Challenging the Writer

My trajectory as an author — and specifically, an author whose writings should reflect a growing Christ-likeness — traces back to my Providence College days, and a series of articles I’d written in the college paper.

My articles could be charitably described as “passionate.” In the parlance of greater blogdom, circa the turn of the 21st century, one could also justifiably call them “rants.” (Online ranting was considered a mark of “authenticity” back in the day.)

A fellow student sent a letter to the editor after I’d written five or six of my passionate, ranting, non-nuanced and generally caustic opinion pieces, and (choose one):

  1. Rang my bell,
  2. Left me gob-smacked,
  3. Slapped me up-side the head, or,
  4. Stopped me dead in my tracks and challenged me to reconsider my approach.

Said letter to the editor – published for everyone at Providence to read and ponder – was direct and well-crafted, an excellent example of concise communication. In short, he had no quarrel with my article content. However, he nailed my hide to the wall over my attitude and tone of writing voice.

As well he should have. I still have copies of those articles in a box, and in hindsights sober and objective clarity, my passionate writings sure sound like a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1).

When I first read his letter, I immediately began crafting a biting rebuttal in my mind. Fortunately, it died a quick and merciful death. I was forced to confront the “why” behind my writing — and came to the belated conclusion that my acerbic approach was the total antithesis of what I’d hoped to accomplish.

Our psychology professor loved to tell us that, in any communication breakdown, the fault always lies with the sender, not the receiver. In my case, that meant, Message Intended Message Received.

I’m still passionate about what I write. I have zero desire to publish Christian books just for the sake of writing more Christian books. I hope I’ll always write from a place of passion and zeal.

And therein lies my greatest challenge: to write graciously of things that I’m passionate about.

The Younger, Elder, and their supporting cast of characters in The Genesis Café, as well as the fictitious “Charismatics Anonymous” support group in Post-Charismatic, have been a great help to me in this regard. Creating characters who interact respectfully with each other is a powerful tool in meeting the communication challenge.

Salvation includes the assumption of ongoing, lifelong discipleship. In turn, discipleship includes the assumption that every area of our lives will come increasingly under Jesus’ Lordship. Personal morality, business ethics and practices, our approach to justice issues — everything is (and should be) impacted by the simple yet profound statement: “Jesus is Lord.”

That includes not only what we write about, but how we write it.

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