I’ve started taking up my personal devotions more systematically lately (fortunately I started this just before I lost my meal ticket… er, renter, so I can’t accuse myself of doing it just to curry favor in Heaven. My mind does work this way. Really). I’ve switched from my old NIV Study Bible (great notes) to an English Standard Version Bible.
I like it. I’ve been reading Dynamic Equivalency Bibles for decades now, seduced by the argument that if you really want to convey the sense of the original you’ve pretty much got to rewrite everything. Moving back to a more literal translation, I get a pleasant sense of solidity. Nobody’s telling me what they think the text says. They trust me to be a grownup and be able to read books written for grownups.
My first Bible was King James, and then I got an RSV (the old one, before they went all PC and started fiddling with gender and stuff). The ESV is a direct descendent of the old RSV, and so far I’m pleased and comforted.
The following almost feels as if it’s connected, but I can’t think how.
When I was writing song lyrics in an obscure Christian singing group, there was one thing I never did (actually I never did lots of things, notably make time with girls, but that’s another story). I never claimed that “God wrote this song.”
I saw it way too many times. Some sweet, sincere kid with a guitar would say, “God wrote this song. It just came to me while I was laying in bed, and I got up and wrote it down in fifteen minutes. So I know it came from God.”
Then he/she would play the thing and it would be repetitious and clichéd, and you could always count on the word “strife” being employed in contexts where you’d never use “strife” if you didn’t have a desperate need for a rhyme for “life.”
And I wanted to scream at them, “Don’t you realize what you’re saying here? You’re saying that God’s a lousy lyricist!”
I never did, though. I’m too kind-hearted. And cowardly.
I thought of that today when a book crossed my desk at work. It was a novel written by a man whose shoes I am not worthy to polish. He’s one of those unsung saints the newspapers and magazines will never profile, someone who’s given his life in sacrificial service to Christ and his neighbor, living from hand to mouth and enduring a fair amount of danger along the way.
He wrote a novel.
And it’s lousy.
I want to tell people (I’m telling a few right now) that the fact that you have something to say, and a story to tell, and spiritual insight, doesn’t make you a writer of fiction.
Sincerity won’t do it. I might be very sincere about wanting to build a church, to the glory of God. I might pray over every nail, and work with a heart full of devotion.
But that won’t make it a good church building.
Because I’m not a competent carpenter.
Writing fiction is a craft, just like carpentry. It has its own tools and skills, protocols and shortcuts. Regardless of how good your basic idea is, the nuts and bolts have to be properly tightened, the corners squared.
I’m not telling you to stay away from fiction if you’re not a “professional.” I’m not saying I belong to some priesthood which alone is privileged to touch the holy written word.
I’m just saying if you want to get into the guild, you’ve got to learn your craft. And that will take time and diligence.