Further Exploration for Blogging

In the wake of the Blogmeet that took place on May 2 in Rome, there have been several areas to reflect and pray on when incorporating the blogosphere into the Catholic faith. The meeting touched on some very important points, however there is further encouragement to look at areas of growth for this type of ministry. As a friar in formation with the Capuchins, I have a list of important thoughts when it comes to blogging about the Church.
As I've blogged over the years and have started to incorporate other friars into this special ministry, there are areas of exploration that affect clergy and religious. While this is not a comprehensive list, this is a list of topics that I reflect on with regards to blogging as a faith tool:

Tapping into the Knowledge and Wisdom of Elders

Ever since I started formation I've always been astounded by the wisdom of the older friars. I've listened to story after story--from the missions in Nicaragua to the everyday experiences of running a parish. We have a friar who currently serves at a parish here in Chicago who is a scripture scholar, served as a missionary in South America, and still rides his bike through the rough parts of Gage Park to stay fit. Another friar, who's schooled in Liturgy and Franciscan Spirituality, has a wealth of knowledge as well. Once a month we have Theological Input with him and I'm always engrossed by his preaching.

Both of these friars have expressed interest in the blogosphere, but both admittedly know little about computers, the Web, or blogging. One of my tasks will be to build sites for both of them in such a way that they can manage the content easily while being able to share their wisdom on the Internet. 

But these two friars represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wealth of knowledge and experience that could be tapped into. How do we encourage or create pathways to share that wisdom with people on the Web? Is it done through simple CMS manager sites like Wordpress or Joomla? Is it an intergenerational question that challenges the old way of communicating (face-to-face) with new ways (online)? Do those of us who currently blog have the tools to introduce this form of ministry to older clergy and religious who may be confused about the role and the power of the blogosphere as a ministry tool? The wisdom of the older friars has helped me to focus on different aspects of being a friar; I think that sharing that wisdom could benefit others as well.

Healthy Understanding of Transparency

In today's world people have their identify in the real world and their identity that is stored "in the cloud." The digital self should be a reflection of the true self, however the anonymity and vastness of the Internet create new types of relationships and interactions. In severe cases an online identity can be disassociated with the actual persona. The Web becomes an escape or alternate world. 

I think the challenge for Catholic bloggers is to strive for transparency in their writings, but to do it in a healthy way. If the Chuch is asking us to be the proclaimers and the missionaries of the Gospel in the blogosphere, then we are challenged to reveal more of who we are and how our faith had developed and formed us. This entire week the readings have come from Acts as Peter testifies to his commission to preach the Gospel.

The other challenge is to make sure that the digital world reflects an image of the real world. The "digital continent" is vast and intriguing, and it's common to see how people can become disconnected from the real world by spending more and more time in front of the computer. Prayer and discernment for Catholic bloggers is an area I'd like to see developed or have a hand in developing.

Collaboration Between Organizations

Staff and budgets are not available to all organizations: whether its a local church, a small religious community, or a collection of the faithful. Not every group can pay for the upkeep of a website, nor does everyone have the technical skills or a post-novice that just happens to make websites (This isn't just a singular occassion: many religious orders are receiving people who have previous web development skills and are putting them to use to help out their community).

An example of how collaboration works for the edification of the Church would be how different religious orders have united to promote vocations in the Church. The National Religious Vocation Conference is a perfect example. If you've ever picked up VISION Magazine or have ever filled out an online survey regarding religious orders and personal discernment, you've been in touch with what the power of collaboration can do. As a province, the Capuchins have worked with organizations like this and the Chicago Area Vocation Association as a way to collectively use the gifts of God for the nourishment and growth of men and women who are called to religious life. 

Blogging is being recognized as a relevant way of spreading the Gospel and reaching out to others. However that ministry shouldn't be limited to those who are lucky enough to have the funds or the skillset. Similar to how the digital divide inhibits people because of their lack of technology, that gap also limits poorer parishes, Orders, or groups of people who might be able to teach us something about our faith and relationship to God and creation. I think as the popularity of blogging and social media as a form of evangelization continues to grow, there out to be a mechanism that allows groups to participate. This may be something where speakers or trainers make themselves available. Sites might incorporate participation through several organizations in one site.

Group Awareness

This was a lesson I learned the hard way...

No matter how long your Disclaimer Page might be or how much you might remind your readers that "my viewpoints do not necessarily reflect the views of everyone in my diocese/province/order/organization/etc" your words will be identified with your group. It happens in every other aspect of life: politics, religion, sports, and marketing are a few examples. In an open forum such as the Web, unique affiliations will make you the "de facto" spokesperson for your organization.

Bloggers, such as myself, need to ask the question about whether some topic or subject is better left undiscussed...at least on the Web. What areas are better left unsaid...and what areas need to be handled with caution? Another question is whether or not bloggers in community receive feedback from what they do. Bloggers can appear invasive to communities because people fear that private issues or even their image will be put on the Web for all to see.

Teaching bloggers group awareness is an area of focus for me. How does my blog inadvertantly speak for everyone? Am I being charitable to my brothers by being diligent in what I write about? Am I respectful of people's desires to be kept off of the Web? Am I encouraging of those who want to do more?

I'm already planning my trip to the CNMC in Kansas City this fall, and hope that as the year progresses, I'll be able to further develop these thoughts and areas, and hopefully provide better questions and reflection on how Catholic bloggers, especially those who are clergy or religious, can use the May 2nd Blogmeet as a springboar for personal reflection on their call to be missionaries in the blogosphere.

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