Yea, I’m coming back. Aiming for like 2 posts a week. We will see.
Well, for the 2 of you reading this, I’m kind of busy right now with 2 jobs and all. I have been writing some though and my Stickies box has a few ideas jotted on it for posts. I’ve also been writing some more SBC-type stuff over at sbcvoices.com. It’s fun and there’s a little more interaction over there for stuff like that.
ok. that’s it!
For the record, I’m just a lowly blogger with a readership of about 2 (3 if my mom is in town). I don’t really know the pressures of consistent blogging that many of you face. I honestly get more hits per day often when I don’t write anything.
That said, in a recent comment thread I was in, the topic of negative expectations came up. I’m certain that most of us probably know of some Internet sites that we read knowing that we will likely disagree with the author. Sometimes we may even have found that previous posts by an author that we disagreed with are negatively shading something else he has written. This combative, defensive posture we assume as readers is not always helpful for understanding another human’s ideas and arguments. This posturing is what I mean by “negative expectations.”
But I’m not here to talk about reading but rather writing. After some thought, I’ve come up 10 ways that bloggers and authors can subvert negative expectations from their readers. Those of you with more readers than I and who post on much more controversial issues than I might do well to chew on these ideas a bit and see if there’s anything helpful for you.
1. Name your foes. ??? No, I don’t mean “name your foes” in the sense of starting every blog off with “So-and-so come get me, you godless communistic freewill emergent traditional Calvinist who hates puppies.” What I mean is that when any of us are writing on something controversial, be it theology or denominational politics or college football, we know that certain groups of people won’t see eye to eye with us. Why not acknowledge this right from the start? Go one step further in fact and tell them something you appreciate about their particular viewpoint or about a specific friend you have that shares their view. For example, start off a college football post with “I know some of you are huge SEC fans, and I want you to know that despite some disagreements that will occur later, I do share your love of sweet tea and am convinced it will be served over ice by angels in the Regeneration.” I once heard the advice “Compliment, concern, compliment.” Surround your disagreements with friendliness, and you may find better discussion results. Remind your critics that you see them as real people and not just as robots to reprogram to your particular viewpoint. Note: You must resist the overwhelming urge to be passive/aggressive in these opening compliments!
2. Use less sarcasm. That was a hard one for me to write, but let’s get it out there. I know Amos called rich women fat cows and that Paul told the circumcisers to make themselves eunuchs. I can’t find it in Romans or 1 Corinthians, but I know that sarcasm is my spiritual gift. Unfortunately, it’s like that gift you get for other people’s kids at Christmas—the light-up machine gun with spare batteries included. The less mature tend to enjoy it, but it gets on most people’s nerves in large quantities. So use less of it. There’s a fine line between mocking sin and mocking sinners. And trust me, sarcasm is like a colonoscopy—it’s funnier to laugh at it when you’re not the one on the table.
3. Don’t be yourself. By that I don’t mean “be fake.” (and I certainly don’t mean “be anonymous!”) But most of us tend to default to one particular style of writing or one particular topic of interest. So break your own habits occasionally. Instead of always blogging about politics, talk about your family or write a sonnet about monster trucks. Letting your critics view a window into your soul and be reminded that you are a living person who occupies space on this planet will do wonders in setting the tone for future posts that are more controversial. I recommend posting something about your dog because not counting my traditional Emergent freewill Calvinist friend in point 1, I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like puppies.
4. Play by your own rules. This applies more to comment threads than to the original posting, but there is application for both. You don’t want people using ad hominem in their comments…don’t use it yourself. It’s almost like something this guy named Jesus said once—treat others like you want them to treat you. Hold yourself to the same standards as you hold them to.
5. Set a specific place for critics at the table. You just posted a particularly intense critique of some End Times view. Invite those who disagree with you to critique something specific in your post. Rather than trying to corral the cat herd of comment directions that can come from a subject with as many different viewpoints as eschatology, say, “What about my use of Scriptures A and B do you differ on?” or “Am I fairly representing your position on these specific points?” The critics will come. But if they know they are invited and have a specific role to play in the discussion, the conversation can be more beneficial to both parties. This will also help you keep side topics or tangents to a minimum.
6. Keep it short. Seriously. Nothing worse than reading someone who disagrees with you doing so for another 25,000 words. You’re writing a blog, not The Institutes.
