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A Writer’s Attention Deficit Disorder At Play

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A WRITER’S ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER AT PLAY

Multi-day writing conferences are bad for my Attention Deficit Disorder. Or maybe I should say they’re good for it. They feed it, encourage it, even celebrate it.

“Rejoice!” such venues declare. So many ideas! So many stories! So many topics and characters to be enthusiastic about! And most of all: so many directions I could go!

Since I was diagnosed with ADD a few years ago, I’m more patient with myself in such situations. I don’t mind letting my mind out to play, to imagine, to dream. No harm done.

I know this hyper-excitement and bouncy brain syndrome will lessen within a few days of the closing session tomorrow. I’ll lose the business cards I’ve collected and forget all my new writerly best-friends.

The passions that are real and meant for me will stick, and the rest are harmless mental entertainment.

The time I’ve spent sitting in this quiet seminary library researching the possibility of a Princeton Continuing Education Certificate in Ministry and Theology will blend into one of countless similar memories.

Seminary Musings

Whenever I spend time with a bunch of pastors as I have at this Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop, I suffer from a mild case of WannaBe, even though I am technically already a pastor at my church. I feel like a pretend pastor, because although I’ve taken a few seminary classes and am a “certified” Spiritual Director, I’ve not done the real stuff, the painful stuff — the heavy duty Christian History and Comparative Theologies and Advanced Homiletics and Old and New Testament I & II.

Why would I? Life is short, and I’m fairly certain my studies wouldn’t help anybody. Nobody cares what I know or think about theology, it doesn’t help suffering people, and I’m sure I’d find some other reason to judge myself “not good enough.”

I never know where the Holy Spirit might lead me, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be to these hallowed grounds. Never say never, though.

Forget the Christians!

I did get some important clarity and focus today, which is, as any ADD-addled person knows, a nugget of pure gold.

Drum roll, please:

I think that I may have decided on the “audience” for my writing. Actually, if this sticks, it will be a huge step forward in my meandering wander towards an intentional, serious writing project.

Surprisingly, the clarity came during a ridiculously brief fifteen-minute meeting with a former editor of Christianity Today magazine. This teensy time slot came with my registration for the conference — time with an editor or publisher or author of your choice — so why not?

I went into the meeting with my usual random scattered thoughts and a page of notes that involved a number of question marks and read: outlets, publishers, trends, niche, spiritual, de-mystify, different kind of Christianity, CIA, environment, drug addict, pastor, memoir, audience.

Somehow in all that, my new best publisher-friend found a way to help me through my confusion.

“You are writing for the ‘spiritual but not religious’ crowd, and there are a lot of them. Not Christians. You’re not writing for Christians.” 

The relief and certainty I felt about this “not Christians” directive bordered on euphoria. I hadn’t realized it, but the thought of writing for Christians makes me tense, like I have to quote the Bible a lot and throw around names and phrases like Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and orthodoxy and reformation.

Christians have historically believed that they have the answers to all of life’s big questions right in their big book. They tend to like certainty. I got nothin’ for folks like that. No answers, no resounding Message.

Gratefully, I think an increasing number of Jesus’s followers are moving away from that fixed mindset. As Anne Lamott said on the opening night of this conference, “I don’t want to read ‘message stuff.’ I want to know who are you and what have you figured out here?”

That, I can write about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Words

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Frederick Buechner wrote in one of his memoirs that “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours.”

Or as Anne Lamott said last night, we want to say, “Me, too!”

The power of words to connect us seems to be a theme at this third annual Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop at Princeton Seminary. At this morning’s keynote, author Diana Butler Bass referenced “the tender power of I,” suggesting that the word “I” connects us to one another and to God. When Moses said, “Here I am,” and God said, “I AM,” it connected them and placed them on sacred ground.

Dogwood on sacred grounds of Princeton Theological Seminary

Many times as Diana told her personal story, I found myself thinking, “Me, too!” Her journey along “the road to an unexpected vocation” resonated with me and made me feel just a little less crazy for chasing this writing dream.

“Writing is a spiritual path,” she said. “Cherish your own path . . . Who are you? To me, that is the central question writers must struggle with.”

Writing Good Into the World

As intimate and personal as writing can be — especially memoir writing — there is also a strong communal element to it. Who am I in the world? What is my calling? How can I be of help?

I don’t know if it’s the spiritual nature of this conference or the dire times we live in or both, but this sense of mission and calling seems to be another big theme this week. 

Like Anne Lamott, Diana expressed “deep distress” over what’s going on in America. She thinks it’s a critical time for people of faith to “write for the world” as a way to counteract evil and inspire people.

“We are living in the age of the anti-word,” she said. “There is evil surrounding words right now . . . amazing technology that could spread beauty is instead being used to spread evil. Words are being purposefully used to undermine truth and beauty and wholeness . . . Malevolent forces are taking words and using them for oppression.”

