Category Archives: The Bible

For Writers, Is Living Love a Process?

“Success has little to teach us during the second half of life. It continues to feel good, but now it is often more an obstacle to maturity than a positive stimulus toward it.”
― Ronald Rolheiser, Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity

The day’s list of projects is looking mighty long. I know enough by now to simply do the hardest, most pressing thing first, and stick to the process until I get through it all. Last week was a great reminder that “Bird by Bird is always the way.

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Looking at the calendar reminds me I’ll turn 45 on my next birthday. It’s not so old, but seems it’ll be harder to deny I’m middle-aged and “should be” more mature by now. Or whatever other “shoulds” I should be thinking about at my age.

And that list seems pretty stinking long too.

Apart from all of that–the work and the worries about shoulds–what would I choose to be doing to find the most meaning and significance? I know I’m being coerced by the clock and the calendar, but it’s a valid question, and a good one for a Monday morning.

What’s the best use of the day?

Certainly, I can assume a whole list of things it isn’t. Paying any more attention to that blowhard. Worrying about money or bills. Getting just one more modern convenience. 

FullSizeRenderI’m like most modern people. We’re all way too distractable. That’s different from being purpose-driven and interruptible, like Jesus always was. We’re too often thinking about ourselves. We don’t serve the sick and needy, the most innocent and vulnerable. We serve the powerful, the promising, the ones we deem worthy and projecting the right image of success. We elevate those we think can elevate us with their power, prestige, privilege, or position. We avoid those who might drag us down and look instead for promising partners who can help raise our status and standards.

If I could have my way, I’d have no other thought but to serve God and love Him fully through the care and keeping of the weakest and gentlest people I could find. Or so I think. I would be about His business, at least that’s what I tell myself.

But I don’t get involved. There are plenty of opportunities to serve those around me and I don’t. Haven’t I been faking my way through this spiritual writing life up to now? Aren’t I really all about myself, my own wants and needs, my own little comforts? 

IMG_0758Ronald Rolheiser, in his wonderful book Sacred Fire, says, “One of our deepest struggles in life is dealing with the unconscious anxiety inside of us that pressures us to try to give ourselves significance and immortality. There is always the inchoate gnawing: do something to guarantee that something of your life will last. It is this propensity that tempts us to try to find meaning and significance through success and accumulation. But in the end it does not work, irrespective of how great our successes have been.”

Meaning and significance are at the base of my motivation for everything. I want to matter. Jesus says to lose my life and I look for assurances it’ll be saved. Are they right–have I stopped believing because I don’t believe the Bible?

This process of pushing for the ever-deeper question is the impulse that compels me in the search for meaning. I know that I know the Bible is a guide to understanding, the bedrock of belief, but I don’t believe the inspiration is over and done. There’s life to be lived, experience to confirm the Word, and the writing life with the Spirit is a continual proving of faith in living and questioning and seeking, whether in sensing directly, or trying to make sense of his directing. To live the writing and write the life are the word and the deed, inseparable and constantly shifting.

FullSizeRender_1If you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.

And that is why we have to be about process. Progress is inevitable when your goal is the process, and living is always about processing what is lived. Step by step, moment by moment, now and now, the product is being shaped and guided each day until meaning and significance become byproducts of an active, proven faith. Get living in love and writing that lives will be the result.

What more proof do I need? Bishop Michael Curry was so right in that sermon. (I mean, can you get any better proof anywhere on the Web these days? Seriously.)

Writers must focus on process because there is no more powerful way to love everyone God needs us to love. Process is what ensures what’s happening when is what needs to be happening–writing or life, it’s all about the love. And focusing on process, the in and the out, like breathing, is how all the lists will finally be completed, all the work finally finished, and all the words lived out and written out.

And that is how the most powerful meaning will be achieved.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

(I’ll be breaking down some of the steps in my process over the next few weekly posts, so I’d love it if you did some writing and living about your own process as we go along, see what we might find… meantime, here’s a podcast I did with the Pastor Writer about learning to love process recently) 

A Word on Writing Progress: Loving and Leaving the Fear Box

So there’s an image I’ve wanted to explore for a while.

(It’s not this one, though I like it…)

 

I call the image “the fear box.” (Not that picture. The mental image I have. Clear on that?)

