Tag Archives: blogging

Noisy head, blank page

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you may well have noticed a lack of….well…blog posts. All there’s been recently is a few book reviews and even those have been of a lower quality than I would normally publish.

The thing is, there’s so much going through my head that I want to write about, it’s hard to know where to start. During the day, I witness lots of things in the world of work that I could write about. Some I would be legally prohibited from writing about, due to confidentiality agreements. At other times I read, I talk to people and I think. Yet by the time I’ve done a full day at work (typically 08:30-19:30, minus lunch) my mind resembles the inside of a blender. There’s so much that’s gone in, but it’s all a bit of liquidised mess when I get home. If I have time to turn on the computer all I am greeted with is a blank screen.

Even if I have a key point to make, a good piece must begin somewhere. So I end up trying to reverse-engineer an introduction which either proves to be too contrived or else it naturally leads in a different direction to that in which I intend the argument to go. OK, maybe that means that my original idea is need of reworking, but then I’m left exploring new thoughts which takes some time and effort to condense into words. Time and effort that I generally don’t have at 11pm on a weekday evening.

Which leads me on to my other difficulty at the moment. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I get it sometimes, but amongst the worst is the summer. In the mornings, the early sun wakes me far earlier than I ought to be awake. Sleep is elusive, so when breakfast has been had and the bus journey to work completed, I arrive at work having had less rest than is ideal. The long day then wears me out. I begin to recharge in the evening after having dinner and so my energy levels pick up about 9pm, though my head is still buzzing from the day’s activity. It’s rather like a state of entropy: plenty of energy but no coherence.

Finally, there are two pieces that I’ve been hacking at for months now but can’t seem to get right. One is a piece trying to state clearly why I support same sex marriage and the other is on a liberal evangelical perspective on sola scriptura. Both, I think, need saying. Both have the potential to really piss people off, so I’m trying to be careful about what I say, but without being disingenuous. Those two pieces are being written like a statue. First I need to write a big block, saying as much as possible, but then I need to chip away the extraneous parts, leaving (hopefully) a fine sculpture. I don’t want to miss major things and I want to address most obvious objections. Others have written similar pieces, though few I wholly agree with. I could point to them, but then it’s no longer my voice. And it’s only once I’ve condensed my thoughts into words, found my voice and articulated them that I can truly say I know my own mind on these matters.

So that’s why there’s been little on the blog other than book reviews lately. Once those two chips are off my shoulder, work quietens down and my sleep patterns get back to normal, then I hope to resume some blogging.

Whether anyone will be reading then, I have no idea. But if it makes one person smile, think or realise that they’re not alone, then it’ll be worth it.

Trouble with blogging (and a bit of Greenbelt)

I’ve been having a trouble with blogging lately. The reduced output here has partly been a result of an increased level of work over recent months and the fact that just about every blog post I try to write seems to be hard to finish, to get right. By the time I’ve sorted out my wording, it’s already out of date. I’ve long since reconciled myself to the fact that I’m not the kind of blogger who can post a thought-through, erudite response to the latest news within 4 hours of the story breaking. I usually take a week or two to ruminate on it, look at multiple sources and check my facts.

Yet having a browse on Twitter at the weekend, I saw a comment from one user (I forget who, please claim credit if it was you) that the state of christian blogging has changed massively over the course of the last year. Reference was made to the “gatekeepers” of the christian blogosphere. Certainly, from when I began this blog nearly 4 years ago, the world of christian blogging has changed a lot. Many of the most valued voices have gone quiet. Some have quit altogether, others have reduced their output.

Speaking only for myself, I don’t think I’ve managed a decent opinion piece since this one on the EDL which is already long out of date with respect to its specific references. If I’ve not reneged on promises, I’ve certainly delayed fulfilling them. About a month ago, I began ‘an epistle to the Coffee’ in wake of their decision to allow women to become bishops. Around the same time, someone requested that I write a piece on why I refer to myself as non-denominational, though I have yet to begin that. I’ve barely managed to touch the ‘personal catechism’ series I began earlier this year. As for the ‘origins and nature of morality’, I keep looking at it and find myself unable to write a convincing sentence.

