Archives For writing

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Jared Wilson taught me that writing about God and theology doesn’t mean being pedantic and dogmatic.

Tony Woodlief taught me that writing about the deepest angsts of life doesn’t mean being gratuitous and salacious.

Madeleine L’Engle taught me that writing to children doesn’t mean writing down to them, but writing up to everyone.

Annie Dillard taught me to collect stones and tree branches, and write about the ordinary things. That the whole earth groans.

Frederick Buechner taught me to write things as they are and sort through them after.

Andree Seu taught me to write the bible into everything and that we are written into the narrative before the foundations of the earth.

Lauren Winner taught me to write about the wrestling and not just the wrestled.

Wendell Berry taught me about peace in the wild things.

Donald Miller taught me that every church kid has a story, a lens through which we see the church, and a choice about what to do with both.

Flannery O’Connor taught me to be a student of all people, their stories and surroundings.

As I look over this list, I do not see the names of people who will go down in history for their theological correctness, their practiced wisdom, or even their verbal acuity. They are not men and women for whom the Christian life came/comes easily, seamlessly, or without glaring sins and sufferings. They are men and women not unlike those we see in the Bible—broken sinners using what was or is in their hands to navigate faith in a world that groans for its maker. These are the writers and thinkers who did not teach me what to think, but how to think, and I pray I am better for it.

I write this because if you want to be a better thinker (and writer), don’t read the ones who have their thoughts all thought out, bound in leather with gold inset; read the ones who are still thinking out loud as they write. Learn to fish, as the old adage goes, instead of feeding on another’s catch.

Eat the Words

June 9, 2014

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I cut my teeth on L’Engle and Dillard, mulled over O’Connor and Greene, struggled though four semesters of Shakespeare, found myself in the pages of Berry and Kingsolver. Good writing has carried me along. Good writing taught me more theology than six semesters ever did.

In the attention deficit world of the blogosphere, it can be easy to subsist on the crumbs. Comments back and forth, public discussion and debate, he saids/she saids, commentary on every public event that happens and quickly dissipates. This is the oil that keeps the machine running, greasy stories and grimy bits that catch our fancy for a moment and flee just as quickly.

I want the slow meal. The feast prepared with wooden cutting boards and whole foods, the juices of meats flavoring the whole. The spice. The wine. The tablecloth and the candles. Shoulder to shoulder, leaving the dishes for later, much later. The slow food.

Spotlights, whether by association or viral fame, do not a good writer make. Good writing is made in the kitchen, with the dashes and pinches, the taste-testing and stirring, ruminating and storing, aging and serving. Good writing sits and satisfies from the first bite to the last. It is a chocolate cake with a dollop of homemade ice-cream, from which only one bite is needed—because it satisfies.

When I lived in Central America the close of the meal was signaled by the head of the home saying, “Satisfecho.” It was a statement. I am satisfied. He would lean back in his chair, push back his plate, and we would sit there still, until all were satisfecho.

This is the writing I want to read. The kind that satisfies, that isn’t clamoring for more attention, for commenting, for debate, for the spotlight. It simply is. And is beautiful.

The Remembering Room

March 19, 2014 — 1 Comment

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It is morning and early. Saturday morning is the only morning we can’t hear the traffic from 170, which can sound like a river, rushing and wild if I let myself think so, and no horns sound or brakes screech. The world is sleeping in.

In Texas they build homes with north facing windows, which is the exact opposite of the North (where we build homes with south facing windows), but which is a very sensible thing to do here. The only window in our home that gets any sunlight at all is the laundry room and so I have found my morning coffee tastes best in here, so long as I can keep lint dust from getting in it.

I sit on top of the dryer, my feet spread across to the washer. The sunlight falls on my fingers and I wish we didn’t need appliances and that this could be a sitting room, or a quiet room. At the very least it is a sunlit room, and for that I am grateful. Even if I am surrounded by detergent bottles, tool boxes, and ironing boards, and it smells a little like Downy Fresh and less like line-dried clothes.

A laundry room is a catch-all and I think that must be written in the bylaws of laundry-room-dom. We have a garage and I suppose that is a better place for hedge- clippers and drills and toolboxes. We have a pantry where, if we moved things around a bit, we could stock the plastic cups and spoons, and paper plates that we only use when there are too many people over, which is rarely, and so they go mostly unused. There are two baskets of laundry in here, both filled with towels because towels are an orphan thing in a home where nothing belongs to everybody.

