Monday, April 23, 2007

Introducing: Me!

I listen to On the Media each week by podcast, but this week I happened to catch the first segment live as I began my Sunday morning routine by making a pot of coffee. Of course, this week's topic was the media coverage of the shootings in Blacksburg, VA. Front and center was the decision of NBC to air what one interviewee called the "press packet" sent to it by Sueng-Hui Cho. Tony Burman, a Canadian Broadcasting Company official, discussed why that news outlet declined to use the footage in its broadcasts. It had to do with the fear of encouraging copycats by focusing on the perpetrator of such crimes, and he explained that, ever since last September's shooting at Montreal's Dawson College (1 dead, 19 wounded), the CBC has decided that it will focus on the victims at a moment like this.

This next little piece of the concersation fascinated me. They played clips of interviews with two VT students, in which they described their experiences. Burman commented that it is clear, listening to those clips, that the students are very aware that they are a part of a story and they have a role to play, in what Burman terms our "performative culture." He says that, ever since John F. Kennedy was shot, the witnesses have been on call to the media to play the part of witness (these are my words). Also a part of the phenomenon, though, are the "witnesses" who heard the news in classrooms or at a bar or wherever they were at those moments, and who then share those "Where were you when you heard?" stories, which people of my generation have, certainly, for the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and, of course, 9/11, which remains the Big Story.

In this performative culture everyone has a right to their moment in the sun, so to speak. And so we have phenomena such as... blogging, in which we all confidently assume that we have a story to tell, for which there will be listeners and to which there will be responders. I began, as Burman spoke, to connect with a slight sense of discomfort about this assumption of center stage on all our part, but now, as I ponder further, I ask, a la Harvey Fierstein, "Is that so wrong?"

Possible defenses of the blogging/ Hello It's Me phenomenon are many. Of course, we all know (I know in a particularly powerful way) that the blogosphere can be a community of care, a community of shared interests, and sometimes, a community the likes of which bloggers cannot find in their day to day non-wired lives. And there is something powerful, too, about saying "This is my story," whether or not one receives a response. The experience of sharing one's life via a blog can affirm and strengthen the individual persona.

And it's not all about "me." Bloggers have been instrumental in rooting out what may turn out to be prosecutable corruption in the current Justice Department scandal involving firing of US attorneys (because they wouldn't prosecute selectively based on partisan politics). The 2008 presidential field is all too aware of the potency of the blogosphere for forming opinion, and they are paying attention (with some missteps-- see John Edwards-- Ha! almost called him "Jonathan Edwards!" Not.).

But I have a sneaking suspicion that it is, if not solely about "me," then at least somewhat about power. And let me hasten to say, that is not necessarily a bad thing. There are a hell of a lot of people for whom blogging offers them an avenue to exercise a kind of power of persuasion or power of visibility who would not otherwise have a forum. These are people who are otherwise entirely or partially disenfranchised by the systems now in place. Someone like me might qualify as being in that kind of category: closted pastors are, by definition, hiding out and impotent to voice their situation-- except in a space like this. For myself, I don't feel honest about accepting the labels "powerless" or "disenfranchised," when the rest of my life is so steeped in privileged: white, US citizen, highly educated, no debt, good income (when compared to 99% of the people on this planet).

Here's my fear about blogging: that it keeps us from discovering the flesh and blood embodied communities that might, just might be available to us if we could just take a bit of a risk to find them. As a Christian, I believe in an incarnated God who tells us by word and deed that our bodies matter, that we are present to one another, healing and loving, by physical presence. I fear that, as much as we of the radicaleft are fighting against a dreary gnosticism that has seeped into orthodox interpretations of scripture, we are, ironically, living outside ourselves by engaging mind and heart and soul where we cannot engage our bodies.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

Cecilia--I take your point, BUT... (you knew that was coming! ;-)

I am an off-the-scale extrovert who happens to work on a computer in my house all day. I'm alone, without much human interaction, for most of any given day.

This way of working allows me to be involved in my children's lives in a way I couldn't be if I were working in an office with no flexibility. It also allows me to do work that I care deeply about.

I have plenty of real-life friends, and I have a very busy life outside of the Internet---but if I did not have the Internet, I would go crazy during the day.

Just another perspective...

Share Cropper said...

And, I have not been able to get out and be with real live people that I can touch and hear for a number of months. Going to the doctor has been a real treat because I get to talk to people, except now that I have laryngitis - it's better.

The blogsphere has been my link to caring, my link to the outside world, my news and commentary.

As I improve, I get out more, and a friend asked me the other day if I were going to suffer withdrawal when I am well (which we hope will happen).

So, I am deeply grateful to the blogsphere for being my community when I would otherwise have had little. I have worshipped, received adn given pastoral-type care, kept up with the news, seen lots of cute animals that make me laugh, watched Mei Lan (panda cub at the Atlanta Zoo), IMed with friends, ordered necessaries that I could not get out to buy.

Today, I am going out for a bit - to enjoy the sunshine. If I stay home, I will try to pull weeds, and I'm not that strong yet. So I am going out in the wide world that is not wired.

don't eat alone said...


Thoughtful post. I think in many ways we are still coming to terms with the technology. That you and I can forge some sort of relationship based on the words we write and read together without seeing each other face to face has consequences and possibilities that we don't completely understand.

