Meta-Thoughts for Forum Blogging

It might have slipped your notice, but the Evangelical Outpost found six Torrey Honors students who were keen on writing, tsk-tsked at our lonely Blogspots and well-hidden journals, and invited us into the open, the fray of forum blogging. Instead of constantly writing by ourselves (and mostly, for ourselves), the forum-structure offers a chance to refine our blog posts with dialogue. The major premise of EO content isn’t a particular theme or audience; it’s inter-editorial feedback. So, I won’t say they let us go completely unscathed, not with the weekly grooming and shearing our pieces get. We subscribe to the blog-dialogue approach, where every post is part of a larger conversation.

Sometimes, Facebook feed and daily blog skimming unearths posts which are actually aspiring to be essays—pieces that stand-alone on internal consistency and supported argument. Timothy Bartel recommends an excellent set of questions for what qualifies as a good ‘essay-post.’ But that’s not the only way to read or write. In fact, it’s rare in the blogging world. Several of us are looking into what we do with those messier, less-polished posts that don’t deserve the wide, public audience an essay would.  Rebecca Card-Hyatt suggests we are writing for a difference audience: peers, friends and like-minds.

The future for blog-dialogue offers several promising effects:


Relevance / ‘In Real Time’  

 Write a review of a presidential debate. Then, refine it for a month until it qualifies as an essay. There’s too much distance. While the written response might be insightful, interest in the instigating event has already peaked and disappeared. Our friends have already watched, opined about and moved beyond the following four debates. Essays aren’t naturally conducive to interacting with fast-paced culture. One alternative is to devote all blog posts to what’s transcendent, limiting ourselves to only abstract ideas and excluding current events. That’s a limiting alternative, however. range of interests, though. For me, writing in conversation with like-minds runs on a spectrum of interests, including everything from the ordinary to the sublime. All due respect to the ordinary, writing quickly is the way to keep pace with up-to-date topics.


More critical thinking, not less

Real conversations crumble under the siege of poor speech and lazy thinking. The challenge of having real forward movement required you to move forward at a shared pace, going step by step, thought by thought. Simultaneously, the challenge of communicating to someone else requires you to think through old thoughts in new ways and invent an apt expression for them. The blogger keen for listeners and responses wants the same things as a normal conversationalist, simultaneously aware that blogging is susceptible to sloppiness of thought and delivery but, placed in a dialogue atmosphere, might become an opportunity working out real communication. Each post functions like a few statements, building on previous thoughts and anticipating nearby implications. The guidelines and challenges of an ordinary conversation shape limits for the writer which naturally improve her work.


Layers of timbre

I encounter a lot of over-assertiveness in individual blogs. The writers are distinctly aware that, aside from their font and background color choice, confidence is their only platform. But too often, the anxiety of being their own endorsement makes their tone more obnoxious than persuasive. The blog-dialogue distributes the weight of authority between all the participants, giving everyone a chance to risk sharing their idea without fearing the ‘you-don’t-sound-expert-enough’ response. It allows different timbres to color the general tone: curiosity, concord, humility, uncertainty, etc. Instead of being delivered in one tone bent on asserting the speaker’s authority, the blog-dialogue has a layered tonal atmosphere that illumines the topic directly, in addition to highlighting the speaker.  The wider range of writers increases the range of readers.  The entire team of writers draws an audience of diverse shape, eliciting fresh density to the tone of the pieces. As a result, the audience watches how their attention actually contributing to the conversation, validating their input and watering down the emphasis on who is following, sharing or tweeting whom.



Images seeped with memories. Rock-bottom questions. Words with long histories. Inside jokes. Recurrences are facilitators of our best conversations. They are reminders of how common understanding between people makes listening worthwhile. They function as comfortable resting points during strong disagreement. Ultimately, they support our weird questions and crazy assertions with credible backstory. Spouting out statement after statement like meteors that light up and then die keeps a writer on a surface his audience can instantly access. Without backstory with his audience, he won’t reach the level of discourse where his thoughts begin to build new ideas on familiar concepts.