It seems to me that it has been too long since I have shared anything with anyone. Everything I own belongs to me and I can discard of it quickly, no questions asked, which is good, because I have made a habit of discarding things quickly, without question. Sometimes it is towels or shoes, but sometimes it is the people I have grown tired of or ideas that seem less than ideal. I look back like Gretel at her pathway of breadcrumbs and wonder how many things I’ve left behind and if it was only so I could find my way back in the end?

Frederick Buechner, who is one of my favorite writers, said,

The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts….We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.

This frightens me more than anything else, this looking back over the day, the week, the year. It frightens me because I know I have been an abysmal failure in so many ways, hurdling people and ideas, theology and homes. I have flitted through life, not easily, but escapedly, if I can coin a word. I have been like Gretel in my pathway leaving, but not in finding my way home ever again.

I tell myself that it is because I don’t know where home is, and that is true. If home is where I spent 19 years of my life, then that place doesn’t feel at all like home. If it is where I grew the most, there is nothing left for me there. If it is where I spent sleepless, weeping nights, I am afraid to return for all the sleeplessness and tears it might bring back. And if home is here, in Texas, where there are no east or west or south facing windows, then I will resign myself to sitting on the dryer in the laundry-room and I will try to be happy about it, all the while knowing that it isn’t home at all.

Buechner said that the name of the room is Remember and I can make a home there, with the memories. Because that is all we have sometimes, the clinging, hoping, inkling of a memory.

My memories are made of scents and sunlit rooms, inflections in voices and paper cuts. In those small things I can find a home, if even for a short while, just to visit, to call out to the echoing walls of my head, “Hey, I’m home!”

To eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on rye bread from the deli, just like Mom used to make it and to do a science project on the picnic table with Dad and to steal my older brother’s flannel shirt to sleep in. I will be at home in that place, for those moments.

But Remember is just a room, a catch-all for the things we have no space for in the rest of life. It is strewn with sunlight, if we let it, even in its less than glory moments, but it is just a room.

I think sometimes we want to live in that room, covered over by the clutter of what was done to us and what we’ve done, sitting amongst the dirty laundry others are so keen on airing. But after a while we have to leave, there is a whole house to be lived in, even if it seems windowless at times, there is a flow, and organization, and life, and coffee, and breakfast, and floors to be swept and laughter to be had, all in the home we name Today.

Penned originally for Antler. Published on December 20, 2012

600574_880963006576_124042678_nI’m beginning work on a project that will require having many, many meals in my home over the next year. The meals will not be for entertainment sake, but something of a deeper nature. My hope is to have different people over each time, with perhaps a bit of an overlap sometimes. This isn’t a community group or a way to build community (unless you do that on your own!). The purpose is selfish in that way—it’s for my own study and the project.

If you want to invite yourself over to my house, here’s what I can promise you:

1. Each meal will have a distinct purpose and an underlying message through what is served and how we interact over that meal—I will need people who will be willing to engage that purpose.

2. You may not like the taste, consistency, or content of the meal—but I can promise you that you will have the taste of something much more lasting in your mouth when you leave. (Also, I won’t poison you. I’m a good cook.)

3. This is not for one demographic. I don’t just want singles or women. I’d like families, older folks, seasoned believers, new believers, and unbelievers, men and women. You may be the only one of your demographic at that particular dinner, but I promise you won’t be the only odd one out. My goal is to make it as diverse as possible. If you’re a couple, or you have kids, or you’re a grandparent, or a divorcee, or a single—I want you!

4. Depending on which meal you’re asked to come to, it might require you to bring something. I would give you a heads up about that.

5. You get to be a part of a cool project and I’ll fill you in on more details when you come over!

If this sounds in the slightest bit interesting to you, or your curiosity is piqued just a bit, please fill out this survey (all results are private). I will be in touch with you about the first meal.

