Ales Rarus 
Tuesday, December 13, 2005, 04:18 PM - Blogosphere


Ales Rarus is the creation of Eric Williams, a 28-year old graduate student in artificial intelligence at the University of Pittsburgh. The phrase is Latin and means "rare bird," more or less. (See Eric's explanation for details.) Latin, indeed, crops up all over the blog. A permalink is "nexus"; the comments link inquires "Habetne nemo opinionem?" until a comment is received. Then it reads "Vox, sola in eremo, annotatit" until the second comment, after which it exults, "Accolae enuntiant." This is either charming or deeply weird. I think it's charming.

Eric himself goes by the nom de blog of Funky Dung, a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song, and henceforth I'll use Funky Dung as his preferred form of address.

Funky Dung has one of the most complete introductory pages I've seen. And he has something I don't think I've ever seen: a statement of faith. That's completely in keeping with Funky Dung's rationale for blogging: "to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media." He's been at it now over well over three years.

Although Funky Dung purchased funkydung.com only in July 2004, he had been blogging regularly on a predecessor site since his first post in April 2002. Most new bloggers, unsurprisingly, have an interest in the phenomenon of blogging, and one of his earliest posts dealt with Blog Ethics. Most of his early posts are of the "filter" variety; i.e., here's a-link-and-here-in-a-sentence-is-what-I think-of-it. Such posts can make for pleasant reading if you follow a blog on a regular basis, but you can't dive into the archives, as I've done, and get much out of it. Maybe few others did, either. I notice that in the first year most posts are followed by a forlorn "Habetne nemo opinionem?" (Though to be sure, some of them do in fact contain comments. Go figure.)

Since Ales Rarus is now a Large Mammal in the TTLB ecosystem, with a link score of 242 and 188 hits/day, plainly Funky Dung has developed a following. But exactly when and why that occurred is hard to reconstruct. My sense is that it probably began when Funky Dung began to blend more discursive essays along with the filter posts, for he turns out to be a very capable lay apologist for Catholicism. That, at at any rate, is the quality that most appeals to me about his blog and the principal reason I've transferred Ales Rarus to my blogroll. As a sample, see The Church in the Modern World. There's also this interesting recent comment on a key difference between the most venerable Christian churches and their Protestant, especially evangelical, counterparts:
Churches of sufficient high-ness, e.g., Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and (occasionally and in spite of their struggles) Anglican, see themselves as the One, the Holy, the Catholic, and the Apostolic church advertised in the Creed. Such churches see themselves as occupying uniquely, not merely notionally (as in a agnostic sense) but actually, the place of Ark of Salvation for the entire world. (Parenthetically, this is the "elephant in the room" in ecumenical engagement between Protestants and Catholics. They can find mutual agreement in many things, but this audacious view the Catholic Church has of itself ultimately destabilizes any mutual accord.. . .)

Thus, such Churches consist in not merely the delivery of God's Word to the world, which the [Protestant evangelical] megachurches sometimes do very well, but in the delivery of the Sacraments, i.e., objective, physical marks of grace normatively necessary for eternal salvation, to the Faithful. This latter ecclesial definition was watered down slightly by Luther in his reformation, watered down considerably more by Calvin's, and is rejected out of hand by the heirs of the Anabaptists, which today include nearly all "megachurches" and all their (smaller) fellow Low Church Evangelical Megachurch- Wannabes.
In addition to his blog, Funky Dung has been energetic in the Catholic sector of the blogosphere from a technical standpoint: He hosts, for example, the St. Blogs Parish aggregator. It's still a work in progress and not immune from tampering: When I tried it, the first thing I saw was a long list of links like this one: http:// - www.- sexual - relations. - info/index2530. - html (hyphens added), which in turn led to a porn site. (Indeed, I imagine they all did.)

Funky Dung also has the distinction of being the first blogger, among a number who have back-tracked to this site, to leave a comment. Actually two comments, the second of which asked me to email after I'd written up my reconnaissance of Ales Rarus. So off I go to do so.
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Conservative Blogs Are More Effective 
Monday, December 12, 2005, 01:12 PM - Caesar and Christ
. . . writes Michael Crowley in yesterday's New York Times Magazine:
That might sound counterintuitive. After all, the Howard Dean campaign showed the power of the liberal blogosphere. And the liberal-activist Web site DailyKos counts hundreds of thousands of visitors each day. But Democrats say there's a key difference between liberals and conservatives online. Liberals use the Web to air ideas and vent grievances with one another, often ripping into Democratic leaders. (Hillary Clinton, for instance, is routinely vilified on liberal Web sites for supporting the Iraq war.) Conservatives, by contrast, skillfully use the Web to provide maximum benefit for their issues and candidates. They are generally less interested in examining every side of every issue and more focused on eliciting strong emotional responses from their supporters.
This squares reasonably well with my own reading of liberal and conservative blogs--except for the implication that liberal blogs are, in fact, "interested in examining every side of every issue." Much as I'd like to believe otherwise, that's hogwash. Indeed, it's hard to find blogs of any kind that explore all sides of an issue.

