Category Archives: Relevant culture news

Write the Truth to Help Love Win

“The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

“Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

– Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 13

It was a busy week in the ol’ US of A.

Who could have predicted this?
Who could have predicted this?

Flags came down and others went up. There was celebration and there was mourning. And there was plenty of reason for both. The shooting in Charleston, the confederate flag debate, and the Supreme Court’s ruling for “so-called same-sex marriage” brought much to ponder and many feelings to sort through.

Who was right? Who was wrong? Couldn’t anyone admit we don’t know everything and maybe meantime we should reach out to the stranger, the outcast? 

It’s so challenging to write the truth. Our words can outstrip others’ voices and trample God’s free grace. We try to convince and compel instead of allowing grace to remain free.

An opinion isn’t worth sharing if it neglects the poor, the widow, the orphan, the marginalized, the prisoner, the outcast and the sick.

Was I practicing forbearance or did I still lack the conviction to write the truth?

Fortunately, Saturday morning came and we went to meet some folks at the food bank to pack meals. For two blessed hours we bagged frozen corn for families and people without food.

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I imagined those folks, so different than us but not that different, our efforts an empowering force in their lives. 

And my phone stayed off.

Serving was a way to embrace them, these people who likely believed very differently from us. And wasn’t that what “writing the truth” took?

After our shift, we’d return to our full lives and full fridges, but I wouldn’t want to prove my right answers anymore or teach anyone anything.

I wanted to hear the hungry.

I wanted them fed.

I didn’t want to express my ideas anymore. Instead, I wanted to listen.

Rilke advised that we capture our passing thoughts with heartfelt sincerity and that if our daily life seemed poor, it wasn’t life’s fault but ours for not being “poet” enough to call forth its riches.

I think this past week I learned I have to leave my safe bunker more if I want to write the truth.

I can easily convince myself my words are serving others. Sometimes they do. But I’m a clanging gong if I don’t love them.

And so often I need to remember there’s much I don’t yet know and I’m not sure there is any way to really bridge the culture gap that seems to be widening.

It truly is getting harder. Heads and hearts alike are too. Yet respect is what frees others and looks in their eyes and sees their best. It gets into their shoes and asks them to teach us ensuring we preserve their rights and don’t destroy their liberty by our “moral rightness.”

Can I sacrifice my comfortable certainty to embrace the questions that come when I truly see others, just as they are?

And is there really any other way to write the truth?

How can I believe in this call, in my life, in my voice, if I don’t?

And can I believe my truth is of such high value so long as others can’t value theirs?

In the strong temptation to provide the “right” answer—as if only I own the right one—God continually saves me from myself. Through persistent prayers and his help, my ego is calmed, and I remember humility and put down the megaphone.

God teach me to hear, to see, even in my unbelief.

I wonder if I’d be more long-suffering if I was more willing to risk looking uninformed and unintelligent.

Maybe I need these:

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Honestly, I think if more people laughed at my expense, I’d probably learn faster…

May we share no personal truth until we’re committed to helping others share theirs. And that is writing the truth. And that is letting love win.

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” – Benjamin Franklin

“This is my commandment: that you love one another, that your joy may be full.” – Jesus Christ

When You’re Tired

“How we spend our days,” Annie Dillard said, “is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

How did you spend your day today?

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Did it fill you? Kierkegaard said our greatest source of unhappiness is our decision to be too busy–though we often refuse to see that as a choice. Are you like me and want to choose to live in the present of NOW and be infinitely more rewarded than the myriad productivity gurus will ever accomplish?

Start here. Let go of worry about being productive and just be. The surest way to miss your life is to let default busyness steal it. Put your feet up and savor this: our collective addiction is feeling loved. Our greatest distraction from truly living is coasting through life, day after unlived day. We may manage to show up for our obligations (for a while) but remain completely unaware of our deeper selves, cut off from our higher purpose.

We’ve got to stop mistaking all we’re doing for all we already are.

We may live longer than ever, but the struggle to truly live is more urgent than ever. Go back to Seneca. Roman philosopher and oft-quoted thinker wrote  about it 2000 years ago:

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.” – On the Shortness of Life

The question is, will we listen and learn how to use it?

Find inspiration on this in my Morning Motivation this week.

Thanks to Maria Popova of BrainPickings for this great find.

Your Silent Battle

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” –Pogo, Walt Kelly

Reading through my journal I see that back on December 4, I wrote about my process of writing my first new chapter since before I went freelance, over 4 years previous.

I wrote it from pieces that started with the basic action and locations, then researched the locations and built the needed discussion based on where they were in the story and what I knew needed to happen. It took a lot to pull myself away from the myriad other things and books I’ve got to work on, but it was worth it. And it felt good.

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I initially thought it wasn’t a big deal or somehow cheating since it was built on something existing. I often feel like that, like somehow using something that’s already there is not as valid, not original. But even brand-new rough drafts are built on preexisting thoughts. We all write to get free of something. But nothing we write is truly new; there’s only one ex nihilo creator.

