Story Magazine - Fourth Quarter, 2003

A Blog's Life

by Sheri Booms Holm, director of publications

The Internet has taken the diary concept and thrown away the lock as well as the key.  With the creation of the Web log (known as a blog), a growing number of individuals are keeping online journals that list daily activities, record thoughts, and provide personal commentary on a multitude of topics. People use simple software that allows them to post daily with ease, include links to other sites, and encourage readers to post their own comments.

Why would someone place something so personal online, and allow others, even strangers, to reply? Simply put, people are hungering for relationship, said Mary Hess, assistant professor of educational leadership. She studies media and popular culture within the context of faith. She explained that, in today's mobile society, few stay in one place long, and even the family structure is not what it once was. Hence, the need for community is no longer met. "Along comes this technology, and the desire to be connected to people is overriding privacy," she continued. Now, people have a place to go to have conversation about things that really matter to them.

Hess began her blog, "Tensegrities," www.religioused.org/tensegrities/, as a way of keeping track of Web sites she finds interesting. It has grown to include more than that. "What I do is rant," Hess said with a laugh. "I have a set of issues--what I'm thinking about at any given time. It's a good thing talking to a lot of people about this." A frequent presenter, she finds she can refer people to her blog foradditional information, Web links andas a place to continue the discussion.

"Tensegrities" comes from a term created by philosopher and architect Buckminster Fuller: "tension" + "integrity" = "tensegrity." "He used it to describe the incredibly stable nature of the structures he could build by holding competing forces together while respecting their integrities," writes Hess in her blog. "I like to use it to describe what it is to be a person of faith living in a global media culture." Tensegrities is but one example of a blog. They are as different as the people authoring them. Here are four more bloggers and their blogs.

A Daily Diary

What's it like for a young pastor in a new pastorate in a small town? Nate Loer, '03, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Browerville, Minn., lets you in on his everyday life in "The Browerville Blog: The Internet Journal of Pastor Nate Loer," www.onlinesmallgroups.com/blog.asp.

Loer's former seminary co-workers and classmates suggested he keep a journal of the "daily ups and downs of ministry." Although he has never been much of a journal writer, Loer admitted he was intrigued by the idea because of his love of technology. "I built a simple Web interface that records my journal entries each day and post them for everyone to see. There is an option to make specific entries private, so if I need to rant a bit about particulars that would not be appropriate for the whole world to see, I can do so," he said.

Loer finds the blog is an interesting ministry tool, as well. "First, just organizing my thoughts and activities is a helpful exercise for the sake of my sanity. It's also the kind of creative exercise that helps me with the high demands of creativity (confirmation prep, Bible study prep, sermon prep) I encounter on a weekly basis."

Loer sends out a weekly e-mail with a short devotion, some news items, and a link to his blog. "It's my way of inviting people into my life in a real and meaningful way. It often translates into deeper face-to-face relationships, too. And relationship-- between us and God, and us and each other--is what ministry is all about."

A Sabbatical Snapshot

Mary Hinkle, assistant professor of New Testament, keeps two blogs: a personal one, maryhinkle.typepad.com, and one that concentrates on preaching, www.pilgrimpreaching.org.

She started the personal blog as a way of archiving her sabbatical this school year. "I wanted to record daily events as well as reflections on how my work was going, and a Web log makes that possible. I can write about anything--from ants in the kitchen to a new book on assessment strategies in adult education," she said.

The preaching blog began "as a way to stay connected with my friends who are preaching every week and as a way to prepare myself better for listening to a sermon on Sunday," she said. "I also wanted a disciplined way to keep my exegetical work connected to something that matters, namely the weekly proclamation of theWord. The Web log is a good reality check for me. If I can't think of anything sermon-worthy on a text for the week, then maybe there is something wrong with the way I am doing exegesis.

"Sometimes I don't know what I think about something until I write about it. Regular writing helps me think and speak more clearly. These are important skills for anyone in ministry to continue to develop," Hinkle concluded.

A Cross-cultural Chronicle

Master of divinity student Linda Webster kept a Web log during a six-week cross-cultural mission experience at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, www.luthersem.edu/blog. Webster, along with fellow Luther Seminary students Comfort Osei and Rena Peterson, stayed at the Pine Ridge Retreat Center this past September and October. Webster wrote candidly about her experiences, impressions and feelings--but admitted that she didn't paint the total picture of reservation life. "I tried to be kind. Things are so harsh. We really have no concept of the devastation heaped upon this culture."

Throughout the mission experience, her sense of calling to work with the Native American people grew. Because she wanted to educate others about the hardship of reservation life, Webster sent a link to her blogs to friends around the world, as far away as Japan and the Sudan. "I wanted to share my experiences with them," she said.

Learning Lessons

When he was a missionary in Slovakia, Clint Schnekloth, '02, created an e-mail list to keep people apprised of his ministry. He transitioned into blogs when he received a fellowship to study in Germany. As part of his fellowship he traveled around the country interviewing pastors and lay people about their thoughts on the Lutheran Church in Germany and its connections to the Reformation today. Many friends, family and others were eager to hear about his travels and conversations. Because blogs are so easy to use, he could do frequent updates for his growing readership. "It was a great tool for me because I write more often if I have some kind of audience," he said.

Back in the U.S., Schnekloth and his friend Greg Walter, '00, decided to create a Web site centered around the Augsburg Confessions. "The intent is to provide confessional and biblical instruction, and reflection to support the preaching and teaching office of the church," Schnekloth said.

They soon found that maintaining a Web site was too labor intensive. Schnekloth recalled the ease of maintaining a blog, and soon Lutheran Confessions, www.lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com, was born. They structured their lessons as an ongoing conversation about the Augsburg Confessions.

When Schnekloth received his call as associate pastor to St. John's Lutheran Church, Oregon,Wis., he wanted to reflect theologically on other issues, as well. By using his blog as a forum for theological discussion and discernment, he discovered a helpful tool for his ministry. "I think sermon prep isn't just about writing the sermon. They say you should spend one hour of prep for every minute you preach. I think that one hour is better served in continued study of Scripture, and study of the catechisms and the confessions," Schnekloth said. He added that what he ponders online can and does inform other conversations he may have at church, say, at a new members' class. Recent entries include discussion of worship styles.

Want to Find Out More About Blogs?

Some blog software and host sites:

Moveable Type: www.movabletype.org
Blogger: www.blogger.com
Lutherans Online: www.thrivent.com/lutheransonline/faq-weblog.html
Blog Spot: www.blogspot.com

Blog samples:

blogs4god.com/linker/all.php
www.reallivepreacher.com
einfesteblog.blogspot.com

The views expressed in these Web logs are those of the Web log author and not those of Luther Seminary.