I began blogging a little over four years ago, after my first bout with cancer and a heart issue caused by the chemotherapy. I mention that because it’s sort of thing makes you take stock of your life and I did. It was then that I began to realize my long-held conservative values were at odds with what I was reading in the Gospels. In other words, I became aware of the cognitive dissonance that had plagued me some time. Because, as Flannery O’Connor said once, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say”, I started a blog in an effort to work out some of those issues. Very quickly, however, it dawned on me that I had found a way to realize a long-held dream: to be a published author. And, like most neophytes, I thought getting there would be a neat, linear process. Okay, you can stop laughing any time now.
That mistaken belief was not helped when I read in Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence about how the internet was circumventing the gatekeepers and opening the way for people outside the establishment to step up and change the way we think about things. That’s some heady stuff and I was ready to take my place among these rising stars. Unfortunately, it’s not quite working out the way I thought it would.
There are multiple reasons for that and most of them are my fault. You’d think by now I’d realize that things are never as easy I think they’ll be. And, the internet in general (and the blogosphere in particular) is not quite the open and freewheeling landscape it was a few years ago: it’s a lot more crowded and noisy than it was back then. And, as they always do, the gatekeepers found the holes in the fences people were sneaking through and have thrown up gates there, too. Both of which make getting noticed a lot harder than it used to be. But, for all its problems, the internet is still one of the best things to happen to writers since the invention of the pencil. Although, with my tendency to make mistakes, I should probably go with the eraser.
That’s not to say the internet is without its truly irritating aspects, though. One of the more worrisome is that it doesn’t seem to reward being a decent human being. Take the open letter to pastors post I wrote last week, for example. It was a snarky, shitty cheap shot written by someone who hasn’t occupied a pulpit for more than 5 minutes in their entire life. And, it was wildly popular (for me; it would barely be blip on the screen for some of the more popular bloggers). After realizing that it had offended some people I care about very deeply, I wrote another piece apologizing for being an ass and saying what I had intended to say in the first place.
In a perfect world, the second post would’ve done at least as well as the first one. But, we don’t live in a perfect world and here’s the proof: that conciliatory post has gotten less than half the views its more offensive sibling did. I wish I could say this an isolated incident, but it’s not. My more incendiary articles consistently get more views than the benevolent ones. For someone trying to build a platform, the message is clear: if you want to get noticed and (more important for an aspiring author) be read, you should be noisy, be hyperbolic, be offensive. In other words, be a jerk.
While I want to build a platform, I don’t want to be that guy. And, I don’t think you guys want to be those readers. And, we shouldn’t be. As Christians, we are people who follow Jesus, a man who taught his disciples to love everyone. For us, being a jerk should be off the table. But, as much we might wish it was, it isn’t. My question is, what are we going to do about that?