Honesty and blogging; as long as it doesn’t become a litmus test

This week, Chris Brady (Part 1 and Part 2) and Jim West have been having an interesting discussion on why we blog and how we write when we blog. See other responses here [Chris Heard and Drew – do we blog for fame?]. (Warning: This post breaks both the brevity and succinctness rule.) It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time, and it probably kept me from starting a blog for well over a year. On the whole, I agree with Brady when he writes, “there are different contexts and communities and not only do we behave differently in each context but we ought to do so.”

My problem is that some of my radically different contexts can all read me on the same blog. I can no longer contextualize and nuance myself for them. (At least I don’t have to worry about my other friends who have never touched a computer.)

I’ve actually been a little surprised about how open I’ve been here in light of my chameleon predispositions. Still, there are a few instances when I will “whiff” on total openness: 1.) Someone I love would get upset, and it would damage the relationship unnecessarily (keep them off the blog). 2.) I don’t feel like fighting someone with whom I have very little in common (ignore). 3.) I don’t want to unnecessarily risk future opportunities. (Yes, the very reason you’ve all mentioned; bury a controversial post or hope they get to know you first.) Let me take them in reverse order.

3.) In one of the comments on Jim’s post, Drew writes: “The way I look at it, if some employer in the future decides not to hire me because of something I have written in any medium, I would not have very much enjoyed working there anyway.”

I’m not sure that’s necessarily true, Drew, and here’s why. Every place has its problems, and these kinds situations can certainly be frustrating, but many of them are exactly where I want to be. The community is phenomenal, the Spirit of God is richly present, people are fighting for justice, and they are radically changing the world around them for the better. Unfortunately, old debates from different contexts have left a legacy of litmus tests that might rub out great opportunities before they get off the ground. Sure it can be frustrating, but if we can get past these litmus tests and actually begin working together . . .

Among my colleagues here, I feel like can be totally open and honest. Why? Certainly not because we agree. The difference is that they know me, and they trust me. We’ve worked shoulder to shoulder for nearly three years now. They know my character, my love for God and my love for them, my passion for justice, and the way I handle the Bible in real, every-day living and teaching. Some of these very same guys, were they to meet me for the first time and litmus test some of my doctrines, might dismiss me immediately. But they can’t do that anymore. Now, they’d sacrifice their right arm for me, and turn their pulpits over to me without the slightest hesitation. I would do the same for them. It would have been a shame to have missed out on this opportunity, simply because we litmus tested each other when we first met. Without knowing me, they might have taken offense. Now that they know me, they can contextualize it, or lovingly challenge me.

2.) Sometimes, I just don’t feel like picking a fight. Recently, I posted links to issues related to Westerminster’s suspension of Peter Enns. I guess because I was slightly early in the game (being half-way around the globe, and being tuned in regularly to the blogs of W. alumni who were closer to the front lines), I got a huge spike in blog traffic (more than five times the average. I even broke free of Jim West’s initial referral record). As the clicks poured in, I realized that many of these visitors were “militantly” reformed. I went to school with some of these guys; I know how they are; we have very little in common. I never subscribed to the holy trinity being the Father, The Son and the Westminster Confession. Conversations with these kinds of guys can be unpleasant to say the least. One of them (I checked his website) left me a comment asking if Enns had had anything to do with my views. I replied that a lot of people had something to do with my views and named a few. I didn’t bother to add what they had to do with my views. I just didn’t feel like getting into it. Others defended Enns far better than I could have, so I followed some of the discussions from afar and thanked God that I’m not in that kind of environment where I have to guard every word.