Diana urged the two hundred-plus people crammed into the auditorium this morning to “write to reach people’s hearts” and to “engage intentionally to build goodness and beauty and to embody the Word.”

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1

Weird Saturday: Choosing Hope

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Weird Saturday: Choosing Hope

I know I should be writing about Easter. I always do.

Hallelujah, Praise the Lord, He is risen, etc.

But it’s not Easter. It’s Weird Saturday. The end of the Lenten period of reflection and self-examination, but not yet the time of joyful celebration.

As I told a friend at our Good Friday service last night, I never know what I’m supposed to do on the day before Easter. How to respond? My friend said, “You should mope.”

Seems about right. This is the day when Jesus’s friends, family, and followers thought that all hope was lost. They had witnessed Jesus being tortured, mocked, and murdered. The one they thought would save the world was dead, crucified on a cross.

Being a good codependent, it’s pretty easy for me to get inside other people’s heads and imagine what they are feeling. (That’s often easier than dealing with my own feelings.) So I imagine what Jesus’s friends were feeling on that Saturday after Passover. Grief, of course. Hopelessness, no doubt. Darkness, fear, confusion. An existential desperation. (Think November 9, 2016 writ large.)

Darkness Falls

At our service last night, we heard the scriptures about Jesus being terrified of his calling, betrayed by his friend, beaten by cruel soldiers, mocked by passersby, and nailed to a tree. We shouted with the crazed crowd, “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!”

As each story was read, another candle was snuffed out, until at last we heard Jesus cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And then it went dark. And we were alone.

I felt real fear deep in my gut. The reality of humanity without the reality of a living, all-encompassing Love. The reality of an abyss of complete darkness without a rescuing burst of light and power. What if we really are all we’ve got? Our only hope?

We’re toast.

I felt that, just for a moment.

Choosing

I know that some people think that religion in general and Christianity in particular is make-believe. Rose from the dead? Yeah, right.

That’s OK. What we believe doesn’t affect reality. What is, is. We each get to choose.

In a sense, I no longer have a choice. I have been tagging along after Jesus long enough to know now. There is no doubt for me.

Easter morning comes. There will be light! There will be singing and rejoicing. There will be flowers and feasting and freedom from fear. There will be laughter, and there will be champagne bubbles tickling our noses.

I wish you a lovely April day, regardless of your beliefs.

Hallelujah!

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/six-tips-on-how-to-rise-from-the-dead/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/easter-miracles/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/an-easter-message-from-the-great-beyond/

Hindered Healing

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HINDERED HEALING

Funny — I am asked to write about healing and I draw a blank, despite the fact that only a few weeks ago I gave an entire sermon on healing and prayer.

I think it must still be the Syrian bombing that has blasted my brain and made me unable to write. And perhaps the fact that President Tweet has now experienced the adrenaline rush of military aggression and couldn’t resist sending a Navy “strike force” speeding towards the Korean peninsula.

For whatever reason, I have nothing fresh to say about healing. Some days I feel as if I haven’t healed at all, even after years of spiritual practice, therapy, and support groups. The dangerous man-child in the White House has caused me to revert to a scared and desperate kindergartner hiding behind the couch while my drunken father rages around the house with his slippers on the wrong feet.

So I am going to cheat and simply share a bit of my sermon. I didn’t have to tell you that. I could have just regurgitated these words as if they were hot off the presses. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about healing, it’s that honesty and vulnerability are step one.

So:

PRAYER AND HEALING

One of the first things we discover when we begin a life of prayer in earnest is that we are not well. We need healing. As we experience God’s amazing love through prayer and worship, our eyes are opened and our hearts get softened. We see more and more the darkness in the world around us and also the brokenness and imperfection in ourselves, in comparison to God’s vision.

Prayer opens our eyes to the truth that we are unwell, that we are sinners, which is a word a lot of us don’t like because it’s been used in unhealthy shaming and controlling ways. But the word in Greek — hamartia — simply means we are missing the mark, missing the target. And because we are all missing the mark, the world is missing God’s mark.

Step one in getting back on course after prayer has shown us that we missing the mark and need healing is — more prayer. Prayer opens our eyes to our need for healing, then as we continue praying, it gives us the courage to become willing to heal, willing to change, which is what “repentance” means. Because it feels risky to change and we need to pray for courage.

Do we even want to get well? Because getting well entails honesty and vulnerability. We spend a lot of time trying to avoid the painful reality of our brokenness and our imperfections. We don’t like admitting we are unwell.

