Tag Archives: writing

Using the language I know


I thought at this point I had made my sense of things clear: For several types of reasons, I’m just not sure about the Christian faith anymore.

However, most of my life, I have lived and learned within the context of at least four distinct forms of Protestant Christianity.

I find nothing inconsistent about being doubtful while critiquing Christian leaders based upon the inconsistencies between their public claims and their ministries.

Especially when those Christian leaders made my doubts seem more legit, not less.

I once read an interview with the man behind the band Iron & Wine. He said some folks had asked him why he uses biblical language and allusions in his songwriting when he is not a believer.

The thrust of his answer, as I recall it, was something like this: it’s the language available to me, and it fits the settings and characters of my songwriting.

I certainly see the richness of various Christian traditions. In a world gone gnostic, with so much of our communication taking place in disembodied formats, Christianity still has rich veins of language and symbolism and ritual, however despised by the new iconoclasts of both evangelicalism and atheism.

In a world gone gnostic, the thought of logos made flesh ought to fascinate anyone who appreciates tactile, sensory experience.

Beyond that, I would say to any young writers in my classrooms, use the materials you have — stories from your lives, images, settings, characters, cadences, symbols, archetypes, and songs.

Sometimes, if you’re diligent in setting the context, the truth will show up.

That feeling when… (self-concept versus self-knowledge)


Sometimes, the self-concept doesn’t know what the self has been doing. 

The only mystery allowed is the mystery that can be explained


Within the lesson emerges an analogy:

‘In the act of writing about art, then, you press language to the point of fracture and try to do what writing cannot do: account for the experience. Otherwise, you elide the essential mystery, which is the reason for writing anything at all. The easy alternative is just to circumnavigate the occasion of seeing something—to “professionalize” art criticism into a branch of academic art history—to presume that works of art are already utterances in art-language that need only to be translate into a better language to achieve perfect transparency. In this way, the practice of criticism is transformed into a kind of Protestant civil service dedicated to translating art-language into a word-language that neutralizes its power in the interest of public order. The writer’s pathological need to control and reconstitute the fluid universe of not-writing is fortuitously disguised by this strategem—since in a truly “professional” discourse, no more intimate engagement with the “needy” object is required than that of a doctor with a patient, and no more stress need be placed upon the language than that required by the clinical assignment of names to symptoms.’ (boldface added) — Dave Hickey, from his essay “Air Guitar,” from Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy

‘the problem of Lewis the storyteller’ in Text Patterns at The New Atlantis


“I don’t think Lewis was by any means a natural storyteller, and all of his fiction suffers to one degree or another from his shortcomings in this regard,” sayeth literary critic and distinguished humanities professor Alan Jacobs. “Every time he sat down to write a story he was moving outside the sphere of his strongest writerly gifts.” To get Jacobs’ full view on the matter, as well as a few words about storytelling differences between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, read the entire post here: “the problem of Lewis the storyteller – Text Patterns – The New Atlantis”.

A quick note on digital humanities


On the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death, a consideration of his poetry


Like eyes of one long dead the empty windows stare
And I fear to cross the garden, I fear to linger there…

from the poem “Alexandrines” by C.S. Lewis

 

C.S. Lewis fan trivia includes the factoid that he died on the same day as President John F. Kennedy and author Aldous Huxley.

But 50th anniversaries tend to be big deals, and on this anniversary, while new documentaries honor JFK, Lewis is receiving a quieter yet substantial honor.

Lewis’s “devotion to [poetry] will be honored this month with the unveiling of a monument at the Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, 50 years after his death,” writes Laura C. Mallonee in “The Imaginative Man,” written for PoetryFoundation.org.

Despite being best-known for The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity — as well as maybe The Screwtape Letters — Lewis really, really wanted to be a poet.

In recent years, that biographical factoid received serious scholarly study from Don W. King, who wrote C.S. Lewis, Poet: The Legacy of His Poetic Impulse – a project that spurred a study of Lewis’s more-successful poet friend, Ruth Pitter.

In this brief post, I’ll say Lewis’s poetry is interesting for two principle reasons — although for a thorough examination of his poetry, see King’s C.S. Lewis, Poet.

First, Lewis wrote his poetry with an ear tuned to meter. For example, his poem “Alexandrines” is a collection of 13 of the lines for which the poem is named. An alexandrine is a 12-syllable iambic line.

