When Ryan asked me to contribute a guest post on his blog, I felt very honored. I met Ryan when we both were attending the same church and school for our Bachelor’s and it’s been great to watch him journey towards the place that he is at right now. However, we couldn’t have been down two separate paths. Ryan took the philosophy/seminary route and I just graduated with my Master’s in English.
However, there is one thing that we share in common, and the thing Ryan asked me to blog on; that’s writing.
I’ve been a semi-active blogger since 2006, when I started my first blog, read only by a few close friends. In that time I’ve also managed to create a fairly successful music blog and am on the path towards building a new personal blog to house my present career as a writer.
And I’ve been writing since I was 12.
All this to say, writing is something that I love to do. It’s something that I feel gifted to do. It’s the space where I feel the most creative and fertile. And it’s a completely selfish act.
Not entirely. There is certainly a selfish action involved in writing, especially with blogging. If you didn’t think you had something valuable to say, you wouldn’t say it. This can definitely lead to the sort of, “I’m hot stuff, you all should listen to me” syndrome that a lot of bloggers seemingly possess. However, I think there is another angle to look at this, one that’s far more fertile and useful. Writing might have a selfish dimension to it, but it also can be a beautiful expression of our inner voice and, like all art, can be a wonderfully creative act that showcases our status as image bearing human beings.
The realms I typically write in, literary criticism and creative nonfiction have very different goals. In literary criticism, it’s about being robust, clear, and inventive. New ideas communicated academically are cherished. In the far more comfortable for me sphere of creative nonfiction (or CNF), the goal is to communicate stories and as evidenced by the name, communicate them creatively. It’s here that I’d like to draw an interesting parallel; I think much of the Bible is written as a CNF piece.
Heresy is probably what most of you are thinking. How could the Bible be something that is creative? It has to be literally true! While I never heard this refrain specifically growing up, I think this idea was present in the church culture I grew up in. The Bible needed to be true and it needed to be factually true. Otherwise, it wasn’t reliable. However, CNF doesn’t have this problem, per se. The goal in CNF is to communicate a life experience of some sort (whether that be an event one attended, a season in your life, or one specific day) and the value and reliability comes in the act of being privy to this person’s inner voice. Likewise, there is an inherent assumption that this is being communicated as best as the person can remember the event. None of us have a perfect memory and this is a facet of knowledge that is at the heart of the genre. It’s here that I think the parallel comes in.
What is the Bible, really? In part it is a collection of stories of one group of humanity’s interaction with God. It is their story and I think most Christians would assume that the largest portion of that is nonfiction. And I think it’s written in a very creative fashion. There were liberties taken with what stories to include and what not. The books read in a narrative flow, not as a history textbook. Think of the book of Jonah. It could or could not be “literally true” but it’s an engaging story about one person’s life that is meant to tap into our common experience. Jonah gets mad at God, like we all do, and God uses that experience to teach him something. We make the assumption that this story is true, because that’s powerful to us. Likewise, we allow ourselves to believe a great fish ate him. But what if that is a bit of creative license? Or what if the dialogue isn’t exactly how it happened? This still shouldn’t be a problem, because ultimately it’s about the connection and tapping into our shared human experience. This is what creative nonfiction does at it’s best. It’s a specific story that taps into our shared human experience.
This is why I write. I think this is why many of us write; to tap into our shared connection. More so than that, I think this allows us to tap into our relationship with God even more, because it’s here in this creative realm that we can explore, play with, and argue with our life and with our God. David used the Psalms to this end. I think writing can and should be used in the same way.