Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mormonpalooza Part 2: Housewife Blogs and Evangelization Envy

The past few years have seen the rise of the hip Mormon mommy/housewife blog phenomenon. There seems to be an endless network of them, and good gravy are they popular. Thousands of followers, dozens of sponsors, weekly giveaways popular. Personally, I am hooked on The Daybook, Nat the Fat Rat (Happiness Curator! Lover of Anne of Green Gables!), Rockstar Diaries, and Mormon in Manhattan to name a few.

The stinkin' cute Sydney and Tyson of The Daybook. 
In Salon this January, highly educated journalist Emily Matchar asked the question on many young women's minds (including mine): “Why can’t I stop reading Mormon housewife blogs?” She concluded that, unlike the uber-intense mommy blogosphere, these ladies make marriage and motherhood look like fun adventures.  At VirtuousPla.Net, Julie Rodrigues recently observed that these blogs "give beauty slowly," countering the modern obsession with instant gratification. Jen Fulweiler chimed in that it’s the inherent female nurturing, giving instinct that makes PhD candidates pore over posts about recipes and decorating.

I agree with all these women, and very much identify with Matchar and her friends. Reading cookbooks and stalking other people’s domestic bliss were my main coping techniques while thesis writing. It was a world so comforting, and yet slightly exotic compared to the library stacks.

There's been some discussion in the Catholic blogsphere about what an effective evangelization force these Mormon bloggers are. Such artsy diaries make show that we church-going folk are happy, creative, and normal.  These women blend modernity with faith seemingly effortlessly. They are in the world but not quite of it, often more subtly than we Catholics seem to be. But before we go running out to create knock-off hipster Catholic blogs, there are some key points to consider.

Mormon housewife blogs are up-to-the-minute trendy. 
These women use Instagram, sell handmade accessories on Etsy and dish about makeup trends.  Their trendiness seems authentic, not self-consciously commercial. When readers ask, "What makes Mormons so cool?, they reply that they just look for beauty in everything, and that includes Forever 21.

These blogs are written for a wide general audience – lifestyle first, LDS a distant second.
 “Just frolicking in the city, pushing this stroller in my hipster glasses and red lipstick. Have you tried that new burger place across town? Oh and I’m excited about General Conference and hosting some missionaries for dinner on Sunday.”

via ClothedMuch.com
Similarly, clothing discussions are about fashion, not just modesty. 
You'll never see these stylish girls in tank tops or short skirts, but they don't feel the need to tell you that constantly. Their posts are all "Hey, look at these cute blouses! I found the sweetest necklace on sale!"

I once told my parish priest that he should give up his pipe dreams of a modest clothing line, because the Mormons have that locked down. Three words: Shabby Apple dresses.

By far the expert Mormon fashion blogger is LA-dweller Elaine Hearn at Clothed Much. Her blogroll of Mormon fashion bloggers is comprehensive, and her use of items from both department and thrift stores is brilliant. With nary an ankle length jumper in sight.

They offer artistic quality and positivity, not preaching to the choir
Mormon bloggers' layouts are uncluttered and their photos use natural light, not garish flash. They write about what is good in life, instead of just clutching their pearls about THE CULTURE.

There is a time and place for hashing out the minutiae of theology and liturgy, and then there are times to be more approachable. Endless debates about NFP and homeschooling get tiresome, as does the millionth mediocre rehash of Theology of the Body. This is where Mormon bloggers enchant and inspire me in a way Catholic mommy blogs often do not. It's refreshing to see something practical and beautiful, not just hand-wringing about immorality on TV.

Who cares what horrendous things the kids on Jersey Shore are wearing; what would be a good outfit for work tomorrow? How could I still unleash my creative side once I am chasing after little ones? How do I relate to my secular colleagues? More importantly, how could Catholic life be relevant to them? Women like Sydney and Elaine give me hope that I can participate in modern society but also stay true to my beliefs.

Via The Rockstar Diaries
This is where I as a Catholic blogger/cultural historian do some serious pondering. 
Do we blog to evangelize or to talk amongst ourselves? Should Catholic young women write with our theology more "undercover"? Personally, I love the like-minded community of spiritual support I have found through blogging. Should I put my money where my mouth is and switch to posting recipes and daily outfit photos? Or would that be watering down my faith?

Do any Catholic lifestyle blogs with a large secular following already exist?  Do you think Catholic women should embrace a new online evangelization strategy? What do you think?



