Reasons To Chose to Write or Not to Write

Writing on the iPad

Writing on the iPad

So this is the typical blog away from blog post that seems to grace the pages of almost every blog I have ever read. For the first time in the 10-15 years I have been writing on my blog, I took a year off. Though I did stop writing here for a while, I never stopped writing off-blog posts in my DayOne App (the best journal writing app ever by the way) or on Twitter and Facebook. I had wanted to take this break for a while, to get some perspective, and I did. After being away for so long I kept wondering if I would ever come back, what the purpose is/was, and why it even matters if I ever write another word here in a world already filled with so much noise as it is.

When it comes to choosing not to write, I tried find reason behind these statements.

  1. It takes too much time.
  2. There is enough noise out there already.
  3. No one wants to read every thought that crosses the mind, ever (that’s still the case).
  4. Ultimately, who cares what’s “not created” by a writer.
  5. I had lost the freedom of speech on my own blog.

I doubt those questions have answers for the most part, and it is the stereotypical question and response of everyone who wants to start a blog but never does. Ultimately, what’s worth doing is worth doing, even, or especially, if there is no recognizable audience at the time. Blogging is somewhat like doing life together with the rest of the world. It leaves you open to ridicule, criticism, trolls (see a great article ‘Your Opinion is Obsolete‘), and oblivious objecting observers, when not writing removes those negativities. But the easiest thing to do is not to write.

I was somewhat inspired to get back to writing here after reading Roger Angell’s “Five Seasons” this past off season, the start of the Auburn baseball season, and the honest reflections of another sports writer who recently lost his job. Then for some reason, I became responsive to that inspiration after reading Joe Posnanski’s post about what was on his book shelf. It had nothing to do with the list of books he calls great (which was great), but by his opining about his office and how long it took him to come to the point. Great writing is like that. It’s the journey to the finishing point that creates the pleasures of wading through the details. You almost want the writer to slow down because you know the end is in sight.

As a writer (that is the act of writing something original… I make no claims to be on the level with the likes of Angell or Posnanski), the one on the list that bothered me the most was the last one. Once you start writing to please, or to not offend, the writing becomes less real, contains less of me. I still haven’t figured this one out. I admire those who have found the answer, or have ignored the question all together and just plowed ahead.

In the end, I hate being just a consumer of material. I read countless blogs, news articles, books, and other writings where the authors’ purpose was only fulfilled long after it was written. The purpose of the written word is, to be read, by somebody at some time, even if the knowledge of that purpose is never know by the writer himself. So… I write.

A Great Journal Introduction by Jim Elliot

Jim Elliot

I have been writing in some form of journal for the better part of 20-25 years now off and on, sometimes with purpose, sometimes with without any at all. Some things inspire more than others. Lately, thanks to the people over at Bloom with the Day One App, they have inspired my digital journal into the next level.

Whether you call it a blog, a diary, a journal, or a log, if you are writing for a specific reason it is always helpful to have a good strong introduction to the journal to give you some direction, inspiration, and understanding. Later on when you wonder why you started writing, you can go back and read this intro again, hopefully to reconnect with your original purpose.

In my hand written Moleskine journals, on page 1, I always put an introduction, purpose, thesis, mission statement, or some kind of reason for why this journal exists. After sitting on my shelf for over a year I finally picked up this magnificent book, “The Journals of Jim Elliot” and read his introduction paragraph. What an amazing way to start a new journal. I say this in part because I have long had this very notion, and some how connected with every word he wrote, which said:

What is written in these pages I supposed will someday be read by others than myself. For this reason I cannot hope to be absolutely honest in what is herein recorded, for the hypocrisy of this shamming heart will ever he putting on a front and dares not to have written what is actually found in its abysmal depths. Yet, I pray, Lord, that You will make these notations to be as nearly true to fact as is possible so that I may know my own heart and be able to definitely pray regarding my gross, though often unviewed, inconsistencies… these remarks are to be fresh, daily thoughts given from God in meditation on His word.

I love that.

When a Book Transforms and Becomes a New Creation

The ESV Bible, a Moleskine Journal, and a Diet Coke

The ESV Bible, a Moleskine Journal, and a Diet Coke

This week the Weekly Writing Challenge at WordPress was called A Few of My Favorite Things, and while I enjoyed reading everyone’s interpretation of this post, I found this one quite difficult to put into words, especially since I don’t collect anything. The challenge was this:

tell us about your most meaningful possession… let us know about the heirloom item, what’s important are the memories and people that these objects symbolize, not what they’re actually used for. Transport us into the past by telling us about your favorite “thing.” What is it? What does it look like? What memories of people or things or events does it conjure?

