Tag Archives: creative writing

Do Not Dismiss the Ordinary

“If I dismiss the ordinary — waiting for the special, the extreme, the extraordinary to happen — I may just miss my life.…To allow ourselves to spend afternoons watching dancers rehearse, or sit on a stone wall and watch the sunset, or spend the whole weekend rereading Chekhov stories—to know that we are doing what we’re supposed to be doing — is the deepest form of permission in our creative lives.” Dani Shapiro

Renoir, Four Dancers
Renoir, Four Dancers

I love this quote. But struggling with this permission has been a theme of my writing life. As an Evangelical, I hear God telling me to leave my comforts and go out to save the lost, to help the widows and orphans and those in prison, and to go two miles with those who ask me to go one. I know I’m to “go and preach the gospel and make disciples.”

As a writer, a peacemaker and a thinker, I fear I should be doing these things more. Too often I opt for my safe cave.

I realize the point of Christian service isn’t helping others so much as leaving oneself behind to enter what’s assumed to be the life of Christ. Similarly, the deeper point of prayer changes us, not things. Because only when we’re changed can the world be truly improved.

But what does “leaving oneself” look like? Raised in the church, I always thought dying to self had to look like doing things you don’t want to do. Whatever you selfishly want because you’re evil and can’t be trusted, you need to forget that and do what God wants, which means all that hard stuff like soup kitchens and prison visitation. And sure, that’s part of it. But if that’s all it means, I’m just not sure where joy is going to come in. Maybe afterwards. But certainly not before or even during the forced labor.

And I fear too many Christians would force themselves, others, their kids, and everyone to adopt their cause of soulless giving just to prove their point.

British author and psychologist Adam Phillips has noted, “When we are inspired, rather like when we are in love, we can feel both unintelligible to ourselves and most truly ourselves.” Is this the reason creatives seem selfish? Yearning for this unreal fantasy world where we disconnect from the world, read Emily Dickinson, watch instead of participate, and obsessively ponder our navels?

Is writing proof we love ourselves too much?

I don’t know. Probably at times, yes. Yet without such moments of transcendence pursuing the Muse we would not have the Bible or any history beyond the feeble things we can recall to ourselves.

Go and write the full fantastic reality you experience today. And do it as though the eternal fate of the lost depends on it.

Because it does. And that fate is yours.

Why Absolutely Everything Is about the Story

I had this thought yesterday:

Everyone who lives with barriers to belief who has made a conscious negative response about faith has fully misjudged God.

The realization of that stopped me. Somehow I knew it was a glimpse of God’s perspective and his true love for those he misses. And so I stopped and considered it. And no more than a moment later, a fuller picture emerged. And it shocked me:

With unbelievers, there is no other category.

No other category! To know him for who he truly is always = loving him. And that love changes anyone who encounters it. But anyone who has trouble believing or loving, it is  misunderstanding that's to blame. And it's this misunderstanding that's constantly used as our excuse, evidence that he doesn’t exist or isn’t what we want or need. The lack of evidence about God becomes our weapon to use against him.

Can you see the problem?

So what's the solution? Reconnecting. God wants to reconnect. And any writer working to write a true spiritual story has the greatest advantage: story! The method God himself has used to share this vitally relevant truth.

I'd like to humbly propose that reconnecting the disconnected is the grand story of all humanity. It's what it's all about. This is why everything is about story because we're all a part of it, his story of coming and reconnecting. Story is all about the one who overcomes unbeatable odds to achieve what seemed impossible. And it's happening every day, all around us if only we could see it.

Do you ever think about that? Maybe if there was time you would. But I'm wondering if there's time to think of anything but this.

This story thing is so powerful when you think of it as the way God's created us to reconnect. And because it's his, absolutely everything is a part of it, what he created, his world, the lives he spoke into being, the narrative he placed us in. We all want to read his words and know how he reveals himself and reconnects with us. Every true spiritual story is one more piece of the larger unfolding story of reconnection, as infinite as the universe, more evidence that one day it will all be reconnected. Can your story reconnect others with him, show him for who he is? How many need to read it to be reconnected and add their line in the bigger story. And how many of these stories can we find?

Authors of faith, you are royal daughters and sons of the great Reconnector. See your tool clearly. You must tell the story. Provide the escape. End the misunderstanding. Deliver the inspiration.

Crush the lack of evidence.

Open the eyes.

Write for one.

Write, like food, to bring to life

Mussels[1] I'm not Episcopalian. Sometimes I wish I were. Or maybe Catholic–just one of these denominations that makes a really big deal about the "sacrament," the "host," communion. I enjoy every once in a while focusing on the original meaning of the metaphor—remembering Christ's sacrifice in the physical symbols of His love. That we can remember the most beautiful fact of human existence–restoration–through the elemental symbols–eating a flayed, disfigured body and drinking its spilled blood—it can easily feel to me like trying to think of eternity. It overwhelms us.