Second, Lewis’s immersion in ancient mythology influenced many of his poems. See, for example, “Vitrea Circe,” which is about the Circe of Homeric legend.

Also see “The Satyr,” which follows a satyr “Through the meadows, through the valleys” where “all the faerie kin he rallies.”

Certainly questions of why Lewis has no intellectual and aesthetic heirs today — especially among the Christians who desperately want someone to pick up the Narnian mantle — can be answered with attention to his history and development as a person.

Lewis was saturated in English poetry and ancient verse, in languages living and dead, in stories historical and mythological.

I suspect many Christian writers who have tried to imitate Lewis jumped the gun and hopped directly into allegories of the Gospels, but Lewis never would have written a book entitled Mere Allegory.

Related articles

‘Biblical’ destruction


1-Bibel-1USA Today describes the Colorado rainfall as “Biblical.” Indeed we appreciate the rainfall’s adherence to dogmatic teaching. Then again, if you browse a Christian bookstore, you’ll notice just about anything is worthy of the “Biblical” label. So now I fear the rainfall will become anything it wants to be — and destroy even more in the process.

Bishop and several masculine pronouns hook up, thanks to Charleston newspaper


In an otherwise great article about Bishop Charles vonRosenberg (who today confirmed my eldest daughter), the Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., allowed several third-person-singular-male pronouns to hook-up with Bishop Gene Robinson.

A Charleston reporter forces Bishop Robinson to hook up with several "he"s

You’ve really got to watch who your pronouns refer to. (Also, never end a sentence with a preposition.)

The “he” at the beginning of the second pictured paragraph (above) should have been a reintroduction of vonRosenberg’s name.

Well, if journalists don’t need a good dose of Christian forgiveness, no one does.

Engineering reliable serfs for a stable economy: diminishing the fine arts and humanities in education


Darcy Wells Ward wrote a fantastic post entitled “The Great Humanities Crisis.”

Ward writes, and quotes an unidentified Nussbaum:

…policy makers want to create a generation of workers, not thinkers. “The student’s freedom of mind is dangerous if what is wanted is a group of technically trained, obedient workers to carry out the plans of the elites who are aiming at foreign investment and technology investment.” (Nussbaum, 21)

The most powerful people can use their influence to create systems that engineer more serfs.

However, not all of the most powerful people always want to engineer serfs for themselves. Good intentions might guide efforts to engineer new policies.

Still, sometimes, the most difficult message to communicate is a message that says the present, current good intentions are not going to bring good outcomes.

Fear of poverty and fear of low status spur anxious parents and practical politicians and school districts to emphasize reductive skills that secure good salaries — and emphasize those salaries more than humane sensitivities and understandings born from the civilizing influence of well-taught and well-presented arts and literature.

Ward again:

…it is only a matter of time before the lack of interpersonal skills, as well as personal growth, created by inquiries into history, philosophy, art, music, and language will catch up with us.

Moving a society forward, like becoming an educated person, requires a balance of appreciation for traditions and appreciation for new research and theories.

Confucius once said, “Enliven the ancient and also know what is new, and then you will be a teacher.” And, you will be a citizen. And, you will be fully human.

Note: This balanced perspective won’t be accepted by certain threads of cultural conservatives, by certain threads of progressives, or by Serf Engineers.

The tragicomic in daily life: internal blindness in Chekhov’s characters


Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov’s short fiction was undergirded by a spirituality and a morality that suggested what one critic called “internal blindness” — a blindness of the heart detected within the privileged characters of Chekhov’s short stories.

“And perhaps nothing is as tragicomic in our daily experience as that highly serious comedy of errors, moral and spiritual in character, constantly falsifying social relations and human intercourse…. Our own reciprocal misunderstandings are due not to material appearances or optical illusions, but to internal blindness.” — Renato Poggioli, “Storytelling in a Double Key,” an essay on Anton Chekhov’s short stories

On Soren Kierkegaard’s 200th birthday, a few quotations from his works


Soren Kierkegaard studying“If you wish to be and remain enthusiastic, then draw the silk curtains of facetiousness, and so hide your enthusiasm.” — Soren Kierkegaard, in his journals