We might choose denial, we may numb our pain with food or alcohol or Facebook or TV or self- important busyness. Or — one of my personal favorites — by deciding how other people should change because we can’t bear to focus on our own need for change. We don’t want to be defenseless and vulnerable and ask for help.

Sometimes our brokenness can define us and become so much a part of our persona that we don’t even know who we would be without it.

That’s why the silence and solitude and reflection that’s so important to our prayer lives can be tortuous for some people. We don’t want to hear the call to change. We read in the Bible that God will turn us into a whole “new creation!” That’s scary!

So prayer helps us recognize that we need to heal, and prayer gives us the courage and willingness to heal. And then deeper prayer gives us the power to heal through the Holy Spirit.

And that power to heal is God’s Love. God’s love and compassion is what heals, and our faith is made real and tangible when we open ourselves to be channels of that healing love.

Assisi, Italy

Shrove Tuesday: Pagans, Priests, and Pancakes

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SHROVE TUESDAY: PAGANS, PRIESTS, AND PANCAKES

Known as “pancake day” in Britain, Shrove Tuesday is historically a Catholic Church thing, but since most of us like pancakes, why not crash the Catholic party?

Shrove Tuesday was traditionally a day of repentance when believers would “shrive,” or confess their sins to a priest and receive absolution before Lent began on Ash Wednesday, thus cleansing themselves and supposedly bringing their appetites under control. Then sometime in the Middle Ages, Shrove Tuesday morphed into a time of feasting and celebration, which makes good sense to me. Why spend the last day before a forty-day period of soul searching and sacrificial fasting trying to bring your appetites under control? As Scarlett O’Hara said, “I’ll think about that tomorrow!”

Practically speaking, families wanted to use up all the fats, meats, milk, and fish that would go bad over a forty-day period of food restrictions, so they all got together and stuffed themselves.

In France, the consumption of all this fat led to the day being called “Fat Tuesday” or Mardi Gras. And we know where *that* led. Actually, the rowdy partying at Mardi Gras time harkens back to the Pagan spring equinox festivals that sometimes coincided with the early Christian observances. Carnival!

088.mask.crop

Down to the real point of Shrove Tuesday for the likes of non-Catholics like me: it’s all about the pancakes. The English started the tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday as a way of emptying their cabinets of tempting indulgences like milk, butter, and eggs.

My church is big on community, getting together whenever we can, and I happen to live in a neighborhood inhabited by lots of my church friends. What’s not to like? So tonight, about fifteen of us will gather, say grace, and chow down. It’s also possible that if enough wine is drunk, we might start confessing our sins to one another. But it’s not required.

Tasty homemade pancakes with strawberries,blueberries and maple

Lenten Question: What Does it Mean to Be You?

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LENTEN QUESTION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE YOU?

Today I’ll share some thoughts about Lent from one of my favorite authors. Even if you’re not a Jesus-person and you’ve never given Lent a second thought, this could be a useful exercise for you. Lent — which begins the day after tomorrow — is a traditional time for self reflection and re-centering, and Frederick Buechner gives us food for thought and prayer in his book, Whistling in the Dark.

† † †

“In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the River Jordan, Jesus  went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.

  If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?

  When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?

  If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?

  Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?

  Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?

  If this were your last day of your life, what would you do with it?

To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.”

flowers and Dayspring 039

Approaching Lent

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APPROACHING LENT

Lent starts this week, which I know is very exciting news to you. OK, maybe not.

I’m probably one of the few people who actually likes Lent. After all, it’s still so dark this time of year, and Christians insist on saying things like, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Really? We *know* that, thank you very much, and we expend plenty of effort trying to forget it. And then to add insult to injury, they smear ashes on your face!

Those Jesus people also talk about Lenten “repentance and sacrifice” and — ACK! — SIN. That whispered word and the shame with which it’s been imbued by some church traditions is probably the reason a lot of people reject religion altogether. I know it was the reason my mother did.

“No man who doesn’t even know me is going to stand up there and tell me I’m a sinner. I’m a perfectly nice person,” she would say. And so she was.

But the word “sin” — despite being used as a weapon to manipulate people and strike fear into their hearts — really only means “to miss the mark.” That’s not so bad, right? It means we’re not all we could be, and even my Mom could have owned that truth.

For me, Lent is a time of great hope and expectation, because we get to press the re-set button. It’s a time to intentionally step back and take stock of our lives and decide how we want to change. It can be humbling to admit how much we “miss the mark,” yet it’s empowering to know that we have the power to change, if we have the will.

So I look forward to Lent, beginning with Lenten “eve” on Shrove Tuesday, when I’ll gather with a group of friends for an overly large pancake dinner and bid farewell to my usual state of denial as I begin to “return to the Lord to examine and probe my ways.” (Lamentations 3:40)

Who am I, that you are mindful of me?

Who am I, that you are mindful of me?

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