I was going to write this post before I read this article, but reading the article moved the thoughts into words.
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I’ve combed back through my own writings and I realize that I have never addressed the issue, accept for a blurb included on my current About Me page:
I write because I cannot stop. If I shut the words up in my body, my brain will atrophy.
I write in this space as an act of faith and as a sacrament. Acting in faith that I have something worth saying to others.
Fair enough. The first reason is the reason of necessity. I write because I must. The second reason is the reason of meaningfulness. I write in order to have value.
And those reasons are good as far as they go. They are true reasons, certainly. Perhaps we can compare them to the act of cooking.
Perhaps I cook out of necessity. I must eat. And raw food will poison me. Such a meal, borne out of necessity, will be riotously inelegant and shaped entirely by efficiency. Thus, I would cook whatever came to hand in whatever way allowed food to enter my body.
Perhaps I cook out of meaningfulness. I must eat, certainly, but I am not on the brink of starvation. I cook as an expression of identity, considering my meal to differentiate me from others. Thus, I would avoid cooking junk food and would spend considerable energy making something satisfying, healthy, and maybe even photogenic. I am, after all, not a barbarian.
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My friend Morgan recently took a creative writing course at ACU. The professor, a marvelous instructor, asked the class to consider why it was they wrote. Most gave one of the two answers I have provided. The professor encouraged them to consider a third:
To write as an act of love.
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In his book, A Theology of Reading: The Hermeneutics of Love, Alan Jacobs challenges readers to receive texts as gifts from others. To treat the self-disclosure of the author with complete respect. To value the text as one would treasure a gift from a close friend.
I think that is good. Perhaps, as its corollary, I should write as if my words will be a gift to another.
Let us continue the metaphor.
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Perhaps I invite some guests over to my home. Perhaps, even, I am hosting a meal in celebration of another (as a best man, I hosted a meal for my friend Drew for his Bachelor Party).
Why might I cook? I would cook as an expression of hospitality. I would cook so as to feed my guests, nourish their bodies, comfort them, and build warm friendship around the table. The meal would be focused on meeting the potential desires of my guests, thus I may very well cook foods that I myself do not enjoy. And I would cook them well. I would set the table with familiar elegance, making sure the space in which my guests ate was clean.
I would graciously accept the requests from my guests for additional utensils, condiments, or drinks. I would serve them and, only after, partake myself. I would genuinely accept any praise for the meal, but I would not seek it out. And, after the meal was over, and after we had enjoyed each other’s company with after-dinner drinks and cigars, I would send my guests home and I would clean up the mess. If any guest had traveled far, I would offer my couch and a blanket.
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The first two reasons for writing are selfish (even as they are important) and, being selfish (I will add that being selfish is not bad; it is only bad when it comes at the expense of others) in their intent, necessarily result in much writing that is rough, offensive, or harmful to others. Such writing, at least for me, is not intended to harm others, but that doesn’t change its effect: it is in negligence that much harm is caused.
The third reason takes into account the existence of other people and treats seriously the command to love my neighbor as myself.
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I suppose that it is here that I want to make a couple of caveats.
First, I really only think about writing as an act of love when that writing is going to be shared or published. Sometimes it is entirely necessary to write a polemic that no one but I will ever see. In this way, I will have written out of necessity but not harmfully.
Second, writing as an act of love—treating my writing as a gift to another—does not always mean that the writing is nice. Sometimes destructive or harmful ideas need to be publicly excoriated, but I think that is a far rarer occurrence than is often thought. And, indeed, I ought only to write in context—keeping my nose out stuff that I don’t have the right, authority, or knowledge to write about.
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But what, you ask, does this have to do with the article I shared at the beginning?
In that article, Preston explained that he is not a scholar of theology/languages and does not want to act like one when he writes. That’s not who he is. While he is an academic (studying the intersection of theology and the arts) he is not an expert in the sources of authority to which folks often appeal when debating theology or the bible. He has ideas—as do we all—but no special knowledge, and his place is to translate what he is learning into the common language. And to trust that if God got him, God can get others.
I want to shout this article from the rooftops. I completely and entirely agree, and I very much identify with it.
I have certainly put on airs, pretending like I have knowledge/authority that I do not, in fact, have. Yes, I am an academic (I’m halfway through my M.A. and hope to do a PhD), but I am not an expert in biblical history, languages, or theology.
I am a student of the effects that texts have on people, and I know a thing or two about writing and about constructing arguments. My academic pursuits are focused on the intersection of theology and politics with a look at the way systems act on agents, and with a special attention to discourse.
And, yes, I had a pretty rigorous undergraduate education in biblical (especially New Testament) studies, but I know enough to know that I don’t know much.
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So what I have to give, on this blog, are my own (often poetic) reflections on the stuff I am thinking about, the stuff that I draw meaning from. If you, like me, are interested in history, theology, the bible, language, rhetoric, politics, poetry, fiction, and liturgy, then maybe you will find my blog to be valuable to you.
And, I promise, that I will do my best to only create charitable, kind, and loving gifts of words here for the blog. But if you’re not interested, you’re not interested. And that’s fine with me. There are no expectations that you would stick around.
And, like Amanda, I do not write with the intention of presenting a holistic record of my life and thoughts.
In its most fundamental sense, my blog is a digital record of a small collection of small snippets of my disorganized thoughts about a dozen topics.
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As always, thanks so much for reading. I hope that you are inspired, encouraged, and challenged by what appears here and in the future. May you be blessed on your own adventure through life, and may you always find people willing to listen and give you a chance.
Always remember: All is Grace.