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.