And If So, What Can We Do About It?My talk from the Catholic New Media Convention 2012. You may hear it along with the Q&A, the panel discussion I was on afterward, and every talk from that terrific conference, if you purchase their Virtual Ticket. The handout that went with the talk is available here as a pdf to download.
Russian Orthodox icon,
I’ve been blogging at Happy Catholic for 8 years now where I’m not always happy but I’m always happy to be Catholic. I’ve been podcasting for 5 years at Forgotten Classics and almost a year at A Good Story is Hard to Find .
I’m here to ask the question: Are Catholics Bloggers the 1st Corinthians of the Internet?
First of all, what does this question even mean?
Let’s begin by considering this scenario.
This sounds like the parish from Hell doesn’t it? It’s author George Montague’s updated version of the problems that Paul addressed in his First Letter to the Corinthians.
The 1st century Corinthian church was in such bad shape because they were enthusiastic but immature Christians practicing a brand new faith that didn’t have many guidelines. They were surrounded by a melting pot of cultures and religions in a city whose very name meant debauchery and drunkenness to the rest of the world ... and they allowed themselves to be influenced by them.
To top it off, they carried their squabbles into public court. It was not only driving away fellow Christians, but they were a terrible example to the Corinthian pagans who didn’t have any other idea of what Christians should be like.
So, now that we have the context: let’s talk about Catholic bloggers. Are we the first Corinthians of the internet?
Well, we exist in a vast melting pot of cultures and religions on the internet where it is easy to be tempted to compromise our faith so that we can “get along” or get something we’d like.
To the world of the internet, we are the face of the Catholic Church. We’re the Catholics they visit every day, watch as we live our lives, and judge the rest of the Church by. We might be the only Catholics they “know” … so in that sense we are as important or moreso as the Pope or a nun on the news or the local Catholic school. Just like the Corinthians were in their pagan world.
Now, we do have a lot more guidelines about our faith than the Corinthians did, but those guidelines are some of the very things we argue about ... to infinity and beyond. I’ve got to say if there is something that Catholics bloggers are great at, it is arguing. We aren’t always good at settling the argument but, boy howdy, can we argue. Some of the time, not very politely or forgivingly or kindly.
To be fair, Catholic bloggers come from as many different backgrounds and faiths as the secular environment we inhabit. A certain amount of confusion or misunderstanding is probably inevitable. …
But guess what?
Outsiders don’t care that we’re human, that we fail, that everyone makes mistakes and nobody’s perfect. They’re watching to see how we really live and what difference our faith in Christ makes every day, in all circumstances.
Tertullian, around 200 A.D. reported how outsiders saw Christians: “Look,” the pagans say, “How Christians love one another and how they are ready to die for each other.”
Can people today say that about the Catholic blogging community? Which Catholic bloggers am I willing to die for? It should be all of them, but is it? What about those “spirit of Vatican II” bloggers? Or the Latin Mass bloggers? How about the blogger who says I should forbid my daughters to date non-Catholics?
I’d like to pop off with a “yes, of course, I’d die for them” but what do my actions show? I can be a pretty big jerk. I’d like to say the answer is always yes for all of us Catholic bloggers. But we know that isn’t true either.
None of us sets out to cause discord, but like an avalanche, one hasty remark can lead to another, a few other people join in, and before we know it, we’re in the middle of a flame war.
It isn’t pretty. AND it isn’t any different than any non-Catholic blogger’s behavior.
Above and beyond our effect on outsiders, what does this behavior cost us? How do we affect the spiritual health of the Catholics we’re brangling with? Not to mention other Catholics who read us. It causes heartache and anger, and sows dissension. It can even turn people away from the Catholic faith or away from God altogether.
So I think that we could make an argument for the fact that the Catholic bloggers are the 1st Corinthians of the internet, to some degree.
So what do we do about it?
Easy. Just be better Christians.
Done and done.
Yeah, I wish ... We’d have heaven on earth if just saying that made it so. How do we get there, as bloggers, from where we are now?
Jesus gave us the short version: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Or to say it the way I sometimes have to think of it ... “Don’t be a jerk.”
Here’s the thing though. As he himself said, Jesus came not to replace the law but to perfect it. That “short version” came from Leviticus where it says:
“… You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:18 (NAB)
Now why do I bring that up?
