Category Archives: Religion

Why We’ve Got to Learn to Say No

“There is only one way to defeat the enemy, and that is to write as well as one can. The best argument is an undeniably good book.” Saul Below, The Living Novel: A Symposium, 1957

I think no matter who you are, no matter how you grew up, every Christian writer struggles to say no to others.

bug

Some may learn to say “no” readily. But many writers start out avoiding saying no to people at any cost. We’re avoiders and pleasers. We may say “yes” initially only to avoid the inevitable confrontation, then say “no” later by avoiding the situation.

I’ve done it regularly. Habitually. And I’ve seen it done for years.

But everyone who writes has a unique call and so must rise above this.

And in my experience with Christians, we rarely, if ever, acknowledge the essential importance of saying no.

Oh, we say no to sin. And to anything deemed “questionable” or unsafe. But to other Christians? To the church or (God forbid) the leadership? That might not reflect well on our presumed holiness.

Churches don’t give out gold stars for saying no.

flower

People who don’t go to church can get away with it. Some may have first found permission by leaving. Yet how many are saying no to the wrong things or in unloving ways?

The point is, we need to learn how to say “no” well, and our model human opposed both the typical Christian and the disengaged and hardened folks alike.

He said a lot of loving no’s to people. And often.

He said no—in love—to strangers, friends, crowds, the disciples and Pharisees—in other words, to everyone.

Why is this so important? Because unless you can say no in love, even well-meaning Christians can create barriers between you and God’s will.

Saying yes means nothing unless you can also say no. Only “no” can correct and refocus people when they’ve gotten off track. Only “no” can move the attention away from its wrong focus. And only a loving heart can use no to affirm the goodness and love inside the opposition.

bird

Unfortunately, “no” seems so ignored among Christians today that most can’t handle the slightest hint or whisper of it. Now we have to treat adults as children and instead of “no,” offer a firm “thank you for understanding why I can’t serve at that event,” or “God bless your commitment. I’m already giving elsewhere. I appreciate your graciousness.”

If only that was acceptable.

Years ago, I set out to help Christian writers say “no” to the forces that opposed their higher purpose. I thought I’d be fighting the godless consumer culture. Instead, I’ve found the greatest opposition can come not from culture but from the church.

If you’ve had trouble saying no, you’re not alone. And you need to get alone to yourself for at least 30 minutes. Take a notebook and pen and go imagine your future 10 years from now if you can commit to the vision God put in your heart for you to write. Write down what you see.

Imagine it and then believe that one day soon, that will be you, successful.

That is who you are going to be.

Circumstances do not dictate this. People do not dictate you.

God is vision-caster, the Great Imaginer, and when He gives his called artists a vision, He’s saying that one day, it will be your day. But if you never commit to it, and especially to saying “no” to the ungodly demands, expectations, unspoken rules and implicit requirements placed on you by a restrictive church or family or culture, it will never be your day.

sleeper

We can’t sacrifice our God-given vision for a person or an image or a church. We must use our gifts for the Person and His image and the Church at large.

If you’ve failed to say no in the past, repent and move forward. Claim your gifted strength and know that every failure along the way is one less you have to make now.

Mistakes are necessary; they’re how we learn to value what we eventually gain.

But we’ll never get to where He’s called us to go without imagination and belief.

If you will go and write the vision, you will see where you will be. And you will know you can not quit.

You have to go get it.

So decide to believe. And He goes with you. And there is no fear because fear is not real. Fear is choosing to respect doubts as greater than the future reality. It’s believing things that are not or may never be true are true. That’s insanity. Fear is a choice; we can chose not to fear.

You can simply choose instead to believe the real vision. Choose it and own it.

As Tozer said, there is blessedness in possessing nothing. Yet a vision is a pure gift, and possibly for artists, our primary possession. You can have this vision if you have focus. And you will have it if you don’t quit.

But the first step before anyone else will believe this vision is you believing it.

So all that matters is, can you say “no” to say “yes” to your vision?

——————————————————–

If you’re ready to jump, the 30-Day Story Course starts Friday. Four lessons, four evaluations by me. $500 $99

Still Loving Ya, Miley: A Final(?) Word

 

Two camps. Two paths. They say that’s all there are.

The low road and the high. Lovers v. haters.

And hate it or learn to love it, no one gets out. Everyone has to decide.

Which way will I go?

The way of the world or the way of the Lord?

We hear of these all our lives and we think we know which one’s good and which is bad.

But it’s not so easy, is it? We’re all in these cages always trying to figure out which way we’re headed, and which way others are going. It’s part are the way God made us. And part is our own making.

Haters wound, thinking they’re loving and that can become part of your cage. But their light is darkness, and as one of the “corrected” I can promise you, they don’t know the truth. And many people need to get free of folks who call hate love. Their ignorance is responsible for much that’s wrong in the world.

Still, they’re human. And they don’t always realize how their words sound. They don’t get how simply opening their mouths can shut someone else’s. And they don’t know all the people they’ll never hear from, never know, never set free because they think they have things all figured. Makes you wish they’d wonder what others sound like some time, doesn’t it? Don’t they want to know?