The trouble seems to be that the times at which I feel myself most able to write are those times when it is most inconvenient. I cannot write when I am work, yet if I am doing a more mundane task and my mind wanders, then all sorts of creative avenues appear before me. But when the time comes to sit at home and write, all those avenues are blocked off. It might be by a blank page in front of me. It might be by a reluctance to even turn the computer on. Yet when I am at home, the time at which thoughts flow most freely are late at night when I know I ought to be heading towards bed if I’m to function properly the next day. I write this at sentence at quarter to 11 in the evening.

I wonder if other bloggers find similar problems or if you are one of those who have scaled back in recent months whether your issues are wholly different from those I have given.

As an aside, one of the things I do plan to write about is the Greenbelt festival, which I am still intending to go to. If you have been before and would like to pass on some wisdom, then please do let me know. It’s 30 years since I last went to a christian festival. Then, I was in a cot! My plans are to stay in a hotel (booked several months ago) and walk to and from the site each day. I shall take only a few snacks with me, hoping that meals may be obtained on site at an inflated price. I shall bring waterproofs and gaiters. Have got myself an OS map of the area, though I don’t yet have a torch; should I need one for walking back from the site late at night?

And yes, I do remember that I owe Dyfed Wyn Roberts a drink after losing a bet about the Commons debate on the 2014 budget.

Choosing our battles

There are so many things to care about in the world, it’s hard to know where to start. Of late, my work has been going through a period of transition, which has the upshot that I haven’t had much time for blogging lately. But when I do get an hour or to to sit down at an evening or weekend to write, I am flooded with ideas of things to write about. Every day I read things that challenge me, that inspire me, that enable me to see things in a new way. I’d like to respond to some of these, build on ideas and explore tangential avenues of thought. But which ones to choose?

Because I like to mull things over and, where possible, check my facts, I am rubbish at being a “current affairs” blogger. By the time I’ve gathered my thoughts and crystallised them into writing, events have moved on and others have written with far greater clarity and insight than I could, covering everything I wanted to say in the first place. So does one publish and merely add to the noise of the online world, or are you able to let it go? In thinking about this, it seems that one of the issues at stake is that of personal ego. For individual bloggers, there can be a temptation to think that “my voice must be heard”. Or maybe I’m just projecting…

So if I don’t write about something, don’t assume I don’t think about it. I may get round at some point to spelling out some thoughts on particularly controversial topics, or even on finishing various blog series that I’ve started and never got round to finishing. If there’s anything you’d like to see here, feel free to drop me a line; or if you want to write a guest post, then you are very welcome. For now, though, I shall sit and think some more, mulling over what might be helpful to say next.

Top 10 posts of 2013

So as the arbitrary marking of time ticks over another notch, it has become something of a fad for bloggers to say what their most popular posts were in the year. Not so much out of a sense of tradition, but more in the vague hope that you may pick up something useful that you have previously missed, here is my list. Actually, this was compiled on the 19th of December, though I do not expect any of my recent posts to go viral and so break into the top 10.

For those interested in statistics, these 10 account for about 12.9% of the whole traffic on the blog.

1. Thatcher’s Funeral: A Plea for dignified & productive protest

2. Confession of a misanthropic christian

3. I bang my head against the wall when evangelicals are misleadingly portrayed – a response to Giles Fraser 

4. Book Review: The Spirit Level Delusion by Christopher Snowdon

5. Why I love the EDL

6. A christian response to trolling, Part 1: Trolls and what Peter said 

7. On egalitarianism and feminism

8. Sympathy for atheists (part 2 of 2) – some frustrations

9. Putting my money where my mouth is

10. Book Review: The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay

As one final note, the least popular post was:

Law as the light on sin (A Personal Catechism #3) – 2 hits

Return from blogging break

Picture courtesy of Damian Gadal (Creative Commons)

Picture courtesy of Damian Gadal (Creative Commons)

Hello all. I’m back from my blogging break. There’s been an awful lot happening in the last couple of months. There have been lots of thoughts running through my head that have gone by without being written down or explored. I’ve made a few comments on other blogs or news/comment websites, but taking a break from the blog was necessary and I think it’s done some good.