My problem is I purposely don’t college anything, at all, and the fact that WordPress specified my computer/device didn’t count, I had to nix my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook, which I hate to say are very high on my list. It is a point of my existence to follow the concept of laying treasures for yourself up in Heaven, where moth do not destroy and thieves do not come in and steal. I started thinking about it in terms of what would I grab if there was a fire in my house and I only had time to take two things. These may seem cliché, but the two physical items that mean the most to me are a personal favorite book, my Bible, and my Moleskine journals, and a Diet Coke.

Both of these items have a grand history of being passed down from generation to generation. Not necessarily in my family, or my wife’s family, but Bibles have been heirlooms to survive the centuries, and so have journals going all the way back to Saint Augustine in Confessions. The combination of these two items makes a reader into a writer, one feeding off the other.

How a Book Transforms and Becomes a New Creation

Sample Page from My Bible in Psalm 104-105

Sample Page from My Bible in Psalm 104-105

I think it could very well be impossible to describe what this particular book has meant to me, and it is one of my most favorite physical “things” I own. One of the most interesting explanations of how we cleave to our very personal copy of God’s word comes to me from John Steinbeck in East of Eden when he said, “In that one book she had her history and her poetry, her knowledge of peoples and things, her ethics, her morals, and her salvation. She never studied the Bible or inspected it; she just read it. The many places where it seems to refute itself did not confuse her in the least. And finally she came to a point where she knew it so well that she went right on reading it without listening.”

There is a point at which a book transforms into more than ink and paper, more than just something that was created by a Johannes Gutenberg protégé. Once a reader makes an investment of time and mental energy there is a point at which the book becomes a new creation, something that becomes a combination of both author and reader.

The transformation isn’t something that takes place at the time of purchase, or after the first completed reading. It’s a slow, gradual process. Something that takes place over an extended period of time as the reader devours each word, and ultimately comes to acknowledge the true meaning the author intended to communicate. It’s at this point the book becomes alive with life, and subsequently changes the life of the reader from that point on.

This physical “thing” is something that has transformed me, and is one of my most prized possessions, but like so many possessions we cherish, it’s not the physical object that has meaning, but what it represents. We can even literally throw the Bible in the trash if it (1) becomes the ultimate object of our affection, or (2) sits on the shelf closed to our mind.

The Thick Cotton Pages of a Moleskine Journal

Writing Sample of Moleskine Journals

Writing Sample of My Moleskine Journals

The other, slightly less poetic item I like, are my Moleskine journals (and of course a cold Diet Coke). The Moleskine philosophy has a rich history of famous writers and artists like Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway (ok, well maybe that’s not totally correct, but it’s great marketing). For some reason their reinvigoration of this brand in 1997 spawned a great desire to create and write on paper when the rest of the world went digital.

You can find some incredible examples of Moleskine creativity on Flickr and elsewhere on the Internet, of people who are far more creative than I am when it comes to transforming a Moleskine journal into a work of art.

This transformation process I described in the section above is completely reversed now when you first crack open the clean pages of a Moleskine journal. The new owner is immediately presented with unlimited possibilities in empty pages, pages which will be created by the experiences of life. You are now the author instead of the reader, and the blank pages become testimonies of the hours and days you spend in the process of life.

As the years have gone by since I started writing in these journals I can now look back at days I have long forgotten, details I would never have been able to remember, and people who have been called home. These pages have become markers in time for me, something I can go back and read with wonder even though I lived through the days myself.

So there you have it. Two physical objects or things that mean something to me personally, and although I hope to some day pass these on to someone else, their meaning is truly symbolic only.


[On a side note, I’m aware these “challenge” posts from WordPress (they do a photo and writing challenge post each week over on Daily Post Blog) are basically pointless when it comes to my normal content, but I have found they serve their purpose… to challenge… to open up the mind and cause one to think, and that is a good thing. In my years in seminary since 2009, each week I found myself writing these seemingly “pointless” posts, called Discussion Board posts. Even though I might have known the material, I always learned something else by forcing myself to complete the task. So that’s why I continue to post on these DP topics, just in case you were wondering.]

