Courage: Name Your Fear

Courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to keep going despite fear. A soldier fears attack by the enemy and yet moves into battle. A young woman fears that she’s not ready to be a mom and yet welcomes the unplanned pregnancy and moves forward into the months of preparation.

Not all courage is so dramatic. There is undoubtedly a fear hiding in your daily life, one related to your job or your relationships or your physical health. Pause for a moment and try to identify what you fear. Can you also find the courage to choose to move into your day despite it, perhaps with a simple prayer for help?

Sometimes the best prayer for courage is this: Don’t let fear overwhelm me or hinder my ability to do whatever task I’m given.

 

from “small simple ways: an Ignatian daybook for healthy spiritual living” by Vinita Hampton Wright, Loyola Press

Believe in the Process

Creative work is often solitary work. It requires a lot of time with one’s soul. It requires reflection, work and then more reflection, and much of this happens when the artist is alone. And even when an artist is out with friends or going about other business, there is often that other self that keeps musing on the work in progress.

It takes confidence in yourself as a creative person to make the time and space needed for your process to work itself out. Your creative process is as individual as you are. And while you can talk to other creatives and learn from them, in the end you must settle for yourself what your process actually is and what you must do to facilitate it.

This means that, deep down, you have to believe that there is a process and that this process is yours to own. You have to be willing to take a stand and put boundaries around your time and energy. When people ask what you’re doing, you can give them an answer or not, but you must know for yourself what the answer is.

 

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

Your Sacred Journey – by Frederick Buechner

From the introduction of Frederick Buechner’s first memoir “The Sacred Journey”

What I propose to do now is to try listening to my life as a whole, or at least to certain key moments of the first half of my life thus far, for whatever of meaning, of holiness, of God, there may be in it to hear. My assumption is that the story of anyone of us is in some measure the story of us all.

For the reader, I suppose, it is like looking through someone else’s photograph album. What holds you, if nothing else, is the possibility that somewhere among all those shots of people you never knew and places you never saw, you may come across something or someone you recognize. In fact-for more curious things have happened-even in a stranger’s album, there is always the possibility that as the pages flip by, on one of them you may even catch a glimpse of yourself. Even if both of those fail, there is still a third possibility which is perhaps the happiest of them all, and that is that once I have put away my album for good, you may in the privacy of the heart take out the album of your own life and search it for the people and places you have loved and learned from yourself, and for those moments in the past -many of them half forgotten-through which you glimpsed, however dimly and fleetingly, the sacredness of your own journey.

Who do you want to reach and why?

 

by Andrew T. LePeau

How do we keep our audience in mind and not keep our audience in mind? We do it at different times. When we are first picking a topic, researching, drafting, and smashing down ideas on the page, we need not give one thought to the audience. We just do our best to get into a flow.

But later, after we’ve got the semblance of a draft together and go back to rework, refine, and edit our own material, then we keep our audience in mind. Zinsser himself hints at this. When talking about whether to put in humor, he writes, “If it amuses you in the act of writing, put it in. (It can always be taken out, but only you can put it in.)” That’s the key—we can always take it out later. We just shouldn’t take it out early in the process.

When we revise, we need a guide, a grid, a set of criteria for what to leave in and what to take out. Sometimes too much of a good thing can make a piece fail. We may think all the illustrations are spot-on, but too many of them (or the wrong ones or even too many good ones) can put readers off.

How do we determine what may work for our audience and what may not? We will have a hard time figuring that out with a big amorphous readership in mind, thus, the earlier suggestion to make it specific. Having one person in mind is a great way to do that—someone who is not on the fringes of the kind of people you want to reach but someone at the center.

Who should that person be? How do we choose? Another way to phrase the question “Who is your audience?” is this: Who do you want to reach and why? That is, What is motivating you to write? What have you learned that you want others to know? Who could benefit from it? A friend? A coworker? Someone you worship with? A customer? A family member?

Write for that person, and let it be your gift to them.

Taken from Write Better by Andrew T. LePeau. Copyright (c) 2019 by Andrew T. LePeau. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

The Power of Reflective Writing in a Fast Words Culture

by Stephanie Smith

 

I’m sure you’ve noticed it, too.

Much like fast food or fast fashion, ours is a culture of fast words. With unlimited world knowledge accessible to us 24/7 in the palm of our hand, I think it’s safe to say we are encountering an unprecedented volume of words per day. Get this: the amount of time people spend reading today has roughly tripled since 1980. While I see this as a heartening sign in some ways, as it speaks to heightened personal practice, we can also of course recognize the difference between deep reading and surface screening.

