This may surprise or even annoy some of my readers, especially those who are also bloggers, but I don’t read many blogs. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but I want to be absolutely forthright in what I communicate here.
There are two reasons why I don’t read blogs. First, I don’t have time. I know, I know. The more I write in this post, the more trouble I’m in, since I admit I don’t have time to read blogs, and yet I write one which I hope other people will read. Truth be told, I am amazed that anybody finds the time to read my blog. And believe me, I don’t take my readers for granted.
Second, most blogs are not very good. Good writing, like any proficiency, is a blend of innate ability and hard work. A combination of talent and sweat. A melding of gift and discipline. Let’s face it, few bloggers achieve that level of proficiency. If we did, our work would probably be picked up by a reputable publisher instead of being relegated to the internet.
Come to think of it, that is probably a third reason I don’t read a lot of blogs (although I want to make it clear that I do read some, and a few regularly). I read books… lots and lots of books.
When I pick up a book from a known publisher, or even from an obscure publisher if it includes recommendations from people I respect, I know that the content has already been vetted. Professionals whose job it is to recognize quality writing have read the book and have judged it to be worth reading. Or people whose interests or expertise include the subject addressed by the book have read it and are willing to recommend it to others. That saves me a lot of time.
It also means that I probably miss some quality writing by unknown authors whose work has not yet been discovered by a mainstream publisher. Many of these amateur authors write blogs. I have read some of them. They are building a readership, and one day they will likely achieve the exposure and influence which their work deserves. I have the temerity to aspire to be one of them.
Effective communication is hard work. I’m no sociologist, but I would imagine that much, if not most, conflict in our world, whether between individuals or nations, is, to some degree at least, a consequence of poor communication. The internet has made communication easier and more accessible than ever before. Since much, if not most, of what is communicated via the internet is not very good, that means that the possibility of conflict flowing from poor communication has increased exponentially.
As dangerous and potentially divisive as poor communication is, the benefits derived from effective communication are even greater. Quality writing, whether it is read from a page or heard in oral delivery, can accomplish great good. It can enlighten, inform, comfort, encourage, correct, and even entertain. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who first declared that “the pen is mightier than the sword,” knew whereof he spoke.
I have long admired those who have something significant to say and can say it well in writing. Good writing is like good acting. The better it is, the more natural it seems. The best actors don’t simply perform a role; they become a character.
Similarly, the best writers don’t just create a product. In some mysterious way, who and what they are exudes from them in the lines they write. Their style is so natural that the reader is caught up in the flow of words and phrases that seem to issue forth as effortlessly as an artesian spring.
The best writers know, however—as do the best actors, musicians, preachers, and surgeons—that the appearance of ease and spontaneity is actually the product of intense devotion to one’s craft and painstaking attention to detail.
“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” the tourist asked a passerby on the street in Manhattan. The young man, an aspiring musician, replied, “Practice, practice, practice!”
As I have often acknowledged, it took me a long time to reach the point where I was convinced that I had something worthwhile to say, believed I could say it reasonably well, and was willing to devote the time and effort required to get better at my craft. I am a utilitarian writer. I don’t write for the sheer joy of composition. I write to inform, to encourage, to challenge, to edify. In short, I write in order to make a difference. And it takes a good deal of time and energy and determination to produce something I believe is worthy of my readers’ time and attention.
The tone and character of this blog post would suggest that I have been an essayist or journalist or novelist all my life. As most of my readers know, I have not been any of those things, at least not professionally. I have been, mainly, a preacher and a teacher. In those roles, while I have done a lot of writing, I never thought of myself as a writer.
Nearly five years ago, my situation changed dramatically. When I found myself no longer involved in a regular preaching or teaching context, I assumed that it was only a matter of time until God would open a new door for ministry, where I would once again take up the task of preaching or teaching in a more-or-less traditional setting. So far, that has not happened.
Little by little, I came to believe that the answer to my prayers for guidance might be staring me in the face each time I sat down at my computer to read my email or surf the web.
For years my wife, my closest friends, and my students had been telling me to write. I kept putting them off with the excuse that I had nothing to say that had not already been said by somebody else. And even if it hadn’t yet been said, it likely would be soon enough, and by somebody who could say it better than I could. That wasn’t just an empty excuse. I meant it, mostly.