“No, an illusion can never be destroyed directly, and only by indirect means can it be radically removed…. That is, one must approach from behind the person who is under an illusion.” — Soren Kierkegaard, The Point of View for My Work as an Author

“The reason I far prefer the autumn to the spring is because in the autumn one looks up to heaven — in spring at the earth.” — Soren Kierkegaard, in his journals

“Most men think, talk, and write as they sleep, eat, and drink, without ever raising the question of their relation to the idea; this only happens among the very few and then that decisive moment has in the very highest degree either the power to compel (genius), or it paralyzes the individual with anxiety (irony).” — Soren Kierkegaard, in his journals

“Mysticism has not the patience to wait for God’s revelation.” — Soren Kierkegaard, in his journals

“Socrates proved the immortality of the soul from the fact that sickness of the soul (which may be called sin) does not consume the soul, as sickness of the body consumes the body.” — Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

“There are, as is known, insects that die in the moment of fertilization. So it is with all joy: life’s highest, most splendid moment of enjoyment is accompanied by death.” — Soren Kierkegaard, Either / Or

“People hardly ever make use of the freedom they have, that is, freedom of thought, and instead demand free speech as a compensation.” — Soren Kierkegaard, in his journals

“Luther, you have a huge responsibility, for when I look more closely, I see more and more clearly that you toppled the Pope only to enthrone ‘the public.’” — Soren Kierkegaard, in his journals

“Other people may complain that the present age is wicked. I complain that it is wretched, because it lacks passion. People’s souls are thin and flimsy like lace; and they are spiritual lacemakers. The thoughts of their hearts are too paltry to be regarded as sinful. A worm might be looked upon as sinful to think in such a way; but for people made in the image of God, ‘sinful’ is too big a word. Their desires are drab and sluggish, their passion lethargic. They are like shopkeepers, doing their duty, but clipping little pieces of gold from the coins they take. They think that, even if the Lord is careful in keeping his accounts, they can cheat him a little. Away with them! This is why my soul constantly turns back to the Old Testament and to Shakespeare. The characters are real human beings: they hate and love, they murder their enemies, they curse their descendants, they sin.” – Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Learn more about Soren Kierkegaard at the late D. Anthony Storm’s thorough commentary site.

Related articles

The aggregate of thoughts, feelings, and years


I can stand up for hope, faith, love
But while I’m getting over certainty
Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady  — U2

With this blog during the past five years, I’ve tried to make the case that Protestant evangelicalism and its close cousins are intellectually problematic exercises in futility.

The available Reformed and fundamentalist views of God, humans, and the Bible never really work out, intellectually or experientially, without constant guess work and endless, tiny adjustments in the particulars of belief.

Unfortunately for me, this line of argument has been just as futile as evangelicalism.

Even when others have understood specific, concrete stories from my own life, they could not understand what brought me to the point of exasperation.

What can’t be explained is the aggregate of thousands of hours in conversations with friends, ministers, and psychologists.

What can’t be explained is the aggregate of thousands of hours of observations and, later, evaluation of those observations, the mulling over and over of words spoken and actions observed.

In other words, I don’t have arguments for or against evangelicalism. I have a life that offers deep and broad reasons why evangelicalism as a way of life does not work and couldn’t possibly.

When I found a church with candles and liturgy, I thought at least I could continue to believe in God and worship what T.S. Eliot called “the still point of the turning world,” which I took to be the Incarnation. That was the best I could do.

These days I see people going back in the same direction I came from, tempting the darker forces of religion to control congregations. But there is no way to bottle or package my experiences and my perspectives and present them concretely as a cautionary tale. Others are trying to bottle and package their experiences and their perspectives, and they carry more certainty than I do, maybe with fewer years, but with more zeal.

For them, “there’s one size for everyone.”

For me, “this particular size works for no one.”

Which is the more limited point of view?

G.K. Chesterton once contrasted the pagan circle with the Christian cross. The circle is closed, he said, with no expansion possible. The cross, however, extends infinitely in four directions, essentially in all directions.

I am sure my opposites would consider my point of view to be the circle, and their point of view to be the cross. Of course, I see it the other way around. The only thing I can say in response is that the liturgy and the candles — and, certainly, the bread and wine — enabled me to imagine the cross extending infinitely into past and future, while its crux remains firmly at “the still point of the turning world.”

