2/15/2019: A Salvation Manifesto (In Progress): As It Concerns Anxiety, Legalism, and Perfectionism.

A conversation in response to 12/3/2016, 1/19/2017: On Perfectionism and Creativity

In early 2017, a friend had some questions about a post. My response ended up summarizing my whole soteriology at the time, which of course is built with the humble and talented bricks of so many profs, books, and pastors and mortared together with my own thought and experience. I’m putting it here for posterity and will probably comment on it later.

D:  I have been thinking about this a lot lately, specifically how fear relates to perfectionism. Maybe you can expound on that some…

Me: What have you been thinking?

D: Well recently I feel like perfectionism is somehow related to self- protection or fear. But I haven’t figured it all out yet. You said it’s fear of failure which makes sense. Trying to protect a false image I have of myself maybe? But what if the fear of failure is of moral failure or sinful failure? I guess that’s what you were saying, that even that can become an idol. I’ve not thought of that before. But yes, it steals creativity & risk taking, but since perfection is impossible it also steals joy & peace.

Me: Yeah, moralism—that Christ-agnostic standard that has ruled much of my life—is a huge offender. And a sneaky one, since it masquerades so well as being scriptural. Learning the difference between moralism and the Gospel, which is about Christ’s meeting all godly standards on our behalf, was a huge change for me. The Grace Awakening by Chuck Swindol was a big help for me in this, among other things.

A corresponding key nuance is that ALL salvation—even sanctification—is by grace through faith. The emphasis in my tradition was always on our responsibility and need to work in sanctification (which we should) rather than on our dependence upon God for good works, just as much as we depend for initial belief and for future, eternal deliverance. We are called to work, but the goodness that comes within our working, when it comes, is always, always, always by grace through faith and not because of the work, itself (Phil 2:12-13). That grace—that dependence upon God for sanctification-salvation—frees us from the idolatrous tyrant of moral success. And again, it’s only because Christ has already met the standard on our behalf.

The Gospel is always, and in everything that’s eternally good (things whose goodness transcend temporal benefits, I suppose), “Christ saves us.” So any fear regarding anything eternally good, given Christ’s power and love for us, must arise from some lack of faith in Christ//faith in something in place of Christ. It must come from some flaw in our beliefs and values rather than from some valid application of the Gospel.

D: I agree. My trouble is with figuring out in the moment where my motivation is coming from- empowering grace or moralism.

Me: Another helpful nuance for me (we seem to share the same vice, though I’m not surprised)—we are at all times both sinner and saint. Nothing we do is ever wholly one or the other. So waiting for “good motivation” isn’t really a thing. We’ll never have it even if we think we do.

God just wants us to work, and to the degree that we do good, it’s because of him. And to the degree that we don’t, it’s because of us. And when we fail, because Christ has already pardoned us, we learn, and we keep on working, correcting our methods and actions on the way. It’s painful to learn through failure, but I think that’s one part of suffering we’re promised in this life. Putting to death the deeds of the body is putting them to death. It’s not a day spa. That one’s a fairly recent nuance for me—within the past six months, probably. He just wants us to keep working as best we can in each moment, and worrying is not ever a good work.

Given that all good we can do is by grace through faith, worrying about whether or not we have a good motivation with the intention of withholding that action if we don’t is, in my estimation, symptomatic of a return to moralism. The worry—the fear of failure—signs that we have lost faith in the righteousness and grace of Christ, upon which we are dependent for both our pardoning and for the good motivation/works. If we trust in him for what, in short, could be called our sanctification (good works out of good character), we trust his provision AND his withholding. Whatever he chooses to do—and he does not promise all salvation to all men—he is God, on whom, alone, we are dependent. And here it gets hairsplitting—if we trust ONLY in the provision and NOT in the (apparent) withholding (and also on our ability to know what provision we need and when, how, etc. we get it), we trust in the provision. It has become an idol. If we trust in the PERSON(S) who provides (or not), we trust not only his provision but also in what way he provides or not. We trust him and all he does in all the ways he does them, even when we have no idea what he’s doing or if he will ever extend us what we desire or what we think he should. All that to say, a person who trusts God, including his provision of the grace required for either our pardoning or our good works (again, ALL aspects of salvation) trusts HIM, and fear signs a trust in something less than him—something untrustworthy, thus the fear.