This project will span most of 2014 and my hope is to have between five and seven people per meal. There are a few meals that require a specific demographic, and if you fit into that demographic in any way, I will ask for you specifically (hence the survey). Otherwise, I’ll just send out an email when I have a dinner coming up and you can let me know you’d like to be included (first come, first serve). I’m also open to guests bringing guests, but we can talk about that nearer to the dinner.

If you’re from out of the area, but you’ll be in the DFW area over a certain period of time and you’d like to be included, OR you would like to host a meal in your own town and pay for me to get there, that would be AWESOME Sign up!

Thanks and looking forward to meeting many of you!

Pot, Meet Kettle

January 13, 2014 — 9 Comments

My first blog was on a Live Journal domain (remember those?). I took its name from a Burlap to Cashmere song that, to this day, I still don’t really understand the full meaning behind. I just knew I loved the three words strung together. The year was 2000 and my family was turned upside down in about a year. You name it, we experienced it in that year. I didn’t know where to turn, or to whom, and so I turned to anonymity.

I became a blogger.

In 2000 a blogger was either Jason Kottke, posting links to interesting content on the rising web, or it was an angsty teenager ranting about life. It was my last year as a teenager, so I fit nicely in the latter category. I wrote voraciously. Sometimes three posts a day. I didn’t care who read, or if anyone did, but I began to find a community of other bloggers. There was this brotherhood among us of sorts, people from all over the United States who stumbled on words not their own but which could be. I don’t have other words for it but divine. It was divine in the sense that it was almost otherworldly at that point. There were no dating sites, chat rooms were still a little strange, actually meeting someone in real life was rare and coated with suspicion. But it was also divine in the sense that it was a timely gift from God.

I spent years working out my salvation on the pages of the internet. By the time Sayable was birthed in 2008, I was one of the seasoned bloggers. My readership was still small by comparison, but in the annals of history, I was nearing mid-life at least. Every thought I’ve had about God has somehow been worked out on Sayable, or its younger siblings.

Writing is sanctification, if you’ll let it be.

This morning I opened my feed reader and read, as I do every morning. I find more and more often, I am just skimming. I open the posts with catchy titles or intriguing photos, so I am guilty of that which I complain of, I know. But I am so weary of the noise of blogging: the effort to churn out content instead of cherish the conviction.

One of my favorite quotes is by Lindford Detweiler, and I’ll never forget it. I love it so much that I screen printed it and it is the welcoming art as you walk into our home:

Music and art and writing: extravagant, essential, the act of spilling something, a cup running over…The simultaneous cry of ‘you must change your life, and welcome home.’ I’ve been trying to write songs again, and I’ve been hitting a maze of dead ends. I want the songs to reveal something to me, teach me something. It’s slow going. I’m not sure where I’m going. Uncertainty abounds. But the writing works on me little by little and begins to change me. That’s why I would recommend not putting off writing if it’s something you feel called to: if you put it off, then the writing can’t do the work that it needs to do to you. Yes, I think there’s something there. If you don’t do the work, the work can’t change you. (No one expects to change overnight.)

I’m weeping even now, as I read over that quote again by one of the finest lyricists I know. Here is a man who lets the writing do the work in himself. And I want that, friend and fellow writer, I want that for us. No matter what work it is that we put our hands to, I want it to do the deep work in us. The hard work, the cleansing work, the sanctifying work.

Blogging is hard work, I would never tell anyone otherwise, don’t make it easy by simply building a platform or gaining readers. That is not the point of blogging, and it is not the point of writing. We write to do the work in us, and God willing, in others. The publishers will use those big words about marketing and growth, but at the end of the day, those things will steal the soul of the writing you need to do.

Writing is sanctification and writing is God’s blessed gift to only a few of us. If you are a writer, don’t sell that sanctification for a contract or a deal. Turn your palms up, slow your mind, and do the upside-down work of the kingdom: your name always decreasing, ever increasing His.

Copying the Creator

December 4, 2013 — 9 Comments

It was the his third strike. He was a baseball player, so he and I both knew what that meant. Out.

I was a TA for an English class in college. It was my first semester as a transfer student. I hardly knew my way around campus and I’d been tapped on the shoulder by the chair of our department to assist one of the English professors.

The first inkling of plagiarism seemed innocent, an uncited source; the second instance seemed lazy; but with two warnings under his belt, he handed in his third paper full of paragraphs I found in their entirety in a few minute google search.