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This Week’s Project 365 with Poetic Clouds and Bubbles

Project 365 [Day 241] Working on a Draf of a Poem on Prayer

Project 365 [Day 241] Working on a Draft of a Poem on Prayer

Another week in 2012 has gone into history, and the week was as unique as the previous one for Project 365. This is Day 237 through Day 243 of 366 photos for the year so far (you can see the full gallery on Flickr here). Seems I can’t get by a week without having some different sunrise or sunset photo. The weather here down in the south has been dynamic as far as the clouds go, just without much rain. This week was a hard week for different reasons, and for different people. Often it seems there are so many different people and situations that need and deserve prayer, yet it can quickly become overwhelming if you try to take it all on yourself. Of course that’s not the point of prayer, and thank God He is never overwhelmed by our prayer requests, or number of prayers we offer.

The photo above that leads off this post is a draft of a poem on prayer I worked on this week. Surprisingly, once I started working on it, the bulk of the verse came together faster than any other poetic attempt, and I really only had to rewrite it a few times. If you have followed this blog at all you will know I have tried to put my creative mind to work through photography, reading, and writing, which includes poetry here and there. Poetry is one of those art forms our culture has ignored to such a point that it captured my attention, maybe because it has been so highly ignored by my generation. This is not to say I am a poet, but I do make attempts. Poetry is like photography in that if I never took any photos, there is a 100% chance I would never improve.

One thing I have learned about poetry is it’s every bit as difficult as I thought it was. It is difficult to understand at times, it’s extremely difficult to write, and overwhelmingly difficult to write well. Anyway, what I have learned about poetry is that when simple prose are inadequate to express the greatness at hand, poetry steps in and creates an entirely different level of expression, and that is incredible. Look for this poem later in the week, but this week, the images of the week include this attempt at poetry on prayer. If you are wondering about the bubbles image below, check out Weekly Photo Challenge: Purple, Oil and Water for an explanation.

There is no Frigate Like a Book from the Pen of Emily Dickinson

The more I try to learn and understand how prose and poetry works, the more I realize that I can’t recapture the the years of ignoring virtually all literature from my childhood. It’s like starting in grade school again and working your way up, only now you don’t have time to do so because of bills and life and work and school and family and so on. This part of literature now gets relegated to learning a tiny snippet then when another writer (Lenard Sweet in this case via Viral) points out how important poetry is, then picking it back up again and learning a little more. I’ve done this for almost 5 years now, and I’m not sure I’ve learned a whole lot, but I’ve learned more than if I never picked up poetry at all.

Lenard Sweet in his book Viral spends a great deal on the importance of poetry in one chapter, and then goes on to show how much the Google generation has rejected this form of literature (and mine too for that matter), to replace it with the world of images and graphics. But the more our world, culture, and societies as a whole forget how to write in cursive, the more we should continue to write in cursive ourselves, lest we forget the power of words. Same goes with poetry, and especially in our churches!

If you are a Christian, no matter how much you try, you can’t get away from the fact that God’s way of communicating with us is in words, and the greatest poetry ever written is found in Scripture. It’s no wonder. Poetry, in one form, is a way to say something that can’t be said in words, and much of Scripture is just that, too great for words. There are countless examples, but I like the this reason from the book of John… “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (3.12). The Spiritual world of God uses poetry for a good reason, it helps to explain the unexplainable, something that needs a parable to show its depth.

I love short poems that are easily digestible at this point, it will take me years to work up to appreciating Shakespeare, but here Emily Dickinson explains the power of a book.

There is no Frigate Like a Book

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll.
How frugal is the chariot
That bears the human soul!

~Emily Dickinson

It just conveys so much more meaning to compare the power of a book to a warship of immense power and beauty. Much like a product of my generation, I know my weakness in understanding literature is the image. Being a photographer for so long, the image is what I created through capturing light, not an image in my mind through capturing words read. Trying to relearn how words express their own images, without the need for a graphic is quite hard in the 21st century, I can’t imagine how hard it will be in the 22nd century, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

One Boy’s Plea for Eternity Etched in Concrete

Outside the Cell Inside the Walls

Outside the Cell Inside the Walls

Never Forget God's Children

Never Forget God’s Children

This second photo above with the writing on the wall might not seem like much at first, especially without bringing out the contrast in the image, the writing on the wall is almost unseen. The boy in the first image at the top is sitting right in front of the window where I took this second shot (farthest window to the left). Etched and scratched into a concrete wall, in an almost morbid sense of humanity for a child, are written these words:

