Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts

Friday, October 29, 2010

One of those nights

Jaimie's car died today.

I walked in circles for half an hour tonight.

No one reads my poems. (I think perhaps no one reads poems anymore, period. Or maybe mine are just bad.)

My job is frustrating.

At times, I feel very lonely.

I'm not sure what this post is about.

God is still good.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Blogs and Journals are Different. Next?

After church today, I finished editing a friend's church history paper, played Halo, went on a walk with my wife, and played some more Halo with one of my best friends. All of it—including the paper-editing, strangely enough—was incredibly relaxing. That's a good thing; I've needed to sit back and relax a bit. Courtesy of our busy schedule, opportunities to sit back and relax for any lengthy periods of time have been few and far between. Even when we are not doing something work-like, we have often been engaged socially, and as I noted the other day, I'm an introvert. I need time simply doing something by myself without interruptions.

I suppose that introversion is a significant part of why I enjoy blogging, writing for Pillar, and editing people's papers so much. Each is an activity I can do that ultimately reaches others in some way, but that I can do by myself, in the solitude of my own mind. Aside from the occasional (enjoyable) interruption by Jaimie, nothing really comes between me and the keys I type; I am alone with my thoughts and able to really process whatever is going on in life. THe same always held true for journaling, back when I journaled more frequently.

Journaling and blogging are less similar than they might at first appear. The one is private and the other public, of course, and that radically impacts the way that one writes. The things I put down in a journal, I was confident no one but me would ever read—or at least, no one but me and the people I choose to share those pages with. Thus, I could be completely and utterly open, dealing in very great detail with pains, struggles, frustrations, etc. I could name names when people hurt or angered me; I could rant to my heart's content; I could ramble on without fear of an audience growing bored. The sole point was expressing (and thereby expiating) emotion for which I had no other outlet.

Blogging, by contrast, is inherently social and searchable. If I were to write, "PJ King is a jerk" in a moment of annoyance at him, it would show up in his reader the next day, and be recorded across the internet in perpetuity—possibly remaining even if I took it down, thanks to the way that some internet archives work. In any case, word would get back to him; our friendship would be damaged, and things would require patching up that would never even have occurred were I to put my frustration to pen and paper rather than keyboard and screen. (Not to worry: I have never been tempted to write anything of the sort about him; he's a very excellent fellow.)

The other significant way in which blogging differs from journaling is the medium. Tapping away at keys and watching text scroll across a screen as you write is a very different experience from ink scratching across a page as you drag your hand along to form the letters' shape. The medium informs the words chosen, the mood set, the feel of it all. It is strange, almost inexpressible, but true. (I suspect this is a significant part of why, despite my best efforts, any electronic journaling attempt I ever made failed within days: it's simply not the same thing. Transpose the medium, and you have changed the message embedded therein. That's a truth we would do well to remember better, as our lives are constantly bombarded with new forms of media and new ways of processing information. Not all ways of processing data are equal—in fact, none are. Each has tradeoffs and balances that must be considered.

Over the course of this week, I may just try to write one journal entry—a real journal entry. We'll see. At the least, I will continue to make time to enjoy some solitude, lest I let myself be overwhelmed by socialization. I will write a book review for Pillar, put up my daily posts here, do some web design work, and do my daily tasks—but hopefully, I will do them well, and I will remember to enjoy the Sabbath along the way. (That's a post for a future day, though the thought underlies much of what I have written here.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Writing about Writing

For the first day since starting this project, I am not really motivated to write. The last several days, even when I had little to say, I felt motivated to put words out, and so was able to find something to say. Not so today. Yet here I am anyway: it would hardly to do fail my project only four days in.

Art is interesting that way (and under art here I include everything from writing to painting to singing). To do it well requires not only or even mostly inspiration but rather discipline. The two go hand in hand, of course, but one of them is an intangible, ethereal thing that can burn away like mist in the sun, and the other is something we can choose to engage. Without that choice, inspiration often fails us, because inspiration is often the product of hard work.

Yes, sometimes melodies or posts leap into my head fully formed, needing only to set them down, but far more often the best work I do comes out of the steady discipline of working despite the apparent lack of inspiration. Some of the very best orchestral writing I have ever done seemed rather dull at the time—it was solid, but did not feel very interesting. The perspective of history grants a different view, however, and usually a truer one (at least for those of us without a penchant for coloring our pasts the color of a Colorado sunrise).

So here I am, writing. And the words are flowing. They flow not because I had some well-formed plan for this post, but because I chose to sit down and write anyway. That is simply how art works. Will I look back on this post in a year and think it one of my best? It's unlikely. (Among other things, it's far too self-conscious and self-aware; metacognitive approaches have to be done exceptionally well to stand up to criticism, including the criticism of history.) Nonetheless, I will have achieved a few things when I set aside my computer and turn to other tasks.

First, I will have met the goal that I set for myself: to write every day. Let that goal slip just once, and the project has failed—perhaps not irretrievably, but it has failed nonetheless. I might still make 500 posts by the end of October, and I might even manage to write every other day this month, but success in a project like this is a matter of consistency. Letting a post go by means letting my discipline slack, and even if I "made up" for it later, that would miss the point of the project.

Second, I will have written a post. Not a terribly interesting one, perhaps, though those who enjoy commentary on the artistic and creative process may find a few interesting things to note here, but a post nonetheless.

