A Beautiful Patchwork Community

I learned about blogging from the teacher of Writing Beyond the Sermon at Western Theological Seminary last fall.  As a 70- year-old gray-haired woman, I joined a class of 20-somethings (mostly male) with no little fear and trepidation.  But I was determined to join the technological era in some way, and since I was totally put off by the trivial pursuit of Facebook and astonished by the uselessness (to me) of 140 characters in Twitter, blogging was it!

I didn’t learn much in the class about the technology behind blogging, but I learned a lot about the spirit of blogging, for which I am daily grateful.  (I also learned about two great books which any writer of any stripe should read: The Elements of Story, Field Notes on Nonfiction Writing by Francis Flaherty and Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’ Engle. )

I received an e-mail from that teacher recently asking, among other things, how the writing is going.  I was thrilled to report that I am loving it, and that I am delighted by the 53 followers I have collected along the journey and with the variety of generous comments from members of our congregation who are evidently following the blog without FOLLOWING the blog.  He responded with a comment I have been pondering ever since:  “I have been thinking quite a bit about how writing forms communities . . . .One of the biggest surprises I’ve had as a writer (and a heavy introvert) is that writing publicly has resulted in some kind of beautiful, patchwork community.”

As another “heavy introvert,” I have puzzled all my life about building “community.”  Since I am very content by myself and consider more than three people a crowd, I have been always been challenged by the ordinary parameters of community.  But Adam’s comment about the “patchwork community” of bloggers made total sense.  How else would I get to know a retired professor in Hong Kong who posts a personal travelogue complete with gorgeous photography in every blog.  Or the missionary in Italy who writes about simple living. Or my newest acquaintance Brian who describes himself as” a sojourner walking this spiritual path called life.” How else would I be able to spend the summer in Amsterdam visiting cathedrals and markets and learning about the travails of bicycle travel in Amsterdam streets?

Christine Pohl, a Christian writer who specializes in community, writes that the three requirements for community are hospitality, truth telling, and promise keeping.  It’s amazing to find all those characteristics in many blogs I have read and in all I have described above.  Warm hospitality is the hallmark of all of these blogs – from the gracious “about” sections to the design of the page to the personal writing styles.  Truth telling is hard to find in in-person gatherings; people are always hiding behind their persona or their mask. The authenticity and bravery I am finding among bloggers is a happy surprise.

And then there is promise keeping.  The very establishing of a blog implies a covenant between an individual and the writer within the individual:  I will write . . . and write . . . and write some more and I will find my voice. There is also a covenant/promise between the blogger and the faithful reader:  I will write and you will read and because you read I will write some more.  A blogger who posts consistently keeps a promise to his or her readers to continually dig deeper and find something to write about that is enjoyable or  valuable, and, if he or she is fortunate, even precious to the reader.  And the reward for all of this is a ” beautiful patchwork community.”

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6 Responses to A Beautiful Patchwork Community

  1. I have read Susan Cain’s book as well as listening to and watching her TED talk. I have recommend the book to all introverts I know as well as to our church’s ministry leadership team. It is important for leaders to know that being charismatic in front of a group or a social butterfly is not the only sign of leadership potential. The best thing I learned from Susan is that introverts can look like extroverts when they are operating in the passion. Many teachers, preachers, and public speakers are strongly introverted, but can operate in those arenas beautiful – they are just totally drained afterward. John and Nancy Ortberg have written two great articles in Leadership Journal about their introvert/extrovert differences and how differently their spiritual journeys are because of those differences. I’m giving these articles to apprentice classes this year. If you want a copy, let me know!

  2. Ruth Evenhouse says:

    Karen, After reading this lovely commentary on a patchwork community and writing, and an “aside” on introversion, I wondered if you’d read Susan Cain’s book, QUIET? At the very least, watch her TED talk on Introversion… Funny, wise, and quite profound.

    Fondly, Ruth

    Sent from my iPad

  3. Sheila says:

    What a beautiful post! The community aspect of blogging was a lovely surprise to me as well; so unexpected. To be truthful, I was quite cautious about blogging, as I too found Facebook too trivial and Twitter useless. I use Facebook only to keep in touch with family in the USA, and Twitter, well I just never found it to make any sense! But I’m pleased and honored to be part of this beautiful patchwork community!

  4. Wow – all praise to God!!!

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