7. Read from the other side of the table. I know many of us don’t really edit our posts after writing them. That’s what those squiggly lines that appear under the words are for, right? But at least read from the other side’s perspective before posting. If you were them, how would you take this criticism? Does the colorful hyperbole appear more like a friendly high five or the less-friendly “high one” you see on the freeway? Would you feel mocked or understood? Would you still say this if the people were literally in the room with you holding a puppy in their arms? If in doubt, refer back to number 2.
8. Keep an enemy close. (By the way, I use the term “enemy” and “foe” loosely here simply to mean someone who will oppose your views. I hope you know that any brother in Christ should not be considered a real enemy. And any actual enemy of yours should be blessed and prayed for–another Jesus quote.) Here, though, I’m thinking of having a real live “disagree-er” you can run things by or discuss things with in real life, preferably someone who’s not afraid to correct you and call you out if cross certain lines. I have a friend from college who runs in more emergent (apparently it’s “(d)mergent” now) circles, and I often think of him when I write to keep me from being a big jerk.
9. Don’t always wear the white hat. Some bloggers act like the Internet is a saloon filled with ruffians (all drinking Sarsaparilla, of course!), and they’re the white hat-donning sheriff there to settle accounts. Cue the song “Hero” by Skillet for their entrance theme. Of course, anyone who doesn’t fully cooperate with the sheriff is on the wrong side of the law. Every issue that’s important to them is pretty high on God’s list too. If it wasn’t for their help, the Holy Spirit couldn’t get his job done. Don’t be like that. Acknowledge that you are a fallible human. Admit that you may not be 100% correct on every issue. Be upfront about the fact that you’re at the beginning stages of thought development about a particular subject and need input from everyone else. Take the white hat off and grab a sarsaparilla and join the conversation.
10. Don’t be so shocked. If you allow disagreement from your comment thread, then you’ll have to man up a bit and learn to handle disagreement like a Christian. No whining when someone disagrees with you. No crying about how “everyone misunderstands you.” Don’t sit back and wait for the responses with the token line “You obviously (being an idiot) did not understand or read my post if you can’t see that I’m 100% correct here.” Yea, occasionally you’re going to be misunderstood, someone is going to comment without reading the whole thing, and a big hairy troll may also show up. Deal with that stuff directly (aka…delete the trolls) and kindly (encourage the guy who didn’t read to do so and maybe even ask a leading question for him to look at in his reading –see point 5). Listen, I as much as you would love for everything I write to be so amazing, paradigm-shattering, theologically sound, and persuasive that my comment thread is flooded with things like “you’re awesome” and “you’re like a mix of Tozer and Spurgeon and Athanasius with the combined wittiness of Chesterton and Lewis” and of course, “Hi, I’m a publisher. I know you have no book-writing experience but from what I saw on this April 21st blog, we’d like to basically pay for you to travel the world and write us a book in a few years. We don’t even need references.” But it won’t be. And if it is, you probably need to get another reader besides your mom.
So do you have any other ideas for helping to subvert people’s negative reactions when you’re blogging? For pastors, how might these rules apply to your sermons? And if you can’t see how one of these points would be helpful, I welcome your comments (just make sure to reference by number which point you’re taking on!).
I probably read more SBC blogs than a healthy person should. One great help here is the site sbcvoices.com. While occasionally there’s original content there that’s sparks some interesting conversation, the directory page is neat for introducing new bloggers and bloggers who run in different circles to each other in the SBC universe.
This past month in the SBC blogosphere has been a rough one though. I mean Shrek-style ugly. It’s amazing how the de-personalizing element of the Internet can can inflame minor disagreements and cause people (including pastors) to step across boundaries of etiquette and at times, morality.
For example, one blogger’s series about tithing (I’m guessing I saw so many of these the past month or so because many pastors teach on stewardship-related themes early in the year while many families are reconsidering budgets and finances anyways?) exploded into a full-blown controversy over email privacy, transparency at seminaries, and the usual issues of doctrine/cooperation so prevalent in the SBC. Things were made public with a few clicks that only a few minutes’ conversation or a personal email (rather than a public b/f-logging) might have sorted out.