Third, I will have had the opportunity to sharpen my thoughts on a few interesting points: the role of discipline in the creation of art, the strangeness of writing about writing (and especially writing about the writing that you're currently doing: writing about the writing that you're writing, so to speak), and the general nature of projects like this one. In short, I will have gained something even if no one reads this post.

In some ways, I think that's not unusual. Many people learn by writing. I know that in fleshing out responses to questions I often solidify my own thoughts. It is as though putting pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) acts as a lens to sharpen existing ideas, or a crucible through which those ideas have the dross expunged until what remains is much clearer and cleaner than what I started with. Strange, perhaps, but I think many people work this way. Otherwise, journaling in general and blogging in particular would not be so popular.

Finally, I will have laid the groundwork for a future and more detailed discussion of writing, and even of writing about writing. I promise not to spend too much time on metacognition, though, as I think the subject would quickly grow stale. In fact, I will make a commitment to myself as well as to you, my readers, not to discuss the issue again for two weeks. That should help keep things interesting.

Now: off to take care of a few things before Jaimie and I drive up to Tulsa to see the inimitable Trace Bundy in concert tonight. It should make for an excellent date!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Xanga Posts and Maturity

In yesterday's post, I referenced my first blogging efforts—and in order to link to them, went and found said earliest entries. They provide both a certain amount of humor, because I really was a typical freshman in many ways: big eyes at everything going on in college, overly dramatic responses to the events of my days, and overwhelmed by amounts of homework that would later seem trivial. Not to mention: I took myself far too seriously. (I wonder if, reading this entry five years from now, I will think the same of myself now?)

There is opportunity for serious reflection, as well, though. On the one hand, I am very much the same person I was then in terms of personality. I am still interested in a wide variety of things, I am still deeply passionate about the things of God, and I can still get very riled up about issues I care about. On the other hand, I am very different than I was five years ago (as not only my old blog entries but also everyone who knows me can attest). To all of you who knew me then: thank you for tolerating my many idiosyncrasies, follies, and rough edges, and for loving me despite them. I am who I am today in large part because of the ways God used you in my life in the intervening years.

It is sobering to realize how mature I thought myself at the time, in comparison to how immature I really was. Again, I wonder: will I think the same of myself now when I look back in five years? The answer, I am afraid, is probably.

Having a record of the past, of who we were and how we thought in the past, can be incredibly instructive—and incredibly humbling. If I grow was much in the next five years as I did in the past five (and God willing, I will), I will unquestionably look back on many of the things I say and do now with regret or embarrassment. I will be able to recognize then foibles and sins that now do not even register on my radar. If nothing else, the number of posts I had to smile at in chagrin as I read yesterday should remind me not to be overly confident in the things I am thinking and writing today. They, too, are subject to the revision and correction of the Holy Spirit, and so while I hold my views confidently, I should also hold them humbly.

That sort of humble confidence seems to be one of the areas many Christians struggle. We tend on the one hand toward confidence in our own wisdom, unbridled by humility, and on the other to think humility means holding our views so loosely they could be shaken free by a gust of Oklahoma wind. (Okay, bad example; Oklahoma winds can be downright tornadic. You take my meaning.) We should hold our views with confidence when we have taken the time to carefully orient ourselves to what Scripture says, but with the humility to admit that just as we have changed our minds before, we may do so again. We are not infallible. At the least, quick perusal of those early posts and some of my later views on things will certainly serve to highlight my changing views over time.

This sort of confident humility allows us to speak boldly and courageously in a gracious, gentle way. One of my greatest weaknesses is a tendency to communicate my views passionately but not courteously. Even when I think my tone is expressing mere intensity, it can often be mistaken for anger, anger at people, anger even at the people I am addressing. Clearly, I have a great deal more growing to do. In this, as in all things, I am thankful that the Holy Spirit is the one who sanctifies us—because 23 years of life have taught me just how futile self-improvement is.

Sometimes I may indulge in a bit of meta-discussion of the post. It should prove insightful. Today, for example, you'll get to see everything I wrote before I came up with anything meaningful to say.

Day 2 of blogging every day this month. Day 2 isn't hard. Day 24 probably will be. [Ed. note: given the below, that's an amusing opening.]

I had about three post ideas today, independent of the suggestions offered in response to my last post (which were good ones). Unfortunately, I lost all but one of them—a problem I have had before, and that I have even still failed to find a good solution to. Calling myself isn't an option, because I can't call my own phone number without it going directly to checking voicemail. Leaving myself notes is impossible in many cases because many of my best ideas come when I am driving. Perhaps I can start coming up with mnemonics. Thoughts?

Thanks to the time I spent writing the previous paragraph, my brain was able to retrieve another of the ideas. So now I will write about that. And stop talking about writing about it. Alas, now I am writing about writing it. And the circle continues. Metacognition, and meta-function in general, are topics I plan to tackle in a fair amount of depth. Just... not today.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Weddings, Photography, and Writing

I edited—in whole or in part—three articles for Pillar on the Rock tonight. They'll all be going up over the course of this week. If you haven't stopped by in a while, you should; Pillar is slowly shifting in the direction of an online magazine (a format we've been close to for a long time). Among other things, we're increasing the number of authors we have writing for us, and offering some broader perspectives on Christian living as it relates to the church.

Due to helping with Anthony and Megan Plopper's wedding, I had little time to write last week. I anticipate having only a little more this week (on Wednesday evening), as Jaimie and I will be traveling to an in Colorado from Thursday through Monday. We will have some time with my family, and I will get to reconnect with a number of friends from Focus on the Family Institute (now the Focus Leadership Institute) at a reunion being held this Friday through Sunday. I'm looking forward to seeing both friends and family again. It will have been a good week for visiting; Jaimie's whole family came up and visited us today. We really enjoyed spending a few hours with them—especially since it didn't involve driving to Fort Worth.

