Revolution: True faith

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I’m a Clark Kent editor. I’m really a writer. Know why? Because when I was in high-school, I read a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I didn’t understand half of it, but I experienced something I couldn’t explain. It changed me. I’ve had the experience more than once, and more than once with that book. I’ve had the experience with all the books in the right column at one point or another, some over and over. They are the books that convinced me to write. I was convinced to edit for an entirely different reason (and that’s a topic for another post).

I also write because I’m totally conflicted about life, existence, faith, and God. I don’t know how to live, let alone see or hear. I have no answers to teach anyone how to live. The fact is, when I’m writing, I often don’t even know if I’m getting anywhere, let alone saying something that could help anyone. I’m a regular story-teller and I don’t know how “teaching through story” really works.

I’ve heard it said so many times—I’ve even said it myself—that writing is inherently egotistical and selfish. Some say there isn’t much more pompous than thinking others are entitled to your opinions. That’s probably true. There’s a passion to writing that’s all about convincing others. For instance, Nina from work, my nemesis, the one who can’t handle reading Annie Dillard and Philip Yancey for our morning devotions because she can’t understand how they “can’t take anything on faith,” I want to write something to make her understand. And Carl downstairs who’s on the heart transplant list, and smokes like a demon until it seeps through the floor, and who tells me jokes about bathrooms and pirate’s testicles, I want to write for him. And Sheri’s cousin who is grieving her stillborn child after a 50-hour labor that produced only an emptiness that will never be filled. I want to write for her.

Do I write from a need to confront these people? And do I honestly think I have something to say to them? Their unanswerable questions, the pains endured, these are the very things that create my desire to write. What can I possibly be thinking? If I don’t write, will they somehow miss out on life? Will they not experience the world beyond what they’ve already experienced?

No, I’m not worthy, and yes, I am conflicted about my passion to write. I think it’s critical for all writers to be conflicted at their core and to feel that conflict and to nurture it. We can’t afford to take one side of things or take anything on faith if we haven’t first put it to the ol’ pen and ink test. Loving God with all our minds and working out our faith with fear and trembling, these are the things Christian writers have been called to. And probably for no better reason than that they’re more ignorant than most.

My 22-month-old daughter thinks I’m God. I see it in her face. The Bible doesn’t offer her the answers to everything she needs to know; I do. Her faith in me is unswerving. And that terrifies me and emboldens me all at once. But my powers can’t save her from disappointment. Her ignorance is not really faith, is it? Ignorance no more makes me God than saves me from my sin. Ignorance is death and want and starvation and lack of love. In many ways, ignorance must be the opposite of faith which is life, joy, and hope.

So what is the difference between faith and ignorance? How should I know? I haven’t written enough about it yet. Faith is the assurance of things unseen, and yet I could be assured of my own Godhood and be wrong. The Christian writer can never take the world on faith, but he must accept his need for faith every time he sits down to write. Do you see a conflict? She must never accept stasis, never stop at tragedy, but she must always be aware of her unworthiness and fleshy incompetence as a vessel of truth. Paradox? She’ll stand in the place others fear to stand and take the doubt and fear as common evils, but suffer along in her own ignorance, while speaking the Word in the darkness. These are inescapable mysteries that will never be solved no matter how much you write.

So either we’ve got a complete impossibility or inexhaustible source material. I guess we have to take our pick.

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10 thoughts on “Revolution: True faith”

  1. Interesting thoughts, Mick.
    What’s the difference between faith and ignorance? The source–the object and proof of the object of faith. When the clouds fill the sky, I can believe the sun still shines above, out of sight, or I can believe that an alien space ship hovers in its stead. But I have evidence for the former–leading to faith–and nothing to support the later. So that question, from my point of view, is a non-question.
    But your reaction to your daughter’s unswerving trust in you is exactly how I feel about writing: it terrifies me and emboldens me all at once. There in lies my conflict, but I can live with that, too, because so much of the Big Things in life are apparent paradox: a man-God savior, a three-in-one God; a Servant/King Messiah. And that’s not even the entire tip of the iceberg. So why should I expect my life to line up neatly with no contradiction? Hahah–if only.

  2. One of my constant laments as I write is often spoken aloud: “But I have nothing to say…”
    I hear myself saying this less often recently, perhaps because what I used to mean by it was really, “But maybe I don’t know all the answers after all…”
    I’m 50 years old. I don’t have very many answers anymore. But this scripture gives me hope. It’s in Jeremiah 15: “If you will extract the precious from the worthless, you will be my spokesperson.”
    So I write a lot of worthless and from it extract the precious, the thing that needs to be said, the words that manage to change even me.
    Fortunately for our readers, they do the same thing! They drill down through the layers until they find the precious in the rubble. Readers, too, extract the precious from the worthless and become His spokesmen.

