Thursday, June 22, 2006

Gruntled Center -- I'm the Eagle and Child

I've returned from GA -- but here is the reflection that I had planned for two days ago -- I believe the thoughts still hold.

I was walking with a friend who stopped in the atrium of the Sheraton to speak with a bearded teddy bear of a man who was tapping away at a laptop. As they wrangled over the intricacies of the PUPS report, I inserted myself into the conversation, introducing myself as Russell Smith (yes, I am indeed an incurable schmoozer – I like people and find them very interesting)

He introduced himself as Beau Weston and then told me he wrote a weblog called The Gruntled Center. My eyes brightened and I grasped his hand saying “You’re Gruntled Center? Hello, I’m the Eagle and Child”. He knew who I was, for we’ve been reading each other’s blogs for about half a year now. This connection was made thanks to yet another blog, The Reformed Angler (also known as Dennis Hancock), who from time to time links to our deep and earth moving musings. Neither of us has met Dennis face to face, but we both like him and enjoy his writing. What followed was an hour and a half conversation about our interests, cultural analysis, books, and the Presbyterian church.

This is but one instance where blogging has affected my experience at this GA. I wrote earlier about meeting bloggers who served on committee with me. I’ve had people catch me over the past few days commenting on The Eagle and Child (“So you’re the one who didn’t like our amendment” and “Interesting things you said about the Stated Clerk not being a pope” and “I think I like my career future too much to blog like you do”).

Thus I ask “How is blogging affecting the shape of this GA?”

Dennis Hancock speculated that this GA is the year of the blogger. Hans Cornelder has been featuring bloggers regularly on Presbyweb (one of the fine news digests for Presbtyerians). Bloggers have affected national events: from exposing sloppy reporting on Dan Rather’s team to shaping the course of the Presidential election to creating buzz in national marketing campaigns. Blogs are now on the scene as a force for extending conversation.

Seth Godin, in his e book Who's There talks about different types of blogs: the cat blog (where the writer talks exclusively about personal things, like his cat’s antics), the boss blog (aimed at distributing information to a particular group), and the viral blog (where the writer wants to spread ideas to a broad audience). To Seth’s taxonomy, I might add the journalistic blog (which aims to report the stories that are not being told). The challenge for the blog reader is to discern the purpose of a given blog.

For instance, I consider The Eagle and Child to be a viral blog – when I write about military chaplains, it is because I care about military chaplains and their service to courageous men and women who put their lives on the line every day, and I want you to care about those very chaplain. When I write about the Trinity paper, it’s because I’m concerned about the vague conflation of names of God with metaphors that describe God’s characteristics, and I want you to be concerned. I make no pretense of masquerading as an objective reporter. I report buzz, rumor, opinion, stories, and bits of whimsy that tickle my fancy and that I care about. This blog is editorial and opinion, not objective reporting.

The point is that we have to be smarter readers of blogs – we have to listen to hear the point of view of the author, we have to learn to discern fact from opinion, we have to be active readers, rather than simply accepting everything we read on the same level. We also have to understand that blogging is simply an extension of the conversation – it is a way of people connecting online to enhance the face to face connection. It is a means of bringing more voices to the table.

But blogging is not a replacement for traditional news media. Nor is it a replacement for careful reasoned discussion and debate. Nor is it a replacement for face to face personal relationship. Nor is it meant to be the final analysis of the author. Nor is it a forum for pouring out deep private experiences (though there are those who have not figured this out yet – A good general rule of thumb – if you wouldn’t share your thoughts with a total stranger you just meet on the streetcorner, then it’s probably not appropriate for sharing on a weblog).

So friends, the question is out there – Is blogging actually shaping the face of this GA – your thoughts?

Soli Deo Gloria

PS I’m drafting this during the GA Nominating Committee’s presentation of candidates for standing committees. There are about a dozen or so floor nominations, which is slowing down the process a bit. I just stood up and looked about my section – there are at least 9 games of solitare going on. Just thought you’d want to know.