One of the little ways I helped Anthony and Megan with their wedding was taking engagement pictures for them. I was reminded, in the two or so hours we were at it, how very far I have to go as a photographer. (I also recognized the one significant shortcoming of my current camera body: it won't do spot metering. When you're shooting in high-contrast environments, that can be a serious time-killer!) Below are my favorite two pictures I took that day. You can see the rest of the ones I've put up so far here.

While those two came out well, I definitely still have a long ways to go as a photographer. Unfortunately, I have more hobbies than I can manage to sustain at any given time. I have my often-mentioned web design interest (I just added some more functionality to Pillar last week, focusing on a simple but pretty new animation for the navigation menu and on post snippets on the home page), music, writing, and reading projects!

I mentioned early in the year that I was planning to write a string quartet based on the life of David. I have never been able to get that project off the ground, thanks to a combination of busyness and a general lack of inspiration. Despite spending a great deal of time mulling it over in my head, I could never quite get the ideas to gel. I've recently been contemplating taking the same idea and writing a full-scale symphonic work (probably totaling 30 to 40 minutes of music). Obviously, that's a huge project, and it would take me a while with my current schedule. Nonetheless, I'm thinking hard about attempting it. I know I would enjoy it.

I have a few other projects in the dock as well. In addition to writing the final post in my series on alcohol over at Pillar (a controversial one, as you can imagine), I am brainstorming a post on discipleship, outreach, and the relationship between the two. I am continuing to work on my essay regarding media, pop culture, and relational wisdom; with some writing time set aside on Wednesday evening I may even be able to finish it. 52 Verses continues to plug along nicely; fully 8 poems are live now—each one a bit different from the others.

I've also been reading N. T. Wright's massive treatment of the historical evidence for the resurrection, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3). It's good, but very thick and very heavy reading. I also have a Joyce Meyer book waiting to be read and reviewed. (Odd as that may sound, I make a point to read and review a wide variety of books, because lots of other people read a wide variety of books, and the most useful content on this blog is in the book reviews, at least in terms of the reasons people come here from search engines.)

Jaimie is contentedly working her way through the latter parts of The Wheel of Time, and I am enjoying watching her do so. The further she gets, the more we can discuss, and since the series is one of my favorites, that makes for a lot of fun conversations. She also keeps baking me good cookies—which is great, except that it makes it far more difficult to steadily lose weight in my bid to get in shape for a marathon someday in the future. My running speed steadily increases, as does my strength, but it would be much easier if my wife weren't such a good cook. (Even so, I am managing to keep on target. It's hard, but I'm getting there, and enjoying it.)

Speaking of Jaimie: you should go take a look at the most recent posts on her blog. She has a knack for hammering out spiritual truth in compelling ways that pushes me to do better myself in my own writing. Her most recent posts, It Is Finished and Baby, Baby are both exercises in communicating transparently, honestly, and Truthfully about the realities of this life.

With that, I am going to go; I have some reading of my own to do this evening, and I plan to be up at 5am and at work at 6am tomorrow. May God bless you with his peace, whatever your circumstances, and may his grace be your hope and strength in all things.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I find more and more that I care deeply bout accomplishing meaningful objectives each day. I regularly find myself frustrated at work when my tasks seem unimportant or wasteful. I especially struggle when I have little to do. I am made to work.

Over the last 9 months, I have discovered that I love web design. I enjoy putting together attractive web sites, and I enjoy the challenge of making them work properly however one is viewing them. (Admittedly, my tangles with Internet Explorer have been less than pleasant.) At first I was designing Pillar, then redesigning this blog, then helping redesign Jaimie’s blog, then redesigning Pillar, then helping Stephen Carradini tweak the design for Gospelized, and finally doing the customizations for 52 Verses. Now that I have no such projects in view ahead of me, I feel a bit adrift.

In the past year, I have written a grand total of one piece of music, and that one not very long (though good, I think). Yesterday, I began work on a piece of clarinet and something—either piano or cello, depending on what the clarinetist can find in short order. It is refreshing; I somehow manage to forget how thoroughly entwined my soul and music are.

Yesterday, Jaimie began drawing in her sketch book—something she often used to do, but has but once or twice since we have been dating. She lost herself, apparently, in the strokes of her pencil. I know the feeling; it is how I feel when I wrote poetry, or let notes spill across (electronic) pages, or tweak a website’s design to perfection.

We are artists, all of us. Every one of us bears the imprint of our creator. I drive to work early enough to see the sunrise at one state or another—a glorious painting beyond the ability of my words to capture, no matter how I try. Our hearts are stirred by stories, moved by songs, stunned by the sweep of a cathedral. They leap at the sight of the Grand Canyon, ache to dance and shout and somehow take all the world in from the top of the Rockies, and crash in rhythm with the waves at ocean’s edge.

Not every man can be a painter, but all of us live to make something new. Every mechanic and every engineer, every plumber and yes, every person flipping burgers, is still making. Quibble if you will at their worth; admit, perhaps, that modernity so often fails to understand the point of beauty—but never deny that every man is a maker at heart. We each of us have a glimpse of God to offer to the world. Not, as so many have claimed, because we are all God, but because we were made to be like him: little mirrors that each one show a part of who he is.

