Saturday, December 09, 2006

Methodist Blogger Profile: John Carney

John Carney of Lake Neuron

* I am city editor for the Shelbyville (Tenn.) Times-Gazette, for which I have worked more than 21 years. I'm kind of burned out, and I try to figure out what to do next, and I rail against God for not pointing me in the right direction.

* I'm secretary for the board of directors for Mountain T.O.P., an interdenominational but United Methodist-affiliated group which places volunteers from throughout the U.S. into the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee for week-long service camps.

* I'm a certified United Methodist layspeaker.

* I'm a long-time contributor for The Wittenburg Door, although I need a good idea right now, and I was chosen to write a tribute to Mike Yaconelli for the magazine.

* I have been to Nicaragua once and Kenya three times with LEAMIS International Ministries, and hope to go to Bolivia with them next year. We teach cottage industries; I've taught soapmaking the past two years.

* I am a preacher's kid, but wasn't born that way. My father, Rev. Jack Carney, became a part-time United Methodist pastor when I was 10 years old, and he served multi-point rural charges for most of his career. In the past few years, after retiring from teaching, he had a single-point charge, but retired from that earlier this year. Now, he and my mother attend the same church I do, First UMC Shelbyville.

* I attended (shudder!) Oral Roberts University, and had a great experience there, but hate to tell anyone anymore because I have become so disaffected with TV evangelism.

Why do you blog?
I started my first blog in fall 2003, because I was raising money for a mission trip to Kenya in 2004 and I thought it would be a good way to let my partners keep up with my preparations. I called it "Kenya Minus 365" because I tried to start it a year to the day before the trip. But I found myself wandering far afield. Yes, I know that developing a "successful" blog requires more of a customer-driven focus, and the eclectic nature of my posts probably puts me closer to the 15-year-olds who use their blogs as diaries. But since I'm not spending much, and I have no profit expectations, I'm content to blog about what interests me and hope that someone enjoys reading it. I tried launching a special blog dedicated to issues of passion and tolerance as they relate to faith. It was called "Neuron's Cove," and I had Chris Oakes, a former co-worker of mine who is a Pentecostal preacher in East Tennessee, as a co-blogger. But I couldn't post consistently enough to make it fly. It's still online, but I've also moved those posts into Lake Neuron in case I decide to take it down someday.

What has been your best blogging experience?
I posted a year or two ago about wishing that the albums of the late Christian comedian and Southern Baptist preacher Grady Nutt were still in print. I've gotten all kinds of comments from other fans of Grady's. Hardly a month goes by that someone doesn't leave a comment on one of my Grady Nutt posts. Recently, I even got a comment from Grady's grandson!

What would be your main advice to a novice blogger?
Try to be consistent. If you have 10 posts one day and none at all for the next three days, people won't get in the habit of checking your site. But at the same time, don't apologize every time you go a day without posting -- apology posts are boring. Relax and find your own voice, but at the same time use some common sense about what your readers will or won't find interesting.

If you only had time to read three blogs a day, what would they be?
I have waaaay too many blogs on my RSS reader, and too often I'm just clearing them off instead of doing them the justice of reading them. As a journalist (at least for the moment), I enjoy Get Religion ( , which critiques coverage of religion in the mainstream press. I follow the blog aggregator Nashville Is Talking (, which is run by a commercial TV station and which gives me a wide sampling of bloggers representing a number of political, theological and philosophical views. The MethoBlog, for which I'm a volunteer aggregator on Fridays, has also introduced me to a number of great blogs. My trips to Kenya as a short-term missionary attracted me to Mission Safari (, a very frank and well-written account by a long-term missionary working as a physician in Nairobi.

Who are your spiritual heroes?
There are so many ways to answer that question. As I've indicated, my father became a United Methodist pastor when I was 10 years old. At the time, he was working as a salesperson for a manufacturer of electrical equipment. A couple of years later, even though his immediate supervisor was thrilled with his work, some higher-ups were uncomfortable with the idea that one of their salespeople was also a pastor and gave Dad an ultimatum. Even though he had four kids, the youngest in diapers, and this was during the financially-strapped mid-1970s, Dad did what he believed God had called him to do. That stuck with me. Gail Drake and Debra Snellen at LEAMIS have also had a profound impact on me (I met Gail several years earlier, when she was working with Mountain T.O.P.) As far as well-known people, authors and the like, I'd have to say C.S. Lewis and Sergeant York.

