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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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.)

1/31/2017: On Productivity

I just read this: https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/02/22/henry-miller-on-writing/

Miller echoes much of what I’ve read elsewhere. Namely, don’t write according to “Do I want to write right now?” Write according to a schedule or system, what he calls a program. Professional writers don’t wait around for inspiration—they work, and all that.

To some degree, I have done this. I did it more so when I was working on my first draft, when I could set a daily goal (2000 words). It’s more difficult now. I suppose I could set time periods. But this is difficult given that I write only when there’s nothing else to do. Writing always takes second seat. But perhaps this is better than the flip-flop I’ve been slipping into. It’s also more difficult to devote two hours a night to it, after having child #3. And I write better in the morning anyways.

My upper standard is to always work. Always be productive. And most of all, work on the book. My lower standard is just to avoid those things that addict me, like video games and movies. Somewhere in between are things like what types of productivity are acceptable: honey-dos, chores that I have to do anyways and can’t do when I’m at home, learning of various kinds. I’m sure there’s others.

But sometimes, like right now, I get afraid of my book. I’m not sure what it is. Probably a fear of sucking at it. Or maybe a fear of fear. And at those times, I slack off by finding other productive things to do. And perhaps as a result of feeling like I’ve failed my standard, I just want to slack off more and more until I want to slack off by hanging around social media.

I’m not sure if that’s really the answer. And I think it’s better if I don’t fixate on finding it. I have a feeling I just want to get my work right because of some level of idolatry, when I should be depending on God for whatever character and productivity are good. More than that, I should work toward loving God and others rather than meeting whatever level of work makes me feel good about myself. The goal is to write for others. Not for me. To serve others always, including when I write. It’s just an aspect of life.

Slacking off, avoiding that work, is not loving at all. I should write that again. Slacking off—vegging—is a lack of love toward others. Even productive things that I take on but do so to avoid loving others (looking for a house too much is a sign of this attitude; looking isn’t bad, but looking only as a way to avoid serving others is, like cleaning the house when I should be playing with my kids). Only acts I carry out in order to love others fall into the same category as loving others in my writing. But since I am convinced that I should find what ways I serve best, and since I think writing might be one of those ways, writing comes first, as far as I can make it, until I find something else that fits me better.

What about rest time? Akin to a Sabbath? It was instituted not for vegging but for true rest. Refreshment. Rejuvenation. Vegging doesn’t accomplish that. What does? Prayer. Reading Scripture. Taking in good lessons. Good conversations. Manual labor can even help one accomplish these.

What about books? Good movies? Documentaries? Things that challenge me. I feel like those would be kind of like learning, kind of like dialogue. As long as I don’t use them to veg, to avoid service. And perhaps time allotment serves this function best.

And while I’m at it, it seems like this first book is as much about learning how to be a writer (and artist and member of humanity and dependent-on-God and father and husband and IT guy and house owner and goodness what else…) as it is writing a novel. I’m kind of glad I didn’t get into writing when I was younger. I would have ruined it with the same immaturity with which I ruined music. Not to say I’ve reached the goal, but I am clearly more mature than I was.

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.)

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.