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Writing For Your Life Today

To be good stewards of words

To maintain usable and reliable language – to be good stewards of words – we have at least to do these three things: (1) deepen and sharpen our reading skills, (2) cultivate habits of speaking and listening that foster precision and clarity, and (3) practice poesis – to be makers and doers of the word. For these purposes we need regularly to exercise the tongue and ear: indulge in word play, to delight in metaphor, to practice specificity and accuracy, to listen critically and refuse cliches and sound bites that substitute for authentic analysis. Such deliberate focus on language is not to be simply dismissed as an elitist enterprise. With over 26 million functionally illiterate people in this country, those of us who voluntarily and regularly pick up books, newspapers, and Bibles do, in fact, belong to a privileged group. Our job is not to eschew that privilege but to use it for the sake of the whole. 

From “Caring for Words In A Culture of Lies” by Marilyn McEntyre – Eerdmans Publishing

So They Say You Should Write A Book

Someone heard your story and said you should write a book. Is this true? Is that why you are here?

Believe it or not, this happens to people a lot and is a very common motivator for people to start thinking about writing a book.

I imagine you heard this and thought a couple of things:

  1. “A book? Yeah, right? I’m not a writer.”
  2. “A book? Really? People would want to read my story? How do I start? I’m not really a writer, but if it will help somebody, I’m willing to at least look into it.”

Maybe you thought a mixture of the two above. And maybe you were led to this book because their words confirmed something you’ve known for a while now – you are called to write. You feel that burning fire to release something important that’s been welling up inside of you.

Now let me offer this: when the passion to do something starts with you, that’s usually where the gold is. Just because someone says you should do something does not mean you should. Write a book because you want to, because, I am telling you, the writing process is too wonderful and horrible a journey for it to be tied to someone else’s fluctuating belief in you. You have to believe in yourself to make a book work – unrelentingly, audaciously believe. 

From “So They Say You Should Write A Book” by Jevon Bolden

Out of the depths

In the early days at Trinity, Lou Patrick took opportunities to travel to conferences to learn and study the works of current theologians. It was on one of these sabbaticals that Lou Patrick heard about an ordained Presbyterian minister and writer named Frederick Buechner; afterward, he began introducing the members of the congregation to Buechner’s works. Lou enlisted Goldie Stribling, Betty McLancey, and ultimately Tony Abbott to help frame a reading of Buechner’s words from his The Alphabet of Grace for the 1973 Montreat Retreat. It was successful, so much so that Tony Abbott used the presentation at Davidson soon after. Also, thereafter, the relationship between Fred Buechner’s writings and the Charlotte community became so symbiotic that at one time in those decades more Fred Buechner’s books were sold in the Charlotte, NC, region than in any other area of the country. One winter’s day in the early 1970s. GOldie Stribling read an advertisement in The Christian Century magazine about a lecture taking place in January in Bangor, Maine, with Frederick Buechner as guest speaker. Goldie said to her friend Lou, “You’d be chicken not to go!” And so, Lou went on that dare, taking with him a leather pouch prepared by Goldie and Betty McLaney and filled with the same items Native American Herman Redpath carried around his neck in Frederick Buechner’s 1974 novel Lion Country: a bird’s wing, a box of Sunmaid raisins, a pocketknife, a few $10 bills of play Monopoly money. Lou flew to Bangor, and, in-between lectures, he saw Fred Buechner sitting in an anteroom. Lou walked by and heaved the leather pouch into the empty chair next to Buechner. Upon opening it, Buechner knew he needed to meet the man who went to the trouble of assembling the pouch (although Goldie Stribling and Betty McLaney had done the work!) Then and there began a friendship that lasted until Lou’s death. What drew these two ordained Presbyterian ministers together? Fred Buechner has documented in many of his own writings the effects on his life of the death by suicide of his father when he was ten years old. Perhaps these two Presbyterian Ministers of the Word were drawn together because they shared a sense of loss with regard to their fathers. Perhaps it was because they shared the experience of being under the teachings of many of the same professors and writers because they both went to seminary. Maybe it was their shared sense of humor, and, because of it, they could laugh together when they were together, which was not often enough for either of them. Perhaps it was the shared belief that no matter how deep the darkness of the human condition could be, God was with them in that darkness, calling unto them as only deep can call unto deep. I think both of these men would say, like the young girl on the way to the guillotine, “I believe God sent you to me.” That belief bound them, made the darkness a little less dark at that place where “Deep calls unto Deep.” Fred and Lou both knew of deep loss, but they also felt the abiding love of God. They were not afraid of this calling from God, for they believed that humans cry “Out of the depths” just like the poet in Psalm 131. Fred dedicated his memoir The Sacred Journey to Lou. It reads, “For Louis Patrick and all the other saints, remembered and forgotten, along the way.” Fred Buechner and Lou Patrick each gave to the other an understanding. What was understood? That you have to stalk the gaps in the rock to find the mystery.