Evangelical Outpost 
Monday, December 12, 2005, 09:32 AM - Blogosphere


Belief.net describes Evangelical Outpost as "a conservative blog from an 'evangelical worldview.' The posts are intelligent and cover a wide variety of topics, from science to the media to discussing 'What's an Evangelical?' Evangelical Outpost includes a frequent series called 'Know Your Evangelicals,' a brief bio of important people in the evangelical community, like Chuck Colson, T.D. Jakes, and Jim Wallis."

I always appreciate it when a blog has a good, solid, easy-to-find page that introduces the author(s) and explains its main raison d'etre. (And yes, I do plan to create one of my own, once I figure out who I am and what I'm doing here.) In the case of EOP, the principal author, Joe Carter, has just such a page. His first post dates from October 23, 2003. (He may have had a predecessor blog--TTLB lists an alternate URL to a blogger site--but since it redirects to the current site so quickly it's hard to be sure; the blogspot posts may simply be incorporated into EOP.com.)

The earliest posts deal with pop culture and politics and, since a broad swath of advertising now yawns between each one, are irritating to scroll through. But a week into his venture he has a post that nicely catches the Waiting for Godot aspect of having a new blog and faithfully posting before you've developed a readership. Since my other blog now receives about 200 hits a day, I'd forgotten this feeling. My work here at Radical Civility has revived it, and for that reason The Perfect Post really resonates with me.

How far he's come. EOP now enjoys "Mortal Human" status in the TTLB ecosystem. As of today it has a link score of 1429 and receives 935 hits/day, making it #15 out of all blogs listed.

Yet oddly enough, there's something homogeneous about the really big blogs. You'd think they'd each have a really distinctive voice, and I suppose if you follow them carefully enough they do, but if you're just dropping in they sort of run together. For one thing, the designs are very "busy"--lots of advertising. Most are politically conservative, but more seriously, most are filter blogs rather than discursive blogs. A discursive blog is more or less like this one--a series of short essays. A filter blog trades mostly in links to other sites, along with brief commentary.

The quality of the selections is partly what gives them their heft, but a lot of their bigness simply stems from the fact that they're big: a blog reaches a critical mass of links and suddenly the links continue to mount because everyone now assumes their blogroll must contain a link to it. That holds true even if one is selective about one's own blogroll. But many of the major blogs--Evangelical Outpost among them--have a policy of reciprocity: they link to anyone who links to them. That provides a nice incentive to small-timers hungry for all the links they can get. EOP's reciprocity blogroll currently lists 777 blogs. The number of external links is supposed to be a measure of influence and importance. And it is. But a reciprocity blogroll can exaggerate the effect. Indeed, that's largely the point of having one.

EOP does have its share of discursive essays. These days, for instance, Carter is doing a multi-part series on scriptural inerrancy and has a nice recent piece entitled What the @*&#...?: A Christian Critique of Swearing. (As a former Marine, he's fairly tolerant of swearing, though he says that the longer he's a Christian the more circumspect he is about using it himself.) But having come from a conservative evangelical background myself, I find a lot of this stuff to be old hat. I'd rather read something that surprises me, which is why I probably won't be reading that much of Evangelical Outpost.

UPDATE, Jan. 7, 8:33 p.m. - Evangelical Outpost won a 2005 Weblog Award for Best Religious Blog.

The Politics of Church 
Sunday, December 11, 2005, 10:45 AM - Not to Fight with Beasts as Men
An aspect of religion that I have never gotten used to is that it has a political dimension. In fact, I'd say that church politics is probably the main reason I find myself unable at present to attend church or even really to believe in a distinctively Christian theology. I adhere to it as an ethical system principally because it's what I know.

At the same time, I recognize that this perspective is naive. Politics, defined in its broadest sense as the use of power over people, is endemic to human activities. And the greater the perceived stakes, the more intense the politics.

