Four Things I'm Not Willing to Do as a Writer
For a long time, I didn’t realize what was actually going on here. I feel stupid looking back on my naïveté now, but several years ago, I thought artistic people connected with other artistic people because they wanted to swap ideas and encourage each other. Besides, I had been a part of the real and beautiful community of the Rabbit Room, so I expected authenticity from everyone.
Then I walked into the bigger world and got it. This wasn’t just about spiritual and artistic support; this was about building a network of useful connections.
Of course, synergy happens in sincere artistic relationships. When you actually know and trust good people who know and trust good people, you tend to find folks whose hearts resonate with your own. And that’s a beautiful thing that makes everybody stronger. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
A lot of folks out there are networking for the sake of trying to get famous. They aren’t after relational substance or support-- they are connecting for the purpose of trying to advance their art. I’m not going to do that. In fact, I’ve intentionally tried to remove myself from several strategic connections when an actual relationship didn't exist.
This boundary has encouraged my heart deeply because the people who remain in my circle are there because I know and care about them personally. And when I compliment or forward someone else’s work, he or she knows that I have no secondary goal in mind.
2. Choose Distribution over Ethics
Businesses need to make money, and some companies are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that happens. Even Christian industries have formed unholy alliances for the sake of the dollar.
One powerful venue in the evangelical world is actually connected with the porn industry behind the scenes. I dearly love some people who work with that venue, so I’m not going to call them out by name. Those folks are trying to make the most of this bad situation, and I trust their hearts enough to know that they’ve wrestled honestly with the Lord before making faith-oriented choices. But the line I’ve drawn is this: if the choice were ever given to me, I wouldn't work with that company until those alliances are broken.
I would rather self-publish and live an unknown life as a writer--I would rather work with tiny, sincere companies for tiny advances--than support corruption within the big machine. I realize that I’m one piddly writer with almost no platform to make a difference, but maybe it will help someone out there to hear one person say this: serve the Lord uprightly in your sphere, even if your sphere is small. Commit early to making principled choices instead of positioning yourself for financial gain. You will sleep better at night.
3. Brand Myself
You might not know this term, but you definitely know what it means. It’s the modern tendency to reduce faith writers into logos and styles.
In our money-driven culture, publishers need writers to be simple consumer products that they can promote. This means a writer’s site needs to have a “look.” Everything needs to revolve around a theme. Posts should be short and use a reliable voice.
All of these minimizations make a writer more sellable. They create a predictable product that can connect with a regular readership, which equals clicks, which equals forwards within a target audience, which equals book sales, which equals profit.
I’m a huge fan of aesthetics, so I don’t see anything wrong with beautiful blogs and websites that hold to a look or theme out of a desire for artistic unity. But when the motivation isn’t artistic unity but the development of a persona/style that can go viral more easily, something is dastardly wrong.
I've been around famous Christian world long enough to see famous pastors, Christians musicians, and Christian writers who have allowed persona to dig a deep gap between what they actually believe and who they feel they have to be in public.
In private, these people are participating in all sorts of terrible things, while in public, they are maintaining social media platforms with pretty, pithy spiritual updates. Eventually, this all explodes into a scandal—or worse, it becomes a managed cancer that twists the heart of the gospel into a watered-down spirituality that cannot reconcile with the New Testament at all.
Why is this inevitable? Because the whole concept of persona violates the teachings of the Bible. The gospel isn't supposed to be about superstardom. Paul said that it didn’t matter what Paul or Apollos did because God caused the growth, and when we move away from that core, calcifying into tiny brands of micro-Christianity, we have no center to keep us oriented.
4. Become apolitical.
Haha, about four of you thought you were going to agree with this whole post until you got to this one. Now you're squirming. My stance on this is not Jesus-trendy at all. And I get why. I really do. The political world has become so disgustingly corrupt, a lot of writers are making the decision to pull out of the national discussion altogether.
Actually, of all modern writer trends, this one makes the most sense to me. I respect those who have prayerfully made that call. Sometimes I envy them. Leave room for me on that train, in fact. Someday, I might jump on board.
But at present, I think that my own motives for going politically-neutral would be selfish. I would go neutral because I’m tired of feeling like the fight is futile. I would go neutral because I’m weary of conflict. I would go neutral because I hate challenging men who used to be my heroes. I would go neutral because I simply enjoy conversations about beauty more than I enjoy making hard, public statements about sin. I would go neutral because I have a closet full of Rich Mullins/Shane Claiborne clothes, a playlist full of folk music, and I’d prefer to never read anything Matt Walsh writes again for the rest of my life. I’d so much rather be a nurse than a prophet.
Besides, it’s stinking dangerous to be what I am, an ideological conservative who feels called to stand fiercely against the corruption within faux-conservatism. I hate being misunderstood, and most of our world can’t seem to think beyond two extremes. If you try to fight corruption within conservatism, you are automatically labeled a liberal—even if you are more conservative than most of the current conservative party—even if what you are fighting directly defies the Bible.
Engaging in politics is one of the most frustrating, exhausting things I have ever done. I’ve never identified more with Coriakin stuck on an island of Dufflepuds more than I have the past two years. (I’m sorry if that sounds condescending, but I seriously doubt that most of the folks goofing conservatism up have read those books to begin with. If they had read them, I think they would be living differently.)
Many of my thinking Christian friends are so put out with this battle, they have removed all allegiance from their government altogether. My heart is with theirs. A million times I have wanted to walk away from the whole mess. But for now-- even especially now when the gospel is being actively threatened by unholy alliances--I think it’s important to make the sacrifices of speaking truth in this regard.
Like every resource the Lord has given me, my citizenship is a stewardship issue, and I don’t want to bury talents in the dirt just because the present challenge is profoundly difficult and it feels like there’s no way to win.
But, y'all... the minute I feel the Lord giving me permission to bail, I’m out. If you hear a shout of joy rising out of the mountains of Appalachia, that's me getting the Divine memo that I'm freed up from the task.
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Anyway, this is an odd post, I guess, and I hope it doesn’t come off as elitist or judgmental. However, I don't know of a comfortable way to say some of this stuff. And I think some of this is important to name, even though it's uncomfortable.
Over and again, I’ve found that when I just crack open my own struggles and put words on them, somebody else needs those words--maybe not 2000 people, but three or four. And three or four is plenty for me--if Jesus spent his ministry tending twelve, why should I be trusted with even five or six?
These are super confusing times, and it’s easy for believers to feel alone and disoriented. Now that I’m 45, I feel more maternal every day, wishing I could put my arms around the young twenty and thirty-somethings who are trying to hack out adulthood and faith in this madness.
Know that I am praying for you. Remember that Jesus is real. He has works ready that he has prepared for you since before the creation of the earth. You don’t have to jump through any wily strategic hopes to find those tasks—he’s going to hand them over day-by-day, hour-by-hour as you trust him.
He lives in you. Take that seriously. Read your Bibles. Pour your hearts out to Him. Love what is true and good, and don’t lose heart, though the mountains around you crumble into the seas.