9/08/2006

The Supposed Dangers, Spiritual and Otherwise, of Blogland.

The Bishop of Southwest Florida, John B. Lipscomb, is an honorable man and a good bishop. But much as King John, of Now We Are Six , he “has his little ways.” He has, according to the report in the Living Church, called for a forty day fast from reading blogs.

On the one hand, this is precisely what a moratorium should look like, a fast or break from doing something for a specific time period for a specific purpose. I wish the Windsor Report had understood that. He is suggesting that not reading blogs for forty days would be good for our spiritual health. He may be right. Read his full essay HERE.

I like the title given on the Diocesan newspaper web page: “If a blog falls in the forest and no one reads it, does it make a sound?” Of course, the answer is ‘no.’ Blogging only makes a sound if people check in. So checking out is a way to reduce blogamania. (I’m not sure how one spells that.) So an additional purpose in not reading blogs is that if enough of us did that the blogs would dry up and disappear.

The Living Church article does little justice to the full comments of Bishop Lipscomb. I cannot do them justice here either, except to say they come from a deeply committed person of faith, even as I also admit disagreement with some of what he says.

Having said that, it should be noted that the Living Church did indeed pick on his little ways; one of which is to point the finger at blogging as a whole and not at the specifics of “those who hide behind masks of anonymity.” About them the Bishop said, “The damage inflicted by half-truths and outright lies has taken a far greater toll on the mission of the Church than any erroneous teaching. Once a word has been spoken into cyberspace it takes on a life of its own.”

At the risk of defending blogger life, I would suggest that the Bishop’s cautionary call for a spiritual life (as in “get a spiritual life,”) is both salutatory and overreaching. Reading and writing blogs can indeed get in the way of a real life. Still, writers in the blogsphere are often able to continue a line of concern and questioning beyond what the “traditional” modes of journalistic investigation can take on, and sometimes with bias no greater than journals themselves.

Both TLC article and the Bishop’s letter note that Bishop Lipscomb is co-chair of a meeting of bishops to be held September 11-13, reportedly at the Church Pension Group Offices , one which the Bishop said,

“…has set off another round of speculation on the web blogs. I am amazed to see self-proclaimed prophets write minutes and resolutions for a conference that is yet to happen. Perhaps it is time for us to allow the unfolding of the future in God’s time and not our own.”

Well, those who are writing minutes and resolutions, etc, deserve the hit. But to ask if there are items being produced for consideration by the group meeting, and by whom, seems quite appropriate.

But the interest in what Bishop Lipscomb wrote is directly related to the meeting next week, which is news. That news is fed by further speculation (not on the blogs) but by TLC and other journalistic efforts. So Bishop Lipscomb’s accusation that all the speculation is from the blogsphere is just “one of his little ways.” The speculation abounds, and is fueled by regular journals.

I noted several days ago that there seem to be document(s) produced from a small group working at Lambeth headed for the group. TLC today added further fuel to the speculation when it reported about the petition from seven dioceses for primatial oversight, that “the appeal described in the document is believed to be one of several items on the agenda of a Sept. 11-13 meeting that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams asked the Rt. Rev. Peter J. Lee, Bishop of Virginia, and the Rt. Rev. John B. Lipscomb, Bishop of Southwest Florida, to convene.”

Now, Bishop Lipscomb, this is not a blogging report of some event and speculation on the agenda, but the speculation of a respected journal in the Episcopal Church. And the report of a working group at Lambeth producing papers for the meeting is from a respected English journalist.

What’s a poor blogger to do? The stuff is out there for the picking. But the real concern is what is going on here? What was announced as a meeting among American Bishops to discuss issues now has transmogrified into a meeting to deal with a petition / appeal from seven dioceses wanting something for which there is no precedence in the life of the Anglican Communion at all.

This meeting, obviously advisory, will make some real contributions to an ongoing discussion in the circles of the Anglican Communion, but the concern is that it circumvents the legitimate engagement of (i) bishops at all identified with the progressives in the Episcopal Church, (ii) the clergy and laity of the church, by way of representatives from the House of Deputies, and (iii) any spokespersons from the Gay and Lesbian community. Nothing of this concern is being addressed in any way at all.