For a fairly workaday example of church politics in action, consider two posts by "Christian Grewal," the pastor of a Toronto church whose parishioners are mainly Chinese:
More than a decade ago, most of the other Chinese churches in Toronto serviced the Cantonese-speaking community, while our church serviced the Mandarin-speaking community (Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese). Despite very different political and historical backgrounds, Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese worshippers co-existed rather peacefully in our church. Part of the reason was the fact that since coming to Canada, it was nice to worship in their own dialect; so politics and nationality took a back seat. . . .

[R]ecently all this has begun to change. In an effort to raise the numbers in his Mandarin-speaking service, a Pastor at one of our neighboring churches has taken it upon himself to label our church "Taiwanese," thus tearing open an old wound and polarizing the two groups within our church. This man would send his people over to our church, or to co-operative special services (where several Chinese churches would get together) to spread his campaign of misinformation. He would tell other pastors that there were four Chinese churches in our area and one Taiwanese one (meaning us, HWC).

Notice the subtlety in his language? He openly recruits people (especially leaders) from our congregation by visiting them in their homes or inviting them over to his church to run a Bible study. Thanks to this pastor some families have left us, and we're now known as the "Taiwanese church in Downtown Toronto." As well, the Mandarin-speaking Christian community in Downtown Toronto is now nicely split along the lines of National identity (Mainlander vs. Taiwanese). I think, for this pastor, sheep stealing is easier than actually going out and evangelizing others.
I would imagine that from God's perspective, it is a matter of indifference as to which church these parishioners attend. In other words, I don't see how anyone's spiritual well-being is intrinsically being threatened here. However, it's impossible not to sympathize with a pastor who feels his membership is being poached, and I can assuredly attest that the tactics of which he complains--and quite likely any counter-tactics he may himself adopt--are apt to create the sort of conflict that does indeed have adverse spiritual effects.

Conflict is bound to arise. The trouble with Christians--I can't speak knowledgeably of other groups--is that when it does their repertoire of skills to deal with it is no more advanced than that of others. Pastor "Grewal" seems an appealing character, based on my limited reading of his blog, and he may well be very adept in matters of this sort. But I have sure known plenty of pastors and lay leaders who weren't.

How to address the problem? I think the first step would be to go straight to the other pastor for a one-on-one. A useful guide to this sort of thing is Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (1999). A precis of its approach is Bruce M. Patton, Difficult Conversations With Less Anxiety and Better Results, Dispute Resolution Magazine (Summer 1999), 25-29.

Pursuing Holiness 
Sunday, December 11, 2005, 08:44 AM - Blogosphere


Pursuing Holiness is an individual (as opposed to group) blog maintained by Laura Curtis of Metairie, Louisiana. She describes herself as "a Christian, wife, mother & business owner blogging the pursuit of holiness in daily life, bible studies, & the reconstruction of New Orleans after Katrina. I homeschool a teenager and spend too much time and money at the gun range." As you might imagine, her politics are conservative--actually libertarian, judging by her placement on the Politopia political quiz (scroll down to bottom of page).

Laura registered PursuingHoliness.com in April 2005, but her first post appeared on May 26. She filed it under the heading of Bible Study, which seems to be one of the most frequently used of the eleven categories she has created thus far. Others include Politics (which seems to have been created only in mid-November but has been frequently updated since), Sermon Notes (which seems to deal with sermons found online that appeal to her), and Christian Living. And because she lives in the New Orleans area and had to evacuate in August, there's a category devoted to Hurricane Katrina.

Her worldview might be described as Christian evangelical conservative, from what I can tell, though it's never a good idea to pigeon hole people, especially on the basis of a quick reconnaissance of their blog. Among the posts I read, my favorite was Church Speak, which deftly translates some stock evangelical phrases into their actual meaning. She gives three examples, to get the ball rolling, and asks her readers to provide more. She got no takers, which surprises me, because you could run forever with this particular thread. On the other hand, I imagine most of her readership is conservative evangelical--the echo chamber effect in blogdom is strong--and I have rarely known conservative evangelicals who had a sense of humor where church was concerned. Too bad, because few areas of life are more in need of a good dose of healthy irreverence.

According to Technorati, 91 posts link to Pursuing Holiness, which is a very respectable showing. (The number of external links is considered one of the best indicators of a blog's readership and influence, though like most things on the Internet, it's subject to manipulation.) The blog is currently a "Flappy Bird" in The Truth Laid Bear blogosphere ecosystem. As of this morning it's ranked #2913 out of all blogs listed in the TTLB ecosystem, and is credited with 83 external links.


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