2/14/2019: Not A Writer

I just had a moment where I thought, “If I’m not a writer, am I anything?” meaning “anything of value.” I have an attachment to being a writer, or being a something, and attaining my idea of life. If I am not a writer, a thinker, an artist, a good father, someone who can control his addictions and his time, someone who can think without worry, who can find what he “should do,” who can understand, who has some unique skill or calling or benefit, who succeeds and is known for it, who doesn’t care about success or praise, who has useful and profound and beautiful thoughts, who hasn’t been found out as a failure in all these things—if I am not these things, am I anything?

But you don’t have to be anything. That’s just the message of those who disbelieve in their own innate and unchangeable value and who share that disbelief with others. Who disbelieve in life itself and have replaced it with what is death itself, the removal of life and the addition of toil, karma, earning, requirement, law, deservance, value by accomplishment, independence—which is just dependence upon things that are not life and cannot win it.

You are loved by your heavenly father; you are loved by God, who is life, who is your life, and you are his. And you are his. You are his. Because he has made you so, and not because he innately needs us, you are his life. He has made himself dependent upon you—not because he needs anything you have but because that’s love. In love, you are dependent upon the object of your love (see George MacDonald’s “Consuming Fire” sermon). Like the father of the prodigal son and of the elder son, you are wanted and chased after by him. You are drawn and taught and welcomed back with eager and open and warm and gratuitous and unbreakable arms.

So, if I am not a writer, I am loved by God, who is Life and whose love is to us life.

If I don’t know and choose the right job, I am loved. If I’m not qualified for any job that promises success or value, according to the unbelieving world, I am loved. If I’m not qualified for any job at all, I am loved. If I choose the wrong job, the wrong fit, the one that I will quit or fail at or leave, I am loved.

It almost makes you want to abandon, to avoid the world and its system of success, to not be led into it, if that were even possible. But your placement isn’t so much to stay in the right system as it is to be wherever God is with you. And he is with you with the rest of those who still need him, wherever they are. Right? “I learn so much, I remember who I am in my poverty (of all the things that are not God but that I feel like I need). Please keep me here.” Is that not “deliver us from temptation?” Is it not asking to be “the poor” in “blessed are the poor?”

Part of me wonders if persons typically associated with success—often persons that started young whatever successful activity they are now vocating—are merely addicts of whatever it is that they do. That is, they have reward circuits that allow them to get in a dark flow for that thing (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/07/the-machine-zone-this-is-where-you-go-when-you-just-cant-stop-looking-at-pictures-on-facebook/278185/; also Generation Wealth on Amazon Prime Video), that make them keep wanting to come back without end, that disable them from what would be more healthy activities. Maybe not, but if it’s not love, it has to be something like that, yes? I, at least, apart from love, can’t stick to something unless I’m addicted to it, it would seem. I just get bored and then curious about something else.

So I’m being reminded that the result of salvation is love and that loving is what I’m called to do. Loving. It’s the godly and essentially life-giving equivalent of “Here’s more money than you can imagine. Go spend it freely.” “Here’s the answer to death, itself. Go do it as much as you want.” I mean come on. We could be commanded to do worse things, yes? Anyways, I remembered that my big push to write was “writing is a good way for you to love.” I’ve been having some issues with my lack of motivation to do good. But it’s because of a lack of love. And that of course starts with knowing that I’m loved. So, you’re loved, and if you write or don’t, the reason for it, whatever it is, is love.

Kinda scary that to the degree that I’m godly I can do the thing(s) that I want to do most when I’m ungodly. Talk about a brilliant and devious temptation.

And one final thing. Had the thought this morning that I wonder if the toil promised to Adam was more of a blessing than a curse. It’s the toil that teaches him he needs God. It’s lack of toil (i.e., success, abundance, security) that poisons us with the lie that we need nothing and nobody.

We’ve fallen in a well, not the high seas. These aren’t carracks and caravels but the lashed-together collections of bodies, bobbing us about in the darkness. And if there’s a rope out, it’s not the sailor but the bobbing body that’s more apt to put his hand to it.

 

 

Photo by Valentin Lacoste on Unsplash

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12/4/2017: Artful Success

I wish I could find it, but I read a meme earlier with a pic of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer that said something like, “Standing out only leads to benefit if it can also benefit other persons, in which case it becomes extortion.” And that’s quite like the idea of the story, though from a cynical slant.

And while I think the idea needs some counterbalancing to be true, I think there’s something to be said about how worldly success works. Every person is intrinsically out for his own good. Such was the effect of the fall.

This doesn’t bar common grace, nor does it account for the nuances of “his own good,” which could also include moral success and therefore non-extortion helps to other persons. But it does speak for much of consumerism.

If I would be successful in the worldly sense, I would be of commercial value. I would be of consumptive value. That’s the nature or spirit of the fallen world. So to seek success in that sense is to seek to be consumed, to seek to be commercialized. And I, upon receiving those junk food profits, would ostensibly turn and eat others.

