Saturday, April 18, 2015

Blogging--My Journey

A theological group I am in asked me to talk to them about blogging. This is what I had to say…

The word blogging is so new it isn’t even found in my old college Dictionary. One definition is: a web site that contains personal reflections, comments, and often links to other by the writer. A blog is really an internet journal.

My own experience with blogging goes back to December 2008.  I don’t know about you but my adult
photo by eleaf / flickr
children are petrified that their folks will be out of touch, laughed at by the masses, not knowing what is going on and embarrass the daylights out of them.

So my son said in 2008, “What you need is a blog. You like to write--you ought to do this. “ I didn’t know what he was talking about. “It’s a way of communicating and you need something to do.”

He was right about “something to do.” After six churches and seven Interims my wife proclaimed, “Ok. It’s time to stop. Living out of suitcases, sleeping in somebody’s else apartment or condo—not ever being at home—besides you are tired. And I am definitely tired of wearing the preacher’s wife’s hat.” So like a dutiful submissive husband, which I usually am not—I said, “Yes ma’m.”

Well, I did need something to do. You retirees know what I am talking about. Suddenly the spotlight fades and the phone quits ringing and your business cards are yesterday and nobody asks you your opinions or tells you how Billy Graham couldn’t hold a candle to you. All this is gone with the wind.

photo by photosteve101  flickr
So—my son nudged me into the blogging business. Even though I have used a computer for a long time—I am still a pathetic beginner. So, taking me by the hand, my son showed me how to begin this new thing. “You’ll need a title for the blog”, he said, “some kind of theme that will tell folks what you are writing about”. So—I started thinking and finally came up with a title: Head and Heart. Subtitle: Roger Lovette writes about cultural concerns, healthy faith and matters of the heart. I know it sounds pretentious—but folks I was under the gun.

For years I have said of preachers and all Christians that we shouldn’t park our brains at the door of the church. I’ve also said if you come away from a sermon having no idea what century you’re in or what is going on in your world—or theirs—you have done a lousy job. So—I figured a preacher’s blog should deal with the real. But it shouldn’t be so heavy and ponderous that it hardly ever strikes a human chord. The blog ought to tug at the heartstrings, too. It’s what the black preacher calls “Aunt Jane.” “If you don’t put some 'Aunt Jane’ in your sermon, nobody will listen.” So I decided to call my Blog: Head and Heart.

My son, a photographer, set up my masthead and design. And so that December morning in 2008 I sat
down before my computer and a blank page wondering what in the hell I had gotten myself into.

What was I going to write about?  I could just see this blank page stretching endlessly forward. And I remembered something that Anne Lamott, in her book on writing, said about her little brother. He was given the assignment in school to write an essay on birds. And he sat down at the kitchen table one night and began to cry. “I don’t know how to write this. I don’t know that much about birds.” And his father said, “The only way you can write this is bird by bird, Buddy.” Bird by bird. Start off small and specific. Well—I decided to put my fingers on the keys and see what would happen. After 40 years of writing sermons surely I could come up with something. And I remembered a book I had read years ago by Arthur Gordon who was then an Editor at Guideposts. He wrote, a book of essays entitled, A Touch of Wonder.  And I remember thinking I wish I could express my feelings like Arthur Gordon. One day at Seminary James Cox, my preaching Professor asked me one day, “Have you ever thought about writing? Why --don’t you try your hand with say, the Baptist Bulletin Service.” On the back of those pre-print Bulletins they had little articles. I sent one in and they took it. I think they paid me two cents a word. I got the courage to send in a sermon to Pulpit Digest—and they took it. Now I have had my turndowns and rejection slips aplenty from Editors and Pulpit Committees.  And each one hurt. For you see, we egomaniacs want everybody to love us—which is a joke and a heresy. Ain’t gonna happen.

What I learned about writing sermons and other things was staring at that blank page sometimes—often—I did not know what I thought I believed until I put the words down on paper. You follow your head and sometimes your heart and you never know where this will lead or where you will come out.

So Christmas 2008 I started. So I wrote about what I knew and observed. The tiny star my daughter had made in Sunday school fifty plus years ago. It has hung on our tree every year. I wrote about Christmas cards and Christmas ornaments and how both took me back, sometimes way back. I wrote about my tiny Mexican Nativity set and the After-Christmas blues. That first New Year I wrote about Starting Over and Letting Go.

Since I started preaching and writing—especially writing—I found myself wanting to talk to those on the edge—insiders of course but especially the outsiders. I tried to say over and over in all sorts of ways: “Hey, there’s more to this faith business than you ever thought—and you don’t need to park your brain at the door.” I have tried not to use too much Scripture though it is just below the surface in much that I write. But it still drives the fundamentalists crazy. I try to keep my Democratic leanings to a minimum but in this day and age I find it very hard. I also try not to be too judgmental –and this drives some people crazy—they want me to bring out the hammer. But mostly I want to speak to the head and the heart.

