Why Write?

(Christian Courier, August 27th, 2012 issue)

This happens to me all the time. I decide on a topic. I mull it over. I scan my quotation file for that half-remembered gem teasing the edge of my consciousness. Then I get on my blogroll and read a post by someone who’s written on the same theme and arrived at the same conclusion. To top it off, the piece is so well-vinted, sparkling with poetic juice, that it seems rather pointless for me to even attempt my version. If you type Christian blogs into Google’s search engine, you’ll get 566,000,000 hits. Ann Voskamp, of One Thousand Gifts fame, has been blogging since 2003. James Schaap’s blog, Stuff in the Basement, has been the home of his wit and wisdom since 2007. That’s a lot of words! And those are only two of the bloggers I read regularly. Some days I wonder if there are more writers than readers!

 
So why would I bother, when I can go from lightbulb over my head to crestfallen chops hanging over my keyboard in the time it takes to click a link? How foolish and narcissistic to believe that I can create anything original of spiritual or literary value. Whenever I get thinking that way, though, I’ve got Daniel Meeter and Amy Adair in my back pocket. Thank the Lord for them.

 
I’ve never met Daniel Meeter. Quite sure he doesn’t know me, either. In January 1988, The Reformed Journal published his article, “Bowing before the Text.” A pastor, he describes his weekly wrestling match with biblical infallibility. He writes about the discipline required to bow before the text, to choose to submit to the holiness of the Word over and over again, as he prepares sermons. He bemoans the insufficiency of inerrancy doctrines and the deficits of kingdom-historical approaches and the unending compulsions and temptations to subjectivize the text. He concludes, “No interpretation of Scripture ever does it justice. No one is ever obedient enough to the text.” Every Sunday, he says, he preaches the gospel only as an act of faith in the person of God; “another moment in my lifelong conversion of my old self to the new.”

 
That assertion, “No interpretation of Scripture ever does it justice. No one is ever obedient enough to the text,” freed me as profoundly as the angel freed jailed Peter, striking him on the side with a good-old-boy punch. By 1988, I’d been expending critical energy for more than a decade, trying to comprehend what the Bible was saying about women, or more precisely, about me. Was I created in God’s image? Or Adam’s? Was I of equal worth as a man in God’s estimation? What about in the church? I’d read tomes on what the Bible has to say about women and their role in marriage, the church and society. If only I could reconcile all the conflicting exegeses! Meeter’s insight crystallized a moment of liberation. I couldn’t! No one’s interpretation of Scripture ever does it justice! It wasn’t about my ability to be obedient to the text. It was about the text’s ability to usher forth my Lord and Saviour, the Person, the one who was obedient for me.

 
Thanks to Daniel Meeter’s words, my chains fell off.

 
Amy Adair writes for thinkchristian.net. I’ve never met her. Pretty sure she doesn’t know me. When I was considering whether to take on the position of features editor for Christian Courier, stymied in my decision-making by my own insecurities, I recalled one of Amy’s posts about taking on challenges. She and her husband had adopted a little girl from China with significant developmental disabilities. She summed up: “It hasn’t always been easy, but stepping out of my comfort zone has allowed me to experience a new joy. I’m no longer going through the motions of my faith, but I get to experience and see God in a deep and profound way. I don’t want to think about what I would have missed if I had simply said, ‘I don’t want to do this. Adoption is too hard.’” Then she asked: “Are you listening to God? Is he asking you to do something? What would happen if you simply trusted him and stepped out in faith?” Amy’s questions kept resurfacing. Risk reframed as God’s invitation to step out in faith. Done. Here I am at CC.

 
Daniel and Amy don’t know how much they impacted me. Perhaps they, too, have wondered whether writing was a waste of their time. I bet if I read all of Voskamp’s or Schaap’s blog posts, or perused even a fraction of the 566,000,000 Google hits, I’d find posts that echoed those of Daniel or Amy, that expressed similar points of view, perhaps phrased even more eloquently. But, in God’s synchronicity, it was their words that found me and were salve to my soul.

