Friday, April 25, 2014

The Writer As Recluse

Anne Lamott says that, “Being a writer guarantees that you will spend too much time alone, and that as a result, your mind will begin to warp.”  I suspect that the writer is wired to be alone.  For instance Annie Dillard took up residence on an island and wrote, “Holy The Firm”.  For two weeks Philip Yancey “holed up in a Colorado cabin” to ponder the questions raised in “Disappointment With God.”  Do we get alone to fuel our writing or does being a writer make us comfortable being alone?

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Hemingway wrote, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”  This is the struggle we as writers face.  Most obvious is the fact that we sit at the computer alone.  Sure my wife sits in the same room reading but I lose sight of everything but the flow of ideas in my head and the letters on the page.  Ideally we write uninterrupted and each idea is immediately set to ink.  The thoughts themselves spring best as they bubble up in quiet; at least that’s how it is with me. 

We aren't all a Steven Pressfield, leaving behind our families to live from our car with a typewriter so as to spend our days writing.  A healthy life is spent in community after all.  I’ve a wife and child I love and friends whose fellowship I enjoy.  Still one has to admit; though it took Pressfield seventeen years he’s cranked out twenty-one books including The Legend of Bagger Vance, Tides of War, The Virtues of War; A Novel of Alexander the Great and Gates of Fire.  There may be something to the ‘lonely life of the writer.’

For those like me that aren't as talented or as driven as a Pressfield or a Dillard there will be this ongoing struggle to live our lives out in fullness and develop depth to our art.  The battle for us will be to balance the beauties of normal life alongside the voice that ever calls us to write.  The skirmish for those that love and live with us will be to have more of us vs. loosing us to write.  For we write best alone but we live best in community.  I trust that somehow in that tension God will allow me to create my best pieces and share them with the world.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Honest and Transparent

“Be honest and transparent.”  That quote changed my trajectory.  I have it scrawled in a notebook; notes from my earliest days in church.  It’s from a talk by Wally Norling, a wise man that led the Western division of the Evangelical Free church for a season.  This is such simple advice but so antithetical to natural impulses.  Simple steps but so crucial to effective ministry and a healthy life.

A transformative message coupled with a life that’s lived out the message speaks loudly.  You will note this in your own life---your heroes in print or media have a strong message because they've lived it.  That’s one way transparency looks from the outside.

From the inside transparency is a decision to be vulnerable.  Being transparent is a decision to share the deep things.  We share struggles and victories in hopes that others will be motivated and comforted through them.  Our hope is to comfort others “with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” This doesn't mean we vomit out our troubles all over you.  It’s not license to focus on self it’s a mindset to minister to others.

In this blog I share questions I have about how God works or give glimpses into my own insecurity and brokenness.  I do it in hopes that some reader will say, “Wow, he’s a knucklehead just like me,” and realize that they don’t walk the path alone.  I’ve heard leaders say they want to keep safe boundaries because they've been hurt before.  Certainly there’s place for wisdom but there’s no place for self-protection---not for the one who desires to come alongside others with encouragement.

One way to impact the lives of others is to walk alongside them.  “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.”  Being transparent is a frightening thing; we open ourselves up not knowing if we will be broken by others or our spirit crushed beyond repair.  Instead we rely on the promise, we will not break nor will we be quenched.  Along the way we will stir up and ignite others that they too may model that same transparent, vulnerable walking alongside.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Free Will a Stacked Deck and the Hand of God

For light dinner conversation my daughter asked, “Dad do we have free will?”  Her English class is reading through Benjamin Franklin, “A Dissertation On Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.”  According to Wikipedia it ‘argues that an omnipotent, benevolent God is incompatible with notions of human free will and morality.’  A thought provoking discussion followed which is still percolating through my brain.  Certainly we have free will in some spheres of life but God is able to move his hand to cause us to move a certain direction.

The obvious biblical example is that of Jonah.  He runs from God, gets cast out of a boat and eaten by a non-baleen mammal then thrown up onto the beach at Nineveh.  Certainly he was still able to exercise free will at that juncture but he was compelled by events which God ordained.  There too is the story of Samson wherein God uses Samson’s desire for Delilah to get him to the barbershop thus guaranteeing the slaughter of his enemies.  In the same way that Samson was “pressed daily with her words and…his soul was annoyed to death,” so God moved me to the high desert.

The ex-wife put a down payment on a property in the high desert without my knowledge. She nagged and “pressed daily with her words” to move to the desert.  In the end I relented in hopes that life and the marriage would change if we moved.  Though I had free will in the situation I felt that the cards were stacked one direction only.  The same God that knit me together stacked the cards.