Since my blogging beginnings I have written 731 pieces. Bird-by-Bird, I guess. I could not believe I have
written this many pieces. One of the strange things about blogging is that your stuff goes all over the world.  I’ve had 80,000 hits in the US. 3,825 from the Ukraine; 3,786 from France and 3,298 from Germany. 2,577 have read from Russia and there have been some from India and China and Australia and all over.

So this experience has given this egomaniac a chance to get the spotlight turned back on—sort.
But never enough applause which my fellow-ego-maniacs can resonate with. We just cannot get enough. I believe there is another word for this phobia.

Emily Dickinson wrote, “Tell it slant.” Tell it different. That’s why Fred Craddock and Barbara Brown Taylor and Walter Bruggemann and so many that have forced us to listen. They tell it slant. Now I am no Fred or Barbara or Walter but I have tried to see things around and within me a little different.  I’ve written about social issues like: Race and a black President and Selma and Voter Registration and Immigration and Gay Rights and Torture. I’ve written book reviews of books that have turned me on like Pat Conroy’s book My Reading List. I’ve tackled movies like ”Boyhood” and “The King’s Speech” and  “Way, Way Back".  I wrote a review of “Unbroken.” I have even included some sermons—but not many.

Because we all seem to be obsessed with New Spring I couldn’t help but comment on the Pastor’s Christmas vision about re-writing the 10 Commandments. The baby Jesus seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. A little later when he apologized I wrote another piece thanking him for being big enough to do this and telling everybody we all have to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Trying to be fair—but as you know it isn’t easy. Even with people we think are a little crazy.

 For about four Lenten seasons I have tackled The 14 Stations of the Cross as my own meditations. I wrote two pieces on the war in Iraq and reviewed Dennis Finkel’s two books, The Good Soldiers and The Forever War.  I grieved over all these mostly young men and women who come home in flag-draped boxes and so for a while—about once or twice a month I wrote pieces called “Remember the Fallen.” Some had been deployed as many of four times. I plowed through the long, sad list of those who had died that month—put down their names, ages—where they were from and how they died. Most were under 25 and many of them had been deployed time after time. But I finally had to stop doing that—there were too many names and the list was seemingly endless.

There have been a great number of pieces on personal things in my life. Buechner in his book, The Sacred Journey has said that when we tell our stories it is like we are putting together photographs of our life. And the hope is that when they see these pictures and these stories it will enable them to open up their own album of stories and pictures and remember. Sometimes I have taken excerpts from Funerals for good friends and published these. Like my cousin Ray who killed himself at age 50—and left me a note asking me to do his funeral. I wrote about losing my buddy in Tennessee that I have known for years. I gave a tribute to an art teacher who had made such a difference in our community. I included my remarks at the private funeral of dear Beth who just drank herself to death before she was fifty. These were a way, I think of dealing with my own grief. We all do it in different ways.  I have written about our anniversary, the closing of my home church, my kid’s birthdays. I wrote one piece recently on my tribute to Fred Craddock.

I just read a poem by Michael Dennis Brown. His last stanza on “Consider the Lilies goes like this:

Consider the lilies;
   there where your wealth lies,
   you will see where your heart lives:
   all petals, all leaves.
Know the lives of the lilies.”

But the poem that really nudges me to open my eyes just a little wider is that poem by Frances Cornford. She was on a train and she looked out and saw this woman wearing gloves—just walking this path and she wrote:

“Why do you walk through the fields with gloves—
Missing so much and so much?”
Oh why do you walk through the fields in gloves—
Missing so much and so much.”

Maybe blogging is a way I am trying to open my eyes and take the gloves off and experience what is around me. We all miss so much. The train just goes too fast and these days it seems to go faster and faster.

What has gotten the most hits? You won’t believe this: Pay-Day Loans. I have had 7,361 hits. Guantanamo and John Grisham had 1624. Is the Pope a Catholic? produced 909 responses.

Of course I have had a lot of frustrations. Some of the pieces I thought were great nobody seemed to care about and some of the blog pieces I wrote off in a hurry have brought many more responses. I’ll never be a household word if you want to get back to my egomaniacal phobia. But my blog keeps me fresh and forces me still at age 79 to use some of brainpower—what’s left, that is.  It keeps me off the streets and makes my wife happy that I am not downstairs running her crazy and invading her space. This blogging gives me a pulpit, which I dearly miss—even though most churches think we old timers are over the hill.

--Roger Lovete / rogerlovette.

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