Affirm, Highlight, Respond

Blogtober is challenging me and encouraging me to grow in three ways.

I accepted the Blogtober challenge. On Tuesday, October 1, I began. That was fourteen days ago. A decalogue plus four days of blogs.

Why do people do it—write blogs each day about what they see, hear, think, and do? I realize, after all, that my life isn’t that exciting or interesting to anyone but me, even when I share cute dog stories! Neither are my opinions that intriguing. So why blog? And why decide to do it every day for a 31-day month?

Blogtober is challenging me and encouraging me to grow in three significant ways.

I am writing every day.

I love to write. At least, that is what I tell people: “I am a happier person when I write. More at peace. More centered.” This seems to be true for me.

And then I don’t write for days. Even weeks. My calendar fills up. I get involved in other projects. Writing gets pushed to the sidelines. I am less happy. Less at peace. Less centered.

Blogtober has given me a goal. Can I find 31 topics I want to write about? Do I have enough desire and self-discipline to write every day for 31 days? Or is stubborn perseverance the most vital ingredient for meeting this challenge? Will I keep writing even on the days when no one reads or “likes” or “hearts” my post?

These questions still await answers.

For now? Writers write. And so far this month? I am a writer!

I am connecting with other bloggers every day.

Bloggers can be a supportive bunch. We read each other’s posts. We learn from each other’s writing styles and tips.

I am reading other blogs as I post my own, and I am fascinated and often awed by the insights shared with skill and beauty by storytellers, essayists, poets and others who blog. Tens of thousands of people are sharing their voices in the blogosphere. I enjoy hearing those voices.

One result? I am realizing anew that human lives, including my own, are extraordinary even in their ordinariness. Ordinary human lives have a certain sacramental quality about them. At least, that is what this liturgical theologian believes. Significant life meaning dwells in mundane human living. I want to do a better job of noticing and celebrating those meanings.

I am embodying a healthy life rhythm: affirming, highlighting, responding.

“Medium” is a digital community where people write articles about topics ranging from technology to health to religion and more. In 2016, 140,000 stories were written and published every week on Medium.

The platform is set up so that readers give virtual “claps” for articles that capture their imaginations or stir their emotions. Readers can also highlight favorite phrases or sentences in articles and share related responses with the writers.

I joined Medium as part of the Blogtober challenge. I wanted to try out a new publishing venue. I have appreciated writing on a platform where I can give and receive respectful feedback and affirmation.

The practice Medium encourages is not a bad one for life in general. Criticism and critique abound in our world. Respectful dialogue can be rare. Perhaps a healthy dialogue rhythm, even with people whose perspectives differ from our own, is the rhythm I am learning through Medium: affirm, highlight, respond.

I invite all of us to consider embodying a version of this blogging rhythm: affirm, highlight, respond. Perhaps doing this–and even writing about it:)–will encourage healthier and more life-sustaining conversations in our lives and communities. Concrete affirmations are a rare gift, and we have opportunities everyday to congratulation people on the specific ways their lives are touching us and the world around us.

One healthy result of this rhythm is that it nudges me to affirm what I like about another person’s article, be specific about what struck me by highlighting particular parts of the article, and then share something from my own perspective by responding. This practice slows down the response time (something that can be lightning fast on social media sites) so that I am more thoughtful and intentional in my response.

Today is October 14. Seventeen more days until Halloween. Seventeen more blog posts. Seventeen more ideas and insights to explore. And on October 31, after posting the last of my Blogtober articles, I think I will give myself a virtual standing ovation and then head out in search of the Great Pumpkin–or at least a taste of chocolate Halloween treats!

On Rekindling Your Passion

Some passions keep luring us back into their embrace. Or is it their clutches?

for writing (and other callings to creative work)

I wrote my first novel–well, started writing it–with my best friend in fifth grade, Sandra. Sandra and I lived in the same neighborhood and spent many days after school hanging out together.

We didn’t start out to write a novel on that afternoon when we came up with the idea. For a few days, we had been curious about a vacant house down the road from where Sandra lived. Of course, we didn’t know any facts about the house or its occupants. All we knew was that one day tricycles and a Buick were parked out front and the next day they were replaced by a “for sale” sign. Something sinister must have happened, we surmised.

Our imaginations took over from there. After several days of conjecture, we decided to write a mystery novel featuring the now empty house and its departed inhabitants.

I don’t remember why we chose to record our unsubstantiated theories about the house in a novel. Looking back, that seems like an odd undertaking for a couple of ten-year-olds.

Both of us were devoted fans of 1970s teenaged sleuths–Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchock’s three investigators. Our love of reading those mysteries may have inspired our own writing aspirations. We were also avid watchers of “Dark Shadows,” a soap opera that we found to be funny and scary all at the same time. The story we began to imagine about that house down the street was scary–and hilarious–to us. We giggled as much as we wrote as we huddled around the typewriter on those after school afternoons.

I am certain the novel was a success. That, too, is unsubstantiated if success is determined by the quality of the writing or the quantity of books sold. We did not sell or even show the novel to anyone, and I have no idea what happened to the draft we created.

We typed our story on a portable Sears typewriter using typewriter paper we had cut to the size of novels we had checked out from the public library. Those typed sheafs of paper are long gone as is my memory of the plot and characters. Sandra might remember more than I do, but she and I lost touch over 40 years ago. I have a vague notion that she might be a pharmacist now–and maybe a writer, too?

