If you’re just interested in the top ten lessons, skip ahead.
Yowie, it’s been a busy couple of months. Since I went on vacation in early June my life has been very full. I’ve had a lot of video editing to do, and I’ve been taking work home to do it on my laptop — since it seems so hard to get anything accomplished at the office. (Is it ironic when your boss agrees that the worst place to do work is at the office?)
Meanwhile, I’ve been wringing my hands over my blog. I’ve been too … absorbed in everything else to dredge up the energy to post anything substantive, but over the past couple weeks I’ve at least made sure to moderate comments and track stats. So, BlogRodent hasn’t really fallen off my radar. It’s just that I’ve fallen off the face of the Earth. In fact, I’m waiting for video to finish rendering right now … so with a few minutes on my hands, I thought I’d post a retrospective.
I think milestones are important. I’d been waiting for the one-year anniversary of BlogRodent so I could celebrate it with an anniversary post. Naturally, because I am time-insensitive — my employers would say I’m time-comatose — June 20 passed without comment. I’m about to rectify that.
What happened on this blog on that day one year ago? My first “Hello World” post, nervously titled, “This is easy,” and a throw-away mention of the adult Christian education class I was teaching at the time, “Do Heaven and Hell exist?” Frankly, there’s nothing to recommend either post for your reading pleasure. But lot has happened since then and I hope I’ve made some improvement.
Let’s talk about what’s been good, bad, and what I’ve learned as a newbie Pentecostal blogger.
Top Ten Posts
(or “Top 10 Posts” … for the search engines)
When I looked at the post stats and ranking since this blog’s inception I was not completely surprised. I already knew what the basic list might look like just based on the comment volume (I moderate new commenters, protecting the site from comment-spam, and keeping me abreast of the hot topics). However, I was a little dismayed at how negative news gets such a positive response. Clichés exist for a reason, I suppose: “If it bleeds, it leads.”
First I was happy to see that the two PneumaBlogs pages (both the list, and the articles) weighed in at or near the top of the list. Since they aren’t really blog posts, I removed them from consideration. I was also happy to see that my list of fellow Christianity Today bloggers is getting some interest as well — it missed being in the top ten list by just three positions and, like PneumaBlogs, it doesn’t count.
Here’s what did make it:
- When sermons go awry … (7,864 views)
Posted in September, last year, this account of the unfortunate sermonic slip by Blake Bergstrom got legs and just kept going, and going, and going. What I find so hard to accept is that this was one of my least thoughtful posts. Some youth pastor makes a verbal slip, I research it for ten minutes to find a video archive, and suddenly it puts my blog on the map. It’s not about a Pentecostal, it’s not about theology, it’s not serious, thoughtful, provocative, or the least bit challenging. Just a fun little bit of schadenfreude.
It was tempting in those early days of blogging to just turn my attention to silly stuff, since that’s what visitors love (no, not you, dear Reader, those other visitors, the ones who leave tracks and beat a hasty retreat). Just give them cake and fluff.
But no, I was sure I could do better. So, then. …
- Justin Berry: From ‘camwhore’ to water-baptized witness for the State (3,939 views)
In December ’05 the story of Kurt Eichenwald’s intervention and his NY Times profile of ex-webcam porn-preneur Justin Berry hit the Web and I was all over it like snakes on a plane. Why? It was the perfect storm of interesting elements.
1) In 1998 I gave a few presentations and gave a couple radio interviews about “Integrity on the Internet” and how the anonymous, disconnected nature of Web communication can seduce one into a moral quagmire unless you take proactive steps to guard against it. Justin Berry seemed the poster child for my thesis.
2) Then there was the picture of Berry standing in a baptismal with arms raised in worship (see pic at right) and the oblique reference to his conversion that caught my eye.
3) And, finally, there was the interesting ethical dilemma faced by journalists to cover a story without becoming part of the story itself.
It was a news item ripe for further exploitation, so I stepped up. What I didn’t count on was getting my blog post linked in several gay discussion fora, leading to several comments bashing Berry for fraud, criticizing Kurt Eichenwald for naivetÃ©, and yowling at me for being a religious dupe. I finally shut the comments down on that post.
Boy, the fluff-loving people laughing along with with Blake Bergstrom were sure nicer.
- When sermons go awry, revisited (2,341 views)
Thinking that if it worked the first time, it might work a second time, I dug around to find more verbal slips, and couldn’t find much that was usable or well documented, until I unearthed a couple gems from two well-known preachers: John Ortberg and William H. Willimon.
It was a top post in 2005 and — surprisingly — it’s still a top post today.
So much for being deep. Maybe I’ll polish off my old seminary paper on “Joy and Hilarity in the New Testament.” Think that would get some hits?
