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10917296_10205661027787221_3674691722071054151_nA Eucharistic Meditation ~ 

Dear $@#holes,

It’s me, Jason- Tamed Cynic. You know, the Christian whose blog you hacked.

What’s that? You don’t remember me? There were thousands of other random, anonymous victims just like me?

Oh, I see.

I guess that’s a valid excuse. Of course- and this is just a word to the wise- it’s a not a compelling excuse, morally speaking. It’s like Ray Rice explaining that he’s hit so many women, he can’t really recall the one in the elevator. See my point?

But you still don’t remember me?

Fine, never mind. Let’s just indulge my narcissism for a moment and pretend you do.

Now that we’re speaking one-on-one, maybe I should begin where you began and take you to task for your big, bold header you left on my hacked homepage:

‘Muslims are Not Terrorists.’

I get it. I even agree with you, Muslims aren’t terrorists. Terrorists are terrorists, and some of them happen to be Muslim and some of them (more than we care to remember) are Christian and most of them are motivated by something else entirely (politics, economics etc).

So I agree with you, but it’s like Marshall McLuan said way back at the time of the Shah and SNL: ‘The medium is the message.’ 

Following McLuan then, the fact that the medium in this case is a cyber terrorist hacked website belies the message you want to lead with in your headline.

You could post ‘Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies are the Best’ in that header but your creepy, comic sans-meets-Osama-hacker-font still would make us wonder if maybe Mom was a baby-eating witch who lived in a hovel deep in the Black Forest.

You see, you want your message to be that ‘Muslims are Not Terrorists,’ fine, but your hack-attack medium makes it inescapably obvious that at least one Muslim IS a terrorist.

You.

You’re lucky I’m a Christian, Mr Islamic Cyber Terrorist.

I’d love to torment you with the irony of you declaring that Muslims are not terrorists whilst cyber-terrorizing me, but then it wouldn’t really be fair to ridicule you when the fundamentalists of my own tribe don’t do irony well either. After all, Christ’s non-violent cross was painted on chainmail and swords long before Mohammad came on the scene.

While we’re at it there’s the other little irony that the instigating sermon in this case wasn’t critical of Islam at all.

Indeed you hacked me for a sermon that wound its way to telling Christians that they needed to love people like you.

Well played, Mr Islamic Cyber Idiot.

When it comes to those Christians who question the veracity of your headline that ‘Muslims are Not Terrorists,’ your I-didn’t-read-all-the-way-to-the-end, irony-laden screw-up speaks volumes more to them (to indict you) than anything I said to them (to love you).

Way to take a semi-decent, conscience-afflicting sermon and let all my listeners feel like they were justified for suspecting it was just a load of horse s@#$.

‘Because,’ they’re all thinking now (thanks to you), ‘we can’t love terrorists.’

Speaking of which- and I ask since this is your area of expertise, what’s a few notches down from terror? I mean, the feelings you induced in me weren’t exactly terror, yet it was more than inconvenience. While it’s true the craptastic havoc you wreaked on my blog was a giant pain the @#$, it was (a bit) more than a bother you made feel.

For starters, you scared my mom a little more gray, and (thanks to you, again) now I’ve got to text her every night, like a cub scout away at camp, that we’re all okay and not, say, bound and gagged inTurkey.

Your shenanigans provoked feelings in others too.

I can’t tell you how many finger-wagging notes I got messaged to me scolding:

‘This is what you get for letting them worship at your church.’

You see, thanks to you, a whole bunch of otherwise open-minded Christians think its defensible to assume that the old guy at Starbucks or the lady who drives the neighborhood ice cream truck are probably party to an Islamic terrorist network.

Hearing this, Mr Islamic Cyber Terrorist, should irritate you at least as much as it irritated me. But irritation is not what you made me feel either.

After all, my kids’ faces and names are buried there, in bits and bytes, in my blog. So is my wife’s. And, a bit further down, as you no doubt already know, is our address. Where our credit card number is to be found as well.

I’m not trying to play the martyr, that’s your forte. It’s not like I ever felt my life was in danger, and I’m definitely not suggesting I’m on the front line of freedom. We’re talking about a freaking blog, let’s not forget, I’m not on the front line of anything. Still, you made me- anonymous me- feel…vulnerable.

