Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Mommy Blogging: Image, Identity, Authenticity and Freedom

Dear friends,

Are you ready for my musings on the subject of blogging? Thanks!  Don’t mind if I do!  

A bit of background, shall we?  I have been writing for the on-line community on the topics of education, spiritual life, and family life for 13 years now through my Hope Chest e-magazine, and blogging for over three.   I technically have seven blogs, though I only post at least weekly on a few of them: my “life” blog, a blog of encouragement for moms, and a preschool/elementary education blog.  I think there are about 550 articles on them, including excerpts from two of the home schooling books I have written.  Most of my posts are about whatever is on my mind at the moment that I think might be interesting, inspiring, amusing or otherwise useful to someone else out in cyberspace.  I try to be intentional about what I write, and think about who might be reading it and how it will affect them.  My thoughts have certainly morphed over the years, definitely more divergent and less rigid, and hopefully for the better. 

Writing, for me, is a potent means of self-expression.  It helps me think.  I’ve often said that I can’t NOT write.  It is an integral part of who I am.

Not only do I write about who I am, I write myself into who I am becoming.

Meander with me a moment longer into perhaps unfamiliar territory?  I regularly read two blogs written by ex-members of a church organization of which I too am an ex-member.  Some of it is pretty dicey stuff, which is understandable since it is written from grief, confusion, pain, and justifiable anger over distressing, long-term, unresolved issues.   I take it with a grain or two of salt, realizing that most of it is valid, but still trying to use discernment.  I agree with enough of it to keep reading and occasionally contributing my own comments.  It helps me to realize that I am not crazy to be concerned about the things that were red flagging in my mind for years.  It helps to know that I am not alone.  I think one thing that strikes me about these blogs is that while they are a bit raw with emotion and assertions, there is reality and authenticity to them. Maybe because most of the people there post their comments anonymously, they relish the liberty to express their deeper feelings that they had squelched for so long out of fear and peer pressure.  They work it out and find healing and refuge as they write and interact with each other. I have my own angst as I write, but I try to be civil and encourage others to consider their words carefully, too.   I try to reflect the heart of Jesus no matter where I am and who is reading.

One of the minor themes I’ve noticed lately on one of these protest blogs is a disdain for young mommy bloggers (within this group of churches) who write as if they have all of the righteous answers to dish out to the unenlightened, who are perfectly submissive wives, sage mothers, uber creative homemakers, chirpy friends, sentimental photojournalists.  Yet there is often also a paradoxical element of self-deprecation, with a constant thread of “I am such a sinful person, I need to repent about this and this and this.”  This little bunny trail complaint about bloggers is that these young women are projecting an unrealistic image of their lives so that others will know they are piously committed to the whole devote-my-entire-life-to-this-particular-rigid-model-of-church-and-family-roles-and-only-in-my-four-walls-homemaking-lifestyle-even-though-I-am-such-an-unworthy-little-worm.  Wow, that was a mouthful!

You know, I really couldn’t say one way or another whether that is true.  Maybe for some of them, some of the time?  Many of the young mommy bloggers in our old church are my friends, and I don’t see that in them.  To be honest, I really don’t know what is going on in their minds, and it’s not my place to conjecture or judge.  I want to give them the freedom to blog in their own style, for their own reasons, whether they tell it like it already is or tell it the way they aspire to be.  What they say is a blessing to me.

Speaking just for myself, I can get a bit Pollyan-ish and rose colored glassy on my blogs.  Sometimes it’s because things really are going well for me at the moment, and I want to capture it in my memory before it disappears.   Other times I blog about something cheerful just because it’s the only way I can keep my sanity when another element of my life looks dark.  I write my own light.  There is a purpose to all of it.  I trust God is going to use what I write no matter why or how I write it.  I try to be appropriately aware of my inner impulses as I write, but it is not healthy for me to over-analyze this.