It felt good. Even fiction is a great way to unload my baggage. When I’m willing. My best stuff is where I face the truth and get real, feel what’s buried under so much noise and busy, mind-numbing daily dross. And what’s there? Shame, fear, anger, resentment. The work of writing brings knowledge we’d never realize otherwise—thus reminding us of our undeniable imperfection. And suddenly, magically on the page, what was so easily dismissed everywhere else in our hurry-up world is laid bare, exposed and unmistakable. We are glorious messes and in dire need of a little more honesty and affection.

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So often we want somebody to love us but we never stop and love ourselves—just as we are. Who has time?

Last week I wrote about attention as a limited resource. And just today in the New York Times, an article on “The Cost of Paying Attention.”

“Attention is a resource; a person only has so much of it. And yet we’re auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging… In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence—the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.”

Just before I read this, on my Facebook feed, some Christian speaker I’ve never heard of, writes: “When I feel alone, what helps is _____.” I imagine writing something snarky but I resist and unfollow and continue to scroll. Fortuitously, Susan Cain, author of Quiet posted this article just below it. What are the chances?

I’d call it the zeitgeist but it’s probably just this ubiquitous overwhelming feeling these days. Simple flowers are starting to take on much more importance.

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Andy Crouch’s cover story for Christianity Today this month says, “Social media is leaving us more ashamed than ever.” The point is well taken but the writer looking for an excuse to procrastinate could hardly ask for a more diverting solution than the technology-addicted Internet world we currently live in.

Side note: Early reports that an “iWatch” from Apple will aim to give back some of our time currently being sacrificed to our smartphone’s incessant interruptions and notifications seem a hopeful step toward ending the tyranny of the urgent. But can it also sort the endless feeds and apps and platforms and devices from continuing to proliferate? Can it convince us our attention is becoming more valuable by the day? You might recall smartphones were supposed to make life more manageable and efficient and all of this stuff too. But maybe this time it’s different. (Wendell Berry’s moratorium on technology for humanity’s renewal seems more prescient than ever.)

We need silence and space alone to work out preexistent ideas, emotions and mental states our attention is being continually pulled from. We need our time back to fully love ourselves and our lives, to feel, deal, heal and become real. And then maybe we’ll find ourselves able to love not only ourselves anew, but others, and God as well.

We need to fight for silence.

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Without this novel I’m writing, I’m not sure I’d have gotten free of the resentment I felt for the church and Christianity all my young adult life. And had I been trying to write the original chapters while managing a blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, LinkedIn, GooglePlus, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and whatever else I’m supposed to add to maintaining my website, I doubt it would have ever happened.

“We are compelled by forces that, like the ocean current, are so subtle and pervasive we take them utterly for granted.” – Art and Fear, 116

And without the practice of writing, I’m fairly certain I’d never take the time to remember my life and that books reconnect me to myself and expand me rather than disconnect me from myself and diminish me. Reading because I want to write has made me read attentively when the whole world has seemed to pay its attention to the Internet. It will end up being the most costly mistake many will ever make.

Yet, maybe once it’s clear how precious our lives truly are, we’ll realize our Faustian bargain with being “virtually connected” and the time we’re losing in the process.

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Several would-have-been writers may discover something worth writing for in the effort to get clean and clear of our modern enslavement. After all, the worse off we are, the better the story. And in place of the great wars earlier technologies required—from guns to canons to machine guns, tanks and planes and nuclear bombs—the common man’s new objects of liberation and destruction have gone truly viral.

Maybe like me, you’ve doubted you lived something bad enough to warrant your full commitment to this. But maybe you’re living your great fight right now. Believe it: in the days to come, the ability to retain your awareness of what was preexistent will be of great value.

We all write to get free of something. And though nothing we write is truly new, this may be the new battlefield where your true heroism will be forged.

If you’re called, write to connect and to share and to help. We’ll need wounded healers to help the generations to come.

Is Christian Art Useless?

Fellow Christian writers and artists, do you consider this a challenge?

“Christian art is a knock-off.”

Maybe? Maybe it depends on what we consider Christian art.

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How do we define Christian art? Are the rules different than for regular art? Probably they are, and that’s fair since “Christian” should involve some specific differences about what’s artistic and what’s not.

So what does “Christian art” mean?

Is it art when it portrays some aspect of the glory of God? And are the qualities of the work less important, more important, or as important as the content, the message? Are the specific qualities merely the wrapping paper for the gift inside? Or is the packaging of the message the more important part?

Should “Christian art” mean what pleases God rather than what pleases man? Should it entertain or only be serious? Should it seek to convert its viewers by providing an alternative to unwholesome art? Should it be less interested in depicting the real world and more interested in what is pure, true, good, et cetera? Should it provide specific takeaways?