Yes, I think that’s the right word.

Vulnerable.

I can’t help but think, Mr Islamic Cyber Terrorist, the feeling you made me feel is exactly what so many of my neighbors and friends and congregants feel all the time. Vulnerable.  And when you’re feeling vulnerable, convinced that yours is an exceptional situation, I can tell you it’s not long before the rationalizing kicks-in, reasoning your way away from Jesus:

Surely we can’t forgive that person… It would be irresponsible to forgive that sin…

Jesus doesn’t really expect us to turn the cheek in this situation…

What am I supposed to do, just give them my children’s cheeks too?

Loving this enemy is no strategy to make them no longer an enemy, it will only get you killed…

Jesus must be talking about life in the Kingdom not in this world…

Our enemies sure won’t abide by any of these commandments…

Those were the thoughts running through my head in the hours and days after your ‘attack,’ Mr. Islamic Cyber Terrorist. They’re all thoughts similar to the ones a good many of my friends and congregants hold, and, truth be told, I used the word ‘rationalizing’ above for a reason.

They’re all incredibly reasonable rebuttals.

They make a lot sense; in fact, truth be told, they make a hell of a lot more sense than Jesus.

And that wouldn’t be a problem if Jesus was politely removed elsewhere, a figment of history or an absentee lord. We could raise our reasonable, real-world rebuttals to his teaching and then get about dealing with the likes of you. Conscience cleared.

The problem is Jesus has this annoying tendency to show up.

That’s what makes him different from your prophet.

You might not know this, Mr Islamic Terrorist, but the night before he dies Jesus sits his twelve disciples down and he says: here’s bread, here’s wine. Eat. Drink. Do this.

Do this and I’ll be with you.

Admittedly, this is irrational and it can’t be explained and it can’t argued with.

And maybe that’s the point.

Maybe it has to be that way because people like me are always going to have to deal with people like you.

Maybe Jesus knew that without bread and wine, we would forever think and argue and rationalize the claims he makes on us as a way of keeping him from us.

Maybe Jesus knew we’re no different than those two disciples on the way to Emmaus, who’d heard all the stories, who knew all the beliefs, who could recite the Easter Gospel and yet had no intention of doing a damn thing about it, who were quite content to say ‘isn’t that interesting’ and not have it change their way in the world.

Maybe Jesus knew that without bread and wine we’d always find a reason to reason our way away from him.

So then, maybe Jesus gives us- Christians, I mean- bread and wine not so we can get close to him as we- Christians, I mean- so often imagine.

Maybe Jesus gives us bread and wine because it’s the only way he can get close to us.

And therein lies my problem, Mr Islamic Cyber Terrorist. You see, I know how I feel about you. I know what I’d opt to do to you had I not made the mistake of giving my life to Jesus, and I can come up with several dozen cogent reasons why you and your ilk warrant an asterisk at the bottom of the sermon on the mount.

My problem is that I can mount my own reasonable arguments against you, but I can’t argue away what Jesus says about you (worth dying for). I can’t avoid how Jesus would regard you (with grace, for you not what you do) or deny what he’d tell me to do about you (love and mercy).

And, like I said, this wouldn’t be a problem if Jesus had conveniently absconded to the great by and by, but tomorrow is Sunday, Mr Islamic Cyber Terrorist.

Tomorrow I’ll set the table with bread and wine. We’ll all ask Jesus to come join us at the table. And if there’s one thing the Gospels make clear: Jesus never refuses a dinner invitation.

Tomorrow, Jesus is going to show up, real and present. It’ll be the same the Sunday next and the Sunday after that ad infinitum, or at least to the eschaton.

I can come up with all kinds of good reasons why you should be the exception to Jesus’ teaching, and I’d be happy to list them for you someday, but what in the world am I supposed to say to Jesus tomorrow morning when he shows up in bread and wine?

How can I tell Jesus to his face that he’s wrong about you?

How can I tell Jesus that you don’t deserve grace or mercy for your sins when he’s sitting right there at my table?

Talk about an awkward dinner conversation.