1.) I love my dad. He was always around and gave us lots of attention. He overcame a rough childhood to become a missionary in one of the most remote places on earth. God used him to change thousands of lives, and he gave me most of my core values. I’ve watched him on his knees begging God to resolve an impossible situation, and I’ve seen the miracle provision appear in answer to those prayers. But there are a lot of things I don’t talk to my dad about. Pentecostals, Catholics, politics, and women in leadership are chief among many, many other subjects that we don’t discuss. Once, he asked me, “Now that you’ve done all this study, which view do you think gets at the real biblical truth.” I knew he was probing to find out where I fit in his schemas, but I just replied, “I think that they all have major problems.” I knew he agreed with this, and so this is where I left it. It didn’t answer his real question, but it helped preserved the relationship. My sister has challenged me to be more honest with him, but what would that accomplish? These issues are central to his whole way of thinking, and he feels strongly about all of them. Both he and I are going to stick to our guns. We’d both just get upset. His faith in me was restored when I went to Westminster, so he’d be devastated to know that I think Kent Sparks is right on the money with his latest book. He’d be uncomfortable to know that I like people like Brian McLaren (despite some of his bad economics – Kruse Kronicle). And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

If my dad knew I had a blog, he’d print out some of my posts, highlight sections of them, and start praying. He’d always be just a little uncomfortable around me. [So don’t any of you tell Dad I have a blog!!! And if you already did, let’s hope this post gets lost, and he never sees it.] I want to be able to just relax and enjoy our time together. I want my kids to have happy memories of their old grandpa whenever they see him. PS, My mother is all for being vague and less open . . . especially when it comes to political commentary ;-).

Ironically, the other people I was thinking of when I started the blog don’t actually appear to be reading it: my family (with the possible exception of one of my sisters) and my colleagues here (don’t have time to waste on blog reading, and they know I’ll forward all the important posts to them by e-mail.)

So why do I write?

I mainly I write for me; I enjoy it. At the same time, it helps to know that a few of my old friends are lurking out there: BJ in Addis (an old Kiwi friend from Paris; sorry about all the theology, mate), Joe in Pakistan (an old friend from DC), Lars in Vermont (my classmate from high school in Ivory Coast). I’m sure we all see the world very, very differently when it comes to theology and doctrine, and I’ve cringed for them on a few posts that I’ve written. But I have known them, and in the past, they have accepted me for who I am. These are great guys, and I value their character because I know that deep down, we really do have the same dreams for this world even if we express them differently. [If any of the rest of you are lurking out there and have gotten this far, let me know, and I can think of you when I write too. DC? Wheaton? I know you are there.]

I also think about some of the virtual friends I have made through the blogging world like Brad Wright, lingamish/lingalinga (aka David Ker), and Jim West (not that he cares about our few interactions from his lofty perch, but he actually seems like a nice guy in spite of what he says and in spite of the fact that he makes me cringe almost every day). I think I would enjoy meeting these and others some day.

And I think of the random people trolling the net for a little info on life in Kenya, a bibliography on Judeans in Acts, or random hints for leading a small group Bible study. I can’t do much for the real scholars, but I can throw the common man and the average student a tidbit now and then. And I suspect that all of them will skip the posts the find irrelevant.

And somewhere in the midst of all this, maybe I’m learning about God, the world, and myself. Just please don’t litmus test me for it.

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11 thoughts on “Honesty and blogging; as long as it doesn’t become a litmus test

  1. Drew says:

    Well done Ben. And I did read the whole thing 🙂 I have worked and tried work in different places and I have found that the places where people seem to forget that theology is a developmental process that changes over time as we make sense of how God and the world intersect in our lives, I have had the least fruitful engagement.

    Essentially, what I write is an important part of my identity. It is honest and does not try to play a specific role. If this is not something that would make you comfortable and if the things I write will cause you not to want me as a colleague, then I might not be the best of fit for you. It is a risk and I understand what you are saying. But it’s a good risk because it allows me to maintain my integrity as I see fit.

  2. Jim says:

    Oh Ben, but I do!

  3. David Ker says:

    Nope. I didn’t read the whole thing. Too long. But i like you and your round ups are the best on the net for me because of the way our lives are running in parallel. I’ve tried to blog so that my mom and dad and weirdos like jim can all read and interact. Thanks for blogging.

