Lessons and reflections on blogging for America over 9 years.
Cambridge, MA. In my last post on the Hindu theologian Ramanuja’s 1,000th birth anniversary, I did not mention that it was my 300th blog posting for In All Things. At an average of 1,000 words a blog, the fact of 300 blogs means I have posted around 300,000 words at this site since first posting an entry in December 2007.
I realize it may seem odd, in today’s fast-moving world, that I have actually counted up the number of posts I have made, but as the accompanying picture shows, I have also saved printed copies of them all as well, in two big binders. (This is something some scholars do, I think: keep a meticulous record of what they’ve published, “for posterity,” I suppose.) Most of my books are around 90,000 words, and my current one, out in 2017, is just over 50,000: so 300,000 words for America is a significant addition to my CV. I am thinking about ways to archive them online thematically, in case they would be of use to anyone interested in the themes I touched upon over the past nine years.
More important at the moment though is that this, my 301st post, is also my last for now. I learned this several weeks ago, when Tim Reidy, web editor for America, reported to me that America will be unveiling a redo of its website in January, and as result the current blog sites would be phased out.*
I am grateful to Drew Christiansen, S.J., for inviting me in 2007 to join the group of start-up bloggers. The general idea was that I would keep an eye on developments in the interreligious realm, although they gave me a free hand to write on whatever topics I wished. Given my long interest in dialogue, I was ready to try to take up this task, newly alert to new documents issuing from Rome, papal travels and speeches, and good examples of dialogue here in the United States and abroad. I was not hesitant to express my own views on issues arising, though I did strive for balance, for the sake of readers who would know me only by such blogs.
I was happy also to report on my own travels that had interreligious dimensions, for example to India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, to Seoul and Beijing, to Melbourne and to Uluru, and to England and Ireland, Scotland and Germany, and even to Rome. Domestic events, such as the Hindu-Catholic meetings in 2015 (with Cardinal Tauran) and 2016 in Washington, D.C., and environs, also seemed to deserve mention, and so I blogged on them. By extension, I found In All Things a fine venue for more literary and nearly scholarly contributions: series on yoga in Lent, yoga and the Spiritual Exercises, the Bhagavad Gita in Advent, a Hindu reading of the Sermon on the Mount, the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, Paramahamsa Yogananda’s careful exegeses of the Gospels, and—just a year ago this time—a series on how Christians can learn from the then new Study Qur’an and can benefit from knowing Islam more deeply.
The editors at America did not seem to mind when I went still farther afield, venturing write-ups of some of my Sunday morning homilies; occasional commentary on papal documents not related to religions; finding good excuses to write about Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa or Dorothy Day; reports on events at Harvard and, after I became director in 2010, happenings at Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions, notes on lectures and events such as October 2016 conference on Religion and Ecology. Occasionally, I also stepped into the world of politics, as when I defended the idea that we could someday have a Muslim president and should rejoice in the possibility, or when very recently I argued for stubborn loyal-but-resistant citizenship rather than a “Not My President” motif. I also wrote more personally when my father, a life-long America reader, turned 90 in 2009 (and when he died in 2010) and, tucked away about five years or so ago, I recounted the story of my own vocation, its simple, elemental beginnings. All of these pieces, so varied, were also enhanced by the fact of the very interesting and varied posts continually written by others in the In All Things venue; we bloggers never gathered, but shared cyberspace for nearly a decade.
Writing these blogs has been at times a good bit of work, but I will miss the privilege of being able to make a post on this or that event that draws my interest, whenever I wish. In the short run, I am already realizing that I will miss the chance to report on upcoming events, such as my January trip to Chennai, where I will speak at a conference marking Ramanuja’s anniversary, and then travel up to Gujarat, to meet for four days with a group of Hindu monks to discuss spirituality, religious life, theology and the challenges of secular society. I will miss being able to post further comments on other things, too: the fate of religious openness in the era of Trump; the ongoing evolution of spiritual-but-not-religious identities at Harvard Divinity School; the climax to H.D.S.’s 200th anniversary in April 2017; the conclusion of my seven years as Director of C.S.W.R. in June 2017—and so on and so on. Always more to be said!
I am grateful to my readers, those of you reading this final blog, and those who have followed my writing over the past nearly 10 years. I have received much good feedback and have always been surprised and gratified when someone—close by or abroad or just by an email—tells me that they have read my posts regularly, or that one or another of them was helpful and something they passed along to friends and family. I am grateful for the wider circle of readers that happened when H.D.S. starting posting some of my pieces on its website, too. I have valued comments from Mormons and Hindus and Muslims, and appreciated the doors that have been opened. Sometimes the reaction was immediate: Just last night, for instance, I spoke on short notice to a thousand or so Srivaisnava Hindus and their very distinguished visiting Swami, after they read my blog on Ramanuja and invited me to visit their gathering out in Ashland, Mass.
I also thank those who have added comments on this website. While I would only rarely respond to comments, I found the discussions often quite interesting and good additions and emendations to what I wrote; America has wise and insightful readers. Inveterate teacher that I am, though, I was more than once tempted to ask one or another commenter to go back and read what I actually wrote, rather than reacting to things I had not said and points I had not made. Some energetic readers found my email, and occasionally we had profitable offline discussions of topics raised in my blogs.
Was there one underlying theme underlying all 300 blogs? Maybe not, but if I had to venture an answer, I would say it has been my steadfast belief that spiritually grounded and intellectually alert openness across cultural and religious boundaries is a good and holy virtue for the Christian, the Catholic, the Jesuit. It is a gift and a duty grounded in the teachings of Vatican II and in the Exercises and ultimately in the example of Jesus himself; it shapes a mission essential to our work in a world where ignorance, sectarianism and wall-building are on the rise. Being open and learning humbly from the words and actions and lives of people in other religions, I have always insisted, does not dilute our faith or violate its truths, because it is in Christ—in all things—that we learn to see the world anew, as Hopkins knew:
Enough for now. I am sure that I will find other ways, perhaps at America and certainly elsewhere, to share my ideas with online friends such as you, my good readers. Farewell for now, and blessings at Christmas and in the year to come!
*Editors' note: This blog has been updated with more editorial details.