Archive for the ‘Quotes’ Category

Addie Zierman wrote an article I appreciated in Relevant Magazine about rethinking Christian cliches.  The funny thing is, I wasn’t overly familiar with the cliches she referenced in the article, but I know that in every environment, not just Christian communities, we use these verbal shortcuts as part of our common language, for connection.  I’ve attended three churches in six years (lived in different places, that’s why), and one of the most interesting parts of entering a new church community is figuring out the local Christian cliches.  I think they are unavoidable.  But I connected with this article because I’m constantly trying to teach my students about why cliches suck the impact out of whatever they are trying to say, or generally, they do.  Overused language allows the listener/reader to pass by ideas without much thought.

I really like this connection Zierman makes with “fresh language” and Jesus as God’s Word:

But at the heart of the Christian faith is this: we were broken and we couldn’t figure it out and, instead of sending us some tired cliché, God sent Christ. The Word, John called Him. He had hands and feet, dust-covered from all that walking.

Here is what happens when the Word of God brushes against humanity: Stories. Discussion. Fresh metaphor, strung together like so many beads on a string. The Kingdom of God is like this … and like this … and like this other thing over here. It’s a seven-mile walk to a place called Emmaus without a Gospel tract in hand or the Roman’s Road paradigm to quote—just the messy truth of it all, hashed out among new friends.

Stories, fresh metaphor–sounds good to me.

Going back to the theme I’ve been sort of mulling over lately, about how Jesus’ teachings help us to live better in relationship to God but also to our neighbors, I like this idea of choosing language carefully, paying attention to how we’re communicating ideas, and attempting to prevent, through word choice and storytelling, our own indifference to the things we see and know about God’s work in this world.


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Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat Pray Love fame, wrote an interesting article about “over giving”that has got me rethinking generosity.  You can read it–it’s a fast and easy read–but the main point is that she has caused rifts in her relationships with her generosity.  In paying off her friends’ credit card bills, she neglected their dignity.

She puts it this way:

Sometimes, by interrupting his biographical narrative so jarringly, I denied a friend the opportunity to learn his own vital life lesson at his own pace. In other words, just when I believed I was operating as a dream-facilitator, I was actually turning into a destiny disruptor.

I’m thinking about how when Jesus tells us to be generous, it’s in the context of a relationship with another person.  Somebody asks to borrow your coat, you give them your coat.  Somebody asks you to borrow money, you say, here, no need to pay me back.

I think the key here is that a person is asking for these things.  They are already humbled, in a way, and so you don’t have to worry about their dignity, or interrupting the pace of their own work/goal achieving. Someone asks you for help, then you really help them.

The main point Jesus makes (again and again, and its a point Paul likes to reiterate in his letters) is that we “put others before ourselves.”   That means we treat them the way we want to be treated.  I am not sure it’s Christ-like to make people feel like they owe us something, or to empower ourselves through our giving.  It seems like true generosity takes something much more involved–it takes a relationship with that person, trust.  Someone trusts us so much, trusts our generosity, that they ask us for something, for our help in meeting some need.

I know this is tricky, and I’m still thinking it through.  I’m interested in your thoughts.

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This is true.  Netflix is devouring my academic career.  You know the habit’s bad when the thing causing your procrastination is reprimanding your procrastination. That said, it’s hard to believe that another academic has time to make this tumbler site.

The internet: 10

My work: 0

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… there has been a reluctance to consider historical narratives as what they most manifestly are: verbal fictions, the contents of which are as much,invented as found and the forms of which have more in common with their counterparts in literature than they have with those in the sciences.

Hayden White, The Historical Text as Literary Artifact

I’m in this class where we’re learning about theories for literary criticism.  Your Derridas and Foucaults and your Bakthins and your Marxes and your Judith Butlers and your Edward Saids… Hopefully you get the picture.  Like most writers who take the class, I find the stuff really interesting and irrelevant for craft.  But still really interesting. Last week we read New Historicist theory (or was it Cultural Studies? Blech) and I especially liked this guy, Hayden White, for figuring out, or being one of the first to write down the idea that history is not fact but narrative.  (Think: Michael Jackson’s HIStory.)

I’m not sure if other fiction writers out there face stuff like this, but once I told this woman that I was a writer and she said she’d like to read my work.  Then I told her I was a fiction writer and she said, sorrowfully, “I don’t read fiction.”


So then this dude comes along and says that history is put together in the same way one puts together a fictional narrative.  Makes sense.  I’d like to write more about this, connect it to how Jesus was a fiction writer if he really made up the parables, but I’m just going to throw the quote out there for now.

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It’s David Foster Wallace day in the creative nonfiction class I’m teaching to advanced freshmen.  I just played for my students the (ultra famous) commencement speech he gave to graduates at Kenyon College back in 2005.  If you haven’t heard it, I recommend you listen–especially if you’re feeling kind of sad/frustrated/in your own head lately.

If you would prefer to just read it, you can read it here, though you will probably miss some of the speech’s most charming moments, which come from audience response and interaction.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes (though I left the even better moments to surprise and delight you if you take the time to listen):

[On] most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you what to consider.

Here’s part one:

and part two:


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Remember: a novel is revealed in the process of writing it. Thinking, dreaming, mapping will not get a novel started. Writing gets a novel started.

~Barbara Shoup and Margaret Love-Denman, NOVEL WRITING, “The Book in the Mind”

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Your imagination is no more than this: Your ability to ask, “What if?” And to keep on asking it until the write idea presents itself and you can go on.

~Barbara Shoup and Margaret Love-Denman, NOVEL WRITING, “The Book in the Mind”

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