I must confess that I have done some writing during the ‘off’ period, mostly in August. Though many are not finished, I thought I’d give a taster of what’s to come, either to whet your appetite or else warn you to stay away.

At some point, I plan to finish my series ‘The Nature and Origin of Morality’ which has lain dormant for a few years now. I tried an initial sketch when the opportunity arose when guest blogging for The Big Bible blog a few months ago, but I hope to build on this if I get a few days uninterrupted to think and write.

One of the main reasons for the break has been that I moved house. I have written two bits on this. One is a detailed account of the process; the other is a list of hints and tips that I either employed and found useful or things I wish I had done but didn’t. The former was written more for my own reference, but some of you may find it interesting. The latter is more for your benefit or, if I word it correctly for search engine optimisation (SEO) it might help a complete stranger.

Over the summer, one of the big buzz topics has been feminism and the online reaction to some of its outspoken advocates. I’ve commented a little on some points and offered messages of support who have been victims of online bullying, but this piece will hopefully clarify my position of why I will support many feminists but why I don’t adopt the term myself, preferring the expression ‘egalitarian’.

Another topic, as triggered by the cases of Julian Assange, Bradley/Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden is that of whistleblowing. I think, given this name of this blog, I ought to explore the nature of speaking the truth and what consequences that has and whether there ought to be any restrictions on doing so.

I’m working on a couple of pieces on christian belief, atheism and existentialism with the slightly provocative working titles of ‘Sympathy for atheists’ and ‘On the non-existence of God’. These are quite embryonic in their development and have yet to start their journey from my brain to my fingertips.

One piece that I started a couple of years ago, but have struggled with the wording explores the fallibility of human nature and the wrongdoings that are committed by christians, sometimes in the name of christianity. I’ve restarted it a couple of times and shelved it again and again. This time, I’m aiming to finish it. If you can goad me on or offer encouragement, then that’ll be much appreciated.

The most ambitious project, which I’ve started work on, but am a long way (maybe 2-3 years) from finishing is a statement of faith. I realise that I don’t have anything like that which is at all thorough on this blog, so my intention is to look at the 129 questions of the Heidelberg Catechism, looking at the answers given and giving my own response. I’m aiming to do one per week, in the hope that this will be as much an investigation into my own beliefs as it is an exposition. The objective, as ever, will be to provide food for thought.

In amongst these, I’ll also be putting in some book reviews. Specifically, these are:

Thinking in Numbers – Daniel Tammet
Dogmatics in Outline – Karl Barth
Borders: A Very Short Introduction – Alexander Diener & Joshua Hagen
From the Earth to the Moon – Jules Verne
Longitude – Dava Sobel
A Broad Place – Jurgen Moltmann
Dialogues and Natural History of Religion – David Hume
Around the Moon – Jules Verne
Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction – Timothy Gowers
History of the Peloponnesian War – Thucydides
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories – H.P. Lovecraft
Robotics:A Very Short Introduction – Alan Winfield
Confessions – Augustine of Hippo

So that’s the plan. I can’t say it’s all a promise I’ll stick to. I may well get stuck with some of these posts and have to shelve them for a while. Other things may crop up which will intrude, either because they are interesting or there is some need that must be addressed. Meanwhile, the offer is always open to host any guest writers. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested. If you’ve got things you’d like to see here, whether it be a point of clarification over some issue or just something you think would be interesting, then please send your suggestions in. I’m always on the lookout for further book recommendations. I’ve got a few hundred on my reading list, but it can never be too long.

So what about you? Been up to anything interesting over the summer?

