For a writer, there is nothing more intimidating than a blank page. So unassuming, yet it taunts with the sheer number of possibilities. It dares us to make the first move, to draw first blood, to make a commitment. Patient, it refuses to yield the secrets of what it will become. Much ink will be spilt before the session is done. Ideas will be tested; some will live and some will die. But the prize will be worth every drop of mental blood, sweat and tears shed on this battle field. For a completed page is the accomplishment of something great.
Blank pages to a writer are very much like blank canvases to a painter, or blocks of wood or stone to a sculptor. The artist takes something that isn’t, sees within it something that could be, and turns it into something that is. That is how it is with writing. When I get to the end of a page, I know that something has been gained here that cannot be acquired anywhere else – an insight, an answer, another question. Writing is more than just putting words down on a page. It is a bout with severe honesty. It is a wrestle with truth – truth about ourselves, the world, life – all things that have been given to us by the Great Author Himself.
And so it is with life. Each new day is a blank page in the story of your life. Each page is yours for the writing, and how you write it will set the course for every page that will follow. This is a truth worth remembering: Life is more than just passing time. Each day means something. Yes, it is a small piece in terms of a lifetime, but it is an essential piece of a significant story in the great cosmic drama. How do you want your story to read? Will it be a series of random pages, dead-end plots and fragmented ideas? Or will it be a record of an amazing journey?
Think about your next blank page. It may be today or it may be tomorrow. Whichever it is, it is blank because it has not yet been written. Think about what it could be. Maybe you need to make a decision about something. Maybe you need to make amends with someone. Maybe you need to do or say something that should have been done or said a long time ago. Maybe you just need to put the past behind and start a new chapter. Whatever it is, this could be the first page of something really great. Determine to make this day worth reading and start writing.
Filed under Clarity, writing
I once heard a story about a man who accepted a challenge to remain in silence and solitude for one entire year. The prize, if he succeeded, was an astonishingly large sum of money. On the day before he would have won the bet, the man exited his seclusion and lost. When asked why he could not have lasted just one more day, the man replied, “No amount of money can compare to the wealth I received in my silence. I’ve already won.”
Disclaimer: I am not a perfectionist. So what I am about to say may be viewed as an attempt to validate my own imperfect efforts. This is not my intent. I believe we are called to pursue excellence in everything we do. And I do my fair share of sweating over the many tiny details of my work. I really do want to get it right. So, with that in mind…
Perfectionism can lack heart. I once read a story about a man who built a robot to serve him. In the course of time, the robot observed its master’s love of music. One night, while the master slept, the robot taught itself how to play the piano. Possessing a computer brain, it downloaded music theory and programmed its fingers to form chords and play scales. Of course, as a machine, it was able to do this flawlessly. Upon completing its programming, the robot began to play. The master heard the music and came to investigate. He listened to his favorite piece of music played with perfection, yet he was not moved because the robot had no heart. Though flawless in its execution of the art, the robot could not replicate that human component that touches the emotions.
Perfectionism can become an impenetrable wall. I have met incredibly talented artists who wanted to share their art with the world but did not because it was never complete. There was always that one verse that was not quite right. There was always that one part of a scene that needed to be tweaked just a little more. There was always that one part of the picture that needed a little better shading or a different color. Ironically, their amazing talent had become an amazing curse. Every artists knows the weak parts of their craft. Some cannot set their art free to the world unless those weaknesses are made perfectly right. The irony here is perfectionists are not perfect. They may be excellent, but they will always find one more thing that needs to be corrected. And so many wonderful books, songs, paintings, and sculptures will remain in the workshop and never make it to the stage.
And now a word to those who enjoy our art: By all means, continue to expect us to do our best, but please remember we are human. We don’t mind you pointing out our mistakes. In fact, we welcome it because we do want to get it right. But also consider how hard it is to put our craft out there on the stage for all the world to see. Our creations are like our children. We want you to enjoy them, imperfect though they may be.
Think about your favorite song, book, or movie. What sets it apart from all the others? What makes it better than just good? What makes it great? As a musician and writer, I continually strive to push beyond just good. Like any serious artist, I want my work to be great. So again I ask, what makes something really great?
I’ve heard songs performed flawlessly, but they failed to move me. I’ve read well-written books that failed to captivate me. I’ve seen movies with talented actors and exquisite cinematography that were hardly memorable. Apparently, there is more to art than talent and technique.
I think the difference is found somewhere in the heart of the artist. Before an idea can be formulated into words, before the fingers touch the instrument, the heart of the artist must be affected in order to connect with the hearts of the audience. For those artists who consistently create great art, engaging the heart no less a part of their craft than tuning their instrument or getting the lighting just right. If we think of the heart as a destination, some artists get there a lot easier than others. I know musicians who appear to breath out great music. It seems they were born with an extra musical gene. I’m not like that. I struggle to get my guitar playing even close to where I want it. My writing is the same way. Sometimes it seems like the right words are buried deep, and I have to scrape and dig and pull them from the ground. But I’ve learned some things along the way that help me get to that heart place. I’d like to share them with you.
Time is necessary. Whether it’s working out a guitar riff or writing a character or scene, it takes time. Seldom do I create anything of value when I rush. It takes time for hands to form chords naturally. It takes time to really get to know a character.