I was made to make. So I sit and write posts and poetry. I spend hours on blog headers and pour my soul into new compositions. I work hard at work because I was made to make things well. Even when the things created are but lines of code that accomplish some end, I made them well. Praise God.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Poetry, Failing Memory, and Redesigns!

Strangely enough, writing poetry helps my prose. I imagine the same is true in reverse. A blogger I read recently commented to the same effect, quoting someone famous. Apparently, however, neither writing poetry nor writing prose seems to be helping my memory much, as I cannot remember the blogger in question or the famous writer he referenced.

Interestingly, I have had a great many poetical thoughts driving to work this week. I am not entirely sure why, though I have made a point to shut off the stereo system the last several days. Silence (even of the terribly partial variety one gets well driving on Oklahoma highways) is terribly helpful for thinking. For better or for worse, it is also better for exposing just how weak one's mental constitution is. (For the record: it is better to have that exposed, so that one can work on it, but it feels worse in the moment of realization.)

some current projects: I have just finished the final tweaks (most of them very subtle) here at Thoughts; A Flame. Jaimie's blog, Refining Process, just underwent a significant redesign using Blogger-In-Draft's new Template Editor (the same tool used to redo this blog). Pillar on the Rock will be getting a fresh new look sometime shortly, as well, this one courtesy of my imagination and quite a few hours spent coding... no default templates, however customized, for us!

Friday, April 30, 2010

An Immense Announcement Demanding Attention

This one, unlike the last one, is not about me, but about a friend. Stephen Carradini is one of the best writers with whom I am personally acquainted. I have known him for three and a half years, and have had the opportunity as a friend and mentor in that time to watch him grow in his knowledge of God. I have watched him grow from a self-assured boy into a humbler man, seen him deepen in his faith, and heard him say at least a dozen times, "This is the worst day of my entire life. Seriously."

Two nights ago, he went public with his newest art project: Gospelized. The project is an experiment in finding an artistic and unique way to comment on the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ's atoning work in history. You should read it. Stephen is not only doctrinally solid; he has a vision of God-honoring artistic excellence that matches my own and the talent to execute it well.

From his About page:

Short: Gospelized is an ongoing art project about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Stories, essays, poems, pictures, drawings, songs and more will grace these pages daily in an honest exploration of what the gospel means to an artist.

Long: I am distressed by the lack of Christians making good art.

You should read the rest of the "long" description... and then you should read some of the essays, poems, and songs he has posted. You should add him to your RSS feed reader, have his posts delivered to your inbox, or check his site every day. I say that not because he is my friend (or at least: not merely because he is my friend) but because he is endeavoring to do what is all-too rare in our Christian circles: make good art. Rarer yet, he is succeeding. You will enjoy his art, and you will come away understanding God and the gospel better.

What are you waiting for? Go read Gospelized!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Travesty!—Losing Thoughts Because I Didn't Write Them Down

I need to start writing down ideas that would make for good blog posts—either here or at Pillar on the Rock—when they pop into my head. I remember having at least three good ideas for blog posts today, two of them perfect for Pillar. Alas, I did not write them down, and now I sit here scratching my head, wondering what I should write about.

On that note, to all my readers: how would you go about remembering the blogging ideas that pop into your head when driving on a crowded highway? Writing it down, obviously, is out of the question. Help me out here: this is when I get (and lose) a solid third or more of my blog ideas throughout the day!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Scripture, Missiology, and Trying Too Hard

Sometimes, I try too hard. Like right now. I've been trying to think of something to write for Pillar on the Rock for the last two hours. Tried a few things... they did not work. I took a break, read my Bible for an hour, studied Titus in serious detail.

There are depths and profundities and riches in every book of the Bible, but I certainly gravitate toward the New Testament. I like words, and I like digging at the way they are layered together to form coherent arguments. The Epistles normally attract people because they are the most eminently practical aspect of the Bible, apart from Proverbs (another perennial favorite). Not me. They attract me because of the depths buried in the flow of authorial thought. I tend toward the gospels and the prophets when I am hungry for longer passages to read, but when I want to dig in on a text, I tend to sit down with an epistle and try to get in as close to the author's thought process as possible.

It is good for me to read the long narrative sections of the Old Testament on a regular basis (as it is good for all of us: that is why God included it). I see glimpses of God in the narratives that are not present in the same ways in the tightly constructed argument of Romans or the sermonic structure of Hebrews. Narratives and numberings are just as important as epistles and gospels. When I read through all of the Bible last year, I was incredibly challenged and blessed. Seeing the entire flow of history laid out in the biblical narratives, complemented by the proclamations of the prophets and the explications of the epistles, was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. That said, I am glad to be able to sit down and study Titus!

Last week, Jaimie and I were discussing missions, contextualization, and the importance of narrative and storytelling in many cultures. Many missiologists have suggested that missionaries need to shift the focus away from the western preoccupation with argument and toward the broader interest in story—not least since the Scriptures are filled with narratives. I think they have a good point; western Christianity has certainly been overly preoccupied with argument. However, I also think it is entirely possible to overcorrect, and I fear many missiologists are doing precisely that. Though we should certainly not emphasize reasoned argument more than Scripture does, neither should we emphasize it less. Certainly, when engaging other cultures, we ought to look for the God-built openings for the gospel already present. Sometimes those will be narrative; other times they will be argument; yet other times they will be poetry.