The strange thing about the way sovereignty is assumed among Reformed, fundamentalist, and evangelical circles is this: there’s nothing to imagine. Only precision of abstract doctrine, none of the genuine mystery of the Baptized God and His universe as sensed and intuited by poets, novelists, and artists. Perhaps there’s nothing to imagine because the ministers feel certain they have grasped the mind of God.

The imaginations that drove Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien and Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor were Roman Catholic. The imagination that drove T.S. Eliot was Anglo-Catholic. The imagination that drove Aleksander Solzhenitsyn was Russian Orthodox. The biggest imagination that was close to evangelicalism was C.S. Lewis, who was Anglican. Are there any evangelical,  fundamentalist, or Reformed authors or poets of their caliber in the last 100 years? Perhaps in parts of Europe, but certainly not in the United States or the United Kingdom. I doubt the Reformed, evangelical, or fundamental crowds would claim John Updike or Garrison Keillor — they’re too liberal.

Elsewhere, others have said that our wills fail because the images in our subconscious minds undercut us. The imagination, as most deeply engrained in our minds, as most symbolically woven together with our beliefs, runs on stores of images. Those images must have a basic goodness to them if our wills are to accomplish what our rational minds say we want to achieve.

The Christian imagination ought to be broad and deep and it should buoy our wills toward good ends. The mindset that focuses on doctrinal precision and steps and methods and curricula and numerical growth in congregations only engages the rational mind. This is a failing mindset. As Chesterton said, “The mad man is not the man who has lost his reason. The mad man is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

Flash fiction Friday: ‘Appearance’


While my six-year-old son screamed, Christ appeared to my eyes. The Lord was behind my son, bare feet on the asphalt beside the jackknifed bicycle, staring down at the boy. God’s punctured skin pulsed like tidal rivulets. Now on my son’s broken forehead, little snakes of red slithered downward. My hand moved in small degrees, as if through heavy petroleum, to my son’s face. Christ vanished. The bicycle tire still spun at a racer’s pace.

© 2012 Colin Foote Burch

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ — The myth told within the myth


The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(No worries — no spoilers! Only the vaguest references to what happens.)

Like the last Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises has a central bad guy who matches or out-matches our hero. Director and co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan reveals the backstory of the bad guy, named Bane, in increments throughout the movie.

What I thought was remarkable about Bane’s backstory is its mythological nature. The characters in the backstory are archetypal. The characters face challenges that are universal, with both real-world and allegorical senses.

Something about this mythological element makes The Dark Knight Rises richer and more resonant. Any story that could be both factual and psychologically or spiritually allegorical will have stick with the reader.

This seems to have an immediate application to writers, whether they are writing stories or backgrounds within stories. Whether a writer begins with the realistic or the allegorical makes no difference. If the final product can bring both together, then the story will have immediacy and resonance — with a deep sense of meaning.

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ — the role of military technology in storytelling


Bane versus Bat

(No worries — no spoilers!)

I saw The Dark Knight Rises last night in a nearly packed theater.

I could not help but wonder at what point in those early minutes of the film did that sick, evil man start shooting at innocent moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. I could not help but feel a little scared that a copycat terrorist would try again.

But I also wanted to engage what director and co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan set out to accomplish through his art form — long before the horrific, despicable shooting in the Colorado cinema.

Now that I’ve seen the (outstanding) film, I want to begin a series of posts about the movie with something that might be of use to writers.

Of course — without spoiling anything for those who have seen the first two movies — Wayne Enterprises (Bruce Wayne’s corporation) has a department devoted to research and development of military technology. That department is the source of Batman’s cool gear.

In our time, much of that military techology is plausible. Body armor and sleek armored vehicles aren’t so far-fetched.

I realized today that the military technology of the current Batman trilogy operates as a kind of pivot point between fantasy and reality.

Obviously, some of the stunts and scenarios and bad guys in this Batman series are pure fantasy.

The corruption, ethos, and moral and ethical quandries within Gotham City, as well as many scenes of city architecture and daily life, seem all-too-familiar.

And between the fantastic and the realistic is the connective tissue of military technology. It’s realistic-enough yet futuristic-enough to make a clean handoff between the reality we recognize in the film and the super-human and fantasy elements of comic book stories.

