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11/02/2006

WRITING INSIDE THE LINES

I've written and rewritten large chunks of my book five times now. I'm doing it again.

My fear of failure and inability to finish anything that I know won't be perfect are mostly to blame - along with poor time management skills, a lack of discipline and a dozen or so more character flaws that I'll keep between me and the other folks in my head.

But then there's this too...

Seth Godin writes about my predicament today in a piece called Coloring Inside The Lines:

People who want to do a good job are more likely to follow instructions that they know they can successfully accomplish, while they'll often ignore the 'softer' tasks if they can.

If you’re marketing a product or an idea to a group of people and you juxtapose two ideas--one obvious and simple while the other is challenging and subtle, you can bet the mass of people will grab the first one (if they don’t ignore you altogether).

Example: it’s easy to get people to wake up early on the day after Thanksgiving if you offer them a TV at a discount, the way Wal-Mart does every year. It’s a lot trickier to challenge consumers to figure out which one of the eighteen refrigerators you offer is likely to offer the best price/performance ratio.

The first task requires nothing much but effort and that effort is likely to be rewarded. The second task takes judgment, and the opportunity for failure is much higher...

...People want to feel successful, but they’re often unwilling to invest the time in doing something that might not pay off. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it works.


I've read dozens of books on the beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount and I've been unable to pair it all down to "eight steps to a better life" or "your best life now." There are books calling the beatitudes a ladder to success but they're written by therapists and ignore large amounts of writing on the subject dating back more than a thousand years.

Truth is the beatitudes aren't linear. Well, they are and they aren't. You start at the first blessing sure and move to the next but you keep a leg on the first as you progress to the second, and on the first two as you progress to the third and on and on and in the end you're a big eight-legged freak walking up and down and all around the ladder of the eight blessings (beatitudes).

It's just not simple. It's not this step then that then that...

There's no tangible right now kind of pay off I can promise readers either. Except persecution and an invisible kingdom in your heart and maybe, hopefully, someday here on earth. Live the beatitudes to some degree and you'll imitate Christ to some degree - I can say. That's all.

And there's no litmus test, no true false quiz to help us determine if we are or aren't living the beatitudes either. It's more mysterious than that, a bit more like reading reams of the Consumer Reports to compare the functions and durability of refrigerators than going to WalMart and getting the cheap TV clearly marked for us with "SALE."

No wonder I'm tempted to reduce our mysterious and complex faith to God saving me from a future hell for a future heaven. No weirdo kingdom talk. No disciple business. No denying self. No difficult mercy showing and peace making and ambiguous purity of heart nonsense. No paradox: God is loving Father and God is demanding Master. Keep it simple - I want to say. But I can't. I know simple isn't the whole truth.

How do you write/communicate in any way the mysterious, hard to swallow, sometimes confusing, delayed gratification and truth of God to a species that loves the path of least resistance, that wants to act now with as little thought as possible, that's drawn to the easy money, the quick fix the linear spelled out programmed four step approach to happiness? How do you do that when you're the same way? How?

9 Comments:

Blogger Nancy Tyler said...

What's your goal with this book? What do you want readers to do or think when they finish reading it?

Seems like writing might be easier directionally if you know the target you're aiming for.

n

11/02/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Good question.

I think I want people to have the same redirection I experienced in studying the beatitudes. I changed in that I

1. realized and appreciated the narrowness of Jesus' teachings
2. realized the scope of salvation goes beyond the individual and heaven someday to the world right now. This made the command to show mercy and make peace less electives and more necessary outgrowths of being "saved." The saved save, so to speak. It's what we're saved for. That became clear to me.
3. realized peace making wasn't just about ending war but about achieving wholeness of every kind: environmental, relational, spiritual, mental, emotional, economic etc.
4. realized mercy showing was simply seeing needs and meeting them.
5. realized that jesus knew a divided heart is what keeps us thinking we're saved without acting saved (showing mercy and making peace). But purity of heart keeps my focus singular and my life on the right trajectory.
6. realized every problem in the world is a soul problem. We're poor in spirit. Every solution is wasted on a person and a culture that is poor in spirit. The heart of every issue is the heart.
7. realized a flippant attitude toward or being entertained by sin contributes to sin's existence and acceptance in my own life and society. I should mourn it. Mourning sin makes us ache for a solution to it.
8. realized salvation is essentially and simply quitting but quitting isn't done once. We don't quit and move on but we quit and enter a life of continual quitting. Continue as you began.
9. realized what we all hunger for, really, deep down, is right thinking and living - righteousness. Which is closely tied to justice in scripture. Injustice anywhere undermines justice everywhere. We hunger to right every wrong, starting with our own hearts and minds. Living for anything less is exhausting and mediocre and has caused me to doubt the claims of Christ. Halfway Christianity - getting out of hell but not living to bring heaven to earth today - is a potent enemy of faith.

I want readers to do what I did. I want them to see the rest of the salvation story. The five beatitudes AFTER the alter call or sinners prayer when they were six. I want them to say "OH, so that's what's been missing." And then become obsessed with understanding and living the rest of the story out. This is the other side of "saved." I want people to see beyond the conversion experience to what the Jesus has for them next. What the other seventy years of their life is supposed to be lived for.

Make any sense? I'm rambling aren't I? Is that narrow enough a goal?