The outworking of blog-dialogue continues to evolve. Some actually address their posts to their intended reader, as though writing a letter. Others have a heyday with embedded links, drawing lines out to as many available perspectives as possible. At the Evangelical Outpost, there’s always a dialogue behind the scenes in the editorial process. The future of the approach doesn’t require commitment to any one tactic. Blog-dialogue will and continues to occur wherever online publication multiplies one thought into several ideas, one question into network of thought-projects, and one person into a community.

Reflections on Exhaustion, Self-Deception, and Intellectual Responsibility

I struggled with a topic to write about today, for a variety of reasons. There is no shortage of options: I’m taking two summer classes that could both use some good reflection, I just finished a semester where all I took was philosophy, and I’m currently reading some excellent contemporary literature in tandem with ancient Chinese philosophy. Plenty here to digest, I admit, but I’m really just exhausted, so those will be saved for another day. Continue reading Reflections on Exhaustion, Self-Deception, and Intellectual Responsibility

Intentional Ambiguity: Telling it Slant

In the recent inaugural episode of Barak Wright’s arts and culture podcast, The Sandbox Monthly, Ken Myers talked about the dearth of genuine speech on the radio.

Real conversation is full of starts and stops, hesitations, and the kind of awkwardness not found in the canned speech of radio personalities, talk show hosts, and sitcom characters. Myers cited an interview he hosted with Eugene Peterson on Mars Hill Audio Journal, wherein Peterson talked about the sort of reading he calls “spiritual.” ‘Spiritual reading’ enters into conversation with the author; Peterson opposed it to reading merely to extract information. He made the point that Jesus spoke in parables, often appearing to purposefully befuddle his followers. If anyone is opposed to communication solely for the sake of transferring factual knowledge, it is Jesus.

This is hard for Christians in general, and Evangelicals in particular, to grasp. As people who are concerned with the spread of the gospel and the kingdom, we worry about our alienating “Christian-ese.” We feel the pull of cultural relevance and simplicity of speech. Although we are disenchanted with the evangelism of Chick tracts and the like, simplicity and clarity are still prized above all in our writing and speaking.

How could this be a bad thing? We certainly want our message to be clear.  An unclear gospel breeds unwitting heresy or false belief. With this in mind, Jesus’ parables become hard to account for. We must conclude, as Peterson affirms, that Christ is interested in engaging his listeners more than in conveying sufficient information. He is interested in involving their souls, not securing their listening comprehension.

Not only is ambiguity integral to great art (as I’ve written before), it is frequently a result of the artist’s intentions. Artists who cannot “say what they mean” are the worse for it; but artists very rarely say precisely what they mean. They aren’t interested in doing so. This might be frustrating (and often is) if we think of literature or music or painting the way we might think of an instruction manual.

Intentional ambiguity isn’t only integral to good art. It is also important in good conversation. Jesus’ parables are not only premier examples of the genre, they are also the cause of real connections between real people. He is not concerned with uncovering all the mysteries of the Kingdom; his language often veils rather than reveals. This is not because he couldn’t communicate better, but because he chose to speak ambiguously. If we understand the kind of conversation Christ modeled, it could decidedly inform our own.

The title of Eugene Peterson’s book, highlighted in the interview with Myers, is “Tell It Slant,” echoing an Emily Dickinson poem which begins “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Dickinson, like Peterson and Myers, understands what Jesus modeled: we ought to speak the truth to one another, but it is not always most effective to speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is Dickenson’s point, as she concludes her poem with “The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind—” Often, we insulate ourselves from truths we dislike. Likewise, we presume we understand a truth stated too baldly, even if we hardly know it at all. In these cases, using ambiguity purposefully is one way of disallowing this faulty presumption. Those who demand immediate gratification will be held off from understanding.

Statements, verbal or artistic, that do not immediately disclose themselves to the audience demand closer listening, lengthier thought, and a more disciplined attention than we busy people would otherwise yield. Those who persist in conversational, open listening to intentional ambiguity may indeed be ‘dazzled gradually’ – in the case of Christ’s parables, perhaps by the saving gospel. Even if attention to the ambiguous does not yield comprehensive understanding, it teaches us to be patient and thoughtful in ways little else does.