Tag Archives: church

Inspired?

I go to a church where people occasionally stand (or remain sitting) and bring a prophetic word. And I suspect the inspiration they receive that prompts these outbursts may be of identical substance to the inspirations that seem to compel us writers to feel what people call “in the zone,” as if the words we write are coming from elsewhere.

I was having lunch with Charlie Gregg, a pastor and pastor’s kid. He’s witnessed probably thousands of what church folks call “words of knowledge” and also written plenty of sermons, devotions and stories. He agreed with my comparison and added, “I feel most convinced that the promptings are from God when I’m in worship.”

Perhaps that’s a universal experience. If so, and if we could all find a worshipful (or thankful or open-hearted) attitude to write within, we’d likely be more open to the spirit’s instructions.

Spirit?

Morty Sklar founded a publishing venture called The Spirit That Moves Us.

That’s the spirit I mean.

As most earnest writers would agree, we write because we have to. We get depressed when we don’t. Something tells us to write down what we see, feel or imagine. After we’ve followed that direction, something tells us, “Develop that more, you haven’t told the whole story.” When we ask, “What’s the whole story?” something says “You’re only going to learn that by telling it well.”

In the end, when we’ve created a story or poem or essay that seems to transcend what we know and what we intended and that teaches us something new, we probably feel closer to the joy God knows in creation than anybody other than creators can feel.

Maybe the something that urges and compels us is what we Christians call the Holy Spirit. If so, we should pay more attention to that advisor.

On ChristianityToday.com, I read: “I’ve puzzled over a riddle for some time now. It goes like this: Those who call on Jesus for salvation are given the Holy Spirit. It’s through the Spirit’s power that we, simple jars of clay, are able to shine golden and do wonderful things beyond our human capability. So, why do Christians, who claim access to the original creator, so often produce poor art?”

One reason may be that Christians tend not to value their imaginations as much as they value order and discipline. Art can be messy.

I suspect most artists could get diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. But, at least in most cases, I wouldn’t consider that condition a disorder. I’d call it a blessing.

When I start to pray, after a few seconds, my mind drifts, and the prayer gets left behind. I’ve tried meditating. My mind refuses to shut down, or even relax. Now, “prayer warriors” and avid pursuers of meditation would no doubt assure me that practice would bring control over my wandering mind. But so far I haven’t felt God urging me to dedicate myself to lengthy prayers or daily meditation. I have, though, sensed him telling me to write most every day.

I suspect we artists were created to scatter more readily, to be more self-propelled than other folks, and to resist imposed structures. So, maybe our best road for inching or rushing closer to God is the same road that will lead us toward better paintings, songs or stories. Maybe, since God appears to have designed us to make art, we’ll never find peace or please God any other way.

Or maybe I’m nuts.

A selection from Writing and the Spirit, by Ken Kuhlken

Okay, We’re Ransomed, Now What?

We Christ followers believe we were ransomed, bought out of imprisonment, and granted freedom.

So what does this mean to us writers (and by extension to every believer)?

I suspect the answer depends upon our level of gratitude. The casually grateful can, I suppose without much pang of conscience, proceed to follow the money, the acclaim, or whatever they prize. The moderately grateful are likely to now and then use their work in a way that honors the gift of freedom. And the radically, wholeheartedly grateful may echo the attitude of William Cowper when he wrote, “There is A Fountain Filled with Blood”, “Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die.”

I know writers who profess to Christian faith yet whose work gives not a shred of corroborating evidence. No doubt part of the reason is, characters who act in ways Christ advocates are generally not very dramatic.

An early novel of mine features two sisters. One is beautiful in every way, thoughtful, gentle and giving, a lay sister with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. The other is prideful, impulsive, thoughtless, seductive but disloyal. I sent the manuscript to a friend who a successful writer friend. He suggested I get rid of the good sister. He loved the bad one.

Writing in honest accord with our beliefs is a challenge and a half, and it may become a liability if our goal is to prosper or even survive on our writing income.

Often I have felt the need to choose: either write something with which I hope to earn a big check, or work at a day job and write the stories I feel called to write.

