Walking the fine line

I’m teaching an advanced creative writing course this semester on blogging (which is one of the many things keeping me from actually attending to my own blog, as it turns out). And so I’m thinking a lot about blogs and blogging in slightly deeper ways than is usual (or perhaps is even healthy).

No matter, it’s always been my contention that I started this blog “to encourage and maybe begin to sustain a conversation from a multiplicity of perspectives about southern gospel music and culture,” to quote myself in a recent post. This is true. But it occurred to me somewhere in the sky over Tennessee or Kentucky the other day (I’ve been traveling for work) that the origins of blogging are for me (indeed probably for all bloggers who do it well or earnestly anyway) more personal – maybe even more biographical – than I have previously realized.

I’m no longer surprised to have underlying motivations for things I do surface embarrassingly late. It took me several years to realize one reason I’m so interested in Puritan literature and life professionally was that I was raised in the closest thing to puritan culture than post-modern America has to offer.

And so, it seems, with blogging, am I working out some longstanding tensions or unresolved ambivalences from the formative periods of my past. This is not the only reason I blog, of course. It’s fun, for one thing. It keeps me connected to a part of the world that I wouldn’t have much contact with otherwise and since I also mine this part of the world in my day job, that connection helps me stay current in a way I might not otherwise be able to do.

Still … growing up in a conservative, fundamentalist culture, I learned early and well the limits of dissent and argument – in both the sense of making and having an argument. This fear of or disdain for or condescension to dissenting views has seemed to me by turns silly and counterproductive, self-sabotaging and hopelessly self-destructive. Trying to wall yourself off from the world around you, reinforcing isolation with beliefs untested by vigorous debate and exchange – this way of life doesn’t keep the world at bay in the least. Rather, it only ensures that that world will reach you filtered through the lens of antagonism and phobia or defensiveness and anxiety.

I understand the reasons for this world view (or at least I think I do), and mean no disrespect to those who subscribe to its central tenets and habits of mind. But I would lie to say a great deal of my private and public life has not involved challenging this sort of thinking and living. In blogging about gospel music, I realize — quelle surprise! – that I’ve found a way to try to foment the kind of vigorous discussion and rangy conversation that’s so often missing within, and in conversations about, conservative Christianity as I’ve known (and know) it.

It doesn’t always work of course. Almost every comments thread here gets hijacked at some point by people quoting scripture or preaching mini-sermons in ways clearly meant to function as conversation-stoppers. But even if these kinds of comments weren’t obviously self-discrediting, on balance I think the kind of give and take here succeeds in challenging the narrow- or small-mindedness that besets so much of conservative Christianity.

Of course it’s not always a mensa-meeting around here, and I have no pretensions about averyfineline eradicating what one scholar I’ve been reading lately has rightly called “the scandalously trifling qualities of the evangelical mind.” Sometimes, I enjoy being an ordinary fan and playing the inside baseball stuff too. In this, I suppose I unsteadily walk the fine line between profundity and piffle all the time. And yet, my modest epiphany at 30,000 feet gives me some consolation that even in the silliest of discussions here, all is not lost … at least not for me.

I tell my students in the blogging class that the best blogs aren’t about the “museum of me,” and I think I’m coming perilously close here to violating my own maxim. So enough. Carry on. And thank you.

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  1. Revpaul wrote:

    “Almost every comments thread here gets hijacked at some point by people quoting scripture or preaching mini-sermons in ways clearly meant to function as conversation-stoppers.”

    I’ve yet to understand why these “Blog Police” hang out around here, the very place where new thoughts and ideas are openly discussed. One word of dissent and they attack and shut it down.

    In the moderating process, isn’t there some way to color their posts orange or something, so we can quickly get back to the discussion at hand? Maybe we could compile a list of their most-quoted texts and just refer to them by number. Like, “see objections #2 and #7.”

    Walkin’ the line between profundity and piffle. Indeed!

  2. Tcburszt wrote:

    I was hoping to comment on the alliterative agility of your “profundity and piffle” dichotomy, but it seems I’ve been beaten to the punch. Be wary not to lose credibility in class. If you’re going to violate your own maxim, do it quiet-like! See you Tuesday.

  3. Chuck Peters wrote:

    “..fine line between profundity and piffle.,”

    I was hoping you would be able to work that line into a blog post.

  4. Bubba wrote:

    “It took me several years to realize one reason I’m so interested in Puritan literature and life professionally was that I was raised in the closest thing to puritan culture than post-modern America has to offer.”

    Seems as if you threw the baby out with the bath water too!

  5. Ron Fleshman wrote:

    It becomes apparent that Avery and I come from the same background and have had the same experiences in our formative years. Revpaul and Doug are correct in that these pontifications are meant to stop conversation, but that’s nothing new. I can remember Saturday nights at my childhood home when Sister so-and-so would come by so my mother could roll her hair for Sunday services. The conversation would always go to some evil in the world and when some visitor would try to interject something of substance, it would all be stopped with some scripture and the conversation would change. It’s been a big flashback for me reading the comments from readers.

    When our leader first offered up this blog as a discussion of the music–its quality, who was doing what in the industry (mainly because the sg press is so secretive and downright giddy with fandom), and culture, it’s rarely that anymore. I hate that. This is still the best commentary on sg in the whole wide world, but I’m thinking of skipping the comments from now on. I had a lifetime of that between ages 10 and 18, and have no desire to return to those days.

  6. dkd wrote:

    I’m too illiterate to even make a post on this one. I think I will just sit back and “Piffle”.

  7. Revpaul wrote:

    Years ago I heard a sermon by a well-known preacher who always alliterated his three points. But this time, he forgot his third rhyme. His message built to a powerful climax when he exclaimed: “Power, without Purpose, is…uh… Piffle”. He then spent his final ten minutes trying to explain the meaning of piffle.

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