I don’t know what happened to him when I reported the situation to the administration, though I knew they didn’t handle that stuff lightly. Looking back I wish I’d been more careful to explain why this wasn’t acceptable. I had plenty more opportunities in my years as a TA to do so, but I never did.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Allegations of plagiarism by Mark Driscoll are all ablaze right now and they seem justified in some ways. Whole ideas or outlines have been lifted, slightly altered, and used as his own material. I would flunk a student for doing that, and yet—haven’t I done it a thousand times?

In recent weeks I chew on John 3:30, “He must increase. I must decrease.”

Whether you’re a college student trying to get a passing grade or a pastor churning out books written by a ghostwriter, there is an element of “increasing” present that I’m not sure is healthy. I would argue too that even bloggers must wrestle with this dichotomy. If it is true that we must be ever decreasing and increasing Him—what does that say about all our platform building?

We may not be building a tower of Babel to reach God, but what have we made our god in His place?

This isn’t easy wrestle through. God gives gifts to men and finds joy when we use them for His glory—but I wonder sometimes how many of us are like my college student: trying to get a passing grade. It doesn’t matter who we seek approval from—if we seek it from men, we’re in sin, and if we seek it from God, we do so in vain. If we are His children, we have His full approval in the righteousness of Christ.

I have one finger pointed at you and three back at myself here. I seek the approval of so many other than God and I want less of it. More than ever, I want to shrink my footprint—or at least my byline. More of Him, less of me.

God help us, we are all guilty of plagiarism. The wise man’s words “there is nothing new under the sun,” assure of us that. You are the author of all truth and we merely regurgitate it, chewed and masticated, hardly a form of its original beauty and intention. Help us to copy you, emulate you, take our truth from you—and if another steals words from us, let us hand them over willingly because we truly own nothing apart from You.

I’m moving this weekend, have a conference for work all week, and a pile of due articles looming in front of me, so my mental acuity and creativity is somewhere below sea-level. Link-love it is.

Before the links, though, the more I read actual books, books over which authors have labored and sweat blood and tears, the less I find good writing on the web. This is sad to me because I think if we’re going to put content out there, it should be good content, it should be the best content.

Fellow writers: don’t write because you feel something must be said—it is far better for one writer to say one thing in the most winsome way possible, than for many content-creators to say the same thing many different ways and none of them win any. There is just as much glory to be had for the plumber, the pastor, the preacher, the preschool teacher, the parent, and the pediatrician as there is for the poet. It only depends on whose glory he seeks.

Now for some good writin’:

Alone With My Thoughts: I’ve been alone in the car on some rather crowded highways. That, sadly, doesn’t mean I have been driving in silence. If my windows could talk, well, parental guidance is suggested.

Cigar Smoking and Grace For the Accountability-Holder: We are looking for grace from our accountability-holders. But we ought also to be looking to how we might give grace to our accountability-holders. Maybe we ought to strive for holiness and integrity in our lives not simply out of personal religious ambition but out of relational mercy, out of a desire to not make religious cuckolds of our friends.

Is ‘Background Information’ Ever Necessary to Understand the Bible? Others so focus on “background information” that they end up foregrounding what is in the background and backgrounding what is in the foreground.

There’s No Such Thing as a Writer (and other thoughts for those of you thinking about writing): It is of the utmost importance that one be humble before words. They have been around for a very long time, they are very powerful, and they are a gift from God.

When is a Royal Baby a Fetus? They find out they are pregnant, they see the two little stripes on the home test, and their heart drops. They don’t know what to do; they have no help from the man who impregnated them; they already work tirelessly, raise children, and have precious little in the bank. Though every life is precious, some are imperiled from the start.

Bending Toward a Rightness:

A number of my peers have recanted,
found God just too wild.
Oh they still rise to say the creeds but
there is no blood in their mouths.
I expected by now to learn the language of God
but I have only learned to love him.

 

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 9.37.41 AMI just love this. That’s all. 

A few months ago I wrote an article that caused a bit of a firestorm among some of my writing compadres. Perhaps I gave it a provocative title, but I maintain its truth: Mark Driscoll is Not My Pastor.

Amongst the backlash of that article there was also a curious phenomenon on the twitter chat: the affirmation of the virtual church.

