i used to hate getting dirty.
You too? I mean, all kids love playing in mud and will put all sorts of disgusting in their mouths. I had that too. But a larger part of me hated messes.
I always thought cleaning up was the best part of play time. In kindergarten, while the other kids squished finger paints and mashed their hands (and faces and each other) in multicolored smears (can you believe the patience of elementary school teachers?), my version of finger painting employed two index fingers held as far from me as possible on the paper. The length of time required for this “art instruction” was always too long and I’d watch the clock to know when the barbarism would end and we could go wash it off.
Then, in second grade, a mild phobia kicked in when Billy Huffman poured 3 snails down the back of my shirt and chased me around, slapping them into slimy stains.
Since then, it’s been fairly easy to identify with those driven by a distaste for getting messy.
Unfortunately, the scariest messes are inside and invisible.
“Ever since there have been such things as novels, the world has been flooded with bad fiction for which the religious impulse has been responsible. The sorry religious novel comes about when the writer supposes that because of his belief, he is somehow dispensed from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality. He will think that the eyes of the Church or of the Bible or of his particular theology have already done the seeing for him, and that his business is to rearrange this essential vision into satisfying patterns, getting himself as little dirty as possible,” Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners
Bret Lott says that was him before he wrote A Song I Knew By Heart. Raised in a Christian home, I can trace the disposition for such propaganda to my early writings. Such earnest little fantasy worlds I created.
“The fact is that the materials of the fiction writer are the humblest. Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.” (Mystery and Manners)
I could never truly appreciate backpacking for all the dirt my body tends to acquire. I spent many years fretting about this, trying to convince others they needed to change and be cleaner and civilized and more conscientious with their finger painting. I wanted to believe we could all write with integrity and depth and see the world as it really was like Jesus did–with true compassion and piercing insight–but just in a safe, clean, civilized kind of way. In a bookish kind of way. In a churchy kind of way. Maybe also in a big corporate ministry office kind of way.
Surely that was good enough for God, wasn’t it?
The trouble came when I tried imagining Jesus turning his nose up in disgust at the people he gave up everything to hear and see.
The world is messy. And for a writer to tell the truth about it he has to gain a deeper appreciation of the mess inside him that says, others are messier, my mess is fine.
To really love the reader as yourself, you have to see how God loved you enough to accept as dirty as you could get. Even while you were still a mess, he held your face, looked into your eyes and took the cross.
He sees the world more clearly than anyone ever will. What does he see in you?
Only he can provide what we need to be cleaned up. And if he doesn’t hesitate to get dirty with people to do it, should we?
The clubs we belong to cloud our vision, make us think our smudged windows are clean, or cleaner than others’. Jesus is the one who breaks up up our corrupt ideas, systems and prejudices. He breaks our laws. It may offend us, but he has the right because he knows the light. He has the clear insight.
Grace is dirty and that will always be scandalous.
The “how” of writing is the skill of economy: to learn what is essential. Excellent writing is nothing more than rendering the best representation of reality from the clearest perception of it. And that clarity is only through adopting Jesus’ eyes, being brave, and getting dirty.
A certain Samaritan, despised and lowly, went down from Jerusalem away from his safe haven… He wasn’t necessarily looking to get dirty or break the rules. But he wasn’t trying to stay clean and safe. He opened his eyes to reality and took it, took it all in, and he was filled with compassion because he saw himself in a stranger’s eyes.
And he did not look away.