Why I Write

(This piece is part of a round-robin thing put together by my friend Liz Wright, who writes “Momma Around The House” in which I’ll be taking part for the next few weeks. Some of it  I’ve written before, so feel free to skip this one — or not)

Why do I write a blog? My first answer was”pure narcissism”, but that’s not really true after I thought about it.  It’s probably equal parts narcissism, altruism, intellect and anxiety.

Probably the biggest internal conflict I have is whether to be a public figure or not, and my blog is the answer to that.  Since I was a kid, I felt called to be “great” — memorable in some way, like Martin Luther King or Superman or somebody that changed the world.

Note that I did not say “famous”, because that wouldn’t even occur to me. “Famous” when I was kid meant you did  something that got you in the newspaper.  “Famous for being famous” wasn’t even possible. It turns out that when I was a kid, I had one of those big “wham” experiences with God and thought that if that happened, I must live up to it in some way — by being great.  I have come to the conclusion since then, that it’s much better to be solidly “good” than “great”, and I am determined to live out my days as good, (and thus memorable to people I care about and who actually know me) rather than great (and thus memorable to millions of people, all of whom think they know me).

Balancing this is the fact that I don’t really like putting myself out there. When I was in college, my friend Phil Murray and I started — from scratch — an anti-nuclear group on campus. I was so proud of our work, proud of raising leaders, sharing power, etc. that I finally felt like I’d done something with my life.  As we walked down the halls of our dorm, we overheard someone say “If I see that Phil Murray kid, I’m going to kill him”. He seemed serious enough that Phil and I looked at each other, and found it astounding that they had such feelings about the image of Phil, rather than the actual Phil, who was clearly walking past their door. That’s when I figured out that fame wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Beside that, I have a real aversion to being criticized. When you speak, or write, or create art, people will invariably tell you the way they think you should have done it.  As I wrote this, my daughter offered “helpful” suggestions about what to put in because she has great ideas that she wants to share with the world. When I preached, I had a couple that would say, after each sermon, “That was great, but you should have put that part at the end”, etc. Most of my life, I have known people who had a better way to live my life, and happily told me what that should be. In other cases, people have said, “oh, you shouldn’t say that” because it wasn’t polite to, or “how dare you!” if it wasn’t politically correct or have called me Un-American or un-Christian because I didn’t like what they liked or didn’t  look like they thought I should.  I was once told that someone was “appalled” because I was barefooted and playing Frisbee, which no minister of theirs was ever going to do.  Being “out there” in the public eye can really hurt, and I don’t want to hurt anymore than I have to.

But, within the tension of doing important things and the safety of being silent, there arises a moment when I just can’t take it anymore. I want to hear my own voice. I want to see if there are people somewhere who think as I do. I can’t  handle another bit of stupidity, or cultural trend, or mean-spirited thing said in the name of Jesus and I blow.

That’s why  I write — because I can’t not. At the time I began, I had been thinking about writing a blog for a while, but felt I didn’t have anything special or unique to offer the world out there which they couldn’t get anywhere else.  Then Michael Jackson died and  for hours on end I would hear how he was the King of Pop, the Best Dancer In The World, the essence of what a showman should be, and –as my kids would say, “He was a rocker”. I still liked his old music, but after a million plastic surgeries, life with a chimp, a change in skin color, and clothes out of “Sargent Pepper”, I could care less about Michael Jackson.  That, and the fact that he had apparently molested children. He was too weird for me.  Day one of the “Michael” celebration and I could handle it. Day two, I could handle it.  By day three of celebrating a weird, anything but black, child molester who didn’t even play  rock music  and I had had enough.  I asked a couple of techie friends how and I published “Like It Matters”‘ first article.   “There”, I thought, “I got that off my chest”, with no intention to write anything but sporadic articles here and there.  I did it for myself, and didn’t care what people thought of it.  I could go back to life again after the explosion of emotion from my soul and be my quiet, out of the way, person again.

But then something strange happened — well, a couple of things. The first was that I found out that I liked getting things off my chest and had all kinds of ideas about what to write. Ideas just flowed… It was all magical.

The second thing that happened is that people liked what I wrote and agreed with me. I wasn’t the only one who thought what I thought. I wasn’t the only one interested in  Christianity that wasn’t oppressive. I wasn’t the only one who thought America was racist or could be.  And, for the most part, the comments were gentle, supportive, and thoughtful. In a world where thoughtfulness seemed to be out the window and compassion was the opposite of what passed for conversation, here was a world of all the things I treasured  — kindness, lengthy thought, discussion, compassion and hope.

Soon, I was writing nearly every day — some published, some not. I found friendship and love of ideas and began to write to tell people about the people I knew that I thought should get a wider audience.

In its third year now, I have added a second blog, and will probably have 10,000 hits by the end of the year. A Travon Martin article series has produced more than 1200 of them. I check my stats pretty often and there seems to be a run of people reading about Ellen Degeneres as a leader. Other pieces don’t go very far and have 2 or 3 hits. There is never a way to know what people are going to respond to, but I’m ok with it now because I still write whenever I can’t keep silent, so I like what I write.

Is it ego? I don’t think so anymore, but there’s a shred of that involved in any creative venture. I write because I can, but mostly because I have to in some way or another.  I still don’t think my opinion matters more than anyone else’s does. But that’s not the point of it, and perhaps never was. I like to hear my own voice  in the world every once in awhile, and it’s nice when the world answers back. I hope it does some good in the wider world. It certainly does in mine.

 

Peace,

 

John

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2 thoughts on “Why I Write

  1. I too have found that people are very supportive of online writing as opposed to the aversion that we may experience in real life. At some points we’re going to get negative feedback for our writing as well, but one thing I keep in mind about that – they read it (or at least read some). And as psychologists we know that people tend to read what they want to read and get stuck on one point that they may not agree with. So in some ways even getting a negative response can be feedback that is useful (i.e., that person and maybe some others were focused on XYZ in my post – should I write more about that?).

    • Liz: I engage with folks around various issues when they come up, and it’s fascinating what they focus on, but I usually find myself tired and saying ” uncle”. Still, conversation has happened and that’s worth it.

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