11 comments:

  1. I don't think that posting about food or fashion is watering down your faith at all... but it has to be what you're really interested in. I have thought for a long time that bloggers such as http://www.ourlittleapartment.com/about are the ones who are the most successful at promoting Catholicism. But I don't think that I can do the blog-as-apostlate thing so I don't really worry about promoting my faith through my blog. I do agree that in-fighting is NOT the way to promote your faith, but I am attracted to weird religious quirks and details. This is probably why I know that there are tons of LDS blogs with the same issues. They just have to be a little more anonymous/subtler/whatever because they have to worry about becoming ostracized/getting kicked out of the church. We Catholics don't.

    I'll admit that I'm a bit inclined to gag about the Mormon-lust which now seems to be the current fad in certain Catholic circles. But I recognize that one of the great things about our faith is that we can all live it out in different ways. So some people can use their Catholic blogs to promote LDS clothing lines which ultimately support LDS missionary efforts. Others can reflect the more ascetic aspect of Church teaching. There is room for many, many approaches.

    But back to more of your point, I think that the reason this sort of "evangilization" is effective for the LDS is that they have different needs than we do. Their big goal is to become accepted as mainstream and normal. But for a large part of the US Catholic Church there is a concern that we are far too normal. I don't personally share that concern, but it is there.

    So anyway, I really appreciate the way that you are thinking through all of this! Good luck with whatever you choose!

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  2. I think a lot of the points you raised have to do with where LDS is coming from in America. They've often been viewed with suspicion, as being outsiders, and as being "less American" in some regards if you look far enough back. So, I think that their blogs reflect battling against all of this - they can just like you and me, *and* Mormon. A bit like their whole "And I'm a Mormon" campaign, but in blog form.

    I think as Catholics, we have other points we need to show the culture, like Rae mentioned above, although my thoughts on what those are are different. I suspect a lot of stereotypes we need to fight concerning being a faithful Catholic are about being repressed, being mindless sheep, reproducing uncontrollably, and so on. So, our blogs should address that. And I think they do a great job there.

    Regardless, I think it's fine that a lot of Mormon mommy bloggers stick with their lifestyle. Theology blogs are all well and good, but those will likely only appeal to those who are already Mormon or are considering it (and the same for Catholics). Rather, they are following a "little way" in a sense, in that they are living out their faith in their place in life and displaying it to the world. I hate to admit it, but I was surprised when I found out some of my favorite bloggers (of the not-Mommy variety) were Mormon - what a great evangelization technique.

    Where I do think Mormons are heads and shoulders above Catholics is their commitment to doing it. The LDS Church is very well aware of the need to embrace new media, and not only have they developed effective tactics to do it, but they have clearly communicated this need to their laypeople.

    Now, as someone who writes a fairly secular blog, this is all easy for me to say. I don't plan on switching to any such sort of format, because then no one would want to be Catholic. ^_~ Maybe some day. I do think it is a powerful witness in numbers though!

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  3. I totally relate to this. Sometimes blogs make me wish I was trendier, cuter, artsier, more fashionable. And while this is not a diss on Mormon blogs, I have to realize that God doesn't want me to be trendier, cuter, artsier, and more fashionable. To be honest, a lot of those blogs come off as a little materialistic. I don't think Mormonism emphasizes simple living in the way that Catholicism does.

    Maybe we could do more to emphasize the joy in our lives more and the role God plays in that instead of the "Life sucks but God is good" that I tend to write about.

    I do agree that I get pretty sick of (and thus don't read often) Catholic blogs that talk about nothing other than how NFP is the best thing ever and women who use contraception are absurd, modesty, and why we should return to wearing a veil in church. Come on. There's more to our faith than that.

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  4. Another thing is that I think there is a lot of pressure in Mormon communities to lead this kind of lifestyle with a hot husband who is the sole earner and housewives who do nothing but have fun. So I think that sometimes Catholic blogs (while more depressing) can be more honest.

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  5. 1) I had no idea Shabby Apple was a Mormon company. I love their clothes!
    2) I guess I haven't done a lot of reading of Mormon blogs, but I have done my fair share of reading Catholic blogs. I have to agree that reading arguments from the "Sola Skirtura" group get old quickly. I'm sure the title of my blog makes some people probably avoid it. But because of that I try to add as much 'normal' stuff as I can in it. I think a happier medium would be lifestyle first and Faith a close second. :)
    3) Love this series so far! Thanks for writing it.