Hiatus

Silence

As I briefly stated on Twitter about a week ago I’m going to be going on a bit of a social media break. Not that I’m cutting myself off completely, but I’ll certainly be taking a step back. It would be inappropriate to go into all the details here (some of you I’ve discussed aspects with) but the short story is that I’m looking to move home. After 7 years of living in the same town, various circumstances have combined with a time in life when it’s best to move on. As moving home is one of the most stressful things a person can do, I need to try to make the rest of life as stress-free as possible. Although blogging isn’t all that stressful, it does take up the majority of the spare time I have. I need that time to pack things away, file some stuff and throw other stuff out.

It’s time for a new chapter, but before I can start it I need to finish off the current chapter and do a bit of editing. When reading, I’ve never been one for having a large group of characters, I deal better with smaller casts. So it is in life. To leave this county means that I will be leaving some people. Some, I freely admit, I will be glad to leave behind. Others I will miss. But I knew that when I left university that most of those I had known I would not see again. Yet even those I kept in touch with held a 10 year reunion last year which I only found out about after the event. I can’t say that didn’t hurt. The perennial outsider, I am now choosing to be a stranger in a new place.

I can’t promise that the blog will be empty. I am a fickle creature and may be lured out of my mousehole if I get a particular bee in my bonnet. However, if any of you would like to write a guest post, then do get in touch. If you leave a comment and include your email (in the email box, not the actual comment) then I can get back to you, or any tweets sent to me (@TheAlethiophile) between 9am and 11pm will send a text message to my phone. So even though I’m not logged in, I can still see what you’re saying.

Looking back on Lent

Readers of the blog may not have noticed much different during the last couple of months, but those who follow me on Twitter or like the page on Facebook may have noticed that I decided to give up self promotion for Lent. Instead of using social media to push my own writings to those who ‘like’ or ‘follow’ me, I wanted to highlight the work of other bloggers, all of whom I regard as better quality writers than I, even if I don’t agree with everything they write.

My aim was to do 40 blogs in 40 days, only I managed to learn for the first time ever (at the age of 29) that contrary to what I had been told for years, that Lent doesn’t last for 40 days. While I didn’t manage to do one per day (my week in Scotland hindered that) I did want to make sure that I did all 40 by the end of Lent. Only when I thought Easter should have been a week away, I looked at the calendar and realised it was 2 weeks away. When I asked on Twitter why this was I was deluged with responses from those from a high church background telling me that for counting the days of Lent, Sunday isn’t regarded as a real day. The only time I’ve had more responses on Twitter in a short space of time was when I was retweeted by the BBC’s Conservative party spokesman, Nick Robinson. Anyway, you live and learn!

When I began, it was just after Valentine’s day and I had written a piece specially for it (you can read it here). I had tremendous joy in writing that and conceitedly thought it was rather good. So I began Lent by being hugely frustrated that potentially good work may be ignored. However, as I went on, I no longer started to twitch at the idea that I was throwing words down a hole. Rather, I was hoping that someone might pick up on a blog they had never come across before and might start reading. I know of two people who said that I had helped them find new works they had been unaware of, so I think it was worth it even if it were only for those two.

I think it would be a fair criticism to say that behind some of my self promotion is a desire to win approval from others. Though I mostly muse, with writing as a form of thinking, I do like to make you think at least as much as I have thought about what I write. Even if you don’t agree, I hope that some of you feel ‘nudged’ a little. Sometimes I may prod a little too hard in some directions. I try not to be needlessly offensive. If I think offense may be warranted, I try to bite my tongue, though I wouldn’t claim my judgement is anything but flawed in deciding when to speak out and when to stay silent. As I write this (it’s about 9:30pm on Tuesday the 2nd of April) I have been much angered and upset by the news. There has been the conviction of the Philpotts for the manslaughter of their children. There have been arguments over the government’s changes to social security which have begun to kick in and I saw an article on the news about Welsh farmers who have lost large parts of their flocks due to the harsh weather in March. I plan to write about tax and benefits soon, but I may well remain silent over the others, even though they move me greatly. Is that a bad choice? Are so many writing about the economy that the voices on the left are now just an incoherent cacophony rather than a united chorus?