It’s made of a type of protective, soft material, but very strong. We’re all raised in this sort of cage, and it’s a God-designed, natural, humble place where we recognize our limitations. We all like the feeling of comfort that the thick, restrictive walls give us. The boundaries of the box are so certain and sure and we instinctively know the fear box is good and needed.

For newborns, there’s nowhere safer than the fear box.

As we grow a bit, the boundaries begin to feel like restrictions. Our limitations aren’t as limiting anymore, though we know we still need the box…just maybe not so much or so tight as before. If we’re given help modifying and expanding the box, we’re able to grow and not get in too much trouble.

The many people who promote the benefits of the fear box—its safety, its certainty, its traditional trustworthiness—say you can know that you know the box is for your good.

And it is. You know it. You’ve lived in it your whole life.

But if those box-benefit extollers might also say that people who’ve left their boxes are called “outsiders,” and in a voice that conveys their true feelings, tell you how wrong the outsiders are and how much they need to be made right, you’ll feel a sliver of hesitation. But you’ll agree, of course. The lost need to be found. They need to know the wonderful safety and security you’ve known.

But there’s a love growing in you, a light that can’t be contained. And that sliver of doubt will let some of that light out. And eventually, whether the next day or after several years of fighting with yourself, you know you must leave the fear box.

And what will be more important than any other reassurance as you muster your courage to finally leave, is not how much you need safety and security and traditions, but how love is what’s in you saying no to the fear box. And if you can let that love out now and learn not to restrict it or temper it, it will guide you to your new home.

If love is there, nowhere is unsafe.

***

Another week has passed and very little writing on the novel was completed. The usual work and distractions kept me busy, but again, I could have made time, reserved some for it.

A major hang-up, maybe a main hang-up for me has been imagining the response by well-meaning, lovely church people, people I respect.

Some might say I should respect them less, get irreverent about everything that isn’t God. I don’t disagree. I’ve worked through many barriers and claimed the courage and empowerment to go where I need to and speak what needs words.

But I need to say Christianity isn’t perfect perfectly, winsomely, with the fragrance of Jesus. And this has kept me locked in fear.

Christians hold many things precious—churches, pastors, leaders, teachers and teachings, worship, the Bible, The Church, Jesus, God, Holy Spirit, doctrine, creeds, Christianity itself, and even Christian culture. All the resistance I know I’ll face, constantly reminded by a lifetime of experience, has kept me endlessly revising instead of printing.

It’s fear, obviously. And what works best on fear is not frustration, condemnation, shame, or any of my usual responses. But only love.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”

***

Comfort comes swiftly to the loved.

It rushes in to prove yet again no pain or fear can break trust.

That trust is life itself.

The bigger, stronger, higher love will always help,

wipe the tears, and receive the feelings as precious,

wordless truth from the heart, the love box,

from which flow the springs of life.

Fear and pain don’t change reality, only love does.

Love is what’s true,

the ever-present reality to take all cares and keep them.

Love secures, always, always holds safe.

Come what may.

“Oh, love, never let me go…”

***

Must we be willing to break with the old to allow for the new?

Does progress require a sort of irreverence for tradition?

Life is built on an inherited box of foundations and advances. Respect them all. But also risk disrespect and “rebellion” to build what’s needed now.

Every author before you has felt this fear. Whatever this book will add to life, you’ve got to trust that love goes with you. It strengthens and empowers whoever is willing to receive it.

We can face everything that may come.

We can venture out.

Safe is where love is.

 

Praying you’ll know you’re held safe as you seek the higher purpose,

Mick

 

How Jesus Unblocked My Writer’s Block and Freed Me to Write–for Good

“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness.” – Thomas Merton

All art, writing included, is built on ideas. The size of those ideas can’t be measured, but we know some are very, very big.

I believe there’s one idea I’ve long held that outranks them all in crippling my motivation to do the work required.

Everyone has to work through many wrong ideas. For me, somehow I learned to focus a bit too much on the product of my faith, to value not my work, but my work in the world.

On the surface, it seems a small thing. And there’s clear biblical support for the idea: We don’t look at good intentions, we look at the fruit. We don’t care about what’s on the surface, the heart is what matters.