Because although “love your neighbor” is beautifully simple and can help us keep our eyes on Christ ... sometimes we need more details.
And here’s what I love about that. We have Leviticus giving us “love your neighbor.” But at the same time, the Hebrews were also given The Ten Commandments.
God knew that we needed things spelled out sometimes, so he gave us “love your neighbor” as the perfect summary to the heart of His love and he gave us a list to help us dig deeper.
Now, I love lists. I love making them. I love reading them. I love crossing things off of them.
Even when I already know what’s on that list, sometimes looking at it refreshes my mind and helps me reorder my day. Just the way any of us might reflect on the 10 Commandments and get a new insight into how we’re living.
My Golden Rule for Catholic bloggers would be “keep your eyes on Christ and never blog without prayer.”
When I began thinking about it, I realized that I have broken that big statement down into an internal set of ... we won’t call them commandments ... but perhaps guidelines.
These are things that I turn to whenever I am tempted to strike out in anger, let hurt feelings guide me, or just generally be a jerk. Without these I’d be an even bigger jerk sometimes. Certainly I’d be a jerk more often. So they’re not only good for me, they’re good for you too.
I have 11 of them. Ready? Here we go!
11 Guidelines for Catholic Bloggers1. Remember Christ chose you.
We all got into blogging for different reasons. But whether we realized it at the time or not, we were not the ones initiating the choice. Jesus said (John 15:16):
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.
Jesus chose Pat Gohn to show the right way, the Catholic way, to put women first. He chose the B-Movie Catechism blogger to share his love of his Catholic faith AND his passion for cult cinema and really, really bad movies. He chose Terry Prest (at Idle Speculations) to share a love of Catholicism, history, and art ... all entwined in a way that feeds our senses and opens our eyes.
He chose you and he chose me for this unique, public ministry in this time and in this place in history. It’s an international and public witness offering Christ’s friendship … and ours … to others in what St. Josemaria Escriva called the “apostolate of friendship,” … the idea that faithful friendship in everyday life shows God to those we love.
Now as to whether my blog is always worthy of God, that is a different story but because Christ chose me I have a greater responsibility than the average blogger. And so do you.
As a friend, telling the world about my faith, do I stand by Jesus in every trial? Is my friendship a credit to Him? Do I, as Madeleine L’Engle said:
Show them a light so lovely they will want with all their hearts to know the source.
I wish I could say yes. When I fail is when I know that I quit looking at my first and best friend and began looking at myself. Instead of listening to Christ, I’ve been shouting about me.
Which leads us to #2.
2. Know when to put on the brakes
Some you have met my brakes. My husband Tom ... say hi Tom ... is my safeguard against going off half-cocked. I’ve got a quick temper, a defensive response to criticism, am a dyed-in-the-wool contrarian and am super-stubborn. That’s a dangerous combination.
I count on Tom to slow me down, show me the other side of a disagreement, and stop me from lashing out. Now, I have to recognize the danger signals first and go to him, so that is my responsibility.
Sometimes I don’t see the danger. Sometimes, I deliberately ignore the danger. Because I want my own way. I don’t want to be stopped. Because, as Happy Catholic, I’m right and they’re wrong ... according to me.
It is pride and it is deadly — to me as a blogger and to the Catholic blogging community. Every time I go my own way, every time I don’t put on the brakes, I am sorry later that I didn’t fight that temptation.
Why didn’t I fight it? I stopped praying, I took my eyes off Christ and sometimes I forgot that that Catholic blogging involves the invisible world as well as the visible. Such as #3.
3. The enemy is prowling like a lion.
It follows that if we have a personal mission from Christ, then there will be powerful opposition, just as there was to Him. 1st Peter says:
Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. (1 Peter 5:8-10 RSV)
As Catholic bloggers we are tempted in subtle ways to be envious, to let others glorify us, to denounce without even asking a clarifying question first … to appear perfect.
Each crisis … whether a crisis in the world around us or a crisis of faith … is window of opportunity for God to show us how to die to self, to mold us a bit more into Christ’s likeness … and to be an example for the world.
The solution to defeating the prowling lion can be given in one word: humility. Jesus tells us exactly how to achieve that humility … which takes us to #4.