I guess I’ve been “corrected” quite a bit. But the stink of it is, any reaction from us only proves them right. It’s just like their shock over your new image—it serves to prove you right. But see, it doesn’t mean you are any more than it means they are, and swallowing each others’ scorn, it only makes each side stronger.

So I guess I don’t know where that leaves us. It seems you may fight and blow it off for many years. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to hold onto you with so many people thinking they have a right to you. I think God preserves my relative obscurity as a gift every day.

But don’t let anyone tell you Jesus would ever give anyone a thumbs down.

People can judge all day long. But not him.

He knows hating does no good. And he’s all about doing good.

Unfortunately, people aren’t. Jesus did a whole lot of stuff we can’t. He said don’t resist what you call evil. And for the life of me, I can’t manage that, though I try. I do know when you do, you see what evil really is—just goodness inside out, some love that lost its way. Truth gets twisted. Beauty sullied. There’s no evil without first good. God made it all good and it got all screwed up but we don’t need to fear this. It’ll be all good again someday.

But for now, all we need to know, all you need to know is that the power in us is God-breathed. It’s put there in our tongues and in our words and it’s the very power of life and death.

“Judge not lest ye be judged.” Jesus said that one too, though we argue it away and say it doesn’t mean not judging people.

“Correcting” in love is usually a sham because what’s loving to the person you’re correcting? What feels loved, seen, known? No one really knows. We know love isn’t a feeling but a decision, but Jesus never asked us to be other people’s conscience. He asked us to get in their shoes and walk a mile. And he said to let the blind lead the blind into a pit.

He knows who’s right. I’ll let him sort it out. But here are some ideas I’ve got:

1. Maybe we need to struggle to need him. Maybe that’s the only way we realize we need him?

2. When you stand in authority, someone always wants to knock you down. But kneel in powerlessness and suddenly no one’s left to judge.

3. I don’t know how many people it will take rebelling against God because of “God’s people” before his self-proclaimed defenders finally surrender, but just remember: God never asked us to deny people their freedom. He told us to set people free.

4. Spend as much time as you can imagining all that’s possible when we finally know even in all our “sin” how Jesus not only defends us and lets us off the hook, he sees and affirms us exactly as he made us.

5. If grace is what saves us, may we affirm everyone’s right to experience it. I agree with ending all restrictions on what Jesus made free because his sacrifice was good enough.

6. It’s not our job to save anyone, to set ourselves apart, or do any of the works faith requires. That’s his job. And he does it very well.

And even if you don’t agree and you still hope for a win between the camps, I hope it’s okay if I give up for you and say thanks for all you did to help me see my need to. I’ve needed to surrender to his free-love anarchy more fully. I don’t give up in hopes of anything changing, though I will pray for an end to all restrictions on those who must be allowed to speak without judgment, prejudice or discrimination.

And just remember he says, “Come to Me and I will give you rest.” Rest is not selfish, not what selfish people do. Rest is what you’re made for, next to him and in him and him in you and not ahead or behind or in fear or control.

Everything’s his doing. Give him back your everything and be truly free.

Freedom isn’t always an easy place to live. But there’s nowhere safer.

The Passing Day

“My days are like a lengthening shadow, and I wither away like grass.” 

 – Psalm 102:11

 

I’m just back from discussing the future focus of our church with about 2 dozen aged Presbyterians this weekend.

IMG_6284 Isn’t it amazing how we’re all strangers, even to ourselves? And yet we all have an important job to do….

I agreed to take part because for the last 3 years, we’ve been embraced and encouraged by this traditional community, and after 50 years, they want to reinvent to keep their church alive.

A consulting firm was hired to identify the demographics and characteristics of our neighborhood and membership, and we came together to discuss how we’ll seek to fulfill this call to love and serve the neighbors around us.

Somewhere in discussion, it struck me how we all want to live out the fullest possible expression of our connection, however possible, wherever and whenever we can. This group of people believes we’re all alike in the most important, fundamental ways. And I feel the fire to invest in those connections, the passion that’s always above all for those of us who’ve been changed by Love.

And church can happen anywhere, and it’s not about a place, but a feeling, and it’s why I write, and it’s why I edit books, always striving to make that connection and honor it, respect it, build it stronger and more solid in the unbreakable love of God. It’s why we talk of a body, and this is the way I’ve chosen, and I need the reminders to be praying at all times. And though it’s difficult, more and more every day, I feel the truth coming from my writing, that done prayerfully, writing is prayer. And done prayerfully, work is prayer, and all of life is held within that central relationship.

IMG_6290There’s time for everything. God will feel close and he’ll feel far. But with this focus on what matters, it won’t matter how I feel much, or what I’m specifically praying for, or what’s beyond my help or my reach. Committed to this relationship, all focus is turned to God’s greatest interest in my every passing moment, expressed through this greatest desire, this highest purpose. No fear or failure is possible there because the relationship is secure, come what may.

There is no challenge, no frustration that can thwart this central connection, for here I peer through the screen of separation and see the unmistakable fusion, molecules to spirit, in unbreakable union and inevitably resolving into eternity. Any struggle I may face is not without purpose, and pain, though inevitable, is not unimportant. It is leading to deeper unity with this guiding Love.

