At the height of my blogging days, I never imagined there would be a season where I took so much time off from writing and blogging– but such a season there was.
In hindsight, I realize this long season didn’t have to be as long as it ended up being. But it was as if the longer it went the harder it became to return– not so much because I’d lost that “thing” inside me or my love for writing, but because I’d felt a progressive degree of shame for needing to take time away from this to begin with. As I sit with myself today I realize I’m not even sure how all those feelings started in the first place, or why I somehow thought that after writing a 60,000 word dissertation and an 80,000 word book in the same year and a half, that I’d expect myself to need anything other than a break.
They say if you love something to set it free, and I suppose that’s what I needed to do with this part of myself. Somehow I knew that I couldn’t force it, will it, rush it, or hold it too tightly. I knew that if it were to come back to me in a way that would be life-giving and sustainable for a new season, that it would have to come back to me in its own time and of its own will.
Thankfully, I feel like that time has come– and I couldn’t be more excited to be back on the blog again.
However, as I re-launch my blog, you’ll notice that I am no longer at Patheos. I am not there as an employee, nor am I there as a writer. After spending many years passionately writing on the platform and eventually serving as the manager of the Progressive Christian channel, there’s no authentic way to begin blogging independently without acknowledging this more glaring fact. I loved blogging, and its come back to me. I loved Patheos, but it will not be.
When I first joined Patheos, it was a tremendous honor to be invited. Patheos was a foundational presence and host of some of the most important discussions in Progressive Christianity. Patheos was a professional organization with a reputation for quality writing, quality discussions, along with leadership who deeply valued both the writers they invited to the platform, and the change we were attempting to bring about in American Christianity.
That, unfortunately, has changed over time. The new Patheos is not the old Patheos, and I was probably in denial about that for longer than I should have been.
Early in the transition to new ownership and management, some good and necessary changes were made– there were improvements. Yet, along with those improvements, over time there were also notable changes in Patheos culture that were quite the opposite.
It was clear that instead of a reputable host of Progressive Christian discussions, the new Patheos didn’t seem to understand what Progressive Christianity even was– and still doesn’t. Instead of a leadership team who knew and valued their writers (i.e., I had a situation with a stalker who was threatening me years ago, and the former president of Patheos quickly got on the phone with me and initiated legal action on my behalf) the new Patheos seemed far more resistant to writer’s needs and requests. A deep value and care for the individual writer ultimately changed to the point where writers were primarily seen or valued, and their requests granted or denied, on the basis of their monthly number.
Imagine loving a company because of a quality product you believe in, and realizing that a big part of what made the product great was working with and for leadership who truly knew and cared for each of the individuals who produced the company’s product. And then imagine how dramatic of a shift it would be if those folks moved on, and those who replaced them adopted the posture of, “Oh, Sally wants what for her office? Um, we looked at her numbers and she doesn’t really mean much to us. Just tell her no– it won’t be a big deal for us if she quits over it.”
And then imagine that word starts to spread about how the company has changed to where those who would make the very best product as it once was, have no interest in working there– not only does the mood of the place change inside, but you no longer have the same degree of pride you once had in the product’s reputation and quality.
It is that kind of dramatic culture change that makes one feel progressively more and more troubled being at a company. But as the next-to-last one standing from the original Patheos team, and as a believer that sometimes organizations can only change if someone stays behind and tries to change it from the inside, I still fought for the Patheos I once loved and prayed it wasn’t gone forever. I don’t know if I was idealistic or in denial– I was probably both without the right balance of either.
My wavering trust and confidence all came to a head with the deletion of Warren Throckmorton’s blog from Patheos. As a fellow blogger on the platform, nothing about this one felt right to me, and felt even more wrong as time went by. Every Patheos blogger knows it’s next to impossible to get one’s blog deleted from the site, as they can share the hell out of your old content but no longer have to pay you any royalties after leaving. Plus, deletion of even a single article can hurt your standing with Google, let alone an entire archive of them. It didn’t take a master dot-connector to know that the only plausible reason for it was that it was more profitable to remove that content from the site than it was to keep it. The only question is, “Who, or what organization, had enough money– likely advertising dollars– to make it disappear?” I don’t know that any of us, including me, will ever know the truth behind the question.
It was also clear to me after being kept in the dark on multiple decisions that had explosive results with the very people I was tasked with recruiting, that I didn’t actually have the kind of influence one would need to adequately address a culture that had inexplicably become hostile toward the very people who generate the revenue.
I defended Patheos when they were accused of things I knew or sincerely believed were untrue. I spoke up behind the scenes countless times over decisions that fanned flames of mistrust in writers and our core audience. And I gave them the benefit of the doubt, until I just couldn’t anymore.
The final blow for me, even though it took a while for the implications to sink in, happened in my role as a blogger. I told the new director of content that I was sick of some of the more absurd rumors and intended to disprove allegations that we were limited in our ability to criticize the NRA. I’d told him I was going to write a post calling the NRA a terrorist organization and that NRA leadership should be tried for capital crimes. (It is, and they should, FWIW) I had expected to hear “Hell yeah, that’s a stupid rumor and is so baseless– go for it”, but instead I was surprised to be met with a nervous laughter before being told, “Don’t do that. Please don’t do that. Seriously, don’t do that.”
Nothing about that won my trust back, but instead was the moment of no return.
Somehow I was still torn. I loved my fellow bloggers and wanted to stay and be their advocate, but I also felt gross and was struggling to both put out fires of hostility and keep up with recruiting demands placed on me. The love was lost– and I soon realized it was lost in both directions when I was terminated for not having high enough numbers. (Straw? You don’t need straw– just go make more bricks.)
It was important in my own conscience to leave peaceably and in a way that honored my own integrity instead of making a stir or leading a mass exodus from Patheos. But of course, I still had to face hostile and accusatory emails attempting to see if I had enticed folks like Nadia Bolz-Weber to leave– even though I’d not done anything of the sort– and was told I “screwed them over” when they recently found out I would not continue writing for Patheos. All that, however, was just added confirmation that I could not be more happy or more relieved to no longer have anything to do with the new Patheos– because the new Patheos isn’t really “Patheos” at all.
At least, it’s not the Patheos I will forever remember with deep fondness.
They say if you love something to set it free…
Well, I did.
I may be gone from Patheos, but I am back to blogging– and I have missed you all so very much!