Nowadays

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Dear John,

When I was a poetry-writing Evangelical Christian, my poetry seemed to be all wrong. Insofar as my faith had all the answers, or at least so it claimed, and as my training as a poet taught me to resist answers, I could either write “good” poems, or have strong faith, but never both. Nowadays I don’t write much poetry, nor am I remotely Evangelical, nor am I, to be honest, a very faithful Christian. I suppose I ought to blame the poetry for that! But I never did end up resolving that tension between faith and poetry. I’m sure it’s possible—others have done it, as near as I can tell. I just couldn’t work it out myself.

When you write poetry, do you have to make sacrifices? Have you had to let go of anything, faith or whatever else? If so, for you, do you think it was worth it in the end?

Signed,

Nowadays

~

Dear Nowadays,

Your words have a palpable wistfulness in them. Since I don’t know you its hard for me to detect just how strong that longing actually is in you. But regardless of its strength, I want to begin by honoring that longing. I also don’t know what level of Evangelical Christianity you were a part of, and like Dante’s Inferno, there are several levels of varying intensity (grin). I grew up a Southern Baptist preacher’s kid, so I know a little about those levels.

I do find myself wondering what happened to you, was it a gradual stepping away from both the poetry and the faith, or maybe a singular cataclysmic moment when you said no more!? And I find myself a little sad too that there was no one along the way to say It doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both; in fact, it always has been. Anyway, it feels like yours is a very interesting story, one that other people might benefit from hearing. Just tuck that thought away, okay?

Forgive me if I missed your intent, but I think your question has something to do with if I give up or sacrifice the tension between faith and poetry when I write. My response is no, at least I try not to because my goal is to tell the truth in my poems and the truth, for me, is that the tension you mention is what makes good poetry, and good faith. Now I know, and I believe you know, some people equate tension with the D-word (doubt), and according to them if you have doubts about pieces of the faith then you’re calling into question the whole gig. I do not subscribe to that view, never have. Doubts, says Frederick Buechner, are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving. In my mind, good poetry is about being awake, and moving if in nothing other than your mind. So I find good poetry and good faith to be quite the delicious combo, sorta like black coffee and cherry pie.

But I also think you’re wanting to know if I’ve had to give up anything, anything at all, when I write. My response to that is yes, I’ve had to let go of what people think about me. And please don’t hear that in some past-tense-I’ve-arrived sort of way because I have to give that up anew each and every day. A line from T.S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” has been a rubric for me in this: Teach us to care and not to care. I’m definitely still learning, but I am learning that there are things in this world that I’m here to care for and care about, and there are things I’m here to not care about. In that latter category falls the opinions of others, whether they read me as orthodox or heretical or just plain goofbally. I will say that gets a little easier with age, one of the many gifts of forty-and-beyond…a little easier.

If I haven’t answered what you’re asking, I’m sorry. And if I have answered your questions, I’m still sorry because there was no one there to tell you Keep writing that poetry stuff and keep wrestling with those angels and the goal, for God’s sake, is not to get them to resolve into some single something or other but to make them press close enough to each other to dance and so steal your breath away. Evidently there was no one like that for you back then. But I’m a brass-knuckled optimist who believes its never too late, so please allow me to be that person who’s telling you of the both/and in these nowadays, these days that just might be asking you to take up a pen again, and stir up some ants, and care and not care now that you’re a little older.

Oh, has it been worth it? You bet it has.

Sincerely,

John 

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17 Comments

  1. pastordt on December 9, 2014 at 3:31 am

    Beautiful – tender, honest, inviting response. Also? Spot on. Thank you.

  2. Cherry Odelberg on December 9, 2014 at 4:22 am

    Thank you for being there, now, to tell us, “the goal, for God’s sake, is not to get them to resolve into some single something or other but to make them press close enough to each other to dance and so steal your breath away.”
    Some of us need encouragement to dance. Others of us need permission.

    • thebeautifuldue on December 9, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      Thanks, Cherry. Yep, there’s still time…

  3. michelemorin on December 9, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    This is rich and wonderful advice. I would add that Nowadays might be helped by the writing of Philip Yancey as well. In several of his books, he has addressed that tension and discouragement that being a “person of faith” can carry, and, in spite of it all, convincingly argues that the best place to be is “in Christ.”

    • thebeautifuldue on December 9, 2014 at 1:11 pm

      Great add, Michele. Mr. Yancey’s voice has encouraged me over the years too.

  4. mike graves on December 9, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    there are so many “I’s” in this,typical of modern man,having so little to do,we are always analysing ourselves;pick up a hammer and go to nailing

  5. Susan Irene Fox on December 9, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    John, this is so lovely. The delicate balance between caring and not caring is really not about the verb, it’s about the noun. As you, I’ve had to let go of what people think about me. In my sixth decade, I care about the poetry and about Who motivates me to write it.

  6. Christine Perica on December 9, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    Love your tender heartfelt response. Thank you! Early in my faith journey our small group read Oz Guiness’ “In Two Minds” which helped us understand the importance of “doubt” in our faith. And over the years I have worked on “loving the questions” as Rilke says. Your idea of question and response is beautiful.

    • thebeautifuldue on December 10, 2014 at 11:39 am

      Another favorite line of mine from Rilke. Thank you for your comment, Christine.

  7. patriciaspreng on December 10, 2014 at 4:29 am

    I could feel her pain, I could feel your caring. It’s not even my question and your big brother words have brought tears. Reminded me of your piece on the beauty of the dissonant chord… in not resolving. Powerful.

    • thebeautifuldue on December 10, 2014 at 11:40 am

      Hi, Patricia!
      ‘big brother words’…that’s a wonderful way to put it, for that’s how it sorta felt. Thank you!

  8. eseosafire on December 10, 2014 at 9:13 am

    OMG! This blog blew my mind. I am speechless. My sons are poetry and spoken word writers, I call them my Holy Ghost Filled Lyricist. They are Pastors and will enjoy this blog. Thank you!

    EseosaRainFire
    LivingTheVapor

    • thebeautifuldue on December 10, 2014 at 11:42 am

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Your sons sound very interesting, the lyricists…that’s very cool.

  9. thejohnhoman on December 10, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    My two favorite phrases of this entry:

    “So I find good poetry and good faith to be quite the delicious combo, sorta like black coffee and cherry pie.”

    ” I’m a brass-knuckled optimist who believes its never too late”

    As with any writer worth their salt, I will be shamelessly stealing these turns of phrase.

    Good job.

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