by Joanie Butman
One of the tips I learned at last week’s Frederic Buechner Writer’s Conference was to always have a killer headline. So I stole this one from a class I attended. What else did I learn? Who Frederic Buechner* is and that if I had a day job, I shouldn’t quit!
The focus in most classes was the need for a platform. The best advice: If you don’t have a platform, piggyback on someone else’s authority. Well, I can’t think of a higher authority than God. His platform is unchanging. It’s the same yesterday, today and forever. That’s more than I can say for any worldly authority I know. Having learned that piece of wisdom within the first ten minutes, I could’ve skipped the next two days of classes, which left me discouraged and wondering whether getting a day job might be a better use of my time.
Fortunately, the last two courses renewed my passion and enthusiasm for why I write – which isn’t to gain more subscribers, more likes, more click-throughs, or more retweets. It is simply to make the Word come alive for people. As Christians, God’s story is an inherited narrative that comes with a responsibility to be biblical witnesses. Why? Because, setting aside His magnificent creation, we don’t have tangible proof of God’s existence except for the way He works in our lives. When we don’t share those stories, we are all lesser for it.
More importantly, with incidents like Orlando and Paris happening in increasing frequency, can’t we all use more God in our lives? As Lin Manuel Miranda** expressed in his powerful sonnet Sunday night at the Tony Awards,
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is
LOVE CANNOT BE KILLED OR SWEPT ASIDE.
Amen to that. Love wins in the end. Christ is living proof of that. If we all lived in accordance with God’s greatest commandments, we wouldn’t need to live in fear of further acts of terrorism. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 26:32-40)
As it turns out, I didn’t have to attend a conference to learn how to share God stories because He’s the author. I just document them and pass them along. That’s the problem with some theologians. They tend to take themselves too seriously and overcomplicate God. Jesus told simple stories for simple people using metaphors from daily life to reveal a deeper meaning. His parables spell out the Gospel message in a way that anyone can grasp – should they choose to do so. Funny that it was the religious pundits of the day that had the most difficulty with them. Probably because they recognized themselves in them and didn’t like what the story was saying.
The killer headline instruction came with this caveat: No empty teases. You have to deliver on the title. In an effort to provide a visual to support the headline, I learned some valuable experiential wisdom: Don’t EVER google ‘writing naked!!!” Nevertheless, I will satisfy your curiosity. Writing Naked had nothing to do with an author’s wardrobe choice but the choice to be vulnerable and authentic with readers. We were warned not to hold back, something I’ve never been accused of – except when surrendering to God.
Years ago when I told my sister I wrote another book, she looked at me in shock and said, “There’s more?!?!” I’m not sure my readers can take more authenticity. You probably already know more than you ever wanted about my life. That said, God’s not done with my story yet, so I will continue to shed whatever layers He asks to reveal any experiential wisdom I stumble upon.
Embarrassingly, I was the only attendee at the conference new to Frederick Buechner. Luckily, we aren’t all called to be spiritual and literary giants like him. God only asks that we choose to share our own stories of amazing grace with honesty and humility. I will close with a Buechner quote encapsulating the motivation of a Christian writer:
Drawing on nothing fancier than the poetry of his own life, let him use words and images that help make the surface of our lives transparent to the truth that lies deep within them, which is the wordless truth of who we are and who God is and the Gospel of our meeting.
That alone was worth the price of admission.
*Frederick Buechner is an American writer and theologian. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister, the author of more than thirty published books and has been an important source of inspiration and learning for many readers. His work encompasses many genres, including fiction, autobiography, essays, sermons, and other nonfiction. His career has spanned six decades. Buechner’s writing has often been praised for its ability to inspire readers to see the grace in their daily lives. (http://www.frederickbuechner.com)
**Lin-Manuel Miranda is an American actor, composer, rapper and writer, best known for creating and starring in the Broadway musicals Hamilton and In the Heights. (Wikipedia)