Yes, cyber life can be a hiding place and an escape. I'm also finding it to be a rich vein of substance and humanity.


Cecilia said...

It occurs to me that I can add to my list of "privilege" the privileges of mobility, health and being able to work in a way that allows me much contact with humanity. I hear you all loud and clear, and I completely agree and affirm the benefits of this mode of our being together. I hope I didn't inadvertently give offense...

We are living in a time, as Milton says, in which our humanness hasn't quite caught up to our zero-to-6 million speed of technology growth. One thing that occurs to me is the drastic, stunning difference in how we live today versus 100 years ago-- again, we who are able to have this kind of discussion. Even in terms of evolution, nature has not had a chance to catch up with our new ways of being.

All that said, I hope you know how I treasure this community.

Pax, C.

Nina said...

Cecelia, another perspective:
Where I live, there is no faith community that welcomes progressives. The blogsphere is where I gain the strength, confidence, wisdom, and good jokes I need to help my soul survive and to find the path I need to follow in a largely unfriendly place. It helps me cope, rather than taking me away.

MadPriest said...

In the first half of the 20th. Century and in the 19th. Century people wrote letters to distant friends as much as we speak to each other on the net. Then they stopped because someone invented television. Now we've gone back to communicating and that's a good thing.

Cecilia said...

Nina and Madpriest, I agree-- wholeheartedly.

Pax, C.

Mother Laura said...

In my case, connecting through e-mail and e-groups and then blogging built real and very needed relationships that also helped lead to more enfleshed ones: the postdocs, the Michaelines, and now the new jurisdiction. It's a mutual enrichment as many of the latter two will remain cyber much of the time but more powerful for building on the in person time, and back and forth.

Cynthia said...

I'm in the unoriginal position of agreeing with everyone who's posted here, except for this. I'm a hardcore introvert in a job that demands serious extroversion. At the end of the work day, I'm often empty and needing to refill with some private time. That has often become computer time, blogging time. I've developed friendships on line that humble and touch me, yet I know that if I pushed myself, allowed some openness in my physical life, like I do in my virtual, online life, I might have richer, local connections. I might be contributing more where my gifts are needed. I might be surrounded by more of the type of connections I miss. I can't be as odd a duck as I feel much of the time. You have a good point here. Is it appropriate to all? No, but there is very little in this world that is.

Judith said...

Hi Cecilia,

I understand your point, but you're ministering to an embodied community all the time in your pastoral role! We all do our bit wherever we can, wherever we find ourselves. And I've never seen a tombstone that said, "I had too many friends"!

Audrey said...


Well done. I really enjoyed this post. I take no offense and I am constantly thinking about what "blogging" means for the rest of my life. You and I are both ministers, but we use our blogs in different ways. Regardless, I find your blog very inspiring, helpful, compassionate, hopeful, and well written. For that, I am very thankful. Does this stop the real life flesh incarnation in my life? Quite possibly. I pray that God is working in ways that I do not know and that I am able to honor all of them - even as I continue to change into the person God calls me to be.



don't eat alone said...

I awarded you a Thinking Blogger Award today. You can read about it in this post. The idea of the meme is that now you name five blogs that make you think.


beth said...

Cecilia - Here via Milton's blog...

In ministry as well, I have found that blogging helped me to discover my true voice. The affirmation I have found here, whether through the words of others (via comments), the sharing of stories (via viewing another life) and the sheer freedom of writing honestly has enabled me to deepen my 'real' friendships, while also forming new ones. It is odd and awkward at times; occasionally I sense the very real 'It's All About Me' phenomenom. It plays out in my blogging life as it does in my 'real' life, and in either case, it reminds me to humble myself before my Maker.

I appreciate your insight and your prodding to consider all angles. "Thinking Blogger", indeed!!!!

Bill said...

I agree with MP’s point of view on this subject. With the advent of the telephone, people had forgotten how to write a letter. It was so much easier to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Email and now Blogs have brought letter writing back into vogue.

There is so much more that you can do with the written word. You can put ideas together without interruption. You can perform research so as not to make factual errors. You can save well thought out positions and later quote yourself. Why reinvent the wheel each time you want to make a point.

There is safety and anonymity. You can pick and choose your audience. You can express your deepest feelings. Say things you would never say in public. Explore religion, sexuality and politics. You can be as vulnerable or as tough as you want. For a man, that,s a bonus. Women have always been better at expressing their innermost feelings. For a man, it's much tougher. The written word allows me to discuss issues that most men would never go near in a man to man situation.
And none of this takes away from your “real” life experience. I think it enhances your face to face confrontations. You can practice or feel-out points of view before engaging in the real thing. I have the added benefit of personally knowing some of the people I talk to on the blogs. One of my favorites is “telling-lies”. I voice my opinion all the time to Elizabeth and then get to talk to her in person on Sundays. Most of the time we agree, but occasionally we don’t. So when we meet on Sunday, I’m not sure whether to smile or duck.

So, all in all, I’m very fond of the electronic messaging available to us. How else could I reach out to people half way around the world and engage in meaningful dialogue?

Bill said...

Ok, I made a typo in my last post. I meant "telling-secrets", not "teling-lies". That's what happens when your fingers run ahead of your mind.