Tag Archives: Writing

Where have I been?

I have a confession to make: My houseplants are dead. All of them. Three years ago I would shutter at the thought. I spent much time and energy watering them, feeding them, pruning them, placing them in and out of sun as needed. I loved them. But here we are. I am now the owner of several dead, though once magnificent houseplants. And these are hearty houseplants too!

So please take your collective sigh of relief that I am not a parent.

I figure if I can’t properly care for houseplants I would be in trouble with children.

Anyway. My houseplants are dead. My blog is dusty. My flat is a mess. I’m currently sick…again. This pretty much sums things up as of late.

So where have I been? I’ve been here, but unable to write much worth posting. My off-line life has been full. There are major transitions coming down the pike with my ministry, and these require both time and emotional energy. The past few months, I have had little of the former, and almost none of the latter.

Beginning in Lent, I have been somewhat hit or miss here, which is not the way that I like to be. I typically have thought of myself as dependable. For me, writing is both freeing and taxing. It is a requirement for me to live and experience life, but it is work, work that requires a great deal of mental and emotional energy, which I have been lacking as of late.

My hope is that soon I will be able to offer to you something rich, deep, and meaningful. So thanks, readers, for hanging with me through these thin times. If you’re of the praying type, say a prayer for me too. God knows I need them.

Gazing out the window

Girl Looking Out the Window

By Jeannie (madlyinlovewithlife) on Flickr

I have this thing…I need my desk, or wherever I work, to be near a window out of which I can easily see.

As I work (read, study, write), I spend a good deal of time gazing out the window.

Right now I am looking out of our front window, and there is nothing particularly beautiful about it, it simply faces the street. I see houses, a tree on which I am daily watching and waiting for buds, the street with cars, and people walking. Nothing particularly special, but it is life.

I have previously felt somewhat ashamed of this, that I spend a good deal of time gazing out the window. I look lazy, distracted. At times I feel lazy. People are not supposed to look out the window and be idle. After all, the way to work is to cram everyone into a sea of cubicles where the light of day can never touch. The best way to work is to block out the outside world and focus on one thing and one thing only: the task at hand.

So I do what I am supposed to do. I go to my office at church and sit at my desk. Because of the way the room is set up, including the fixed furniture, I cannot see out a window. In fact, the windows are colored translucent panes, so one cannot see through the glass anyway. And I work — or try to work. I am there to take phone calls if they come, I am there in case someone needs to see me. I return emails. I try to read. I try to write. I try to help open the biblical texts for my people in ways that speak to their lives in a meaningful way.

But it is those days when I write at home, or even write at my favorite coffee shop — and have access to a window out of which to see — that I am actually able to get words committed to paper, or more accurately, pixels turning from white to black in the form of letters, much more easily. Words flow better. My efficiency increases. Blocks that are otherwise there are gone. It is something about being able to stare out a window that makes me work better.

So I sit here and gaze out the window, and Jesus’ words come to mind, “Consider the lilies ..” (Lk 12:27), “Look at the birds of the air…” (Mt 6:26).

Jesus could have said, “take, for instance, the lilies.” Or, he could have said, “One example, is lilies.” But Jesus said consider. While translation is interpretation, but the original Greek word does carry connotations of contemplation, of looking reflectively upon, of thinking carefully about. Jesus doesn’t simply give an illustration, Jesus tells us to consider, to think on, to contemplate — to gaze.

***

Although this conflicts, somewhat, with the work ethic of my small-town Midwestern upbringing, I think that there is something holy and something beneficial to a degree of idleness. Of slowing down, of noticing, of gazing out the window, and of considering.

There is something about seeing the world which enables me to work, even if it is just window-gazing. Perhaps it is something that is better embraced than shied away from. Perhaps it is something which is better acknowledged than be embarrassed about. If Jesus can help his disciples learn something by telling them to contemplate on the lilies, perhaps I can learn something by looking at the world on the other side of the pane.

So, if you see me someday, and I’m looking out a window at a pub, coffee shop, or my flat, I’m not daydreaming, I’m not lazy, I’m just working — which often begins with a healthy dose of window gazing.

Pulling Back the Cobwebs

Cobwebs

By Diane Brennan on Flickr

Well, dear readers, I have been absent for a while — a long while — without any explanation. Over a month.   Perhaps you may have thought that I have abandoned writing, or abandoned my blog. Neither of these are quite accurate. I have abandoned neither writing nor this blog, I have not been able to write anything which has been fit to publish. In fact, I have not been able to finish much writing at all. It has turned into a bit of a Lenten fast, though that was not originally intended.

I had grand plans throughout Lent, plans of sharing with you my journey through the somber season of Lent, but something happened. I lost, for a bit, the taste of sweetness on my tongue which I attempt to share with you.

The words would not come, the sentences would not form, and all that appeared was a collection of black symbols on a white page which were pleasing to neither the mind nor the soul. So I waited.

This has been the second time we have shared together on thealreadynotyet.com a time of waiting. A time in which words do not come, and waiting is necessary.