- Youth pastor slays wife, confesses. Why, oh why? (2,113 views)
Turning to a much darker side of life where laughter slinks off to hide under the deck, I read about an Assemblies of God youth pastor who confessed to killing his wife. The more I researched the story, the more confused I felt. I wouldn’t have blogged on this story, for fear of just being sensational, but the event raised many questions, and I voiced them on the blog.
This one still has me shaking my head in wonder and grief. I don’t even know anybody involved in this, but my heart goes out to everyone involved, including Eric Brian Golden. Someday we’ll know what really happened. I’m watching the press for further coverage.
To my surprise, several people have contacted me privately who knew the Goldens well. The Internet truly destroys “six degrees of separation” and flattens the world.
- Carlton D. Pearson: The Charismatic Bishop of Heresy (1,974 views)
I’m probably the last person in North America to learn that Bishop Carlton J. Pearson stands accused of heresy and now preaches a form of universalism (e.g. “Everybody’s saved —don’t worry, be happy”).
Like many of my posts, this one involved several hours of digging around in blog and newspaper archives, listening to interviews, and even transcribing considerable segments of audio. This is the sort of post I really love to write. I am not a journalist, but this was as close as I have felt to being one as a newbie blogger. It was interesting, revealing, eye-opening, and thought-provoking. And the comments are still pouring in, both in support of Carlton and in opposition.
- Is the Assemblies of God a cult? Or, Wikipedia, authority, and the cult of truthiness. (1,664 views)
This was a fun one. How do you turn a little bit of nothing into a blog post? Easy: comment on someone else’s discussion, and make a big deal out of it. Ha.
Weird, though … like many of my blog posts, this one started out with a small seed of an idea and turned into a mammoth, twisted, tree-killing post that also sand-bagged a few hours of time. I wound up researching the history of Wikipedia vandalism, summarizing a many-months-long discussion over at Wikipedia, defining cults, defining movements, and then somehow crafting a conclusion. I started out only wanting to post about this funny little argument over on Wikipedia. Whatever happened?
- When worship goes awry … (1,501 views)
We revisited the whole silly “things going awry in church” meme for a few yuks when someone forwarded me a link to a visiting pastor leaving voicemail about a woman “moving her butt from side to side.”
Still cracks me up.
What surprised me about this post was the seeming innocuousness of it — yet a debate threatened to erupt in the comments section from folks either defending the poor man who left the original voicemail or castigating the anonymous prankster who created the dance mix. Lesson: it’s okay to criticize a shapely worshiper but not okay to criticize a cranky caller.
- Examining Assemblies of God statistics on growth (1328 views)
In the wake of the coverage of the A/G’s amazing growth and the concerned noises made about the Mormon’s sluggish growth, I put my cardboard-cutout paper journalist’s hat on and did a little research on what the A/G’s real growth numbers are saying. I used as my source the A/G’s published statistics and abstracted some observations that run contrary to the party line — and seem quite sobering to me.
This one’s a keeper, and another great example of why I love blogging. Frankly, though, I’m shocked this one showed up in the top ten. I didn’t think anyone cared about statistics anymore.
- Justin Berry: The Risk of Redemptive Reward (1,327 views)
I revisited the Justin Berry saga because he appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s television show, and what I learned concerned me. I mean, just look at the picture …this is a kid on the verge of meltdown.
So, I blogged it. Then I found out that blogging on an Oprah Winfrey topic is almost as good as getting SlashDotted, Boing-Boinged, or Dugg. Blog traffic went through the roof and my average site stats for the next 30 days were shot.
- Most popular blog posts in 2005 (1295 views)
This was the most surprising entry on this list. But, hey, if repurposing old content keeps the attention flames burning, I’m all for it.
Top Ten Lessons Learned
(Or, again, “Top 10 Lessons Learned”, for my friend, Google)
Here are my top ten lessons about blogging, in no particular order off the top of my head. I can’t defend this as a definitive list because, alas, as usual, I’ve already spent far more time writing this than I had intended. I’ll try to be brief.
- Find a theme and try to stick to it.
I tried to do this early on so that I would have a consistent focus to my blog and so that my audience would be content to stick around for a while. I don’t know that I’ve succeeded all that well. I watch the FeedBurner statistics and the numbers have been up as high as 200 subscribers, but is now wavering at around 80 or so people.
- Don’t be a slave to your theme.
But, on the other hand, this isn’t a publication, it’s not a magazine, and it’s okay to wander afield once in a while. But, still, I try to respect whatever audience I do have and give them something thoughtful with a Pentecostal perspective once in a while. Problem is, it’s hard to be “distinctively” Pentecostal when the sensible position has nothing to do with being an Assemblies of God adherent — or even a Christian. So, I try not to be too slavish about the whole “Pentecostal” thing.
- Find your voice.