From “Deep Calls Unto Deep: Reflections on the intersecting lives and writings of Fred Buechner, Tony Abbott, and Louis Patrick”

Consider these facts about Americans who speak English

  • At least 50 percent of the unemployed are functionally illiterate (US Department of Labor Statistics).
  • The average kindergarten student has seen more than 5,000 hours of television, having spent more time in front of the TV than it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree (Laubach Literacy Action Council). So the models of conversation they have heard have been heavily scripted in ways that allow neither in-the-moment response nor revision. Linguist Barry Sanders, among many others, has demonstrated a direct causal relationship between early television viewing and impaired literacy.
  • Twenty-seven percent of army enlistees can’t read training manuals written at the seventh-grade level (American Council of Life Insurance).
  • One study of twenty-one- to twenty-five-year-olds showed that 80 percent couldn’t read a bus schedule, 73 percent couldn’t understand a newspaper story, 63 percent couldn’t follow written map directions, and 23 percent couldn’t locate the gross pay-to-date amount on a paycheck stub (Laubach Literacy Action Council).
  • Twenty-four percent of all American adults do not read a single book in the course of a year (Pew Research Council).

From “Caring for Words In A Culture of Lies” by Marilyn McEntyre

How can a brand offer a sense of ultimate self-realization or self-acceptance?

How can a brand offer a sense of ultimate self-realization or self-acceptance? Here are a few ideas:

Inspiration: If an aspect of your brand can offer or be associated with an inspirational fear, open the floodgates. Brands like Red Bull, Harvard Business Review, Under Armour, The Ken Blanchard Company, Michelob Ultra, and even GMC have associated themselves with athletic and intellectual accomplishment and thus a sense of self-actualization. 

Acceptance: Helping people accept themselves as they are isn’t just a thoughtful thing to do; it’s good marketing. Not unlike the Dove campaign, American Eagle turned heads when they launched their Aerie campaign. In the campaign, American Eagle used real people as models and refused to retouch the images. Tackling body-image issues, American Eagle went beyond basic product promotion and contributed to universal self-acceptance among their clientele.

Transcendence: Brands that invite customers to participate in a larger movement offer a greater, more impactful life along with their products and service. Tom’s Shoes built a name for itself by selling stylish shoes while simultaneously giving a pair to somebody in need in what they called a “one for one” model. Those who wore the shoes claimed a major factor in deciding to make the purchase was a sense of involvement with a larger movement. At less than ten years old, the for-profit brand sold more than $700 million. Another example of a brand that helps customers achieve a level of transcendence is Daymond John’s clothing brand FUBU, an acronym for “For Us By Us,” in reference to the African American community being represented in the marketplace. The brand offers more than fashion; it offers a sense of unity, transcendence, and entrepreneurialism for the African American community.

from “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller

84 percent of all businesses started from a random event

Business consultant Martin Lindstrom estimates that 84 percent of all businesses started from a random event. Fortune 500 companies like Starbucks and Home Depot and products such as Velcro, Viagra, Band-Aids, and Post-It Notes emerged from a single customer insight or a serendipitous event. Anita Roddick, a human rights activist and environmental campaigner, founded The Body Shop as a response to one customer’s request for ethical consumerism. 

We love reading these inspiring founder stories but probably don’t consider how random connections are happening to us all the time…..and how they could propel our own momentum. 

From “Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds” by Mark Schaefer

The best innovation labs are always a little contaminated

Nemeth has gone on to document the same phenomenon at work in dozens of different environments: mock juries, boardrooms, academic seminars. Her research suggests a paradoxical truth about innovation: good ideas are more likely to emerge in environments that contain a certain amount of noise and error. You would think that innovation would be more strongly correlated with the values of accuracy, clarity, and focus. A good idea has to be correct on some basic level, and we value good ideas because they tend to have a high signal-to-noise ratio. But that doesn’t mean you want to cultivate those ideas in noise-free environments, because noise-free environments end up being too sterile and predictable in their output. The best innovation labs are always a little contaminated.

From “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson

The debased currency of public discourse is what is available to them

Remote as we may think we are from the horrors of the German propaganda machine, the applicability of Steiner’s concern to the condition of contemporary American English may be obvious upon brief reflection. The generation of students coming through high schools and universities now expect to be lied to. They know about “spin” and about the profiteering agendas of corporate advertising. They have grown used to the flippant, incessantly ironic banter that passes for conversation and avoid positive claims by verbal backpedaling: “like” before every clause that might threaten to make a distinction one might argue with, and “whatever” after approximations that never reach solid declarative ground. They also recognize, because these corruptions have been so pervasive in their short lifetimes, how much political discourse consists of ad hominem argument, accusation, smear campaigns, hyperbole, broken promises, distortions and lies. If they’re reading many of the mainstream news magazines and papers or watching network television or following Twitter feeds or browsing social media, they are receiving a daily diet of euphemisms, overgeneralizations, and evasions that pass for political and cultural analysis. Though they are being taught in classrooms to be critical of empty rhetoric and unsupported claims, the debased currency of public discourse is what is available to them, and so their own language resources are diminished and uncertain. They need our help. 

From “Caring for Words In A Culture of Lies” by Marilyn McEntyre

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