What was being espoused by person after person was the reality that they considered their online friends their church. “Twitter is my church” and “You guys are my church and my pastors” were among some of the statements I read. The definition of virtual is “Existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact, form, or name.”

Hear me out, one of the ministries to which God has called me is of the online variety. This blog and other publications I write for take a good amount of mental and spiritual energy. You are my ministry. But you are not my local church.

More and more I read articles lumping authors into clear and present camps. You have the Jesus feminists, the red letter Christians, the social justice-cause driven, the reformed, the story-tellers, the orthodox. There are these hard and fast lines boxing authors to a particular movement or theological framework, and once they have been flagged as such, they are blacklisted or embraced. There is little room for grace in this world because if I confess I agree with Rob Bell in this one area, that is a blight on my character to those who disagree with him. If I confess I agree with John Piper in this area, well, count me out of an entire sector of the blogosphere.

If we are in an age of the virtual church, then we are also in an age of virtual shunning.

You won’t ever hear me disavow the importance of the global Church. That I can consider someone who lives thousands of miles from me one of my closest friends—that is the power of the bond we have in Christ.

But love for the global Church does not negate the biblical importance of the local church. Too often I hear great passion in my brothers and sisters for the health of the Church, without seeing evidence that they value it at its most local level. I see bloggers calling men and women to task, and shunning those who associate with them, without seeing any accountability to authority in their own lives. I see much concern for orthodoxy and discipleship and brotherly love, without seeing evidence of those things in their lives.

I am not saying those things are not happening, what I am saying is that I don’t see it.

I don’t see it because they are not my local church and I do not know them in the way I know the people alongside whom I walk. I don’t see it because I am not privy to the conversations they have with their pastors (if they have pastors) or elders. I don’t see it because I don’t see them taking meals to new moms or visiting the sick or weeping with those who weep. Seeing those things is reserved for those who are not virtual, but real life, flesh and blood.

I’m writing this because too often the assumption is made that the virtual groups with whom I am associated are somehow the people to whom I am submitted. The assumption is we ascribe to the same set of theological ideals, we have discussions behind closed doors, spit-shake on how we’ll handle certain situations, administer church discipline and the sacraments together. And it’s simply not the truth.

I have pastors and a local church. I write for publications, enjoy friendships, but they are not my local church or my elders. Simply because a publication for which I write or a group of online acquaintances embrace a certain stance or ideal, does not mean I agree with them.

A year ago I had a conversation with one of my pastors. I met with him to discuss an opportunity put before me to participate in a publication where I would share the platform with some diametrically opposing authors. Should I do it? was my question. Yes, was his answer. Why? Because every opportunity we have to proclaim the gospel is good and we should prayerfully consider taking it. Some of the places I write, I write because I do disagree with their stance on certain issues. I write because it is my prayer that the gospel would go forth. My name doesn’t matter, but Christ’s does.

We proclaim Christ best by loving what He loves. What Christ loves best is the glory of His Father, and the Father is glorified when we are his disciples, when we love one another—at the most difficult, personal, beautiful level: right here, locally.

Love the Church, friends, but start by loving the church.

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It’s strangely easy to be brave when nobody expects you to be. You are the deus ex machina, sweeping in and rescuing with your words, your actions, your bravado. But then the standing ovation comes and who can take a bow without feeling awkward and out of place?

Maybe you’ve noticed, or maybe you haven’t, but it’s been a little quiet around here. Or rather, it’s been a little less than deep around here.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Here’s what happened: a year ago this month I started working on a book and when you start writing a book people in the know start talking about your platform and your reach and whether there will be a market for your words. So instead of scribbling your words on scraps of paper and in the margins of life, crafting sentences while you drive and wait and walk, you instead start working on an author’s lifeline: readers.

Did you know that the real worth of an author’s work is not in her bound or published words? It’s in how many people read those bound and published words. No one wants to say that of course, except the publishers when they’re squabbling over whose mark will be on the binding. Everyone else still wants to talk about your words and how they are needed and unusual and pretty and pithy and such. But deep down you suspect the real worth of your words is what someone will pay for them.

