13 June 2024

Happy 20th birthday ...

... to this blog.

Last week Can You Believe? turned twenty years old. My post last week on "Rocket Science" was post number 1,081. Those posts have collected 2,005 comments on the Blogger platform, plus an uncounted number on Facebook and a handful elsewhere.

When I started this weekly weblog, in early June 2004, I was in my last weeks of a year-long academic fellowship at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Center in Birmingham, England. Two experiences in that year helped whet my appetite for a blog-like channel:

First, during my very first two weeks at Woodbrooke, Dan McCracken and Ron Woodward asked me to contribute to a feature on the Barclay Press Web site at the time, the Conversation Cafe. The assignment: two weeks of daily essays from me, followed by similar series of essays from a group of other writers. During those two weeks, I ended every day by writing an essay, which would arrive eight hours earlier in Newberg, Oregon, owing to the time zone difference, and be ready for that day's post. Here's one sample.

When my two weeks were up, I had enjoyed the experience very much, and found it helpful for my own personal reflections, but it didn't dawn on me to find another channel to continue creating that sort of expression.

My theme for my Woodbrooke academic year was "Evangelism and the Friends Testimonies," and I began reading and corresponding to build up resources for this theme. This title was admittedly a bit provocative, since the word "evangelism" was not in frequent use among British Friends, but my Woodbrooke collaborators were good-natured about my choices. My goal was to help Friends begin conversations between the Quaker groups that, broadly speaking, preferred to do outreach by emphasizing the Christian invitation to "repent and believe the Good News," and those who preferred to demonstrate their faith through prophetic action in the world, in the service of peace and nonviolence, simplicity and equality, leadership based on spiritual gifts instead of social status, governance based on community discernment, and care of Creation. Were there ways that the advocates of each emphasis could make creative connections with the advocates of the other priority?

After several months of accumulating resources, I realized that I needed a new way of sharing those resources and drawing more people into the conversations. I turned to the most popular form of Internet-based discussions in those years, namely Internet forums. I set up a forum on a service called Network 54. When it appeared that this platform might not last forever, I exported its contents to a Google group, which can be found here: Evangelism and the Quaker Testimonies.

Toward the end of my Woodbrooke year, my hunger for such exchanges of ideas, and my desire to provoke further consideration of the connections between faith and practice, particularly faith and politics, was not satisfied by the static format of online forums. That's when I discovered the Blogspot  platform and decided to give it a chance by posting a paragraph or two. To my immense delight, a Friend who may have been the very first Quaker blogger, Martin Kelley, responded right away with an encouraging comment. (Also see Martin's "The Early Blogging Days.")

I actually think my desire to go public with blog-like essays and invitations to dialogue started even earlier—when I was part of the Quaker Life staff, during the years 1993-2000. I provided a column for just about every issue during my tenure. There's a sample editorial halfway down this blog post. The pace was more leisurely for a monthly publication, as I now remember fondly, and I'm thinking that after twenty years of weekly posts on this blog, maybe it's time to slow things down.

Another reality: blogs don't have the readership they used to. In my peak month, some years ago, I got about 40,000 views. Last month my count was down to 16,349. That is a raw total; it includes people who are drawn by some search that somehow included me in the results, and I'm sure that it took the vast majority of them just a second or two to realize they weren't going to find what they needed on a blog mainly intended for a Christian and mostly Quaker audience.

Thank you for your good company to this point. As for the future, I've decided nothing so far ... except that I will be back next week.

Happy 20th birthday, part two: more statistics.

Related: The blogging rules I usually break.

Here's a Facebook story about the "genius of the cello," Mstislav Rostropovich, which reminded me of my own memories of him.

Norman Solomon (Tomdispatch) on "The Absence—and Presence—of Daniel Ellsberg."

Philip Boobbyer on what it takes to break the blame-hate-revenge cycle.

Our friend, Ukrainian pacifist Yurii Sheliazhenko, has been on trial in Kyiv.

Many Palestinian farms, properties, and orchards in the West Bank are under constant physical and legal harassment, including the Tent of Nations near Bethlehem, while the world's attention is (for good reason) focused on the Gaza Strip. (Thanks to Gordon Matthews for the link.)

In my Genius of the Cello post, mentioned above, I described how we used such films in our classes in Russia. Another film we used was Standing in the Shadows of Motown, because so much American English slang comes from musicians. In the first clip below, Jack Ashford of the Funk Brothers demonstrates the "Motown Sound," using the song "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" as his example. ... "You see how that feels? That's part of the Motown sound, right? Now I'm going to add my tambourine to it."

The second clip: Joan Osborne, "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?"


Martin Kelley said...

I loved seeing this post and was pleasantly surprised by the shoutout. For the record, there were some Quaker bloggers before me (I think Lynn Gaziz-Sax was already going strong). I was someone who followed a lot of bloggers and had alerts all set up for new blogs (more than once I think I found a blog whose shy writer hadn't told anyone about).

Congratulations on the 20 year milestone. You've played an especially important role, I think, as a kind of "elder statesman" who has been involved with lots of different Quaker communities and institutions. Not many former general secretaries made the leap to blogging and you've always been particularly self-reflective. Here's to another twenty years!

Johan Maurer said...

Thanks for the kind words and additional information! I forgot to mention the experience some of us bloggers got from the maillist services we used, such as Quaker-L and Quaker-P, hosted (if I remember correctly) by igc.apc.org, to carry on all sorts of interesting conversations. Of course the problem with that mechanism was that it wasn't public.

For those who have good essays under their belt but don't feel like becoming regular bloggers, some blogs have been very hospitable to guest post-writers. I've done it a few times, but should probably be more invitational.

Kristin Lord said...

Hello, Johan, I spent parts of three years with a semi-regular blog. I ran out of material and time to continue. More to the point, ultimately I thought it was professionally unwise to have enterprising students unearth the posts. (I'm an American teaching at a secular university in Canada.) The posts are still up there. I don't know if anyone at work has seen them, which ties into your own question of traffic on your feed.

The icon from Zagorsk and the photo of Mstislav ("Slava") Rostropovich brought back bittersweet memories. I was in Zagorsk in 1977 with the Dartmouth Foreign Study Program (then one of five programs taking students from a variety of institutions though the Council on International Educational Exchange), with all of the memories that the passage of time can bring.

I nearly broke into tears when seeing the photo of Rostropovich. The late husband of one of my cousins was a violinist with the National Symphony in Washington, which Rostropovich conducted for many years. Unfortunately, I heard the symphony in person only after Rostropovich had left. I have an autographed copy of a "vinyl" of Beethoven's Triple Concerto (opus 56) which my cousin secured for me.

"No more but my love," as George Fox would have said. I have two hungry cats downstairs, one of whom needs medication on a schedule.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, Kristin ... and greetings from me, an American graduate of a secular university in Canada.