my new task :: working in tradition

I’ve given myself a new task.

I have come to the conclusion that my writing is actually Socratic. That might sound like self-aggrandizement. It’s not.

When I go to write. I usually set all my outlines, plans, and notes out in front of me, lay my hands on the keyboard, and then simply expect the latent brilliance that hides deeps inside me to come to the surface and display itself on the screen. When it takes a little while to emerge (as it occasionally does), I poke myself with a few questions, sure that a little gadfly-prodding will cause the aforementioned brilliance to produce itself in profligate measure. When that fails, I’ll read through my notes, come across someone else’s good idea, type it verbatim, and hope that this is the droplet which will then unleash the torrent of genius onto the page.

Seriously… I can do this for hours.

The final result is as Socratic as the method. In the end, all I’m sure of is how much I don’t know, how little wisdom is in me—on occasion that leads to bouts of depression…

So, I’m headed back to my roots, turning over a new leaf. From here on out, I’m committed to writing like a good Lutheran.

Here is how I imagine the process to work. I will start by confessing that I am depraved and incapable of writing a blooming thing. Get all the despair out on the table from the beginning. Curse the devil a few times in the process for good measure. If writing happens, it is surely grace through faith, and not anything that I’ve been able to produce on my own merits. Any good I write is the work of God in me, and not my own. In the freedom of writing like the sinner I am, I can labor away, lightened of the responsibility to exude brilliance from within.

This had better work. If my thesis takes any longer, I’m going to enter the late stages of Lutheran writing—and see if a cold pint or two helps…

3 Replies to “my new task :: working in tradition”

  1. hey eric,

    great to hear your thoughts on this, but I wonder if you’re not exalting a false dichotomy. (Something, it seems to me, the Lutheran tradition – which I share – might be prone to.)

    Surely there is a great distance between searching for the genius within and the conclusion that “Any good I write is the work of God in me, and not my own”. While the point is well made so as to avoid the former, it seems to me to take the latter also is has problems.

    I fear that too quick a jump from “I think I can, I think I can” to “It’s all Jesus, I’m surely worthless” carefully skips the stage and place we might actually be called to live – which is by grace but through faith. (This may well bring me into conflict with ‘total depravity’ but I’m willing to beg a few questions on that note.)

    I’m tempted to side with you on the freedom this approach gives, “labor away, lightened of the responsibility to exude brilliance from within”, but I have some difficulties. While there is freedom from the ‘responsibility to exude brilliance from within’ – (is this a self-appointed responsibilty or divine-appointed, after all?) – should not a faithful work balance the view of depravity and need for grace with the assurance that stands on our primary status (I daresay, worth) as God’s creatures, fallen yes, but wholly loved and upheld all the more by our creator and redeemer.

    What sort of commitment might we be maintaining to view God’s love through the lens of forgiveness of the sinner/salvation by grace/total depravity – and perhaps to what neglect?

    One immediate thought is that it slips quickly into a sort of cheap grace, which you might well be familiar with by now. It also, I think, cannot maintain a balanced view of the doctrine of creation, for surely our labors at writing reflect more than just the work of God in us, does it not also bear our mark? There must be something ‘in us’ that God is interested in, and embraces as us, no?

    (Curiously, Nick Wolterstorff gave the Laing lectures here last week on ‘love and justice’, critiquing Anders Nygren and the agapists for their view of agape as ‘benevolence’, something that our tradition might simply see as ‘good ole gospel truth’. His argument was chiefly that this view of love (total benevolence as seen through lens of forgiveness of the sinner) fails to account for the worth of the creatures loved, thus bringing it into conflict with ‘justice’ and essentially lacking a doctrine of creation. It has caused me to challenge a few of my own – perhaps our own – traditional categories!)


  2. Geez Matt,

    Just when I was starting to get a kick out of cursing the devil, you come along and ruin my fun with your theologically balanced advice…

    I think that you are quite right to straighten out my perspective. At certain points, I have had a hell of a time with my writing this semester—between struggling with the thesis project, moving to a new city, and everything else, I’ve been down in the dung-heap of depression.

    As Carolyn and I talked it over, I recognized that I was bringing a silly perspective to the task. So this post was an attempt to describe a new beginning, a re-commitment to prayer and simple slogging hard work. I am too much an idealist, and hold myself to impossible standards; but also castigate myself for giving up too soon when I get distracted and fail to clear the bar…

    What you say about being grounded in creation and the call to utilize what “in me” is a gift of God is very helpful, and I’d like to think that it was somewhere in the background of my self-deprecation. Luther, as you mention, was certainly good at representing both sides of a paradox in their extremest forms (without really choosing one or the other!)

    Thanks for your good words, you and Roxy and your whole family are in our prayers…

    God’s peace,

    …and I am disappointed that I missed Wolterstorff; send me notes if you have them…

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