I’ve been bouncing the idea of writing several books around, and I chatted with someone who asked me a question no one has ever really asked me before: “Why do you write anything at all?” I’d never really thought about that all that much…it just seemed like something I had to do. I’ve read enough “how to write” books by other authors that I could answer the question with some blend of plagiarism and semantics but I’d never answered the question myself. So, today, here are my initial thoughts on the question…
I am not what you see. Not by a long shot.
I grew up in the Deep South, the real South, the Heart-of-Dixie South. One where appearances matter a great deal and social skills are paramount. You know the jokes about how that phrase, “Bless her heart” means something catty. That South. I’ve learned from tutors how to shake hands firmly and look someone in the eye. I’ve been drilled in “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am” to the point that I still do it today and I’m 46 years old. I know how to make sweet tea that could double as pancake syrup in a pinch and could serve it to Marilyn Manson with a smile. I think the phrase for that is “social grace.”
And I guess “social grace” helps us get along and overall, I’m glad they exist and that I’m aware of them. But I don’t buy that there is deep truth in them anymore than I buy into the belief that New Yorkers are “rude.” They aren’t. They’re “frank.” In other words, they aren’t trying to be mean or insult you. That isn’t their heart attitude. The waiter’s simply trying to get you out of the restaurant because there is a line outside and he needs the table to clear out a little faster than another cup of mud will last. It’s two sides of the same coin, really.
What I mean is this: The insides and the outsides don’t match up.
See, I have lived in the upper echelons of evangelicalism since I was 16 years old. At first, I didn’t know the “codes.” See, I was drawn to Jesus at that station in life. Fascinated by Him would be a better description. The Jesus that was in the Bible was a LOT different than the Jesus of Deep South social graces. He was a New Yorker in a china shop. He pushed all the “right” people into a rage and blessed all the “wrong” people. He had little regard for the status quo. He wanted people to metamorphosize and the first step of that was poking and prodding everything you thought you knew. The entire deal of the Sermon on the Mount, his initial manifesto, wasn’t the polite little sermon we’ve milquetoasted into anemia. It was highly inflammatory and a gauntlet to the religious elite. He blessed all the wrong people. He told a nation that they were dark and tasteless where they were supposed to be light and flavorful. He went way past behavior management and into the hearer’s hearts.
It was stunning.
I loved it.
I couldn’t get enough of it.
And then I was given the codes of evangelical behavioral management. I didn’t hear as much about the stunning Jesus I couldn’t get enough of. But I heard a lot about not having Ozzy blaring with the windows down and not getting an earring and wondering how close I could get to sin without crossing some imaginary line of how far I could go with my girlfriend. Jesus got lost in the shuffle…even if the other stuff was by well-intentioned folks who loved and cared about me.
Which is why I started journaling.
I couldn’t reconcile what was going on in my heart with the social graces and evangelical codes. So, from where I sat, my mom could pay a therapist or I could buy a $0.99 composition notebook that looked like a cow and download there. In addition to the economics of it all, like my mom used to say, “therapy had a different stigma back then.”
And writing gave me the ability to process my thoughts.
How could I smile at my mom and say, “Yes, ma’am” when inside I was wanting to stab her in the eyes with a fork?
How could I sit in church while other folks seemed to love singing and wonder why the music was terrible and singing is for the birds unless you’re inciting a riot at the local punk club?
How could I act happy about holding hands with my girlfriend when what I really wanted to do was figure out a way to erase the line my youth pastor drew about how far is too far?
How could I talk to the guy who was discipling me about my spiritual growth when I was really lying to him about how many quiet times I’d had that week (which was, um, zero) or tell him I really didn’t know what consists of a quiet time?
How could I politely wave to the girl who cut me off in traffic when I was blaming her race for an unfair stereotype and wondering why Christians didn’t have any explicit gestures for just such occasions?
I could go on.
But at the end of it all, it was cutting through the social graces and evangelical codes and getting to the heart of the matters that started my writing. And getting to the heart of the matter seemed to me to be what Jesus was all about…getting to the heart of the matter and fixing the heart. So that’s why I started.
So why do I continue to write?
For the same reasons. Still trying to get to the heart of many matters. It helps me organize my thoughts and ask hard questions. Which is the first step to transformation.
And because sometimes, there are things that need to be said…out loud…but it’s wiser to wait until they’ve been processed and such. Transformation should be shared.
From the heart.
Because “social graces” and “evangelical codes” will stunt your growth and feed the status quo.
I view those as negatives.
The bottom line of why I write?
Because I still need to clear the mechanism of my brain’s weird thoughts, which will convict me of where my heart is awful, which will allow the parts of me that don’t look like the revolutionary Jesus to be cut away.
I took you a long way to get to the short answer…
…but, as best as I can discern, that’s why.
Your thoughts, patrons?