The truth is that we all project our images.  We all have our identities – public and private -- and blogging is certainly intertwined with that.  Perhaps my blogs make it seem like I think I have it all together, that I have all the answers.  I sincerely hope I am not casting that impression.  I personally wouldn’t mind being more transparent about my struggles, but there is a matter of prudent discretion.  My family has a right to privacy.  Plus, you never know who is reading what you are writing, and how they are taking it and what they intend to do with your information.  Do you know what I mean?  So I might come across like one of the Happy Clone Bloggers at times, too.  My utmost apologies.  I’m really a worm in disguise.  No, not that either.  There must be a happy medium somewhere!

The ironic thing is that a while back, one of the pastors of our former church (whom I still appreciate, despite the problems there) was preaching about something or other and tried to encourage the women, “Don’t feel like you need to work at having the best blog.”  I don’t know quite why he said that.  In hindsight, I think maybe his point was that we should avoid the performance mentality of comparing ourselves to others in a way that makes us feel inadequate.  But I felt a bit miffed and unsettled. Maybe I took it wrong. Maybe I read something else behind the words, based on my lingering impressions of that church culture as a whole.  Part of it was that I had the uncomfortable sense that he was pointing a proverbial finger right at me – one of the most prolific bloggers in the church and an independent thinker. But even apart from that (most likely imagined) personalized impression, I felt like the pastor was subtly communicating to all of us that blogging was a frivolous hobby, a waste of time that we should be devoting to something else.  That we shouldn’t bother pursuing excellence, thinking for ourselves, and expressing our own divergent opinions.  That our words, feelings and attempts at Titus 2 mentoring don’t matter as much because we aren’t the ones behind the podium.  I felt dismissed, minimized, as a woman and as a Christian created to be creative in the image of an amazing Creator. 

I do work hard at blogging, not to prove that I’m a better person but to become a better person -- and to help others do the same.

So what is the “take away” point of this post?  I’d like to share a word of advice to blog writers, and another one for blog readers.

To my fellow blog writers:  Find your own voice and write from your heart.  You are your own person and you don't need to conform to groupthink.  At the same time, feel free to dabble in a new idea or style that you see on someone else’s blog.  (I get a lot of mental sparks from bloggers like Ann Kroeker, like the "Curiosity Journal" and "Food on Fridays" memes that are meant to be imitated.)   Even as you borrow ideas, put your own unique twist into whatever you do.  Don’t feel like you have to be stuck in a single genre; variety is the spice of life.  Write the kind of things you like to read.  And don’t feel like you must protect your image or prove your worth. Our kids are terrific topics for mommies to write about, but don’t put them in a fish bowl or on a pedestal.   Be real.  Be discrete.  Be creative.  Be authentic.  Be kind.   Be truthful.  Be yourself.  Be like Jesus.  That is not a contradiction, because he does not create cookie cutter clones.  Each person can be like Jesus and still be completely unique.  Each member of his body reflects him in a different way (2 Corinthians 12).  Think about what will bless and equip your readers.  Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

To my fellow blog readers: Don’t take everything you read too seriously and don’t feel like you (or your children) have to measure up to everything you see.  Glean what you can use, and buzz past the rest.  Read blogs from a variety of viewpoints to stretch your perspective and hone your own convictions.  (On a practical note, using Google Reader is a handy way to keep up on blogs you like, without having to go hunting around to see if there is a new post.  You can read all the current posts from all your favorite blogs in one place!  I have a bunch in my Google Reader.)   As you read from different blogs, respect where people are – either in their “season of life” or their background or in the way they see things.  They aren’t just like you, and that’s a good thing!   There are some blogs that I stop reading because they just consistently irritate me and I don’t need that extra stress.  There are others I stop reading because I don’t relate to them as well, and I don’t have all the time in the world.  If I add in new blogs, I look at removing others that I’m not as thrilled about anymore.  I have to be selective and read what feeds and challenges me.  I try to read, reflect, and respond.  Bloggers need feedback!  Feel free to leave a comment and share your opinions if they will be helpful.  Encouraging words are manna to a bloggers soul.  But be careful about flaming a blogger with a sharp comment if you disagree with their post.  Endless blog arguments are a waste of time and can be quite agitating to the soul.   Again, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I guess that's about all I have to say right now, but I wrote two articles a while back that are closely related to my thoughts here: 

Thanks for reading!  I’d love to hear what you think about any or all of this!