So it is that though we have free will we deal with the same God that brought Israel out of Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; with great terror and with signs and wonders…”  One can see how Franklin arrived at his dissertation.  Though God certainly moves His hand to force our hand he does so that He may freely get our praise; as a result of thanksgiving to a benevolent God not coercion by a dictator.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

A Call To Make The Days Count

In most cases death comes slowly so there is time to prepare; weakness, sickness, diagnosis, downhill slide and death.  In most cases there is time to prepare; but not in all. 

Keith and Anne rent a house from me.  Anne has been feeling sick as of late but wasn’t sure if it was diet, a cold or just a phase she was passing through.  She even saw a doctor without diagnosis some weeks ago.  This past weekend she was in bed and asked Keith to bring her Tablet to her so that she had something to do.  He climbed the stairs to her room bringing her the computer.  Within minutes her eyes rolled back into her head and she was gone. 

I remembered Tricia Lott Williford and the story she’s lived;

“I can't... I can't... I can't.... slow down. I can't slow down.... my... breathing.... I can't..."  
"Oh, God. Oh, God. I'll call 9-1-1. I'm calling 9-1-1, baby. It's okay. It's okay."
I speed dialed my mom: "Mom. I'm calling 9-1-1. Come for the boys. Hurry."
I dialed 9-1-1.  
"9-1-1. What is your emergency?" 
I scrambled through my dresser drawers, throwing on clothes as I spoke. "My husband. My husband. He has Influenza A, and he cannot breathe. Please send help. Please send help. Please help me."
 "Of course, Ma'am. What is your address?" 
As I told her, I saw him fall off the bed into a heap on the floor. I screamed to him. I screamed to her. I screamed. "Please! Please help me! He's not conscious! Please help me now!!"
Once in a while, a rare great while, comes the sickness and the diagnosis—and the praise, “The chemo is doing what it’s supposed to do, praise God.”  These are the words of my friend Forrest whose battle with cancer is proceeding positively. 

We live our lives trusting the actuaries and banking on a good gene pool that’ll give us 77 or 82 years.  My wife made me promise I’d give her thirty years of marriage before I hit the actuarial timetable.  One doesn’t want to be a downer but it’s good to think on these things.  Solomon said, “It’s good to enter a house of mourning for that is the end of every man and it causes the living to take notice.”  News of Keith and Anne feels like that kind of call.  A call to make the days count and to ‘live life loud.’  For it’s not so much about preparing for death as it is about living for life.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Manhattan Journey

Pizza is not known to cause flashbacks.  Last night’s pizza was delicious and fresh and I flashed back to a pizza I ate in Manhattan on a trip I took during college in the eighties. 

I made the trip alone and on a shoe-string budget.  I flew into New Jersey and took a tram into the city along with suitcase, overnight bag and camera.  As usual I’d over packed and could have fit everything into a duffle bag.  In an age before suitcases had wheels I schlepped everything to my residence for the week.  Reeking of sweat and paranoia I checked into my digs at the downtown YMCA.

The Vanderbilt YMCA website states that it is within walking distance of all major tourist locations including the United Nations, Grand Central Station and Fifth Avenue, the Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral and the NY Public Library.  This was home for a week.  It’s not a place I’d choose to stay now though you still can’t beat the price for a downtown stay.

Every morning I’d eat breakfast at the “Y”, grab my camera and walk.  The city is a blur of walkers; businesswoman in their light summer slacks or dresses; exceedingly professional looking---except for the shoes.  Sharp, stylish and sexy in expensive outfits all fitted with tennis shoes, flourished with color and carrying their work shoes in pack, purse or bag.  Contrast this to the businessmen whom---okay, I didn’t really notice the businessmen.  I was a twenty-year old male college student.  Contrast this to the Hasidim that populated the Diamond-district, their long black coats and dark curls falling out from their hats and coverings. 

Who can forget the smells of a big city?  My senses have never forgotten the sweet smell of food stands, moisture, diesel and rubbish mingling together.  There is a smell to a city that is universally the same; Mexico City, Guatemala, Manhattan and Los Angeles; the hubbub has a tang. 

I walked all day everyday.  Somewhere in the late morning I’d realize I was thirsty and hungry.  The delightful thing about wandering Manhattan is that there aren’t the normal fast food places.  There are food shops of every kind; but for a shy-young teenager it was daunting.  A boy can only go hungry so long when he is walking the entire city of Manhattan.  So it was that I came to the pizzeria; pizza by the slice.  I was famished and wasn't sure about all the choices.  The vendor and I settled on an onion and bell-pepper topping. 

For every traveler there is that one meal.  Mood, weather, company and chemistry combine to create an experience remembered forever.  I've never had a bell-pepper/onion pizza that tasted so good.  The pizza last night though was sweet and fresh and hit the spot and I remembered Manhattan.