Concerning in particular the possibility that the Appeals from the “Seven” will be part of the conversation at the meeting, Appendix C directly confronts the Presiding Bishop Elect with the petitioner’s reasons for rejecting, out of hand, her elected role as Presiding Bishop. She is being asked, in other words, to attend a meeting whose agenda may include the accusation that she is unfit to hold the office she has.

Responsible journalists have put the matter on the table, and it is highly appropriate for responsible bloggers to ask just what is going on here? No doubt all sorts of matters will be discussed at the meeting. I hope we all hold the participants in prayer. But if the meeting is going to discuss a document that disassociates its petitioners from the leadership of the Episcopal Church, we have very reason to ask what is going on?

Bishop Lipscomb asked that instead of reading blogs we go to prayer: “I would encourage you to join me in a 40-day fast from reading the web blogs. Instead, fill that time with prayer, join other members of your congregation to reflect on the Scriptures, and allow God’s Holy Spirit to guide the church through these difficult times.”

Well, for starters, I spend considerable time with my congregation reflecting on the Scriptures at all times and in all seasons. I pray together with others and alone, but never enough. I am as ready as anyone to be corrected in the time spent on this or that activity, including reading and writing blogs. But Bishop Lipscomb is theologically mistaken, and tragically so, to believe that to “allow God’s Holy Spirit to guide the church through these difficult times” is an activity separate and distinct from engagement with the issues part of this or that small group of bishops. I believe that holding what he is doing in prayer, and acting on the prayer that that group stay honest to what the Episcopal Church is as a participatory faith community, is one continuous task. The work of the Holy Spirit may or may not include the input of those of us asking questions and wondering outside the meetings in New York and Kigali and far Texas, but the Bishop does not know that, nor do I.


I note also that the call to prayer is quite similar to the call issued by the Anglican Communion Network. Prayer is always the order of the day. The ACN call concerns "outcomes" of several meetings in September. Perhaps we ought also to concern ourselves with the conversations themselves, and the intent of those having them as well.

But I fear too that the call to prayer is meant to help us all glance away from what is going on behind the screen. Prayer instead of watchfulness is not the answer. Prayer and watchfulness is. Something like the injunction, "Pray, but keep your eye on the dog, serves us well as it did Dorothy."


On that happy note, I wonder if anyone else senses the irony or perhaps the justice or injustice of the meeting in New York taking place at the Church Pension Group offices rather than the Episcopal Church Center?

15 comments:

  1. The Net has given people with little power the ability to network. Those with power already have well established networks and because of their small numbers these old oral networks work just fine.

    The bishop is asking us to stop talking to each other, to stop exchanging information, to stop making judgments about other people.

    Fair enough, but, if the people are to give up blogging perhaps the bishops should give up meeting, formally and informally, and picking up the phone for a "quick word off the record."

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  2. Actually, there's nothing wrong with taking a break from the silliness that is the Church at this point, and going off to pray someplace. This can be very good for one's mental health. (The Daily Office is really good for this, too - particularly when prayed together with others.)

    By the same token, there's nothing wrong with continuing to blog about the serious issues behind the silliness, either. I agree that blogging gives people a voice who wouldn't otherwise have it; this is an excellent thing, in the main. It's wonderful that the hoi polloi can finally become part of the conversation.

    Both these things are important; the trick is to integrate them, IMO.

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  3. While I will be the first to admit that reading blogs can become addictive and take one away from "real" life, for some of us, particularly those of us in places like Fort Worth, progressive blogs are really the only source for us to find out what it really going on. I, for one, find them extremely helpful in balancing what I feel to be a truth that resonates with me with the Network "truths" I am fed by my bishop. So while I will continue to pray (which I have never stopped doing), I will certainly continue to read the blogs of people I respect, like you, Mark, and Fr. Jake to just name two. God bless you for the work you do to keep us informed.

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  4. (I agree, BTW, that you do a very good job here. Yours is one of the most informative blogs around, so thanks from me, too, for that.)

