One thing that’s never far is the thought that speaking is inimical to writing. When you talk, or blog, in a very real sense, you run the risk of stealing from the eloquence you might have used in writing. A word picture: you steal the pressurized ideas and are in danger of finding later only the watery dregs in the tank.
But thinking is also critical to writing. And often, when speaking—or journalling, or blogging—you run across thoughts escaping that you might never have come to otherwise.
Here’s to hoping today’s post will turn out to be the latter.
A quote from Yancey’s article, Writing As a Psychotic Act: “Most critics view T. S. Eliot’s plays a failure, in contrast to his poetry, and one of them speculates why: Eliot fell for one of the occupational hazards of the Christian artist. His harsh, cynical laughter at human stupidity and pride gave way to compassion. Eliot felt too much compassion for his characters, and good drama can only be forged from conflict.”
Brad says he writes with only an eye for telling a good story. I think that’s fine. We all need to do the same or we’ll never get read. Yet unless this is your natural compulsion, you’re going to have to internalize the elements of story and use whatever else makes you get “seat in chair.” For me, it’s a desire to change people’s lives. Here’s what Yancey says, “Even as I write about this stance of a ‘neutral observer,’ a voice inside me––my conscience?––reminds me that the whole attempt is delusional. I am by no means neutral. Though I may cast myself as objective, the very I who does the casting is blinded by prejudice and subjectivity.”
I agree that all writers who feel too much compassion run the risk of losing their edge: that cynicism that puts them at odds with the blithe, “blessings”-filled Christians who fill churches today. But the “happy-snappy Jesus rangers” need our vantage point. They need a book like the movie Saved to show them the damage they’re doing and the suffering they’re causing to the longing heart of the Creator.
Shusaku Endo says writers must ‘look at things best left unseen.’ That’s why we write about sin and doubt. Writers who work at this wind up “donating body parts in advance.” Yancey says the admissions that hurt the most are what readers want—but I’d go further to say they are what readers need.
I’m not willing to concede that my motivation to change people’s lives is a problem. If it is, God had better change my passion. Moses was writing the history of his people, pointing to God, and he did it through poetry and incredible art. The playwrites of Shakespeare’s day made no excuses for their motivation to put food on the table. It wasn’t so lofty a purpose, but it led to enduring works of beauty. Tolkein and Lewis, though they denied their stories were alegory, initially set out to couch God’s truth in convincing tales of fantasy. God can certainly use any reason to work his purposes, even the simple desire to tell a good story.
The problem with a motivation is if it overshadows the real purpose, which is to serve your reader. I’m not willing to say you can’t write a book with evangelism as your purpose. But books that endure and say something of value beyond bland entertainment or the narsisistic impulse or heavy-handed agendas have their finger on the pulse of the audience. They understand how to serve readers through good stories and Truth.
God has shown He will use us if we’ll let Him and I think He means it, no matter what our motivation. And if you know how meager your offering was, you won’t have to worry about remaining humble when you’re told you were a miracle to someone through your borrowed Word.