A couple of years ago, I used to celebrate a Thursday night writing ritual with a bunch of other mommy bloggers. It was called Five Minute Fridays, and the idea was to write for five minutes flat on a particular theme. No edits. No takebacks. Feel it, write it, post it, link it. The post came out just before midnight, and I’d stay up late and revel in the deliciousness.
I loved FMF. I love to write like I love to run, and I bet even those of you who don’t love either can see that there’s a big difference between dashing through a field of wildflowers, laughing for the sheer joy of it, and running timed laps on a track.
Five Minute Friday, for me, was the field. It was a place where I could play.
Until I couldn’t.
I stopped writing FMF right around the time I entered seminary in an official way. It became challenging even before that, though, as this blog and to some extent my formation process gained a following I never expected. I spent awhile wrestling with that—layperson vs. seminarian, private citizen vs. public representative, mine vs. ours—and then, eventually, I quit. In the end, there was no fighting it, not if I wanted to follow this call. I stopped posting well before I stopped writing, and eventually, I took the entire adventure off my blog.
There are things you give up on this journey, and no edits, no takebacks, write-what-you-feel is among the first.
And it should be. Do you want a minister who says, in print, whatever enters her mind at any given moment? As a representative of your congregation? As a representative of Unitarian Universalism, or of people of faith, generally?
Of course you don’t.
And so, there are tradeoffs. You learn, in short, to govern yourself.
A minister I know explained to me a few months ago that she doesn’t feel called to do any particular filtering of her communications, in writing or anywhere else, because the filtering is built into her very identity. “I am,” she explained, “fully a minister wherever I go—equally so in the pulpit and at the grocery store. This is part of living into the calling.”
Personally, I cannot at this moment conceive of having thoughts which confine themselves exclusively to the realm of “appropriate public ministerial presence.” In fact, unless the latter part of seminary education includes a lobotomy, I don’t anticipate ever approaching my identity in quite that way.
And so for me, at least, it’s a question of boundaries. What I choose to say, and how and where, and what tools I will use to discern it.
And for now, that takes time. It takes conscientious effort. And it takes a sense of what the outer limits are.
You can still be real, inasmuch as anyone can be, on a page.
You can still be vulnerable, if you’ve weighed the risks and benefits and can stand in self-differentiated space with what comes next.
You cannot, however, be raw.
“Don’t bleed on the congregation” is what we tell those taking the pulpit for the first time with a personal story in hand.
It holds here, too.
And that, more than anything, is why I cannot do Five Minute Friday . . . not out loud. Raw is what gets left on the cutting floor. Sure, I fix a few typos, fill in some bridge material, and wrestle my inner wordiness demon to the ground. In between the lines of all of that, though, my editing process is mostly mopping up the blood.
Thus, some of the hardest things I’ve written about here have been on ice for more than six months before being posted. I have a piece in the works, now, that may actually never see the light of day, at least for any public purpose. And “hard” or not, there is virtually nothing I post here that doesn’t go through formal editing with draftreaders, feedback, and changes.
My words are my public face. And my public face, now and going forward, is ministry.
This filtering process is time-consuming.
It’s exhausting, even.
And it’s necessary.
Meanwhile, in the midst of ongoing structuring and editing of my long form pieces, much of my writing is being diverted to other places. In addition to sermons (a number) and seminary essays (a large number), I have spent the last year experimenting with microblogging—writing shorter meditations and reflections intended for Facebook. I’ve been posting these publicly, and it’s been a leap of faith, as I try to find a ministerial voice as myself, and not just as my Raising Faith alter ego.
It’s school of hard knocks a lot of the time. How best can I talk with people who know and care for me, but not necessarily for my ministry? How might I be a bridge for some of the harder conversations we need to have in this moment in our society? How can I ethically and respectfully share the words of others while advancing a message that is my own?
In addition to being time consuming, this side of online ministry has also proved frustrating—interactions on challenging topics are indeed happening, and there is little that exposes my growing edges as quickly or as fully as opening myself to true dialogue. It is hard to be myself as individual and grow into myself as minister while trying also to act my way into the humble, honest reaching out and truth-speaking that I believe is needed right now.
Amid all of this experimentation and musing and flying by seat of my pants, I am deeply grateful to my people—those of you who are primarily from the “real life” side of my world—the people who know me as me, and demand that I keep it real, always— who have also hung in there through this time of change and challenge.
If, on the other hand, you only know me here, please feel welcome to find me on Facebook. Search “Jordinn Nelson Long,” and hit “follow.” Comments are enabled . . . it’s an experiment that I’m going to continue, for now, as we all learn together.
The conversation may not always happen here, but it is happening. And I’d love to hear from you.
And finally, I have something to say—about this blog, and about why I have sometimes wondered if I shouldn’t—to those of you who are finding this site as prospective seminarians. There are a bunch of you each spring (this is our third year at this, gang—can you believe it?), and this year, I’ve been wishing I could speak to you more directly. And finally, it occurred to me that perhaps I can. So I shall.
There is indeed a lot of great content here that will help you on your journey. I took only a coordinating role in most of it. There’s great advice from ministers (ie, your senior colleagues) in a three-part post about making this transition in your life. There’s also great advice from your seminary colleagues here, and some tips about the application process here, and something to make you laugh (though perhaps moreso once you’re actually in seminary) here.
Read these things. They are here because I wished for them when I was in your place.
What I want to talk to you about, though, is other stuff. Things like this and this. I cringe when you find them, and even more when you share them, and I wonder if, like Five Minute Friday, I should just take them down.
And I think about a time a couple of years ago when a ministry mentor asked me what I thought I was doing with my blog. I explained that it was just a space to sort out my thoughts and post my long-form essays, and she said, “I understand what you’re putting there. I just don’t understand why.”
We talked more, and aside from disbelief that anyone would possibly want to read the tortured ravings of an emo seminarian (and I’m not arguing with her; I’m not sure why anyone would, either), she expressed one other thought: if you’re going to post these things, you’re going to have to keep going. People looking are going to need to see the range. They’ll be looking to see that you grow.
And that’s exactly the thing, dear prospective-seminarian googlers. I worry about you who look and see only a snapshot—and right at that scary, heady moment when you’ve realized that whisper in your ear isn’t going anywhere and you’re deciding whether you might stop running from it and say “yes.”
Here’s the rub, and maybe I should go back and write this at the bottom of every page. It gets better. It gets deeper. If you indeed love it—this calling, this process—you will love it with all your heart and all your soul.
Unfortunately, formation defies words in some key ways—and so I now understand more why my mentors couldn’t say much more than “It’s SO worth it” and “Trust this” and “You’ll be fine.”
So I can’t really write you an explanation, any more than they could give me one. All I have is a testimony, and perhaps it’s actually an artifact of history, one told, mentor to mentee, across generations:
It’s worth it. Trust this. You will be fine.
Keep that with you, and don’t listen overmuch to anything else I may have said.
Each post is just a snapshot in time, like so many others. Read it, file it, and keep walking. I did.
And eventually, I found another word.
That was the Five Minute Friday word last week. It’s been many months, more than a year, since I last looked, and things have changed significantly both there and here in the meantime. But that word is my word, and now I give it to you, too. To all of you, and most especially to me.
This word, above all else.
That is this process.
And that is why seminarians don’t blog.
*We do blog, actually. Obviously. Case in point. But it does become hard at times. We do still believe in blogging, and we still have things to say.
It’s just hard. And for more on that, read Claire.