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Entries in Writing (10)


The Evangelical Christian reading world is not the whole world

I probably shouldn't be taking time to think about the question put forth by Tim Challies yesterday. With only a little over six weeks in the semester remaining and a whole lot of work yet to do, I need to keep focused. However, I did spend a little time thinking about it yesterday, and maybe I'll think about it some more when I have more time. 

The title of the article and the question posed assumes a particular view: "Why Aren't Men Reading Women Writers?" Clearly, in general, that isn't true. All over the world, and throughout history, men have willingly read women writers. What is meant by that question is that in evangelical Christian circles men don't read books by women writers. And likely, considering the original question, coming from a writer named Jen Pollock Michel, the men come from more conservative -- and likely, complementarian-leaning -- circles. 

I was curious about what are the reading habits of those outside these evangelical Christian circles. What are they like among Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, or even in more academic circles? Is it true that men are not reading books written by women in those environments? I don't think the situations are similar. I suspect the question "Why aren't men reading women writers" would not be asked some places. I recently picked up a book that I'm positive men have read: Paul and Gender, by Cynthia Westfall, who is a professor at McMaster Divinity School. Of course men read women writers; it's just not the same in some circles as it is in others. 

Furthermore, these concerns are confined to Christians in North America (and possibly the UK; I don't know) who have access to books and time to read them. I have friends who are missionaries in PNG, and I'm sure they know nothing about this situation, and they probably don't care. It is interesting how easy it is to assume that our situation is the situation, when in reality, it's only a very small slice.

The answer to that question does lie in the publishing industry and what people will buy. But the fact that it must be asked at all has something to do with the place from where it originates.


Keep some of ourselves to ourselves

There is a reason why books like Finding God in My Loneliness get written. I got a deal on that book for Kindle over the summer. I haven't read it, but I've read other things by Lydia Brownack before, and I really like her. It is, of course, one of the ironies of contemporary life that in a context where we are flooded with information and the ability to interact with people at the click of a mouse that loneliness has not been eradicated.

Augustine was right when he said we are restless until we find our rest in God. Much loneliness comes from trying to fill an empty space with something that is fleeting. And yet there are Christians who have found their rest in God who still struggle with loneliness. I often wonder how online activity contributes to loneliness among Christians.

It's popular to be transparent online. Sometimes, it really helps someone out. To find someone who understands our struggle is always encouraging. However, for the one who writes those things, there is a risk. What happens when we share our hearts and no one reacts? Does that mean no one cares? When you put little pieces of yourself out there and no one is receptive to them, it can make you feel a little discouraged. There are times when if we want to combat feeling lonely, we need to just keep ourselves to ourselves. Being too open can make us later feel exposed, and that may make us feel lonely. There is nothing wrong with guarding our hearts. Transparency is not a bad thing, but a wise person will know not to be too transparent. It takes discernment and good writing skills to word things in a way that gets to the heart of the matter without leaving ourselves open to feeling vulnerable. I haven't figured out how to do that yet. 

I need to write things to process, so I have been doing more of that offline. Blog and social media circles have become funny things, reminding me more of the high school cliques I loathed than places where one can feel encouraged to participate. I have grown more cautious as I have got older. More than ever, with our culture being so connected, I think we need to foster those face to face connections where we are confident someone cares about our thoughts and struggles. 

And of course, there's always simply taking those things to the Lord.


Hurry! Hurry!

If you ever watch curling (and this is not a post about whether or not you think curling is a sport), you'll hear the cries of "hurry, hurry!" as the sweepers slide alongside the rock as it heads toward the house. They want to sweep as hard as they can in order to guide the rock to where they want it.

We live in a day of "hurry! hurry!" We are given instant access to everything. We can pay our bills immediately, buy a book immediately, communicate with someone immediately. Of course, this is a benefit, but it comes with the consequence that we are often impatient and occasionally demonstrate an attitude of entitlement. We deserve to be served now.

I have thought of this in the past few days as everyone and his/her dog has rushed to comment on the Nashville Statement. I have to laugh when I see posts beginning with, "I know you don't need another voice, but . . . " or "I really hesitated to write this, but . . ."  If we don't need another post, why write one?

What I have thought is that most people writing about this issue -- or any issue for that matter -- could probably benefit from taking more time before writing. I thought something similar last summer when everyone was chomping at the bit to write about the Trinity. Many people never cited any longer works about the matter, but simply shared other brief articles. My friend, David, echoed some interesting thoughts about how it is easy to do a little research and then feel able to write about something. I hesitate to comment on the Trinity issues or the Nashville Statement, first, because while I have read some things about both matters, I don't know enough about either issue, and second, because I have not spent enough time really thinking it through.

We often think that we won't change our position on things. We are so certain that what we believe right now is how we will always think. We can't know that. There are things which I believed 20 years ago which I don't now, and there are things which I am still firmly conviced of. I regret being so strident about the things which I now don't feel so strongly about.

I was encouraged by some comments Dr. Haykin made in my Augustine class last fall. Dr. Haykin said it took him seven years of thought and study to land on an eschatological position. Seven years. And he is a brilliant man. I shouldn't feel so bad if I haven't really made sense of it all. If a man of his academic stature gave such a large amount of time to sorting through a doctrine, surely it is not completely unacceptable to think that providing commentary on serious issues warrants some hard thought.

Of course, though, we don't want to hold off commenting when we blog about things, because it is a time-driven venue. Writing a blog post is less like writing an essay and more like a journalist scurrying to get first crack at a story. Good craftsmanship is valued less than the avability of having it now.