Sometimes they will pay for them with their emotions and sometimes their pennies, but pay for them, they will.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A few someones have told me I am courageous and I look down at my person: can’t they see this? This frail and fearful lot? Can’t they see that whatever worth I have is not what I can do but Whose I am? I can put on a show, but the Author is the Finisher and the Principal Player.

I am studying Romans 6:13 this week, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” The chapter is about sin and how we, like Christ, have died to sin—but what is sin if not the full spectrum of brokenness touching our every part? Hear me when I say I struggle to say fear is a sin, but whatever does not proceed from faith is sin, and fear is the lack of faith. See?

A year ago I took what had previously proceeded from faith and continued the work in fear: would I ever measure up? Would anyone important ever read me? What constituted success? Would I know it when it came? Would anyone care about a book if I even wrote it?

And now here I am, people expecting me to be brave and confident, to have the words and the theology and the answers, and the truth is, dear readers, I spent more time presenting myself to you than to God this year. Or at least more energy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discouraged. I can trust He is actually the God in the Machine and I am simply a gear or a bolt, or more likely a squeaky wheel or rusty washer, and we can move on from here (hopefully). I am not brave and I am not strong and I am not whatever good thing you think I am.

I’m just one person with words inside of me about a God I love and Who loves me and that’s the only story I have to tell.

And for His glory I want to tell it well.

The poverty of theological vocabulary results from the fact that most theologians are not full-fledged citizens of what Wordsworth called “the mighty world of eye and ear.” They do not speak a “language of the sense.” Theological vocabulary is the vocabulary of conception not perception.

Take from your shelf any commentary, introduction, history or systematic theology and look for words with some tactile, olfactory, visual, sonorous or saporous quality. They just aren’t there. Theological vocabulary does not include honeysuckle, orange, shady, giggle, juicy, willow, brine, mud, clover, concrete, feathery, pudding, chimney and the like.

Someone may suggest that theological language is poor for not using “the language of the sense” only insofar as a steam engine is poor for not using gasoline. Indeed, perhaps the language of the sense is for poets, and the other kind of language is for theologians. Personally, I am not ready to concede that theology must be done in the desert while poetry roams through forests, mountains and meadows.

Waking Up to our Mighty World

But even if theological vocabulary must remain poor, the point I want to make is this: “The mighty world of the eye and ear” is always there for us. It is very sad when anyone passes through life oblivious to the joys this world can quicken—like that joyful motion in your chest when from atop Mount Wilson you can see the sun boil its way into the Pacific; or like the quiet gladness of rising before the sun and smog to join the happy birds in welcoming the day.

There is an intimate relationship, however, between our power to enjoy a sensuous experience and our capacity to describe it with words. In “Lines Composed Above Tintern Abbey” Wordsworth is not taken up nearly so much with the joy of revisiting the banks of the Wye as he is with the pleasure this moment will bring him in the coming years “recollected in tranquility.”

To put it simply, without a full and rich language of the sense, we will lose the enduring quality of our sensuous joys, and, what’s worse, with the atrophy of our descriptive capacities the power of all our enjoyment languishes. When you cease to use the word “tree” in your vocabulary, you have probably ceased to look at trees.

The Value of Stretching

The relation this has to theological vocabulary is this: The fastest and easiest way to obliterate the language of the sense and the power of the senses is to read only poverty-stricken theology. If we in seminary do not stretch ourselves beyond the pages of our dogmatics we shall all be dead by graduation day. And that evening, diploma in hand, we may lament with Samuel Coleridge,

All this long eve so balmy and serene
Have I been gazing on the Western Sky
And its peculiar tint of yellow green
And still I gaze—and with how blank an eye!

The Poverty of Theological Vocabulary is from Desiring God written by John Piper. A friend sent it to me this week and I loved it so much I wanted to share it with you all in its entirety. 

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Before a polygraph can be performed, the test-giver asks a series of questions to which he knows the answers to ascertain a baseline. Therefore, when a lie is given, it’s clear because the needle spikes amidst the truth. Everyone has a different baseline, and some people can BS the lie detector, but it’s a rare one who can.

The reason I’m giving you a brief lesson in polygraphy is because what I see across the board in the blogosphere is a lot of people citing spikes as norms (on every side in every issue)—and it’s not helpful.