Another issue involves an apparently long-running and (unfortunately) heated dispute between a pair of apologists. Believe it or not, they come to different conclusions on some issues of soteriology (Southern Baptists would never!!) and have managed to make each other running punchlines in their own circles. I don’t really care about who hit whom first or whatever. Each side has its own groupies, shown by blogs blasting each other for talking about the other one–followed by a swarm of militant commenters eager to “gently” point out the original blogger’s errors in the name of love in all caps usually followed by a sinister emoticon of disapproval.
And that’s just the Christian blogs. (ever read the comments below a news article? same thing usually. a few less theological terms. but the bad spelling is still king of all.)
I didn’t put links on here for a reason. I don’t know everything in those situations mentioned above. The kids may be fighting but I’m certainly not anyone’s mommy. (at best I’m an awkward bag boy watching as yet another scene is made in the supermarket aisle.) But the truth is, people are watching.
I mean, is there no person with contact between any of these groups who might pick up the phone and say, “Friends, let cool it down a little.” Do we have no one who can at least push for a detente? or better yet, some form of Christian reconciliation between parties? I can think of situations in my own life where relationships could have used such a peacemaker to step out, take a few shots from both sides but eventually get a truce worked out. It’s not as if people don’t know these things are happening, especially those close friends who are staying in touch via twitter or bookface or whatever.
Unfortunately, there are very few who have this mindset. I can’t imagine why we have fights in our churches, if this is the model our leadership gives. The mindset of the “Christian” blogosphere isn’t to stop fighting with the known risk of taking an extra punch or two before the other guy quits. It’s more like a playground fight where it’s assumed everyone’s getting detention so you might as well bruise whoever you can before the teacher shows up. and of course, like any playground fight, having some bruisin’ buddies for backup never hurt either.
I’m glad for the Internet in many ways. People in the SBC need to hear from people in the other states or in the other circles of influence. We also need to remember Who is the reason that draws us together, one who “made both groups one” and identified those who make peace as his brothers and sisters.
Update: Not on any account of mine (I think I had a whopping two people read this original post!), but one of the major parties in the latter situation came forward and apologized in an effort to quiet the madness. Good for him. The response by and large from the other side still seems to be “well, thank you, but back to the problem…” Oops. Sometimes we do a better service by letting some small things drop in the pursuit of loving, rather than demanding an exact apology for every wrong we ever suffered.
In light of some recent activity by bloggers from my particular denomination, I wanted to remind myself of things I try to avoid in cyberspace. The list is not exhaustive, but the topics included certainly can be!
1. I don’t have non-public dialogue with women by and large. My work e-mail is monitored, so that is ok, especially since I deal with mostly with parents of our students on there. Except for the occasional quick Facebook chat with someone asking me what time “Event A” is or whatever, it doesn’t happen.
2. I don’t debate matters of theology by and large. I’ve learned that whatever is typed will generally be interpreted in the worst possible light, and rarely do you wind up dialoguing with someone. Usually you end up trying to answer 10 people, 2 of which agree with you (but argue so terribly it hurts your point), 8 of which assume that your SS number only has 3 digits which don’t exceed seven but aren’t less than 5. Occasionally in the right forum I’ll offer a comment (if I know the person personally, it’s more likely.) But generally I offer my own opinions on here and here alone. I also avoid theological statements that may unnecessarily alienate people I currently minister with and to. I don’t want my view on Ezekiel 76 to cause conflicts because it’s just not important (and in this case, non-existent).
3. I don’t discuss personal matters related to my current job. duh. not even “anonymous” stories. people will either know the person (so it’s still just gossip or breaking of confidence), or they’ll guess, which is probably worse, since now multiple characters are impugned.
4. I don’t argue politics. and every time I break that rule, I “immediately regret that decision.” that doesn’t mean I don’t care or that I’m not a good citizen. it just means that most of the people out there are too <cough> stupid <cough> to have that discussion with and me not wind up wanting to go Corleone on someone. And those generally are the people I agree with!
5. I don’t post other people’s mail. 🙂
6. I don’t write my own blog as a “comment” to some other person’s writing, and then leave 50 comments on their blog letting everyone know that “interesting post. I actually wrote an article on this topic at <insert link to my blog>.”
7. I don’t promote my blog posts with 27 twitter updates describing in different terms the same post, spread throughout the day.
8. I always try to remember that the things I say and do online are easily recordable, transmittable, and likely to show up at an interview someday when I least expect it.
9. I don’t stay up blogging when my wife says it’s time to sleep. So this list ends here.