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.

11/4/2016: Towers of Babel

The thing about the tower of Babel is that they probably would have finished it. The issue wasn’t that God was stopping them from failure. He was stopping them from success, lest they succeed in what would have been a small thing, in reality, but that would have convinced them of their greatness. God stopped them and scattered them lest they convince themselves that they didn’t need him.

Connect this with my own towers. I may actually be able to do these things. But I fall into confusion and worry and so remember that I depend upon God.

The reason this is important to me is because I often see other people succeed in these things that confound me and question whether my arrival at dependence upon God is valid. They do it fine. Why can’t I? Assuming these persons actually “do it fine,” what’s the disconnect? One might conclude that God disallows me from functioning independently. A scan of my history seems to indicate this. It certainly seems that unless I have an attitude of dependence, I am unable to refrain from anxiety when dealing with the success about which I care. Though of course that’s just one interpretation.

But this brings a more elemental issue to the front. I sometimes get dead-ended into thinking that I am dependent on God for success in these things. That’s true. But the point of Babel is broader and baser, I think. I’m dependent on an essential level, and that’s the real issue. I’m dependent for life, for sanity, for motivation, for love, for a future, for all of the assumptions upon which I function and also for success, even in things in which I am qualified, in the human sense.

God breaks me from my towers to remind me that I am dependent as creation to Creator, not just that I am dependent for the building of towers. The towers really aren’t the issue at all.

It is up to God for all good things.

That being true, I must conclude that mere addiction-breaking (in my case, media addiction), such as that which occurs for so many unbelievers, is either common grace or something short of good. Indeed, a lack of addiction with a lack of love is not good, though it may feel better (remember wanting to not be worried anymore when you still dealt with legalistic anxiety?). A lack of addiction with love is good. And God provides all good things.

Furthermore, it seems to me that this is another issue of sanctification, much like my initial issues with legalism, which started to unravel near the beginning of my time at DTS. And the big thing that changed concerning my understanding of sanctification is this—all salvation is by grace through faith. ALL SALVATION IS BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH. That means that this token of sanctification—me escaping addiction and entering love, concerning media and work and the like—is BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH. Could a person force themselves, apart from grace, to do a “good work?” Yes, but only if God provides the circumstances that allows them to do it, and it would lack the motivational, character elements that makes it truly godly, thus limiting to what degree it could be called “good.” Likewise, a person can force themselves to lose an addiction, God-permitting, but such would lack the goodness that comes from true salvation-sanctification. And it’s that salvation that’s desirable and good. The first is merely an idol or tower or ease or something. And it is a grace that God has not allowed me to settle for those things and has reminded me to desire the utmost, the greatest good that he could provide—salvation unto Christ-likeness.

So what should I desire? To escape this addiction into love—whatever love is lacking in conjunction with this addiction. How is it accomplished? By grace, through faith.

Of course, that means that it comes at the time and place and by the methods of God’s will. Not mine. And like all salvation, it is his prerogative to give it or not to give it. And he is good regardless of his choice and timing. (Correction—his choice and timing are good, even when I don’t perceive them as good, in which case the problem is whatever I have set as my standard for good).

Another thing. I said before that building the tower was in their means. That’s true, but only in part. They depended on God for their being, for their genes, for their circumstances, and for everything else short of whatever it is we choose of our own accord, to whatever degree that is possible.

5/1/2017—Dependence became a pretty big theme for me last year. I think I wrote this document nearing the hilltop of my personal development on the subject (up to this point). It came on the heels of having our third child, interacting with my dad’s recurring cancer, failing to buy a house, and failing to conquer (after three months of success) my lifelong addiction to video games.

Dependence ended up in the novel I’m working on, as well. An important part of my cosmogony (and therefore the framework for my story) concerns dependence/independence, and I did a lot of work on the idea outside of the cosmogony. I hope to make the latter available at some point.

9/2/2016: Serve the Work

Madeleine L’Engle says to serve the work first and then serve the audience. One does not serve himself. I would prepend this with “serve God.”

Don’t want to write? This is the work that God has given to you. Serve God. Serve the work. Serve those who will read it. Serve with all the effort and intelligence and stubbornness you have.

I read a compliment someone gave a friend of mine’s piece. They loved his prose. And I responded (internally) with what must have been vehemence. “Really? I didn’t think so at all.” It was almost like I refused to believe that he had any talent at all (and, though it’s too clichéd to hold much meaning anymore, I wonder if it’s just my need to feel superior that makes me blind to the talent he has).That led to strong feelings about all the various successes he has attained (or seems to have). I will not list them here. But I was jealous. I had a sickly combination of “Why not me, God!” and “I’m definitely better than him because of ____ and _____ and _____.”

But I was reminded that I am not called to success (3/20/2017: Not as “success” is typically defined, which is the type of success I refer to in this document). And shortly after this I remembered one of my favorite songs and listened to Ginny Owens’ version on Youtube:

 

 

Be thou my vision, oh Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine inheritance, now and always
Thou and thou only first in my heart
High king of heaven, my treasure thou art

I can’t remember the last time more appropriate words came when I needed them (though I’m sure it’s happened). I heed riches. I heed praise. Success is first in my heart, and God my least treasure.

Be thou my vision, Lord. Let naught be all else to me. High king of heaven, steal back your throne.

Serve God. Serve the work. Serve your audience. Do it with everything you have, for that’s what you’ve been called to do, and this is the work God has put before you.

How I Would Paint Success

Blackbeard in an Armani

His cross-bone skibbies ride over a sharkskin belt

A white-and-red mint hides his Gehenna breath

Clean-shaven scars swath his cheeks and chin

And his sword arm waves against the sky

That I would row! row! row!

Scurvy Dog in a suit

 

And

 

A ribeye of wagyu

Over applewood embers

On the grill of Hephaestus, himself

But under the char

Maggots burrow

And gnaw its rot

And smear their feces

Along its marbled halls

Yum

Poop-steak