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Religious blogging panel, SXSW

I was at the SXSW conference for work, and there was a session, "Ghost in the Machine: Spirituality Online," that some readers of this blog might have enjoyed.

The panelists were:

I don't think I can summarize this at all well, so I'm publishing my lightly cleaned-up notes of the conversation. (They may not be perfect, and I didn't record it, so can't go back to check.)

VR: Most friends not interested in discussing liturgy, interpretation of Scripture, wanted conversations with people who care about Judaism. Also enjoying conversations with non-Jews. XPatriated Texan asked - There's GodBlogCon - Could we do something like this for progressive faith blogosphere? Did it. Friday evening Jewish prayers, Saturday AM Buddhist, Saturday evening Muslim prayers, Sunday AM Christian service - "everyone could look in the window and see what it looked like to worship in a different way"

HR - presenting Islam to an interfaith audience - didn't start out that way. A few Muslim bloggers erupted at the same time. Islamicate seems to have drawn in a lot of non-Muslim readers. Try to write in a way that talks to Muslims but brings a new perspective to people who aren't as familiar with the faith. Intro Islam reading list linked widely through non-Muslim blogs, but previous piece on Shia picked up almost entirely by Muslim blogs.

Questioner - don't have an atheist up there. Seems like there's no place for someone who's an atheist yet has spiritual.... end up reading Real Live Preacher. JM apologizes for not having many traditions on panel - would be happy to talk about next year possibly.

RLP - "very surprised to find blogging about opening up and saying 'this is who I am' - atheists, pagans, would send email, ended up talking." Hard to have a barrier when you're talking to someone, find common ground. Blogging "may be shattering division between religious and non-religious."

Questioner - how do we reconcile difficulty of discussion of faith as slow contemplative thing, with technology, which is speeding up?

JM - How long do you take writing these entries. RLP sometimes 10 hours. "Theme that comes up a lot - always this 'well you can't have it online the way you have it in meatspace, so don't do it.'"

HR - distinction between blogging about religion (soundbites), blogging about faith (depth)

VR - playing to one's strengths - I've always been wordy.

KL - can spend 10 hours on 30 blog posts. Struggling with what it means to be Mormon and progressive, and balancing the two - but feel at home when I can Google for that. I don't have to read the whole thing, all of them, but know that they're there.

RLP - Professional - pressure from congregation, or self, to self-censor. "When I started I was anonymous, it was like having a secret identity. I was outed, people at my church found it... professional means I'm a pastor of a church. It's a very small church... people in churches don't want their minister to be real - they'd rather he be an icon. I want to think that there's someone in the world who has no human issues. You're going to get fired. Only path to authenticity is to work at a church which pays so little they can't replace, or built a community and they love you. The thing that keeps us apart is the lack of humanity. In my case, everything was okay - maybe we need to do that more.

RLP - All writing has its filters. Mother-in-law, daughters. Couldn't write about daughter. I still feel pretty gutsy - use the F-word once in a while - price I'm going to pay from someone I know.

JM - Comments, creating a miniature community.

KL - It's a world-shattering experience when your mom comments for the first time on your blog.

HR - I'm really bad on comments - keeping up with them is hard, but always leave them on. Except - one post turned off comments, called "Kill all Muslims", about Osama bin Laden. Most comments ever, I guess people think I'm offering myself up. People who think I shouldn't live because I'm Muslim, other people who think I shouldn't live because I'm the wrong type of Muslim.

VR - Try to respond to every comment, keep conversation such that we feel like we're having coffee. Buber, I-Thou relationship. Leave nastygrams in place.

HR - never deleted a non-spam comment.

Question - Liza, culturekitchen.com, feminist progressive, question about Catholic League, Edwards bloggers. Unbelievable how quickly some groups went on to attack us as well. Got into a tiff with another blog because she disliked how they were using burka image. I'm an atheist with a Pentecostal preacher brother and Muslim brother and Catholic parents.

KL - hard to ignore it - if it'll sell papers, Bill Donohue becomes voice of all Catholics, Mitt Romney voice of all Mormons... can't reach that level, but enough people blogging on it, sharing perspective, open up.

Liza - feminist Mormon housewives out there

Questioner - 'Jewnitarian' - not in ministry because I saw that father didn't get private life, neither did family. Second Life - "church of the larger fellowship" - UU group meets on Second Life. More inclusive opportunity, more people at lower income levels. Opportunities in a dispersed congregation. "We exist in some critical mass, never knew that there were others."

Questioner - I'm an evangelical, really tired of stereotypes everyone immediately jumped to. Reaction he got from saying that another minister made him want to hurl was vitriolic - will web divide or unite?

RLP - If you talk about yourself, you can say anything. When you talk about others, it almost always explodes.

JM - Also would like to have more conservative voices on panel. Not world peace any minute, but still idealistic in a sense, though saw dark side. Democratic. Kevin and JM don't identify as religious bloggers on site.

Questioner on Second Life, not a blogger. More entertainer and sharer - had an experience toward beginning of Second Life where somebody close passed away in real life. Spent every night dancing in Second Life, complete loss. Needed something for himself for closure. Nice judeo-pagan boy with a smattering of religion, probably Unitarian. That particular funeral led me to being able to work with other people in second life, and became virtual minister, Tuna Oddfellow. Watched and experienced people of different faiths getting together. Can have an emotionally intense experience online.

KL - talked about this at lunch - connections we have to online friends may be the only spiritual relationship they have. A million weak connections sometimes do make up for a few strong ones. May not be able to find anyone local, but...

Questioner - A Christian. As film blogger, Christianity doesn't come up much, but sometimes reviewing Christian films - brief pang when I write it isn't very good - hesitation.

RLP - I feel joy when I'm critical. Parables supposed to explode your world view.

KL - Discussion more important than dogma

RLP - Reaching levels of spiritual sucktitude never imagined - Fox Faith.

JM - Christian culture - never felt it growing up - but very much of Islam, Judaism have, looking at own faith.

Questioner - How much time do you spend online, out with community?

JM - think I've always made online relationships with purpose of meeting in real life - nothing the same as real life. Have struggles finding local community with experience like this. Online a safety valve, not where I always want to be.

KL - blog has become icebreaker for starting conversations, firestarter. People read blog about his struggles, now door is open. Don't have to worry about making someone uncomfortable. Can keep reading it a secret or can take opening to approach me.

HR - use blogging to get away from people - chance to think, spend week teaching, weekends traveling. Blogging a chance to be away from people, and reflect.

VR - A teacher noted - The people he can pray with are not necessarily the people he can talk with. Those may not be the people who want to have long involved conversations about text.

RLP - Don't know how to be healthy with blogging - have been unhealthy. Emails come in, not the kind you can avoid answering or you'd be a total jerk. RLP takes half my life - don't even get to read other blogs, don't know how to handle.

Questioner - Plenty of people in circle of readers able to argue and dispute with me forever. How do you deal with that?

RLP - people get into endless discussions, get entrenched, angry - say final things, let others have last word.


Simon, thanks for taking such detailed notes on our panel, I really hope you got something out of it. I've always been fascinated by Quakerism, btw, and will be back to read your blog now that I know it's here.