Betty Duffy

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

On Blog as Apostolate

The following was initially a comment I wrote for the previous post.

As I have nothing else for posting today, and as my comment took up a lot of space, and as I'm pretty sure no one is still reading that thread, here it is:

I think it’s true that blogging is an apostolate in the sense that every aspect of our lives is an apostolate if we take our Christian vocation seriously. You tell your story with honesty and a Christ-centered heart. You write beautifully and the final package is entertainment that is edifying and apostolic, even if that is not a stated or intentional purpose of your writing.

I think my understanding of “apostolate” has been colored by my experiences with Regnum Christi, in which apostolate is related to recruitment, and is worked on during hours specifically designated for Christian work. As that Movement undergoes purification, I am also rethinking how I use certain words I am in the habit of using. Part of my objection to the “blog as aspotolate” idea is that, by my former definition, it compartmentalizes aspects of our Christian life.

I appreciate what Jennifer says about our blogs being public, and I agree, as such that it requires prudence and savvy, just as any public life does.

I’m not sure, however, that I can “prayerfully consider” every word I put up here. I think it might make me scrupulous and defeat anything I write before I write it. And even if I agree that I should do it, the fact is, I won’t do it. Just as I don’t always prayerfully consider every word I say to my children when I discipline them. And never am I more entrenched in the work of forming Christian souls than when I am at home with my kids. But if I dwell on the damage I may or may not inflict on my children in my moments of non-reflection, I would probably despair of my vocation to motherhood, and my Christian vocation alike.

I learn from story. I experience my faith in story. Stories can glorify God, but sometimes they don’t. I have personal experience of coming to a deeper embrace of my faith through stories that might even be considered anti-Catholic. I think God can use every aspect of our lives for his Glory.

In “Blogging,” which by its nature orients us towards stories about ourselves, I have to trust that God can use my stories however he wants, even when my intentions are not entirely pure, even when the inevitable self-promotion sneaks into my writing.

If my entire life is an apostolate, of which blogging is a part, then my Christian work must include my errors. It has to include writing that is sometimes just cathartic for me. It has to include my parental and spousal missteps.

And as all this relates to Catholicism, fundamentalism and art, I think that what’s missing from a lot of blogs, and a lot of Christian writing is a humble and deep acceptance of God’s unconditional love and mercy. He forgives us our sins. He uses our sins for his ends. So I think we can relax our fears a little concerning writing with honesty about our lives. If the future of Christian story-telling is in the blogosphere, and I think it might be, then I would be sad if our stories were lost because we were afraid to tell them.


Melanie B said...

Oh and there I went responding to this comment on the other thread.

You articulated here what was on the tip of my tongue: Be not afraid.

Sometimes I have to pretend no one is reading or I'd be unable to write a word. And I hesitate sometimes to call myself a "Catholic blogger" because sometimes that seems to put far too much pressure on my writing.

Anne said...

Wow! Well said!

Anonymous said...

Grant says.....

click here

BettyDuffy said...


Sally Thomas said...

Yes. You have to write from who you are, and with the words and the stories you're given. I think, anyway. There are things I don't blog about because I'm not anonymous, and my family read my blog, and -- well, there are just things I don't write about there, out of consideration for them, though I do write about those things elsewhere, and in other forms, where they're not right in people's faces. (still thinking about your earlier post about the play and not having fear . . . ).

But nothing is more paralyzing than stopping to think what "kind" of blog I have (homeschooling? mom-blog? religion? if religion, then overtly an apostolate? if not that, then what?), or whether what I'm writing "fits" what kind of blog I happen to think I have at a given moment.

Anyway, I think you have it right. You have to write well and trust God to take care of the rest.

tootie said...

I just wanted to say hi. I found your blog through Conversion Diary.
Great post!

Sally Thomas said...

I have to say, too, that I've been mulling a post on the topic of "being real." This is a phrase I keep hearing people use, generally as a response to a blogger's in-your-face statement of intent to use profanity or to parade his or her sins and failings as if they were the whole story, and a better story than someone else's lovely moments -- which is not what you do, Betty, at all. I get turned off as quickly, actually, by the "Christians being bad because -- hey! -- we're bad but Jesus loves us!" schtick as I do by the sweetness-and-perfection lovely-moments routine.

But this "being-real" thing. I always wonder: why is it more "real" to use bad language, for example? I used to swear like a sailor, and at no small effort I cleaned it up, because it seemed a trifling enough thing to be obedient about. So -- less real now than I used to be?

I've also done some things in the past, and not as distantly as I might wish, which are known only to my confessor, and which I cannot blog about because people who live in my house and read my blog would be frankly devastated by the revelations. So -- if I'm blogging about the life I live now, and only I know the extent to which it represents God's triumph over the gutter which has been my soul, am I being not-real?

