Word of the Week

Blog How-To's

Last week, while I was at the Collegeville Insitute, I got a lot of questions about my blog. Some of my colleagues there had them, but mostly to post sermons, but no one (unless I am mistaken) had a blog for the purpose of sharing personal stories, reflections or their hopes or dreams for the vocation. Suddenly, I was the blog expert on campus.  Jaws dropped in awe when I said I wrote for Preacher on the Plaza a couple of times a week (how do you have that kind of time? How do you have that kind of discipline?).

Though I've been at this online publishing medium since 2006 in one form or another, I feel my practice is quite ordinary and am by no means an expert. However, not to take anything for granted, I thought it might be useful to other inspiring bloggers out there to answer some of the questions I spent some time pondering with others last week.

Why do you blog?

I blog because I enjoy writing and having other people read my work inspires me to write better and more often. It is as simple as that.

Spiritually, for me, though, the blog serves an even more personal purpose: it slows me down. If I have to sit down and write about an event or experience, I am going to think about it much more clearly and if I just zoom on through to what is next. Blogging is a way to have Sabbath like moments in my days. To the benefit of everyone around me, in writing, I might find gems in a situation I previously judged harshly or ignored. Writing regularly on this site exists as a grace of holy reflection that I wouldn't have if I was just writing in sermons, newsletter columns or even journaling alone at home. Blogging makes me accountable.

What is the purpose of blogging?

For me, as a pastor of an urban congregation with some members that I only see on Sundays, blogging is a way for us to stay connected. My congregation, through the blog, gets to hear more about the particular thoughts on my mind about the church's growing edges, the larger world and sometimes my life. It is a relationship building tool at its heart.

Even more so, often folks who are thinking of visiting Washington Plaza, read my blog first (no pressure of course) and figure out more of our leanings as a congregation and whether or not they'd fit in here.

But, there is another audience that I hope to reach through the site and that is other pastors. There's something strange about the vocation of ministry-- the ups and downs, the unusual experiences, the long hours, etc. that is it good to know that you aren't alone. I hope my writing connects with them too to either give an idea of something we've tried in congregational life here that did or didn't work, a book or text I found interesting or a conference or workshop I've found that they might want to explore too.

When do I blog?

Whenever I have time and an idea that I think I can write at least 500 or 600 words on, I post. Often my best ideas come when I am putting my head down on my pillow at night. It's annoying because I don't really want to get up and write then, but I seek to store them away in some chunk of unoccupied space of my brain and explore the topic as soon as I can.

Sometime I blog at home on my couch or in my favorite sermon writing chair. Sometimes I blog at church at my desk or on the couch where I meet with parishioners. Sometimes I blog when I'm out-of-town when I'm in a place with a WI-FI connection. Truly, the beauty of the web is that you can blog anywhere! I have found that during times away, such as my Israel adventure in January, blogging is even more useful because the people you love don't feel so far away.

If I am thinking of blogging, what advice would you give?

Beginning a blog is a commitment. You are only as good as your last post. So, if blogging is something you want to try ask yourself: "Do I have the personal discipline to keep this up?"  If you are a sporadic writer or you are the type of person who regularly starts and stops new things, maybe blogging is not for you.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't write-- for there are other forums that could be perfect for your style, feature articles from time to time, for example-- but that you just shouldn't blog. There is nothing that makes me as sad to find a blog that is well-written and interesting only to find that it is rarely updated. In the online world of constant movement, you have to keep up or move out.

Get a theme and stick with it. Decide what you are going to write about and stay on that course. I'm not a great example of this because I seem to write about all sorts of things . . . But, I'm told that if you want larger amounts of web traffic and regular readers, pick one thing you want to write about and stick with it. For example, do you want to share about your experimenting with recipes? Do you want to detail your trips as a traveling journalist? Do you want to give advice to other writers? Do you want to share about what it means to parent a child with an eating disorder? It's best not to go from sharing your favorite recipe one day to a dramatic story about the death of your parent the next. You audience will be confused. Be specific and write regularly!

And, make friends who also blog. The details of how to post, where to plug-in pictures, how to change fonts, etc are often things you have to learn on your own, but it is always good to have friends who care about what you do too. It has been great to ask folks, like those on my blogroll, questions about how to make my page look more attractive and who are willing to share what they have learned about the practice as we go through it together.

What is the danger of blogging?

There's a record of your words that can and will be used against you from time-to-time. Blogging is one of the most vulnerable things I do in my ministry. But, I try to not let the fear hold me back.

I could sit around and worry all the time about how what I say this year will come back to bite me in twenty days or twenty years or more (because nothing on the internet is really ever gone), but I honestly try not to think about it. In my faith tradition, I cling to an understanding of my imperfections. I will make mistakes. I will not live up to my potential. I will make people mad with me. I will cause hurt from time to time. Yet, the larger goal remains: using any tools this day and age as given me to share the goodness of life as I've experienced in my Creator and connecting all of God's children with the love of God I've known through the church.

So, I'll keep blogging. How about you?

Any other questions? I'd love to keep sharing ideas.