And if you feel that, you are part of this community, this body. Inside that embrace, there is a pain that can’t be felt, that never even grazes the shielded, life-radiating heart. All hatred and anger and destruction and evil can mean nothing against this sovereign design for me and all of us who would seek it, the Sovereign One structuring time itself to reveal all that Love has sacrificed to one day pull evil up by the roots and leave no trace.

The eternal song will go on. Let whomever has not yet heard it try to silence it. There is no silencing it.

Pay it no mind, embrace them and envelope them in this Love, and commit to your true business. For as it goes forward, Love goes forward and it will be their constant torment until they surrender. Love will swallow the opposition and transform it and all the time they wasted. So for now, have compassion and visit them, care for them. And in the time you have left, you will see God move and you will know His truth that sets us free from all fear.

Every day is a new grace. And while there is light in the passing day, we must learn to embrace this day for what it truly is–a holy chance to know deeper unity. And if we will carry on, undistracted and undiminished in our commitment to this Love, we can take the few frightened souls around us into our great heart to share the experience of this joy with as many as want it.

For all that’s required is that undying longing….

Editor to Author: Letter to a Memoir Writer

Dearest Author,

I've been thinking about worth lately.

What's your story worth?

At a recent writers conference I taught a workshop on how I saw publishing changing. Modern publishing, the only time in history when we've had separate "markets" for books, has begun to fracture and redistribute. I've shared several times about how The Shack has shifted things. It isn't just a book, of course, it's a bridge. And those bridges are inevitable because it isn't only spiritual people or Christians who recognize God as creator.  

Blue Like Jazz came well before it and created connections between the Christian and secular markets. Lauren Winner's memoir Girl Meets God made some connection points before that, similar to how Eat, Pray, Love did more recently, from the other side of the spiritual divide. Several spiritual/worldly, secular/sacred books have become best-sellers as bridges in the long history of such books since the beginning of print, and some people have traced this line back to the best-selling book of all time: The Bible.

The Secret. The Purpose-Driven Life. The Alchemist. The Celestine Prophesy. The Late Great Planet Earth. Pilgrim's Progress. Books you've never heard of have sold over 30 million copies: Steps to Christ by Ellen White, In His Steps by Charles Sheldon, late-19th century Congregational minister and advocate of the ever-intriguing idea of "Christian socialism." Even Nikolai Tesla wrote about his life a true spiritual man and world-renouned scientist in My Inventions. The Canterbury Tales, The Odyssey, and The Divine Comedy by Dante, written in 1304, has "sold" more than anyone knows and we have no idea how it or any of these books have changed readers and the history of spiritual thought, becoming seeds for the trees of countless theologies.

But of course, we know this is what books are–seeds. And this is what they do: define life and defy death.

"So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."

So this story that's a part of you, that is you, that defines your work and all of your effort and sacrifices to share it completely (or as completely as possible) for others to use–what's it really worth?

Don't answer. You can't. Simply try to see the fullness of the question clearly. Continue on…

Do you know where your worth is really found?

Yes, in God's ownership of the life and love he's created you to embody (1 John 4:7-12). His ownership, creating, protecting, guiding and infusing of his great, unchanging spirit into us. He dies that we might live (parents always understand this principle). And we die that others might live through our sacrifices. This is the daily work of writing.

Do you know what that is really worth?

Intimately known and held, seen and heard and helped in every way, this knowledge is invaluable, isn't it? We can talk of worth and value, and shift our understanding of that from copies sold to readers influenced, but it's the knowledge a reader will have by the end of your story that makes what you're doing truly valuable. And this understanding of how God fills us and dies for us is the greatest wisdom, the most valuable in the world. And if you are practicing that, that makes what you're doing invaluable.

I want to give you, as a witness of your discovery of that unchanging love, my invaluable opinion on it, my affirmation that you've been seen and heard and that what you've written down is completely worthy. And with your assurance that it's been well established and others will see it and respond, you can continue, knowing it's incredible and invaluable. 

So do you see what your story is really worth?

Because there's no true price tag you can put on it. There's no proper estimating the value of my work, my seeing it, or others' receiving it either. It's in-valuable. We have to simply trust together that whatever comes of it is just a small piece of its fullest value as a seed for God to use, and not at all connected to the worth of what you've written, or what I've done to help. I know you've sacrificed and given for your story, and I've been brought into the processing of it, but regardless of how it will be published and the realities of our modern marketplace, you must know:

What's your story really worth?

I remain your solid co-laborer in the process of delivering these invaluable words. Never assign its worth to money, public perception, publication, or anything else. Your heart is here, and that's established and it's something you have written definitively, and just as we have agreed together at the outset here, others will when they read it.

We don't know how it will all play out. But I'm on your side and not looking for specific outcomes big or small. Don't think in terms of what's "fair," but decide you will pay with your life what's necessary to give to this project. What you give is directly proportional to what that seed will be able to produce in readers. And in terms of return and profit, I believe Cohelo is right: the universe will conspire in our favor.

So what's your story really worth?

 

Your Loving Editor,

Mick