13 10 2009

I’m going to write a novel next month.

This statement is not quite as random as it sounds. I signed up yesterday to become a part of the 11th annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  (see badge, at right)  Along with other aspiring writers from around the world,  I will be spending the month of November trying to crank out 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days.  (Yikes!! The longest thing I’ve ever written, to date, is my senior honors thesis, which weighs in at a mere 19,288 words.  And it took me an entire year to complete)

Now, notice that I didn’t say I’m going to write a good novel.  Half the fun of this organization/challenge is that all of the participants, it seems, are self-aware enough to realize that typing out 1,677 words a day, ad nauseum, can lend itself to a whole lot of awful prose.  As the FAQ state:

If I’m just writing 50,000 words of crap, why bother? Why not just write a real novel later, when I have more time?

There are three reasons.

1) If you don’t do it now, you probably never will. Novel writing is mostly a “one day” event. As in “One day, I’d like to write a novel.” Here’s the truth: 99% of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a novel. It’s just so far outside our normal lives that it constantly slips down to the bottom of our to-do lists. The structure of NaNoWriMo forces you to put away all those self-defeating worries and START. Once you have the first five chapters under your belt, the rest will come easily. Or painfully. But it will come. And you’ll have friends to help you see it through to 50k.

2) Aiming low is the best way to succeed. With entry-level novel writing, shooting for the moon is the surest way to get nowhere. With high expectations, everything you write will sound cheesy and awkward. Once you start evaluating your story in terms of word count, you take that pressure off yourself. And you’ll start surprising yourself with a great bit of dialogue here and a ingenious plot twist there. Characters will start doing things you never expected, taking the story places you’d never imagined. There will be much execrable prose, yes. But amidst the crap, there will be beauty. A lot of it.

3) Art for art’s sake does wonderful things to you. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It makes you want to take naps and go places wearing funny pants. Doing something just for the hell of it is a wonderful antidote to all the chores and “must-dos” of daily life. Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.

Hmmm….either I’ve drunk the NaNoWriMo Kool-Aid, or that actually makes sense.  So, either expect me to disappear from the face of the blogosphere next month, as I will be expending my writing energy elsewhere;  or expect a lot of updates, word counts, and if you’re lucky, an excerpt or two.

Right now, I’m excited.  We’ll see how I feel come mid-November.  In the meantime, I’m off to develop some characters and outline a plot…

Back to Crowder: Psalm 40

11 10 2009

BK01I first discovered the 40th psalm during my sixth grade Sunday School class, and it has been one of my favorites ever since.  (Although I suspect that the reason I picked this particular psalm had less to do with its message and more with the fact that it used the word “mire,” which I thought was a great word).  So, it was fun to come back to this passage through the book’s Lectio Divina approach (although, the Message translation uses the word “ditch” instead of “mire,” which took out a little bit of the fun).

This psalm is about being rescued, and it is about waiting patiently for that rescue.  Crowder compares it to the show Gilligan’s Island (or perhaps, its modern-day equivalent??); with every episode, the viewer watches as the characters get themselves into some kind of predicament, knowing that the situation will be resolved by the end of the show.

But that’s not what keeps the viewers coming back.  Throughout the whole overarching narrative of the show, the viewers (and the characters) are waiting for a bigger kind of rescue, the kind which will finally take them back home from the shipwrecked island.

And isn’t that the story of the entire Old Testament?  From Abraham, to Joseph, to Moses, to Joshua, to Gideon, to David, to Jonah…none of these characters are perfect.  They always get into trouble, and in spite of their mistakes and flaws, God always comes to their physical rescue.  But throughout the Tanakh, there are hints of another kind of rescue that is coming, one which we recognize as being fulfilled through the person of Jesus Christ.  This rescue is of a spiritual nature, intended for all of humanity: one which will finally bring us home.

We are living out these two stories, as well.  I’m reminded of a certain exchange in John 6 between Jesus and his disciples:

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

This passage occurs right after Jesus finishes feeding 5,000 people with just five barley loaves and two fish.  Yes, he is able to satiate our earthly desires, and provide us with all we need to satisfy our physical hunger.  But that’s not the whole story, nor is that even the most important part of the story!  He also has the solution to our spiritual hunger, an eternal solution.  This is the “big rescue” that we have been awaiting.  This is the final episode.

Make Space

11 10 2009

Last weekend, Jordan and I drove to Shreveport to spend time with our families.  Somewhere in the middle of Mississippi, we grew tired of our own CD collection and instead turned on the radio for entertainment.   We happened upon some random Christian station** that was hosting an interview with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove about his newest book, God’s Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth Gospel.  Jonathan is the director of the School for Conversion and the founder of Rutba House, a new monastic community, in Durham, N.C.

The conversation touched on several issues and Scripture passages that I have been mulling over lately.  At one point, the interviewer asked what we Christians are supposed to do with those pesky verses that tell us to take everything we have and give it to the poor; i.e. what does that look like for someone who walks down a busy urban street everyday and passes scores of homeless people, each begging for money?

(My ears perked up.  This particular question is one to which I have yet to find a satisfactory personal response.  As often as these interactions happens, I’m nonetheless always caught so off-guard that I never know exactly what to say or do.)

Jonathan responded, not by prescribing some universal protocol, but by explaining his own community’s response.  Rutba House, he said, has created space in their house for visitors who are in need of a hot meal or a place to stay.  Community members do not ignore their neighbors in need, nor do they salve their own consciences by giving out whatever leftover change happens to be in their pockets at any given moment.  Their policy requires far more work: a certain kind of openness, a radical hospitality, an investment of time (and space), and a willingness to build relationships.

Too much to ask?  At first glance, it may certainly seem that way.

But what sticks out to me most about his response is the forethought that is required: that the community has made space to allow these kinds of interactions to happen.  They prepare an extra room for their guests, make  sure they have an extra place setting at the table.  They probably allow a few extra minutes into their daily routines, just in case they meet someone new along the way.

I’m often frustrated by my failed attempts to embody “the Christian life.”  As much as I desire to embody the love of Christ, I end each day with the realization that I have a loooong way to go.  I don’t take the time to love people like I should; I don’t embrace opportunities to share my faith; I don’t give my money, time, or possessions away as freely as I should; I forget to pray, or read the Bible, or spend any kind of quality time with God; and I certainly don’t go out of my way to build relationships with people outside of my bubble.

But these things don’t just happen on their own.  I am slowly learning that I, too, must make space: in my schedule, in my home, in my mind, in my budget.  As Jordan and I prepare to move (again), we have the perfect opportunity to plan for our priorities and to be intentional about building our lives around a new kind of rhythm.

We must make space for the people and opportunities that pass us by on a daily basis.

We must make space for God.

**According to Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s website, the program was Moody Radio’s Prime Time America.  If you have a chance, listen here.