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In which I am an artist (not a preacher or a teacher)

I’m taking some time off from blogging to finish my book. In the meantime, I am reposting a few of your requested favourites.  Today’s post originally appeared on 2 September 2012.

I’ve started to think that there are three main types of writers in my little corner of publishing. There are the scholars, of course, and then there are the preacher/teachers. The preacher teachers, in particular, have caught my attention: they are the ones that have a message to share, a word to teach, knowledge that begs to be passed around, arguments to make, points to delineate. Whatever means necessary to share that particular message or truth – book, podcast, blog, sermon, conference circuit, curriculum, bible studies, every medium – will be embraced. They are preachers, with fire shut up in their bones. They are teachers, with truth and wisdom to impart, and if they need a wrap-around mic to do it, well, bring it on, and the more footnotes, the better.

And then there are the artists and storytellers. (You can guess where I self-identify.)

Even though my book is about a specific topic – it’s a gentle but provocative love letter to the Church about welcoming and affirming women – I approach it as art, not a message to be preached, or an argument to be made. I approach it as truth-telling, absolutely, but using beauty and holy discomfort, storytelling, and my own voice. I approach my work with a lot of fear and trembling, and when I sit down at the computer, and I pray and pray and pray before I write.

I read poets, not Christian living curriculum, I read memoirs, not how-to books with fill-in-the-blanks. My patron saints are Kathleen Norris, Madeline L’Engle, Anne Lamott, Mary Oliver, Luci Shaw. I read my Bible like a love letter, not for systematic theology and chart-making. I don’t want people to read my work and think that anyone could have written it, no, it’ll be all my own baby. I know that this book won’t pass as a textbook even thought it’s filled with truth, because it’s art, not science.

I believe that beauty and art honours God. I believe writing is my sacrament, and I have a pathological need to write and write and write about the things that interest me, and catch my eye. My next book will be about how I fell back in love with the body of Christ, after years of desert-wandering and resentments.

But my next book after that could be about my marriage, and the next book after that could be about how I referee street hockey games for a multi-cultural group of kids in my front street, and the next book after that could be about birth and breastfeeding, and the next book after that could be about social justice & poverty or maybe my husband’s garden or my mother or my kitchen sink.

You see? I just need to write, and I want to write for the rest of my life, and so I write about the places where I see God.This is my altar, my offering, my temple, my sacrifice, and I meet God here, at the computer, over and over and over again.

I just love that you’re here to partake with me.

I worry that people misunderstand the work I do, because I am a writer that is a Christian. I am not a Christian writer, that’s not an adjective I embrace. I worry that they might confuse me with a preacher or a teacher or a message-bringer, when the thought of speaking to groups of people makes me very nervous, and don’t get me started about fill-in-the-blanks being developed or book clubs convening, and I sort of resent the idea of being a mascot or, heaven forbid, a spokesperson or representative for anything.

I don’t even really like to talk about the things I write here in this little blog with other people, it makes me feel like someone just noticed I’m standing naked in the middle of the room, vulnerable while everyone else marches in suits of armour, I already said what I needed to say, I’ve moved on, let’s not pick it apart. I can’t imagine having to talk to people about Jesus Feminist.

I’m not an argue-er, or a debater, or a defender of the truth. I don’t have the energy to be outraged much anymore, I have supper to get on the table and laundry to fold, tinies to bath and friends to call. I don’t want to be the mascot of Christian feminism, I want to create, and when I am done, I want to let the work speak for itself. I’m a living-room chatter, not a stage performer. (This is a pipe dream, I know. I understand how the publishing world works, and I have committed to play my role. But that’s it: it feels like playing a role to do interviews or promotions or whatever.)

The times when I have tried to put on the mantle or calling of preacher or teacher, I have failed miserably. I would spend time, crafting a message, working diligently at an essay or a post, to make a specific point or teach a particular thing, and these posts, they always fly out the window and land with a dull reverberating thud on the ground below. But the posts or essays that I write for the joy of creation, when the muse is present, and I simply need to write and I have no agenda beyond saying what needs to be said, for some reason, those are always the posts that take off. Go figure. Lesson learned.

I can’t attach expectations – mine or anyone else’s – to my work, I simply need to do the work God has given me to do.

So I can’t work on this book as if I am a preacher or a teacher. I love preachers and teachers, theirs is a valuable and beautiful calling.

