Anais Nin once said: "We write to taste life twice; in the moment and in retrospect". I had never thought about blogging in these terms, but now that I have, it feels like a clear statement of the obvious!
When a sane human sits for the first time behind a computer screen, seeing that it is but a blank box, wondering what on earth to write in that box, they can never begin to predict the effect that those soon-to-be-born words will ever have. After a year and a half, a public minister of religion who blogs is, if I may be direct, a fool if they have no notion of the effect of their words. We write into a world that, for good or ill, takes our words with a certain valency simply because we are vicars, curates, bishops or archdeacons.
For me, this is a two edged thingy. I look back to see 'me' in my words. Largely, and as I have said before, the words I write are composed mere seconds before I write them down. The idea for a post will never be more than an hour old when it is written (even if published later), so I can only see 'me' in retrospect. I can see when I was having a bad or good week, a tough or easy month, and so on - but only by looking back. I have also learned more about my personal prejudices by reading my own words. I must confess, too, that I actually do enjoy reading my own work. Is that bad?
To assess the effect of our blogs is helpful. When we write posts, we flip little pebbles into the pool of ether in which we and our readers live. To not note where the ripples cast out to is to miss a rare opportunity to note the appetite of the blog-reading world, who are (quite possibly) a representative cross-section of the world we claim to minister to. What I am not about to do is do The Vernacular Curate's Cool Top Ten of My Best Effects - partly because I haven't the time, partly because it isn't important, partly because it is poor blogging in and of itself, and partly because if you were interested, you'd look (and you have the nearest to it in the sidebar to the right of this box)!
I regularly Google myself as The Vernacular Curate. I do this not to look in a mirror, but to see where my particular ripples have reached - and the results rarely fail to surprise me. If you write a blog and don't do this, I advocate it as a pass time that teaches (sometimes some very hard lessons). In so doing, I have discovered that antisemitism sites have referred to my writing across the world; that I am a regular feature in a recreational website that follows certain blogs (and discusses them in forums I have since discovered); that my post mentioning man-boobs makes me an expert and a cited source; that my appreciation for Lord Jeremy of Clarkson is appreciated elsewhere; that the BBC features my website a few times on its own website (and gives me about a quarter of my traffic now); that I am, apparently, an intellectual liberal; that I have a Wikio ranking; that I am a fixture on a fair selection of health websites; that I have been translated into other languages; that my blog is advertised in places where ladies have their boobs on show; and that for the love of God I am still seeing references after forty-odd Google search pages (when I stopped trawling). This is before any of the kind references made by fellow-bloggers and the ripples that those recommendations cause. Am I glad that my words are in all of those places? No. Did I intend them to be in any of those places? No.
The overwhelming thing that I have noticed, and of which I am rather proud, is how frequently the words of this daft priest have been published in non-Christian and non-faith websites. I write about just about anything, but as a priest. No apology is ever made for that, or my work, or how I live my life - yet I seem to emerge in the oddest places. To borrow +Alan's notion - with the tens of thousands of hits I have had, it would take me several lifetimes to enter that many people's front-rooms in person, in as many countries. What we priests would give to be able to touch people's life on that scale. And this is only a piffling little venture (as my Wikio raking will tell you). This is where the value of blogging rests - in its effect through the weeks and months (and well-beyond).