Intentionally or not, there’s a technique at work here: fantastical elements become more believable when they emerge from a recognizable and relatable fictional world.

Director and co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan consciously could have positioned military technology in such a way, or maybe its use was intuitive to the comic-book and sci-fi genre.

I’ve mixed my metaphors. I’ve called the military technology in this film a pivot point, connective tissue, or suggested it’s a baton.

Either way, it’s effective — and successful.

Shifting the focus at LiturgicalCredo.com


Posted earlier at the LiturgicalCredo news & notes page:

Dear friends, writers, and fellow CLMP members,

In his book Human Action, Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises wrote, “…to live implies both imperfection and change.”

With that, I will announce an (undoubtedly) imperfect decision to make an exciting change.

LiturgicalCredo will become an online journal of creative nonfiction written in the first person. We’ll consider all varieties of creative nonfiction of 1,000 words or less.

Of course, we will maintain all previously published poems and short stories on our site, at the same website addresses, so writers who have published in LiturgicalCredo need not fear the disappearance of their works and publishing credits.

I’m enthusiastic about this well-defined niche for online publishing. Then again, I found the decision difficult – and admittedly put it off for too long – because we have had numerous poetry submissions.

However, this new focus better fits my professional background, my graduate education, and my resources. I’m an ex-newspaper guy who loves a well-written personal essay, as well as memoir, cultural criticism, and experimental nonfiction.

Please let other writers and CLMP members know about this opportunity for publishing nonfiction (address submissions to colin@liturgicalcredo.com).

To my fellow CLMP members, if I can help you with Facebook page “likes,” Twitter “retweets,” or blog links, just let me know. I’m also available on LinkedIn.

All the best for your continued writing and publishing success,

Colin Burch
Editor & Publisher
LiturgicalCredo.com
colin@liturgicalcredo.com
Personal Twitter: @cfburch4
Publication Twitter: @liturgicalcredo

Jesus on bumperstickers


“Jesus Loves You,” it said in large, fancy type. Then it continued in finer print: “but everyone else thinks you’re an asshole.” Read all of this week’s Strange Days column here.

What are your favorite short stories?


Updated 3:15 p.m. July 1

I’m a former newspaper guy who studied literary nonfiction (a.k.a. creative nonfiction) for his graduate degree, a master of fine arts, not a master of arts in literature.

So that’s my disclaimer about these choices.

And please comment with your favorites, however many you have.

Of course, some of these choices come from textbooks I’ve used while teaching, while others come from unrequired reading.

Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald — one of my first short-story loves

“May Day” by F. Scott Fitzgerald — a relatively large cast of characters for a funny and devastating story

“Cathedral” by Raymond Carver — the finest secular understanding of spiritual elevation

A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor — placing the Gospel message in the mouth of a criminal, while showing us the false facade of a Southern woman’s faith

“The Use of Force” by William Carlos Williams – a taut, tight thriller of a short story written by a doctor who also was a leader in poetry’s Imagist movement

“Flight” by John Steinbeck — this vivid pursuit in arid lands has stuck with me for decades, literally

“Accident” by Dave Eggers — a relatively minor car accident becomes a meaningful look into the human condition

“Incarnations of Burned Children” by David Foster Wallace — tight, unflinching, horrific, with a deep symbolic move

“Bigfoot Stole My Wife” by Ron Carlson — a hysterical journey through denial and the basis for belief

“Powder” by Tobias Wolff — redeeming a mess of a Dad in the unlikeliest setting

“The School” by Donald Barthelme — creepy students seep through the oblivious narrator’s perspective

“Elephant Feelings” by John Haskell — an historically based look at an elephant who was executed

“The Schreuderspitze” by Mark Helprin — could a dream be better than an actual achievement?

“Letters from the Samantha” by Mark Helprin — a different kind of albatross

“Frontiers” by John M. Daniel — a 5-year-old on a new adventure, short and perfect (only 101 words)

My Kinsman, Major Molineux” by Nathaniel Hawthorne — striking images from the pre-Revolutionary era surround a boy’s journey from the country to the city, where he figures out his search for his kinsman is a joke at his expense

The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe — using kindness and a common interest to exact revenge

The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allan Poe — the godfather of the detective story gets started with a case of hiding in plain sight

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson — a psychologically astute (and horrific) use of the third-person-objective point of view