the original bloggers

April 1st, 2008

There is no real definition of blogging. When no one is telling you how many inches you have to fill and by what time, then you can use as much or as little time as you like, to write as long or as short as you like. Blogging is essentially the ultimate freedom of expression, since there are no constraints. It is therefore not possible to define what a blog is from some manual. The only way is to observe how blogs are written and see whether there is a certain style that is more common than others. And there is one. The most common style of blogging is reminiscent of one principle from the open source method: release early, release often. Most blogs are relatively short and don't try to take on many arguments. Which is why they are also not too hard to write. You can limit your scope to a small and comfortable size.

Of course, blogs are a relatively new thing. A lot of people now have a voice who prior to blogging didn't have a suitable channel. But there is one group of people whose blogging predates the internet era. They have been doing it for centuries, albeit not always with the same level of freedom that we do, and sometimes under great pressure. What they have on us, however, is an audience.

If you're not familiar with how Catholic Mass works, it's a bit like a tv show. The introductory clip and the credits are always the same, the commercials always come at the same time and that defines the structure. You say the same words, you sing the same songs. For some parts you sit, for some you stand, for some you kneel. Then there is the content portion which changes depending on the Catholic calendar. But this too is completely scripted and if you come back on the same day next year, you'll hear the same thing. The highlight of the Mass is a two piece segment. First comes the Gospel, and for this you have to stand, unfortunately. This is a reading from the New Testament (boy they should give them more books to choose from) selected by the priest. Then comes the blog, or sometimes called "the sermon".

The sermon is a relief, as you can finally sit down. It's also a long segment, which means you can doze off a bit. Once when I was a kid I was so bored during the sermon that I actually fell asleep, hit my head on the bench in front of me. Whether you're a sinner or not, Sunday Mass is like your weekly purgatory. Getting out of going used to be my highest priority goal. One loophole is to attend Mass on a weekday, because the sermon is only given on Sundays, which makes Mass half an hour instead of an hour. You can then do away with your weekly guilt trip and on paper you're clean.

Anyway, now that I look back on it, the blog is actually the only part of the Mass that I would keep today. Certainly the only part that might be interesting to non-Catholics. It's basically a blog being read to you. The extent to which this is interesting depends on how smart your priest is. And a lot of priests are smart. I don't know if that's a qualification, but if you had a very dim individual, the people in the audience (especially the smarter ones) wouldn't want to listen to his drivel and would go to another church.

The blog is unique in the Mass in that it's a complete freestyle event. And priests are typically so bored with all the rituals that they embrace this opportunity to talk about something of their own choosing. This is the only time you'll hear the priest talk to you in his own words. In the church that I used to go to, the blogs were exclusively uplifting messages and had no religious content in them. They would generally be stories and anecdotes about people that would make you think, and whose message was to be a nice person and treat people nicely. It's really quite a nice thing to do, fill people every week with a good spirit, and a positive outlook. As I got older, and not long before I decided that I had done enough church going for one life, I started to appreciate the blogs a lot. I felt they had a positive influence on me, just as I gradually felt less and less attached to the church. In fact, some people consider this Sunday blogging on equal terms with reading a good book or watching a good movie. It gives you something to think about. In fact, a few have taken it so far as to occasionally wander into a Protestant church (naughty!) thinking the blog there might be more interesting.

So these guys (Catholic church is very conservative, no women priests. Protestants have them, though) have a real tradition for blogging that goes back a long time. Priests have been up there every Sunday (good thing Mass on weekdays doesn't have it, or they'd have to write a new blog every day, although many current blogging 'experts' recommend this) carrying that torch. As a matter of fact, since they are just blogs, they could just as well be posted online as well. I don't know if anyone is doing this, but it would be nice to share that creativity with the rest of the world. And it would allow the audience to post comments, something that is frowned upon in church (what did you say about the man who had an accident? that didn't really make sense).

What's interesting is that we have now started doing the same thing that they have been doing all these years. And I don't think we really intended to imitate, did we? Think about how cool it would be to do a guest blog in church.

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