With Lent now over, I have returned to self promotion. Please let me know if you think I do it too much. My aim is generally to post once on my Facebook page and three times on Twitter (once in the morning rush hour, once at lunchtime and once in the evening rush hour). I know I find those who promote more heavily than this to be irritating, especially those on twitter who retweet any recommendations they get. If that’s you, maybe you might consider your own motivations as I have tried.

Anyway, here’s the list of blogs I promoted. Only towards the end did I realise there was a gender imbalance, so I apologise that it does lean more towards male authorship than being egalitarian. I apologise if you think I overlooked you. Most of these blogs have their own blogrolls, so you could springboard your way to many more from these. I hope you have fun exploring them, though I do hope you come back and have a read here sometime. Let me know if you think I’ve erred, omitted anything or if there’s anything you’d like me to write about. I’m also happy to host any guest posts if you want to write.

Confessions of a Doubting Thomas
Pam’s Perambulation
Renaissance Mathematicus
Teenage Christian
Rogue Stardust
Rev’d Claire
Stranger in an Even Stranger Land (though this site is blocked on some servers for malicious links – nothing about the content. The author is a lovely bloke)
Running Life
Cranmer
God and Politics
Dyfed Wyn Roberts
Longing to be Holy
Half Way to Normal
eChurch Blog (though, having taken a break for Lent, Stuart has now joined the ranks of The Church Mouse & Rev’d Lesley as one to have ceased an immensely readable blog)
Broken Cameras
We Mixed Our Drinks
Simon Clare
Lucy Mills
Admiral Creedy
Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley
An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy
Dreaming Beneath the Spires
Diary of a Benefit Scrounger
Vicky Walker
James Prescott
Thorns and Gold (my personal favourite from this lot)
Thirsty Gargoyle
Recovering Agnostic
Lay Anglicana
Kurt Willems
Kouya
Opinionated Vicar
Vicky Beeching
Finally Human
Fragmentz
Part Time Priest
Sat n’ All That
Black Coffee Reflections
The Church Sofa
The Big Bible Project (a collaborative project, to which I contribute on the 10th of each month)

A christian ethic of blogging

Of late, I have been reading Justification by Tom Wright. I have now finished it and my review will be published before long on this site. However, near the beginning, one little passage jumped out at me and I could not help but be drawn into engagement with it. It reads thus:

“Go to the blogsites, if you dare. It really is high time we developed a Christian ethic of blogging. Bad temper is bad temper even in the apparent privacy of your own hard drive, and harsh and unjust words, when released into the wild, rampage around and do real damage. As for the practice of saying mean and untrue things while hiding behind a pseudonym – well, if I get a letter like that it goes straight into the bin. But the cyberspace equivalents of road-rage don’t happen by accident. People who type vicious, angry, slanderous and inaccurate accusations do so because they feel their
worldview to be under attack.”

I like the idea of a christian ethic of blogging. Though I wonder how it might differ from a christian ethic of any other form of communication. As a fairly regular blogger with an online presence on Twitter and Facebook also, how we communicate our faith to one another and to those who are not christians is a topic of great interest to me.

I agree with Wright that we ought to remain courteous and gracious in all our dealings with one another, whether that be conducted face-to-face, via handwritten letters, writing books or composing blog posts and commenting thereon. Though it strikes me that these are all just different forms of communication; so maybe we could generalise to a christian ethic of communication. Though I think this was outlined quite well by James in what has become known as chapter 3 in his letter to the dispersion.

What really struck me about this snippet was the phrase, “hiding behind a pseudonym”. I have written a little on web anonymity before but it may be worth restating some things. I blog under a pseudonym to keep my normal life and my working life separate. I’m not sure how many of my employers, past or present, would like what I write. I do not claim to speak as a representative of anyone other than myself, which would be compromised if I openly blogged in my own name. Aside from that, there is nothing duplicitous in what I write. I would hope that any readers here have found me to be open and honest.