What is important is that the gospel is clearly communicated, and that the people do not stay where their culture is comfortable. Just as westerners often need to grow in understanding of the importance of story in Scripture—and not merely as analogy for our lives!—so people in other cultures may need to grow in understanding of the importance of argument, or poetry, or prophecy. These may not come naturally. Certainly I don't think that the prophets or Leviticus naturally seem immediately helpful to most American Christians, and so we must learn to think in the ways that the Bible thinks. The same is true in every culture.

And now I'm trying too hard again. Part of the challenge of writing for Pillar on the Rock is that I tend not to let my thoughts move naturally anymore: I am constantly looking for ways to tie the package up neatly. This is not entirely a bad thing—but then, a blog post is not exactly an article, and it should not be treated as such. Somewhere along the way is a balance, a clear expression of my voice. I will find it eventually—but like reading the Old Testament, it may require some work. It does not come naturally.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The first late night in a while

Perhaps I'm simply odd, but there is a part of me that very much enjoys staying up late writing. (Of course, that's the same part that is tempted to spell "writing" as "righting," so perhaps I am crazy.) Watching my wife work, I increasingly recognize that perhaps this is simply an oddity of writers.

I am rarely up this late anymore, thanks to the demands of a regular-hours job (and trust me: that is a good thing). I do occasionally miss the flexible schedule of college, especially as I often had the freedom to stay up late writing (or composing) and thinking. The only reason I am able to be up so late tonight is because I have lab time scheduled late tomorrow evening (from 7 to 10 pm) and I am only allowed to work 4 hours a day, tops, right now.

Whether because my brain is simply in a more meditative mood thanks to the late hour, or for some other reason, I find that I do much of my best reflective writing late at night. I also do some of my best composing late at night. A few years ago, I was working on a very tight deadline on a composition project and spent a number of late nights churning out the notes. The music I put out ended up being my single favorite chamber piece I composed in all of college, though I wrote it in less than 3 weeks. Similarly, many of my favorite blog posts over the years were published after midnight.

I am not the only person to find late hours productive. In addition to my aforementioned wife, I know that many writers have historically found the night a good time to work, as have many of the great men of God. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that there are far fewer distractions available late at night than there are during the day. The world is a far quieter place—even in our technologically humming age—when the sun has gone down and the rumble of traffic has died to a minimum. A little gentle music (or simply the steady pulse of a clock's ticking) and the tapping of a keyboard or the stroke of a pen are very beautiful things indeed.

Jaimie and I were discussing Karl Marx today, as she's been reading his work for a "Books of Western Civilization" class she's enrolled in. It struck me that the Marxist countries have never really known what to do with their artists, except use them as propagandists... and the reason is simple: Marx's philosophy had no room for art. For all his rejection of the symptoms of modernity's emptiness, he only substituted one form of utilitarianism for another. Just as capitalism has little understanding of the value of art in and of itself, tending either to ignore art or abuse it beyond recognition, socialism finds no room for art that is not directed at some societal end.

Stephen Carradini shares one of my great passions: to change the world with art. It is harder to do than one might think... world-changing art is rare. I would argue it is rare for at least three reasons: first, that world-changing art must be exceptional in merit; second, that it must challenge its audience without so deeply affronting them that they ignore it; and finally, that it must say something ultimate, though its subject is usually incredibly mundane. Whether world-changing art is beneficial or not largely (perhaps entirely) depends on whether its author is working within a Christian framework (though whether he or she is doing so consciously is another issue entirely).

Sleep calls me, but art calls me as well. I wonder: is this the perpetual dilemma of every even slightly artistic soul, to be torn between health and the mad rush to create? If so, perhaps it is no coincidence that our Creator-God rested when he had made all that is.

And yes, I am self-aware enough and thoughtful enough even at this late hour to recognize that one consequence of writing so late (especially being out of practice as I am) is that the post above is essentially a series of small non sequiturs.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Writing and Idolatry

Even as I worked to redesign my blog yesterday, I continued to contemplate the issue of voice in my writing. Part of the answer struck me at church today. (Conviction struck me a moment later as I realized I was thinking about blogging instead of worshipping God.) I realized that, especially at Pillar, my writing over the last few months has moved in a very systematic direction. Lists, four-point analyses, and carefully organized paragraphs have become the norm for me. Even now, writing here, I find myself moving that direction. Systematic approaches are not in and of themselves bad. To the contrary, they are often very helpful for quickly navigating the content of a blog.

However, my writing flows better when it flows. If you will allow me the metaphor: I can sometimes forget that I am a musician as well a programmer with a physics degree. Writing is not merely a problem to be solved; it is also an activity to be enjoyed. Words are not merely a means to the end of communicating content, at least for me: they are also a source of beauty and joy. When content eclipses beauty as the goal of my writing (or, frankly, vice versa) bad things happen. The time I spent learning to write technically was good, and I will never forget my physics professor's quiet amusement at the language in the first draft of my capstone paper. That said, a style that was horribly inappropriate in the context of a scientific paper may not be inappropriate in the context of my personal blog or even a more tightly focused platform like Pillar on the Rock.

In my mind, these past few days, Pillar on the Rock has come to represent a number of challenges facing me. The first was my search for my voice, and my recognition that writing for Pillar has changed my writing—and not always to the better. Of course, the problem is not the blog itself, but how I have allowed my goals to decide (and not merely influence) my style. I hope to change that over the next few weeks and months.