Biblically, that’s true. But you can see how prioritizing the product over the process–the goal over the journey–is a twisting of this teaching. And intentional or not, as is so often the case, the idea has created a big misunderstanding. The result for me, and I’m convinced many others, has been confusion, frustration, and even death of much art. Art became a utilitarian function, a tool in service to the end result (mainly saving souls, but any such “purpose” of art could have done equal damage).

I could have created this idea from my own pride and desire for acclaim, but I’m here to tell you that any result of our art is not the purpose. Hear me and hope again: this is not a Christ-following artist’s proper focus.

I know this is controversial, but that’s not my goal here. Maybe you’ve struggled with a form of this idea too. The Bible says we are all in a process of being transformed (2 Corin 3:18, among others). Life, like art, is a process. And we can only take part in that as we are able to accept it and abide with Christ in it. 

Leaving the complicated theology aside, focusing on the product gets us confused and looking for Jesus out there, somewhere far off in the distance, in the future, in another place, in other people not here, not now, not in us.

Any artist deeply senses this is true. But many of us resist giving it its rightful place in our minds. We focus on getting somewhere, and so many other things too. We want progress, we want a product. Our fear and our misunderstanding blinds us. Jesus offers his help, his rest, his spirit of knowledge and understanding. And yet we don’t even hear him. We will not stop long enough to listen. We rush ahead and deny that we’re hearing anything.

And when it’s pointed out to us, we may even deny that we’re artists at all.

Of course we’d be able to listen to God and hear him if we were real artists! We’re only dabblers, and pretty bad ones at that, after all.

But consider: maybe our assumptions about what it means to be Christian artists are off base. Maybe they’re informed by our culture, by its insistence on measuring product and productivity, and by our own refusal to accept that there is no measurement for the movement of the Inspiring Spirit. It blows wherever it pleases (Jn 3:8).

Can our rational, enlightened minds even wrap themselves around this ancient truth and feel its power again?

If we could only realize, if we could only believe what Jesus says is true about the kingdom of heaven living within all men (Lk 17:21), it would be obvious that believing is all we have to do. Making art is a byproduct of praise, and the product is

Making art is a byproduct of praise, and what we produce is a byproduct of that, and all of that can take care of itself.

Jesus said that accepting the mystery that he is the embodiment of God’s Love within us is our comfort and our assurance (John 14). And this profound mystery is not just beyond us or above us or out there far off somewhere, but actually living within us right now, infusing and enlightening us like beacons, calling and waiting for the world to wake up to it.

The evidence of him is all around us, but more importantly, it’s filling us with life and is alive inside us. Right now, right here. When you believe it, that becomes your new reality. You are ignited, “born anew,” and every day becomes a new chance to see that life is this precious, this sacramental, this holy. Every day, the sacredness is in the very dirt and rocks that hold up our feet and spark our senses to recognize it.

Oh, but we miss it. We’re still deaf, and dumb and blind to it. We only know what little we feel, what tiny parts we sense, and what enormous things we lack. We long for more but we’re all too aware of what stands in the way. And we are never enough aware of God.

Yes, this is the deplorable, depressing human condition. And yet right here is the wide open mission field of the called artist. Do you not see it? Look! These are the fields ripe for harvesting, the sacred purple fruit literally bursting for recognition, longing to be made into fine wine for the world, to be made into its inspired intended purpose, into its perfect product: the glory of the God of all things!

We could be transformed if we’d just stop trying to figure it all out. Stop trying to improve on this today. Give up the work and be still. Pay attention. And be loved.

You are not alone! We all waver and doubt. We all wait and grow sick with the rot of the dream within us, the dream planted by His Spirit when he energized us and gave us sight. We all grow weary waiting for the day our product will go out and do its work. And we all are tempted constantly to give up. And right here we could be transformed if we’d just stop focusing on what we think is the point. We don’t have it all figured out. And we never will.

Stop trying to improve. Give up the goal of the work and be still. The work will come from that. And if the world is to be changed, it will only be by that.

Pay attention to what really matters. Step down into the stream of the Spirit. The water flowing around your feet is a metaphor of the water flowing within and out of you every day. It will feed the fruit of your work if you will just stop and feel it and then express what you feel. Give yourself to it today. IT IS FOR YOUR LIFE!