The more I learn about art—not commercial art or The Arts but art—the more I am convinced it’s the natural occupation of the godly.

 

 

Photo by Birte Liu on Unsplash

3/15/2017: On Success

If artistic success, and indeed Christian success, is not measured in dollars, then what is success? What would success be for my pursuit of writing?

A life of love is a success. A life spent, poured out, in service to God and others. And what does that look like? It looks like quality relationships. Dialogue. Humility. A corporate and cooperative search for truth. It looks like learning, like recognizing failures and doing what I can to make up for them. It looks like depending upon grace and extending that same grace to others.

Art is the same. Art pours itself out in service to others. It works to heal wounds. It encourages. It questions wrongs. It seeks what’s right and invites others to do the same. It stands before others in vulnerability, asking to either be part of their lives or to be set aside or to be demolished. It relates.

Thus artistic success is using my craft in relation to—in relationship with—others. And not just to the nameless masses—that plumb-line of success I tend to follow and I think that much of the world around me tends to follow. It is in relation to others in the same way that I am called to relate to others in all of life. I am called to love those who are in my sphere. If I abandon those persons in my sphere and seek to share my work with other spheres, where does that leave me? Surely not love. My desire for other spheres couldn’t be a loving one, given that plenty persons exist in my current one.

Thus my art should begin with persons I know. And it probably ends there, too. But I haven’t developed in my understanding that far, yet.

And if success isn’t measured in dollars, how do I make enough money for my family and still art? Do I just jam it in the cracks, like after the kids go to bed? I guess it depends on whatever time God affords me. Right this second, I have enough time to write freely. At least for the moment. After this, I don’t know. (2/20/2018: Not anymore I don’t. I’m currently pulling the cracks as wide as I can and cramming it in there.)

2/27/2017: Local Writing

If you can’t love the persons already in your life

Not that getting to the place of writing to the masses is the thing to pursue.

Love those who are in your life, and you may be given more persons to love, like the parable of the talents. But because you love—because you aren’t just wanting to be loved by the masses—you will think of the masses not for fame, like you tend to think of them when not loving, but as recipients, as companions. In loving those available to love, the prospect of more persons is only a reward insofar as the scope of your love increases. Celebrity is not the reward. Expanded love is. Or can be. Some persons are called to love from prison cells.

It’s the whole issue of wanting to be good all over again. I wanted, and still want sometimes, to be good because it will secure me as being what I believe is praiseworthy. But actually being good results in not caring about being praiseworthy. The method of achieving your desire robs you of your desire (thank God).

So I should write for persons already in my life. Art is a means of communication, of dialogue, of relationship with others. So my art belongs to persons I already know. These are the recipients of my love, thus they are the recipients of my writing.

That’s not to say that I can’t write to persons I don’t know. Just like I can introduce myself to a stranger at a business conference, teach a new class in Guam, help a missionary I’ve never met before… The scope is one of spheres. Who’s in your sphere, and who’s at the edge of your sphere, and who’s outside of your sphere? And with things like Twitter, where you can, to some extent, connect with just about anyone, spheres are versatile things.

I have already thought about writing vignettes for persons in my life. I could also just write letters. I don’t have to stick to fiction or to poetry. I could even write something for different persons I admire or follow through Twitter.

Also, I have been asked to write a devotional for my church. That’s a big duh. “Hey will you love us by writing for us?”

Another thing I should note. I’m an introvert, which means a few, deep friendships. That’s not to say I can’t interact with many persons, but I shouldn’t expect myself to just go crazy and write love letters to every one of my Facebook friends. I have a friend who’s just writing a bunch of funny nonsense on his feed. It doesn’t really seem directed at any one in particular, but at the same time, it’s for no one else but those persons on his feed.

2/21/2017: On Celebrity

First off. Yeah right. Get over your anonymity, Patrick. The shadow of success ever keeps you dependent.

But if it did happen. Doesn’t celebrity, at least to some degree, mean that you match the world’s idea of what’s valuable to consume? And doesn’t the world typically want to consume those things that are not good? So wouldn’t celebrity be an indication of your valuelessness?

That’s cynical.

Plus, that kind of goes against my ideas about being able to seek truth and beauty and the like alongside the world.

But there is a difference between media junk food and thoughtful material. The former is usually considered celebrity-worthy, but not always. Tolkien and Lewis are two thoughtful examples that are also widely praised. They just happened to be both—to have something good to say that also appealed to the masses. Of course, the latter only matters because it increases the range for the former to travel. Tolstoy, or maybe it was Dostoyevsky, talked about that.

What about “Christian” celebrity? Chris Tomlin. Ann Voskamp. Mark Driscoll. Have these persons just fit whatever standard Christians have set for what’s acceptably junk-foodish?