Ten years ago today, I entered the Bloggernacle. A decade on, I’m still here (despite evidence–or rather the lack of it–which might suggest the contrary). For whatever they’re worth, here are some thoughts:
I started out as blogger at Times and Seasons, long the dominant Mormon group blog, with this post. (A post on same-sex marriage? Of course! People sometimes express puzzlement at how quickly the opinions of millions of people have changed regarding the toleration of homosexuality over the past decade, but I doubt many of us early Bloggernacle pioneers can be that surprised; given that it sometimes seemed in those early days that close to 20% of the total content of the Bloggernacle consisted of ruminations about gay issues, particular same-sex marriage, in one way or another, it has to have been obvious that the issue was a giant stack of dry kindling, just waiting for a spark.) My post, as should be clear, was a guest one; I was, in fact, Times and Seasons’s first guest blogger, and the first non-lawyer to write for them to boot. Of course, as Times and Seasons itself officially began only days before I first published something with them, perhaps my guest blogger distinction is somewhat meaningless, especially since the offer was made permanent almost immediately. Anyway, basically I was there from just about the beginning.
Why did these smart, young, mostly Ivy-League-educated, itching-to-explore-ideas-and-argue-about-Mormonism-in-public lawyers (in alphabetical order, the wunderkinder were: Greg Call, Matt Evans, Adam Greenwood, Nate Oman, Gordon Smith, and Kaimi Wenger–Dave Banack gives a brief round-up of their first year here) invite me along? Perhaps because I’d been blogging for a half-year or so by that time (here’s my own blog’s ten-year anniversary post, from last March) and these guys–all serious blog watchers and readers–knew my name, and they wanted additional content to expand. Or maybe it was because I’d already picked fights with a few of them, online or via e-mail, and they liked that. Keep in mind that the “blogosphere” itself was a very different animal back in 2003 and 2004; its patterns weren’t well established, and the rhetorical, communicative, and persuasive possibilities inherent in this earliest example of a mass digital social media–the “weblog”–weren’t yet routine. In many ways, publishing a blog back then was at least as much an exploratory art form as it was an opportunity to explore of any particular issue or set of issues. So the fact that I’d been an occasionally critical reader of The Metaphysical Elders and Dave’s old Mormon Inquiry Weblog, or that I’d butted heads a time or two with some of these six, or with bloggers that they knew, in response to or in the comments sections of some great old law blogs like Lawrence Solum’s Legal Theory Blog, or the Catholic Mirror of Justice, or even the once-mighty Volokh Conspiracy: maybe that’s what made the difference. Or maybe they just realized that too many lawyers spoil the broth. In any case, an invitation was issued to this flaky Mormon populist-socialist to become part of the Bloggernacle, and I’m grateful for it.
Why grateful? Strictly speaking, I admit that I don’t show it. I mean, I eventually abandoned T&S–following the path marked out Kristine Haglund, also an early Times and Seasons recruit, and one of contemporary American Mormonism’s most important feminist voices–for By Common Consent, the “liberal counterweight” to T&S, founded (mostly, anyway) by Steve Evans. And by and large, I’ve never been a major Bloggernacle participant. I probably haven’t even ever visited (much less read regularly) more than half of the blogs listed in the Mormon Archipelago, have always been a lousy commenter on my own or others posts, and thus all in all haven’t contributed much to Mormon blogging community, aside from weighing in pretentiously on all the various intra-blog commotions (the Banner of Heaven! the Niblets! the Snarkernacle! BanGate! the great FMH-BCC Meme War!) over the years, as if I actually knew what was going on, which I usually didn’t.
But then, I suppose that probably describes nearly all of us, to one degree or another. I mean, why are you reading this, right now? Besides all the various circumstantial excuses, there is the simple fact that we share a relationship with a common church, and thus are all touched, in one way or another, by a common religious culture; none of us has a grasp on all of it (such a grasp is probably impossible, by definition), and yet we all–all of those who find some sort of itch scratched by reading blogs, anyway–want to learn about and laugh at and mount challenges against and mourn alongside the whole messy, complicated reality of it, nonetheless. The Bloggernacle, in that sense, always was, and always will be, a profound amateur endeavor: an endless and always overlapping series of attempts (both earnest and profoundly half-assed, and sometimes both at the same time) by hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, of individual Mormons to grasp at and share and complain about and mock and celebrate and reveal something about this belief and practice and life which defines us…because, in the end, we love it. Even when we hate it, we love it: because if we didn’t, if we simply didn’t care, we wouldn’t be here. The peer pressure, the social expectation, the personal guilt, the spiritual aspiration, the desire to serve, the curiosity, the testimony: all of those can be reasons, aside from genuine attachment, which may bring us to church on Sundays, or get us to perform our callings, or at least open our doors to the home and visiting teachers. But pulling up, entirely on our own, BCC or T&S or FMH or Millennial Star or any other site in the Bloggernacle on our work computers and laptops and tablets and phones? No, there’s only one thing which does that, and that’s affection. Being here allows us to observe and work out and expand and refine and build upon that affection, that identification, that love. And for that, poor Bloggernacle citizen though I assuredly I am, I really am thankful.
Of course, the reason why any of us can do any of those things I listed above is because there are so many others here besides us doing it as well–and so when I say I’m thankful, what I’m actually saying is “thank you” to a bunch of Mormon bloggers, doing what they do, when they have the time and the opportunity and the desire to do it, as best they can. So, since this week is America’s Thanksgiving, allow me to conclude this tenth anniversary post with some expressions of thanks. To Kevin Barney for sharing your always open-minded urge to know; to Scott Bosworth for the jokes; to Lisa Butterworth for breaking new (and necessary!) ground; to Mark Brown for being earthy and plainspoken and wise; to Greg Call for never taking any of it too seriously; to Wilfried Decoo for showing me a Mormonism that I’d never known before; to Steve Evans for always being on the move (and trying to get others to be also); to Jim Faulconer for exemplifying philosophical patience and attention and care; to John Fowles for never putting on airs, despite have a perfect right to do so; to Adam Greenwood for your deeply pious contrariness; to Kristine Haglund for enlightening me about feminism and music and literature and introducing me to more people and ideas in Mormon studies than I’ll ever be able to count; to John Hamer for being confidently and unapologetically your own self; to Christian Harrison for opening my eyes and changing my mind in perhaps the most important way it’s been changed in the past ten years; to Brad Kramer for NEVER TAKING ANY CRAP; to Tracy McKay for being forgiving and passionate and inspiring; to Erica Merrell for blogging all over the world; to Nate Oman for intellectually humbling me and thus teaching me, over and over and over again (though I still think you’re wrong, of course); to Ardis Parshall for helping me and thousands of others make up for decades of lousy Sunday School lessons; to J. Nelson-Seawright for going where (and showing us where) his convictions led him; to Julie Smith for teaching me how to think again about the scriptures and education and much more; to Jonathan Stapley for raising the bar; to Rosalynde Welch for turning intellectual brilliance into graceful, high-class art; and to Kaimi Wenger for–despite everything–refusing to ever, ever go away.
And, of course, to many, many, many, many more. Thanks to you all; I’m so delighted that someone invented this place, that the T&S sextet showed me and others what we can do with this place, that hundreds of others followed their lead and in many ways surpassed them, and that Christopher Bradford (last but never least) gave our place a name. Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone, and keep blogging–though preferably not at the same time.