In the fashion industry, “fast” is defined by the speed at which high fashion is converted to accessible price-point retail. Fast fashion cuts costs often by using cheaper materials and using efficient production to get trends to the everyday shopper more expediently. Yet the ethical costs of such a system are well-documented.

Similarly, we are pressed to ask what a steady intake of fast words is costing us. When efficiency over eloquence is rewarded, memes and emojis are outsourced to do the work of emotional expression for us, and TL;DR becomes a cultural attitude, we are wise to inquire: how is this shaping us, and what is the cost to our attention spans?

Our brains are designed to be constantly scanning our surroundings for threats. Yet when everything is presented as essential, un-missable, in the unholy spirit of urgency and scarcity, it creates sensory overload. This overstimulation then backfires: rather than engaging our attentions, it actually callouses our attentions. It inhibits our ability to practice being fully present. This is where we realize a high cost indeed: calloused attention is not only a symptom of content intake, it is nothing short of a condition of the soul.

So how do we practice slow words when fast words are all the fashion today? How do we buck so strong a trend?

Fast words are an industry. They are assembly-line made. So if we want to make way for a slow word movement instead, we’re going to have to jump the track.

If you ask me it’s a two-tiered process: slow your input, slow your output.

Read well and slowly.

First we are invited to slow our input. Who are we to think we have anything meaningful to say if we do not listen first? Take your time with your reading practice. Read well, widely, and slowly. Resist the urge to skim.

Perhaps read with a pen in hand for a more active experience of paying attention. If you’re listening to an audiobook or podcast, try not to multi-task with anything that requires your brain to be working elsewhere (i.e., opt for listening while driving or emptying the dishwasher, rather than paying bills or inbox-cleaning).

Reading is a wonderful way to affirm the limitations of our humanity, because it wholeheartedly affirms we cannot be everywhere, doing everything, all at once [tweet this]. Far more than mere data download, reading is one of the rare activities that requires full immersion, no short-cuts. And in this way it is a marvelous means of practicing presence.

Write reflectively, rather than reactively.

I find most fast words are the result of reactivity. They are an easy outlet for venting, getting an unpleasant emotion off our chest, or pronouncing condemnation in way that often puts others down and props up our gratifying sense of being right. To be clear, there is very much a standing need to renounce what calls for renouncing. But there is a searing distinction between reflective renouncement and un-reflective reactivity [share this].

Reactive writing skips over the creative incubation process: the turning, tending, and tilling over until more durable breakthroughs can be discovered. There’s a name for this get-it-off-the-chest impulse we writers know well: it’s called a rough draft. And we know just as well rough drafts are never meant for the publish button!

We might find it emotionally gratifying to vent our first reactions, but better yet to refine them, to put them through the process of reflection, further reading and examination, to skim off the raw impurities and imperfections, and yield something bright and true instead [tweet this]. Ideas develop best when they’re given time to come of age, rather than rushed through to become market-ready.

Slow input + slow output introduces encounter.

The reactive brain is stuck in survival mode: fight, flight, or freeze. And here we uncover the real driver behind reactivity.

When we pull back the curtain on the rush to be the first-responder, the pressure to publish the hottest hot take, the hustle to write faster, louder, better…we often find fear. Fear is the inevitable fruit of writing from a place of survivalist fight, flight, or freeze [tweet this].

But the reflective brain opens you up to a whole new realm which scientists aptly call focus. This is the deep well from which our strongest creative energies flow. What’s more, focused writing compels focused reading; it invites to the reader into encounter. It invites to reader to receive, rather than to consume.

As we turn soon into a new year, a new decade, I say we commit ourselves to a slower, more sustainable practice of reading and writing. Fast words make big promises that rarely deliver. Slow words, on the other hand, must be fought for, but I think it’s about time we give up the ghost of the instant epiphany.

Let’s make our move to come by our breakthroughs honestly, practicing reflectiveness over reactivity, and finding the hard-won reward of words that endure.

 

Stephanie Smith is the associate publisher for Zondervan Books, where she takes great joy in supporting, stretching, and championing authors as they bring the best out of their message. Stephanie lives with her husband in Tennessee, and you can catch her pop-up email newsletter for writers looking to find your angle, write like you mean it, and do it in style at www.slantletter.com.

