Earlier this year, two of J.D. Walt's interns in the Office of Community Life at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, approached him with the idea of creating a blog on the seminary's Web site. After the interns explained what a blog was, Walt decided it might be worth a try and brought the suggestion to the community life committee of the Asbury board. One trustee brightened immediately, but everyone else asked the same question: "What's a blog?"
A blog —short for Web log — is an online journal created through Web-based software, and its sudden ubiquity is akin to the free e-mail explosion of the early '90s. Blogging takes many forms. There are personal journals, interesting only to the immediate friends and family of the blogger. Political blogs are making a pointed impact on media and politics. Even nightclubs have blogs in which participants gossip about who did what the night before.
But Walt, who is vice president for community life and dean of the chapel at Asbury, saw the opportunity for something much more profound. Gathering a group of a dozen or so campus voices, he asked them to commit to a relaxed schedule of planned posts to combine a couple of classic Christian practices — exegesis and spiritual formation. The proposed blog would include both exegetic journaling and group spiritual formation in the context of a conscious community. He called this the "sustainable cultivation of classic disciplines in a new wineskin."
The project quickly became one of the most popular areas of the seminary's Web site, in part because of its genuine expressiveness, openness and vulnerability that Walt calls "life in rough draft." It has now grown to include links to the personal blogs of select alumni, faculty, and students as well as opportunities for communal prayer, scripture reading, and campus events. It is, as far as Walt can tell, the only seminary blog out there.
Telford Work, assistant professor of theology and religious studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, sees a blog as "speaking by and for the whole community in its role as priest — someone who represents the community to itself and others." In this respect, he sees blogging as an opportunity to add a live representation of the seminary community to the static modes that schools employ to represent themselves — alumni magazines, brochures for prospective students, and institutional Web sites. Particularly for alumni, a blog can allow real participation in the ongoing life of the seminary, or at the very least can take the personal touch of the alumni magazine to a new level. Also, for the parents and faith communities of younger seminarians, blogs present a way to involve themselves in what would otherwise be a largely private journey.
For those of us who seek to live and work in community, blogs provide a venue where our thoughts can coalesce with those of others and in a very real and unscripted way give voice to the spirit of our institutions. What's yours saying?