Blogging is dead, so the saying goes, but you know… it’s where I’m comfortable so I will be eschewing the trend toward Substack and parking myself and my thoughts back here for a while, writing for myself without the constraints that naturally come whenever you’re working for someone else.
For instance, I enjoyed my writing/editing career the most during my years as Editor-in-Chief at Aleteia.org because we were striving to create a site that had a little bit of everything: news features, breaking news, particularly with specific invitations to pray, personality profiles, Catholic spirituality and Q&A’s, lifestyle stuff and prayers, relevant seasonal or papal-inspired weekly series and even recipes. It was a fun, productive and gratifyingly recognized cooperative endeavor with a great team of people working from out of seven nations and three continents, and my time there was joyful. I loved the people I worked with, and we all still keep in touch.
But, always in life, things change. People change (I am not who I was twenty years ago, and I bet you’re not, either, or how stultifyingly dull and predictable life would be). Visions begin to differ. Even the happiest of gigs will evolve a bit, and like a stretched out shoe or glove, the fit just isn’t great anymore. As that happens one starts to feel constrained in what one can write, and the nagging sense begins to obtrude that, “Maybe it’s time to move on…”
And one prays over that, for a while, especially if one likes one’s co-workers. But eventually, one’s gut wins over one’s affections, and acknowledges that — while the fishing was great for a while — the watering hole isn’t productive for you anymore, and it’s time to just cut line and go home.
This is not unusual in life.
So, last Friday, after nearly a year-long tug between my guts and my affections for my co-workers, I had to recognize that it was time to cut line and go home, and I resigned from my position as Editor-at-Large at Word on Fire. I’d intended to do it on Monday, but — because an especially dear co-worker asked me to — I gave it a few more days of prayer.
The gig was always a strange fit for me (hence the “Editor-at-Large” title, which in publishing often means, “we’re not sure yet what to do with you”), but my first assignments (writing a workbook for the Word on Fire 2-part series on The Mass) was fun and challenging and I also got to edit contributors to what was then the daily blog, and to work on the Evangelization and Culture Journal, edited by Tod Worner, and so yeah, plenty of work within a Christocentric evangelical mission that I believed in. I loved that Word on Fire would release videos and columns touching on events within the popular culture — like the theatrical of Professional Wrestling, for instance, or a dark, difficult movie like “No Country for Old Men” — and bring a Christological or scriptural or even sacramental perspective to things. I completely agreed with the idea that talking about what the world was talking about — but specifically in order to deliver that spiritual perspective to those who otherwise might never read a Christian or Catholic piece — was the way to go about meeting the flock where it was feeding, and adding something spiritually rich to the food, in hopes that they’d seek out more of it. And I really thought Word on Fire did this brilliantly.
Missing from the experience was the sort of daily interaction with the full staff as I’d experienced at previous gigs, but working remotely was something I was used to and the pandemic seemed to make loners of us all for a while, so it suited.
Until it didn’t.
Because always in life, things change. People change. (I am not who I was, and yadda-yadda…) Visions begin to differ. And one prays over that (in my case, for nearly a year) especially if one likes the co-workers one actually works with…
But in the end our guts always know. Our guts always nag us when things stop feeling like a good fit, the location doesn’t suit the intention and it’s time to cut line, again. The guts win.
I remember once, on an old blog, some commenter ended a long diatribe by wishing ill on me and my family and writing, “You are not human to me. I hate your guts.”
When I read it I thought, “Well, my guts aren’t here for you to love; they’re here to process nutrition and let me know when I’m on a wrong track.”
Too often in life I have not listened to my guts when I should have, and that’s never worked out well for me. Sometimes I think I’m getting better at listening, but… no… I still take the car when my guts are saying “get that grinding noise seen to, first” and I still ignore a symptom that seems minor but has my guts nagging at me until the doctor says, “Oh, yeah, that’s cancer, by the way…”
I’ve been asked by some to show them my resignation letter. At one point I thought I might, but then it turned into a 2400 word thing, part treatise, part controlled rant, part exit-interview and I rethought that. My goal in resigning (and in so detailed a manner), was not about lobbing a grenade at the organization, or seeing it torn down, or fomenting sensationalism, but rather to help the organization perhaps see (in my presumptuous way) the issues that I, as a remote employee operating outside its workings, was seeing and feeling uncomfortable with and concerned about, dealing with policies, procedures, communications, the missionary vision and the lack of new work.
It is my sincere wish that the tilted ship may yet be righted, and if Word on Fire ever fed you well, or helped you in your life of faith, I hope you will pray for its correction and flourishing, because the mission is still a very worthy one.
I’ve really come to appreciate mission statements — they’re really helpful to refer to when a group, or a parish (or even a family) is beginning to slide away from where it means to be. Mission creep is a slipping away from the boat launch, a drifting into new currents and being borne into unfamiliar waters, too far removed from the horizon of its origins. It happens, often almost accidentally, to many religious or charitable endeavors (and, again, families) — a product of success, growth and unavoidable interaction with worldlier, outside mindsets. We see it even in some of our parishes, where the desire to attract missing parishioners and young people often means offering things at church that people can get anywhere — call it “Lattes in the Lobby”. It’s well-intentioned, but people can get lattes and conversation anywhere, (and more comfortably than standing around in a church entrance). While socialization is an important part of building community, even the mega churches have discovered that the mission of forming intentional disciples and supporting lives of faith can’t be sustained if it starts becoming all about the coffee and the cake and the show.
What people really want of their churches (I believe this with my whole heart) is inspiration, instruction and light offered in line with their spiritual tradition — whatever that may be — in order to grow in understanding and thus better-navigate the difficulties of the world and of life. When they are offered helpful insight into everything that touches on their real lives, wrought through the lens of scripture, prayer, the wisdom of holy men and women who have come before or are living now, they eat it up and want more, because the food is good.
When Christians have the issues of their lives enlightened by the teachings of Jesus as found in the Gospels (where Justice and Mercy kiss and live in perfect balance through Christ) they don’t walk away; when offered that sort of thoughtful positive engagement (unburdened by the worldly cant or controversies people can get anywhere with the click of the keyboard) and offered without a harangue (because we are all being harangued-to-death every day), they feel seen, and heard, and uplifted.
We all get plenty of chum thrown our way, meant to feed only our appetites for anger. When we encounter a mission that can talk/write about everything from entertainment choices to personal life changes (“How can I help my child and her same-sex partner raise their children in the faith…”) to headlines that leave us struck in grief, or fear, or disappointment, without constraint, and without alignment with anything beyond the scriptural or Gospel-guided, sacrament-enhanced openness and optimism, we find food that nourishes us, and we come back for more of it.
Anyway, that’s enough words for my first day back on the blog. I’m hoping, now to settle into a kind of “limited summer sabbatical”, spending more time with silence, less time on social media; revisiting writing projects and spending time with my doctors (and a good thing I like them!).
I really hope everyone reading this and who feels called to it, as I do, has a chance to spend a little more time in silence and prayer. The world surely needs it.