“Feel called” is a tricky concept. If we choose to apply it, wisdom dictates we ask ourselves some tough questions, so many in fact I’ll leave the topic for now and pick it up again later.

For now, perhaps this poem by Billy Collins will inspire us with more wholehearted gratitude.

The System

I read a masterful analysis of how corruption worked in Los Angeles during a certain period: business interests needed organized crime because crime bosses rented their buildings, used their construction companies, and provided goods and services they prized. Politicians needed business people whose support won them terms in office. The legal community, district attorneys, police commissioners, and judges  needed the politicians, who could hire and fire them at will. Cooperation benefitted them all.

I’ll describe the contemporary Christian community with a similar analysis.

Churches need book publishers and journalistic media to promote their ministry and to validate their messages. Christian publishers need churches as a platform through which authors can promote books. And Christian media supports itself by promoting the publishers and appealing to the generosity of believers nurtured in the faith by churches. Cooperation benefits them all.

The similarity of these systems doesn’t mean the Christian community is corrupt. My reason for pointing it out is to reveal that, though intentions may be pure and noble, the alliance of churches, publishers, and media effectively suppresses the freedom and vigor of Christian art and culture. Currently, the only voices or views that get widely proliferated are those in accord with and beneficial to churches. The System acts as a censor.

Though I love my home church and wish all churches well, I know that among their motives are some more practical than spiritual. A church needs to pay the bills, keep the doors open, and provide the parishioners with what they came looking for.

Churches do wonderful service. What they don’t do is shed light on many critical issues or make room for strikingly original, provocative, or simply alternative voices.

Perelandra College exists to do what churches don’t, to invigorate Christian culture and to free artists and thinkers restrained or discouraged by the system. This by no means limits us to serving only Christ followers. Rather we welcome everyone and are vigilant to ensure that beliefs of all sorts are honored and valued.

Still, the college was founded as a non-profit religious corporation, essentially a church whose target congregation is artists, whose primary mission is to empower believers with skills and courage, to help them become free and able to write and publish the truth as they see it.

Sylvia Curtis, a wise friend, sometime mentor, sometime antagonist and the basis for a character in several of my novels viewed humans as either people of good will or the others. Lately I also find myself dividing humanity and especially believers into two categories: answer people and question people. Though hardly anyone is all one or the other,  in most of us one of those categories dominates. Perelandra College is a church for question people, which artists must be.

Olga Savitsky is the college’s eternal poet laureate. She and I used to imagine the sort of church we wanted to create. Lots of poems and stories would be read or performed, and crazy drama like Christina Roseti’s “Goblin Market” and Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.  Over the front door would hang a big sign: “No B.S. allowed.”

The Scoop, our monthly e-magazine, now features a section called stuff you probably won’t hear in church, the point of which isn’t to criticize or expose but to offer a Christian perspective from outside the System. Please visit us. Subscribe and get the Scoop.

•• Time travel with detective Tom Hickey, at: kenkuhlken.net

A Christmas Carol

When I mention Soren Kierkegaard to people well-educated in the humanities, psychology, or Christian studies, I usually get a response of admiration along with a comment that he is hard to grasp.

Though I let these responses pass without much comment, they are beginning to concern me. As a parent or softball coach, when a kid says something like “But that’s hard,” I try to help her understand that because something is hard doesn’t mean we can’t do it or shouldn’t bother to try. Master Jeong, a Tae Kwon Do ninth-degree black belt, used to give us this admonition: “Practice the move a hundred times. If you can’t do it right, practice a thousand times. If you still can’t do it, practice ten thousand times.” If something is worth doing, hard is no excuse.

A deep understanding of Christ and his message is certainly worth pursuing, and it’s not something of which we humans are incapable.

I love Christmas carols. I was listening to them and wrapping presents, and when Emmylou Harris sang “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given,” I stopped and marveled over the recognition that God would give us such credit for both intelligence and potential for insight as to send a messenger with no hoopla, who would speak in parables and other ways that challenge all our abilities to understand. Such a vote of confidence ought to make us feel honored and driven to prove his confidence justified.

We humans don’t give ourselves enough credit.

