I have been blogging, as it is called, for about two-and-a-half years. I began regularly maintaining a blog (not this one) in November 2005 after I was encouraged by a good friend to pursue blogging for the sake of encouraging others through writing. Shortly after coming to Christ (in 1999), I found that I had a new love for writing. My only outlets for writing at this time, however, were through personal journaling and papers written for class. Blogging provided a way in which I could both write on a consistent basis and encourage others in the process; add to this the fact that I was currently working at a church and regularly teaching, and blogging seemed to make perfect sense.
That is not to give the impression that I have always been overjoyed at the prospect of blogging. If you toggle through my monthly archives, you will find some gaping holes from January 2006-May 2006. During this time I was considering giving up my blog altogether because I was extremely busy and I could not justify making blogging a priority. After some time and reflection, and with the encouragement of friends, I found myself back behind the keyboard, reinvigorated to write.
Toward a Definition?
As I pursue my own blog, I inevitably find myself visiting other blogs for edification, encouragement, or just to see what they are doing. My observations have led me to conclude that blogs are as diverse as the individuals who maintain them. Similar templates aside, as you click from blog to blog, you will find a plethora of themes, emphases, content, designs, posts, features, links and blogrolls. Blogs are like finger prints: no two are exactly alike.
The main components of a blog, I would contend, are the actual posts. It is called a “weblog”—a “log” is a where chronological or categorical entries are kept. A “weblog,” therefore, is a place where one can periodically record and sort the content of their choosing. Some blogs primarily post links to other sites, or short, pithy words of encouragement with cool pictures. Some use their blog to provide quotes from books to keep a diary of sorts. Others write and post what they would call articles, since they resemble, in form, length, and content, what you would find in a magazine, newspaper, or book. Others combine all of these features.
When people use the word “blog” in verb form, as in, “I couldn’t watch the last game of the Boston/L.A. series last month, I was ‘blogging’,” this can mean that they were 1) writing a post; 2) looking at other blogs; 3) updating features on their site; or 4) all of the above. When I use the word “blog,” in the question, “Why do I blog?” I am referring primarily to 1 and 3, and within those two options, primarily number 1. By blogging I mean, for the most part, writing and posting articles. So the question is, more specifically, why do I regularly write and post articles on my blog? In the next post I will attempt to answer this question.
I Enjoy It
I remember three distinct points in my life that have had a serious and lasting impact on my desire to write and my overall enjoyment of writing. The first came when I was a sophomore in high school. My English teacher, Mrs. Maddox, was famous for her composition assignments. I cannot remember the exact number, but both freshman and sophomore year we were required to write quite a few one-to-two page papers, or “comps,” they were called. Ugh! I hated it. It was like pulling teeth, only more painful.
Every comp assignment was sheer drudgery. It was not until the final assignment of my sophomore year I figured out why: I did not give one rip about the subject matter. The last paper I wrote was “my best” (her words). Do you know what it was about? A recent baseball practice. It was given in narrative form, complete with colloquial phrases and a swift moving plot line. I think I received an 89. Anyway, this assignment was a great encouragement to me; I found I actually liked to write if I could write about events and people and ideas that interested me. (It was not until much later I learned that these are just the things we should be writing about, according to William Zinsser. Who is William Zinsser? No one special. Just the author of the standard guide to writing nonfiction: On Writing Well.)
The second turn came my senior year when I was encouraged by my second English teacher, Mrs. Dundas, to submit a recent assignment to a Catholic publishing company that publishes short, encouraging stories by high school students. Up to that point, since sophomore year and under the patient tutelage of Mrs. Dundas my junior and senior year, I had steadily grown in my appreciation for writing and my desire to write well. Mrs. Dundas’ wisdom to nudge me to enter the contest was not in vain: a few weeks later, a fellow student and I were contacted by the publishing company to let us know our essays had been chosen to appear in a book full of similar stories from other high school students around the U.S. (If you want to read it, you can do so here. I wrote this story before I knew Christ. If you do read it, you will understand why this chronology is so frightening).
This event, of course, was a tremendous encouragement for me to continue to pursue writing. It was not until my sophomore year in college, however, that the most significant turn came: my conversion to Jesus Christ, which occurred while I was attending the University of Portland. That same year I completed my studies and transferred to the Master’s College so I could study the Bible. When I arrived and started studying Scripture and theology, I found a new passion for writing. I now had something in which I was overwhelmingly interested, and I saw the value in becoming a better communicator for the glory of God and the good of others. I found myself, without needing to be prompted, regularly keeping a journal and writing little essays for my own entertainment. Writing research papers was a blast. It has been that way for me ever since.
So I guess it makes sense that I would blog. I enjoy writing. I am humbled and thankful and amazed when my writing has helped or encouraged someone. I want to be able to explain ideas clearly and compellingly. I relish being able to think across a sentence and add or remove words, reconfigure structures, move phrases, and think about syntax. I love finding new and persuasive ways to communicate truth. But trying to explain why I love writing so much almost takes away from it as a simple pleasure. Why do I like chocolate ice cream? I don’t know—I just do! Affections and tastes are sometimes difficult to articulate. The same can be said here. Why do I blog? Because I enjoy it.
