I recently ran into this post, written by my friend, Kristen Lunceford, on the occasion of her darling daughter’s 3rd birthday. It is beautiful and elegant and powerful. It’s also from three years ago, which is longer than I’ve been following Kristen, so had she not retrieved it from the archives and re-posted, I would have missed it forever.
When people ask me for advice on writing, first I look around frantically for someone I perceive to be a Real Writer, and then I realize they’re talking to me and so I give them this answer: Start by blogging. A blog is your own little writing universe where you can practice building your skills and honing your craft and you can try stuff out on your “crowd” which will probably be your mom and your best friend to begin with, but it will grow from there. Especially if you’re good. Especially if you write consistently, aka: several times each week.
And this is exactly what so many would-be writers are doing – becoming actual writers with the push of the publish button on WordPress and I think it’s fantastic. We’ve never had access to so many brilliantly-crafted words. An author can write a novel over the weekend and I can buy it for a buck (if I can find it) in the Amazon marketplace by Tuesday. Johann Gutenberg himself couldn’t have seen this coming, when his printing press would seem like a slow stream of molasses in the publishing world. And if you’ve hung around America for any length of time, you know that Fast = Good.
Except when it doesn’t.
Sometimes, fast just equals fast. And sometimes fast = filler. And sometimes fast = dumb. The pressure on writers today to build an online presence is acute and there is no building that essential, elusive “platform” without a lot, lot, lot of words. I see it on my blog all the time – the stats tell the story. When I write every day, readership skyrockets. When I don’t, people just naturally move on to newer, fresher stuff as it rolls through their Facebook and Twitter feeds like sushi on a conveyor belt.
I get exactly why this happens, and I still believe blogging is a great way to build writing skill, but I wonder what we’re doing with all these words. I, frankly, don’t even have to wonder about the worthiness of all MY words. I can clearly point to blog posts written out of desperation to stay relevant. I see words rushed out to the world that had not yet spent any amount of time in the furnace of refininig. They weren’t necessarily wrong words, but neither are they weighty. Conversely, I know the posts that simmered in my spirit for bit before being wrestled onto the page, where they remain cemented by unshakable conviction and timeless truth. I’m proud of these, but I know their beauty languishes in the dusty archives of yesterday’s news, surrounded as they are by the packing peanuts of posts created mostly just to hold my place on a tiny, tipsy platform. Admittedly, I feel far less pressure now that I have publishers who believe in my work and are willing to turn these words into ink-on-a-page, but I’m still a part of the system that often rewards Right Now over Timeless Beauty.
Do you want to be an author? Write well. Write weighty. Go back and read your early work and, even if it isn’t crafted well, remind yourself of the concentrated passion that caused you to pick up a pen in the first place. And pray. Pray and wait for words that are filled with supernatural significance, refined by suffering and celebration, ready to be offered as a feast to a hungry world.
That’s all my words today. I do not take it lightly that of all the blogs in all the world, you happened to stop by mine. Thank you. I hope I never waste your time.
In gratitude for the One, True Word-Made-Flesh,
Well, shoot. The great thing about blogging my way through Seven is that it’s kept me motivated and accountable. The bad thing is that I’ve been stuck – absolutely, unquestionably stuck – in two little chapters in Isaiah. Which has been life-changing for me as a human, but as a writer, has me circling the same ground every day which I fear might seem redundant. And yet – this is the ground. The Ground. This is the ground where ethereal principle messes with Bo’s to-do list. For me, there is nothing worth more than these fourteen light bulb verses in Isaiah 58. So, here’s today:
If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight…you’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again. Isaiah 58
This passage makes me want to cry tears of happy gratitude because it’s chock-full of the thing I love most: answers. When our lives feel faded and dim, these words tell us exactly how to flip the switch. Exactly. It’s not a bit fuzzy or deep. We don’t need a masters in Hebrew to get it. It’s brilliantly clear.
Feeling in the dark? On the sidelines? Out of touch with the purposes and heart of God? Here you go:
- Treat people like people instead of like profit.
- Stop pointing fingers at other people’s problems.
- Be very generous with the hungry and hurting.
- Care deeply about those who are discouraged.
- Be available to your own family
Then, says Isaiah (translated masterfully by Eugene Peterson), the lights will turn on. Then you’ll start to see what you’ve never seen before and feel what you’ve never felt before – and these things will be good, like He is good.
I know, it seems a lot is missing from this list, doesn’t it? No tithing. No quiet time. No attendance charts. But I suspect when we start by doing the right things in the right way, the rest of the doing becomes clear as well. Because this list? Is discipleship. It describes a person who is growing the very heart of the very God inside his chest. It paints the picture of a person ignited by a supernatural spark for the purpose of warming a stone cold world.