I realize that that's not the question you're raising here -- it's really the question you raised in that "writers and fear" post, which I can't get out of my mind, obviously. On the other hand, it is about that "why am I doing this?" question, which really is question of parameters. And it's part of the question of how one's life and work -- including writing -- is an apostolate: what form that takes, what's allowed or even required under that rubric.

Sally Thomas said...

Whoa, and now the verification word is "preen."

Elliot said...

No, you can't "pray over" every word you write in general - that defeats the Muse.

But I think when it comes to writing about other people, we definitely should pray about what we write, especially if we are hiding (for whatever reasons, good as they might be) behind an pseudonym.

I want to pay tribute publicly to all those who in silence, in deeds not in words, strive to practice the Evangelical law of love which drives the world forward. There are so many of them even here in Rome. They do not make the headlines. They are men and women of all ages, who realise that it is not worth condemning, complaining or recriminating; that it is better to respond to evil doing good; to changes things; or better, to changes people, hence improve society.”

(Pope Benedict earlier this week)

BettyDuffy said...

Sally, I think your point about writers parading their sins and profanity as "real" to the exclusion of whatever good they do, or for the purpose of negating the good others do, is not real at all. And I don't think bad words have much relation to "real" either.

I think if we're looking for the "realness" of someone's writerly presentation, it probably bears very little resemblance to the actual realities of their life.

I do draw some experiences from real life, but like you, I include details that are relative to my purpose and exclude others. There is "storytelling" that goes on in autobiographical writing. And I have been open about the fact that I bend and stretch details for the purpose of story.

I guess if I have a purpose in this discussion, it's the idea that blogs can be a more legitimate literary medium, that they can be a vehicle for a particular kind of storytelling. And any good story has conflict: both the good and the bad.

I would not recommend that anyone post the details of their latest Confession, though I have at times posted a priest's response to mine. And, I don't know, maybe I would use details of my own Confession if it was integral to a story I thought it would be prudent to tell. But like you, there are people in my life, whom I love and want to protect. Occasionally (often) there is overlap between the details of their lives and mine. I think that's the big struggle--determining how important it is to me to tell this story, and is it necessary for me to leave the details exactly as they occurred. Is there some way that I can disguise them in order to protect the people I love, or should I drop the story altogether? I've done all of the above.

I'm looking forward to your post, when you write it.

miller_schloss said...

That last paragraph is very helpful to me.

Sally Thomas said...

Yeah, I didn't think we weren't on the same page here. And I like what you have to say about blogging as a literary medium.

As I went through my day I kept thinking about all this, and it came to me that really, truly, the reason I have a blog at all is that I have to write. It's a total compulsion. And any time I'm writing, or thinking for that matter, I'm always talking *to* someone. Sometimes it's a real, actual person whom for whatever reason I've taken as Muse du Jour; sometimes it's an imaginary reader. But there's always a reader, ie a listener to my monologue.

And blogging is good because it's motivating to have real readers/listeners. Makes me do it. It's part literary endeavor, part thought-exercise, part dashed-off email, part notes for later, more developed writing, etc etc etc. It's thinking-in-writing -- but it's thinking *to* people, which does make me self-edit in ways I tend to think are useful rather than otherwise.

Also, when I write on paper, or in word processing, and it's just me and the blank space needing to be filled -- THAT's when I get writers' block. Never when I know I have these other people out there waiting -- breathlessly, of course -- for the next installment of whatever. Then I can just bang it out, because it's for them, whoever they are.

I hadn't thought about that so much before, but it's just come to me now that it's true.

Anne said...

I am so very glad to be following this discussion! Sally, your last response is me exactly, but I haven't been able to put it into words, and am so glad that you did!

For me, writing is a compulsion as well. I HAVE to write. And, I carry on those conversations with my audience in my mind all the time, planning out what I want to write. I have one friend in particular who I am compelled to write to very frequently, as if testing out all of my thoughts before writing them out in a final draft. I thought maybe I was crazy and am glad to know that I am not the only person who does this!

Sally Thomas said...

I also have written from time to time about what my confessor says to me in Confession, and about general tendencies of mine, like sloth, for example. I was thinking more about telling stories about the past -- as Pentimento does so beautifully in her "There and Back" posts. For her, anonymity allows the telling of a difficult story, and the freedom to tell it without all kinds of people interfering to say, "No, it happened like this," or "No, really it's just that you're an awful person," though she does get some of that, sadly enough.

I'm drawn to fiction writing because it's a way to work out some of the things I wouldn't write about as non-fiction, in my own voice and persona.

I don't have time to think a whole lot about this right now, because my kids are getting up, but I do mull the whole nature of memoir-writing quite a lot, and it does seem to me that the literary form which blogs most closely approach is the memoir.