  3. If your need to write is freighted with all those agendas, it’s no wonder it causes such anxiety. You say, “There’s a passion to writing that’s all about convincing others.” This may be true for you, but the compulsion to try to change other people is not inherent to the passion for writing.
    I feel no need to convince anyone of anything. I write to tell a story, not to change anybody. I’m not in the reformation business. I think one of the problems with christian fiction is precisely that art is subjegated to message, which reduces it to propaganda.

  4. Becky, too right. It always strikes me that so much of life is a self-fulfilling prophecy created by belief and yet, what we believe is so often 180 off the mark.
    Mary, Katy, I know whereof you speak. Yet how much more powerful is a God who uses ignorant, worn-out vessels for His work?
    Brad, as a pastor’s son you have to know everyone has an agenda. But let’s just be friends. I’ll be Agenda man and you can be Art for Art’s Sake man and we’ll have some adventures together. What do you say?

  5. Brad,
    You make it sound like we should be ashamed that we as believers have something to share to the world.
    Writing is communication, as I’ve repeated in a number of sites, and that fact implies that the author has something to say. Part of story includes theme. If the theme is woven badly, we say the author was preachy. Because theme has been woven badly for far too long in CBA fiction, don’t dismiss theme out of hand. Don’t strip away all point of writing a story other than for entertainment. That swings the pendulum to the other extreme and is no better for Christian fiction than having the main character recite the four spiritual laws. Both the preachy and the vapid are not well crafted.
    Putting theme in so that it doesn’t hit the reader over the head may take more work, but that’s why we have to work at our craft.

  6. I agree with the general premise that everyone has some sort of agenda, whether she knows it or not.
    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could examine the true motives of, say, Harper Lee as she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird? The book contains obvious themes wonderfully handled, but WHY did she write it? Was it primarily to expose the evils of racism? Or to provide a beautiful portrait of childhood/parenting/family? Or was her prime motive merely to tell a story about a time and a culture, honestly immortalizing a world that mattered deeply to her? Or all of the above?
    No matter what drove her, the world is a better place for her having given us Atticus, Scout, Jem, Boo Radley, Tom Robinson, et al. We feel like we know them. We learn from them, not because they cram lessons down our throats, but because we struggle through the lessons with them. And we love them.
    So. This is what I want to do: write great stories with real characters, and fill them with pithy truths about life, faith, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I want to enjoy the process — to dance with the words as the pages fill — but I also want to be able to send them out with the expectation that others will hear their music and join the dance.
    I want my writing to be art. I want my art to speak. I expect it to. Have you ever met silent art?

  7. Mick aka Agenda Man: I also hope it is possible for us to disagree and still be agreeable. However, I didn’t claim to lack an agenda. I merely said that a passion for writing and a compulsion to convince others are not inextricably joined at the hip. I have an agenda, which I stated outright. My agenda is to tell a good story. That story will unavoidably reflect my own perspective and beliefs.
    Becky: Au contraire. It is possible to lack a compulsion to convince others and still unashamedly convey the truths of the gospel. Like you, I also went on record supporting themes on other websites, stating that I started all three Fred novels with a theme in mind and don’t feel they are the worse for it.
    All: My post was primarily prompted by an immediate reaction to the sentence I quoted earlier: “There’s a passion to writing that’s all about convincing others.” This is a subjective opinion that was stated as an objective fact. It is evidently true for Mick and others; it is emphatically not true for me. I have a distaste for generalizations spoken as if they are axioms when in fact they are simply expressions of one perspective among many.
    I must confess I do have a problem with a motivation to change other people. I find I have more than enough work on my hands just trying to become more Christ-like myself. I don’t know that one person can change another. A goal of being salt and light I understand. A goal to change another person seems to me to border on infringing on free will. Novels are writ by fools like me, but only God can change a life.

  8. Brad,
    I wholehearted agree. And I wholeheartedly disagree. I guess I have multiple hearts.
    I hate propaganda fiction. Loathe it. It’s for sheeple.
    But the passion for writing is inextricably linked to a desire to convince, same way sex is about giving. You can do it the other way, where nothing is given, but then it’s not communication, it’s masturbation.

  9. i read yr smug political post & plan to head for the clefts …but then i read 11-8 …& think i’ll come back maybe.

  10. Dillard and Yancey in the same sentence–Wow! This was/is the hook for me. May have discovered a gem of a website here. Not sure yet.

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