Tuesday, July 2, 2013

An experiment, just for the few faithful NoaFE readers...

A couple of years ago when I started this blog, one of my goals (not necessarily stated out loud) was to work myself away from the academic mode of writing and towards one that was more suitable for the task ahead of me in my newly-pursued vocation, where preaching would probably me my primary outlet for writing.  Preaching has its forms, to be sure, and its forms are not necessarily less rigorous than your basic academic paper or encyclopedia article, but they are different, and they call upon a different character of language.  Even as informal as I was in academic mode, that was still a different tack than preaching, and I wanted at the minimum to start to loosen up my writing from my accustomed academic habits and patterns and begin to adapt to something different. Feel free to pass your own judgment on my success or failure at that task to whatever degree you care.

At this point, given the limited circumstances of being a seminary student currently in a parish internship, I have a moderate to reasonable degree of confidence that I can write a sermon.  No, I'm not in the position of grinding one out every week, but it is a task for which I have the capability.  There will be stinkers along the way, to be sure, and I'll be stuck with no option but to throw it out there and trust the grace of God to be ready to make something useful or at least harmless out of it.

I seem to have mastered the art of the rant, in a few cases here and there.  I'm not entirely sure of the value of those things, but they do seem to touch a chord with the handful of folks who read them.  I guess there's some value in being willing or able to put a face on feelings that many folks can't find a way to make real and viable to others, and I'm not complaining, but it's not the kind of thing one can do all that often.  It has a limited shelf life, so to speak.  And frankly, I hope not to be in the position of needing to rant those health-related rants, or at least to do so less often.  Mind you, there are plenty of things in the world to rant about, but if I took on all of those I'm pretty sure I'd have jumped off a building by now, and there are plenty of other writers and bloggers out there who can tackle those subjects far more effectively than I.

The hymn writing urge is low at the moment.  I have put up one or two of those along the way here, but the news of needing chemo back in February put me in a state of rebellion, of sorts, in which I am not attuned to that particular frequency of creativity/devotion.  I can't truly say if it will return.

Still, I feel the need (urge? passion?  dare I speculate, calling?) to try something different.  There was one post, quite some time ago, I did toss a monologue up here.  The faithful few of you who actually read this blog are going to see a few more such things pop up here.

Of late I have been troubled/plagued/motivated by the challenge of identifying those things that stand in the way of full-fledged following of Christ.  I'm not talking about what keeps people from being a Christian; that's a different kettle of fish.  I am talking about people who identify themselves as Christians, who practice that devotion as a part of their everyday lives, who by every evidence are what we humans would call "good people" who truly do seek to follow, but there's that one thing, that one petty grievance, that one long-embedded hatred, that one fear, great or small, that stands in the way.  We can't, or won't, let go of it; we convince ourselves it is part of us, irreplaceable; we believe that it is in fact The Truth, the Real Christianity, perhaps; for whatever reason we choose it when we should be looking for that better thing to which Christ calls us.

What I am hoping is that by approaching the question via drama, I will be forced to approach the question with some level of empathy, at least some attempt to understand and feel for (if not agree with) the motivations behind that fear, or hatred, or refusal.  A sermon is, well, preachy; may not be beneficial for understanding.  Essays can get cold and clinical and, frankly, even more preachy than sermons in some places.  Maybe the drama device will help.  And yes, perhaps it becomes a means to identify that one thing (or things) in my own life.

I'm frankly a little scared of the idea.  This could go to some very dark places.  C. S. Lewis once acknowledged that the hardest thing about writing The Screwtape Letters was having to think, on a regular basis, like a devil.  Hopefully I'm not going into that level of darkness, but these characters aren't going to be living in sweetness and light necessarily.

Anyway, since this is drama and not documentary, I'm allowing myself a setup that may offer some freedom that a straightforward "realistic" monologue might not offer.  These little monologues will be offered to you, dear reader, under the title Sketches from the Heavensgate Boardinghouses.  Our characters will be just outside the Pearly Gates, a nice comfy familiar metaphor for our goal of full discipleship and union with the will of Christ.  I'm no Dante, folks, so don't look for anything that elaborate.  I'm not going to try for anything even so detailed as, say, Lewis's The Great Divorce.  It's a useful metaphor, that's all; I'm not trying to make any statements about the Afterlife or Heaven or the Holy City or whatever you choose to name (I've never been there, how would I know?).  As our folks approach those gates, they are confronted by that one thing; it is, literally in the context of the story, standing in the way.  Thus our protagonists are forced to confront, unavoidably and honestly, that one thing.  The boardinghouses are just a metaphorical place to get out of the heat.

Why am I doing this intro?  Partly to force myself forward.  A few of you will read it and maybe hold me accountable.  Partly to save myself the trouble of explaining myself when I put up the first one.  Partly as a means of laying out the plan in my head onto a slightly more durable medium.  I have some ideas, some of which will sound Law and Order-esque ("ripped from the headlines"), and others perhaps will be a little more obscure.  At any rate, now I'm committed.

To some degree I'm taking advantage of the fact that this isn't a highly trafficked blog.  In the grand scheme of things I'm pretty well anonymous, and there aren't large numbers of people waiting with baited breath for my next blog entry.  The pressure is a little less.  A faithful few readers I can trust to be supportive but honest is a better place for trying out this bizarre little experiment than a more heavily scrutinized medium.  If it doesn't work out very few people will know or care.  If it does work out, well, I'll burn that bridge when I get to it.

I do have other obligations, so this won't necessarily happen quickly.  But now that I've stuck my neck out I guess it has to happen.

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