I firmly believe that the more we begin to think and act and love like God the more we…think, love and act like God. Profound, no? The more we give, the more we discover we have to give. The more we love, the more we find worth loving. The more we do life His way, the more we understand His way.
Maybe it’s the hunger talking, but I’m feeling simple enough to believe in this list today. And the only problem I see with it – the only teeny, tiny problem – is that every single bullet point is easier to memorize than it is to, you know, do. I’d rather read the whole book of James than do James 1:27. I’d rather plunk 10% in the offering plate than open up a room in my home to someone who has nowhere to go. I’d rather speak at conference than put my computer away at the dinner table. So, this is me on Day Seven of Seven saying: mercy, I have a long way to go! A long, long way.
But I’m so thankful for these days of going without, because they have helped me see the places in my soul that were already starving and I didn’t even know it. And I am determined to weave fasting into my life in a more systemic way. I hate it and I need it. Not for divine arm-twisting, but for personal soul-shifting.
And that, my friends, is a Seven wrap.
Comments are open – what have you learned, discovered, thought, hit, yelled at during Seven and what are you going to eat when this is all over?
Flipping on the lights,
…by His hand the Lords pleasure will be accomplished. He will see it out of His anguish and be satisfied… Isaiah 53:10-11
I’m struck by two dueling words in that sentence: anguish and satisfied.
They aren’t usually bumped up that close together. Not in my life anyway. When does anguish satisfy? Only when it produces something better than the suffering. I’ve never known more satisfaction than I did when hours of painful labor turned into a beautiful new baby. While this fast has been hard and humbling, it is producing a deeper satisfaction than I’ve known in awhile. I think it’s because I know it’s rooted in His will and saturated in His presence. I know He is producing something, even if I don’t know all the details of how that something will look in the end. He is at work and His work will always satisfy.
Be encouraged today, friend – the end is in sight and His love never fails to fill the deep, thirsty places in our hearts.
Believing is seeing,
Disclaimer: I don’t want to pick a fight. I really do not. But I also really want to say what I’m about to say, so I’m begging for grace here.
Isaiah 53 is a startling, beautiful eight-centuries-early description of the life and death of Jesus. Here’s the verse that’s shaking my apple cart on this, Day 5 of Seven.
He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; He was despised and we didn’t value Him. Isaiah 53:2-3
Jesus didn’t look like we thought He would. A people on the lookout for the Messiah – watching, waiting for the One who would be their only hope, redemption and vindication against oppression, missed the signs. And the things is: they saw Him in the flesh. They watched Him work and still disqualified Him.
Apparently, it’s easy to misinterpret The Way A God Should Be. We have sketched out in our minds the way majesty manifests and we naturally work to align our picture of Jesus to that.
For years, I couldn’t imagine the notion of a Jesus who drank alcohol. It was so far outside my worldview that I almost-subconsciously recreated those sections of His story. I changed His wine to coffee and His “party” to a small group and His sinners to pre-believers with hearts of gold. I cleaned it all up in my head because I needed Him to look more like me. More accurately, I needed Him to look more like my parents (who are fantastic people) because otherwise, how could I trust Him to keep me safe? My parents kept me away from alcohol and sinners and parties.
But Jesus defies our expectations. He’s bigger than my worldview. He’s bigger than my history and He typically blows the doors off our concepts of “safe” while reinforcing in every way His concept of “good”.
Here’s where Isaiah 53 comes alive for me (and you are warmly welcomed to disagree in your heart). Last week, World Vision announced that they had changed their hiring policy to include those in legal gay marriages.
And all hell broke loose.
Christians stormed the gates of social media to argue for what they feel is truth. I’m not disagreeing with this. In fact, I don’t like this current idea that people of faith (or any people for that matter) should live without opinion or in complete harmony with the culture around us. Nothing sounds more boring or less intelligent to me, and it’s the spirited debates and anguished wrestling matches with doctrine that built the foundations upon which we stand (have you ever read about the Council of Nicea? It’s brilliant!) Arguing truth is not out of line and it doesn’t -in and of itself – impugn our ability to be salt and light in the world. However, I think it’s our perception and reflection of the character of Jesus inside these debates that hobbles us and so while I’ll defend the right of Christians to speak up, I can’t tell you how much I hated the tone of so many of the comments and articles I read from both sides of the gay marriage debate. Hated it.
Additionally, and almost unbelievably, many chose to withdraw their child sponsorships in order to send a loud, clanging-symbol of a message to World Vision. And what was that message? YOU ARE NOT REFLECTING THE JESUS WE KNOW!
