When people ask me what I do, I never say I write. It’s a little secret I’ve kept mostly tucked away from those who know me because saying I’m a teacher draws fewer suspicious looks, and it’s easier to stick to the safe conversations. In fact, if one of my posts hadn’t gone viral a few months ago, I’d still be quite contentedly writing in the shadows without anyone I know but my husband knowing about my words here. (I even get all-worked-up when he tells people we know that I have a blog.)
It took a long time for me to come to grips with being a writer even though I have been writing nearly my entire life, won writing awards, served as a school newspaper and literary magazine editor and been published in a variety of publications. Somewhere in my adjustment to the adult world, I determined that ‘real adults’ are private, composed, and don’t put their thoughts out there for the world to critique. As a result, I’ve got all the arguments against writing publicly on a blog down cold:
- It’s egotistical to put your own thoughts out there. Who really wants to read all about someone else’s life?
- Why spend all that time in the virtual world when there are real people out there?
- Self-promotion and ambition are obnoxious (especially for women). Why not just live quietly and well without the pursuit of a ‘platform‘?
- All anyone does is fling words at each other. Everyone has an opinion and no one really listens to anyone else.
All these reasons make perfect sense to me, and I even agree with them on occasion. One of my favorite authors, Jan Johnson, has written about how she doesn’t self-promote much as a spiritual discipline. I totally get and even respect her thinking. The expectations of self-promotion and slick-marketing tactics for writers in the current publishing market are downright ugly at times. As a result, you rarely find her books in bookstores or libraries – not many people have heard of her. It’s a sad reality of voice and power that the squeaky (or pretty or best-packaged or most-connected) wheel really does get the grease, one that tempts my typing fingers toward complete stillness.
However, when I found myself living lonely in the middle of a cornfield in an interracial/intercultural family, I desperately needed to find others in similar situations and started a blog just to remember that I wasn’t really alone. Over the years, I’ve found a variety of others just like me, and their simple presence in the world gave me courage to live as I was created, even when it was so very different from those around me.
I first found Idelette in Vancouver in the early stages of SheLoves. Then I found a like-minded TCK in Australia, Kathy in Chicago, and the ever-brilliant Rachel Held Evans in Tennesee. I also stumbled upon a whole host of intercultural blogs through the DesiLink Blogs and Multicultural Bloggers networks. Most recently, I’ve been learning from Marilyn in Boston and Christena in Minneapolis and Rachel in Djbouti. Connecting to this virtual world was like someone entered a very dark room and turned on the light.
So in spite of my hesitancies, I’ve written here sporadically for over six years now, with a short shut down to contemplate if it was worth continuing at all. (In the midst of processing some intense anger, I wasn’t sure it would be healthy to have access to a public outlet for my voice.) When a friend asked me to write for a new blog discussing women’s issues, a part of me awoke. Reluctantly, I reopened Between Worlds. While the above critiques still hold regarding the blogging world, since I’ve been writing again, I’ve also discovered some positive surprises about this brave new digital arena.
Similar to Eric Liddell from Chariots of Fire, practicing a craft that I was made for feels purposeful and right. In short, I feel God’s pleasure when I write. Liddell’s deeper explanation of his own purpose challenges me when I consider what to do with the skills God has given me:
You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe you’re dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job.
So who am I to say, “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.
His words force me to consider if a part of my ‘race’ might be writing – not for fame or riches or reputation, but for faithfulness. For others, the race may be caring for a disabled child or researching or single-parenting or song-writing or dancing or coaching. What more can any of us do ‘in the face of life’s realities’ except run the race we were given as straight as we can?
Brené Brown rocked all of our worlds with her research on vulnerability and shame. A data driven researcher, she faced a personal breakdown when her data showed that “whole-hearted people” live well because of their ability to be vulnerable. To be honest, there are more than a few moments when I sit behind the screen with shaking fingers, wondering if I should really hit ‘publish’ (especially the provocative viral post), but as I both share and listen to others, I learn time and again that vulnerability has a healing power.
In addition to vulnerability, I have a firm conviction that gut-level honesty must have a place in the church. Somewhere along the way, we’ve adjusted the message that Jesus came to heal broken people to expecting perfection to walk through the church doors. While some may criticize that it’s not attractive to air our dirty laundry, I have found it far more damaging to pretend I’m something that I’m not. Perhaps my thoughts here aren’t perfect or spiritual or positive enough. Perhaps there are times when I complain or whine or get too cynical. If I do, please know that it’s somewhat intentional for the reality is that I am far more dirty-handkerchief than pristine-snowfall. If mothering’s taught me anything, it’s that nothing comes clean if we simply pretend it’s not dirty.
I must admit that while I’ve never read Thomas Merton’s book No Man is an Island, the title alone haunts me. I can be quite an independent soul, so that may explain why this phrase is jars me. Writing in the public sphere forces me to walk boldly in the truth that I am not an island, that I need others to be part of my story.
Finally, one of the most fascinating outcomes of the always-connected technological revolution is the ability to form a collective voice without anyone’s express permission. While this isn’t always a positive thing, there are times when it’s astoundingly moving. The collective voice matters because it gives public voice to those who have traditionally not had access to one. When large groups begin to voice dissent on an issue those in power have conveniently ignored, social norms change. A few examples include the Arab Spring, the growing protest of patriarchal leadership models in the church, the reframing of stereotypes regarding sexuality, and the growing attention to global injustices like human trafficking and AIDs.
As we consider the impact of the ever-expanding world of social media and digital connectedness, we can either decry the shallowness, running the other way with the luddites or we can engage and push it to dig deeper. Perhaps there’s some value in both responses to the megabytes, but for those of us wading in their fray, let’s lead the way with a few extra shovels.
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr
Why I’m not going to buy a computer by Wendell Berry
Culture Making by Andy Crouch