Honesty really is the best policy. As art is an expression of oneself, we must resist the temptation to cast ourselves in any light other than the one that shines upon us when we are alone. This leads to #3.
Vulnerability is unavoidable. Every artist fails, but the great ones are not defeated by failure. If we are too afraid to put ourselves out there or unwilling to receive criticism, we may as well give up. Face it, some people will hate what you do. Some will love it.
Conviction is key. If we don’t believe in our art, chances are no one else will either. Now I know some of you are reluctant to promote your own art for fear of coming across as conceited or arrogant. I get that because I have those same thoughts. What helps me is to remember that art is a gift that brings great joy to people. If I truly believe that about my books then I can enthusiastically share them without being shy about it. Something else that helps keep the balance is to get behind other artists and help promote their work.
I’m sure there are lots of other ideas that can help us in this matter. If you are an artist, please feel free to share what helps you engage your heart in your craft. We’d all love to hear and learn from you.
Okay, so I saw the new Star Trek movie yesterday. It delivers, but that’s not what I want to write about today. On Friday, I suggested there is a frontier that is even more final than the vast realm of outer space, and I hinted that it’s a lot closer than the stars. It’s referred to be several names: The New Earth, the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God, Heaven. While it’s intriguing to contemplate this real final frontier – what it will look like, what we will do there – for the purpose of this post, I want to consider something more immediate. Why is it this frontier beckons us so?
First, let’s go back, way back, back to the beginning. The Bible teaches that our most ancient ancestors were created in the image of God and placed in a perfect environment under the most ideal conditions imaginable. They lived in harmony with nature, each other, and God. They could hear his audible voice. Perhaps they could see Him with their physical eyes. Maybe they even felt His real touch. All this was possible because the first man and woman had not yet sinned. There was nothing between them and God. They were absolutely innocent.
Sometime after creation, the man and woman succumbed to temptation and sinned. This one act put in motion all the horrors mankind has ever known. The harmony between humans and nature was wrecked. The harmony between humans was severely damaged. The harmony between humans and God was severed. However, as our ancestors stepped into a new world of frustration, trouble and pain, there remained within them the memory of what was lost. And just as the propensity and penalty of sin was passed down from generation to generation, so also the memory of the pre-fall perfection was passed. But it isn’t a memory like we have when we remember something we once knew. For us, this memory exists as a restlessness; the notion that something is very wrong with this world.
Now the irony of this is that while everyone senses this dis-ease in the world, most people fail to understand the cause of it, and therefore the solution to it. They try with all their heart, but even their best plans fail.
I am by no means a pessimist. Quite the opposite. But my worldview is shaped by two basic ideas: 1) The world is broken…which means I believe there had to have been a time when the world was not broken and something very specific broke it. 2) God is fixing it…which means I believe there is hope that the world will be right again and something very specific will fix it. So, I believe the world was once on the right track and it will be again. And those specific somethings? The thing that broke the world is sin. Every frustration, pain and suffering we experience is caused by sin. But there is a solution to this Human Dilemma; a Divine Solution. God started the long process of fixing our sin problem right after it occurred. He completed it with the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. The Divine Solution has been working in the lives of individuals for about two thousand years. And God will institute its full manifestation when the times are complete. That’s the real Final Frontier.
No doubt, outer space is cool. I mean, it’s huge and mysterious and conjures up all sorts of questions and speculations. Who doesn’t feel small when they consider its vastness? Who hasn’t wondered what’s out there? The ancients were very interested in the stars. It was the dwelling place of the gods. Their mythologies spoke of visitors from the stars coming down and bestowing upon them great wisdom. They arranged their monuments and cities to mimic the constellations they saw in the night sky. “As above, so below.” We moderns may not think of it in exactly the same way as the ancients, but we are no less fascinated by it. Instead of mimicking the stars in stone and city placement, we make movies and write books. Indeed, I will soon be joining the masses to see the new Star Trek movie. Why? Well, the opening lines of Star Trek takes a shot:
“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five year mission: To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Now, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this subject. I’m awe-struck by the images captured by the Hubble Telescope. I get into the space documentaries on The Discovery Channel. And It’s a pretty safe bet that I will see most every sci-fi movie that comes out. But it has come into my mind that our fascination with outer space isn’t really about what’s out there. Rather, it’s about something much closer to home. Listen and you will hear a comment something like this: “We hope our exploration of outer space will answer questions about our own origins.” Look and you will see that our favorite extraterrestrial characters exhibit very human qualities – specifically, those qualities we admire most and would like to see exhibited within us. Superman was a genuinely good man. Yoda was wise. ET was a true friend. And it was the human side of Spock that eventually enabled him to overcome the cold logic of his Vulcan side.
So, maybe space isn’t the final frontier after all. Maybe the final frontier is really about finding the ideal human. Some evolutionists believe we will one day get there. But this begs the question: Where did we get such an idea? Could it be the lingering effects of what once was; the afterglow of who we once were? Graham Hancock speculates that humanity suffers from a collective amnesia about its past. If we could go far enough back in time, maybe we would meet this ideal version of us. I personally think there is something to this. I’ll explore this more in Monday’s blog post. But in the meantime, enjoy these stunning photographs taken from the International Space Station.