Scared and Sacred

 

from “Adorning the Dark” by Andrew Peterson

 

Being a writer doesn’t just mean writing. It means finishing. I’ve heard it said that a song is never finished, only abandoned. That’s not true for me. To the contrary, I can’t wait to be done with the thing, because only once it’s finished can I raise my hand at the back of the class and say something that will be considered, not ignored, something that might be a blessing to someone. Only then do I begin to take on some flesh and stop haunting the room. Walt Wangerin Jr. said once that art isn’t art until it’s experienced by another.

Praise God, I was reckless enough to try this thing—not because my songs matter all that much, but because I would have possibly gone mad—a madness of self-hatred, self-disdain, self-flagellation. A madness of Self. “Take thy thoughts captive,” I imagine God saying. “Put them to music. Then aim them away from you. Love your neighbor as yourself.” I con- fess, a mighty fear of irrelevance drove me to this vocation, a pressing anxiety that unless you looked back at me with a smile and a nod and said, “Oh, I see you. You exist. You are real to me and to this world and we’re glad you showed up,” I might just wither away and die. That’s not exactly a noble reason to fling your creations into the world, but it’s a decent place to start. After that, the Lord can redeem your impulse for self-preservation by easing you toward love, which is never about self. But if you’re scared, there’s no rush. First you have to do something. You have to climb out from under the bushel and share your light with those around you. You have to believe that you’re precious to the King of Creation, and not just a waste of space.

You and I are anything but irrelevant. Don’t let the Enemy tell you any different. We holy fools all bear God’s image. We’re walking temples of the Spirit, the bashful bride of Christ, living stones in what is going to be a grand house, as holy and precious as anything else in the universe, if not more so. God is making us into a kingdom, a lovely, peaceful one, lit by his love for us flowing toward one another. That’s the best gift you have to give.

***

A few miles from my house there’s an intersection that used to make me happy. It’s since been developed beyond recognition, and I regret to report that the magic is gone. If you ever want to go there, it’s a four-way stop at the intersection of Old Franklin Road and Cane Ridge Road. It wasn’t terribly interesting. It wasn’t a scenic overlook. The houses weren’t gigantic. But it was, for me, a strangely pleasant place. I don’t know why, but I felt rightness every time I pulled up to that intersection. I’d always look around as if I were on the verge of solving some bright mystery—until the driver behind me honked and I was forced to putter up the hill.

I mentioned it to Jamie and the kids, and they agreed. It was a nice spot. To them, it was probably just that. But I would always wonder what made me feel that way. Was it the lie of the land? Was it the fact that the stop sign forced me to pause for a moment and consider my surroundings? Did it remind me of some lovely childhood drive? I can’t put my finger on it.

Psalm 16:6 says, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” I know the psalmist wasn’t thinking of country roads when he wrote this, but I always thought of this verse when I sat at that intersection. “This, surely, is a pleasant place,” I would say to myself. And in some ways, a pleasant place is better than a breathtaking one, isn’t it? I love the Grand Canyon and have hiked into it a handful of times over the years, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Now, I realize of course that if Wendell Berry is right—that there are no unsacred places, only sacred places and desecrated places—then that intersection was just as sacred as the grass on your front lawn. But isn’t it true that some places feel right, just as surely as other places feel wrong?

I have been to desecrated places, and have sensed a brooding darkness without knowing why. I have, at times, had to speak aloud what I believe to be true about God’s presence in and around me in order to silence the voices of fear that clamored in my head—I have, in other words, been spooked. I have whistled in the dark. I don’t know how all this works. I only know that we’ve all probably been in houses that felt dark and disquieting, and by contrast there’s a sense of peace that seeps out of the walls of others. I want my house to be a house of peace. I want people to sense God’s presence when they roll up our gravel driveway.

But how?

It’s a matter of dedicating to God the world within our reach. Jamie and I are blessed with two wonderful neighbors, Tommy and Becky. When they built their home, sweet Becky wrote scripture verses on every 2 x 4 she could find. You can’t see them anymore now that the house is finished, and of course they don’t work as charms or anything weird like that; Bible verses on the studs don’t do anything magical. Still, every sacred word that Becky wrote on every sacred plank of wood was a reminder to her that it was not her house, but God’s.

