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

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.)

1/25/2017: Writing as Living

Writing is just living. Trying to do what I can to love others. Its success, if it can be called that, is not in how many people respond well to it. Its success is the same as asking “Is it a successful life?” And what is a successful life but a good life, and a good life but one that comes from the life giver, from God? One that lives for God and for others? That is a good life. And thus, that is good writing. To write for God and others. To write with them.

12/5/2016: Upon a Wasted Day

I’m frustrated because I did nothing “worthwhile,” but upon considering what is worthwhile, I find that even those things that I would do if I could do it over again do not have as their motive anything more wholesome than what led to my wasted day. And when I fear the waste of a day when I see it on the horizon, I wonder if I fear not that the Lord loses me but that I lose productivity or growth or whatever idol it is that I worship. If it’s what I think it is, I wonder how many days I have that aren’t wasted.

Of course, I have to qualify this with what Dr. Svigel said. We’re at all times both sinner and saint. When we sin, we don’t wholly sin. When we do good, we don’t wholly do good.

12/3/2016: Insecurity

Stems from a lack of value and faith in the grace of God through Christ.

Leads to a desire to be something other than myself—something that matches my idea of what it takes to meet the standard (the highest standard only Christ has met).

I spend my time reading what it takes to be an artist, hoping to find a description of myself, because I have come to view artists as that standard to meet.

If only I valued and believed the love, the imputed character, the eternal hope of the one who met the only standard worth meeting. Insecurity would have no place in me. But only by grace through faith.

So as it stands, until he returns and calls me home, I remain insecure (to the extent that I lack faith).

But such is the nature of God’s work. He uses the weak to demonstrate himself. He allows me to remain weak in order that the greater good be accomplished—that he be seen both by me and by others through me.

Him being seen for who he is is the most important thing in life. Worthy of my pursuit. But also worthy of my continued insecurity. For me to believe in this, I must also commit to the continuance of my insecurity. For the glory of God.

11/22/2016: On Ambition

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m worried about being a good writer. Or really even just being “a writer,” as if it’s some special breed of human. Indeed, it seems like most articles raise them up, along with other artists, to a pseudo-deity, much the same as celebrities. It draws all my ambition.

A godly man would view fame and wealth as all but worthless—at least for the normal reasons I pursue them. Tolstoy did, but only after discerning their worthlessness from experience. They are utility. Reach more people. Help more people. They carry the responsibility of the Talents, much like my education. Without these, they are merely the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It is as much an idol—identifying myself as a writer—as identifying myself as, or making myself, a good person was in the past. I take the question “Who am I?” as impetus for becoming praiseworthy. But such is the flavor of my sin nature. And it seems that, like in my character perfectionism, God has forbidden me from attaining my desired identification. I fall into intense insecurity long before I succeed. It is my Babel Tower toppling. Baal failing to light the fire. God disallowing me from feeling independent of him.

And just as in the case of wanting to be and know that I am a good person, being and knowing that I am a good writer are bound by God’s will and thus dependent upon his grace, just like the toppling of the tower. That is, God could let me continue to build my tower. He could let me succeed. He could let me take credit for it for the rest of my life, just like he does for so many successful persons (according to worldly standards). But in grace, he reminds me that I am indeed dependent upon him. And not only does he remind me, but in grace he gives me belief. That is, if he does. I cannot force his hand in this, else it would not be grace. I cannot manipulate his timing. I am helpless to change my independent assumptions, and therefore all of my motivations for things that accord with independence, by myself. These things usually involve some measure of personal greatness: christian character, artistic skills, creativity, intelligence, good looks.

A few thoughts:

First, I don’t have to know that I am a good writer to be a good writer, even though I imagine it would help in determining my vocation. I say this because I feel particularly down at the thought that I might not be good—a product of my insecurity at the moment. But I guess this is just me trying to reassure myself according to that same system (of being a good writer). At the same time, perhaps I just want to know what the best use of my time is right now, and I assume that the best use involves doing what I do well (or the best). But I wonder if that’s the best criteria for choosing what to do. In and of itself, choosing to do what we are best at has little value. Choosing to do what we do best in order to help people has merit, but of course such purity requires character, which requires grace. But perhaps choosing to do what God has put before you is best. Or perhaps my worry about what to do involves another fear—what if I choose the wrong thing to do? Just another branch of the insecurity vine. In any case, I cannot outignorance or outevil the sovereignty and goodness of God. Choose what is in my head and heart to choose.

Second, there is a measure of clear-mindedness in spite of the fear of not being a good writer to determine that I am at least good enough and interested enough to pursue writing. Such has been the conclusion so far, though the fear persists. Again, it seems like I just want to assure myself that writing is the best path. It may be. Why I want to assure myself of this—perhaps because of my insecurity. See above.

Third, all sanctification is by grace through faith. Being a good, loving writer—the goal worth having—is by grace through faith. Trusting God and being humble (contra insecurity) are also goals worth having. And in God’s grace, he may topple my tower of writing well (agnostic of love) in order to teach me writing in the slums. Or he may forbid writing altogether. It’s up to him, and it’s good.

I want to write well primarily because of ambition (right now anyways). I have not wanted to write well to enhance my ability to reach people, to build the world—at least I have not noticed that motive. I believe that desire is in me, but it takes second seat to my pride. Tolstoy moves from the first to the second as well: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/05/16/leo-tolstoy-purpose-diaries-youth/ and https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/11/20/tolstoy-on-motives/

If this will change, it will be by grace through faith.

And in the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep writing. Until the next time God topples one of my towers.

If I end up being a professional writer, I wonder if I will always bounce back and forth between purer motives and ambition.

I was reminded that Lewis wrote about what tempts me. I think it was in The Great Divorce. He wrote about the artist who became more enamored with the craft of painting than about that which he painted, though he was initially interested in painting because he wanted to capture a bit of the beauty he saw and share it with others. While reading those articles on Tolstoy, I realized that I have become fixated on the craft of writing—I imagine because I believed it to be the quickest route to praiseworthiness. But the sincere writer records himself, not just his skills, not just his interesting thoughts. He records his emotions, and so his values, his beliefs, his struggles, his flaws. And he shares himself with the world. He connects with it. Perhaps in hopes that he can help it along its way. Perhaps also in hopes that it can help him. Or perhaps just because he’s part of it, and our grand design is to proliferate, to create, to cultivate, and he wants to contribute to humanity’s effort toward this end. I think it was realizing that I have failed to do this that my insecurity began in this episode. I failed in this regard, God made it obvious to me, and I fell apart, having come to depend upon being a good writer rather than upon God. I sell my loyalty for trifles.