What I aim for is what I think of as credible anonymity. To avoid such fallacies as the argument from authority or the argument from no authority, I think it is important to assess a person’s words on what they actually say rather than any secondary information which may be dug up by researching their real name. After all, what is a name if not a label by which someone is known. To be simultaneously credible and anonymous, one ought to maintain a self-consistency. I wouldn’t claim I always attain this, though it is something I aim for, and I hope you might recognise this.

The trouble with anonymity is that there are those who use it, as Wright points out, as a mask to hide behind while abuse is hurled out from behind it. Yet to characterise all such anonymous bloggers as such would be (though Wright doesn’t quite go that far) a terrible slur. Of course, people don’t like being told that they’re wrong, especially when the accusation is false. That doesn’t just happen to famous authors, bloggers do that to one another.

In my opinion, it is only by setting an example of being both anonymous and credible, with others following en masse, that attitudes towards anonymity may be helped. I don’t think it will ever be free from suspicion, as the likes of LulzSec and the “Anonymous” collective continue to use the web for purposes perceived (not always unjustly) as nefarious.

I also, wonder if, given that this blog is anonymous, Prof Wright would even read this piece, all other considerations aside…

Top 10 posts of 2012

I’m not a fan of “[reviews of the year]” which are shown the light of day before the year has ended. That is why this post has not taken shape until the start of this year. In case you’ve only just stumbled across this blog or if you’ve only recently started following (welcome along, by the way!) then these are the most popular posts in 2012. I’ve used the total number of hits as the measure. As I migrated from Blogger to WordPress, this takes into account the total hits from both sites.

It is interesting to see this list, as it’s not what I expected. The top 2 posts are by far away the most popular, each with more hits than numbers 3-10 put together. Some of the posts on unemployment have been unexpectedly well-read, though I will confess some disappointment that some of the longer posts into which I poured the most time and effort have not made the list.

I think it also says something about how a blog post is worded which either piques the interest when it is advertised on social media or by how easily it is found via a search engine.

1. Derren Brown, confirmation bias and the need for religious education
2. Proof of why a transposition error is always divisible by 9
3. Book Review: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
4. Confession of a left-wing christian
5. A Big Personal Announcement
6. Why I left my church – part 4
7. Why I left my church – part 1
8. Is this the worst email reply ever?
9. How not to conduct an interview
10. What is an alethiophile?

In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for topics you would like me to write about, please do feel to suggest any. If you would like to write a guest post then do drop me a line. You can leave a comment, send me a message on Twitter or Facebook.

Blogger’s block: Searching for cohesion

I’ve hit a wall again. While I found my month off quite beneficial and several people commented (albeit slightly backhandedly) on the quality of my posts thereafter, I’ve run into another mental block. I’ve received responses to both my tax proposal for companies taking on unemployed people and to my post on confirmation bias and the need for religious education.

While I have draft responses to these, I am satisfied with neither. Looking at them as they stand, they are little more than a collection of soundbites. To those I have promised to reply, I apologise. They lack an overall cohesion, making them difficult to read.

I also have had some other distractions, some welcome, some not. For one, the job market seems to have picked up, so I have been spending a lot more time researching for both 1st and 2nd round interviews. Inevitably, there have been some massive disappointments; interviews that have gone particularly well have resulted in rejection because “[there was just someone with more relevant experience]”. Also, I’ve not been in the best of health, and the most minor of illnesses tends to make my head go a bit fuzzy, making the prospect of writing that bit more daunting. 

There are a few more books which I’ve read & reviewed, but whose reviews haven’t yet been posted. So unless I can improve my half-written posts greatly in the next few days , then the rest of this year’s posts will just be book reviews. I know they’re not the most popular of my posts although they do seem to be the most frequented when the blog is found via search engines.

Let’s hope the new year beings good health, a new job and greater clarity in writing (in that order of priority).