Bleating, Beating, Joining, Bleeding, and Changing
Is loneliness how we solve the algorithm problem?
I read an article this weekend and shared it with a few of my best writing comrades. It highlights a multi-layered plagiarism scandal with some spicy language and some hit you in the gut lines. If you’re a writer, I recommend reading it. One of the more ouch sections is this,
But, I am also reminded of the bleating of writers who insist that they “need” to be on social media for their careers, even when social media is draining them of time and energy and the will to create. Even when it makes them miserable and crazy. They are told by their publisher or their peers that they need to be “engaged” and “have a following” in order to sell books (or, at least, they insist their publisher or peers have said this), and so they end up turning over their thoughts and words, for free, to a corporation that doesn’t give a shit if they live or die, instead of writing the book that burns inside of them. What a ****ing tragedy. What an absolute waste.
I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t get it. Especially with the algorithm shifts of late. I suppose there’s two ways you can go, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Or, as my literary agent and friend, John Blase, quoted to me from Don Draper, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”
I don’t know exactly how to change the conversation, although I have ideas and hopes and a few little plans. But one way to keep changing the conversation is to write more long-form pieces and move the sharing of what’s interesting to us, to spaces like these. For those of you who followed me over here from Sayable, you know I would practice a regular piece I called Link Love, and it’s been a while.
I read and saved this piece by Russell Moore on Christianity Today a few weeks back, but it’s so good, I want to share it here too: “What is not repaired is repeated—and what is not reformed cannot be revived.”
The dear saint Frederick Buechner died last week. I breathe a double sided sigh whenever a writing hero breathes their last these days. Grief on one side and relief on the other. He was faithful through to the end and I am a life that was changed.
It’s fashionable for contemporary pastors to be “authentic” and reveal their personal struggles. But critics say some of these self-disclosures fall into narcissism and pandering to churchgoers. Few pastors dare to tell secrets with the specificity and skill of Buechner, who used personal revelation to steer attention to God’s grace instead of himself, they said. (From this piece.)
Someone else I appreciate who speaks often about vulnerability and the public life is Andy Crouch. I read this piece in Comment Magazine recently where he writes of Spiritual Practices for Public Leadership and I learned much.
And also speaking of the “glittering image” of the public life and the true telling of secrets, this novel was assigned to my classmates and me for a class we’re taking called, “Formation Through Struggle.” I read far past the assignment this weekend and am nearly finished it. The dialogue is maybe the best I’ve read in a long time, and, as my friend Hannah Anderson said on Twitter today, “the layering of theology, psychology, ministry, church politics & spiritual formation is like catnip to me.” Agreed. Same.
There are few better practices to help us face our own “glittering images” than to practice aloneness. Parker Palmer writes,
In an unfamiliar place, we feel lost and full of fear. But if we keep walking into what Berry calls our “essential loneliness,” our self knowledge deepens— along with our sense of connection to others and to life itself.
The ultimate reward of walking through our fears and into the unknown is something everyone longs for: We come to feel more at home in our own skin and on the face of the earth.
To come in (almost) a full circle, there’s much that a hidden life produces in us, and it’s not just our own spiritual formation and a greater awareness of God’s love. It also provides space for better art to be made, more holistic healing for our world and the Church, a better understanding of when our vulnerability has wandered into the fold of manipulation and knowing where that fold is to begin with, and a more intentional way of working in the world.
Perhaps it’s not beating or joining, bleating or capitulating. Perhaps it’s just changing the conversation one little piece at a time.
. . .
Speaking of changing the conversation, here’s what a few kind reviewers have said about A Curious Faith:
“It helps to slow you down and take a breath.”
“If you’re weary of a strident, dogmatic version of Christianity without room for nuance or mystery, this book is for you.”
“I wish I could go back in time and hand myself this book five years ago.”
“This book is a timeless gem.”
“This book feels like a sigh of relief.”
Also, I’ve gotten to chat with a few podcast hosts about A Curious Faith or just writing in general. Here’s one conversation I really enjoyed:
Have you ordered my newest book? A Curious Faith: The Questions God Asks, We Ask, and Wish Someone Would Ask Us. Also available: Handle With Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry