My blogging life: how blogging continues to change my faith

I started blogging one and a half years ago.  Perhaps like many of us, I started blogging as a form of therapy.  I wanted to anonymously vent frustration and voice opinions that I didn’t feel I could say in church.  Blogging, however, has rapidly become something more meaningful and more complicated to me.  This is a post about both how my perspective on blogging has changed and how blogging has changed my perspective of the LDS church.

I started my first (and now inactive) blog, Mormon Rhetoric, with little expectation that anyone would read my musings and with the assumption that my identity on the web was entirely anonymous.  However, within a few months I was shocked to discover that people in fact did read the blog and that the blog was traceable to me.  Through a series of connections, I was invited to blog on BCC, and I thus ceased to be a private blogger.  In a startlingly short amount of time, my experience shifted from one of anonymity to one of community.  With this shift came a parallel shift in my focus as a blogger: knowing that I had a readership caused me to think of blogging less as therapy and more as an act of community building.

But how has viewing blogging as a communal rather than a private activity changed my writing, my faith, and my relationship to our church?  On the whole, I believe I am more likely to censor what I say in a blog post than in speech or private writing.  Blogging has made me more aware of the enduring consequences of the language we use (especially when that language is a lasting public record) and more desirous of using language that can build nuanced consensus.   And, yet, as a blogger I am not without pride: occasionally, I feel tempted to craft posts that are more controversial, because I know that those generate the most comments.  Prop 8 anyone?  Blogging is now in part an act of response-management for me, and my posts reflect not the “true,” anonymous voice of my inner soul so much as the voice of a writer very aware that she writes for and within a crowd.  As I see myself increasingly as a co-author and co-reader in a larger crowd, I am also thematically less drawn towards issues that focus on self-identity, such as race or gender, than I was when I wrote primarily alone, and I am now more interested in how institutional pressures have shaped our religion.

I approached blogging as a means of questioning my faith, but blogging has proved less a place to vent than an exercise that has allowed me to see my faith in new ways.  Whereas in a ward setting, faith and spirituality is often framed in terms of emotion, blogging is a written medium through which emotion travels only occasionally and indirectly.  Since blogging is better suited for intellectual meditation rather than emotional experience, blogging has attuned me to Church history, culture, and doctrine far more than I was before.  The scriptures, our written tradition, matter more to me, and I am now fascinated by contemplating how they were written, edited, and produced.  It has also encouraged me to participate in and share our religion in ways that don’t depend upon “the spirit:” making more charitable donations, reading more church history, becoming more politically active.  In general, the moral activities that I most frequently engage in are now the ones best suited to an online environments: producing knowledge, connecting with people, or exchanging money, rather than more traditional neighborhood-dependent events.  As we continue to be a more online society, I wonder if the experience of religion will be shaped more by actions that we take and the knowledge we create than by the spirit we collectively feel.

However, my life online has also changed my life offline.  As a blogger, I have been able to develop friendships that are far deeper than those I have ever developed with most members of my wards.  This is a result not only of the remarkable generosity of the BCC community that shares their thoughts and welcomes in strangers; it is also a result of the relative endurance that online relationships can have.  For someone who has moved three times in three years, online friendships offer a constant in a world of geographic transience, a kind of permanent community only matched for me by my childhood ward, and the depth of these relationships has caused me to question my own beliefs and attitudes again and again.

Knowing that this online community exists has encouraged me to look for the cool people around me and not to make assumptions about Mormons, but, unfortunately, belonging to a community with such depth and self-selection has also spoiled me.  As I spend more time online, I realize that I am less and less invested in my actual ward.   Since I find it more fulfilling and easy to belong to my self-selected online community, I sometimes feel myself spiritually fulfilled while being a lackluster participant in church.  I have never spent more time engaged in the gospel, and, yet, I am strangely disengaged from traditional ward activities.  In confess: my home ward now sometimes feels like my second ward, while my online community seems to become a more and more entrenched part of my religious life.

Comments

  1. So the real question is, who’s the bishop of the bloggernacle? Who are the counselors? Who’s the crazy person who takes twenty minutes to bear testimony of Sarah Palin? Is Joseph Addison (pseudonym) the ward clerk or the librarian?

  2. A very perceptive, well written and thought provoking post! I’ve felt the same way about blogging and feel like it’s quickly become a completely new way of expressing my thoughts and feeling and finding new thoughts and feeling from others. I love the freedom. You hit the nail on the head.

    Yes, and it does have a very ward like feel to it. Can I be your hometeacher?

  3. You are welcome to be my hometeacher!

  4. Here, I’ll start with the Bloggernacle callings:

    Kevin Barney and Julie M. Smith – Gospel Doctrine
    Steve Evans – EQ president (after all, doesn’t he home teach so well?)
    bbell – YM president
    Ray – Scoutmaster
    Ardis – Ward Historian
    bookslinger – Ward Mission Leader

    Not sure who should have the RS, YW, or Primary callings. :)

    I’ll be a clerk so I skip half of my meetings.

  5. I don’t comment on here very often, and I have pretty much limited my blogging time to BCC and FMH, but I so much agree with that last paragraph.

    From an outsider’s perspective, I am barely active in the Church. In September I simply stopped attending and have only begun going back since the New Year. But in that time (and really, since I started reading and responding to the blog world about a year ago), I have constantly been thinking about the Gospel. I am always pondering issues concerning the Gospel or about the Church (and sometimes those seem mutually exclusive), but I rarely share those thoughts with my rl friends.

    I am very glad to be in a Church where congregations are determined by geography and not self-selection, but I have to admit that reading your post, I imagined a world where members could self-select to attend church, share lessons, etc. online. Of course, until my hard drive can spit out a piece of bread and water, that probably won’t happen.

  6. Blogging has definately kept me more engaged in the gospel and Church than would otherwise be the case. At least in the modern US, it is easy to be mentally and emotionally detached from our Ward – the economy and the way we relate to our neighbors makes this almost inevitable. I like staying engaged despite that.

  7. I really echo everything you say, Natalie. I had a private blog for about three years before becoming a perma at fMh and Segullah (which happened almost simultaneously), and my private blog definitely suffered, but the community I’ve gained in exchange has been well worth whatever I gave up. My inner self-censor sometimes finds me writing things I that don’t completely resonate because I think that’s what my audience wants to hear, and in some ways it’s been harder to stay “true” to myself in that regard.

    I even discovered that you and I have a sort of distant connection through our husbands, who knew each other in high school.

  8. merrybits says:

    Count me in as a High Prie…Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

  9. #7 – Who is your husband? I’ll have to let mine know!

  10. #4 – I didn’t realize you dislike me so much, queuno. :)

    Interestingly, as much as I understand this post, my own feelings are quite different. Ironically, I wrote about it on my own blog just this past Wednesday:

    Blogging As a Supplemental Activity

  11. Mine is Eddie Miner, who was runner up to your husband in the all-important General Sterling Scholar thing (is that what it’s called? I’m not from Utah). He often says that your husband was one of the few people who he respected intellectually back when he was a teenager. What a dork (mine, that is, not yours).

  12. That’s hilarious. My husband says that your husband could beat the snot out of him in basketball and towered over him at the Sterling Scholar thing. He also suggests reconnecting on facebook if you are there or continuing the conversation via email, which can be found by googling his name and “Shirts group.” (Just a precaution against putting his email online.)

  13. Ray, I just read your post, and I completely see that point, too. I think for me, the fact that I haven’t had a permanent ward in a long time is what makes it easier for me to feel online connections. That and the fact that through supplemental blogging actvities I have been able to put a face on or meet many people here. So, to some extent, blogging is now about keeping up connections with the many ward members who wander in and out of my life and a way of discovering new connections when I move.

  14. he’s looking him up on facebook right now. See– connections all over the place.

  15. Steve Evans says:

    Natalie, I am RS President.

    I do agree about the feeling of community and connectedness — there’s something easier, in a way, about the friendships we make in the Bloggernacle compared to our real wards. Sometimes I view this as a danger, because I know that friends in my immediate ward will accrue benefits temporal and spiritual that the internet cannot provide. Further I think potentially I do my real-world ward damage if I preferentially choose to associate with distant strangers while neglecting the local flock.

    What to do!

  16. Yeah, Steve, it’s a problem. It was thinking about this issue today while at a ward activity, where I met Naomi Sloane (who I think you know), that prompted this post.

    One thing I should also have mentioned in this post is the large volume of time it takes to keep up online relationships. That time inevitably takes from time that I could spend on meeting my local neighbors.

  17. Steve Evans says:

    Say hi to Naomi! We’ve been through a lot together…

  18. #13 – Natalie, I understand the mobility issue and the fact that a steady on-line community of friends can provide stability in an otherwise fluid church life. One of my regular readers and commenters mentioned that she has had serious health issues that have kept her from attending church regularly for quite a while, and blogging IS her constancy in the Church – the people who share their beliefs with her on a daily basis. I understand and respect that, too.

    Really, as long as there is a proper balance in each person’s life, I’m not going to complain about the exact structure of that balance. Heaven knows my own “balance” wouldn’t fit a whole lot of people – even many who blog actively.

  19. If the bloggernacle is a ward, does that mean that those of us who’ve given up blogging but drop in occasionally to read are “less active”?

  20. Yes, Jim–you should expect a pair of bloggernacle missionaries (probably dressed in pajamas) to stop by and try to place a laptop. “What do you know about WordPress? Would you like to know more?”

    And we miss you! We’ll fellowship you to death when you show up :)

  21. This place has kept me afloat more than I can express. I have deep and abiding friendships IRL and in my ward, but there is an honesty and frankness in the blogs that I value.

    Reading that, I know how absurd it sounds- but I’ve come to know some stellar folks I would not otherwise know through this medium. My life is so much richer because of it.

    If we’re handing out callings, just keep me out of the nursury, please… ;)

  22. If the nacle is a ward, it’s a strange one and it has strange callings. We have deacons of derision, teachers of tolerance, high priests of hoity toity and bishops of banning. We have relief societies of sex, priestesses of poop and matriarchs of morality. We have high counsellors of crass, presidents of persiflage and apostles of aphorism. We are not limited to the usual callings. On, beyond magazine rep! (Because most people stop with magazine rep, but not me).

  23. Stretching the alliteration a little aren’t we, Neal A. MCQ?

  24. Aaron Brown says:

    If the Bloggernacle is a ward, I volunteer to be the crazy lazy who bears her testimony every month and says something wildly inappropriate.

    AB

  25. I’ll do nursery. It’s soooooo easy online! Also, my baby is nearly grown and since I only recently adopted him I missed all the fun of his babyhood and toddlerhood. So bring them on!

    I think Ray should be bishop, and I want fMhLisa for RS president. Sorry, Steve. I know you’d be great, too. Maybe when Lisa’s released.

    We can do sacrament by each bringing our own bread and water, and letting the priesthood bless it virtually. I’m serious! This will work!

    I once got a priesthood blessing online and it was definitely powerful and effective. I would be so happy and glad if we really got approval to do it. What fun!

  26. Aaron Brown says:

    sorry, “crazy lady” not “lazy”. If I’m bearing testimony every darn month, then I’m anything but lazy.

    AB

  27. Um, I was going for Dr. Seuss, not Neal A. Maxwell. [snif]

  28. If I go inactive, will you give me a laptop? Macbook air, please.

  29. I’m an investigator for over a year now, and a regular BCC reader. If I could join this ward, I’d convert today.

  30. And being dropped from a blogroll must be the same as excommunication.

    Interesting analogy.

  31. So, to switch the direction of this conversation for a minute, where does the analogy between blogging and a ward fall apart? I have been struck by how church involvement in a different form has actually changed how I think about spirituality and belief. For example, authority operates differently in a blog setting – it is both more egalitarian and more dependent on the popularity of a post or site. What implications do these differences have for our evolving faith?

  32. Steve Evans says:

    Tatiana, Ray already thinks he’s everyone’s bishop.