Similarly, I recognized today that I have allowed my work on Pillar to channel my theological interests and passions in a particular direction. Again, this is not anything intrinsic in the blog; it is my (very bad) tendency to allow a project to dictate my overall direction. In this case, my focus on church has distracted me from the very reason I was passionate about the church in the first place: my passion for the glory and supremacy of God himself. As I have written before, when anything takes the place of God himself as our chief passion or greatest love, it has become an idol. That means that healthy churches can easily become an idol, and there are few more dangerous idols I can conceive of. Striving for churchly goodness without God's glory as our only real aim will lead us to tear the body of Christ down faster than any imperfection would.

Of course, if I return to the original topic of this post, then I must admit that writing well is as apt to become an idol as doing church well is—and the consequences would be no less disastrous. Writing well is a good goal. But it will remain a good goal only while I strive to point not to the quality of my own writing but to the glory of the one who spoke the world into existence. He loves words, so I should love words too—but I should love the Word far more.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Losing my voice

Somewhere in the past few months, or perhaps even the last year, I seem to have lost my voice. In the midst of reading back through some old blog posts, and comparing them to both posts here and posts over at Pillar on the Rock, I realized that there is not not only a distinct stylistic difference between past and present but also something of a loss.

I suspect some of this has to do with my capitulation to the long-standing call for simpler writing. It's a worthwhile goal, no doubt, but I made the decision to move in the direction of modernity without considering the impact on my personal voice, or how I might offset that in other ways. Truth be told, I'm still not sure how to write concisely while still maintaining the individual color that makes my writing so distinctly my own.

A few years ago, a friend gave me a very great compliment when she noted that I tend to speak the way I write, while most people write the way they speak. In the time since, I've noted two trends in my speaking: a tendency to slide toward the vernacular, and a slow progression away from the clear enunciation that I once possessed. Both trends annoy me somewhat. Both are the result of peer pressure, though in rather different ways. My enunciation has begun to deteriorate thanks to prolonged exposure to the more slurred mode of speech common everywhere throughout the South, even here in Oklahoma. I do not have any particular disregard for Southern accents; I simply have no desire to pick one up myself. On the other hand, my vocabulary has moved quite consciously, in response to others' comments that I made them feel talked-down to. This, like the change in my writing, is a decision I do not regret, but that I wish I had made more thoughtfully.

It is possible to speak just as carefully and clearly in simpler words as in more complex ones, though perhaps more difficult. Likewise, it is possible, though somewhat challenging, to be both concise and maintain my slightly peculiar approach to writing. I just have no idea how to express myself in a way that is both readable and strange.

I wonder, of course, to what extent we should accommodate ourselves to the whims of culture in these sorts of things. My contrarian (perhaps rebellious is more accurate) streak runs directly contrary to the idea that, if I am going to be read and appreciated by more than my circle of friends and family, I must write in a certain vein... not least because many of the best authors write in ways that thoroughly defy convention. Of course, they get away with it because they are superb and particularly talented writers. I might like to think that I am among the number of supremely talented writers who can, with some careful thought, do what they desire and get away with it, convention thrown out the window. A more realistic accounting of my abilities, however—not to mention my readership—would tend to suggest that I am not, in fact, in that prestigious group, and would thus be better off finding some way to accommodate my preferences to society's tastes, at least if I ever wish to be read.

How to do this is the question of the hour, perhaps indeed of the month. Experiments lie ahead. Perhaps, when all is said and done, I will have found my voice again and found some way as well to make it readable.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How Mono is like Sin, and other ramblings

It's been a month since I last blogged here. I've had mono, and one of the consequences has been an inability to focus for long periods of time. For obvious reasons, that puts a bit of a damper on my blogging ability. Seeing as I have a pretty solid commitment elsewhere on a regular basis, the result has been my absence from this blog. (I'd have been more worried if I had more regular readers!)

Before anyone asks, I haven't a clue how I got the silly disease. The only woman I've ever kissed, my beautiful and amazing wife Jaimie, has never had mono, and I don't share drinks with people. Mysterious infections are even lamer than unmysterious infections.

it's in times like this that I'm particularly grateful for a job like the one God provided. I'm blessed by being able to actually take the doctor's orders and stay home and rest. Mono is what's often called a nuisance disease: you don't feel terrible, and in fact you're often relatively functional. Bad spells of headaches, dizziness, and extreme fatigue are offset by the relatively regular times in between. The trick is, you won't get better unless you rest... a lot. So, when the doctor prescribed bedrest, I counted myself blessed to have a job with good short-term disability benefits, so that I can stay home and rest.

Being unable to concentrate for long periods of time has been strange. Normally, when I'm at home sick, I do a lot of reading. I've done comparatively little in the last two weeks, though, because I've simply been unable to drive my mind through any substantive books. I've managed a little Star Wars, a little Asimov, and a very little bit of a neat anthology I picked up recently, Leland Ryken's The Christian Imagination. It's a good one, but as is often the case with anthologies, it doesn't have a solid line of thought through; it's organized by theme, so it gets a little repetitive. Not really the best recipe for overcoming mental stamina problems...

As I'm thinking about mono, I realize that in a lot of ways, its day to day effects are an excellent picture of how sin works in the life of a Christian. In some ways, you barely notice its effects, especially once you get used to them. But the effects are always there, dragging you down, preventing you from doing what you truly want to do. I can't play Ultimate, write blog posts easily, read long, difficult books, or even go to work. Similarly, sin keeps me from loving my wife as well as I want, from reaching out to neighbors or peers with the gospel effectively, or serving selflessly in the church. It attacks in subtle ways that, save for the rare flareups, are hardly noticeable. But, like mono, it simply will not go away unless you get serious about dealing with it. I'll paraphrase John Owen: if you're not attacking mono, it's attacking you, and the same thing goes for sin.