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  5. Perhaps a better moratorium would be on primates and bishops issuing statements for 40 days, giving the print and visual media nothing on which to report and comment. Perhaps the moratorium could be for the bishops and primates to actually shut up and actually read what's on the blogosphere from ordinary people, not from media analysts, reporters, "experts" or their adoring staff members.

    MadPriest is right. +Lipscomb can issue a statement and have it picked up by media in his diocese, and if important enough or controversial enough, picked up by national or ecclesiastical media all around the world. What chance do ordinary people have of doing that other than via the blog? At least it gives us the illusion of being heard --- somewhere.

    Bishops pronounce. People Blog. I'm declaring a moratorium on reading +Lipscomb's comments.

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  6. Mumcat makes great points!!

    I think one reason we are in the trouble that we are in is that far too many bishops think that since we are the "Episcopal Church," our church is all about bishops - that bishops are the ones that really matter, rather than the people, or Christ, or God the Father, or the Holy Spirit, or the poor, or the outcast, or the needy (you get my point).

    I would like to see a travel ban on bishops for 40 days, stay in your dioceses, practice "oversight" of your people, and also a moratorium on statements beyond the boundaries of your dioceses!

    It sure would be interesting, and so refreshing!!!

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  7. Considering how much the Anglosphere has enriched my spiritual life, the comments of the Lord Bishop of Southwest Florida seem like so much striving after wind (to quote Solomon via J-Tron).

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  8. They say that most perception is projection. If the good bishop wants to abstain from reading blogs, let him do so (& any others who feel the same way).

    Nevertheless, I am reminded of the story about Cardinal manning and the Irish navvy. Drunkenness was a major problem for the poor in the days of Queen Victoria & many Protestant pastors advocated working men taking "The Pledge." Cardinal Manning was unusual in the Roman Catholic hierarchy for encouraging the same. He was trying to persuade one of the many Irishmen who made up the bulk of the Englidh Roman Catholic faithful to take "The Pledge."
    Navvy: My priest says I don't need to.
    Cardinal: My good man, _I_ have taken the Pledge!
    Navvy: Maybe you needed to.

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  9. I'm hardly suprised that this little pow-wow of bishops is meeting at the Church Pension Fund offices. The CPF is the one "instrument of unity" that still commands everyone's respect!

    See also, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

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  10. Bill Carroll11/9/06 8:44 AM

    I agree with madpriest. I do think that there are risks to blogging, but the fact that it gives some who have relatively little power the ability to speak and be heard is a good thing. I would like to see more Global South voices, besides the bishops. There is a certain privilege associated with access to this technology. Most of those who criticize the internet, including Robin Eames in the preface to Windsor, represent established power.

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  11. We who inhabit the progressive Christian blogsphere have been reminded in the past few weeks that Christianity is all about community, I can't recall whether it was on your blog, Mark, or on Jake's or Susan's. If we believe that about Christianity, then it follows that the 'Net is a powerful new tool for the advancement of Christ's Kingdom, putting us in communities where before we were dependent solely on the Church hierarchy for inspiration and information. Bp. Lipscomb must surely recognize the threat to his power that the 'Net represents. Especially now that the ABC and the most active leaders of TEC are meeting to decide whether the AC has a future, it is in their interest, not ours, that Bp. Lipscomb asks us to be silent and walk apart from each other. Meanwhile, they will continue to talk, plan, conspire, wordsmith, perhaps even pray, and then hand us their work product as our magisterium. Regretfully, +Lipscomb hasn't offered us anything in return for our moratorium. Doesn't work that way in TEC, we're more democratic than that. I will step up my prayers, though, for PB Griswold and PBE Schori, that they may have the courage of St. Stephen in bearing witness to our vision of a church without outcasts.

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  12. I hate to say it, but I think the blogging has done a lot to poison the atmosphere of relations between liberals and conservatives. Both have been turned into monsters (bigots, conspirators, heretics, apostates) that they are not. I do not believe the blogs have contributed to a greater understanding and appreciation of the opposing sides for each other, and I am amazed that the opposite has happened. Therefore, I am rather sympathetic with the bishop, though ultimately, I disagree with him. The blogs are also an important source of information not found anywhere else, and I am not willing for those sources to be controlled by the status quo.