Do you hear the song within it? And will you give yourself to that song? If you will, you will have produced something worthy of framing. And you can let praise be your product.

For the higher purpose, today and always,

Mick

Can Writing Heal the Writer?

“It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” —Zechariah 4:6, NLT

 

There’s a problem in writing Christian books. Those of us who write them, whether they’re to Christians or not, we have to be healed first before we can offer healing to readers.

DSC_0203Yet how many of us can claim to be sufficiently healed?

In published stories, fiction or non, it often seems the writer has either fully escaped the darkness their story deals with, or they never struggled as it was. There’s a veneer of professional distance to many novels or memoirs that makes it easy to assume their authors have overcome all their challenges, reconciled with their past, and submitted to the call to share their journey of healing.

Yet is it true? In listening to writers talk about their lives and work, it would seem the reality is often far from that.

It would seem best to have “gotten over” your personal challenges before trying to help others with your story. Trouble is, we’re all writing wounded.

So what should we do? Should we believe writers humble claims about being messy and broken themselves? Or should we all get counseling before we write? Maybe work on how we present so we don’t look like we’re struggling as much as we are?

DSC_0210Or maybe–maybe we should forget looking good and look at what we’re writing for.

It’s worth asking: do we want to get well? And should we seek healing through our books for ourselves or to help our readers?

Those raised in church may hear a trick question there. It can be hard to separate our own needs from others’. Putting our own healing first can seem selfish, and others might judge us for admitting our need. It can feel best to remain silent—and unhealed.

It can also seem best to simply try to help readers, but that never works. As my friend Jamie points out, you can’t share what you don’t have. If for no other reason, as writers, we’ve got to embrace our need first and foremost. It’s not self-centered or sinful to seek healing, even when it requires resources and attention be diverted to us.

Yet can we find healing through our own writing?

Personally, I can attest to the experience of coming to claim what I’ve experienced better through writing about it. Yet, restoration and reconciliation were limited until I sought help beyond what I could produce myself. And my healing came not through church, counseling or relationships, but primarily through reading. And I’m not alone. Many writers’ attest that their most significant healing has come through powerful stories of love and restoration—the very place the inspiration to write for a higher purpose often comes from.

DSC_0200Yet I’ve felt called to help readers with my story and never felt fully healed myself. I wonder how many writers would agree. How many counselors become counselors because they needed counseling? The same might apply to “called” writers.

While I believe it’s possible, even preferable to require the healing you seek to share in writing, when we set out with fresh inspiration to share our message of hope, we must realize we can’t offer readers our full inspiration when we haven’t fully received that light ourselves. Otherwise, we risk trying to manufacture simply an artful experience.

Oswald Chambers says, “If in preaching the gospel you substitute your knowledge of the way of salvation for confidence in the power of the gospel, you hinder people from getting to reality…Never rely on the clearness of your presentation, but…rely on the certainty of God’s redemptive power, and He will create His own life in people” (emphasis mine).

DSC_0201If you haven’t yet been fully healed of your encounter with the darkness, let yourself first experience the full embrace of the light. Though the best writing comes from our broken places, no one can effect their own healing through writing alone for the simple reason that none of us possesses the light on our own. We won’t be able to sufficiently help readers until we do.

Consider, as you write: is your heart free? If writing your story has brought up the need for further healing, don’t ignore that. Seek out the sources God reveals until you see fruit from your restoration. You’re meant to experience writing not only as a lifeline, or a desperate escape, but as an overflow.

And when you write from the overflow, you will feel it, and so will readers.

DSC_0009Don’t forfeit the healing you deserve for the sake of the calling you serve.

Seek him, dear writer, and you will find him.

 

“My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power…”

—1 Corinthians 2:4, NIV

Why the Greatest Gift of Christmas Is Not Hope

It may have occurred to you before, but sharing hope truly is the heart of this writing business (and, yes, whatever else it is, it’s also our business).

family funSo why do we busy ourselves with so many things? We strive to write compelling words, remarkable words, and to make them intelligent and share-worthy, and then get them read and shared when all we need to do is share the hope people really want.