 
Nancy Van Wyk Phillips, in a 1991 Perspectives article entitled “Divine Providence: Meaning in the Details,” discusses the depth of Calvin’s conception of providence and how it harmonizes, astonishingly, with the uncertainty principle of modern physics. Just as “it is impossible to predict events accurately at the molecular level, because the very act of observing the initial situation causes changes in the outcome,” so there is a mystery in God’s watching his world, in his will and power as he sustains it and provides blessings new each morning. “We might say with Calvin,” she writes, “that God’s will animates the world and all its events, and that meaningfulness is to be found in the smallest details of our lives.” I thank the Lord for Nancy. Her words undergird my faith. And, yes, I still have that issue, too.

 
What about you? This is not just about writers. Why do anything? Because God is using the details of our lives in ways we don’t know. Trust. Cast your bread upon the waters. Are you a good cook? Pass the biscuits! Have the gift of gab? Engage everyone you know with a smile and draw them in with your warmth. Paint? Fling your pigments like Jackson Pollock or sculpt your canvas like Van Gogh. Give yourself away, like Daniel Meeter or Amy Adair, so God can help someone like Cathy Smith. Serendipity in a Calvinist mold.

Why Blog?

Ginger, a friend on a listserve, asked a legitimate question:

“Cathy

Your writing is very good, but I don’t see

the point of blogging. Is it journaling?

Everybody and his brother and sister

seems to be blogging now? Why? And

how do you find time to blog, plus read and follow Face Book?

 I must be slow. Where do you find the time?”

I’m happy that she thinks my writing is good! Answering her questions helped me clarify some of the reasons why I am blogging. I don’t see blogging and journaling as the same thing. I do keep a journal, very personal and private, where I write all kinds of things, including bits and pieces of reflection, anecdotes, dreams, and ideas. It’s also where I cry out at God sometimes. I remind my husband, Mark, once in a while to be sure to delete it if I die (seriously). 
 
I have the time because I am retired now. After a busy thirty years or so of teaching and raising a family, I am allowing myself this time to pursue my own interests. That is not as easy to do as you might think. I have been retired for three years now and many things have intruded on my time. All legitimate. Family stuff, church stuff, volunteering, choir. It goes against the grain for a woman, a wife, mom, and grandma, and especially a Christian, to determine to do something for herself. I struggle with that apparent “selfishness” all the time. What right do I have to spend so much time on my own interests when there is so much work to be done? So many needs all around me?
 

There are many things I just don’t do and not doing them helps to free up time. I rarely invite people to my house, not because I am unfriendly, but because I don’t enjoy cooking and Mark doesn’t like a lot of company. He works long hours and deserves his quiet weekends. Quiet weekends also give me writing time. When I make a meal, I always make double, so we can eat leftovers the next night. That kind of meal planning might be boring to foodies. Thankfully, Mark is OK with leftovers, and so I gain some more writing time. Fortunately for me, he is not a high-maintenance kind of husband. He likes to do his own thing … golf, golf, and then maybe a bit more golf.  His independence offers me independence, too.

Equally fortunate for me, he values that independence. Not all husbands do. He bought me a laptop so that I could have my own computer access all the time. He also bought me a computer chair because I was sitting on a stool that was not good for my back. He is supportive, but rarely reads what I write. I used to babysit my grandkids almost every day, but they have moved an hour away. That, too, has resulted in a sense that the time is right for blogging.

 
The “Why blog?” is harder to answer. Some people use their blogs as journal. I am hoping to achieve a presentation that is a tad more polished and professional than a journal, something more like a home-grown editorial column. I see it as a kind of  “practice ritual” like playing scales and drills on the piano. I want to hone my skills, so I need to use them, and I need an audience and feedback. A blog offers a place where I can work towards creating a local readership.
 
One of the hardest things to do is to believe in your own gifts. Even Ginger’s comment here, though prefaced with a compliment, makes me second-guess myself as a writer. Sure, I write well. As an English teacher, I should be able to do that. Do I write well enough to grab and keep your attention? Do I have sufficient insight and wisdom or enough humour and surprise to make you come back for more? I don’t know. I won’t know until I try.
 