    Mark, I don't agree that all voices need to be neard in New York this week, and I am glad they are not. If all voices are included at every level, some will not be heard. Right now, the dissenting dioceses need to be heard and responded to. We don't need to have them shouted down by progressives and homosexual activists -- which is precisely what would happen in your scenario. The House of Bishops and of Deputees, Integrity, etc., will have plenty of chance to respond, no doubt. And nothing official will be decided or can be decided at this meeting, as you yourself note -- not without the full House of Bishops, and probably the House of Deputees as well.

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  13. Forgive my Englishness, rb, but when you use the term "homosexual activist" what activity are you talking about? I'm heterosexual and, in the English sense, an activist for various charities and concerns, but in the U.K. we wouldn't use the term "heterosexual activist" or "straight activist." Perhaps that's just us - it would be bad form to attach someone's sexual preferences to their hobby or hobby horse.

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  14. Richard III12/9/06 2:02 PM

    "RB said...
    I hate to say it, but I think the blogging has done a lot to poison the atmosphere of relations between liberals and conservatives. Both have been turned into monsters (bigots, conspirators, heretics, apostates) that they are not."

    Could it be that approaching and dealing with one another in the b'sphere allows for a more unrestrained and less civil interchange to take place between individuals - people saying 'aloud' what they might only think quietly to themselves. We live in very course and much less civilized world then we did in decades past and it's all gotten to be so personal but then a lot of it is personal when it involves issues of social justice and it all depends on which side of the issue one is on. So much fear and loathing of one another - doesn't sound very Christian but then there's an awful lot of disagreement as to what it means to be a follower of Christ and what the message of the Gospels really is. As a progressive/liberal I think the conservatives are on the wrong side of the homosexual argument because in another generation or two it's not going to matter nearly as much they would have us all believe. My children's generation doesn't appear to give it much importance and neither should we when there are so many other more important things to be concerned about.

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  15. Richard III said, "dealing with one another in the b'sphere allows for a more unrestrained and less civil interchange..." Without my antagonist present in front of me, probably yes, I am more candid and sound less civil. The progressive blogs and their counterparts on the, umm, non-progressive side don't carry on much of a dialogue with each other, largely because, without a moderator as in a person-to-person conference, such blogs become too acrimonious and shrill: the bloggers still don't listen to each other, they merely compete for the best sound-bite. A moderated chatroom might be an alternative to the b'sphere, the moderator returning comments too inflammatory or too proof-texty for more constructive material.

    "...there's an awful lot of disagreement as to what it means to be a follower of Christ and what the message of the Gospels really is." Oh, yes, welcome to the progressive's mantra, the celebration of diversity, and the non-progressive's credo, maintaining the historic faith and traditions of the Church, whether it be incense on feast days or blacks in the balcony or women in the clergy. Where is the issue today, unmarried, non-celibate gay bishops v. the sanctity of marriage? Purity v. inclusiveness? Doctrinaire v. doctrine-lite? Everybody pick an issue, odd numbers on the left, even numbers on the right, then yammer at each other.

    My question for all of us is, who of us is willing to share the rail, celebrate together Christ's death and resurrection, and who is already walking apart? There oughta be a law, that at GC, everybody break bread together, with exceptions only for health and emergencies.

    The people to watch today are Bps. Griswold and Schori. They have the opportunity to preserve their integrity or offer it up on the altar of appeasement, in return for continued participation in an organization whose principal commonality is its former servitude to a political empire now extinct. If, at its inception, Lambeth specifically opted out of doctrinal matters, then their adoption by Lambeth in this century, in whatever form, is or should be sufficient reason to opt out of Lambeth. There's no reason why we can't call ourselves "Anglican" just because the Primates have become sensitive to the allure of power, and don't invite us to their parties.

    Sorry this took so long, I don't have the credentials or erudition of most of you.

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