    [end threadjack]

    Natalie, clearly the governance side operates differently. There’s also, oddly enough, far more communication (ideally) between the permabloggers of a blog than between the leaders of any given ward, at least in my experience. That said, the communication is more destined to form interpersonal bonds rather than resolve real-world problems. If I need to go on church welfare it would be via real-world people, not the online community (even if the Church offered some sort of online signup).

    Also, on the internet you don’t have to put up with people you don’t like.

  33. #32 – How do you make that emoticon with the tongue sticking out? :P

  34. Nope, not like that.

  35. Will a woman be called as bishop of this Cyber-ward in the Blogger-stake?

  36. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 32 “…on the internet you don’t have to put up with people you don’t like.” Are you sure?

    My guess is there are plenty of bloggers like me who for whatever reason aren’t part of a real-life ward at all. Without bearing some crazy-sounding testimony of the Bloggernacle, suffice to say I’m very happy to be in here. The Mormon blogs have positively impacted my life.

  37. MikeInWeHo says:

    Oh yeah, and you get to learn new fifty-cent words like persiflage.

  38. So, this morning, for the first time ever, I took a neighbor to church with me. Never before have I thought more closely about how everyone in the ward behaved, because I kept trying to think about how she would feel. Looking at the ward through her eyes made me truly value what a real ward can mean. I was so struck by the diversity of experiences that the ward accomodates and by the power in diverse people coming together. Anyways, it was very uplifting, and it made me definitely think that I need to work on being a better real-ward member.

  39. I can’t help but wonder…if Joseph Smith were alive today, would his primary communication tool be a blog?

    When I read of JS’s interactions with members, I sometimes wish he were around today…he seemed to try to answer questions as best he could for those who inquired. That seems ideal for this format.

  40. The bloggernacle has spoiled me, too–I keep expecting to see more diversity in opinions and more acceptance of those with differing opinions. This apparently silly expectation bit me after the Prop 8 thing when I voiced a contrary opinion on my blog and suddenly found myself in the middle of a not always friendly firestorm (though nothing like the firestorms Steve started). I kept expecting someone to agree with me; after all, I’d heard many people around here questioning the wisdom of the church aligning itself with the issue and with the other organizations pushing it, but nobody ever publicly did. The experience has made me quieter in my real ward (if that’s possible) and made me appreciate even more the diversity of opinions, the respectfulness of most commentors toward one another, and the thoughtfulness that’s a hallmark of this little corner of the blogosphere.

  41. I’m a regular reader (yet not an active commenter), and I find this post to really echo my feelings.

    I think that many times, writing and reading has not only helped me to vent my frustrations about what happens in my ward (and in my life in general, going to a less-diversified school like BYU-Idaho). It has also helped me to articulate better my own personal beliefs and convictions, opinions and thoughts.

    Also, it helps to know that I’m not the only one who secretly cheers every time that crazy lady gets up in testimony meeting. It adds a spice to the sometimes somber atmosphere.

  42. Henry George says:

    Natalie–

    Please understand that I say this respectfully, but your post has crystalized my discomfort with the bloggernacle. When I say my discomfort, I mean my own personal discomfort, not my sense that there is something generally problematic with LDS blogs. My problems with the church are extremely localized, highly dependent on the context I inhabit. This could have something to do with spending so much time in branch presidencies and bishoprics. Anyway, let me try to illustrate what I’m talking about: while there may be a testimony meeting crank in every ward or branch, each crank has a different hobbyhorse and their words have a different impact. If I really want to talk about what my crank said in my fast and testimony meeting, I’ll need to talk to someone who is in my ward and who will appreciate all the nuances. Otherwise, it’s a general conversation about testimony meeting cranks that threatens to degenerate into a game of top-the-bizzare-testimony: commenter 34’s crank keeps obsessing about polygamy, while commenter 35’s crank keeps talking about having a seven year supply of food storage. While that’s potentially amusing, it doesn’t really help me shoulder the very real burdens my very real cranks place on my shoulders.

  43. When I read of JS’s interactions with members, I sometimes wish he were around today

    Sometimes?

  44. There have been a lot of Sundays in the last year when I haven’t been able to worship properly (work issues and Church calling responsibilities), and the ‘nacle keeps me afloat at times…

  45. Your site does not correctly work in safari browser

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