Anne Lamott wrote Bird by Bird, a marvelous book about writing. In it, she says,
“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.”
I’m going to attempt to do that today. I am going to attempt to write “from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth.”
I hope I succeed, but you will have to be the judge.
Another of my favorite paragraphs from Bird by Bird is when Anne Lamott says,
“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said that you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)”
I have often quoted Anne’s friend because I believe his remarkable statement bears repeating: “You can safely assume that you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
I wrote to you recently about my first job in radio. It was at a Christian station in Tulsa owned by a wonderful man name Stuart who lived in North Carolina. He was impossibly tall and thin and looked exactly like a clean-shaven Abraham Lincoln.
I had only been there a couple of years when Stuart flew to Tulsa, summoned everyone to the radio station, packed us all into the conference room and said, “People who work in Christian media often see and hear things that discourage them.” His face fell and he looked sad as he said, “And then they become bitter.”
I could tell he was struggling to find the right words as he looked down at the ground. After a long silence he looked up into my eyes and said, “Promise me that you’ll never become bitter.”
I looked into his eyes and nodded my head. One by one, he looked at every other employee until they nodded their head or said aloud, “I promise I’ll never become bitter.”
When he had extracted that solemn promise from each of us, he drove back to the airport and flew home.
It was a very short meeting that happened 40 years ago but I have never forgotten it.
And I never became bitter.
In later years I began to identify myself as “a follower of Jesus” rather than call myself a Christian, because “Christian” was coming to mean something that I don’t believe Jesus ever intended.
I get uncomfortable when people sign God’s name to things Jesus never said.
Thomas Jefferson, too, was uncomfortable with Christians who use the logic of Plato to extrapolate truths from the Bible. Platonists1 will argue, “If this statement in the Bible is true, then by extension this second thing is true. And if this second thing is true, then by extension this third thing is true.”
I have been reading the personal correspondence of Thomas Jefferson in the national archives at founders.archives.gov
Two hundred and six years ago – on October 16th, 1816 – George Logan wrote a letter to his friend, Thomas Jefferson, congratulating him for publishing,
“a system of ethics extracted from the Holy Scriptures, as tending to support the correct maxim—that religion should influence the political as well as the moral conduct of man… It is to be lamented that there exists even among professed Christians a disinclination to have their political maxims and transactions subjected to the rules of Christianity… Christianity hitherto (except in a few instances) has suffered by its connection with civil policy: and from the very nature of civil society, it must suffer in such connection; until both learning and power are transferred into the hands of virtuous men, and made subservient to piety.”
In essence, George Logan was suggesting that Christians should seize the reins of power in government.
Thomas Jefferson replied to George Logan on November 12, 1816, by saying,
“I am quite astonished at the idea which seems to have got abroad; that I propose publishing something on the subject of religion. And this is said to have arisen from a letter of mine to my friend Charles Thomson, in which certainly there is no trace of such an idea.”
Exactly 253 words later, Jefferson concludes his response to George Logan’s suggestion by reminding him of what happened in England.
Thomas Jefferson said that people mistakenly believed that he – Jefferson – was planning to publish a book on Biblical Ethics in Government because of something he had written in a letter to Charles Thomson on January 9, 1816.
I did not rest until I found that letter to Thomson.
Allow me to frame this for you: Charles Thomson had recently published A Synopsis of the Four Evangelists (Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John) and sent a copy to Jefferson. In his “Thank You” letter to Thomson, Jefferson told him that he had already purchased a copy and cut it apart so that he might extract the words of Jesus and paste them into a blank book:
“I too have made a wee little book… which I call the Philosophy of Jesus… made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen. It is a document in proof that I am a real Christian… a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists1, who call me infidel, and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what it’s Author never said nor saw.”
And now I will tell you something a little bit funny.
I was going to share what Gandhi said in 1926, but I decided that I first needed to verify that Gandhi actually said it, so I went looking for where he said it and to whom he was talking.2
The item at the top of my Google search opened with the statement, “How many times have you come across this quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi? ‘I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’ We need to stop using this quote.”
The article went on to say, “In the first place, Gandhi was hardly an authority on Jesus. When he says, ‘I like your Christ’ he is referring to a Jesus of his own making, a Jesus plucked haphazardly from the pages of Scripture, a Jeffersonian kind of Jesus…”
When this guy really wanted to disparage Gandhi, he compared him to Thomas Jefferson.
I guess some things never change.
(But I’m still not bitter, Stuart, I promise. I hope you are doing well.)
Roy H. Williams
NOTE FROM INDY – This is the fifth week in a row that the wizard hasn’t written much about advertising. Don’t worry. I’ve been looking over his shoulder, snagging all the best advice he has given his clients this week, and I’m going to share it with you in the rabbit hole. Just click the image of Anne Lamott at the top of this page and you’re in.
1 According to the Encyclopedia Britannica at www.britannica.com, “Christian Platonists… regarded Platonic philosophy as the best available instrument for understanding and defending the teachings of Scripture and church tradition.”
2 The earliest report of Gandhi having said anything like that can be found in the Harvard Crimson newspaper of January 11, 1927.
Sean Castrina has launched more than 20 companies over the past two decades and most of them have been successful. He says there are 8 unbreakable rules that entrepreneurs must follow if they want to succeed. Do you want to succeed? Learn the 8 rules! Right here. Right now. MondayMorningRadio.com