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1,000th Post

WordPress tells me that this is my 1,000th post on Bologna. That may sound impressive, but it’s not really. Approximately 95% of the content on this site is not original to me — it’s the gleanings, the clippings, the gatherings from the minds of others. Bologna is essentially a virtual record of what I highlight and underline when I read books and scavenge the internet. Now, if someone were to draw attention to the fact that he had just made his 1,000th highlight in his books, you would probably regard him as obsessive and unhealthily self-aware. But, at the risk of appearing just so, I hope you’ll not mind me making note of this millennial post and allowing it to serve as a bit of a reflection on the history of Bologna.

I came into blogging late in the game. I didn’t jump on board until mid-2010, when the phenomenon of The Blog was already showing plenty of wrinkles and aging spots. Jason Kotte, one of the pioneer bloggers, recently wrote, “In 2004 the blog was king. Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids. … The blog is dead.” But I have never been accused of being cutting-edge. In fact I am (to borrow a phrase from Paul Farmer) terminally unhip, so this was just par for the course.

I kept the blog private for about nine months (perhaps a subconscious gestational impulse?) before releasing it on my unsuspecting friends and family. That trial run confirmed that blogging would be enjoyable and hopefully sustainable.

When I started Bologna, I wrote a lot of the content. Sure, I’d pass along some quotes, jokes, and tidbits from others, but this wasn’t the staple content. However, before long, I realised that I had very little to say. Even if I “came up” with something that I thought was original or clever (for instance), I would almost invariably find that someone else had said the same thing in a much better, cleverer, more thoughtful way (for instance).

In addition, I became more aware of the disadvantages and limitations of writing and reading blogs. As the one memorable de-motivational poster put it, “Blogging: Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.” (In an extravagant outpouring of irony, I even wrote a longish post about why you should stop reading blogs).

So I gradually wrote less and less, and instead echoed the better thoughts of others more and more. In short, Bologna transformed into my commonplace book — a place to jot down (and later on easily reference) ideas, opinions, stories, poems, jokes, and music that struck me as interesting and potentially worth remembering. And, in scanning over the previous nearly four years of jotting, I see that it has served as “both as a vehicle for and a chronicle of my intellectual development.”

The benefits of converting my blog into a commonplace book were manifold, but I’ll just mention a couple. I’ve echoed Carl Trueman’s concerns that the habit of incessant blogging, tweeting, and status updating almost certainly causes us to neglect more important aspects of our lives. Generating original content takes a lot of time. On the other hand, copying and pasting takes virtually no time. I can assemble dozens of posts with minimal time or effort. In addition, a commonplace book is a way to address what Alan Jacobs has identified as the first and fundamental question for a would-be writer: “How can I acquire ideas that are worthy of being expressed?” Instead of pouring my energy into communicating my own thoughts that are probably “carelessly arrived at, or ill-formed and incompletely worked through, or utterly unimaginative repetitions of what people have already said”, I can focus on the humbler but more rewarding task of listening to and mulling over the thoughts of wiser minds. Then maybe — just maybe — at some point down the road, I might have something worthwhile to say.

(Brief admonitory interlude: If you don’t have a commonplace book, I’d really recommend that you start one. Certainly you don’t have to do it in a public manner as I’ve chosen to. But whether it’s private or public, I think that a blogging platform like WordPress is an excellent way to store, categorize, and later reference your entries. Being located on the Web, it’s accessible wherever there is an internet connection, which, frankly is essentially everywhere. The search function enables you to find entries easily. The ability to copy and paste makes it virtually effortless to add entries.)

(Second brief admonitory interlude: If you have a commonplace book, read it. “Wisdom that is not frequently revisited is wisdom wasted.”)

One other noteworthy development of Bologna was my decision to have regular thematic posts, e.g. A Poem for a Monday. Operating under these constraints was at times a chore. “Oh, I have to find another poem to post for tomorrow.” But, all in all, it’s been a profitable exercise. It’s forced me to expand my literary diet. Sometimes this “forcing” initially feels like a burden, but on the other side, I’m invariably happier and better for it. Poetry “startles us into seeing, makes us feel what we think and vice versa, resuscitates the media-impaired, combats mind erosion.”

A bit about how I post now. While one or two posts are typically published each day, I actually don’t post every day. As I alluded to earlier, I assemble my posts in bulk and schedule them in advance. Here’s generally how it happens. I read books primarily on my Kindle app for my iPad. With this app, I can highlight memorable passages, which are then stored on my Kindle account on Amazon. Then two or three times a month, I go through my Kindle account and copy and paste these passages into posts that are scheduled to appear in the coming weeks.

One probably regrettable but unavoidable aspect of blogging is seeing your site’s statistics. For better or for worse, whenever I log onto WordPress, the dashboard greets me with a graph of what posts have been viewed and how often, the search engine terms that are directing readers to the blog, etc. While this digital navel-gazing is probably unhealthy, it provides an interesting and often surprising social experiment. For instance, there was a period when one of my most popular posts was “Those who carry a knife and a pear are never afraid of the dark.” I posted it somewhat indifferently (although I was, I suppose, a little pleased that Yann Martel had chosen to read one of my favourite passages from Beatrice and Virgil). But as the traffic rolled in, I became oddly comforted that people across the globe would find that particular phrase about the knife and the pear so memorable and would make it the search engine term that would lead them to Bologna.