  4. eclexia says:

    Well stated thoughts. I was thinking that I don’t share my blog with all my family and friends, because I’d rather sort out some of my thoughts in a context where it doesn’t feel like they (my thoughts) are itching for an argument. Once I sort them out for myself, it is easier to speak one on one with people, when topics come up, in more matter of fact ways. I’m with your Mom, too, when it comes to talking about politics 🙂 I’m glad I discovered your blog, though I’m not sure which name to give credit to, since it keeps changing: Lingamish, LingaLinga or David Ker…

  5. Ben says:

    Jim, I’m touched.

    Drew,
    1.) Re: Associations. Jim West is on my blogroll for crying out loud. Check the blogroll for the update. Hope that answers your question.
    2.) It is true that there are many places like this where I wouldn’t enjoy working, but one of the things I’ve noticed is that this kind of rhetorical litmus testing seems especially prevalent in American evangelical (and liberal I suppose) circles. (Or places around the globe under the influence of Americans.) The three years I lived in Paris, it seemed like a lot more theological diversity was accepted in the evangelical (Anglican) church I attended. Maybe we were simply happy to be with other believers in a very secular environment.

    One thing I appreciate about Africa is that more people seem willing to look past initial barriers to the relational dimensions, where our deeper core values are much closer. Actually, here, with my direct colleagues (those of us who know each other) I feel the freedom to be totally open. I don’t fudge anything with most of them, but it has taken time to build that trust. The way most of that trust was built had nothing to do with stated doctrine per se; rather it was all about life and practice.)

    I guess as a TCK (third culture kid) I’m already very conscious of how even my authentic identity morphs depending on the cultural rules of the particular environment I’m in. Expectations of different cultural environments are like a game with lots of subconscious rules. For me there are core beliefs I hold, but how those beliefs get expressed almost always depends on the specific socio-cultural or theological environment. Different vocab gets used, different elements emphasized. We all do this, but for me it gets a little trickier because I am simultaneously embedded in a few radically different contexts at the same time. I think blogging has helped me appreciate that reality even more.

    How I express myself on any given day likely depends on where my latest conversation or reading has been.

    Linga…Ker
    I tried to put your link far enough down the post to really torture your scanning skills. I’ve been debating the “roundups” – Clicks on the actual links are very rare (unless a others are doing so from readers.) I appreciate the roundups done by others because of the time they take (especially with my limited technology). I guess yours is one vote for keeping them going. (I bet you never see this buried response to your comment. 😉

  6. Ben says:

    eclexia,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Actually, I think my mom is more concerned that any political comments might get me thrown out of the country. (Kenya is a little too free for that.) But I can appreciate the perspective of those who are constantly being bombarded by media focus on politics. I’m kind of glad I’m not there. (Kind of like the difference between being here or there for Christmas.)

  7. […] week there was a flurry of blog posts about “Why I blog.” I haven’t had time to do my own navel-gazing […]

  8. Drew says:

    Ben:

    “One of the things I’ve noticed is that this kind of rhetorical litmus testing seems especially prevalent in American evangelical (and liberal I suppose) circles.”

    I think this is everywhere now. If I get a resume for a position for which I will be interviewing someone, my first instinct is to Google their name and see what I get. That’s why we tell students to be careful with what they post online – anywhere!

  9. Ben says:

    Drew: Sorry, I was gone all week.

    I hear what you are saying. I still try to be careful, but not as careful as I used to be. I sometimes think about how I might explain why I said something the way I did to different sets of audiences. There are certain “hot” topics I try to avoid. It’s impossible to say the right thing. I do realize that if I ever applied for a job where people didn’t already know of me, I’d get Googled immediately. But here’s my own reality: I won’t be a prime candidate for teaching positions in the US or Europe (maybe later after more experience and to teach some dimension of African theology). Here, the power of the personal recommendation is much more important.

    I guess all I was saying is the kind of litmus tests didn’t seem be as much of an issue among my Parisian Christian friends and here among my colleagues. Maybe I should leave it at saying that my own observation here is that American-trained or American denominational faculty here seem to be more concerned about certain litmus tests than others. Still, even these are much more relationally oriented than most of the American denominational circles I have experienced.

  10. […] week there was a flurry of blog posts about “Why I blog.” I haven’t had time to do my own navel-gazing […]

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