Like a lot of dinner parties I’ve been to, to be stuck with the host often means you’re stuck with the other guests too; likewise- and you can be damn sure I never saw this coming- when I gave my life to Jesus, I also in some odd way gave it to you even though I’ve no reason to expect you to treat it well. I guess that counts as another irony.

Anyway that’s my problem, Mr. Islamic Cyber Terrorist. I don’t want to love you; I don’t think you’re lovable.

I don’t even know what it means, practically speaking, to love you.

But tomorrow morning I’m having breakfast with Jesus and I know, if it were up to him, he’d save a seat for you.

So maybe GI JOE was right all along: knowing is half the battle.

Maybe whatever it means to love you starts right there, with bread and wine, and knowing that whenever we invite Jesus to dinner he invites the likes of you.

Maybe the first step in no longer seeing you as an enemy, the first step towards regarding you as a friend, is seeing you as a fellow undeserving guest.

1000_1This marks my 1000th post on the Tamed Cynic blog.

I’d guess that the usual post is 500-600 words or so, which means that in the last two years I’ve committed half a million words to this site.

Other guys golf, I suppose.

UnknownI started the blog almost 2 years today exactly, beginning at Tony Jones’ encouragement and prodding.

What began on little more than a lark has taken on a life of its own, with thousands of readers a day from all over the world (73% from US), a global ranking among websites that isn’t half-bad and an above average rate of engagement.

Thanks to the blog my preaching is better and so are my questions, more aware now of your own questions. I’ve made ‘friends’ I’ve never met and discovered books I would not otherwise have read. Adding podcasts and guest authors this year has exposed me to leaders in the Church at large and given exposure to the gifts of my friends.

There’s absolutely no reason you have to spend time here. That you do, I just want to say thank you.

In case you’re curious or started reading the blog only of late, here are, in descending order, the most popular posts of all time these past two years.

You can click on them below in case you missed one of them:

What Do Our Prayers Sound Like to God?

A Pastor’s Wife Responds to Mark Driscoll

Surrendering My Wedding Credentials

Clergy Robes and Anonymous Notes in Church

Why Rapture Believing Christians are Really Liberals

Women Can Write Sermons, They Just Can’t Preach Them

Chuck Knows Church, But I Wish He Knew Jesus

Top Ten Reasons Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross

Mark Driscoll in the Hands of An Angry Pastor

Stop Baptizing Homosexuals

Shoulder to Shoulder: Reflections on Marriage

FYI: If You’re a Teenage Boy (a letter to my kids)

 

miseJohn Wallace is a popular Irish blogger. Check out his blog here.

He recently interviewed me for a series on Popular Christian Bloggers. While I’m dubious about warranting such a category, here it is:

Jason, tell us a little bit about where you are from and where you live now.

I was born in Ohio where most of my family remains today. After my parents divorced when I was 12, an official decree to something that had ended much earlier, I moved with my mom and my younger sister to Richmond, Virginia. I think of Virginia as home and, like most who leave, think of  Ohio much like the Israelites must have considered the Wilderness.

Today I live with my wife and two boys in Alexandria, Virginia. We’re right off the Potomac River, 4 miles from George Washington’s house and 8 from Barack Obama’s.

Tell us a little bit about growing up.

It’s a bit cliche (can anything be just a bit cliche? It either is or isn’t, right?) for those of caught in the fissure between Gen X and Gen Y to dwell on their childhood, often in petulant ways. I suppose the ubiquity of blogs, tweets and what-not only encourage this habit. That said, and simply so, my childhood was not perfect, was often happy and frequently was less so. My father was a severe alcoholic until well after my parents split. His abuse and the resultant pressure on my mom as a single, working parent thrust me into what I learned in seminary was a ‘parentified role.’

Cliche as it may be, ministry, marriage and parenthood have reinforced upon the truth that we’re never very far from the wounds and the joys of our formative years. Being a parent and husband have allowed me to name some bad behaviors in my family’s past but have also given me to freedom to regard my parents’ mistakes with charity and, if not understanding, grace.

You are married now with two boys; you’re boys feature prominently in your blog posts, they obviously mean a lot to you, tell us a little about them and family life.