And another nuance—I use “lack of faith” more broadly than just in regard to belief. I think we are dependent not just for the belief but also for everything required for the belief, including the correct knowledge.

One mistake I fall into is making the removal of perfectionistic fear an idol. Given that God is both infinitely loving and powerful, fear is symptomatic of a lack of faith and thus sinful. If God is such, what have we to fear that’s actually worth fearing? Is he not capable to know good and evil, and in loving us and doing as he pleases, does he not give good perfectly? So the lack of faith requires grace (through faith), like all sin. So applying the above, God is good (i.e., loving and good) whether or not he gives me the grace to believe and so be free from fear (salvation from that sinfulness by grace through faith [faith is by grace as well]). And to follow that, in wanting to do the work that he commands me to do, I do my best to deny fear-led thinking and instead focus on good things and actions. Sometimes it’s a TEDIOUS moment-by-moment battle and far beyond me to be able to detect and redirect my thought life, especially when it’s led by something as strong and as confounding as fear. But I feel like that falls into the “work as best you can in all moments” and all the corresponding things I mentioned above. And I, in and of myself, am not capable of winning it because whether or not I believe it, I am wholly dependent upon God for salvation from any and all evil, whether by way of pardon or by way of outright deliverance, with the removal of temptation, whether I recognize it as such or not. And he loves us and is more powerful than we can comprehend. But I work, and if I will be delivered within that work, it will be God, by grace, through my faith— which is just another product of grace—and not by the work, itself.

All good things come from God. We are wholly dependent upon him for everything worth having. And that’s just the Gospel, which we learn on and on and on and on and on.

Do you mind if I put all this on my blog sometime? I’m not sure I’ve written all this down in one place before.

1/28/2017: Drafting vs. Planning

I have been making a lot of “development documents” for the novel, but I typically just draft when writing shorter pieces. I know I have a tendency to do development documents for things I’m afraid of getting wrong, and I think I also do it for the novel because I haven’t wanted to do “unnecessary work,” knowing how much time might be “wasted” if I write things that’ll just be thrown out.

In my drafting process, I read what I have over and over again, and when I do, if something strikes me as needing to be changed, I do it. Often this brings something else to mind or sight that needs to be changed, so I do that as well. And I keep reading and changing. And as I do, my vision for the piece changes. I can start with one idea or right side image or left side pattern and end up with something completely different because of how the little changes end up redirecting me. It’s a lot of work. It can takes hours upon hours for a single poem. I have started poems that didn’t rhyme and were about one thing that end up rhyming and being about something else—all because of adding individual changes and finding other things that match them or need to be thrown out and feeling what things go together or not.

And another description of the drafting process—sitting there, active quiescence, reading, mulling, until something pops up to add, remove, or change. Lots of reading, sitting, thinking, mulling.

Pre-thinking looks different. It’s all about finding things I don’t know or don’t know how things fit and then trying to figure out how they do before actually making changes in the draft. It ranges from figuring out how sin works in my world to figuring out what the theme is to figuring out how to make the parts I know are there fit with other parts to fit the theme, even if it means changes things or adding things to do so. But it all happens outside of the draft.

I think I had forgotten what it feels like to draft. I’ve been doing semi-daily poems, and I’m getting back into what it’s like to go from clustering to polishing in a day or two. It’s kind of addicting. Depending on how well a piece clicks, I get to a point where I just don’t want to put it down until it’s perfect. It hasn’t been the same with much of the book (though it did happen sometimes).

I doubt either one is the only way to do it or the best way to do it all the time. I suspect there are times when one is better than the other. But I know that I pre-think whenever I’m afraid. I do it in all kinds of contexts.

One of the worst things is writing when I’m not feeling it. It kind of just drolls on. But one of the best things is writing when I’m feeling it. I can’t stop it.

There are some benefits of the drafting process that I’m missing. For one, it means reading the piece over and over, which means knowing it very well. That’s a good thing, given how long it is and how much stuff is in it. It also means I’ll only change or add or remove things when I get the feeling things need to be changed. This means no droll writing. The book may not end up where I planned or plan, but it will end up at a place that’s polished and that I become convinced is what it should be. I think that conviction will go a long way.