Never forget Masaba Derick from Mbale Town good boy from Kampiringisa

This boy’s home town, Mbale, is a tiny little village hours and hours away from where I photographed this image in the Kampiringisa Rehabilitation Centre, so there is no telling how he ended up in this Children’s facility, or if or when he left. These facilities exist all over Uganda, and some, like this one, were not staffed with adults, but yet it housed hundreds of kids who had to just fend for themselves. No electricity, no water, and in many ways, no hope. This image, taken in October 2011, just stuck with me over the last several months.

By the point I took this image above, this particular building was no longer being used to actively house anyone, but obviously it did at some point. One thing I do know, God has not forgotten these children, whether they know it yet or not. To see more images from this particular day, see They are Hidden but Not Forgotten or go to my Stories section to see others.

What’s More Useful to the Glory of God Than 95% of All We Do?

Amos 9:5-6

I’m guessing you didn’t think poetry was the answer to the question in the title, but it is. Poetic language and the language of prose put together in a sentence is sort of a misnomer, since they basically mean the opposite, but such is my relationship with metric and non-metrical language. Over the years I have tried to study poetry here and there, written some, read some, and every once in a while, appreciated some. I seem to have this back and forth argument with myself on the importance of poetry. In one respect, I find it useless, confusing, hard to understand, and not worth the time to learn. On the other, I do find it speaks to all aspects of life, and could be more important in affecting change than much of what we do in our every day lives. A post on Desiring God called Piper and the Role of Poetry in the Christian Life says it like this:

Poetry is not the answer, but it is a greater part of the answer than 95% of what we do with our time. Woe to me if I think souls are saved by me or them becoming poetic. But few are damned by it. And of the thousand things we fill our days with, this could be more useful to the glory of God than what we do most of the time.

So according to Piper, and some may disagree, poetry is more useful to the glory of God (the very purpose of our existence says 1 Peter 4:11), than of large majority of our other endeavors in life, or put differently how we spend our time. This is actually a pretty bold statement if taken at face value with no context. To understand this statement, it’s important to look at what else we do with our time, and how if at all, those things are more or less useful to the glory of God than poetry. I suspect many would say that statement is absurd, and dismiss it altogether, but God himself doesn’t do that.

Of course a great deal of Scripture is poetry. So that tells me right there that God finds poetry important, regardless of what I think. Some of the greatest poets in history were writers of Scripture. Of course being inspired I would say they had a little help, otherwise how in the world could any individual mind come up with and make Psalm 119 work other than God? If you have never attempted to create a perfectly metered acrostic (forget one the size of Psalm 119), try it, you will quickly see it isn’t all that easy.

To answer the question I posed in the title I think can only be answered by someone who has a great deal of knowledge about poetry, and can define its worth. For many of us, we just don’t have a strong enough understanding to say one way or another. Our time isn’t readily filled with words on a page in metric meter, it’s more filled with screens presenting video and media. This all got started from a quick read through Amos 9.5-6, which is an incredible short piece of inspired poetry.

Written on the Walls Behind Bars, Part 3

Written on the Walls Behind Bars

This is Part 3 of 3 in the “Written on the Walls Behind Bars” posts (see Part 1 and Part 2 to see the progression). The transition to the bars and then with “Love” written on the face of the father is pretty incredible to me. These shots were part of a larger shoot that day from these facilities in Uganda. To see more images from those days click here to see They are Hidden but Not Forgotten and The Challenge of Being Salt and Light in the Darkness.

Written on the Walls Behind Bars, Part 2

In Front of the Bars at a Children's Prison in Africa

A continuation shot of Part 1, this shot is Part 2 of 3 and was taken just on the other side of the window bars and shows the extent of the mural on the wall. The wall depicts a family, possibly their witch-doctor, and the love they have for their missing child.

Written on the Walls Behind Bars, Part 1

Behind Bars at a Children's Prison in Africa

An abandon building that holds children in prison for various delinquencies, many of whom are spending and have spent years there. While this building wasn’t being used, the overall facility was still quite active with over 150 children housed on the property. The photo of the father has L-O-V-E written across his face, which will be shown in subsequent photos.