Writing that novel ignited a passion within me. That is why I consider it a success. Ever since those afternoons of pounding out a plot on that manual typewriter on Sandra’s family’s carport I have loved to write.

In the years since I collaborated on that first mystery, I have written sermons, lectures, essays, academic books, blogs, poems, and stories. I have even co-written and published a full-length novel–Come Home Free–with a new writing partner, Sheila Hunter. None of my projects have made bestseller lists. Most of them have been read by only a handful of dedicated fans. Fame and fortune do not characterize my artistic endeavors. But over the years, I have continued to enjoy the writing craft and my identity as a writer. I love imagining myself to be a writer. I love being a writer.

On those days when my imagination has run dry or when I wonder if writing is worth the agony it causes (yes, writing is sweet agony most of the time), that debut novel that never debuted comes to mind. Or it should.

How can any of us rekindle our passion for creative work in the face of manuscript rejections, lack of readers, or just plain old loss of motivation? Three remedies come to mind.

First, we can take some time to remember what first sparked our artistic passions. One day after school Sandra and I jumped in and started writing a novel. We didn’t know how to do that or even have a good strategy for our efforts, but we had great fun spinning that fanciful yarn of ours. Those feelings of desire and enjoyment have never dissipated and have the power bring me back to the keyboard even on days when apathy threatens. Sometimes we need just to dive in and write.

Second, we can reignite our curiosity about the things we encounter in our everyday lives. We might even stoke our imaginations by observing and brainstorming with another artist or friend. I think such brainstorming sessions should always involve a certain amount of giggling.

Third, we can continue to create through the dry spells. It took me a long time to add “writer” to my resume. Through writing, I have developed my voice and gained clarity about what I believe and value. Writing connects me to other people and the world around me. Writing gives me space to follow paths that lead me away from emails and calendars. Sometimes I even write myself down unexpected trails where adventure lurks around the bend. I am a writer. Writers write. And writing itself can rekindle our passion.

I wish I still had a page or two of that childhood novel. I am curious about the voice and imagination of the ten-year-old me. I am also curious about what sort of tale Sandra and I decided to tell about that vacant house down the street. I am sad that those pages are gone. But a few manual typewriters are still around. The next time I hit a writing wilderness–when all else fails–maybe I will sit down at an old Sears and see follow whatever plot my fingers remember.

Photo by Jill Crainshaw

If I Could Write a Viral Blog

What if someone told me that my next blog post would go viral, no matter the topic or content?

what would I write about?

The world is chaotic. Crazy-making. Even frightening.

What if someone told me that my next blog post would go viral, no matter the topic or content? What would I write about if I knew my words would be viewed and maybe read by 10,000, even 100,000, people?

This question has been wandering around in my mind for the last few days. I attribute this to several things. Gifted with some time to read, reflect, and write this week, I have found myself pondering the purpose of my wordsmithing. Do I write to express myself? To create? To live out a calling? Or do I write to stir the hearts and minds of readers, to make a difference of some sort?

I write for all of these reasons and more. I also write to connect a yearning within myself to yearnings within potential readers.

And the world is chaotic. Crazy-making. Even frightening.

Because the world is all of these things, none of the above reasons for writing are adequate. If I could write a blog that was fiery or clever or beautiful or lyrical or philosophical or something else enough to catch the attention of readers I do not know and will never meet, what would I want to say to them? Do I have anything to say—to wordsmith—that speaks to the chaos and uncertainty of our times?

Blogger Nicolas Cole quoted a mentor about some writers’ desires to “go viral”: “They want fireworks. They don’t want to build a constellation.” Some readers and publishers prefer fireworks, too. I understand that. I have read viral blog posts that amaze, astound, and inspire. I respect the writers of those posts and admit to some amount of envy. I want to be a good, even great, writer, but I don’t think I am one of those writers who crafts posts that go viral.

Maybe the gift I have to offer—the gift all of us have to offer—to most situations is consistency of authentic and generous presence. This is what writing and blogging and my life as a professor are teaching me. My friend Sam comes to mind as an example of consistency of presence. He shows up for people. I see him everywhere—at celebratory events, city-wide gatherings, one-on-one lunches, countless committee meetings, funerals. Sam shows up and his presence matters. Over time, I have grown to count on Sam’s presence. Respect him for it. Cherish it and him as prophetic and vital parts of my community.

Perhaps the way I can become a consistent presence as a writer is to keep writing. Perhaps the way I can respond with wisdom to the uncertain and too often frightening realities of our times is to show up over time with the most substantive and honest words I can muster—and then back those words up by striving to be a consistent, caring, and authentic presence wherever my daily journeys take me.

Photo by Sheila G. Hunter

This summer I went to quite a few minor league baseball games in my city. Friday nights are fireworks nights at the baseball park. One Friday night, I was walking to my car as the final fiery waterfall filled the evening sky. I stopped to watch, and as the glittering lights faded, I noticed behind the smoke the glow of a cluster of stars.

Fireworks can be breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Fireworks are also momentary. In our chaotic world, much of what we thought was reliable or certain has been shown at best to be fleeting and at worst to be undependable. Perhaps a stabilizing message I can express across my lifetime—including across my life as a writer—is the hopeful and mysterious promise of the stars.

So, another blog post ends. Tomorrow I will attempt to write again. And again the next day. My aspiration? To create a constellation of words, images, poems, and stories that offer a steady presence of wisdom-seeking in an uncertain world. And when I push “publish,” I will go out and try to embody the words I write.