Four years, one month, and eleven days ago I published my first blog here on Breaking In The Habit. Since then and including this one, I have published an additional 249 posts. Through words, videos, and pictures, on topics ranging from mundane formation issues to deep theological reflections, I have allowed many into my formation and growth in the life of a Franciscan friar. On this my 250th post, I want to take the time to look back on where we’ve been and to show what might be in store for the future.
Originally, there were two reasons I considered writing the blog: to keep in contact with friends and family, and to force myself to reflect on the experience (having a journal is one thing, but when you know someone is going to read it, the reflection process becomes much more consistent and refined!) And even though those were two great reasons, I was more than a little hesitant to write a blog. As one character in the movie Contagion says, “Blogging is not writing. It’s just graffiti with punctuation.” Anyone can have a blog, and many of the ones I had read were the ramblings and rantings of a crazy person. Was I really going to throw my hat into that ring and consider myself a “blogger.” The thought made me cringe. Besides that, who would even read it, I thought. While there was definitely something interesting in what I was doing and many friends and family insisted that I send them updates, how long would they remain interested? I could deal with being labeled a “blogger” and all the stereotypes that went with it, but I wasn’t sure about putting myself out there and going through all the trouble for my parents and two friends to be my only readers.
What ultimately pushed me over the edge was a small thought I had in the back of my mind: “When you were looking into religious life, there were no regular, personal reflections of someone actually doing it to be found. Maybe some of this could help others in discernment.” I had no grand ideas of starting this blog for vocations, but it was a strong enough reason to start writing and a helpful lens through which to write: if these posts could one day be seen by people other than those who know me very well, I needed to be professional, consistent, balanced, and inclusive.
Thank God I did. To my surprise, people I had never met began following me from the very beginning. When the vocation director shared one of my posts publicly I received questions and comments from guys looking into the Franciscans, guys who knew nothing about me other than the fact that I was a postulant hoping to become a friar.
Before I even began, then, the content of the posts shifted from my original intention. For an audience mainly of friends and family, I had planned to share how I was feeling and what I was doing. With a wider audience that included aspirants and people who already knew the friars quite well, I felt a need to include background about myself and more posts explaining the particular processes of becoming a friar. While I was always conscious not to be a “blogger” that just ranted about things, it was also a helpful reminder to choose my words precisely, never posting something I couldn’t stand by, and to present the Church and Order in the best light I could.
Throughout the whole first year, this was my plan and it worked well. Writing as many as 2-3 posts a week at the beginning (when EVERYTHING was new) and at least one per week the rest of the year, my posts were between 300-600 words and focused heavily on the things we were doing. We went here. We did this. Here’s what I learned from it all. With the exception of a few theological reflections on general topics, each post was directly related to the practical, chronological flow of the formation process, and was meant to share about my life. By year’s end, I compiled 104 reflections and was quite comfortable with my status as “blogger.”
That was, until I was told by the novitiate staff that I would not be allowed to continue posting while there, that I was to focus more on experiencing and less on sharing. By now, the blog had grown into something much bigger than just a way to keep in contact with family members and I was disappointed, to say the least. Novitiate is an important year in formation, and while I thought that that made it an excellent reason why I should share it, I also saw benefit in not sharing.
As a result, I definitely grew in my understanding of Franciscan life, and couldn’t wait to share my reflections. I realized at that point that the blog might begin to change. Whereas the posts before were practical and simple, focused entirely on my experience, the posts afterwards became longer and more abstract, continuing to share my experience but now in a way to make a point about something bigger. I felt myself writing more to the reader, to society, to the Church. Whereas the first year was all about taking it in with wide eyes, the third year saw a glimpse of something bigger: my desire to shape the world with what I had found in this life.
On the one hand, the shift in tone was unavoidable: now in studies, my life was far more stable than the constant moving of the first year, and my focus was almost entirely on philosophical and theological topics. No longer could I write about trips and workshops because I was no longer attending them. I had my head in a book and so my thoughts were on the weightier things of life. Understandable. On the other hand, I think there was a distinct shift in that year away as to what the blog was for. While it may have started primarily as a way to keep in touch with family members and to reflect publicly, and only secondarily to promote vocations and interest in the Church, I saw an opportunity and felt the desire to invert these goals. What I was doing was more than just a “fan club” or online diary, it was ministry. Sure, I wasn’t reaching thousands of people, but more than a few people began coming to me, in person or through social media, to tell me what an impact a post had on their life. Really? I thought at first. I was just telling my story? I guess so. Slowly, that became a new lens through which to write: as someone passionate about the Church and teaching, how could I share what I wanted people to know and help them step closer to the Church? I was very concerned at first not to become too preachy, to slip into the fault of the ranting blogger, but I definitely felt my focus shifting.
It’s no wonder, then, that the blog has expanded in the past few months, and new mediums have emerged. Who knew that I would one day be making videos on my own YouTube channel? If you would have asked me about people who did that before entering the friars, I probably would have given a larger eye roll than I did for bloggers. Egomaniacs. At least on a blog it takes effort to type out a rant and requires some basic punctuation. A video? One’s rant knows no bounds! I would not have been open to the idea even one year ago.
And yet, just as the voice in the back of my head reminded me what I once looked for and never found when discerning, I realized that, even though I had always thought that the Church needed an enormous educational and public relations makeover, I was looking to someone else to do it. What if you do it yourself and stop waiting for someone else? Good point, voice in the back of my head. And so it began. I put myself out there once again in a position that I had once looked down upon and knew that there would be some to look down on me simply for trying it. It’s all about him. Always wants attention. I didn’t have a plan, a “voice,” or high ambitions, just a camera and a 3000 mile road-trip to test it out. It will be another way of presenting the blog, I thought.
What I shortly found was that this was more than just an experiment and that my notions of the blog were about the change quite a bit once again. Believe it or not, people are a lot more willing to watch a video than they are to read a blog post. A lot. The number of subscribers and hits has honestly boggled me, and the fact that the blog and YouTube channel make up largely different groups of people. While, yes, there is some crossover for sure, I began to realize this summer that the video channel was not a subset of the blog, just another means to share my life and speak to people; it was its own entity that required unique attention and different content, able to completely stand on its own. My model needed to be rethought because the mission was growing.
And, so, here we are. Post number 250. An occasion for celebration and reflection; an occasion for transition. You will have no doubt noticed (unless you are on email in which I would ask you to click here) that the look of the blog has been completely rearranged. Bright pictures. Infographics. New sections. But there’s something deeper in the transition. While breakinginthehabit.org will still be home to all of my blog posts, it is more than just a blog and it’s new structure represents that. The home page contains just an introduction of the content, complete with a new mission and news updates, while on the top you will see either a menu dropdown or a list of new menu categories highlighting the major components of the mission: blog, videos, and “Facebook,” a new way to connect with people where many of us spend so much of our time!
I’ve learned a lot in the past four years, one month, and eleven days, and I feel so blessed to have had so many great people walking with me along the way. Thank you all. While I plan on continuing to share as I have in the past, the one thing I won’t forget is that things will inevitably shift and new ideas will emerge. I thank God for the 250 posts I have been able to write and I hope that it has given God and God’s Church glory, but I also know that my understanding of what I’m supposed to do may change once again over the next four years. And I’m more than fine with that. As far as I’m concerned, as long as I’m spreading the Gospel in the way of St. Francis, I’ll be breaking in the habit.