We’ve all heard the story. A man’s house was threatened by flood waters, and as the nearby stream lapped at the bridge on the road which represented his only route of escape, a sheriff’s deputy came by and offered the man his last chance to flee the impending disaster by car. The man declined the offer, saying confidently, “No thanks. God will take care of me.”
A while later, after the rising stream had washed the bridge away and inundated the first floor of his house, the man climbed the stairs to his bedroom and sat by the window. A fireman appeared in a motor boat and invited the man to avail himself of that means of escape. Again the man replied, “No thanks. God will take care of me.”
The rising waters eventually forced the man onto the roof of his house, and a police officer in a helicopter offered to drop a ladder to the man as a last-ditch attempt at a rescue. But the man’s response was the same. “God will take care of me.”
Soon the raging torrent swept the house off its foundation and the man to his death in the swirling flood. Upon his arrival in heaven, the man asked St. Peter why God had not protected him. “What do you mean?” Peter answered. “He sent you a car, a motor boat, and a helicopter!”
For three years after I was released from my teaching position, I prayed for God to guide me into a new venue for ministry. I prepared for Anglican ordination, received Holy Orders, and continued to wait for a place to serve. All the while my friends and family formed a chorus and lifted the chant, “Write a blog. Write something. Write a book. Write something!”
One day I envisioned myself standing before God, asking why He had not opened a new door of ministry for me. In my vision, the Lord looked at me kindly and replied, “I did! I sent your wife, your friends, and your students to tell you to write something!”
And so I did. I could no longer avoid the reality. I had no more excuses. I started writing, and God started blessing my efforts. This week I added a podcast to the blog posts, and some ebooks and other resources are in the planning stages.
Here, then is the dilemma I currently face. I am busy and fulfilled and grateful to be doing something I enjoy. But I remain, technically, unemployed. My dear wife, who has carried the awful burden of putting up with me every day for nearly forty years, has additionally served as the sole breadwinner for our household for the last four.
I have generated a pittance by way of honoraria from a very small number of speaking engagements, and some dear, dear friends have proven their love and loyalty by means of their regular, generous, and sacrificial monetary gifts.
Since my wife earns the money, she oversees the household finances as well, and yesterday she informed me, with tears in her eyes, that we are teetering on the verge of insolvency to a degree I had not heretofore imagined. We can no longer afford the “luxury” of my continuing to wait to see what door will open to me for ministry with financial compensation.
I need to get a job or sell a kidney. Since the latter option is not very attractive, I shall, it seems, need to focus my attention on the former.
My wife’s tiny salary is sufficient for our most basic household needs, but we continue to incur expenses related to her health care and the follow-up required of all cancer survivors. In addition, I have spent a great deal of money on books and tuition and vestments and such in the past three years. Moreover, our daughter, the single mother of our five-year-old grandson, needs our support, both in terms of our presence and, when possible, our financial assistance, even though she works full-time at one job and part-time at another.
It appears that my testimony of God’s provision for our needs over the past five years has been a bit more rosy than the actual circumstances warrant. We are not destitute, but our options are extremely limited, and the prospects are bleaker than we’ve ever faced in our lives.
I mention this for three reasons. First, I am not one to suffer in silence. Second, the more people who know of our need, the more who can join us in prayer regarding the matter (although I am not at all sure that God looks at the number of people praying for a particular situation and counts them up like signatures on a petition).
And third, if my blog ceases to appear and the podcast goes silent in the next few days, you’ll know why. You’ll know that what I thought was a sturdy tree trunk onto which I could grasp as a way to survive the flood turned out to be a severed tree branch being swept along by the current.
At age sixty-three, I know the limits of my endurance and energy. I know the stamina required to prepare a résumé, complete applications, submit to interviews, and learn the ropes at a new place of employment. I also know that changing focus so dramatically at this point in my life has the potential to sap my emotional strength and draw me back into the pit of despondency where I had languished for so long. There is no way I can generate the energy and creativity needed to produce this blog and podcast if I must once more devote myself full-time to the job market (a bleak prospect at best for a man my age).
That’s my dilemma. Thanks for reading and for understanding.