The Christian’s calling, in part, is to proclaim God’s dominion in every corner of the world—in every corner of our hearts, too. It isn’t that we’re fighting a battle in which we must win ground from the forces of evil; the ground is already won. Satan is just an outlaw. And we have the pleasure of declaring God’s kingdom with love, service, and peace in our homes and communities. When you pray, dedicate your home, your yard, your bonus room and dishwasher and bicycle and garden to the King. As surely as you dedicate your heart to him, dedicate your front porch. Daily pledge every cell of every tool at your disposal to his good pleasure. It’s all sacred anyway if old Wendell is right (and I think he is). I wonder if the Holy Spirit is rambling around in the temple of my heart, scribbling promises on every exposed bit of lumber, declaring my sacred- ness so that I will remember that I belong to him. And maybe when I’m old and I cross paths with some weary traveler, they’ll sense a rightness, a pleasantness of place, and will experience a peace that they cannot understand or explain.

Stop a moment and look around. This is our Father’s world. We are sacred, you and I.

The Fluidity of Decentralization

Our society is moving away from the rigid order of hierarchy toward the fluidity of decentralization. It is moving from nouns to verbs, from tangible products to intangible becomings. From fixed media to messy remixed media. From stores to flows. And the value engine is moving from the certainties of answers to the uncertainties of questions. Facts, order, and answers will always be needed and useful. They are not going away, and in fact, like microbial life and concrete material, facts will continue to underpin the bulk of our civilization. But the most precious aspects, the most dynamic, most valuable, and most productive facets of our lives and new technology will lie in the frontiers, in the edges where uncertainty, chaos, fluidity, and questions dwell.

 

– from “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly

In Praise of Revision

Every writer I know who’s worth a damn spends way more time “losing” than “winning” – if success means typing a polished page that lands in print as is. Scriveners tend to arrive at good work through revision. Look at Yeat’s chopped-up fixes in facsimile form, or Ezra Pound’s swashbuckling edits of Eliot’s Waste Land. Without radical overhaul, those works might have sunk like stones.

 

In fact, after a lifetime of hounding authors for advice, I’ve heard three truths from every mouth: (1) Writing is painful – it’s “fun” only for novices, the very young, and hacks; (2) other than a few instances of luck, good work only comes through revision; (3) the best revisers often have reading habits that stretch back before the current age, which lends them a sense of history and raises their standards for quality.

 

– from “The Art of Memoir” by Mary Karr

 

 

Time and Freedom

Our age is so obsessed with the future and so impatient with the past that we need to remind ourselves of the liberating role of memory. If you think about it, the stories of the remarkable decisions and heroic deeds in the past make history memorable, and they in turn can inspire the present and rescue it from the stifling impression of inevitability. The truth is that well-taught history and well-written biography are both vital to freedom and anything but boring. As we remember the story of Moses, or Francis of Assisi, or Abraham Lincoln, or Florence Nightingale, or Winston Churchill, or Martin Luther King Jr., or Mother Teresa, the past can inspire us to rise above our present moment, just as the heroes of the past rose above the lethargy of their own present and its seemingly iron-clad circumstances.
 
The “dead hand of the present” may be every bit as oppressive as the “dead hand of the past.” Some of the forces from the past, such as language, tradition, and law, will always act as powerful shapers of the present, but the memory of the past can also inspire and liberate the present so that inevitability gives way to innovation. In Reinhold Niebuhr’s words, “Memory is, in short, the fulcrum of freedom for man in history.” Complacency makes the past appear unchallengeable. Haven’t things always been this way? But freedom summons up creativity, innovation, change, growth and discontent, and challenges the aura of inevitability that the past lays on the present.
 
Unquestionably, the human will is central to the biblical view of human freedom and responsibility, but for both good and ill, for creation and destruction. According to the Bible, an inclination to evil through the corruption of the will now lies at the heart of human nature and its use and abuse of freedom. Humans can willfully defy God and the structures of their existence, and through their abuse of freedom bring evil into the world. Indeed, far from diminishing as time goes by, as the progressives fondly believe, this willful defiance will rise to a crescendo at the end of days in the person of the Antichrist. At times, this evil can be so potent that it can be countered only by the backstop of God’s providence. Thus “under God” is no cliché. Providence is the ultimate check and balance, the final moral limit to human power.
 
Adapted from Carpe Diem Redeemed by Os Guinness. Copyright (c) 2019 by Os Guinness. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

 

https://www.ivpress.com/carpe-diem-redeemed

Get in touch!