Hopefully I'll be back to normal soon, posting here at least once a week and going to work and even, a few weeks later, playing some Ultimate. In the meantime, if you want blog posts from me, head over to Pillar on the Rock, if you want Ultimate somebody's playing it near you, and if you want work, well, there's always some to be done (though I'll definitely pray for you if you're out of work in the current recession).

Come back next time, when I'll get really crazy and compare sin to some sort of carnivorous plant! (No promises.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

On Writing Well in the Digital Age

William Zinnser on the need to write well in the digital age as much or more than ever before:
Some of you, hearing me talk to you so urgently about the need to write plain English, perhaps found yourself thinking: “That’s so yesterday. Journalism has gone digital, and I’ve come to Columbia to learn the new electronic media. I no longer need to write well.” I think you need to write even more clearly and simply for the new media than for the old media. You’ll be making and editing videos and photographs and audio recordings to accompany your articles. Somebody—that’s you—will still have to write all those video scripts and audio scripts, and your writing will need to be lean and tight and coherent: plain nouns and verbs pushing your story forward so that the rest of us always know what’s happening. This principle applies—and will apply—to every digital format; nobody wants to consult a Web site that isn’t instantly clear. Clarity, brevity, and sequential order will be crucial to your success.
Quite right, and it's important to remember. Writing well is hard work, but it is always important—perhaps especially when the temptations not to are so great.

HT: Mike Pohlman at TGC

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A man like David

I'm back, and life is at last settling down into something of a normal routine again. I'm posting twice a week for Pillar on the Rock, and trust me when I say that writing two posts a week is a lot more manageable than doing the web design. I was spending 10-20 hours a week working out kinks on the site design back when PJ and I were getting it ready to deploy. The four or five hours a week I spend writing, editing my own and PJ's posts (he edits mine), and posting links to them on Twitter and Facebook seem pretty trivial in comparison. Now the holidays are over, I'm back at work, and our personal lives have settled down a bit, at least for now.

So here I am, in the few minutes I have before heading off for worship practice, tapping away at my computer on my own blog. A shock, I'm sure, to my many (ahem, not-so-many) readers.

It is, as ever, difficult to express just how much change a year brings. Certainly this year brought more than most—transitions out of college and into marriage and the working world being chief among them—but every year has its share of challenges, victories, and changes. I spent less time writing poetry and music this year than in any year since high school, and I missed both. I missed spending long hours late at night tapping away at my blog, too, in some ways. Yet I would not trade my life now for the one I had before in any way. Though I sometimes wish for more hours to read and write and compose instead of programming, I count myself the most blessed of men for the wife God has given me and the life He daily provides. Besides, programming is a good job.

My resolutions this year are few and simple: diligently study the word of God, by His grace kick a couple of troublesome sin habits in the face until they truly yield, and read a lot of good books. My goals are a bit broader: they include studying Greek at least once a week and composing equally often. My desires, from playing guitar to ranking up in Halo online, well... we'll see.

This I know: God will do mighty things this year, even if I can't see them. I'm going to content myself with learning, as best I can, to be a man like David. Early in his life, a man said of him: "[He] is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the LORD is with him" (1 Samuel 16:18). That seems a worthy goal to me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Trinity, Chesterton, and the Wells quintet

My reading list is three pages long and growing. Every time someone recommends a good book that sounds interesting—in person, on a blog, in a sermon—it gets scribbled, e-mailed, or straight-up added to the document. This year for Christmas I asked for precisely two categories of gifts from friends and family: books, and gift cards for my wife to use decorating our apartment.

My current reading list, then, includes David Wells' quintet of books on American evangelicalism (minus Above All Earthly Pow'rs, which I've already read), Volume VI of the Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, and The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship by Robert Letham. Light reading, eh? My plan, though we'll see how well I accomplish it, is to rotate one of these and many other similar books with some lighthearted fiction, trying to read one of them every two weeks, over the course of the next few months. I hope to write reviews of each book as I finish it—at least, the nonfiction. Toss in some composing, writing for Pillar on the Rock, and hopefully studying Greek, and last but most importantly spending time with my wife, and I've a lot to do!

There are, of course, worse problems to have...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Beauty, Complexity, Simplicity: A Meditation on Writing

I love words. I love stringing them together in long, elegant phrases. I love letting them tumble over each other like waves rumbling up a beach at high tide. And I have, perhaps, devoted too many hours to Tolkien.

When your literary heroes are half a century gone, you have a tendency to write like you are half a century gone.

Two friends of mine have long loathed my writing for its needless complexity. Their dislike used to annoy me. Now I simply smile at them and look forward to heaven, where I will be free to enjoy long, florid sentences.

I've written nearly 500 blog posts in the last four years. My writing has changed nearly as much in that time as I have. In the last three months, it's changed even more.

It's said that John Calvin helped shape modern French by using short, colloquial sentences. Making oneself understood is a noble goal, so thus do I write henceforth: as colloquially, conventionally, briefly, coherently, and especially unseparated-by-an-endless-chain-of-commas-or-hyphens-ly as possible.

I have spent nearly as much time writing these past months as my wife, the professional writing major. Writing for two blogs will have that effect, of course. (No doubt Jaimie will be writing far more than me in the coming semesters, when she writes short stories and then a novel.) Along the way I have thought about Eliot's admonition to use fewer words, chosen more carefully. In general, I agree.