To Practice Writing
I am incalculably indebted to good writers. So much of my spiritual growth and theological development is the fruit of books written by those who have devoted their lives to rightly dividing, accurately explaining, and carefully applying the truth of God’s Word. Their meditations have become the food that has fed my soul time and again. And although I have never met the authors that have had the most influence on me, I look forward to the day (probably in the kingdom) when I can express my heart-felt gratitude for their labors. Their diligence in study, in refining their ideas, and in honing their writing abilities has provided me with an almost endless stream of spiritual nourishment. Jesus, who sees infinitely better than I do, will someday reward these faithful men according to their work and the fruit it has produced in the lives of his saints. Those of us who have been blessed by what they have written look forward to rejoicing on the day they hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Why go on about good writers? Because I have personally come to know how much well-thought, clearly expressed, biblically faithful writing has helped me. I also know how poorly constructed, unreflective, bland, theologically deficient writing has not only been burdensome to read, but spiritually numbing as well. First hand interaction with both good writing and poor writing compels me to be one who, at some level, produces the former. Granted, I clearly have a long way to go, but using this blog as a means of improving my writing for the benefit of others seems to be a good use of time and available resources.
It is important to remember, however, that much writing will not automatically make us better writers; we need to put sincere effort into developing our gifts. In fact, I think experience would confirm that persistent writing, if not engaged thoughtfully and with the desire to improve, may actually serve to strengthen bad habits. Think I’m off my rocker? Just start paying attention to the emails and blogs written by teen age students whose writing has been forged more by the language debilitating medium of text messaging than by their English classes. Or consider memos sent by co-workers that reveal how much their writing has been stunted by all the emails they send—quick messages hammered out and shot off without any thought of grammer, word choice, sentence structure, or punctuation. Practice, in and of itself, does not make perfect.
On the other hand, if I can discipline myself to write on a regular basis, to hear and heed the comments and criticisms of others, and to take time to continually learn more about the craft of writing itself, I trust the Lord will use these pursuits to bless others for the sake of his kingdom. Yes, it may be only for a handful of people, but the number of readers should not determine the excellence of one’s writing; knowing there is great power in the written word should give pause to those who pick up the pen (or tap the keyboard), and motivate all of us to become better writers. Writing consistently on a blog is a great way we can grow in our ability to communicate in writing—not for the sake of boasting, but for the good of others.
To Help Me Think
Writing, whether it is in a journal, on the back of an envelope, or on my blog, helps me to think. Writing forces me to put things in their logical order, to choose words that best convey an idea, and to make sure that what I am writing is clear and accurate. After I write a sentence or paragraph, I can go back and examine my thoughts to make sure that what I am saying makes sense and flows coherently from one thought to the next. When my thoughts are right there in front of me, it is difficult to escape obvious logical and grammatical blunders, or, even worse, the unsubstantiated comment.
Writing not only helps me to think more clearly and with greater precision, it also enables me to think over one specific subject for a sustained period of time. Without a pen or a keyboard, my distraction threshold is about three seconds. When I write, however, I am enabled to think continually about any given issue for several minutes. This helps refine and solidify my thinking and convictions.
This benefit of writing also helps me to verbally articulate what I believe with greater clarity. This has been essential for me in my experience teaching and preaching. What I have previously written will inevitably be better communicated than the things I say without reflection beforehand. This is not always the case, and I think it is important to leave room for the Holy Spirit to prompt us to speak truths we had not previously planned, but this would be disastrous for me if it was not the exception to the rule. In fact, I find that I am better able to coherently teach through a series of unplanned thoughts if I am regular in preparing what I am going to say.
This preparation, of course, occurs through writing major portions the message I am going to teach. But I also find that what I have written at other times—on a blog or in a journal—will often find its way into a message because relevant thoughts have already crystallized on that particular issue. If we take our blogging seriously, this is one area in which blogs can become even more useful to us. Writing articles that will eventually be scrutinized by others forces us to think through issues in greater depth and accuracy. This, in turn, will enhance our teaching and preaching ministry as we seek to feed others with rich insight from God’s Word.
To Bring My Thoughts Into a Forum of Accountability
Proverbs 10:17 says, “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path of life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.” I tremble when I think that I could lead someone astray. According to this verse, refusal to receive instruction from others strengthens the possibility that I may lead someone else into error. This warning alone should wake us up to consider whether or not we are teachable people—our stubbornness not only kills our own soul, it will inevitably damage other souls as we teach things that are unclear, confusing, inaccurate and unbiblical, all because we did not listen to the wisdom of others.
A benefit of blogging is the built in accountability it provides. People can leave comments or send emails in order to admonish us for poor writing or encourage us for good writing. As a result, our thoughts are refined and we are guarded from forming lop-sided or blatantly ignorant convictions and opinions. If pursued with a teachable spirit, blogging will not only be a blessing to others, it will also serve to sharpen our own thinking and teaching. John MacArthur once said that the best Bible teachers are the ones who are the most teachable. I think many of the Proverbs would confirm this—those who are always gaining wisdom will be the ones from whom wisdom will flow.
On the other hand, those who isolate themselves from others, who disdain the thought of being taught or corrected or admonished by others, and who live in their own little theological fantasy world, unchallenged by differing opinions, will often drift into overt error. Granted, blogging by itself will not prevent this, and blogging is not the only—or the primary—arena in which we should place ourselves under the accountability of others, but it is a helpful tool if utilized purposefully and for the right reasons.
So this would also be a gentle nudge to many of us who read blogs but choose not to comment, or who do not leave comments very often. It is helpful when you leave thoughtful comments regarding the content of posts or the website as a whole. Whether yours is a word of encouragement or a firm word of correction, your comments are welcome—not only on this blog, but, I trust, on the sites of other bloggers who desire to have their blind-spots pointed out, their errors corrected, and their good writing encouraged.
Photo: Alejandro Escamilla