4. Turn the other cheek.
In theory, this is wonderful. In practice, we all know it can be excruciating. Jesus told us:
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Leo Tolstoy in What I Believe tells of reading the Sermon on the Mount to a rabbi who responded to each saying with, “This is in the Talmud.” But when Tolstoy read “Do not resist one who is evil” the rabbi was silent. He asked Tolstoy, “Do Christians ever keep this law?”
Do we? Or do we come up with reasons why “just this time” it’s ok to make an exception?
When we rationalize not turning the other cheek ... and we all do it ... I'm one of the worst ... we are placing ourselves and our desire to win or have our own way, above Christ. We are glorifying ourselves above his command.
The truth is that Christ didn’t stop and explain it. He just told us to do it. Whether we understand it or not. We are called to be obedient just like Christ was.
Which feels darned near impossible sometimes. And which takes us to #5.
5. Lord, have mercy on me and bless the other person.
As a blogger I’ve benefited from this prayer more times than I can say. It is remarkable how many times I have prayed it when I am frustrated with someone only to have examples of my own identically bad behavior pop into my mind. It is not only humbling, it reminds me that at some time I have probably upset someone else just as much, in an identical way.
It helps me to see that person through Christ’s eyes, to remember that Christ loves them just as much as He loves me. I often am reminded at these times of St. Therese of Lisieux, who also struggled to love those around her. In Story of a Soul: she says it helps her to remember that God is the artist who creates souls. And that there is no artist who is not pleased when his work is admired.
Because of that, I often find myself asking Christ to show me something lovable about the person I am upset with. What does He see in that soul He created that makes Him smile with tender love?
It all comes down to asking Christ to help you. Even if you are less than enthusiastic about the prayers, your willingness to pray at all is something that God will work with to help you.
Which, of course, takes us to #6.
6. Know how to gauge success.
It’s not about numbers. Or followers or comments or book deals or SEO or speaking engagements or any of the other ways we invent to gauge our success.
We were called to tell the good news. How are we doing at that?
I remember when I first began blogging I came across a blog, whose name I can’t now remember. But the person was reflecting on the past year of blogging, saying that they had only had about 6 regular visitors but they didn’t count the time wasted. I have always tried to keep that mindset.
But we all have those days. Those envious days when we need to regain perspective. Those days when instead of rejoicing at someone else’s success for the kingdom, we think, “What about me?”
I can prescribe nothing better for that than The Curt Jester’s Litany of Blog Humility. Jeff Miller, The Curt Jester, is a “must read” for me every day but it is his litany which speaks so much to the Catholic soul … which loves nothing better than a good litany, some humor, and a lot of sincerity … Here’s a bit:
From the desire of my blog being read
Deliver me dear Jesus
That other blogs may be loved more than mine
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it
That Google may never list my blog
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it
You get the idea. It is in your handout and, more importantly, on The Curt Jester’s blog where you may find it any time as long as you have internet access.
(That my internet may fail, Jesus grant me the grace to desire it...) Which leads us directly to ...
7. Do something face-to-face.
It is easy to think that blogging is all the “volunteering” or “ministry” you need to do. Blogging is important. As I keep saying, Catholic blogging is an important, public face of the Church.
But there is great truth in the saying that “actions speak louder than words.” Every parish, large and small, has a real need for Catholics willing to sacrifice something more precious than diamonds these days ... our time. All the blogging in the world is not as valuable sometimes as just showing up.
I will never forget reading Jen Fulwiler’s posts about being driven crazy by a group of little girls who rang her doorbell and ran away. Eventually she wound up inviting them into her home and becoming their friend as they did things like making cookies and talking. Her time gave those girls guidance and memories I bet they’ll never forget.
That personal time does something valuable for us too. We have to stretch in order to react to unpredictable requests, to work alongside someone you don’t click with, to answer questions out of left field, to keep the peace when volatile subjects arise. I really realized this when my husband and I helped with RCIA last year. No one could predict the sorts of questions and situations that arise when you’re in a small group as the “actual Catholic” facing 10 possible converts from all sorts of backgrounds.
There’s nothing like real world experience for sanding down your rough edges and helping you understand the other guy’s point of view.
Which takes us to #8.
8. Get outside your “Catholic” box.
Whether in real life or on the internet, don’t let yourself get into the habit of only hanging out with Catholics. That can skew your perspective in surprising ways. It is nice, for example, to discover that some people have no reaction at all when you say “guitar Mass” to them.
