Thursday, May 27, 2004

KEEPING COOL: Are you like me? Do you ever go two days at work getting practically nothing done because you got sucked into an intense online debate? (Ah, you all can probably compose a post in less than an hour.)

Let’s see if I can make this long story short: The National Council of Churches issued a pastoral letter urging the U.S. to change its Iraq policy: specifically, to hand off authority to the United Nations. Not huge news, frankly. This letter was sent to Mark Kleiman, who made a peevishly dismissive response on his blog. Kleiman’s blog post started small conflagrations in two or three other blog locales, notably The Village Gate / The Right Christians, where I stuck my two cents in.

The upshot has been some harsh words and bruised feelings. The founding father of The Village Gate is the Rev. Allen Brill, whom I have liked, admired, and identified with in his effort to project a progressive Christian voice. Allen feels, and I share the feeling, that he’s beset from two sides. On one hand, right-wing Christians have hijacked Scripture and tradition for nefarious purposes, and have tainted the image of the church in the American body politic. On the other hand, secular progressives are often ignorant about, indifferent and sometimes hostile to the concerns of religionists who are trying to work in concert with them.

Reaching out to the secular left is the need Allen feels most acutely. When a lefty blogger directly or indirectly rebukes him, like Kleiman did this week and Atrios did a while back, Allen has been hurt and, frankly, has lost his cool on occasion.

So Allen’s hurt, Kleiman’s pissed, Patrick Nielsen Hayden is pissed. Me, I guess I got a little pissed myself over at the Village Gate. I won’t rehash what I posted there.

Over the last six years, the Web has rekindled my interest in writing. I’m grateful for this. But there’s a pitfall for me: the adrenaline rush of the flame war. Some of the posts I’ve written that were, not the best, but the most satisfying and cathartic, were written in righteous anger.

This blog is part of my ongoing project to find my subject matter and my voice as a writer. Earlier this spring I started and abandoned a whole series of blog essays. I abandoned them because I realized what I was doing was running around the Internet with a chip on my shoulder, looking for things to take offense at. That’s no way to be healthy or happy, or a good writer.

Religion is a subject I have to be wary of. I’m interested in it, maybe even passionate about it, but I have the chip on my shoulder about it. I don’t want my voice to be one of victimhood or fake wounded honor.

I don't think Allen's hurt was fake. The acre of subject matter he farms is well-defined, unlike my acre. In this Council of Churches blogstorm, Mark Kleiman was in the wrong, basically-—he made a gratuitously rude and ill-informed post. But Allen fanned the flames and got singed by the blowback. In the process, a pretty good thing he had going got damaged.

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