On the Discipline of Writing

You’ve heard it said, and it’s true, that writing is a discipline. I learned this from my fourteen years as an in-house copywriter. The deadline-driven environment of a publishing house doesn’t allow the luxury of waiting to be inspired. The copy must be written, so write you do, and inspiration comes in the process. The discipline of writing is just the sum of many dry, practical decisions to get the job done.

Tonight I’m working on chapter 15 of my book, and I am loving where it is taking me. It didn’t feel this way at first; I had no expectations of being taken anywhere. I simply sat myself down with the determination that I was going to write something, even if it was just a few words. I made a tenuous beginning, but it was enough. The pump got primed.

The process is like finger painting: I splash down a few words, then slip-slide them around till I like what I see, and more words come as a result, and I play with those till they feel good, and still more words emerge, and so it goes.

This picture, this chapter, is shaping up. It began with a choice, but it’s coming from my soul. I am trying to write beautifully, and I hope that when people finally read my writing, beauty will be a part of their experience.

Earlier Today

True story. It happened earlier this afternoon, and I still cringe to think of it.

I buy fifteen bucks’ worth of gas at the station down the street, and I go inside to pay, and the gal behind the counter is new to me. Slim, attractive, dark hair—but what’s this? She’s wearing a huge fake nose—in the manner of a Groucho Marx nose, only minus the mustache, plus it’s lumpy and deformed, like a potato with tumors. Okay, well, we’re coming up on Halloween and the displays are out, so I guess she’s just getting into the spirit of things a bit early.

So I decide to play the game. Tease her, have a little fun, right? “Oh, my gosh!” I blurt out loudly, feigning shock, “what happened to your nose?” My voice resounds throughout the gas station. Calm and nice as you please, the girl replies, “It’s a birth mark.”

That’s when I realize it’s her real nose.

Kindly hand me a gun so I can shoot myself. I am ready to melt into the floor. I’m about to explain, “I am so sorry. I thought you were getting a jump on Halloween,” but fortunately, my instinct for damage control kicks in directly after the word “sorry.” Anything I can say beyond that is going to be no improvement at all. So I continue to repeat the first sentence like a mantra: “I am so sorry. Omygod, I am sorry. Sorry. Very sorry. Oh so sorry . . .” My Sorry Machine is in turbo drive.

The gal is very sweet. “It’s okay,” she says. She doesn’t appear to be even slightly offended. But I am sure that those in the line behind me are thinking, “What a jerk!” That’s what I’d be thinking if I were standing behind me.

From whence do I get this talent for making monumental gaffes? It extends decades back and seems to be improving with age. I’d rather it didn’t—I wish it would just go away. But at fifty-eight years, I ruefully accept that my social graces are not spun from silk. More like cobbled together with pieces of burlap from an old potato sack.

Ridiculous?

I was lying on the couch, halfway between awake and asleep, when the difference between Christianity and every other non-derivative world religion struck me. It is this:

Christianity is premised on something that simply cannot happen.

A dead man rising? That’s not just implausible—it’s impossible.

That’s the difference. For a swami or holy man to present a body of teachings—that’s no big deal in itself, no matter how profound or spiritually intense those teachings are. Shoot, I’ve said some pretty deep things myself in my time, and so have we all. Poets devote their lives to saying deep (and not so deep) things with beauty and emotion, using words that penetrate the soul. Lofty words and teachings aren’t exclusive to any one person or religion. That’s one reason why you hear those who subscribe to today’s patronizing brand of syncretism refer to “Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, and Ghandi” all in the same breath. (Another reason is that people who talk this way have no idea what they’re saying, but that’s a different topic.) All of those men are lumped into the category of “great spiritual teachers,” and that seems to be good enough for a lot of modern minds.

But of those men, only one requires me to believe something unbelievable. Something that is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

My brother the scientist, a truly wonderful guy, knows it’s ridiculous. He’s told me so often enough: “I simply can’t believe that a person rose from the dead.” Why? Because he’s an intelligent man. He knows such a thing just doesn’t happen. The notion is flat-out absurd.

Unless, of course, it really did happen.

Then, of course, it’s not ridiculous. It’s a miracle. Something that can’t happen—but does. Something that flies in the face of natural laws.

The earmark of a miracle is that it’s unbelievable, but it happens anyway.

That’s why Jesus told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses.” What he wanted wasn’t great reasoners or great theologians, but people who would simply tell the world what they had seen with their own eyes.

Those witnesses may have been simple folk, but they weren’t stupid and they weren’t gullible. In that callous culture, where public executions were common and the Romans were brutally expert at it, these men and women knew all about crucifixion preceded by near-evisceration with a flagellum. They knew a dead body when they saw one. And that’s why, as far as they were concerned, their whole world had come crashing down in a single weekend. Because Jesus was dead. Period. End of story.

Imagine you were one of those men. All your actions line up with nothing but grief and fear. The person you’ve loved, followed, believed in, and built your life upon—you saw what happened to him. It was horrible—and you are shattered. Now what? Where do you go from here?

Now imagine you’re in a room with the rest of your grieving little band when suddenly, there he is. Right there, looking right at you. “Don’t be afraid,” he says. “It’s me.”

Would you say that’s incredible? This kind of thing just doesn’t happen every day, does it. In fact, it doesn’t happen ever.

But it’s happening now, and it’s happening to you. You and your friends. And it continues to happen over the next forty days.

How would you feel about that? How would it change you?

What would you say to a doubting world—a world that ridicules your experience and finds all kinds of ways to explain it away, minimize it, dismiss it, and do everything except consider that it actually happened?

How about simply, “I was there. You weren’t. I know what I saw; you don’t. Don’t tell me it can’t happen, because it did. Jesus is alive. Period. End of story.”

Ridiculous? Only if it’s not true.

But if it is true, then who’s the fool? Those who know what they saw and you couldn’t tell them otherwise—and there were more than five hundred of them, not just eleven apostles and several women—or those who are cocksure it didn’t happen simply because it couldn’t have.

Maybe it could have.

What if it did?