On some level I feel guilty about this. I feel undisciplined, I feel as though I am not taking it seriously, or as though I cannot just “buckle down and do it” as my parents used to say as I was trying to avoid doing homework as a child. I feel as though my waiting as been a passive wait rather than an expectant wait.

On another level, however, guilt, in this instance, offers little benefit for moving forward.

So I move on. What has not been, has not been. What will be, will be.

So, dear readers, I’m pulling back the cobwebs, and I’m back. I hope that you will continue to journey with me.

The Saturday Demon

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

It’s simple really. All I have to do is put one word in front of another, types of words ordered in a particular way. As I often do when I am having difficulty writing, I begin gazing around my bookshelf and my eyes stop at Stephen Dobyns’s book, Best Words, Best Order. That’s it, I think, all I have to do is find the best words and put them in the best order.

I have the opportunity to tell the story of grace and redemption every single week. I cannot think of a greater privilege than this.

But today it does not feel like a privilege. The best words cannot be found and the best order cannot be mapped.

It is the Saturday Demon.

The Saturday Demon comes around on Saturday when I am trying to put the finishing touches on my sermon for Sunday. I have spent all week studying, reading, praying, researching, translating, and beginning to write, but Saturday is my finishing day.

“It doesn’t really matter” the demon whispers in my ear. “None of it really matters.”

For me, the real danger that the Saturday Demon poses is not that it creates doubt, it is that it highlight and fortifies the doubts which are already so present.

“You’re a fraud,” it tells me. “You lie to people and give them false hope.”

The Saturday Demon knows exactly how to attack. I begin to wonder if this is worth it. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, perhaps I am doing this all for nothing, perhaps none of this is real.

Confession time: I am a pastor, and I have great doubt.

***

I’m a doubting Thomas, as some might call me, although I loathe this term. Why does Thomas get such a bad rap? Peter denied that he knew anything about Jesus of Nazareth not once, not twice, but three times. Do we remember Peter only as a denier?  Do we call someone a “I Don’t Know Him Peter”? No.

But Thomas’s reputation is forever stained as being a doubter, and doubting is seen as something terrible. Doubt is the antithesis of faith, we tell our young people, doubting is weakness. Doubting is sin, we say, God wants us to have confidence.

***

The more I try to ignore the Saturday Demon, the louder is speaks. Rather than trying to ignore it, I decide to listen to it for a moment. Hear it out. After all, Jesus didn’t just try to ignore the devil when he was being tempted in the desert, he carried on a conversation.

“Just stop,” it tells me, “none of this matters anyway, you’re just wasting your time.”

“Are you finished?” I ask the Saturday Demon. “I’m going to get back to work now,” and I continue pounding away on the keyboard trying to find the best words and trying to find the best order. The Saturday Demon continues to assault me, but it is important that I do not give in to its attack, I cannot become defeated, and the best way to do this is to keep working, even when these doubts erupt on schedule like Old Faithful. After all, I have people who depend on me.

I’m a pastor. I’m a doubter. Maybe this is why God has called me to this kind of ministry at this point in my life, so that even when I have great doubts, I still have to show up, stand in front of the congregation, and tell them the good news of the story of grace and redemption. It is through telling of the same story over and over again that I can, in some way, continue to believe even with my doubts.

Perhaps the reason that we will always link doubt and Thomas together, perhaps the reason that we remember Thomas for nothing other than his doubts is that we see ourselves in Thomas. In seeing in this mirror, we can see in ourselves what we so greatly despise, and we attempt to ensure that we keep him and his doubts at arm’s length.

This disapproving way that we speak of doubt is incredibly unfortunate. Truly, if doubt has no place in the church, it is no wonder why so many young people leave the church. If doubt has no place in the journey of faith, it is no wonder why there are an increasing number of “nones” when asked about religion.

Perhaps it is not the absence of doubt which is to be prized, but the ability to have faith and doubt at the same time, and live with the tension.

Why I Write

I write because words are wonderful and have a life unto their own which I wish to explore and participate. I write because it is they way in which I attempt to make sense of the world around me, and I have a sneaking suspicion that there are others who share this trait. I write because it is a way in which I can have an equal exchange of ideas with others without interruptions on either end.

I write because it forces me to pay attention to the world around me.

I write because writing is the last form of alchemy, when one can take ordinary symbols, combine them in just the right way and create something which is immensely more powerful, significant, lasting, and meaningful than simply the sum of its parts.

I write because God chose to communicate to God’s people through story and writing, and therefore there must be something significant to it.

I write because I have to. Without writing I cannot make sense of the world, and I cannot catch a glimpse of insight into what happens. Often times, writing feels like filling a lake by pulling up water, bucket by bucket, from a deep well. However, when that lake is filled the exercise of bringing up the water was certainly worth it.

I write because it helps me to be a better pastor and it improves my abilities to speak to and with people.

I write because I have more questions than answers.

I write, because I have a pipe dream of making a little bit of money writing, and I don’t want, at the end of my life, to be stuck with the worst question imaginable…what if?

