Why Write?

Why do you write? Many of you who read this blog probably also write your own. When someone asks you why, what do you say? If you don’t have an answer, you’d probably be better off wasting your time doing something else.

I blog for a couple of different reasons. One is to become a better writer. Like in many other areas, the only way to improve your writing skills is to write. Ann Lamott says most people are in love with the idea of writing, but not the actual act of writing.

Another reason I blog is to help myself sort through things. Anytime we articulate our arguments and thoughts, their weak spots will be exposed to us. We are less apt to make blanket statements that contain half-truths if we know they will be “in print” where others can read them next week and a year from now. So I write in part to clarify things in my mind, and to give others points to think about and debate. (Of course, nothing substitutes for good face-to-face discussion over a cup of strong black coffee at Rembrant’s or a pint of Guinness at McCreary’s.)

I’m currently reading through Stephen King’s “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft”, and this paragraph made me stop and think:

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair – the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t, or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.
Wash the car, maybe.

How to interpret the Bible like an Evangelical

NOTE: Before you read this post, I have to warn you that I am a big fan of satire. If you are offended by satirical humor, you will inevitably become upset when reading certain posts. I will not always feel compelled to label posts that contain satire, so keep that in mind. And now, let the fun begin:

Joel Kilpatrick, creator of LarkNews.com, recently wrote a new book, A Field Guide to Evangelicals & Their Habitat.
I bought it soon after it came out a couple weeks ago, and finished it by that evening, all 170 pages. The reason it is so funny is because so much of it is true.

I have written before on why I think the political positions many conservative evangelicals take is contra-Biblical, so I especially enjoyed this section on Biblical interpretation. The key to trying to defend a political position you endorse by using scripture is really very simple; you just have to know how to read it the right way. For example:

Here is how evangelicals interpret Bible passages to arrive at their political positions:

This passage: “Remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10)
really means: Remember how lazy the poor are and thank God you’re not on welfare like them.

This passage: “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jesus in John 18:36)
really means: But for now, make sure you keep control of the White House and Congress.

This passage: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Jesus in Matthew 22:21)
really means: Only pay taxes on money you can’t hide from the IRS.

This passage: “Thou shalt not kill” (God in Exodus 20:13)
really means: Kill only those who deserve it—like death row inmates, abortion doctors, sworn enemies of the United States, and the French, when possible.

This passage: “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him” (God in Exodus 22:21)
really means: Vote against government benefits for illegals.

This passage: “The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and care for it” (Genesis 2:15)
really means: Don’t worry about the environment because when Jesus comes back he’ll destroy the earth anyway.

Thanks to Shaun for bringing this book to my attention.

Blue Like Jazz

I just got back from a concert featuring the Nashville Jazz Orchestra and the Blair Big Band. The NJO played their first annual “Writers Night”, featuring arrangements and compositions written by Nashville writers. I was reminded again why I love big band music.

As I was listening to the concert, I was reminded of the forward to Donald Miller’s second book, Blue Like Jazz – Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality:

I never liked Jazz music because Jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.
After that I liked jazz music.
Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before any of this happened.

I first saw a copy of this book in late 2003, a couple months after it had been published. I was at a friend’s birthday party and saw someone take this book out of their briefcase while they tried to locate something. When I saw the title, I picked it up, read the forward, and then proceeded to read as much as I could before the party was over.

I now have all of Don’s books (Prayer and the Art of Volkswagon Maintenance, Blue Like Jazz, Searching for God Knows What, Through Painted Deserts (new edition of his first book), and To Own a Dragon), and like his writing more with each book.

His newest book, To Own a Dragon: Reflections On Growing Up Without A Father, is based partly upon the premise that good fathers are sighted about as frequently as fire breathing dragons, a fact to which I can attest.
The book reads a little like a series of essays, covering a wide variety of topics. If you haven’t had the chance to pick it up yet, I recommend doing so. It is a fairly quick read, one I’m sure I’ll be going back to periodically.

Orchestral Arrangements

For those who live in the Chattanooga area:

This coming Monday, April 24th, the L’Abri Symphony Orchestra, a local community orchestra, will be performing a concert of Academy Award-winning songs.

I arranged a couple of songs for this concert, including one for solo violin and orchestra, and will conduct one song. The concert starts at 7:00 PM, with doors opening at 6:20. Tickets are $5 at the door.

The concert will take place at The Colonnade Auditorium, 264 Catoosa Circle, Ringgold, GA 30736 – (706) 935-9000.