On the other hand, I miss poetry in prose. I miss the long rising and falling of breath in a sentence. I miss landscapes and textures of clothing. I miss an age when we delighted in paintings.

I sometimes fear that in seeking to communicate as concisely as possible, we can miss opportunities for splendor. There may be as much beauty in a simple wooden church building as in a Gothic cathedral—but not more. Profundity can often be embodied in very few words. Sometimes it cannot.

Many of the greatest discoveries in physics were mathematically straightforward, however revolutionary. From Galileo through Einstein, each discovery pointed to modernity: determinism embodied in simple, elegant equations. Then quantum mechanics came and flipped the world on its head, especially when Feynman got ahold of it. It points to complexity and choice: postmodernism embodied in probabilities. It has taken a generation to recognize the orderliness and coherence of the quantum world. It will take another—at least—before we reconcile these two visions.

I mourn the loss of high language in writing, even as I appreciate the gain in precision we have made. Perhaps, with enough practice, we can learn to mingle the two.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Flower bazookas - 500 words, 11/11/09

To men: remember that flowers are a veritable bazooka amongst weapons of love. (There's a turn of phrase you don't hear very often: "weapons of love." I'm going to use it regularly.) You should make a point to bring home flowers as often as you can, in as many unexpected and varied ways as you can. Go to the grocery store as a generous overture, and come back with flowers. Don't do it to get a favor, or to manipulate; bring her flowers because you love her. One last thing: bring whatever kind she likes best.

Actually having work to do is incredibly fulfilling. As much as it sounds nice to get paid to sit around and do nothing, it's actually quite frustrating. Simply put, man was made to work. God designed us for it. Work became unpleasant after the Fall; it was instituted from the beginning. Thus, when we aren't working, we very soon feel useless, and life begins to become rather dull and frustrating. Having experienced that recently, I am really enjoying being able to meaningful work to the glory of God. (Though if someone wants to pay me to simply read and write...)

My content on this blog has been low all year. The reasons have varied even while the results have remained the same. Shockingly enough... that's not going to change, for what I might call obvious reasons (the new blog PJ King and I just launched). In some sense, the reasons haven't changed: part of the reasons I've written so little of late is because I was spending many an hour working on getting the HTML and CSS properly set up and building images. It's nice to finally be able to write there. Long story short: writing beats coding.

I'm inclined to think the old saying, "When as Rome, do as the Romans" has limited value. There are times and areas of life where that's good advice. There are also times when it's awful advice. For example, hypothetically speaking: if I were in a community where education and intelligence were seen as tolerable at best, would it behoove me to act uneducated and intelligent? Or should I find some other course in which I tried not to offend but did not mask my personality? Or should I tray to sway the community? It's quite a balancing act, I think.

Last Sunday night, Wildwood Community Church hosted a worship night. I was blessed to be able to participate with the worship team, as I am on Sunday mornings. There is such joy in coming before God with people of all ages, from a variety of backgrounds, to offer praise and adoration to Him. One of the great joys of this particular service was the children: in normal Sunday services, the children are all in Sunday school. Here, they worshiped among and with us. It was a small, beautiful picture of heaven.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

5 100ish-word thoughts, 10/28/09

Composing Training Trials while Reading and Writing

(1) I'm going to make this one a habit if I can, too. It's fun, and it's a good writer's challenge: say meaningful things, briefly. It's especially a good challenge for me, as I'm sure my friends agree! I will write 5 thoughts, none of which will be longer than 100 words (they might be a bit shorter!). Topics will range from theology to humor to current events, and probably back again. Each week will include a wide range of topics. Short, easy, good practice, and hopefully fun reading! Alas, I must move on, as I'm at 99 words already...


(2) As I, and I'm sure many others, have observed before: it's not the big, short trials that are the hardest. (They can be plenty hard, but they're not the worst.) The most difficult trials to endure are the ones that simply keep going. I noted several years ago that James' famous exhortation to "count it all joy" continues by promising that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. Implication: we're going to be facing the trial for quite some time. We'd better start learning to count it all joy: we'll be doing it a lot!


(3) Training can be one of the dullest and most tedious affairs I've ever experienced. Especially training for software tools. Elegant and powerful this tool may be, but the book would be powerful only as an implement of pain, and never elegant. My days this week have been long and dreary. Three things help, in ascending order: (1) the instructor has a superb British accent; (2) I know that my wife is waiting for me at home; (3) I get to have a very short work day on Friday. Thus do I endure my pain. Longsuffering, indeed!


(4) The joy of reading a new book is difficult to overstate. That being said, I'm pretty sure the joy I have in reading a new The Wheel of Time novel is quite impossible to overstate. I love the characters, I love the world, and I love the story. I'm reminded, every time I sit down to read this fantasy epic (and epic it is) of the power of words to stir the imagination, and how powerful and important the imagination is. Reading good novels is as good for us as reading good nonfiction, the Bible aside.


(5) Composing is a strange pursuit. Not that I've done much of it recently, but I've missed it, and I've thought about it quite a bit. I do not quite understand the mechanism by which people can pull music seemingly out of nowhere, despite having experienced it myself many times. It is, to me at least, one of the deepest proofs of God's existence: we create because He does. (I'd say it's one of the quietest proofs, but that's not quite right, and it'd be a bit paradoxical to claim music as a quiet proof, don't you think?)


God bless, and good night!