I write because I think, perhaps too narcissistically (much like this post), that I have something to offer a reader, that my experiences are far from original, that in my reflections, others might find a glimpse of clarity, insight, or humor. I write because I want to share things with others, because life is meant for sharing. I write because in this sharing, others share their experiences and responses back to me.

I write to discover the world and myself. I write to remove skeletons from my closet and I write to uncover ghosts that linger around my desk. I write because it offers solitude without loneliness. I write because writing fosters connection.

I write because I find pleasure in spending hours writing and scrapping, writing and scrapping, writing and refining — agonizing to find the right word, many times not finding it, but when it is found, magic seems to happen.

I write because writing is the only way to become better at writing. I write because I love the craft of writing. I write because I hope that people will read and find meaning in my writing.

I write because the pen is mightier than the sword.

I write because in the end, it’s really all I have. I won’t have buildings or furniture that I have built or designed. I won’t have paintings or etchings that I created. I won’t have musical recordings; I won’t be remembered for leading a social movement of any sort.

All I will have for the sum total of my life is what I write: I figure I may as well make it worthwhile.

On Being Dried Up

stairs under a fall sky

From Jim VanMaastricht on Flickr (Used with Permission)

Hear my prayer, O LORD;
let my cry come to you.
do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call.
For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
My heart is stricken and withered like grass… (Psalm 102:1-4a)

For the past month or so, I have felt dried up.  I have felt like grass that has been scorched by the hot summer sun and has not been given the nourishing water which can rejuvenate it back to life.

My writing has not only been impacted here on this blog, but my other writing as well: my sermons, my church newsletters, even my written correspondence has been impacted.  I sit in front of a computer with a blank page and a blinking cursor, and instead of creating, I sit.  I sit at my desk with a blank piece of paper before me, which would usually be received with gratitude for the empty space which I could fill.  However, now I sit at it with dread, because the emptiness of that space reflects back to me the emptiness that I experience.

Preparing sermons, which typically brings me joy and fulfillment is now only met with distress as Sunday approaches closer and closer and my sermon remains unwritten on Friday, and Saturday.  My church newsletter still sits on my computer, 4 weeks late, partially finished with paragraphs that are disjointed and do not flow, and do not even contain a coherent message.

Written language, which usually serves as a spillway for when my thoughts burst through the dam, now seems to drain the remaining water in the reservoir.

I appreciate the Psalms, particularly the psalms of lament, because when I am in a situation such as this, when I cannot find words with which to express myself, I have words that have been given to me.

Thanks be to God.  Even through these dry times.

Blogging and Ministry

So I’ve been blogging regularly for about a month.  While I sought to post everyday, that has not yet happened.  This is about the time when I begin wondering if my little blog really matters that much.  I began this blog as a space to share some of my reflections and “left over thoughts” that don’t fit other places.  The thoughts that I put on here are ones that I think are worth sharing, and ones that I hope can have some sort of impact beyond just me.  While I’m aware that my thoughts and reflections are not completely unique, special, or extraordinarily profound, I would like to think that we can all learn from each other, even in our ordinary and mundane lives. My belief is that there are fingerprints and footprints of God in everything around us, and that God’s work of restoration and reconciliation has already begun but has not yet fully arrived, and so much of the writing here consists of my reflections on my mundane life that helps me to view life through a theological lens and hopefully helps others as they (you) seek to look for signs of God’s work of restoration and reconciliation beginning.

Blogging is a fascinating medium because one often does not know the impact that one’s writing may have on the outside world.  There are stats, and there are abilities to share posts, to like posts, and to comment on posts. But it is still very difficult to estimate the amount of impact. The more I think about it, blogging is a lot like ministry.

Those of us involved in ministry want to have an impact.  We also struggle with how to measure “progress” and how to measure our efficacy.  We do have worship attendance which tells some of the story, but not the whole story.  There is also the ability for others to chat about your sermon, for others to join in the conversation (we use a dialogical approach to preaching).  Some do share whether what I say has an impact, but many do not.

Many days, particularly Sundays, I am left wondering if I have any impact at all.  This in turn leads me to the “does any of this matter?” line of thought, which leads to the “what am I doing here anyway?” dungeon, from which there seems to be no easy escape once you get in there.  That is the potentially dangerous thing about ministry, but also one of the fascinating thing about ministry.

Ministry does not lend itself very easily to charts, graphs, and empirical measures of efficacy.  Attendance and participation numbers are part of it, but they are not the whole story.  Giving numbers are part of it, but they are not the whole story.  Increasing biblical and theological literacy are part of it, but not the whole story.  So many times, I am left hoping and praying that God will be able to impact my folks either because of, or despite, my efforts.  After all, it is ultimately not me that makes anything effective, it is God.

I think that this, too, is a lesson in faith.  The ability to trust that God will take our best efforts and our best intentions and make something good out of them.  After all, isn’t this what we are all doing?  Putting forth our best, and hoping that it is beneficial to others in some way, even in ways we may not even realize or understand.