But to be honest, not many people find their way to Bologna. When I sent an email to my family and friends in Jan 2011 informing them of my little corner in cyberspace, this generated an appreciable (but relatively meagre) flicker of traffic. Since then, Bologna has been a largely ignored speck of digital dust on the vast landscape that is the internet. I get a handful of visitors most days with occasional unexplained spikes in traffic. And that’s fine with me.

I haven’t really gone out of my way to promote the blog. I’ll occasionally link to it from Facebook, but I try to do so infrequently. It seems that our culture is plagued with an overweening individualism, a relentless clamouring for attention, and an inordinate pride that is disguised under terms like “healthy self-esteem” and “creative self-expression.” I know my heart well enough to know how easily I can slip into that groove. Digital showboating with the pursuit of “likes” or “followers” would only exacerbate that tendency.

One final thought. Yes, Bologna is my commonplace book, so it’s primarily for me. But, nonetheless, I really appreciate it when people leave comments. This happens infrequently, but whenever it does, it’s a breath of fresh air to what can all too easily become a stale monologue. Even if it’s a simple, “Ha, ha, that’s funny” or “Hmmm, I’ll have to think about that” or even if it’s to express your disagreement, I’m grateful for the interaction. Maybe I should have put this paragraph closer towards the top. This post is getting indefensibly long, and I won’t be surprised or offended if many readers have already given up before this point!

Okay that wasn’t the final thought. Here’s the final thought. There’s a good chance that at some point in the near future this actually won’t be the 1000th post on Bologna. I occasionally go back and read through the archives and delete posts that I find unhelpful, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary, so maybe this will turn out to be the 999th or 998th. But no one is going to count, right (except for WordPress)? Now I’m officially rambling. Thanks for reading!

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This realization that the Lord has called me—and I am guessing, most of us—to serve first and foremost wherever we actually are—our families, our congregations, our denominations, and our workplaces—is surely a sobering one. It lacks so much ambition, and shows such a limited vision, after all. Yet in this regard, I think the church is best served by those with such limited ambitions and myopia.
I am not much of a web-wanderer but on the odd occasion I do a bit of websurfing, I am struck by how many Christians, pastors, professors, and laity have blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitters going. How many millions of Christian hours are wasted writing this stuff, engaging in mindless blog threads, and telling the world about personal trivia? And what does it tell us about the expansive visions and ambitions out there? Apparently the world is now everyone’s birthright.
Now, I find myself very uncomfortable with this. I do believe that some professors, pastors, and laypeople are called to have regular ministries outside their immediate geographical locations; but I also believe that there are precious few thus called. Certainly, mere possession of high-speed Internet is not a divinely given sign of such a worldwide calling. When I see Christians blogging so much, I wonder how many sermons are being prepared on the fly because of lack of time, how many parishioners go unvisited, how many prayers remain unprayed, how many words of love and affection to spouses and children are never said, how many books—let alone the Bible—are left unread, and how many fellowships atrophy through lack of any real, meaningful social and spiritual intercourse.
Indeed, to summarize: how many online “communities” (sic) prosper to the detriment of the real, physical communities into which the Lord has placed each and every one of us? How many complain of insufficient time to do the boring routines of the Christian life—worship services, Sunday school, visiting the sick and the aged, fellowship, Bible reading, prayer—and yet always somehow manage to fit in a quick twitter or blog or podcast or change to their Facebook status?
— Carl Trueman, Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread: Taking Aim at Everyone

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Now, at the risk of protesting too much, I must stress that I don’t read blogs—I really don’t read blogs—unless, that is, they are sent to me by someone else. Sufficient to my own life is the tedium and banality contained therein; I really have no interest in compounding such with the tedium and banality contained in the lives of other people.

— Carl Trueman, Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread: Taking Aim at Everyone

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Offline

I’m on vacation this coming week, so Bologna will be offline for the next while. Happy summer!

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And the winner is…

Last week, I announced a giveaway for Bologna’s 3rd birthday.

The winner is Clay. Congratulations!

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Blog-3rd-birthday

Bologna celebrated its 3rd birthday on April 8, and (tsk, tsk!) being the neglectful proprietor that I am, I completely forgot about it. Well, better late than never.

For the past two years, we’ve had a bit of a giveaway to commemorate another year in blogging. I only have a handful of readers (and even fewer commenters), so your chance of winning is really quite good. So go ahead, break your commenter silence and enter the draw!

What’s the prize?

A while back, I listed some favourite books that I read in 2012.  I’ll be giving away any one book from the list.  You choose which book you want.  Check out the list here.

How do I win?

Simply leave a comment, indicating that you want to enter the draw as well as the book you’d like.  Anyone who responds by Apr 25 will be entered into the draw.  On Apr 26, I’ll randomly select a winner and send him/her a copy of the book of his/her choice.

Thanks for reading!

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Wisdom wasted

If you have a commonplace book, don’t forget this important advice from Alan Jacobs’ essay “A Commonplace Book”

The task of adding new lines and sentences and paragraphs to one’s collection can become an ever tempting substitute for reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting what’s already there. And wisdom that is not frequently revisited is wisdom wasted.

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