More important, I think, than finding your theme is finding your voice. Fortunately, I’ve written enough before I started blogging that I pretty much already had a sense of my own writing style and tone and and wasn’t worried about finding it. But what I’ve been pleased to learn is that it’s become a bit clearer. I believe I write better now than a year ago. This blog has been an extended creative writing exercise for me. I only hope it’s been a pleasure for my visitors. Only you, faithful Reader, can be the judge of that.
- Lighten up.
I have to remember not to take this too seriously now and then. The commenters don’t know me, so when they take a stab at me, I don’t lose sleep over it. (That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the compliments, though, keep ‘em coming! In fact … wanna donate?) And I have to remember, not everybody cares about the stuff I think is interesting. So, when the occasional “tent pitching” verbal slip comes along, enjoy it and try not to worry that the kids like candy more than meat and potatoes.
- Promotion is good, but commenting is better.
In the early months I spent a lot of time getting listed on every blog directory known to man and virus. I wasted hours, nay, days of my life doing this. Very few people came. Then I started commenting on a few blogs I liked and guess what? Fellow comment readers followed the link back to my site to find out who I was. Sometimes they stayed, sometimes they bailed immediately. But for bloggers looking for traffic, don’t overlook the value of a well-placed contribution on another weblog. And I don’t mean comment-spam … I’m talking about making a real contribution on a fellow blogger’s site. Give and it is given back to you.
- Beware blog barnacles.
This is the one I’m guilty of. I have so many widgets and badges on my page it makes loading it a pain in the kiester. Some day I’m going to redesign this barnacle-encrusted blogship and it will be smooth sailing once again. The thing is, readers want a clean design that’s fast to load and easy to read. I believe they’ll reward you for that. All the cruft you see on my page is probably the result of an insecure blogger in the first few months making sure he capitalized on all the reciprocal links he could.
Unfortunately, I’m emotionally tied to them now. :: sigh ::
(Note: I have since updated the theme for this site, and tried to remove a lot of the visual noise.)
- Don’t blog about work or at work.
This one hasn’t bitten me because I resolved early-on to simply not write about work in any sort of opinionated way. I will only write fact-based things like, “We’re launching a video today.” or “My boss thinks I’m a genius.”
People at work, surprisingly, do read your stuff from time to time. And even if you don’t write bad/evil/funny, things about your pseudonymous coworkers, people will look at the time-stamps on your posts, comments, and entries and wonder, “Did he write that on the job?” Doesn’t matter if you’re salaried or on the clock. Just don’t do it.
- Be intimate.
By this I mean, write more winsomely than you would an article for a newspaper or magazine. Definitely write with more ease and less formality than you would a school paper. Blogs are a point of contact between individual readers and a person who writes a blog. Bloggers are not faceless authors: the people who read you and keep reading you will think of you as a person, a friend, perhaps a confidant. From the beginning of this blog I’ve been amazed at some of the contact email I’ve received. Relatives of people I’ve blogged about have contacted me with thanks, with corrections, with criticism. Even though my audience is small, I write every post with the awareness that anyone named in my piece may, one day, read it.
Be careful, be truthful, but be nice.
- Pray about blogging.
This is one I’m weak on, but it’s something that concerns me from time to time —and I do pray about this enterprise. These are words, and they’re powerful things. They will get indexed by the Googles and the Wayback Machines of the Web and they will certainly outlast me.
Beyond the matter of whether these words will be my personal albatross in years to come, they also have the power to lighten someone’s load through laughter, turn their thoughts toward God, give comfort, make readers angry, sad, enlightened, or bored.
This is important stuff, and it pays to write with your Father’s blessing.
- Never diminish the task.
That thing I mentioned earlier about having only 80-plus subscribers to my feed right now? Well, guess what? That’s not much smaller than the average church in North America. It’s a very large small-group, or a good-sized Sunday School class. It’s a real group of people that, if I were to stand in front of and give a lecture or a sermon, I’d prepare for that talk as if my life depended on it.
And that’s the attitude I try to carry into all of my blog posts. I try to respect you, the audience I do have (even if twelve are my own feed readers!), and I try to give you the same honor you are giving me by reading my words.
Really, I try not to waste your time, but if you don’t like what I have to offer and decide to go elsewhere, I’m happy for you. Time is a precious resource and you can’t pay attention to everything.
So, for the few who are paying attention here, I thank you, and I pray that God blesses you, and I pray that he continues to help me as I plod along on this blog journey. It’s been a blast, a great learning experience, and I hope it hasn’t been too painful.
[tags]anniversary, blog-strategies, blogging, blogging-lessons, BlogRodent, charismatic, lessons-learned, pentecostal, retrospective, top-10, top-ten, top-ten-lessons, top-ten-list, top-ten-posts, top10[/tags]