It isn’t about you

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Recently, I met up with the Christian artists at the annual Image/Glen Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Greg Wolfe’s invitation to come and pelt him with questions concerning the new Creative Writing MFA at Seattle Pacific. Sheri, Ellie and I spent the morning driving down and after finding a place to camp, we drove up to St. John’s college and talked to Greg about the effort involved in starting a program like this, and the long time in coming it’s been in finally getting it pulled together and approved.

My main concern was whether the program would reveal the authors in my particular tradition—whatever it might look like. I recognize a tradition exists that consists of many dead and living writers. The idea is so basic, it barely seems to need expressing, but too many writers and artists today know too little about the history to which they’re contributing. I’m not complaining in some high-minded, “They’re-such-a-shame-kids-today” sort of crotchety way. In “Tradition and the Individual Talent” T.S. Eliot said, “the historical sense [is] nearly indispensable to any … poet beyond his twenty-fifth year.” Young geeks, we need to study the geeks who came before.

In books (and any art), the past is present. Good books—those you might call classics—are no older the older they get. And they build off of one another. When you have seen this, you can’t be content reading crappy fiction. Of course, you don’t have to work hard to find plenty other reason to be discontent with modern fiction. But this building happens in all arts and across disciplines. Movies borrow from music. Music borrows from painters. Painters borrow from books. Everyone can think of a favorite example of an artist/director/musician/writer borrowing from another. God started it—borrowing from himself. “Yeah, I say that dude’s alright. His rib might make a nice lady.”

The point is, if you want to be a respectable geek in your own right and not a fly-by-night, flash-in-the-pan, wanna-be-poseur, you gots ta pay respect where it’s due. That’s what my little “What to Read” list is over there. I’ve been influenced by these books in profound ways, strong enough to consider them a part of my foundation. There are many more, but these are books I recommend to others since I think they have such significant things to say. Their themes will never die. The spirit behind them will be forever young.

Hey, I think that might be a song.

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