In blog we trust*

by Bene Diction on November 4, 2004

WarCry

and the word was blog

A couple of years ago Christian bloggers seemed to take to the net with a vengeance. But what is the state of Christian blogging today? And has it, as one blogger hoped it would, really made a difference in our society? Jen Vuk investigates.

While the mainstream Church may have seemed absent from public debate in recent years, individual Christians with something to say have been turning to the internet. The late ’90’s witnessed the birth of the Christian weblogger (or simply ‘blogger’) phenomenon, and Melbourne-based author and freelance journalist Martin Roth was there to record it.

‘Christian bloggers are exploding.’ Roth, himself a dedicated Christian blogger, wrote on his web site in 2002. ‘No, let’s start that again. The number of Christians with weblogs devoted largely to spiritual matters is soaring.’
‘How do I know? Because I compiled a list of every Christian blog I could find, and emailed questions for this survey of Christian blogging.’

This thriving group of Christians Roth encountered were, in the main, driven by the need to be engaged with their community and to comment on an eclectic range of issues such as politics, ethics, science, sport and society.

But time changes everything (especially in the nebulous and traditionally unstable world of the internet). So what is the state of Christian blogging today? And has it, as Roth hoped, really made a difference in our society?

Firstly however, let’s begin by looking at this curious thing called a blog. According to internet dictionary NetLingo, a blog is ‘a frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughtsand web links…often a mixture of what is happening in a person’s life and what is happening on the web; a kind of hybrid diary/guide site, although there are as many ‘unique types of blogs as there are people.’

Blogs started appearing online back in 1996, although it tok a few years before they really took off. In 1999, blogs numbered about 50 (known). Today conservative estimates put that number at around the 4 million mark.

One thing most share is that they welcome - indeed encourage - prying eyes; i.e. having a dialogue with (or even being interrogated by) online visitors.

Another thing they share is a precarious existence, i.e. as quickly as they go up, they can fall down.

Roth, a New Zealand-born freelance journalist and writer, who settled in Australia in 1993, and whose own interest in blogging began back in 2002, is intimate with both realities of blogging.

‘For a while, more than a year ago, I was regularly getting 500 to 700 people a day visiting my site,’ he tells WarCry. ‘But some months ago I suspended all work on the site, as it was taking up too much of my time.’

It was the sound of silence that brought the axe down on Roth’s blogging.

‘I started to wonder why I was doing it when the feedback from readers started dwindling.’

Oh dear. This didn’t sound good. Did this mean what I thought it meant? That Roth had given up on Christian blogs?

‘Yes,’ he says deadpan. ‘I haven’t been following Christian blogs for a long time.’

One thing was certain; Roth’s self-imposed ’sabbatical without a foreseeable end’ is a substantial blow to the Christian blogging scene.

‘Martin Roth is a legend among Christian bloggers,’ wrote fellow blogger Darren Rowse on his web site livingroom.org.au. ‘He’s the guy who started collecting links of Christian bloggers which today is blogs4God.’

Blogs4God is internationally recognised as the ’semi-definitive’ directory of Christian blogs. Run by US-based Dean Peters, a ‘code-monkey’ dedicated to building better church web sites, blogs4God is a portal for the thoughts, fears, passion and gripes of an international community of Christians.

‘Building on early internet concepts of usenet and web rings’ Peters writes on his web site, ‘this cutting-edge, groundbreaking portal has exciting navigational features, optimal feedback capability and an extensive search engine. The linking system enables effortless back and forth movement through your favorite {sic} categories.

‘In other words, it’s very easy to use. Geeks designed it, but us mortals have to use it.’

Finally, it seemed WarCry was back on track.

Several unanswered emails to Peters later, and the state of Christian blogging seemed to have hit the proverbial brick wall yet again.

But while Roth may have thrown in the towel (’although I may change my mind of of these days’) he didn’t throw down the baton. Rather he passed it on.

Darren Rowse is one blogger who saw the opportunity and ran with it. The Melburnian launched livingroom.org.au in November 2002, and now runs a number of other commercial blogs.

Originally launched as a record of ‘the story of the emerging church in Melbourne’, livingroom.org.au has since branched into other areas, says Rowse.

‘I’ve broadened my interests considerably,’ he says, ‘and now interact with and read a wider selection of blogs.’

‘For a while I wrote more about political things, at other times I’ve written more about the meduim of blogging itself (I have quite a large section of ‘blog tips for new bloggers,’ see box). I’ve had periods of posting about different cultural issues, and I’ve done a series of posts on different issues of faith.’

‘I’m a fairly unstructured type of person and in general find my interests vary over time - I guess my blog reflects this - in some ways it is an extension or expression of my life.’

Likewise for Gordon Coterill, a UK Salvation Army officer based in London, who says his blog (urbanarmy.blogspot.com) is a ‘record’ that he can look back at and reflect upon.

‘I have learned so mcuh from being involved with different people and situations since being appointed to poplar {church}. I didn’t want to lose the lessons learned. The blod is such a great place to be able to keep these lessons safe. Equally I made my blog public because there are others who have much to offer to me and my experiences.’

