Tuesday, March 29

Telling Stories

The other day, I was looking at the viewer stats on my blog and I became a little disheartened.  The most views I had on one day amounted to somewhere around fourteen.  Don't get me wrong: I haven't really advertised at all.  Yeah, I guess I put the link on both my facebook and twitter pages, but I think a little part of me is scared that people will- get this- actually start to read it.

There is a burden that comes with your voice in the public sphere, even if it is only on a blog.  And so I thought to myself, well, why am I doing this?  Why don't I just write in a private journal and keep those thoughts to myself?  I'm sure my readership wouldn't be too lost without me.

Then, I was rereading sections of Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist, and ran across this section.  I read,

"This is what I want you to do: tell your story.  Don't allow the story of God, the sacred, transforming story of what God does in a human heart to become flat and lifeless.  If we choose silence, if we allow the gospel to be told only on Sundays, only in sanctuaries, only by approved and educated professionals, that life-changing story will lose its ability to change lives."

I'm not pretending that I am not a religion major about to graduate with my degree.  I won't pretend that I haven't considered going to seminary and love doing some "light" theological and academic reading.  But at the same time, I refuse to pretend that I am an expert on anything.  The only thing I know is my experience, my life, and how I see that fitting into what I understand to be God's story.  At the end of the day, I have a responsibility to tell my story and how God works in the dark, dusty corners of my life.  I am the only one that can do that, so whether I have three people listening to me or three thousand, I will continue to speak to a world that desperately needs to hear.

Thursday, March 24

On Flannery O'Connor and the Gruesomeness of Humanity

In one of my classes, we are currently reading selected essays and short stories by Flannery O'Connor and looking into her stories for theological implications.  Let me start off by saying that I like Flannery's stories.  I find her engaging and well-spoken and unpredictable.  But at the first read-through, I find myself going...


Maybe this will give you an idea: In Good Men are Hard to Find, (SPOILER ALERT!) the Misfit and his gang shoot and kill an entire family they find stranded on the side of the road after a car accident.  That's it.  End of story.  The grandmother and villain have some snippets of conversation throughout, but the basic plot is that all the good guys die.

Regardless of whether or not you know that Flannery was a very orthodox Catholic, this is not a good ending for a story.  There is no satisfying resolution, no triumph of good over evil.  There really doesn't even seem to be an ending in the sense that we often expect.

If I were writing the story, the Misfit and his gang would ride off triumphantly (obviously in their black-and-white striped criminal shirts), only to be caught down the road by a wandering police officer.  The criminals would be caught and some semblance of justice would be brought to the story.

The only problem is, that isn't how the story goes.  And that isn't how Flannery intended it.

The ending is messy.  It's unsatisfying.  The story is gruesome and distasteful and horrible.  That's how life is.  Flannery writes this awful story and chops off the marginally happy ending, only to ask us, can you believe in the face of THIS?  Can you look at life in this way, in all the horrible, awful details, and still believe?  Even if there isn't a happy ending?  Even if something goes wrong and life just keeps spinning, oblivious and cold?  Even if God does not intervene?

In Christianity, we have a hope that God is going to tie up all of the frayed, loose ends.  As Andrew Peterson sings in his song, we know that "all shall be well."  Flannery, in a sense, asks us to hold off on that hope for the moment and look at what we've got.  She wants to say, yes, we have hope, but we also have pain.  Does my faith stand strong in the face of unspeakable horror?

So now the question is: what do you think of Flannery?  What does she challenge you to think about?