me over the last 10 years.
In many ways, that’s a great thing…but it also reveals to us ministers something quite sad:
Many people are lonely, scared, alienated and in great need of pastoral care.
And so they reach out to a blogger for pastoral care because they have nobody in their lives that they can trust with their most intimate pastoral questions.
And that is daunting for all of us who spend a lot of our time producing content for blogs, podcasts, videos, etc. I like Deacon Greg’s attitude this week. Keeping the conversations charitable, gives us the all the opportunity to keep that door open–that door that opens us all to meet Christ.
Perhaps even in a blog post.