One of the regrets I have about Protestantism- or just rationalism in general I suppose- is the loss of the Catholic sense of sacramentality that pervades not just the sacraments proper but all of creation. My boys, Alexander, 11, and Gabriel, 7 (and 1/2!), are nothing if not means of grace to me.

They’ve memorized every stat possible about baseball. They’ve gone to more Indie concerts than most adults I know and they love comic books and I love that all three of those are true.

They’re both adopted and while they’re both from Guatemala they came to us from different circumstances. Both of them are my exhibits A and B in the actuality of love’s healing, transformative power. In me especially. I used to describe my emotional landscape as a tumbleweed blowing across a sand dune. Ever since Gabriel arrived into our lives (the oddity of adoption is that our oldest is in fact our ‘youngest’ in terms of order) I was reduced to a weepy mess, first crying in Finding Nemo and most spectacularly in The Blind Side when Sandra Bullock responds to the Stepford Wife’s comment: ‘You’re changing that boy’s life.’ ‘No, he’s changing mine.’

You don’t get to know how I feel about my wife- what’s that song he quotes in High Fidelity? ‘Behind Closed Doors?’

Other than to say Ali is a lot nature, a wonderment that has surrounded me for so long I often forget how remarkable she is and every so often I’m awakened to the beauty gratuitously there in front of me.

When did you start blogging and why?

I’d always kept a journal as far back as I can remember and I had a theology teacher in college, Eugene Rogers, impress upon me the value in writing at least 500 words a day.

I started posting sermons online when I got my first Mac but I didn’t ever think about blogging really until a year ago. I’d always thought it would strike people as self-indulgent. I mean- who presumes to think other people will want to read your every other brain fart? Tony Jones was at our church last summer, though, and did a social media seminar for us. Tony helped me see that blogging could be an extension of ministry, reflecting theologically with people- believers and not- who might never walk through the doors of the church.

You are associate pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. Tell us a little about this church.

It’s a large (by UMC standards) 50 year old church. I’ve been there 8 years and the senior pastor, Dennis, has been there 11. Dennis is actually the pastor who confirmed when I was a teenager in Richmond. We go way back but have only become fast friends these past 8 years.

The congregation is diverse age-wise. We have a lot of people who work in the military and in government or politics.

What is life like there?

This is one of the most expensive/affluent areas of the country. You don’t get to live in a place like this by having leading a slow-paced way of life. People here are incredibly talented and over-committed, but, at the same time, it’s very ‘traditional’ in the priority put on families and kids. The cost of living means there are very few people my age or younger in the community.

As with most areas like ours, we’ve got homelessness and working-poverty literally a mile away. Thankfully, the values of the military (character, service, honor) have more influence on the church and the community than do the values of professional politics.

What are the major challenges you face as pastor at that church?

The typical ones any mainline pastor faces, I suppose: balancing inherited forms of church with the need to change; a top-heavy denominational bureaucracy that stymies organic congregational ministry; making our message the priority and not our modes and methods and keeping all that together while being the primary parent for my boys.

Karl Barth features prominently on your blog. What is it that intrigues you about him?

Stanley Hauerwas, through whom I discovered a non-Princeton, Reformed way to read Barth, likes to say Barth isn’t afraid to knock shit around. I like Barth’s high octane rhetoric. Like Hauerwas- and unlike many modern theologians- you get the sense in Barth that this matters more than anything else and so his theology isn’t impotent with a thousand qualifications. As a closet Mennonite, I think Barth’s rigid Christocentrism provides a robust, biblical and even conservative-sounding way to avoid the dangers of civil religion, always a temptation in America.

Does Karl Barth still hold relevance today?

In truth, my first muse is David Bentley Hart, who was one of my teachers at the University of Virginia. But I think will remain relevant so long as Christians are in danger of replacing their allegiance to Christ with something else. That’s why I think the witness of Barth’s life, in opposing Nazism when so few Christians did, is so crucial to the integrity of his theology.

Your header picture (the cartoon of you I assume) is excellent. Who did this for you?

Someone at Christianity Today did it for an article I wrote.

Do you plan your blogs ahead of time or do you blog on the fly?

A little of both. Some posts are just the detritus of sermon sketches and thoughts. Others are just whimsy. My boys do year-round swim team. Most of the posts I write sitting in the bleachers in the stifling humidity.