Plastic People

Shaun Groves made a comment recently on his blog mentioning that one of the reasons he has a blog is to ”promote not just ideas but my stuff in all forms: shows, music, books, action figures and bed sheets.”

So my question is: Shaun, will the Shaun Groves Action Figure sing “Praise and Worship” music? I’ve always wanted to listen to plastic people singing generic praise and worship songs.

Oh, wait a minute (looks over at radio)…

Somewhere Between

Saturday, a day of darkness, of fear, a day of wondering who Christ really is, if anything he said was true. We live here, caught somewhere between Good Friday and Easter morning. As Anne Lamott says in Traveling Mercies, Plan B, we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.

We know now, unlike the first disciples, that Christ did rise on Easter morning. He has made all things new. But what does that mean to us? How does it affect our lives today?

In Luke 20:27-38, Christ was asked by a group of religious leaders, the Sadducees, how the resurrection worked. They were hoping it wasn’t really true, that it couldn’t happen in the midst of all the complexities of daily life. Christ answers that the resurrection is not something vague that might have an impact sometime in the future, but that it is real, is here, now.

Walter Brueggemann, Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, writes the following in his book “The Threat of Life – Sermons on Pain, Power, and Weakness” :

Resurrection is dangerous business. It is not just about the dead person being resuscitated. It is about God’s power for life that moves into all our arrangements, shatters all our categories by which we manage, control, and administer. It speaks about God’s will for new life working where we thought our tired deathliness would prevail. And the Sadducees plead: Please tell us that such dangerous life will not come among us.

Jesus’ answer is more massive, more radical, more dangerous than they had imagined. Of all things, he refers to the burning bush of Exodus 3 to say, You can see already there that Moses believes in the resurrection because God there refers back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus is saying, I can play your silly Bible games and I can out-Bible you, and I am on the side of Moses. Now that is a doubtful argument, but it is adequate to get the conversation started. But then Jesus moves on past such empty Bible quoting (because all of us can quote the Bible any way we want). Jesus refuses to engage in their tricky reasoning and will not participate in a numbers game about one wife and seven husbands. What he tells them is that the power of the resurrection is so massive, so overwhelming, so utterly new, so beyond our categories, that we are not going to discuss this numbers game; it is all irrelevant. In that new age, when the rule of God breaks through, all the categories through which we try to explain and control life and keep it in tow for our purposes are simply pushed aside. Because all our posturing to keep it under control breathes the air of death and finally kills and cheapens and mocks the power of life.

Then he shifts the subject. If you want to talk about Moses and Torah and marriages and one and seven and husbands, and all of that, you can, but I will not linger there. He quickly dismisses all this and he speaks about God whom he knows so well and whom we confess he embodies. Of course there is a resurrection. Of course there is a coming new age. Of course the power for life will prevail. Of course the world will not fit into our little categories. And this is true, not because of magic or tradition or Torah. It is true because of the character and purpose and faithfulness of God who will make all things new. He then delivers the central message:

Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living;
For all live to him.

He is the power of life in the midst of a world bent on death.
In that moment all the cunning questions of the Sadducees are nullified. And the story ends with the scribes saying, “Teacher, you have spoken well. For they no longer dared to ask him a question.” We are there at the center of things and the Sadducees could sense it. We are at the main truth of God. God wills life. God has power for life. God will work life among us. All our political, moral, theological tinkering around the edges does not touch the main truth of God that God gives new life which shatters all our ways of control. We are here at the main truth of our own life. The God of life wills life for us. You see, Jesus refuses to let the resurrection be carried off into future speculation. It concerns us here and now. It concerns our readiness to receive new life. We become aware, as did the contemporaries of Jesus, that with Jesus we are placed in crisis with all the old patterns of death we so much cherish but which day by day are killing us.

Take another sniff of Jesus. What smelled like threat, if we pay attention, smells like new possibility. What we sense to be a deep shattering can also be a beginning again. The power of God for life, the power of the resurrection is the breaking of the vicious cycles of death. It is so in our world, where we live under the threat of nuclear death; the power of the resurrection among us is at work against that insanity. All around us the power of the resurrection is breaking out against oppression, and the old weary categories of bondage, intolerance, and brutality are now called into serious question. The news is that God’s power for life will not be overridden or resisted or defeated. Close to home, the cold despair of our deathliness will be overcome. God will have God’s say.