But at the heart of that metaphor, there's a deep truth: the experience of grace is shocking.

Remember the central scene in The Matrix (or what I think of as the central scene) when Neo has taken the red pill? As he's about to enter the real world, he sees his broken reflection in the mirror. And suddenly, the image repairs itself. He's intrigued, reaches out to touch it and the reflection comes off on his hand, a silvery liquid, and it starts to slide up his arm, across his body and up his neck, growing until it overtakes him and we follow as it enters through his mouth.

That's like grace. It awakens you. It overwhelms you. It replaces you.

It's been my experience that grace causes awareness of life to increase. When you witness it, you're replaced by a more deeply-aware you. You're less distracted by the monotone of the world around you. Somehow, the experience awakens you to the taste of more real life, the life underneath that remained silent before you'd been shown it. If you've seen Babbette's Feast or Big Night or Ratatoille, you understand something of grace. It seems there are a few of these moments in life where you realize that something like this is happening. You're being shown a picture of grace, and you may or may not miss the opportunity to be grateful for that new awareness, but you're struck again at how you can never seem to anticipate the surprise of it. Maybe it came even though you worried about taking the red pill, wondering if you'd be sorry. But the surprise itself almost made it worth it. The mellow sting of the wine hit your tongue where you expected only grape juice. That was grace. The blood was not cheap. It wasn't artificially flavored. And it wasn't diluted with too much tepid water as you've learned to expect.

Do you know that feeling?

Muslims understand this idea of using the body's desire for food to surprise and shock it into deeper awareness. You eat better during Ramadan, the holy fast. No one eats until sunset. And then at supper, when your stomach and your senses are already heightened from the longing, and you place that spicy soup into your mouth, and savor it anew, you realize this is about more than being fed. You wonder if anything has ever tasted so good. And how could you ever go back to Saltines and grape juice?

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” —Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

There's a reason we're hearing more about the "slow food" movement, local restaurants using local ingredients, farmers markets, suburban farming, and authors like Michael Pollan rising to prominence. Our world is starving for this deeper life. And I believe many of us suspect, if not fully realize, that food is a major vehicle to transcendent awareness and deep grace.

It's in this way, I think good writers are like food, a vehicle to awaken deeper awareness of the world and bring people to life again. That is creative writing. That is why we strive to use every tool available, to shock people's senses and take their awareness deeper. The metaphors are literally everywhere if we can only learn to see them.

Imagine being able to taste what your whole life was leading up to you tasting. With the cracking of a fresh loaf of crusty bread, one moment of elusive perfection for which taste buds were created, you may realize that for as much life as you can know, you are here, only for now, to know it.

That is grace.

May we learn the shocking grace that's given to us all, even if only through a movie, a metaphor, or a writer's poor, stolen approximations.

A Defense of Christian Creative Writing

For the greater purposes of our community here, I offer this short bit adapted from “A Defence of Poesy” by Sir Philip Sidney, 1595. I’m hoping to offer more as time allows, and if you find it helpful (you can find the original text here, and an excellent introduction to Sir Sidney’s defense in Don Williams’ essay, "Christian Poetics, Past and Present" in The Christian Imagination). May it encourage you to remember just how foundational your work is to the purposes of the Maker:

 

“In ancient Greek, the word for a creative writer, or “poet,” shared its root with the verb “to make.” When we consider the Maker who used the originating Word to speak all things into existence, it is easy to understand from where this idea of a creative writer’s high call originated….

 

“This is why it is not going too far to say that the highest point of man’s capacity is seen in the creative act of writing and joins there with the highest value of nature, to bring honor and glory to God. We must not fail to give the Maker the highest honor for the gift of the creative writer, or “maker,” who following the example set forth, makes man in his own likeness and whose work sets its importance above all other workers observing in the fields of science and philosophy, and man above all nature through which he receives the heavenly transmission of the creative impulse… With the force of a divine breath God brought all things forth and erected our own minds to understand what perfection is. [And this is what creative writers do.] This is why the Greeks gave creative writers the name above all names of learning.

“Creative writing, therefore, is the art of imitation of the original creation. Aristotle termed it mimesis which is a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring to speak metaphorically. A “speaking picture” with its aim to teach and delight (from which we derive the principal aim of education: to enlighten the mind while entertaining it). Of this art, there have been three general kinds, the chief of them being that which imitates the inconceivable excellence of God, as David in his Psalms, or Solomon in his Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs, Moses and Debora in their hymns, and the writer of Job, all of which make up the poetic part of Scripture. Against these origins, none can speak who hold the Bible in due reverence.”

P.S. And after you're done soaking up all those good vibes, go see Ratatouille. Jeffrey Overstreet says it's scrumptuous Summer fare.