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  6. Hello,

    Thank you very much for your ideas to post comments. Evangelization has inspired so much recent thought and activity in the Church. It is also bringing the good news of jesus into every human situation and seeking to convert individuals and society by the divine power of the gospel itself...

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  7. Reading blogs and watching tv shows by people of other faiths/lifestyles is sooo interesting! Lately my cousin and I are OBSESSED with the Sister Wives. I keep telling her it would be somewhat good if your husband annoys you just send him to a different wife!

    Back in June I started a blog about my couponing experience. In coming with a name I wanted it to scream "ME!" and not be like the millions of other coupon blogs out there so I called myself "The Catholic Couponer" because catholicism is what I am!''

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  8. Living in Utah, I am very familiar with LDS blogs and yes they are fun, and yes they ARE done for evangelizing. The church leaders have ASKED the members to blog and share their faith in appealing ways.

    I am trying to share my faith in a fun way on my blog too. Though it's difficult to get noticed. Most Catholic blog aggregators are focused on news blogs, scholarly blogs, and Church leadership blogs.

    If there were lists or directories of Catholic Mommy/Wife blogs, like there are of Mormon blogs, it would be a great contribution to the "New Evangelization"... hope someone who is internet or new media proficient will look into this and help us out!

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  9. I really enjoyed reading your take on all the "hot" Mormon blogs. I've often wondered many of the same things you have and often wonder "where are the Catholic blogs like this?" because I haven't found any.

    I've been reading these types of lifestyle/fashion blogs by Mormons for a while and it's always interesting to see how the life that they portray really does attract young women. I've seen a number of people leave comments on The Daybook about how they'd go about becoming Mormons, so it definitely brings people in. Who doesn't want a loving, devoted husband, great clothes, and just a great life in general? For some reason they're good at making it seem like you too can have all this if you become a Mormon.

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  10. I appreciated this post and the comments because in the last year I have started reading many Catholic blogs after first stumbling upon Jen's writing at Conversion Diary and from there discovering many other great bloggers. While I have heard a lot of the hype about these trendy Mormon blogs I hadn't given one more than a glance or two until today. Each site I visited today did appear care-free, beautiful and trendy. While it is fun to look it, I didn't find any posts that made me feel like I was doing something overly productive by reading the site (not that reading Catholic blogs can always qualify as "productive" either). I have found it refreshing to read posts by Catholic bloggers like Hallie Lord, whose blog (which can be found at: http://www.bettybeguiles.com/) focuses on fashion, embracing your femininity and addresses romance in a way that is much more enlightening than anything Cosmo offers in their monthly magazines. I have also been happy that Hallie and Jen from Conversion Diary, along with some other impressive Catholic bloggers, are willing to cover topic likes make-up and how it can help bring out your natural beauty, especially when you're dealing with small children and often not getting enough sleep. This is much better, in my opinion, than the blogs that insist regularly wearing make-up is not the best choice for Christian women.
    I will admit that I like reading about NFP frequently and I haven't been bothered by healthy chats regarding modesty. I think that it is important to have these talks, mainly because for years in my adult Catholic life I didn't fully understand NFP, Theology of the Body (I'm still learning) and many other important aspects of the Catholic faith. Because some teachings of the Church, including NFP, are counter-culture, even among many Catholics, I find the internet to be a supportive community of people willing to openly talk about living out our faith. I don't have any friends or relatives that I see on a regular basis who practice NFP and so blogs, like Katie's (http://nfpandme.blogspot.com/) provide extremely encouraging posts.
    This post has given me a lot to think about as I work on developing my own blog. At this point I feel like there is a place for blogs that focus heavily on religion and those that are written by Catholics, but offer a more care-free approach and may help others see that Catholics are “normal.” Of course, as I believe another commentator helpfully pointed out, sometimes these days Catholics are too normal (i.e. not following the teachings of the Church) and we need to embrace what makes the Church different, because that’s what makes us Catholic and I know these differences are what lead others to convert in many cases. Thanks for this post Sarah, I just found your blog today and I am excited to read more!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment, and for following, Stacy!
      I love reading Jen, Hallie, and Katie's blogs too. It's such a blessing to have a like-minded support group of women online! But you are spot on that is also room for showing how Catholics are "normal" and don't just talk about theology all the time. The Catholic-ness of my blog here has shifted over time - I recently started one purely about museums so I can vent about chastity, liturgy, etc over here :-)

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