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And does this really matter? After 4 decades in the Christian subculture, I can finally say I don’t have the faintest clue. I stopped being able to judge Christian art somewhere around age 30. I can probably make a pretty fair argument for both sides, from “everything has to literally spell out the gospel in order to be Christian art” to “only organically Christian art is truly a witness.”

But the recent “film debate” between Fifty Shades of Gray and the Christian alternative “Old Fashioned” revived some of the unanswerable questions.

“This is the irony of the Christian film industry: movies that appeal mostly to Christians are marketed as if capable of bringing sinners to repentance.”

Is that true? Is Old Fashioned art for Christians? And is it really incapable of reaching beyond that? Why? And who really knows?

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And should we really spend time debating this?

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Every Christian industry–film, music, books and all those giftable products–exists for Christians. The art they sell is for people who want a message and aren’t as interested (though they still are) in the wrapping. Should we debate whether the message of Christian art is getting seen by regular folk?

Or should we be making art?

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My opinion? We should be making art. If the appeal of “50 Shades” proves anything, it’s that the wrapping of the message matters–a lot. Maybe more than the message, in many ways. (As Marshall McLuhan said back in 1964). So if you’re a Christian inclined to making beautiful art, you should probably spend more time working on making the package work, and not worrying so much whether the message is clear.

But my point is, whether Christian art is or isn’t largely miserable, useless and derivative, who cares? What if instead of debating we just got to work and focused more on making art than the distractions of others’ opinions?

Maybe that would be a more productive use of our gifts and time?

I’m reminding myself here. And now leaving to write.

Feeling better already…

Confronting Harper Lee’s Monster

It came across our Facebook feeds yesterday:

Harper Lee is releasing a new book!

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It had already been announced and discussed and when I told my wife, she said what we all thought, “Isn’t she dead?”

Almost immediately there were suspicions about it all over the feeds. News and opinions went back and forth without much substance to go on. Was she being coerced or manipulated? Who had actually talked to her about it?

But behind the speculation, some of us sensed a monster lurking, a question we can’t quite answer: are we doing what’s right here?

This wasn’t just about what a beloved author really wanted. It was about what the Internet and media (social and otherwise) is doing to our world. Knowingly or not, Nelle Harper Lee has started a conversation again over the central issue her debut speaks to most presciently: the hopelessness in today’s world of doing what’s right.

Whether it’s the conversation about our country’s Internet and media addiction that none of us want to have, or the one about reparations and systemic injustice, there are winners and losers in this country. And we all have to face how deeply unfair so much of what we call “fair” is just not.

The story of a famously private author finally deciding to release another book is some of the best news fodder we Chatty Cathys could hope for. Think of the traffic being generated! But whatever else it’s about, the story is also a warning, a reckoning, that we could be killing a mockingbird here. If someone is lying or manipulating this living national treasure, they’ll most certainly be published, er, punished.  Ahem.

For all our hopes of another novel, shouldn’t we be asking, Should we just leave her alone?movie

Then there’s the fact that this couldn’t be more fitting to the point of her novel: no question Bob Ewell and his kind of prejudice are evil and wrong, and so is the jury for believing him. But we all know there’s another monster on the loose that we’re not talking about, a deep evil, possibly the greatest of all–a bully with an insatiable hunger for more.

More news. More information. More of the juicy story. More amazing books. And even if you weren’t as excited as I was to hear about this new book, we’re all in danger of becoming sick-drunk with this thirst for more.

Maybe she realizes there are still many innocents who need protecting and maybe her novel can help. Or maybe she still sees herself as Boo Radley as she has said.

Are we taking advantage of her? Remember, even Atticus was ready to force Boo and his own son to face public “justice” for the murder of Bob Ewell, spinning it as positively as he could.

It took the hardened lawman, Heck Tate, to talk sense into him and show him his misplaced faith in people to do what’s right.

This news story and To Kill a Mockingbird have everything to do with how we view right and wrong and our responsibility to seek true justice. Make no mistake, the point here is just like in the novel–doing the right thing may be hopeless, but it’s still worth doing all you can. We must consider the consequences of our snap judgments, and remember that in our modern rush to consume information, we can so easily become ravenous “More Monsters.”

I believe deep down, we all know we’re a mix of great good and deep evil. And because of that evil, Boo Radley wouldn’t really be left alone. Not in the real world.

Wouldn’t we all kill a mockingbird if we had a chance to own her song? As good as he wanted to be, not even Atticus, for all his good intentions, could see that without help.

2Q==To be sure, Go Set a Watchman is a very promising title. Should it happen to be about coming to terms with our tendency to go after those who need our protection, it could inspire discussion again about the importance of limiting ourselves to preserve something good and pure in the world. Maybe it will be about respect and facing our prejudices and dealing with the misguided bullies in our hearts.

We can only hope. And maybe if Nelle’s new-old vision from a grown-up Scout Finch does ignite that vital conversation again, she’ll forgive us for needing the reminder?