Kierkegaard teaches about confidence in others as an expression of love. One way, perhaps the best way, we can learn to love better is to give credit to others for possessing love. Even though we don’t see evidence of it, if we believe God is love and we are made in God’s image and therefore endowed with love, then we can presume it resides in all people and determine to act toward them accordingly.

If we treat others with loving confidence even while we recognize that they, like Charlie Brown’s Lucy, might snatch the football away and leave us to go flying, then we are expressing purity of heart, pleasing God.

The failure to give ourselves credit for our God-given abilities is dangerous.  In Dostoyevski’s masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, in a section called ” The Grand Inquisitor“, Ivan, one of the brothers, tells Alyosha, his younger brother, a story set in Spain during the Inquisition.

Christ returns to earth and performs healings. Soldiers of the Inquisition arrest and deliver him to the Grand Inquisitor, who sits Christ down and explains the church’s position. He asserts that when the devil tempted Christ in the desert (see Matthew 4), Christ responded incorrectly on account of his belief that people as a whole are capable of choosing and living with freedom. The vast majority, the Inquisitor argues, would rather give up freedom up in exchange for food, security, and a simple dogma upon which to base all decisions.

The Inquisitor believes his judgments are in accord with human nature and so overrule the benefits of the freedom Christ offered us, since only a small minority of humankind would choose freedom.

Brother Alyosha won’t deny the Inquisitor’s assessment of human nature. Neither will I. But I will argue against joining the Inquisitor in his refusal to urge people toward freedom. And I’ll contend that we should do our utmost to challenge people to grow in depth of free, un-coerced, un-simplified understanding.

No matter how hard, how mysterious or confounding an issue may be, we should be willing to tackle it if for no other reason than in gratitude for God’s belief in us.

The importance of accepting such a challenge is multiplied in the case of preachers, artists, parents, coaches, or anyone else in a position to influence. If I could convince the writers of the Perelandra College community to assume one attitude, I would advise them to never consider anything too difficult, for themselves or for their audience. Sure, they may need to work harder to communicate. So be it.

To believe others are capable of more than we can observe in them is a primary quality of love.

Us vs. Them, Or Schaeffer vs. Kierkegaard Revisited

My friend Raymond, a history professor, believes religion is at the heart of all human misery and turmoil. He ought to read How Should We Then Live?

In a few hundred pagesFrancis Schaeffer analyses the history of western philosophy, art, and politics, and argues that Judeo Christian ethics essentially civilized our world, until the reemergence of Greco-Roman thought instigated a downturn. The case he presents might at least prompt Raymond to reconsider.

The history prefaces Schaeffer’s theme, that the future of humanity is in dire jeopardy, thanks to our culture having accepted a world-view he calls the “existential methodology.” Under this system, he contends, we must base all decisions either exclusively upon “reason” or  “non-reason.” He argues that reason, strictly employed, insists we conclude that humans are machines, ruled by deterministic principles. And reliance on “non-reason,” by which he means feelings and impulses, delivers us into the postmodern realm of value-relativity from which the concepts of good and evil have been expelled in favor of “if it feels good, do it.”

Schaeffer traces the “existential methodology” back to Soren Kierkegaard. Without attempting to probe Kierkegaard’s thought, he asserts that the philosopher opened the gateway to relativism.

Since the book offers no evidence that Schaeffer read Kierkegaard, I suppose he is relying on the common misconception that Kierkegaard, often labeled the father of existentialism, was advocating for the death of critical thinking at the hands of a culture ruled by philosophical libertines.

Anyone who holds that opinion of Kierkegaard, please read Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.

Schaeffer proposes that a return to Judeo Christian values is the only antidote to the collapse of Western civilization.  On this point, I tend to agree.  But I have to ask, “So, does this fellow mean we should believe in God simply because the faith is practical? ”

I prefer to think we are challenged to find what is true.

I’m no authority on Francis Schaeffer. But after one book, I fear the man is a prime example of the us vs. them attitude that has sent many bright, honest, and creative minds fleeing in dismay from the church and which may prove to be even more evil and dangerous than relativism.

by Ken Kuhlken, who now means to turn from defending Kierkegaard to reflecting upon the philosopher’s ideas.