From where do you draw inspiration for your blog posts?

As my wife will tell you (or my congregation for that matter), there’s A) nothing I don’t have an opinion on B) nothing on which I don’t assume I’m smarter than everyone else and C) nothing I can’t yammer on about so…it just sort of comes.

Your blog has become quite successful. To what do you attribute the success of your blog?

Tony Jones told me that if you put out well-written, quality content you’ll find readers. I’d like to think it was this alone. Having a congregation of about 800 on Sunday gives me a bit of a built in audience, though, and I should say that Scot McKnight at the Jesus Creed Blog, who’s become something of a friend, has posted quite a few of my sermons the past year, which has given me quite a lot of readers.

Do you have any plans for the future of your blog?

I’d like to start doing podcasts, interviews at some point.

What would be your desert island books (apart from the Bible of course)?

A book on shipbuilding probably.

Is it bad to say I’m not sure I’d take the bible? I mean, if I was limited? I already know most of the stories in it.

If one book: the collected stories of Raymond Carver. If I were God, I would’ve had Raymond write the bible. If God had Raymond Carver write the bible, Christians would be a subtler people.

I try to read John Irving’s The World According to Garp every year, especially now that I’m a father. I love Cormac McCarthy, Richard Ford and Patricia Highsmith.

And maybe Updike’s Rabbit Novels.

Of course, I could just take an iPad and a solar charger.

Apart from Barth, are there other theologians that you admire?

Stanley Hauerwas, David Bentley Hart, John Milbank, Robert Jenson

Would you describe yourself as conservative, progressive or liberal?

In political terms or theological ones?

In the former, apathetic- I think civility in 2013 America is a higher Christian virtue than political participation.

In the latter, my sympathies sway between Postliberalism and Radical Orthodoxy.

Do you have a life verse from the Bible; a verse which you return to time and again for solace or guidance?

Honestly, ‘life verse’ conjures images of exactly the kind of Christianity I detested before I became a believer.

That said: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…’

Have you any advice for other Christian Bloggers starting out?

Don’t write something that will get a call from your bishop. But don’t write like you’re afraid of getting a call from your bishop.

Shelling out a few bucks to have someone design a simple site for me was the best decision I made.

Write authentically and true. There’s a whole lot of absolute crap out there in the Christian world. My experience is ordinary people are actually interested in theological reflection. It doesn’t haven’t to be all controversial rants or Mitford-style pablum.

If you’re a pastor, think of the blog as a separate ministry with a separate congregation. Don’t use it as a PR platform for your church’s existing ministries.

Your series on Heresies was quiet interesting and enjoyable. How do you define heresy, surely one man’s belief is another man’s heresy?

The heresy series was totally just a personal amusement. Wrote them on vacation never thinking anyone else would even care. It turned out to be far and away the most popular posts I’ve written.

I think Christians need to avoid absolutizing the perspectives of the ancient Christians on the one hand but also avoid absolutely casting them aside on the other. Conservatives tend to do the first and liberals the latter.

While the ancients certainly had social conventions we do not and do not want, it’s also true they had something most present day Christians lack: logic and a strong philosophic foundation.

Heresy really means ‘choice’ and I think the ancient Christians show us how our beliefs logically connect one to another. A bad choice in Christology leads to a bad choice about the atonement and, before you know it, you’re no longer speaking Christian.

The radical individualism and relativity of Western Christianity today really leads to some sloppy, illogical and contradictory forms of Christianity. That ‘Why do you have a problem with Joel Osteen?’ is a sincere question I find deeply troubling.

I think the track record Christians have with Jews and the vulgar forms of Christianity one finds on cable point out the importance of getting our beliefs as ‘right’  as we can.

Your post on the Taize Gathering in Pine Ridge was very interesting. Do you think the practices and ethos of Taize monasticism has anything to offer us today?

As I’ve written, I think Taize is the best model for church in the 21st century. A simple balance of worship, study and common life make the faith intelligible to people in a way that a traditional church, weighed down by a thousand activities, committees and worship habits cannot.Is there anything else you would like to share?

No, I can’t imagine anyone has made it this far down in my responses!

Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 2.37.42 PMI was recently asked by a colleague to write up some advice about Why Blogging is Important for Ministry and Things Pastors Should Keep in Mind When Blogging. You can read my thoughts on the former here.

Below are my thoughts about the latter question:

#1: Content, Content, Content

Tony Jones once told me that if you want put out quality, substantive content then people will come.

It’s true and, like most true things, has a corollary: if you put out junk then people will not come.

People in and out of the church want to do theology and think about how their faith impacts their lives. Content is what they’re after.

If you just post cute, cliched things people probably saw in email forwards in the early aughts then they’re going to check out.

Insider church humor is even worse. Please don’t. It’s NEVER funny and is only further evidence of (a subject on which I’ve written before) how Christians writ large are not funny.

#2: Voice

The whole point of social media is that people have access to you. Who you really are.

Not the you you pretend to be on Sunday morning.

You. The you your husband/wife knows you to be.
You. No pretenses. No masks. No church/corporate veneer of authenticity.

Blogging has to be about you and how you interact with whatever topics that interest you.

If you’re just writing predictable things about predictable topics that any generic minister could write, it’s not really you.

If it sounds like it was written by the Flanders on The Simpsons, it’s not the authentic you- unless (God help us) you really are like Flanders on The Simpsons, in which case you shouldn’t be writing anything at all. You’re just more bad PR for why Christianity is irrelevant.

Thanks to our constant media culture, people- especially young people- can smell BS a mile away. Because blogging is about you and your honesty, don’t use it as a promotional tool for your ministry. People can smell that a mile away too.

#3: Be Okay with Upsetting People

This is really a subset of ‘Voice.’

Most United Methodists abide by this equation:

If ‘Gospel’ = ‘Niceness’

&

‘Ministry’ = ‘Keeping the Members Happy’

Then: 

‘Pastors Must Never Upset People’

In the United Methodist Church that’s as binding an equation as saying Pi = 3.14….

So my advice here will be a bridge too far for many:

Being true and open about who you are and what you’re thinking is going to upset some people.

You can’t avoid it.

So don’t bother trying.

Of course, you still have to exercise discernment, prudence and restraint.

Learn from my experience/mistake:

Before click ‘Publish’ ask yourself:

Is this post really worth the headache of having the bishop call you? Is it worth having certain a church member (HE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED) start a silent petition to get rid of you?

Even if it is funny and cogent and theologically sound?

If the answer is ‘no’ or ‘not sure’ don’t click ‘Publish.’

However, said post while netting me said call and said petition also netted my church several worship visitors whose curiosity I’d piqued.

So don’t let my cautionary tale keep you from abiding by my initial suggestion:

Be ready to upset people.

joel_osteen_by_bdbros-d4cnmxiIf you think, for example, that Joel Osteen is the gospel-equivalent of that Set It and Forget It guy on the Shopping Channel, then be open about it and don’t worry about how many people love ‘Become a Better You.’

#4: Lists

What’s worked for Dave for years works for blogs too. Top Ten, Top Five, Three Things I Wished/Learned/Hoped…whatever. People like lists.

#5: Titles and Twitter

The analytics don’t lie. You should post titles that are caustic, controversial or questioning. Attention-getting.

Likewise for the summary statement you feed to Twitter (which you should do) in 140 characters or less.

#6: It’s Social Media

You’re not the New York Times or Bono. 

People aren’t going to visit your blog because you have a blog and deserve a readership.

It’s called social media for a reason; quid pro quo is the hinge of blogging.

If you want people to read your blog, you’ve got to read others’ and comment and contribute. ‘Like’ their posts on Facebook. Invite others to post on your blog and ask if you can contribute to their blog.

#8: Be Responsive

This is the hardest thing for me with my pastor’s schedule, but the social aspect of social media means you need to respond to people’s comments, questions and feedback.

page6image16096

#9: Comment Policy

This is the second hardest thing for me. Philosophically, I believe in the internet as an ‘open-source’ community. I believe all comments and contributions should be allowed, zero censorship.

My role as pastor qualifies that a bit for me.

The Comments section of most any blog or website could be used as Exhibit A of the Calvinist Doctrine of Total Depravity.