Every time I read Frederick Buechner or Marilynne Robinson or Annie Dillard, I am confronted with how ludicrous it is that I would have the temerity to call myself a “writer”. Titans live at my house! I am more comfortable with calling myself a blogger than a writer. But even Buechner, my writing hero, encourages his readers to make the attempt:”…it seems to me that no matter how eloquent or otherwise, if you tell your own story with sufficient candor and concreteness, it will be an interesting story and in some sense a universal story. I do it also in the hope of encouraging others to do the same – at least to look back over their own lives, as I have looked back over mine, for certain themes and patterns and signals that are so easy to miss when you’re caught up in the process of living them.” (Now and Then)  If I try to be objective and take my insecure self out of the equation, it seems clear that we need preachers, even if they aren’t all Billy Grahams or Tim Kellers, we need teachers, even if they don’t all win “National Teacher of the Year” awards, we need choir members, even if they aren’t all opera divas. So, maybe we need writers, even if they don’t all merit Pulitzers. 

Many friends and family have been encouraging. Four people stand out for me. One is the late Harry DerNederlanden, former editor of the Christian Courier, who published a couple of my stories and articles and praised my efforts. Another is Hugh Cook, whose work I love, and who has been a role-model and occasional sounding board. Hugh was a judge of a writing contest in Ontario and awarded one of my stories a first-place. He didn’t know it was my story. That meant a lot.
 
The third person is someone whose name I don’t remember. I met her briefly at the Faith & Writing Conference two years ago. She was seated beside me and after the workshop, we chatted for a few moments. She was a young woman with long auburn hair and a British accent. She introduced herself as the partner of Yann Martel, who wrote Life of Pi, and who was the keynote speaker for the whole conference. She had published a novel as well, not one I had ever heard about. Somehow in the conversation, I confessed to that old bugaboo, my insecurity, the constant awareness of how painfully amateurish my efforts are in light of some of the outstanding work I read daily. She was sympathetic, but direct: “No one else can tell your stories. Only you.” That was familiar advice I’d heard before; but now I was hearing it from a woman who was living my very hang-up. Yann Martel’s book had brought him meteoric Canadian stardom and international recognition, but it wasn’t holding her back from pursuing her own writing career. She had different things to say, different interests, and she was tending to them. I think her book title was Life on the Refrigerator Door. I want to track it down and read it sometime. This chance encounter felt freighted, and has certainly stayed with me. God poking me?
 
The last person who has really influenced me is a local artist, formerly a Christian school teacher. Her name is Mary Abma. She is a hugely accomplished person who has shown perseverance in pursuing her artistic career. Her dedication to her art has come at a cost, not the least of which was her teaching. I’ve chatted with her on many occasions. I know that she has been much more intentional than I about improving her craft and also much more confident about calling herself an artist. She is ruthless about excising extraneous demands from her life as she focuses on her work.That comes from believing not only in her talent and her vision, but also from her conviction that it is her Christian duty to produce art. So, part of the “Why blog?” answer is to assert in a concrete way, even if only to myself, that writing can be a God-blessed endeavour, a way to serve.
 
But the bottom line is that I enjoy writing. It’s fun. I blush to think that it might merely be a pre-occupation with myself and what I think and a kind of self-indulgent narcissism, but there it is. I can’t stop thinking about stuff until I write it down and get it out of my system.

The very day after I fought through another bout of self-doubt and defeatism, another friend, Judy, wrote this encouraging note to me about my first blog entry: 

“What a good use of your writing ability to witness to the sacred that peeks through nature and art to those with eyes to see.  Thank you for sharing the opening entry in your blog with us.  Your observations reminded me of some lines of William Shakespeare:

Sweet are the uses of adversity,

Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,

Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;

And this our life exempt from public haunt

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

Sermons in stones and good in everything.

                                 “As You Like It,” Act II, Scene I

No greater motivation than that… to remind a reader of Shakespeare!  OK, I know that’s not quite what she said….   🙂