Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Musings on Blogs and Privacy, Or the Lack Thereof

Blogs are inherently public.
I am a member of a private blog with several other people. That's as much as I'll tell you about that. It doesn't appear in my profile, and you won't find it by searching for it (thanks, Google!). What is said there stays there, unless one of the members shares it outside our virtual space. Even there, most of us maintain some degree of anonymity, although if you tried hard enough, you could probably figure out who we are.
That's easy in the case of this blog. I made a decision early on that this would be an exercise in transparency, that while I would not come right out and share my full name, that one could figure it out pretty easily. My email address is in my profile. I put a link to this blog in my email signature 2 years ago. My church's name appears in the blog. And I talk about people I know here.
One thing I do is try not to name anyone without their permission, generally speaking. I haven't named my parents, although I've mentioned them by relationship from time to time. Exceptional One's photos are posted by permission from her parents, and you'll not find a mention of her last name: their very reasonable stipulations, which I follow, without hesitation. As I told her mother when I asked, "no" is always an acceptable answer. And I know that they read my blog, at least my sister, father, and an aunt do.
I'm in a sort of bloggy limbo: it's easy enough to find out who I am, but I don't use my full name. Close enough though, since my first name is Anne and I blog as RevAnne. I've chosen not to opt for total anonymity as so many others do, because I mean for this blog to be a place for story-sharing and relationship-building. There is a link to this blog from our church's website, come to think of it. It's definitely a very loosely-kept secret, if at all.
And so when I blog here, sometimes I am careful about what and how I say things. Other times I am less so, knowing that part of who I am is someone who needs to express frustration and be dramatic from time to time. I've been comfortable with this policy until fairly recently. Last year, a blogger who was a pastor was disciplined over something he said online. It was a "privacy" issue, he was told, although he had permission to publish what he did. It was basically a prayer request, and a reflection on the bravery and faith of a family in crisis. It was pastoral, and loving, and invited us into a relationship with this family. Admittedly, it was at a remove, but even so, there was nothing inherently objectionable to the subjects in the post. Someone else got upset for them, and it all snowballed out of control.
Another clergy blogger recently has lost a position and left their denomination with great anger and hurt because of how they were treated (note the gender-neutral and grammatically incorrect pronouns here!). That story continues to be shared on their blog, which allows others to provide an alternative model of Christian community to someone who has been abused by the traditional structures.
I guess what I'm saying it that it's all about relationships. In keeping this blog, I open my life to relationships with others. It's not quite full disclosure, but it's not far off. And I invite comments and dialogue. I've "met" new people online I'd never have known otherwise, and would love to meet face to face: fascinating men and women, with amazing stories to tell about their own lives and experiences. This is a gift to me, and I enjoy it a great deal.
But I'm starting to get nervous about being a pastor who blogs.
Posting sermons is fine, but in a climate of judicatory suspicion over this means of communication, it's hard to feel comfortable about sharing my life. My posts about health concerns and medical issues could be used against me by a conference anxious about its own rising health care costs (our health insurance is self-funded, and pastors are, by and large, an unhealthy bunch). If I blog about an interaction with a parishioner, they might get offended, or someone else on their behalf, or because I blogged about person A and not person B. (Which is why I don't, much.)
It's not the church's blog, although I welcome church members to read it. It's not the conference's blog, although I know from time to time one of my colleagues has come across it, and they too are welcome.
It is no one's words but mine. No one is responsible for them but me. And I take that responsibility seriously. But when other pastors have had their words used against them, I'm feeling more anxious and less transparent than I'd like. And that was the point for me: for this to be my place, where I can be me.
A real human being.
A pastor, yes, but a still-flawed person, experiencing growing pains as I mature spiritually.
A student who hopes to never stop learning.
A wife and daughter, sister and niece, a friend...
Not perfect. Not even close.
But I'm living, and learning, and trying, and loving.
This is supposed to be a safe place for me to do that. I don't want to lose it, but I do feel a little threatened. A little less like putting myself out there.
And isn't that a shame?


  1. Ellen ( 22, 2009 at 11:27 PM

    Most definitely. I found your blog purely by accident. My great-grandparents were members of Ann St for most of their lives and a friend's grandfather was a pastor there. I spent my childhood summers in Newport- my grandparents passed 11 yrs ago this month. Long story to say that I have bookmarked you and really enjoying reading your blog. You bring a little bit of "home" to my home in Atlanta and I am very thankful!

  2. Interesting.

    I have similar struggles. I don't know what my employers would say if they knew I had a blog!

    Although I blog semi-anonymously, Scotland's small enough my identity could be easily figured out. So it's a lot blander than it could be.

    I meet such interesting people and hear such interesting stories in my daily work but I feel I can't even post them anonymously as it would be wrong somehow, even if it made my blog a whole lot juicier!!


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