I think if we were to more often consider a holistic picture of any movement (political, spiritual, etc.) we would not only find a more holistic argument for their views—founded or not—and, which is more, we would find people. We would find individuals who care deeply about their issues and often times have deeply personal reasons for caring about them. I’m not arguing that every position should be considered viable, but every person ought to be considered, particularly by Christians, whose ministry is one of reconciliation—namely the reconciliation of man to God.

Recently I’ve been cited as being part of the Young Restless Reformed corner of the Church. True or not is beside the point (if you have a problem with that, reread the former paragraph). One common pushback on the YRR is that they only listen to like-minded individuals and only call out in public those who disagree. However, if you, like the polygraph giver, would observe the baseline truths of what God is doing there, you’d find they’re actively involved in calling out their own brothers and sisters where error occurs. I know my email inbox has been filled with an equal amount of caution and encouragement—and I’m fully prepared for more public responses as my readership grows.

A perfect example of good discourse on this currently is the current amiable conversation between Thabiti Anyabwile and Doug Wilson—on a very polarizing issue—on their blogs. It’s been a pleasure to watch a disagreement play out between brothers with good-will and gospel focus.

If you find yourself citing spikes and rushing to share the latest drama from any particular corner of the internet, a word of caution: establish a baseline first; find every reason to think the very best of individuals you’re planning on slandering or sharing information about, and then press near to the Holy Spirit for He ushers us into all truth (Jn. 14:26)

(This actually wasn’t written in response to the accusations leveled at me from the former post, just thoughts that have been rolling around in my noggin for a while.)

Words from a Weary Writer

March 17, 2013

house

It has been a while since I felt like writing. Last night I laid on the hammock in the dark, listening to dishes being washed in the sink indoors, the light from the dining room splaying across the back yard. I squinted my eyes and tried to make the words come, but they didn’t.

And I know what you’re thinking right now: “but you still write so much, how can you even say the words aren’t coming?” What I said is it’s been a while since I felt like writing.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I used to dream of being a writer. When I was 11 years old, I clutched my copy of Troubling a Star by Madeleine L’Engle and knew this was what I would do with my life, string words together beautifully. But any true writer will tell you writing is not about being published. To be published only is for narcissists and public relators. Writers must only write.

There are nebulous goals in front of me, always moving targets, “When this happens” or “When this does,” then I will have arrived. But then I reach the nearest pinnacle and I find the finish line has moved back farther still. If it is to be noticed by respected writers and thinkers, I have arrived. If it is to be published in dream places, I have arrived. If it is to be offered a book deal, I have arrived. But nothing satisfies. Every writer who affirms me, I doubt. Every platform given me, I fear. Every offer of publishing, I second guess.

But what if it is only about the pilgrimage?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

My roommate comes into my room sometimes and crawls under my down comforter and we comfort one another with words like these: you’re not finished yet, we haven’t arrived, there’s more for God to do in and through us, but sometimes? Sometimes we just need to slow down, be still, wait, and hear.

So I am in this place these days. I write and I write voraciously because it is expected of me and depended on from me, but the joy in it is missing these days. I do not feel like writing or saying or publishing or submitting. I feel like forgetting Troubling a Star and Madeleine L’Engle and middle school dreams, leaving words behind and being someone else entirely.

I felt I should tell you this. In case anyone else ever feels this way too.

One question tops all the other questions in my inbox. In fact, I was getting the question so often that I added a page to this site addressing an aspect of it. But I wanted to jot down a few more thoughts for those wondering about themselves.

The question is always some variation of “In terms of quality and quantity in your writing, how did you get to where you are today?”

The answer is three-fold:

I write every day. And I haven’t just written every day for a few months—I’ve written nearly every single day since 1999. I challenge myself to not just write about my feelings, but to write on issues facing the world and Church today. I write reflections, I write in response, I write reactions (though most people don’t see these), I write reasons. No subject is too humble for words to describe it, and no issue is too great that it doesn’t require me to do some critical thinking about it.

I read every day. My parents used to ground me from reading when I was a young teenager and not much has changed since then. I read articles, books, blogs, tweets, etc. I don’t limit my reading to only one side of the discussion. I have an insatiable curiosity to see things from every angle. Many people seem to be encouraged by the level-headedness I might bring to an otherwise hot discussion—I attribute this to the Holy Spirit and to my desire to see things from every point of view.

