Monday, August 11, 2008

What 800 Words Can (and Can't) Say - Arends

Six months ago I agreed to write a bi-monthly column entitled "Wrestling with Angels" for Christianity Today. To date three of the columns have run, and it's been intriguing to read the emails and online responses each piece has provoked. I am learning more deeply both the power and limitation of words. Especially when you only get 800 of them! There's not a lot of room for "on the other hand," for nuances and finer points. And readers, I am learning, will respond not only to what you've actually written, but also to whatever personal ongoing debates the column loosely reminds them of ... sometimes they will argue with or commend points that were never actually made in the article. (I call this syndrome "Arguing with Straw Men" and I've been known to do it with zeal myself.) Fascinating!

If I sound defensive ... well, I was at first. And I still wish I had another 1000 words per column to say "What I actually mean is ...". But I am learning both to be as precise as I possibly can in what I write and then also to accept that some folks are going to misunderstand or disagree. The world of ideas is fraught with potential miscommunication, but if that keeps us from engaging with ideas and with each other, we lose so much.

My newest column has been posted here. It's entitled "Here's to All The Losers" and is an anecdotal look at an experience I had coming to the end of my own resources and discovering that God's strength and provision is better than my own. (Surprise!)
The responses to the article have been interesting. Because I drew a parallel between my own experience (developing laryngitis on a concert tour) and an aspect of the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel in Genesis 32 (Jacob could not be blessed until his own strength was overcome) ... some readers have taken my point to be that obstacles/tragedies/difficulties are always from the hand of God. Not so much! For me, the point was that it's better to get to the end of ourselves and need God than to operate in an illusion of self-sufficiency and miss all He has for us -- how we get to the end of ourselves will be wildly different in each situation. I think life on a broken planet will most often get us there free of charge, and I certainly don't take every difficulty I face as a chess move on God's behalf. Quite the contrary. But, whether we're wrestling God, our own natures, life itself or even the devil, the faster we can come to the end of our own strength and into God's, the better (even though the sensation is usually more than a little unpleasant while it's happening.)
If you have a chance to read the piece, I'd be interested to hear you thoughts.
Carolyn Arends

now available: Wrestling With Angels
"Carolyn observes keenly, reflects deeply, and renders it all poetically. Wrestling With Angels is a book I can give to almost anyone with confidence it will speak truth in the inmost places." -- Mark Buchanan, author

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