Here’s an example of Cotterill’s intimate and whimsical style:

‘Stood at Denmark Hill train station i was early for my train,’ he writes under the heading “emergin pigeon’, a piece on impermanence and the fragility of life.
‘I had a book open but was more interested in the drama that was unfolding before me. The freight train was hurtling towards the station 60, 70 mph who knows - an aggressive pull on the whistle announcig its imminent presence. One or two people took a step back as the train loomed ever larger.
‘I see the pigeon, seemingly unaware. Happily pecking away at the remains of a discarded sandwich. It’ll be alright…it’s going to be tight…it’s now or…the pigeon seemed to time its escape to perfection. Clap clap clap of its wings signalled its flight. The drama goes Matrixesque slo mo. Yes it’s going to make it. Suddenly the drama is back to real time. No it’s not.’

For Cotterill the blog must ‘theologically reflect’ all he does or, as he writes on the site, ‘urbanarmy - are {sic} the thoughts and theological reflections of an insignificant Salvation Army officer trying to show true hope, grace, love and freedom in a significant way.’

In contrast to Cotterill, whose musing are clearly influenced by his Salvation Army background, Rowse identifies himself as part of a new breed of Christians who sees the internet as a valuable opportunity to test himself, including his thoughts and beliefs.

‘I personally find that the Christian circle of bloggers (some call themselves ‘God-bloggers’) can be a little bit inward in its focus - something of a ‘holy huddle’ and removed from the wider blogging community,’ says Rowse.

‘I guess I’ve attempted with my blogging to combine the two worlds and break down some of those barriers.’

And it seems to be working. Last month alone, Rowse says LivingRoom recorded an average of 2,000 visitors per day. The popularity of his site has come as something of a surprise, even to him.

‘I naively thought when I started my first blog that no-one would ever find it,’ he says.
‘But after a month of blogging I realised that those expectations were not realistic. When you put something on the internet it is quite staggering who stumbles across it.’

Chances are that a mysterious Canadian Christian blogger, who goes by the name ‘Bene Diction,’ not only stumbled upon LivingRoom but inadvertently sought it out.

Aside from keeping his own blog (benedictionblogson.com) meticulously updated, Bene Diction (let’s call him BD for short) keeps his mercurial eye on general Christian blogging matters.

‘Yes, I try to read God-blgs from all over the world, and I read a lot of blogs that aren’t faith-based,’ he tells WarCry.

BD who got his start on Martin Roth’s web site back in 2002, says his blog has no pre-determined purpose. ‘I enjoy it, it connects me with people all over the world, it’s a great discipline and a lot of fun.’

‘I don’t blog to preach (I hate that!). I figure if information and ideas are posted, people that read will come to their own conclusions.’

Like Rowse’s blog, BD’s is dedicated to ‘anything and everything. Faith, lifesytle, interests, conflict, social issues, war, politics, cultural, arts, devotional personal…the dialogue is lively. Blogs work because they link out to others on all topics.’

In fact, you can say BD is unashamedly blog obsessed. Like last year he launched a five-part Christian or ‘God-blogs’ demographic study that looked at issues such as where to look for God-blogs, which portals are the best resources and blogrolls (the collection of links to other sites).

After trawling through thousands of blogs, BD found that much of the blog world that Roth had left behind had, indeed, changed.

‘The studies show that many bloggers pack it in within three to six months. It depends on their reasons for starting, their age and what is going on in their lives. I’ve found those with a strong agenda, e.g. to change others’ minds about an issue, don’t last as long. Those that don’t link out, don’t do well.’

But he also concluded that the future of Christian blogging is looking good.

‘From what I have seen God-blogs have a very bright future as more and more people grow comfortable using the net and speaking up. They have become a viable part of the blogospherre and will continue to be so,’ he says.

‘Many of the bloggers that were online just before me and when I started are still going strong. Blogging is growing. God-blogs are growing, I see no sign of them tapering off. After watching for over two years, I don’t believe they are dying at all, quite the opposite.’

If there’s a key to their succes, BD continued, then it’s in the ‘understanding we {Christians} are learners and listeneres. My blog is less a soapbox than a safe haven. But it is also a place where the world is welcome. I like that dichotomy.’

‘One of the great things about the blogging medium is that it ‘gives people a voice’ that perhaps did not have one before,’ add Rowse. ‘I’m beginning to explose ways of making blogs accessible to marginalised and disempowered people to help them to find and express their voice.’

‘Christian blogs are explosive’ is not a headline that could be written yet,’ wrote Roth back in 2002. ‘But it could come. Perhaps much faster than anyone can imagine.’

Perhaps ‘explosive’ may be a bit ambitious, but it’s obvious that Christian blogs are not only here to stay, most are also exploring all that it means to follow Jesus. Adn, while the blogs may not, as yet, be making much of a noise, it pays to remember that the sound of change often begins not as a roar but as a whisper.

*used by permission of
WarCry The Salvation Army in Australia
copyright October 2004

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1

gordon 11.04.04 at 2:16 pm

thanks BD!

I answered a few questions - bit it is nice to see it in it’s context.

Thanks for letting me know about it.
G

2

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Signed The Copyright Owner

Original Authoress Anonymous

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