I have no target age. No target denomination etc. It's for CHristians mostly but, like the Sermon on the Mount, I know others will be looking on and so, like Jesus, I want them to walk away from eavesdropping curious at least about Him. Thing is, I've found non-Christians much more interested in this "version" of Christianity than Christians. They seem to dig that it's a more blunt telling of jesus' message. "Repent and be saved to go about saving the world. It might cost you everything. You'll be in the minority. But you'll inherit the kingdom."

Thoughts, Nancy?

11/02/2006  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

I'm not Nancy but I'll post my 2 cents anyway. I am looking forward to the book because I happen to love the way you write. You express ideas in ways I understand and I learn from that. That makes it good stuff. For me I guess I'm looking for the process at which you arrived at those things you described above. What changed your thinking from before you did the study? What extrabiblical sources did you use if any and why? Did some of the beattitudes take longer to truly grasp than others; if so why? How was your thinking changed through scripture, the holy spirit, study, prayer, experience, etc. How has your life and your work been impacted as a result? What was/is the most difficult thing about your life and work now with respect to your new thinking? How can I use this book to help me do the same thing(s) provided that's what I need to do? Practical solutions and great stories that help me to identify or visualize a situation are a great help to me. I want to be able to read this and then pass copies to others and say "read this. apply this. it will change your life if you let God work through you." Besides that, Shaun wrote it, so you better read it or I'll be forced to revert back to my "violent" past and beat you with it."

Beth

11/02/2006  
Blogger Sarah said...

You remind people of reality, of the fact that despite our best efforts, grace is a process, not instant.

For example, if I want some processed macaroni and cheese and some meatloaf in the cafeteria here at school, I can go ahead and get it in 30 seconds. Or I can wait at least 10-20 minutes, sometimes as much as 30, and pick my vegetables and sauce and spices and have people cook and simmer and make me a custom-made fresh pasta dish. Which is better? The pasta made for me. It's healthier too. But it's all about whether or not I want instant gratification or not.

The wait sucks in the pasta line. The process of learning and grace sometimes sucks. But at the same time, there are days in the pasta line where you strike up conversations with people at the same place you are, and you go so much deeper with them. I've had so many "think deeper" conversations in the pasta line, and I've had many of the same in the process of grace.

I think you know what you want to communicate. You know that this message, while it is specific, is also messy. You can't be afraid to piss people off, to make them disagree with your book. Some of the books that have most changed my opinion about faith are books that honestly I hated the first time I read. I thought they were heretical. But as I got into it, they made me reexamine Jesus' message. And what I found was that these messy books only reflected the messiness of grace. They challenged the same things Christ challenged--my selfishness and perfectionism and performance-based attitudes.

The best books aren't ones that tidily sum everything up--they're the ones that I have to write in the margins with bold letters and exclamation marks. They're the ones that leave the response up to me, not give an answer of how it will impact my life, but gently lead me to a place where I'll start the process.

Sorry if that doesn't really help--I'm participating in NaNoWriMo and was taking a noveling break, so I'm feeling wordy.;)

11/02/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

No, Sarah, that was very encouraging. (And very well written.) All of this is. Thanks.

11/02/2006  
Blogger Nancy Tyler said...

There it is Shaun--in the paragraph right after your list: "The other side of 'saved.'" That's your hook, your central theme and heck, it's a catchy title too.

All nine points you listed come out of that desire to have people see and change in heart and in action after they've 'walked the aisle.'

Now, some of those nine points may work better if they're merged, or if they become subpoints of one another. But I guess that'll work itself out depending on the scripture and stories you gather to support each of those points, and on what your editors suggest. But right now it looks to me like your main target is to get people to learn about, internalize and act on the teachings of "the other side of 'saved.'" If that's so, aim those nine arrows there.

n

11/02/2006  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

There's the title of your book Shaun, "The Other Side of Saved. Living Between the Altar and Heaven." (or just the first part.) That's what I think you're trying to get across and I have no doubt you'll piss a lot of people off who read it. They'll only stay pissed off though if they bother to read it just once, can't stand the guilt caused by self-examination and inactivity or think that being saved is the end of our relationship with Christ. I'll be one that's pissed the first time around (or the fifth depending on how stupid I am while reading) because of that guilt caused by self-examination and inactivity, but will eventually get "it" and then be forced to buy multiple copies so everyone I know can get "it" too. Yes, I'm stubborn, selfish, and a pathetically slow learner at times, but I do learn; and it's usually the hard way. It sticks though and that's what counts.

I am not the same person I was three years ago when I started learning from you. Yes, I've been mad at times, sad at times, exasperated at times, and just plain stumped too, but that's all part of a process that has brought me to where I am today. Still learning, but smarter for the struggle in doing so, and hopefully, more Christlike in my actions, attitudes, and lifestyle. You are not the only one I learn from, but you're definitely one of the most fun (and challenging) teachers I've had.

Beth

11/02/2006  
Anonymous Sonflower said...

How do you write/communicate in any way the mysterious, hard to swallow, sometimes confusing, delayed gratification and truth of God to a species that loves the path of least resistance, that wants to act now with as little thought as possible, that's drawn to the easy money, the quick fix the linear spelled out programmed four step approach to happiness? How do you do that when you're the same way? How?

I think you just did. You're a thinker...you will have a niche audience of those who want to go deeper; those that truly want to be diciples.

There isn't always a easy answer or explanation to every question. Sometimes understand comes in the questions, well, until God answers them.

Maybe thats where faith comes in...

11/03/2006  
Blogger annulla said...

Well, I've never read the beatitudes and frankly, I'm don't know what they (it?) are. But your writing is thoughtful, clear and incisive; I believe that you'll do a great job.

11/11/2006  

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