Because when they find it, we can trust they’ll automatically want to share it.

I know this because I feel it too.

I want to hope again. And if I could stop trying so hard at other things and remember that all I have to do is seek what matters, then maybe I’d remember how to bring hope and people would respond in kind and share with others.

This is my perpetual trouble. I give up hoping for that peace I’m always losing and forgetting to recover. I forget we have to continually renew our vows.

DSC_0050Don’t I believe the inevitable result of seeking hope is having helpful words to share–and that ultimately, we will help people help others because seeking hope always inevitably leads to finding?

What I too often forget is that ultimately, I’m not just looking for words to gain attention, I’m looking for hope. Words are like packaging. They’re pretty or flashy or sad or boring. And while everyone appreciates good packaging, ultimately it’s the hope inside them that matters.

When words are hopeful, it’s not because they shine and sparkle like the lights at Christmas. It’s because they’re based on our one hope: unconditional love. The one light that outshines any darkness.

Writers who feel the truth of that love, their words reflect it. It’s just that all too often we don’t feel it. And we don’t want to admit that we don’t. So we fake it. We ignore our doubts and try to stay comfortable in the old, old story.

We pretend all is well. As if God actually prefers that.

But for God’s sake, we’ve got to stop faking it.

DSC_0080Sometimes this Christmas story feels like baloney. A virgin birth? The long-awaited Son of God? Obviously, this was before the Internet and iPhones and basic biology class. Come on. It’s a nice story, and surely everyone can see we need a savior. But substitutionary atonement?

Maybe it’s all myth and ritual and doesn’t mean anything. The whole package could be just a big safety blanket against the terror that what awaits us is pointless, forever dead.

But what’s so scary about that? Dead is dead. What’s the big deal?

Fearing death only strengthens doubt. And even the most idealistic child has doubts. Who can’t see clear holes in the Christmas story?

Because that’s what it is. A story. 

To believe or not to believe. That’s the question.

Here’s the thing: What if the greatest gift of Christmas is not hope but the freedom to choose?

Maybe all the myths and tales demand something of us. We can only believe or not. We must make a choice. We must determine what the story will mean for us and our lives–everything or nothing.

DSC_0152Will we choose hope and find the truth in the ancient story? Or will we call it meaningless?

There’s no middle ground. The words mean life. Or they don’t.

For unto us a child is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Just words. We ascribe their meaning. We determine the hope they carry. Believe, or don’t.

We each have to ask whether we want to have hope or not. And maybe whether we want to share hope or not. Whether we want to believe and help others find life and joy and peace and unfathomable love, or to find no basis for it, no meaning, no gift inside all the packaging.

As the lights of Christmas shine and sparkle, they remind me of our choice. We’re also the lifeline of others’ choice. Will we believe and let our words flow from our hearts’ decision? Or will we reject the old story? All it takes is wanting the truth, whatever else it means, whatever else we may want in life. All it takes is choosing to seek it and making the sacrifice, living to answer the questions that come up and waiting, for the sake of these irreplaceable lives wrapped in such amazing packages.

DSC_0139I guess it comes down to humility and the obvious truth that this choice is also a gift given to us in freedom, that we might choose it and be truly free. Regardless of the struggles, the setbacks, our suffering and losses, the fears of death, we get to choose whether to humbly receive or proudly reject the love that came quietly, softly, humbly.

He’s always come humbly so we might do the same. And we can offer the same hope, if we’ll only first receive it.

The only other response is a proud demand. And do we really want that to be our legacy?

The story doesn’t have to make sense. He knows our heart’s cry. It doesn’t have to be provable. We can still have hope and do something great with our gifts. This story doesn’t even have to be explainable. We simply have to see that we’re given the choice, the freedom, to believe and decide what it will mean for our life.

DSC_0043Will we carry hope by humbly receiving it, believing it means love? This story can be our confidence. Will we confidently give what everyone really wants? This story can be our generosity, the reason we give our full selves. Will we generously give our words to inspire others to bring their gifts to his feet?

May you choose his love, his joy, his pride, and his whole-hearted choice of you to know that your freedom meant everything to him long before this crazy story was even inspired.

And may you choose it again with all your heart….