People can be freaking mean, ugly, offensive and insensitive. 

I don’t want church members whom I care about reading some of the stuff that comes my way.

My rule of thumb:

I have to ‘approve’ every comment.
I’m inclined to approve every comment.
I approve anything that’s ugly or critical of me so that it’s not me editing for my self- image sake.
I do not approve anything that’s blatantly derogatory.

#10: Community

I commend this based on my reflection above.
It’s a big mistake to think of blogging as simply an extension of/service to your congregational constituency. It’s a big mistake to think of blogging as a way of communicating with your congregation or getting people through the doors of your congregation.

You should think of the blog as its own congregation. It’s own community.

(Shamelessly stealing from Doug Pagitt):  You should think of your blog readers as your congregation’s diaspora.

People who are engaged through your ministry (blogging) who will never step foot in your sanctuary. I recently raised cash from this ‘diaspora’ for our mission in Guatemala so don’t think their engagement is limited to reading and commenting.

Given how badly most mainline churches engage the ‘Nones’ this is not an idle point.

Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 2.37.42 PMI was on my, count ‘em, third cell phone when I was appointed to my first congregation in New Jersey back in 2001. Linvale United Methodist Church was only a stone’s throw away from the tech-savvy Pharmaceutical Corridor outside Princeton.

Yet, after I received a call from the bishop telling me I’d be serving Linvale UMC, I first went to the computer to google the church’s website.

It didn’t have one.
It did have a phone number.
A landline in the church basement. With no one answering it.
And no voicemail.

That’s not nearly as extreme an example as most clergy would like to claim.

When it comes to social media, most churches and their clergy are wielding cumbersome Blade Runner technology in a Steve Jobs’ world.

Only now are mainline churches asking if and/or how they should use Facebook in their ministry; meanwhile, their constituents (particularly their youth and under 40’s) are leaving Facebook for Twitter, Pintarest and all the other platforms whose icons I only faintly recognize.

In a global culture in which change is the welcomed norm and comes at breakneck speed, ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ is no longer a missionally acceptable excuse.

That is, if Christian missionaries from another planet touched down in 21st century Virginia to spread the Gospel then one of the first things they’d do is set up a Facebook page and a Twitter handle.

Because that’s where the people are, and hashtag is the language their children speak.

For an upcoming clergy gathering, a colleague in ministry asked me to draft some thoughts:

On the importance of blogging for ministry.

He also asked me what’s important to keep in mind when blogging.

That I could be considered cutting-edge on anything technological is less an indication about me and more an indictment of the aforementioned cultural irrelevance of MainSideline Christianity.

Nonetheless, here’s my few cents:

Why is Blogging Important for Ministry?

Because it’s Incarnational

I know some will have the gut reaction that incarnation requires actual, physical face- to-face interaction.

I used to think that too. I don’t anymore.

Pastors frequently wax poetic about the urgency to “be present” or “authentic” with the victims of their ministry, but often what ‘present’ or ‘authentic’ names is a manner of relating in which an ordinary parishioner or non-churchgoer would never conclude that their pastor had just let their guard down and revealed their true self.

But that’s just people want.
I call it the Chris Christie-Joe Biden Rule.

In a hyper-commercial culture where nearly everything is packaged and perfect, people are hungry for genuine, raw- even imperfect- humanness. People want a sense of who the person is behind the public persona. That goes for pastors too. People want to know the rascal underneath the robe.

Not only is this culturally timely, it’s theological, for in Christ God took flesh and bones and breath and lived among us.

As one of us.

It’s the ‘as one of us’ that people want to know about who’s leading in the name of Christ too.

While social media isn’t face-to-face physicality, I can tell you blogging has allowed my congregation and others to know their pastor as a person almost as if they were privy to my diary.

They know the faith questions with which I wrestle in a given week. They know the problems I have with God and the pet peeves I harbor about God’s Word and God’s Church. They know what music, movies and books are think are fantastic and which ones I think suck.

They know that, without a Sunday morning filter, I’m prone to use words like suck.

They know that if I weren’t doing this for a living I’d probably be a sous chef somewhere and they know that my two favorite smells are roast chicken and the smell of my son’s hair in my face when I wake up in the morning and discover he’s snuck in to bed with us in the night.