For one thing, being a well-rounded person is going to make your blogging more interesting and also more relevant, even if you are reading something as seemingly irrelevant as nature blogs. For another thing, God uses everything to weave a rich tapestry. Leaving the Catholic “box” is going to inform your worldview, your prayer life, your soul in ways that make life just plain more fun.
Also, simply by being a Catholic blogger, someone who is practiced in speaking up about faith and the Church, you’ll carry that worldview into places which might never see a Catholic otherwise.
This is one of my passions because I really believe you don’t have to have a “Catholic” blog or podcast to make a difference. For example, the knitters in the Ravelry forums know me as the Catholic who chimes in to mention that Catholics don’t worship saints. A recent StarShipSofa podcast, introduced a story as narrated by “our friend Julie from Happy Catholic blog,” … not a common thing for science fiction fans to hear. On Goodreads after 258 comments between me and six atheists ... a friendly discussion ... I was approached by a Muslim and a Hindu who wanted to be my friend. They said I was the only one in the whole discussion who made sense to them and they wanted to talk to be about God. And I must say that on the rare occasion when someone from one of these venues suddenly shares how God has touched their life, it has had a powerful impact on me.
Obviously knitting and science fiction are some of my passions, but pick your own passion and dive in. When you get outside that box, is when it can be very, very exciting to be Catholic.
Now, this does not lead us to another guideline. But here we are anyway ... at #9!
Here’s the thing. Blogging is a medium composed of writing. Misinterpretation is easy because we can’t use (air quotes) “nonverbal cues” to show additional intentions. [Did you get that ... air quotes ... nonverbal cues?]
Studies show if you write something positive, the reader thinks it’s neutral. When you write something neutral, they think it’s negative. And we’re blogging about religion ... so you’ve practically got a formula for starting a fight.
We make mistakes. It’s only human. I get angry, I make hostile remarks, I am unneccessarily critical. The most we can do after we have been jerks is to openly and honestly admit it, in public if it was a public disagreement. We apologize and hope that they will understand.
It can be really hard to apologize. Sometimes you’re admitting you were wrong. Sometimes, you are admitting you were a jerk. Always, you’re admitting that you were less than perfect ... and that is why we really don’t like to apologize.
We lost our focus on Christ, we lost our self-control, we lost our humility, and we don’t like to lose ... which takes us to #10.
10. Allow yourself to lose.
Madeleine L’Engle wrote a terrific book called Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. I recommend it to all of you. She tells this story:
One time I was talking to Canon Tallis, who is my spiritual director as well as my friend, and I was deeply grieved about something, and I kept telling him how woefully I had failed someone I loved, failed totally, otherwise that person couldn’t have done the wrong that was so destructive. Finally he looked at me and said calmly, “Who are you to think you’re better than our Lord? After all, he was singularly unsuccessful with a good many people.”
If, as we were just saying, we don’t like to lose, we must remember that it is because our focus is distorted. We are not looking at Christ and following His example. Because we’re gonna lose a lot of the time. And we tend to forget, it wasn’t about us in the first place ... which leads us to #11.
11. God grants the increase.
We’re all familiar with the parable of the sower from The Gospel According to Matthew. Jesus tells of seeds falling on the path, devoured by birds, scorched by the sun, choked by thorns, and as Jesus says:
Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
Later, explaining the parable to his disciples, Jesus says of the seeds that fell on good soil: As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.
I had never noticed this detail until recently: all the seeds are sown on good soil, but all do not bear the same fruit. That’s nature. All seed does not yield the same amount. And yet Jesus regards it all as a good yield.
It’s a relief to remember that it is not all up to me. If I sow the seed as best I can then God will yield the increase. It’s especially a relief after I’ve been looking over a list like this one of all the ways I can go wrong as a blogger.
At those times, it’s good for me to remember what Caryll Houselander said:
Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us, Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worthwhile.
We … you and me as the public face of the Church … it may be that you being on the internet today means that for one person, Christ is there too.
And that person saw Christ because … we remembered Christ chose us … we put on the brakes … we turned the other cheek … we prayed … because we would die for each other.
And I hope, and I believe … Jesus will regard it as a good yield. Because it’s not about us. It never was.
If we are pointing to Christ, then we are being His good and faithful servants, as a public face of the Catholic Church. And that is what it’s all about.