I tend to hurry when I write, but seminary has made me more cautious about rushing through. I've rushed through some things and realized later that not only did I earn what it deserved, but I didn't do my best. And if we're going to ask others to read our work, we should strive for the best work. And that might mean slowing down. Why the hurry?


The function of privilege in writing

I've been marking my way through Scarlett Doesn't Live Here Anymore, by Laura Edwards. It's a really good book. She has done her homework. A thirty page bibliography: that's research. And I suspect it wasn't put together in a hurry.

Leaving a Legacy of Words

The book discusses the effects of the Civil War on women of the South. This includes upper class white women, poor women, slaves, and free African American women. As you can probably guess, while the upper class white women bore their share of burden, it was the poor women who really suffered. At one point, Edwards points out that wealthy women did with new clothes; poor women often did without, period.

Edwards relies a lot on the accounts left behind by two women who were from the planter class. These two women left behind rich information. Generally speaking, women left practically no information, so when something is uncovered, it's valuable. However, when it comes to the poorer classes of women, the likelihood of finding much primary source material is highly unlikely. The reason? Poor women couldn't read or write for the most part, and even if they did, their lives were so laborious that there was very little time for writing. Even given the fact that the Civil War meant that wealthy white woman had to attend to more domestic duties than before, there was still an expectation that she would not do it all. She would have time to write things down. If there are details of the lives of poor women, it's likely from accounts which have been passed down to family members or it's cited from a public source, like a newspaper.

It's Not a Level Playing Field

My daughter made a comment about this: she said "Representation and expression follow lines of privilege." And I think she's on to something. It is similar today.

While we have better access to education, we don't all have the same amount of time. As young girls learning, we don't all have supportive parents who cook our meals so we can do homework, or even parents who care how we do in school. Of course, poverty affects education. But further to that, being able to find the time to write as a grown woman is also a function of privilege.

Let's say Woman A and Woman B have basically the same intellectual ability to write something. If Woman A has to work three jobs because her ex-husband never comes through with the child support, how would she find time to write? If she doesn't have a strong network of friends to fall back on, she will probably do very little writing, no matter how much she would like to. And of course, when we get outside of North America, the disparity is even greater.

Occasionally, I will see women writers on Twitter or Instagram sharing photos of their laptops as they sit in Starbucks, writing, comfortable that their children are being cared for by a husband, friend, or family member. These are the women whose books women are reading. They come from, by comparison, a position of privilege. The question I ask myself is would a Christian woman who works multiple jobs and has barely a moment to herself be able to relate entirely to the woman who has more privilege? Is she reading that kind of book or does she feel disconnected from such a reality? Does a woman who is in poverty read such books? Are the women writers who are privileged to write (whether it is because they have time or because they know someone in the industry who can help them) merely preaching to the choir? It is a question I ask myself on occasion.

I know very little about the publishing industry, but after following a Métis writer for a while, I get the sense that there are barriers for minority writers, never mind minority women. I suspect that there are similar hurdles in publishing in general, including Christian publishing. 

Be Discerning

Of course, this does not mean we should not read books written by Christian women, no matter their socioeconomic position. What it does mean, though, is that we have to consider the source of the material. In literary interprertation, there is a school of thought which thinks that the author is not intimately connected to her work; that the reader's response is more crucial. I don't buy into that at all. And I have seen from personal experience that sometimes, because a writer comes from a particular place, I don't find her work as compelling as someone else might. 

As we read and determine what is true and what is not, we need to remember the source. We have a tendency to embrace someone's work in its entirety without reminding ourselves that it could be received by someone else in a completely different way. Books present an individual's view of truth, but it isn't The Truth. For that, we must turn to Scripture. 


Reflecting on "writers write."

A while back, Tim Challies wrote a brief article about how writers write. That reminded me of an anecdote a teacher shared with me from Mordecai Richler. Apparently, in front of an audience (students, if I remember correctly) Richler was asked for advice about how to write. He said to just write. Simple as that.

When people ask me what I do, I don't tell them I'm a writer. Even though I write a lot, that is not my occupation, and I know what they mean when they ask that question. I have been writing in some form since I got my first diary as an adolescent girl. Some of those hard backed black notebooks made their way into the fire at some point (something I wish now I had not done), but many of them live in a box in my attic. Hopefully, the mice haven't got into that box.

If we tell people we're writers, they assume we are paid for writing; that we have articles and books to show our work. My daughter, between undergraduate, Master's and PhD student years, spent ten years writing, and yet she wouldn't tell you she's a writer. She's a writer and researcher at her job today, but she probably wouldn't say that she's a writer per se.

In the past couple of years since I've begun seminary, I've written a lot. And I've written things that are much bigger and more complicated than a blog post. But I don't tell people I'm a writer. I write every day. In fact, I have a "Daily Writing Log" in my bullet journal, where I keep track of the goal I have set to write every day. But I don't tell people I'm a writer.

Sometimes, it really stands out to me how wage-driven we are. Of course, it's a necessity to have a wage. We all must eat. But we are more characterized by our earning power than anything else. To say I'm a stay-at-home mother says something about my wage earning potential, i.e. it's zero. We often treat people who have jobs which command a high wage differently than others. We make assumptions about people based on their employment. And yes, our employment is a huge part of who we are, because it is the majority of our daily lives.

Writing is a big part of what I do. I think in words, and when I'm reading, I'm often thinking about writing. But I don't say I'm a writer. I don't know if I ever will unless I produce something more than research papers. Until then, I will likely continue to tell people I'm a student. Telling people that will probably be easier on them then telling them that I've spent the last 28 years contributing nothing financially to my family other than a tax break for my husband. I have, however, produced a lot of writing in that time.