I wonder: do we really know Him or are we dog-paddling through the murky waters of Isaiah 53:2 without even realizing it? Because in all that I have read about Jesus, I cannot conceive of Him choosing to take the food from a child’s table so He can stick it to the sinner who cooked the meal. Not only does He love hungry children more than that, He loves sinners more than that. I know this one personally because He has not withheld His bread from me in spite of my constant screw-ups. The point is: it’s easy to miss Him. To miss His way. To miss His character. (Of note: World Vision reversed their position one day later, but everyone on both sides of the issue is still pretty mad.)
When Jesus pardoned the adulterous woman, He said, “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Some that day probably heard, “I DO NOT CONDEMN you, go and sin no more.” Others heard, “I do not condemn you, go and SIN NO MORE.” I know I tend to tilt toward one more than the other in every situation (the grace side with my sin and the truth side with others). But Jesus is the God of both. All-the-way grace. All-the-way truth. Which I think is one reason it’s so easy to get Him wrong. Our humanity can hardly imagine such a potent combination of contradictory ingredients, so it’s much easier to emphasize one over the other. As soon as we do, however, we’ve begun to recreate Him in our own image.
Jesus didn’t come to win the culture wars. In fact, He didn’t come to win anything except US and if that truth doesn’t cause a little face-in-the-carpet humility and gratitude then it’s time for a fresh dose of reality.
Isaiah tells us Jesus came for exactly this:
My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities. (v. 11)
As far as I can conclude from this life-changing sentence, His goal in coming to us was to carry our sin. Not to judge, but to justify. Not to say: “Clean up your ways, or else,” but to remove the shame that covers over the image of God in our lives and keeps us from getting to Him. Not to endorse our sin, but to remind us we’re helpless against it without Him. We’re lost without grace and grace is lost without truth.
How does all this apply to fasting? I’m not sure, except to say that I’m certain in the marrow of my bones that it does. Because Isaiah 58 tells me the fasts He chooses are to make us more like Him and there is no winning the world or changing our city or impacting our culture until and unless we become More. Like. Him. The one and only Him. The Him who is so easy to miss and misinterpret.
This fast has me on a hunt. I find myself searching for glimpses of His character and His way in every little word of every little sentence of every little verse. The more I feel some of my own misinterpretations peel away, the more ravenous I become for the full picture of His magnificence. And also ravenous for food, but that’s another story altogether.
Thank you for searching with me.
P.S. This post is part of a series as I’m blogging my way through the hunger pangs of our church’s seven day fast. You can read them here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.
Still stuck in Isaiah 58 and the very first verse is shouting my name today in a not entirely pleasant way.
Cry out loudly, don’t hold back! Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Isaiah goes on to implore us to weep and wail because those with whom we share a neighborhood or a city or a country or a spinning globe, are far from flourishing.
If I’m honest, I have some trouble here. My emotional tank is pretty much empty – or, maybe not empty – maybe just used up on things closer to home. I’m spending a lot of energy dealing with the stuff inside the walls of the Family Stern. It’s hard to move my heart outside to other places and feel for them as well. I stay away from sad movies. I’m careful with the news I read. I know it’s cowardly, but it feels like survival. Fear and self-absorption, dressed up like wisdom.
The thing is, it hasn’t always been like this. I used to care so much about orphans, brutalized in other countries, and a generation of American teenagers being beaten up by our culture. They were wedged in my heart in a way that kept me up at night, dreaming of solutions and strategies for change. Now, I push aside the heavy thoughts, certain I can’t afford to feel sad about anything else and I only have enough to take care of my own people. Only enough bread for my own house.
Through this fast, however, God has been whispering to me something dark and stormy and dangerous and it’s this: It’s okay to feel again. In fact, He’s telling me it’s more than okay – it’s right and wonderful and, though it seems like it will break me, it will not. It will actually strengthen and expand my heart in ways that let me breathe deeply again. This singular focus I’ve had on the sorrow in my own world is like daily submitting to water torture – the constant dripping of one drop in one spot leads to miry, myopic living. Today, I can feel Him gently lifting my head to look around at our beautiful, broken world and saying, “See it. Feel it. Serve it.”
Without the willingness and supernatural ability to feel the pain of those sick with hunger and poverty and loneliness, we will never have the passion to become the healing we are called to become. Christ in us, the hope of glory. That counts for something. That ought to matter. Jesus, make it matter more to me than ever. I can’t do everything, but I can do something, and I want to hear my something today. I want to be re-called and reclaimed for this grand adventure of bringing hope to a hurting world .
Part of a prayer I love by Walter Brueggemann makes a bold ask, and I’m shouting it up to the heavens for myself and my church:
We are listeners, but we do not listen well.
So we bid you, by the time the sun goes down today
or by the time the sun comes up tomorrow,
by night or by day,
that You will speak in ways that we can hear
out beyond ourselves.
It is your speech to us that carries us where we have never been,
and it is your speech to us that is our only hope.
So give us ears. Amen.