Monthly Archives: December 2015

Get Real

I’ll turn this thought over to a couple fellows brighter than I’ll ever be.

SØren Kierkegaard wrote, “A person with originality comes along, and consequently does not say: one must take the world as it is, but: whatever the world may be, I remain true to my own originality, which I do not intend to change according to the good pleasure of the world. The moment that word is heard, there is as it were a transformation in the whole of existence, as in the fairy story–when the word is said the magic castle, which has been under a spell for a hundred years, opens again, and everything comes to life. In the same way existence becomes all eyes. The Angels grow busy, look about with curiosity to see what is going to happen, for that is what interests them. On the other side, dark and sinister demons, who have sat idle for a long while gnawing their fingers, jump up, stretch their limbs: ‘This is something for us,’ they say.

“This is what the apostle means when he says that the Christian’s fight is not merely against flesh and blood but with principalities and powers.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, whom I consider the most influential philosopher of the modern age, contends that while peoples’ most common and dominant quality is laziness their second most common and dominant quality is a kind of nervous fear. He argues that what they fear most is the trouble refusing to conform and exposing who they truly are would cause them. So, he admonishes, become who you are. And, he warns us, creators must be hard and courageous, because the artist’s task is to show how unique people really are, what a wonder each of us is. To encourage the hesitant, Nietzsche offers, “The secret of the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is: to live dangerously.

In his work on myth, Joseph Campbell advises us to follow our bliss and promises that if we do so without fear, doors will open where we didn’t even know doors existed. He reminds us that in the story of Sir Galahad, “the knights agree to go on a quest, but thinking it would be a disgrace to go forth in a group, each ‘entered into the forest, at one point or another, where they saw it to be thickest, all in those places where they found no way or path.’”

Where we see a path, it’s someone else’s path. So: “Each knight enters the forest at the most mysterious point and follows his own intuitions. What each brings forth is what never before was on land or sea: the fulfillment of unique potentialities, which are different from anybody else’s.”

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In church, Olga Savitsky reads poems of hers she feels God wants us to hear. She believes God gave her the poems, as did William Blake and no doubt vast numbers of us writers too afraid of appearing ridiculous to admit that belief.

Olga’s poems are rough. She hasn’t studied poetry writing or even read much poetry beyond what she got in school, and she didn’t major in literature or writing. Yet inspired lines leap out of her poetry and grab us. I suspect the spirit enters her poems because above all, she means them to be honest expressions of her heart.

When I was 13, my dad told me, “If you want a girl to fall for you, don’t try to impress her, just be yourself.”

Each of us is more unique than we have ever suspected. But we’ve been taught to conform, in actions, language, ideas, and even daydreams. If there exists on earth a culture that isn’t structured toward creating conformity I’d like to know about it.

Now and then, someone breaks through the programming, discovers who she is and lives as her real self, and we either view her with amazement, or with suspicion, or we send the police or the church ushers to restrain her.

A few writers impress me as being so original we have reason to wonder if they came from another planet or another reality. Franz Kafka, SØren Kierkegaard, Flannery O’Connor, and Olga come to mind as such masters at being themselves.

Though I may never find my original self to the degree they did, or even dare to expose what parts of me I do find, I’m convinced that to the extent I can be real, honest and true to myself, at least while writing, people will read and value my stories.

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By the way, an ebook copy of Writing and the Spirit makes a swell (and mighty inexpensive) Christmas gift?

 

The San Bernardino Massacre

I’ve been missing church a lot due to Zoë’s weekend softball tournaments. But with the fall season concluded, I attended a service last Sunday, about ten days after the San Bernardino massacre. As we also live in Southern California,  I supposed the message might include some thoughts about coping with fear or anxiety.

The sermon did feature advice about finding peace, but I thought if I were preaching, I would address fear and anxiety more directly. Then I thought, hey, I’m due to write another church for writers post.

So here goes:

Mostly as a parent, I have learned that the best and maybe the only way to change anyone’s behavior is to change my own behavior. If someone is argumentative, I can forgo my inclination to argue. If someone acts moody, I can attempt to model equanimity.

Similarly, if fear or anxiety threaten my peace, I can counteract them by actively pursuing peace. And I know of no better way to pursue peace than by turning away from my selfish concerns and turning toward love.

Soren Kierkegaard, maybe the wisest philosopher of modern times, considered Christ’s admonition to love our neighbors a command for us to love without distinction. Repeat, love without distinction.

Granted the difficulty of acting in love toward everybody all the same, we can certainly move in that direction.

Recently I attended a talk by the principal of the high school Zoë hopes to attend. He is a retired U.S. Army general. When asked how he intended to safeguard the students, he replied that the most effective way to prevent violence is to treat every person, regardless of whatever, with dignity. In the vocabulary of Christ, I believe this means to love our neighbors.

So my best advice on how to confront fear or anxiety or to cope with an increasingly violent world is the same as my best advice about parenting or writing. Here goes:

In all pursuits, the most effective action I can take is to love better.

My most common prayer is, Lord, please help me learn to love better.

As Walt Whitman wrote: “Love the earth and sun and animals. Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks. Stand up for the stupid and crazy. Devote your income and labor to others … And your very flesh shall be a great poem.”

1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear …”