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Thursday, March 10, 2005

What's next for UU blogs?

In announcing the first annual UU Blog Award winners, I mentioned that my vote for best UU blog had gone to Phil's Little Blog on the Prairie — and I promised to explain why in a future post. After much delay, here we go:

Some readers may think I'm crazy. Phil Lund doesn't generate a lot of buzz; he uses an off-brand blogging software (without comments, trackback, or RSS); he doesn't have a "blogroll"; he doesn't spawn controversy and he never raises his voice. On the other hand, he does have a goofy yet memorable blog name. (Can you make a TV-show joke out of your UUA district's name? Can you?)

But hear me out. At its most basic level, blogging is simply an easy way to publish and organize writing on the Internet. It's a technology even more than a style or attitude — and Phil has figured out how to use that technology to do something Unitarian Universalists really need much more of. He publishes high-quality, important, useful columns about family ministry and religious education on a regular schedule, turning his blog into a weekly newsletter. Once a week, no more, no less. He has also figured out how to make the blog a basic tool of his job as Lifespan Program Director for one of the UUA's districts. Unlike an e-mail newsletter, his blog is easy to find, easy to search (using Google or any other Web search engine), and already easy to read on-line. More importantly, unlike an e-mail newsletter, it's public: It's a resource for people who know little or nothing about Unitarian Universalism, who aren't already insiders, and who may learn from us — or even want to learn more about us — simply by visiting. Phil is doing outreach even as he focuses on resource development for religious educators. That is bang for your buck, my friends. And we're talking serious bang for your buck, since if you have access to the Internet you hardly need to spend a penny more to get started.

The reason I voted for Phil is that I would like to see more Unitarian Universalists recognize the Internet for what it is: the most cost-effective publishing tool available to us right now.

Paper and postage are so expensive that almost all of the independent periodicals that used to carry on important conversations in our religious movement have shriveled up and died. The handful that remain are largely academic and archival, or they're vestigial organs of floundering independent organizations. There are a lot of things the Internet can't do, of course, and I would be the last to suggest that the absence of a range of printed publications for Unitarian Universalists is in any way a good thing. For one thing, both of our historic movements were heavily involved in publishing from the beginning, and the printed word has been the key vehicle for transmitting liberal religious values. Publishing, however, has become a difficult venture for UUs — perhaps because no one wants to read Unitarian Universalist writing (which I don't believe) or because the circle of people generating and exchanging ideas has grown so small that it can be carried on entirely by word of mouth or the UU Ministers Association e-mail list (I can't believe it's come to that) or perhaps simply because the economics and technology of producing quality publications has grown too daunting. I'm going with the last option. The Internet offers a partial solution.

We need a range of voices interacting, sharing resources, responding to each other, generating buzz, thinking through the problems and opportunities that confront us. Phil is modeling solid, consistent, high-quality on-line publishing for his colleagues in the ministry and in professional service to the liberal church. I suspect, based on what it costs me to run Philocrites, that he spends $100 or less a year doing it.

So should you just run out and get yourself a blog? No. Don't get me wrong. Blogging can be fun, addictive, educational, addictive, intellectually stimulating, and addictive. (Do not underestimate the amount of time you can spend perfecting your blog. Try not to take over the whole world in a single evening.) As much fun as soapbox punditry is, though, I want to encourage something else: We don't need more people spouting off on this, that, and the other (although I'm sure I'd enjoy the spectacle). The next wave of UU bloggers would be more disciplined. They'd pick a theme, a tight focus, something they've thought about and written about and read about, something they might be able to write a clever, concise book about if only they had the time. A blog like Phil Lund's.

Think of the possibilities: A blog focused entirely on questions newcomers to a UU church might have. A group blog — written by a few colleagues — about the dynamics of congregational growth. A group blog focused on liturgical excellence. I'm sure I could dream up a dozen more, but I want you to dream the dreams — and write the blogs.

I don't simply mean to suggest that people should put up Web pages — a lot of people have tried that. But I do mean to suggest that technologies are now available to help people publish material on-line and get it to the people that need it. You don't need to act right away, but my friends and colleagues, put this thought in your six-month plan: Is there some aspect of your work that your colleagues and a wider audience could genuinely use if you invested a modest amount of time in becoming a blogger? Is there a way that your voice and your insights could genuinely advance the principles and purposes of your religious movement? Go see what Phil is doing. Think about it.

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 10 March 2005 at 6:29 PM

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Joseph Santos-Lyons:

March 13, 2005 03:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks Chris for your analysis on this, and I enjoyed checking out Rev Phil Lunds Blog. You make an excellent point about the cost-effective nature of the internet, and clearly with the rise of and the Church of the Younger Fellowship emerging out of the FUUSE community I am in some ways scrambling to make sense of how my work with young adult and campus ministry can effectively connect and coordinate.

I am still seeking a niche for my new blog, and right now am blogging in a dozen categories and issues. Perhaps I will need to focus down to just a few, not sure if I can effectively blog to such a diverse audience. Would love to hear your thoughts. And hopefully next year I'll be an eligible candidate for your blog awards!

In peace, Joseph aka radicalhapa


March 18, 2005 06:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

Here's a new example of the sort of blog I'm imagining: View from the Mountains by UU leadership experts Ken Brown and Angela Merkert. They'll be focusing on transformational leadership and congregational change.

Joseph Santos-Lyons:

April 18, 2005 01:24 AM | Permalink for this comment

I saw Ken and Angela's, but it is pretty minimal right now. I wish the UUA Transformation Committee for Wholeness and Justice (formerlly JTW) gets their blog going more too!

Donald Wilson:

October 3, 2005 09:38 PM | Permalink for this comment

I CAN make a TV joke out of my districts name: Affairs of the Heartland, spoofing the BBC comedy. There's also "Reverend Lisa's Fanatic Heartland Clan" if we need to introduce Beatles albums


February 5, 2006 05:04 PM | Permalink for this comment

Not sure where to put this, and this post seems appropriate! I'm collecting links to positive UU writings on my new Best of UU page. I'm sure this will evolve into a blog over time, but as I'm planning a migration to a non-university owned domain in a few months, I figured I'd collect material now and set up a more advanced format later.

I've linked a few posts from this blog - do you have any others you'd like to add? Or ideas of other resources to glean? I'd like to develop a book list, too, but I've been reading too much trashy fiction lately to feed the escapist need in me.

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