I was thinking of a metaphor when I was playing with my daughter during her bath. She has those foam letters, and she was sticking them on the wall one random letter at a time trying to make a word. She didn’t know what word, she was just sticking them up there one at a time until she got an idea for one and then finishing that word off. We started with EAT, then EATFOOD, then EATFOODISKR3M (eat food ice cream—we supplemented unavailable letters with numbers), and on until it became EATIC6CR3M (eat ice cream). She knew more and more what she wanted to write as we added letters and then words. That’s just about the best metaphor for the generative process that I could ever find. You don’t know where you’re going. You just go. You add. You rearrange. You throw out. And when you get the little light, like a match on a fuse, it just goes, and it gets more and more focused until you have it. But you got to keep putting stuff up there until you do. And isn’t that light just the trial-web shift? The random letters is the trial web. It shifts as/when you focus.

What about when I come across those things that I don’t know and just feel like I have to know before I move on? It’s like if I was writing about God and came across something about him I didn’t know—something like “Does God change? Depending on the answer, what I’m creatively connecting could either be really great or heresy.” It seems like in those cases I need to know the facts first. Who is Lithoth? What are h’lae like? What happened to Gus to make him who he is? What did the fall look like? Those all seem like prolegomena upon which the generation of the story depends.

Surely that part of me that finds connections has to be convinced of the truths behind those connections before I can comfortably make the connections. Else I’ll wonder, “Can these be connected, or is this completely wrong?” And since my world is supposed to be a realistic world, it seems like a lot of things need to make sense before I can creatively connect them in a story. Lots of things need to be worked out logically before they can be acceptable within my image.

And to some degree, that’s what I do when I’m drafting. If I find that a stanza needs something to introduce it, I write another stanza before it. I do that kind of thing with the development documents sometimes.

The big difference is when I use the development documents to figure out the themes or plots or character arcs and then rearrange things so that the themes make sense—without ever make changes in the text. It helps me understand how things fit into the themes (organize), but it lacks the spontaneity and feeling of the drafting process. It feels wrong, but I don’t know why.

I wondered if perhaps my distaste for just writing where things “need to be changed” (as a result of my development documents) is a sign that I should stick to poetry or other shorter things. That novels are just too long and dull to keep my interest—too much busy work (though I should point at that this was not as much the case when I was writing the first draft—it was the case sometimes, as I suspect it always is when just putting foam letters up without feeling any light is). But perhaps it’s more of a sign that I should be drafting more. There’s definitely no life in taking those logically developed changes into the text. Not in and of itself.

I’m glad this came up. It may mean I’ve done a lot of not so great or productive work—at least as far as the novel is concerned—but it means that I’m learning. Or perhaps relearning.

Also, even if I didn’t learn anything when writing, say 10 chapters that I end up deleting, it’s still worthwhile. It’s not wasted time. It’s a necessary part of the best process for writing. So when I’m afraid of not being productive, I need to remember that it’s less productive to only develop logically than it is to develop with both sides and delete three quarters of what I write. That’s the only way to grow and flourish and focus what the writing is to become—to cut and polish the gem.

Another thought. If I compare my poems to my novel, if I am drafting, I should be writing scenes, or units, all out of wack. Moving them around. Writing out of order. Writing up ahead or behind. Removing scenes by the armload. Interchangeably writing scene-focused and multi-scene-focused.

One thing comes to mind. Me developing apart from drafting reminds me of how I wrote that first short story about the magician and how my reader said it was super predictable. I had concluded that I was writing mostly left-brained and that the development outside of the writing was one way I was doing that. I wasn’t exploring or playing. I was trying to make things fit without exploring or playing. I was afraid to play. I think it takes both—both exploring and trying to make things fit. But it’s trying to make things fit as I explore, and I think the exploring comes first.[1]

I fear that I am in the same boat now. And I think fear is probably the culprit. I’m afraid of it not fitting or making sense. I’m afraid of the theme not being robust or complex or impressive or beautiful or emotional or rich… And in fear, I’m trying to force it to fit instead of playing with it. It takes both.