The Lord. That might sound like a cop-out, but hear me out. I absolutely believe the Lord uniquely wires each of us differently. Some of you can pick up an instrument and where others can only pluck at it, you make it sing. Some see gorgeous photographs in every moment. I’m not sure why, but the Lord uniquely wired me to think quickly and articulately. My mind works fast, discerning light from darkness, good from evil, insight from observation, and then my mind pieces together words just as quickly. It’s how the Lord wired me and, believe me, I have fought that call for many reasons and many years.

My challenge to those of you wanting to hone your craft is this:

First, ask the Lord what He wants to do with your skills. Perhaps He doesn’t want you to blog voraciously, but wants you to pour your words out to Him like David did, in prayers and songs. Perhaps He didn’t wire you to do what comes so naturally to others, but He did wire you to do something: what is it? No offering poured out to Him is wasted.

Second, read and write. Don’t only read one sort of material or write in one sort of style. Push yourself to appreciate most genres, views, and voices. I say “most” because there’s never been more garbage out there in terms of words.

Lastly, should you decide to blog, do not push for a platform right away. Do not try to go viral or allow any sort of publicity go to your head. Those who are given platforms quickly usually haven’t done the work necessary to stand up there for very long. It can feel really good to have someone appreciate your words enough to give you a place to say them publicly, but remember Jesus worked for his earthly father for 30 years before His public ministry. Sweeping sawdust, serving his parents and siblings, growing in wisdom, stature, and favor with the Lord and man.

We would do well to do the same.

wasted

(Yes, my hair really is that nappy in the morning. Sue me.)

Some helpful resources for aspiring writers:
Wordsmithy by Doug Wilson
On Writing by Stephen King
Elements of Style by Strunk & White
The Bible

What Love Is This?

March 4, 2013

Love is patient: it waits, it stills, it quiets before speaking.

With patience a ruler may be persuaded,
and a soft tongue will break a bone.
Proverbs 25:15

Love is kind: it coats its words in gentleness, extending the hand of graciousness to every person, deservedly or not.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
Proverbs 16:24

Love does not envy: it finds contentment in today, rejoices with others who have what it wants for itself.

But godliness with contentment is great gain.
I Timothy 6:6

Love does not boast: it brings nothing but the cross, it is built of humility and the knowledge that it is only a steward.

As it is written,
“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
I Corinthians 1:31

Love is not arrogant: it assumes the best of everyone, deserved or not, never stops learning & is patient while others learn too.

I say to everyone among you not to think of himself
more highly than he ought to think.
Romans 12:3

Love is not rude: love holds its tongue when there is an opportunity to best or beat another with words.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
Proverbs 10:19

Love doesn’t insist on its own way: it shows the best way is the way to the cross through the cross.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6

Love is not irritable: it doesn’t get annoyed, pissed, frustrated, or angry. It is not “owed” anything.

Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
Ecclesiastes 7:9

Love is not resentful: it keeps no record of wrongs, when disappointed by someone, it forgives quickly, generously.

If one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3:13

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing: it weeps at the sight of brokenness, dissension, disunity, and gossip.

You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people,
and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
Leviticus 19:16

Love rejoices with the truth: it drops everything and sells everything to find truth instead of relying on what meets the eye.

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,
who, on finding one pearl of great value,
went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:45-46

Love bears all things: it upholds the weight others can’t hold, defending the defenseless and turning the other cheek.

But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek,
turn to him the other also.
Matthew 5:39

Love believes all things: it errs on the side of trust, not in man, but in God.

And those who know your name put their trust in you.
Psalm 9:10

Love hopes all things: it never stops hoping for the resolution and reconciliation of all things under heaven.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself
and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
II Corinthians 5:18

Love endures all things: it holds up for the sake of the gospel, enduring persecution, gossip, slander, & injustice.

May the God of endurance and encouragement
grant you to live in such harmony with one another,
in accord with Christ Jesus.
Romans 15:5

Love never ends: it wakes up every day determined to do it all over again.

Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
Psalm 143:8

wakeup

This is a series of tweets I wrote today based from I Corinthians 13. Mostly I was preaching to myself, but thought they might encourage some others.