And that’s the other thing- LOTS of people know all of the above. Social Media casts a wide net.

Thanks to social media, the people who get to know their pastor as a person aren’t limited to the people whose ministry teams I lead, the people who serve on committees whose meetings I attend or the people I visit in the hospital.

The reality is that for all the talk we pastors give to ‘presence’ and ‘being with people’ there’s an incredibly small number of people we can do that with in a given day or week.

Because It Empowers the Priesthood of All Believers

The first decade of ministry convinced me that we Protestants do a terrible job at practicing one of the primary convictions that made us ‘protest’ in the first place: the priesthood of all believers- namely, the belief that the ministry of Christ is given to all Christians to share with the world. Not just the guys in the funny robes.

We say we believe in the priesthood of all believers. Its just not reflected in a great many of our congregations.

The pastor is the one in the special Obi Wan clothes, the dispenser of holy transactions like the eucharist and baptism, and most lay people think discipleship entails sitting in a pew, voting at a meeting and maybe pitching in somewhere else if they have the time.

But for God’s sake, don’t ever ask one of them to pray out loud in front of others. Don’t ask them to offer what they think about a particular bible passage. Don’t ask them to share how Jesus has changed their lives (if he has).

I suspect one reason why lay people are reticent to take up the mantle of leadership is lack of confidence in their own knowledge and faith. They’re afraid to embarrass themselves.

I’ve found that blogging has created a safe space for church members, Christians from other parts of the world and even plenty of the ‘Nones’ to ask me questions about the faith, to comment on a theological reflection, to offer prayer for another, and even to push back on a point from a sermon.

I have more interaction from more people on matters of faith through my blog than I have ever had in a bible study or a Sunday morning receiving line.

Because It Provides Multiple Levels of Engagement

It’s cliche by now to insist that the church has many ‘front doors’ through which people enter: children’s ministry, worship, a service opportunity.

Think of a blog as a single platform with multiple front doors of its own.

By posting content that is diverse in difficulty and subject matter, I’ve found you can engage a variety of different people. General posts about parenting and children, for example, attract readers who might not have the time or the interest to read something theological. Typically, these are the same people whose schedules make them the most difficult to plug-in at church so that’s double important.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum you can engage a different group of people on a topic of depth that a Sunday School class or bible study couldn’t offer. For example, I recently had over 40 people from around the world commit to reading Barth’s Church Dogmatics with me over the next two years and follow along with my reflections. If I had offered a ‘bible study’ that would read and discuss Barth at the church, I would’ve had maybe 1 person sign up.

Because It Makes Preaching More Organic

Twice now, I’ve solicited questions people have about the faith. In Advent, I asked for people’s questions about Christmas. In Lent, I asked for people questions about the Cross.

Even when I’m not overtly soliciting questions, the responses and questions I get to regular posts reveal where people are at in their faith, what issues they struggle with and what word they’re hungering to hear.

Blogging has provided the means by which the congregation- and others- have a hand in creating the weekend sermon, making the preaching event itself less monological and more monological- even if I’m still the one doing all the talking.

Because It’s a Community All Its Own

The majority of regular readers of my blog do not attend my church. They’re not members of my congregation and, because of geography, past bad history with a church, or a genuine lack of faith, they never will be members of my congregation.

And that’s okay.

They’re reading about God and scripture.
They’re wrestling with their faith or lack thereof.
They’re doing theology.
They’re interacting with me and one another.
They’re a community engaging Jesus who would never otherwise step through the door of a church.

Sure, it doesn’t replace full-blown, robust Christian fellowship but it’s still a fellowship.

And it’s one that wouldn’t be there at all in the absence of social media.

Because It Helps Sermon Writing

My teacher at UVA, Eugene Rogers, once gave me the best advice I ever received in my educational career:

Always Write 500 Words a Day.

Do that, he said, and you’re writing will get better and it’ll get easier. You’ll develop a voice, a rhythm and you won’t have to prime the pump every time you actually HAVE to write something.

It’s damn good advice. Blogging has been my venue to follow his advice and my sermon writing has been the better for it.