But I need to write as God has created me: I need to write like an artist, with my own voice, in my own way – without agenda, without points to make, without the weight of being a spokesperson for everyone that cares about this issue or is looking for a mascot or a caricature for their dart board, without plans for what-comes-next or pressure, without a thought of the haters and the angry fault-finders, without wrap-around mics or glossy headshots. I simply need to write and honour the work that God has given me to do, right now, to create it, bum in chair, word after word, and make a sacrament of it, day after day after day. God, draw near and move on these waters. And I need to fold the laundry, for the love.

 

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  • www.bethmorey.com

    Oh yes. I so identify with everything you said, especially this: “You see? I just need to write, and I want to write for the rest of my life, and so I write about the places where I see God.This is my altar, my offering, my temple, my sacrifice, and I meet God here, at the computer, over and over and over again.”

    Yes and yes and yes.

  • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

    A thousand times yes! be who and what you are.

    I am a Christian. I am a writer. I am, apparently, not a Christian writer. I’m fine with that. If others aren’t, that isn’t my problem.

    “The times when I have tried to put on the mantle or calling of preacher or teacher, I have failed miserably.” Any time we try to be who we are not, we will likely fail. I love that you are you, and that you are giving everyone who reads permission to just be them.

    Some people will misunderstand. Do your best, but let go. We can no more make everyone understand than we can please everyone.

    “I don’t want to be the mascot of Christian feminism…” Now I have this vision of an over-sized, furry, Sarah suit, bouncing around on the sidelines of a debate on a ball field. Oh, dear.

    Preaching and teaching can convey truth. So can art. With the plus that it can also bestow beauty, and speak straight to the heart (soul, spirit, whatever one wants to call it) in ways that words can not easily do. So many important things come to rest in our brains and never get farther in where they can really enrich our lives. Art can go places preaching and teaching cannot (and vice versa). It’s a sacred, high calling, gift and passion. A sacrament. And I love how you minister with it.

  • http://www.travismamone.net/ Travis Mamone

    I identify myself more of an artist than a teacher or preacher. I think if you are an artist, you have more permission to get things wrong.

  • http://www.gabbingwithgrace.com/ Grace at {Gabbing with Grace}

    It’s interesting what your saying here b/c I have primarily been in a “teacher/discpler” role for a long time in full-time ministry and so I saw my writing -and my enjoying to write- as some fluke, some on-the-side thing that God had nothing to do with and almost not being able to take it seriously as I was so put off by heavy handed “christian/mommy/home-schooler/gluten-free/baby-wearing/breast-feeding” blogs. I just didn’t see how it could be done differently…and I’m so sad I got stuck there for so long b/c there are so many beautiful lovely Jesus-following bloggers out there like you & many others that I’ve been “introduced” to in the last 6 months or so since guest posting on RHE’s blog. I think that really helped me to turn a corner in terms of seeing my desires and giftings for writing as a part of a new place God is taking me (and sure enough, I’m not in Ministry any more either…well, not officially that is). Anyway, I haven’t seen it as my sacrament either, but I’m definetly coming along on this journey trying to figure out what it is God would have me do with all this and how He’s weaving a life of writing into my days & nights. It’s just REALLY encouraging to see how writer’s like you are embracing the gift and setting an example for those of us who are still learning how to do something in a new way with a Kingdom focus. Kudos! =)

  • http://InkyJazz.com/ Bridget

    Sarah, I love this. You’ve said the words in my heart. Thanks for articulating so beautifully. <3

  • Jessica Stock

    I Love this! And I love that the church is beginning to embrace that much-needed third category, thanks to artists like you.

  • Janelle T.com

    The world needs both, praise God. You do what you do beautifully.

    Janelle

  • Pete A

    Am glad you picked this blog to reprint. (And the others you already have.) Since starting to follow your writing a month or so ago, I’ve tried several times to describe how you write – and never could find all the right words! Actually, I’m not sure even YOU’ve given all the right (write?) words – it seems to me there’s MORE than even what you’ve said here to your writing – but this blog definitely helps.
    Me? Probably a would-be scholar/teacher (definitely not a preacher/teacher), with experience and caring thrown in. But “scholar/teacher” sounds so dry, and I’m working hard NOT to be that. I’ve aimed at being more like the author of the (made-up) best-seller on levitation, of which one critic reported “I couldn’t put it down” and another said “It kept me up all night!” I’ll guarantee i haven’t hit that target, but am trying.
    Best wishes on your book. When is it due out?