Blessings,
Virginia Knowles

8 comments:

  1. There is a lot in your post today. I'll refer to what hit me and that's your words to writers and readers - your comments are good and helpful. I am selective about what blogs I read like I am about what magazines I read. Different things are helpful at different times and it is wisdom to see that and act on it. There is only so much time that I can devote to any of these. I love your comment that you cannot not write. I am right there with you. As far as the young mommy blogs go, I haven't spent much time there. I do remember, though, being a young mommy and finding my way in that world. I think blogging helps a lot of them do just that. Thanks for opening up your life.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So timely for me... I find the balance between authenticity and keeping your family private a hard balance... I do like to read struggles though and I'm usually so encouraged when older women give guidance as younger share struggles... So maybe (as a young mom in said church) I should in faith, expose a deeper layer in my life knowing God may use that as an encouragement to me and others... Balances are so hard sometimes for me.... Such fuzzy lines...

    Thanks for your authenticity... And wisdom. Would love an inperson chat someday but feeling mentored through your writing already!!! Thank you for your faithfulness

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm delighted and honored that the Curiosity Journals and Food on Fridays memes/carnivals/posts have served as fun inspiration. You are absolutely right--they are meant to be "imitated" with one's own twist. I'm glad you said that. We can take inspiration from one another and explore different styles, forms and topics without copying them exactly.

    I can't imagine our pastor publicly addressing the bloggers in his flock, as I suspect I might be the only one out of our 200 or so members. :-)

    Though blogging has finally become enough of a writing form as to warrant seminars and conferences, it's still relatively new. Writers like you, Virginia, are ground breakers, forging new territory ahead of the rest.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Virginia,

    I have been reading you for many years. I haven't been at your blog in awhile though. I'd be interested in knowing why you left your church and what the "red flags" were.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Robin, the short version of the story is that we felt like there was an overbearing focus on the doctrine of indwelling sin and on pastoral authority in the local church. (In my own life, I was sensing an increase in depression and anxiety.) Apparently, this emphasis is not just in our local church but in the organization as whole, all across the country, from the top down. The consequences have been very serious for decades. Many of them stem from the organization's early roots in the shepherding movement. Some of them are related to critical mismanagement of family crises. There were also a few major things that happened within our own congregation that I won't detail here. Suffice to say that I've been told 300 people left in the last year or so (that is more than 25% of the church), including the worship pastor and many families who had been there over 20 years. This kind of membership fallout has also occurred in some of the other churches in the organization. We left on friendly terms and value the precious people there. Does that answer your question? If not, you are welcome to e-mail me privately!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Robin, I wrote a poem around the time we left that might explain some of my thought processes. It is called "It Became to Me a Dark Thing" and you can find it at http://virginiaknowles.blogspot.com/2010/07/it-became-to-me-dark-thing-poem.html

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have vacillated so much in my thoughts about blogging. At first I thought of it as a sort of public journal and a way to stay connected to friends and family. Then I thought maybe my life, good and bad, could help or encourage someone else. For me it is hard to find a balance of personal/public journal writing when I was used to just writing in a journal for so many years. I still haven't decided what my blog is going to be when it grows up.=) In the meantime I just share mostly stuff going on and and once in a while what I've been pondering lately. You give some very good advice in this article on these points.
    I believe you have a gift and a God given passion for what you do Virginia. I know you encourage so many people. I appreciate the time effort and energy you put into your blogs.

    ReplyDelete
  8. The president of the organization I mentioned in this blog post has just publicly announced that he is temporarily stepping down due to charges made against him by former pastors. You can read it on his own blog here: http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/blogs/cj-mahaney/post/Why-Im-taking-a-leave-of-absence.aspx

    ReplyDelete