I experienced an isolated instance at ICRS that highlighted the bleakness of the biz. I won’t go into detail, but what I came away with was this thought: I wonder who is writing these books.
On the flip side (before I make my argument), I want to say I’ve met the most amazing people who are writers for the CBA. My very best friends in the whole world write lovely prose for CBA readers. They pray for me, love me well, and (as in the case of funny-girl Jeanne Damoff) make me laugh. Such great folks!!!
I listened to a sermon by my friend JR Vassar who is planting a church in Manhattan. He talked about good trees producing good fruit and bad trees producing rotten fruit. I wonder how many of us are good trees? From what I experienced, I could tend to despair that there are writers who put words to page whose hearts are dark, whose trees are bad to begin with.
I taught at Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference on this topic: It’s what inside that counts.
- Good writing flows from a good heart.
- Redemptive writing flows from a redeemed heart.
- Courageous writing flows from an unafraid heart.
- Humble writing flows from a broken heart.
- Authentic writing flows from a real heart.
We can’t fake it. Sure, we can try to pen important words for important audiences, but if our heart is dark, we’re guilty of lying at worst, pretending at best. I don’t want to be what Jesus accused the Pharisees of being: whitewashed tombs. I don’t want to say deep, pithy words that I don’t mean or I don’t live out. If I do that, I’m enslaving others by my self-appointed rules from the outside in.
Everything flows from our hearts. It’s not so much what we put in that defiles us as what comes out. Consider Jesus’ words: “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man” (Matthew 15:18-20).
Jesus is saying that it’s not what we appear like on the outside that defiles us. It’s not our dirty hands, in other words. It’s what’s inside. And eventually, what is inside will be known to all.
I hope and pray the CBA is not full of whitewashed tombs, writers parading around with clean hands and darkened hearts. I hope and pray it’s not all about our own ministry, our own glory, our own brand, our own corner of the Christian market share, our own niche. I pray it’s about honest pilgrims with honest hearts penning honest, life-giving words for the sake His renown, He who is the Author of all words, of all redemptive stories.
And yet, as I write this I am acutely aware of my own sins that parade themselves in front of me shouting mockery. Who am I to write anything? I am needy, terribly fragile at times, self-absorbed. I am one who loves to outwardly shun praise but inwardly relish it. My feet are clay. My heart strays. My words ring hollow. I guess the only true hope for me and other writers like me is the astounding grace of Jesus. And the strength of Him who was perfectly right with the Father. I can only run to His arms when I’m a whitewashed tomb. It’s only He who cleanses me from the inside out, Who makes my words and heart coexist in harmony.
I’m reminded of the simple words, “Behold the Man,” spoken by Pilate in John 19:5. Jesus stood, nearly naked, yet wrapped in a mocking robe and a slicing crown. His outside was not lovely, at least by human standards, but his heart was perfectly clean. He, bloodied, stood as the embodiment of authenticity. I wonder how many of us are that willing to be seen as we are. I wonder how many of us would pull the robe defensively around our souls, afraid to show what is inside? I know I’d be afraid.
So, yes, we should strive for authenticity from the inside out. Hiding emaciates our prose. I pray, especially as I write this, that we’d be ready to hear, “Behold the writer,” whispered by the scarred Savior, who bore our evasive and hidden sins on the tree. And that we could stand covered in the robe of His grace, ready to share the story with the world.