How To Do Your Real Work.

L.N.Tolstoy_Prokudin-GorskyDid you know Tolstoy had 13 kids when he wrote War and Peace? I’m sure Sophia, his wife, did the heavy lifting, but surely they were loud and underfoot and demanded food several times a day. That’s a fairly hostile environment in which to produce some of the world’s greatest literature.

I discovered that convicting little gem recently in The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and have quoted it several times to friends and loved ones who, like me, are dithering, stalling, procrastinating, rationalizing and otherwise avoiding doing the work God put us here to do, which in my case is write.

What’s your work? What’s the thing you would do forever for no money? Are you doing it? Even a little?

If you’re not sure, or this sounds vaguely familiar, please read Pressfield’s slender little volume and let it roundhouse kick you in the melon until you accept that writing the song, plotting the novel, painting the canvas, playing the music, is easier than making excuses for why you can’t do it.

Start today. Anywhere. Because thirty minutes a day is better than no minutes a day, but beware, this is war.

The writer is an infantryman. He knows that progress is measured in yards of dirt extracted from the enemy one day, one hour, one minute at a time and paid for in blood. The artist wears combat boots. He looks in the mirror and sees GI Joe. Remember, the Muse favors working stiffs. She hates prima donnas. -Steven Pressfield. The War of Art.

My God that’s terrible news.

The dream is freeThat means, rather than point to my demanding job and bizarre travel schedule that keeps me from writing, I need really only to think of Tolstoy or his wife Sophia, who incidentally, along with the 13 kids, was the scribe for War and Peace and rewrote the manuscript seven times. It is over 1000 pages.

Novelist Ann Patchett, whose ability regularly renders me speechless, put it this way in her new memoir This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage:

Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?…Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it put it away, write another story.

You can read Pressfield’s book in a day or two, which is good, because reading about writing is not writing, it’s preparing to write. Not a bad thing, unless we never write.

So what do you need to write? Sing? Paint? Draw? Invent? Draft? Design?

Why not start today? Then again tomorrow and the next day….

In Which I’m a Jesus Feminist Too.

You have to own what you’re doing here. If you’re wanting to give people a new way to see this, then you have to give people a new way to see this. Don’t tuck it in…People get a book because they want to hear what this person has to say. So if this person turns all the knobs down to the left and sort of says, I don’t know, I just sort of have a couple of thoughts, that’s not interesting. –  Author Rob Bell

Author Sarah Bessey is interesting. And so is her little yellow book, Jesus Feminist, which dropped yesterday. The title alone promises her entree into hot water with just about everybody, but good for her. She did her homework, took the stage and turned her volume up.

Whether I agree with her is premature and frankly kind of irrelevant. Since when do we only read books we’re certain to agree with? Bessey’s moving the conversation in an interesting direction, much like Rob Bell did with Love Wins – the book that earned him the title “heretic.” So let ‘er rip Sarah, I’m already stomping my feet and cheering you on for saying things I think, but can’t yet muster. Things like this:

“We are among the disciples who are simply going outside, to freedom, together, intent on following Jesus; we love him so. We’re finding each other out here, and it’s beautiful and crazy and churchy and holy. We are simply getting on with it, with the work of justice and mercy, the glorious labor of reconciliation and redemption, the mess of friendship and community, the guts of walking on the water, and the big-sky dreaming of the Kingdom of God.

So if that’s what it means to be a Jesus Feminist, count me in.

Because at this very moment, more women are exploited and enslaved on this planet than any other time in human history. One in three American girls is sexually abused before age 18. The average age of a child sex slave worldwide is 11. Why? Because among a thousand other poverty and gender-based reasons, there is demand, or to put it bluntly, there are lots of men who like having sex with women and children against their will.

And THAT is an abomination.

So, if ever there was a time for educated, resourced, liberated women of God to stand up and bang the drum for the lives of their sisters who can’t, this is it. Because if not us, who?

Can you tell God’s been dealing with me about something lately? Open your mouth Erin. Open it.

Open your mouth for the dumb [those unable to speak for themselves], for the rights of all who are left desolate and defenseless; Open your mouth, judge righteously, and administer justice for the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9

When I was just a feminist – no modifier – I would have considered the phrase “Jesus Feminist” an oxymoron and maybe even rattled off some caustic remark. But I didn’t know then how much Jesus loves women, how he defended them, listened to them, corrected them and healed them. I didn’t know everything he did was a model for the rest of us, including occasional, chair-tossing, whip-cracking outrage. Don’t forget, Jesus didn’t just carry baby lambs around, he flipped over tables in the Temple too.

And for all the things I’ve heard about women and the church, I’ve heard the following point made exactly once. It was said by a powerful woman of God, who 30 years ago was kicked out of her church for preaching the gospel.

Q: According to the Gospel of John, who was the first person to see the resurrected Christ?

A: Mary Magdalene.

Q: What happened next?

A: Jesus said to her, Do not cling to Me [do not hold Me], for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brethren and tell them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God. Away came Mary Magdalene, bringing the disciples news (word) that she had seen the Lord and that He had said these things to her. John 20:17-18 (emphasis mine.)

Q: Do you know what that makes Mary Magdalene?

A: The world’s very first gospel preacher.

Pause and calmly consider that. I’ll wait.

Maybe my volume’s up a little high for you today. Believe me when I say, I don’t mean to raise your blood pressure with theological debates. I’ve wasted enough time arguing, so you’re welcome to disagree with me. As Bessey says, there’s room for all of us.

I’m just saying there’s work to be done in this beautiful disaster and we need all hands on deck. Let’s not tie up half of them, especially those who can galvanize and lead others into battles that desperately need fighting.

**As ever, the views expressed herein are my own and not that of my employer.

How to Wreck Your Life – On Purpose.

“The world is broken and remains that way, in spite of our efforts to help it. This is beautiful in a way, because it breaks us of our self-dependency. In a world that refuses to be healed, we must face the fact that we are not the heroes of our stories. It teaches us to rely on something bigger than ourselves and teaches us the source of true compassion.”  – Jeff Goins. Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life.

Wrecked

One week before leaving for Africa, I picked up Jeff Goins’ first book Wrecked. Since I already have the pre-order of his second book – The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing, I’ve got some catching up to do.

In the first few pages, Goins suggests the American Dream has left many of us dying of boredom and ennui, because suffering is an integral part of the human experience and a lot of us successfully avoid it.

But without a willingness to sit quietly in the paradox of glimmering joy and gritty, carbon black suffering – equal partners in a fully realized life – we’re half living, suffocating under the pillowy down of our unchallenged comforts.

It’s an interesting theory that we somehow already know is true.

Before I started following Jesus like I mean it, I would have chuckled at the coincidence of picking up this book a week before I leave for a bush village in Africa.

But I don’t believe in coincidence anymore.