Go play.

Another thing. I remembered (and developed) all this as a result of regularly writing poetry. It reminded me what the process is like when it clicks. I should keep doing this short, experimental practice stuff. It well help sharpen me and keep me sharp.

[1]Could the other come first at times? When would it be good for the making things fit to come first? Perhaps when there’s a problem that needs to be fixed. And maybe that’s it. Those problems come up as your exploring-fitting. It seems like you’d be vacillating between exploring-fitting and fitting-exploring. I think I remember Rico even saying something about that. But unless it begins with a problem that needs to be fixed—and this novel did not—then it begins with exploring-fitting.

12/10/2016: Free To Act (cf. Phil. 2:12-13)

You are free to act.

God doesn’t tell us to wait on him to give us pure motivations or authentic motivations (pure motivations would be authentic…), he just tells us to do because it’s him in us working to will and to work his will. And he corrects us when we do wrong. And that’s it.

Something tells me he doesn’t want me to not do just because I might do wrong. Something tells me he will take care of me when I do wrong. That I have the freedom to act, knowing that I’m safe, that he loves me, that he works on me when I do wrong. And though those things may hurt, it’s good. So there’s a safety net, of sorts, in doing wrong. I am free to act because I could do right and because doing wrong is not the end.

To be continued.

(8/14/2017: I have since written a more nuanced explanation of what I’m talking about here, to be published later on. This is much too short to be of use to anyone. But this LBK was the first big movement on this topic that I had had in years.)

12/3/2016, 1/19/2017: On Perfectionism and Creativity

Perfectionism kills creativity. It drives the brain to the left side of the road in hopes of removing all imperfections—an editing process. Without feeling the freedom to make mistakes, a person cannot create. But the idea doesn’t stop there, else all perfectionists would be doomed from ever creating (and from the liberation of learning to do so).

Perfectionism, if it’s anything like what I consider my own perfectionism, is a flight from or fight against fear. In this case, it battles the fear of failing to meet some standard.

Call it what you will, but I call this legalism. It’s either the case of valuing the wrong standard or the case of failing to recognize Christ as the one who has met the right standard on our behalf. I say this because the only standard really worth meeting, the only standard that should cause us fear for not meeting it, is that which restores a right relationship between God and man. There are other desirable standards, to be sure, but they fall short of this one, and all become idols (1/19/2017: indeed, even this standard can be an idol if elevated above God, himself) as soon as they become our driving force, as soon as Christ’s imputed righteousness, our redeemed relationship with God and man, the hope to which we look forward, is not enough. We can handle falling short of those standards with poise and contentment because they do not come before that which secures us. (I need to develop these ideas more).

That being the case, perfectionism is sinful, or it is symptomatic of sinfulness. It is a lack of godly character. It is an issue in need of grace—whether common grace (as is the case for so many ungodly artists) or special grace for sanctification. That is to say, the recognition of the premier value of the standard that Christ met, of the Gospel, and faith in Christ as the attainer of the standard (and all that such entails) frees a person from the other standards that enslave him (in fear). And in freeing him from fear, he feels free to make mistakes and thus becomes more able to create. Moving from perfectionism to creativity is a liberation. And it is a product of the grace of God.

This is what I felt when I started writing.

1/19/2017: Another way of arriving at this:

As God is love, I think that God is Creativity (and I think A.W. Tozer would agree).

God, in his self-existence, is the standard and source of all the things that he is (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.). He doesn’t receive his characteristics from some higher provider, and he does not match up to some higher standard of goodness, of love, of whatever. He is the standard. These things belong to him as intrinsic to his nature (and to none other apart from his making it so, though sans infinitum, as far as I can figure). These are aspects of his character, descriptions of who he is. And the existence of these things in the creation is a product of God having created it and making it in accordance with who he is (Good is like God, Evil is unlike God, and God does no evil). Aberrations of these things came as a result of sin. So, God alone existing in and of himself, and him being the Creator, who creates from nothing, is creative and thus the standard of Creativity.

For mankind to be like God in his creativity is to be a subcreator (Tolkien). And because sin has made us unlike God, and since to be made like God is a product of grace, becoming creative is a grace.