What are you reading at the moment?
Not as much as I should be. I got halfway through "First Man," the authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, which I took with me on the Kenya trip, but I've been really busy since then, with work, a community theatre production and a variety of other little things, and so I haven't finished it. I watch too much TV and spend too much time on the computer, and I need to get back to reading more, which I used to be really good about.

What is your favorite hymn and why?
My first instinct is "Here I Am, Lord," but that's probably a bad choice. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy about things I'm involved in, which is a form of legalism. So let's go to "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," which I consider unspeakably beautiful and comforting.

Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've changed your mind?
As a journalist, I try to let the fairness of my work speak for itself, which normally means keeping my politics close to the vest. If you go around talking too much about your politics, people tend to look for it read it into your reporting, whether you are actually biased or not. A good reporter can tell both sides in print even though he or she tends to sympathize with one of them. But I will say that I think I've gotten more liberal on selected issues as I've gotten older, contrary to the stereotype. I see myself as a moderate, but my views on selected issues could be characterized as hard right or hard left, depending on the issue. I know that's an evasive answer. Ask me again if I can ever manage to free myself of journalism.

What philosophical thesis do you think is most important to combat?
There seems to be a dichotomy in our society between a growing sense of universalism and a growing sense of religious intolerance, siege mentality (in some quarters) and bad will. I am appalled by universalism, which I think cheapens every religion by making each one meaningless and self-defined. I believe in truth, and in right and wrong answers. At the same time, I'm not so smug as to believe that all of my answers are the right ones. I believe that you can be passionate about expressing your own views and yet gracious and tolerant towards those whom you fail to convince.

If you could affect one major change in the governing of your country, what would it be?
Campaign reform. That having been said, I don't have the slightest idea how to accomplish it without treading on free speech rights, which (as a writer) I hold sacrosanct. But the current system favors screechy ideologues, and the power of negative campaigning guarantees that whoever gets elected will take office with half the electorate already believing him to be a scoundrel or worse. The splintering of media guarantees that partisan extremists on either end of the spectrum get a steady diet of whatever reinforces their set-in-stone preconceptions. Nobody ever has to reconsider their views or change their mind.

If you could affect one major policy change in the United Methodist Church, what would it be?
You have to understand that I spent most of my adult life in little country United Methodist churches. I think some of the priorities and policies held by some of our denominational agencies are distinctly out of step with the members who are paying the bills, and I get the sense that some of those agency leaders are taking the philosophy, espoused in George Clooney's Oscar speech, of patting themselves on the back for being ahead of the curve rather than considering even the possibility that they may, in some cases, have made a wrong turn. I'd like to see more dialogue.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life?
This week, looking at my finances, my career, my weight and my personal life, I think the only advice I'd give would be not to take any of my advice.

What, if anything, do you worry about?
I'm not sure you have enough bandwidth for me to answer this. If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you'd do differently? I feel like I would be a better steward of my health and my finances.

Where would you most like to live (other than where you do now)?
Someplace warm. I am not a cold-weather person.

What do you like doing in your spare time?
I claim to be frustrated with my computer, but the fact of the matter is I love tinkering with software, web page design, that sort of thing. I watch way too much TV, which is a waste, but I live alone and it's background noise.

What is your most treasured possession?
My cast-iron cookware, which I care for lovingly. I got to tour the Lodge Manufacturing plant in South Pittsburg, Tenn., for a newspaper story once, and I wrote a devotion about seasoned cast iron which I've used several times at Mountain T.O.P. and LEAMIS events.

What talent would you most like to have?
I'd love to be able to paint.

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner, who would they be?
Alton Brown from the Food Network; Terry Scott Taylor from Daniel Amos and The Swirling Eddies; and David Letterman.

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